Senator Wicker Responds to ICTY's Verdict on Bosnian Serb LeaderFriday, March 25, 2016
WASHINGTON—Senator Roger F. Wicker, Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), made the following statement in regard to yesterday’s sentencing of former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), located in The Hague, to 40 years imprisonment for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide: “Yesterday’s conviction of Radovan Karadzic confirmed what we knew all along, namely that he was responsible for some of the worst atrocities to occur in Europe since World War II. Forty years in prison pale in comparison to the tens of thousands of innocent deaths that he caused. But it is good to see some measure of justice. I am hopeful that he never sees the light of day.” The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found Radovan Karadzic guilty of 10 out of 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide during the 1992-1995 conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was acquitted of one count of genocide, finding that the prosecution did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt his genocidal intent in relation to crimes committed in seven municipalities across Bosnia and Herzegovina. Karadzic was the leading political figure among Bosnian Serbs during the conflict. The court, while taking into account mitigating circumstances, nevertheless sentenced the 70 year-old Karadzic to 40 years in prison for his crimes.
Chairman Smith Responds to ICTY's Verdict on Bosnian Serb LeaderThursday, March 24, 2016
WASHINGTON—The long-awaited verdict handed down today to former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), prompted U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and chairman of the House Global Human Rights Subcommittee, to issue the following statement: “Once again, ICTY has proved its worth. It has provided justice regarding horrific atrocities which occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. Radovan Karadzic was a driving force in the encouragement, planning and execution of horrific crimes—from the artillery shelling and sniper attacks on Sarajevo, to the ethnic cleansing campaign that included the mass displacement, detention, abuse and execution of innocent civilians, to the taking of UN personnel as hostages, and ultimately to the Srebrenica genocide. “The guilty verdict and sentencing cannot replace action that could have been taken to prevent these crimes in the first place. But Karadzic’s 40-year sentence demonstrates a welcomed determination by the court to provide justice and some measure of closure for surviving victims and to hold to account one of the most egregious perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide. ICTY’s lessons and progress are not limited to Karadzic’s conviction, but instead stand as a model and prototype for a much needed tribunal for the prosecution of war crimes in Syria.” Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed Smith’s legislation (H. Con. Res. 121) urging the U.N. Security Council to immediately establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal (March 14th; by a vote of 392-3). Smith’s bill notes that “ad hoc or regional tribunals, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, have successfully investigated and prosecuted war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and there are many positive lessons to be learned from such tribunals.” During debate in the House Smith said, “An ad hoc or regional court has significant advantages over the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a venue for justice. The ICC has operated since 2002 but boasts only two convictions. By way of contrast, the Yugoslavia court convicted 80 people; Rwanda, 61; and Sierra Leone, 9. Moreover, a singularly focused Syrian tribunal that provides Syrians with a degree of ownership could significantly enhance its effectiveness.” Since 1995, Rep. Smith has chaired numerous hearings on the genocides and war crimes committed in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. He has particularly worked to see that the perpetrators of the horrific crimes committed in Bosnia from 1992-1995 are punished and that closure is provided to survivors and victims’ families. In 2005, he authored H. Res. 199, which clearly and unambiguously condemned the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide and was passed with overwhelming support in the U.S. House of Representatives. In July 2007, Rep. Smith visited Srebrenica to witness the tragic aftermath of the genocide for himself. In 2015, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, he authored H. Res. 310, which condemned statements denying that the massacre was a genocide. Karadzic was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as one count of genocide, relating to Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces. Karadzic was acquitted of a second charge of genocide, relating to other Bosnian municipalities.
Religious Freedom, Anti-Semitism, and Rule of Law in Europe and EurasiaThursday, February 11, 2016
In this hearing ODIHR Director Michael Link discussed the importance of the OSCE's work on human rights through ODIHR. He focused on the fight against anti-Semitism and the human rights situation in Ukraine. He spoke about ODIHR's newest project to combat anti-Semitism, called "Turning Words into Action," which will give leaders the knowledge and tools to address anti-Semitism in their communities. Director Link also noted that in Ukraine he was particularly concerned about the human rights violations in Crimea and expressed his support for a cease-fire as a pre-condition of the implementation of the Minsk package.
Helsinki Commission Chair Honored by Voices of the Bosnian GenocideFriday, November 06, 2015
WASHINGTON—Voices of the Bosnian Genocide honored Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) on Thursday with an award recognizing his efforts to ensure that the genocide at Srebrenica is acknowledged. “It is moving to receive this award from young people, many of whom are survivors of the genocide or lost relatives at Srebrenica and are now working to promote human rights,” said Rep. Smith. “Today the international community is nearly unanimous when it proclaims that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide, although shockingly, there are those who continue to deny that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces meet that criteria.” For more than 20 years, Rep. Smith has worked tirelessly to see that the perpetrators of the horrific acts at Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina are punished and that closure is provided to survivors and victims’ families. In July 2015, Rep. Smith authored H. Res. 310 defining the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide, which was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives. Voices of the Bosnian Genocide is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization devoted to raising awareness and educating the public about the genocide that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s and the ongoing effects that the genocide is having on Bosnia and the world. The group is made up of individuals who are passionate about genocide education and prevention and human rights.
Bipartisan Congressional Delegation Represents US at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; Also Visits Ukraine, Czech RepublicMonday, August 17, 2015
Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act established the precursor to today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), five members of the Helsinki Commission and four other members of Congress traveled to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Helsinki to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to confronting Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere. Led by Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger F. Wicker (MS), the bicameral, bipartisan delegation organized by the Helsinki Commission included Commission Chairman Representative Chris Smith (NJ- 04); House Commissioners Robert B. Aderholt (AL-04), Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Alan Grayson (FL-09); and Representatives Gwen Moore (WI-04), Michael Fitzpatrick (PA-08), Richard Hudson (NC-08) and Ruben Gallego (AZ-07). Before attending the Annual Session from July 5 to 7, several members of the delegation also visited Ukraine and the Czech Republic. A central concern to the delegation throughout the trip was Russia’s restrictions on democracy at home and aggression in Ukraine, along with Russia’s threat to European security.
Helsinki Commission Chair Deplores Attack on Serbian Prime Minister during Srebrenica CommemorationMonday, July 13, 2015
WASHINGTON—Following the stone-throwing attack on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic at Saturday’s ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement: “Such violence is unworthy of the memory of the thousands of innocent civilians who were massacred in the genocide 20 years ago. Prime Minister Vucic’s attendance at the ceremony demonstrated a willingness to seek reconciliation and learn from the past. I add my voice to those who have condemned the mob attack in the strongest possible terms and I urge the Bosnian authorities to take the necessary steps to apprehend and prosecute those responsible.” Rep. Smith is the author of the recently passed H. Res. 310, which affirms that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces at Srebrenica constituted genocide, and condemns statements denying that the massacres meet the definition of genocide. Since 1995, Rep. Smith has worked to see that the perpetrators of the horrific acts at Srebrenica are punished and that closure is provided to survivors and victims’ families.
Urging Passage of H. Res. 310Wednesday, July 08, 2015
Madam Speaker, this week, the world pauses to remember and reflect on the Srebrenica genocide, horrific acts of brutality, wanton cruelty, and mass murder committed in Srebrenica beginning July 11, 20 years ago. This week, we pause to honor those brave Bosniaks who suffered and died, victims of genocide. This week, the people in the United States and men and women of goodwill throughout the world again extend our deepest condolences and respect to the mothers and surviving family members who have endured unspeakable sorrow and loss that time will never abate. And this week, the international community must recommit itself to justice, once and for all, for those who perpetrated these heinous crimes. Today, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are incarcerated, awaiting final disposition of their cases before the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of laws and customs of war. Twenty years ago, Madam Speaker, an estimated 8,000 people were systematically slaughtered by Bosnian Serb soldiers in the United Nations-designated “safe haven” area of Srebrenica. They killed Muslim women and children, but especially sought out and murdered adult males in that area. These brutal killings were not committed in battle. They were committed against people who were unarmed and helpless and who had been repeatedly assured by Dutch peacekeepers that they would not be harmed if they surrendered. The evidence is overwhelming that the executions were committed with the specific intention of destroying the Bosnian Muslim population of that area. This intention is the central element in the crime of genocide. The U.N. peacekeeping forces in Srebrenica were charged with enforcing Security Council Resolution 836, which had pledged to defend the safe areas with “all necessary means, including the use of force.” But when the moment of truth came, the U.N. forces offered only token resistance to the Serb offensive. Their military and political commanders had redefined their primary mission not as the protection of the people of Srebrenica, but as the safety of the U.N. forces themselves. When Bosnian Serb Commander Ratko Mladic threatened violence against the blue- helmeted soldiers here is the way one of those soldiers described the reaction. And I quote him: ‘‘everybody got a fright. You could easily get killed in such an operation. As far as I knew, we had not been sent to Srebrenica to defend the enclave, but, rather, as some kind of spruced-up observers.’’ So that is what the peacekeepers became: observers to genocide. Soon they became something more than observers: enablers. On July 13, the Dutch blue-helmet battalion handed Bosnian Muslims who had sought safety within the U.N. compound over to the Serbs. They watched as the men were separated from the women and children, a process which was already well known in Bosnia—it was at the time—as a sign that the men were in imminent danger of being executed. These men were never heard from again. At one congressional hearing I chaired in March of 1998—and I had six of them— Hasan Nuhanovic, the indigenous translator working for the U.N. peacekeepers in Srebrenica, testified. He was there in the room. Hasan lost his family in the genocide. He was there when Mladic and the commanders of the Dutch peacekeepers talked about the terms. Here is what he told my panel, in part: “On July 12, the day before the fall of Srebrenica, the Bosnian Serb Army commander, General Ratko Mladic, requested a meeting with the Dutchbat commander, Lieutenant Colonel Karemans, and local representatives of Srebrenica in the nearby town of Bratunac outside the enclave . . . During the meeting, Mladic assured the Dutch and local delegation that no harm would come to the refugees in Potocari . . . “Upon returning to the camp, three local representatives are ordered by Dutchbat deputy commander, Major Franken, to prepare a list of all males, all men and boys between the ages of 16 and 65 among the refugees inside and outside the camp. The list of the males among the 6,000 inside the camp was completed the same day . . . “On July 13, the Dutch ordered 6,000 refugees out of the Potocari camp. The Serbs were waiting at the gate, separating all males from the women and children. Major Franken stated that all the males whose names were on the list would be safe . . . I watched my parents and my brother being handed over to the Serbs at the gate. None of them have been seen since. “I want to explain here that the people hoped that the Dutch were going to protect them, the U.N. peacekeeping troops and all other members of all other organization who were present in Srebrenica who were inside the camp, the people hoped that they would be protected, but the Dutch soldiers and officer gave no other option to the refugees but to leave. So the refugees inside were told to leave without any other choice. My family was told on the evening of 13 July that they should leave. About 6 p.m., there were no more refugees inside the camp. “I don’t know if this is the topic of the meeting or hearing, but the same night the Dutch soldiers had a party inside the camp because they received two or three trucks full of beer and cigarettes. They played music while I was sitting, not knowing what happened to my family.” As he went on to say later, they had all been slaughtered. In July of 2007, Madam Speaker, I visited Srebrenica, where, together with my good friends President Haris Silajdzic and the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, Reis Ceric, I spoke at a solemn memorial service and witnessed the internment of hundreds of wooden coffins of newly discovered victims of the genocide. It was a deeply moving experience to see 12 years then after the genocide— now it is 20 years—families still grieving loved ones whose bodies were being identified, often miles from the killing sites, as Serb forces, trying to hide the evidence of their crimes, moved the bodies of their victims. For the record, 10 years ago—in 2005— the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H. Res. 199, which I authored, which clearly and unambiguously condemned the Srebrenica massacre for what it was: genocide. That resolution was a landmark in the recognition of the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide. Two years later the verdict of the International Court of Justice found the same, in confirming the ruling of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Today the international community is nearly unanimous when it proclaims that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide. The resolution today, of course, supports that as well. Astonishingly, Madam Speaker, there are some genocide deniers. That is why this resolution condemns statements that deny that the massacre at Srebrenica constituted genocide. Just last weekend Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska, asserted that the Srebrenica genocide is a lie. Madam Speaker, just as it is doing in Ukraine, Russia is utilizing misinformation and historical revisionism in an attempt to destabilize Bosnia and the Balkan region. Today Russia vetoed a British U.N. Security Council resolution that reaffirms that Srebrenica was a genocide. Russia has encouraged Serbia itself to protest the resolution and emboldened genocide denialism in the Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia’s two constituent entities. Madam Speaker, this resolution also encourages the administration to fulfill other neglected responsibilities. In particular, it urges the Atrocities Prevention Board to study the lessons of Srebrenica and issue informed guidance on how to prevent similar incidents from recurring in the future. As you may know, the Atrocities Prevention Board is a U.S. interagency committee established by the administration in 2012 to flag potential atrocities. However, since its creation, the board has been marked by inaction and a complete lack of transparency. This is unacceptable, especially as conflicts with disturbing parallels to Bosnia before the genocide continue to fester in Syria, the Central African Republic, Burma, and in Burundi. Africa, in particular, would stand to benefit from a more active board. The conflict in Burundi is currently at a tipping point, and it absolutely needs attention. Madam Speaker, despite the need for much greater atrocities prevention in U.S. policy, there have been many promising developments in the Balkan region, and this needs to be underscored. In particular, I would note that Serbia today is not the Serbia of the Slobodan Milosevic era. That era was marked by nationalist aggression against neighboring countries and peoples, as well as considerable repression at home. One of those who testified at one of my hearings on Serbia, Curuvija, a great young leader, was murdered on the second day after our bombing began by Serbian people. And the persons who did that have now been held to account. So what has happened there—thankfully, there have now been significant changes in Serbia. I want to thank my colleagues. I do hope we will have a strong show of support for this resolution. I reserve the balance of my time.
Helsinki Commission Chair Introduces Resolution Marking 20th Anniversary of Srebrenica GenocideFriday, June 12, 2015
WASHINGTON—Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the atrocity committed at Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina in July, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today introduced a resolution to affirm that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces in that country constituted genocide as well as to condemn statements denying that the massacres meet the definition of genocide. The resolution has 28 original co-sponsors, 14 Republicans and 14 Democrats. H. Res. 310 urges the Atrocities Prevention Board—an interagency organization charged with helping the U.S. government identify and address atrocity threats—to issue guidance on preventing future genocides, and encourages the United States to continue to support the independence and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as peace and stability in southeastern Europe as a whole. This comes as part of a broader effort to push the Obama Administration to take atrocities prevention seriously. “The thousands of innocents who were brutally slaughtered at Srebrenica deserve our remembrance of the tragedy for what it was: genocide,” said Rep. Smith. “The international community must ensure the perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, and study the lessons of Srebrenica with the aim of preventing future atrocities, particularly in current conflicts in the Central African Republic, Burundi, and Syria. In addition, we must continue to uphold the right of all people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and throughout the Balkans today—no matter their ethnic or religious background—to enjoy the benefits of democracy, the rule of law, and economic opportunity.” The July 1995 massacre at Srebrenica was one of the worst atrocities to occur in the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina between April 1992 and November 1995, during which period more than 2,000,000 people were displaced, more than 100,000 were killed, and tens of thousands were raped or otherwise tortured and abused. In addition to being the primary victims at Srebrenica, individuals with Bosniak heritage comprise the vast majority of the victims during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, especially among the civilian population.
Rep. Smith Chairs Helsinki Commission Hearing on Armenian GenocideThursday, April 23, 2015
WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers examined denialism of the Armenian Genocide by the Government of Turkey and the decades-long effort to seek accountability. “The Armenian genocide is the only genocide of the 20th century in which a nation that was decimated by genocide has been subject to the ongoing outrage of a massive campaign of genocide denial, openly sustained by state authority,” said Smith, who called today’s hearing and chaired Congress’s first-ever hearing on the Armenian Genocide in 2000. “Sadly, the Turkish government has driven this campaign of denial, and has done so over a course of decades.” Smith continued, “I must respond to President Obama. On Tuesday his aides met with Armenian leaders and made it clear that once again he will not recognize the Armenian genocide. This is in direct contradiction to the promises he made before becoming president—and in order to become president. “While a candidate, in 2008 the President made passionate statements in support of genocide recognition… these are beautiful words which echo hollowly today,” Smith said. “The president’s abandonment of this commitment is unconscionable and cynical. With Germany and the EU lining up to do the right thing, our government needs to do likewise. Sadly, after the President’s powerful promise, he is following, not leading – or rather, we are not even following.” Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the sustained campaign of the Turkish government to deny the Armenian genocide and its impact on Armenian-Turkish relations and foreign policy in the region. “Turkey’s denialism of its past and making it an essential part of its foreign policy is not simply a moral abomination; it represents a threat to democracy, stability and security, not only in Turkey but in the region too,” testified Dr. Taner Akçam, a Turkish scholar who holds the chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. “The refusal [of the U.S.] to recognize past injustices is fundamentally undemocratic and contributes to the destabilization of Turkey and the region. How can the United States, which prides itself on its exceptionalism in supporting liberal values and human rights at home and across the world, justify a position at odds with its own democratic values?” “Far too often, over the past several decades, under Turkey's arm-twisting here in Washington, DC, official discussions of the Armenian Genocide were framed in denialist terms, on the basis of Ankara's artificially contrived ‘debate’ about whether there was an Armenian Genocide,” said Kenneth Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America. “Turkey's denial of truth and justice for the Armenian Genocide remains the central issue between Turks and Armenians, the one that must be openly acknowledged, honestly discussed, and fairly resolved for there to be real, sustained progress in relations between these two nations.” “How did denial start and how did it last as long as it has? The answer is simple—successive Turkish governments have used the issue to instill fear, promote racism, distract their population from the truth, and avoid progress,” said Van Krikorian, co-chairman of the board of trustees of the Armenian Assembly of America. “Having re-written their own history, they are now afraid to tell the truth as they will lose votes and risk power. Tragically, this pattern has found accomplices, as Turkish leaders have openly threatened countries which do not deny the Armenian Genocide. Those who bend to bullying continue to be bullied. Those who do not, show honor and backbone.” Additional witnesses who testified at the hearing, “A Century of Denial: Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for Justice,” included Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, visiting associate professor of conflict resolution at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, and Mrs. Karine Shnorhokian, representative of the Genocide Education Project.
A Century of Denial: The Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for JusticeThursday, April 23, 2015
At this hearing, Chairman Chris Smith and other lawmakers examined denialism of the Armenian Genocide by the Government of Turkey and the decades-long effort to seek accountability. The hearing also provided an opportunity to assess potential countercurrents in Turkish society that could move the Government of Turkey toward recognition, and explore what the United States and other countries can do to help bring about recognition and eventually, reconciliation. Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the sustained campaign of the Turkish government to deny the Armenian genocide and its impact on Armenian-Turkish relations and foreign policy in the region. Turkey’s denialism of its past and making it an essential part of its foreign policy was identified as a threat to democracy, stability, and security in the entire region.
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Smith: U.S. Must End Its Denial of Armenian GenocideTuesday, April 14, 2015
Genocide is the most terrible crime a people can undergo, or another people can commit. It must never be forgotten. To forget it would be to dull our consciences and diminish our own humanity. It must never be denied, but fully acknowledged. Otherwise, any meaningful attempt at reconciliation will be thwarted. Brookdale College, the Center for Holocaust, Human Rights, and Genocide Education (Chhange), and everyone who contributed to making exhibits the center unveiled April 12 a reality, has performed a great service to our community, not only to Armenian-Americans, but to everyone, including those who deny the genocide. They are opening paths to the truth, and therefore to a better future. In September 2000, I had put together and chaired a hearing on the Armenian genocide and legislation to finally put the United States on record officially acknowledging it. It was a four-hour hearing, the first hearing the House of Representatives ever held on it. The testimony I heard that day, and accounts of the atrocities I have read in the articles and books over the years, have shocked me deeply. A related resolution on the genocide, H. Res. 398 — vigorously opposed by the Clinton administration — never got a vote. But just as shocking then is what we still see today: a completely political and callous campaign to deny the Armenian genocide. In 1915, there were about 2 million Armenians living in what was then the Ottoman Empire. They were living in a region that they inhabited for 2,500 years. By 1923, well over 90 percent of these Armenians had disappeared. Most of them, as many as 1.5 million were dead. The remainder had been forced into exile. There is no lack of historical record. In fact, we only have to listen to the words of the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey at the time, Henry Morgenthau, who called it a "campaign of race extermination." We only have to listen to the British, French, and Russian governments who said the Young Turks committed a "crime against humanity," the first time in history that charge was ever made by one state against another. And we only have to listen to the government of Turkey itself, which tried and convicted a number of high-ranking Young Turk officials for their role in what the Turkish government's indictment called, "the massacre and destruction of the Armenians." When the term genocide was invented in 1944 to describe the systematic destruction of an entire people, its author Raphael Lemkin explained the term by saying it was "the sort of thing Hitler did to the Jews and the Turks did to the Armenians." The campaign to deny this genocide, often driven by the Turkish government, is repulsive. It is a slap in the face to Armenians everywhere. It is this denial that keeps the Armenian genocide a burning issue and prevents much needed healing of old wounds. Armenians are unfortunately not alone in suffering the hurt and pain that stems from the denial of truth. The international community failed the victims of the Holocaust, China, the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Bosnia, DRC, Darfur and Syria, to name a few. That means that we here in the United States, and that means not only the Congress but also the president, have the responsibility to speak truthfully and to speak boldly about the past in order to secure our future. We must write and speak the truth so that generations to come will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Only 20 nations around the world have recognized the Armenian genocide. That includes Canada as well as eleven EU countries including France, Germany Italy, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Greece and Cypress. Conspicuously absent from the list of nations that have officially recognized it is the United States. For my part, I am preparing to chair a congressional hearing on April 23 — the day before Armenian Remembrance Day (April 24) — which this year marks the 100th anniversary of the genocide. When political leaders fail to lead or denounce violence, the void is not only demoralizing to the victims but silence actually enables the wrongdoing. Silence by elected officials in particular conveys approval — or at least acquiescence —and can contribute to a climate of fear and a sense of vulnerability. History has taught us that silence is not an option. We must do more. Chris Smith is a Republican congressman representing New Jersey's 4th District, which includes portions of Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Unequivocal Support for IsraelMonday, March 02, 2015
Mr. Speaker, I’d like to thank my colleague, Mr. Stewart, for reserving this time to send a message of vigorous, unequivocal, and unflinching U.S. support for Israel. Mr. Speaker, on the eve of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s historic address, we have to join his efforts to set the focus on the existential, genocidal threat Iran poses to Israel. We have to be realistic about Iranian President Rouhani because many in the media – and some in the administration – have been reluctant to do that. Rouhani has a long history of murderous anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. The corpses are all over the globe. Rouhani chaired Iran’s National Security Council from 1989 to 2005 – the years when Iran plotted the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish cultural center, which killed 85 people in Buenos Aires. The 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers was also under his tenure – this one killed 19 U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia. He continues to support the global terrorism of Hezbollah. Likewise, Rouhani’s defense minister, Hossein Dehghan, participated in plotting the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks bombing in Beirut – this crime took the lives of 241 Americans, including Paul Innocenzi from my district. His Justice Minister, Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, played a role in 1988 and 1998 in the summary executions of Iranian political prisoners and killings of intellectuals, as well as assassinations abroad. Mr. Speaker, this is the man that our government and Prime Minister Netanyahu are dealing with. For 16 years Rouhani ran Iran’s nuclear program. He has boasted openly of his success in using negotiations as a tool to buy time to advance his program. The question before us is whether the agreement President Obama is trying to close with Rouhani is yet another deal favorable to the Iranian government, allowing it to move the hand on the nuclear clock yet closer to midnight. There are many signs that this is the case. Most reports on the negotiations are that the administration is not trying to prevent a nuclear Iran, but only to preserve some “breakout time” - yet will not require the kind of transparency to make even that a remotely reliable measure. Even worse, it seems the administration is prepared to accept a “sunset clause” – a date after which Iranian nuclear arms would be completely legitimated. And the deal being crafted reportedly ignores Iran’s ballistic missile program. All this amounts to a potential catastrophe. Unfortunately, the administration seems to have telegraphed its determination to get a deal with Rouhani – almost any deal – and to shut Congress out. This is why I am concerned, and why we in Congress and the American people need to hear all the more from Prime Minister Netanyahu. Let’s let the Prime Minister know that Congress and the American people stand with Israel, without any ‘ifs,’ or ‘buts,’ or ‘so long as,’ or any other qualifiers, and without any illusions about the murderous and manipulative intentions of Rouhani. I’d like to close by thanking Speaker Boehner for inviting Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Chairman Smith and Serbian Foreign Minister Support OSCE Role in Promoting Peace in UkraineThursday, February 26, 2015
WASHINGTON–On February 25, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, held a hearing at which Ivica Dacic, the Foreign Minister of Serbia and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), testified as to his plans for Serbia’s 2015 leadership of the OSCE. The chief issue facing the organization is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the humanitarian needs of the people of eastern Ukraine, including the OSCE’s role in monitoring the Minsk cease-fire agreement. Both Russia and Ukraine are among the 57 member states of the OSCE, the world’s largest regional security organization. Opening the hearing, Chairman Smith said that Foreign Minister Dacic’s leadership of the OSCE “comes at a moment of tragedy, of tremendous human suffering.” Smith emphasized that “one OSCE member – the Russian government – is tearing the heart out of a neighboring member, Ukraine.” “Understanding that the OSCE is a consensus organization – meaning that the Russian government has an effective veto over many significant actions – we believe that the OSCE is still able and responsible to speak the truth about the conflict, to find ways to limit it, and to help the people of Ukraine,” he said. Foreign Minister Dacic emphasized that “the Serbian Chairmanship will make every effort to help restore peace in Ukraine.” In its role as Chairman of the OSCE, Dacic said, “Serbia brings to the table good relations with all the key stakeholders, and we are making every effort to serve as an honest broker and use our leadership role to utilize the OSCE toolbox impartially and transparently.” Foreign Minister Dacic also discussed the fight against human trafficking and anti-Semitism with Chairman Smith. Other members of the Helsinki Commission participating in the hearing included Senator Ben Cardin, and Congressmen Joe Pitts, Alcee Hastings, and Steve Cohen.
Chairman Smith Urges OSCE Leaders: Respond to Humanitarian Needs in Eastern UkraineWednesday, February 25, 2015
WASHINGTON—A renewed effort is underway in the Organization for Cooperation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to urge it to respond to humanitarian needs in eastern Ukraine, and to follow through on OSCE commitments to fight human trafficking and anti-Semitism. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) led the U.S. Delegation to the annual Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) last week in Vienna, where he spearheaded this push. Smith expressed particular concern about the potential for human trafficking of vulnerable groups stemming from the current conflict in Ukraine. In a question to Ivica Dačić, the OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office for 2015 and the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Smith drew attention to the needs of internally displaced persons and the potential for human trafficking in eastern Ukraine. He noted that, among the nearly one million internally displaced persons, woman and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, and raised concerns that criminal gangs are taking advantage of the conflict: “Is the OSCE equipping the special monitoring mission and other OSCE entities working in the Ukraine conflict zone, or with IDPs, to recognize and protect human trafficking victims, and is the OSCE taking trafficking prevention measures for this particular vulnerable population?” At a private meeting during the event, Chairman Smith met with Chairman-in-Office Dačić to discuss the humanitarian, human rights, and security concerns arising from the Russian-backed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Smith encouraged Serbia to vigorously uphold the commitments made at the at the 10th anniversary of the OSCE's Berlin Conference on anti-Semitism, and to review and reform the OSCE’s contracting regulations to ensure that OSCE activities do not contribute to trafficking in persons. He also urged Chairman-in-Office Dačić to promote an appropriate commemoration by the OSCE of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Chairman Smith also met the Director of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Michael Georg Link. In addition to human trafficking and anti-Semitism, the two discussed OSCE election observation missions, as well as the organization’s current efforts to protect freedom of religion. In a meeting with Ambassador Madina Jarbussynova, the OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Chairman Smith spoke about the most effective ways to fight human trafficking and assist with the rehabilitation of trafficking victims – including by working with faith-based organizations, as well as by encouraging participating States to adopt legislation preventing child sex tourism, such as Chairman Smith’s legislation currently pending in the U.S. Senate. Chairman Smith has pioneered OSCE engagement in fighting human trafficking and anti-Semitism. Since 2004, he has served as the OSCE PA’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues – click here to read his most recent report. Starting in 2002, Smith led the movement to put anti-Semitism on the agenda of the OSCE, and he continues to work closely with Rabbi Andy Baker, the OSCE’s Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism, to ensure a more vigorous implementation of OSCE commitments in the area. In 2005 Smith authored H. Res. 199, a landmark congressional resolution recognizing the atrocity at Srebrenica in which an estimated 8,000 civilian men and boys were murdered by Serb forces as a genocide.
Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Testify at Helsinki Commission HearingWednesday, February 18, 2015
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Serbia’s Leadership of the OSCE” Wednesday, February 25, 2015 2:30PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Serbia’s 2015 Chairmanship-in-Office of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) comes at a pivotal point in European security. The OSCE, a regional security organization based known for its work in promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, operates on the front lines of Russia-Ukraine conflict and seeks to counter backsliding on human rights in other countries of the OSCE region. Serbia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Ivica Dačić, will testify before the Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. He takes the helm to conclude the implementation of a joint leadership plan developed with Switzerland, which chaired the OSCE in 2014. Minister Dačić is expected to discuss the Serbian Chairmanship-in-Office’s priorities, including resolution of the conflict in and around Ukraine; reconciliation and cooperation in the Western Balkans; reforming security sector governance; combating transnational threats, including foreign terrorist fighters, terrorism, and cyber-security; safeguarding journalists; fostering freedom of expression, assembly, and association; combating organized crime and its linkages to human trafficking; combating corruption; and improving water governance. He will also provide insights regarding the ongoing work of the OSCE.
Cardin Lauds Compensation for Holocaust Victims Transported by National Society of French RailwaysTuesday, December 09, 2014
WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement expressing support for the establishment of a fund to compensate victims and surviving family members transported by The National Society of French Railways (SNCF) during the Holocaust. "In March, one of those who survived the war-time deportations, Leo Bretholz of Maryland, passed away. Leo escaped from a train transporting him to almost certain death. He spent the rest of the war fighting the Nazi regime and helping others escape. In his later years, Leo worked with members of the Maryland General Assembly to secure reparations for Holocaust survivors who were transported to the camps on French railways. I take solace in knowing that his already incredible legacy lives on through this agreement. "I applaud the agreement reached between the United States and France to compensate those who survived deportation from France by SNCF but who, as non-nationals of France, were excluded from previous compensation programs. The agreement shows that the quest to right the wrongs of the past is still ongoing and, most importantly, it is still possible to achieve some measure of justice for those who suffered so terribly. For some people around the world the Holocaust may be history, for those who have survived the horror is still very real. "This settlement is a well-deserved victory for aging survivors and their families across the world. I commend the Government of France for its efforts to advance responsibility, memory and justice and I hope the French National Assembly will be able to expeditiously ratify this agreement."
Helsinki Commission on Opening of Europe’s Largest Human Rights MeetingMonday, September 22, 2014
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, released the following statement ahead of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) annual high-level meeting on human rights. From September 22-October 3, civil society and government representatives of OSCE participating States will gather in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to discuss compliance with the full range of OSCE human dimension commitments, with special focus on migrant rights, minority issues, and combating violence against women and children. “The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting takes place while Russian aggression in Ukraine continues to threaten basic OSCE principles. I expect this will be a major focus of the meeting, as well as Russian actions at home that are cynically rolling back the ability of civil society to comment on or contribute to how that country functions," said Chairman Cardin. "I am pleased that Professor Brian Atwood will head the U.S. Delegation at this critical time. The promises OSCE states made to one another almost 25 years ago, that respect for human rights within any country is a matter of concern for all states, has guided us and must continue to do so. I also welcome the leadership of the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, who will be taking a high-level study group to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp." Co-Chairman Smith said, “The Russian government’s gross human rights violations in Ukraine must be a central topic of discussion at the Human Dimension meeting. HDIM is an indispensable tool for holding states accountable to OSCE commitments and most effective when both government and civil society representatives have equal opportunity to debate each state’s human rights record. One issue that states and civil society must discuss this year in Warsaw, and at the OSCE “Berlin Plus 10” anti-Semitism conference in November, is the alarming rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the OSCE region. The OSCE must also continue to combat trafficking in human beings, including through fulfilling commitments taken last year to train transportation workers to identify possible victims and to improve law enforcement information sharing internationally on potential sex tourists. Commitments are made to be kept.”
Co-Chairman Smith and Rep. Keating Introduce Resolution Supporting Progress and Reform in BosniaFriday, September 19, 2014
WASHINGTON— U.S. Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced House Resolution 746 expressing support for the people of Bosnia as they prepare for elections on October 12, and for reforms that will enhance the country’s prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration. “Nineteen years after the Srebrenica genocide and the Dayton Peace Accords, ethnic divisions have hardened as a generation has grown up under a system that classifies people into one of three ethnic communities, and diminishes the rights of anyone that doesn’t belong to one of those communities,” observed Rep. Smith, Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and Chairman of the Human Rights subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “As the people of Bosnia prepare to go to the polls, they should know the United States Congress supports their aspirations to have effective government institutions that serve them rather than perpetuate political stalemate, so that their country can advance toward Europe with its neighbors rather than fall further behind.” Rep. Bill Keating (MA-09) joined Co-Chairman Smith as the lead Democratic co-sponsor of the measure. “More Western Balkan states have been moving forward with their European Union and NATO aspirations while mitigating interethnic conflicts through the use of dialogue and negotiation, instead of brutality and division. In this way, the upcoming elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina present an opportunity for Bosnians to make their voices heard and demonstrate their willingness to pursue a peaceful and productive future,” said Rep. Keating, Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats. “This resolution should serve as a strong indication that Members of Congress remain committed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path forward and will continue to urge the political leadership of that country to refrain from the divisive rhetoric and policies of the past in order to allow for all Bosnians to progress along with their Balkan peers.” House Resolution 746 expresses support for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina as they seek to hold government officials accountable, prepare for elections at the state, entity and cantonal level, and consider constitutional or other reforms to enhance the country’s prospects for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The Dayton Peace Accords, brokered by the international community with U.S. leadership in late 1995, ended a more than 3-year conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Accords we followed by a decade of gradual recovery, but attempts to move beyond the compromises that were needed to end the conflict but now impede progress has led to increasingly ineffective and corrupt government, divisive political rhetoric and growing public frustration. The resolution also expresses the hope of Congress that the mid-October elections and commemoration of the Dayton Accords on their 20th anniversary next year will jointly serve as a catalyst for reform needed for Bosnia to move closer to eligibility for NATO and European Union membership. Rep. Smith, who is Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Bosnia, also spoke to the situation in Bosnia in remarks delivered on the floor of the House. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission in the 1990s during the Balkan conflicts, Rep. Smith chaired over 21 hearings on countries of the former Yugoslavia. In 2005, he authored H. Res. 199, which initiated a series of clear acknowledgements by other parliaments and international bodies that the atrocities which occurred at Srebrenica in 1995 constituted genocide.
U.S. Helsinki Commission Calls for Investigation, Accountability for Terrorist Act in Ukraine Separatist RegionFriday, July 18, 2014
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 JewsFriday, May 16, 2014
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.
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.