Title

Chairman Hastings Marks International Roma Day, Notes Consequences of Systemic Racism Exposed by Pandemic

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

WASHINGTON—To mark the occasion of International Roma Day on April 8, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) issued the following statement:

“This year, we sadly must put aside many of the annual celebrations of Romani art, culture, music, and heritage that usually mark International Roma Day, and instead address the urgent concerns exposed by a global pandemic.

“This health crisis has spotlighted many of the consequences of systemic racism long faced by Romani communities. Unequal access to care—or in some cases even basic sanitation and clean running water—puts not only Roma but also other socially excluded groups in great danger of infection. Now more than ever, governments must ensure that all members of society have permanent access to healthcare, functioning sanitation facilities, and clean water.

“In addition, around the world—even in our own country—there are those who seek to use this crisis to fan the flames of bigotry. We must not tolerate or excuse such discrimination on the basis of fear. Stoking racism and xenophobia will not make us healthier or stronger. It will only divide and weaken us at a time when unity is most needed.

“To successfully counter COVID-19, OSCE participating States must work with local community representatives to build trust, enhance the transparency of national initiatives, and bolster participation in critical public health efforts. Roma and other marginalized groups must not be forgotten. To quote from the OSCE Action Plan, ‘for Roma, with Roma.’”

In the April 2020 episode of the Helsinki Commission’s “Helsinki on the Hill” podcast, Romani scholar and activist Dr. Margareta Matache discussed the state of Roma rights in Europe, as well as resolutions introduced by Helsinki Commission leaders to celebrate Romani American heritage.  

In April 2019,  Chairman Hastings, Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Rep. Steve Watkins (KS-02), and Ranking Helsinki Commissioner Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) introduced resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.Res.292) and the U.S. Senate (S.Res.141) celebrating Romani American heritage

In 2003, OSCE participating States adopted an “Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area.” These guidelines—recommendations for participating States and OSCE institutions—are intended to combat racism and discrimination; ensure equal access and opportunities in education, employment, housing, and health services; enhance Romani participation in public and political life; and address issues relating to Roma in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Leadership: 
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  • Developments in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, today marks the expiration of the term of office of authoritarian Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka under the 1994 Belarusian Constitution. To nobody's surprise, Mr. Lukashenka is not abandoning his office, having extended his term of office until 2001 using the vehicle of an illegitimate 1996 constitutional referendum.   Since Lukashenka was elected five years ago, Belarus has witnessed nothing but backsliding in the realm of human rights and democracy and a deterioration of the economic situation. The Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. At the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 constitutional referendum, when he disbanded the Supreme Soviet and created a new legislature subordinate to his rule.   Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. Political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Helsinki Commission, which I Chair, has extensively monitored and reported on the sad situation in Belarus, and has attempted to encourage positive change in that country through direct contacts with Belarusian officials, as well as through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in St. Petersburg earlier this month overwhelmingly supported a resolution encouraging democratic change in Belarus, including the conduct of free and fair elections next year.   As Chairman of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE PA, I urged my fellow parliamentarians to join me in calling for the release of ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir and the guarantee of free access to the media by opposition groups. In addition, I joined 125 delegates representing 37 of the 54 participating States in signing a statement which offered more harsh criticism of the political situation in Belarus, condemned the use of violence against Supreme Soviet members and representatives of the democratic opposition, and protested their detention.   Within the last few days, there appears to be some glimmer of hope in the gloomy Belarusian predicament. According to a July 17 joint statement by the OSCE PA ad hoc Working Group on Belarus and the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) in Belarus: “The Belarusian President states his commitment to the holding of free, fair and recognizable parliamentary elections in Belarus next year, as well as his support for a national dialogue on elections to be held between the government and the opposition.” I agree with the Working Group and AMG's emphasis on the importance of “access to electronic media for all participants in the negotiations, and a political climate free of fear and politically motivated prosecution.” Mr. Speaker, while I welcome this statement, I remain guarded, given Mr. Lukashenka's track record. I very much look forward to its implementation by the Belarusian Government, which could be a positive step in reducing Belarus' isolation from the international community and the beginnings of a reversal in the human rights situation in that country.

  • Constitutional Impasse Continues in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, on May 16, the alternative Presidential election concluded in Belarus within the timeframe envisioned by the legitimate 1994 Constitution. While the opposition Central Election Commission (CEC) concluded that the final results of the voting were invalid because of various violations deriving from the impediments placed by Belarusian authorities, the ballot served as an important barometer of democratic engagement by the citizens of Belarus. In the months leading up to the election, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had imprisoned one of the two Presidential candidates, former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir, on what were clearly politically motivated charges, arrested hundreds of election officials and volunteers, and instituted administrative proceedings against others. Nevertheless, the authorities were unable to thwart the election in at least one critically important respect, according to the opposition CEC, the voting itself was valid because more than half, or 53 percent of the electorate, participated. When one considers that these were unsanctioned elections that challenged Lukashenka's legitimacy, this is a substantial number of people. No matter what the imperfections, Mr. Speaker, the opposition's electoral initiative should send a powerful message to Lukashenka. Clearly, an appreciable number of Belarusian citizens are dissatisfied with the profoundly negative political and socio-economic fallout stemming from his dictatorial inclinations and misguided nostalgia for the Soviet past or some misty “Slavic Union.” The vote highlights the constitutional and political impasse created by Lukashenka's illegitimate 1996 constitutional referendum, in which he extended his personal power, disbanded the duly elected 13th Supreme Soviet, and created a new legislature and constitutional court subservient to him. Last month, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), which I chair, held a hearing on the situation in Belarus, with a view toward promoting human rights and democracy there. Testimony from the State Department, OSCE mission in Belarus, the Belarusian democratic opposition and several human rights NGOs all reaffirmed that Belarus is missing out on what one witness characterized as “the great market democratic revolution that is sweeping Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia” because of Lukashenka's power grab and backsliding on human rights and democracy. Despite repeated calls from the international community, including the Helsinki Commission, for Lukashenka to cease harassment of the opposition, NGO's and the independent media; allow the opposition access to the electronic media; create the conditions for free and fair elections and strengthen the rule of law, we have failed to see progress in these areas. Indeed, we see more evidence of reversals. Earlier this year, for example, Lukashenka signed a decree which introduces extensive restrictions on non-governmental activity and mandates re-registration, by July 1, of political parties, NGOs and trade unions. The decree, which among other onerous stipulations requires that organizations acknowledge the results of Lukashenka's illegitimate 1996 referendum, is clearly designed to destroy democratic civil society in Belarus and further consolidate Lukashenka's repressive rule. Moreover, within the last few months, several disturbing incidents have occurred, among them the March arrests of Viktor Gonchar, Chairman of the opposition CEC, and the Chygir imprisonment, as well as the mysterious disappearances of Tamara Vinnikova, former chair of the National Bank of Belarus and, on May 10, Gen. Yuri Zakharenko, former Interior Minister and a leading opponent of Lukashenka. Just a few days ago, Lukashenka's government announced that no more foreign priests will be allowed to serve in Belarus, making it extremely difficult for the Roman Catholic Church, which is rebuilding following the travails of the Soviet era, to function. Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge the Belarusian Government to comply with its freely undertaken commitments under the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE agreements and to immediately, without preconditions, convene a genuine dialog with the country's democratic forces and with the long-suffering Belarusian people.

  • Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo: The Views of Local Human Rights Advocates

    This briefing addressed the current situation of human rights in the former Yugoslavia and examined the role of the OSCE in bringing human rights to the forefront and attempting to hold governments accountable to their commitments in the post-Cold War era. Representatives from the Helsinki Committees in Montenegro and Kosovo, as well as the Director of the International Helsinki Foundation, were present at the briefing and spoke about the difficulties of raising awareness about human rights problem in each country with respect for the individual circumstances within the countries, and about the steps that might be taken in the future regarding increasing transparency within human rights.

  • Democratization and Human Rights in Kazakhstan

    This hearing reviewed the democratization process, human rights, and religious liberty in Kazakhstan. This was one in a series that the Helsinki Commission has held on Central Asia. The hearing focused on Kazakhstan for two reasons: first, the country held a presidential election, almost 2 years ahead of schedule. The OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, used unusually strong language, and criticized the conduct of the election as far short of meeting OSCE commitments. The witnesses gave testimony surrounding the legal obstacles in the constitution of Kazakhstan and other obstacles that the authoritarian voices in the government use to suppress opposition.

  • Concerning Anti-Semitic Statements by Members of the Duma of the Russian Federation

    Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 37) concerning anti-Semitic statements made by members of the Duma of the Russian Federation, as amended. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume. Mr. Speaker, H. Con. Res. 37 condemns anti-Semitic statements made by members of the Russian Duma and commends actions taken by fair-minded members of the Duma to censure the purveyors of anti-Semitism within their ranks. H. Con. Res. 37 further commends President Yeltsin and other members of the Russian Government for their rejection of such statements. Finally, this resolution reiterates the firm belief of the Congress that peace and justice cannot be achieved as long as governments and legislatures promote policies or let stand destructive remarks based on anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia.   Mr. Speaker, with the fall of the ruble last August and the associated economic problems in Russia, there has been a disturbing rise in anti-Semitic statements by high Russian political figures. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism has always had a certain following in Russia; and it would be disingenuous of us to suggest that there is no anti-Semitism in the United States or other parts of the world. But I believe we cannot remain silent when members of the national legislature of Russia, a participating state of the OSCE and the Council of Europe, should state at a Duma hearing, as did the chairman of the Duma Security Committee, Mr. Ilyukhin, that Russian President Yeltsin's “Jewish entourage” is responsible for alleged genocide against the Russian people. It is an affront to human decency that Duma member and retired General Albert Makashov, speaking twice in November 1998 at public rallies, should refer to “the Yids” and other “reformers and democrats” as responsible for Russia's problems and threaten to make a list and “send them to the other world.”   Mr. Speaker, this man, and I have seen a tape recording of him, as a matter of fact I played it at a Helsinki Commission hearing that I chaired last January, has said, “We will remain anti-Semites and we must triumph.” These are dangerous, hate-filled sentiments. Mr. Speaker, it should be noted and clearly stated that President Yeltsin and his government have condemned anti-Semitism and other expressions of ethnic and religious hatred. There have been attempts in the Duma to censure anti-Semitic statements and those who utter them. However, the Duma is controlled, as we all know, by the Communist Party, where anti-Semitic statements are either supported, or at least tolerated, and these attempts to censure have failed. So we must go on the record and censure. In fact, Communist Party Chairman Zyuganov has tried to rationalize anti-Semitic statements by fellow party members. He explains that the party has nothing against Jews, just Zionism. He has also stated that there will be no more anti-Semitic statements by General Makashov. But this is the same Mr. Zyuganov who has asserted that, and I quote, “too many people with strange-sounding family names mingle in the internal affairs of Russia.” And this is the party that claims to inherit that internationalist mantle of the old Communist Party.   Mr. Speaker, on January 15 of this year, I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing regarding human rights in Russia, at which time we heard testimony by Lyuda Alexeeva, a former Soviet dissident and chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group. She testified that the Russian people themselves are not anti-Semitic but that the Communist Party is tolerating this crude attitude among its ranks. She called upon parliamentarians throughout the world to protest in no uncertain terms the position of the Communist Party and its anti-Semitic leaders. Let us make that a priority for us today, to censure, to speak out so that the democratic forces in Russia, the decent people who are trying to create a civil society in Russia, are not silenced by these demagogues of hate. I urge strong support for this resolution. We must go on record. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

  • The Serbia and Montenegro Democracy Act of 1999

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Serbia and Montenegro Democracy Act of 1999, a bill which will target much needed assistance to democratic groups in Serbia and Montenegro. I am joined by Representatives Ben Gilman, Steny Hoyer, John Porter, Dan Burton, Eliot Engel, Dana Rohrabacher, Louise Slaughter and Jim Moran, all strong promoters of human rights worldwide and the original cosponsors of this Act. It is fitting that this important piece of legislation be introduced today, as a high-level envoy for the United States is in Belgrade to seek the blessing of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for a political settlement which hopefully will restore peace to the troubled region of Kosovo. We are dealing directly with the man most responsible for the conflict in Kosovo, not to mention Bosnia and Croatia. Milosevic has maintained his power from within Serbia throughout the 1990s at the cost of 300,000 lives and the displacement of 3 million people. He has relied on virulent Serbian nationalism to instigate conflict which will divide the people of the region for decades. The most fundamental flaw in U.S. policy toward the region is that it relies on getting Milosevic's agreement, when Milosevic simply should be forced to stop his assaults on innocent civilians. It relies on Milosevic's dictatorial powers to implement an agreement, undermining support for democratic alternatives. In short, U.S. policy perpetuates Milosevic's rule and ensures that more trouble will come to the Balkans. There can be no long-term stability in the Balkans without a democratic Serbia. Moreover, we need to be clear that the people of Serbia deserve the same rights and freedoms which other people in Europe enjoy today. They also deserve greater prosperity. Milosevic and his criminal thugs deny the same Serbian people they claim to defend these very rights, freedoms and economic opportunities. Independent media is repeatedly harassed, fined and sometimes just closed down. University professors are forced to take a ridiculous loyalty oath or are replaced by know-nothing party hacks. The regime goes after the political leadership of Montenegro, which is federated with Serbia in a new Yugoslav state but is undergoing democratic change itself. The regime goes after the successful Serb-American pharmaceutical executive Milan Panic, seizing his company's assets in Serbia to intimidate a potentially serious political rival and get its hands on the hard currency it desperately needs to sustain itself. The regime also goes after young students, like Boris Karajcic, who was beaten on the streets of Belgrade for his public advocacy of academic freedom and social tolerance. Building a democracy in Serbia will be difficult, and it is largely in the hands of those democratic forces within Serbia to do the job. However, given how the regime has stacked the situation against them, through endless propaganda, harassment and violence, they need help. This Act intends to do just that. It would allocate $41 million in various sectors of Serbian society where democratic forces can be strengthened, and to encourage further strengthening of these forces in neighboring Montenegro. It would ensure that this funding will, in fact, go to these areas, in contrast to the Administration's budget request which indicates that much of this funding could be siphoned off to implement a peace agreement in Kosovo. Another $350,000 would go to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly, which could provide assistance on a multilateral basis and demonstrate that Serbia can rejoin Europe, through the OSCE, once it moves in a democratic direction and ends its instigation of conflict. This Act also states what policy toward Serbia and Montenegro must be: to promote the development of democracy and to support those who are committed to the building of democratic institutions, defending human rights, promoting rule of law and fostering tolerance in society. This funding, authorized by the Support for East European Democracy Act of 1989, represents a tremendous increase for building democratic institutions in Serbia and Montenegro. This fiscal year, an anticipated $25 million will be spent, but most of that is going to Kosovo. The President's budget request for the next fiscal year is a welcome $55 million, but, with international attention focused on Kosovo, too much of that will likely go toward implementing a peace agreement. Make no mistake, I support strongly assistance for Kosovo. I simply view it as a mistake to get that assistance by diverting it from Serbia and Montenegro. We have spent billions of dollars in Bosnia and will likely spend at least hundreds of millions more in Kosovo, cleaning up the messes Milosevic has made. The least we can do is invest in democracy in Serbia, which can stop Milosevic from making more problems in the future. Building democracy in Serbia will be difficult, given all of the harm Milosevic has done to Serbian society. The opposition has traditionally been weak and divided, and sometimes compromised by Milosevic's political maneuvering. There are signs, however, the new Alliance for Change could make a difference, and there certainly is substantial social unrest in Serbia from which opposition can gain support. In addition, there are very good people working in human rights organizations, and very capable independent journalists and editors. The independent labor movement has serious potential to gain support, and the student and academic communities are organized to defend the integrity of the universities. Simply demonstrating our real support for the democratic movement in Serbia could convince more people to become involved. Finally, Montenegro's democratic changes in the last year place that republic in a difficult position. A federation in which one republic is becoming more free and open while the other, much larger republic remains repressive and controls federal institutions cannot last for long, yet Montenegrins know they could be the next victims of Milosevic. It would be a mistake to leave those building a democracy in Montenegro out on that limb. They need our support as well. In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I am today introducing the Serbia and Democracy Act of 1999 because I feel our country's policy in the Balkans has all too long been based on false assumptions about the region. Granted, social tensions, primarily based on ethnic issues, were bound to have plagued the former Yugoslavia, but it is an absolute fact that violence could have been avoided if Slobodan Milosevic did not play on those tensions to enhance his power. As we prepare to debate the sending of American forces to Kosovo to keep a peace which does not yet exist, we must address the root cause of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to today. This Act, Mr. Speaker, does just that, and I urge my colleagues to support its swift and overwhelming passage by the House. The Senate is working on similar legislation, and hopefully the Congress can help put U.S. policy back on the right track.

  • Civil Society, Democracy, and Markets in East Central Europe and the NIS: Problems and Perspectives

    This briefing, led by Chief of Staff Dorothy Douglas Taft, was prompted by the book Nations in Transit 1998, a study and analysis of 25 post-Communist countries which supported the monitoring of the region’s adherence to the Helsinki Accords. Questions included in the report were organized in the categories of political processes, civil society, independent media, the rule of law, governance and pubic administration, macro-economic policy, micro-economic policy, and privatization. The witnesses - Adrian Karatnycky, Professor Alexander Motyl, and E. Wayne Merry - discussed the document and interpreted some of the political and economic trends in the region. They expanded upon some of the insights provided in the book and analyzed the region’s progress, reflecting on their own experiences working with the Soviet Union.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • WHITHER HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA?

    This hearing focused on the human rights situation in Russia. Russia is no longer an authoritarian dictatorship and civil liberties have improved. However, the decline in Russia’s recent economic fortunes has been accompanied by disturbing developments in the area of human rights and civil liberties. A religion law developed in 1977 has led to legal difficulties and complications for some religious organizations in their dealings with local authorities, most notably the declaration of Jehovah Witness as a “destructive sect.” Also recent cases of a crackdown on activist has led to Russia’s first political prisoner since the defunct Soviet Union with the arrest of the environmental whistleblower, Alexandr Nikitin.

  • The Status of Human Rights in Russia

    This briefing addressed the recent changes in the Russian government and what they might portend for human Rights in Russia. Specifically, economic troubles that led to the emergence of extremist politics and subsequent human rights abuses were the main topic of discussion. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch; Mark Levin, Executive Director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; and Lauren Homer, President of Law and Liberty Trust – evaluated the status of human rights abuse in Russia resulting from a mix of repression, corruption, inertia, and neglect. Freedom of speech, freedom of information, and freedom of religion were especially emphasized as aspects of human rights that Russia needs to improve in the future

  • Romani Human Rights in Europe

    Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith presided over this hearing that discussed the rights of the Romani population in Europe. While ostensibly of Central and Eastern European descent, Romani, or Roma, individuals have existed in almost every European state. The Roma consist of a dispersed minority that, at the time of this hearing, was the fastest growing European population, numbering between 8 million and 10 million people. Unfortunately, their numbers did not protect the Roma from being the only population whose situation had actually worsened since the fall of Communism. From the first signs of anti-Romani discrimination in Romania to the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation in January of 1994, the reasons to justify holding this hearing to discuss the plight of the Romani were many. At this hearing, besides Commissioner Chris Smith, were Commission Chairman Steny Hoyer, and witnesses James Goldston of the European Roma Rights Center, Livia Plaks of the Project on Ethnic Relations, and Drs. David Crowe and Ian Hancock, professors at Elon and the University of Texas-Austin, respectively.

  • Pluralism and Tolerance in Croatia

    This briefing moderated by Commission Policy Advisor Robert Hand focused on the many developments in Croatia at the time, including the issue of human rights- an area that Croatia needed to improve upon.  Likewise, in order to be fully embraced by the European community, as Hand said, the country needed to democratize. At that point in time, the country of Croatia stood at a crossroads. In January 1998, Croatia resumed control over eastern Slavonia, its last enclave occupied by Serb militants since the fall of 1991. Before resumption of Croatian control, the area was under U.N. administration the two years before. As sovereignty was reached on the entire state territory, priorities began to shift and the Croatian government came under strong internal and external pressure to allow acceleration of democratic development.

  • Repression and Violence in Kosovo and Hearing on Kosovo: The Humanitarian Perspective

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Alfonse D’Amato, discussed the dire circumstances in Kosovo, specifically Serbian repression of the Kosovar Albanian majority population. In this hearing, D’Amato called for the U.S. to step up and prevent another outbreak of ethnic cleansing and achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. More specifically, to facilitate a lasting peace, the Commissioner called on U.S. leadership to make Slobodan Milosevic believe that the world would not stand by while the atrocities in Kosovo and Serbia continued. In addition, any settlement reached between Milosevic and the Kosovo Albanian leadership, D’Amato, continued, must be respected and protect the human rights of all individuals in Kosovo, without preconditions. Witnesses in this hearing discussed these human rights violations and the predicament of the Kosovar Albanians.

  • Bosnia

    During this briefing, Robert Hand, policy advisor at the Commission, led a discussion regarding Bosnia and its different regions. He spoke of the situation in Bosnia in 1998 and the power of ethnically-based political parties, retained through nationalism, corruption, and control of the media. Reconstruction in Bosnia has slow and challenging due to poor economic conditions and the continued displacement of certain populations. The witnesses - Luke Zahner, Candace Lekic, Jessica White, Roland de Rosier, Kathryn Bomberger, Brian Marshall - have served in regions all over Bosnia and gave valuable input on the differences between regions and their rehabilitations processes after the Dayton Accords. They also spoke of the influence of Republica Srpska and the Bosnian Federation on said regions.  Paying attention to these differences, they state, is important in that the United States wants to support only those that successfully implement the Dayton Accords.

  • Report on Human Rights and the Process of NATO Enlargement

    The Commission held a series of three public hearings on “Human Rights and the Process of NATO Enlargement” in anticipation of the summit of Heads of State and Governments of Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to be held in Madrid, Spain, on July 8 and 9, 1997. The emergence of new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe and the demise of the Warsaw Pact created a security vacuum in the territory between the current eastern frontier of NATO and the Russian border. The first attempt to address the new security realities in the region occurred at the end of 1991 with the establishment of NATO’s North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) as a forum for the evolution of a new relationship based on constructive dialogue and cooperation. In early 1994, the Partnership for Peace (PfP) was launched with the aim of providing a practical program to transform the relationship between NATO and states participating in PfP, moving beyond dialogue and cooperation to forge a genuine security partnership. (All 27 states of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) are OSCE participating States.) Simultaneously, NATO began to consider the possibility of enlarging the Alliance. The result was the 1995 Study on NATO Enlargement which addressed practical steps and requirements candidates for membership would have to satisfy. In December 1996, NATO foreign ministers called for a NATO summit at which one or more countries that wanted to join NATO would be invited to begin accession negotiations. The U.S. Congress was instrumental in stimulating the debate through several legislative initiatives. The NATO Participation Act of 1994 (PL 103-447) provided a reasonable framework for addressing concerns about NATO enlargement, consistent with U.S. interests in ensuring stability in Europe. The law lists a variety of criteria, such as respect for democratic principles and human rights enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act, against which to evaluate the suitability of prospective candidates for NATO membership. The Act stipulates that participants in the PfP should be invited to become full NATO members if they... “remain committed to protecting the rights of all their citizens....” Under section 203, a program of assistance was established to provide designated emerging democracies with the tools necessary to facilitate their transition to full NATO membership. The NATO Enlargement Facilitation Act of 1996 (PL 104-208) included an unqualified statement that the protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights are integral aspects of genuine security. The law also makes clear that the human rights records of emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe interested in joining NATO should be evaluated in light of the obligations and commitments of these countries under the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Helsinki Final Act.  

  • Dogs Have More Freedom

    Mr. Speaker, `Dogs have more freedom than us; at least they are not afraid to go outside.' Mr. Speaker, this is the conclusion of a young Romani father in Slovakia who recounted his experience with growing skinhead violence in his country. His story is, regrettably, just one of the many documented in a January 1997 report prepared by the European Roma Rights Center [ERRC] entitled `Time of the Skinheads: Denial and Exclusion of Roma in Slovakia.' This study describes a grim pattern of violent assaults against Roma perpetrated by skinhead extremists; it also suggests that local police forces have been, at best, unwilling to fulfill their obligation to protect their citizens and, at worst, have themselves actually engaged in violence against Roma.   Descriptions of a 1995 organized attack on the entire Romani community in the town of Jarovnice--something that reads like a pogrom from a bygone era--were especially chilling. Since Slovakia became an independent state in 1993, a great deal of international attention has, rightly, focused on the status of the Hungarian minority in that country, a community that makes up approximately 10 percent of the population. Slovakia also has another large minority population which is less well known abroad. While the exact number of Roma in Slovakia is contested, it is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. These people, the survivors of Nazi efforts to eradicate the Roma altogether, now face increasing violent attacks against their homes, their villages, and their lives.   The problems of Roma in post-Communist European countries are many, and often defy easy answers. But at least three of the problems described in `Time of the Skinheads' do have obvious solutions. First, the Slovak Government has failed to demonstrate any serious effort to acknowledge and address the widespread problem of violent skinhead attacks on Roma. On the contrary, some public officials, members of the ruling coalition, have repeatedly made crude racist remarks about the Roma. As long as such remarks stand uncontested or unchallenged by Prime Minister Meciar, skinheads will believe that they can attack Roma with impunity. Clearly, local police officials take their cues from the top. Accordingly, any improvement in the situation of Roma in Slovakia must begin with the leadership of that country stating that racism and bigotry will not be tolerated.   Second, the ERRC report described a pattern of excessive use of force by the police against Roma. When the victims seek to bring a complaint against the police, the charges are, in effect, reversed and the Rom is charged with assaulting the police. Significantly, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture released a report on April 3, which also documented a problem of police brutality in Slovakia. That report, like the report of the ERRC, noted that the failure to ensure that those charged with a criminal offense have adequate legal representation has significantly contributed to this miscarriage of justice. One of the purposes of providing such representation is to guarantee a fair trial, consistent with the due process of law, and to ensure that those accused of crimes do not have confessions extracted from them by force. The failure to provide the accused with defense counsel violates one of the most important provisions of the international human rights system: the right to an attorney, a right articulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as paragraph 5.16 of the OSCE Copenhagen Document. I hope the Slovak Government will take immediate measures to redress this problem.   Finally, the ERRC report on Slovakia indicates that Slovak localities continue to use a system of tightly controlled residency permits to restrict the freedom of movement of Roma. Not only does this practice offend the nondiscrimination provisions of the Helsinki process, this system also harkens back to the rigid controls of the Communist days. If people are not permitted to move where jobs are, how can a free market system flourish?   Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, this pattern of violence against Roma is not unique to Slovakia. The ERRC, which was founded to defend the human rights of Roma, has also issued major reports on Austria and Romania. In addition, its most recent newsletter reported on problems Roma face in several other European countries. Clearly, there is much more that many governments in Central Europe can and should do to address these problems. I realize that Slovakia is in the midst of grappling with a very broad range of fundamental questions regarding its development and future. The basic human rights of Roma should be a part of that agenda. I see no better time. Will Slovakia enter the 21st century as a country which seeks to unite its citizens in achieving common goals, or will it lag behind with those countries which have permitted nationalism and racism to divide their people and weaken the very state they worked so hard to create?

  • The Current Situation in Croatia

    This briefing addressed the political situation in Croatia in the context of impending elections for offices at the municipal and county levels, as well as for seats in the Chamber of Counties of the Croatian Sabor, that would be an important step in the process of reintegrating Easter Slavonia. Some issues that had been noted during past election monitoring operations, such as problems with the development of the independent media, a lack of transparency in the electoral system, and a tendency for decisions to favor the ruling party, were discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Jonas Rolett of the National Democratic Institute; Vesna Pusic, a professor for the University of Zagreb; Milbert Shin of Human Rights Watch; and Nenad Porges, Deputy Chief of Mission for the Croatian Embassy – evaluated the opportunity for improvement in the elections, and the role that nongovernmental organizations like NDI and Human Rights Watch would play in this process. Several tactics for improving the electoral process in Croatia, including strengthening political parties and providing neutral, accessible information, were topics of discussion.

  • Political Turmoil in Serbia

    In this hearing, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) discussed, with witnesses, the developments in Serbia and what opposition forces had to say about the future of the country. Witnesses present included Miodrag Perisic, co-founder and vice president of Serbia’s first political opposition party (the Democratic Party); Branislav Canak, the president of a confederation of independent trade unions that wanted to organize workers throughout Serbia (the Independents); Veran Matic, Editor-In-Chief of B92, Belgrade’s independent radio station; and Obrad Kesic, program specialist for the Professional Media Program at the International Research and Exchanges Board. More specifically, Smith and witnesses discussed popular unrest against Milosevic’s refusal to accept election results regarding the ruling Socialist Party and its allies, underscoring more general displeasure with the Serbian government’s track record regarding the economy, human rights, and a lack of confidence that Serbians’ children would have a democratic and prosperous future.  

  • U.S. Statements on the Human Dimension, 1996 OSCE Vienna Review Conference and Lisbon Summit

    This compendium of statements illustrates the U.S. perspective that one of the key and distinguishing features of the OSCE is the interlocking framework of critical, politically binding commitments which provide a common set of principles to which all participating States can aspire. The OSCE draws its real strength and practical flexibility from participating states' commitments to the values of the original Helsinki Act, rather than from a legalized, treaty-based institutional structure. A fundamental strength of the OSCE is the review process, which provides a regular opportunity to assess a participating states' efforts to further the realization of the Helsinki Accords within its own borders, and in its relations with other OSCE states. The OSCE is increasingly a pillar of European security. By facilitating honest implementation review the OSCE can strengthen security links based on common values.

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