Helsinki Commission Marks One-Year Anniversary of Navalny’s ImprisonmentFriday, January 14, 2022
WASHINGTON—Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Alexei Navalny’s arrest on January 17, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “In the past year, while Alexei Navalny has remained unjustly imprisoned, the Kremlin has doubled down on its absurd persecution of his anti-corruption organizations as ‘extremist,’” said Chairman Cardin. “Nevertheless, Mr. Navalny’s colleagues, friends and allies, in the face of grave threats, continue to risk their own freedom to expose Putin’s thuggery across Russia.” “Putin would not have gone to the trouble to imprison Alexei Navalny unless he perceived a serious threat to his power,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Mr. Navalny and his team across Russia were instrumental in revealing the ill-gotten gains of Putin and his cronies. This tells you all you need to know about why they are a target.” “During his imprisonment, Alexei Navalny has used his own suffering to call attention to the plight of the hundreds of other political prisoners in Russia,” said Sen. Wicker. “We have not forgotten him or others who are persecuted for their beliefs, and we look forward to a Russia in which they finally are free.” “Despite the Kremlin’s attempts to push Alexei Navalny out of public view and prevent him from challenging Putin, we will not stop calling for his release,” said Rep. Wilson. “Russians who challenge Putin should not have to fear for their safety in their own country.” In August 2020, Alexei Navalny was the victim of an assassination attempt by the FSB that used a Russia-developed chemical weapon in the Novichok family. He spent months recovering after being flown to Berlin for treatment. Navalny returned to Moscow on January 17, 2021, and was arrested at the airport. In February, a Russian judge sentenced Navalny to three and a half years in a prison colony for violating the terms of a suspended sentence related to a 2014 case that is widely considered to be politically motivated. Previous time served under house arrest reduced his prison time to two years and eight months. In June, the Moscow City Court ruled that Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and its regional networks would henceforth be considered “extremist” organizations, essentially outlawing these groups and criminalizing their activity. In September, Russian authorities opened a new probe against Navalny and his closest associates for creating and directing an “extremist network.” This, combined with other ongoing criminal investigations, could lead to additional jail time for Navalny and threaten those associated with his organizations, many of whom have been forced to flee Russia.
Helsinki Commission Welcomes First Charges Under the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping ActThursday, January 13, 2022
WASHINGTON—Following the first charges filed under the Helsinki Commission’s Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act for a doping scheme at the Tokyo Olympics, Helsinki Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), and former Commissioner Rep. Michael Burgess (TX-26) issued the following statements: “Swift utilization of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act is exactly what we hoped for with this legislation,” said Chairman Cardin. “I thank the U.S. attorneys and investigators who put in long hours of work pursuing this case. They understood the importance of cleaning up cheating and corruption in international sports, which often is a tool of autocratic governments. These first charges are only the beginning and serve as a very public part of the global anti-corruption strategy supported by the Biden administration and spearheaded by the Helsinki Commission for many years.” “I welcome this first enforcement action under the Rodchenkov Act and urge the Department of Justice to continue unraveling the corruption that infects international sport,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “Sports should bring people together and celebrate achievement—they should not be an opportunity for fraud. My own GOLD Act would expand the Rodchenkov Act and I call on my colleagues to pass it swiftly.” “These charges are the culmination of years of work to hold administrators, doctors, and officials accountable for their role in corrupting international sport,” said Sen. Wicker. “They demonstrate that our new approach is working. I thank the public servants at the U.S. Department of Justice and urge them to continue their efforts to enforce this critically important law.” “Dictators and their cronies interfere in everything we hold dear, including sports. They view victory in international sport as a way to trumpet the greatness of their oppressive systems. Cheating in sports is part of their foreign policy,” said Rep. Wilson. “With the Rodchenkov Act, we are holding these corrupt networks to account. I applaud the Department of Justice for prosecuting fraudsters at the Tokyo Olympics and call on them to do the same in Beijing.” “From a young age, professional athletes dedicate themselves to becoming the best in their sport. For those skilled enough to make it to the Olympics, their efforts should not be tainted by doping schemes,” said Rep. Burgess. “Yesterday’s charges provide hope to those that have been defrauded. They would not have been made possible without the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. I worked to enact this law to maintain sport integrity and keep all American athletes safe and protected from fraud. Further, yesterday’s action is a win for athletes such as Katie Uhlaender, whose moving testimony spurred Congress into action. I hope that yesterday’s charges are only the beginning of combatting fraud in international sport competition.” “This is exactly the kind of action we hoped for following the enactment of this groundbreaking anti-doping legislation,” said Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory and the Russian whistle-blower after whom the law is named. “We are grateful to United States Attorney Damian Williams for taking this monumental first step toward restoring the Olympic games to their role as a cherished forum for nations to convene in the spirit of peace, fairness and cooperation. We cannot continue to allow corrupt states and the overlords of sport commerce to exploit our athletes and traditions of peace to advance the economic and geopolitical interests of the few. Yesterday's action is entirely appropriate and puts real teeth into anti-doping enforcement, while also setting an example of international cooperation and fair play for future generations.” The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, which became law in December 2020, criminalizes doping in international sport. In July 2021, the Helsinki Commission hosted a hearing on the enforcement of the Rodchenkov Act at the Tokyo Olympics. Earlier that year, Dr. Rodchenkov spoke out publicly for the first time about the impact of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act on a Helsinki Commission podcast, calling it a “game-changer.” On Wednesday, the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced the charges against Eric Lira, who they allege “obtained various performance enhancing drugs (‘PEDs’) and distributed those PEDs to certain athletes in advance of, and for the purpose of cheating at, the 2020 Olympic Games held in Tokyo in the summer of 2021.”
Helsinki Commission Calls for Peaceful Solution in KazakhstanThursday, January 06, 2022
WASHINGTON—In response to the violent clashes between protesters and authorities in Kazakhstan, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We are deeply concerned about the situation in Kazakhstan and condemn the violence that has accompanied widespread protests across the country. The reported deaths of both protesters and police are extremely disturbing. “We call on President Tokayev and Russian troops not to use disproportionate force against protesters. At the same time, we call on protesters to cease any violent attacks against police, public buildings, or private property. “We urge both sides to find a peaceful way to resolve this crisis. We also urge President Tokayev to ensure respect for human rights, especially freedom of the media and the right to due process for those who have been arrested in connection with the protests.” A wave of protests began on January 2 in the western part of the oil- and gas-rich country in response to a sharp increase in the price of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). The unrest spread quickly to other parts of Kazakhstan and grew increasingly violent. Authorities deployed tear gas and stun grenades against protesters and blocked internet access in an effort to quell the unrest, while demonstrators attacked government offices. There are reports of deaths among both law enforcement and protesters, as well as of widespread looting. Kazakhstani President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev declared a nationwide state of emergency on January 5, accepted the resignation of his cabinet, and reduced LPG prices, but protests continued. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a security alliance among select former Soviet states including Russia, is sending Russian troops at the request of President Tokayev. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated already strained economic and social disparities, and demonstrators are demanding increased political liberalization and accountability for government corruption. OSCE observers concluded that the 2021 parliamentary elections “lacked genuine competition” and underscored the need for political reform.
Helsinki Commission Cautions Russia Against Dissolving Russian Human Rights Organization MemorialTuesday, December 21, 2021
WASHINGTON—As the latest court proceedings conclude for Russian human rights group Memorial International, U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “The Kremlin continues to twist Russia’s so-called justice system to punish civil society, opposition politicians, and independent media who dare to speak out against the abuses of Putin’s regime. The United States should raise the stakes and impose concrete consequences on any officials who support such vindictive action against the Russian patriots who defend the human rights of their fellow citizens.” In a December 17, 2021 letter, Chairman Cardin, Co-Chairman Cohen, Sen. Wicker, Rep. Wilson, and Helsinki Commissioner Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) urged President Joe Biden to sanction 17 Russian officials and associates involved in the harassment and prosecution of Memorial and its leadership. “The United States has a moral duty to prevent this attack on universal rights and freedoms,” they said. “Publicly sanctioning the Russian officials involved in the attack on Memorial and their enablers would be an effective way to support pro-democracy forces in Russia and deter perpetrators.” In November 2021, Russia’s Supreme Court notified Memorial that the General Prosecutor’s office was suing to dismantle the organization for alleged violations of Russia’s “foreign agent” laws. In a November 17 statement, the Helsinki Commission expressed concern about the organization’s potential dissolution, noting, “We continue to see an alarming increase in attacks on civil society, opposition politicians, and independent media in Russia. Now the Kremlin actively seeks to dismantle Memorial, a respected network of organizations dedicated to revealing and preserving the history of Soviet repression and fighting for political prisoners in Russia today. Memorial’s efforts to defend truth and human rights are essential and must be protected for generations to come.” Memorial, established in the final years of the Soviet Union by dissidents including Andrei Sakharov, is one of the most respected and enduring human rights groups in the region. Its local chapters focus on preserving the truth about Soviet repressions, particularly under Stalin, and honoring the memories of those lost. Memorial also maintains a comprehensive database of current political prisoners in Russia and continues to advocate for the rights of the people of Russia, especially in the North Caucasus. The Helsinki Commission has convened numerous events featuring Memorial representatives.
Helsinki Commission Welcomes Passage of Trap Provision in 2022 National Defense Authorization ActWednesday, December 15, 2021
WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today welcomed the passage of the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) provision as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2022. “By co-opting and undermining the rule of law to harass and intimidate dissidents and political opponents, corrupt regimes threaten our national security,” said Chairman Cardin. “Our provision will make it U.S. policy to fight exploitation of INTERPOL, including by naming and shaming member states that abuse its mechanisms. This amendment will protect the United States, our allies, and all those fighting or fleeing authoritarian regimes from extraterritorial and extrajudicial abuse.” “We’ve seen time and again how corrupt dictators take advantage of INTERPOL to intimidate and harass those who expose their immoral deeds, even after they have fled their homes and their country in search of safety,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “The TRAP provision will protect these dissidents and ensure that our own institutions are not used against us—or them.” “There is no reason for any democracy, especially the United States, to be forced to play a part in authoritarian regimes’ blatant abuse of INTERPOL Red Notices,” said Sen. Wicker. “I am pleased Congress has taken action to name publicly the abusers, such as Russia and China, and prevent American law enforcement from having to do the dirty work of these repressive autocrats.” “INTERPOL should enable us to crack down on criminals worldwide,” said Rep. Wilson. “Instead, the criminals have taken over the institution, using it to target those who oppose them. The TRAP provision will protect the United States from this abuse and ensure that we do everything we can to restore the rule of law to INTERPOL.” “Increasing transparency and accountability at INTERPOL underscores the bipartisan commitment of the United States Senate to push back against countries, large or small, seeking to distort legitimate law enforcement cooperation to instead pursue political opponents or personal vendettas,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This new provision will strengthen protections for human rights defenders, political dissidents, and journalists, and pave the way for the international community to join the United States in pressing for reforms and standing against the abuse of INTERPOL Red Notices by China and Russia, among others.” The Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) Act was introduced in 2021 in the Senate by Sen. Wicker and Chairman Cardin and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Co-Chairman Cohen and Rep. Wilson. The legislation makes fighting abuse of INTERPOL a key goal of the United States at the organization, mandates that the United States name the worst abusers of INTERPOL and examine its own strategy to fight INTERPOL abuse, and protects the U.S. judicial system from authoritarian abuse.
The Centrality of the Battle Against Corruption in the Democracy SummitThursday, December 09, 2021
Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise today--on International Anti-Corruption Day, as declared by the United Nations--to speak about the Democracy Summit that President Biden is convening today and tomorrow, to which government leaders from 110 countries have been invited. It will also include a range of leading civil society actors, business and labor leaders, civic educators and investigative journalists, philanthropists, and nonprofit leaders as speakers and participants. Undeterred by the Coronavirus pandemic, the Biden administration has organized a global virtual gathering with participants tuning in from six continents. It is an ambitious, even audacious, undertaking. And it comes at a critical time, as the world is now 15 years into a global democratic recession, according to the well-respected watchdog organization Freedom House. In its widely cited annual survey of freedom, it has reported that, in each of the past 15 years, more countries have seen their democracy scores decline than the number of countries whose scores have improved. And last year, during the height of the global pandemic, nearly 75 percent of the world's population lived in a country that saw its democracy score deteriorate last year. For a President who has pledged to put democratic values at the heart of American foreign policy, it is fitting and proper that he should convene the democratic leaders of the world and other relevant parties to plan the revitalization of global democracy. Of course, readers of the annual Freedom House assessment will know that there are not 110 well-functioning, effective democracies in the world and that way too many poorly performing nominal democracies have been invited to this gathering, thus diluting its character. While some conspicuously back-sliding countries, like Hungary and Turkey, have not been invited, there are numerous back-sliding pseudo-democracies, including the current governments of the Philippines and Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia, Bolsinaro's Brazil among others, that unfortunately have been included. Then there is India, which dropped from Free to Partly Free status in Freedom in the World 2021, which contributes significantly to the fact that 75 percent of the world's people last year resided in countries moving away from democracy. Yet the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after its sustained crack down on critics during the past 2 years and the atrocious scapegoating of Muslims, who were disproportionately blamed for the spread of the virus and faced attacks by vigilante mobs, has been invited to the Democracy Summit. Members of the Senate will also know that there has been precious little information sharing with this body about the contours of the summit. There has been no discussion with us about the invitation list or the way forward from this week's summit, which I see as a missed opportunity for the Biden administration. On the other hand, I was proud to be able to participate in a side event convened last Friday morning by the House Democracy Partnership for a discussion with legislators from other countries about the important role that parliaments can and do play in leading their governments to address the enduring and universal problem of corruption. I want to congratulate Representative David Price of North Carolina for his leadership of that important initiative and for convening a productive international exchange of views last week in the run up to the President's gathering. One of the main take-aways from that webinar was that it is always incumbent on the legislatures of the world to press forward with laws that instruct and enable executive branch officials to elevate their work to combat corruption. This is the main topic of my intervention today, to discuss one of the hopeful aspects of the President's Democracy Summit, which is the central role that the battle against corruption is playing in the proceedings and to underscore the leading role that we in the Congress must take to compel further action from our colleagues in the executive branch. History tells us that they will likely not do so on their own. In fact, the history of anti-corruption laws in the United States is replete with fervent opposition from the executive branch, whether during Democratic administrations or Republican, to virtually every measure proposed in the Congress. This was true of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, which barred U.S. companies and their officials from paying bribes in foreign countries. The executive and the business community declared that this would end the ability of American corporations to do business around the world, which turned out not to be true, of course. Indeed, it became in due course a foundational element in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption--UNCAC--and other elements of the international architecture of the battle against corruption. Yet the executive has continued to oppose every measure introduced in Congress to address kleptocrats and human rights abusers, including the original Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 and its successor, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016. This is especially ironic because, since the enactment of the 2016 law, both Republican and Democratic administrations have been utilizing the law frequently and to good effect. Indeed, today, Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced that--on the occasion of International anti-Corruption Day--the Department of State has designated 12 individuals from 7 countries for significant corruption and also named another 18 family members. In five of the designations, the Treasury Department has invoked Global Magnitsky sanctions for their roles in corruption. The Democracy Summit is being built around three principal themes: defending against authoritarianism, promoting respect for human rights, and fighting corruption. Corruption is the means and the method for kleptocratic rulers around the world to steal from their own people and to stash their wealth in safe havens, most often in the democratic Western world. This is directly and intimately connected to the undermining of the rule of law and the repression of human rights in these same countries--which is why I was so pleased to see that, on June 3 of this year, President Biden declared the fight against corruption to be “a core national security interest.” And he directed his National Security Advisor to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the problem. Accordingly, earlier this week, in the run-up to the Democracy Summit, the White House published the first “United States Strategy on Countering Corruption.” The strategy is a 38-page document that describes several major lines of effort in the new strategy. Among the document's commitments are pledges to crack down on dirty money in U.S. real estate, to require certain gatekeepers to the U.S. financial system such as attorneys, accountants, and investment advisers to perform greater due diligence on their prospective clients, and to make it a crime for foreign officials to solicit or accept bribes from U.S. companies. If this strategy is matched with appropriate resources, it has the power to fundamentally change the calculus for kleptocrats and redirect stolen funds back to the original problems they were meant to fund such as fighting the pandemic, countering the effects of climate change, funding economic development and opportunity. We in the Congress can do our part by passing pending legislation that would further strengthen the hand of the U.S. Government in this effort. While there are a number of valuable proposals pending, there are two that I suggest would be the most impactful and necessary. The first is the Combating Global Corruption Act, S. 14, which I introduced and was cosponsored by my Republican friend from Indiana, Mr. Young, which would create an annual global report, modeled in some ways on the Trafficking-in-Persons report, in which the State Department would assess how earnestly and effectively the governments of the world are living up to the commitments they have made in international treaties and covenants. The report would also place the countries of the world in 3 tiers, according to how well they are doing. And for those in the lowest performing tier, likely the governments that are actually kleptocracies, the bill asks that the executive branch assess government officials in those places for possible designation for Global Magnitsky sanctions. The second is the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, S. 93, which I introduced and was cosponsored by my Republican friend from Mississippi, Mr. Wicker, which would permanently reauthorize the existing Global Magnitsky framework and to widen the aperture of the law to encompass more bad actors and actions. Both these measures have been reported favorably and unanimously by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and both are ready for final action by the Senate. As President Biden convenes the Democracy Summit today, with its major focus on the battle against corruption, it would be timely for the Senate to demonstrate our resolve as well. So I hope that my colleagues here in the Senate will agree in the coming days to adopt these two bills, so that we may take them to the House of Representatives, where they also enjoy bipartisan support, and get them onto the desk of President Biden during the coming year. Participating governments in the Democracy Summit, including the United States, are making commitments to strengthen their own democracies in the next 12 months, in advance of a second summit that is envisioned for next December. The American position will be enhanced if we have enacted these laws before then. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that selected excerpts of the “United States Strategy on Countering Corruption” be printed in the Congressional Record.
Uniting Against CorruptionTuesday, December 07, 2021
At a virtual kickoff event on December 7, leaders of the U.S. Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy, the EU Parliament Anti-Corruption Intergroup, and the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax formally launched the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy. Members of the alliance are politicians leading the fight in their respective parliaments against corruption and kleptocracy. The launch immediately precedes to President Joe Biden’s December 9 – 10 Summit for Democracy, where approximately 110 countries will commit to fighting corruption and renewing democratic values. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), who has championed anti-corruption efforts throughout Congress, will welcome the formation of the alliance at the kickoff event. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy aims to build a transparent and accountable global financial system; promote government transparency, allowing for effective public oversight; disable transnational corrupt networks, while deterring the movement of dirty money into democracies; support the role of free media and journalists in exposing the risks from kleptocracy; and advocate for strong anti-corruption standards for public officials and their enforcement. Planned projects include coordinating targeted sanctions and public visa bans, synchronizing anti-money laundering frameworks, harmonizing cross-border investigations into grand corruption, and promoting robust anti-corruption ethics frameworks for public officials. Members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy subscribe to the principles that democratic states are based on the rule of law and must safeguard this system against the taint of corruption and illicit finance; that kleptocracy is an authoritarian governance model in which political leaders routinely engage in illicit self-enrichment, maintain power through corrupt patronage networks, exploit democracies to conceal and protect stolen assets, and use strategic corruption as a tool of foreign policy; and that kleptocracy poses the most profound challenge for democratic governance in the 21st century as it corrodes the rule of law from within.
Inter-Parliamentary Alliance Against Kleptocracy to Unite Political Leaders in Transatlantic Battle Against CorruptionFriday, December 03, 2021
BRUSSELS, LONDON, WASHINGTON—At a virtual kickoff event on December 7, leaders of the U.S. Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy, the EU Parliament Anti-Corruption Intergroup, and the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax will formally launch the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy. Members of the alliance are politicians leading the fight in their respective parliaments against corruption and kleptocracy. The launch immediately precedes to President Joe Biden’s December 9 – 10 Summit for Democracy, where approximately 110 countries will commit to fighting corruption and renewing democratic values. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), who has championed anti-corruption efforts throughout Congress, will welcome the formation of the alliance at the kickoff event. UNITING AGAINST CORRUPTION Launch of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy Tuesday, December 7, 2021 11:00 a.m. ET Register: https://bit.ly/3IsbbvY “Countering corruption—a clear national security threat—is one of the three pillars of the upcoming Summit for Democracy. For me, it is an essential aspect of the meeting,” said Chairman Cardin. “It isn’t enough that the United States prioritizes the fight against corruption. To curb this global scourge, democracies must work together. I welcome the formation of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy, which will help harmonize our approaches to countering corruption and closing our systems to dirty money.” The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy is an alliance of legislative groups committed to countering the threat of global corruption. The new alliance will focus on fighting kleptocracy, an authoritarian governance model in which political leaders routinely engage in illicit self-enrichment, maintain power through corrupt patronage networks, exploit democracies to conceal and protect stolen assets, and use strategic corruption as a tool of foreign policy. Because the fight against foreign corruption spans the globe, the alliance will enable members and staff to share perspectives and coordinate efforts to confront the growing threat of authoritarian corruption. The alliance will hold periodic events, sponsor informal roundtables and briefings with leading experts, and coordinate initiatives across borders. “Nothing gets under the skin of dictators more than democracies working together—and confronting corruption is the best way to align ourselves with public sentiment in their countries. This parliamentary alliance will help ensure that lawmakers from the world’s democracies are working together to pass and enact laws against amassing and hiding illicit wealth,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), Co-Chair of the U.S. Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy. “Corruption is at the heart of all human rights abuse. Journalists are silenced and civil society is attacked because these individuals threaten to expose the corruption that underpins all strongmen,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), a member of the U.S. Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy. “By uniting with our allies to root out corruption, we take aim at the very essence of authoritarianism. That is why the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy is so important. Corruption is global by nature. But if all democracies close their doors to it, we can succeed.” “Corruption is the new communism. It is the uniting force of dictators and the system they seek to export. And like communism, the USA needs to join together with its allies to defeat it. I am pleased to welcome the establishment of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy, which will unite democratic allies against the corruption of Russian oligarchs, CCP princelings, Venezuelan thugs, and Iranian mullahs,” said Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02). “We have been seeing autocrats like Viktor Orbán successfully undermining European democracy for years from within, with increasing support from their experienced counterparts in Russia and beyond. If they close their ranks, all democratic parties need to do the same. This is not a fight that a single actor can win alone,” said MEP Daniel Freund of Germany, Co-Chair of the EU Parliament Anti-Corruption Intergroup. “Kleptocrats are destroying democracy and undermining the European Union. With this alliance we can stop European autocrats like Viktor Orbán and could be a powerful tool to influence not only national legislation but agreements on fighting corruption, transparency, accountability and criminal cooperation between the EU and the US. We should keep this alliance open for national lawmakers as well within the EU, allowing for example the devoted members of the Hungarian opposition parties also to join and commit themselves to such a noble cause. We have to fight together and we will fight together,” said MEP Katalin Cseh of Hungary, Member of the EU Parliament Anti-Corruption Intergroup’s leadership bureau. “Dirty money is at the root of many evils. From drug smuggling to terrorism, from money laundering to human trafficking, and from fraud to corruption. But if we can follow the money then we can start to put a stop to all manner of heinous crimes. That's why the launch of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on Kleptocracy represents a powerful moment as the world's democracies come together for the fight against illicit finance,” said UK MP Margaret Hodges, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax. “The movement of illicit finance is a global problem that requires a global solution. The harm caused to global security and democracy is facilitated by lack of coordination between different legislatures, and I am delighted to be part of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on Kleptocracy. I look forward to working with colleagues across the world to ensure that we give Kleptocrats nowhere to hide,” said UK MP Kevin Hollinrake, Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption and Responsible Tax. “It is not enough that America fight dictators – our friends and allies must also fight them. By working together to reject blood money, we can successfully deny dictators and their cronies access to our markets. I am thrilled about the formation of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy. This international alliance of like-minded kleptocracy fighters will ensure that killers and thugs have no safe haven,” said Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), a founding member of the U.S. Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy aims to build a transparent and accountable global financial system; promote government transparency, allowing for effective public oversight; disable transnational corrupt networks, while deterring the movement of dirty money into democracies; support the role of free media and journalists in exposing the risks from kleptocracy; and advocate for strong anti-corruption standards for public officials and their enforcement. Planned projects include coordinating targeted sanctions and public visa bans, synchronizing anti-money laundering frameworks, harmonizing cross-border investigations into grand corruption, and promoting robust anti-corruption ethics frameworks for public officials. Members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance against Kleptocracy subscribe to the principles that democratic states are based on the rule of law and must safeguard this system against the taint of corruption and illicit finance; that kleptocracy is an authoritarian governance model in which political leaders routinely engage in illicit self-enrichment, maintain power through corrupt patronage networks, exploit democracies to conceal and protect stolen assets, and use strategic corruption as a tool of foreign policy; and that kleptocracy poses the most profound challenge for democratic governance in the 21st century as it corrodes the rule of law from within.
Chairman Cardin Calls for Release of Osman Kavala, Welcomes Council of Europe Infringement Proceedings Against TurkeyFriday, December 03, 2021
WASHINGTON—Following the recent ruling of a Turkish court that will keep philanthropist Osman Kavala jailed until his trial begins in January 2022 and the subsequent decision by the Council of Europe to begin infringement proceedings against Turkey, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following statement: “Justice has been denied, once again, for Osman Kavala, whose only apparent crime is being a Turkish patriot. Despite earlier rulings from a Turkish court and the European Court of Human Rights requiring the state to release Mr. Kavala, Turkish authorities have already jailed him for more than four years—in clear violation of Turkey’s OSCE commitments. “The ongoing injustice against Mr. Kavala is not unique. Thousands of Turkish citizens have been victims of the arbitrary court system. It is welcome news that the Council of Europe will start infringement proceedings against Turkey. Although Turkey is an important NATO ally, its leaders repeatedly have failed to uphold its commitments to respect human rights and the rule of law. "I urge the Turkish government to comply with its international obligations and release Mr. Kavala.” Turkey’s failure to comply with the decision of the European Court of Human Rights, of which the country is a member, prompted the Council of Europe to start infringement proceedings. The process has been used only once before in more than seven decades of the organization’s history and may result in Turkey losing its voting rights or being excluded from the Council. Osman Kavala is a Turkish entrepreneur and philanthropist who has for decades supported civil society organizations in Turkey. In 1990, he contributed to the establishment of The Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, a democracy and human rights non-profit inspired by the Helsinki Final Act. In November 2017, Turkish authorities arrested Mr. Kavala, alleging that he attempted to overthrow the Turkish government. Mr. Kavala was acquitted of these charges in February 2020, only to remain in detention and be charged with a new offense in March 2020. The same month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Mr. Kavala should be released from pre-trial detention. Domestic and international human rights watchdogs consistently report that the charges against Mr. Kavala are unsubstantiated and politically motivated. Recently, ambassadors from ten Western countries, including the United States, advocated for his release. These demands were rejected by the Government of Turkey. Mr. Kavala is a recipient of the 2019 European Archaeological Heritage Prize and the Ayşenur Zarakolu Freedom of Thought and Expression Award from the Human Rights Association’s Istanbul branch.
Dictators, Inc.Monday, November 22, 2021
Many American and other western corporations invest heavily in authoritarian regimes, particularly Russia and China. Such companies often claim that, thanks to their involvement, democratic values like human rights and the rule of law will spill over into dictatorships and transform them from within. Instead, they provide autocrats with new opportunities to both repress rights at home and exert influence abroad. On November 22, 2021 the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe hosted a briefing examining the interplay between western business and dictators, particularly as it concerns human rights abuse. Panelists discussed the recent Russian elections, where Google and Apple censored content at the behest of the Putin regime; corporate censorship and other abuse on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party; and options for policy responses. Vladimir Milov, a Russian opposition politician and economist, discussed how American companies like Google and Apple could be coerced into succumbing to the Russian government’s censorship demands. He noted that the situation isn’t all bad: Google and Apple had resisted past censorship requests by the Russian government. However, the removal of an app created by Alexei Navalny’s organization to help coordinate protest votes in the 2021 Duma elections was problematic; there was nothing illegal about the content, and tech companies like Apple and Google removed them without communicating a legal explanation for doing so, Milov said. Milov suggested that first, companies should not give in to these types of demands by governments so as not to embolden them, and second, should make such communication with governments public to provide transparency. Matt Schrader, Advisor for China at the International Republican Institute, described how the Chinese Communist Party tries to influence other countries’ political systems by leveraging economic access. He pointed toward the People’s Republic of China’s use of its embassies abroad to form mutually beneficial relationships with businesses and wealthy individuals to influence political discourse and curry support for China. In the United States, for instance, this support can come in the form of lobbying against laws such as the Uyghur Human Rights Act, Schrader said. Another example, Schrader continued, is the film industry. China is a large market, and film companies are denied access to the Chinese market if they produce any films critical of China. Finally, Schrader pointed out the importance of the megaphone of celebrity in combating human rights violations. For example, efforts by U.S. tennis player Serena Williams and other athletes to raise awareness about missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has led to serious discussion about moving the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, while the ongoing genocide of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang has not. Karen Sutter, Specialist in Asian Trade and Finance at the Congressional Research Service, focused on the Chinese government’s increased economic pressure on countries, organizations and individuals to conform to China. According to her, the line between the government’s use of its authority and its commercial interest has been blurred. This includes rulings on anti-trust, business licensing, and other matters. “China’s use of economic coercion to push through policy goals is intensifying,” Sutter said, adding that this coercion is not limited to individuals or companies operating in China, creating gaps in public awareness in third countries, and taking away the ability to have public, informed debates on issues related to China. Sutter elaborated on several tools the United States could use to respond to China, including examining Chinese tactics, acknowledging that China benefits from the U.S. interest in its market, and understanding how China uses measures and countermeasures that put American companies in the middle of disputes between the two governments. Sutter continued by explaining that this system of measures and countermeasures as well as the asymmetric access to the economy poses the greatest challenge. Asked whether there is any indication that China’s influence over American enterprises could position China for a military advantage, Sutter pointed toward the issue of dual-use technologies and technological transfer to the Chinese government itself. She questioned whether other countries would backfill such arrangements if the United States imposed restrictions, and then further asked if there was a good way to impose restraints on or consequences for malign Chinese behavior. Schrader added that China sees embeddedness in globalization as a source of power and seeks to position itself to benefit the most it can from technological and scientific innovation. On the question of companies like Apple or Google “decoupling” from Russia and China, Milov responded that these companies would reach a point at which it would no longer be worth it to operate in country. He suggested, however, that companies could operate in Russia without a physical presence and thus limit their exposure to coercion. Sutter added that decoupling is not limited to U.S. companies looking to leave China. Rather, Chinese industrial policy shows attempts towards becoming self-sufficient in the areas of aircraft, semiconductors, medical equipment, and other key areas. In the meantime, Sutter said to end her testimony, the United States and Europe could use the threat of decoupling as leverage. Related Information Panelist Biographies China’s Recent Trade Measures and Countermeasures: Issues for Congress
Remembering Sergei MagnitskyThursday, November 18, 2021
Madam President, 12 years ago this Tuesday, Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in Moscow at the hands of prison guards who, instead of treating him for the acute illness that his torturous, year-long detention provoked, beat him for over an hour. He was found dead in his cell shortly thereafter. His “crime” was exposing the largest tax fraud in Russian history, perpetrated by government officials. He was 37 years old and left a loving family and many friends. At the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, we had heard of Sergei’s plight months earlier and we were saddened and outraged that such a promising life had been cut short and that so few expected his murderers to be held to any account. Impunity for the murder of journalists, activists, opposition politicians, and now a simple, honest citizen was, and remains, a depressing cliché in Russia under Vladimir Putin’s rule while his regime often ruthlessly punishes people for minor infractions of the law. For those on the wrong side of the Kremlin, the message is clear — and chilling. Even the most damning evidence will not suffice to convict the guilty nor will the most exculpatory evidence spare the innocent. The need for justice, in Russia, in this specific case does not diminish with the passage of time. Moreover, the “doubling down” on the cover-up of Sergei’s murder and the massive tax heist he exposed implicates a wider swath of Russian officials with the guilt of this heinous crime. It does not need to be this way, however; nor is it ever too late for a reckoning in this case in the very courtrooms that hosted the show trials that ultimately led to Sergei’s death and the obscenity of his posthumous conviction. As somber as this occasion is, there is reason for hope. Vladimir Putin will not rule Russia forever and every passing day brings us closer to that moment when someone new will occupy his post. Who that person will be and whether this transition will usher in a government in Russia that respects the rights of its citizens and abides by its international commitments remains unclear. I hope it does. A Russian government that returns to the fold of responsible, constructive European powers would increase global security, enhance the prosperity of its own citizens and trading partners, and bring new vigor to tackling complex international challenges such as climate change. Sergei’s work lives on in his many colleagues and friends who are gathering in London this week to celebrate his life and to recognize others, like him, who seek justice and peace in their countries, often facing, and surmounting, seemingly impossible obstacles. All too often, they pay a heavy price for their courageous integrity. Sergei’s heroic legacy is exemplified in the global movement for justice sparked by his death, and in the raft of Magnitsky laws that began in this chamber and have now spread to over a dozen countries, including allies like Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Even as these laws help protect our countries from the corrupting taint of blood money and deny abusers the privilege of traveling to our shores, they also remind those who suffer human right abuses at the hands of their own governments that we have not forgotten them. Sergei Magnitsky is a reminder to all of us that one person can make a difference. In choosing the truth over lies, and sacrifice over comfort, Sergei made a difference and will never be forgotten. Fifty-five years ago, Senator Robert F. Kennedy addressed the National Union of South African Students and spoke about human liberty. He spoke about freedom of speech and the right “to affirm one's membership and allegiance to the body politic – to society.” He also spoke about the commensurate freedom to be heard, “to share in the decisions of government which shape men's lives.” And he stated that government “must be limited in its power to act against its people so that there may be … no arbitrary imposition of pains or penalties on an ordinary citizen by officials high or low”. Senator Kennedy went on to say, Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. Madam President, Sergei Magnitsky stood up for an ideal. He acted to improve the lot of others. He struck at injustice. He was – and remains – a ripple of hope. On this sad anniversary of Sergei Magnitsky’s murder, let us all recommit ourselves to helping those in Russia, and around the world, who seek their rightful share in the governance of their own countries and who deserve the confidence of doing so without fear of harm. If we do this, Sergei will not have died in vain. I am confident that one day, there will be a monument in stone and bronze to Sergei in his native Russia. Until that day, the laws that bear his name will serve as his memorial.
Confronting Kremlin & Communist CorruptionThursday, November 18, 2021
The Kremlin and the Chinese Communist Party, as well as other U.S. adversaries, practice kleptocracy, an authoritarian governance model in which political leaders routinely engage in illicit self-enrichment, maintain power through corrupt patronage networks, exploit democracies to conceal and protect stolen assets, and use strategic corruption as a tool of foreign policy. Kleptocracy now poses the most serious challenge to democratic governance worldwide. President Biden has declared countering corruption a core national security interest and Congress has responded with a series of legislative proposals to fight kleptocracy both at home and abroad. On November 18, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe brought together experts on kleptocracy to examine how the United States can confront foreign corruption. In particular, witnesses discussed the ways that the United States can fortify its system against the taint of corruption and hold kleptocrats to account. The first panel featured testimony by Representatives Tom Malinowski (NJ-07) and María Elvira Salazar (FL-27), while the second panel included witnesses Leonid Volkov, Chief of Staff to Alexei Navalny; Elaine Dezenski, Senior Advisor at the Center on Economic and Financial Power; and Scott Greytak, Advocacy Director at Transparency International. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) opened the hearing, noting that corruption both sustains dictatorships and helps them conduct foreign policy. Corruption also erodes democratic structures from within and creates patronage-based systems in which autocrats pay their cronies to retain power. Chairman Cardin thanked Representatives Malinowski and Salazar for their work on the counter-kleptocracy caucus and highlighted several of the counter-kleptocracy bills currently in the House and the Senate. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) stressed the importance of going after the enablers of corruption, not just the kleptocrats, saying, “They work with these folks to poison the system, so they are in essence agents of corruption.” He added that the United States needs to clean up its act at home and reinforce its defenses against the national security threat of corruption. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) called corruption a “pernicious foreign policy tool” that undermines and co-opts democratic systems, and highlighted the corruption and abuse of INTERPOL, which he described as being hijacked by mafia states and weaponized to pursue political opponents. China and Russia are the most prolific abusers of the system, he said, pointing towards the TRAP Act as a legislative tool to counter such behavior. Sen. Wicker, who co-leads the Global Magnitsky Reauthorization Act alongside Chairman Cardin, stressed the bipartisan nature of this issue. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) echoed Sen. Wicker’s statement, adding, “It is not an exaggeration to say that corruption is the new communism.” Rep. Wilson mentioned the six Helsinki Commission counter-kleptocracy bills in the House National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), underlining the bipartisan nature of the fight against corruption. “To protect American families we must fight corruption,” he said. During the first panel, Rep. Malinowski described fighting corruption as the key to winning the contest between democracy and dictatorship. Corruption is not only a way for autocrats to stay in power, he argued; it also is their greatest weakness. “When we catch them stealing from their people and putting their money in our banks, that is what embarrasses them,” he said. Referencing the six counter-kleptocracy bills currently pending in Congress, Rep. Malinowski suggested the United States. has potent tools to go after corruption. Rep. Salazar testified that corruption is a threat to freedom and human rights. Using Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua as examples, Salazar explained how corrupt leaders use stolen funds to finance campaigns that portray them as the saviors of the countries that they actually loot. Salazar pointed towards her work as founding member of the bipartisan Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy (CAFCAK), as well as the importance of the Combating Global Corruption Act, introduced by Chairman Cardin in the Senate, and the bipartisan ENABLERS Act Leonid Volkov began his testimony by describing a natural pathway from corruption to authoritarianism, born out of the necessity to hide crimes by silencing the press and co-opting the courts. He outlined how the Navalny anti-corruption initiative, through hundreds of investigations, found billions of dollars stolen from Russian taxpayers. What stood out, he said, was how successful kleptocrats need to operate in two countries: their home country, where the absence of rule of law allows them to steal, and another country, where the rule of law ensure the safety of their money. Therefore, corruption is a global phenomenon, which also necessitates fighting corruption on both fronts. Volkov endorsed the series of Helsinki Commission anti-kleptocracy bills and asked to “fight this fight together.” Scott Greytak described corruption as the lifeblood of autocrats abroad and pointed toward the Pandora Papers, which revealed that the United States is a leading secrecy jurisdiction for stashing offshore funds. He emphasized the importance of Congress ensuring that the six counter-corruption bills in the House National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) make it into the final NDAA. Doing so would enhance the U.S. ability to deny kleptocrats access to the financial system and increase transparency. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is legislation that Congress passes each year to make changes to the policies and organization of United States defense agencies and provide guidance on how military funding can be spent. Greytak also mentioned the Corporate Transparency Act and expressed hope that Congress would ensure that the new Treasury FinCEN rules are in keeping with the spirit of the law. He added that passing the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act (FEPA), which would criminalize foreign officials requesting bribes from American companies, is an important step many of our allies already have taken. Lastly, Greytak emphasized the need to target enablers of kleptocracy in the U.S. via the ENABLERS act, to prevent crimes such as the theft of over $4 billion from the public investment fund of Malaysia, aided and abetted by U.S. law firms. Elaine Dezenski’s testimony focused on China and corruption through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). She described the BRI as a geopolitical enterprise through which China seeks to redefine its engagement with more than 140 countries. Because the BRI is designed to undercut normal development, it gets rid of safeguards such as anti-corruption, environmental, and labor standards as well as open and transparent bidding, according to Dezenski. By doing so, it creates long-term dependencies fueled by corruption and debt traps. More than 40 countries are now indebted to China equal to or greater than 10 percent of their GDP, Dezenski said. A slim window exists during which the U.S. can offer clean alternatives to the BRI, alongside increased efforts to educate citizens and support civil society to counter this threat. One key step, said Dezenski, is pivoting critical supply chains out of China and towards allied countries. Another step is taking care not to give domestic infrastructure contracts to foreign kleptocrats’ companies. Finally, countering disinformation and misinformation campaigns is of the essence. Responding to a series of questions from Co-Chairman Cohen, Volkov explained that his organization had to move outside of Russia due to being designated an extremist organization but nonetheless is working to produce content highlighting Russian corruption. On the topic of censorship by Apple and Google during the Duma elections in 2021, Volkov stated that the threat by the Russian regime to imprison employees of U.S. companies should they not go through with the censorship is serious and should not be dismissed. Asked by Rep. Wilson what he saw as Russia’s future in five to 10 years, Volkov explained that Putin is unpopular among Russia’s youth and that many people want change. Putin’s strength lies in his TV propaganda machine, which is less effective at reaching younger, more internet-savvy people, he said. Volkov explained that under Putin, Russia has more political prisoners than the Soviet Union ever had after Stalin and expressed hope that this would lead to cracks in the system and, finally, regime change. On the question of how present-day corruption differs from that of 30 years ago, Scott Greytak explained that corruption is more sophisticated than ever, aided by complex financial vehicles created by Western enablers which make it easier to move money. Responding to a question from Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Ruben Gallego (AZ-07), Greytak explained that although Russian and Chinese corruption are similar, Russia perfected state-run corruption, while China adopted corruption to grow its geo-political influence. Dezenski answered a question on China’s long-term view by explaining that the United States needs to be more strategic about the short-term implications of individual actions and ensure long-term commitment to democratic norms. Because China takes a longer view than the United States, they have outmaneuvered us, Dezenski said. Asked if any projects concerned her most, she answered any projects related to digital infrastructure, due to the risk of authoritarian regimes monitoring and managing communications lines. In addition, Dezenski mentioned projects that would give Beijing military influence, such as strategic ports in the Indian Ocean or the South China Sea. Chairman Cardin thanked the witnesses for their expert testimonies and said he looked forward to consulting with them on several of the points brought up. To end the hearing, the chairman pointed out South Korea as an example of a country that turned around its corruption problem, stating, “We can make change and plant the seeds to enhance the welfare of all the people.” Related Information Witness Biographies Bipartisan Counter-Kleptocracy Legislative Initiatives Counter-Kleptocracy Measures Included in the House Defense Bill
Helsinki Commission Alarmed by Attempted Liquidation of MemorialWednesday, November 17, 2021
WASHINGTON—Following last week’s request by Russian prosecutors to liquidate the human rights group Memorial International and the Memorial Human Rights Center, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We continue to see an alarming increase in attacks on civil society, opposition politicians, and independent media in Russia. Now the Kremlin actively seeks to dismantle Memorial, a respected network of organizations dedicated to revealing and preserving the history of Soviet repression and fighting for political prisoners in Russia today. Memorial’s efforts to defend truth and human rights are essential and must be protected for generations to come.” In 2015, the Memorial Human Rights Center was designated a “foreign agent.” This label has been applied in a derogatory way to numerous human rights groups, independent media organizations, and related individuals to stifle or completely stop their work in the country. In 2016, Memorial International, the parent organization of the Memorial Human Rights Center, also was designated a “foreign agent.” On November 11, Russia’s Supreme Court notified Memorial International that the General Prosecutor’s office was suing to dismantle the organization for alleged violations of Russia’s “foreign agent” laws. The Supreme Court hearing is scheduled to take place on November 25. Memorial Human Rights Center will come before the Moscow City Court on November 23 to face liquidation for alleged “justification” of extremism and terrorism in its materials. Memorial, established in the final years of the Soviet Union by dissidents including Andrei Sakharov, is one of the most respected and enduring human rights groups in the region. Its local chapters focus on preserving the truth about Soviet repressions, particularly under Stalin, and honoring the memories of those lost. Memorial also maintains a comprehensive database of current political prisoners in Russia and continues to advocate for the rights of the people of Russia, especially in the North Caucasus. The Helsinki Commission has convened numerous events featuring Memorial representatives.
Authoritarian Abuse of INTERPOLWednesday, November 17, 2021
Mr. WICKER. On November 23, the International Criminal Police Organization, better known as INTERPOL, will begin its annual General Assembly in Istanbul. INTERPOL is a vital global law enforcement network that helps police from different countries cooperate with each other to control crime. Unfortunately, it has also become a tool in the hands of despots and crooks who seek to punish dissidents and political opponents in an effort to turn other countries’ law enforcement against the rule of law. Rooting out this sort of abuse should be the top priority going in to the INTERPOL General Assembly. These abuses make a mockery of Interpol and are threatening its continued existence. INTERPOL's constitution cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the basis for police cooperation. Importantly and significantly, Article 3 of that declaration forbids INTERPOL from engaging in any activities of a political, military, religious or racial character. All 194 member nations have committed to uphold Article 3 and the entire INTERPOL constitution, so it is troubling. As a matter of fact, it's even worse than troubling. It's egregious that INTERPOL chose to host this year's General Assembly in Turkey. A country that has become one of the worst abusers of INTERPOL’s Red Notice and Blue Notice systems. Turkey has repeatedly weaponized INTERPOL to persecute and arrest government critics on politically motivated charges. Journalist Can Dundar is a prime example. Mr. Dundar is one of Turkey's most prominent media personalities and has received international awards for defending freedom of the press. In 2018, Turkey demanded that INTERPOL issue a red notice for Mr. Dundar's arrest. What had he done? He simply criticized his government. He had reported on the Turkish government supplying arms to an Islamist group in Syria. He was charged by a Turkish court with espionage and aiding a terrorist group. The group was never named. And sentenced to 27.5 years in prison in absentia. Thankfully, Germany has refused to extradite Mr Dundar, but this is the sort of thing we see from this year's host of the conference in June of this year. Turkish media reported that INTERPOL had rejected nearly 800 red notices sent by the Turkish government. A Swedish human rights group reported in 2016 after the failed coup in Turkey, that the Turkish government filed tens of thousands of INTERPOL notifications targeting persons who were merely critics and political opponents of the government. Some of these people were stranded in international airports, detained and handed over to Turkey, where they ended up in prison. There are also alarming signs that Turkey is trying to leverage this year's General Assembly to further its own authoritarian goals. This past June, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Havel's Saleem Kiran openly asserted that the General Assembly in Istanbul “will be an important opportunity to explain in detail our rightful position regarding our fight against terrorist organizations and our rejected notices.” Translation: Turkey plans to use this high level event to mislead and lie to the international community. They will no doubt try to explain why President Erdogan should be able to hunt down his critics in foreign countries using foreign law enforcement through INTERPOL. This will be a travesty, one that indeed threatens the legitimacy and future viability of INTERPOL. And of course, Turkey is not the only offender we could talk about. Russia, China and Venezuela have routinely misused Interpol to oppress their critics. The case of Bill Browder, a free critic of the Putin regime and advocate for the Magnitsky Act, is probably the most well-known example of such abuse. Vladimir Putin has issued no fewer than eight INTERPOL diffusions seeking to have Bill Browder extradited, none of which thankfully have been obeyed. These abuses should not be allowed to go on. INTERPOL needs protection on behalf of countries that actually believe in human rights - they believe in open dissent and the rule of law. Providing that protection is why I have introduced the Transnational Repression, Accountability and Prevention Act or TRAP Act. This is a bipartisan effort, Mr. President, with four Republican co-sponsors and four Democratic co-sponsors. This bipartisan legislation would fortify U.S. systems against INTERPOL abuse and would require that we use our influence to push for due process and transparency reforms at INTERPOL, American law enforcement should never be doing the work of foreign crooks and dictators. I hope that I can count on my colleagues in this chamber to support this much needed legislation, and I invite my colleagues to be added to the co-sponsor list. Thank you, Mr. President.
Helsinki Commission Recalls Legacy of Sergei MagnitskyTuesday, November 16, 2021
WASHINGTON—On the 12-year anniversary of the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: "Sergei Magnitsky’s heroic legacy is exemplified in the global movement for justice sparked by his death,” said Chairman Cardin. “Even as Magnitsky laws help protect the United States and other countries from the corrupting taint of blood money and deny abusers the privilege of traveling to our shores, they also remind those who suffer human right abuses at the hands of their own governments that they are not forgotten." “Finding justice for Sergei Magnitsky in Putin’s Russia seems more impossible with each passing year,” said Co-Chairman Cohen. “However, we have not forgotten his tragic story and we will never stop calling for accountability for those who imprisoned him and ultimately killed him; those who enabled corruption and abetted murder. We are determined to not let his memory fade. Instead, he will serve as an indelible reminder of all those who suffer under corrupt regimes.” “It would have been much easier and much safer for Sergei Magnitsky if he had remained silent—but he was relentless in his desire to expose the truth,” said Sen. Wicker. “In a Russia ruled by Vladimir Putin, Mr. Magnitsky paid for it with his life. We look forward to the day when, in Russia and elsewhere, uncovering corruption is a public service rather than a death sentence.” “Sergei Magnitsky spent the last year of his life in prison because he refused to stop fighting for what was right,” said Rep. Wilson. “In honoring Sergei Magnitsky’s legacy today, we recall the many other political prisoners like him who have endured horrific conditions and even death simply for speaking truth to power. No one should have to experience what he did.” In 2008, Sergei Magnitsky, who advised Hermitage Capital Management in a dispute over alleged tax evasion in Russia, discovered a $230 million fraud being committed by Russian law enforcement officers assigned to the case. Magnitsky reported the fraud to the authorities and was arrested soon after by the same officers he had accused. For almost a year, Magnitsky was held in squalid prison conditions, denied visits from his family, and beaten by guards. Despite developing serious health conditions, he was denied medical attention. On November 16, 2009, Sergei Magnitsky was beaten to death in his cell. He had been imprisoned for 358 days, just seven days short of the maximum legal pre-trial detention period in Russia. In 2010, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) introduced the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act, directing the U.S. Secretary of State to publish a list of individuals involved in Sergei’s detention and death, and enabling the government to deny these individuals entry to the United States and freeze their American assets. The bill was reintroduced in the next Congress as the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. This version covered all individual who commit extrajudicial killings, torture or otherwise egregiously violate the human rights of activists or whistleblowers in Russia. On December 14, 2012, the Magnitsky Act was signed into law, establishing severe consequences for the worst human rights violators in Russia. In 2015, Chairman Cardin introduced the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to expand the authorities established by the original Magnitsky Act to include the worst human rights violators and those who commit significant acts of corruption around the world. It became law in December 2016.
Helsinki Commission Briefing to Probe Ties Between Corporations and DictatorsTuesday, November 16, 2021
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following online briefing: DICTATORS, INC. Monday, November 22, 2021 10:00 a.m. Register: https://bit.ly/3qKc5NW Many American and other western corporations invest heavily in authoritarian regimes, particularly Russia and China. Such companies often claim that, thanks to their involvement, democratic values like human rights and the rule of law will spill over into dictatorships and transform them from within. Instead, they provide autocrats with new opportunities to both repress rights at home and exert influence abroad. This briefing will examine the interplay between western business and dictators, particularly as it concerns human rights abuse. Panelists will discuss the recent Russian elections, where Google and Apple censored content at the behest of the Putin regime; corporate censorship and other abuse on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party; and options for policy responses. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Vladimir Milov, Russian opposition politician and economist Matt Schrader, Advisor for China, Center for Global Impact, International Republican Institute Karen Sutter, Specialist in Asian Trade and Finance, Congressional Research Service
REMEMBERING AND HONORING SERGEI MAGNITSKYTuesday, November 16, 2021
Mr. COHEN. Madam Speaker, today we remember and honor Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian tax lawyer who in 2008 uncovered a massive fraud scheme of hundreds of millions of dollars perpetrated by law enforcement officers. In any normal situation, Mr. Magnitsky would have been praised for his efforts. But this was Putin's Russia, and he was arrested by the very people whose nefarious dealings he exposed. The conditions Mr. Magnitsky faced in prison for almost a year were inhumane, and on November 16, 2009, already weakened and seriously ill, he did not survive the beatings he received from prison guards. Twelve years later, Putin still controls Russia. Throughout the country, hundreds of prisoners of conscience languish behind bars because of their political opinions, their activism, and even their religious beliefs. Thanks to Sergei Magnitsky's determination to stand up for what is right in the face of overwhelming state power, the laws that bear his name ensure they will not be forgotten. His story is the story of many others--not only in Russia, but worldwide. Exposing human rights abuses and corruption carries many risks in many countries. Yet there are many brave people who continue to reveal the truth. The Magnitsky Act has become a living memorial to Sergei Magnitsky's bravery. We in Congress originally passed this legislation to sanction those involved in the death of Mr. Magnitsky. Since then, we have expanded it to cover the world's worst human rights abusers. What began here has spread internationally as the United Kingdom, the European Union, and Canada have all adopted their own Magnitsky sanctions. Many others, such as Japan, Australia, and Taiwan, are considering their own legislation. Magnitsky sanctions have completely changed the nature of the fight for human rights and against corruption. They not only protect our own system against abuse but also provide a measure of justice to those denied it abroad. We will keep encouraging our democratic allies to adopt similar sanctions so that one day there will be no safe haven left for kleptocrats and their blood money. Finding justice for Sergei Magnitsky in Putin's Russia seems more impossible with each passing year. However, we have not forgotten his tragic story and we will never stop calling for accountability for those who imprisoned him and ultimately killed him; those who enabled corruption and abetted murder. We are determined to not let his memory fade. Instead, he will serve as an indelible reminder of all those who suffer under corrupt regimes.
Threat of Foreign Corruption to Be Explored at Helsinki Commission HearingFriday, November 12, 2021
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: CONFRONTING KREMLIN & COMMUNIST CORRUPTION Thursday, November 18, 2021 10:30 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room G-50 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission The Kremlin and the Chinese Communist Party, as well as other U.S. adversaries, practice kleptocracy, an authoritarian governance model in which political leaders routinely engage in illicit self-enrichment, maintain power through corrupt patronage networks, exploit democracies to conceal and protect stolen assets, and use strategic corruption as a tool of foreign policy. Kleptocracy now poses the most serious challenge to democratic governance worldwide. President Biden has declared countering corruption a core national security interest and Congress has responded with a series of legislative proposals to fight kleptocracy both at home and abroad. This hearing will bring together experts on kleptocracy to examine how the United States can confront foreign corruption. In particular, witnesses will discuss the ways that the United States can fortify its system against the taint of corruption and hold kleptocrats to account. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Representative Tom Malinowski (NJ-07), Member of Congress, Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy Representative María Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Member of Congress, Member of the Congressional Caucus against Foreign Corruption and Kleptocracy Leonid Volkov, Chief of Staff to Alexei Navalny Elaine Dezenski, Senior Advisor, Center on Economic and Financial Power, Foundation for Defense of Democracies Scott Greytak, Advocacy Director, Transparency International U.S. Office
Helsinki Commission Supports Invocation of OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism in the Face of Sustained Human Rights Crisis in BelarusWednesday, November 10, 2021
WASHINGTON—Following the invocation of the OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism to address the mounting human rights crisis in Belarus, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “One year after the release of a comprehensive, unbiased, and damning report detailing human rights abuses by the Lukashenko regime, Lukashenko has not simply failed to act on the report’s recommendations—he has intensified his brutal crackdown on those in Belarus who continue to fight for their fundamental freedoms. “Among its other commitments as an OSCE participating State, Belarus is bound to respect human rights and hold free and fair elections. By invoking the Vienna Mechanism, the United States and 34 other countries demand that the authorities in Belarus finally address the violations raised in the 2020 report and inform the international community about the steps the Lukashenko regime is taking to investigate those serious allegations. Ensuring human rights violators are held to account is of importance to us all.” In September 2020, 17 OSCE participating States, including the United States, invoked the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism to investigate credible accounts of widespread human rights violations perpetrated in the aftermath of Belarus’ fraudulent August 2020 elections. The Moscow Mechanism allows a group of OSCE participating States to appoint independent experts to investigate a particularly serious threat to the fulfillment of human rights commitments in a participating State. On November 5, 2020, the Moscow Mechanism report substantiated numerous allegations of torture and repression and included recommendations and advice for the Government of Belarus, the OSCE, and the international community. Lukashenko’s government failed to cooperate with the investigation. On November 4, 2021, as a follow-up to the 2020 report, 35 OSCE participating States posed detailed questions to the Lukashenko regime via OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism, which obliges participating States to respond to formal requests for information from other States about serious human rights concerns. The commission convened a hearing on human rights in Belarus on September 21, 2021.
By: Everett Price, Senior Policy Advisor
With Contributions from Scott Rauland, Senior State Department Advisor
On June 24, Turkey held its first presidential and parliamentary elections since the passage of controversial constitutional amendments last year that began Turkey’s transformation from a parliamentary to a presidential system. The victors in this election are to preside over the transition to this new form of government and begin to shape the operation of its revamped institutions.
In accordance with its commitments as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Turkey formally invited the OSCE to observe the vote. This invitation paved the way for the OSCE’s first-ever full-scale deployment of election observers to Turkey. Although the OSCE observed previous elections in Turkey—including last year’s constitutional referendum—it had never done so with a full complement of hundreds of short-term observers that deploy all over the country to record their observations on election day. In the absence of short-term observers, OSCE observation missions rely primarily on a smaller cohort of long-term observers who spend as much as a month in the country monitoring every dimension of the campaign period and balloting. (Learn more about OSCE election observation.)
Altogether, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) deployed 22 long-term observers and more than 300 short-term observers to observe the election across the country. Most STOs are drawn from cadres of experienced volunteers offered by individual OSCE participating States. In addition, the parliamentary assemblies of the OSCE (OSCE PA) and Council of Europe (PACE) contributed 72 and 32 members of parliament and parliamentary staff, respectively, to serve as STOs.
The U.S. Helsinki Commission regularly participates in OSCE PA election observation missions. What follows is a first-person account from two U.S. Helsinki Commission staff who served as short-term observers during the Turkish elections. These observations are not an authoritative account of the conduct of the Turkish election, however. Readers interested in such an account should review the OSCE’s official statement of preliminary findings and conclusions.
In the days before the election, experts from the OSCE’s ODIHR and the OSCE PA organize a series of in-depth briefings in Ankara to acquaint short-term observers with the context and process for the coming vote. In opening these briefings, Mr. Ignacio Sanchez Amor, a Spanish parliamentarian tasked as the special coordinator and leader of the OSCE short-term observer mission, noted numerous ways in which this election was exceptional.
Turks would be voting under a nearly two-year-old state of emergency imposed by the government following a failed coup attempt in July 2016. The state of emergency gave Turkish President Erdogan sweeping powers to rule by decree and authorized provincial governors to curtail basic freedoms, such as the freedom of movement and freedom of assembly. Presidential decrees purged tens of thousands of civil servants from their work, shuttered over a hundred news outlets, blocked thousands of websites, and contributed to the arrest of scores of independent journalists, often on dubious national security charges.
Sanchez Amor further commented that the transition to a presidential system and the country’s newly-approved election laws made this election especially complex. Most of the constitutional amendments approved in last year’s referendum would take effect after the election. The victorious presidential candidate, for instance, would be the first to assume unprecedented executive powers that international monitors and the chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), criticized as undermining the separation of powers. Likewise, successful parliamentary candidates would take up seats in a somewhat neutered institution that is given no say in ministerial appointments and can be unilaterally dissolved by the president.
One of the constitutional amendments abolished a previous prohibition on new electoral laws taking effect less than 12 months before an election. This meant that the June election would be governed by election regulations passed in November and March that President Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had muscled through parliament without any opposition support. Opposition leaders sharply criticized provisions in the laws that allowed the government to relocate voting locations on security grounds, loosened rules governing the police presence around polling stations, and weakened protections against election fraud by admitting ballots that are missing a required polling station stamp.
Sanchez Amor also expressed concern that one of the country’s major presidential candidates had been in pre-trial detention since November 2016 and was being forced to campaign from his jail cell. This treatment of Selahattin Demirtas, the presidential candidate for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was one of many restrictions severely disadvantaging the HDP.
Campaign banners of two opposition parties stretched across a primary avenue in downtown Ankara.
The briefings we received from journalists, civil society organizations, and political parties largely focused on concerns that President Erdogan and the AKP enjoyed overwhelming and unfair advantages incompatible with a free and fair democratic process.
Independent journalists noted that Turkey is the world’s largest jailer of reporters with approximately 150 behind bars. They further remarked on dramatic changes in Turkey’s media landscape in recent years that had seen nine out of 10 mainstream TV channels, and most of the print media, fall under the ownership of government aligned businessmen. As a result, the ruling party benefited from nearly wall-to-wall positive media coverage. Additionally, under recent legal changes the Supreme Election Board was stripped of its ability to impose penalties on broadcasters for violating regulations that mandate equal election coverage.
All opposition parties complained about Turkey’s 10 percent election threshold—the highest in the world—that requires a party to garner 10 percent of the national vote to secure seats in parliament. During this election, they feared that the ruling party would manipulate the vote to deprive the pro-Kudish HDP of a ten percent share, allowing AKP as the likely runner-up in Kurdish-dominated areas to assume the seats forfeited by HDP. This would be the AKP’s quickest route to a commanding majority in the legislature.
Opposition party leaders warned that the government could use a combination of tactics to suppress the vote for HDP, particularly in the Kurdish southeast. The government had already announced that it had invoked its new authorities to relocate and merge nearly a thousand polling stations in the southeast for security reasons, affecting more than 150,000 voters. Election authorities could also use the admission of unstamped ballots to artificially diminish HDP’s share of the vote. In addition, several briefers noted that deadly violence could be used to intimidate voters. Indeed, less than two weeks before the election a campaign-related altercation in the south left three HDP supporters dead, along with the brother of an AKP candidate for parliament. Many briefers noted that the pro-government media had cast the AKP as the victim of the melee, where in reality the fight had been instigated and escalated by the ruling party’s side.
The opposition’s indictment of the fairness of the election was met by an AKP-led campaign to smear those who might tarnish perceptions of the credibility of the outcome. The OSCE observation mission was one of the targets of this campaign. The government denied two OSCE PA parliamentarians entry to the country to participate in the election observation mission, citing political opinions they had expressed in the past. A government spokesperson decried the OSCE’s interim report on the election on June 15 as “political.” Additionally, just two days before the election, Turkey’s semi-official news agency published a story citing anonymous security sources that claimed OSCE observers planned to create “chaos” in the country.
It was in this climate of heightened mutual suspicion between the ruling party and the opposition, and between the government and the OSCE observation mission, that we deployed to Istanbul to undertake our election day observation.
We were assigned to observe the election at precincts in and around Sisli, a mixed-income neighborhood in central Istanbul that historically supports the secular opposition. Each precinct in Turkey contains numerous voting rooms, with a maximum of 400 voters assigned to each. In all we visited nine so-called ballot box committees (BBCs) in five precincts throughout the day.
Sisli delivered its largest share of votes (48.7 percent) to Turkey’s leading secular opposition party CHP in the last parliamentary election in November 2015, and overwhelmingly opposed the transformational 2017 constitutional amendments (71.8 percent). Given the district’s political profile, it was unsurprising to find observers from CHP and other secular opposition parties deployed in full force at our first precinct where we observed the opening procedures for the polls.
We arrived just before 7:00 a.m. as the ballot box committee (BBC) was assembling to open the sealed election materials and prepare for voting to begin. The seven-person BBC, chaired by a civil servant and composed of bureaucrats and political party representatives, began to count and record the number of ballot envelopes and presidential and parliamentary ballots—a tally that is important for later confirming that no election materials are unaccounted for.
The mood was serious but amiable and cooperative. With a solitary exception, BBC members worked together constructively without so much as a hint of their diverging political loyalties. Soon, an NGO observer (who was accredited as a political party observer, since there is no legal framework for NGO observation) appeared with a tray of traditional Turkish tea for everyone, observers and BBC members alike. (Tea stands were ubiquitous at the entrance to polling stations, fueling weary poll workers throughout the day and contributing to a generally festive atmosphere around the otherwise dreary school buildings.)
Voters congregate outside a polling station in central Istanbul on election day.
Over steaming cups of black tea, the poll workers set about the onerous task of applying the BBC’s identifying ink stamp to each of the more than 300 envelopes and presidential and parliamentary ballots—nearly 1,000 stamps in all. Every BBC we visited that morning noted that they had labored well after the polls opened to complete this cumbersome but mandatory and important process.
With two of their colleagues still engrossed in stamping and the eight o’clock opening just minutes away, the BBC’s other five members forged ahead with preparations, sealing the clear plastic ballot box with a wax stamp. More or less promptly at eight, the BBC chairwoman announced the opening of the polling station.
An elderly gentleman who had already shuffled through the open doorway before the announcement immediately presented his ID to receive his ballot papers. His punctual appearance quickly revealed the disorganization of this particular BBC, which had failed to organize the somewhat convoluted voting procedure into an orderly workflow.
Voters were to hand over their identification for confirmation against the printed voter rolls and then receive two oversized ballots for president and parliament, one undersized envelope, and a stamp to mark their choices. To cast their ballots, voters entered a curtained booth, marked one choice each for parliament and president, stuffed the large sheets into the small envelope, sealed it with a lick, and emerged to drop the envelope into the ballot box. Before departing, voters returned the stamp back to the BBC, signed the voter roll, and retrieved their identification and any bags or cellphones they left behind with the BBC.
Keeping track of identification cards, remembering to provide all four necessary voting materials (two ballots, envelope, and stamp), and managing the coming and going of voters proved difficult for our first BBC. In just the first twenty minutes the chairwoman twice pulled open a voting booth’s privacy curtain to locate a misplaced ID and missing stamp—an act that should rarely—if ever—occur, since it can compromise the secrecy of the vote.
This procedural dysfunction may have slowed the vote and caused undue confusion for voters, but it had negligible if any implications for the outcome of the balloting. Indeed, the majority of other BBCs we visited were capably managed and all demonstrated admirable transparency. In each classroom we visited—and they were all classrooms—the BBC chair graciously welcomed us, answered our questions, and allowed us to review the voting materials.
Political party and NGO observers were common and none complained of being restricted in their work on election day. By the end of the day we had grown particularly accustomed to the sight of observers from the HDP party. These observers were almost uniformly impressive, assertive, young, and female. It became clear that what is generally described simply as a “pro-Kurdish party” has developed political purchase far beyond the Kurdish-dominated southeast, attracting many young, progressive Turks concerned with the rights of women and minorities.
Presidential and parliamentary ballots and envelopes prepared for distribution to voters.
In our experience, the transparency protected by professional BBCs and capable local observers was only undermined by skittish security services who seemed uneasy about the role of international observers. Under new election laws passed earlier this year, Turkish police were allowed to patrol closer to polling stations and—for the first time—enter voting rooms at the request of any citizen. One instance of police involvement we witnessed was legal and appropriate; in several other cases it appeared to overstep the prescribed bounds.
At a polling station we visited in Gultepe, a more conservative neighborhood just outside Sisli, a heated argument erupted over a poll worker who allegedly exceeded his mandate in assisting a confused voter, sparking allegations of election interference. Consistent with their mandate, the police entered on at least three occasions during the prolonged shouting match to respond to the disturbance and to remove unauthorized people who had entered the voting room. These same police entered another time to exercise their prerogative to check our credentials but departed shortly after.
As the day wore on, however, our interactions with the police grew more frequent and contentious. At another polling station in Sisli, police greeted us almost immediately upon our arrival and insisted on escorting us throughout the building. When we entered a voting room to conduct our observations, the police followed us in without any discernible invitation and sat down to watch us until we were through.
Arriving at our final polling station of the day, we were stopped at the entrance to have our credentials checked against a screenshot of approved individuals the policeman had received via the encrypted messaging application, WhatsApp. He informed us that several foreigners had been caught “posing as OSCE observers” so they were under orders to apply extra scrutiny. Although we were not on his screenshot, the officer relented after a few minutes’ delay and followed us inside while respecting the rules about entering the voting room.
After a short break, we returned to the same polling station to witness the closing and counting procedure, but this time the police refused us entry. They said they had still not been able to find us on their list, despite our accreditation by the Supreme Electoral Board. With the five o’clock closing swiftly approaching, we insisted on the importance of entering before the polls closed. They offered that we could observe the voting room from the hallway, but we were obligated to decline since the OSCE’s methodology requires unfettered access to the polling area. At the last minute, they said we could observe from a designated area inside the room. Once inside the room, it turned out no such area existed and the police displayed no interest in enforcing one. In contravention of the rules, however, they remained standing directly behind us inside the room nearly the entire time.
Consistent with OSCE observations across the country, vote counting at our BBC began promptly once the polls closed. In much the same sprit of cooperation we witnessed at the opening in another precinct, the members of this BBC worked smoothly together to perform the critical, final procedures: securing the voting materials and counting and recording the results.
The BBC’s genuine effort to conduct this process fairly and transparently was marred by some critical procedural errors and the persistent presence of the police, which risked undue oversight by the security services of a sensitive political process. Most procedural faults took place early on and introduced avoidable opportunities for mistakes or manipulation.
Rather than count the unused voting materials after the polls closed, for instance, the BBC departed from the prescribed procedure and counted them before the room was open to the public to observe the count. By depriving observers of the opportunity to verify this tally, the BBC undermined a safeguard that confirms the number of votes cast matches exactly the number of voters who participated.
Another significant oversight involved the BBC’s failure to enter crucial figures directly into the official register, known as a “protocol.” By having one member of the committee simply jot down the tallies of voting materials on a scrap piece of paper, the BBC failed to guard against subsequent mistakes in transcription or intentional alterations.
Oddly, the otherwise attentive and assertive political party observers in the room did not raise these issues with the BBC, possibly out of ignorance of the procedures or disinterest in the importance of these steps. They seemed most focused when it came to the centerpiece of the process: the all-important counting and adjudication of ballots. In this, the BBC acquitted itself quite well—holding up each ballot in full view of all present, loudly announcing the vote, and recording it only once all were satisfied with the chairman’s judgment (i.e. valid, invalid, or blank).
U.S. Helsinki Commission Senior State Department Advisor Scott Rauland reviews voting materials with Ballot Box Committee members.
Given the considerable pre-election controversy about the admission of unstamped ballots, it was surprising that no observer raised a question about whether the ballots or envelopes were appropriately imprinted with the BBC’s seal, which was often faint and on the reverse side of the papers. Late on the day of Turkey’s controversial 2017 constitutional referendum, the government unilaterally decided to count unstamped ballots despite the widespread understanding that the stamps protected against fraud. The number of admitted unstamped ballots last year allegedly accounted for the government’s slim margin of victory in that vote. As a result, opposition leaders protested earlier this year when the government used its absolute majority in the parliament to codify the validity of unstamped votes beginning with the 2018 presidential and parliamentary election. This decision created frustrating ambiguity about the need for the elaborate stamping process that tied up BBCs in the morning, sometimes for more than an hour.
The last steps of the vote count turned out to be the most cumbersome. The astonishingly analog voting process created numerous frustrations, significantly delaying delivery of the ballots to the District Electoral Board responsible for tabulating all the votes in Sisli before forwarding them to the Provincial Electoral Board that oversees a third of Istanbul. The chairperson was consumed for almost an hour manually copying detailed voting results onto nearly a dozen copies of the official protocol for distribution to political party representatives and observers. Another time-consuming process involved sealing all the ballots and sensitive voting materials in a cloth sack using twine and a wax seal. All present watched in quiet agony as the chairperson struggled to melt the nub of wax with a lighter, singing his fingers and nearly setting fire to the bag in the process.
Out of the 250 votes counted in our BBC, leading opposition presidential candidate Muharram Ince prevailed with 65 percent of the vote and his party, CHP, took 50 percent of the parliamentary ballots. The simultaneous presidential and parliamentary election afforded voters the opportunity to split their votes between the two ballots. Specifically, many analysts speculated that opposition supporters would endorse Ince as the favored presidential candidate while casting a vote for HDP in the parliamentary election to help the party clear the ten percent threshold. The outcome in our BBC seemed to bear this theory out: Ince received 15 percent more support for president than his party did in the parliamentary vote, while HDP’s presidential candidate Demirtas secured only 4 percent in the presidential but his party garnered 24 percent in the parliamentary.
Once counting was complete in all the precincts’ voting rooms, members of the BBCs boarded a municipal vehicle with the sealed sacks and official protocols for delivery to the District Electoral Board. Per OSCE instructions, we jumped into a separate vehicle to tail the municipal van through the narrow streets of Istanbul to the DEB to confirm the official results were delivered directly without interference.
A long line of vans packed with other BBCs was in front of the District Electoral Board waiting their turn to offload. When it came our turn I—accompanied by a police escort—followed the voting materials past heavily-armed guards and crowd control fencing into the building. It was a cramped but sprawling high-rise divided into a warren of small, austere rooms. A crush of poll workers pressed into the building’s narrow corridors trying to reach their designated room. In each room were half a dozen election workers waiting to receive election materials from every corner of the district, double-check the calculations in the protocol, and forward the results for district-level tabulation.
After verifying the secure delivery of our BBC’s materials, I sought to follow the process a step further. Instead, I was offered a meeting with the judge who chairs Sisli’s electoral board.
Supporters of President Erdogan and AKP celebrate their election victory in Taksim Square.
It was now well past 9:00 p.m., more than four hours since the polls closed. The judge sat in his office watching two sets of election returns roll in: semi-official results were being broadcast via cable news on a large television across the room while a map on his computer screen that read “Supreme Election Board” was being populated with the official numbers. Although it was impossible for me to tell what discrepancy might have existed between the figures at that moment, opposition leaders were simultaneously turning to social media to reassure their supporters that pro-government media were broadcasting premature results to discourage them. These hopeful claims appear to have been inspired more by optimism than reality—the official results released the next day differed little from what the media was reporting in the evening. At least in central Istanbul, the election results at that time of night were still in the early stages of being compiled at the district level.
The judge explained how in the coming hours the district’s protocols would be digitized, loaded onto a public website, and used to generate a district-level protocol of official election results. As chairman, his role would be to adjudicate disputes and discrepancies in the tabulation and certify the final results. Satisfied that I had followed the process as far as I could, our observation ended.
Around 10:00 p.m., President Erdogan declared victory. With 52.6 percent of the vote, he had won outright in the presidential election, avoiding a runoff with the leading secular opposition candidate by a comfortable margin. In parliament, AKP fell just short of an absolute majority for only the second time in its 16 years in power. The AKP’s election coalition partner, the nationalist MHP party, surprised many with its strong performance, earning 49 seats in the 600-seat parliament and easily supplying the six seats AKP needs to reach 301 votes in the legislature. Importantly, HDP cleared the ten percent threshold and will be the third-largest party in parliament with 67 seats behind CHP’s 146. Altogether, an impressive 86.2 percent of the population had participated in the vote.
Over a late night dinner in a gentrifying secular neighborhood of Istanbul, I could hear some nearby diners discussing the election results with resignation over glasses of wine. Further off in the distance, the blaring of car horns announced the beginning of celebrations by the President’s supporters. I followed lines of cars festooned with Turkish flags and AKP banners as they streamed toward centrally-located Taksim Square. There, a spontaneous victory party had broken out. A jubilant AKP loyalist was being carried aloft, leading the gathering crowd in chants of “Allahu Akbar!” and “Recep Tayyip Erdogan!”
The evening stroll between these two contrasting scenes was a journey across a wide social and political chasm in Turkey—a chasm the president may choose to widen or narrow in his new mandate. Recent studies have revealed acute polarization within Turkish society that reflects high levels of social distrust and political intolerance. These ills present critical challenges for governance.
During the campaign, President Erdogan pledged to lift the nearly two-year-old state of emergency upon his reelection. AKP statements since the election suggest that Erdogan may decline to renew the state of emergency when it expires on July 18. This would be an appropriate first step toward rebuilding trust and one the U.S. Helsinki Commission called for in an October 2017 letter to President Erdogan. But lifting the state of emergency might only be a superficial gesture if it is not accompanied by significant prisoner releases and amnesties—particularly for human rights defenders and journalists—as well as meaningful judicial reform to restore the credibility and independence of Turkey’s politicized justice system.
In accordance with its mandate, the U.S. Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor Turkey’s implementation of its commitments as an OSCE participating State to respect human rights and democratic principles. In this most recent election the Turkish people demonstrated formidable levels of political participation and civic engagement. Now and in the future, the government must succeed where it has recently failed to ensure that all its citizens have an opportunity to participate in Turkish society and institutions on the basis of fundamental equality.
The morning after the election, a woman crosses Taksim Square.