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Helsinki Commission Welcomes Unveiling of Berlin Memorial for Romani Genocide Victims
Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On October 24, more than 600 people in Berlin attended the unveiling of the Memorial for the Sinti¹ and Roma of Europe Murdered under National Socialism. Leaders of the Helsinki Commission, who had underscored the importance of the monument, welcomed the event.

Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, observed that the memorial “marks an important step in acknowledging and teaching about the fate of Roma at the hands of the Nazi regime and the Axis powers: persecution, confiscation of property, forced sterilization, slave labor, inhumane medical experimentation, and ultimately genocide.”

Proposals to erect a memorial to the Romani victims of genocide emerged in the early 1990s after the unification of the Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic and at a time when German acknowledgement and remembrance took on additional dimensions. Those efforts, however, bogged down over questions regarding the location of the proposed memorial and the content of inscriptions. (Concerns raised by the artist over materials and weather-related construction complications also contributed to interruptions.) German government officials also suggested some delays were caused by differing views among Romani groups, particularly regarding the inscriptions; some critics of the delays suggested there was an insufficient sense of ownership and political will on the part of the government.

Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission, noted the singular role of Romani Rose, Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, and “his tireless work to ensure that Romani victims of genocide are remembered and honored.” Rose, who lost his grandparents at Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck, was a driving force to see the memorial completed. Cardin added, “I am deeply heartened that efforts to build this memorial, underway for over a decade, have finally been realized.”

German government officials at the most senior level attended the unveiling of the genocide memorial, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Joachim Gauck, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, Bundesrat President Horst Seehofer, and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. Former President Richard von Weizsacker, in spite of advanced years and frail health, was also present. Federal Minister of Culture Bernd Neumann described the memorial “a pillar of German remembrance.”

U.S. Ambassador to Germany Patrick Murphy and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson represented the United States. Dr. Ethel Brooks, who has served as a public member with the U.S. Delegation to the 2011 and 2012 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetings, also attended the ceremony.

The memorial, designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan, was widely hailed as a deeply moving testimony to the genocide of Romani people.

Dutch Sinto survivor Zoni Weiss addressed the hundreds of people who attended the event. As a 7-year-old, Weiss narrowly avoided being placed on the Westerbork transport from the Netherlands due to the intervention of platform policeman, but watched as his immediate family was sent to Auschwitz where they perished.

The unveiling ceremony was also accompanied by a week of events in Berlin focused on Romani history, culture and contemporary issues. Gert Weisskirchen, former German Member of the Budestag and former OSCE Personal Representative on Anti-Semitism, organized a round-table focused on contemporary challenges faced by Roma.

In her remarks at the event, Chancellor Merkel also acknowledged the on-going struggle for human rights faced by Roma throughout Europe, saying bluntly, “let’s not beat around the bush. Sinti and Roma suffer today from discrimination and exclusion.” Romani Rose warned more pointedly, “In Germany and in Europe, there is a new and increasingly violent racism against Sinti and Roma. This racism is supported not just by far-right parties and groups; it finds more and more backing in the middle of society.”

Background

The Nazis targeted Roma for extermination.

Persecution began in the 1920s, and included race-based denial of the right to vote, selection for forced sterilization, loss of citizenship on the basis of race, and incarceration in work or concentration camps.

The most notorious sites where Roma were murdered include Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland, the Jasenovac camp in the so-called Independent State of Croatia, Romanian-occupied Transnistria, and Babi-Yar in Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

In other parts of German occupied or German-allied territory, Roma were frequently killed by special SS squads or even regular army units or police, often left in mass graves.

Many scholars estimate that 500,000 Roma were killed during is World War II, although scholarship on the genocide of Roma remains in its infancy and many important archives have only become available to a broader community of researchers since the fall of communism.

In recent years, for example, Father Patrick Desbois has helped document the location of 800 WWII-mass graves in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including 48 mass graves of Roma.

German postwar restitution legislation and its implementation effectively excluded almost all Romani survivors. Those most directly responsible for actions against Roma escaped investigation, prosecution and conviction. Several officials responsible for the deportations of Roma before and during the war continued to have responsibility for Romani affairs after the war.

In 1979, the West German Federal Parliament acknowledged the Nazi persecution of Roma as being racially motivated.

In 1982, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt recognized that the National Socialist persecution of Romani people constituted genocide.

The first German trial decision to take legal cognizance that Roma were genocide victims during the Third Reich was handed down in 1991.

In 1997, Federal President Roman Herzog opened a Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma, saying “The genocide of the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial hatred, with the same intent and the same desire for planned and final annihilation as that of the Jews. They were systematically murdered in whole families, from the small child to the old man, throughout the sphere of influence of the Nazis.”

At the 2007 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Thommas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, observed that, “[e]ven after the [ . . . ] Nazi killing of at least half a million Roma, probably 700,000 or more, there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma.”

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  • Ukraine

    Mr. President, I take this time to share with my colleagues the tragic events that unfolded these past few weeks in the Ukraine. Ukraine is an incredibly important country. The recent events are tragic, the result of a corrupt government and loss of life. I remember the Orange Revolution that took place in Ukraine, starting in November 2004, ending in January 2005. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to that protest to protest the corrupt election. They did it in a peaceful way. They not only got the attention of the people of Ukraine but the attention of the world. As a result of that peaceful revolution, the government stood for new elections, free and fair elections. Democratic leadership was elected, and all of us thought the future for Ukraine was very positive. I was in Kyiv not long after that Orange Revolution. I had a chance to talk to people who were involved, and I talked to the new leaders. I saw that sense of hope that Ukraine at long last would be an independent country without the domination of any other country and that the proud people would have a country that would respect their rights, that would transition into full membership in Europe and provide the greatest hope for future generations. They started moving in that direction. As the Presiding Officer knows, there were agreements with Europe on immigration. They have been involved in military operations in close conjunction with NATO. Ukraine was and is an important partner of the United States and for Europe. Then Victor Yanukovych came into power for a second time. Mr. Yanukovych took the country in a different direction. He was a corrupt leader. He had a close involvement with Russia. Today there is some hope. The Parliament has brought in a new interim government. Presidential elections are now scheduled for May 25. But there are certain matters that are still very much in doubt. In the Crimea, which is a part of the Ukraine which has a large Russian population, it is unclear as to what is happening there. Pro-Russian sympathizers have taken over government buildings. It is not clear of Russia’s involvement. It is critically important that the international community have access to what is happening in the Crimea and make it clear that Russia must allow the Ukraine to control its own destiny. It is time for the international community to mobilize its resources to assist Ukraine’s transition to a democratic, secure, and prosperous country. The people of Ukraine have had an incredibly difficult history and over the last century have been subjected to two World Wars, 70 years of Soviet domination, including Stalin’s genocidal famine. Our assistance at this time will be a concrete manifestation that we do indeed stand by the people of Ukraine as they manifest their historic choice for freedom and democracy. Moreover, we need to help Ukraine succeed to realize the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace. That is our desire and that is the desire of the people of Ukraine. They are moving on the right path. They critically need our help and that of the international community to make sure Russia does not try to dominate this country; that its desire to become part of Europe is realized; that free and fair elections can take place, and the rights of their people can be respected by their government. Yesterday I heard from Swiss President and OSCE Chair-in-Office Burkhalter and welcomed his engagement and the important role the OSCE can play in Ukraine. As a member of the Commission, I had the honor of chairing the Helsinki Commission, which is our implementing arm to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. A Foreign Minister from one of the member states usually acts as our Chair-in-Office, and this year Mr. Burkhalter is not only the Foreign Minister of Switzerland, he is also the President of Switzerland. He is the person responsible for the direction of the organization. We had a hearing with him and Ukraine took a good part of our discussions. The guiding principles of the OSCE are if they are going to have a prosperous country, if they are going to have a secure country, they have to have a country that respects the rights of its citizens. Respecting the rights of its citizens means they are entitled to good governance. They are entitled to a country that does not depend upon corruption in order to finance its way of life. Those are the principles of the OSCE. A country with good governance, respect for human rights, that takes on corruption, is a country in which there will be economic prosperity and a country which will enjoy security. That has been our chief function, to try to help other countries.  The meeting yesterday underscored the importance OSCE can play in the future of Ukraine, and we hope they will utilize those resources so Ukraine can come out of this crisis as a strong, democratic, and independent country. There has to be accountability. There has to be accountability for those who are responsible for the deaths in Kyiv. I mention that because, yes, there is a moral reason for that. Those who commit amoral atrocities should be held accountable. That is just a matter of basic rights. But there is also the situation when they don’t bring closure here, it offers little hope that these circumstances will not be repeated in the future. If future government leaders believe they could do whatever they want and there will be no consequences for their actions, they are more likely to take the irresponsible actions we saw on Ukraine. So, yes, it is important we restore a democratic government in Ukraine. It is important that government be independent and able to become a full member of Europe. It is important that government respect the human rights of its citizens, but it is also important they hold those responsible for these atrocities accountable for their actions. The Obama administration took some action this past week. They did deny visas to certain members who were responsible for the Government of Ukraine, and they did freeze bank accounts of those who were involved in the corrupt practices in Ukraine. That was a good first step and I applaud their actions. I remind my colleagues we passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act as part of the Russia PNTR legislation. I was proud to be the sponsor of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. What it does—and it says it was amended to apply only to Russia—those who are involved in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights will be denied the privilege of being able to come to America, to get a visa and we will deny them the opportunity to use our banking system. Why is that important? Because we found those corrupt officials want to keep their properties outside of their host country. They want to visit America. They want to use our banking system. They want their corrupt ways to be in dollars, not in rubles. Denying them that opportunity is an effective remedy for making sure they can’t profit from all of their corruption.  That legislation was limited to Russia not by our design. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee approved the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act as a global act applying beyond Russia. Sergei Magnitsky was a young lawyer who discovered corruption in Russia. He did what he should have done— told the authorities about it. As a result, he was arrested, tortured, and killed because he did the right thing. We took action to make sure those responsible could not benefit from that corruption. That was the Sergei Magnitsky bill. We felt, though, it should be a tool available universally. We had to compromise on that, and it was limited to Russia. It is time to change that. Along with Senator MCCAIN, I have introduced the Global Human Rights Accountability Act, S. 1933. It has several bipartisan sponsors. It would apply globally. So, yes, it would apply to Ukraine. It would have congressional sanctions to the use of tools for denying visa applications and our banking privileges to those who are responsible for these atrocities. I believe our colleagues understand how important that is for us to do. It is interesting that today the State Department issued its Human Rights Practices for 2013. This is a required report that we request. It gives the status of human rights records throughout the world, talking about problems.  I am sure my colleagues recognize that human rights problems are not limited to solely Russia or Ukraine, from Bahrain to China, to Bangladesh, from Belarus to Ethiopia, to Venezuela, from the Sudan to South Sudan, Syria, the list goes on and on and on. The report lists all of the gross violations of human rights that have occurred. Unfortunately, this list is too long. I can name another dozen countries that are spelled out in this report. Human rights are universal, and it is our responsibility to act and show international leadership. It takes time to pass good laws, as it should, which is why we must act with urgency now. The measures contemplated in my legislation have great corrective power, but they are strongest when deployed in a timely manner, preferably before the outbreak of violence.  The year 2013 was a particularly challenging year for human rights and we cannot afford to be silent. The Global Human Rights Accountability Act serves as an encouragement for champions of democracy, promoters of civil rights, and advocates of free speech across the globe.  As the great human rights defender Nelson Mandela once said: ‘‘There are times when a leader must move ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.’’ In this great body, the Senate, we have a responsibility to lead the way in accountability for human rights. We have done that in the past. We have shown through our own example and we have shown through our interest in all corners of the world that this country will stand for the protection of basic human rights for all the people. We now have a chance to act by the passage of the global Magnitsky law. I hope my colleagues will join me in helping enact this new chapter and the next chapter in America’s commitment to international human rights.  I suggest the absence of a quorum.

  • Chairman Cardin, Co-Chairman Smith Call for Immediate Imposition of Targeted Sanctions on Ukraine

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today issued the following statement: “We’ve all been shocked by the images and news from Kyiv. This violence is the result of a regime which has repeatedly displayed contempt for its people, who want nothing more than to be afforded the dignity which is their right as citizens. We unequivocally deplore the renewal of violence in Kyiv. We stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their struggle for justice. “The time has come to immediately impose personal sanctions, including visa bans, asset freezes and other measures, against the organizers and perpetrators of the violence and other egregious human rights abuses. Rather than blaming opposition leaders, Yanukovych needs to engage in serious dialogue with them in order to achieve a meaningful political solution that would get Ukraine back on the road to peace, prosperity and democracy. The U.S. and EU should use the available tools at their disposal to contribute to a peaceful resolution of this crisis. The OSCE in particular should employ its resources and mechanisms to monitor and mitigate the serious human rights concerns.”

  • Statement on H. Res. 447

    I’d like to thank my good friend Rep. Engel for introducing this bipartisan resolution supporting the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people.  It is a timely appeal to the government of Ukraine to stand down – to avoid all further violence, to exercise the utmost restraint and avoid confrontation. It calls on the government to bring to justice those responsible for violence against peaceful protesters, and to release and drop any criminal charges against those detained for peacefully exercising their democratic rights. At this point, the government’s crackdown has led to the deaths of at least 4 protestors, and throughout Ukraine to numerous beatings, arrests, detentions, abductions – including some from hospitals – the harassment of activists, journalists, medics, lawyers and pro-democracy NGOs. On the Kyiv Maidan alone, more than 1,800 individuals, mostly protestors but also some riot police, have been injured. 36 persons are confirmed missing. 49 people remain in detention with 26 under house arrest. At least 30 medics, working to aid the injured on the Maidan, have been attacked. 136 journalists have been attacked on the Maidan, including investigative journalist Tatyana Chornovol brutally beaten on Christmas Day and who investigators now rather incredibly claim was a victim of road rage. One of the most outrageous examples has been the case of activist Dmitry Bulatov who was abducted for 8 days before being left in a forest outside of Kyiv, during which time he was tortured by his captors who tried to force him to say he was an American spy.  The heroism of the Ukrainian people, persistently demonstrating, struggling, risking themselves for justice and dignity, is deeply inspiring. The witness of so many clergy on the Maidan is a powerful reminder of the spiritual values at stake. Just last Thursday, I met in my office with Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. They are deeply concerned for the faithful, and for the whole Ukrainian nation, and alarmed about the potential for even worse violence, perhaps even civil conflict. Patriarch Filaret said recently, “I appeal to both the power and opposition to stop violence and come to the table of negotiations. All of you are responsible before the God for your earthly doings.”  And at the Vatican, Pope Francis called for an end to the violence and said: "I am close to Ukraine in prayer, in particular to those who have lost their lives in recent days and to their families. I hope that a constructive dialogue between the institutions and civil society can take place, that any resort to violence is avoided and that the spirit of peace and a search for the common good is in the hearts of all.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York expressed strong support for anti-government protestors in Ukraine. Writing on his blog he summarized the conflict as “government thugs relishing the chance to bludgeon and harass the hundreds of thousands of patriotic Ukrainians,” and described the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as “a Church that had been starved, jackbooted, imprisoned, tortured, persecuted and martyred by Hitler, Stalin, and company.” That said, Mr. Speaker, there is a paradox here. I know there are many outstanding people working in and for the Ukrainian government – people who love their country and have its best interests at heart. Last year I met many times with Ukrainian ministers, high-level officials and the ambassador, including meetings in Kyiv. This was because in 2013 Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kozhara chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and made the fight against trafficking a top priority for the whole organization. In June it held a high level conference in Kyiv to investigate best practices and ways that the 57 OSCE countries can better coordinate anti-trafficking efforts—including through training transportation and hospitality industry employees in victim identification. The Kyiv call to action was serious and successful—I know, I was there. And what came out of the Ukrainian government’s efforts was a new OSCE Action Plan to fight human trafficking.  I want to point out that this resolution does not take any position on whether Ukraine should sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. That is a decision for Ukrainians to make. At committee markup, we decided to make that point clear, and the message should be clear: this is not about politics, but human rights. Congress is supporting the Ukrainian people in their defense of universal human values, and not inserting itself in the question of how Ukraine shapes its policy toward the EU and Russia. Mr. Speaker, the Ukrainian people have endured horrific suffering over the course of the last century – and this is what gives their peaceful resistance on the Maidan such power. Two world wars were fought on their soil, in the 1930s Stalin inflicted a genocidal famine on them, which resulted in the deaths of millions of men, women and children, to say nothing of 70 years as a captive nation in the Soviet Union. In the 1980s many of us in this chamber and on the Helsinki Commission spoke out on behalf of Ukrainian human rights activists imprisoned in the Gulag, called for the legalization of the then-banned and repressed Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church, and held hearings on the Chornobyl disaster.  With Ukraine’s long-awaited independence,  in 1991came new-found freedoms. But since 2010, with the election of Viktor Yanukovych, human rights, rule of law and democracy have been under attack – symbolized by the continued unjust imprisonment of former Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, whose daughter, Yevhenia, testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing I chaired in May of 2012 and on whose behalf I introduced a resolution in the previous Congress.  It is the Ukrainian people’s dissatisfaction with Yanukovych’s roll-back of democracy that drives the protest movement. The long-suffering Ukrainian people deserve a government that treats them with dignity and respect. I’m confident they will prevail in their struggle for this. I strongly support this resolution. 

  • Supporting the Democratic Aspirations of the People of Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, the people of Kyiv and so many cities and towns throughout Ukraine are right now struggling, praying, and risking--some of them really risking their lives on the Maidan for justice and human dignity. The government's violent crackdown has led to the deaths of at least four protestors, and countless beatings, arrests, detentions, kidnappings or harassment of activists, journalists, medics and lawyers. I want to join many of my colleagues in calling on the Ukrainian government to stop, now, these attacks on human life and the basic human rights of free expression, assembly and association--and immediately to release those detained for peaceful actions and account for missing persons. Mr. Speaker, I believe that we should urge Ukrainians to find a peaceful, political settlement of the crisis through meaningful negotiations between the government and the opposition in order to get Ukraine back on the road to democracy. As to association with Europe, it is not our government's place to say what the Ukrainian government or people should do either way on this point, above all since we don't  know what arrangements are on offer. But we do stand up for the right of the Ukrainian people to determine this according to their own constitution and laws, free from coercive pressures by any foreign government. While the current Ukrainian government has committed grave injustices in the course of this crisis, I am encouraged by signs that it is taking steps to resolve the crisis, including the revocation of the onerous January 16 anti-protest laws and the resignation of the government. The people of Ukraine have endured tremendous suffering over the course of the last century including two world wars and 70 years of Soviet brutality, most starkly illustrated by Stalin's genocidal famine which resulted in the deaths of millions. With independence came new-found freedoms, but these have been challenged by corruption of grotesque proportions. The long-suffering Ukrainian people deserve better--they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Given the heroic strength and character and democratic maturity the Ukrainian people are showing in this crisis, I am confident that they will not be denied a more democratic future.

  • Kyiv Ministerial Held Amid Protests

    On December 5 and 6, 2013, Kyiv hosted the 20th meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe while hundreds of thousands of protestors occupied Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kyiv’s central square. Although as 2013 OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ukraine had successfully shepherded a package of decisions to adoption in Kyiv, the meeting was dominated by demonstrations taking place throughout the country triggered on November 21 by the Ukrainian government’s suspension of preparations to sign integration agreements with the EU. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland represented the United States. She began the Ministerial by meeting with civil society activists, which she described as her “most important event” in Kyiv. In her opening statement at the Ministerial, she highlighted three “worrying trends” in OSCE participating States: the persecution of journalists, the rising intolerance of minorities, and “democratic backsliding” into restrictive laws and practices that violate civil liberties.

  • Human Rights in Hungary

    Madam President, earlier this year I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing on the situation in Hungary. Today, I would like to revisit some of the issues addressed by our witnesses. Since the April 2010 elections, Hungary has undertaken the most dramatic legal transformation that Europe has seen in decades. A new Constitution was passed with votes of the ruling party alone, and even that has already been amended five times. More than 700 new laws have been passed, including laws on the media, religion, and civic associations. There is a new civil code and a new criminal code. There is an entirely new electoral framework. The magnitude and scope of these changes have understandably put Hungary under a microscope. At the Helsinki Commission's hearing in March, I examined concerns that these changes have undermined Hungary's system of democratic checks and balances, independence of the judiciary, and freedoms of the media and religion. I also received testimony about rising revisionism and extremism. I heard from Jozsef Szajer, a Member of the European Parliament who represented the Hungarian Government at the hearing. Princeton constitutional law expert Kim Lane Scheppelle, Dr. Paul Shapiro from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Sylvana Habdank-Kolaczkowska from Freedom House presented compelling testimony. Unfortunately, developments in Hungary remain troubling. Even though Hungary's religion law was tweaked after the Constitutional Court struck down parts of it, it retains a discriminatory two-tier system. Moreover, the Parliament is empowered with the extraordinary and, for all practical purposes, unreviewable power to decide what is and what is not a religion. This month, the government announced it is launching an investigation into the Methodist Evangelical Church, a church persecuted during communist times. Today, the Methodist Evangelical Church is known for its outreach to Roma, work with the homeless and is one of the largest charitable organizations in Hungary. As I noted at the Helsinki Commission hearing in March, it is also one of the hundreds of religious groups stripped of official recognition after the passage of Hungary's new religion law. The church has now complied with submitting the necessary number of supporters required by the law and, as a reply, the government has announced an unidentified "expert'' will conduct an investigation into the church's beliefs and tenets. This step only reinforces fears that parliamentary denial of recognition as a so-called "Accepted Church'' opens the door for further repressive measures. Veneration of Hungary's wartime regent, Miklos Horthy, along with other anti-Semitic figures such as writer Jozsef Nyiro, continues. In November, a statue of Hungarian Jewish poet Miklos Radnoti, who was killed by Hungarian Nazis at the end of 1944, was rammed with a car and broken in half. At roughly the same time, extremists staged a book burning of his works along with other materials they called "Zionist publications.'' At the beginning of December, two menorahs were vandalized in Budapest. Reflecting the climate of extremism, more than 160 Hungarian nationals have been found by Canada this year to have a well-founded fear of persecution. Almost all are Romani, but the refugees include an 80-year-old award winning Hungarian Jewish writer who received death threats after writing about anti-Semitism in Hungary, and was stripped of his honorary citizenship of Budapest on an initiative from the far-right Jobbik party, supported by the votes of the ruling Fidesz party. While there are many who suggest the real problem comes from the extremist opposition party Jobbik, and not the ruling government, it seems that some members of Fidesz have contributed to a rise in intolerance. I am particularly troubled that the government-created Media Council, consisting entirely of Fidesz delegated members, has threatened ATV--an independent television station--with punitive fines if it again characterizes Jobbik as extremist. If you can't even talk about what is extremist or anti-Semitic in Hungary without facing legal sanctions, how can you combat extremism and anti-Semitism? Moreover, this decision serves to protect Jobbik from critical debate in the advance of next year's elections. Why? Other new measures further stifle free speech. Unfortunately, and somewhat shockingly, last month Hungary amended its defamation law to allow for the imposition of prison terms up to 3 years. The imposition of jail time for speech offenses was a hallmark of the communist era. During the post-communist transition, the Helsinki Commission consistently urged OSCE countries to repeal criminal defamation and insult laws entirely. In 2004, for example, the Helsinki Commission wrote to Minister of Justice Peter Barandy regarding the criminal convictions of Andras Bencsik and Laszlo Attila Bertok. This new law, raced through under an expedited procedure in the wake of a bi-election controversy in which allegations of voter manipulation were traded, was quickly criticized by the OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media. I share her concerns that these changes to the criminal code may lead to the silencing of critical or differing views in society and are inconsistent with OSCE commitments. Hungary was once held up as a model of peaceful democratic transition and is situated in a region of Europe where the beacon of freedom is still sought by many today. I hope Hungary will return to a leadership role in the protection of human rights and the promotion of democracy. 

  • The 80th Anniversary of the Ukrainian Famine

    Madam President, this year we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Holodomor, the genocidal Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933. Eighty years ago, an engineered famine in Soviet-dominated Ukraine and bordering ethnically-Ukrainian territory resulted in the horrific deaths of millions of innocent men, women, and children. I visited the Holodomor monument in central Kyiv, a poignant reminder of the suffering perpetrated by Soviet dictator Stalin's deliberate and inhumane policy to suppress the Ukrainian people and destroy their human, cultural, and political rights. Requisition brigades, acting on Stalin's orders to fulfill impossibly high grain quotas, took away the last scraps of food from starving families and children. Eyewitness accounts describing the despair of the starving are almost unfathomable. Millions of rural Ukrainians slowly starved--an excruciatingly painful form of death--amid some of the world's most  fertile farmland, while stockpiles of expropriated grain rotted by the ton, often nearby.  Meanwhile, Ukraine's borders were sealed to prevent the starving from leaving to less-affected areas. International offers of help were rejected, with Stalin's henchmen denying a famine was taking place. At the same time, Soviet grain was being exported to the West. The final report of the congressionally created Commission on the Ukraine Famine concluded in 1988 that "Joseph Stalin and those around him committed genocide against Ukrainians in 1932-33.'' No less than Rafael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish-American lawyer who coined the term "genocide'' and was instrumental in the adoption of the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention, described the "destruction of the Ukrainian nation'' as the "classic example of Soviet genocide.'' We must never forget the victims of the Holodomor or those of other republics in the Soviet Union, notably Kazakhstan, that witnessed cruel, mass starvation as a result of Stalin's barbarism, and we must  redouble our efforts to protect human rights and democracy, ensuring that 20th-century genocides such as the Holocaust, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Ukraine, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Rwanda become impossible to imagine in the future.

  • Europeans of African Descent ‘Black Europeans’: Race, Rights and Politics

    Racist acts targeting Black cabinet-level officials in Italy and France have put a spotlight on the experiences of the 7-10 million people of African Descent in Europe / Black Europeans. A visible minority in Europe often unacknowledged despite a centuries’ long presence in Europe, Black Europeans have increasingly become the targets of discrimination, pernicious racial profiling, and violent hate crimes impacting equal access to housing, employment, education, and justice. Europe today grapples with the complex intersection of national identity, decreasing birth rates, increasing immigration, security concerns, and a rise in extremist political parties and vigilantism. In this context, the experiences of Black Europeans increasingly serve as a measure of the strength of European democracies and commitments to human rights. The briefing discussed the work of Black European rights organizations and the efforts of the international community to address issues of inequality, discrimination, and inclusion for Black Europeans, in addition to discussing similarities and work with African-American civil rights organizations.

  • The OSCE 2013 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    By Helsinki Commission Staff Overview From September 23 to October 4, 2013, the OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The meeting was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 57 participating States. The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights gathering and provides a venue for participating States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to review the implementation of the full range of core human rights and fundamental freedoms (e.g., freedoms of speech, assembly and association; prevention of torture; right to a fair trial), as well as rule of law, free elections and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, tolerance and non-discrimination are also on the agenda. In accordance with OSCE procedures, the agenda included three specially selected topics, each of which was given a full day of review. In 2013, those subjects were: 1) freedom of religion or belief, 2) freedom of assembly and association, and 3) democratic elections and election observation -- sharing best practices. U.S. Delegation The U.S. Delegation was headed by Ambassador Robert Bradtke. Newly confirmed U.S. Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE Ambassador Daniel Baer also participated.  (During the HDIM, meetings of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna are suspended to facilitate participation by members of permanent missions to the OSCE in the Warsaw meeting.)  Other members of the U.S. Delegation included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas O. Melia, Special Envoy for Combating Anti-Semitism Ira Forman, and Co-Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Katrina Lantos Swett.  Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Fred L. Turner and other Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work. Gavin Weise from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems served as a public member on the issue of democratic elections and election observation. Public Members have traditionally been included in U.S. delegations to OSCE human dimension meetings as a means of bringing special expertise to the delegation’s work and to promote greater knowledge of the OSCE process in civil society. This Year’s Meeting As the meeting opened, the high-profile case of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko remained unresolved, casting a pall on Ukraine’s OSCE Chairmanship. GOLOS, a Russian NGO that reports on the integrity of elections in Russia, remained suspended in a wave of increased repression; Russian representatives protested against GOLOS participation at the HDIM. Former political prisoner and RFE/RL correspondent Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was not allowed to leave Turkmenistan to participate in the HDIM. Kazakhstani businessman Mukhtar Ablyazov and several of his former colleagues were held in various countries on the request of the government of Kazakhstan – while his wife and daughter were illegally deported from Italy to Kazakhstan. The U.S. statements from the HDIM, raising these and many other specific cases of concern, are available on the website of the U.S. mission to the OSCE (osce.usmission.gov). During the meeting, the United States held bilateral meetings with other OSCE participating States and extensive consultations with civil society. In addition, the United States organized a side event focused on one of this year's special topics, freedom of association and assembly, with a panel of activists from the Civil Society Platform:  Yevgeniy Zhovtis, International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (Kazakhstan), Valeria Rybok from the Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine), Dmitri Makarov from the International Youth Human Rights Initiative (Russia), Aleh Hulak, Belarusian Helsinki Commission, and Rasul Jafarov from the Human Rights Club (Azerbaijan).  Speakers described many negative trends across Eurasian and Central Asian states, including onerous registration requirements for civil society organizations, restrictions on peaceful demonstrations, and prosecutions of protestors.  The panel and other attendees also emphasized the importance of a network through which regional civil society organizations could share experiences and effective activities. Other side events were organized by ODIHR, participating States, and NGOs including Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, the Open Society Foundations, and the German Marshall Fund.  As at past HDIM meetings, some concerns were raised about the United States, including at side events focused on the abolition of the death penalty and on human rights and counterterrorism (which touched on Guantánamo, drones, and surveillance/privacy issues). Switzerland held a side event during the HDIM to preview its goals for its 2014 tandem chairmanship (with Serbia taking the lead in 2015). Switzerland indicated that its two over-arching human dimension priorities will be to enhance the involvement of civil society and to strengthen the implementation of human dimension commitments. During what promises to be an active and ambitious chairmanship, Switzerland plans to hold four regional workshops with civil society in Southeast Europe, the Southern Caucasus, Central Asia, and Western Europe. During the regular working sessions, several concerns were raised repeatedly, including violence against journalists, harassment of NGOs and restrictive NGO registration laws, and government actions against religious groups portrayed by some governments as non-traditional.  Russia received significant criticism over its Foreign Agents law. (There also were a number of apparently Russian-sponsored “NGOs” which criticized the United States, supported independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and hewed to anti-Baltic state themes.) Problems in Central Asia received considerable attention, including the disappearance of some prisoners in Turkmenistan and the cases of Vladimir Kozlov and Mukhtar Ablyazov in Kazakhstan.  During the HDIM, the NGO Crude Accountability and the Civic Solidarity Platform launched a project called “Prove that They are Alive.”  Designed to follow up on the 2003 invocation of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism with Turkmenistan, the initiative is intended to compel the government of Turkmenistan to inform the families of those imprisoned in connection with an alleged coup attempt in 2002 whether their loved ones are still alive. As at previous HDIMs, the allocation of time during the meeting was highly problematic.  Of the topics restricted to three-hour sessions, the subject of tolerance and non-discrimination was the most oversubscribed.  This session included discussion of the implementation of existing OSCE hate crimes commitments; combating anti-Semitism, intolerance against Muslims and other religious groups; racism and xenophobia; and anti-LGBT bigotry manifested through, in particular, “gay propaganda” laws. In such oversubscribed sessions, speaking time was strictly curtailed to accommodate the dozens desiring the floor, while other sessions ended early with time unused. Notably, Thailand, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation, actively participated in this year’s HDIM, perhaps in order to bolster its application to become a full OSCE participating State.

  • Bulgaria Holds Early Parliamentary Elections; OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission

    By Helsinki Commission Staff Country-Wide Street Protests Trigger Snap Elections In early 2013, 30 Bulgarian cities were rocked by demonstrations. In some instances, violence erupted between demonstrators and police. In addition, in the months immediately preceding the elections, six people committed suicide by self-immolation in acts of public protest and desperation. The street demonstrations were triggered by sharply rising electricity rates in a country widely described as the poorest of the EU’s 27 members. Discontent was further fueled by dissatisfaction with political leaders across the board and widespread corruption. In February, following the street demonstrations, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov resigned, paving the way for May 12’s early parliamentary elections. For those elections, 8,100 candidates stood for seats in the 240-member unicameral National Assembly allocated by proportional representation from 31 multi-mandate constituencies (with a 4% threshold for both parties and coalitions to enter parliament). Altogether, 63 parties (38 outside of coalitions and 7 coalitions) were registered as well as two independent candidates. The resulting ballot was roughly a yard long. OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission The OSCE mounted a full scale Election Observation Mission (EOM) – the first in Bulgaria since 1997 and the first ever in an EU country. Eoghan Murphy (MP, Ireland) was appointed by OSCE Chair-in-Office Leonid Kozhara to serve as Special Coordinator and leader of the short-term observer mission (parliamentarians and observers seconded by OSCE participating States). The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) long-term observer team was headed by Miklos Haraszti. Roberto Battelli (MP, Slovenia) headed the OSCE PA delegation. Andreas Gross (MP, Switzerland) headed the observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). On Election Day, there were 158 observers deployed from 39 countries. Of an estimated 6.9 million voters (a number that, in any case, the OSCE and Council of Europe Venice Commission suggest may be high), 3,541,745 went to the polls. Voter turnout was at about 50 percent – the lowest turnout since the fall of communism – reflecting the voters’ antipathy even more than apathy. Approximately 850,000 votes were cast for parties that failed to overcome the 4% threshold to get into parliament. Reportedly 107,799 Bulgarian citizens voted abroad, with 63,152 votes cast in Turkey. The Mysterious Case of the Extra Ballots The administration of the elections on E-Day was largely unremarkable. It was, however, preceded by two separate but related wiretapping scandals suggesting that the Ministry of Interior had bugged journalists and state officials. The day before the elections, an “extra” 350,000 ballots were discovered in a printing house in Sofia. (A week after the elections, it was reported that more than 2,000 extra stamps for electoral commissions had also surfaced.) In its preliminary findings, the Election Observation Mission drew particular attention to the alienation of voters, lack of confidence in the electoral process, concerns over ballot security (the “extra” ballots), and persistent allegations of vote buying or voter intimidation. (A final report from the Mission is forthcoming.) Roma and Other Minorities in the Electoral Context Bulgaria has a population of 7.36 million (from almost 8 million in the 2001 census and roughly 8.4 million in the 1992 census). This continuing drop reflects declining birth rates and labor migration to other parts of Europe. The ethnic Turkish minority comprises 8.8 percent of the population. Almost 5 percent of the population self-identified as Romani on the last census, but Roma are estimated to be roughly 10 percent of the population. Last year, the Bulgarian Government estimated that 23 percent of the working age population is Romani. The Bulgarian Constitution prohibits the formation of political parties on ethnic, racial or religious lines, which is contrary to OSCE and other international norms on freedom of assembly. The OSCE has criticized this restriction in previous reports on Bulgarian elections. The Electoral Code stipulates that the election campaign must be conducted in the Bulgarian language only, also contrary to standards on free speech and minority language use set out in the 1990 Copenhagen Document. These restrictions also impede get-out-the-vote efforts. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms is, de facto, an ethnic Turkish minority party, although it has largely been allowed to function with a wink and a nod from the authorities. After the elections, it was reported that Lyutvi Mestan, head of the MRF party, was fined in Sliven for campaigning in Turkish. Bulgaria's last two local and Presidential elections (which were held simultaneously in 2007 and 2011) were preceded by outbreaks of anti-Roma violence. In 2011, just a few weeks before the elections, 14 Bulgarian cities erupted into anti-Roma riots. In July 2012, the headquarters of the EuroRoma political party were firebombed, killing one man. The investigation has not produced any results. On April 8, 15 Romani civil society organizations withdrew from their advisory role with the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, effectively deeming the government’s work in this area and the consultative process to be a sham. There were no Roma in electable positions on the lists for any of the leading parties. As a result, the National Assembly produced by the May 12 elections will be the first Bulgarian parliament since the fall of communism to have no Romani MPs.

  • THE OSCE OFFICE FOR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS: ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND CHALLENGES

    Ambassador Janez Lenarcic testified in in front of the Commission on the human rights dimension of OSCE member countries. The hearing focused on the member countries that have not met OSCE agreed standards on defense of human rights. The discussion focused on the OSCE’s plan to establish guidelines for member countries to uphold and defend human rights. The witness and commissioners highlighted recent situations in Russia in regards to respect of human rights amidst an election. In addition, the discussion focused on the role of the United States in providing leadership on the issue.

  • Ukraine's Leadership of the OSCE

    This hearing focused on the Ukrainian leadership of the OSCE and OSCE priorities within Ukraine.  Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Leonid Kozhara spoke about Ukraine’s progress on economic reforms and anti-corruption efforts and Ukraine’s policy goals for their time in office, particularly on human trafficking.  Chairman Cardin and Minister Kozhara also discussed Yulia Tymoshenko’s imprisonment.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on OSCE with Ukraine's Foreign Minister

    The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following hearing: Ukraine’s Leadership of the OSCE Wednesday, May 8, 2013  2:00 pm Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 562 Scheduled to testify: His Excellency Leonid Kozhara, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Chair-in-Office of the OSCE Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Leonid Kozhara, will testify before the U.S. Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing takes place one-third of the way through Ukraine’s 2013 chairmanship of the 57-country OSCE, an organization based in Vienna Austria, and best known for its work in promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Minister Kozhara is expected to discuss the Chairmanship’s priorities and provide insights regarding the ongoing work of the OSCE. Ukraine’s Chairmanship faces formidable tasks in leading an organization that operates on the basis of consensus and includes countries ranging from democracies to dictatorships.  The Ukrainian Chairmanship’s priorities include finding new ways to address protracted regional conflicts, energy security, and human dimension issues such as human trafficking, media freedom, tolerance, democratic elections and efforts to improve implementation of commitments regarding fundamental human rights and freedoms.       

  • Political Imprisonment in Ukraine

    Madam President. I would like to address the current situation in Ukraine, an important country in the heart of Europe, a bellwether for democratic development in the region, and the current Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE.  Let me first welcome the release from prison Sunday of former Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs and leading opposition figure Yuri Lutsenko. Mr. Lutsenko had been convicted on politically motivated charges and incarcerated since December 2010. President Yanukovych's pardon of Mr. Lutsenko is an encouraging step in the right direction. I also welcome the pardon of former Environment Minister Heorhiy Filipchuk, who also served as a member of Ms. Tymoshenko's Cabinet and had been released last year after his sentence was suspended. By pardoning Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Filipchuk, President Yanukovych is indicating not only a willingness to resolve what has been a major irritant in Ukraine's relations with the United States and the EU, but also a stain on Ukraine's democratic credentials.  At the same time, I remain deeply concerned about the politically motivated imprisonment of Ukrainian opposition figure and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been incarcerated since August 2011.  Mrs. Tymoshenko's case stands out as a significant illustration of Ukraine's backsliding with respect to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law since she was defeated by President Yanukovych in February 2010. The United States, EU, and Canada have repeatedly expressed concerns about the application of selective justice against political opponents, their flawed trials, conditions of detention, and the denial of their ability to participate in last October's parliamentary elections.  As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, which has long been committed to Ukraine's independence and democratic development, I am especially mindful of Ukraine's 2013 OSCE chairmanship. Like any Chair-in-Office, Ukraine faces formidable tasks in leading a multilateral organization that operates on the basis of consensus, which includes 57 countries ranging from mature democracies to oppressive dictatorships. The United States wants Ukraine to succeed, but the reality is that the politically motivated imprisonment of Ms. Tymoshenko casts a cloud over its chairmanship. A Chair-in-Office must itself have strong democratic credentials if it is to succeed in encouraging reform in other countries.  Furthermore, democratic regression in Ukraine has harmed U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations, preventing a traditionally strong partnership from realizing its full potential. It has also slowed down the process of Ukraine's drawing closer to the EU, which is that country's stated foreign policy priority, manifested in the still-delayed signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. More than half a year has gone by since the unanimous adoption of S. Res. 466, calling for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko.  The Ukrainian authorities now need to follow up on the important step they have taken in freeing Yuri Lutsenko. They need to free Ms. Tymoshenko and restore her civil and political rights. By demonstrating commitment to the rule of law and human rights principles embodied by the OSCE, Ukraine will strengthen the credibility of its chairmanship and show it is serious about being a full-fledged member of the democratic community of nations.  I strongly urge the Ukrainian government to resolve the case of Ms. Tymoshenko. 

  • THE TRAJECTORY OF DEMOCRACY – WHY HUNGARY MATTERS

    This hearing focused on recent constitutional changes to the Hungarian Constitution which has brought concerns from the United States and the European Union. Recently, Hungary has instituted sweeping and controversial changes to its constitutional framework, effectively remaking the country’s entire legal foundation. In addition to constitutional changes, there have been some bills passed without the proper democratic spirit and has brought concerns about the trajectory of democracy in that country. The witnesses raised the changes that have created the majority government into a nearly one-party rule structure and compared such actions to President Madison’s written exposé in the Federalist Papers number 47.

  • Hungary

    Mr. President, as the Senate chair of the Helsinki Commission, I have a longstanding interest in Central Europe. For many years the Helsinki Commission was one of the loudest and clearest voices to speak on behalf of those oppressed by communism and to call for democracy, human rights, and freedom from Soviet oppression. It has been a great triumph and joy to see the peoples of this region free from dictatorship. Over the past two decades I have been profoundly heartened as newly freed countries of Central Europe have joined the United States and NATO and have become our partners in advocating for human rights and democracy around the globe. Leadership on those issues may be especially important now as some countries in the Middle East undertake transition, the outcome of which is far from certain. Even in Europe, in the western Balkans, there is a crying need for exemplary leadership, not backsliding. Americans know from our own history that maintaining democracy and promoting human rights are never jobs that are finished. As my friend and former colleague Tom Lantos said, "The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.'' For some time I have been concerned about the trajectory of developments in Hungary, where the scope and nature of systemic changes introduced after April 2010 have been the focus of considerable international attention. At the end of November, Hungary was back in the headlines when Marton Gyongyosi, a member of the notorious extremist party Jobbik and also vice chairman of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested that Hungarian Jews are a threat to Hungary's national security and those in government and Parliament should be registered. The ink was barely dry on letters protesting those comments when another Hungarian Member of Parliament, Balazs Lenhardt, participated in a public demonstration last week where he burned an Israeli flag. The fact is that these are only the latest extremist scandals to erupt in Budapest over the course of this year. In April, for example, just before Passover, a Jobbik MP gave a speech in Parliament weaving together subtle anti-Roma propaganda with overt anti-Semitism blood libel. After that, Jobbik was in the news when it was reported that one of its members in Parliament had requested and received certification from a DNA testing company that his or her blood was free of Jewish or Romani ancestry. At issue in the face of these anti-Semitic and racist phenomena is the sufficiency of the Hungarian Government's response and its role in ensuring respect for human rights and the rule of law. And the government's response has been, to say the least, wanting. First, it has been a hallmark of this government to focus on blood identity through the extension of Hungarian citizenship on a purely ethnic basis. The same Hungarian officials have played fast and loose with questions relating to its wartime responsibilities, prompting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to issue a public statement of concern regarding the rehabilitation of fascist ideologues and political leaders from World War II. I am perhaps most alarmed by the government's failure to stand against the organized threats from Jobbik. For example, in late August a mob estimated at 1,000 people terrorized a Roma neighborhood in Devecser, taunting the Romani families to come out and face the crowd. There were reportedly three members of Parliament from the Jobbik party participating in that mob, and some people were filmed throwing bricks or stones at the Romani homes. The failure to investigate, let alone condemn such acts of intimidation, makes Prime Minister Orban's recent pledge to protect "his compatriots'' ring hollow. Of course, all this takes place in the context of fundamental questions about democracy itself in Hungary. What are we to make of democracy in Hungary when more than 360 religious organizations are stripped of their registration overnight and when all faiths must now depend on the politicized decision-making of the Parliament to receive the rights that come with registration? What are we to make of the fact that even after the European Commission and Hungary's own Constitutional Court have ruled against the mass dismissal of judges in Hungary's court-packing scheme, there is still no remedy for any of the dismissed judges? What is the status of media freedom in Hungary, let alone the fight against anti-Semitism, if a journalist who writes about anti-Semitism faces possible sanction before the courts for doing so? What are we to make of Hungary's new election framework, which includes many troubling provisions, including a prohibition on campaign ads on commercial radio and TV, onerous new voter registration provisions, and limits on local election committees, which oversee elections? I find it hard to imagine that Jews, Roma, and other minorities will be safe if freedom of the media and religion, the rule of law, the independence of the Judiciary, and the checks and balances essential for democracy are not also safeguarded. With that in mind, I will continue to follow the overall trends in Hungary and the implications for the region as a whole.  

  • The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western Europe

    This briefing presented a close examination of recent reports and studies showing an alarming rise in social and governmental hostility toward religion in general—and Christianity in particular—in Western Europe. Various topics of discussion underscored how the current state of affairs is in tension with Europe’s history as the intellectual birthplace of religious freedom, as well as with its commitment to democracy. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Professor Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University; Dr. Roger Trigg, Academic Director of the Kellogg Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Oxford University; and Roger Kiska, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom – noted with concern the growing European trend to pit human rights against religious freedom. Censorship of the cross and other religious symbols, growing restrictions on parental rights in the area of the education of their children, and limitation on free expression—including religious expression—through “hate speech” laws were also identified as obstacles for religious liberty in Western Europe.

  • Hungary

    Mr. President, a year ago, I shared with my colleagues concerns I had about the trajectory of democracy in Hungary. Unfortunately, since then Hungary has moved ever farther away from a broad range of norms relating to democracy and the rule of law. On June 6, David Kramer, the President of Freedom House who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor for President George W. Bush, summed up the situation. Releasing Freedom House's latest edition of Nations in Transit Kramer said: "Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, under the pretext of so-called reforms, have been systematically breaking down critical checks and balances. They appear to be pursuing the `Putinization' of their countries.'' The report further elaborates, “Hungary's precipitous descent is the most glaring example among the newer European Union (EU) members. Its deterioration over the past five years has affected institutions that form the bedrock of democratically accountable systems, including independent courts and media. Hungary's negative trajectory predated the current government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, but his drive to concentrate power over the past two years has forcefully propelled the trend.'' Perhaps the most authoritative voice regarding this phenomenon is the Prime Minister himself. In a February 2010 speech, Viktor Orbán criticized a system of governance based on pluralism and called instead for: “a large centralized political field of power . . . designed for permanently governing.'' In June of last year, he defended his plan to cement economic policy in so-called cardinal laws, which require a two-thirds vote in parliament to change, by saying, "It is no secret that in this respect I am tying the hands of the next government, and not only the next one but the following ten.'' Checks and balances have been eroded and power has been concentrated in the hands of officials whose extended terms of office will allow them to long outlive this government and the next. These include the public prosecutor, head of the state audit office, head of the national judicial office, and head of the media board. Those who have expressed concerns about these developments have good reason to be alarmed. I am particularly concerned about the independence of the judiciary which, it was reported this week, will be the subject of infringement proceedings launched by the European Commission, and Hungary's new media law. Although there have been some cosmetic tweaks to the media law, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has argued that it remains highly problematic. Indeed, one expert has predicted that the most likely outcome of the new law will be to squeeze out reporting on corruption. Hungary also adopted a new law on religion last year that had the stunning effect of stripping hundreds of religions of their legal recognition en masse. Of the 366 faiths which previously had legal status in Hungary, only 14 were initially granted recognition under the new law. Remarkably, the power to decide what is or is not a religion is vested entirely and exclusively in the hands of the legislature, making it a singularly politicized and arbitrary process. Of 84 churches that subsequently attempted to regain legal recognition, 66 were rejected without any explanation or legal rationale at all. The notion that the new framework should be acceptable because the faiths of most Hungarian citizens are recognized is poor comfort for the minority who find themselves the victims of this discriminatory process. This law also stands as a negative example for many countries around the world just now beginning tenuous movement towards democracy and human rights. Finally, a year ago, I warned that “[i]f one side of the nationalism coin is an excessive fixation on Hungarian ethnic identity beyond the borders, the other side is intolerance toward minorities at home.”I am especially concerned by an escalation of anti-Semitic acts which I believe have grown directly from the government's own role in seeking to revise Hungary's past. Propaganda against the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which defines the current borders of Hungary, has manifested itself in several ways. Most concretely, the Hungarian government extended citizenship on the basis of ethnic or blood identity--something the government of Viktor Orbán promised the Council of Europe in 2001 that it would not do and which failed to win popular support in a 2004 referendum. Second, the government extended voting rights to these new ethnic citizens in countries including Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. This has combined with a rhetorical and symbolic fixation on “lost” Hungarian territories--apparently the rationale for displaying an 1848 map of Greater Hungary during Hungary's EU presidency last year. In this way, the government is effectively advancing central elements of the agenda of the extremist, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma Jobbik party. Moreover, implicitly--but unmistakably--it is sending the message that Hungary is no longer a civic state where political rights such as voting derive from citizenship, but where citizenship derives from one's ethnic status or blood identity. The most recent manifestation of this revisionism includes efforts to rehabilitate convicted war criminal Albert Wass and the bizarre spectacle of the Hungarian government's role in a ceremony in neighboring Romania--over the objections of that country--honoring fascist writer and ideologue Joszef Nyiro. That event effectively saw the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, Laszlo Kover; the Hungarian State Secretary for Culture, Geza Szocs; and Gabor Vona, the leader of Hungary's most notoriously extremist party, Jobbik, united in honoring Nyrio. Several municipalities have now seen fit to erect statues honoring Miklos Horthy, Hungary's wartime leader, and the writings of Wass and Nyiro have been elevated onto the national curriculum. It is not surprising that this climate of intolerance and revisionism has gone hand-in-hand with an outbreak of intolerance, such as the anti-Semitic verbal assaults on a 90-year old Rabbi and on a journalist, an attack on a synagogue menorah in Nagykanizsa, the vandalism of a Jewish memorial in Budapest and monuments honoring Raoul Wallenberg, the Blood Libel screed by a Jobbik MP just before Passover, and the recent revelation that a Jobbik MP requested--and received--a certificate from a genetic diagnostic company attesting that the MP did not have Jewish or Romani ancestry. We are frequently told that Fidesz is the party best positioned in Hungary to guard against the extremism of Jobbik. At the moment, there seems to be little evidence to support that claim. The campaign to rehabilitate fascist ideologues and leaders from World War II is dangerous and must stop. Ultimately, democracy and the rights of minorities will stand or fall together. Hungary is not just on the wrong track, it is heading down a dangerous road. The rehabilitation of disgraced World War II figures and the exaltation of blood and nation reek of a different era, which the community of democracies--especially Europe--had hoped was gone for good. Today's Hungary demonstrates that the battle against the worst human instincts is never fully won but must be fought in every generation.

  • Ukraine's Upcoming Elections: A Pivotal Moment

    This hearing focused on concerns of democratic backsliding in Ukraine under President Viktor Yanukovych.  In particular, the witnesses and commissioners discussed their concerns with the October 2010 local elections, the March 2012 mayoral elections. The witnesses, including the representative from several different non-governmental organizations working on democratic development in Ukraine, spoke about the impact of corruption, controls over the media and harassment of NGOs on the electoral process.  Evheniya Tymoshenko, the daughter of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, also spoke about her mother’s case.

  • More Democratic Setbacks in Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, last week, former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko was sentenced to four years imprisonment in yet another politically motivated trial. This comes after the imprisonment--also the result of an unfair trial on specious charges--of his ally, former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who continues to languish in prison in ill health. The sentencing of Mr. Lutsenko is a further confirmation that the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych is not taking its OSCE human rights and democracy obligations seriously. The imprisonment of opposition leaders Tymoshenko and Lutsenko prohibits their participation in October's parliamentary elections, raising serious questions about whether Ukraine will meet OSCE election standards. This could be especially troubling given Ukraine's assumption of the OSCE Chairmanship in January, 2013, two months after these elections. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, it is also of concern to me and my colleagues, who have long advocated an independent, democratic, and free Ukraine. Mr. Lutsenko's conviction is disconcerting in that it starkly illustrates the deterioration of human rights, democracy and the rule of law under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, who has pressed the pause button on Ukraine's once-promising advance towards democracy--and increasingly it seems he is switching to the reverse button. Instead, what we now see is something increasingly reminiscent of the kind of authoritarianism that exists in Russia, Belarus and elsewhere in the post-Soviet space. Ukraine's democratic backsliding is harming relations with the EU and the United States, and both have repeatedly made clear that for relations to improve, respect for human rights and the democratic process must improve. Most importantly, this now two-year deterioration negatively affects the Ukrainian people, who, following the Orange Revolution, had tasted the fruits of freedom, and are now increasingly experiencing the burden of its undoing. It is time for President Yanukovych to show respect for the dignity of his own people by putting an end to political prosecutions and other reprisals against those who oppose him and allow their full participation in political life. In order to find credibility with both the Ukrainian people and the international community, he must end restrictions on freedom of speech and association and reverse the debilitating corruption and judicial subservience to the executive which has so eroded the rule of law. Mr. Speaker, the time has come for the Ukrainian authorities to stop their slide to authoritarianism and resulting isolation which will only harm Ukrainians who for so long--and at such great cost--have struggled for freedom, dignity and justice. 

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