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Bulgarian Police Seizures of Church Properties in Conflict with Religious Freedom Commitments

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Washington – United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed alarm today over the widespread seizure of church properties in Bulgaria, which currently serves as Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  Bulgarian authorities raided more than 200 properties used by the alternative Bulgarian Orthodox synod for more than 10 years.

“I’m deeply distressed that Bulgarian police, with the apparent approval of the state prosecutor’s office, would forcibly seize some 200 churches and church-owned properties,” declared Chairman Smith.  “While there may be disputes within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, it is certainly not the proper role of government to interfere with internal church affairs.  Unfortunately, Bulgarian authorities have abandoned neutrality and chosen sides, potentially endangering religious freedom.”

News reports indicate that throughout the day on July 21 Bulgarian police across the country expelled members of the alternative Orthodox synod of Bishop Inokentii, taking control of properties used by the synod. A longstanding church dispute between the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the alternative synod has existed since they split in 1992.

The raids were discussed with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, visiting Washington last week in his capacity as Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, in a meeting with Chairman Smith.

“Property issues should be decided by a court, not through legislative fiat or the unilateral actions of a state prosecutor and police,” said Chairman Smith.  “Considering that Bulgaria is the current OSCE Chair-in-Office, I urge the Bulgarian Government to end this embarrassment, lead by example, and honor its OSCE human rights commitment toward religious freedom.” 

“Bulgarian authorities should stop interfering and reinstate to the alternative synod full control of the properties,” Smith added.  “The state should play no role in forcibly reconciling the two Orthodox communities.”

These raids are not the first time that the Bulgarian Government has favored one synod over the other.  The December 2002 religion law enumerated detailed characteristics of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, thereby establishing the synod of Patriarch Maxim above the alternative synod and all other religious communities.  The law also laid the groundwork for the seizures by vesting government recognition and property rights with only the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.  This provision works to the detriment of the alternative synod, placing it in a precarious and vulnerable position. The United States Helsinki Commission issued a report on the religion law, highlighting this problematic provision and other shortcomings.

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Just last week, he instituted new laws harshly restricting freedom of religion, which is trampled upon daily in Turkmenistan; groups brave enough to meet risk home raids, imprisonment, deportation, internal exile, house eviction and even torture. The new provisions further empower regime agents to squash religious practice. Now, individuals caught more than once in a year acting on the behalf of an unregistered community can be fined between ten and thirty months of wages, or be sent to hard labor for up to one year. Of course, registration is in effect impossible to obtain, leaving religious communities and their members in a highly vulnerable position.   A recent Niyazov decree on NGO activity makes it punishable for most Turkmen to interact with foreigners. Representatives of non-Turkmen ethnic groups, such as Uzbeks or Russians, face discrimination in education and employment. Niyazov has not only reestablished and strengthened the environment of fear, he has deliberately isolated his country from outside influences. Under his rule, Turkmenistan has no chance of developing normally.   As November 25 approaches, we recall that when a political system centralizes all power in the hands one man, offering no possibilities for participation to anyone else, people may be tempted to change that system by any means. And we have occasion to consider the eternal validity of Lord Acton's dictum: "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."   Unfortunately, the U.S. response to Turkmenistan's blatant disregard for human rights has been shamefully weak. In August, although Turkmenistan violates freedom of emigration by requiring exit visas, the Administration made the astonishing decision to exempt Turkmenistan from Jackson-Vanik requirements on the free movement of citizens.   Our leverage on this particular dictator may be weak but we have opportunities to express our outrage about these ongoing abuses and to align ourselves with the forces of freedom and democracy. In addition to ending the Jackson-Vanik waiver, the State Department should designate Turkmenistan a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The regime's well-documented record of "particularly severe violations of religious freedom" unquestionably meets the statutory threshold envisioned when we passed the Act of "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom."   The United States and the international community must condemn the actions of Niyazov's regime and continue working to bring Turkmenistan back towards civilized and democratic norms. Any other approach betrays our own principles.

  • 80th Anniversary of the Turkish Republic

    Mr. Speaker, this week the Turkish Republic, an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will mark its 80th anniversary. The Turkish Government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is working hard toward membership in the European Union. The accession of Turkey to the Union would recognize the important reforms that have already been adopted and accelerate the reform process. The various constitutional reform packages in recent years have addressed, or begun to address, many longstanding human rights concerns. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I am pleased to note that much needed change is beginning to take place. For example, the crucial issue of torture is finally receiving the attention necessary to prevent such abuse and address the legacy of this endemic scourge. Perpetrators of torture are facing punishment by a new generation of state prosecutors. For the first time, police who have committed acts of torture are being brought to justice. However the ongoing use of torture in southeast Turkey in the guise of anti-terrorism is an outrage that Turkey must bring to a halt. It is not enough to pass these reforms or to hold a few show trials. No, all transgressors must be arrested and tried. There must be a zero tolerance policy in place on torture. Other issues of concern have also benefited from the reform package process. For example, religious communities with "foundation'' status may now acquire real property, as well as construct new churches and mosques and other structures for religious use. However, there is a considerable gap between the law and its application. Also, while the problem of allowing the return of internally displaced persons who fled the internal conflict with the PKK terrorist organization remains. Renewed efforts to address this problem are promising, such as inviting the UN Rapporteur on IDPs to visit and the possibility that Turkey may host an international conference on internally displaced persons. While Turkey still has a long way to go to successfully eradicate human trafficking in its borders, the government has taken some positive steps. While I am pleased Turkey has expanded its cooperation with source countries to improve its victim protection efforts, I want to encourage continued improvement to wipe out this modern day slavery. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, other serious concerns remain. While Turkey works to bring its laws and regulations into conformity with the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession and works toward fulfilling human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State, actions taken by police and other government authorities raise doubts as to the sincerity of these reforms. The imprisonment this month of Nurcihan and Nurulhak Saatcioglu for attending demonstrations four years ago protesting the prohibition against head scarves in public institutions, is deeply troubling. The fact that the government denies women who choose this religious expression the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public buildings, including schools and hospitals, is counterproductive and an encroachment of their right to freedom of expression. Similarly, authorities severely curb the public sharing of religious belief by either Muslims or Christians with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view. These limitations on religious clothing and speech stifle freedom of religion and expression and are contrary to Turkey's OSCE commitments. At a fundamental level, the inability of religious groups to maintain property holdings is problematic, as the Office of Foundations has closed and seized properties of non-Muslim religious groups for contrived and spurious reasons. Groups most affected by this policy are the Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches, which have also experienced problems when seeking to repair and maintain existing buildings or purchase new ones. I hope the application of the aforementioned reforms will rectify this problem. The most notable property issue concerns the continued closure of the Orthodox Theological School of Halki on the island of Heybeli in the Sea of Marmara. Considering the reportedly promising conversations between the church and government, I urge Turkey to return full control to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and allow religious training to resume, in keeping with relevant OSCE commitments. Furthermore, religious groups not envisioned by the Lausanne Treaty have no legal route for purchasing property and building facilities, since the new legal provisions affect only communities with the official status of a "foundation.'' As no process exists for these other groups to obtain foundation status, they are forced to meet in private apartments. This lack of official status has real consequences, since provincial governorships and the Ministry of Interior have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant groups and Jehovah's Witnesses without any options. Churches and their leaders in Diyarbakir, Mersin, Iskenderun and other towns all face troubling government prosecutions and threats of closure. I urge Turkey to create a transparent and straightforward process to grant religious groups so desiring official recognition, so that they too can enjoy the right to establish and freely maintain accessible places of worship of assembly. The continued incarceration of four Kurdish former parliamentarians: Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak is particularly disturbing. Convicted in 1994, they have won their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and were granted a retrial under recent Government of Turkey legal reforms. The retrial began March 28, and at each of the eight sessions, most recently October 17, the court has refused to release the defendants. Their continued imprisonment is an outrage. Mr. Speaker, on the 80th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, the initial legal reforms put in place by the government display Turkey's--or at least the legislators in Ankara's--apparent willingness to address much needed reforms in human rights practices. But actions speak louder than words. We need to see implementation of these reforms seriously carried out before we can rest assured that Turkey has met minimal OSCE human rights commitments. As Turkey strives to enter the European Union, I applaud the efforts that have been made to date and urge Ankara to intensify the reform process.  

  • Democracy and Human Rights in the Mediterranean Partner States of the OSCE: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia

    Ronald J. McNamara , Deputy Chief of Staff at the Commission, held this briefing in advance of a series of meetings that took place a week later in Rome in conjunction with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  Since its inception, the OSCE has included a Mediterranean dimension -   Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia are currently  designated as Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, a special status similar to that of observer status in other multilateral organizations.  Lebanon, Libya, and Syria had status in the OSCE through the mid-1990s. Joined by panellists Joe Stork, Karen Hanrahan, and Frank Smyth, McNamara highlighted the Mediterranean Partners’ disregard for the OSCE’s human dimension. The Panelist commented upon democracy and human rights violations within the members of the Mediteranean Partners, including media restrictions, freedoms of religion and speech, torture, trafficking, anti-Semitism, due process, and minority rights and torture.

  • Report: Bosnia and Herzegovina's Draft Religion Law: Draft Text Fails to Meet OSCE Commitments on Religious Freedom

    Authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are presently considering a draft religion law which enumerates the rights and obligations of religious communities and the government. Many aspects of the current draft law fully comply with Bosnia and Herzegovina's commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Unfortunately, the draft law also contains some troubling provisions that should be altered before adoption. The "Law on Freedom of Religion and the Legal Position of Churches and Religious Communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina" emerged from the joint state presidency, developed by the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees, and was submitted to parliament in June. Parliamentary consideration of the legislation is expected this fall. This report includes specific recommendations which, if adopted and implemented, would help bring the draft into conformity with OSCE commitments. Ten years ago, the country was in the midst of a four-year conflict marked by horrific atrocities against civilians, massive ethnic cleansing and genocide. The scars of that conflict impact to this day practically all law making in Bosnia and Herzegovina and present a peculiar challenge when addressing the role of religion in society, especially since the leading national groups are largely defined by their Islamic, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic faith or related cultural heritage. While opinions vary on the necessity of a specific law on religion, the eventual passage of an improved, progressive text would help Bosnia and Herzegovina implement its OSCE commitments and, at the same time, set a higher mark for religious tolerance that neighboring countries have yet to match.

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina's Draft Religion Law: Draft Text Fails to Meet OSCE Commitments on Religious Freedom

    This report analyzes a draft law under consideration in 2003 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which would have enumerated the rights and obligations of religious communities and the government. Many aspects of the draft law fully complied with Bosnia and Herzegovina's commitments as a participating State of the OSCE. However, the report found that the draft law also contained some troubling provisions, which were especially worrying given the country's experience with religious and ethnic violence only four years prior.

  • Briefing: Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: a Status Update

    A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The end of communist tyranny after 1990 sparked hope that governments in the region would redress the wrongful seizures of private and communal property, such as churches, synagogues, schools and hospitals. The Helsinki Commission held three prior hearings on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during World War II and the communist-era in Central and Eastern Europe. This briefing surveyed developments since the Commission's July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region. Particular attention was given to the progress, or lack thereof, in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania in removing the bureaucratic and legal obstacles faced by individuals--including U.S. citizen claimants--and religious communities seeking restitution of communal property, family homes, and/or land.

  • Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: A Status Update

    This briefing was the fourth hearing held by the Helsinki Commission held on restitution and compensation for property seized during the Second World War and in Communist-era Central and Eastern Europe.  The goal of the briefing was to discuss developments since the CSCE’s July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region.

  • Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: A Status Update

    The importance of this briefing, which then ranking member of the Commission Senator Benjamin L. Cardin presided over, was underscored by the fact that a central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individual and religious communities. Communism’s demise in 1990 sparked hope that regional governments would redress wrongful seizures of private and communal property. This briefing was the fourth hearing that the Helsinki Commission held whose focus was on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during the Second World War and in Communist era Central and Eastern Europe. A goal of the briefing, then, was to survey developments since the CSCE’s July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region.

  • Mayor Giuliani, Chairman Smith Lead U.S. Delegation to OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held an historic international conference in Vienna, Austria on June 19-20 to discuss anti-Semitism within the 55 participating States. While the OSCE states have addressed anti-Semitism in the past, the Vienna Conference represented the first OSCE event specifically devoted to anti-Semitism. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (N-04J) led the United States delegation. Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who currently serves as a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was also part of the U.S. delegation. Public members of the delegation were: Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee; Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League; Cheryl Halpern, National Republican Jewish Coalition; Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Mark Levin, NCSJ; and, Daniel Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith. U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Stephan M. Minikes, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Ambassador Randolph Bell, also participated. The personal representative of the Dutch OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ambassador Daan Everts, opened the meeting expressing dismay that in the year 2003 it was necessary to hold such a conference, but "we would be amiss not to recognize that indeed the necessity still exists." Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy declared "anti-Semitism is not a part of [Europe’s] future. This is why this Conference is so important, and I believe it will have a strong follow-up." Former Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a Holocaust survivor, cited free societies as an essential element in combating anti-Semitism. The European Union statement, given by Greece, noted that anti-Semitism and racism are "interrelated phenomena," but also stated "anti-Semitism is a painful part of our history and for that requires certain specific approaches." Mayor Giuliani began his remarks to the opening plenary with a letter from President Bush to conference participants. Citing his visit to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, the President recalled the "inhumanity and brutality that befell Europe only six decades ago" and stressed that "every nation has a responsibility to confront and denounce anti-Semitism and the violence it causes. Governments have an obligation to ensure that anti-Semitism is excluded from school textbooks, official statements, official television programming, and official publications." Many OSCE participating States assembled special delegations for the conference. The German delegation included Gert Weisskirchen, member of the German parliament and a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Claudia Roth, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights, Policy and Humanitarian Aid. The Germans called for energetic actions by all the participating States to deal with anti-Semitism and stressed the need for appropriate laws, vigorous law enforcement and enhanced educational efforts to promote tolerance. Mr. Weisskirchen stressed that anti-Semitism was a very special form of bigotry that had haunted European history for generations and therefore demanded specific responses. In this spirit, Germany offered to host a follow-up OSCE conference in June 2004 focusing exclusively on combating anti-Semitism that would assess the progress of initiatives emerging from the Vienna Conference. The French delegation was led by Michel Voisin of the National Assembly, and included the President of the Consistoire Central Israelite de France, Jean Kahn, and representatives from the Ministry of Justice and the Office of Youth Affairs, National Education and Research. The French acknowledged with great regret the marked increase in anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred in France during the past two years. In response, France had passed new laws substantially increasing penalties for violent "hate crimes," stepped up law enforcement and was in the process of revising school curricula. The work of the conference was organized under several focused sessions: "Legislative, Institutional Mechanisms and Governmental Action, including Law Enforcement"; "Role of Governments in Civil Society in Promoting Tolerance"; "Education"; and, "Information and Awareness-Raising: the Role of the Media in Conveying and Countering Prejudice." Mayor Giuliani noted the fact that the conference was being held in the same building where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria in 1938. "It’s hard to believe that we’re discussing this topic so many years later and after so many lessons of history have not been learned; and I am very hopeful that rather than just discussing anti-Semitism, we are actually going to do something about it, and take action." Giuliani, drawing on his law enforcement background and municipal leadership, enumerated eight steps to fight anti-Semitism: 1) compile hate crime statistics in a uniform fashion; 2) encourage all participating States to pass hate crime legislation; 3) establish regular meetings to analyze the data and an annual meeting to examine the implementation of measures to combat anti-Semitism; 4) set up educational programs in all the participating States about anti-Semitism; 5) discipline political debate so that disagreements over Israel and Palestine do not slip into a demonizing attack on the Jewish people; 6) refute hate-filled lies at an early stage; 7) remember the Holocaust accurately and resist any revisionist attempt to downplay its significance; and 8) set up groups to respond to anti-Semitic acts that include members of Islamic communities and other communities. Commissioner Hastings identified a "three-fold role" governments can play in "combating anti-Semitic bigotry, as well as in nurturing tolerance." First, elected leaders must "forthrightly denounce acts of anti-Semitism, so as to avoid the perception of silent support." He identified law enforcement as the second crucial factor in fighting intolerance. Finally, Hastings noted that while "public denunciations and spirited law enforcement" are essential components to any strategy to combat anti-Semitism, they "must work in tandem with education." He concluded, "if we are to see the growth of tolerance in our societies, all governments should promote the creation of educational efforts to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people and to increase Holocaust awareness programs." Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith, who served as Vice Chair of the U.S. delegation to the Vienna Conference, highlighted how a "comprehensive statistical database for tracking and comparing the frequency of incidents in the OSCE region does not exist, [and] the fragmentary information we do have is indicative of the serious challenge we have." In addition to denouncing anti-Semitic acts, "we must educate a new generation about the perils of anti-Semitism and racism so that the terrible experiences of the 20th century are not repeated," said Smith. "This is clearly a major task that requires a substantial and sustained commitment. The resources of institutions with special expertise such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum must be fully utilized." In his closing statement Giuliani stressed that anti-Semitism "has its own history, it has a pernicious and distinct history from many prejudicial forms of bias that we deal with, and therefore singular focus on that problem and reversing it can be a way in which both Europe and America can really enter the modern world." He enthusiastically welcomed the offer by the German delegation to hold a follow-up conference on anti-Semitism, in Berlin in June 2004. Upon their return to Washington, Giuliani and Smith briefed Secretary Powell on the efforts of the U.S. delegation in Vienna and the importance of building upon the work of the Conference at the parliamentary and governmental levels. 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.

  • Continuous Religious Freedom Concerns in Armenia

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in my capacity as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission to voice concern over Armenia's refusal to register select religious groups and the continuing harassment of certain religious communities, actions which violate Armenia's commitments to religious freedom as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Honoring the commitments enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents would ensure Armenia upholds the freedom of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief, alone or in community with others.   With respect to registration, Armenian law requires all religious communities and organizations, other than the Armenian Apostolic Church, to register with the government. Obtaining registration is critical if a religious community wants to carry out basic functions, like renting property, publishing newspapers or magazines, broadcasting programs on television or radio, or officially sponsoring the visas of co-religionists or visitors.   To acquire registration, a petitioning religious organization must obtain an “expert opinion” from the government, in which four questions from Article 14 of the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations Act must be affirmatively answered: (1) Is the religion based on a historically canonized holy book? (2) Does its faith belong to a system of modern worldwide religious church communities? (3) Is it of a purely spiritual orientation, not created for the pursuit of material goals? (4) Does it have at least 200 believing members, not including minors? A negative finding by the government on any of the four questions will terminate the registration application.   This type of approval system is extremely problematic, as it places the government in the role of determining what is or is not a religion, allowing it to make highly subjective decisions. For example, the government refuses to recognize the Jehovah's Witnesses as an official religion, despite having more than 6,000 Armenian members. Other small groups, including approximately 50 Baptist communities, are unable to pass the numerical threshold, so are not qualified to apply for registration. As a result these groups are indiscriminately denied basic rights enjoyed by those which have the government's stamp of approval.   Last September, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian reportedly stated that the Armenian Government must curb the activities of minority religious communities, even if these actions violate Council of Europe obligations. Mr. Speaker, considering this type of bias, I urge the Government of Armenia to revamp the registration process to prevent arbitrary or politicized decisions. Abolishing the registration requirement and ensuring any system facilitates, rather than hampers, the free exercise of religious freedom for individuals and communities, by methodically granting legal status to groups which seek registration would help bring Armenian policy into conformity with OSCE commitments.   Even more alarming is the Armenian Government's continued imprisonment of conscientious objectors, particularly from the Jehovah's Witnesses faith. According to the State Department's 2002 Anual Report on International Religious Freedom for Armenia, military and civilian security officials subject Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse to serve in the military to harsh treatment, because their refusal is seen as a threat to Armenia's survival. One particular example is the case of Araik Bedjanyan, sentenced on July 2nd to 1½ years in a labor camp for refusing military service. Mr. Bedjanyan was sentenced under Article 75 of the criminal code, for “evasion of active military service.” There are currently 24 Jehovah's Witnesses serving sentences for being conscientious objectors on religious grounds. Suren Hakopyan and Artur Torosyan, whom police arrested in Yerevan on July 3, are currently awaiting trial along with six others for their refusal to serve in the military. Seven more Jehovah's Witnesses are reportedly under house arrest for the same “crime.” Despite Article 75 being replaced by Article 327 in the new criminal code, the amendment only reduces the potential sentence from three years to two.   One of the conditions for Armenia's admission to the Council of Europe in January 2001 involved the adoption of a law on alternative military service conforming to European standards within three years. However, while drafts continue to circulate, no laws have been passed that provide for alternative civilian service outside the framework of the army. In the meantime, conscientious objectors continue to receive harsh sentences. Should the Armenian Parliament pass such a law, the service length should not be punitive in nature, but rather be comparable to military service requirements.   As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I urge the Armenian Government to abide by its OSCE commitments regarding religious freedom. Armenia should overhaul its registration scheme, dropping the registration requirement, and liberalize its system for bestowing legal personality to religious communities and organizations. Furthermore, all Jehovah's Witnesses currently imprisoned for “evasion of military service” should be unconditionally freed, and a law in line with Council of Europe standards for alternative military service should be passed as soon as possible.

  • Floor Statement in Support of H.R. 1950, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005 - Rep. Smith

    Madam Chairman, I am pleased that Title XV of the State Department authorization bill incorporates key provisions of the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, which I sponsored earlier this year. The State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices report on Belarus states that the Belarusian regime's "human rights record remained very poor and worsened in several areas." Thanks to Alexander Lukashenka--aptly cited by The Washington Post as "Europe's last dictator"--Belarus has the worst human rights record in Europe today. The Helskinki Commission, which I Chair, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe including its Parliamentary Assembly, the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Union and other international entities have all chronicled the appalling state of human rights and democracy in a country located in the heart of Europe. Belarus already borders NATO. In just a few years, Belarus will border the European Union.   The Lukashenka regime has blatantly and repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The independent media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and democratic opposition have all faced harassment. Indeed, in the last few months, his war against civil society has intensified--resulting in the closure of non-governmental organizations, independent media outlets and Western-funded media support groups, such as Internews Network group, an international organization that helps develop independent media in countries in transition.   Just last week, the Lukashenka regime denied continuation of the accreditation of the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), an American organization that has implemented a variety of assistance programs in Belarus for years, including programs that helped the struggling independent media. Last week, they ordered the closure of the Minsk bureau of Russian NTV television. Just a few weeks ago, Lukashenka closed down the National Humanities Lyceum, a highly respected school promoting the study of the Belarusian language and culture. There are growing, legitimate fears that Lukashenka is aiming to remove Belarus from its vestiges of democracy dissent.   In October, Lukashenka signed into law the most restrictive religion law in Europe. Independent journalists have been sentenced to "corrective labor" for their writings. There are credible allegations of the Lukashenka regime's involvement in the disappearances of leading opposition figures and a journalist. Here in Washington and at various OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meetings, I've had occasion to meet with the wives of the disappeared, Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yuri Zakharenka, and Dmitry Zavadsky. These meetings have been heart-wrenching. The cases of their husbands--who disappeared in 1999 and 2000 and are presumed to have been murdered--are a stark illustration of the climate of fear that pervades in Belarus.   On the security front, reports of arms deals between the Belarusian regime and rogue states, including Iraq and North Korea, continue to circulate. Lukashenka and his regime were open in their support of Saddam Hussein.   One of the primary purposes of this initiative is to demonstrate U.S. support for those persevering to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the onerous pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. Necessary assistance is authorized for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media--including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus--and international exchanges.   The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards--in sharp contrast to the 2000 parliamentary and 2001 presidential elections in Belarus which flagrantly 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. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in 2004, and we should encourage those who seek to create the laws and environment conducive to a free and fair election.   In addition, the Executive Branch is encouraged to impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime and deny high-ranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. U.S. Government financing would be prohibited, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs.   Madam Chairman, we are seeking to help put an end to the pattern of clear and uncorrected human rights violations by the Lukashenka regime and are hoping this will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus' integration into democratic Europe. The Belarusian people deserve to live in a society where democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is preeminent. The Belarusian people--who have endured so much both under past and current dictatorships--deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country.   In addition, Madam Chairman, in keeping with this authorization for the Department of State, I want to express my appreciation for the work of the Department in bringing needed attention to the concerns about ongoing anti-Semitism, an age-old plague that still haunts many countries in the OSCE, including our own. I have sought to identify effective responses to this troubling phenomenon, including the introduction of the resolution, H. Con. Res. 49 which passed last month.   Last month, I joined Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Congressman HASTINGS in Vienna for an OSCE conference specifically focused on anti-Semitism. Having the OSCE itself take up this important cause is significant. In fact, the idea was first raised in the May 2002 hearing of the Helsinki Commission and also suggested in the resolution condemning anti-Semitism I presented at the Berlin Parliamentary Assembly meeting last summer. I offered a similar resolution week before last at the Rotterdam OSCE PA meeting. Both resolutions passed the Assembly unanimously. While the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has actively denounced anti-Semitic acts, I give great credit to the State Department for making the Vienna Conference a reality. Notably, one initiative emerging from the Vienna Conference was a pledge by our German friends to hold a follow-up meeting in Berlin next year to focus on anti-Semitism. I hope this meeting will rally the troops from Europe, the U.S., and Canada to say in one voice "never again."   Finally, Madam Chairman, I was pleased to learn of Senator Voinovich's amendment to the Senate's State Department reauthorization bill requiring the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom to include specific coverage of anti-Semitism. The amendment calls for the report to cover "acts of anti-Semitic violence that occurred in that country" and "the response of the government of that country to such acts of violence." Importantly, the amendment would mandate the report to chronicle "actions by the government of that country to enact and enforce laws relating to the protection of the right to religious freedom with respect to people of the Jewish faith." I think this is a worthwhile idea and hope it will be enacted into law.

  • From the Bad to the Worst... Helsinki Commission Hearing Sets Sites on Arms Sales to Rogue Regimes

    By Bob Hand CSCE Staff Advisor   The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing June 5, 2003, to examine the transfer of arms to rogue regimes by certain participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in violation of non-proliferation obligations set forth in OSCE commitments. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing entitled “Arming Rogue Regimes: The Role of OSCE participating States.” Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton testified on behalf of the Administration. Also testifying were Roman Kupchinsky, editor of Crime and Corruption Watch for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Terence Taylor, President and Executive Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the United States. Co-Chairman Smith, in opening the hearing, stressed the importance of examining the capacity and readiness of certain OSCE participating States to be sources of supply. He emphasized the Commission’s desire to focus on the role of suppliers in the effort to curb the spread of dangerous weaponry and militarily significant equipment and technology to rogue regimes around the world. Mr. Smith noted that, particularly among former Warsaw Pact States, several countries remained vulnerable to the lure of responding to the demand from rogue regimes for weapons of mass destruction (WMD), delivery systems and small arms or light weapons. He cited press articles and official investigations reporting that Belarus, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, Russia, Serbia-Montenegro and Ukraine have supplied dangerous regimes and combatants with military equipment or militarily-significant technology and resources. In some cases, these revelations were followed by government efforts to stop the flow and address those responsible. However, in other cases, government officials have attempted to cover-up and deny involvement. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) said, “While some may claim a lack of technical know-how impedes their ability to track arms transfers, we must not lose sight of the important element of political will.” He added that the United States “cannot afford to turn to a blind eye with respect to the complicity of senior civilian and military leaders in transfers that violate international commitments or are otherwise detrimental to the security interests of the United States.” Campbell added, “At a time when the OSCE is assessing ‘new threats’ to security, it would be foolhardy to overlook the multidimensional threats posed by corruption and international crime.” Commissioner Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) stressed his belief in the importance of such a hearing as a forum to learn the hard facts in order to benefit the world community. Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) stated that the OSCE has a particular responsibility to make sure that weapons of mass destruction are not made available to rogue regimes and terrorist organizations. Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) expressed concern as to whether the governments of France and Russia fully understand the implications of doing business deals with rogue regimes. The three witnesses confirmed that a number of OSCE participating States possess the technology and ability to supply rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and combatants in regional conflicts with militarily significant equipment and know-how. The end of the Cold War left several Warsaw Pact States with huge stockpiles of military hardware, while economic downturns have made their military industries and research institutes desperate for funds. Under Secretary Bolton asserted that the United States has encouraged these countries to maintain tight control over such facilities and has invested in programs to destroy surplus equipment and convert the factories into industrial production. Still, several countries remain vulnerable to the lure of responding to the demand by rogue regimes for sophisticated weapons systems as well as small arms or light weapons. Organized crime and widespread corruption compound the problem, as well as a widespread attitude that what the purchasers do with arms they buy is neither the concern nor the responsibility of the supplier. Among specific OSCE countries cited was Belarus, where the Lukashenka regime threatens the security of others by facilitating the proliferation of arms and militarily significant equipment to rogue regimes and conflict areas around the world. “Belarus is one of the least responsive OSCE members states, and has done little to show it is serious about non-proliferation,” Bolton said, adding that since Iraq kept intricate details of all arms transactions, the United States expected to uncover significant details regarding Belarus’ role as a supplier. Russia’s role was also discussed, especially in light of concerns about Russian technology and expertise and Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Under Secretary Bolton underscored his ongoing engagement with Moscow on non-proliferation issues and reported some progress in cooperation with the Russian Government to control exports. At the same time, questions were raised about Russia’s willingness to make greater inroads toward non-proliferation and the possibility of an “oligarch” outside the government who may be in control of deals with Iran concerning that country’s Bushehr nuclear reactor. While President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Government may at times be very much aware of what is happening, Russian oligarchs are nevertheless a major problem. One alleged arms dealer, Victor Bout, continues to reside in Moscow despite being wanted in Belgium and the United Kingdom on an Interpol warrant, according to Mr. Kupchinsky. He alleged that the protection that Bout has in Russia is “very high-level” and that Russian Interpol has not acted on warrants that have been given to them. Ukraine remains a major player in arms sales and transfers. Co-Chairman Campbell said President Leonid Kuchma’s personal authorization of the Kolchuga sale “renders him an unreliable partner and casts a shadow over relations with Ukraine as long as he is in power.” Under Secretary Bolton noted that the Kolchuga incident was duly noted by other governments. “Well, I think certainly the Kolchuga incident got their attention in a major way,” he said. “And I think the Government of Ukraine is still trying to deal with that.” Bulgaria, slated to take over the chairmanship of the OSCE in 2004 also featured prominently in the hearing. It was noted that Bulgaria had a well-developed arms industry from its days as a Warsaw Pact member that led to significant arms transfers in the 1990s. Mr. Kupchinsky stated that, from his observations, the Bulgarians have not been concerned with the ultimate destination of their arms shipments and that this was an attitude persisting in most of the former Warsaw Pact countries and Soviet successor states. Mr. Taylor expressed particular concern about individuals in the private sector who are likely to be unaware of the need to protect themselves from those seeking to buy their equipment, resources or technology. Taylor also advocated greater transparency in reporting transfers of militarily-significant items and spoke positively of OSCE efforts in this area, especially with regard to small arms and light weapons. Commissioner Cardin sought recommendations on how to make transparency laws and controls more effective internationally. Mr. Taylor said that a good framework for dealing with proliferation issues already exists on paper; however, the real challenge is ensuring that states follow through on their commitments by insisting on full compliance, thorough reporting, and accountability. Strong export controls provide major contributions toward preventing illicit arms transfers. Mr. Bolton said that U.S. export control assistance is largely responsible for over a dozen European and Eurasian countries adopting comprehensive export control laws that meet international standards. This program was created initially to address the proliferation concerns among former Soviet Union states and others. A number of OSCE countries still need additional assistance to develop appropriate legal frameworks and increase enforcement capabilities to combat the transfers of sensitive goods and technologies. Under Secretary Bolton stressed the top priority given by the Bush Administration to discouraging proliferation of WMD. In this regard the steps that OSCE members take toward their commitments on non-proliferation are especially important. However, as encouraging as OSCE declarations are, they are worthless if the participating States do not take them seriously. It is therefore necessary for the United States to continue its strong leadership role in both bilateral and multilateral fora to stem the proliferation of WMD and the means to deliver them, including robust enforcement of U.S. non-proliferation laws. 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.

  • US SHDM Statement on Religious Freedom

    Freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is a cornerstone of OSCE commitments protecting human rights. The 1989 Vienna Concluding Document declared that participating States will "take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination against individuals or communities on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, political, economic, social and cultural life, and to ensure the effective equality between believers and non-believers." The document went on to declare that participating States will "foster a climate of mutual tolerance and respect between believers of different communities as well as between believers and non-believers." Corporately, the participating States have agreed to a rich body of commitments meant to facilitate not frustrate the profession and practice of religion. In too many OSCE countries today, however, government officials use restrictive laws and ignore constitutional protections in such a way as to unjustifiably limit the practice of religion for members of many unpopular groups. The drafters of OSCE agreements on religious freedom evidently recognized the important role governments play in fostering a climate of tolerance in their societies. Government intolerance of religious groups, in most cases, will only lead to greater intolerance among their populace. One elementary responsibility of the state in this regard is non-discrimination towards individual members or groups. This issue was addressed at the ad hoc meeting hosted by the Dutch in the summer of 2001, which highlighted how, in the OSCE region, policies that favor certain religious groups tend to, as a corollary, penalize other religious groups by denying legal personality or equal status. By institutionalizing discriminatory policies toward a group, government actions can have the effect of stigmatizing certain religious communities. In some OSCE countries, this has taken the form of special lists, centers offering one-sided information or burdensome registration laws creating hurdles impossible to overcome. Such acts, especially by EU countries, are especially worrisome as many incoming EU countries are copying such acts and regulations, often without the long-standing democratic practices and protections to prevent discrimination or abuse. We urge countries that have hierarchical structures to examine their laws carefully to determine if they are unjustifiably restricting or penalizing those citizens who do not belong to these particular religious bodies.

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