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The Ongoing Tragedy of International Parental Child Abduction
Thursday, January 11, 2018

Each year, between 600 and 800 American children are taken from the United States by one parent without the consent of the other. 

The parent left behind can only wonder if the children are safe, warm, well-fed, and loved, and what – if anything – their precious children are being told about them.  Many children are intentionally misled by the taking parent to hate and distrust the left-behind parent. 

Abducted children also suffer tremendously from the abduction and the subsequent loss of contact with the left-behind parent.  Research shows that abducted children who are recovered often experience a range of serious short- and long-term emotional and psychological problems, including anxiety, eating disorders, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt, and fearfulness.   

In 1988, the United States became a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which seeks to deter parents from putting their children through the trauma of an international abduction by—absent a grave threat to a child’s well-being—returning abducted children back to their home country and home courts to determine the best interests of the child. 

The Convention affirms that if a custody decision has already been made, it should not be re-litigated thousands of miles away in a foreign court. If a custody decision needs to be made, the courts in the home country are the courts with the best access to school records, police reports, neighbors, teachers, friends, and many other resources to help determine the child’s best interest.  The Convention also protects an abducted child’s relationship with the left-behind parent, requiring that a child should have access to the parent for the duration of court proceedings for return, and should have access to the parent even if the return is denied. Seven of eleven Partners for Cooperation, including Japan, are party to the Hague Convention, as are fifty-one of fifty-seven participating States, including Slovakia.  

However, as the Cook and Frisancho families know all too well, securing implementation of the Convention can be a financially and emotionally draining nightmare.

Japan

James Cook learned just weeks ago that Japan has again failed to return his four children to him.  He has been kept from contact with them for more than three years in a family vacation-turned-abduction case. 

More than two years ago, Japan’s high court ordered Cook’s ex-wife to return the children to their father in the U.S., per the Hague Convention. However, despite the court ruling, Japanese authorities failed to enforce the return decision for a year.  As a result, Mr. Cook spent thousands of dollars on legal fees and travel to Japan to fight for his children.  When the financial burden forced Mr. Cook to move to an apartment, Japanese courts revoked the return because they did not consider an apartment a “stable home”—a conclusion that would surprise the millions of families in Japan and the U.S. who live happily in apartments.  

That conclusion also would surprise the writers of the Convention, who provided as an exception to return “grave threats that would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation”—situations that would include war, famine, a disease epidemic, or very serious abuse or neglect of the child from which the home country could not protect the child.   

“Japan’s own Hague courts twice ordered return of my children, but Japan ignored the orders until they could find a way to revoke them,” said Mr. Cook. “I followed the rules, respected the process, and trusted in the Convention—but Japan remains the ‘black hole’ of child abduction.”

Slovakia

Dr. Augusto Frisancho knows all too well the heartache of winning in court, only to have enforcement of a judgment delayed until it is eventually reversed.  Dr. Frisancho, a medical doctor at the Johns Hopkins University, has not seen or even been allowed to speak to his three sons after their mother abducted them to Slovakia seven years ago.  

Like Mr. Cook, Dr. Frisancho opted to use the Hague Convention rather than seek the criminal prosecution of his estranged spouse in the United States or Slovakia for kidnapping.  The Slovak courts ordered that his children be returned to the United States to resolve any custody questions.  Although the court order returning custody to Dr. Frisancho was—according to standard procedural rules governing such legal actions—final, a year later the decision was reversed in a closed-door proceeding from which Dr. Frisancho was excluded.

Dr. Frisancho took his case to the European Court of Human Rights, which found unanimously that his rights had been violated by Slovakia.  Slovakia paid the court-imposed damage award and changed its laws on closed proceedings and appeals in abduction cases.  

However, seven years after the abduction, Dr. Frisancho still has no access to his children, much less custody.  He has not even been given a photo of his children and relies on age-enhanced images from the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children to see a glimpse of what his children may look like today.

When Slovakia ordered Dr. Frisancho’s estranged wife to bring the children to court to verify their well-being with a psychologist, she refused.  When Slovakia ordered her not to remove the children from Slovakia, she moved the children across the border into Hungary.

Although the children regularly visit their grandparents in Slovakia and Dr. Frisancho’s estranged wife works in Slovakia, Slovakia has not enforced the court orders or ruled on Dr. Frisancho’s petition to finish the case. 

Were Slovakia to finish the case, Dr. Frisancho could enforce the ruling in Hungary using the Brussels II Regulation.  As it is, Dr. Frisancho is facing the fact that he may have to translate thousands of pages of Slovakian court proceedings into Hungarian and restart his case in Hungary—losing more precious time with his children.

“I want to see my children.  I want my children to know they have a father who loves them dearly and who prays every night that somehow this wrong to them will be righted,” said Dr. Frisancho.  “Despite every opportunity over 7 years, Slovakia has inexplicably failed to meet the two main goals of the Hague Convention—return and access.”

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(This is the sixth year in a row that the United States has made a special statement about the situation in Turkmenistan, a country that some view as having the worst human rights record in the OSCE.) For the past two years, there has been a new government in Turkmenistan. The U.S. statement this year noted some positive changes, but urged the new government to continue the momentum on reform by fully implementing steps it already has begun. In addition, the United States called for information on and access to Turkmenistan’s former representative to the OSCE, Batyr Berdiev. Berdiev, once Turkmenistan’s ambassador to the OSCE, was reportedly among the large number of people arrested following an attack on then-President Niyazov’s motorcade in 2002. His fate and whereabouts remain unknown. OSCE PA President João Soares addressed the closing plenary, the most senior Assembly official to participate in an HDIM meeting. The Russian-Georgian Conflict With the outbreak of armed violence between Russia and Georgia occurring only two months earlier, the war in South Ossetia would have seemed a natural subject for discussion during the HDIM. As a human rights forum, the meeting was unlikely to serve as a venue to debate the origins of the conflict, but there were expectations that participants would engage in a meaningful discussion of the human dimension of the tragedy and efforts to stem ongoing rights violations. As it turned out, this view was not widely shared by many of the governments and NGOs participating in the meeting. The opening plenary session foreshadowed the approach to this subject followed through most of the meeting. Among the senior OSCE officials, only High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek squarely addressed the situation in the south Caucasus. Vollebaek condemned the19th century-style politicization of national minority issues in the region and the violation of international borders. At the time of the crisis, he had cautioned against the practice of “conferring citizenship en masse to residents of other States” (a reference to Russian actions in South Ossetia) and warned that “the presence of one's citizens or ‘ethnic kin’ abroad must not be used as a justification for undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other States.” Sadly, that sound advice went unobserved in Georgia, but it is still applicable elsewhere in the OSCE region.(5) The statement delivered by France on behalf of the countries of the European Union failed to address the conflict. During the plenary, only Norway and Switzerland joined the United States in raising humanitarian concerns stemming from the conflict. In reply, the head of the Russian delegation delivered a tough statement which sidestepped humanitarian concerns, declaring that discussion of Georgia’s territorial integrity was now “irrelevant.” He called on participating States to adopt a pragmatic approach and urged acknowledgment of the creation of the new sovereign states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, terming their independence “irreversible” and “irrevocable.” Perhaps more surprising than this Russian bluster was the failure of any major NGO, including those who had been active in the conflict zone collecting information and working on humanitarian relief, to take advantage of the opportunity to raise the issue of South Ossetia during the opening plenary. As the HDIM moved into its working sessions, which cover the principal OSCE human dimension commitments, coverage of the conflict fared better. The Representative on Freedom of the Media remarked, in opening the session on free speech and freedom of the media that, for the first time in some years, two OSCE participating States were at war. During that session, he and other speakers called on the Russian Federation to permit independent media access to occupied areas to investigate the charges and counter-charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The tolerance discussion included calls by several delegations for Russia to cooperate and respond favorably to the HCNM’s request for access to South Ossetia to investigate the human rights situation in that part of Georgia. Disappointingly, during the session devoted to humanitarian commitments, several statements, including those of the ODHIR moderator and EU spokesperson, focused narrowly on labor conditions and migration, and failed to raise concerns regarding refugees and displaced persons, normally a major focus of this agenda item and obviously relevant to the Georgia crisis. Nevertheless, the session developed into one of the more animated at the HDIM. The Georgian delegation, which had been silent up to that point, spoke out against Russian aggression and alleged numerous human rights abuses. It expressed gratitude to the European Union for sending monitors to the conflict zone and urged the EU to pressure Russia to fully implement the Six-Point Ceasefire agreement negotiated by French President Sarkozy. The United States joined several delegations and NGOs calling on all parties to the conflict to observe their international obligations to protect refugees and create conditions for their security and safe voluntary return. In a pattern observed throughout the meeting, the Russian delegation did not respond to Georgian charges. It left it to an NGO, “Ossetia Accuses,” to make Russia’s case that Georgia had committed genocide against the people of South Ossetia. A common theme among many interventions was a call for an independent investigation of the causes of the conflict and a better monitoring of the plight of refugees, but to date Russian and South Ossetian authorities have denied both peacekeeping monitors and international journalists access to the region from elsewhere in Georgia. A joint assessment mission of experts from ODIHR and the HCNM, undertaken in mid-October, were initially denied access to South Ossetia, with limited access to Abkhazia granted to some team members. Eventually, several experts did gain access to the conflict zone in South Ossetia, though to accomplish this they had to travel from the north via the Russian Federation. One can only speculate why Georgia received such limited treatment at this HDIM. The crisis in the south Caucasus had dominated OSCE discussions at the Permanent Council in Vienna for weeks preceding the HDIM. Some participants may have feared that addressing it in Warsaw might have crowded out the broader human rights agenda. Others may have felt that, in the absence of a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding the conflict and with so many unanswered questions, it was best not to be too critical or too accusatory of either party. The EU (and particularly the French) were, at the time of the HDIM, in the process of negotiating the deployment of European observers to the conflict zone, and may have feared that criticism of Russia at this forum would have only complicated the task. In fact, the EU’s only oblique reference to Georgia was made at HDIM’s penultimate working session (a discussion which focused on human dimension “project activity”) in connection with the work of High Commissioner for National Minorities. (One observer of this session remarked that there seemed to be a greater stomach for dinging the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights for shortcomings in its work than for criticizing Russia for invading a neighboring OSCE participating State.) Finally, other participants, particularly NGOs, seemed more inclined to view human rights narrowly in terms of how governments treat their own citizens and not in terms of how the failure to respect key principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity are invariably accompanied by gross violations of human rights and can produce humanitarian disasters. Amid simmering tensions between Russia and Georgia which could erupt into renewed fighting, and completion of a report requested by the Finnish Chairmanship in time for the OSCE’s Ministerial in Helsinki in early December, Ministers will have to grapple with the impact of the south Caucasus conflict and what role the OSCE will have. Beyond Warsaw The relative quiet of the HDIM notwithstanding, French President M. Nicolas Sarkozy put a spotlight on OSCE issues during the course of the meeting. Speaking at a conference in Evian, France, on October 8, he responded to a call by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, issued in June during meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for a new “European Security Treaty” to revise Europe’s security architecture – a move seen by many as an attempt to rein in existing regional security organizations, including NATO and the OSCE. President Sarkozy indicated a willingness to discuss Medvedev’s ideas, but argued they should be addressed in the context of a special OSCE summit, which Sarkozy suggested could be held in 2009. The escalating global economic crisis was also very much on the minds of participants at the HDIM as daily reports of faltering financial institutions, plummeting markets, and capital flight promoted concerns over implications for the human dimension. Several delegations voiced particular concern over the possible adverse impact on foreign workers and those depending on remittances to make ends meet. Looking Ahead The human rights and humanitarian concerns stemming from the war in South Ossetia will likely come into sharper focus in the lead up to the December OSCE Ministerial in Helsinki as talks on the conflict resume in Geneva, and OSCE and other experts attempt to document the circumstances surrounding the outbreak of fighting and current conditions. The coming weeks can also be expected to bring renewed calls for an overhaul of the human dimension and the ODIHR by those seeking to curb attention paid to human rights and subordinate election monitoring activities. It remains to be seen whether Kazakhstan will fulfill the commitments it made a year ago in Madrid to undertake meaningful reforms by the end of this year. There is also the risk that a deepening economic crisis will divert attention elsewhere, even as the resulting fallout in the human dimension begins to manifest itself. It is unclear what priorities the Greek chairmanship will be set for 2009, a year that portends peril and promise. Notes (1) OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetings are held every year, unless there is a Summit. Summits of Heads of State or Government are preceded by Review Conferences, which are mandated to review implementation of all OSCE commitments in all areas (military-security, economic and environmental cooperation, and the human dimension). (2) Helsinki Document 1992, The Challenges of Change, IV (16). (3) Interestingly, at the session on human rights and counterterrorism, moderator Zbigniew Lasocik, member of the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, noted that Poland’s Constitutional Court had, the previous day, struck down a 2004 law that purported to allow the military to shoot down hijacked commercial aircraft – even if they were being used as weapons like the planes that killed thousands of people on 9/11. The Court reportedly reasoned that shooting down an aircraft being used as bomb would infringe on the constitutional protection of human life and dignity of the passengers. (4) Turkmenistan sent a representative to the HDIM in 2005 for the first time in several years. While responding to criticism delivered in the sessions, the representative appeared to focus more on monitoring the activities of Turkmen NGOs participating in the meeting. Turkmenistan subsequently complained that certain individuals who had been charged with crimes against the State should not be allowed to participate in OSCE meetings. Turkmenistan officials did not participate in the 2006 or 2007 HDIMs. Participation in the 2008 meeting would have been a welcome signal regarding current political developments. (5) The HCNM had previously expressed concern regarding Hungary’s overreach vis-a-vis ethnic Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries. In 2004, Hungary held a referendum on extending Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians abroad – an idea that still holds political currency in some quarters of Hungary – but the referendum failed due to low voter turnout.

  • Iraqi Refugees: A Humanitarian Surge Is Needed for an ‘Invisible’ Humanitarian Crisis

    By Lale Mamaux, Communications Director and Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel In August, staff of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) traveled to Damascus, Syria and Beirut, Lebanon and met with government officials, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and religious groups regarding the Iraqi refugee crisis. While it is estimated that approximately 1 to 1.5 million Iraqis have fled to Syria and 50,000 have fled to Lebanon, they are not living in camps, but instead are a mobile population scattered throughout Damascus and Beirut as well as in other urban areas. That fact has made this humanitarian crisis virtually ‘invisible’ to the international community, but not for those Iraqi refugees who remain stranded, jobless, and deprived of essential services with conditions worsening by the day. This deepening crisis threatens to further destabilize the entire region. As the years in exile drag on, Iraqi refugees are becoming more and more desperate and depressed. Those who fled with some resources have by now seen those assets depleted and are reliant on services provided by international organizations and NGOs working in the region. Syria and Jordan host the largest population of Iraqis and do not permit them to work, although many find jobs in the “informal” sector making them targets for exploitation and abuse. As a result, fewer children are enrolling in school as their parents send them out, instead, to find whatever work they can on the street. More women are prostituting themselves, desperate to provide for their children, and domestic violence and alcoholism among this population are on the rise. Syria The bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samara in 2006 led to a mass influx of Iraqi refugees fleeing to Syria, where according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), approximately 30,000-60,000 Iraqis were crossing the border each month. In October 2007, the government closed its borders to virtually all Iraqis and imposed stringent visa restrictions – requiring Iraqis to apply for visas at the Syrian Embassy in Baghdad. Since February 2008, Syrian immigration sources indicate that the flow of Iraqis has stabilized once again. According to UNHCR, it has registered over 216,000 Iraqis as refugees. Since January 2007, UNHCR has identified over 7,800 at-risk refugee children or adolescents from Iraq, 95 unaccompanied or separated children, and over 5,900 women at risk. Additionally, in 2008 it identified at least 300 survivors of Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Many Iraqis arriving in Syria are moving into areas such as Masaken Barzeh, Saida Zainab, Jaramana, and Qudssya as well as to other urban localities outside of Damascus (in Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Deir Ezzor, Lattakia, Tartous and Hassaka). Iraqis have placed enormous strains on Syria’s economy and infrastructure and caused an increase in the cost of living (i.e. rent, food, fuel, medical assistance). As Iraqis financial resources continue to diminish and desperation sets in, they face homelessness, child labor, early marriage, and survival sex. With many Iraqis too afraid to return to Iraq due primarily to the personal violence they have experienced, there is more pressure among aid organizations to cope with increasing needs. Education: The Syrian government under the direction of the Ministry of Education allows children from Arab countries living in Syria to attend school. Schools run by the government are free of charge. Currently, according to the government, there are approximately 55,000 Iraqi children enrolled in Syrian schools, a significantly smaller number than was expected. While the admission of Iraqi students is relatively low, it has nevertheless put a substantial strain on an already overburdened school system. The Ministry of Education estimates that there are now 60 students per class and they are working as quickly as possible to build larger schools in order to eliminate the need for children to attend classes in shifts. Basic education in Syria comprises grades 1-9 and school is mandatory until the age of 15. However, if a child has been absent from school for two years they are not permitted to enroll. Unfortunately, this is the case for many Iraqi children in Syria who have not attended school since they fled their homes. Other factors contributing to parents’ hesitancy to enroll their children in Syrian schools include fear of being located by authorities and deported, harassment of Iraqi children by other students, and the fact that many Iraqi families in Syria are quite mobile, moving frequently among neighborhoods. With so many Iraqi youth not in school, many NGOs have expressed grave concern about the future generation of Iraqis who will lack an education and who are hanging around on the streets with nothing to do. Clearly, these young people could be susceptible to influence by groups or individuals who may not have their best interests in mind. Responding to the influx of Iraqi children in school, UNHCR is working in coordination with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) to encourage enrollment in school. In addition to providing school supplies and uniforms for Iraqi children, UNHCR and UNICEF are working with the Ministry of Education to train teachers and counselors to work with these traumatized children. For example, there are reports of some Iraqi students coming to school with knives and other weapons in their backpacks, and of their sometimes "acting out" in a violent manner -- symptoms of the trauma they experienced in Iraq and during their flight to safety. Unfortunately, these behaviors generate resentment and sometimes violent responses by other students. Currently, the Ministry of Education is only able to provide one counselor for every 250 students. Commission staff also attended a graduation ceremony at the Greek Orthodox Ministry in Damascus for 100 Iraqi children, grades 2-7 (ages 6-12). This was a graduation from a summer program where children participated in activities such as arts and crafts in an effort to express themselves and relieve some stress from the trauma they had faced in Iraq and the uncertainty of their situation in Syria. The graduation ceremony consisted of presentations from teachers and counselors as well as singing and skits performed by the students. Health Care: Commission staff met with the Syrian Assistant Minister of Health, who described the burdens on the health care system as a result of the influx of Iraqi refugees since 2003. The health care system is comprised of 1600 clinics and 70 hospitals, 5 of which offer services free of charge to Iraqi refugees. The Minister estimated that support for the health needs of the refugee community costs the Syrian government an estimated $150 million per year. The government is particularly concerned about communicable diseases and therefore has a mandatory vaccination program for all children. Despite substantial contributions from the European Union, UNHCR and UNICEF during the past two years to establish additional clinics and fund vaccinations, the minister estimated that only 5% of the health needs of Iraqi refugees are being met. Particularly critical are the strains put on services for kidney disease, including dialysis, and heart disease. The minister explained that these services were already quite limited for Syrian citizens. Since 2003, according to the minister, anyone needing heart surgery essentially has to “take a number and wait.” The minister indicated that with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) the government is also trying to address the increasing psycho-social needs of Iraqi refugees. Two hospitals, one in Damascus and one in Aleppo, are offering these services. Trafficking in Persons/Shelter: The Syrian government is undertaking initiatives to counter human trafficking and is in the process of establishing a shelter for victims of trafficking. Beginning in 2005, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) began holding educational workshops and invited Syrian officials to attend. A governmental committee was formed in 2006 to address trafficking issues, however progress was slow. In 2007, private sector experts advised the committee on counter trafficking measures and, as a result of this public-private partnership, anti-trafficking legislation was drafted. The legislation was endorsed by the committee in late 2007 and was sent to Parliament in June of this year. In coordination with other partners, IOM began raising money for a trafficking shelter. The Netherlands contributed $30,000 Euros, and UNICEF gave $30,000 (USD). The Syrian government has allocated a space for the shelter, however it is in need of major renovations, which are currently under way. The shelter is expected to open in the next 3-4 months and will serve all populations, not just Iraqis. Iraqis, especially women who arrive in Syria as the head of household with no financial resources, are facing extreme circumstances. Since the Syrian government does not allow Iraqis to work, increasing numbers of refugees have resorted to child labor, survival sex, and offering their daughters for short-term or weekend marriages, commonly referred to as “pleasure marriages” to make ends meet. More women and children are facing Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGVB) by their husbands’ or the male head of household. UNHCR, in coordination with partners UNICEF, IOM, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and United Nations Development Program (UNDP), are working together to assist Iraqi women who have been physically or sexually abused and are in detention. UNHCR is also supporting several safe houses located in Damascus that help abused Iraqi women and children. The Good Shepherd Sisters: Commission staff also met with Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf of the Good Shepherd Sisters in Damascus in order to learn first-hand of the critical work that she and her community have undertaken in support of Iraqi refugees. Sister Marie-Claude described the suffering of the Iraqi people that she sees every day, those who have fled under threat of violence and arrive in Syria in an already traumatized state. Because of the circumstances and the uncertainty of their situation in Syria most Iraqi refugees, including children, suffer from severe stress and depression. Focusing on the needs of children, the Good Shepherd Sisters, in concert with UNHCR and other organizations have provided summer camps outside of Damascus for refugee children to play and relax in a peaceful venue and escape the stresses of their daily lives. The sisters also provide extensive educational and recreational programs for adults and children throughout the year in a community center in Damascus, and have taken the lead in establishing a shelter for women and children and a hotline for abused women. Commission staff also visited the shelter and met with several of the women and children who reside there. Distribution of Food: Food distribution is conducted by the World Food Program (WFP) and UNHCR. Refugees in Syria receive their food and financial distribution every two months from either the Douma or Saida Zeinab distribution centers. The distribution schedule is communicated to refugees through short cell-phone messages, information posted on boards in the Douma Distribution center, or by postings on the food distribution website: http://unhcr.un.org.sy/food.htm WFP provides the following basic commodities in their food baskets: 12.5 kilos of rice, l litre of oil, and 2.5 kilos of lentils. UNHCR provides the following complementary items that coincide with the basic commodities provided by WFP: 1 kilo of sugar, 200 grams of tea, 1 kilo of pasta, ½ kilo of tomato paste, 1 kilo of bulgur wheat, and one box each of soap and washing detergents. In addition to food distribution UNHCR also provides a seasonal distribution of mattresses and blankets. Those Iraqis living outside of Damascus who have registered with UNHCR are able to call a hotline to find out dates and locations of food distribution. Stories of Iraqis in Syria: Commission staff met with Iraqi refugees serving as outreach coordinators for UNHCR to gain a better understanding of their hands-on work in the community. The coordinators have a direct line of communication into the Iraqi community in Syria, including with those who have not registered with UNHCR, and they serve as a trusted go between for UNHCR and the community. During the meeting the coordinators spoke of the dire circumstances facing Iraqi refugees in Syria and also shared their personal stories. One coordinator explained that her husband was killed in Iraq and that one of her sons was picked up by U.S. military personnel and another son was kidnapped by a militia group – both were tortured. Fearing for her life, she fled to Syria. Another coordinator told staff that three of her cousins were killed by U.S military personnel because they were accused, wrongly according to the woman, of being terrorists. In addition, staff participated in a resettlement interview with an Iraqi family at UNHCRs Registration and Distribution Center in Douma. The family had owned a jewelry store in Baghdad and fled Iraq after one son was kidnapped and beaten by his captors. After this incident, the family first fled to another neighborhood in Baghdad where they thought they would be safe. However, shortly after the move their home was raided by militia who gave them three days to leave or be killed. The family then fled to Syria. The father made his way to Sweden, while the mother was left to care for her four children in Syria. During the interview it was revealed that the family has now been in Syria for two years, their savings are almost completely diminished and the mother is working as a seamstress to try to make ends meet. The youngest child suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder after a gun was pointed at him during the raid on their home in Baghdad. Only one of the four children has attended school in the past two years and only for several months because she was severely bullied and harassed by the other children. LEBANON Lebanon, a small country of 4 million people, has opened its doors to 50,000 Iraqi refugees, many of whom came after the 2006 bombings in Samara. Roughly 51 percent of Iraqis in Lebanon are Shi’a Muslims, 19 percent are Chaldean Catholics, and 12 percent Sunni Muslims. UNHCR has registered over 10,400 Iraqis since June 2008. In 2007, UNHCR resettled 450 Iraqis to the United States, Sweden, Canada, Australia and other countries. They expect to resettle 1500 refugees in 2008. Iraqi refugees in Lebanon face many challenges, however it is a better economic environment than in other host countries. Unlike Jordan and Syria, Iraqis in Lebanon can work if they obtain a work permit. The educational needs among Iraqi children in Lebanon are quite dire as 42 percent have not completed elementary school, 40 percent of Iraqi children between the ages of 6 and 17 are not enrolled in school due to the high cost of tuition and the need to help provide for their families. It is estimated that, in 2007, only 1,200 Iraqi children were enrolled in school. Health care needs among Iraqis remain constant and medical care cannot be easily accessed in Lebanon due to its exorbitant cost. NGOs and other charitable organizations are able to provide coverage for only 24 percent of serious medical cases. As Commission staff found during a visit to Jordan and Turkey last March, many Iraqis in Lebanon are experiencing psycho-social issues due to the stress of their displacement and the unstable environment they encounter in their host countries. This stress has contributed to a rise in domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse among the refugee population. Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are a vulnerable group as well with an estimated 200,000 in the country, approximately 100,000 who arrived illegally. These domestic workers are primarily women from Southeast Asia and Africa – Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Ethiopia, and Madagascar – and are brought to Lebanon by employment agencies working in those countries. These agencies frequently promise “fee paid” employment in a secretarial capacity or in sales. The agencies typically charge the employer $1,500 to bring the domestic worker to Lebanon. Upon arrival, many employers take the women’s passports; force them to work long hours, frequently without pay; and often abuse them. Unhappy about how their people are being treated, the Philippine and Ethiopian Embassies have placed restrictions on employment in Lebanon for their citizens. Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center: Established in 1994, the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) has as its mission “to strengthen and protect the human rights of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers in Lebanon.” To date, the Center has assisted more than 100,000 individuals through services such as social and legal counselling and assistance; humanitarian, medical and emergency assistance; orientation seminars for migrants; temporary shelter and safe houses; summer camps and other recreational activities; vocational training and reintegration programs, as well as advocacy efforts with the public and relevant government agencies. In the early 1990s, CLMC worked exclusively with migrant populations, primarily Sudanese. Iraqis began to arrive in 1997, primarily from the Shiite and Christian communities, seeking work and resettlement in Europe or Australia. In 2003, the number of Iraqis entering Lebanon increased substantially and many sought assistance from CLMC. With funding from the U.S. government, CLMC began a program to provide medical support to the refugees, many of whom were suffering with cancer and chronic diseases and had no access to public medical facilities in Lebanon. CLMC negotiated with public hospitals and clinics to establish a treatment program for the refugees. They were also able to arrange reduced-cost treatment with some private hospitals, particularly for those afflicted with cancer and heart disease. CLMC also provides a wide array of educational programs for children and adults. Most Iraqi children are unable to attend school in Lebanon due to the language barrier. Many also frequently “act out” aggressively due to the psychological trauma caused by their circumstances. CLMC provides informal classes and vocational training for children, as well as summer camps where counsellors work with the kids in a relaxed atmosphere to address their unique psychological needs. CLMC undertakes assistance programs for women as well. To date, they have held 160 seminars to train outreach workers for the migrant worker and refugee communities and as a result now have 800 women working in locations nation-wide. The Center has established a shelter for abused women and one for victims of trafficking (described below). In coordination with UNHCR, CLMC provides legal assistance to the refugee and migrant worker community. They currently retain two full-time and ten part-time attorneys and have successfully prosecuted a substantial number of abuse cases on behalf of those who have sought shelter with CLMC. In addition, as described below, Caritas, working with UNHCR and other NGOs, successfully negotiated an amnesty for detained Iraqi refugees, giving them the opportunity to seek employment and regularize there status. Detention Facility Visit: Commission staff visited a detention facility operated by the General Directorate of General Security (General Security) – the governmental authority in Lebanon responsible for the legal status of foreigners in the country. The facility holds those Iraqi refugees and migrant workers who entered the country illegally and are without documentation. It is located under a freeway in downtown Beirut and was constructed from a parking garage. The conditions in the facility are deplorable, yet are much improved from several months earlier, due in large part to the work of NGOs, such as the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC), in coordination with General Security. The air-intake vents, only recently installed through the efforts of Caritas, circulate air into the underground facility. Unfortunately, due to the center’s location under the freeway, the air is filled with exhaust from automobiles traveling above. Inside, fans are placed throughout to further circulate the air into the cells where detainees are held. There is no sunlight, lighting is very dim and temperatures are extremely hot in the summer and cold during the winter. The facility contains 13 cells with roughly 40 individuals housed in each cell. Detainees sit on the floor of the cell on mattresses which also serve as their beds. They are allowed to leave their cells, but not the detention facility, on very rare occasions – such as laundry detail or to receive medical treatment – and never leave the facility until their release. There is a bathroom and a separate shower in each cell which are enclosed; however there is virtually no privacy. Women are housed together according to their nationality and men are housed alphabetically. The average length of stay can range from one month to over a year, depending on the length of time it takes to arrange deportation or voluntary departure. CLMC has played an instrumental role in helping to improve the dire conditions of the facility. Prior to their intervention, detainees had no bathrooms, showers or mattresses to sleep on. Furthermore, they were unable to have their clothes washed and were living in utter filth. Working closely with General Security, CLMC now has several full-time staff working 24-hours a day in the facility with detainees. Additionally, CLMC was able to put bathrooms and showers in each cell, provide mattresses for each detainee, purchase a washer and dryer to clean the detainees’ clothes and bedding , and provide 3 hot meals per week. Human Rights Watch released a report in November 2007 entitled, ‘Rot Here or Die There: Bleak Choices for Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon,’ showing the conditions that Iraqi refugees face in Lebanon if they are without documentation. In response to the report and pressure from other NGOs, General Security agreed in 2008 to release all Iraqis detained for illegal entry and allowed them to go through the existing regularization process once released. UNHCR, in coordination with its implementing partner Caritas Lebanon, supported this directive by assisting refugees with the initial regularization fee of $600, as well as providing legal advice and counseling. After being released, Iraqis have 3 months to regularize their status which requires them to find an employer who will sponsor them for a work permit. The government has recently extended this period to 6 months with the overall number of arrests declining. This decision benefits not only Iraqi refugees, but all foreigners including refugees and asylum seekers of other nationalities who have entered Lebanon illegally. Visits with Iraqi families: Commission staff had the opportunity to visit Iraqi families in their homes in eastern Beirut. The families shared their tragic stories with staff and the circumstances in which they are living in Lebanon. While all expressed relief to be safe from the violence in Iraq, they are faced with a great deal of uncertainty about the future and a severe lack of resources. Their compelling stories follow: CASE A: Hana has 4 children. She is the head of her family since her husband was kidnapped in Iraq. The family came to Lebanon legally in December 2007. Hana’s eldest son was in his first year of medical school in Iraq when he received many threats. One day, while walking home from work, her son and his friends were attacked and her son was shot in the arm, his friend was shot in the face. Hana's son was able to make it to the family home; however, they had no medicine with which to treat his wounds. Hana's husband went to the pharmacy for medicine and was kidnapped, never to be heard from again. The family searched relentlessly for him in hospitals and police stations to no avail. With no news, a family member urged them to leave the country immediately for fear of another attempt on the life of the son. Hana's son is currently incapacitated because of his injured arm, however he was able to receive reconstructive surgery in February. Only one family member is currently able to work and the income is insufficient to meet their needs. However, during the visit Hana informed Commission staff that the family had just been notified by UNHCR that their case was approved for resettlement to the United States. CASE B: Rita, mother of 2 boys, is the head of the family since her husband was kidnapped in 2006 while she was pregnant. She came to Lebanon legally with her unmarried brother in June 2008. Her husband was a driver for the U.S. military. He received threatening letters, but never took them seriously. Rita’s mother had fled to Lebanon before her daughter after her own husband was murdered. Rita’s brother was traumatized by his father’s death and suffers from psychiatric complications. The family has no financial resources. Just two days prior to the meeting with Commission staff Rita had found a job in a textile factory working from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. CASE C: Rana is a widow and the mother of 3 children. She came to Lebanon legally in May 2008. Her husband was a driver for the Christian Archbishopric in Iraq and was murdered in February 2008. Rana is severely traumatized. She is unable to care for herself and her children or to provide for them financially. Rana’s mother, who lives with her, suffers from cancer; she will be leaving soon for the United States. Rana hopes that she and her children can also be resettled to the U.S. with her mother. Caritas Shelter for Victims of Trafficking: In 2003, Caritas began implementing a program funded by the U.S. Department of State (G/TIP) for victims of trafficking. The program involves extensive cooperation with the General Security agency in Lebanon. According to Caritas, women migrant workers who are victims of trafficking have access to a safe house where they are able to escape their situation and consider future options, receive medical care, basic needs assistance, trauma counseling, legal aid, and counseling for future options in a supportive environment, and possible return to their country of origin or to a safe work situation in Lebanon. A 2005 survey conducted by Caritas/IPSOS found that 55 percent of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon face physical abuse, 39 percent are verbally abused and 17 percent are sexually abused. During the visit, staff met with a woman who had been brought to Lebanon to work for a wealthy family and faced unimaginable torture and abuse. As she recounted her story, she trembled with fear of the horror that she lived for five months before escaping. Upon arriving in Lebanon, her passport was taken, she was forced to work long hours without pay and was typically fed very little food. She was locked inside the house when the family for whom she was working was not at home. In addition to facing the aforementioned abuse, family members would take turns holding her down on the floor and burning her bare skin (body and face) with a hot iron. After enduring this severe trauma and torture for months, she escaped one day when the family was not home by jumping from a second story window. She has been living in the Caritas shelter since her escape. The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC): ICMC is the U.S. State Department's representative for processing refugees in Lebanon and works closely with the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and representatives of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in the conduct of screening interviews for those Iraqi refugees and others who seek resettlement to the United States. Just prior to the Commission staff visit, a DHS “circuit ride” of interview staff had been in residence at the Embassy compound conducting security interviews under very difficult circumstances – for both DHS and embassy staff. Security concerns require that all interviews must take place on the Embassy compound. Due to substantial space limitations and to ensure privacy for those being interviewed, Embassy and DHS personnel are required to operate in shifts, some lasting late into the night, in order to accommodate all applicants who travell to the Embassy each day. Under these trying circumstances, DHS personnel were nevertheless able to interview 920 applicants in a four week period. ICMC staff expressed gratitude not only for the DHS staff's fortitude under this grueling schedule, but also for their professionalism and compassion in dealing with those being interviewed. In order to alleviate these conditions, State and DHS should explore the possibility of permanently assigning one or two DHS interviewers to Embassy Beirut and providing additional housing and work space to accommodate their activities. Cultural Orientation: ICMC and the United States Refugee Program (USRP) conduct an intensive two day cultural orientation for Iraqi refugees who will be resettled to the United States. The cultural orientation is designed to provide Iraqis with a better understanding of what to expect once they arrive in the U.S. The following topics are covered in the ICMC-USRP cultural orientation training program: Cultural differences. The departure process and airport regulations. The nature of the IOM travel loan and the obligation to pay it back after arrival to the U.S. The responsibilities of the Resettlement Agency and the refugee during the first ninety days after the refugee’s arrival in the United States. Information on a refugee’s legal status until the acquisition of citizenship, including rights and restrictions of each status. Information on housing and transportation in the United States. The importance of learning and obeying the laws of the United States at federal and state level and the consequences of violating U.S. law. Information on the child and adult education system in the United States and the importance of learning English. The importance of finding and holding a job and understanding work values in the United States. Information on the health care system in the United States. Information on money management. Commission staff participated in an afternoon session during the first day of orientation for a group of Iraqis who had been approved for resettlement to the U.S. During the session participants raised the following questions: I have an international driver’s license; will that work in the United States? If both parents must work, who will watch the kids? Can I work right away when I get to the United States? Staff asked the group how they felt about relocating to the United States, (e.g. nervous, happy or fearful). Those who replied generally expressed apprehension. One gentleman said he won’t know until he’s “on the plane.” CONGRESS In July, Helsinki Commission Chairman, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings introduced the Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Security Act (H.R. 6496), comprehensive legislation that addresses this worsening situation. H.R. 6496 has been endorsed by more than 25 NGOs and religious organizations and does the following: Authorizes $700 million for each fiscal year beginning in 2009 through 2011 for the relief of Iraqi refugees and Internally Displaced Persons; Increases direct accountable bilateral assistance, as appropriate under U.S. law, and funding for international organizations and non-governmental organizations working in the region; Authorizes $500 million to increase humanitarian aid and infrastructure support for Jordan; and Urges increased cooperation between the United States Government and the international community to address this crisis. CONCLUSION Iraqi refugees in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the region continue to suffer daily and are faced with unimaginable circumstances. While the American public does not see pictures of ‘refugee camps’ set up in host countries, there are millions of Iraqis struggling to survive each and every day. On the ground, desperation has set in and only worsened this humanitarian crisis. The politics of the war must be put aside by Congress and a ‘humanitarian surge’ must be implemented. This means the provision of substantially increased bi-lateral aid, as appropriate under U.S. law, to countries hosting Iraqi refugees and increased funding to international organizations and NGOs working in the region. A U.S. contribution of at least fifty percent of the amount requested for all UN appeals for funding to assist Iraqi refugees, and IDPs, would show U.S. leadership in addressing this crisis, and hopefully encourage increased contributions by other countries as well. The process for resettling Iraqi refugees to the United States must also be expedited. This is particularly critical for those Iraqis whose lives have been threatened because of their work for the United States. The United States should also show leadership in encouraging the international community to focus on this humanitarian crisis, recognize it for the potential security threat it poses, and take steps to alleviate the suffering Iraqi refugees. If a picture is really worth a thousand words, then all one must do is look into the face of an Iraqi refugee who has had a family member murdered, kidnapped, or tortured, and their own life threatened, to know that the United States must respond – security in the region and the future of the Middle East depend upon it.

  • Combating Sexual Exploitation of Children: Strengthening International Law Enforcement Cooperation

    The hearing examined current practices for sharing information among law enforcement authorities internationally and what concrete steps can be taken to strengthen that cooperation to more effectively investigate cases of sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography on the Internet. Despite current efforts, sexual exploitation of children is increasing globally. The use of the Internet has made it easier for pedophiles and sexual predators to have access to child pornography and potential victims. In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2008 (S.1738), which will allocate over one billion dollars over the next eight years to provide Federal, state, and local law enforcement with the resources and structure to find, arrest, and prosecute those who prey on our children.

  • Hate in the Information Age

    The briefing provided an overview of hate crimes and hate propaganda in the OSCE region, focusing on the new challenges posed by the internet and other technology. Mischa Thompson led the panelists in a discussion of the nature and frequency of hate crimes in the OSCE region, including the role of the internet and other technologies in the training, recruiting, and funding of hate groups. Panelists - Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Mark A. Potok, Christopher Wolf, Tad Stahnke – discussed how best to combat hate crimes and hate propaganda and highlighted internet governance issues in the United States and Europe and how the internet extensively contributes to hate propaganda. Issues such as free speech and content control were at the center of the discussion.

  • Clearing the Air, Feeding the Fuel Tank: Understanding the Link Between Energy and Environmental Security

    Congress has an obligation to work to ensure a healthy and safe environment for the benefit of current and future generations.  To reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a healthier environment, we need a multi-faceted approach that addresses the tangled web of issues involved.  We need to foster both energy independence and clean energy. Given rising sea levels, the increasing severity of storm surges, and higher temperatures the world over, the impact of global climate change is undeniable.  Unless we act now, we will see greater and greater threats to our way of life on this planet.

  • Crossing Boarders, Keeping Connected: Women, Migration and Development in the OSCE Region

    The hearing will focus on the impact of migration on family and society, the special concerns of migrant women of color, and the economic contributions of women migrants to their home country through remittances. According to the United Nations, women are increasingly migrating on their own as main economic providers and heads of households. While the number of women migrants is on the rise, little is known about the economic and social impact of this migration on their home country.

  • Helsinki Commission Delegation Visits Prague and Bratislava

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Prior to participating in the Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna, Austria, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, led a Congressional delegation to Prague, the Czech Republic, from February 18-20. In Prague, he was joined by Chairman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Congressman Michael McNulty (D-NY). Chairman Hastings also traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia, for additional meetings on February 21, where he was joined by Commissioner Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). In the Czech Republic, the delegation met with representatives of the Jewish community and toured the historic Jewish quarter in Prague, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The delegation discussed recent anti-Semitic manifestations, most notably a large demonstration organized last November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and other planned demonstrations by extremists. Although Czech civil society has strongly countered these demonstrations, local officials have struggled to find the appropriate balance between respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and their desire to combat anti-Semitism and manifestations of other forms of intolerance. The delegation also held a round-table discussion with leading civil society and Romani activists. Their discussions touched on past instances of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent, and discrimination against Roma in education, housing and employment. It was noted that victims of wrongful sterilization practices have been advised by government officials to seek redress from the courts, even though most cases will be barred by statutes of limitations. The delegation held official meetings with the President of Senate, Premysl Sobotka, and other members of the Czech Senate; Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout; representatives of the Government Council for Human Rights; and Otakar Motejl, the Public Defender of Rights (also known as the Ombudsman). In these meetings, delegation members expressed concern about the unresolved property claims of Americans who were excluded by the legal framework for property restitution previously adopted by the Czech Republic. They urged Czech officials to protect freedom of speech and assembly, while demonstrating sensitivity for dates or sites of particular importance to the Jewish community. With respect to the situation of the Romani minority, the delegation expressed concern for the victims of past sterilization without informed consent. They urged the Czech Government to take concrete steps to improve the situation of Roma, including through the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. Discussions with Czech officials also touched on bilateral or regional issues, including Kosovo’s declaration of independence and managing relations with Russia. While in Prague, the delegation also met with President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jeffrey Gedman, toured the broadcasting facility, and held a press conference at the RFE/RL headquarters. In Slovakia, Chairman Hastings and Commissioner Solis met with leading political analysts to hear a broad discussion of political developments and trends, including concerns regarding proposed legislation on non-governmental organizations and on the media. During a round-table discussion with Romani activists, participants discussed the need to translate the government’s program into concrete action, and the particular challenge of translating national policies into change at the local level. The delegation also met with Foreign Minister Jan Kubis, Deputy Prime Minister Dusan Caplovic (who has responsibility for, i.a., human rights issues), and a group of parliamentarians, including representatives of opposition parties. In their meeting with Minister Caplovic, Chairman Hastings urged the Slovak Government to acknowledge the past sterilization without informed consent of Romani women. In other meetings, the delegation also expressed concern about the adoption by the parliament of resolution honoring Andreij Hlinka, who died in 1938 but whose nationalist leadership set the stage for Slovakia’s WWII alliance with Nazi Germany and the deportation of its Jewish citizens.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region Part 2

    Freedom of media is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and recognized as such under international human rights law and in numerous OSCE commitments.  Moreover, a free and independent media is not only an essential tool for holding governments accountable; the media can serve as an agent of change when it shines a light into the darkest crevices of the world (examining environmental degradation, corporate or government corruption, trafficking in children, and healthcare crises in the world's most vulnerable countries, etc.) Freedom of the media is closely connected to the broader right to freedom of speech and expression and other issues including public access to information and the conditions necessary for free and fair elections.  The hearing will attempt to illustrate the degree in which freedom of the media is obstructed in the greater OSCE region.

  • Combating Hate Crimes and Discrimination in the OSCE

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the CSCE, held a briefing on hate crimes and discrimination in the OSCE region.  Joining Chairman Hastings at the dais were Helsinki Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA).  The briefing focused on intolerance and discrimination within the 56 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  Congressman Hastings emphasized the discrimination against the Roma and other minorities of Turkish, African, and south Asian descent when they attempt to apply for jobs, find housing, and get an education The panel of speakers – Dr. Dou Dou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance; Dr. Tiffany Lightbourn, Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate; and Mr. Micah H. Naftalin and Mr. Nickolai Butkevich, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke of the rising popularity of right-wing extremist party, who espouse vicious anti-Semitic slogans and appeal to a 19th century form of European ethnic identity.  In addition, Urs Ziswiler, the Ambassador of Switzerland, attended the briefing and commented on the rise in xenophobic views in Switzerland.  

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel

    Thirty years ago, the Charter 77 movement was established with the simple goal of ensuring that the citizens of Czechoslovakia could “live and work as free human beings.” Today, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I join with my colleagues in celebrating the founding of Charter 77 and honoring those men and women who, through their personal acts of courage, helped bring freedom to their country.  When the Charter 77 manifesto was issued, three men were chosen to be the first spokespersons of this newly formed movement: a renowned European philosopher, Jan Patocka; Jiri Hajek, who had been Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister during the Prague Spring; and the playwright, Vaclav Havel. They had the authority to speak for the movement and to issue documents on behalf of signatories.  Tragically, Jan Patocka paid with his life for his act of bravery and courage. After signing the Charter and meeting with Dutch Ambassador Max van der Stoel, he was subjected to prolonged interrogation by the secret police. It is widely believed this interrogation triggered a heart attack, resulting in his death on March 13, 1977. In spite of this chilling message from the regime, Jiri Hajek and Vaclav Havel continued to work with other Chartists, at tremendous personal cost. Two-hundred and thirty signatories were called in for interrogation; 50 houses were subjected to searches. Many supporters lost their jobs or faced other forms of persecution; many were sent to prison. In fact, the harsh treatment of the Charter 77 signatories led to the creation of another human rights group, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted, known by its Czech acronym, VONS. In October 1979, six VONS leaders, including Vaclav Havel, were tried for subversion and sentenced to prison terms of up to five years. Perhaps the regime’s harsh tactics reflected its knowledge that, ultimately, it could only retain control through force and coercion. Certainly, there was no perestroika or glasnost in Husak’s Czechoslovakia; no goulash communism as in neighboring Hungary. And so, the regime was threatened by groups that might have seemed inconsequential elsewhere: by the psychedelic band, “Plastic People of the Universe;” by a musical appreciation group known as the Jazz Section; by environmentalists, historians, philosophers and, of course, playwrights. 1989 was an extraordinary year – a year in which the regime sought to control everything and, in the end, could control nothing. In May, Hungary opened its borders. In June, free elections were held for parliamentary seats in Poland for the first time in decades. By August, 5,000 East German were fleeing to Austria through Hungary every single week. Demonstrations in East Germany continued to rise, forcing Eric Honecker to resign in October. On November 9, the Berlin wall was breached. But while communist leaders in other countries saw the writing on the wall, authorities in Prague continued to believe they could somehow cling to power. Ironically, the regime’s repressive tactics were part of its final undoing.  On November 17, 1989, significant student demonstrations were held in Prague. Human rights groups released video tapes of police and militia viciously beating the demonstrators and these tapes were rapidly and widely circulated through the underground. Shortly thereafter, VONS received credible information that a student demonstrator had been beaten to death. The alleged death so outraged Czechoslovak society that it triggered massive demonstrations. Within days, Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime collapsed like a house of cards.  As it turned out, no one had actually been killed during the November 17 protests; the story of the student death had been concocted by the secret police to discredit VONS, but was all too believable. As concisely stated by Mary Battiata, a reporter for the Washington Post, “. . . a half-baked secret police plan to discredit a couple of dissidents apparently boomeranged and turned a sputtering student protest into a national rebellion.” On December 29, Vaclav Havel, who had been in prison just a few months earlier, was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Parliament.  Jan Patocka once wrote, “The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.” It seems that destiny had a particular role for Vaclav Havel, not one that he invented or envisioned for himself, but one that he has played with courage and grace, with dignity and honor. Today, we honor Vaclav Havel and the Charter 77 movement he helped to found.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel Statement by Senator Benjamin Cardin

    Thirty years ago, the Charter 77 movement was established with the simple goal of ensuring that the citizens of Czechoslovakia could “live and work as free human beings.” Today, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I join with my colleagues in celebrating the founding of Charter 77 and honoring those men and women who, through their personal acts of courage, helped bring freedom to their country.  When the Charter 77 manifesto was issued, three men were chosen to be the first spokespersons of this newly formed movement: a renowned European philosopher, Jan Patocka; Jiri Hajek, who had been Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister during the Prague Spring; and the playwright, Vaclav Havel. They had the authority to speak for the movement and to issue documents on behalf of signatories.  Tragically, Jan Patocka paid with his life for his act of bravery and courage. After signing the Charter and meeting with Dutch Ambassador Max van der Stoel, he was subjected to prolonged interrogation by the secret police. It is widely believed this interrogation triggered a heart attack, resulting in his death on March 13, 1977. In spite of this chilling message from the regime, Jiri Hajek and Vaclav Havel continued to work with other Chartists, at tremendous personal cost. Two-hundred and thirty signatories were called in for interrogation; 50 houses were subjected to searches. Many supporters lost their jobs or faced other forms of persecution; many were sent to prison. In fact, the harsh treatment of the Charter 77 signatories led to the creation of another human rights group, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted, known by its Czech acronym, VONS. In October 1979, six VONS leaders, including Vaclav Havel, were tried for subversion and sentenced to prison terms of up to five years. Perhaps the regime’s harsh tactics reflected its knowledge that, ultimately, it could only retain control through force and coercion. Certainly, there was no perestroika or glasnost in Husak’s Czechoslovakia; no goulash communism as in neighboring Hungary. And so, the regime was threatened by groups that might have seemed inconsequential elsewhere: by the psychedelic band, “Plastic People of the Universe;” by a musical appreciation group known as the Jazz Section; by environmentalists, historians, philosophers and, of course, playwrights. 1989 was an extraordinary year – a year in which the regime sought to control everything and, in the end, could control nothing. In May, Hungary opened its borders. In June, free elections were held for parliamentary seats in Poland for the first time in decades. By August, 5,000 East German were fleeing to Austria through Hungary every single week. Demonstrations in East Germany continued to rise, forcing Eric Honecker to resign in October. On November 9, the Berlin wall was breached. But while communist leaders in other countries saw the writing on the wall, authorities in Prague continued to believe they could somehow cling to power. Ironically, the regime’s repressive tactics were part of its final undoing.  On November 17, 1989, significant student demonstrations were held in Prague. Human rights groups released video tapes of police and militia viciously beating the demonstrators and these tapes were rapidly and widely circulated through the underground. Shortly thereafter, VONS received credible information that a student demonstrator had been beaten to death. The alleged death so outraged Czechoslovak society that it triggered massive demonstrations. Within days, Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime collapsed like a house of cards.  As it turned out, no one had actually been killed during the November 17 protests; the story of the student death had been concocted by the secret police to discredit VONS, but was all too believable. As concisely stated by Mary Battiata, a reporter for the Washington Post, “. . . a half-baked secret police plan to discredit a couple of dissidents apparently boomeranged and turned a sputtering student protest into a national rebellion.” On December 29, Vaclav Havel – who had been in prison just a few months earlier – was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Parliament.  Jan Patocka once wrote, “The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.” It seems that destiny had a particular role for Vaclav Havel, not one that he invented or envisioned for himself, but one that he has played with courage and grace, with dignity and honor. Today, we honor Vaclav Havel and the Charter 77 movement he helped to found.

  • Recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome

    Mr. WEXLER. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the resolution (H. Res. 230) recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the Treaty of Rome signed on March 25, 1957, which was a key step in creating the European Union, and reaffirming the close and mutually beneficial relationship between the United States and Europe. The Clerk read as follows: H. Res. 230 Whereas, after a half century marked by two world wars and at a time when Europe was divided and some nations were deprived of freedom, and as the continent faced the urgent need for economic and political recovery, major European statesmen such as Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Paul-Henri Spaak, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Sir Winston Churchill, and others joined together to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among their peoples; Whereas on March 25, 1957, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg signed the Treaty of Rome to establish a customs union, to create a framework to promote the free movement of people, services, and capital among the member states, to support agricultural growth, and to create a common transport policy, which gave new impetus to the pledge of unity in the European Coal and Steel Agreement of 1951; Whereas to fulfill its purpose, the European Union has created a unique set of institutions: the directly-elected European Parliament, the Council consisting of representatives of the Member States, the Commission acting in the general interest of the Community, and the Court of Justice to enforce the rule of law; Whereas on February 7, 1992, the leaders of the then 12 members of the European Community signed the Treaty of Maastricht establishing a common European currency, the Euro, to be overseen by a common financial institution, the European Central Bank, for the purpose of a freer movement of capital and common European economic policies; Whereas the European Union was expanded with the addition of the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Ireland in 1973, Greece in 1981, Spain and Portugal in 1986, a unified Germany in 1990, Austria, Finland, and Sweden in 1995, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia in 2004, and Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, making the European Union a body of 27 countries with a population of over 450 million people; Whereas the European Union has developed policies in the economic, security, diplomatic, and political areas: it has established a single market with broad common policies to organize that market and ensure prosperity and cohesion; it has built an economic and monetary union, including the Euro currency; and it has built an area of freedom, security, and justice, extending stability to its neighbors; Whereas following the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the European Union has played a critical role in the former Central European communist states in promoting free markets, democratic institutions and values, respect for human rights, and the resolve to fight against tyranny and for common national security objectives; Whereas for the past 50 years the United States and the European Union have shared a unique partnership, mindful of their common heritage, shared values and mutual interests, have worked together to strengthen transatlantic security, to preserve and promote peace and freedom, to develop free and prosperous economies, and to advance human rights; and Whereas the United States has supported the European integration process and has consistently supported the objective of European unity and the enlargement of the European Union as desirable developments which promote prosperity, peace, and democracy, and which contribute to the strengthening of the vital relationship between the United States and the nations of Europe: Now, therefore, be it  Resolved, That the House of Representatives-- (1) recognizes the historic significance of the Treaty of Rome on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its signing;  (2) commends the European Union and the member nations of the European Union for the positive role which the institution has played in the growth, development, and prosperity of contemporary Europe;  (3) recognizes the important role played by the European Union in fostering the independence, democracy, and economic development of the former Central European communist states following the end of the Cold War;  (4) acknowledges the vital role of the European Union in the development of the close and mutually beneficial relationship that exists between the United States and Europe;  (5) affirms that in order to strengthen the transatlantic partnership there must be a renewed commitment to regular and intensive consultations between the United States and the European Union; and  (6) joins with the European Parliament in agreeing to strengthen the transatlantic partnership by enhancing the dialogue and collaboration between the United States Congress and the European Parliament.  I first want to thank Chairman Lantos for introducing this resolution with me. If there is anyone in Congress who fully understands the significance of this moment, it is Congressman Lantos, who has been an unwavering supporter of the transatlantic alliance and the creation of the European Union. In addition, I want to thank the ranking member of the Europe Subcommittee, Mr. Gallegly, for his efforts in bringing this resolution to the floor. Mr. Speaker, on March 25, 1957, in an attempt to recover from destruction caused by two devastating world wars, six European nations, France, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany, and Luxembourg, joined together in common interest to form the foundations of a new economic and political community. The resulting Treaty of Rome laid the framework to promote an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe. At that time, the Treaty of Rome provided for the establishment of a common market, a customs union and common policies, expanding on the unity already established in the European Coal and Steel Community. The founding members, keen on ensuring the past was not to be repeated, were particularly interested in the idea of creating a community of peace and stability through economic ties. The success of the European Economic Community inspired other countries to apply for membership, making it the first concrete step toward the creation of the European Union. The Treaty of Rome established the basic institutions and decision-making mechanisms still in place today. The European Union, now comprised of 27 countries and over 450 million people, is a unique and a historic example of nation-states transcending their former divisions, deciding to come together for the sake of freedom, peace and prosperity, and resolving their differences in the interest of the common good and rule of law. The success of the EU over the past 50 years has also benefited greatly the United States. Today, the United States and Europe enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship that has a long and established history. As the world's most important alliance, the U.S. and the EU are intimately intertwined, cooperating on regional conflicts, collaborating to address global challenges, and sharing strong trade and investment relations. It is clear that the strongest possible relationship between the United States and Europe is a prerequisite for addressing the challenges of the 21st century. The U.S. and EU are working closely to promote reform and peace in the Middle East, rebuild and enhance security in Afghanistan, support the goals of democratization and prosperity in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Balkans and Central Asia, prevent genocide in Darfur and end the violence and terrorism in Lebanon. The anniversary of the Rome Treaty is a reminder of the importance of the transatlantic alliance in an increasingly difficult global environment. However, the 50-year EU experiment is an example of the enduring possibilities of democratic transformation and a brighter future for millions. It is my hope that the EU will continue to keep its doors open and remain a beacon of hope to the citizens of Europe who aspire to obtain the peace and prosperity that have blossomed over the past 50 years. When Americans visit Europe today, it is hard to see how very damaged the countries of that continent were when they emerged from the destruction of the Second World War. American assistance played a very important role in rebuilding Western Europe in the 1940s and the 1950s, and American arms played a crucial role in protecting the democracies of Europe from the advance of Soviet communism during the Cold War. Ultimately, however, Europeans needed to do more on their own to build upon a foundation that the United States had first provided. The 1957 Treaty of Rome, signed by France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxembourg was one of the first steps that Western Europe took to put the causes and the legacy of the Second World War behind them. The treaty established a free-trade region known as the European Economic Community, the cornerstone of what we today know as the European Union. A post-World War II economically ravaged Europe reasoned that if nations are linked economically, in this case by recalling the role that economic decline and hindered trade among nations had played in the years leading up to World War II, the creators of that free trade zone saw that the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital, and people might well prove to be a great deterrent to conflict between the states of Europe, large and small. Over the subsequent decades through the entry of new members and expansions both geographically across Europe and functionally across issues, the European Community grew beyond the original core membership of the 1950s and assumed responsibilities going well beyond trade. Today, the European Union indeed counts among its member states countries that once were under Soviet domination. It has worked to transfer more powers from its individual member states to the overall organization centered on the road to creating a more unified European foreign and security policy and making the European Union an organization that the United States increasingly looks to for leadership on transatlantic issues, joining the NATO alliances that continue to bind us together in that common cause. While the European Community continues to provide a framework within which to conduct international trade, such as multilateral trade negotiations with the United States, it has also advanced the cause of liberty, free markets, democratic institutions, and respect for human rights throughout the European continent. The Treaty of Rome was an important step in building on the foundation that the United States helped create after World War II for Europe. Today, we look to a strong Europe as seen in the expanded NATO and expanded and strengthened European Union as a foundation on which we can work together to address new and ever growing challenges. Therefore, with enthusiasm, Mr. Speaker, it is that this House should commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of this Treaty of Rome. Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to join with my colleagues in supporting H. Res. 230, a resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which was signed on March 25, 1957. The Treaty of Rome established a customs union--formally known as the European Economic Community--among six countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Today, that customs union is known as the European Union, and now includes 27 countries spanning the length and breadth of Europe. Most importantly, it has grown into an institution that inspires countries to be their better selves. If one travels to Europe today, it may be hard to remember that, 50 years ago, the continent was still recovering from the second of the two world wars it had unleashed in less than half a century. It may be hard today to recall or imagine the magnitude of devastation that still scarred farmland and cities alike. It may be difficult to conceive of the bitterness, anger and thirst for revenge that bled across the continent like the blood of those fallen in war. The fact that Germany, a country that had unleashed a war of aggression against its neighbors just a few years before, was included in this new ``community'' was really nothing short of a minor miracle. Moreover, fifty years ago, Europe was still riven in two--no longer by a shooting war, but by a cold war. While a small group of nations was beginning the slow process of rebuilding their own countries and forging transnational relations based on cooperation, mutual trust, and mutual benefit, another part of the continent had fallen under the boot of communist dictatorship, where the Soviet Union exploited its neighbors, stripping them of wealth, prosperity, and opportunity for generations. Just one year before the Treaty of Rome was signed, the Soviet Union underscored its opposition to any independent foreign or economic policy on the part of East European countries--a message unequivocally sent by its invasion of Hungary. As the years passed, and the success of the European Economic Communities became ever more apparent, it is no surprise that more countries joined this union. Membership in Council of Europe, the European Union's sister organization and home of the European Court of Human Rights, helped pave the way for membership in the EU. Meanwhile, the NATO alliance created a zone of military security where the post-war citizens of Western Europe could build a zone of financial security. Since the fall of communism, there is no doubt that the aspiration of joining the European Union, much like the goal of joining the NATO alliance, has helped focus the attention of many countries on overcoming their past differences for a larger, common good that also brings substantial benefits to their own citizens. Today, I commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, and the new vision it held for the European continent, one that has helped spread peace and prosperity to nearly 500 million people.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Chairman Alcee Hastings

    As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am privileged to add my voice today to those honoring Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovakia’s first post-communist President, and the Charter 77 movement which, 30 years ago, he helped to found.  Three decades ago, the Charter 77 movement was established and its founding manifesto was formally delivered to the Communist regime in Prague. The goals of the Chartists – as signatories came to be known – were fairly straightforward: “Charter 77 [they stated] is a loose, informal and open association of people of various shades of opinion, faiths and professions united by the will to strive individually and collectively for the respect of civic and human rights in our own country and throughout the world – rights accorded to all men by the two mentioned international covenants, by the Final Act of the Helsinki conference and by numerous other international documents opposing war, violence and social or spiritual oppression, and which are comprehensively laid down in the U.N. Universal Charter of Human Rights.”  The phrase “people of various shades of opinion” was, in fact, a charming understatement regarding the diversity of the signatories. Founding members of this movement included Vaclav Maly, a Catholic priest banned by the regime; Vacla Benda, a Christian philosopher; former Trotskyite Peter Uhl; former Communists like Zdenek Mlynar and Jiri Hajek, both of whom were ousted from their leadership positions in the wake of the 1968 Soviet attack that crushed the Prague Spring reforms; and, of course, Vaclav Havel, a playwright and dramatist. Notwithstanding the many differences these people surely had, they were united common purpose: to compel the Communist regime to respect the international human rights agreements it had freely adopted.  Interestingly, the Charter 77 movement was never a mass dissident movement – fewer than two thousand people ever formally signed this document. But, to use a boxing analogy, Charter 77 punched above its weight. Its influence could be felt far beyond the number of those who openly signed on and, ultimately, in the battle of wits with the Communist regime, Charter 77 clearly won.  And most importantly, Charter 77 – like other human rights groups founded at roughly the same time in Moscow, Vilnius, Warsaw and elsewhere – looked to the Helsinki process as a vehicle for calling their own governments to account. Although it is sometimes said that the Helsinki process helped to bring down communism, it is really these grass roots movements that gave the Helsinki process its real meaning and its true legitimacy.  Thirty years ago, a small, courageous band of people came together and said, “We believe that Charter 77 will help to enable all citizens of Czechoslovakia to work and live as free human beings.” Today, we remember their struggle and praise their enduring contributions to democracy and human rights.

  • In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Representative Chris Smith

    Madame Speaker, Edmund Burke once said that, “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Thirty years ago, good men and women came together, and together, they ultimately triumphed over evil.  In 1987, I traveled to Czechoslovakia with a Helsinki Commission delegation led by my good friend, Steny Hoyer, who was then Chairman of the Commission. We traveled there just ten years after the Charter 77 movement had been formed and, amazingly, in spite of persecution and imprisonment, they had managed to publish 350 documents during its first ten years. And it was clear during my visit to Prague that this organization was having an impact, especially when the communist authorities went to the trouble of preventing five independent activists, including Vaclav Havel, from meeting with us.  In spite of this, our delegation was able to meet with several other Charter 77 signatories and sympathizers: Libuse Silhanova, Josef Vohryzek, Father Vaclav Maly, Zdenek Urbanek, and Rita Klimova. Libuse Silhanova, then serving as a Charter 77 spokesperson, described her fellow Chartists as “ordinary people who happen to be part of a movement.” For a group of “ordinary people,” they certainly accomplished extraordinary things.  One of the most notable of these “ordinary people” was the playwright Vaclav Havel, who is today the sole surviving member of Charter 77’s first three spokespersons. At a time when most Czechoslovaks preferred to keep their heads low, he held his up. When others dared not speak out, he raised up his voice. While others hid from communism in their apartments and weekend cottages, he faced it down in prison.  In 1978, Havel wrote a seminal essay entitled, “The Power of the Powerless.” In it, he proposed a remarkably conspiratorial concept: the idea that those repressed by the Communist Lie actually had the power to “live for truth,” and that by doing so, they could change the world in which they live.  One of the people who read this essay was Zbygniew Bujak, who became a leading Solidarity activist in Poland. Bujak described the impact of Havel’s message:  This essay reached us in the Ursus factory in 1979 at a point when we felt we were at the end of the road. Inspired by KOR [the Polish Workers' Defense Committee, which preceded Solidarity], we had been speaking on the shop floor, talking to people, participating in public meetings, trying to speak the truth about the factory, the country, and politics. There came a moment when people thought we were crazy. Why were we doing this? Why were we taking such risks? Not seeing any immediate and tangible results, we began to doubt the purposefulness of what we were doing. Shouldn’t we be coming up with other methods, other ways?  Then came the essay by Havel. Reading it gave us the theoretical underpinnings for our activity. It maintained our spirits; we did not give up, and a year later – in August 1980 – it became clear that the party apparatus and the factory management were afraid of us. We mattered. And the rank and file saw us as leaders of the movement. When I look at the victories of Solidarity, and of Charter 77, I see in them an astonishing fulfillment of the prophecies and knowledge contained in Havel's essay.  Vaclav Havel’s essay was not just the product of clever wordsmithing; it was an act of singular heroism. In fact, shortly after writing “The Power of the Powerless,” Vaclav Havel found himself in prison, again. And it should be remembered that others, including philosopher Jan Patocka, Havel’s close friend, and Pavel Wonka, paid with their lives for their opposition to the Czechoslovak communist regime.  Vaclav Havel is a man who has always been guided by the courage of his convictions. Remarkably, his courage did not fade upon his assumption of the presidency. Indeed, he is all the more heroic for his steadfast commitment to human rights even from the Prague Castle. From the beginning, he was a voice of reason, not revenge, as he addressed his country’s communist and totalitarian past. In 1993, he rightly identified the situation of Roma as “a litmus test for civil society.” And not only has he raised human rights issues in his own country but reminds the world of the abuses taking place in Cuba and China.  Throughout his presidency, he pardoned those faced with criminal charges under communist-era laws that restrict free speech. In 2001, he spoke out against the parliament’s regressive religion law, which turned the clock back on religious freedom. And he has reminded other world leaders of our shared responsibility for the poor and less fortunate the world over.  On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the founding of Charter 77, I want to join my colleagues from the Helsinki Commission in honoring Vaclav Havel and all the men and women who signed the Charter, who supported its goals, and who helped bring democracy to Czechoslovakia.

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