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Chairman Hastings on Yom Kippur Shooting outside German Synagogue

Thursday, October 10, 2019

WASHINGTON—Following yesterday’s shooting outside of a synagogue in Halle, Germany, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) issued the following statement:

“I am heartbroken to hear about the shooting near a synagogue in Germany where Jewish worshippers gathered to observe Yom Kippur. I stand in solidarity with the two innocent lives lost and the families and worshippers who were impacted by this senseless act of violence and hatred. As we commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh synagogue tragedy later this month, we must do more across borders to address these common challenges together.”

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Stacy Hope
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  • Escalating anti-Semitic Violence in Europe

    While the anti-Semitism scourge lurks in the United States, the sharp escalation of violence against Jews in the OSCE region deserves attention. The most brutal incidents in recent months have occurred in France, Belgium and Germany. Violence has also been directed toward the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, Greece and Ukraine. OSCE participating States have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence. Despite that commitment, attacks against Jews continue. Two Yeshiva students from New Jersey were assaulted in Germany. A mob attacked Jewish worshipers in a Ukraine synagogue. A gang attacked Jewish high school soccer players in France. Vandals vandalized several synagogues in Russia. A Marseille synagogue burned to the ground and synagogues elsewhere in the OSCE region have suffered firebomb attacks. Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi “skin head” activity, participating States throughout the OSCE region face the urgent challenge of stemming the tide of escalating anti-Semitic violence.

  • Developments in the Chechen Conflict

    Since renewal of the Chechen war in late 1999, the conflict has been characterized by brutality and violations of human rights on both sides, especially on the part of the Russian military with its greater firepower. Hundreds of Chechens, especially males of military age, have been killed or have disappeared as a result of Russian military “sweeps.” An estimated 150,000 – 200,000 civilians have been forced to relocate to neighboring refugee camps. Moscow contends that the war in Chechnya is an integral part of the war against international terrorism, and the U.S. Government has confirmed links between some insurgents in Chechnya and “various terrorist organizations and mujahidin.” The U.S. Government has called upon Chechnya’s leadership to “immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups,” while calling for “accountability for human rights violations on all sides” and a political solution to the conflict.

  • Georgian Government Complicity in Mob Violence against Minority Religious Groups

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel Over the past two years, mob violence against minority religious groups has plagued the Republic of Georgia, a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since 1992. A country of five million people, Georgia has seen more than its share of sectarian violence, as individuals propagating religious chauvinism conduct a campaign of brutality against other religious communities. Adding to this, police units have reportedly participated in violence against minority religious groups, or have failed to respond to attacks in an adequate fashion. As a result, a number of minority religious communities remain at risk in Georgia today as depredations continue with impunity. As an OSCE participating State, Georgia pledged to uphold freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief for all individuals, without distinction. As stated in the 1983 Madrid Concluding Document, participating States “agree to take the action necessary to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Since 1999, organized mob brutality against minority religious groups has gradually escalated, with the Jehovah’s Witnesses being a repeated target. As stated by the Department of State’s 2001 International Religious Freedom Report, local “police and security officials at times harassed nontraditional religious minority groups and were complicit or failed to respond to attacks by Orthodox extremists against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other nontraditional religious minorities.” Despite the inability of Georgian authorities to incarcerate the perpetrators, the 1995 Georgian Constitution does guarantee protection. Despite constitutional protections, over the past two years, approximately 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, mostly led by Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, the director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. While victims have filed more than 700 criminal complaints, the authorities have not responded, leaving the perpetrators free to repeat their attacks. Reports give startling examples of individuals being dragged by their hair into a group, only to be pummeled with punches, kicks and clubs. Buses taking Jehovah’s Witnesses to various events have been stopped by police, and then attacked by Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob. In September 2001, Bluashvili led an attack during a Jehovah’s Witness religious service, with some of his militants brandishing firearms. In addition, Mkalavishvili, viewing himself as a pugilist defending Georgian Christianity, reportedly declared Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Soon thereafter, with the violence steadily increasing and the government declining to intervene, Jehovah’s Witnesses conducted their activities in private, and for four months no violence occurred. However, in April of this year, that calm was shattered when Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob attacked on two separate occasions private homes that were hosting meetings. Considering the brutality Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili have displayed, it is astonishing that to date no fatalities have occurred. While the Jehovah’s Witnesses have borne the brunt of these attacks, other minority religious communities have also suffered under this vigilantism. Last year, during choir practice of a Pentecostal church, Mkalavishvili’s militants raided the building, seriously injuring twelve church members. A mob exceeding 100 hooligans targeted an Evangelical church two days before Christmas 2001, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili’s mob tried to raze a warehouse owned by the Baptist Union, burning Bibles and religious materials. Mkalavishvili organized approximately 150 followers in three buses to accomplish this goal. In addition, Mkalavishvili has targeted the offices of government ombudswoman Nana Devdariani, the Tbilisi based NGO Liberty Institute, and the Rezonansi newspaper. The police have consistently refused to restrain the attackers, with only a few exceptions to note. Unfortunately, the judicial system has proven equally inept. On January 25th, prosecutors commenced legal proceedings against Mkalavishvili and one of his lieutenants for two mob attacks, although the minor charges brought do not reflect the gravity of their crimes. Yet, since the first hearing, the commitment of Georgian officials to vigorously prosecute Mkalavishvili has been evanescent. The case has been postponed five times, most recently due to the prosecutor failing to appear. These delays can be attributed to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, maintaining a menacing presence both outside and inside the Didube-Chugureti District Court. At several hearings, large numbers have crashed into the court while carrying wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Obviously feeling immune from government action, Mkalavishvili has used the courtroom itself as a platform, reportedly threatening lawyers and victims through a megaphone. Evidence of these events is readily available as local television stations are usually tipped in advance, airing footage of the attacks and interviews of Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili on the nightly news. Despite fervent appeals by victims and their lawyers, the police have refused to provide adequate courtroom security. Attorneys for the victims even petitioned the court for assistance, only for the judge to decide no more than 10 police officers would be permitted. Inexcusably, the judge put no limit on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers granted access to the courtroom. In a stark contradiction, more than 200 police and a SWAT team were ordered to protect officials from the Ministry of Interior when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges. In sum, the Georgian Government is proving ineffective in ameliorating the situation and protecting its citizens, regardless of their religious faith, from mob violence. Meanwhile, President Eduard Shevardnadze has held meetings with faith communities to demonstrate religious tolerance. He has also issued a presidential decree calling for the Ministry of Interior to take action, but by allowing lawless bands of militants to attack peaceful gatherings, his illusory actions are speaking louder than his words. By allowing the strength of the police and judicial systems to become a farce, it will only further encourage contravention of Georgian laws. However, despite actions demonstrated to date, the Georgian Government can end the attacks and bring to justice the perpetrators of this brutality.

  • Unpunished Religious Persecution in the Republic of Georgia

    Mr. President, as a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed closely human rights developments in the participating States, especially as they have an impact on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. In many former communist countries, local religious establishments have reacted with concern and annoyance about perceived encroachment of religions considered “non-traditional.” But in the Republic of Georgia organized mob violence against those of nontraditional faiths has escalated, largely directed against Jehovah’s Witnesses. For over 2 years, a wave of mob attacks has been unleashed on members of this and other minority religious communities, and it is very disturbing that the police have consistently either refused to restrain the attackers or actually participated in the violence.   Since October 1999, nearly 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, most led by a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, Vasili Mkalavishvili. These violent acts have gone unpunished, despite the filing of over 600 criminal complaints. Reports cite people being dragged by their hair and then summarily punched, kicked and clubbed, as well as buses being stopped and attacked. The priest leading these barbaric actions has been quoted as saying Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Considering the well-documented frenzy of these depredations, it is only a matter of time before the assaults end in someone’s death.   Other minority religious communities have not escaped unscathed, but have also been targeted. Mkalavishvili coordinated an attack against a Pentecostal church last year during choir practice. His truncheon-wielding mob seriously injured 12 church members. Two days before Christmas 2001, over 100 of his militants raided an Evangelical church service, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili brought three buses of people, approximately 150 followers, to burn Bibles and religious materials owned by the Baptist Union.   Mkalavishvili brazenly holds impromptu press conferences with media outlets, often as the violence transpires in the background. With his hooligans perpetrating violent acts under the guise of religious piety, camera crews set up and document everything for the local news. The absence of a conviction and subsequent imprisonment of Mkalavishvili is not for lack of evidence.   After considerable delay, the Georgian Government did commence on January 25 legal proceedings for two mob attacks. However, considering the minor charges being brought and the poor handling of the case, I fear Mkalavishvili and other extremists will only be encouraged to continue their attacks, confident of impunity from prosecution.   Since the initial hearing in January of this year, postponement of the case has occurred four times due to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, overrunning the Didube-Chugureti District Court. Mkalavishvili’s marauding followers brought wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Mkalavishvili himself even threatened the lawyers and victims while they were in the courtroom. With police refusing to provide adequate security, lawyers filed a motion asking for court assistance, but the judge ruled the maximum security allowed would be 10 policemen, while no limit was placed on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers permitted in the courtroom. In contrast, the Ministry of Interior has reportedly provided more than 200 police and a SWAT team to protect officials of its office when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges.   Certainly, the Georgian Government could provide adequate security so that its judicial system is not overruled by vigilante justice. Unfortunately for all Georgians, the anemic government response is indicative of its inability or worse yet, its unwillingness to enforce the law to protect minority religious groups.   As is clearly evident, Georgian authorities are not taking effective steps to deter individuals and groups from employing violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths. With the ineptitude of the justice system now well known, Mkalavishvili has brazenly and publicly warned that the attacks will not cease.   Religious intolerance is one of the most pernicious human rights problems in Georgia today. Therefore, I call upon President Eduard Shevardnadze to take action to end the violence against religious believers, and prevent attacks on minority religious communities. Despite the meetings he held with the various faith communities intended to demonstrate tolerance, Georgian Government inaction is sending a very different message. Tbilisi’s pledge to uphold the rights of all believers and prosecute those who persecute the faithful must be followed by action.   As a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I urge President Shevardnadze to do whatever is necessary to stop these attacks, and to honor Georgia’s OSCE commitments to promote and ensure religious freedom without distinction. The Georgian Government should take concrete steps to punish the perpetrators through vigorous prosecution.

  • Kyrgyzstan's Release of Azimbek Beknazarov

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday authorities in Kyrgyzstan released Azimbek Beknazarov, a parliamentarian who had been in jail since January 5. The decision was made after disturbances in the Ak-Su District of Jalal-Abad, Mr. Beknazarov’s native region in southern Kyrgyzstan. In an unprecedented outburst of violence on March 17, six people were killed and scores wounded when police opened fire on demonstrators. Mr. Beknazarov has pledged not to leave the area and his trial has been postponed indefinitely while the authorities and the public catch their breath and reassess the situation.   The incident and the events leading up to it are alarming--not only for Kyrgyzstan but for the United States, which is now basing troops in the country and expects to be in the region for the foreseeable future. Despite attempts by some Kyrgyz officials to pin the blame on a mob of demonstrators fired up by alcohol, the real cause of the bloody riot was popular discontent with an unresponsive government reaching the boiling point.   Kyrgyz authorities have accused Mr. Beknazarov of improperly handling a murder case when he was an investigator in a district prosecutor’s office years ago. In fact, it is widely believed that Beknazarov’s real transgression was to suggest that Kyrgyzstan’s parliament discuss the country’s border agreement with China, which would transfer some territory from the tiny Central Asian state to its giant neighbor.   This is reflective of Akaev’s intensified efforts to consolidate his power while cracking down on dissent and opposition. In February 2000, President Akaev rigged the parliamentary election to keep his main rival--Felix Kulov, who had served as Vice President and in other high-level positions--from winning a seat in the legislature. The observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) openly questioned the results in Kulov’s district, and said the election had fallen far short of international standards. Subsequently, Kulov was arrested and could not participate in the October 2000 presidential election, in which Akaev faced no serious contenders and was easily re-elected.   Kulov is serving a 7-year jail term and now faces new criminal charges. Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner. Last December I chaired a hearing of the Helsinki Commission which focused on the deterioration of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Mr. Kulov’s wife was able to attend the hearing and offered her perspective on the current political climate in her country.   The independent and opposition media in Kyrgyzstan have also been under severe pressure, usually in the form of libel cases which official authorities use to fine newspapers out of existence so they cannot report on corruption. In January 2002, the authorities issued Decree No. 20, which would introduce mandatory official inventory and government registration of all typographical and printing equipment, while imposing stricter controls on its imports. Decree No. 20 would also threaten U.S. Government plans to establish an independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, the decree will be used against religious groups, both Muslim and Christian, by blocking their ability to produce religious material and by calling for an “auditing” of all religious communities that create publications. While the pretext of the decree is to combat “religious extremists,” the decree has clear implications for religious communities out of favor with the government, as well as with opposition groups. The State Department has urged Kyrgyzstan to repeal Decree No. 20 but so far, Bishkek has stubbornly refused.   So when legislator Azimbek Beknazarov was arrested on January 5, his colleagues in parliament, members of opposition parties and human rights activists reacted strongly to the latest step in an ongoing campaign to clamp down on civil society. Since January, hundreds of people, including parliamentarians, have gone on hunger strikes to demand his release. Protests and demonstrations have continued throughout, which the police have either ignored or roughly dispersed. The U.S. Government, the OSCE and international human rights groups have called for Beknazarov’s release, but President Akaev, hiding behind the fig leaf of “executive non-interference in judicial deliberations,” contends that the case must be decided by the courts. His position is an absurd pretense in a country where the courts are under state influence, especially in sensitive political cases. More to the point, this stance is simply no longer credible, considering the widespread belief that Beknazarov’s imprisonment was politically motivated and the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s good faith.   Finally, pent-up tensions exploded two days ago, when demonstrators and police clashed, with tragic consequences. Kyrgyz officials have accused organizers of unauthorized pickets and rallies of responsibility for the violence. In an address to the nation, President Akaev described the events as “an apparent plot [in which] a group of people, including prominent politicians, staged unauthorized mass rallies simultaneously.” He said the events were “another move in the targeted activities of opposition forces to destabilize the situation in the country. They have been engaged in these activities for the last few years.”   Mr. Speaker, I would contend that the riots in Jalal-Abad Region were the predictable outcome of frustration and desperation. Askar Akaev, by falsifying elections and repressing freedom of expression, has made normal politics impossible in Kyrgyzstan. A long-suffering populace, which has seen its living standard plummet while corrupt officials grow rich, has signaled that enough is enough. The authorities have heard the message and now have to make a critical decision: either to try to find a common language with society or to crack down. If they choose the former, Kyrgyzstan may yet realize its promise of the early 1990s; if they choose the latter, more confrontations are likely, with unpredictable ramifications for Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors.   The United States has a real stake in the outcome. We are in Central Asia to make sure terrorists cannot use the region to plan attacks on us or recruit new members. But all the region’s states are led by men determined to stay in power indefinitely. This means they cannot allow society to challenge the state, which, in turn, insures that discontented, impoverished people with no other outlets could well be attracted by radical ideologies.   We must make it plain to President Akaev that we are serious when we declare that our war on terrorism has not put democracy and human rights on the back burner. And we must insist that he implement his OSCE commitments, as well as the pledge he made in last month’s bilateral Memorandum of Understanding with the United States. That document obligates Kyrgyzstan to “confirm its commitment to continue to take demonstrable measures to strengthen the development of democratic institutions and to respect basic human and civil rights, among which are freedom of speech and of the media, freedom of association and public assembly, and freedom of religion.”   The events earlier this week have given us a wake-up call. We had better understand properly all its implications.

  • Re-Registration Campaign Denying Religious Freedom in Azerbaijan

    Mr. Speaker, the ongoing re-registration campaign for religious organizations conducted by the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations, headed by Chairman Rafik Aliev potentially violates Azerbaijan’s commitments to religious freedom as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Azerbaijan must take steps commensurate with its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice their religion or belief, alone or in community with others. The State Committee, created last year to replace the Religious Affairs Directorate, has broad administrative powers, which Chairman Aliev seems willing to utilize in an attempt to ban minority religious communities through denial of legal registration. Recent reports indicate that of the 407 religious groups previously registered, only approximately 150 are currently under consideration for re-registration by the State Committee. An additional 200 organizations were unsuccessful in their initial application due to technical errors and were asked to resubmit these requests. While I am pleased that 80 groups have been approved, reportedly most are Muslim, I hope that the State Committee is not specifically discriminating against minority faiths or religious groups. Despite the extension of the re-registration deadline to the end of March, there is legitimate concern that groups will be arbitrarily denied registration, and thereby legal status, despite fulfilling all requirements. In addition, although this is the third registration campaign since 1991, reportedly about 2,000 more religious groups remain unregistered. Recently, a senior official at the State Committee declared unregistered groups will be closed down. The fear that the State Committee will refuse to register religious groups for arbitrary reasons is supported by several statements from Chairman Aliev himself. For instance, he declared the State Committee hoped to introduce more stringent regulations to govern both religious organizations and individuals. He also said the State Committee can request a court to suspend activities of any religious organization conducting activities deemed illegal or found to undermine national security. The State Committee has also limited the ability for religious communities to import religious material. Reportedly, Chairman Aliev also stated “religious organizations must be controlled” and that “religion is dangerous.” This flies in the face of President Heydar Aliyev’s November 1999 public statements supporting religious freedom in Azerbaijan. Also of concern are the heavy-handed actions against religious groups by Azeri Government officials and police officers. For example, on January 18, 2002, National Security Ministry officers raided an unregistered Protestant church, Living Stones, which was meeting in a private apartment. The police and security officers searched the residence and seized religious literature. Ten individuals who were attending the meeting were taken into custody, transferred to a police station and interrogated. While eight individuals were released, two church leaders, Yusuf Farkhadov and Kasym Kasymov, were given two-week prison sentences for violating Article 310 of the Administrative Code, which addresses “petty hooliganism.” The reported justification for the raid was that the church is not registered. However, Living Stones had attempted to register with the government, but only after one and a half years of waiting did the government decide their application contained errors and must be resubmitted. In addition, the church is listed as a branch of the Nehemiah Protestant Church, which is registered. Many other religious communities are also concerned. It is feared the Ashkenzai Jewish community will not be successful in registering, because the State Committee is favoring a separate Jewish group. The liquidation suit brought by Chairman Aliev against the Love Baptist Church in the Narimanov district court continues to drag on. Liquidating the church due to alleged statements by its pastor is a disproportionate penalty and contravenes OSCE commitments. Illegal closures of churches by local officials, as in the case of the Gyanja Adventist Church on February 24, 2002, have not been halted by the State Committee. The closure of mosques under the pretext of state security is also a concern, as the government could ban unpopular groups, despite no proof of illegal activity. The Helsinki Final Act commits that “the participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Mr. Speaker, I urge President Aliyev to ensure that the re-registration process is accomplished in accordance with Azerbaijan’s OSCE commitments. In light of statements by Chairman Aliev, it is apparent the State Committee is perverting the re-registration process to arbitrarily deny legal registration to selected religious communities. The government must take the necessary steps to protect the right of individuals to profess and practice their faith by registering religious organizations, in keeping with Azerbaijan’s commitments as a participating OSCE State. In closing, Mr. Speaker, I am greatly alarmed by the re-registration campaign in Azerbaijan. This being the third time in a decade the government has required registration, it would seem Azerbaijan will continually “sift” minority religious groups until all are made illegal. Therefore, it is my hope that the Azeri Government will choose to honor its OSCE commitments and allow religious communities to register without harassment or bureaucratic roadblocks. Members of Congress will be watching to see if groups highlighted in this statement are harassed because of their mention.

  • U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns

    This briefing addressed U.S. policy in Central Asia and human rights concerns in the region in advance of the President of Uzbekistan’s visit to Washington, which had drawn attention to the deepening engagement of the United States in the region. Questions about Washington’s leverage presently and in the foreseeable future as well as the prospects for improving the dismal human rights situation in the region were discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence Uzzell, Director of the Keston Institute; E. Wayne Merry, Senior Associate of the American Foreign Policy Council; and Nina Shea, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – presented numerous examples of the human rights violations that occur in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and pointed to the inheritance of imperial policies of commodity exploitation, ecological damage, and extremely bad demographics as several of the motivating factors of these violations.

  • Alarming Developments for Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan

    Mr. Speaker, troubling amendments to the current Kazakh law on religion await President Nursultan Nazarbayev's signature to enter into force. Both the lower and upper houses of the Kazakh parliament passed the amendments without any substantive modifications. As a result, if President Nazarbayev signs the legislation into law during the ten-day window, Kazakhstan would seriously undermine its commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice their religion or belief. Introduced without public consultation in late November 2001, the amendments passed the lower house on January 17 and the upper house on January 31 of this year. The sudden rush to passage was surprising. Kazakhstan had been working with the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts for Freedom of Religion or Belief to craft a law in harmony with its OSCE commitments. In fact, an earlier draft heavily criticized by the Advisory Panel was withdrawn in August 2001. The Advisory Panel issued a report on the latest draft on January 16, 2002, highlighting serious deficiencies in the text. However, it appears little heed was given to their critique. Reportedly, the executive branch pushed vigorously for legislation providing stricter controls on minority religious groups, which would explain the rapid consideration. In response to these unfolding events, myself, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell and six other Commissioners of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, wrote President Nazarbayev last week about these developments. The text of that letter, which I am submitting for the RECORD, highlights several, but not all problematic elements of the recently passed legislation. Of particular note are the increased hurdles for registration and vaguely worded articles, which could allow for arbitrary denials of registration for religious groups, and consequently their legal existence. Accordingly, there is great concern for the future of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, whether for Muslims or Christians. Mr. Speaker, in the letter we respectfully asked President Nazarbayev not to sign the amendments into law. Our concerns are not based on mere supposition; related laws and regulations have been utilized to suppress faith communities in Kazakhstan. For example, this past summer Article 375 of the Administrative Code was introduced, requiring the registration of all religious groups and including language penalizing unregistered religious groups. Police have since justified several raids on religious meetings citing Article 375, resulting in harassment and imprisonment as well as reported beatings and torture. Actions late last year against unregistered Baptist pastors is an illustrative example. On October 27, 2001, Pastor Asylbek Nurdanov, a Baptist leader in the Kyzyl-Orda regional city of Kazalinsk, went to a police station after his church was raided for failing to register. Once there, he was reportedly severely beaten and stripped, with one officer attempting to strangle him with a belt. Another threatened to cut off his tongue with scissors if he did not renounce his faith. It was also reported that on November 10, Pastor Nurdanov was forcibly taken and detained in a psychiatric hospital in Kyzyl-Orda. While he was released on November 16, such abuse is unacceptable. Other reports of police harassment and detention of Baptist pastors who have not registered their faith communities also exist. For example, on September 25, 2001, the Aktobe public prosecutor initiated legal proceedings against Baptist Pastor Vasily Kliver on the charge of ``evading the registration of a religious community.'' In October, Baptist pastor Valery Pak was jailed in Kyzyl-Orda for five days on the same charge. These reports of harassment, torture and detention indicate a serious failure to uphold Kazakhstan's human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State. As is evident, our concerns about Kazakh authorities utilizing the proposed amendment's restrictive nature to harass, if not condemn, religious groups are borne out by past practice in Kazkahstan. Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that President Nazarbayev will honor the obligations his nation freely chose to uphold as a participating OSCE state and not sign the amendments into law. Mr. Speaker, I request that the text of the letter sent to President Nazarbayev last week be included in the Record. January 30, 2002. His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana, Kazakhstan. Dear President Nazarbayev: The OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion and Belief issued a review of the proposed amendments on January 16, 2002. The review found the proposed amendments, while an improvement from an earlier draft withdrawn in August 2001, seriously deficient in many respects. In addition, the OSCE Centre in Almaty has stated the current religion law meets international standards and found no justification for initiating the new provisions. Therefore, we believe the remarks contained in the OSCE Advisory Panel critique should be followed fully. Problematic areas include, but are not limited to, permitting the registration of Muslim groups and the building of mosques only after a recommendation of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan. In addition, the number of individuals required to form a religious association would increase from 10 to 50, regardless of religion. Furthermore, the proposed amendments would permit dissolution of a religious group should individual members of the group commit repeated violations of the law. Each of these examples would allow the government to arbitrarily deny registration, and thereby legal existence, on specious legal grounds not in harmony with OSCE commitments. Reportedly, your government's justification for the new requirements in the current amendments, which create hurdles for registration, is to combat religious extremism. Yet the definition of "religious extremism'' in the amendments is vague and inherently problematic, potentially categorizing and prohibiting groups on the basis of their beliefs, rather than on their having committed illegal actions. Such vague language would allow the arbitrary interpretation of a group's beliefs and uneven implementation of the law. Our fear of Kazakh authorities harshly employing new requirements against religious groups is not unfounded. While the existing religion law does not require registration of faith communities, Article 375 of the Administrative Code, a provision added last year, requires the registration of faith communities. Since the promulgation of that article, we have received several reports of unregistered groups being penalized through criminal sanctions, as well as individuals being beaten while in custody. The harassment, detention and beating of individuals for merely belonging to unregistered religious groups, as well as disproportionate criminal charges for an administrative violation, are in direct violation of OSCE commitments. In calling for these actions, we remind you of the 1991 Moscow Document in which the OSCE participating States declared that "issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern'' and "are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.'' It is in this light that these requests are made. Last autumn, your government made a wise decision by choosing to honor its OSCE commitments and withdrawing the earlier version of the amendments. Recognizing the crucial importance that the very highest standards of religious freedom and human rights agreed to and proclaimed in various Helsinki documents be upheld, we respectfully urge you to take similar steps and not sign the amendments into law, should they pass the Senate without substantive modification. Sincerely, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S. Chairman Christopher H. Smith, M.C. Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer, M.C.; Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.; Zach Wamp, M.C.; Robert B. Aderholt, M.C.; Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.; Louise McIntosh Slaughter, M.C.  

  • Alarming Developments for Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan

    Mr. Speaker, troubling amendments to the current Kazakh law on religion await President Nursultan Nazarbayev's signature to enter into force. Both the lower and upper houses of the Kazakh parliament passed the amendments without any substantive modifications. As a result, if President Nazarbayev signs the legislation into law during the ten-day window, Kazakhstan would seriously undermine its commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice their religion or belief. Introduced without public consultation in late November 2001, the amendments passed the lower house on January 17 and the upper house on January 31 of this year. The sudden rush to passage was surprising. Kazakhstan had been working with the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts for Freedom of Religion or Belief to craft a law in harmony with its OSCE commitments. In fact, an earlier draft heavily criticized by the Advisory Panel was withdrawn in August 2001. The Advisory Panel issued a report on the latest draft on January 16, 2002, highlighting serious deficiencies in the text. However, it appears little heed was given to their critique. Reportedly, the executive branch pushed vigorously for legislation providing stricter controls on minority religious groups, which would explain the rapid consideration. In response to these unfolding events, myself, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell and six other Commissioners of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, wrote President Nazarbayev last week about these developments. The text of that letter, which I am submitting for the RECORD, highlights several, but not all problematic elements of the recently passed legislation. Of particular note are the increased hurdles for registration and vaguely worded articles, which could allow for arbitrary denials of registration for religious groups, and consequently their legal existence. Accordingly, there is great concern for the future of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, whether for Muslims or Christians. Mr. Speaker, in the letter we respectfully asked President Nazarbayev not to sign the amendments into law. Our concerns are not based on mere supposition; related laws and regulations have been utilized to suppress faith communities in Kazakhstan. For example, this past summer Article 375 of the Administrative Code was introduced, requiring the registration of all religious groups and including language penalizing unregistered religious groups. Police have since justified several raids on religious meetings citing Article 375, resulting in harassment and imprisonment as well as reported beatings and torture. Actions late last year against unregistered Baptist pastors is an illustrative example. On October 27, 2001, Pastor Asylbek Nurdanov, a Baptist leader in the Kyzyl-Orda regional city of Kazalinsk, went to a police station after his church was raided for failing to register. Once there, he was reportedly severely beaten and stripped, with one officer attempting to strangle him with a belt. Another threatened to cut off his tongue with scissors if he did not renounce his faith. It was also reported that on November 10, Pastor Nurdanov was forcibly taken and detained in a psychiatric hospital in Kyzyl-Orda. While he was released on November 16, such abuse is unacceptable. Other reports of police harassment and detention of Baptist pastors who have not registered their faith communities also exist. For example, on September 25, 2001, the Aktobe public prosecutor initiated legal proceedings against Baptist Pastor Vasily Kliver on the charge of "evading the registration of a religious community.'' In October, Baptist pastor Valery Pak was jailed in Kyzyl-Orda for five days on the same charge. These reports of harassment, torture and detention indicate a serious failure to uphold Kazakhstan's human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State. As is evident, our concerns about Kazakh authorities utilizing the proposed amendment's restrictive nature to harass, if not condemn, religious groups are borne out by past practice in Kazkahstan. Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that President Nazarbayev will honor the obligations his nation freely chose to uphold as a participating OSCE state and not sign the amendments into law. Mr. Speaker, I request that the text of the letter sent to President Nazarbayev last week be included in the Record.   January 30, 2002. His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana, Kazakhstan.   Dear President Nazarbayev: The OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion and Belief issued a review of the proposed amendments on January 16, 2002. The review found the proposed amendments, while an improvement from an earlier draft withdrawn in August 2001, seriously deficient in many respects. In addition, the OSCE Centre in Almaty has stated the current religion law meets international standards and found no justification for initiating the new provisions. Therefore, we believe the remarks contained in the OSCE Advisory Panel critique should be followed fully. Problematic areas include, but are not limited to, permitting the registration of Muslim groups and the building of mosques only after a recommendation of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan. In addition, the number of individuals required to form a religious association would increase from 10 to 50, regardless of religion. Furthermore, the proposed amendments would permit dissolution of a religious group should individual members of the group commit repeated violations of the law. Each of these examples would allow the government to arbitrarily deny registration, and thereby legal existence, on specious legal grounds not in harmony with OSCE commitments. Reportedly, your government's justification for the new requirements in the current amendments, which create hurdles for registration, is to combat religious extremism. Yet the definition of "religious extremism'' in the amendments is vague and inherently problematic, potentially categorizing and prohibiting groups on the basis of their beliefs, rather than on their having committed illegal actions. Such vague language would allow the arbitrary interpretation of a group's beliefs and uneven implementation of the law. Our fear of Kazakh authorities harshly employing new requirements against religious groups is not unfounded. While the existing religion law does not require registration of faith communities, Article 375 of the Administrative Code, a provision added last year, requires the registration of faith communities. Since the promulgation of that article, we have received several reports of unregistered groups being penalized through criminal sanctions, as well as individuals being beaten while in custody. The harassment, detention and beating of individuals for merely belonging to unregistered religious groups, as well as disproportionate criminal charges for an administrative violation, are in direct violation of OSCE commitments. In calling for these actions, we remind you of the 1991 Moscow Document in which the OSCE participating States declared that "issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern'' and "are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.'' It is in this light that these requests are made. Last autumn, your government made a wise decision by choosing to honor its OSCE commitments and withdrawing the earlier version of the amendments. Recognizing the crucial importance that the very highest standards of religious freedom and human rights agreed to and proclaimed in various Helsinki documents be upheld, we respectfully urge you to take similar steps and not sign the amendments into law, should they pass the Senate without substantive modification. Sincerely, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S. Chairman Christopher H. Smith, M.C. Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer, M.C.; Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.; Zach Wamp, M.C.; Robert B. Aderholt, M.C.; Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.; Louise McIntosh Slaughter, M.C.  

  • Belarus - Opportunities Squandered

    Mr. President. Periodically, I have addressed my colleagues in the United States Senate on developments in the last dictatorship in Europe -- Belarus. More than five months have passed since the September 9, 2001 Belarusian Presidential elections, which the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), as well as the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, concluded did not meet international democratic standards. Since that time, the Belarusian leadership has had ample opportunity to begin to live up to its freely-undertaken OSCE human rights and democracy commitments. Thus far, these opportunities have been squandered. As Secretary of State Powell remarked in his speech at the December 2001 meeting of OSCE Ministers in Bucharest: “The Government of Belarus ignored the recommendations of the OSCE on what conditions would need to be established in order for free and fair elections to take place. It is unfortunate, indeed, that the government of Belarus continues to act in a manner that excludes Belarus from the mainstream of European political life.” Since September, human rights violations have continued. There has been no progress with respect to resolving the cases of opposition leaders and journalists who “disappeared” in 1999-2000. Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenka has retaliated against opposition members, independent journalists, human rights activists and others, especially young people. Beatings, detentions, fines and other forms of pressure have continued unabated. To cite just one example, two defendants in a criminal case against Alexander Chygir, son of leading Lukashenka opponent and former Prime Minister, Mikhail Chygir, were reportedly beaten and otherwise maltreated during pre-trial detention. Criminal cases have been launched against journalists and NGOs as well. A number of leading industrialists have been arrested on what some observers believe are politically motivated charges. Freedom of religion is also an area of concern. The registration scheme, required for a group to obtain full legal rights, is the ultimate “catch-22." Registration cannot be granted without a legal address; a legal address cannot be obtained without registration. Even the state controlled media is a concern for religious freedom, due to the highly critical reports in newspapers and television about the Catholic Church and Protestant churches. Very recently, the regular broadcast on national radio of a Miensk Catholic mass was unexpectedly halted. Efforts to promote human rights and expand support and develop civil society in Belarus are being thwarted. The Belarusian government has threatened the OSCE Mission in Miensk with what amounts to expulsion unless the mandate of the Mission is changed more to its liking and has shown reluctance to accept a new Head of Mission. It is vital that the OSCE be allowed to continue its important work in developing genuine democratic institutions and a strong civil society in Belarus. Mr. President, I am also deeply troubled by allegations that Belarus has been acting as a supplier of lethal military equipment to Islamic terrorists, a charge that the Belarusian Government has denied. I ask unanimous consent that the text of a recent article that appeared in the Washington Post titled “Europe’s Armory for Terrorism” appear in the Record at this time. Mr. President, the troubling allegations contained in this article are a reminder of the importance of remaining steadfast in supporting democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus. The lack of functioning democratic institutions, including an independent parliament, together with suppression of free media contribute to an environment void of accountability. Writing off Belarus as a backwater in the heart of Europe would play into the hands of the Lukashenka regime with disastrous consequences not only for the Belarusian people. Mr. President, it is more important than ever for the OSCE to maintain a strong presence on the ground in Belarus and for the United States to continue to support democratic development in that country. I ask unanimous consent that the Washington Post article “Europe's Armory for Terrorism” be printed in the Record. There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: From the Washington Post, Jan. 3, 2002 Europe's Armory for Terrorism By Mark Lenzi The country in Europe that deserves the most attention for its support of terrorist groups and rogue states continues to receive the least. That is the lawless and undemocratic country of Belarus, under the rule of Alexander Lukashenko. Without a doubt no world leader benefitted more from the September terror attacks than Lukashenko, Europe's last dictator, whose ultimate wish is to reunite the Soviet Union. Just as world scrutiny and condemnation were beginning to mount after his rigged and falsified presidential election of Sept. 9 the tragic events two days later took Washington's quick glance away from this little-known and backward country. Washington needs to wake up to what is happening in NATO's backyard: Belarus is quietly acting as a leading supplier of lethal military equipment to Islamic radicals--with terrorists and militant organizations in the Middle East, Balkans and Central Asia often the recipients. In 1994, Lukashenko's first year as president, Belarus sold machine guns and armored vehicles to Tajikistan. This equipment quickly made its way into the hands of warring factions in neighboring Afghanistan, as well as Islamic freedom fighters aiming to overthrow the government in Tajikistan itself--ironically the same country where Belarus's big brother, Russia, has thousands of soldiers stationed to protect Central Asia and Russia from Islamic destabilization. Many of Lukashenko's arms deals have followed a similar pattern: Weapons sent from Belarus are “diverted'' from a listed destination country to an Islamic extremist group or a country under U.N. arms embargo while Belarusian government officials cast a blind eye on the transactions. While it is deplorable that Belarus's weapons have been responsible for prolonging civil wars and internal strife in countries such as Tajikistan, Angola and Algeria, it is particularly disturbing that Sudan, a country where Osama bin Laden used to live and one that is known as a haven for terrorists, has obtained from Belarus such proven and capable weapon systems as T-55 tanks and Mi-24 Hind Helicopter gunships. Weapons sent from Belarus to Sudan either fall into the hands of terrorists or are used in a civil war that has already killed more than 2 million people. Lukashenko's efforts to sell weapons to generate much-needed income for his beleaguered economy appear to have no bounds. For a country of only 10 million people, it is unsettling that Belarus is ranked year after year among the top 10 weapons-exporting countries. To put in perspective how much military equipment left over from the Soviet Union Lukashenko has at his disposal, consider the following fact: The Belarusian army has 1,700 T-72 battle tanks. Poland, a new NATO member with the most powerful army in Central Europe and with four times the population of Belarus, has only 900 T-72s. Despite strong denials from Lukashenko, Belarus has been a key partner of Saddam Hussein in his effort to rebuild and modernize Iraq's air defense capability. Belarus has violated international law by secretly supplying Baghdad with SA-3 antiaircraft missile components as well as technicians. Given that Iraq has repeatedly tried to shoot down U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the U.N. no-fly zone--with more than 420 attempts this year alone--covert Belarusian-Iraqi military cooperation is disturbing and should set off alarm bells in Western capitals. Former Belarusian defense minister Pavel Kozlovski, obviously someone with firsthand knowledge of Minsk's covert arms deals, recently summed up Belarus's cooperation with Iraq and other rogue states by saying, “I know that the Belarusian government does not have moral principles and can sell weapons to those countries [such as Iraq] where embargoes exist. This is the criminal policy of Belarusian leadership.'' In many ways, the mercurial and authoritarian Lukashenko feels he has a free hand to sell arms to nations and groups that are unfriendly to the West, because the European Union and the United States do not recognize him as the legitimate Belarusian head of state anyway. Threats of U.S.-led economic sanctions or other diplomatic “sticks'' against Belarus hold little weight, since the country is already isolated to a degree rivaled only by a handful of other countries. It is only thanks to cheap energy subsidies from Russia that the Belarusian economy remains afloat. Since Russia is the only country that has the necessary economic and political influence on Belarus, it is imperative that Washington use its new relationship with Moscow to encourage the Russians to exert their leverage on Belarus to cease covert arms sales to rogue states and terrorist groups. In the Bush administration's worldwide effort to combat terrorism, it should not overlook a little-known country right on NATO's border.

  • Human Rights in Central Asia

    Mr. Speaker, on Friday, December 21, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev will be meeting with President Bush. Sometime in January, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov is likely to arrive for his visit. The invitations to these Heads of State obviously reflect the overriding U.S. priority of fighting international terrorism and the corresponding emphasis on the strategic importance of Central Asia, which until September 11 had been known largely as a resource-rich, repressive backwater.   As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have chaired a series of hearings in recent years focused on human rights and democratization in the Central Asian region.   Clearly, we need the cooperation of many countries, including Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors, in this undertaking. But we should not forget, as we conduct our multidimensional campaigns, two vitally important points: first, Central Asian leaders need the support of the West at least as much as we need them.   Unfortunately, Central Asian presidents seem to have concluded that they are indispensable and that we owe them for allowing us to use their territory and bases in this fight against the terrorists and those who harbor them. I hope Washington does not share this misapprehension. By striking against the radical Islamic threat to their respective security and that of the entire region, we have performed a huge service for Central Asian leaders.   Second, one of the main lessons of September 11 and its aftermath is that repression of political opposition and alternative viewpoints is a key cause of terrorism. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have declared that the war on terrorism will not keep the United States from supporting human rights. I am hopeful the administration means what they have said. But given the sudden warming of relations between Washington and Central Asian leaders, I share the concerns voiced in many editorials and op-eds that the United States will downplay human rights in favor of cultivating ties with those in power. More broadly, I fear we will fall into an old pattern of backing repressive regimes and then being linked with them in the minds and hearts of their long-suffering peoples.   In that connection, Mr. Speaker, on the eve of President Nazarbaev's meeting with President Bush and in anticipation of the expected visit by President Karimov, as well as possible visits by other Central Asian leaders, I want to highlight some of the most glaring human rights problems in these countries.   To begin with, corruption is rampant throughout the region, and we should keep this in mind as the administration requests more money for assistance to Central Asian regimes. Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev and some of his closest associates are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for massive corruption. Not surprisingly, to keep any information about high-level misdeeds from the public, most of which lives in dire poverty, the Nazarbaev regime has cracked down hard on the media. Family or business associates of President Nazarbaev control most media outlets in the country, including printing houses which often refuse to print opposition or independent newspapers. Newspapers or broadcasters that try to cover taboo subjects are harassed by the government and editorial offices have had their premises raided. The government also controls the two main Internet service providers and regularly blocks the web site of the Information Analytical Center Eurasia, which is sponsored by Kazakhstan's main opposition party.   In addition, libel remains a criminal offense in Kazakhstan. Despite a growing international consensus that people should not be jailed for what they say or write, President Nazarbaev on May 3 ratified an amendment to the Media Law that increases the legal liability of editors and publishers. Furthermore, a new draft religion law was presented to the Kazakh parliament at the end of November without public consultation. If passed, it would seriously curtail the ability of individuals and groups to practice their religious faith freely.   Uzbekistan is a wholesale violator of human rights. President Karimov allows no opposition parties, permits no independent media, and has refused even to register independent human rights monitoring groups. Elections in Uzbekistan have been a farce and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) rightly refused to observe the last presidential “contest,” in which Karimov's “rival” proclaimed that he was planning to vote for the incumbent.   In one respect, however, Karimov is not lacking, brazen gall. Last week, on the eve of Secretary Powell's arrival in Tashkent, Uzbek authorities announced plans to hold a referendum next month on extending Karimov's tenure in office from five years to seven. Some members of the tightly controlled parliament urged that he be made “president for life.” The timing of the announcement could have had only one purpose: to embarrass our Secretary of State and to show the United States that Islam Karimov will not be cowed by OSCE commitments on democracy and the need to hold free and fair elections.   I am also greatly alarmed by the Uzbek Government's imprisonment of thousands of Muslims, allegedly for participating in extremist Islamic groups, but who are probably “guilty” of the “crime” of attending non-government approved mosques. The number of people jailed on such dubious grounds is estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000, according to Uzbek and international human rights organizations. While I do not dismiss Uzbek government claims about the seriousness of the religion-based insurgency, I cannot condone imprisonment of people based on mere suspicion of religious piety. As U.S. Government officials have been arguing for years, this policy of the Uzbek Government also seems counterproductive to its stated goal of eliminating terrorists. Casting the net too broadly and jailing innocent people will only inflame individuals never affiliated with any terrorist cell.   In addition, Uzbekistan has not only violated individual rights, but has also implemented policies that affect religious groups. For example, the Uzbek Government has consistently used its religion law to frustrate the ability of religious groups to register, placing them in a “Catch-22". By inhibiting registration, the Uzbek Government can harass and imprison individuals for attending unregistered religious meetings, as well as deny property purchases and formal education opportunities. As you can see, Mr. Speaker, Uzbekistan's record on human rights, democratization and religious freedom is unacceptable.   I am not aware that Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev has been invited to Washington, but I would not be too surprised to learn of an impending visit. Once the most democratic state in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has gone the way of its neighbors, with rigged elections, media crackdowns and repression of opposition parties. At a Helsinki Commission hearing I chaired last week on democratization and human rights in Kyrgyzstan, we heard from the wife of Felix Kulov, Kyrgyzstan's leading opposition figure, who has been behind bars since January 2001. Amnesty International and many other human rights groups consider him a political prisoner, jailed because he dared to try to run against President Akaev. Almost all opposition and independent newspapers which have sought to expose high-level corruption have been sued into bankruptcy.   With respect to the proposed religion law the Kyrgyz Parliament is drafting, which would repeal the current law, significant concerns exist. If the draft law were enacted in its current emanation, it would categorize and prohibit groups based on beliefs alone, as well as allow arbitrary decisions in registering religious groups due to the vague provisions of the draft law. I encourage President Akaev to support a law with strong protections for religious freedom. Implementing the modification suggested by the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom would ensure that the draft religion law meets Kyrgyzstan's OSCE commitments.   Mr. Speaker, this morning I had a meeting with Ambassador Meret Orazov of Turkmenistan and personally raised a number of specific human rights cases. Turkmenistan, the most repressive state in the OSCE space, resembles North Korea: while the people go hungry, megalomaniac President Saparmurat Niyazov builds himself palaces and monuments, and is the object of a Stalin-style cult of personality. No opposition of any kind is allowed, and anyone who dares to express a view counter to Niyazov is arrested. Turkmenistan is the only country in the OSCE region where places of worship have been destroyed on government orders; in November 1999 the authorities bulldozed a Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Since then, Niyazov has implemented his plans to provide a virtual bible for his benighted countrymen; apparently, he intends to become their spiritual as well as secular guide and president for life.   Turkmenistan has the worst record on religious freedom in the entire 55-nation OSCE. The systematic abuses that occur almost weekly are an abomination to the internationally recognized values which undergird the OSCE. Recent actions by Turkmen security agents against religious groups, including harassment, torture and detention, represent a catastrophic failure by Turkmenistan to uphold its human rights commitments as a participating OSCE State. In addition, last January, Mukhamed Aimuradov, who has been in prison since 1995, and Baptist pastor Shageldy Atakov, imprisoned since 1999, were not included in an amnesty which freed many prisoners. I hope that the Government of Turkmenistan will immediately and unconditionally release them, as well as all other prisoners of conscience.   Rounding out the Central Asian countries, Tajikistan also presents human rights concerns. A report has recently emerged concerning the government's religious affairs agency in the southern Khatlon region, which borders Afghanistan. According to reliable sources, a memorandum from the religious affairs agency expressed concern about “increased activity” by Christian churches in the region, calling for them to be placed under “the most stringent control.” Tajik Christians fear that this statement of intolerance could be a precursor to persecution. Keston News Service reported that law enforcement officials have already begun visiting registered churches and are trying to find formal grounds to close them down. Additionally, city authorities in the capital Dushanbe have cracked down on unregistered mosques.   Mr. Speaker, as the world focuses on Central Asia states with unprecedented energy, I wanted to bring these serious deficiencies in their commitment to human rights and democracy to the attention of my colleagues. All these countries joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe soon after their independence from the Soviet Union a decade ago. By becoming OSCE participating States, they agreed without reservation to comply with the Helsinki Final Act and all subsequent agreements. These documents cover a wide range of human dimension issues, including clear language on the human right of religious freedom and the right of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief. Unfortunately, as I have highlighted, these countries are failing in their commitment to promote and support human rights, and overall trends in the region are very disturbing.   The goals of fighting terrorism and steadfastly supporting human rights are not dichotomous. It is my hope that the U.S. Government will make issues of human rights and religious freedom paramount in bilateral discussions and public statements concerning the ongoing efforts against terrorism. In this context, the considerable body of OSCE commitments on democracy, human rights and the rule of law should serve as our common standard for our relations with these countries.

  • Do Registration Requirements Thwart Religious Freedom?

    Mr. Speaker, the “Helsinki” Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe recently convened a briefing which examined the policies of various governments which require registration of religious groups and the effect of such policies on the freedom of religious belief and practice. There was evidence that such requirements can be, and often are, a threat to religious freedom among countries in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, mandated to monitor and encourage compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE commitments, I have become alarmed over the past decade by the creation of new laws and regulations in some OSCE countries that serve as a roadblock to the free exercise of religious belief. These actions have not been limited to emerging democracies, but include Western European countries such as Austria. Many of these laws are crafted with the intent to repress religious communities deemed nefarious and dangerous to public safety. One cannot deny that certain groups have hidden behind the veil of religion in perpetrating monstrous and perfidious acts. The September 11th tragedies have been a grim reminder of that. Yet, while history does hold examples of religion employed as a tool for evil, these are exceptions and not the rule. In our own country, during the Civil Rights Movement, religious communities were the driving force in the effort to overturn the immoral “separate but equal” laws and provide legal protections. If strict religious registration laws had existed in this country, government officials could have clamped down on this just movement, possibly delaying long overdue reform. While OSCE commitments do not forbid basic registration of religious groups, governments often use the pretext of “state security” to quell groups espousing views contrary to the ruling powers’ party line. Registration laws are often designed on the premise that minority faiths are inimical to governmental goals. Proponents of more strenuous provisions cite crimes committed by individuals in justifying stringent registration requirements against religious groups, ignoring the fact that criminal laws should be adequate to combat criminal activity. In other situations, some governments have crafted special church-state agreements, or concordats, which exclusively give one religious group powers and rights not available to other communities. By creating tiers or hierarchies, governments run the risk of dispersing privileges and authority in an inequitable fashion, ensuring that other religious groups will never exist on a level playing field, if at all. In a worst case scenario, by officially recognizing “traditional” or “historic” communities, governments can reflect an ambivalence towards minority religious groups. Such ambivalence can, in turn, create an atmosphere in which hostility or violence is perpetrated with impunity. The persistent brutality against Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelical groups in Georgia is an example of State authorities’ failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of such violence. Mr. Speaker, religious registration laws do not operate in a vacuum; other rights, such as freedom of association or freedom of speech, are often enveloped by these provisions. Clamping down on a group’s ability to exist not only contravenes numerous, long-standing OSCE commitments, but can effectively remove from society forces that operate for the general welfare. The recent liquidation of the Salvation Army in Moscow is a lucent example. Who will suffer most? The poor and hungry, who now benefit from the Salvation Army’s ministries of mercy. Each OSCE participating State has committed to full compliance with the provisions enumerated in the various Helsinki documents. The Bush Administration’s commitment to religious freedom has been clearly articulated. In a March 9, 2001 letter, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor, wrote: “President Bush is deeply committed to promoting the right of individuals around the world to practice freely their religious beliefs.” She also expressed her concern about religious discrimination. In a separate letter on March 30th of this year, Vice President Dick Cheney echoed this commitment when he referred to the promotion of religious freedom as “a defining element of the American character.” He went on to declare the Bush Administration’s commitment “to advancing the protection of individual religious freedom as an integral part of our foreign policy agenda.” Since the war on terrorism was declared, the President has made clear the distinction between acts of terrorism and religious practice. In his address to the country, Mr. Bush stated: “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends....... Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.” He further stated, “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.” Accordingly, I believe this administration will not stray from supporting religious freedom during this challenging time. Out of concern about recent developments and trends in the OSCE region, the Helsinki Commission conducted this briefing to discuss registration roadblocks affecting religious freedom. I was pleased by the panel of experts and practitioners assembled who were kind enough to travel from Europe to share their thoughts and insights, including Dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld, a professor of law in The Netherlands and current Co-Chair of the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Gerhard Robbers, a member of the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts and professor of law in Germany; Mr. Vassilios Tsirbas, interim executive director and senior legal counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice in Strasbourg; and Col. Kenneth Baillie, commanding officer for the Salvation Army in Eastern Europe. Dr. van Bijsterveld made the point that “the assessment of registration from the point of view of religious liberty depends entirely on the function that registration fulfills in the legal system, and the consequences that are attached to registration.” She continued: “A requirement of registration of religious groups as a pre-condition for the lawful exercise of religious freedom is worrisome in the light of international human rights standards. [Needing the government’s] permission for a person to exercise his religion in community with others is, indeed, problematic in the light of internationally acknowledged religious liberty standards. Religious liberty should not be made dependent on a prior government clearance. This touches the very essence of religious liberty.” Dr. Robbers noted that registration of religious communities is often a requirement but “it need not be a roadblock to religious freedom. In fact, it can free the way to more positive religious freedom if correctly performed.” If utilized, “registration and registration procedures must meet certain standards. Registration must be based on equal treatment of all religious communities....... [and] the process of registration must follow due process of law.” He further noted that “religious activity in and as community, must be possible even without being registered as religious community.” He made clear that the minimum number of members required for registration need not be too many and there should be no minimum period of existence before registration is allowed. The third panelist, Mr. Tsirbas, opined, “Within this proliferation of the field of human rights, the Helsinki Final Act is a more than promising note. The commitment to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, basically summarizes the ..... protection of international and domestic legal documents. Religious liberty stands out as one of those sine qua non conditions for an atmosphere of respect for the rights of individuals or whole communities.” Mr. Tsirbas also stated, “If the protection of the individual is considered the cornerstone of our modern legal system, religious freedom should be considered the cornerstone of all other rights. The right itself is one of the most recent to be recognized and protected, yet it embraces and reflects the inevitable outworking through the course of time of the fundamental truths of belief in the worth of a person.” Lastly, Col. Kenneth Baillie, spokesman for the Salvation Army in Eastern Europe, outlined the experience of registering his organization in Moscow. “In Russia, as of February this year, we are registered nationwide as a centralized religious organization, [however] the city of Moscow is another story. We have been registered as a religious group in Moscow since 1992. In response to the 1997 law, like everyone else, we applied for re-registration , thinking that it would be merely pro forma. Our application documents were submitted, and a staff person in the city Ministry of Justice said everything was in order, we would have our signed and stamped registration in two days. “Two days later,” Col. Baillie continued, “the same staffer called to say, in a sheepish voice, ‘There’s a problem.’ Well, it is now three years later, and there is still a problem. Someone took an ideological decision to deny us, that is absolutely clear to me, and three years of meetings and documents and media statements and legal briefs are all window-dressing. Behind it all is an arbitrary, discriminatory, and secret decision, and to this day I do not know who made the decision, or why.” Based on the difficult experience of trying to register in Moscow and the Salvation Army’s subsequent “liquidation” by a Moscow court, Col. Baillie offered some observations. He noted how “the law’s ambiguity gives public officials the power to invent arbitrary constructions of the law.” Col. Baillie concluded by stating, “We will not give up,” but added he is “understandably skeptical about religious registration law, and particularly the will to uphold what the law says in regard to religious freedom.” Mr. Speaker, this Helsinki Commission briefing offered a clear picture of how the law and practice affecting, registration of religious groups have become critical aspects in the defense of the right to freedom of conscience, religion or belief. No doubt registration requirements can serve as a roadblock which is detrimental to religious freedom. The Commission will continue to monitor this trend among the region’s governments which are instituting more stringent registration requirements and will encourage full compliance with the Helsinki commitments to ensure the protection of this fundamental right.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Examines Situation in Moldova

    By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing on September 25, 2001 to examine the situation in Moldova, with a specific focus on developments in the Transdniestria region and the withdrawal of Russian military forces as well as armaments and ammunition from Moldova. After years of delay and uncertainty, the Russian Government has made considerable progress in removing its armed forces and military equipment from Moldova in accordance with the 1999 Istanbul Declaration of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE). By mid-November 2001, the Treaty Limited Equipment (heavy weaponry) under the CFE were removed or destroyed. Russian armed forces are to be withdrawn by the end of 2002. Implementation of the agreements has been assisted by a voluntary fund established under the auspices of the OSCE. Russia’s continued military presence in the sovereign nation of Moldova has been an unresolved and contentious issue since the breakup of the Soviet Union, when units of the Soviet 14th Army (now known as the Operative Group of Russian Forces) remained stationed in the Transdniestria region of Moldova. Some elements of the 14th Army assisted the pro-Moscow leadership of Transdniestria to secede from Moldova in 1991-2 and establish an unrecognized political entity known as the Dniestr Moldovan Republic (DMR). The current leadership of the DMR has strenuously protested the recent destruction of tanks and armored combat vehicles, seeking to secure some of the hardware for itself. Testifying at the hearing were Ambassador Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; Ambassador Ceslav Ciobanu, Ambassador of the Republic of Moldova to the United States; Dr. Kimmo Kiljunen, Member of the Parliament of Finland and Chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Moldova; Ambassador William Hill, Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova; and Dr. Charles King, Assistant Professor, School of Foreign Service and Department of Government at Georgetown University. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing with Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) participating. In response to a question by Co-Chairman Smith regarding the logistical and political problems facing troop withdrawal and weapons destruction, Ambassador Pifer replied that the main challenge is political, not logistical. Ambassador Hill added that the Russian Government appears prepared to leave; however, there is much resistance on the part of the Transdniestrian regime, since Tiraspol has relied on Russian troops as a “de facto shield” against attack, whether it would come from Moldova or elsewhere. Ambassador Pifer said the Russian Government is “on a schedule that will bring them down to zero tanks, armored combat vehicles and artillery by the end of the year,” which proved to be the case. He added that the difficult logistical challenges arise in the disposition of ammunition and small arms. According to Ambassador Pifer, the United States and Russia “want to make sure that these are eliminated and do not fall into the wrong hands.” Ambassador Pifer reported that the United States has already contributed $300,000 to the voluntary fund for destruction of equipment, as well as $69 million in financial assistance to Moldova from the Agency for International Development and other agencies. Responding to a question from Commissioner Hastings regarding U.S. assistance, “in the furtherance of Moldova’s involvement in the Stability Pact and in their overall re-development,” Ambassador Pifer pointed to U.S. assistance in helping Moldova integrate into European institutions. He continued that it is important that a “total commitment come from the United States and the European Union together.” Commissioner Pitts raised the possibility that perhaps Moscow is using the withdrawal tactic to gain concessions from the Moldovan Government in terms of the status of Transdniestra. Ambassador Hill described Russia as “deeply divided on this issue.” Most Russians realize that it is important to leave, but others see Transdniestra as part of Russia and thus desire the continued separation from Moldova. Commissioner Aderholt raised the question of the Moldovan Government’s efforts in resolving the Transdniestrian issue. Ambassador Ciobanu testified that the new Moldovan leadership, under President Vladimir Voronin has “resumed the dialogue with the separatist leaders” and “proposed a whole package of measures with a view of granting Transdniestria the status of a broad, regional self-government but preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova.” Ambassador Ciobanu expressed dismay that Transdniestrian officials have not responded positively, but rather Transdniestria’s separatist position “became even tougher.” As a result, Ciobanu added, “We have reached the critical limits of possible concessions from our part.” Future concessions must come from Transdniestra and the international community should, according to the Moldovan Ambassador, commit to exerting pressure on the Transdniestrian regime. Dr. Kiljunen described the efforts made by the Working Group on Moldova to facilitate a dialogue between Chisinau and Tiraspol. The current Communist-led government enjoys a stable majority in the parliament and, according to Dr. Kiljunen, has “contributed [to] the solution of this Transdniestrian issue.” Dr. Kiljunen added that Russia should continue to be involved in Transdniestra as part of its “international commitments” to create stability in the region. With a more pessimistic view of the Transdniestrian conundrum, Dr. King suggested the current approach of the OSCE and the international community may have run its course. For the past ten years, he noted, “the people of Transdniestria have gone about, with the support of the Russian Federation, building something like a functioning state.” In fact, the last ten years have “strengthened Transdniestrian statehood,” instead of working towards reunification with Moldova. Today it is increasingly difficult to reintegrate these two societies because “they are fundamentally separate now.” The so-called Dniestr Moldovan Republic has solidified its position, and it may be too late for the type of resolution typically envisioned by the international community. Commissioner Wamp asked if the Moldovan Government provided for basic freedoms, including movement, religion, and elections. Dr. King responded that Moldova has made remarkable progress in “implementing freedoms across the board.” Freedom of movement, in particular, is relatively easy for average Moldovans; however, the Transdniestrian authorities have frequently obstructed freedom of movement across the border for Moldovan officials. Ambassador Hill suggested one problem in Moldova is not freedom of religion, but rather politicalization of the Orthodox Church. The European Court in Strasbourg is currently examining a suit against the Moldovan Government for not registering the Bessarabian Orthodox Church which sees itself as the legal successor to the pre-war Romanian Orthodox Church in Moldova. With respect to elections in Moldova, Dr. Kiljunen stated they have been free and fair. However, not all adults in the Transdniestra region were able to vote. “It was only a token, a small token...who really voted.” In addition, there have been parliamentary elections in Transdniestra itself. Because these elections were not observed, it is not known how fair and democratic they have been. Co-Chairman Smith noted Moldova’s status as a major source of trafficked women to Europe and inquired about the Moldovan Government’s response. Ambassador Pifer noted that the Moldovan Government has become more aware of the problem, and has begun to change some of its domestic legislation to include harsher penalties for trafficking. To help the women, Moldova has established a women’s crisis hotline center. Pifer said Moldova is attempting to recognize trafficked women as victims, not as prostitutes. Ambassador Ciobanu elaborated that Moldova has established a special governmental commission to deal with this issue. More importantly, Ciobanu added that Moldova is initiating economic and social programs in order to provide “some engagement, some jobs, [and] some prospectives for these young women in Moldova.”   Helsinki Commission intern Lauren Friend contributed to this article.

  • Roadblock to Religious Liberty: Religious Registration Policies in the OSCE Region

    By Knox Thames, CSCE Staff Advisor On Thursday, October 11, 2001, the United States Helsinki Commission conducted a public briefing to explore the issue of religious registration, one of many roadblocks to religious freedom around the world. Expert panelists focused on religious registration among the 55 nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Several OSCE participating States are following a troubling trend toward restricting the right to freedom of religion by using registration schemes, making it virtually impossible for citizens to practice their faith. Registration laws exist for a myriad of reasons. Some are vestiges of the communist era, while others purposefully limit the ability of new groups to function in a country. Yet this trend toward onerous registration ordinances and statutes has gradually emerged across the OSCE region. Furthermore, restrictive practices could be exacerbated in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks that could be used as a pretext to further restrict or ban individuals and religious communities from practicing their faiths or beliefs. As Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission noted in a prepared statement, “Over the past decade I have observed a troubling drift away from a robust and vibrant protection of religious freedom in a growing number of OSCE States. I have become alarmed with how some OSCE countries have developed new laws and regulations that serve as a roadblock to the free exercise of religious belief. These actions have not been limited to emerging democracies, but also include Western European countries, with the definitive example being Austria.” The briefing panel featured academic experts, lawyers and practitioners to discuss the various ways governments are chipping away at religious freedom. Dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld, Co-Chair of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Law Professor at Catholic University–Brabant, Netherlands, was the first panelist to present remarks. She called the imposition of registration requirements “worrisome.” She continued that the need for government permission to allow “a person to adhere to a religion and to exercise his religion in community with others is, indeed, problematic in the light of internationally acknowledged religious liberty standards. Religious liberty should not be made dependent on a prior government clearance, and this touches the very essence of religious liberty.” Dr. Gerhard Robbers, also a member of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel and Law Professor at the Trier University, Germany commented, “Registration of religious communities is known to most, probably to all legal systems in the world in one form or another as centralized or decentralized registration. It need not be a roadblock to religious freedom. In fact, it can free the way to more, positive religious freedom, if correctly performed.” The next panelist was Vassilios Tsirbas, interim Executive Director and Senior Counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice, based in Strasbourg, France. Mr. Tsirbas declared, “If the protection of the individual is considered the cornerstone of our modern legal [system] . . . religious freedom should be considered the cornerstone of all other rights.” He also said, “Within this proliferation of the field of human rights, the Helsinki Final Act is a more than promising note. . . . [and] religious liberty stands out as one of those sine qua non conditions for an atmosphere of respect for the rights of individuals or whole communities.” Lastly, Col. Kenneth Baillie of the Salvation Army-Moscow, Russia, told of efforts by Moscow city authorities to “liquidate” that branch of the church, allegedly due to a minor technicality in its application for registration. Col. Baillie stated, “The [registration] law’s ambiguity gives public officials the power to invent arbitrary constructions of the law.” He added that the Salvation Army appears to be in the middle of a power struggle between Federal and State authorities. Col. Baillie said that the Salvation Army “will not give up.” But Baillie was “understandably skeptical about the religious registration law, and particularly the will to uphold what the law says in regard of religious freedom.” In Commissioner Sen. Gordon H. Smith's (R-OR) submission to the briefing record, he addressed the 1997 Russian registration law. He stated, "The Russian law, among other things, limits the activities of foreign missionaries and grants unregistered 'religious groups' fewer rights than accredited Russian religious organizations such as the Russian Orthodox Church, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. This law, if poorly implemented, could also sharply restrict the activities of foreign missionaries in Russia." Senator Smith added, "The conventional wisdom regarding implementation of that law is that persecution occurs abroad - the farther away from Moscow and the centralized government, the greater the risk is for religious intolerance. But even in Moscow there is a requirement of vigilance. And I am happy to report that [the Senate] has been vigilant on this issue - especially regarding the old problem of anti-Semitism in Russia." Commissioner Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) also submitted a statement for the briefing record, in which he highlighted Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan and their efforts in regards to registration laws. While Mr. Wamp did note specific problems, he also wanted to “highlight and praise both countries for seeking assistance from the OSCE Advisory Panel on Freedom of Religion or Belief.” He continued, “The choice to seek assistance and working to ensure the new legislation is in line with human rights norms are marks of wise governance. Even more, I want to encourage these governments to continue their close cooperation with this body of experts, and to continue to strive to uphold OSCE commitments and international norms for religious freedom.” 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.

  • France's Law Affects Freedom of Worship

    Mr. Speaker, today I take this opportunity to salute France's historic leadership in the defense of human rights. After the events of September 11th, as freedom-loving people wrestle with the scourge of terrorism, they will look to countries like France to see whether the torch of human rights is being held high. Therefore, mindful of France's historic work and current commitments to defend human rights, it was with remorse and surprise that I observed this summer the National Assembly's approval of the law for the “Prevention and Repression of Cultic Movements.” As participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), France and the United States share the commitment and responsibility to observe and uphold religious freedom, including the right of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief. Through my work as Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I am alarmed by recent developments in Europe that impinge on this fundamental freedom. Recently, it would appear that certain OSCE friends and allies have forgotten that religious movements can play a positive role in society, providing impetus for important social change. For instance, the role of the Catholic Church in Poland during the cold war or the activism of some churches and religious leaders in the Southern United States during the Civil Rights Movement offered vital moral and ethical guidance and support. Mr. Speaker, particularly in Western Europe, we have observed an increase in laws calibrated specifically to target religious groups. The United States shares with Western Europe core values regarding human dignity and rights, and we gratefully acknowledge Western Europe's traditional openness toward religious minorities. However, the development of “anti-cult” laws threatens this tradition. At the same time, I understand and appreciate the dangers of criminal activity operating under the guise of religion. However, I strongly believe that any religious movement violating the rule of law should be prosecuted using mainstream law enforcement tools, as opposed to special laws or extra-judicial investigations not in harmony with the core values enshrined in the OSCE's Helsinki Final Act and other international documents regarding human dignity and rights. In sum, I am concerned about vaguely crafted government regulations against religious organizations and adherents that serve to foster intolerance against individuals because of their beliefs. In France, such a law entered into effect this summer. Provisions of the law, Mr. Speaker, provide governmental entities and private citizens the ability to apply civil and criminal sanctions against any so-called “cult” or its de facto leader. Other extensive powers include the removal of basic civic freedoms if an individual is found guilty of using “techniques likely to alter judgment.” Despite the law's obvious bent against minority faiths, its broad powers, combined with the vague wording, could permit arbitrary application and abuse. Overall, I find the creation of such a law, especially in a mature democracy like France, alarming and incongruent with the nation's long history of supporting human rights. I had the opportunity this past summer to meet with the President of the National Assembly, Mr. Raymond Forni, as well as one of the key authors of the bill, Mme. Catherine Picard, and shared with them these concerns. Considering France's position as a world leader, this domestic action will cause repercussions elsewhere, such as in emerging democracies which will have and look to French leadership on these matters. Often, the U.S. Government and Congress are criticized for “meddling” in the internal affairs of another sovereign nation. I feel certain detractors in France will level the same argument. However, the OSCE Moscow Concluding Document (1991) speaks directly to this issue, declaring “The participating State emphasize that issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern, as respect for these rights and freedoms constitutes one of the foundations of international order. They categorically and irrevocably declare that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension… are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.” Mr. Speaker, religious believers in France have already offered concerns about the effects of the new French law on their right to profess and practice their faith in their own country. Statutes of this nature, which target individuals with unpopular belief systems, are antithetical to democracies in the twenty first century. Accordingly, I join them in urging French authorities to fully respect France's commitments as an OSCE participating State when implementing the new law.

  • Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic

    Mr. Speaker, in the rugged region of Central Asia, two nations have been dealing with proposed changes to current religion laws. In both Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic, new religion laws have emerged partially in response to real concerns about terrorism and state security. After the events of September 11, our whole country has a very clear understanding of the threat terrorists pose. Still, our commitment to democracy and religious freedom stands firm. Consequently, I want to highlight and praise both countries for seeking assistance from the OSCE Advisory Panel on Freedom of Religion or Belief. The choice to seek assistance and working to ensure the new legislation is in line with protecting human rights is a mark of wise governance. Even more, I want to encourage these governments to continue their close co-operation with this body of experts, and to continue to strive to uphold OSCE commitments and international norms for religious freedom. In Kazakhstan, there has been great discussion over a proposed amendment to its 1992 law “On Freedom of Religion and Religious Associations.” The Kazakh Government has been responsive to critiques of the law and removed it from consideration during this past summer. Furthermore, it has listened to the comments made by the OSCE Advisory Panel and modified some of the more troubling sections of the proposed law. However, concerns still exist in the area of registering Islamic religious groups by the Kazakhstan Moslem Spiritual Administration. It seems likely that with the various Islamic religious groups that are at odds over purely theological issues, registration could be denied for merely being out of favor with the Spiritual Administration. This is problematic; religious organizations should not be denied registration solely on the basis of their religious beliefs. Before the proposed law is reintroduced, I hope Kazakhstan will address these issues, so as to ensure its compliance with all OSCE commitments. The Kyrgyz Republic is currently considering a proposed law entitled “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations,” which would replace the 1991 Law on Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations. In the Kyrgyzstan's short history of independence, it has consistently joined international human rights covenants. As one of the 55 participating States in the OSCE, the Kyrgyz Republic agreed to abide by the Helsinki Final Act and all subsequent agreements, in which clear language concerning religious freedom exists. This new legislation, made long before the events of September 11, was in response to real fears about terrorism. With religion often being used as a guise to legitimize criminal activities, I recognize the genuine concerns of Kyrgyz authorities about religious organizations existing in their country. However, while the United States has new understanding of the threat of terrorists, I want to encourage the Kyrgyz Republic from overreacting and unnecessarily limiting religious freedom. While the current law on religion is generally in line with its OSCE commitments, it is my concern that if the new law is enacted, Kyrgyzstan will no longer be in compliance with its international obligations. This is especially true concerning the provisions addressing registration of religious groups. In its current form, the draft law's use of registration requirements appears complex, confusing and convoluted. The two step process of registering religious groups appears to be more an exercise for government involvement rather than a well outlined procedure for recognizing religious communities. The vague requirement of “record-keeping” registration is especially problematic, as it could serve as a major obstacle for successful registration that the government can utilize to block an application. Clear and transparent guidelines would be a superior way to prevent arbitrary tampering by government officials in the process of registration. In closing, I hope both the Kazakh and Kyrgyz Governments will be mindful of 1989 Vienna Concluding Document, (para 16.3), which states that governments are obligated to “grant upon their request to communities of believers, practicing or prepared to practice their faith within the constitutional framework of their states, recognition of the status provided for them in their respective countries.”

  • Religious Registration in the OSCE Region

    This briefing discussed religiuos registration policies throughout the 55-country OSCE region. Chairman Christopher Smith noted that registration laws limiting religious freedom were not only being passed in former Soviet states, but in Western European states such as Austria. Dr. Bijsterveld outlined the OSCE's position that an international response would be required to limit the spread of policies restricting religious freedom. Mr. Thames provided a detailed analysis of one such policy, a Greek law that effectively banned non-Orthodox broadcasting.  Finally, Col. Baillie gave a firsthand account of how the issue of religious registration in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Romania, and Russia had impacted the operations of the Salvation Army in those countries. These impediments ranged from bureaucrtic obstacles in Ukraine to a flat-out denial to operate in Moscow.  

  • Roadblock to Religious Liberty: Religious Registration

    The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a public briefing to explore the issue of religious registration, one of many roadblocks to religious liberties around the world, focusing on religious registration among the 55 nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The troubling trend followed by several OSCE participating states toward restricting the right to freedom of religion by using registration schemes, making it virtually impossible for citizens to practice their faith was addressed. Panelists at the event – including Dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld, Co-Chair of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Dr. Gerhard Robbers, Member of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Vassilios Tsirbas, Senior Counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice; and Col. Kenneth Baillie, Commanding Officer of the Salvation Army-Moscow – discussed the various ways governments are chipping away at religious liberty. New legislation concerning religious registration policies that could potentially stymie religious freedom within the OSCE region was also addressed.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Play Key Role at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    Leaders and Members of the United States Helsinki Commission played a key role as part of the U.S. delegation to the Tenth Annual Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe hosted by the French National Assembly July 6-10, 2001. The U.S. delegation successfully promoted measures to improve the conditions of human rights, security and economic development throughout Europe. Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) led eight of their Commission colleagues and five other Representatives on the delegation, the largest of any nation participating in the 2001 Assembly. The size of the 15-Member U.S. delegation was a demonstration of the continued commitment by the United States, and the U.S. Congress, to Europe. Commission Members from the Senate participating in the Assembly were Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH). Commission Members from the House of Representatives included Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN),Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Other delegates from the House of Representatives were Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY), Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Rep. Ed Bryant (R-TN), Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D-NY) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO). The central theme of OSCE PA´s Tenth Annual Session was "European Security and Conflict Prevention: Challenges to the OSCE in the 21st Century." This year's Assembly brought together nearly 300 parliamentarians from 52 OSCE participating States, including the first delegation from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following Belgrade's suspension from the OSCE process in 1992. Seven countries, including the Russian Federation and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, were represented at the level of Speaker of Parliament or President of the Senate. Following a decision made earlier in the year, the Assembly withheld recognition of the pro-Lukashenka National Assembly given serious irregularities in Belarus' 2000 parliamentary elections. In light of the expiration of the mandate of the democratically-elected 13th Supreme Soviet, no delegation from the Republic of Belarus was seated. The inaugural ceremony included welcoming addresses by the OSCE PA President Adrian Severin, Speaker of the National Assembly Raymond Forni, and the Speaker of the Senate Christian Poncelet. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Védrine also addressed delegates during the opening plenary. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, presented remarks and responded to questions from the floor. Other senior OSCE officials also made presentations, including the OSCE Secretary General, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The 2001 OSCE PA Prize for Journalism and Democracy was presented to the widows of the murdered journalists José Luis López de Lacalle of Spain and Georgiy Gongadze of Ukraine. The Spanish and Ukrainian journalists were posthumously awarded the prize for their outstanding work in furthering OSCE values. Members of the U.S. delegation played a leading role in debate in each of the Assembly's three General Committees - Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Resolutions sponsored by Commissioners on the U.S. delegation served as the focal point for discussion on such timely topics as "Combating Corruption and International Crime in the OSCE Region," by Chairman Campbell; "Southeastern Europe," by Senator Voinovich; "Prevention of Torture, Abuse, Extortion or Other Unlawful Acts" and "Combating Trafficking in Human Beings," by Co-Chairman Smith; "Freedom of the Media," by Mr. Hoyer; and "Developments in the North Caucasus," by Mr. Cardin. Senator Hutchison played a particularly active role in debate over the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, chaired by Mr. Hastings, which focused on the European Security and Defense Initiative. An amendment Chairman Campbell introduced in the General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment on promoting social, educational and economic opportunity for indigenous peoples won overwhelming approval, making it the first ever such reference to be included in an OSCE PA declaration. Other U.S. amendments focused on property restitution laws, sponsored by Mr. Cardin, and adoption of comprehensive non-discrimination laws, sponsored by Mr. Hoyer. Chairman Campbell sponsored a resolution calling for lawmakers to enact specific legislation designed to combat international crime and corruption. The resolution also urged the OSCE Ministerial Council, expected to meet in the Romanian capital of Bucharest this December, to consider practical means of promoting cooperation among the participating States in combating corruption and international crime. Co-Chairman Smith sponsored the two resolutions at the Parliamentary Assembly. Smith's anti-torture resolution called on participating States to exclude in courts of law or legal proceedings evidence obtained through the use of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Smith also worked with the French delegation to promote a measure against human trafficking in the OSCE region. Amendments by members of the U.S. delegation on the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions focused on the plight of Roma, Mr. Smith; citizenship, Mr. Hoyer; and Nazi-era compensation and restitution, and religious liberty, Mrs. Slaughter. The Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution sponsored by Mr. Hoyer which called on all OSCE States to ensure freedom of speech and freedom of the press in their societies. Hoyer said an open, vibrant and pluralistic media is the cornerstone of democracy. He noted that free press is under attack in some OSCE countries. Senator Voinovich sponsored a comprehensive resolution promoting greater stability in Southeast Europe. Senator Voinovich's resolution pushed for a political solution to the violence and instability which has engrossed Southeastern Europe. Mrs. Slaughter successfully sought measures toward protecting religious liberties and recognizing the importance of property restitution. An amendment noted that OSCE participating States have committed to respecting fundamental religious freedoms. Another amendment recognized that attempts to secure compensation and restitution for losses perpetrated by the Nazis can only deliver a measure of justice to victims and their heirs. Mr. Cardin sponsored a resolution on the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation which denounced the excessive force used by Russian military personnel against civilians in Chechnya. The resolution condemns all forms of terrorism committed by the Russian military and Chechen fighters. One of Cardin's amendments addressed the restitution of property seized by the Nazis and Communists during and after World War II. Mr. Hastings was elected to a three-year term as one of nine Vice Presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly. Mr. Hastings most recently served as Chairman of the Assembly's General Committee on Political Affairs and Security. U.S. participants also took part in debate on the abolition of the death penalty, an issue raised repeatedly during the Assembly and in discussions on the margins of the meeting. The Paris Declaration of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is available on the Internet at http://www.osce.org/pa. While in Paris, members of the delegation held a series of meetings, including bilateral sessions with representatives from the Russian Federation, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the United Kingdom, and Kazakhstan. Members also met with the President of the French National Assembly to discuss diverse issues in U.S.-French relations including military security, agricultural trade, human rights and the death penalty. During a meeting with Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, Members discussed the United States' proposal of a strategic defense initiative, policing in the former Yugoslavia, and international adoption policy. Members also attended a briefing by legal experts on developments affecting religious liberties in Europe. A session with representatives of American businesses operating in France and elsewhere in Europe gave members insight into the challenges of today's global economy. Elections for officers of the Assembly were held during the final plenary. Mr. Adrian Severin of Romania was re-elected President. Senator Jerahmiel Graftstein of Canada was elected Treasurer. Three of the Assembly's nine Vice-Presidents were elected to three-year terms: Rep. Alcee Hastings (USA), Kimmo Kiljunen (Finland), and Ahmet Tan (Turkey). The Assembly's Standing Committee agreed that the Eleventh Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held next July in Berlin, Germany. En route to Paris, the delegation traveled to Normandy for a briefing by United States Air Force General Joseph W. Ralston, Commander in Chief of the U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe. General Ralston briefed the delegation on security developments in Europe, including developments in Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. At the Normandy American Cemetery, members of the delegation participated in ceremonies honoring Americans killed in D-Day operations. Maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, the cemetery is the final resting place for 9,386 American service men and women and honors the memory of the 1,557 missing. The delegation also visited the Pointe du Hoc Monument honoring elements of the 2nd Ranger Battalion. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Play Key Role in United States Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    Leaders and Members of the United States Helsinki Commission played a key role as part of the U.S. delegation to the Tenth Annual Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe hosted by the French National Assembly July 6-10, 2001. The U.S. delegation successfully promoted measures to improve the conditions of human rights, security and economic development throughout Europe. Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) led eight of their Commission colleagues and five other Representatives on the delegation, the largest of any nation participating in the 2001 Assembly. The size of the 15-Member U.S. delegation was a demonstration of the continued commitment by the United States, and the U.S. Congress, to Europe. Commission Members from the Senate participating in the Assembly were Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH). Commission Members from the House of Representatives included Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN),Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Other delegates from the House of Representatives were Rep. Michael McNulty (D-NY), Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Rep. Ed Bryant (R-TN), Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D-NY) and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO). The central theme of OSCE PA´s Tenth Annual Session was "European Security and Conflict Prevention: Challenges to the OSCE in the 21st Century." This year's Assembly brought together nearly 300 parliamentarians from 52 OSCE participating States, including the first delegation from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following Belgrade's suspension from the OSCE process in 1992. Seven countries, including the Russian Federation and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, were represented at the level of Speaker of Parliament or President of the Senate. Following a decision made earlier in the year, the Assembly withheld recognition of the pro-Lukashenka National Assembly given serious irregularities in Belarus' 2000 parliamentary elections. In light of the expiration of the mandate of the democratically-elected 13th Supreme Soviet, no delegation from the Republic of Belarus was seated. The inaugural ceremony included welcoming addresses by the OSCE PA President Adrian Severin, Speaker of the National Assembly Raymond Forni, and the Speaker of the Senate Christian Poncelet. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hubert Védrine also addressed delegates during the opening plenary. The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, presented remarks and responded to questions from the floor. Other senior OSCE officials also made presentations, including the OSCE Secretary General, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The 2001 OSCE PA Prize for Journalism and Democracy was presented to the widows of the murdered journalists José Luis López de Lacalle of Spain and Georgiy Gongadze of Ukraine. The Spanish and Ukrainian journalists were posthumously awarded the prize for their outstanding work in furthering OSCE values. Members of the U.S. delegation played a leading role in debate in each of the Assembly's three General Committees - Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Resolutions sponsored by Commissioners on the U.S. delegation served as the focal point for discussion on such timely topics as "Combating Corruption and International Crime in the OSCE Region," by Chairman Campbell; "Southeastern Europe," by Senator Voinovich; "Prevention of Torture, Abuse, Extortion or Other Unlawful Acts" and "Combating Trafficking in Human Beings," by Co-Chairman Smith; "Freedom of the Media," by Mr. Hoyer; and "Developments in the North Caucasus," by Mr. Cardin. Senator Hutchison played a particularly active role in debate over the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, chaired by Mr. Hastings, which focused on the European Security and Defense Initiative. An amendment Chairman Campbell introduced in the General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment on promoting social, educational and economic opportunity for indigenous peoples won overwhelming approval, making it the first ever such reference to be included in an OSCE PA declaration. Other U.S. amendments focused on property restitution laws, sponsored by Mr. Cardin, and adoption of comprehensive non-discrimination laws, sponsored by Mr. Hoyer. Chairman Campbell sponsored a resolution calling for lawmakers to enact specific legislation designed to combat international crime and corruption. The resolution also urged the OSCE Ministerial Council, expected to meet in the Romanian capital of Bucharest this December, to consider practical means of promoting cooperation among the participating States in combating corruption and international crime. Co-Chairman Smith sponsored the two resolutions at the Parliamentary Assembly. Smith's anti-torture resolution called on participating States to exclude in courts of law or legal proceedings evidence obtained through the use of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Smith also worked with the French delegation to promote a measure against human trafficking in the OSCE region. Amendments by members of the U.S. delegation on the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions focused on the plight of Roma, Mr. Smith; citizenship, Mr. Hoyer; and Nazi-era compensation and restitution, and religious liberty, Mrs. Slaughter. The Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution sponsored by Mr. Hoyer which called on all OSCE States to ensure freedom of speech and freedom of the press in their societies. Hoyer said an open, vibrant and pluralistic media is the cornerstone of democracy. He noted that free press is under attack in some OSCE countries. Senator Voinovich sponsored a comprehensive resolution promoting greater stability in Southeast Europe. Senator Voinovich's resolution pushed for a political solution to the violence and instability which has engrossed Southeastern Europe. Mrs. Slaughter successfully sought measures toward protecting religious liberties and recognizing the importance of property restitution. An amendment noted that OSCE participating States have committed to respecting fundamental religious freedoms. Another amendment recognized that attempts to secure compensation and restitution for losses perpetrated by the Nazis can only deliver a measure of justice to victims and their heirs. Mr. Cardin sponsored a resolution on the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation which denounced the excessive force used by Russian military personnel against civilians in Chechnya. The resolution condemns all forms of terrorism committed by the Russian military and Chechen fighters. One of Cardin's amendments addressed the restitution of property seized by the Nazis and Communists during and after World War II. Mr. Hastings was elected to a three-year term as one of nine Vice Presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly. Mr. Hastings most recently served as Chairman of the Assembly's General Committee on Political Affairs and Security. U.S. participants also took part in debate on the abolition of the death penalty, an issue raised repeatedly during the Assembly and in discussions on the margins of the meeting. While in Paris, members of the delegation held a series of meetings, including bilateral sessions with representatives from the Russian Federation, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the United Kingdom, and Kazakhstan. Members also met with the President of the French National Assembly to discuss diverse issues in U.S.-French relations including military security, agricultural trade, human rights and the death penalty. During a meeting with Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, Members discussed the United States' proposal of a strategic defense initiative, policing in the former Yugoslavia, and international adoption policy. Members also attended a briefing by legal experts on developments affecting religious liberties in Europe. A session with representatives of American businesses operating in France and elsewhere in Europe gave members insight into the challenges of today's global economy. Elections for officers of the Assembly were held during the final plenary. Mr. Adrian Severin of Romania was re-elected President. Senator Jerahmiel Graftstein of Canada was elected Treasurer. Three of the Assembly's nine Vice-Presidents were elected to three-year terms: Rep. Alcee Hastings (USA), Kimmo Kiljunen (Finland), and Ahmet Tan (Turkey). The Assembly's Standing Committee agreed that the Eleventh Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held next July in Berlin, Germany. En route to Paris, the delegation traveled to Normandy for a briefing by United States Air Force General Joseph W. Ralston, Commander in Chief of the U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe. General Ralston briefed the delegation on security developments in Europe, including developments in Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. At the Normandy American Cemetery, members of the delegation participated in ceremonies honoring Americans killed in D-Day operations. Maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, the cemetery is the final resting place for 9,386 American service men and women and honors the memory of the 1,557 missing. The delegation also visited the Pointe du Hoc Monument honoring elements of the 2nd Ranger Battalion.

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