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Helsinki Commission Advisor Observes German Elections in Berlin
Friday, September 29, 2017

By Scott Rauland,
State Department Senior Advisor

On September 24, 2017, over 50 parliamentarians and staff from 25 countries fanned out across Germany as part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) team that was invited to observe German parliamentary elections.  This marked the first time that an OSCE PA Election Observation Mission (EOM) has deployed to Germany.  Although the OSCE PA does not have the resources to observe every election, the organization tries to be present in major elections that are politically important. I was pleased to represent the U.S. in that effort as the State Department’s Senior Advisor at the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

Members of the OSCE PA team were briefed by German government officials, representatives of the major political parties, political analysts, and other experts in the two days leading up to the election.  On election day, members of the OSCE PA observation mission visited over 300 polling stations in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Cologne and Duesseldorf, just a fraction of the more than 90,000 polling stations located in Germany in 299 constituencies. 

In a press conference held on September 25, George Tsereteli, the Special Coordinator for the EOM, noted, “Germany has once again demonstrated that its commitment to democracy is undiminished. Highly competitive and well-run, these elections were an opportunity for voters to express their choice in a process that benefits from and is based on broad trust among society.”  One sign of that trust was the almost complete absence of election observers from any of the participating political parties at the 14 polling stations my team visited in Berlin – all six major parties seemed to be relatively confident that the elections were being administered fairly.

While the OSCE PA team was in Germany at the invitation of the German government, and although the public has the right to observe the voting process in Germany, my observation team was denied access to one of the polling stations we had hoped to observe.  That incident was thankfully the exception amongst the 300 polling stations visited by the OSCE PA EOM, but was a reminder that efforts to promote transparency in the conduct of elections must be ongoing, even in countries where the commitment to democratic elections is high.

With more than 4,800 candidates running, and numerous strong political parties, Germany’s 61 million voters had a wide range of options to choose from. Women represented slightly less than 30 per cent of candidates, but played a prominent role in leadership positions in parties’ campaigns.

“This was the first time we’ve deployed a full observer team to Germany, and the welcome of our mission by all German officials and political parties that we met is a positive signal that the country is ready to pay continued attention to democratic processes,” said EOM Head of Mission Isabel Santos. “Changing political cultures in many countries and new challenges such as cyber attacks mean that we must all dedicate time and effort to preserving democratic systems.”

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Mr. Speaker, while the transition appears peaceful, it is not without its strains and stresses, even with the potential of the military stepping in like it has done repeatedly in the past. We can only hope that is not the outcome of this transition.   As an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Turkey has accepted a broad range of human rights obligations. As head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I have worked with my parliamentary colleagues from Turkey to encourage protection for these commitments. With a new government not obligated to continue the ways of the old, there is a welcome opportunity for such initiatives to be undertaken.   There are a few specific matters that I urge the incoming government to address without delay. Four Kurdish members of the Grand National Assembly have been in prison since March 1994. I call upon the new government to free Layla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak and remove the trumped-up charges from their records. They were convicted for, among other things, speaking their mother tongue in and out of the parliament building. As Mr. Erdogan himself has said, such convictions should not stand.   Also, past efforts to return the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Kurds to their homes in southeastern Turkey have proven ineffectual. The government should take concrete steps to ensure that refugees are allowed to return to their own homes in safety and dignity, which may well require the clearing of land mines and repairing of villages.   Mr. Speaker, without reciting the lengthy list of Turkey's human rights violations, including the use of torture, it is fair to say that Turkey's record of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments remains poor. While progress has been made, the authority of police officials must be checked by the rule of law. All claims of torture must be seriously investigated, no matter where the investigation leads. It is important that anyone who commits torture--especially police, the security forces or other agents of the state--must be taken to court and tried for high crimes. The Forensic Medical Association should be allowed to carry out its professional responsibilities and act without fear in its attempts to document torture. Victims of torture should be paid due recompense by the state.   I am very concerned about the continuing difficulty no-governmental organizations face throughout Turkey, particularly the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. The Human Rights Foundation exists in an uncertain environment, with arbitrary shutdowns and having its officials harassed, intimidated or arrested. Property has been seized and not returned.   Religious freedom in Turkey, whether for Muslims or other religious communities, had suffered from heavy-handed government involvement and control. The government allows Turkish Muslims to only attend state-approved mosques, listen to state-funded Imams, and receive religious education from state-funded schools. The Directorate of Religious Affairs, which regulates all of Turkey's 75,000 mosques and employs Imams, has been criticized for only promoting Sunni branch of Islam. I would encourage the new government to bring to a close its regulation of all religious institutions.   The wearing of headscarves has also been regarded as quite controversial since it is seen as a religious totem in a secular state. Women who choose this expression of religious conviction are denied the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public building, including schools and hospitals. The public sharing of religious belief in Turkey with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view is severely curbed for both Muslims and Christians. A number of evangelical Protestant groups throughout Turkey have reported being targeted because of their religious free speech, which contradicts OSCE commitments on religious liberty and freedom of expression.   Turkey's Office of Foundations has contributed its own difficulties for faith communities, as it has closed and seized properties of "official'' minority religious groups and unrecognized faith communities. Several religious groups, most notably the Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches report difficulties, particularly on the local level, in repairing and maintaining existing buildings or purchasing new buildings. The continued closure of the Orthodox seminary on Halki Island remains a concern.   Furthermore, religious groups not considered "official minorities'' under the Lausanne Treaty are provided no legal route to purchase or rent buildings to meet, and are thereby forced to hold meetings in private apartments. In response, provincial governorships, after receiving a letter from the Ministry of Internal Affairs last year, have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant communities without any options. The lack of official recognition is an insurmountable hurdle for minority religious groups wishing to practice their faith as a community.   Turkey is at a critical crossroads. I am hopeful that the new government will take this opportunity to move forward, and craft policies which are consistent with OSCE commitments and protective of all peoples living in Turkey.

  • Human Rights and Inhuman Treatment

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  • Human Rights and Security Issues in the Republic of Georgia

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Despite lectures from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the U.S. Government, the Georgian Government has proved incapable or unwilling to do what is necessary to stamp out this multidimensional problem--even though President Shevardnadze himself has called corruption a threat to Georgia's security. There are also grounds for concern about democratization. The last few elections have clearly not met OSCE standards, which raises questions about the important parliamentary election scheduled for 2003, and the 2005 presidential election that will usher in the post-Shevardnadze era in Georgia, with all the attendant uncertainties. Meanwhile, the media and NGOs have been under severe pressure. Last fall, a foolish ploy by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to intimidate Rustavi-2 Television backfired, resulting instead in the fall of the government. While society's response was heartening--thousands of people came out into the streets to defend the station--the attempt to silence one of the country's most popular media outlets indicated that some Georgian officials are still mired in Soviet patterns of thinking. Especially appalling is the ongoing religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there has been a campaign of assaults against members of minority faiths, especially Jehovah's Witnesses, which Georgian authorities have tolerated. Occasionally, policemen have even participated in attacks on defenseless men, women and children who have congregated for the purpose of worship. Attempts to bring the perpetrators to justice have foundered, as throngs of fanatics hijack the trial proceedings. If such travesties are allowed to continue, the country's entire judicial system is at risk of falling victim to mob rule. Though Jehovah's Witnesses have borne the brunt of this savagery, other religious minorities have suffered as well, including Baptists, Pentecostals and Catholics. Earlier this year, for example, a mob invaded a Baptist warehouse, threw the religious literature outside and burned it. How awful to think that events in Georgia today remind us of Germany in the 1930s! Georgians have a long tradition of religious tolerance, of which they are rightly proud. It is all the more puzzling, therefore, why religiously-based violence has erupted and continued only in Georgia, of all the post-Soviet states. The leadership of the Helsinki Commission and other Members of the House and Senate have been in correspondence with President Shevardnadze about this disturbing trend. He has assured us that the problem will be corrected and the perpetrators arrested. Georgia's Ambassador, Levan Mikeladze, testified at the September 24 hearing and suggested that Georgia has so little experience with religious persecution that it has been difficult to cope with its sudden emergence. He too offered assurances that Georgia fully recognizes the gravity of the problem and that legal and practical actions are being taken to ensure there will be no more violent attacks. Alas, extremists in Georgia must not have been listening. Since the September 24 hearing, more assaults have taken place. The next day, some 15 extremists of the ultra-Orthodox "Jvari'' organization in Rustavi forcibly entered a private home where Jehovah's Witnesses and their non Witness guests had gathered for Bible study. Two Witnesses and one non-Witness visitor were physically assaulted. On September 26, in the village of Napareuli, masked men with firearms burst into a private home where meetings were underway, beating those in attendance and ransacking the house. Most striking, eyewitnesses claim the attack was led by the village administrator, Mr. Nodar Paradashvili, who beat one of the victims into unconsciousness. In a third incident, on September 29, a mob gathered outside the residence of a Jehovah's Witnesses in Tbilisi. They refused to let others enter the premises where a meeting was to be held, seized Bibles and literature from the group, verbally abusing those arriving for the meeting and assaulting at least one person. In all three cases, police reportedly refused to intervene after learning that the incidents involved attacks on Jehovah's Witnesses--as has often been the case in Georgia. Mr. Speaker, there may be many explanations for this peculiar phenomenon but there can be no excuse for state toleration of such barbarity. It must end, and it must end now. Though such attacks have been one reason for Georgia's prominence in the news lately, more attention has been focused on Moscow's campaign of intimidation against Georgia. Russia has been leaning on pro-Western, strategically-located Georgia for years, but the temperature has in the last few weeks approached the boiling point. President Putin's request for United Nations backing for Russian military action against Georgia was not any less objectionable for having been anticipated. I have been watching with growing alarm as Russia ratchets up the pressure on its small neighbor. Georgian parliamentarians on September 12 unanimously approved an appeal to the United Nations, the OSCE, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and NATO for protection from anticipated Russian military aggression. Georgian lawmakers should know that their American colleagues have heard their appeal and stand with them. While we are cooperating with Russia in the war against terrorism, we have in no way given Moscow leave to attack Georgia, nor will we do so. The United States is now more than ever directly engaged in the Caucasus and is stepping up military cooperation with the region's governments, especially Georgia. While we have many issues of concern to raise with Georgia's Government, when it comes to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is no more ardent supporter than the United States. That has been the case for the last ten years, and it will be the case in the future as well.

  • Concerning Rise in Anti-Semitism in Europe

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend for yielding me time, and I rise in very strong support of H. Res. 393. I want to commend its sponsor and all of the Members who are taking part in this very important debate.   Mr. Speaker, yesterday, along with the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin), who is on the floor and will be speaking momentarily, we returned back from the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Parliamentary Assembly.   Every year, parliamentarians from the 55 nations that comprise the OSCE meet to discuss issues of importance. This year the focus was on terrorism, but we made sure that a number of other issues, because certainly anti -Semitism is inextricably linked to terrorism, were raised in a very profound way.   Yesterday, two very historic and I think very vital things happened in this debate. I had the privilege of co-chairing a historic meeting on anti -Semitism with a counterpart, a member of the German Bundestag, Professor Gert Weisskirchen, who is a member of the Parliament there, also a professor of applied sciences at the University of Heidelberg, and we heard from four very serious, very credible and very profound voices in this battle to wage against anti-Semitism.   We heard from Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti -Defamation League, who gave a very impassioned but also very empirical speech, that is to say he backed it up with statistics, with information about this rising tide of anti-Semitism, not just in Europe, but in the United States and Canada as well.   He pointed out, for example, according to their data, 17 percent of Americans are showing real anti -Semitic beliefs, and the ugliness of it. Sadly, among Latinos and African Americans, it is about 35 percent. He pointed out in Europe, in the aggregate, the anti -Semitism was about 30 percent of the population.   Dr. Shimon Samuels also spoke, who is the Director of the Wiesenthal Center in Paris. He too gave a very impassioned and very documented talk. He made the point that the slippery slope from hate speech to hate crime is clear. Seventy-two hours after the close of the Durban hate-fest, its virulence struck at the strategic and financial centers of the United States. He pointed out, “If Durban was Mein Kampf, than 9/11 was Kristalnacht, a warning.”   “What starts with the Jews is a measure, an alarm signaling impending danger for global stability. The new anti -Semitic alliance is bound up with anti -Americanism under the cover of so-called anti –globalization.”   He also testified and said, ``The Holocaust for 30 years acted as a protective Teflon against blatant anti -Semitic expression. That Teflon has eroded, and what was considered distasteful and politically incorrect is becoming simply an opinion. But cocktail chatter at fine English dinners,'' he said, ``can end as Molotov cocktails against synagogues.   ``Political correctness is also eroding for others, as tolerance for multi-culturism gives way to populous voices in France, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Portugal, and in the Netherlands. These countries' Jewish communities can be caught between the rock of radical Islamic violence and the hard place of a revitalized Holocaust-denying extreme right.   “Common cause”, he concluded, “must be sought between the victimized minorities against extremism and fascism.”   I would point out to my colleagues one of those who spoke pointed out, it was Professor Julius Schoeps, that he has found that people do not say “I am anti -Semitic;” they just say ”I do not like Jews”, a distinction without a difference, and, unfortunately, it is rearing itself in one ugly attack after another.   I would point out in that Berlin very recently, two New Jersey yeshiva students, after they left synagogue, they left prayer, there was an anti -American, anti -Israeli demonstration going on, and they were asked repeatedly, are you Jews? Are you Jews? And then the fists started coming their way and they were beaten right there in Berlin.   Let me finally say, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday we also passed a supplementary item at our OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I was proud to be the principal sponsor. The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin) offered a couple of strengthening amendments during the course of that debate, and we presented a united force, a U.S. force against anti-Semitism.   I would just point out this resolution now hopefully will act in concert with other expressions to wake up Europe. We cannot sit idly by. If we do not say anything, if we do not speak out, we allow the forces of hate to gain a further foothold. Again, that passed yesterday as well.   Mr. Speaker, I urge Members to become much more aware that this ugliness is rearing its ugly face, not just in the United States, but Canada, in Europe, and we have to put to an end to it. Hate speech and hate crimes go hand in hand.   Mr. Speaker, I urge support of the resolution.   United States Helsinki Commission--Anti -Semitism in the OSCE Region   The Delegations of Germany and the United States will hold a side event to highlight the alarming escalation of anti -Semitic violence occurring throughout the OSCE region.   All Heads of Delegations have been invited to attend, as well as media and NGOs.   The United States delegation has introduced a supplementary item condemning anti -Semitic violence. The Resolution urges Parliamentary Assembly participants to speak out against anti-Semitism.

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act

    Mr. Speaker, I am introducing today the Belarus Democracy Act of 2002, which is intended to help promote democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus’ sovereignty and independence. When measured against other European countries, the state of human rights in Belarus is abysmal – it has the worst record of any European state. Through an illegitimate 1996 referendum, Alexander Lukashenka usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has blatantly and repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The fledgling democratic opposition, non-governmental organizations and independent media have all faced harassment. There are credible allegations of Lukashenka regime involvement in the disappearances – in 1999 and 2000 – of opposition members and a journalist. There is growing evidence that Belarus is a leading supplier of lethal military equipment to rogue states. A draft bill is making its way in the Belarusian legislature that would restrict non-traditional religious groups. Several days ago, on June 24, two leading journalists were sentenced to two and 2 ½ years, respectively, of “restricted freedom” for allegedly slandering the Belarusian President. Despite efforts by Members of Congress, the Helsinki Commission which I co-chair, the State Department, various American NGOs, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, the regime of Alexander Lukashenka continues its hold onto power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people. One of the primary purposes of this bill is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes increases in assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media – including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards – in sharp contrast to recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Belarus which most assuredly did not meet democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country’s self-imposed isolation. In addition, this bill would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny high-ranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. The bill would require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states. Mr. Speaker, finally, it is my hope that this bill will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law prevails.

  • Hearing Addresses Dramatic Increase in Anti-Semitic Attacks Across Europe

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing May 22, 2002 on the continuing wave of anti-Semitic attacks that has swept across Europe this year. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH), and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Shimon Samuels, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris; Mark B. Levin, Executive Director of NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia; Alexandra Arriaga, Director of Government Relations for Amnesty International USA; Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; and Kenneth Jacobson, Director of International Affairs Division for the Anti-Defamation League. Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing with an urgent appeal to combat increasingly frequent acts of anti-Semitism – including synagogue fire bombings, mob assaults, desecration of cultural property and armed attacks. He detailed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s strong position on anti-Semitism, but voiced dismay that some participating States have not taken appropriate measures to combat acts of violence and incitement. “Anti-Semitism is not necessarily based on the hatred of the Judaic faith, but on the Jewish people themselves,” Smith said. “Consequently, the resurfacing of these . . . acts of violence is something that cannot be ignored by our European friends or the United States.” In a submitted statement, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell stated, “The anti-Semitic violence spreading throughout the OSCE region gives cause for deep concern for its scope and viciousness.” Senator Campbell insisted “no longer can these acts of intolerance and violence be viewed as separate occurrences.... [Such] manifestations of anti-Semitism must not be tolerated, period, regardless of the source.” Senator Voinovich expressed consternation over the increasing number of attacks in Europe. He stated he was “saddened and deeply disturbed by reports of anti-Semitism that have taken place recently in some of the world’s strongest democracies: France, Germany, Belgium.” Senator Voinovich added, “Many of Europe’s synagogues have become targets of arson and Molotov cocktails.” Senator Clinton added, anti-Semitism “is something for which all of us have to not only be vigilant but prepared to take action.” She urged President Bush to raise the issue during his planned trip to Europe, and expressed hope that the OSCE commitments undertaken by European governments, in reference to anti-Semitism, would be “followed up by action.” Rep. Cardin, in his opening statement, hoped the hearing would “remind OSCE participating States that they have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to both prosecute those committing such hate crimes and to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence.” Rep. Cardin also expressed his disappointment that European governments had not taken a more aggressive stand. Dr. Samuels presented chilling testimony on the extent of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and the failure of European governments and the international community to respond effectively. “Every Jewish building in Paris requires protection,” Samuels testified, reading from a January 16, 2002 Le Monde article. “Any child leaving school may be beaten because he is Jewish, only because he is a Jew.” Among the hundreds of attacks in France just this year, Samuels cited several compelling stories: An eight-year-old girl was wounded by a bullet when a Jewish school bus came under fire in suburban Paris. A rabbi’s car was defaced by graffiti that read “Death to the Jews.” Rather than documenting these incidents as anti-Semitic violence, the French Government identified them as a broken windshield and an act of vandalism, respectively. In effect, there exists what Dr. Samuels called a “black box of denial.” The perpetrators often go unpunished. Mr. Levin addressed anti-Semitism in the former Soviet states, urging appropriate criticism of countries’ shortcomings and recognition of their successes when it comes to combating anti-Semitism. Enforcing existing laws, using the bully pulpit, outreach to the general public, furthering understanding through education, and encouraging a role for religious leaders are all important steps, Levin testified. He concluded, “It is our hope and it is our expectation that when President Bush meets with President Putin in Moscow. . . he will carry this message.” Ms. Arriaga testified that Amnesty International strongly condemns the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks. “These acts are violations of the most fundamental human rights committed on the basis of an individual’s religion or identity,” she said. Ms. Arriaga made two recommendations. One, President Bush should raise issues of law enforcement accountability and other steps toward combating racist and anti-Semitic attitudes with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the late-May U.S.-Russia summit. Two, Congress should consider lifting the Jackson-Vanik amendment as a means of leveraging discussions. Rabbi Baker made a compelling statement that further highlighted the severity of anti-Semitism. Like Samuels, Baker outlined three sources of hatred that have converged to create the situation in which Europe now finds itself. They include radicalized Muslims, incited by the scathing coverage of Israel in the Arabic press; the surge in popularity of Europe’s far right wing; and a growing hatred of Israel on Europe’s left wing. “The image of an Israeli who is frequently portrayed as an aggressive violator of human rights is quickly conflated with the Jew,” Baker testified. Taking this one step further, Baker continued, cartoonists have depicted Israeli leaders with gross physical exaggerations just as the Nazis depicted the Jewish “villain.” Baker observed the need for U.S. political leaders to approach European leaders “in measured and sober tones.” Concluding his testimony, Baker acknowledged that the U.S. has been European Jewry’s strongest ally in the fight against anti-Semitism. Mr. Jacobson’s testimony framed the issue of anti-Semitism as a national security matter for the United States. Anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiments often go hand-in-hand, he said. Typically, this sort of hatred spreads from one region in the Middle East to another in Europe, in large part, because of anti-Jewish invective spewed by Al Jazeera television, anti-Israel media coverage in France, and trans-ideological Internet propaganda. Appealing for action, Jacobson recommended that Congress and the OSCE work to place this issue on the international diplomatic agenda. He also suggested the international community convene a conference on anti-Semitism. Finally, anti-bias education can help combat anti-Semitism, Jacobson said. Commissioners pledged to raise the issue of anti-Semitism at the upcoming OSCE Berlin Parliamentary Assembly meeting in early July. Among the initiatives discussed was the introduction of a free-standing resolution on anti-Semitic violence in the OSCE region for consideration in Berlin. An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses can be found on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. Helsinki Commission intern Derek N. Politzer contributed to this article.

  • Escalating anti-Semitic Violence in Europe

    While the anti-Semitism scourge lurks in the United States, the sharp escalation of violence against Jews in the OSCE region deserves attention. The most brutal incidents in recent months have occurred in France, Belgium and Germany. Violence has also been directed toward the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, Greece and Ukraine. OSCE participating States have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence. Despite that commitment, attacks against Jews continue. Two Yeshiva students from New Jersey were assaulted in Germany. A mob attacked Jewish worshipers in a Ukraine synagogue. A gang attacked Jewish high school soccer players in France. Vandals vandalized several synagogues in Russia. A Marseille synagogue burned to the ground and synagogues elsewhere in the OSCE region have suffered firebomb attacks. Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi “skin head” activity, participating States throughout the OSCE region face the urgent challenge of stemming the tide of escalating anti-Semitic violence.

  • Commission Staff Observes Ukrainian Elections

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor United States Helsinki Commission staff observed the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections in Ukraine as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly contingent of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM). Half of the deputies to the 450-member parliament were elected from party lists and the other half from single-mandate districts. Six parties passed the 4 percent threshold necessary to be seated in the party list vote, with reformist former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc winning the most votes. In the single-mandate district voting, the pro-presidential For United Ukraine bloc obtained the largest number of seats. Both the OSCE and the U.S. State Department concluded that the March 31 elections indicated progress over the 1998 elections, but “important flaws persist.” In its April 1 press conference in Kyiv, the IEOM declined to prepare a final analysis before post-election procedures are concluded, and promised to return to Ukraine within a month to follow up, after watching how election authorities and the judiciary perform while tabulating and publishing results and adjudicating disputes. Positive elements cited included a new Election Law that took into account OSCE/ODIHR recommendations from previous elections; improvements in the mechanism to address election disputes, with clearer complaint and appeals procedures; multi-party commissions; the engagement of civil society in the electoral process; and greater access by candidates and parties to the media through TV debates, free air time and paid advertising. On the negative side, media coverage was biased and state-funded television gave disproportionate coverage to pro-presidential candidates. Other problem areas included abuses of state resources in the election campaign, interference by local authorities, and a campaign sullied by the murders of two candidates, and other isolated instances of violence, including one just a few days before the elections. Compared to previous elections, the level of pressure by government officials and workers to campaign in support of the main pro-presidential party, including direct pressure on individuals to vote for specific candidates, had significantly increased. The abuse of state resources created an uneven playing field and the main beneficiary of such violations was the pro-presidential bloc For a United Ukraine. Despite these advantages, pro-presidential parties did not do all that well in the party-list vote, and several did not even surpass the four percent threshold required for inclusion in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). Furthermore, the two opposition parties garnered more votes than expected, securing for themselves seats in the new parliament. According to the IEOM, there were also shortcomings in the implementation of the legal framework, including uneven enforcement of provisions on violations of electoral rights, the lack of deadlines, and clear definitions regarding candidate de-registration and campaigning. According to the OSCE experts, these weaknesses derived from the inability of the Rada and the President to agree on amendments to the Administrative Code, so, in effect some of the positive provisions of the Election Law could not be enforced. Another problem was the lack of reliable voter lists – outdated information, including voters who had moved to other districts, left the country, or are deceased – and the widespread practice of issuing absentee ballots to voters unrelated to their place of residence. Voter lists may be amended up until election day; however, voters cannot be included in the registers of their place of residence on election day without a judicial decision. Voters were added to registers and allowed to vote – without the required court order– in about one third of polling stations visited by international observers. Voting day During the polling on voting day, the most serious problems were violations of the secrecy of the vote and voters added to registers in apparent contravention of the law. OSCE staff observed the elections in Lviv oblast in western Ukraine. Most polling stations visited by Commission staff were run efficiently, in a calm atmosphere, and commission members seemed hard-working and dedicated. Furthermore, there were numerous party, candidate and domestic observers. In a minority of polling stations staff witnessed incompetence, chaos, overcrowding, inadequate facilities – usually premises that were much too small and had an inadequate number of voting booths. Overcrowding was responsible for the violation most frequently observed – voting outside of booths – but there appeared to be no element of intimidation here. Instead, voters simply did not feel like waiting in long lines. According to the non-partisan domestic observer group Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), 15 % of voters were unable to vote due to overcrowding or poor facilities. Also, CVU estimated that one third of precincts were not able to conduct the elections in an organized manner. Despite the uneven playing field and violations with respect to the vote tabulations in a number of single-mandate constituencies, generally, the elections reflected the will of the voters. The actual results did not differ significantly from the results of several exit polls. Results and What Next The results indicate a country divided into three broad political orientations. Our Ukraine, the center-right, pro-reform, pro-Western coalition headed by Yushchenko, took the most seats in the party-list vote. The Communists garnered 20 percent of the party-list vote, clearly indicating their continued downward trend with each passing election. For the first time since Ukraine became independent in 1991, they will not constitute the largest political grouping in the Rada. In third place in the party-list vote was the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine, which had benefitted the most from the authorities’ abuses of state resources in the campaign. This bloc, however, had a strong showing in the single-mandate district voting, and will almost certainly end up with the largest number of overall deputies, especially as their numbers will be expanded with those who ran as “independents.” No one political grouping will have a viable majority in parliament; hence, will need to make concessions with other groupings to act. The pro-presidential For a United Ukraine may be compelled to team up with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine to form a government and pass pro-reform legislative initiatives. With this kind of political configuration, shifting alliances may be more likely than any kind of solid coalition. As a result, cautious moves towards economic and political reform rather than sweeping changes are more likely. Nevertheless, judging by the results, the Ukrainian people are increasingly endorsing a pro-European, pro-market, pro-democratic orientation.

  • Ukraine Elections Resolution

    Mr. President, today the Senate, with bipartisan support, moves to consider S. Res. 205, a resolution urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31 parliamentary elections. I appreciate Chairman Biden and Senator Helms’ support in committee and the leadership for ensuring timely consideration of this important resolution. In adopting S. Res. 205, the United States Senate expresses interest in, and concerns for, a genuinely free and fair parliamentary election process which enables all of the various election blocs and political parties to compete on a level playing field. While expressing support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to promote democracy, rule of law, and human rights, the resolution urges the Ukrainian government to enforce impartially the new election law and to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections. I want to underscore commitments undertaken by the 55 OSCE participating States, including Ukraine, to build consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only form of government for each of our nations. Mr. President, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair has monitored closely the situation in Ukraine and has a long record of support for the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for human rights and democratic freedoms. A recent Commission briefing on the parliamentary elections brought together experts to assess the conduct of the campaign. High level visits to Ukraine have underscored the importance the United States attaches to these elections in the run up to presidential elections scheduled for 2004. As of today, with less than two weeks left before the elections, it remains an open question as to whether the elections will be a step forward for Ukraine. Despite considerable international attention, there are credible reports of various abuses and violations of the election law, including candidates refused access to media, the unlawful use of public funds and facilities, and government pressure on certain political parties, candidates and media outlets, and a pro-government bias in the public media. Ukraine’s success as an independent, democratic, economically successful state is vital to stability and security and Europe, and Ukraine has, over the last decade, enjoyed a strong relationship with the United States. This positive relationship, however, has been increasingly tested in the last few years because of pervasive levels of corruption in Ukraine and the still-unresolved case of murdered investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze and other issues which call into question the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to the rule of law and respect of human rights. Mr. President, Ukraine enjoys goodwill in the United States Senate and remains one of our largest recipients of U.S. assistance in the world. These elections are an important indication of the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to consolidate democracy and to demonstrate a serious intent regarding integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Thank you, Mr. President.

  • Kyrgyzstan's Release of Azimbek Beknazarov

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday authorities in Kyrgyzstan released Azimbek Beknazarov, a parliamentarian who had been in jail since January 5. The decision was made after disturbances in the Ak-Su District of Jalal-Abad, Mr. Beknazarov’s native region in southern Kyrgyzstan. In an unprecedented outburst of violence on March 17, six people were killed and scores wounded when police opened fire on demonstrators. Mr. Beknazarov has pledged not to leave the area and his trial has been postponed indefinitely while the authorities and the public catch their breath and reassess the situation.   The incident and the events leading up to it are alarming--not only for Kyrgyzstan but for the United States, which is now basing troops in the country and expects to be in the region for the foreseeable future. Despite attempts by some Kyrgyz officials to pin the blame on a mob of demonstrators fired up by alcohol, the real cause of the bloody riot was popular discontent with an unresponsive government reaching the boiling point.   Kyrgyz authorities have accused Mr. Beknazarov of improperly handling a murder case when he was an investigator in a district prosecutor’s office years ago. In fact, it is widely believed that Beknazarov’s real transgression was to suggest that Kyrgyzstan’s parliament discuss the country’s border agreement with China, which would transfer some territory from the tiny Central Asian state to its giant neighbor.   This is reflective of Akaev’s intensified efforts to consolidate his power while cracking down on dissent and opposition. In February 2000, President Akaev rigged the parliamentary election to keep his main rival--Felix Kulov, who had served as Vice President and in other high-level positions--from winning a seat in the legislature. The observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) openly questioned the results in Kulov’s district, and said the election had fallen far short of international standards. Subsequently, Kulov was arrested and could not participate in the October 2000 presidential election, in which Akaev faced no serious contenders and was easily re-elected.   Kulov is serving a 7-year jail term and now faces new criminal charges. Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner. Last December I chaired a hearing of the Helsinki Commission which focused on the deterioration of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Mr. Kulov’s wife was able to attend the hearing and offered her perspective on the current political climate in her country.   The independent and opposition media in Kyrgyzstan have also been under severe pressure, usually in the form of libel cases which official authorities use to fine newspapers out of existence so they cannot report on corruption. In January 2002, the authorities issued Decree No. 20, which would introduce mandatory official inventory and government registration of all typographical and printing equipment, while imposing stricter controls on its imports. Decree No. 20 would also threaten U.S. Government plans to establish an independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, the decree will be used against religious groups, both Muslim and Christian, by blocking their ability to produce religious material and by calling for an “auditing” of all religious communities that create publications. While the pretext of the decree is to combat “religious extremists,” the decree has clear implications for religious communities out of favor with the government, as well as with opposition groups. The State Department has urged Kyrgyzstan to repeal Decree No. 20 but so far, Bishkek has stubbornly refused.   So when legislator Azimbek Beknazarov was arrested on January 5, his colleagues in parliament, members of opposition parties and human rights activists reacted strongly to the latest step in an ongoing campaign to clamp down on civil society. Since January, hundreds of people, including parliamentarians, have gone on hunger strikes to demand his release. Protests and demonstrations have continued throughout, which the police have either ignored or roughly dispersed. The U.S. Government, the OSCE and international human rights groups have called for Beknazarov’s release, but President Akaev, hiding behind the fig leaf of “executive non-interference in judicial deliberations,” contends that the case must be decided by the courts. His position is an absurd pretense in a country where the courts are under state influence, especially in sensitive political cases. More to the point, this stance is simply no longer credible, considering the widespread belief that Beknazarov’s imprisonment was politically motivated and the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s good faith.   Finally, pent-up tensions exploded two days ago, when demonstrators and police clashed, with tragic consequences. Kyrgyz officials have accused organizers of unauthorized pickets and rallies of responsibility for the violence. In an address to the nation, President Akaev described the events as “an apparent plot [in which] a group of people, including prominent politicians, staged unauthorized mass rallies simultaneously.” He said the events were “another move in the targeted activities of opposition forces to destabilize the situation in the country. They have been engaged in these activities for the last few years.”   Mr. Speaker, I would contend that the riots in Jalal-Abad Region were the predictable outcome of frustration and desperation. Askar Akaev, by falsifying elections and repressing freedom of expression, has made normal politics impossible in Kyrgyzstan. A long-suffering populace, which has seen its living standard plummet while corrupt officials grow rich, has signaled that enough is enough. The authorities have heard the message and now have to make a critical decision: either to try to find a common language with society or to crack down. If they choose the former, Kyrgyzstan may yet realize its promise of the early 1990s; if they choose the latter, more confrontations are likely, with unpredictable ramifications for Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors.   The United States has a real stake in the outcome. We are in Central Asia to make sure terrorists cannot use the region to plan attacks on us or recruit new members. But all the region’s states are led by men determined to stay in power indefinitely. This means they cannot allow society to challenge the state, which, in turn, insures that discontented, impoverished people with no other outlets could well be attracted by radical ideologies.   We must make it plain to President Akaev that we are serious when we declare that our war on terrorism has not put democracy and human rights on the back burner. And we must insist that he implement his OSCE commitments, as well as the pledge he made in last month’s bilateral Memorandum of Understanding with the United States. That document obligates Kyrgyzstan to “confirm its commitment to continue to take demonstrable measures to strengthen the development of democratic institutions and to respect basic human and civil rights, among which are freedom of speech and of the media, freedom of association and public assembly, and freedom of religion.”   The events earlier this week have given us a wake-up call. We had better understand properly all its implications.

  • Resolution Urging Ukraine to Ensure a Democratic, Transparent and Fair Election Process

    Mr. Speaker, today the House moves to the timely consideration of H. Res. 339 which urges the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections. I’d like to thank Mr. Armey for his commitment to schedule consideration of this measure this week. I was pleased to be an original cosponsor of the resolution which acknowledges the strong relationship between the United States and Ukraine, urges the Ukrainian Government to enforce impartially its new election law, and urges the Ukrainian Government to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections. I strongly encourage my colleagues to support this measure. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has a longstanding record of support for human rights and democratic development in Ukraine. Commission staff will be going to observe and report on these elections, as they have for virtually every election in Ukraine since 1990. The stakes in the Ukrainian elections are high – both in terms of outcome and as an indication of the Ukrainian Government’s commitment towards democratic development and integration into Europe.   Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to underscore the reason for this congressional interest in Ukraine. The clear and simple reason: an independent, democratic, and economically stable Ukraine is vital to the stability and security of Europe, and we want to encourage Ukraine in realizing its own often-stated goal of integration into Europe. Despite the positive changes that have occurred in Ukraine since independence in1991, including the economic growth over the last two years, Ukraine is still undergoing the difficult challenge of transition. The pace of that transition has been distressing, slowed by insufficient progress in respect for the rule of law, especially by the presence of widespread corruption which continues to exact a considerable toll on the Ukrainian people.   Another source of frustration is the still-unresolved case of murdered investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The flawed investigations of this case and the case of another murdered Ukrainian journalist, Ihor Aleksandrov call into question Ukraine’s commitment to the rule of law. There have also been a number of disturbing cases of violence or threats of violence. For instance, 78-year-old Iryna Senyk a former political prisoner and poetess who was campaigning for the pro-reform Our Ukraine bloc, was badly beaten by “unknown assailants.” Such unchecked violence has created an uncertain atmosphere. Most of independent Ukraine’s elections have generally met international democratic standards for elections. The 1999 presidential elections, however, were more problematic, and the OSCE Election Mission Report on these elections asserted that they “failed to meet a significant number of the OSCE election related commitments.”   Mr. Speaker, it remains an open question as to whether the March 31 elections will be a step forward for Ukraine. With less than two weeks until election day, there are some discouraging indications – credible reports of various violations of the election law, including campaigning by officials or use of state resources to support certain political blocs or candidates; the denial of public facilities and services to candidates, blocs or parties; governmental pressure on certain parties, candidates and media outlets; and a pro-government bias in the public media, especially the government’s main television network, UT-1. These actions are inconsistent with Ukraine’s freely undertaken OSCE commitments and undermine its reputation with respect to human rights and democracy. A democratic election process is a must in solidifying Ukraine’s democratic credentials and the confidence of its citizens, and in its stated desire to integrate with the West.   During his visit to Ukraine last week, the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Adrian Severin, expressed concern over the mistrust in the electoral process among certain candidates as well as general skepticism as to whether the elections would be truly free and fair and encouraged Ukrainian officials to take measures to address these concerns so as to ensure public trust in the outcome of the election. Mr. Speaker, I ask that the summary of the most recent Long Term Observation Report on the Ukrainian elections prepared by the non-partisan Committee of Voters of Ukraine, be submitted for the Record. I urge unanimous support for this resolution.

  • Upcoming Ukraine Parliamentary Elections Focus of Briefing

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission held a public briefing on February 27 which examined the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections scheduled for March 31, 2002. Commission Chief of Staff Ron McNamara noted commitments undertaken by the 55 OSCE participating States, including Ukraine, to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only form of government for each of the nations. The reason for congressional interest in Ukraine which has been manifested by Senate and House resolutions introduced by a bipartisan group of Helsinki Commissioners, he observed, is “because an independent, secure, democratic, economically stable Ukraine is important, and we want to encourage Ukraine in realizing its own goal of integration into Europe.” The measures call for Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process. McNamara underscored the potential impact of the elections, “The parliamentary elections, along with local elections taking place on the same day, will chart Ukraine's course over the next four years, including on the presidential elections scheduled for 2004.” Three experts – former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Green Miller, Ambassador Nelson Ledsky of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Stephen Nix of the International Republican Institute (IRI) – addressed both positive and negative features of the election process and campaign. All three highlighted the importance of these elections being free and fair. Ambassador Miller stated: “This election is a crucial election. And it’s very important for Ukraine, for its government, for its system of governance, to have as free and fair an election as possible. It’s crucial to its international reputation and to the dignity of its own people.” Ambassador Miller described the roles of the various blocs running for the elections, observing that – based on what the polls indicate at this point – the probable outcome reflects the reality of Ukrainian politics in 2002. He did note problem areas, stating that the smaller parties of Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Moroz are the ones to watch, “...and that’s where much of the pressure on preventing their crossing the four percent threshold will be evident.” These two parties are in open opposition to President Leonid Kuchma. The issue in the next month, according to Miller, is “whether the shortcomings that have been identified by various people – Ukrainians and sympathetic foreigners – will be attended to. But, I would say, given the complexion of the polling now, there is very little that can be done to alter what seems to be the likely outcome.” Ambassador Ledsky pointed to pre-election violations documented by the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) over the last four months which fall into two broad categories – one relating to access to the media and coverage of the elections and the second to the misuse of administrative resources as part of the campaign process. Violations with respect to administrative resources include: government spaces being used for campaign purposes, which is contrary to Ukrainian law; public employees working on political campaigns and citizens pressured to join parties and blocs; the interference of government authorities in campaigning; and the denial by officials of public facilities and services to candidates, parties and blocs. (On election day, the CVU is aiming to field 20,000 observers which would complement the OSCE observation effort which will likely include over 250 international observers.) Ledsky also emphasized “two distinct contests” going on in Ukraine – the first is the contest for the 225 proportional representation seats in which the parties vying need to surpass the four percent threshold. The second contest is for the 225 single mandate seats. “And here,” said Ambassador Ledsky, “what we are seeing is that the battle is going on behind the scenes in each district, in each oblast, in each constituency. There, administrative resources are being used illegally and with subtlety to make sure that the single mandate seats move in one direction.” In response to a question about Russian involvement, Ambassador Ledsky noted the “more extensive, more prominent, more visible” level of Russian involvement in this campaign. He underscored the importance of the elections, stating, “We believe very fervently that a correction in the course of the last two or three elections is very badly needed to put Ukraine back on the democratic path.” Mr. Nix, focusing his remarks on procedural, administrative and legal issues surrounding the elections, praised the new elections law passed by the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) as being “very progressive and a huge improvement over previous law.” Current election law provides dual remedies, both administrative and legal; if a similar complaint is filed both with the administrative agency and with the courts, the court shall issue a stay. Focusing on how election-related disputes will be handled, Mr. Nix expressed concern – based on IRI’s recent pre-election assessment mission to Ukraine – that many judges did not appear to understand “... that they had the right, in fact the duty, to take jurisdiction of these cases and order the administrative actions to cease.” Mr. Nix observed that a key difference in this election is that political parties now largely staff constituency (district) election commissions and, to a lesser extent, polling station (precinct) commissions – this can be a deterrent to fraud – and noted IRI’s role in training members of these commissions. While parties for the most part have placed people on the polling station commissions, there is concern that some areas in rural villages are not covered, concluding that places in which parties are not represented have “to be a big focus of the monitoring effort.”

  • U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns

    This briefing addressed U.S. policy in Central Asia and human rights concerns in the region in advance of the President of Uzbekistan’s visit to Washington, which had drawn attention to the deepening engagement of the United States in the region. Questions about Washington’s leverage presently and in the foreseeable future as well as the prospects for improving the dismal human rights situation in the region were discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence Uzzell, Director of the Keston Institute; E. Wayne Merry, Senior Associate of the American Foreign Policy Council; and Nina Shea, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – presented numerous examples of the human rights violations that occur in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and pointed to the inheritance of imperial policies of commodity exploitation, ecological damage, and extremely bad demographics as several of the motivating factors of these violations.

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