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Interview with Chris Engels, Director of Investigations and Operations, Commission for International Justice and Accountability
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

By Nathaniel Hurd,
Senior Policy Advisor

The Commission for International Justice and Accountability is a non-governmental organization that investigates atrocity crimes and terrorism committed during conflicts and prepares evidence for prosecutions in criminal trials. Chris Engels is a lawyer with more than 15 years of international experience. In 2016, he testified before the Helsinki Commission on bringing perpetrators of genocide and related crimes to justice. This interview covers the work of CIJA and Engels, U.S. national security interests, legacy, and current efforts on accountability for international crimes and terrorism, the support of Congress, and how being an American from Mississippi shaped Engels’ life and career.

What is the Commission for International Justice and Accountability?

CIJA’s core work is to collect evidence of international crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and terrorism committed during conflicts. Our current investigations include Iraq, Syria, Burma, and the Central African Republic. We have seen in our careers that evidence against dictators, military leaders, terrorist groups and others who committed terrible crimes, often against their own citizens, is destroyed, stolen, or hidden away by those responsible for these crimes. Because it is close to impossible for government law enforcement or international organizations to work in these places, given the security issues related to operating in an active conflict zone, we have taken on this task. We are able to collect, preserve and analyze all types of evidence, including paper documents, hard drives, laptops, and smart phones as well as open source and social media materials. We also speak to witnesses, whether they be victims, bystanders or those who had some role in the organizations that we are looking into. An important part of this work is to bring together evidence that demonstrates the responsibility of leaders who hide behind layers of command, who don’t get their hands dirty but are most responsible for the terrible crimes they plan and order others to commit.

We also work with governments that are trying to deal with insurgent groups in their own countries. It’s completely reasonable that governments have little experience dealing with collection and analysis of evidence of these types of crimes, until they are attacked by an armed group. We’ve been dealing with these crimes for a long time and can advise and assist them as they fight to stop an insurgency and build cases against those who are responsible for the crimes. We help ensure that the right people are prosecuted for the full range of their crimes.

The job is challenging, but we have a great group of people working with us who are highly motivated to make sure these criminals don’t get away with their crimes. Our team is made up of investigators, analysts, lawyers, and security professionals from a number of countries, with experience in all of the recent conflicts around the globe. We are also a local organization in a way, because we have team members from the countries we work in who are incredibly committed to bringing to justice those who are tearing their countries apart. Together, we are a unique and dedicated group. That’s the key to our success.

Religious and ethnic minorities, like Christians and Yazidis, were targeted by ISIS for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. What work has CIJA done on atrocity crimes against these groups?

CIJA is designed to tackle these challenging issues. We have done a great deal of work to identify those ISIS members responsible for crimes against minorities such as Yazidis and Christians, and we hope to do more. I believe that our work not only promotes justice for minority victims, but also helps to cut through political rhetoric and get to the facts. On the one hand, criminal investigations will lead to the individuals responsible being brought to justice. This is key for any community.

We need to make sure that those who target minority groups are not allowed to go free, particularly in the same areas, living amongst the same groups that they killed, tortured and abused. At the same time, some people see these terrible crimes committed against minorities as a political issue, and then might refuse to label crimes a genocide or crimes against humanity for political reasons. Providing high quality evidence of the crimes committed, can minimize the politics involved and redirect people to the important issues, the safety of minority communities, justice for past crimes, and the right to return to and remain in their homes and their communities as quickly as possible.

What is human rights documentation? How is it different from the work of CIJA?

CIJA is the first, and still only, nonprofit set up to collect and analyze evidence of international crimes during conflict for prosecution. Other groups conduct what you’ve called human rights documentation. This is different in form and substance. Human rights documenters focus on collecting information and statistics on crimes committed. They then publish reports in order to raise awareness of crimes and lobby for other governments to get involved. This is noble work, unfortunately today, we see in Syria a situation where it is possibly the most heavily documented conflict in history from a human rights advocacy perspective, but this great work has not slowed the abuses committed in the country.

Another difference is that CIJA investigates up to a criminal law standard, documenting the chains of custody of materials for example so that the evidence can be used successfully at trial. This level of evidence collecting is not needed for human rights documentation. Also, we are committed to working with law enforcement. Human rights documenters do not always want to work with law enforcement, because they want to remain independent in their reporting or because they do not have consent of their sources to share information with law enforcement. This all makes sense for their work. We simply have a different focus

Who funds CIJA?

We have had a number of donors over the years. Our current donors include the United Kingdom, Canada, the European Union, Germany, Demark, the Netherlands, and Norway.

Describe your work as Director for Investigations and Operations.

There is plenty of variety in my work, and I enjoy that. I am constantly on the road meeting with our field team members, working with local law enforcement, talking to witnesses, and training others to do this type of work. Of course, I spend some days in the office behind a computer hammering out management reports, doing research, writing up notes of interviews, and managing the operational side of the organization. That includes sitting with our team leaders to work out investigative plans, addressing security issues across the different conflict zones and countries where we have people, and developing strategies for our future work. I work with a great team full of dedicated people who all work hard. It is not always the case that you get to work with a competent team that enjoys their work. I am extremely fortunate to have such a professional and passionate team at CIJA.

Describe CIJA’s collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and other U.S. government entities.

By design, CIJA has a strong relationship with U.S. law enforcement. CIJA’s primary goal is to assist in the prosecution of those responsible for the terrible crimes committed during conflicts. We have the advantage of being able to operate safely in conflict zones with unique skills to preserve the materials we collect in a way that they can be used at trial. This is the key to our success. We are not interested in writing reports, human rights advocacy or political discussions. Those things are, of course, important. But CIJA focuses simply and solely on collecting evidence to ensure dictators, terrorists, and their cronies who kill, torture, and rape civilians do not escape justice. Once we have done our job, the information needs to get to law enforcement so that justice can be done.

To do that, we work with any legitimate governmental agency that is investigating these types of crimes including the FBI and DHS. We are happy to work with them and believe it is our responsibility to do so. We received over 500 requests last year to assist in law enforcement investigations and the number is increasing this year. In the United States, this work has a national security element as well. If we can stop these criminals from getting into the United States, then we are all better off. By collecting evidence now, we can identify those who are responsible for these crimes and this information can assist in making sure they do not get visas and are not allowed to enter the United States. You can see how this information provides important data necessary to secure our U.S. borders against international criminals.

Have members of Congress supported the work of CIJA?

Oh yes. The best example of this is probably from congressional hearings on the issue. I have had the opportunity to appear before the Helsinki Commission and the Lantos Commission to discuss international criminal justice. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Wicker and Co-Chairman Congressman Smith, are both great supporters of this type of work and they fully support our justice efforts. More generally, you can see the will of Congress to support this type of work in the many resolutions, laws passed, and bills still making their way through Congress–like H.R. 390 (Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act). It is clear to me that Congress supports justice for victims of these crimes and sees the value in making sure dictators and terrorists are brought to justice, giving notice to those who may consider similar paths in the future.

How is this work relevant to the national security of the United States?

It is directly relevant in many ways. For example, we have spent the last four years investigating individuals associated with Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. We have collected a great deal of evidence on fighters who had no plans to leave Syria when they arrived. Those who were completely happy to participate in the terrible crimes committed against civilians while Islamic State was winning the fight. Today, with the near totally defeat of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, we see that many of these fighters are now trying to get back into Europe and eventually will attempt to make their way to America. The evidence we have will help ensure these individuals are not allowed to travel freely, and if they do try to do so, they will be arrested and prosecuted.

I’d say a second benefit is that our evidence shows clearly that these so-called holy warriors were in reality drug traffickers, human traffickers, rapists, slavers, thugs and criminals that simply used their power to exploit and abuse anyone they chose for any reason. I think this helps open the eyes of some vulnerable young people who might join these types of groups. Islamic State has made good use of propaganda, but the reality is very different. Demonstrating this with strong evidence is a necessary part of any effort to stop the ideology from spreading into the country. We are happy to be working on that.

It’s also important to say that governments that do not respect the rights of their own people certainly do not respect the rights of other people. It is not a coincidence that many governments which permit or even actively engage in the murder, torture, and rape of their citizens also protect, harbor, and even support people engaged in international terrorism. Regimes willing to engage in atrocities often become exporters of that terror to the United States and our allies at home and abroad. When the international community holds officials accountable for their crimes through fair trials, not only is justice served but it can also deter those who threaten peace and security from acting in the future.

What is the American legacy, past and present, on this work?

America’s leadership has promoted international justice from its earliest days. We were the engine behind the Nuremburg Tribunal and the other post-WWII prosecutions. We were a driving force for the Yugoslav and Rwanda tribunals. America has been an advocate of justice across the world and ready to stand up against dictators who were killing their people. This process is never simple; it’s often messy. But we as a people have pushed forward this sense of responsibility to protect others who cannot protect themselves. I believe that is a noble American trait that should preserved.

What is it like being an American doing this work? What do you tell people abroad about your home country and home state? Do you miss home when you are abroad?

Absolutely, I miss home when I am abroad. I think there are a lot of people working internationally who used this type of work to get out of the place they came from for whatever reason. That is not me. I love Mississippi; my family is there and so are the catfish and the crawfish. I believe in the work I do and that work takes me all over the world, but Jackson is my home. To put it more succinctly, the first house I bought was in Jackson, and I assume the last house I live in will be in Jackson as well.

That is not to say I do not enjoy my time abroad. Even after 15 years or so of working overseas, I still feel lucky to be out in the world meeting interesting people from different backgrounds, hearing their stories and sharing some of my own Mississippi stories as well. Mississippi is complex, with all its relaxed, humid goodness mixed up with its troubled history. We all know, if you don’t keep an eye on that history, it will try to catch back up with the present, and I think most Mississippians are mindful of that.

I used to be frustrated by all the preconceived notions people had about the South, but I got over that long ago. Sometimes, though, I have to remind people that I didn’t just pop out of the screen from a Hollywood movie or some anachronistic South, lacking culture and grammar, divided into two simplistic race-based groups that perpetually make bad decisions that keep them both poor and ignorant. To tell the truth, I still find it amusing and a little ironic that people who have never visited the South are okay with telling me about how bad things are in the South, but do not see any problem with stereotyping a whole region based on their limited information.

I also think that Americans are often criticized for stereotyping or profiling other countries and regions based on limited information. But that mistake is universal. Every place, every people, every country is complex. Just living in a foreign country will teach you that and the learning will be quick. That’s what makes things interesting. The complexities and differences provide us with opportunities to think differently, act differently, and appreciate new perspectives. We in Mississippi can learn from the complex challenges people in other nations have faced. But we have much to share with them as well.

More importantly, I run into tons of people who know something about Mississippi, whether it’s because of their love for blues or food, they have family or friends in Mississippi, or they’ve visited and want to talk about their next visit to the South. It’s great to talk to those people whether in Europe, the Middle East, Asia or on a plane in between. I also find plenty of people who are mystified by the South and want to know more. As you’ve probably guessed, I have plenty to say on that topic.

There is more to be done to bring communities together in the South, but this experience can be a positive. We have come a long way as a group of people, while still facing relative poverty and still building trust across communities. There is a message in this work for those that are experiencing a civil war or reeling from its immediate aftermath. It’s a long road and not everyone is on board, but our example can give hope to those who currently have little reason to believe their tomorrow will be any better than their today.

Describe growing up, going to college, and living in Mississippi.

I grew up during a sweet spot in time for a Southerner, I believe. Being born in the mid-70’s, I spent my youth without the Internet. This not only freed up a great deal of time to run around in the woods, paddle down rivers, and occasionally act like I was fishing, but it also meant I was sort of sequestered, unknowingly, from the rest of the world. I also saw a changing South, and a changing Mississippi. By the time I could remember things going on around me, the great unrest of the civil rights era had shifted to a time of Southern-paced reconciliation and while no one would say it was perfect, we were moving forward as Mississippians throughout my youth. I think that reconciliation, like justice, is not something to be completed; it is an ongoing process and must be consciously acted upon by each generation. Looking back, I think we were doing that in my youth.

I also picked up a great deal about fairness and respect for individuals from living in Mississippi. We are a people who believe in the power of the individual to change his or her place in life and that those who abuse their power should not be allowed to take advantage of folks. There is a balance in Mississippi between not getting involved in another person’s business and standing up when someone is being mistreated. I think that, as simplistic as it might sound, is the root of my drive to do this work.

Mississippi is my home. My family and friends are in Mississippi. My house is in Mississippi. I vote in Mississippi, and I am a member of the Mississippi Bar Association. I spend a lot of time in foreign countries because my work requires it. When people ask me where I am from, I am proud to tell them I’m from Mississippi. I love to tell the story of Mississippi, and when I’m home, I love to live that story.

What about your experience as an American, specifically one from Mississippi, has fueled your commitment to justice, accountability, counter-terrorism and preventing violence extremism? What have you learned as an American, from Mississippi, that formed how you see others?

I think my experiences growing up have given me some small level of insight into the desire of those I work with to reconcile and rebuild a peaceful and successful society that is better for their children. It’s not just about bringing those to justice who are responsible for these atrocities, it is also about bringing society back together, reconciling after these conflicts, and justice is an important part of that. In Bosnia for years after the war, women walked down the street and saw their rapists, men saw their torturers and young children saw those who executed their fathers and mothers. Communities cannot mend without justice. Martin Luther King Jr. said it well, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” I like to think my work helps to ensure that justice is present for dictators and war criminals wherever they might be.

Yes, some would consider investigating atrocities in Syria and Iraq a dangerous job, and sometimes it might even seem futile given the fact the conflict has lasted so long, but I believe the time will come when the world will try those responsible, and when that time comes CIJA’s work will ensure that the proper evidence is ready and available. In the meantime, we are constantly working with law enforcement agencies around the world to arrest and prosecute those who leave Syria and Iraq and are found in countries willing to bring them to justice.

What are the most satisfying aspects of your job?

I hate that there is a need for my job, but I love doing it. One of the most satisfying parts of my job is to see criminals who thought they were going to get away with torturing and killing their own people, their neighbors, and former classmates, arrested and prosecuted for their terrible acts. But it’s not just about bringing those powerful criminals to justice, it is also about bringing society back together and reconciling after these conflicts. Ensuring those who were most responsible are taken out of the mix and are serving out criminal sentences for their crimes is key to making sure the rest of the society can move forward. I don’t believe we can solve all the problems in the world, but I want to do a good job at this small piece of it. If I can do that, then I feel like all the time and energy is worth it.

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    WASHINGTON—In response to the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in territory controlled by separatists in Ukraine, members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today called for unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators in order to establish responsibility for the killings in order to hold those parties accountable. “The downing of Malaysian Air flight 17 is an unspeakable tragedy. It did not have to happen and those responsible must be held accountable,” said Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. “As we mourn for those lost and share our heartfelt prayers with the victims' families, I encourage international efforts to establish what happened and who was responsible.  In particular, I welcome the efforts and courage of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission team which has made its way to the crash site. I am extremely disappointed to learn that they were forced to depart after a mere 75 minutes due to aggression by the Moscow-sponsored separatists.  "This heinous crime is a direct consequence of Russia’s unjustified aggression in Ukraine which began with the annexation of Crimea nearly five months ago and has continued in two regions in eastern Ukraine, in violation of OSCE and other international norms. It is a direct result of Putin’s destabilization of Ukraine. The top three leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic are all Russian citizens and two of them are Russian intelligence operatives," continued Chairman Cardin. “Russia has continued to sponsor these terrorists with heavy weapons, equipment and men continuing to flow across the Russian border into Ukraine. If Russian involvement is confirmed, serious consideration needs to be given to designating the Donetsk People’s Republic a Foreign Terrorist Organization and the Russian Federation a State Sponsor of Terrorism.” Co-Chairman of the Commission, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), stated that “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the 298 innocent victims, including 80 children, who perished, likely at the hands of Russian operatives. I urge the President to vigorously work for full access for identification and removal of victims’ remains, and international investigation. The entire area should be treated as a crime scene – as the plane appears to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from a separatist-controlled area. This follows a pattern of actions where the rebels have shot down Ukrainian military planes and helicopters, most recently a Ukrainian military cargo plane earlier this week, for which they took credit.” “I am profoundly saddened and outraged at the senseless loss of innocent civilians on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17,” said Commissioner Representative Michael Burgess (TX-26). “I am extremely disturbed by the lack of access for international observers and first responders and by reports of looting and of people contaminating the crash site.  Not only must we be able to conduct a proper investigation, but the remains of the victims must be treated properly and with the utmost respect. I am also troubled by reports that there may be other efforts by the separatists and Russian authorities to cover up what really happened.”

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Commemorates Romani Revolt at Auschwitz, Deportation of Hungarian Jews

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) marked the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation of Hungary’s Jews and the Romani revolt at Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. “On May 16, 70 years ago, 6,000 Roma at Auschwitz used improvised weapons to resist efforts to transport them from their barracks to the gas chambers. Sadly, their desperate and heroic efforts only delayed their mass murder," said Chairman Cardin. “I am appalled,” he continued, “when government officials, sometimes at the highest level, characterize Roma as criminals or ‘unadaptable’ using stereotypes that are reminiscent of Nazi racial theories. Remembering and teaching about Romani experiences during the Holocaust is critical in combating anti-Roma prejudices today.” Approximately 3,000 of those who participated in the Romani revolt were sent to Buchenwald and Ravensbruck concentration camps as forced labor, where most of them died. On August 2-3, 1944, the so-called ‘Gypsy Family Camp’ was liquidated and the remaining 2,879 Romani men, women and children were sent to the gas chambers. Altogether, 23,000 Romani people from 11 countries were deported to Auschwitz and approximately 19,000 perished. Some died as a result of inhumane medical experiments by Dr. Joseph Mengele. “This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the final wave of Hungary’s war-time deportation of Jews,” noted Chairman Cardin. “Plans to empty the Romani camp at Auschwitz were, in fact, intended to make room for Jews arriving from Hungary.” Anti-Semitic legislation was introduced in Hungary with the 1920 Numerus Clausus, which established limits on the number of Jewish university students. In 1941, more than 17,000 Jews were deported from Hungary to German-occupied Kamenets-Podolsk, where they were executed. Between May 15 and July 9, 1944, 437,402 Hungarian Jews were deported in the largest deportation of Jews to Auschwitz in the shortest period of time from any country. One of every three Jews who died at Auschwitz was from Hungary. Cardin concluded, “I welcome the participation of Czech Prime Minister Sobotka in the memorial service held on May 10 at the site of the concentration camp for Roma at Lety. I urge the Czech Government to take steps to reflect the historic significance of this site for Romani survivors and their families everywhere.” Lety was the site of one of two concentration camps for Roma in the war-time Czech Republic. The construction of a large pork processing plant on the site during the communist period has generated continuing criticism. The Helsinki Commission supported the transfer of microfilm copies of its archives – the only known complete surviving archives of a Romani concentration camp – to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2000. On September 18, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial will hold a public symposium on new research regarding Roma and the Holocaust.

  • Georgia 2008, Ukraine 2014: Is Moldova Next?

    David Killion addressed the timely issue of another situation in a list of attacks on sovereignty by Russia.  Russia’s annexation of Crimea raised concerns that a scenario whereby Russia annexes Transnistria, Moldova’s secessionist region, is a very realistic possibility. Similar to Russia’s de facto annexation of Georgia’s two secessionist regions and Ukraine’s Crimea, Russia’s aggression against Moldova would be occurring as citizens of Moldova are considering accession to the major Euro-Atlantic institutions. Witnesses Eugen Carpov, Paul Goble, and Stephen Blank examined Russia’s intentions with regard to Transnistria and Moldova. The commented on Transnistria residents’ participation in the violence in Odessa and highlighted the Transnistria “Parliament’s” call for Russia to annex. They also drew attention to President Putin’s assertion to that Transnistria remain under an economic blockade and that the residents of the region suffer severe hardships as a result. This lively discussion focused on what the ongoing insecurity and conflict in the region foreshadows in the Southern Caucasus and beyond. 

  • Cardin, Rubio Introduce Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2014

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have introduced the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2014, legislation establishing a Syria-specific standard of reporting and accountability for crimes against humanity. The bill would require the U.S. State Department to report to relevant congressional committees on war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria. This would include an account of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and violent extremist groups and other combatants involved in the conflict. The report also requires a description of U.S. government efforts to ensure accountability for human rights violations in Syria. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is an original cosponsor of the legislation. “The war tactics employed in Syria by both government and opposition forces fly in the face of the rules of war. The United States cannot stand idly by and allow the gross violation of human rights in Syria to go unchallenged,” said Senator Cardin, “This legislation sends a strong message to the international community that the United States remains firmly committed to bringing all perpetrators of international crimes in Syria to justice. Shedding light on the atrocities in Syria is critical to bringing human rights abusers to justice.” “For far too long the Assad regime and violent extremists in Syria have committed horrific human rights violations at the expense of millions of innocent Syrians,” said Senator Rubio. “These brutal crimes against civilians are appalling. The perpetrators deserve to be brought to justice, and this bill is a first step towards ensuring those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable.” After 3 years, the violence in Syria continues unabated and according to the most recent report of the United Nation's Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab republic, the conflict “has reached new levels of brutality.” UNICEF has reported that Syria is among the most dangerous places on Earth to be a child, pointing to high child casualty rates, brutalizing and traumatic violence, deteriorated access to education, and health concerns. The number of children suffering in Syria more than doubled in the third year of the conflict. The Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2014 requires the Department of State to report on State and USAID efforts to ensure accountability for violations of internationally recognized human rights and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the people of Syria during the conflict.  Specifically, the legislation: Condemns the ongoing violence  and  human rights abuses by the Syrian regime, as well as  violent extremist groups and other combatants involved in the Syrian civil war. Expresses support for the people of Syria seeking democratic change. Urges all parties to the conflict to immediately halt indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Calls on the President to support Syrian and International Community efforts to ensure accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict. Calls for a UN Security Council investigation into those crimes. Requires the Secretary of State to produce a report which: Describes the violations of internationally recognized human rights and crimes against humanity perpetrated during the civil war in Syria, as well as the weapons used for those crimes, and—where possible—the origins of  those weapons. Describes efforts by the State Department and USAID to ensure accountability for those crimes, including training activities, a strategy and implementation efforts.

  • The Dog Barks, but the Caravan Moves On: Highs and Lows in U.S.-Russia Relations

    This briefing addressed the state of the relationship between the United States and Russia and the need for continued cooperation across a range of vital interests. A number of questions were posed, including the following: Is the chill in relations deja vu all over again or a new and different break? Are bilateral relations doomed to perpetual confrontation? What are reasonable expectations for the future of the U.S.-Russia relationship? Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including James W. Warhola, Chairman of University of Maine’s Department of Political Science and Matthew Rojansky, Director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center for International Scholars – sought to provide answers to these questions. Some suggestions for improving relations between the two countries given the relevant circumstances included maintaining open lines of communication, defining mutual interests, and responding to Russian action in Crimea through economic means.

  • Resolving Crises in East Asia Through a New System of Collective Security: The Helsinki Process as a Model

    This hearing discussed the possibility of establishing an organization in East Asia similar to the OSCE, in order to increase cooperation and improve regional security. Witnesses cited curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which have been condemned by Japan, China and South Korea, as a primary goal for such an organization.  Witnesses also suggested that an OSCE-like mechanism could be used to mediate air security zone disagreements and regional maritime issues.

  • Helsinki Commission Welcomes Unveiling of Berlin Memorial for Romani Genocide Victims

    On October 24, more than 600 people in Berlin attended the unveiling of the Memorial for the Sinti¹ and Roma of Europe Murdered under National Socialism. Leaders of the Helsinki Commission, who had underscored the importance of the monument, welcomed the event. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, observed that the memorial “marks an important step in acknowledging and teaching about the fate of Roma at the hands of the Nazi regime and the Axis powers: persecution, confiscation of property, forced sterilization, slave labor, inhumane medical experimentation, and ultimately genocide.” Proposals to erect a memorial to the Romani victims of genocide emerged in the early 1990s after the unification of the Federal Republic of Germany and German Democratic Republic and at a time when German acknowledgement and remembrance took on additional dimensions. Those efforts, however, bogged down over questions regarding the location of the proposed memorial and the content of inscriptions. (Concerns raised by the artist over materials and weather-related construction complications also contributed to interruptions.) German government officials also suggested some delays were caused by differing views among Romani groups, particularly regarding the inscriptions; some critics of the delays suggested there was an insufficient sense of ownership and political will on the part of the government. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission, noted the singular role of Romani Rose, Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, and “his tireless work to ensure that Romani victims of genocide are remembered and honored.” Rose, who lost his grandparents at Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck, was a driving force to see the memorial completed. Cardin added, “I am deeply heartened that efforts to build this memorial, underway for over a decade, have finally been realized.” German government officials at the most senior level attended the unveiling of the genocide memorial, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Joachim Gauck, Bundestag President Norbert Lammert, Bundesrat President Horst Seehofer, and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. Former President Richard von Weizsacker, in spite of advanced years and frail health, was also present. Federal Minister of Culture Bernd Neumann described the memorial “a pillar of German remembrance.” U.S. Ambassador to Germany Patrick Murphy and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson represented the United States. Dr. Ethel Brooks, who has served as a public member with the U.S. Delegation to the 2011 and 2012 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetings, also attended the ceremony. The memorial, designed by Israeli artist Dani Karavan, was widely hailed as a deeply moving testimony to the genocide of Romani people. Dutch Sinto survivor Zoni Weiss addressed the hundreds of people who attended the event. As a 7-year-old, Weiss narrowly avoided being placed on the Westerbork transport from the Netherlands due to the intervention of platform policeman, but watched as his immediate family was sent to Auschwitz where they perished. The unveiling ceremony was also accompanied by a week of events in Berlin focused on Romani history, culture and contemporary issues. Gert Weisskirchen, former German Member of the Budestag and former OSCE Personal Representative on Anti-Semitism, organized a round-table focused on contemporary challenges faced by Roma. In her remarks at the event, Chancellor Merkel also acknowledged the on-going struggle for human rights faced by Roma throughout Europe, saying bluntly, “let’s not beat around the bush. Sinti and Roma suffer today from discrimination and exclusion.” Romani Rose warned more pointedly, “In Germany and in Europe, there is a new and increasingly violent racism against Sinti and Roma. This racism is supported not just by far-right parties and groups; it finds more and more backing in the middle of society.” Background The Nazis targeted Roma for extermination. Persecution began in the 1920s, and included race-based denial of the right to vote, selection for forced sterilization, loss of citizenship on the basis of race, and incarceration in work or concentration camps. The most notorious sites where Roma were murdered include Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland, the Jasenovac camp in the so-called Independent State of Croatia, Romanian-occupied Transnistria, and Babi-Yar in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. In other parts of German occupied or German-allied territory, Roma were frequently killed by special SS squads or even regular army units or police, often left in mass graves. Many scholars estimate that 500,000 Roma were killed during is World War II, although scholarship on the genocide of Roma remains in its infancy and many important archives have only become available to a broader community of researchers since the fall of communism. In recent years, for example, Father Patrick Desbois has helped document the location of 800 WWII-mass graves in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including 48 mass graves of Roma. German postwar restitution legislation and its implementation effectively excluded almost all Romani survivors. Those most directly responsible for actions against Roma escaped investigation, prosecution and conviction. Several officials responsible for the deportations of Roma before and during the war continued to have responsibility for Romani affairs after the war. In 1979, the West German Federal Parliament acknowledged the Nazi persecution of Roma as being racially motivated. In 1982, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt recognized that the National Socialist persecution of Romani people constituted genocide. The first German trial decision to take legal cognizance that Roma were genocide victims during the Third Reich was handed down in 1991. In 1997, Federal President Roman Herzog opened a Documentation and Cultural Center of German Sinti and Roma, saying “The genocide of the Sinti and Roma was carried out from the same motive of racial hatred, with the same intent and the same desire for planned and final annihilation as that of the Jews. They were systematically murdered in whole families, from the small child to the old man, throughout the sphere of influence of the Nazis.” At the 2007 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Thommas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, observed that, “[e]ven after the [ . . . ] Nazi killing of at least half a million Roma, probably 700,000 or more, there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma.”

  • Prerequisites for Progress in Northern Ireland

    This hearing assessed the progress towards peace made in Northern Ireland and discussed ways to ensure the sustainability of the peace.  Witnesses condemned the British government for backtracking on the Good Friday Agreement, as well as the United States for not putting enough pressure on Great Britain. Witnesses identified the murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, whose widow Geraldine was in attendance, as an obstacle to peace.

  • Healing the Wounds of Conflict and Disaster: Clarifying the Fate of Missing Persons in the OSCE Area

    The hearing examined efforts by governments and their partners in clarifying the fate of persons missing within a number of OSCE participating States and partner countries, especially in the western Balkans and northern Caucasus. The hearing also appraised the adequacy of assistance to governments and other entities engaged in locating missing persons, the obstacles that impede progress in some areas, as well as how rule of law mechanisms help governments fulfill their obligations to the affected families and society in clarifying the fate of missing persons. Currently, over a million persons are reported missing from wars and violations of human rights. In addition, there are thousands of reported cases a year of persons missing from trafficking, drug-related violence, and other causes. Locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, trafficking in humans and human rights violations and other causes remains a global challenge, with significant impact within the OSCE area.

  • Conflicts in the Caucasus: Prospects for Resolutions

    Representative Michael Burgess led this briefing on the conflictual history in the Caucasus. Twenty years after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the unresolved conflicts in the Caucasus remain one of its most problematic legacies. Despite the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) long mediation in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the results have been disappointing. After the 2008 Russia-Georgia war and Moscow’s subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the prospects for settling those conflicts seem more remote than ever. The witnesses examined where these conflicts stood at the end of 2011, what factors impeded a settlement,  whether the resumption of armed hostilities was a serious threat, whether changes in the negotiating format could yield  a better outcome, and what, if anything, could the United States do to facilitate a resolution.

  • From Arab Spring to Coptic Winter: Sectarian Violence and the Struggle for Democratic Transition in Egypt

    On Sunday, October 9, 2011, 25 people were killed and more than 300 injured when the Egyptian military attacked a peaceful group of Coptic Christians protesting the burning of a church in Aswan. In what has been deemed the “Massacre at Maspero,” referring to the location of the demonstration, witnesses say the army fired on the demonstrators with live ammunition and plowed into the crowd with armored vehicles. The military denied the use of live ammunition and claimed that their soldiers were attacked by an armed mob. The military has arrested at least 28 people, almost all Copts, including prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, and brought them before military prosecutors. The hearing focused on violence perpetrated against the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the implications of the events for that community and the current Egyptian leadership, and prospects for the consolidation of democracy in Egypt.

  • Senator Cardin’s Response to Rep. King’s U.S. Anti-Muslim Hearings

    Mr. President, I rise today to share my thoughts on the hearings held last week in the House of Representatives called "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." Congressional hearings are supposed to serve as an important role of oversight, investigation, or education, among other purposes. However, this particular hearing--billed as the first of a series--served only to fan flames of fear and division.  My first concern is the title of the hearing--targeting one community. That is wrong. Each of us has a responsibility to speak out when communities are unfairly targeted.  In 1975, the United States joined all the countries of Europe and established the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now known as the OSCE. The Congress created the U.S. Helsinki Commission to monitor U.S. participation and compliance with these commitments. The OSCE contains commitments in three areas or baskets: security, economics, and human rights. Best known for its human rights advancements, the OSCE has been aggressive in advancing these commitments in each of the OSCE states. The OSCE stands for religious freedom and protection of minority rights.  I am the Senate chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. In that capacity, I have raised human rights issues in other countries, such as in France when, in the name of national security, the Parliament banned burqas and wearing of all religious articles or when the Swiss restricted the building of mosques or minarets.  These policies were restrictive not only to the religious practice of Muslims but also Christians, Jews, and others who would seek to wear religious symbols and practice their religion as they saw fit.  I have also raised human rights issues in the United States when we were out of compliance with our Helsinki commitments. In that spirit, I find it necessary to speak out against the congressional hearing chaired by Congressman Peter King.  Rather than constructively using the power of Congress to explore how we as a nation can use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent future terrorist attacks and defeat those individuals and groups who want to do us harm, this spectacle crossed the line and chipped away at the religious freedoms and civil liberties we hold so dearly.  Radicalization may be the appropriate subject of a congressional hearing but not when it is limited to one religion. When that is done, it sends the wrong message to the public and casts a religion with unfounded suspicions.  Congressman King's hearing is part of a disturbing trend to demonize Muslims taking place in our country and abroad. Instead, we need to engage the Muslim community in the United States.  A cookie-cutter approach to profile what a terrorist looks like will not work. As FBI Director Mueller recently testified to the Senate:  “... During the past year, the threat from radicalization has evolved. A number of disruptions occurred involving extremists from a diverse set of backgrounds, geographic locations, life experiences, and motivating factors that propelled them along their separate radicalization pathways.”  Let us remember that a number of terrorist attacks have been prevented or disrupted due to informants from the Muslim community who contacted law enforcement officials.  I commend Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Mueller for increasing their outreach to the Arab-American community. As Attorney General Holder said:  “Let us not forget it was a Muslim-American who first alerted the New York police to a smoking car in Times Square. And his vigilance likely helped to save lives. He did his part to avert tragedy, just as millions of other Arab-Americans are doing their parts and proudly fulfilling the responsibility of citizenship.” We need to encourage this type of cooperation between our government and law enforcement agencies in the Muslim community.  As the threat from al-Qaida changes and evolves over time, the piece of the puzzle is even more important to get right. FBI Director Mueller testified before the House recently that:  At every opportunity I have, I reaffirm the fact that 99.9 percent of Muslim-Americans, Sikh-Americans, and Arab-Americans are every bit as patriotic as anyone else in this room, and that many of the anti-terrorism cases are a result of the cooperation from the Muslim community and the United States.  As leaders in Congress, we must live up to our Nation's highest ideals and protect civil liberties, even in wartime when they are most challenged. The 9/11 Commission summed up this well when they wrote:  The terrorists have used our open society against us. In wartime, government calls for greater powers, and then the need for those powers recedes after the war ends. This struggle will go on. Therefore, while protecting our homeland, Americans must be mindful of threats to vital personal and civil liberties. This balancing is no easy task, but we must constantly strive to keep it right.  I agree with Attorney General Holder's recent speech to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, where he stated:  “In this Nation, our many faiths, origins, and appearances must bind us together, not break us apart. In this Nation, the document that sets forth the supreme law of the land--the Constitution--is meant to empower, not exclude. And in this Nation, security and liberty are--at their best--partners, not enemies, in ensuring safety and opportunity for all.” Actions, such as the hearing held last week, that pit us against one another based on our religious beliefs, weaken our country and its freedoms and ultimately do nothing to make our country any safer. Hearings such as the one held last week only serve as a distraction from our real goals and provide fuel for those who are looking for excuses to find fault or blame in our way of life.  Let's not go the way of other countries but instead hold dear the protections in our Constitution that safeguard the individual's right to freely practice their religion and forbid a religious test to hold public office in the United States. Our country's strength lies in its diversity and our ability to have strongly held beliefs and differences of opinion, while being able to speak freely and not fear the government will imprison us for criticizing the government or holding a religious belief that is not shared by the majority of Americans.  On September 11, 2001, our country was attacked by terrorists in a way we thought impossible. Thousands of innocent men, women, and children of all races, religions, and backgrounds were murdered. As the 10-year anniversary of these attacks draws closer, we continue to hold these innocent victims in our thoughts and prayers, and we will continue to fight terrorism and bring terrorists to justice.  After that attack, I went back to my congressional district in Maryland at that time and made three visits as a Congressman. First I visited a synagogue and prayed with the community. Then I visited a mosque and prayed with the community. Then I went to a church and prayed with the community. My message was clear on that day: We all needed to join together as a nation to condemn the terrorist attacks and to take all necessary measures to eliminate safe havens for terrorists and bring them to justice. We all stood together on that day regardless of our background or personal beliefs.  But my other message was equally important: We cannot allow the events of September 11 to demonize a particular community, religion, or creed. Such actions of McCarthyism harken back to darker days in our history. National security concerns were used inappropriately and led to 120,000 Japanese-Americans being stripped of their property and rights and placed in internment camps in 1942, though not a single act of espionage was ever established.  The United States should not carry out a crusade against any particular religion as a response to 9/11 or other terrorist attacks. The United States will not tolerate hate crimes against any group, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, and we should not allow our institutions, including Congress, to be used to foment intolerance and injustice. Let's come together as a nation and move forward in a more constructive and hopeful manner.

  • OSCE 2010 Informal Ministerial: Kazakhstan Persistence Earns a Summit in Astana

    By Winsome Packer Policy Advisor Kazakhstan hosted its long-sought OSCE Informal Ministerial in Almaty July 16-17, 2010, the realization of a key aim of its Chairmanship. A second important objective of the Kazakh Chairmanship: a summit on Kazakh soil during 2010, came closer to realization during the meeting. An Astana Summit would be the OSCE’s first since the 1999 Istanbul Summit, which yielded the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces Treaty. Early and persistent calls for “substance before summit” by the U.S. Delegation and other participating States had put in doubt both the informal ministerial and the summit for months. However, a number of the participating States argued for the high level attention to wide-spread security challenges in the OSCE region and the erosion of OSCE values in some quarters. Ten years after the last OSCE summit, they argued, necessitated a meeting of heads of states and governments to reaffirm the participating States’ commitment to the organization’s values and agree on a way forward to tackle the challenges confronting the region today. Thus, six months of, at times, heated informal Corfu dialogue on security challenges in the OSCE region, which was mandated by the Athens Ministerial Declaration, yielded more than 50 “food for thought” papers from the participating States, the Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE Secretariat, the Partners for Cooperation, think tanks and non-governmental organizations. The thematic papers evolved into an Interim Report during June, which incorporated the proposals submitted within the Corfu Process. It formed the basis for the agenda at the Almaty Informal Ministerial and for the Summit which will be held in Astana December 1-2, 2010. The Almaty Informal Ministerial saw the participation of more than forty foreign ministers, including from the Russian Federation, France, Germany, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Georgia, Turkey, Austria, and Ukraine. The Parliamentary Assembly’s delegation included President Petros Efthymiou, and Secretary General Spencer Oliver. The U.S. delegation was headed by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg who, in a bilateral meeting with the Kazakhstanis on July 16, affirmed U.S. support for an OSCE summit this year. The joining of consensus on the summit decision by the United States elicited private expressions of relief from many delegates, and heightened expectations for the summit which would reflect the outcome of the Corfu Process: a declaration and an action plan. The Chair-in-Office requested that the OSCE delegations work toward these aims throughout the summer. During the meeting, delegates voiced support for the summit, to be held in Astana. A majority of the participating States urged OSCE support for Kyrgyzstan, in particular, through the deployment of a police mission. The United States and many delegates stated that the substance of the summit should be based upon the four proposals put forward by the European Union to: (1) bolster the OSCE’s capabilities in all three dimensions to promote early warning, conflict prevention and resolution, crisis management and post-conflict rehabilitation, including in relation to the protracted conflicts; (2) strengthen implementation and follow-up of OSCE norms, principles and commitments in particular, human dimension commitments covering human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the media; (3) enhance the conventional arms control framework, including confidence and security building measures, through updating the 1999 Vienna Document and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty); and (4) increase attention to transnational threats in all three OSCE dimensions. Some delegates also called for a summit to: focus on instability in Afghanistan; intensify efforts to resolve protracted conflicts in the region, and address nuclear terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear and weapons of mass destruction. The United States called for greater military transparency, implementation of human dimension commitments and addressing inter-ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. The U.S. delegation also expressed support for the expeditous deployment of a police force to Kyrgyzstan and for an action plan for the future work of the participating States. In addition to supporting the European Union’s four summit process proposals, the United States also expressed support for a focus on Afghanistan. A Chair’s Perception Paper, resulting from the informal ministerial, incorporated these concerns. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russia’s support for the summit “this year.” He urged the involvement of other regional and sub-regional leaders in addressing the Kyrgyzstan situation. He expressed hope that action would be taken on Russia’s proposal for a European Security Treaty (EST) and that it would not merely remain a “subject for discussion.” Lavrov said that the summit document should reflect the post Cold War situation and the security system that emerges should be “free of dividing lines.” He said that Russia was studying NATO’s response to the EST proposal and underlined that the summit should give strong, political impetus for supporting Kyrgyzstan. Concurrent with the Informal Ministerial, draft decisions on the holding of an OSCE summit during 2010 and draft decisions on the agenda and modalities of the summit and agenda and modalities for a review conference were circulated. The review conference would be held in Vienna, Warsaw, and Astana. Negotiations on the draft decisions began on July 19.

  • Instability in Kyrgyzstan: The International Response

    The purpose of this hearing was for Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings and others to analyze the causes of a violent and fatal revolt against Kyrgyzstan’s president in April of 2010, as well as the subsequent internecine violence that took place in the southern part of the country two months later; and to look at and discuss the prospects for better news in Kyrgyzstan’s future. Kyrgyzstan’s turbulence was traced to its history of corrupt authoritarian rule.

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