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Helsinki Commission Examines Plight of Internally Displaced Persons
Hearing Focuses on Caucasus Region, Southeast Anatolia
Friday, August 01, 2003

By Knox Thames
CSCE Counsel

The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing June 10, 2003, focusing on the plight of an estimated three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Caucasus region and southeastern Anatolia. The region has become a temporary dwelling place to the single largest body of displaced persons in the region covered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Testifying at the hearing were Dr. Francis Deng, United Nations Secretary General's Representative on Internally Displaced Persons; Ms. Roberta Cohen, Co-Director of the Brookings-SAIS Project on Internal Displacement; Dr. Maureen Lynch, Director of Research for Refugees International; and Mr. Jonathan Sugden, Researcher in the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch.

Mr. Gabriel Trujillo, Mission Head for Doctors Without Borders of the Russian Federation was scheduled to testify, but encountered unexpected delays in Moscow. Mr. Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders, U.S.A. graciously delivered Mr. Trujillo's opening statement.

Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) opened the hearing, describing how protracted conflicts in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the North Caucasus of the Russian Federation have diminished the prospects of displaced persons safely returning home. He noted that few individuals have been allowed to return to southeastern Turkey, despite the lifting of the last state of emergency in late 2002. "We must address this problem now as thousands and thousands of individuals are suffering," said Smith. "More must be done to find just, realistic and durable solutions."

Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) stated in written remarks, "As an American Indian, I am particularly sensitive to the plight of men, women and children who have been uprooted from their homes. Whether due to conflict, natural disaster or other causes, the displaced cling to the hope they will one day be able to return home." Campbell added that with millions waiting to return, "it is the responsibility of individual participating States and the international community to meet the needs of these individuals while working to create the conditions necessary for their return in safety and dignity."

Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) emphasized the need for the hearing to both ascertain the precise situation of IDPs in the region and to bring greater attention to their needs. He expressed hope that the hearing would provide information and ideas on how the State Department and the U.S. Congress could play a role in assisting the internally displaced.

Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) called the condition of IDPs in the region "urgent," as they suffer not only from a lack of food, medical aid, and education, but also from the inability to return home. "Some fear government action against them. Others fear rebel action. Others fear both," Pitts noted.

Dr. Deng is the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which recognized international norms for the rights of the displaced and the corresponding duties of states in protecting those rights. He provided an overview of the situation in the region, characterizing IDPs as having the same needs as refugees, "but worse." Since IDPs do not leave their country, they remain more or less within the conflict zone, faced with the same threats that caused their flight. While their home governments bear primary responsibility for their safety and security, Deng noted in many cases IDPs become in effect political hostages. By not resettling the displaced and allowing free integration, the government uses them as bargaining chips in the political conflict. When the government fails to act, the displaced often fall into a "vacuum of responsibility," Deng observed, noting that the world cannot sit and watch and do nothing.

Ms. Cohen offered a series of recommendations for the OSCE on issues pertaining to IDPs. "The OSCE, more than most regional organizations, has tremendous potential for dealing with the problem of internal displacement in the European region," stated Cohen. "It also has the responsibility to do so."

Although recognizing that in recent years the OSCE has expanded its involvement with problems of internal displacement, Cohen noted that these steps have been largely ad hoc and too small. She recommended that the OSCE systematically integrate internal displacement into its activities, particularly within the Caucasus region and southeastern Anatolia, using the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as a framework.

Cohen specifically urged OSCE bodies to ensure the right of IDPs to vote. In addition, Cohen identified the OSCE/ODIHR migration unit as the potential focal point for activities within the organization and contended that, if these recommendations are carried out, it would positively impact the situation in the Caucasus and Turkey.

Russian Federation

Gabriel Trujillo's prepared statement outlined the results of a Doctors Without Borders' survey conducted in February 2003 that polled over 16,000 displaced Chechens housed in camps in neighboring Ingushetia. When questioned about returning to Chechnya, an overwhelming majority of respondents said they were too afraid for their safety to return. Notably, individuals interviewed did not consider the availability of humanitarian aid available in Ingushetia as a reason to stay.

The ongoing violence has kept UNHCR from certifying Chechnya as a safe return destination. International aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders, are choosing to limit or suspend their operations out of concern for the safety of aid workers. Mr. de Torrente pointed to recent abductions, including Doctors Without Borders volunteer Arjan Erkel still missing from nearby Daghestan after ten months, as exemplifying the security situation in the region. "If present security conditions in Chechnya and the neighboring republics are not adequate for humanitarian workers to carry out assistance activities," asked de Torrente, "why would they be considered adequate for civilian Chechens to return and resume their normal lives?"

Despite this lack of security, the UN estimates that more than 38,000 IDPs from Ingushetia returned to Chechnya last year. Respondents to the survey said people are left with little choice. They report that officials have threatened to cut off assistance in Ingushetia and block future aid in Chechnya for those refusing to leave immediately. Also, Russian troops reportedly are stationed near IDP camps and authorities limit assistance from international agencies, all to pressure IDPs to return to Chechnya.

De Torrente concluded, "The results of the survey are a clear indication that the basic rights of displaced people to seek safe refuge, to be protected and assisted properly in a time of conflict, and only to return home voluntarily as guaranteed by international humanitarian law are not being respected."

Turkey

Mr. Sugden described the situation in southeastern Turkey, where approximately 400,000 to one million people, mostly of Kurdish heritage, fled their villages during the conflict with the PKK. Relative peace returned to the region by 2001, yet the majority of Turkey's displaced have been unable to return home. Sugden noted that often local authorities will not permit villages to be re-inhabited, while in other cases the gendarmes or village guards block resettlement, often by threat or use of violence.

While the Government of Turkey has policies and programs aimed at returning the displaced to their homes, Sugden asserted, they have "consistently been underfunded and ill-conceived, falling far short of established international standards." Because of this, the international community has been reluctant to get involved. "Instead of helping villagers to get international assistance, the government, with its flawed plans, is actually standing in their path," he remarked. Sugden noted that the implementation of a fair and effective return program for the displaced populations in Turkey would also serve the country's goal of EU membership. He urged the Helsinki Commission to use its leverage in encouraging Turkey "as a matter of urgent priority" to convene a planning forum with the goal of creating a return program meeting international standards.

Azerbaijan and Georgia

Dr. Lynch estimated that in the South Caucasus there are currently some 250,000 displaced individuals from the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts in Georgia and over 572,000 displaced from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan. Although political solutions would provide the best opportunity for these groups to return home, the frozen nature of the conflicts makes that a remote possibility. In addition, Lynch asserted that the Georgian and Azeri Governments have failed to provide alternative integration opportunities, thereby maintaining the displaced as "political pawns."

In Azerbaijan, only about ten percent of IDPs live in camps. The rest have settled in abandoned hotels, railway cars, or underground dugouts, all of which represent serious health hazards from air and water quality to the risk of structural collapse. The lucky few provided with government-funded housing find themselves located far from jobs and on unirrigated land unsuitable for farming. Nevertheless, Dr. Lynch maintains that Azerbaijan is full of potential; it is an oil-rich country with a highly literate population. "The answer to Azerbaijan's trouble is not found only in resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," he asserted, "Azerbaijan must protect itself from corruption and use all of its resources to look to the future."

In Georgia, the living conditions for IDPs are just as harsh, but with the added difficulty of only sporadic food aid. There is also a severe lack of even basic healthcare accessible to IDPs and virtually no psychosocial assistance. What healthcare is available is often too expensive for the displaced, resulting in many IDPs dying from curable ailments.

Dr. Lynch declared that both Azerbaijan and Georgia must develop long-term solutions for their displaced populations, but they must also allow relief aid to arrive unhindered. In particular, Georgia must lift the import tax it imposed on humanitarian goods, which is currently blocking effective aid distribution, and both countries must work to create economic opportunities for IDPs. She further urged governments to be transparent in their plans, thereby encouraging continued participation of the international community.

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.

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I can assure you that the Department of State will continue to use every available tool to achieve cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal by the governments of Serbia and Montenegro.   Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from New Jersey (Chairman Smith) of the Helsinki Commission, the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer), who has been extremely helpful in this issue, the gentlewoman from New York (Mrs. Lowey) from the Committee on Appropriations, the staff at the Helsinki committee, the Coalition for International Justice, and Ambassador Prosper, who is our Ambassador at Large for War Crimes, for their cooperation in order to be able to work out further cooperation with the tribunal.   I also want to thank the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Crane) and the gentleman from Michigan (Mr. Levin) for their patience. 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These include top officials such as two former presidents of the FRY, heads of military and police security services, as well as many high-ranking military and police officers.   As regards the documents requested by the ICTY, we have presented thousands of pages of documentation, including confidential records of the Supreme Defense Council, which is the commander-in-chief of the Yugoslav Army. I would like to assure you that we are determined to cooperate even more effectively with the ICTY in relation to documents and witnesses, and most notably, with regard to the transfer of indictees. Further promotion of democracy and economic prosperity of my country would only create a more favorable climate for such cooperation. In this regard, extending NTR treatment would be a welcome signal that Serbia and Montenegro have the support of the United States and would bring tangible benefits to our economy and people.   I am confident that you will take this information into account while assessing the level of cooperation with the ICTY, and as a result support the initiative to extend NTR treatment to Serbia and Montenegro.   Sincerely,   GORAN SVILANOVIC.   NON-PAPER   Serbia and Montenegro believes that all individuals responsible for international crimes should be brought to justice, either before international courts, such as the ICTY, or before national courts. In particular, as a UN Member, Serbia and Montenegro recognizes its obligation to cooperate with the JCTY. Consequently, the FRY has adopted the Law on Co-operation with the ICTY on 11 April 2002, which regulates the legal framework for cooperation.   Fifteen indictees who were on the territory of the FRY were brought into the custody of the ICTY. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia arrested and surrended 6 indictees, including Slobodan Milosevic, former president of the FRY and Serbia. The others are Milomir Stakic, former Chief of the Crisis Staff of Prijedor Municipality, Republika Sprska (RS), and four combatants of the RS Army: Drazen Erdemovic, Predrag Banovic, Nenad Benovic i Ranko Cesic.   At the same time, 10 indictees have been encouraged to voluntarily surrender to the ICTY and they eventually did so. These are:   1. Dragoljub Ojdanic, General, former Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army and former Federal Minister of Defence.   2. Nikola Sainovic, former Deputy-Prime Minister of the FRY.   3. Mile Mrksjc, Major-General, Yugoslav Army.   4. Pavle Strugar, Lieutenant-General, Yugoslav Army.   5. Miodrag Jokic, Vice-Admiral, Yugoslav Army.   6. Milan Martic, former Serb leader in Croatia.   7. Blagoie Simic, Head of the Bosanski Samac, RS, Crisis Staff.   8. Momcilo Gruban, Deputy Commander of the Omarska camp, RS.   9. Milan Milutinovic, former President of the Republic of Serbia.   10. Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party.   National courts have issued arrest warrants for additional 17 accused whose arrest has been sought by the ICTY. One indictee (Vlajko Stojiljkovic, former Minister of Internal Affairs of Serbia committed suicide.   Serbia and Montenegro has provided effective assistance to the Prosecutor and the ICTY with relation to locating, interviewing and testifying of suspects and witnesses. In that respect, Serbia and Montenegro has, so far, answered to 76 different requests and provided information for as many as 150 suspects and witnesses. Out of 126 witnesses for whom the waivers were requested, Serbia and Montenegro has granted 108 (86%), while others are in procedure.   In the Milosevic case, the FRY and Serbia government decided to allow more than 87 of the former and current state officials and employees to testify with relation to the Kosovo indictment, even about the matters that constitute military and state secrets.   Zoran Lilic, the former President of the FRY, has been given waiver to testify in the Milosevic case on the matters defined after consultations between the Prosecutor and the FRY and related to the events covered by the Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo indictments.   Dobrica Cosic, former President of the FRY, as well as Nebojsa Pavkovic, former Chief of the General staff of the Yugoslav Army have also been given waiver to testify in the Milosevic case and related to the events covered by the Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo indictments.   Regarding documents that have been sought by the ICTY Prosecutor (127), the FRY has answered, so far, to 65 requests, to 9 partially and 53 are currently processed. The documents transmitted to the Prosecution include:   Confidential military documents of the Supreme Defense Council, the Commander-in-chief of the Yugoslav Army;   Certain confidential regulations of the Yugoslav Army;   All available official records related to the Racak massacre, in relation to the Kosovo indictment against Milosevic;   All available personal information about Ratko Mladic, the former Commander of the Army;   Of Republika Srpska;   Information on all investigations and judicial proceedings initiated against members of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs for crimes committed in Kosovo and Metohija;   Official records of the Yugoslav National Bank relating to a company allegedly involved in trading arms during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina;   The authorities of Serbia and Montenegro have continued to investigate mass graves near Batajnica. This is done in the presence of the ICTY investigators on site, and the evidence obtained is regularly transferred to the ICTY Prosecutor.   There have been investigations and judicial proceedings before Yugoslav courts for violations of international humanitarian law:   There is a number of criminal proceedings before military courts against individuals indicted for crimes in Kosovo and Metohija in 1999. The judicial proceeding against Sasa Cvjetan and Dejan Demirovit, members of the special corps “Scorpions,” have also been initiated before the Court in Belgrade, for the crimes committed in Kosovo. In the District court in Prokuplje, Serbia, Ivan Nikolic, a reserve soldier with the Yugoslav Army, was sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment for the killing of two Kosovo-Albanian civilians.   Criminal proceeding before the Belgrade District Court are currently under way for the abduction of Bosniacs from the village of Sjeverin in 1992 (Case of Dragoljub Dragicevic and others).   In another case, Nebojsa Ranisavljevic was convicted to 15 years of imprisonment for his role in the notorious case of abduction of Muslim passengers from the train in Supci station in 1993.  

  • Condemning Anti-Semitism

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce, along with my colleagues Rep. Cardin, Rep. Wolf, Rep. Hoyer, Rep. Lantos, Rep. Wamp, Rep. Slaughter, Rep. Aderholt and Rep. Hastings, this resolution expressing the sense of the Congress that the sharp escalation of anti-Semitism, including violence, throughout the region of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is of serious concern to the U.S. Congress and the American people. We should make a concerted effort in our respective countries to end this disturbing trend.   Anti-Semitism is a disease that has bedeviled previous generations of Jews throughout the centuries and formed a black spot on human history. As the 20th century witnessed the nadir of extreme violence against the Jewish community and their institutions, we must take extraordinary steps to ensure this plague does not infect the 21st century to contaminate future generations. Yet our work is cut out for us, as this past year Europe witnessed a profound increase in vandalism against Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and cultural property, as well as mob assaults, fire bombings and gunfire. This year already a Jewish rabbi was stabbed twice in his Paris synagogue by an assailant. Thankfully, he was released from the hospital the same day. Certainly our own country is not immune, as acts of vandalism and violence continue to sporadically occur. As these incidents made graphically clear, silence is not an option when we are witnesses to insensitivity and violence.   The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair and on which Mr. Cardin serves has taken the lead in voicing concern and working for real change. On May 22, 2002, the Commission held a hearing to raise specific attention to the growing problem of anti-Semitic violence in the OSCE region. From that hearing a number of initiatives emerged. At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Berlin last July, I introduced and successfully secured unanimous approval of a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism and calling for all OSCE governments to do more. Mr. Speaker, for the record, I submit the text of the OSCE PA resolution.   In addition, the U.S. delegation co-sponsored an unprecedented special session with the German delegation to further discuss the alarming trend with our fellow parliamentarians. In December, the Commission co-hosted here in Washington a parliamentary forum on anti-Semitism with German parliamentarians, also attended by a prominent member of the Senate of Canada, Jerry Grafstein. At the conclusion of this event, myself and the German co-chair, Gert Weisskirchen, signed a letter of intent highlighting specific areas for further work and pledging to enlist the support of other parliamentarians from OSCE participating States. I have submitted a copy of the letter of intent, for the record.   Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this resolution, and I am eager for the House to go on record in support, making sure both the Congress and our government are doing everything possible to see an end to this scourge. I am especially pleased that the resolution calls for all OSCE participating States to ensure effective law enforcement and prosecution of individuals perpetrating anti-Semitic violence, as well as urging the parliaments of all participating States to take concrete legislative action at the national level. In sum, I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue our steadfast efforts to see an end to anti-Semitic violence.

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act 2003

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, 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. I am joined by Congressmen HOYER, HOEFFEL and Congresswoman Slaughter, as original cosponsors.   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 repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The democratic opposition, nongovernmental organizations and independent media have all faced harassment. Just within the last few months, we have seen a number of events reflecting the negative trend line: the passage of a repressive law on religion which bans religious activity by groups not registered with the government and forbids most religious meetings on private property; the bulldozing of a newly-built church; the incarceration of leading independent journalists; and the continued harassment, as well as physical attacks on the political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations--in short, anyone who, through their promotion of democracy , would stand in the way of the Belarusian dictator. Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents--perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders. Furthermore, growing evidence also indicates Belarus has been supplying military training and weapons to Iraq, in violation of UN sanctions.   Despite efforts by the U.S. Government, non-govermental organizations, 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 flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential [Page: E242] GPO's PDF 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 highranking 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 would 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 Belaras' integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount. The Belarusian people deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country based on the rule of law and democratic institutions.

  • Honoring Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel

    Mr. Speaker, Vaclav Havel is sometimes called the “conscience of the Czech Republic.” In fact, he could be called the conscience of the world. As both playwright and president, he has set an example for his country men and women and inspired others around the globe.   As a Member serving on the Helsinki Commission, I first became aware of Vaclav Havel and his stance as a leader of the Charter '77 human rights movement. At a time when most Czechoslovaks preferred to keep their heads low, he held his up. When others dared not speak out, he raised his voice. While others hid from communism in their apartments and weekend cottages, he faced it down in prison. In recognition of his extraordinary leadership and courage, the Commission leadership recommended him for the Nobel Peace Prize in February 1989.   Vaclav Havel once wrote of the “power of the powerless” and, on November 17, 1989, when the Velvet Revolution began, the world saw that power manifested in reality.   Mr. Speaker, Vaclav Havel is a man who has always been guided by the courage of his convictions. Remarkably, his courage did not fade upon his assumption of the presidency. Indeed, he is all the more heroic for his remaining steadfast to his commitment to human rights even from the comforts of the Prague Castle.   From the beginning of his tenure, as he addressed his country's communist and totalitarian past, he was a voice of reason, not revenge. In 1993, he rightly identified the situation of Roma as “a litmus test for civil society.” Throughout his presidency, he has pardoned those facing criminal charges under communist-era laws that restrict free speech and have yet to be repealed. In 2001, he spoke out against the parliament's regressive religion law, which turned the clock back on religious freedom. He has raised human rights issues from Cuba to China. And, he has reminded other world leaders of our shared responsibility for the poor and less fortunate.   H. Con. Res. 22 pays tribute to Vaclav Havel's singular compassion, integrity, and vision. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting a man who has given so much to his country and the world.

  • Hearing Surveys Human Rights in Republic of Georgia

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The Helsinki Commission held a hearing September 24, 2002 on developments in the Republic of Georgia, with particular focus on the recent violent attacks against selected minority religious communities, as well as the threat of Russian aggression against that Caucasus nation. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing that examined Georgia’s prospects for democratization, its security situation, and how Washington can best promote the complementary goals of advancing democracy, human rights and economic liberty while leading the battle against international terrorism. The hearing opened with a gripping video documenting mob violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and the failure of Georgian police to quell such attacks. Georgia, which became an OSCE participating State in 1992, was seemingly headed toward domestic stability and democratic governance in the mid-1990s, but recent trends have been disappointing. The official results of elections have not inspired confidence, undermining the public’s faith in democracy and the right of the people to choose their government. While civil society has grown substantially, independent media and non-governmental organizations remain at risk. The savage attack on the human rights organization, Liberty Institute, like the campaign of violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths, as well as efforts to silence Rustavi-2 Television, testify to the lingering influence of forces bent on preventing Georgia from consolidating democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Meanwhile, Georgia has been under intensifying pressure from Russia, with Moscow accusing Georgia of failing to cooperate in the war on terrorism. Russian planes have invaded Georgian airspace and bombed the territory, killing Georgian citizens. Russian officials increasingly threaten to launch unilateral military actions within Georgia against Chechen rebels. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently asked the United Nations to support his country’s threats to launch military strikes inside Georgia. Moscow’s threats place at risk Georgia’s sovereignty and stability, moving Washington to consider how best to help Georgia defend itself and maintain control of its territory, while moving decisively against criminal elements and terrorists. This is a very complicated situation because much of the assistance from the United States is contingent upon Georgia’s compliance to stop religious violence within its borders. Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing by acknowledging Georgia’s progress since the last hearing in 1995, but was quick to point out salient shortcomings. Mr. Smith voiced several concerns pertaining to Georgia’s internal problems. Special attention was paid to the inaction of the Georgian Government in regard to the mob attacks on minority faiths. “I am especially concerned and appalled by 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 has tolerated,” Smith commented, “there can be no excuse for state toleration of such barbarity. It must end, and it must end now.” Not only was Mr. Smith concerned about the violence, but he also was concerned with the future of Georgia - U.S. relations because of the “rampant corruption,” unsatisfactory rate of democratization, and lack of compliance with OSCE standards. Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, voiced concern about the violence in the Pankisi Gorge and the Russian pressure on Georgia to eradicate the Chechen terrorist threat. Turning to trends in the areas of democracy and human rights, Pascoe noted, “We have stressed to President Shevardnadze and his government again and again that poor records on human rights and freedom of religion not only undermine Georgia's efforts at economic and democratic reform, but will also negatively affect our assistance if such problems are not addressed.” He further explained efforts in the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) to help Georgia in the war on terrorism, but suggested that U.S. assistance would diminish if Georgia does not act on the concerns voiced in the hearing. Georgian Ambassador Levan Mikeladze expressed his remorse for the mob attacks. He reassured the Commission that Georgia fully recognizes the problems in religious persecution and legal and practical actions are being taken to ensure there will be no more violent attacks: “We are hopeful that after all these assignments are executed, we will be in a position to say religion-based intolerance in Georgia has no future and manifestations of religiously motivated violence no longer occur.” Georgia’s security was a pressing issue for Ambassador Mikeladze given intrusions and aggression by the Russian Federation. He encouraged the United States to continue the GTEP and continue the strong rapport between the two nations. Co-Chairman Smith and Commissioner Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) were not satisfied with Ambassador Mikeladze’s explanation and expressed concern regarding the lack of action on the part of the Georgian Government to bring the perpetrators of attacks against minority faiths to justice. Smith issued a strong call to action, explaining the injurious nature to Georgia-U.S. relations of Georgia’s failure to actively stop the mob attacks. Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Baptist Union of Georgia set forth a long list of why and how such violence and hatred could be permitted in a democratic state. In attempting to give an explanation as to why such events have occurred in Georgia, the Bishop observed, “We gained independence but we still have not reached freedom. Old values have gone. New values have not come yet.” Songulashvili remarked, “It is not an absence of religious legislation which causes religious violence and persecution but rather absence of culture, justice and general law.” Despite all the grievances noted, Bishop Songulasvili remained hopeful that there would be progress. He offered four “targets” as a solution for the current religious violence: “Family, Mass Media, School and Teaching Institutions, and Religious Congregations.” He concluded, “Our optimism for the better future should not be overshadowed by the turmoil of the present time.” Mr. Gennadi Gudadze, a Jehovah’s Witness from Tbilisi, testified to the brutality experienced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia, including himself. He noted that “since then [October 1999], there have been 133 separate incidents involving either mob attacks, individual attacks or destruction of property.” Gudadze also pointed out that minimal action has been taken by the authorities against the criminals. He called for a three-pronged solution: apply the law, arrest the perpetrators, and remove the corrupt officials. Dr. Gia Nodia, Director of the Institute for Peace, Development, and Democracy, discussed the interrelationship between security on human rights. Dr. Nodia was very concerned with the possibility that the religious violence might evolve into political violence, hence impinging on the democratic process, causing much more turmoil within Georgia. Professor Stephen Jones of Mount Holyoke College gave a dismal summary of the current state of affairs in Georgia. He asserted that the government is failing its citizens and its current stability is based on the “thinnest of ice.” Professor Jones highlighted three main reasons for these failures: lack of economic security in Georgia; lack of proper institutions to carry out governmental and economic functions (i.e. Georgia’s current economy has shrunk 67% and industry is working at 20% of its capacity. Between 1997-2000, expenditure on defense decreased from $51.9 million to $13.6 million, education from $35.6 to $13.9 million, agriculture forestry and fishing from $13.4 to $7.2 million); and lack of political and public support for reform. Jones’ recommendation called for increased western aid, but the burden of progress lays heaviest on Georgia itself. The hearing concluded with a strong statement from Co-Chairman Smith urging the Government of Georgia to work quickly and effectively to eradicate its corruption and religious violence. He concluded his statement with these words, “Our only hope here is to try to promote human rights, democracy, and to protect the sovereignty of Georgia . . . from any forays by Russia.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s 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.

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE - 2003

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission hearing focused on how the Administration has been using the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the expansive OSCE region, particularly as a tool for advancing democracy. In addition the hearing touched on the anticipated OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review. In light of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the hearing discussed the link between state repression and violence and the role of building democracy  in U.S. national security interest. The witnesses and Commissioners discussed how the Helsinki Accords is based on mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems and how this concept can be effective tool for the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. In particular, the hearing covered situations in Central Asia and in authoritarian countries within the OSCE that are not putting forth meaningful reform.

  • Turkey's Post-Election Future Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    By Chadwick R. Gore CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing November 14 which examined Turkey’s future after the drastic shift in Turkey’s Grand National Assembly following the November 3rd elections. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) received just 34 percent of the popular vote, but gained two-thirds of the seats in the 550-seat Assembly. Forty-five percent of Turkey’s population voted for political parties that did not meet the 10 percent requirement for representation in the new parliament. The political flux has been likened to an earthquake as 88 percent of the newly elected officials are new to parliament, and the roots of the AKP and its leadership can be traced to former, but now illegal, Islamist parties. These factors have raised concerns in and outside of Turkey about the country’s political, democratic, economic and social future. Abdullah Akyüz, President of the Turkish Industrialist and Businessmen’s Association (TÜSÝAD), emphasized the significance of timing and outcome of the recent election. Turkey’s election of a party with a Muslim leader, the fragility of Turkey-EU relations, Turkey-Cyprus relations and the situation in Iraq all create apprehension about Turkey’s future. The election, which resulted in single party leadership, came at a very complex and crucial time for Turkey. While accession into the European Union (EU) is felt by many to be paramount to Turkish stability, Akyüz felt Turkey must address these issues immediately to make itself more attractive to the EU. Mr. Akyüz and Jonathan Sugden, Turkey Researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), stressed expressed the importance of EU accession for the economic and democratic development of Turkey. Sugden stated the EU Copenhagen summit in December is “a make or break date” for Turkey. According to Sugden, two main objectives need to be completed to give Turkey a better chance for negotiations with the EU: (1) The government needs to enact the new draft reform law on torture, reducing and eradicating torture from the Turkish law enforcement system; and, (2) Four imprisoned Kurdish parliamentarians [Layla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak] need to be released or at least given the chance to appeal their cases with adequate legal counsel. Once passed, the legislation to provide legal counsel to detainees immediately upon their detention would place Turkey ahead of several European nations, including France, regarding the right for the accused to have prompt access to counsel. Sanar Yurdatapan, a musician and freedom of expression activist, commented that “Turkey must become a model of democracy to its neighbors by displacing the correlation of Islam and terrorism and diminish the influence of the military in domestic affairs.” The AKP must prove it is committed to democracy and development and not a religious agenda, according to Yurdatapan. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of AKP, has shown signs that his party will attempt to live up to that commitment. Tayyip recently stated that accession to the EU is his top priority. Yurdatapan was most concerned with Turkish citizens gaining domestic freedoms, especially freedom of expression. Other concerns were raised about possible military intervention in domestic affairs. Historically, when the military feels the government is moving away from secularism toward a religious government, the military has stepped in and changed the government. This influence and subtle control of the military from behind the scenes is something that must be overcome if Turkey is to continue to democratize. Another important issue discussed at the briefing was the developing situation between the US and Iraq. Both Akyüz and Yurdatapan voiced concern about the adverse effects of war on Turkey. They were quick to point out that the Gulf War is still very fresh in Turkey’s memory. The Gulf War burdened Turkey with economic downturn and recession, as well as political and humanitarian problems with the Kurds. The Turkish people are very concerned that a new war would have similar effects, severely damaging Turkey’s aspiration for EU accession. If indeed there is a war, Turkey hopes to receive substantial compensation from the United States for economic losses. No one said what exactly Turkey will look like in the next four years, but progress and stability during that period are real possibilities. Yet, the concerns are strong and legitimate due to the several factors on which Turkey’s future depends. 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 Shadrach Ludeman contributed to this article.

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noted: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. This report conducts a review of Eastern European and Eurasian countries' records on these commitments over the course of the decade following the Soviet Union's collapse.

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noticed: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)*, which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the now 55-nation organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. Each of the OSCE participating States, including those examined in this report, has committed to “build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.” Similarly, the participating States have declared that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of government. Respect for them is an essential safeguard against an over-mighty State.” In a step designed to preserve the unity of the Helsinki process, each new participating State submitted a letter accepting in their entirety all commitments and responsibilities contained in the Helsinki Final Act, and all subsequent documents adopted prior to their membership (see Appendix I). To underscore this continuity, the leaders of each of the countries signed the actual original Final Act document (see Appendix II).

  • Commission Staff Meet with Georgian Officials While Religious Persecution Persists

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel   United States Helsinki Commission staff held consultations in Tbilisi, Georgia from October 14-16, 2002, with senior government officials, religious groups and NGOs to assess religious freedom and other human rights developments in that country. The discussions specifically focused on the ongoing mob violence against non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups, the prospects for ending the attacks, and what actions the Georgian Government should take to stop the depredations. The trip occurred on the heals of a Commission hearing on democracy, human rights and security in Georgia. During that hearing, Members of Congress raised their concerns regarding the ongoing violence against members of minority religious communities, Georgian authorities’ unwillingness to take action against the perpetrators of violence, and Georgia’s relationship with Russia concerning the Panksi Gorge. Commission Members have also written three letters in as many years to President Eduard Shevardnadze urging him to take concrete steps to quell the violence. The violence against minority religious communities began roughly three years ago, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals all being victimized. Over that period, the frequency and intensity of the attacks have increased. Police have been implicated in the attacks, but as of late, their transgressions consist of omissions, such as reportedly refusing to intervene when notified of assaults in-progress. More recently, the main instigators of mob violence are Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. In addition, demagogic parliamentarians, like Guram Sharadze, have led rallies and made inflammatory statements about the so-called “dangers” of non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups to Georgian society and nationhood. The victimization of minority religious groups is often justified through the language of Georgian nationalism. The small former Soviet Republic is squeezed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Once a desired Soviet vacation destination, Georgia’s economy and infrastructure are crumbling, with the government struggling to provide the most basic of services. For example, there is much debate on whether sufficient gas and electricity will be available to avoid outages during the upcoming winter. Some Georgian public figures and religious leaders apparently see political profit from fighting religious pluralism behind the flag of Georgian nationalism, and non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups and their adherents have been characterized as unpatriotic and dangerous to Georgian society. On October 14, President Shevardnadze and the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II, signed a concordat concretizing the church’s relationship with the state. The Georgian Parliament, by a vote of 203 to one, ratified the concordat, bringing the measure into force. In addition to the questionable legal status of a concordat between a government and an entity lacking both sovereignty and any international legal personality, other problems arise. Foremost, the concordat creates an unbalanced playing field against other religious groups. The agreement grants the Catholicos-Patriarch immunity, excludes Georgian Orthodox clergy from military service and limits the creation of chaplain institutions in both prisons and the military to this one religious group. Also troubling is the provision granting the Georgian Orthodox Church the power to approve licenses for “official symbols and terminology of the Church.” As the concordat appendix enumerates a broad and vague list of items and terms falling under the church’s purview, which includes, inter alia, church buildings, liturgical items, crosses, and theological literature, other religious groups, like the schismatic True Orthodox Church, fear this will limit their ability to operate freely. The concordat is not the only legal issue of concern to minority religious communities, as a draft law on religion is circulating in the Georgian Parliament. The draft law, in its current form, contains several problematic articles. The term “improper proselytism” makes impermissible offers of “material or social benefits” or use of “psycho-ideological influence.” Charges of “improper proselytism” could have criminal repercussions, as Article 155 of the criminal code punishes the “offering of material or social care to attract new members to a religious organization or confession” by a fine or two-years imprisonment. Other troubling portions of the legislation include the creation of a registration scheme for religious groups. The draft law mandates the submission of the names of 50 members, as well as information on the group’s doctrines and activities, “attitude towards the family and marriage issues” and “the peculiarities of the attitude of the adherents towards health.” The draft also restricts the use of “Georgia” or “of Georgia” to groups “operating on the territory of Georgia for not less than 50 years.” Denial of registration can occur if, “as a result of the state religious expertise it is established that the entity is not religious.” Lastly, the draft law would allow the termination of religious activities, if the group is found to violate “state security and public order” or for refusing to “administer medical assistance on religious grounds.” If passed in its current form, the law would violate Georgia’s OSCE commitments, as these provisions appear tailored to ensure the curtailing, if not outright banning, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious communities. While there is a legitimate need to provide religious groups juridical personality, the draft law is too invasive and burdensome. The question is will it ever become law. Several officials and NGOs have indicated their general unhappiness with the current draft, saying it is too liberal for some and too limiting for others, but neither viewpoint has the numbers in the fractious parliament to amend the text. Others opined that with the Georgian Orthodox Church secured through the concordat as the preeminent Georgian faith and considering their dissatisfaction with the draft text, the church will no longer push for the religion law. As an alternative, the Supreme Court Chairman has proposed allowing religious groups to access the simple civil code registration process currently provided for non-profit organizations. The Ministry of Justice is reportedly reviewing this option. In discussions with Commission staff, minority religious community leaders expressed greater concern about the unchecked violence, rather than the future implications under the concordat or law on religion. Their concerns are warranted, as several assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the days immediately following the Commission’s September 24 hearing. Additionally, during the first week of October, villagers in Shemokmedi destroyed a church built by the in independent True Orthodox Church. Georgian officials and NGO representatives offered conflicting opinions on the phenomenon of violence inflicted by Vasili Mkalavishvili. Some view Mkalavishvili as an agent of the Russian Government, whose mission is to further destabilize Georgia. Others believe the Georgian Government and the Georgian Orthodox Church purposefully allow Mkalavishvili and his mobs to run wild. The government may benefit from the mob attacks distracting the Georgian polity from numerous government failures. For the Georgian Orthodox Church, the mobs intimidate and harass religious groups considered competition, and elevates the church as the protector of Georgian heritage and nationhood. However, while it is difficult to establish a direct link between the defrocked Mkalavishvili and the government or the Georgian Orthodox Church, the government appears hesitant to stop the cycle of violence. Commission staff also met with officials of the State Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Security Council and the Ombudsman for Human Rights, as well as members of the Supreme Court and several parliamentarians. Each admitted the mob violence was a serious problem, but some were quick to raise what they believe to be contributing factors, such as lack of education, poor economic situation, weak government, or Russian aggression. Government officials and religious groups agreed that if authorities had immediately arrested Mkalavishvili and his thugs three years ago, the problem would not exist today. Georgian officials, for the most part, seem fearful of repercussions which may result from any conviction against mob leaders. Nevertheless, most officials admitted that if authorities arrested, tried and jailed the top perpetrators, even for only six months, the violence would end. Commission staff expressed to Georgian officials the danger of allowing the brutality to continue and escalate, which could have repercussions for the government and the future of Georgia. Staff also made clear the great concern Commissioners maintain about the unwillingness of Georgian authorities to prosecute and jail the perpetrators of violence against members of minority faiths. Commission staff pushed Georgian officials for the provision of proper security for the ongoing trial of Mkalavishvili. In response, each of the Georgian officials repeated their resolution to thwart the violence, with both Georgia’s Ministry of Interior and National Security Council promising adequate police protection. Mkalavishvili’s trial, which started in January of this year, has been postponed five times, with Mkalavishvili’s mob crashing the courtroom and assaulting those in attendance. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) wrote President Eduard Shevardnadze in late October 2002, seeking to reaffirmation of these guarantees. To the credit of the Georgian Government, they have provided adequate security personnel at the subsequent court proceedings of Mkalavishvili’s case. However, during a November 16th hearing, Mkalavishvili’s followers verbally assaulted and forcibly removed a reporter from Radio Free Europe. Security personnel did not intervene. In addition, one of the accused perpetrators reportedly was carrying a concealed firearm inside the courtroom. In closing, there is little hope for religious freedom if the Georgian Government remains unwilling to arrest, prosecute and jail the perpetrators of the mob attacks. While the providing of proper security at the Mkalavishvili trial is a welcomed step, it is long overdue. Considering the hundreds of criminal complaints against Mkalavishvili and other perpetrators of mob violence, the government must bring more prosecutions on serious criminal charges. It is the Georgian Government’s duty to ensure that all its citizens, regardless of their faith, can enjoy religious freedom, as well as personal and communal security. 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.

  • Commission Holds Briefing on Ethnic and Religious Intolerance in Today's Russia

    By John Finerty, CSCE Staff Advisor On October 15, 2002, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing devoted to two recently issued reports on the subject of ethnic and religious intolerance in today’s Russia: the Moscow Helsinki Group’s “Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Contemporary Russia” and “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions” issued by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union. Expert panelists were Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Tatyana Lokshina, International Department, Moscow Helsinki Group; Micah Naftalin, Executive Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union; and Dr. Leonid Stonov, Director of International Programs for the Union. In his opening statement, Commission Senior Advisor Donald Kursch welcomed the prospect of openness and tolerance in Russia, calling for the Russian leadership to set an example for its citizens to emulate. “Achieving success in the fight against intolerance demands strong leadership by the Russian Government and the Duma to provide effective legislation, regulations and standards. Training and sensitizing public officials...to be proactive in dealing with attacks on religious and ethnic minorities is critical,” he remarked. The panelists described the rise of ethnic and religious intolerance in several regions of the Russian Federation and the general lack of adequate response by authorities to the violence that frequently accompanies this intolerance. Such inaction, Alexeyeva contended, sends a message encouraging further manifestations of violence based on xenophobia and intolerance. She pointed to growing prejudice against persons from the Caucasus region of Russia, “Caucasophobia (sic) is definitely the most serious problem that Russia is faced with today. It is very widespread among the population in general, at all levels.” As an example of this phenomenon, Ms. Alexeyeva cited remarks by the former governor of the Krasnodar Region, Alexander Tkachev, who stated that people who do not have Russian last names or last names with typical Russian endings “have no place in the territory of Krasnodar Region.” Ms. Lokshina addressed the “religious xenophobia” carried out against minority religions, most notably against Catholics. There have been several instances in which Catholic clergymen from abroad have been denied permission to return to the Russian Federation despite their possession of valid entry visas and longstanding ties with their Russian parishes. “The introduction of educational programs that focus on the dangers of racism, nationalism and xenophobia and that foster respectful attitudes toward cultural diversities in officials, especially in police officials, judges and law enforcement, is vital and necessary in Russia,” she contended. Mr. Naftalin supported the statements made by the prior panelists, raising particular concern about anti-Semitism in the Russian Federation. He reported that, according to his organization’s research, there had been instances of xenophobic aggression and anti-Semitism in 63 of Russia’s 89 regions, and that violent incidents against minorities in Russia has increased 30 percent from last year. This exemplifies “a failed criminal justice system that it is in both Russia's and America's interest to repair,” he asserted. Against the negative attitudes of many public officials, Mr. Naftalin complimented the positive attitude and actions of Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, and his regional network of regional offices. Naftalin concluded that the West should treat and monitor human rights abuses as seriously as the West monitors and inspects access to weapons of mass destruction. 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. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Shadrach Ludeman contributed to this article.

  • Turkey: After the Election

    Mr. Donald Kursch, Senior Advisor of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, on behalf of Chairman Hon. Campbell and Co-Chairman Hon. Smith, moderated this briefing on  Turkey's post-election future. The briefing promoted the U.S. partnership with Turkey in the post-election environment. The elections had all the characteristics of what could be described in the United States as political earthquake. New political forces, led by Mr. Recep Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party), had won a decisive victory, while long-term fixtures on the Turkish political scene had been obliged to relinquish political power. The process in which these changes have taken place appeared to be totally consistent with the fundamental principles of democracy that both Turkey and the United States strongly endorse, yet the changes were so sweeping that the Commission also felt the need to make a special effort to determine their meaning for Turkey and its future relationship with US. Mr. Kursh was joined by Mr. Abdullah Akyuz, Mr. Sanar Yurdatapan, and Mr. Jonathan Sugden, an expert on Turkish affairs with Human Rights Watch.

  • The War in Chechnya and Moscow

    Mr. Speaker, next week following the NATO conference in Prague, President Bush is scheduled to meet with President Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is expected that the two leaders will discuss such vital issues as the war against terrorism, the policies in Iraq, safeguards against weapons of mass destruction, and expanded energy cooperation between the United States and Russia. I would urge Mr. Bush to include on the agenda the continuing conflict in Chechnya.   At this time, the Russian Government and its people are still recovering from the horrific events of last month, when a group of armed Chechen terrorists seized approximately 700 hostages in a Moscow theater and threatened them with execution if the Putin Administration did not withdraw its forces from Chechnya. After three days of terror, Russian special forces captured the theater, apparently killing all the terrorists. In the preliminary gas attack to neutralize the terrorists, over one hundred hostages lost their lives. This terrorist attack was appropriately condemned by the Bush Administration, and we all sympathize with the innocent victims of this attack.   But Mr. Speaker, this does not mean that we should not step back and seriously examine the circumstances that have driven some elements of the Chechen resistance to such suicidal extremes.   Perhaps it is because the Russian military, in its drive to suppress Chechen separatism, has employed means which virtually guaranteed to drive a despairing civilian population into the arms of a radicalized resistance. In the three and a half years since the war reignited when Chechen militants invaded neighboring Dagestan, the Russian military has embarked on a campaign of carnage, destruction, and looting against the civilian population. There are credible and ongoing reports of atrocities committed by members of the Russian military – indiscriminate shelling and bombing, murder, assault, rape, torture, arrests and “disappearances,” kidnaping and holding civilians for ransom. It is imperative that military personnel who commit such egregious human rights violations face criminal charges but the Russian military and judicial system has yet to demonstrate its commitment to bring such criminal actions to account.   Nor should we have any illusions about some elements among the Chechen fighters, who have murdered hostages, kidnapped civilians for ransom and used them as shields during combat operations, and embarked on a campaign of assassination against fellow Chechens who work for the Russian civil government in Chechnya. And, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steve Pifer testified before the Helsinki Commission, “We have seen evidence of individuals or certain factions in Chechnya who are linked to international terrorist elements, including Al Qaeda.” Without a doubt, war criminals and terrorists should be brought to justice, wherever they are and whomever they serve.   In the wake of the attack on the theater in Moscow, President Putin has hardened an already uncompromising position against the Chechen fighters. But, it should be clear that the Russian scorched-earth policy against Chechnya and the Chechen people is not bringing peace to the region. Rather, such policies are sowing the dragon’s teeth of hatred and conflict for generations to come.   The distinguished Newsweek commentator Fareed Zakaria recently wrote:   Terrorism is bad, but those fighting terror can be very nasty, too. And the manner in which they fight can make things much, much worse. It is a lesson we had better learn fast because from Egypt to Pakistan to Indonesia, governments around the world are heightening their repression and then selling it to Washington as part of the war on terror. Russian officials called the Chechen fighters “rebels” or “bandits” until recently. Now they are all “international Islamic terrorists.”   Secretary of State Colin Powell continues to call for the observation of human rights and a political settlement in Chechnya, while consistently and properly supporting Russia’s territorial integrity. But as the Danish Foreign Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, recently summed up the issue, “We, of course, support Russia in the fight against terrorism ... but it is not a long-term solution to the Chechnya problem to launch a military action and bomb the country to pieces."   In addition, the war in Chechnya has affected thousands of refugees, who have fled the constant carnage. In September of this year, I and 10 other colleagues from both the House and Senate wrote President Putin regarding the plight of the internally displaced persons escaping Chechnya to the neighboring province of Ingushetia. We urged the president to resist the forcible return of internally displaced persons seeking refuge in Ingushetia, elsewhere in the Russian Federation, or to any location where the security situation is unstable and proper housing unavailable. However, I have recently learned of 300 Chechen families who are currently facing expulsion from Ingushetia and are seeking refugee status in Kazakhstan. I hope the Russian Government will not expel these individuals, but instead will take all possible actions to alleviate the situation for the many innocent victims of the brutal violence.   Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge President Bush to include these important issues in his talks with President Putin when they meet in St. Petersburg.

  • Turkey: What Can We Expect After the November 3 Election?

    This briefing addressed the November 3 elections, which were held during a rather turbulent time in Turkey. Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, won an unprecedented 34.27 percent of the votes in Turkey’s legislative election while the Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Deniz Baykal, received 19.39 percent of the votes and won 178 seats in the next Parliament. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Abdullah Akyuz, President of the Turkish Industrialist’s and Businessmen’s Association, U.S. Representative Office; Sanar Yurdatapan, Musician and Freedom of Expression Advocate; and Jonathan Sugden, Researcher for Turkey with Human Rights Watch – addressed the massive recession face by Turkey and the concern of another war with Iraq. The effect, if any, on the rise of Islamist parties in Turkish politics is yet another concern. All of this following the recent snub by the European Union regarding Turkish accession, and increasingly bleak prospects for a resolution of the Cyprus impasse.

  • Prospects for Change in Turkey

    Mr. Speaker, I wish to extend my congratulations to the people of Turkey for their elections held on November 3. Witnessing the peaceful change of government is a change that is significant for both Turkey's citizens and for their neighborhood. Many of Turkey's neighbors need to see that such a transfer of power is possible, for the people of these countries have for too long suffered under the illusion that they must live with their repressive regimes that maintain power through undemocratic means.   It is also important to keep in mind that the Turks, seen by some as a model for the countries of Central Asia, are not new kids on the block--former President Demirel was an original signer of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), I have followed closely the developments in Turkey . With a particularly keen interest in the protection of human rights which has such an impact on the lives of individual men, women and children, I continue to be concerned about the ongoing use of torture, violations of religious freedom and threats to civil society.   Through the ballot box, the Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, received 34.3 percent of the vote, giving them a clear majority of 363 seats in the 550-seat Turkish Grand National Assembly. This entitles the AKP, led by former Istanbul Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to govern without sharing political power. He will not be without challenges to his authority though.   On November 8, the anniversary of the death of the Turkish reformer Kemal Ataturk, General Hilmi, Ozkok issued a statement vowing "to protect the republic against all types of threats, especially fundamentalism and separatist activities,'' reiterating strongly the military's view of itself as the historical guarantor of Turkey's secular system. 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.

  • Situation in Belarus Continues to Deteriorate

    Mr. Speaker, I want to bring to the attention of my colleagues the latest outrage perpetrated by the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka.   Last week, immediately after leaving the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, the Chairman of the opposition United Civic Party Anatoly Lebedka, was picked up by plainclothes police officers and driven to KGB headquarters for interrogation. Anatoly had been at the Embassy to pick up the invitation for a conference on Belarus to be held this week here in Washington. In a clear effort at intimidation, Lukashenka’s KGB thugs accused him of maintaining ties with supposed “intelligence agents” and other foreigners, purportedly for the purpose of undermining Belarus.   Mr. Speaker, this accusation is patently absurd. I know Anatoly Lebedka, having met with him in Washington and at several meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, most recently this past July in Berlin. It is clear to me that Mr. Lebedka is an honorable man committed to his country’s development as an independent, democratic nation in which respect for human rights and the rule of law is the norm. There is no doubt in my mind that the real reason for the harassment of Anatoly – and this is not the first time – is his opposition to Lukashenka, to whom democracy and human rights are anathema.   Sadly, this is only the latest in a long list of human rights assaults by Lukashenka. Just within the last few months, we have seen the passage of a repressive law on religion, the bulldozing of a newly built church, the jailings of three leading independent journalists, the continued and persistent harassment of the political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations, and the effective expulsion of the OSCE presence there. These tactics are in keeping with the climate of fear which Lukashenka has sought to create.   Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the missing and presumed dead political opponents – perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence links the Lukashenka regime with these murders, and growing evidence also indicates Belarus has been supplying weapons and military training to Iraq. Both in Berlin and in Washington, I have had the honor of meeting with the wives of the disappeared.   Mr. Speaker, the state of human rights and democracy in Belarus is abysmal, and the manifest culprit is Lukashenka and his minions. The longsuffering Belarusian people deserve to live in a country in which human rights are not flouted. Those in Belarus, like Anatoly Lebedka, who struggle for human rights and democracy deserve better. The Belarusian people deserve better.

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