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Has Interpol become the long arm of oppressive regimes?
The Guardian
Josh Jacobs
Sunday, October 17, 2021

Flicking through the news one day in early 2015, Alexey Kharis, a California-based businessman and father of two, came across a startling announcement: Russia would request a global call for his arrest through the International Criminal Police Organization, known as Interpol.

“Oh, wow,” Kharis thought, shocked. All the 46-year-old knew about Interpol and its pursuit of the world’s most-wanted criminals was from novels and films. He tried to reassure himself that things would be OK and it was just an intimidatory tactic of the Russian authorities. Surely, he reasoned, the world’s largest police organisation had no reason to launch a hunt for him.

In the months that followed, Kharis kept checking Interpol’s gallery of thousands of international fugitives. He finally came across his mugshot, glaring back at him like a hardened criminal. “My God,” he exclaimed, now terrified.

“This guy is a terrorist; that guy is a murderer; this guy abducted children – and there’s me,” he remembers thinking as he looked through the Interpol register.

It was while running a large construction company in Russia that Kharis first found himself on the wrong side of the authorities. His firm, ZAO Rosdorsnabzhenie, had a government contract in 2010 to renovate shipyards near the far eastern city of Vladivostok. He says his business partner, Igor Borbot, told him about high-level officials embezzling money from the project.

Kharis says he was targeted after he threatened to speak publicly about the ministerial corruption and refused to give false testimony against Borbot. Kharis says agents from Russia’s Federal Security Bureau told him during interrogation in 2013: “Your partner is going down – you can help us or you can go down with him.”

He had hoped – naively, he says now – that investigations in Russia would clear his name. The Interpol notice confirmed he was wrong. It outlined major fraud charges carrying a 10-year prison sentence, alleging that Kharis was part of a “criminal group” that had stolen tens of millions of pounds from his own company.

Ted Bromund, who testified in Kharis’s case in the US as an expert witness, spent days scrutinising the case files and came to believe that the charges were baseless. “They don’t seem to have any substance whatsoever,” he says.

Bromund, an international affairs specialist with a rightwing US thinktank, the Heritage Foundation, concluded that this was the latest in a pattern of Russian attempts to weaponise Interpol with trumped-up requests to arrest its nationals. According to the US rights organisation Freedom House, Russia is responsible for 38% of all public red notices.

Far from indicating that Kharis had committed a crime, Bromund wrote later in his testimony, the notice “proves only that the Russian Federation filled out the appropriate Interpol form”. Interpol declined to comment on Kharis’s case, beyond confirming the status of his red notice.

US immigration authorities did not share this view of Interpol’s request, however. The Department of Homeland Security used it to argue that Kharis was a “flight risk” and he was detained in San Francisco in 2017. Kharis spent the next 15 months in California prisons.

His wife, Anna, published a blog during this time. “Many tears and sleepless nights followed,” she wrote of his detention, telling the children their father was away on a business trip. She describes Kharis as “a caring father” who would “spend the night rocking the cradle and then head off for his business early in the morning”. He called every night to tell their two young children everything was OK. But with no release date, prison took its toll.

First mooted in 1914, Interpol was established in 1923, in large part to stop people from committing crimes in one country and fleeing elsewhere with impunity. The organisation has been misused by oppressive regimes before – in 1938, the Nazis ousted Interpol’s president and later relocated the organisation to Berlin. Most countries withdrew and it ceased to exist as an international organisation until after the second world war.

The 194 member states support searches for war criminals, drug kingpins and people who have evaded justice for decades. Its red notices are seen as a vital tool and the closest thing to an international arrest warrant, leading to the location of thousands of fugitives each year.

Red-notice subjects have included Osama bin Laden and Saadi Gaddafi, the son of Libya’s former dictator. As criminals move around an increasingly interconnected world and terrorist incidents increased, the use of Interpol’s system has mushroomed. In the past two decades, red notices increased tenfold, from about 1,200 in 2000 to almost 12,000 last year. (There are also other forms of Interpol notices, such as yellow for missing children, black for unidentified dead bodies.)

Alongside the growth of the most-wanted list, international legal experts say there has also been an alarming phenomenon of countries using Interpol for political gain or revenge – targeting nationals abroad such as political rivals, critics, activists and refugees. It is not known how many of roughly 66,000 active red notices could be based on politically motivated charges; Interpol does not release data on how many red notices it rejects. But a number of reports, including from the US Congress, the European parliament and academics have documented the misuse of Interpol in recent years. Bromund says: “I don’t think there’s any dispute that […] the number of abusive red notices is growing.”

Seeking to manipulate Interpol is a feature of transnational repression, in which countries extend their reach overseas to silence or target adversaries. Tactics range from assassinations, poisonings and dismemberments to blackmail, spying on citizens’ phones abroad and threatening families left behind. The methods may differ, but they are intended to send a similarly menacing message in an era of global movement: you may leave your country but you can still be punished.

Interpol’s move earlier this month to reinstate Syria’s access to the organisation’s databases and allow it to communicate with other member states was strongly criticised by opposition activists. Anas al-Abdah, head of the Syrian opposition’s negotiating body, said Interpol’s decision had given Bashar al-Assad’s regime the data-based means to wage another war against the Syrian people.

Toby Cadman, a British barrister working on Syria-related war crimes prosecutions, said in response to the decision: “Interpol’s systems are opaque, with no real oversight or accountability, and routinely abused by states like Syria.

“It’s quite straightforward to get a red notice issued – you don’t need to provide that much information, and Interpol is underfunded and understaffed,” he said, but added: “Getting a red notice removed, even in European countries such as the UK or the Netherlands, can be slow and difficult.”

A red-notice subject’s fate can vary wildly. Some countries see red notices as an alert system while others treat them as arrest warrants, incarcerating people or co-operating with extradition proceedings against them. People may have their assets frozen, their passports confiscated and their movements restricted – as well as the reputational damage from being designated as an international criminal.

Some first learn of their Interpol wanted status when they cross a border. For Hakeem al-Araibi, a Bahraini footballer living as a political refugee in Australia, it was on his honeymoon in Thailand in 2018. He was arrested with his wife after Bahrain issued an Interpol notice accusing him of vandalism. (Al-Araibi fled Bahrain after athletes who took part in pro-democracy protests were arrested, beaten and allegedly tortured while detained.) Interpol revoked the notice when Australia notified it of al-Araibi’s refugee status, but that did not prevent al-Araibi from spending 76 days in Thai prisons. Al-Araibi’s case is one of several to have sparked a public outcry in recent years.

Another political activist pursued abroad through Interpol’s red notices was Petr Silaev, a Russian environmentalist and anti-fascist who was charged with “hooliganism” after demonstrating in 2010 against plans for a motorway to be built through the Khimki forest outside Moscow. He fled the country as the Russian authorities rounded up fellow protesters and was granted political asylum in Finland. In 2012, however, he was arrested in Spain after an Interpol alert and detained in a high-security prison. He spent months fighting extradition to Russia.

The human rights organisation Fair Trials said Interpol’s decision had left Silaev under threat of arrest whenever he crossed a border and called on the organisation to justify its decision and “explain whether it is helping Russia to pursue anyone else across the globe on hooliganism charges”.

In the UK, Benny Wenda, a separatist leader from West Papua who escaped from prison in Indonesia and was granted asylum as a political refugee, had a politically motivated red notice issued against him by Indonesia. It was later deleted.

“We must not misuse international organisations like Interpol for such purposes,” said the then German chancellor Angela Merkel, after a Turkish-born German writer, Doğan Akhanlı, was arrested in 2017 on the back of a Turkish Interpol notice while on holiday in Spain.

However, only three months ago, Moroccan authorities arrested Yidiresi Aishan, an Uyghur activist, after China sought his extradition; Interpol later cancelled Aishan’s red notice after a review but he still faces the threat of deportation to China. Last month Makary Malachowski, a Belarusian opposition activist who had fled to Poland, was detained in Warsaw after Alexander Lukashenko’s government issued a red notice.

“People expect you’re not going to believe them because what has happened to them is so crazy,” says Michelle Estlund, a Florida lawyer representing wrongfully accused clients wanted through Interpol.

Estlund began helping Interpol-targeted clients 12 years ago, when a Venezuelan woman facing a red notice accusing her of fraud sought the criminal lawyer’s help. Estlund initially refused but has since worked with red-notice subjects from Russia to Ecuador, and remains shocked by how the law can be misused.

The rise of online platforms for dissidents to criticise governments is fuelling a desire to shut down opposition voices, she says. “It’s just so against what we expect to see in any justice system, even abusive ones. The things the client goes through before they get to me are mind-boggling.”

Interpol’s constitution forbids the organisation’s use for political matters and it announced in 2015 that it would remove a red notice if that person had been recognised as a refugee. Its work must also fall within the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which demands fair trials and free speech, and prohibits arbitrary arrests. Interpol says it screens every wanted-person request. In an organisation with such seemingly clear safeguards, what is going on?

Weeding out questionable requests for international arrests falls to a specialist squad at Interpol’s Lyon headquarters, created in 2016. Turkey says Interpol has rejected 773 requests to detain people over suspected links with the popular movement Hizmet, led by the US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Interpol confirmed the figure was more than 700). Turkey’s government regards members of the Gülen movement as a terrorist group responsible for plotting the failed 2016 coup and has criticised Interpol for hindering its prosecution efforts. There have been reports that Ankara attempted to upload as many as 60,000 names to Interpol, including via its stolen-passport database, but the organisation denied that figure.

Interpol’s interventions against Turkey are among a number of publicly known examples of the organisation’s efforts to stop politically motivated notices in recent years. Yet some fear Interpol too often believes its members are working in good faith and providing it with accurate information. “Interpol is there to help the police do its work under the assumption that the police does its work honestly,” says Rutsel Martha, Interpol’s Dutch former legal chief and author of a study of the organisation. “That’s the system, so the first reaction is to do with the immediate situation, then legal controls kick in later in the process.”

Among the easiest ways to craft misleading arrest requests is to accuse people of financial crimes such as money laundering, whereas a murder charge requires evidence of a dead body and political charges may break Interpol’s rules. “It’s very easy to either fabricate or manipulate information to create a charge of embezzlement or misappropriation or gaining unjust profit,” says Estlund. When she looks into red notices, she often finds charges to be unsubstantiated.

What critics regard as a low level of proof required for a red notice can be seen in the case of a Turkmen human rights activist, Annadurdy Khadzhiev, who was detained in Bulgaria in 2002 over an Interpol notice accusing him of embezzling $40m (£30m) from Turkmenistan’s central bank. The alleged theft, however, took place four years after Khadzhiev had stopped working there. “It was objectively impossible for him to have committed the said crime,” according to the findings of a Bulgarian prosecutor cited in a 2014 European court of human rights judgment.

A less-formal Interpol option for hunting fugitives, called “diffusions”, are often regarded as more vulnerable to misuse. Through these alerts, Interpol members can send arrest requests directly to each other. That is how Nikita Kulachenkov, a Russian-born Lithuanian refugee, spent several weeks imprisoned in Cyprus, after he was detained at the airport in 2016 en route to visit his mother.

Kulachenkov faced a five-year prison term in Russia for allegedly stealing a street artist’s drawing. His Interpol alert was issued after he began working on investigations for the Anti-Corruption Foundation in Russia, founded by the opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned with the nerve agent novichok last year and is now imprisoned in Russia.

Kulachenkov claims he found the poster on a street and is adamant that the poster’s value was invented to create a politically motivated charge. He was investigated by Russia’s top prosecutors, who raided his Moscow flat. More than a year before his detention in Cyprus, Kulachenkov had pre-emptively written to Interpol asking it to reject calls for his arrest as he was being targeted for his anti-corruption work. Interpol acknowledged his concerns, and a spokeswoman said later that it checks all diffusions.

Now living in Berlin, Kulachenkov still fears being stopped if he crosses certain borders – Interpol data on wanted individuals can remain on national police computer systems even after it has been revoked. Kulachenkov recalls incredulous Cypriot authorities laughing at the charges against him, saying: “Russia really wants you through Interpol for €60 of theft?”

Interpol’s secretary general for the last seven years, Jürgen Stock, is unexpectedly open about the threat to Interpol’s credibility from problematic notices. He finds it frustrating that he sometimes finds out from newspapers, rather than his organisation, about wrongful arrest requests, such as those involving refugees. He says countries do not always notify Interpol about a person’s refugee status, which he regards as a “shared responsibility”.

The 62-year-old has faced a “parallel pandemic” of Covid-related crimes including fake vaccines and other substandard medical products as well as fighting a wave of cyber-attacks and telecom scams. Stock describes Interpol’s “bread and butter job” as targeting “child abusers, murderers, fraudsters”.

Stock does not give figures about Interpol’s tools being misused against political opponents and refugees but he insists that these notices are a “small number of cases” compared with the “overwhelming majority” of legitimate ones. However, even his rough estimate of no more than 5% of notices being improperly applied each year could mean hundreds of potentially wrongful arrest requests.

Under Stock, Interpol has strengthened its oversight body – the commission for the control of Interpol’s files (CCF), which reviews appeals and can delete red notices – and publishes more information about decisions on complaints. He has also bolstered the specialist squad that reviews notices before they are published. Critics have welcomed the changes, but some say the system is still not robust enough. Stock acknowledges that there is more work to be done. “I don’t have the silver bullet at [this] stage for what else we can do,” he says, but stresses that he is committed to further strengthening safeguards, where possible, during his final three years in the post.

A key challenge, lawyers say, is how long it can take to get non-compliant notices removed – and the damage that can happen in the meantime. This was the case for Selahaddin Gülen, a US permanent resident and nephew of Fethullah Gülen who was detained in Kenya last October, after an Interpol notice accused him of sex crimes involving a minor. (He denies the charges, which his lawyer called a “false dossier”.)

Seven months later, after he reported to Kenyan police in May as part of his bail requirements, Gülen was detained again and deported to Turkey. “He had been completely illegally transferred without even a Kenyan court ruling,” says Nate Schenkkan, research director at Freedom House. “That’s a pretty obvious case of Interpol abuse.”

Gülen’s lawyers asked Interpol to remove the red notice in December, arguing it violated rules on political motivated notices. An expert witness argued that after the 2016 attempted coup Turkey had reopened charges that had been dropped in 2008. In July, Interpol stated that Gülen’s red notice had been removed. But it was too late for Gülen: he was already in Turkish custody and now faces multiple charges including for terrorism offences, according to local media. Gülen’s wife has called her husband’s detention and deportation from Kenya a kidnapping. “I have not heard from him since that day,” she said in a video.

The CCF is composed of eight specialists who usually meet every few months. In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, it ruled that 48% of the 346 complaints it took forward had broken Interpol’s rules.

Interpol’s penalties for members flouting its rules include blocking countries from accessing its databases and supervising use of its systems for up to three months. It says these are “corrective measures”, not punishments, and have been in place since at least 2011.

Some countries are taking matters into their own hands to curtail abuse of Interpol’s processes. In the US, a bipartisan group in Congress based around the Helsinki Commission is seeking to pass the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (Trap) Act, which was proposed in 2019 to restrict arrests based on Interpol red notices and prevent foreign governments from persecuting citizens abroad.

Interpol is ultimately governed by its members, which include countries that may seek to game the system. Next month, member states’ representatives will gather in Istanbul to elect the organisation’s next president. Among those vying for the position, and reportedly a frontrunner, is a controversial candidate: Ahmed Naser al-Raisi, a senior security official from the United Arab Emirates who is on Interpol’s executive committee. Human rights organisations and lawyers accuse Raisi of overseeing a “notoriously abusive” state security apparatus that has imprisoned dissidents and misused Interpol’s red notices. A report earlier this year for International Human Rights Advisors by David Calvert-Smith, a former British judge and director of public prosecutions, concluded: “Not only would an Emirati president of Interpol serve to validate and endorse the [UAE’s] record on human rights and criminal justice but, in addition, Maj Gen al-Raisi is unsuitable for the role. He sits at the very top of the Emirati criminal justice system [and] has overseen an increased crackdown on dissent, continued torture, and abuses in its criminal justice system.”

Kharis left prison in late 2018, after a US federal judge invoked evidence of Russia abusing Interpol procedures and of “serious flaws” in its wanted-persons system. Supporters in court cheered and hugged Kharis’s wife, Anna, who was in tears.

His release has not ended the judicial struggle, which one US congressman called a “harrowing tale of mistreatment”. Kharis was tracked with an electronic ankle monitor until this summer, an experience he called a constant walk of shame. His movements are restricted and monitored by GPS, while he awaits a decision on his asylum request, which was initially rejected.

Now based in Palo Alto, California, Kharis is trying to rebuild his life. He has set up a virtual restaurant company and works as an accountant. This summer he took his family on holiday in California. His judicial process rolls on, marbled with wins and losses. Last summer, nine months after Kharis’s appeal to Interpol and four years after his red notice was issued, Interpol told him his wanted status had been revoked. “I still think that Interpol does good,” he says. “But it’s too easy to abuse the system. We’re talking about people’s lives.”

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This is an issue of deep concern to Commission members. The right to practice your faith is no more secure than your readiness to acknowledge the right of others to practice theirs. Since the fall of communism various laws have been adopted in the region to provide for religious freedom, but these have unfortunately had the effect in some respects of restricting this fundamental right. They set numerical thresholds for the registration of religious groups, discriminate in favor traditional faiths, and place limits on free speech and proselytizing. These restrictions are particularly burdensome to new religious denominations and can lead to harassment against and stigmatization of their members. Albania, in contrast, has adopted a progressive law which provides for a neutral registration system that is applied universally. This is a model others in the region should consider adopting. Meanwhile, there is a need to step up efforts to respect the sanctity and ensure the safety of places of worship that have been targets of ethnically based violence in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo. Governments need to adopt a “zero-tolerance” approach in responding to such provocations. Finally let me address the situation of Kosovo. The pending decision on the final status of Kosovo has given rise to much anxiety and apprehension in the region. Much of the debate on Kosovo has focused on the larger issues of sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination. Within Congress and even within the Helsinki Commission reaching a consensus on the right outcome in Kosovo is difficult, but two things are clear. First, there is no connection between Kosovo’s future and the recognized sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Second, whatever form a Kosovo settlement takes, the fundamental issue in the Commission’s view is whether or not it improves the respect for human rights, especially the rights of those people belonging to the Serb, Roma and other minority communities. Those rights include the protection of property and the right of return for displaced persons. Any settlement should also encourage a process of integration and inclusion of these minority communities within a broader Kosovo society. From this perspective the proposed plan of UN Special Envoy Ahtissari can serves as a solid basis for compromise. Even if Belgrade and Pristina cannot agree on the issue of status, they should be engaged in serious negotiations to protect the rights of these minority communities. But whatever becomes of Kosovo, the OSCE and other international human rights standards must apply there and the OSCE must be fully involved in monitoring implementation of any settlement to assure these rights are respected. Conclusion My remarks have focused on some areas of concern, but let me say in conclusion that the region of the western Balkans has come a long way since the 1990’s. The international community has made a substantial investment in the peace, stability and reconstruction in the region, and we welcome this progress. Slovenia is a full-fledged member of NATO and the EU. Croatia is well on the road to membership in both, and Macedonia and Albania are making progress in the right direction. In a welcome development at the end of last year, Bosnia, Serbia and newly independent Montenegro were invited to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace. The regional trajectory is positive. More importantly, the EU and NATO have made a political commitment to include all of the western Balkan states into Euro-Atlantic institutions, and recognized that Europe will be incomplete without your countries. That does not relieve you of the responsibility to meet the conditions of membership in these institutions, but it does offer a bright future for the region. The issues your societies now face are perhaps less dramatic than achieving peace was a decade and more ago. These are issues of complying with human rights norms and improving the quality of life and the relationship between the individual and his or her government. These issues should be a matter of open, public debate in local and regional fora like this one. For too long nationalism and an “us versus them” mentality have dominated public discussion and driven politics in the region. It is time politicians on all sides put down the megaphones and drop the rhetoric that they have been using to polarize the situation. A new dialogue based on an open discussion of these human issues needs to replace it. This is essential to preventing future conflict, promoting economic and social development and sustaining peace. Only political will on the part of governments and party leaders and the full engagement of NGOs and citizens in this Helsinki process of dialogue can get this job done and complete the transition of the western Balkan states into permanent and stable democracies.  

  • Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006

    Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge passage of H.R. 5948, the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006, to provide sustained support for the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. Mr. Speaker, I especially thank you for your commitment to bring this legislation before this Congress. Your deep personal interest in the cause of freedom in Belarus, as demonstrated by your recent meetings in Vilnius with the leaders of the democratic opposition, has been particularly appreciated by those struggling for the rule of law and basic human freedoms. This legislation enjoys bipartisan support, and I want to recognize and thank the tremendous collaboration of Rep. Tom Lantos, an original cosponsor of this bill.  As one who has followed developments in Belarus over many years through my work on the Helsinki Commission, I remain deeply concerned that the Belarusian people continue to be subjected to the arbitrary and self-serving whims of a corrupt and anti-democratic regime headed by Aleksandr Lukashenka. Since the blatantly fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, which the OSCE condemned as having failed to meet international democratic standards, the pattern of repression and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. While those who would dare oppose the regime are especially targeted, the reality is that all in Belarus outside Lukashenka’s inner circle pay a price. Recent news regarding Lukashenka’s regime Last week in Riga, President Bush pledged to help the people of Belarus in the face of the "cruel regime" led by President Lukashenka. "The existence of such oppression in our midst offends the conscience of Europe and the conscience of America," Bush said, adding that "we have a message for the people of Belarus: the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace includes you, and we stand with you in your struggle for freedom." Mr. Speaker, this legislation would be a concrete expression of Congress’ commitment to the Belarusian people and would show that we stand as one in supporting freedom for Belarus. Just within the last few months, we have witnessed a series of patently political trials designed to further stifle peaceful, democratic opposition. In October, 60-year-old human rights activist Katerina Sadouskaya was sentenced to two years in a penal colony. Her “crime”? “Insulting the honor and dignity of the Belarusian leader.” Mr. Speaker, if this isn’t reminiscent of the Soviet Union, I don’t know what is. And just a few weeks ago, in a closed trial, Belarusian youth activist Zmitser Dashkevich received a one-and-a-half year sentence for “activities on behalf of an unregistered organization.”  A report mandated by the Belarus Democracy Act and finally issued this past March reveals Lukashenka’s links with rogue regimes such as Iran, Sudan and Syria, and his cronies’ corrupt activities. According to an October 9, 2006, International Herald Tribune op-ed: “Alarmingly, over the last six years, Belarus has intensified its illegal arms shipment activities to the point of becoming the leading supplier of lethal military equipment to Islamic state sponsors of terrorism.” I guess we shouldn’t be all that surprised that in July, Lukashenka warmly welcomed to Minsk Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. In keeping with their bent, both pledged cooperation and denounced the West. More recently, Belarusian Foreign Minister Martynov traveled to Iran where President Ahmadinejad pledged further cooperation in the energy and defense industries. Not long ago, a member of Belarus’ bogus parliament asserted on state-controlled radio that Belarus has the right to develop its own nuclear weapons. Mr. Speaker and Colleagues, Belarus is truly an anomaly in Europe, swimming against the rising tide of greater freedom, democracy and economic prosperity.  The Legislation  Three years ago, I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act which passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Bush in October 2004. At that time, the situation in Belarus with respect to democracy and human rights was already abysmal. The need for a sustained U.S. commitment to foster democracy and respect for human rights and to sanction Aleksandr Lukashenka and his cronies is clear from the intensified anti-democratic policies pursued by the current leadership in Minsk. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that countries throughout Europe have joined in a truly trans-Atlantic effort to bring the promise of freedom to the beleaguered people of Belarus. Prompt passage of the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help maintain this momentum aimed at upholding the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people. With the continuing decline on the ground in Belarus since the fraudulent March elections, this bill is needed now more than ever.  This reauthorization bill demonstrates the sustained U.S. support for Belarus’ independence. We seek to encourage those struggling for democracy and respect for human rights in the face of the formidable pressures and personal risks from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes such sums as may be necessary in assistance for each of fiscal years 2007 and 2008 for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, including youth groups, independent trade unions and entrepreneurs, human rights defenders, independent media, democratic political parties, and international exchanges.  The bill further authorizes monies for both radio and television broadcasting to the people of Belarus. While I am encouraged by the recent U.S. and EU initiatives with respect to radio broadcasting, much more needs to be done to penetrate Lukashenka’s stifling information blockade. Mr. Speaker, I hope that the Administration will make this a priority.  In addition, H.R. 5948 calls for selective sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and the denial of entry into the United States for senior officials of the regime – as well as those engaged in human rights and electoral abuses. In this context, I welcome the punitive sanctions imposed by both the Administration and the EU which are targeted against officials – including judges and prosecutors – involved in electoral fraud and other human rights abuses.  The bill expresses the sense of the Congress that strategic exports to the Government of Belarus should be prohibited, except for those intended for democracy building or humanitarian purposes, as well as U.S. Government financing and other foreign assistance. Of course, we would not want the exports to affect humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions are encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. Furthermore, we would encourage the blocking of the assets (in the United States) of members of the Belarus Government as well as the senior leadership and their surrogates. To this end, I welcome the Treasury Department’s April 10 advisory to U.S. financial institutions to guard against potential money laundering by Lukashenka and his cronies and strongly applaud President Bush’s June 19 “Executive Order Blocking Property of Certain Persons Undermining Democratic Processes or Institutions in Belarus.”  Mr. Speaker, I want to make it crystal clear that these sanctions are aimed not at the people of Belarus, but at a regime that displays contempt for the dignity and rights of its citizens even as the corrupt leadership moves to further enrich itself at the expense of all Belarusians.  Ongoing Anti-Democratic Behavior To chronicle the full litany of repression over the course of Lukashenka’s 12-year misrule would go well beyond the bounds of time available here. Let me cite several more recent illustrations of anti-democratic behavior which testify to the true nature of the regime.  Belarus’ March 19 presidential elections can only be described as a farce, and were met with condemnation by the United States, the OSCE, the European Union and others. The Lukashenka regime’s wholesale arrests of more than one thousand opposition activists and dozens of Belarusian and foreign journalists, before and after the elections, and violent suppression of peaceful post-election protests underscore the contempt of the Belarusian authorities toward their countrymen.  Illegitimate parliamentary elections in 2004 and the recently held presidential “elections” in Belarus brazenly flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation. Albeit safely ensconced in power, Lukashenka has not let up on the democratic opposition. Almost daily repressions constitute a profound abuse of power by a regime that has blatantly manipulated the system to remain in power.  In the last few months, the regime continues to show its true colors, punishing those who would dare to challenge the tin-pot dictator. Former presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin was sentenced to a politically-motivated five-and-one-half-years’ term of imprisonment for alleged “hooliganism” and disturbing the peace. His health is precarious as he is now well into his second month of a hunger strike.  In early August, authorities sentenced four activists of the non-partisan domestic election monitoring initiative “Partnerstva”. In a patent attempt to discourage domestic observation of the fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, the four had been kept in custody since February 21. Two were released, having served their six month sentences. Two others, Tsimafei Dranchuk and Mikalay Astreyka, received stiffer sentences, although Astreyka has been released from a medium security colony and is now in “correctional labor”. Other political prisoners, including Artur Finkevich, Mikalay Autukhovich, Andrey Klimau, Ivan Kruk, Yury Lyavonau, Mikalay Razumau, Pavel Sevyarynets, Mikalay Statkevich also continue to have their freedom denied, languishing in prison or in so-called correctional labor camps.  Administrative detentions of ten or fifteen days against democratic opposition activists are almost a daily occurrence. Moreover, the Lukashenka regime continued to stifle religious expression. It refuses to register churches, temporarily detains pastors, threatens to expel foreign clergy, and refuses religious groups the use of premises to hold services. Despite the repressions, Protestant and Catholic congregations have increasingly become more active in their pursuit of religious freedom. I am also concerned about the recent explosion at a Holocaust memorial in western Belarus, the sixth act of vandalism against the monument in 14 years. Unfortunately, the local authorities have reportedly refused to open a criminal investigation. Lukashenka’s minions have closed down independent think tanks, further tightened the noose around what remains of the independent media, suspended the activities of a political party, shut down the prominent literary journal Arche, and evicted the Union of Belarusian Writers from its headquarters. Of course, Lukashenka’s pattern of contempt for human rights is nothing new – it has merely intensified with the passage of time.  Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents – perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders.  Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help end to the pattern of violations of OSCE human rights and democracy commitments by the Lukashenka regime and loosen its unhealthy monopoly on political and economic power. I hope our efforts here today will facilitate independent Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe in which the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are respected. The beleaguered Belarusian people have suffered so much over the course of the last century and deserve better than to live under a regime frighteningly reminiscent of the Soviet Union. The struggle of the people of Belarus for dignity and freedom deserves our unyielding and consistent support.  This legislation is important and timely because Belarus, which now borders on NATO and the EU, continues to have the worst human rights and democracy record of any European state – bar none.

  • Kazakhstan's Candidacy for OSCE Chairmanship

    Mr. Speaker, next week, Kassymzhomart Tokaev, the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, will be visiting Washington. Given Kazakhstan's growing strategic and economic significance, his agenda with U.S. Government officials and Congress is likely to be broad-ranging. But a key focus of Minister Tokaev's discussions will certainly be Kazakhstan's bid to serve in 2009 as Chair-in-Office of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Kazakhstan has been avidly pursuing this prestigious leadership post since 2003. The consensus decision must be made by this fall, in time for the December OSCE Ministerial Meeting. While I support the idea of Central Asian leadership of the OSCE, my purpose today is to point out the very serious problems with Kazakhstan's candidacy. As many of my colleagues on the Helsinki Commission have concluded, awarding Kazakhstan the political leadership of OSCE in 2009 would be unwarranted and potentially dangerous for the Organization. President Nursultan Nazarbaev, in his opening statement at a recent OSCE meeting in Almaty, even admitted: "We do not...have established democratic principles." Therefore, allowing Kazakhstan to assume the chairmanship by default is not acceptable. Kazakhstan's chairmanship bid must be deferred until the country substantially implements its OSCE commitments, especially those on human rights and democratization. Defenders of Kazakhstan's candidacy have pointed to the country's economic reforms and relative freedom, compared to the rest of Central Asia. I concur that Kazakhstan is far ahead of the police states of Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. But that is no great achievement. Surpassing the worst of the worst does not confer an automatic right to hold the chairmanship of the OSCE which is dedicated to upholding human rights and promoting democracy. It has long been the State Department's position "that any Chair of the OSCE must be in substantial compliance with all OSCE commitments." Over several years now, high-level U.S. Government officials have provided Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials clear, concrete indicators of the progress necessary before serious consideration could be given to U.S. support for Kazakhstan's Chair-in-Office bid. Yet long-promised political reforms in Kazakhstan have not materialized and the human rights climate remains poor, as documented in the State Department's annual reports. Kazakhstan's oil riches, strategic location and cooperation with the United States in antiterrorism programs cannot conceal the fact that the country remains an authoritarian state. President Nazarbaev has manipulated constitutional referendums and falsified elections to stay in power, while his relatives and friends have gained monopoly positions in the most profitable sectors of the economy. Independent and opposition media have been consistently harassed and pressured, and opposition politicians have been excluded from elections, or worse. Such was the state of affairs before last December's presidential election, which was widely seen as a "make-or-break" moment for Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, the government failed to uphold its international commitments before, during and following the election. Despite repeated pledges from Nazarbaev to hold a free and fair contest, the OSCE observation mission stated the election "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments" due to "restrictions on campaigning, harassment of campaign staff and persistent and numerous cases of intimidation by the authorities" which "limited the possibility for a meaningful competition." The election was a serious blow to Kazakhstan's chances to chair the OSCE. The recent establishment of the State Commission on the Development and Realization of the Programme of Political Reforms comes after the major elections, too late to have any definitive liberalizing effects. In addition, a string of events has accentuated the disturbing gap between OSCE commitments and Kazakhstan's implementation. Last November, opposition politician and former Mayor of Almaty Zamanbek Nurkadilov was found dead in his home. According to Kazakh authorities, he shot himself three times, twice in the chest and once in the head. The official version of his death is, kindly put, implausible in the extreme. In February, opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaev, along with his driver and unarmed bodyguard, was shot in an apple orchard outside Almaty. The official investigation has placed the blame for this brazen crime on Erzhan Utembaev, head of the administration of the Senate, who allegedly engaged the services of some security officers. It is fair to say that this explanation for Sarsenbaev's death has failed to satisfy many observers. What is indisputable, however, is that anyone involved in opposition politics in Kazakhstan risks, in the worst case scenario, not merely electoral defeat but murder. Furthermore, Kazakh officials have backed Russian plans to eviscerate the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which, among other important democracy promoting activities, undertakes the OSCE's election observation missions. This would pose a grave threat to the OSCE as an institution and as the most credible election monitoring organization in the world. Recent statements and actions by local Kazakh authorities against a Hare Krishna community outside of Almaty and actions to penalize minority religious communities for unregistered religious practice run counter to OSCE norms and Kazakhstan's stated commitment to inter-religious tolerance. On March 20, President Nazarbaev praised Uzbek President Islam Karimov's handling of unrest in Andijon in May 2005. Praise for the Andijon massacre that left hundreds dead in Uzbekistan, and which moved the OSCE, the U.S. Government and international organizations to call for an independent, impartial investigation, are hardly the "reforms" one expects of a country that hopes to chair the OSCE. The forced repatriation of Uzbek refugees to Uzbekistan was equally alarming. Just today, Kazakhstan's upper house passed a highly restrictive media law that has been criticized by the OSCE's Representative on the Media and the U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan. It is hoped that President Nazarbaev will not sign this problematic bill into law. Mr. Speaker, in light of these circumstances, Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 cannot be supported. I strongly believe that backing Kazakhstan's candidacy would cause more difficulties than will result from Astana's disappointment over not winning this prize. None of this means that we should not strive to develop the best possible relations with Kazakhstan, on a mutually beneficial basis. There are many areas of current and potential cooperation between our countries, including Kazakhstan's entry into the WTO, energy, military security and anti-terrorism. Nor does my inability to support Kazakhstan's candidacy for the OSCE Chairmanship in 2009 mean that I do not hope to be able to back a future bid. Nothing would please me more than to report to this Chamber that Kazakhstan has met its commitments on democratization and human rights and richly deserves to lead the OSCE. A Kazakh chairmanship would also move the Organization eastward in the symbolic sense, bridging what has become an uncomfortable gap between the former Soviet republics and Europe. But that moment has not yet come, Mr. Speaker. I would encourage the Kazakh leaders to avail themselves of the opportunity of additional time to constructively engage the OSCE. Working to ensure that the Organization succeeds would aid Kazakhstan's bid for a future chairmanship, while expressing sour grapes over a denial can only add to the impression that Kazakhstan is not ready for a leadership role. The OSCE Chairmanship represents acknowledgement of progress already made, not a stimulus to future, unproven progress. Urging the Kazakhs to defer their bid would leave the door open for Astana, should demonstrable reforms on human rights and democratization be forthcoming. That progress was promised by President Nazarbaev, when he signed the Helsinki Accords as his country joined the OSCE in 1992.

  • Human Rights, Democracy, and Integration in South Central Europe

    The hearing, led by the Hon. Christopher H. Smith,  the Hon. Sam Brownback , and the Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, focused primarily on the legal restrictions on religious activities and other attacks on religious freedom, lagging efforts to combat trafficking in persons, discrimination and violence against Roma, and the prevalence of official corruption and organized crime. The efforts to encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to move beyond the limitations imposed by the Dayton Peace Agreement will be discussed. Further, the plight of the displaced and minority communities of Kosovo, and the need for Serbia to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal will also be covered.   

  • From Promises to Practice: Implementation of National Policies on Roma, Sinti and Travellers

    By Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law A recent conference on Romani issues provided a positive benchmark on how far the international community has come in addressing discrimination toward Europe’s largest ethnic minority group.  The meeting also served to highlight how much more national governments have to do to address the needs of Roma in their countries.  On May 4 and 5, 2006, the Government of Romania, along with several inter-governmental and non-governmental partners, hosted an “International Conference on the Implementation and Harmonization of National Policies for Roma, Sinti, and Travellers:  Guidelines for a Common Vision.”  The two-day meeting, conducted in Romani, Romanian, and English, was well attended and focused on housing, employment, community policing, and the status of Roma in Kosovo. Although one opening speaker joked that the magnitude of logos on display for the numerous hosts reminded him of medieval European heraldic insignia, the meeting demonstrated that at least in one area – Romani issues – two major players in this field, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, are able to put aside institutional rivalries in favor of cooperation.  The conference hosts included the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Union Monitoring Center, the European Roma and Travellers Forum, the OSCE, the Project on Ethnic Relations, and the Romanian Government in its capacity as Chair of the Council of Europe and as President of the Decade of Roma Inclusion.  The Bucharest conference was convened to follow up on a similar meeting held in October 2005 in Warsaw. The title of the meeting underscored one of the key goals of Romani activists: turning promises into practice.  For national governments, this means developing both the legal framework as well as the political will necessary for the full implementation of national policies and practices that meet the needs of their Romani minorities.   Currently eight countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovakia – participate in the “Decade of Roma Inclusion.”  The Decade is a multilateral initiative, supported by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the World Bank, designed to establish measurable national goals for improving the situation of Roma in four priority areas:  education, employment, health, and housing.  In the context of this initiative, all of the countries involved have adopted national action plans as a basis for addressing these specific areas during the period 2005-2015. Romani leaders look to opportunities like the Bucharest conference to push for improved implementation of the action plans.  Nicolae Gheorghe, a veteran of the Romani civil rights movement who will soon conclude his tenure as the OSCE Senior Advisor remarked that, 16 years ago, he thought the impetus for change would come from international organizations.  Today, he suggested, change must be implemented by national governments. The focus of the conference was by no means exclusively on the eight Decade countries.  While these eight countries collectively are home to roughly half of Europe’s Romani population, the addition of Central Europe’s large Romani minority into an expanded European Union has also served to heighten the attention given to Romani issues in Western Europe.  This heightened awareness was reflected in the inclusion of speakers from countries such as Finland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  Indeed, one Council of Europe speaker drew pointed attention to problems “in some of the oldest members of the European Union.” The situation of Roma in Kosovo as well as Kosovo Romani refugees and internally displaced person was addressed in a plenary session that underscored the widespread concern over the precarious situation of that particular Romani community.  The plight of Kosovo Roma remains a top priority for Romani activists across the region.  Some speakers argued that Romani representatives should be included in the ongoing status talks on Kosovo. The conference also addressed the issues of housing, employment, and police relations as they relate to the Romani communities.  A Council of Europe official suggested that, in the aftermath of Romania’s recent floods, the Romanian Government should take advantage of the opportunities presented in the post-emergency context to regularize the legal status of Romani housing in flood-affected areas.  A Hungarian Romani police officer noted that the inspiration for his transnational Romani Police Officers Association came from a meeting in New York with representatives of the National Black Police Officers Association. Changes Bring New Challenges As a benchmark for progress, the conference clearly showed how far the international community has come in addressing Roma issues.  In 1994, the OSCE held its first seminar on Romani human rights issues.  At that meeting, two interventions illustrated clearly the chasm that separated governments from the experiences and perspectives of their most vulnerable citizens.  On one side stood Florina Zoltan, who described the brutal pogrom in Hadareni, Romania, that one year earlier had left her a young widow.  On the other side, an Italian Government official welcomed the opportunity to attend a meeting where one could finally talk about that pesky “Gypsy crime problem.”  There was little room for dialogue, let alone mutual cooperation. Twelve years later, the landscape has changed dramatically.  Many government delegations to the Bucharest conference included Romani officials, and the improvements made in protecting the basic human rights of Roma now leaves enough political space for the discussion of other factors which contribute to the marginalization of Europe’s largest minority.  (At the same time, this development prompted one Romani NGO to lament the virtual decapitation of the Romani civil rights movement:  as more Roma move into government and inter-governmental positions, there are fewer independent Romani voices to hold those authorities accountable.) As the number of international meetings on Romani issues has increased in recent years, organizers of such meetings face considerable challenges in meeting the ever higher expectations for them, and governments, non-governmental actors, and international organizations must work hard to avoid duplication and create a sense of forward motion and real change.  And, as suggested in concluding remarks by a Council of Europe representative, such conferences must figure out how to reach out to local governments, national parliaments and, above all, the majority populations which are the source of the discrimination Roma face.

  • From the Maidan to Main Street: Ukraine's Landmark Democratic Parliamentary Elections

    By Commission Staff While pundits attempt to sort out the political meaning of Ukraine’s March 26th parliamentary elections to fill the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the significance of the conduct of the elections should not be missed.  “Free and fair” was the resounding assessment of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) that also included observers from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the OSCE Office of Democratic Elections and Human Rights (ODIHR).  This unqualified positive appraisal – a first among the 12 former Soviet republics outside the Baltics that have conducted scores of elections since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union – underscores the consolidation of democratic gains made in Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution following years of political stagnation. These clean March 26th elections stood in stark contrast to the fatally flawed first rounds of the Ukrainian presidential elections that ushered in popular revolt sixteen months earlier.  Coming on the heels of the blatantly undemocratic presidential “elections” in neighboring Belarus a week earlier, comparisons were inevitable.  The Rada elections also followed a series of recent electoral contests elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which to varying degrees fell short of international standards.  The OSCE assessment in Ukraine returns the “free and fair” formulation to the lexicon of international election observations, departing from the heavily nuanced appraisals that have become common in recent years.  This development has potentially significant implications for future OSCE observations, especially with parliamentary and presidential elections expected in Russia in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, current President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was appointed by the OSCE Chair-in-Office to serve as Special Coordinator for short-term observers.  Commission staff observed on Election Day, as part of the IEOM deployment of 914 observers coming from 45 OSCE countries including Russia.  In all, the group examined voting and the vote count in nearly 3,000 polling stations.  The Commission contingent observed balloting throughout the Kiev and Cherkasy regions. The Ukrainian Government declined to invite observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an entity discredited in the eyes of many for its effusive praise of fundamentally flawed elections elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including Belarus’ undemocratic March 19 presidential contest.  The CIS stood out for its sharply critical evaluation of Ukraine’s December 26, 2004 presidential elections that resulted in Victor Yushchenko’s victory in elections widely considered to have met democratic standards.  Ukraine has refused to participate further in CIS monitoring missions.  The two dozen Russian Duma observers present offered tempered, mixed opinions about the conduct of Rada elections.   Whatever shortcomings there were in these elections – and no undertaking of this scale is perfect – they appear to have resulted from late or otherwise poor planning.  Among these were delays in the formation of some district and precinct election commissions, the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court, long lines and crowding at some polling stations, and lingering inaccuracies in voter lists.  On the positive side of the balance sheet were the significantly freer media and decidedly more balanced media coverage; no systematic use of administrative resources; the transparent, consensual and professional administration of the elections at all levels; inclusion of domestic, non-partisan observers; and an overhaul of voter lists.        Election day began early with polling stations opening at 7:00 a.m.  There were over 34,000 polling stations.  Adding to the vibrancy of the elections was the large number of domestic observers, an indication of buy-in on the part of Ukrainians young and old alike with many affiliated with particular parties or candidates and others representing NGOs.  Upon entering the polling stations, one was struck by walls plastered with informational bulletins on candidates and parties.  Forty-five parties and blocs vied for seats in parliament.  While the international community was mainly focused on the parliamentary balloting, voting was also underway for regional and local government.  Voters were thus presented with four lengthy ballots: national and regional as well as local councils and mayoral races.  While some older voters were befuddled by this collection of papers, most voters seemed to take it in stride.  Election commission poll workers seemed attentive to their duties.  This was put to the test in the complicated tabulation process that began, once polling stations closed at 10:00 p.m., typically involving the sorting and counting of thousands of papers.  Processing the Rada results alone went into the wee hours of morning, with the three remaining stacks of ballots from other contests proceeding well past daybreak. The undeniable success of the domestic observation in these elections, buttressed by years of investment in training and support by the United States and others, raises obvious questions about the need for future international observations in Ukraine.  Has the time come to “graduate” Ukraine from such scrutiny and leave that necessary task to Ukrainian stakeholders themselves?  Many believe the March 26th elections confirm that that time has come, especially if Ukraine continues on its increasingly democratic trajectory.  The greater and more prominent role of domestic observers, also reinforces the notion that the time for Ukraine’s “graduation” has come.  Indeed, the OSCE should continue to encourage domestic stakeholders to prove themselves to their own people. The Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square that featured so prominently in the massive demonstrations by orange-clad protesters in November 2004 and the jubilant crowds following Yushchenko’s victory a few weeks later, was calm on the Monday following the Rada elections.  Strolling past this bustling area, Ukrainians were going about their routines, perhaps an indicator that the politics of democracy has moved from the Maidan to the Main Streets of cities and towns throughout the country. Whatever the pundits may declaim regarding the election results or the continuing strength of the Orange Revolution, what seemed palpable was a keen appreciation for the business of governing.  Neither a democratic revolution nor a single “free and fair” election are guarantees that the resulting government will be in a position to immediately deal with the basic needs of its people.  Overcoming these obstacles will have a profound impact on how the next government meets the political and economic challenges Ukraine faces at home and abroad.                   What we can say with confidence is that the March 26th elections were a further essential step in the process of overcoming the legacy of the past – a history marred by foreign domination, genocidal famine, denial of political and cultural freedom, and more recently political stagnation.  Today, the people of Ukraine are removing the overgrowth of thorns – an image alluded to by the great poet Taras Shevchenko – that prevented them for so long from pursuing their own pathway to a brighter and more prosperous future.

  • European Court Rules in Critical Czech Desegregation Case; Equal Access to Education for Roma Remains Goal

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law Summary In 1999, several Romani students from the Czech Republic brought a suit before the European Court on Human Rights alleging that their assignment to “special schools” for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated European human rights law.  On February 7, 2006, a seven-member Chamber of the Court held that the applicants failed to prove that their placement in “special schools” was the singular result of intentional racial discrimination.  The plaintiffs have 3 months to appeal to a 17-member Grand Chamber.  Elsewhere in Central and Southern Europe, Roma are also pursuing efforts to achieve equal access to education. Background During the Communist-era, many East European countries developed a practice of channeling Roma into schools for children with mental disabilities, called “special schools.”  Critics have argued that this practice constitutes, de facto, a form of segregating Roma into a separate and inferior school system. The Ostrava Case “Unsatisfactory performance of Gypsy children in Czech and Slovak schools is often “solved” by transferring the children to special schools for the mentally retarded. During the school year of 1970-71 in the Czech lands alone, about 20% of Gypsy children attended these special schools as against only 3% of children from the rest of the population. According to psychological tests the great majority of these children should not be in these schools. This indiscriminate transferring of Gypsy children to these special schools, which is the general practice, reflects unfavorably on the whole Gypsy population. A child who “graduates” from such a school has the same standing as a child who did not finish his basic schooling. Access to better employment opportunities is closed. Even art schools are closed to them, while persons with special musical talent - not uncommon among Gypsies - are shunned. Musical and dance groups are interested in these talented persons, however, they cannot employ them. “The main reason for the unsatisfactory performances of Gypsy children is the fact that there are no schools which teach Gypsy culture and try to develop it. The powers that be are, on the contrary, doing everything to suppress Gypsy culture and the media assists in this destruction by spreading lies, such as that Gypsy culture does not exist. Gypsy children are forced to attend schools where they are taught in the Czech or Slovak language and where, from the pictures in the primer, they get the impression that they are foreign, that they are second class citizens, without their own language, without a past and without a future.”   - Situation of the Gypsies in Czechoslovakia, Charter 77 Document No. 23, issued December 13, 1978 by Vaclav Havel and Dr. Ladislav Hejdanek, Charter 77 Spokesmen In 1999, a group of Roma from Ostrava, the Czech Republic’s third largest city, brought suit against their government, alleging that their assignment to “special schools” for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated Czech national and constitutional law, as well as European human rights law. At the time the case was brought, a number of Czech newspapers ran editorials indirectly espousing some form of school segregation.  For example, one leading newspaper ran an article arguing that educating a “future plumber” and a “future brain surgeon” together ultimately benefits neither one. On October 20, 1999, the Czech Constitutional Court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim.  In the view of the court, it did not have the jurisdiction to address the broad pattern of discriminatory treatment alleged – allegations supported by compelling statistical evidence but no smoking gun that proved an explicit intent to discriminate against the individual plaintiffs. Notwithstanding the Constitutional Court’s perceived jurisdictional inability to provide a remedy to the plaintiffs, the Court recognized “the persuasiveness of the applicants’ arguments” and “assume[d] that the relevant administrative authorities of the Czech Republic shall intensively and effectively deal with the plaintiffs’ proposals.” Having exhausted their domestic remedies, the students then turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, an organ of the Council of Europe. In connection with that suit, Case of D.H. and Others v. The Czech Republic, the Czech Government acknowledged that, nationwide, 75 percent of Czech Roma were channeled into special schools.  In some special schools, Roma made up 80-90 percent of the student body.  The Czech Government also acknowledged that “Roman[i] children with average or above-average intellect [we]re often placed in such schools” for children with mental disability. In opposing the plaintiffs’ claims, the Czech Ministry of Education attempted to deflect an examination of whether their placement in schools for the mentally disabled was the result of racial bias by claiming (among other things) that Romani parents have a “negative attitude” toward education. This assertion was particularly ironic, given the lengths to which the plaintiffs’ parents were willing to go – all the way to Europe’s highest human rights court – to ensure their children could get a good education. “In countries with substantial Romani communities, it is commonplace for Romani children to attend schools that are largely comprised of Roma or to be relegated to Roma classes within mixed schools. In its most pernicious form, segregation is achieved by routing Romani children into ‘special schools’ – schools for the mentally disabled – or into classes for mentally disabled children within regular schools”. - Report on the Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area, issued by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, 2000 Moreover, this broad sweeping generalization, originally made before the Czech Constitutional Court, was viewed by some as confirmation of racial prejudice in the Czech education system. Remarkably, it was repeated without comment in the European Court’s decision.  Putting aside the bias reflected in the Ministry of Education’s assertion, there is no evidence demonstrating that a parent’s “negative attitude” results in actual mental disability in his or her children. Meanwhile, the Czech Government adopted some changes to the law on special schools which came into effect on January 1, 2005 (Law No. 561/2004) and on February 17, 2005 (Decree No. 73/2005).  To some degree, these changes were reactive to the issues raised by the Ostrava suit, including the criticisms of the procedures by which parental consent was purportedly obtained for the placement of children in special schools.  Nevertheless, non-governmental groups monitoring this situation argue that the changes have not dismantled an education system that remains effectively segregated and that the changes fail to provide redress or damages for the Romani plaintiffs from Ostrava who were denied equal access to mainstream schools. The case in Strasbourg was heard by a seven-member Chamber of European Court and resulted in a 6-1 decision.  Significantly, the President of the Chamber issued a concurring decision, in which he stated that some of the arguments of the dissenting judge were very strong.  He also suggested that in order to hold that there had been a violation of the Convention in this case, the Chamber might have to depart from previous decisions of the Court.  In his view, overturning or deviating from past rulings is a task better undertaken by the Grand Chamber of the Court.  The applicants have three months to decide whether to appeal this decision to a 17-member Grand Chamber. While the underlying issues which led Roma to bring this suit still persist, there are many indications that prejudices against Roma in the Czech Republic have diminished since the Ostrava case was first heard by the Czech Constitutional Court.  For example, when the European Court issued its holding in the case, a leading daily paper wrote that although the Czech Government “won” its case, there were still significant problems for Roma in the Czech educational system that needed to be addressed. Limitations of the European Court Decision Significantly, there were several issues the court did not address. The suit in question was brought under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the non-discrimination provision of the Convention, in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention, which provides for a right to education.  In essence, discrimination in education based on race, ethnicity or social origin is prohibited. When interpreting this standard, the Court referred to previous cases in which it held that States party to the European Convention “enjoy a certain margin of appreciation in assessing whether and to what extent differences in otherwise similar situations justify a difference in treatment.”  The Court also reiterated “that the setting and planning of the curriculum falls in principle within the competence of the Contracting States.”  In short, while European Convention norms prohibit discrimination in education, States still have considerable discretion in designing their education programs.  But while the Court reiterated this jurisprudence, it failed to indicate what is meaningfully left of Articles 14 and Protocol 1, Article 2?  What threshold must be crossed before the court will actually determine that alleged discrimination takes a case out of the discretion of the States party to the Convention and brings it within the reach of the Court? Two other issues the court did not address do not relate so much to the court’s own jurisprudence, but from parallel developments in European Union norms in the field of non-discrimination. “The European Parliament [ . . . c]alls on Member States in which Roma children are segregated into schools for the mentally disabled or placed in separate classrooms from their peers to move forward with desegregation programmes within a predetermined period of time, thus ensuring free access to quality education for Roma children and preventing the rise of anti-Romani sentiment amongst school-children.” - European Parliament resolution on the situation of the Roma in the European Union, adopted April 25, 2005 In 2000, the European Union adopted “Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin,” more commonly known as the “Race Directive.”  The directive is binding on all current 25 Member States of the European Union and is intended to ensure a minimum level of protection from race discrimination in all EU countries in several areas, including education.  (The fifteen countries that were EU members as of 2000 had until July 19, 2003, to transfer the directive into national law; applicant countries had until the date of their accession.  The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004 but, in fact, it has not yet adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.  Legislation was introduced in the parliament in late 2005, but the draft was narrowly rejected by the Senate in January 2006.) The Race Directive requires Member States to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that, among other things, requires anti-discrimination legislation to include both direct and indirect discrimination.  Indirect discrimination, which is at issue in the Ostrava case, is defined by the directive as occurring when “an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of a racial or ethnic origin at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are proportionate and necessary.”  The legislation should also shift the burden of proof in civil cases from the plaintiffs to the defendants once a prima facie case of discrimination has been made. Thus, the EU Race Directive anticipates exactly the kind of case the plaintiffs in the Ostrava case presented.  Under the provisions of the directive, the overwhelming pattern of disparate treatment of Roma demonstrated by the plaintiffs should shift the burden of proof from them to the Czech Government.  (Notably, the directive was not applicable to the Czech Republic at the time of the Constitutional Court’s decision.) While the European Court of Human Rights does not adjudicate compliance with or implementation of the EU Race Directive, the Court’s overall approach to the Ostrava case appears to lag behind the legal developments in the European Union and, potentially, render the European Court a less effective vehicle for addressing discrimination than other existing or emerging tools in Europe. Regional Issues and Trends On November 27, 2003, the OSCE Permanent Council adopted “Decision No. 566, Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area.”  In particular, that Action Plan calls on the participating States to “[e]nsure that national legislation includes adequate provisions banning racial segregation and discrimination in education and provides effective remedies for violations of such legislation.”  In addition, participating States were urged to: 73.  Develop and implement comprehensive school desegregation programmes aiming at:  (1) discontinuing the practice of systematically routing Roma children to special schools or classes (e.g., schools for mentally disabled persons, schools and classes exclusively designed for Roma and Sinti children); and  (2) transferring Roma children from special schools to mainstream schools. 74. Allocate financial resources for the transfer of the Roma children to mainstream education and for the development of school support programmes to ease the transition to mainstream education. Thus, all OSCE participating States, including the Czech Republic, have agreed, in principle, to the goal of integrating Roma in education and eradicating de facto segregated school where it may exist. In 2004, the European Roma Rights Center issued a report, Stigmata: Segregated Schooling of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, examining the experiences of five countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia).  The report describes the most common ways of segregating Romani children from non-Roma: channeling Roma into “special schools” for children with developmental disabilities; the de facto segregation that goes hand-in-hand with existence of Romani ghettos; having mixed-population schools where Romani children are segregated into all-Romani classes; and the refusal of some local authorities to enroll Romani children in mainstream schools. The report concludes that, unfortunately, “with the exception of Hungary, concrete government action aimed at desegregating the school system has not been initiated to date.” In addition to the countries examined in Stigmata, the European Roma Rights Center has reported on unequal access to education for Roma in other countries, including Greece and Denmark.  In a 2004 Danish case, Roma were placed into separate classes in one particular locality.  Following complaints from a Romani non-governmental organization, the Danish Ministry of Education intervened to end this practice.  In the case of Greece, the Greek Helsinki Monitor has reported on several localities where Roma are denied equal access to schools.  These cases remain unresolved. In Hungary and Bulgaria, some efforts to litigate this issue have made their way into the courts, with mixed results. “Education is a prerequisite to the participation of Roma and Sinti people in the political, social and economic life of their respective countries on a footing of equality with others. Strong immediate measures in this field, particularly those that foster school attendance and combat illiteracy, should be assigned the highest priority both by decision-makers and by Roma and Sinti communities. Educational policies should aim to integrate Roma and Sinti people into mainstream education by providing full and equal access at all levels, while remaining sensitive to cultural differences.” - OSCE Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area, 2003 In October 2004, the Budapest Metropolitan City Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision ordering a primary school and the local government of Tiszatarjan to pay damages to nine Romani families whose children were wrongly placed in “special schools” between 1994 and 1999.  In June 2005, a court dismissed a case brought against the Miskolc Municipality alleging city-wide segregation.  A Hungarian non-governmental organization which assisted in filing the suit, Chance for Children Foundation, is appealing.  Other legal disputes continue to surround a self-proclaimed “private school” in Jaszladany (established at least in part with municipal resources).  A study commissioned by the Ministry of Education found the “private school” violated the law and contributed to racial segregation. Notwithstanding some recent government initiatives to address this problem in Hungary, desegregation initiatives have met resistance in significant quarters.  Former Prime Minister Victor Orban (who also heads of Hungary’s largest opposition party, FIDESZ), argued in a speech on January 29, 2006, that integrated schooling should not be mandatory, but left to local officials and parents to “choose” or reject.  In fact, the greatest resistance to integrated schooling often comes at the local level. In Bulgaria – where the government continues to deal with Roma through an office for “demographic issues” – efforts to address the causes of segregation have largely originated with the non-governmental community.  Particularly promising results have been achieved in Viden, where community-based efforts, supported by international non-governmental organizations, have resulted in integrating Roma and ethnic Bulgarian school children.  Efforts to replicate that program elsewhere, however, have not been embraced by the government. In addition, in a landmark holding, the Sofia District Court held on October 25, 2005, that the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, the Sofia Municipality and School Number 103 of Sofia violated the prohibition of racial segregation and unequal treatment provided in Bulgarian and international law.   In welcoming that ruling, the European Roma Rights Center declared, “After a period of 51 years, the soul of Brown v. Board of Education has crossed the Atlantic.”

  • American Agenda Moves Forward at the 14th Annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    The 14th Annual Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly convened in Washington, DC, July 1-5, 2005. Speaker of the House, J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), the host for this year’s Assembly, welcomed more than 260 parliamentarians from 51 OSCE participating States as they gathered to discuss various political, economic, and humanitarian issues under the theme, “30 Years since Helsinki: Challenges Ahead.”  Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) served as head of the U.S. Delegation, Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) was delegation vice-chairman.  Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice gave the inaugural address at the assembly’s opening session, thanking the members of the OSCE PA for their work toward “human rights, the rule of law, free and fair elections, and the development of transparent, accountable institutions of government across the OSCE community and around the globe. “As the Chairman-in-Office and Parliamentary Assembly take a fresh look at the OSCE agenda and consider these and other items, preserving the integrity of Helsinki principles and ensuring that the OSCE continues to be an agent of peaceful, democratic transformation should be paramount objectives,” Secretary Rice said. Chairman Brownback in plenary remarks underscored the rich history of the Helsinki Process, unwavering U.S. commitment to human rights and the dignity of the individual, and the dramatic advances made in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.  At the same time, he pointed to the remaining work to be done in the OSCE region and beyond to meet the promises made with the signing of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act.      Offering guidance to the body, OSCE PA President and Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) reiterated the gathering’s theme:  “In this new Europe, and in this new world, the OSCE and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly must stand ready to respond to new threats and challenges, and this means evolving and adapting to new realities.” Agenda and Issues Among the issues considered by the Assembly were recommendations for changes in the OSCE Code of Conduct for Mission Members, efforts to combat human trafficking, and calls for greater transparency and accountability in election procedures in keeping with OSCE commitments made by each of the 55 participating States. The First Committee on Political Affairs and Security met to discuss matters of terrorism and conflict resolution, including resolutions on the following topics: terrorism by suicide bombers the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia terrorism and human rights Moldova and the status of Transdniestria Under the chairmanship of Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), the Second Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment moved on a number of issues, including resolutions and amendments on: small arms and light weapons maritime security and piracy the OSCE Mediterranean dimension money laundering the fight against corruption The Third Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions tackled a number of resolutions, as well as two supplementary items brought by members of the U.S. Delegation.  Other topics addressed by the Committee included:         the need to strengthen the Code of Conduct for OSCE Mission Members combating trafficking in human beings improving the effectiveness of OSCE election observation activities The Assembly plenary met in consideration of the resolutions passed by the general committees as well as the following supplementary items: improving gender equality in the OSCE combating anti-Semitism Special side events were held in conjunction with the 5-day meeting, including a briefing on the status of detainees at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, held by senior U.S. officials from the Departments of Defense and State.  Members of the U.S. Delegation also participated in the following organized events: Parliamentary responses to anti-Semitism Working breakfast on gender issues Mediterranean side meeting Panel discussion on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict Human rights in Uzbekistan Meeting of the parliamentary team on Moldova In addition, while participating in the Assembly, members of the U.S. Delegation held bilateral meetings with fellow parliamentarians from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.  They also had formal discussions with the newly appointed OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut. Key U.S. Initiatives The successful adoption of a number of supplementary items and amendments to the Assembly’s Washington Declaration illustrated the extent of the activity of the members of the U.S. Delegation in the three Assembly committees.  The delegation met success in advancing its initiatives in human trafficking, election observation activities, and religious freedom. As a result, the Washington Declaration reflects significant input based on U.S. initiatives. In the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, Senator Voinovich (R-OH) sponsored, and successfully passed, a supplementary item on funding for the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to allow it to continue its missions and responsibilities. Speaking on the passage of his resolution on combating trafficking at the hands of international peacekeepers, Co-Chairman Smith said, “In the past, the lack of appropriate codes of conduct for international personnel, including military service members, contractors, and international organization’s employees, limited the ability to counter sexual exploitation and trafficking.  That is finally changing.” The U.S. Delegation also overwhelmingly defeated text offered by the Russian Delegation that would have weakened the ability of ODIHR to effectively perform election observations.  Co-Chairman Smith, principal sponsor of the amendments that served to frustrate the Russian resolution, praised the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly saying, “The Parliamentary Assembly has reaffirmed the central and historic leadership role of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in monitoring elections….Parliamentarians from the participating States have soundly rejected the ploy to weaken OSCE election standards, holding participating States accountable when they fail to fulfill their OSCE election commitments.” On the issue of religious freedom, the U.S. Delegation carried through two amendments to the final Assembly declaration. “I am very pleased that these amendments passed,” said Co-Chairman Smith, who offered the amendments to the draft resolution.  “However, the fact that the first amendment passed by only 10 votes underscores the continuing challenge in the fight for religious liberties in the OSCE region.  The fact that parliamentarians are willing to discriminate against minority religious communities is sobering.” In addition, an amendment brought by Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC) that calls on the U.S. Congress to grant voting rights for residents of the District of Columbia secured passage. Leadership Positions Commissioner Hastings was re-elected unanimously to another one-year term as the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  Joining the U.S. leadership on the Parliamentary Assembly, Commissioner Benjamin L. Cardin was also re-elected Chairman of the General on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment by unanimous decision.  Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith continues in his role as Special Representative on Human Trafficking to the OSCE PA.  Additionally, Rep. Hoyer chaired the Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency and Accountability, which works to foster greater response from the governments of participating States to Assembly initiatives. The close of the Assembly was marked with the adoption of the Washington Declaration and concluding remarks by OSCE PA President Hastings. The Parliamentary Assembly will meet again next year, July 3-7, in Brussels, Belgium. U.S. Delegation to 14th Annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly: Commission Chairman Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)

  • The “Yukos Affair” and Its Implications for Politics and Business in Russia

    Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation, Hon. Chris Smith, addressed the subject of the rule of law in Russia and its relationship to business and politics in the context of Russia’s approaching chairmanship of the G-8 at the end of the year. An argument was made that the Yukos case was characterized by selective prosecution and blatant legal arbitrariness. The potential outcomes of Russia indifference or hostility to the rule of law were also addressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Leoni Nevzlin, Former Executive of Yukos Oil, and Peter Roudik, Senior Foreign Law Specialist for the Law Library of Congress – examined the deficiencies of Russia’s legal system and the shortcomings of the criminal justice reform that was supposedly implemented and completed successfully.

  • The Future of Human Rights in Kosovo

    This hearing, held by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith , stressed, among other things, that there was still a lot of work to be achieved regarding human rights in Kosovo, such as security and property issues. In particular, Brownback and Smith focused on the international community, including countries in the OSCE region. This hearing was held with increased diplomatic activity that may have led to consideration of Kosovo’s status in 2005 in mind. Witnesses to this hearing included Soren Jessen-Petersen, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, and Charles L. English, Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  

  • Slovenia’s Leadership of the OSCE

    This hearing examined the challenges facing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2005. New and emerging threats from external actors, including terrorist organizations and rogue regimes, have led the organization to take a greater look at its periphery and seek multilateral responses to issues ranging from terrorist financing to arms proliferation. Issues related to OSCE work were on the agenda of the recent Bush-Putin summit in Bratislava and could impact the organization’s future activity. The testimony of His Excellency Dimitrij Rupel, Foreign Minister of Slovenia and this year’s OSCE Chairman, presented an overview of the wide array of initiatives undertaken by the OSCE regarding issues like human trafficking, organized criminal activity and official corruption, anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, human rights violations in countries of Central Asia, and areas of tension or conflict in the Caucasus, the Balkans and elsewhere in the expansive OSCE region. Strategies for continuing to pursue these issues were discussed.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Visit Ukraine

    By Orest Deychakiwsky Staff Advisor United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Commission Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) met with Ukrainian officials, non-governmental organizations, and religious leaders in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 26-27, 2005. The delegation also laid wreaths at the Memorial to the Victims of the 1932-33 Terror-Famine and at the Babyn (Babi) Yar memorial. The Commissioners had substantive and far-reaching meetings with Ukraine’s State Secretary Oleksandr Zinchenko, Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yevhen Chervonenko, and Chairman of the parliament’s Committee on Organized Crime and Corruption Volodymyr Stretovych. The meetings covered many topics, including the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik amendment and granting normal trade relations (NTR) status as well as facilitating Ukraine’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Commissioners Smith and Cardin were impressed with the political will and determination of Ukraine’s Government officials as well as the non-governmental organizations to work for positive change in Ukraine. As an original cosponsor, Co-Chairman Smith noted the recent introduction of a bill by House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL), which would grant Ukraine NTR. Commissioner Cardin affirmed his support for NTR and Ukraine’s joining WTO, noting that it was critical for Ukraine to conclude intellectual property rights talks with the United States. Discussions also centered on human trafficking, corruption, the rule of law and human rights issues such as torture, the Gongadze case, sustaining media freedoms, and on how the United States can best assist Ukraine during this time of historic transition. State Secretary Zinchenko expressed pleasure at the current state of U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations, observing that both sides now have trust in each other. He outlined President Viktor Yushchenko’s priorities, including combating corruption, extending a hand to business, protecting private property, promoting respect for the rule of law – especially in government entities such as the Interior Ministry, tax police and the security services – as well as promoting the further development of civil society. Secretary Zinchenko also emphasized the importance of U.S. investment in Ukraine. The Commissioners and Ukrainian officials also discussed in detail HIV/AIDS in Ukraine, which Zinchenko described as very acute and far-reaching, and the proposed new Chornobyl shelter that will cover the crumbling old sarcophagus. Minister of Justice Roman Zvarych outlined the Justice Ministry’s priorities to encourage and ensure the rule of law. Securing human rights and liberties would include such measures as getting the police to pay attention to procedural norms and urging parliament to adopt necessary civil and administrative procedural code changes. With respect to combating corruption, Zvarych hopes to soon unveil a comprehensive “Clean Hands” program, including a code of ethics. Cleaning up the court system is another priority, and the Justice Ministry has plans to take a variety of steps against judges engaged in corrupt practices. The delegation and Zvarych discussed the issues of human trafficking, torture of detainees, the Gongadze case, restitution of religious property and national minority issues. Chairman Volodymyr Stretovych and representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) gave a comprehensive briefing on the problem of human trafficking in Ukraine, what steps are being taken by the government and NGOs to combat this scourge and plans on further addressing this important issue. A key concern was improving law enforcement cooperation between Ukraine (as a country of origin for victims of trafficking) and countries of destination. U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Sheila Gwaltney hosted a meeting with U.S. Embassy, U.S. Agency for International Development, and FBI officials during which U.S. efforts to assist the new Ukrainian Government in promoting the rule of law and combating human trafficking were discussed. The delegation also visited an IOM-sponsored medical rehabilitation center for trafficking victims. Human trafficking, as well as religious rights issues, were also discussed in a meeting with Papal Nuncio Archbishop Ivan Jurkovich. Ambassador John Herbst organized and hosted a discussion with NGO representatives from Freedom House, Institute for Mass Information, the Chernihiv-based organization Dobrochyn and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Mykhaylo Horyn, former Soviet political prisoner and head of the pro-independence movement Rukh in the early 1990s, also participated in the meeting. The delegation met with Jewish representatives, including the new Minister of Transportation and Communications Yevhen Chervonenko who is also Vice-President of the Eurasian Jewish Congress. They discussed matters pertaining to Ukraine’s Jewish community, assessing them positively. Foreign Minister Tarasyuk expressed gratitude to the Helsinki Commission for its active work in support of democracy in Ukraine and stated that the clear position of Congress and the U.S. Government, including support for a strong contingent of international election observers during the recent elections, effectively helped Ukrainian democracy. In raising Jackson-Vanik graduation, market economy status, and the WTO, Minister Tarasyuk cited strong readiness and willingness on the part of the Ukrainian Government to remove obstacles on their part, including a promise to submit in the Rada shortly a draft law on intellectual property rights. Minister Tarasyuk and the Commissioners also discussed the vital importance of ongoing OSCE election observation, Ukrainian-Russian relations, and Ukraine’s strengthened role in resolving the long-festering Moldova-Trandniestria conflict. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Visit Ukraine; Impressed By Government's Efforts on Road to Recovery

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Staff Advisor United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Commission Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) met with Ukrainian officials, non-governmental organizations, and religious leaders in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 26-27, 2005. The delegation also laid wreaths at the Memorial to the Victims of the 1932-33 Terror-Famine and at the Babyn (Babi) Yar memorial. The Commissioners had substantive and far-reaching meetings with Ukraine’s State Secretary Oleksandr Zinchenko, Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yevhen Chervonenko, and Chairman of the parliament’s Committee on Organized Crime and Corruption Volodymyr Stretovych. The meetings covered many topics, including the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik amendment and granting normal trade relations (NTR) status as well as facilitating Ukraine’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Commissioners Smith and Cardin were impressed with the political will and determination of Ukraine’s Government officials as well as the non-governmental organizations to work for positive change in Ukraine. As an original cosponsor, Co-Chairman Smith noted the recent introduction of a bill by House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL), which would grant Ukraine NTR. Commissioner Cardin affirmed his support for NTR and Ukraine’s joining WTO, noting that it was critical for Ukraine to conclude intellectual property rights talks with the United States. Discussions also centered on human trafficking, corruption, the rule of law and human rights issues such as torture, the Gongadze case, sustaining media freedoms, and on how the United States can best assist Ukraine during this time of historic transition. State Secretary Zinchenko expressed pleasure at the current state of U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations, observing that both sides now have trust in each other. He outlined President Viktor Yushchenko’s priorities, including combating corruption, extending a hand to business, protecting private property, promoting respect for the rule of law – especially in government entities such as the Interior Ministry, tax police and the security services – as well as promoting the further development of civil society. Secretary Zinchenko also emphasized the importance of U.S. investment in Ukraine. The Commissioners and Ukrainian officials also discussed in detail HIV/AIDS in Ukraine, which Zinchenko described as very acute and far-reaching, and the proposed new Chornobyl shelter that will cover the crumbling old sarcophagus. Minister of Justice Roman Zvarych outlined the Justice Ministry’s priorities to encourage and ensure the rule of law. Securing human rights and liberties would include such measures as getting the police to pay attention to procedural norms and urging parliament to adopt necessary civil and administrative procedural code changes. With respect to combating corruption, Zvarych hopes to soon unveil a comprehensive “Clean Hands” program, including a code of ethics. Cleaning up the court system is another priority, and the Justice Ministry has plans to take a variety of steps against judges engaged in corrupt practices. The delegation and Zvarych discussed the issues of human trafficking, torture of detainees, the Gongadze case, restitution of religious property and national minority issues. Chairman Volodymyr Stretovych and representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) gave a comprehensive briefing on the problem of human trafficking in Ukraine, what steps are being taken by the government and NGOs to combat this scourge and plans on further addressing this important issue. A key concern was improving law enforcement cooperation between Ukraine (as a country of origin for victims of trafficking) and countries of destination. U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Sheila Gwaltney hosted a meeting with U.S. Embassy, U.S. Agency for International Development, and FBI officials during which U.S. efforts to assist the new Ukrainian Government in promoting the rule of law and combating human trafficking were discussed. The delegation also visited an IOM-sponsored medical rehabilitation center for trafficking victims. Human trafficking, as well as religious rights issues, were also discussed in a meeting with Papal Nuncio Archbishop Ivan Jurkovich. Ambassador John Herbst organized and hosted a discussion with NGO representatives from Freedom House, Institute for Mass Information, the Chernihiv-based organization Dobrochyn and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Mykhaylo Horyn, former Soviet political prisoner and head of the pro-independence movement Rukh in the early 1990s, also participated in the meeting. The delegation met with Jewish representatives, including the new Minister of Transportation and Communications Yevhen Chervonenko who is also Vice-President of the Eurasian Jewish Congress. They discussed matters pertaining to Ukraine’s Jewish community, assessing them positively. Foreign Minister Tarasyuk expressed gratitude to the Helsinki Commission for its active work in support of democracy in Ukraine and stated that the clear position of Congress and the U.S. Government, including support for a strong contingent of international election observers during the recent elections, effectively helped Ukrainian democracy. In raising Jackson-Vanik graduation, market economy status, and the WTO, Minister Tarasyuk cited strong readiness and willingness on the part of the Ukrainian Government to remove obstacles on their part, including a promise to submit in the Rada shortly a draft law on intellectual property rights. Minister Tarasyuk and the Commissioners also discussed the vital importance of ongoing OSCE election observation, Ukrainian-Russian relations, and Ukraine’s strengthened role in resolving the long-festering Moldova-Trandniestria conflict.

  • Democratic Change in Ukraine Provides a Backdrop of Success at the 12th OSCE Ministerial

    By Elizabeth Pryor, Senior Advisor The twelfth Ministerial Council Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) took place in Sofia, Bulgaria, December 6-7, 2004.  The United States Delegation was led by Secretary of State Colin Powell.  Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, who is a Helsinki Commissioner, headed the delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in his role as President of that body.  Secretary Powell noted that the United States “bases its faith in the OSCE’s future not just on past successes, but on the significant contributions this pioneering organization is making today,” citing among other achievements the preparation of landmark elections in Georgia and Afghanistan. Congressman Hastings spoke of the important work of the Parliamentary Assembly in promoting democracy, in fighting terrorism and in election monitoring, and called for more OSCE involvement in the Caucasus and Central Asia.  He concluded:  “The OSCE has enormous potential to help Europe and the world to become places of peace, stability and co-operation….the world will be more dangerous without it.” During the meeting ministers strengthened their commitment to use the organization to fight terrorism, taking several decisions that make it more difficult for terrorists to operate in the region.  They also encouraged OSCE participating states to adopt measures to fight corruption, including ratification of the UN Convention against Corruption.  They underscored the important political role of the OSCE Secretary General, gave impetus to the implementation of earlier decisions on promotion of equal opportunity for women and men, and reiterated their commitment to combat racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. They also pushed for quicker and better implementation of OSCE methods of eliminating stockpiles of conventional armaments and ensuring proper export documents for small arms and light weapons. New agreements to protect child victims and more vigorous attention to penalizing sex tourists, and other individuals who prey on children, enhanced earlier OSCE actions to counter human trafficking.  Ministers also agreed to augment activities that would address economic instability, through the organization’s Economic Forum. In addition, ministers welcomed the intention of the OSCE Chairman to appoint three distinguished personal representatives to combat discrimination and promote tolerance. This decision stemmed from significant meetings during the previous years which registered OSCE concern at growing instances of intolerance, some of them acts of violence.  The Bulgarian chairmanship subsequently appointed Anastasia Crickley of Ireland as the special representative to combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination; Gert Weisskirchen of Germany as the special representative to combat anti-Semitism; and Ömür Orhun of Turkey to be special representative to combat intolerance and discrimination against Muslims.      The measures taken to reduce the ability of terrorists to function in the region are especially significant. Ministers pushed to complete an agreement on comprehensive and uniform standards for border security; new methods of information exchange about the use of the Internet by terrorists–including an international meeting by experts; strong coordination with other international organizations to ensure the security of shipping containers; and a harmonized method for relaying and compiling information on lost and stolen passports through Interpol.  If agreed within the next year, as ministers hope, and implemented vigorously, collectively these decisions can dramatically curb the ability of terrorists to move people and weapons easily and change identities without detection. Texts of all of the decisions can be found at www.osce.org. *   *   *   *   * Negotiation at Sofia was difficult.  A U.S. proposal to extend and augment the provisions of a June 2004 NATO anti-trafficking plan failed to be agreed.  A Russian-proposed text that would have changed the perimeters of OSCE election monitoring was also blocked. No joint statement of the ministers could be concluded.  An important decision to extend the mandate of the OSCE Border Monitoring Operation in Georgia was not agreed. In all of these negotiations, the Russian Federation was isolated, either in its demands, or in its refusal to join consensus. Secretary of State Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov openly disagreed in their interventions about the validity of OSCE operations in the former Soviet Union.  Secretary Powell took issue with Lavrov’s assertion that OSCE’s focus on the region was disproportionate, pointing out that the United States has used the organization to discuss its own difficulties, including the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq.  There is a long history of such disagreements within the OSCE. One need only look at the negotiating record of the original Helsinki Accords to note the seemingly insurmountable gulf that existed in 1975. At that time negotiations were complicated by disputes between the West and the then-powerful neutral and non-aligned nations, as well as between East and West. Those talks took place in an atmosphere of a near-zero diplomatic interaction between many of the countries. Yet skillful negotiation and a larger vision won the day.  Over the years the Helsinki process has witnessed stand-offs over the status of fixed–wing aircraft in the negotiations on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE); over development of new standards for media freedom; on the creation of the field missions for which it is now so celebrated; on the division of roles in election monitoring and hundreds of other issues. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of the organization is that it assumes strong disagreement among the participating States. The glory of the OSCE is that it has not seen this as an obstacle to progress, but has always kept its dialogue open and lively and found creative ways to search for common ground.  Those debating today’s issues should find the successful negotiations of the past both encouraging and instructive. In the wake of Russian intransigence, a number of newspaper comments and internal accounts of the ministerial meeting have been unduly pessimistic, with some commentators even extrapolating about the near demise of the OSCE. The disappointment seems to center on the inability of the 55-nation organization to agree to the joint statement that traditionally concludes these meetings. The fate of the highly effective Border Monitoring Operation is of real concern and should be the object of concerted, expert diplomacy by all OSCE States.  But the vitality of the OSCE is not in question, and it is striking that such an array of senior observers has limited its definition of relevancy to an almost invisible statement, the kind that in today’s diplomatic world has decreasing impact or shelf-life.  Perhaps it would have been better if those in Sofia had agreed to a joint statement, but it is largely irrelevant that they did not. For, over the past few years, the OSCE has seen stunning proof of its true relevance:  the influence of its agreed standards of conduct and its continuing ability to inspire those who are courageous enough to fight for democracy and then make it stick. This year’s Sofia meeting was dominated by Ukraine’s remarkable democratic ferment.  In Sofia, negotiations took place against a backdrop of the Ukrainian people embracing systems of liberty and justice.  Just as evident was the ineffectiveness of the oligarchs, petty tyrants and reactionary ideologues who had tried to stifle this heady movement.  The excitement and optimism were palpable as the news reports – first of the crowds in Independence Square, then the courageous actions in the parliament and courts – came filtering into Sofia’s old communist Hall of Culture, itself a symbol of the OSCE’s ability to effect positive change. There is no doubt that the events of these historic weeks owed much to three decades of the OSCE’s tireless and patient work.  First, the Helsinki process eroded the bulwark of communism; then through its mission in Ukraine and its support of many valiant NGOs, it persistently promoted the rule of law and free processes over the false security of re-emergent authoritarianism.  If it all seemed a little familiar, it was because the 2003 Maastricht ministerial meeting was colored by a similar public demand for democracy in Georgia, also a product of OSCE’s influence and persistence. And, four years ago, we welcomed another electoral surprise as Serbia’s citizens demanded the right to a valid election and a future that they themselves would determine. All of these developments are very heartening.  They attest to the indomitable will of people everywhere to live in freedom and of the important way OSCE principles support them.  The continuing quest for democracy in Europe is the true measure of the OSCE’s success.  No anodyne statement, no “family photo” of beaming foreign ministers, could possibly illustrate the OSCE’s importance as have these real and hopeful events. That the OSCE remains the major player in promoting European unity and security is also apparent in the rhetoric of some leaders who want to sabotage its work.  Notable among them are Alexandr Lukashenko, the autocrat in Belarus, who openly resists fulfilling the commitments made freely by his country, and Sparmurat Niyazov, who holds Turkmenistan under dictatorial rule. Unfortunately, others are following in this path, Vladmir Putin among them.  These increasingly authoritarian leaders see that the high principles of the Helsinki Accords can motivate people to demand their rights and thus discourage selfish governmental policies and foreign adventurism.  They want to thwart OSCE influence precisely because it stands in the way of backsliding toward the uncontrolled exercise of personal power.  Ironically, their refusal to cooperate on OSCE policies that continue the forward momentum toward freedom only serve to point up just how successful the organization has become. As it moves to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Accords the OSCE has much to be proud of.  But it also has a great deal of work ahead of it.  The participating States of the organization must be certain that they continue to stabilize both borders and the democratic institutions of Georgia.  Unresolved conflicts continue to fester in Moldova and Nagorno-Karabakh, and the situation in Kosovo remains fragile and tense.  Human rights are jeopardized in much of Central Asia, with the OSCE often the lone voice in their defense.  Several states have crossed the line into totalitarianism.  Well-established democracies, including the United States, need to be eternally vigilant, lest we take our fundamental freedoms for granted and allow our high ideals to be eroded.  None of this is evidence of OSCE ineffectiveness, but of our continuing need for its guidance.  The process of promoting human rights is continual.  It is essential that the OSCE is there to remind us that we must never become complacent. Among the most important decisions the OSCE took at Sofia was the reassertion of the important political role of the organization’s Secretary General.  The Helsinki Commission hopes that this year, when a new Secretary General will be selected, participating States will choose a strong individual, a person of proven and inspirational leadership and managerial excellence.  OSCE ministers also chose to appoint a panel of eminent persons to advise on any directional adaptation that may help strengthen the organization.  Once again, members of the Helsinki Commission trust that people with innovative ideas and recent expertise will be chosen.  One fitting recommendation that could be made by the panel would be to call a review conference to evaluate the vitality of organizational structures and the commitment of its participating States.  There is a long tradition of this kind of self-assessment at the OSCE and such a move would be especially appropriate in the anniversary year.  It would also address the call made by several states to take a comprehensive look at the future work of the OSCE. All European institutions play important roles for ensuring the security of the region.  Yet, OSCE remains the most agile instrument for promoting our dearest and most enduring values.  It is not about quick fixes or flashy actions, but works slowly over the long term to create true stability and cooperation.  Other institutions may also help motivate nations to take a path compatible with democracy.  But only the OSCE has the inclusivity, the agreed values and the presence on the ground to get them over the finish line. Sofia a failure for lack of a joint communiqué?  No, not at all.  If you are looking for a “statement” of the OSCE’s vitality, read it in the faces on Independence Square in Kiev; in the recent history of Slovenia, its incoming Chairman; and in the fear with which it is regarded by those who would wield disproportionate power over their citizens.

  • The Case of Mikhail Trepashkin

    Mr. Speaker, there is reason to fear for the fate of rule of law in Russia. I want to present one relevant example.   Mikhail Trepashkin, an attorney and former Federal Security Service, FSB, officer was arrested on October 24, 2003, a week before he was scheduled to represent in legal proceedings the relatives of one of the victims of a terrorist attack in Moscow. Mr. Trepashkin's American client is Tatyana Morozova of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In September 1999, Ms. Morozova's mother was killed and her sister barely survived the bombing of an apartment house in Moscow. Officially, the crime was blamed on Chechen separatists, but Mr. Trepashkin was expected to present the findings of his investigation which suggested involvement of elements of the FSB in the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow as well as an aborted attempted bombing in the city of Ryazan.   Mr. Trepashkin had been a consultant to the public commission set up by prominent human rights activist and former Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev to investigate the 1999 bombings. The Kovalev commission asked many unpleasant questions but got precious few answers from the authorities. Meanwhile, in the course of his investigation Trepashkin discovered evidence that didn't track with the official version of the bombing incidents. This included events in Ryazan, where a bomb in an apartment basement was discovered by local police and safely detonated hours before it was due to explode. The two suspects in that case were released after presenting FSB identification documents. The whole incident was later declared a "readiness exercise" by Russian authorities.   Several months later, the co-chairman of the Kovalev Commission, Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, was assassinated in front of his home. Four persons were convicted of the murder. Another member of the Commission died of food poisoning in a hospital, another was severely beaten by thugs, and two members lost their seats in the Duma. The activities of the decimated commission came to an abrupt halt.   A week before the October 24, 2003 trial opened, the police just happened to pull Trepashkin over on the highway, and just happened to find a revolver in his car. Trepashkin claims the gun was planted. Three weeks later, he was put on trial and sentenced to 4 years labor camp by a closed court for allegedly divulging state secrets to a foreign journalist.   Mr. Speaker, I don't know all the details of this case, but it looks very much like Mr. Trepashkin was prosecuted in order to prevent him from releasing potentially damaging information regarding the activities of the FSB. The U.S. State Department has commented diplomatically: "The arrest and trial of Mikhail Trepashkin raised concerns about the undue influence of the FSB and arbitrary use of the judicial system."   Today Mr. Trepashkin is held in a Volokolamsk city jail in a 130-square foot, lice-infested cell, which he shares with six other prisoners. He suffers from asthma but reportedly has been denied health care or even medicine. These arduous conditions may be retaliation for Mr. Trepashkin's filing a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.   It is difficult to believe that President Putin, given his KGB and FSB background, is unaware of the controversy surrounding the bombing investigations and the possibility that elements of the security services were involved. He must realize that corruption and personal vendettas within the FSB are dangerous commodities not only for the people of Russia, but for an entire civilized world that relies on the combined efforts of the intelligence community in the war against terrorism.   I urge President Putin to order a thorough and honest investigation of Mikhail Trepashkin's jailing and full cooperation with the Kovalev Commission. While the jury is still out on the 1999 bombings, persecution of those who want to find out the truth does not add to Mr. Putin's credibility among those in the West who so far have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  

  • Bring Paul Klebnikov’s Killers to Justice

    Mr. Speaker, I want to call the attention of my colleagues to the death of journalist Paul Klebnikov, who was murdered on July 9 of this year outside his Moscow office. An American citizen of Russian lineage, Mr. Klebnikov was editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, he was the 11th journalist killed in Russia in a contract-style murder in the past four and a half years.   Mr. Klebnikov had achieved prominence as a result of his investigative journalism which often focused on the connections between business, politics and crime in Russia. Mr. Klebnikov's investigations resulted in his writing two books, both devoted to exposing corruption within Russia's business and political sectors. Clearly, he made powerful enemies. There has been speculation that his murder was connected to a Forbes article that focused on Moscow's 100 wealthiest people. Someone, goes the theory, did not care for the publicity. Another suggestion is that Mr. Klebnikov's book Conversation with a Barbarian: Interview with a Chechen Field Commander on Banditry and Islam may have sparked a motive for the murder.   It was Mr. Klebnikov's love of Russia and his belief that reforms were advancing the nation toward a greater transparency in business and politics that motivated him to launch the Russian edition of Forbes magazine in April 2004. Mr. Klebnikov was committed to exposing and confronting corruption in the hope that such work would contribute to a brighter future for the people of Russia. He believed that accountability was an essential element to achieve lasting reforms.   Unfortunately, this hope for a better future in Russia has been dealt a serious blow by the murder of Paul Klebnikov. As I and ten other Members of the Helsinki Commission wrote to President Putin on October 5th of this year, much more is at stake than determining who killed Paul Klebnikov. The fear and self-censorship arising from the murders of journalists in Russia only serves to add to the corruption of government officials and businessmen. A cowed press cannot be the effective instrument for building the free and prosperous society that Mr. Putin purports to seek.   Mr. Speaker, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, on the occasion of "Militia Day," November 10, President Vladimir Putin told police officials that protecting the economy from crime and fighting corruption is a priority task in Russia. I would urge Mr. Putin to back up these words with action. Russian authorities should investigate to the fullest extent possible the murder of Mr. Klebnikov, no matter where the trail leads.   Only through rule of law and accountability can Russia achieve the safe, free and comfortable future that Mr. Klebnikov believed was possible.

  • Helsinki Commission Staff Observe Farcical Belarus Elections

    By Orest S. Deychakiwsky and Ronald J. McNamara CSCE Staff On October 17, Belarus held fundamentally flawed parliamentary elections and a referendum allowing Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenka unlimited terms as president.  Lukashenka’s current “term” expires in 2006.  The rigged referendum certainly did nothing to legitimize Lukashenka's now ten-year repressive rule.  Likewise, the new National Assembly will lack legitimacy because of the fundamentally flawed nature of these elections. The entire electoral process from beginning to end was marred by abuses, including a profound lack of a level playing field especially with respect to media access, an intimidating electoral environment, arbitrary candidate de-registration, breaches in pre-electoral early voting, and serious misconduct in balloting and the count. Not one opposition candidate officially won a seat to the 110-member National Assembly, the Belarusian parliament.  The handful of independent-minded parliamentarians from the previous National Assembly will be replaced by Lukashenka loyalists, eliminating even that modest reformist element.  While the official results of the referendum asserted that the measure had passed with 77 percent of the vote, an independent Gallup Organization exit poll indicated only 48.4 percent support.     The OSCE International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) consisted of nearly 300 election observers.  Helsinki Commission staff members were part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly component of the OSCE effort, observing balloting in the Minsk , Mogilev and Gomel oblasts.  The IEOM concluded that Belarus ’ elections fell significantly short of OSCE commitments for democratic elections and that “the Belarusian authorities failed to ensure the fundamental conditions necessary for the will of the people to serve as a basis for authority of government.” The United States , with other Western nations and institutions concurring, expressed dismay over the systematic, egregious violations of numerous OSCE commitments in the lead up to and during the elections.  On October 21, Ambassador of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE Stephan M. Minikes stated: “In light of the damning reports from the OSCE IEOM, of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and of independent domestic and international NGOs about the intimidating electoral environment, the deficient and abusively implemented legal electoral framework and misconduct during actual voting and vote counting, the Government of Belarus has called into question its own democratic authority and legitimacy and that of its constitution.” The international media slammed the referendum and elections.  On October 19, The New York Times called the elections a “sham” while The Washington Post titled its lead editorial “The Rape of Belarus.”  Not surprisingly, only the contingent of observers from the “Commonwealth of Independent States,” a dubious group yet to issue a critical assessment of an election in a member state, gave its ringing endorsement of the elections. Commission observers concluded that the regime's domination over the media and constant assault on the independent press together with the authorities’ near-total control of all facets of the electoral apparatus resulted in a referendum and parliamentary election that were neither free nor fair.  There was a stark absence of any kind of a level playing field and a profound lack of transparency in the electoral process.  The Government of Belarus has repeatedly failed to address the four OSCE criteria for free and fair elections in Belarus established more than four years ago.  It was evident throughout the electoral period that a chilling climate of fear remains in Belarus . Commission staff were particularly struck by the extent of the domination and shameless bias of state-run news media, especially Belarusian Television One which, in its post-referendum coverage, evoked pre-glasnost, Soviet-era television in addition to other forms of agitation and propaganda.  The struggling independent media has faced escalating pressures. The courage, determination and resourcefulness of the independent media, as well as that of NGOs and the democratic opposition was impressive.  Each persists in providing alternative viewpoints and perspectives in the face of overwhelming odds.  Lukashenka’s crackdown has swept other independent institutions, such as schools and independent trade unions.  Last month, for instance, a U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) Commission of Inquiry report found evidence of severe workers’ rights violations in Belarus . It did not take long for Lukashenka’s true colors to re-emerge following his referendum “victory.”  Commission staff observed approximately 2,000 people peacefully protesting against the falsified referendum results the day after the October 17 vote.  Security forces showed restraint, perhaps because of the presence of international media and observers.  However, during an October 19 demonstration, security forces viciously beat United Civic Party leader Anatoly Lebedka, causing him to be hospitalized.  Some 40 individuals were beaten, arrested and detained for peacefully protesting the “official results” of the elections and referendum.  Both Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), who met with Lebedka on several occasions in Washington and in Europe during meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, condemned the violence. “The violence perpetrated by the authorities only serves to further expose the nature of Lukashenka’s dictatorial regime,” said Chairman Smith.  “One would think that with his referendum ‘victory,’ Lukashenka would have enough confidence to allow peaceful expression of views without resorting to brutal force,” added Co-Chairman Campbell. The farcical October 17 elections underscore the importance of the Belarus Democracy Act, with its strong commitment to democracy, human rights and rule of law in Belarus. The Belarus Democracy Act Despite the widespread belief both within and outside Belarus that the passage of the Belarus Democracy Act was linked with the referendum, it was actually the result of the exigencies of the congressional calendar, as the 108th Congress moved toward adjournment.  The Belarus Democracy Act (BDA), sponsored by Chairman Smith, unanimously passed the House of Representatives on October 4 and the United States Senate on October 6.  The original measure was introduced in the Senate by Co-Chairman Campbell. Passage of the BDA provoked harsh reaction from Minsk.  Lukashenka derided Members of Congress as “dumb asses” for passing the bill.  The Belarusian Foreign Ministry resorted to worn-out accusations of “interference in internal affairs.” On October 21, President George W. Bush signed the BDA into law stating, “At a time when freedom is advancing around the world, Aleksandr Lukashenka and his government are turning Belarus into a regime of repression in the heart of Europe, its government isolated from its neighbors and its people isolated from each other.” “The Belarus Democracy Act will help us support those within Belarus who are working toward democracy,” Bush added.  “We welcome this legislation as a means to bolster friends of freedom and to nurture the growth of democratic values, habits, and institutions within Belarus.  The fate of Belarus will rest not with a dictator, but with the students, trade unionists, civic and religious leaders, journalists, and all citizens of Belarus claiming freedom for their nation.” The BDA promotes democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus, and encourages the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus’ sovereignty and independence.  The bill authorizes assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media – including radio broadcasting into Belarus – and international exchanges. The BDA also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections; supports imposition of sanctions on Lukashenka’s regime; and requires reports from the president concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states and reports on Lukashenka’s personal wealth and assets as well as those of other senior Belarusian leaders. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.  

  • Briefing Surveys Human Rights of Russia's Roma Population

    By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law On September 23, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on “The Roma in Russia.”  Panelists included Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director, Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, a consultant for the Open Society Institute specializing in minority issues in the former Soviet Union. Elizabeth Pryor, Senior Advisor to the Helsinki Commission, moderated the briefing.  She noted the Commission’s long engagement regarding the human rights problems faced by Roma as well as the overall human rights situation in Russia.  Highlighting the need to examine the particular situation of Roma in Russia, she observed that since Roma “constitute a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight is often overlooked.” Dr. Petrova noted that, for the 2002 Russian census, approximately 182,000 individuals identified themselves as Romani.  Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the number of Roma in Russia is much higher; a figure often cited is 1.2 million.  She argued that the fate of Roma in Russia is emblematic of the racism, xenophobia, and discrimination faced by other ethnic minorities in Russia, particularly Jews and people from the Caucasus region. In a comprehensive statement, Dr. Petrova outlined nine key areas of concern:  historical and social discrimination against Roma; the legal and institutional context of anti-discrimination legislation; the current political and ideological climate in Russia; the abuse of Roma rights by state actors (primarily the police); the abuse of Roma rights by non-state actors; discrimination in the criminal justice system; the portrayal of Roma in the Russian media; the lack of personal documents; and access to housing and education. The main focus of Dr. Petrova’s statement concerned abuse by both state and non-state actors.  The main impetus of anti-Roma abuse in Russia is related directly to the ideological “war on drugs.”  People of Roma descent are targeted through racial profiling and various media outlets as illegal drug dealers and are subject to frequent police raids.  The “war on drugs” has also become an excuse for police brutality and racial targeting in which police plant drugs on the Roma or in their homes and then arrest them for the possession of illegal substances. Dr. Petrova ended her statement with a call for the United States Government “to play a leadership role and use its economic and political weight to help improve the position of Roma in Russia and address the human rights problems of Roma in Russia as a matter of urgency and as a primary concern in combating racial discrimination.”  She asked human rights monitoring agencies both in the United States and in Europe to prioritize Roma rights in Russia and to draw the Russian Government’s attention to Roma issues that are currently not being addressed. Dr. Torkohov, representing the Ekaterinburg-based Roma Ural, presented his organization’s efforts to monitor media coverage of Roma, examine factors contributing to lower levels of education among Roma, and assist Romani Holocaust survivors obtain compensation through existing programs. Torkohov offered a number of recommendations to improve the current situation.  With respect to education, he suggested creating preschool programs for Roma children to improve literacy, working with both children and parents to understand the value of education, and facilitating cooperation between parents and schools.  Given the pronounced bigotry against Roma that characterizes portrayals of Roma in the broadcast and print media, he also suggested training journalists to improve their professional skills. Leonid Raihman focused on ill treatment of Roma by the police, access to justice, and problems associated with the lack of personal documents, including passports.  Endemic corruption among the poorly paid and poorly trained police in Russia has fostered an environment in which Roma are the routine victims of extortion by the police.  This extortion, in turn, contributes to the economic marginalization of Roma. Raihman also described the serious and complex problem of personal documents for the Roma.  He said the absence of personal documents, as well as the rigid nature of the personal documents system in Russia, represents an aspect of the problem.  However, he felt that ethnicity was the primary reason for problems in obtaining a passport.  “Administration officials,” he stated, “especially in housing and immigration departments abuse the discretionary decision-making power accorded to them by the passport system to discriminate against Roma and members of the vulnerable groups.” Mr. Raihman urged the U.S. Government to use its power “to persuade the Russian Government to place the human rights problems which the Roma face high on their agenda.”  He stated that it is time for the Russian Government, as well as the rest of the world, to acknowledge and deal with the problems faced by the Roma in Russia. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords.  The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Judy Abel contributed to this article.

  • The Romani Minority in Russia

    The Helsinki Commission examined the situation of the Romani minority in Russia, with a focus on hate crimes, police abuse, and discrimination in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Beslan, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the potential for many ethnic-confessional conflicts in the Federation. Reports by Roma of racially motivated attacks by law enforcement agents were also points of discussion. Panelists – including Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director of Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, Consultant for Open Society – provided background information on Russia’s Romani minority, setting their discussion in the current context of the current political, economic and security climate in Russia.

  • Advancing Democracy in Albania

    Albania is expected to hold new parliamentary elections, and further reform is viewed as key to their success.  The country has faced tremendous challenges in its democratic development since emerging from harsh communist rule and self-imposed isolation in the early 1990s. Despite highly polarized politics and splits within the Socialist camp in particular, there has been renewed progress.  Albania, nevertheless, continues to face the difficult task, common to the region, of tackling organized crime and official corruption. The Albanian Government is making efforts, for example, to combat trafficking in persons, though it remains a source and a transit country for women and children who are sexually exploited or used as forced labor elsewhere in Europe.  Meanwhile, Albania has maintained strong bilateral ties with the United States and cooperated with the international response to past regional conflicts. The country is a strong supporter of the war on terrorism and works within the framework of the Adriatic Charter, a U.S. initiative that includes Macedonia and Croatia, in laying the groundwork for further European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

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