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Chairman Smith Introduces Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Aid Holocaust Survivors

Senators Baldwin, Rubio and Representatives Smith, Crowley Introduce Bill to Help Holocaust Survivors and Families of Victims
Thursday, July 07, 2016

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and U.S. Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Joe Crowley (D-NY) today introduced the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act. This bipartisan and bicameral bill will improve efforts to assist Holocaust survivors and the families of Holocaust victims by requiring the State Department to report on the progress of certain European countries on the return of, or restitution for, wrongfully confiscated or transferred Holocaust-era assets.

“Holocaust survivors—witnesses to the brutal murders, torture and heartless thievery of the Nazis and their accomplices—continue to be cheated and defrauded, inexplicably, as they fight for the rightful return of their stolen property,” said Rep. Smith, who chairs the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission. “This bill will help survivors get justice instead of excuses from their governments.”

“We urgently need an improved public accounting of other countries’ efforts to address Holocaust-era property restitution issues,” said Senator Baldwin. “Tragically, we are losing survivors every day, and it is my sincere hope that this legislation, by shining a spotlight and solidifying this issue as an American foreign policy priority, will spur action in countries that are falling short of their obligations, ultimately resulting in a measure of justice for these individuals who have waited far too long.”

“I am pleased to be the lead Republican sponsor of this important bipartisan legislation which, if passed, will play a critical role in ensuring that Holocaust-era property restitution is finally realized,” said Senator Marco Rubio. “Seventy years after this dark chapter in human history, the restitution of Jewish communal, private and heirless property in Central and Eastern Europe, illegally confiscated by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II, remains a largely unresolved issue and a source of lasting pain for many Holocaust survivors and their heirs. American leadership in addressing this injustice is vital, which is precisely what this legislation will provide. I join Senator Baldwin in pressing for swift passage of this measure.”

“Several decades removed from the horrors of the Holocaust, a substantial amount of Jewish-owned property still hasn’t been returned to their rightful owners, nor have they been compensated. This is unacceptable,” said Rep. Crowley, Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus. “It’s important that we do what we can to ensure European governments are keeping their word, and I’m proud to join my colleagues in this legislation that will put us one step closer to bringing justice to Holocaust victims, survivors, and their families.”

Seventy years after the Holocaust, in which the unprecedented looting of Jewish assets was a central aspect, the restitution of Jewish communal, private, and heirless property in Central and Eastern Europe remains unresolved. Indeed, decades after the Holocaust and the fall of Communism, most formerly Jewish-owned, real properties confiscated by the Nazis and their collaborators have not been returned, nor has compensation been provided to the rightful owners or their heirs.

The JUST Act will build on the international Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues of 2009, which affirms that the protection of property rights is an essential component of a democratic society based on the rule of law and recognizes the importance of restituting or compensating Holocaust-related confiscations made during the Holocaust-era between 1933-45. Unfortunately, many nations that endorsed this declaration, including many of our NATO allies, have not fully addressed the restitution of Jewish communal, private and heirless property.

The JUST Act permanently amends current law to require the State Department to report on certain countries’ compliance with and progress toward the goals of the 2009 Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets, as well as on what actions those countries are taking to resolve the claims of U.S. citizens. This will enhance on-going U.S. efforts to urge Central and Eastern European countries to achieve progress on this issue and will help build on America’s commitment to ensuring justice for Holocaust victims and their families.

“Holocaust-era property restitution provides a measure of justice to victims and their families, and to surviving Jewish communities, for the violation of their basic human rights. The JUST Act would encourage countries around the globe to live up to the existing international consensus they endorsed in 2009,” said Abraham Biderman, co-chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization's Executive Committee.

“We commend Sens. Baldwin and Rubio for helping advance America’s leadership in the fight for justice for Holocaust victims and for the restitution of Holocaust era property.  It is critical to spotlight how countries are fulfilling property restitution commitments and to hold them accountable if they fail to do so.  Enshrining this as a priority of America’s human rights reporting provides another diplomatic tool to enhance the vital efforts of the Office of the Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues,” said Stacy Burdett, Vice President, Government Relations, Advocacy & Community Engagement, Anti-Defamation League.

“Seventy years after the end of World War II and twenty-five years since democracy has been restored to the nations of Central and Eastern Europe there can no longer be any excuse for delaying the restitution of Holocaust-era properties to their rightful owners. We hope this legislation will push those governments to finally act,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director, International Jewish Affairs, AJC.

The JUST Act has received strong support from organizations across the country including World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), American Jewish Committee (AJC), Anti-Defamation League (ADL), J Street, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), B’nai B’rith International, HIAS refugee assistance organization, Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Jewish Home and Care Center Foundation in Milwaukee.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
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The Helsinki Commission's welcoming statement issued on the day of my appointment is a clear manifestation of the strong support you continuously show toward the work of this unique Office, and I assure you, distinguished Commissioners, that this fact is very much appreciated.  It will be three months tomorrow since I took office as the new Representative on Freedom of the Media to the OSCE. Even though three months may sound short, it has proved more than enough to gain a deep insight, and unfortunately also voice concerns, about the decline of media freedom in many of the 56 countries that today constitute the OSCE.  Although the challenges and dangers that journalists face in our countries may differ from region to region, one sad fact holds true everywhere: The freedom to express ourselves is questioned and challenged from many sides. Some of these challenges are blatant, others concealed; some of them follow traditional methods to silence free speech and critical voices, some use new technologies to suppress and restrict the free flow of information and media pluralism; and far too many result in physical harassment and deadly violence against journalists.  Today, I would like to draw your attention to the constant struggle of so many institutions and NGOs around the world, including your Commission and my Institution, to combat and ultimately stop violence against journalists. I would also like to address several other challenges that I want to place in the center of my professional activities, each of which I intend to improve by relentlessly using the public voice I am now given at the OSCE.  Let me first start with violence against journalists.  Ever since it was created in 1997, my Office has been raising attention to the alarming increase of violent attacks against journalists. Not only is the high number of violent attacks against journalists a cause for concern. Equally alarming is the authorities' far too-prevalent willingness to classify many of the murders as unrelated to the journalists' professional activities. We also see that more and more often critical speech is being punished with questionable charges brought against the journalists.  Impunity of perpetrators and the responsible authorities' passivity in investigating and failing to publicly condemn these murders breeds further violence. There are numerous cases that need to be raised over and over again. We need to continue to loudly repeat the names of these courageous individuals who lost their lives for the words they have written. I am sorry for all those whom I will not mention today; but the names that follow are on the list that I call ``the Hall of Shame'' of those governments that still have not brought to justice the perpetrators of the horrifying murders that happened in their countries.  The most recent murder of a journalist in the OSCE area is the one of the Kyrgyz opposition journalist Gennady Pavlyuk (Bely Parokhod), who was killed in Kazakhstan in December last year. It gives me hope that the new Interim Government of Kyrgyzstan has announced to save no efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, as well as those involved in the 2007 murder of Alisher Saipov (Siyosat).  The Russian Federation remains the OSCE participating State where most members of the media are killed. Paul Klebnikov (Forbes, Russia), Anna Politkovskaya (Novaya Gazeta), Anastasia Baburova (Novaya Gazeta), are the most reported about, but let us also remember Magomed Yevloyev (Ingushetiya), Ivan Safronov (Kommersant), Yury Shchekochikhin (Novaya Gazeta), Igor Domnikov (Novaya Gazeta), Vladislav Listyev (ORT), Dmitry Kholodov (Moskovsky Komsomolets) and many others.  We also should not forget the brutal murders of the following journalists, some remain unresolved today:  Hrant Dink (Agos) Armenian Turkish journalist was shot in 2007 in Turkey.  Elmar Huseynov (Monitor) was murdered in 2005 in Azerbaijan.  Georgy Gongadze (Ukrainskaya Pravda) was killed in 2000 in Ukraine.  In Serbia, Slavko Curuvija (Dnevni Telegrat) was murdered in 1999, and Milan Pantic (Vecernje Novosti) was killed in 2001.  In Montenegro, Dusko Jovanovic (Dan), was shot dead in 2004.  In Croatia, Ivo Pukanic (Nacional) and his marketing director, Niko Franjic, were killed by a car bomb in 2008.  Violence against journalists equals violence against society and democracy, and it should be met with harsh condemnation and prosecution of the perpetrators. There can be no improvement without an overhaul of the very apparatus of prosecution and law enforcement, starting from the very top of the Government pyramid.  There is no true press freedom as long as journalists have to fear for their lives while performing their work. The OSCE commitments oblige all participating States to provide safety to these journalists, and I will do my best to pursue this goal with the mandate I am given and with all professional tools at my disposal.  We also observe another very worrying trend; more and more often the imprisonment of critical journalists based on political motivations including fabricated charges. Let me mention some cases:  In Azerbaijan, the prominent editor-in-chief of the now-closed independent Russian-language weekly, Realny Azerbaijan, and Azeri-language daily, Gundalik Azarbaycan, Eynulla Fatullayev was sentenced in 2007 to a cumulative eight-and-a-half years in prison on charges on defamation, incitement of ethnic hatred, terrorism and tax evasion. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Azerbaijan in violation of Article 10 and Article 6, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, so there is only one possible outcome--Fatullayev should be immediately released.  In Kazakhstan, Ramazan Yesergepov, the editor of Alma-Ata Info, is serving a three-year prison term on charges of disclosing state secrets.  Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, bloggers from Azerbaijan, are serving two and a half years and two years in prison respectively since July 2009 on charges of hooliganism and infliction of light bodily injuries.  In Uzbekistan, two independent journalists, Dilmurod Saiid (a freelancer) and Solijon Abdurahmanov (Uznews), are currently serving long jail sentences (twelve-and-a-half-years and ten years) on charges of extortion and drug possession.  I will continue to raise my voice and demand the immediate release of media workers imprisoned for their critical work.  I join Chairman Cardin for commending independent journalists in the Helsinki Commission's recent statement on World Press Freedom Day. These professionals pursue truth wherever it may lead them, often at great personal risk. They indeed play a crucial and indispensable role in advancing democracy and human rights. By highlighting these murder and imprisonment cases, by no means do I intend to neglect other forms of harassment or intimidation that also have a threatening effect on journalists. Let me just recall that, with the heightened security concerns in the last decade, police and prosecutors have increasingly raided editorial offices, journalists' homes, or seized their equipment to find leaks that were perceived as security threats. Suppression and restriction of Internet Freedom  Turning to the problems facing Internet freedom, we can see that new media have changed the communications and education landscape in an even more dramatic manner than did the broadcast media in the last half century. Under my mandate, the challenge has remained the same: how to safeguard or enhance pluralism and the free flow of information, both classical Helsinki obligations within the OSCE.  It was in 1998 that I read the words of Vinton G. Cerf in his article called ``Truth and the Internet''. It perfectly summarizes the nature of the Internet and the ways it can create freedom.  Dr. Cerf calls the Internet one of the most powerful agents of freedom: It exposes truth to those who wish to see it. But he also warns us that the power of the Internet is like a two-edged sword: it can also deliver misinformation and uncorroborated opinion with equal ease. The thoughtful and the thoughtless co-exist side by side in the Internet's electronic universe. What is to be done, asks Cerf.  His answer is to apply critical thinking. Consider the Internet as an opportunity to educate us all. We truly must think about what we see and hear, and we must evaluate and select. We must choose our guides. Furthermore, we must also teach our children to think more deeply about what they see and hear. That, more than any electronic filter, he says, will build a foundation upon which truth can stand.  Today, this foundation upon which truth could indeed so firmly stand is under continuous pressure by governments. As soon as governments realized that the Internet challenges secrecy and censorship, corruption, inefficiency and bad governing, they started imposing controls on it. In many countries and in many ways the effects are visible and they indeed threaten the potential for information to circulate freely.  The digital age offers the promise of a truly democratic culture of participation and interactivity. Realizing that promise is the challenge of our times. In the age of the borderless Internet, the protection of the right to freedom of expression ``regardless of frontiers'' takes on a new and more powerful meaning.  In an age of rapid technological change and convergence, archaic governmental controls over the media are increasingly unjust, indefensible and ultimately unsustainable. Despite progress, many challenges remain, including the lack of or poor quality of national legislation relating to freedom of information, a low level of implementation in many OSCE member states and existing political resistance.  The importance of providing free access for all people anywhere in the world cannot be raised often enough in the public arena, and cannot be discussed often enough among stakeholders: civil society, media, as well as local and international authorities.  Freedom of speech is more than a choice about which media products to consume.  Media freedom and freedom of speech in the digital age also mean giving everyone--not just a small number of people who own the dominant modes of mass communication, but ordinary people, too--an opportunity to use these new technologies to participate, interact, build, route around and talk about whatever they wish--be it politics, public issues or popular culture. The Internet fundamentally affects how we live. It offers extraordinary opportunities for us to learn, trade, connect, create and also to safeguard human rights and strengthen democratic values. It allows us to hear each other, see each other and speak to each other. It can connect isolated people and help them through their personal problems.  These rights, possibilities and ideals are at the heart of the Helsinki Process and the OSCE principles and commitments that we share. We must find the best ways to spread access to the Internet, so that the whole world can benefit from what it can offer, rather than increasing the existing gaps between those who have access to information and those who do not. And to those governments who fear and distrust the openness brought along by the Internet, let me emphasize over and over again:  The way a society uses the new communications technologies and how it responds to economic, political and cultural globalization will determine the very future of that society. Restrict access to information, and your chances to develop will become restricted. Open up the channels of free communication, and your society will find ways to prosper.  I was delighted to hear Secretary of State Clinton speak about a basic freedom in her January speech on Internet freedom in the ``Newseum''. This freedom is the freedom to connect. Secretary Clinton rightly calls this freedom the freedom of assembly in cyber space. It allows us to come together online, and shape our society in fundamental ways. Fame or money is no longer a requisite to immensely affect our world.  My office is rapidly developing a comprehensive strategy to identify the main problems related to Internet regulation in the 56 countries of the OSCE, and ways to address these issues. I will count on the support of the Helsinki Commission to advance the universal values that this strategy will attempt to extend to those countries where these values are still being questioned.  Let me also mention the importance to protect the freedom of other new technologies.  Only two weeks ago, my Office organized the 12th Central Asia Media Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where media professionals from all five Central Asian countries adopted a declaration on access to information and new technologies. This document calls on OSCE governments to facilitate the freer and wider dissemination of information, including through modern information and communication technologies, so as to ensure wide access of the public to governmental information.  It also reiterates that new technologies strengthen democracy by ensuring easy access to information, and calls upon state institutions with legislative competencies to refrain from adopting new legislation that would restrict the free flow of information. And only this spring my Office published a guide to the digital switchover, to assist the many OSCE countries where the switch from analogue to digital will take place in the next five years. The aim of the guide is to help plan the digitalization process, and help ensure that it positively affects media freedom, as well as the choice and quality available to the audience.  Besides advocating the importance of good digitalization strategies, I will also use all available fora to raise attention to the alarming lack of broadcast pluralism, especially television broadcast pluralism, in many OSCE countries. As television is the main source of information in many OSCE regions, we must ensure that the laws allow for diverse, high-quality programs and objective news to easily reach every one of us. Only well-informed citizens can make good choices and further democratic values. Whether we talk about Internet regulation, inventive ways to switch to digital while preserving the dominance of a few selected broadcasters, attempts to limit access to information or broadcast pluralism, we must keep one thing in mind: No matter what governments do, in the long run, their attempts to regulate is a lost battle.  People always find ways to obtain the rights that are denied to them. History has shown this over and over again. In the short run, however, it is very clear that I will intervene with governments which try to restrict the free flow of information. Defamation  Similar to fighting violence against journalists, my Office has been campaigning since its establishment in 1997 to decriminalize defamation and libel in the entire OSCE region.  Unfortunately, in most countries, defamation is still punishable by imprisonment, which threatens the existence of critical speech in the media. This is so despite the consistent rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, stating that imprisonment for speech offences, especially when committed by criticizing public figures, is a disproportionate punishment.  Let us again remind ourselves of the journalists and bloggers I have mentioned above when discussing violence against journalists. They are currently in prison because their writing was considered defamatory. Their fate reminds us all of the importance of the right to freely speak our mind.  This problem needs urgent reform not only in the new, but also in the old democracies of the OSCE. Although the obsolete criminal provisions have not been used in Western Europe for decades, their ``chilling effect'' remained.  Furthermore, the mere existence of these provisions has served as a justification for other states that are unwilling to stop the criminalization of journalistic errors, and instead leave these offenses solely to the civil-law domain.  Currently, defamation is a criminal offence in all but ten OSCE countries--my home country Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Ireland, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Last year, three OSCE countries decriminalized defamation, which I consider to be an enormous success: Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom; the last being the first among the Western European participating States to officially decriminalize defamation.  Some other countries, such as Armenia, are currently reforming their defamation provisions, and I hope that I can soon welcome the next country that carries out this important and very long overdue reform.   Concluding remarks  Dear Chairmen,  Dear Commissioners,  Ladies and Gentlemen,  The above problematic areas--violence against journalists, restrictions of new media including the Internet, lack of pluralism and resistance to decriminalize defamation--are among the most urgent media freedom problems that need our attention and concentrated efforts today. However, we will also not forget about the many other fields where there is plenty of room to improve. Of course, I will not miss the excellent opportunity that we are here together today to raise your attention to the topic that my distinguished predecessor, Miklos Haraszti, has already raised with you: the establishment and the adoption of a federal shield law in the United States.  As you know, my Office has been a dedicated promoter of the federal shield law for many years. If passed, the Free Flow of Information Act would provide a stronger protection to journalists; it could ensure that imprisonments such as that of Judith Miller in 2005, and Josh Wolf in 2006, could never again take place and hinder investigative journalism. But the passage of such legislation would resonate far further than within the borders of the United States of America. It could send a very much needed signal and set a precedent to all the countries where protection of sources is still opposed by the government and is still not more than a dream for journalists.  I respectfully ask all of you, distinguished Commissioners, to continue and even increase your efforts to enable that the Free Flow of Information Act soon becomes the latest protector of media freedom in the United States.  And of course I cannot close my speech without mentioning my home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina. As you know, not only Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also most of the emerging democracies in the Balkans enjoy modern and forward-looking media legislation. We can openly say that they almost have it all when it comes to an advanced legal and regulatory framework enabling free expression to thrive. But it is not that simple. I use this moment to pose several questions: if there are good laws, then why do we still face severe problems in relation to media freedom, why do we stagnate and sometimes even move backward? Where does the problem lie? And, more importantly, how can we solve it and move ahead?  What Bosnia and Herzegovina shows us is that good laws in themselves are not enough. Without their good implementation, they are only documents filled with unrealized potential. In countries that struggle with similar problems, we must stress over and over again: without the full implementation of valid legislation, without genuine political will, without a comprehensive understanding of the media's role in a functioning democracy, without the creation of a safe environment for journalists to do their work, and without true commitment by all actors, these countries risk falling far behind international standards.  Apart from unmet expectations and disillusioned citizens, we all know that the consequences of politicized and misused media could be very serious. In conclusion, let me assure you, dear Commissioners, that I will not hesitate to openly and vigorously remind any country of their responsibilities toward implementing the OSCE commitments to the freedom of the media.  I am also asking you to use this opportunity today and send a clear message to the governments of all OSCE countries to do their utmost to fully implement their media legislation safeguarding freedom of expression. The governments have the power to create an environment in which media can perform their unique role free of pressures and threats. Without this, no democracy can flourish.  Thank you for your attention.

  • U.S. Congress Committee Calls for More Action on Property Restitution

    The head of the Helsinki Commission at the United States Congress,  Senator Ben Cardin, has criticized Poland for delaying the process of dealing with the restitution of Jewish property confiscated during and after WW II. Representative of the Obama administration, Stuart Eizenstat also expressed hope that the problem will be solved soon. Speaking during the session of the Helsinki Commission in Washington, Senator Ben Cardin indicated Poland and Lithuania as the two countries which have done least to solve the problem. "Successive Polish governments promised that the issue of compensation will be dealt with. None has done anything about it,” he said. In March 2001, the Polish parliament approved a law for the restitution of private property, though the right to file a claim was limited to those with Polish citizenship as of December 31, 1999. The law was subsequently vetoed by the President of Poland. The Terezin Declaration, a nonbinding set of guiding principles aimed at faster, more open and transparent restitution of art, private and communal property taken by force or under duress during the Holocaust, was approved at the Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference in June last year. Poland was a signature to the non-binding agreement. Senator Cardin added he was aware that due to the relocation of borders and massive resettlements of people following the war, property restitution in Poland is a complicated issue. “Solving of the problem is difficult but not impossible” he added.   Former US Ambassador to the EU Stuart Eizenstat, the country’s delegate to the Prague Conference on the return of assets looted during World War Two also addressed the Commission, Tuesday. He said that the reprivatization law currently being prepared in Poland is defective as it does not include the restitution of properties located in Warsaw. Poles themselves were the victims of Nazism and communism so the restitution issue is difficult, he remarked, at the same time expressing hope that the legislative work will be corrected. Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced back in 2008 that legislation which aimed to tackle the issue had been prepared but the global finance crisis meant that plans had to be shelved due to increasing public debt. “The escalation of demands does not help in the creation of a political climate needed to pass an anti-discrimination, re-privatisation law,” declared Poland’s Foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski, commenting last year on the appeal from Jewish organizations for the return  property confiscated under Nazi occupation in Poland from heirless victims during the Holocaust.

  • Add One More Name to the Terrorist List

    The recent arrest of the alleged Times Square bomber who lived in Connecticut has the American public rethinking the origins of terrorism, just as last year's conviction of members of the Liberty City Six in the Sears Tower bombing plot reawakened South Floridians to would-be attackers in our midst. In both cases, U.S. officials deserve high praise for keeping innocent people safe and prosecuting criminals, but in our effort to monitor terrorist groups worldwide, I fear this administration is letting one group off the hook. In preparing their 2009 report identifying foreign terrorist organizations, it appears the State Department forgot the Caucasus Emirate. This group claimed responsibility for the March 30 Moscow subway suicide bombings that killed 40 people. It reportedly prepared 20 suicide bombers in 2009, declared Jihad on the United States and Russia, and its original leader trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan. If all that is not enough to justify listing the emirate as a terrorist organization, I don't know what is. That is why I recently introduced House Resolution 1315 to urge the Obama administration to label members of the Caucasus Emirate what they are — terrorists. Isolating violent extremists from political and financial support remains a key objective in the struggle against terrorism, and that is exactly what the State Department's designations achieve. In naming specific groups as terrorist organizations, the United States stigmatizes them internationally and heightens awareness of their actions. Unfortunately, the administration may see the group's violent actions as merely another symptom of instability in the Caucasus region, because it seems they were not going to be listed as a foreign terrorist organization in a report that was scheduled to be released April 30. After the introduction of my resolution, the State Department decided to delay that report's release for four to six weeks to ensure its accuracy. I appreciate the department's diligent work, but so long as the report fails to label the Caucasus Emirate a terrorist organization, it will fail to be accurate. The designation invokes strong legal ramifications in the United States, making it illegal to knowingly provide material or technical support to members of the terrorist group. Members of known terrorist groups are barred from U.S. travel, and U.S. financial institutions are required to freeze funds linked to the organization and report them to the Treasury Department. None of these actions have yet been taken against the Caucasus Emirate, despite it being responsible for a staggering 62 violent attacks in Russia since January. Indeed, there should be no question of the threat the Caucasus Emirate poses to the national security of the United States and our allies. Even today, Caucasus Emirate affiliates continue to fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration's acknowledgement of this reality is a necessary step in our committed effort against violent extremism.

  • U.S. Lawmaker Urges Action on Russian Lawyer's Death

    A U.S. senator is urging the State Department to deny entry to the United States for all Russian officials responsible for the prison death of a lawyer. Sergey Magnitsky died in November after spending nearly a year in jail. He was awaiting trial on tax-evasion charges linked to his work with a British investor barred from Russia because of allegations he was a security risk. Maryland Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin released a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday asking her to deny entry of several senior officials from the Russian Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service and the Federal Tax Service. Magnitsky's colleagues and attorney believe them to be involved in the death of Magnitsky.    

  • Natural Resources, a National Responsibility

    The purpose of this briefing, which Commission Policy Advisor Shelly Han moderated, was two-fold: to come away with a good understanding of the Natural Resource Charter (i.e. its use, development, and trajectory) and to have a candid conversation on the gaps that remained and the steps the Commission itself, the U.S. Congress, the Department of State, international organizations, and others could take to address such gaps. The Natural Resource Charter is aimed at giving countries the tools they need to fully develop their natural resources for the good of the whole country. This is relevant to the Commission due to the interconnected issues of economics and the environment, as well as security and human rights.

  • Putin Says Stalin Massacred Poles Out of Revenge

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made an unprecedented gesture of good will to Poland on Wednesday by attending a memorial ceremony for 22,000 Poles executed by Soviet secret police during World War II. But hours later he soured the mood by offering a controversial justification for the massacres. After attending the solemn event with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Putin said Soviet dictator Josef Stalin ordered the atrocity as revenge for the death of Red Army soldiers in Polish prisoner of war camps in 1920. Putin said 32,000 troops under Stalin's command had died of hunger and disease in the Polish camps. "It is my personal opinion that Stalin felt personally responsible for this tragedy, and carried out the executions (of Poles in 1940) out of a sense of revenge," Putin said, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. The Polish side had no immediate response to this suggestion. U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, who has advocated greater Russian recognition of the atrocities, said there can be no justification for the murder of innocent people. "I think trying to rationalize the massacre in any way is unwarranted. You can't justify that under any scenario. It was senseless and there was no just cause. Those are the facts," Cardin, who chairs the U.S. Helsinki Commission, told The Associated Press. Earlier on Tuesday, Putin offered a gesture of reconciliation to Poland by becoming the first Russian leader to ever commemorate the Katyn massacres with a Polish leader. He said earlier in the day that the two nations' "fates had been inexorably joined" by the atrocities. The 22,000 Polish officers, prisoners and intellectuals were massacred by Stalin's secret police in 1940 in and around Katyn, a village near Russia's border with Belarus. During the ceremony, Putin also offered what appeared to be his harshest condemnation of Stalin's rule to date on Tuesday, saying: "In our country there has been a clear political, legal and moral judgment made of the evil acts of this totalitarian regime, and this judgment cannot be revised." But his speech stopped short of offering any apology to Poland or calling the massacres a war crime, as some officials in Poland and the United States had urged him to do. Also, while giving the go-ahead to a joint historic commission on the matter, Putin gave no concrete pledge that all Soviet archives documenting it would finally be unsealed. Tusk used his emotional speech about the Polish victims to push Putin on this point. "Prime minister, they are here. They are in this soil. The eye sockets of their bullet-pierced sculls are looking and waiting to see whether we are able to transform violence and lies into reconciliation," Tusk said. But at an evening news conference, Putin said Russia already has disclosed everything except for the perpetrators' names, which are being kept secret out of "humanitarian" regard for their surviving relatives. Putin also said Russian people should not be blamed for the atrocities at Katyn. "For decades, attempts have been made to cover up the truth about the Katyn executions with cynical lies, but suggesting that the Russian people are to blame for that is the same kind of lie and fabrication," he said. For half a century, Soviet officials claimed that the mass executions had been carried out by Nazi occupiers during the Second World War. But the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev's rule admitted in 1990 that the crimes had been committed by Stalin's NKVD secret police, a precursor to the KGB. The disclosure opened the floodgates of historical consciousness across the Soviet Union, speeding its demise as nations across the Eastern bloc awoke to the horrors of the Soviet regime and sought independence. As recently as December, Putin resisted a broad denunciation of Stalin's reign. He told a call-in show with the Russian public that it was "impossible to make an overall judgment" against Stalin because he had industrialized the nation and played a key role in defeating the Nazis. Russia also has clashed with its neighbors in Eastern Europe over what it has perceived as offenses to the legacy of Stalin and the Red Army. The relocation of a Soviet war memorial in Estonia in 2007 was met with a bristling reaction from Moscow, as was a resolution made by European lawmakers in 2009 equating Stalinism and Fascism. Putin's meeting with Tusk seems to be part of a broader Kremlin effort to avoid similar confrontations and improve ties with Europe. President Dmitry Medvedev wrapped up a two-day visit to Slovakia on Tuesday, and said in the capital, Bratislava, that the EU-member state was a "very convenient and open door for Russia to the European Union." "We are ready to actively go through this door," Medvedev said during a televised news conference with his Slovak counterpart, Ivan Gasparovic. During the visit — marking the 65th anniversary of the Slovak capital's liberation from Nazi rule — Medvedev gave Slovak officials World War II documents from Russia's state archives.

  • Meeting of Russian, Polish Leaders Could Shed Light on 1940 Massacre

    A historic meeting scheduled for Wednesday between top leaders of Russia and Poland is expected to provide new details about Russia's mass execution of 22,000 Polish officers in the Katyn forest in 1940 and may open the way toward improved relations between the two countries. The mass slaying of the Polish prisoners of war by the Soviet secret police is one of the darker and less known chapters of World War II, said Kyle Parker, a Russian expert and policy adviser to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an independent U.S. agency that helps formulate American policy for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The mass graves were discovered in 1943 by the Wehrmacht, the German armed forces, after their defeat at Stalingrad. The discovery caused a diplomatic crisis.  

  • Cardin: Take Action Against Child Slavery

    More than a century after ratification of the 13th Amendment, thousands of slaves are still transported to America each year. The International Labor Organization estimates that over 12 million people worldwide are held in bondage at any point in time, nearly 2 million of whom are child sex slaves. Modern day human traffickers have developed creative and ruthless methods to extend the practice of slavery into the 21st century, making their crimes more difficult to detect and counter. The United States, starting with leadership from the U.S. Helsinki Commission, has always been at the forefront of combating these crimes, but more work remains, not only at home, but abroad where developing nations often lack the resources and mechanisms to confront traffickers. That is why Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and I recently introduced the Child Protection Compact Act. This legislation is critical to protecting children, the most vulnerable prey of human traffickers. This bill will help coordinate an international response against trafficking in persons by empowering the State Department to partner with foreign governments, so a lack of resources in one country does not mean a lack of action to protect children from these crimes. Under this legislation, if a government demonstrates a commitment to eliminate trafficking, they will qualify for a 3-year agreement with the Secretary of State. The agreements, or compacts, will identify effective measures to address institutional weaknesses and increase local governments' capacity. Under the agreement, the United States would provide up to $15 million to support government initiatives such as improved law enforcement, victim-friendly courts, and shelters for rescued children. The Senate bill is similar to legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by my colleague on the Helsinki Commission, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), whose bill has attracted 95 bipartisan cosponsors. By supporting bills like ours, lawmakers stand up to remind the world that slavery in all forms is unacceptable. The Child Protection Compact Act is the next stage of the American effort in leading the world in fighting this atrocity.  

  • State Department Human Rights Reports

    Mr. President, this month's release of the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices shows the value of consistently monitoring human rights around the globe. As Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission charged with monitoring international human rights commitments in 56 countries from the U.S. and Canada to Europe and Central Asia, this annual report is a key tool that we, and others, use to track progress being made on universal freedoms. This year's reports have increased significance as 2010 is the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and the 20th anniversary of historic international human rights agreements, the Copenhagen Document, and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe. In a year commemorating such landmark human rights documents, this month's State Department reports remind us that many of the commitments countries made in the past still have not been met with meaningful action today. In Belarus, where I visited last summer, the political space for opposition remains tightly controlled, independent media face continual harassment, and elections are a farce. The overall situation in Russia remains disturbing as well. There 2009 was a year again filled with mourning the very people who stood for freedom, be they journalists, human rights advocates or lawyers simply trying to present a case against corruption. The country's harassment of Jehovah's Witnesses and forceful break up of public demonstrations remain particularly concerning. I urge Kazakhstan, as the current chair of the OSCE, to lead by example through concrete actions, starting with the release of activist Yevgeny Zhovtis, whom staff from the Helsinki Commission visited this week in prison. Zhovtis at least deserves the same freedoms afforded other prisoners in his facility, including the right to work outside the facility during the day. In Kosovo, in addition to problems with human trafficking, official corruption and a lack of judicial due process, the State Department notes the lack of progress regarding displaced persons of all ethnicities, politically and ethnically motivated violence, and societal antipathy against Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church. The lack of progress regarding the country's international recognition, while unfortunate, does not absolve Kosovo authorities from their responsibility to ensure greater respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner, who serves as the State Department Commissioner on the U.S. Helsinki Commission, did a superb job of unveiling the report today with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I was heartened to hear him specifically flag examples of 2009 human rights violations within the OSCE region that drew the attention of the Commission last year. The banning of construction of Muslim minarets in Switzerland, the pervasiveness of discrimination against Roma--Europe's largest ethnic minority, and the continued rise of anti-Semitism in Europe sadly still remain concerns this year.  While these country reports help to hold all governments--including our own--to account; and while much of their text shows the reality of a world troubled by violent conflicts and the mistreatment of our most vulnerable people; the State Department reports also show the positive that surrounds us. In this vein, Assistant Secretary Posner was right to mention the fairness of Ukraine's recent elections, for which my colleague Cochairman Hastings led the election observation mission. And the reports are eager to cite progress where appropriate.  But these reports affirm something else, and that is the strength of the legislative-executive branch cooperation when it comes to upholding universal standards. The Helsinki Commission is unique among all federal agencies for being comprised of Senate, House and executive branch commissioners, and Assistant Secretary Posner's activity with the Commission and the State Department's annual human rights reports mandated by Congress are but two examples of our two branches working together to keep a spotlight on human rights abuses.

  • Helsinki Commission Applauds U.S. Human Rights Reports

    U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) hailed today’s release of the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices as a key tool to monitor and track progress on universal freedoms. “The State Department reports on human rights provide a valuable reference point for assessing human rights trends in countries throughout the world, including those in the expansive OSCE region stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” Chairman Cardin said. This year’s reports have increased significance as 2010 is the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and the 20th anniversary of other international human rights agreements. “In a year commemorating landmark human rights documents of the Helsinki Final Act, the Copenhagen Document, and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, today’s State Department reports remind us that many of the promises countries made in those historic documents still have not been met with meaningful action,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “These reports on human rights around the world are a critical tool, and they’ll provide a fact-base to inform our foreign policy in the year ahead,” said Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor. Posner, who serves as the State Department Commissioner on the U.S. Helsinki Commission, unveiled the reports with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a news conference this morning. As leaders of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, the Co-Chairmen have consistently voiced concerns about the pattern of rights violations cited in several of the OSCE participating States. “In Belarus, the political space for opposition remains tightly controlled and independent media face continual harassment,” said Cardin, who travelled to Minsk in July 2009. “The overall situation in Russia remains disturbing with the murder of a leading human right advocate, harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and forceful break up of public demonstrations. I urge Kazakhstan, as the current chair of the OSCE, to lead by example through concrete actions, starting with the release of activist Yevgeny Zhovtis.” The Co-Chairmen welcomed Assistant Secretary Posner to the Commission Feb. 25.Posner’s activity with the Commission and the State Department’s annual human rights reports mandated by Congress are examples of legislative-executive branch cooperation to keep a spotlight on human rights abuses.

  • Commemorating the 49th Anniversary of the Peace Corps

    Mr. President, today I rise to celebrate service – specifically the dedication of Americans volunteering in the Peace Corps, which this week marks its 49th year of connecting committed volunteers with meaningful work around the globe. There are a lot of ways to give of our selves. We donate food. We donate money. We donate time. But the Peace Corps takes community service – global service, really -- to another level, with volunteers committing 27 months to improve the quality of life in developing countries. Some projects focus on agriculture; others business. Some improve health, while others emphasize education or the environment, but all programs build a unique international relationship with a spirit of volunteer service at its core. As chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I recently saw one program up close during a Congressional delegation I led to Morocco, which is an active Mediterranean Partner country in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Meetings with local government officials there were informative. And the briefings from the embassy staff were important. But the time we spent with a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Aitourir was nothing short of inspiring. The Youth Development Program there run by Peace Corps Volunteer Kate Tsunoda with help from local community volunteers is giving children from kindergarten through high school critical education, language and art skills. Inside a small community center, below a library still in need of dictionaries and elementary school books, we sat down with a group of young men -- some in college, some recently graduated. In a part of the world where unemployment tops 15 percent, these are the people one may see as most susceptible to recruitment by extremists, but not these men. They spoke of dreams that included higher education, better jobs, and a transforming their local towns. These men credit the Peace Corps program for empowering them and building their language skills. I credit the Peace Corps for something even greater -- forging international understanding, something the Peace Corps has excelled at now for 49 years in 139 countries through 7,671 volunteers. On the other side of town, several members of our delegation visited a start-up small business, the brainchild of retiree and Peace Corps volunteer Barbara Eberhart, whose second career is dedicated to empowering the women of Morocco. The group visited a fabric and embroidery shop developed by a community of Berber women aided by a microcredit loan and Barbara's guidance and unbounded energy. These women, unable to read or write and essentially marginalized in Moroccan society, have formed a cooperative where they create fine embroidered goods and sell them in local markets. Their small business not only provides desperately needed income, but gives these women a stronger sense of themselves, their community and hope for their future and that of their children. With Peace Corps volunteers coming from all backgrounds, ages and various stages of life, this program is as diverse as our country. The local citizen collaboration inherent in all Peace Corps work helps build enduring relationships between the United States and Peace Corps partner countries. The Peace Corps invests time and talent in other countries, but it pays dividends back here in the United States as well. Those who are taught or helped by Peace Corps volunteers are likely to have more favorable opinions of the United States. More than that, many of the volunteers themselves are inspired to public service upon their return to this country, some becoming governors and Members of Congress, including our own colleague and fellow Helsinki Commissioner, Senator Dodd of Connecticut. I left Aitourir thinking Kate was the exemplary Peace Corps volunteer with her welcoming smile, passion for service and genuine love for the Moroccan people. But aware of the success of so many other Peace Corps programs around the world, I know Kate is one of many volunteers -- all of whom would have left as great an impression. The Peace Corps is a program that works. Volunteers year in and year out continue to fulfill the Peace Corps mission of bringing training and education to interested countries and strengthening understanding between Americans and our neighbors in the global community. Congratulations to the Peace Corps for 49 remarkable years. I look forward to its continued success. Thank you, Mr. President.

  • U.S. Congressional Delegation Applauds Spain for Its Leadership in the Fight Against Terrorism

    A delegation of congressmen and U.S. senators praised the "leadership" of Spain in the fight against terrorism today following talks in Madrid with Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba. "Spain is an important U.S. partner. We want to thank the Spanish people and its government for their leadership in the fight against terrorism," said the head of the delegation, Democratic Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin. Cardin led a delegation composed of senators and congressmen of the of U.S. Congress’ Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), which visited Spain today after talks on Monday with Moroccan authorities. In a press conference held at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, the senator also praised "the Spanish government's decision to send 500 extra troops to Afghanistan, which is a very important step in successfully combating Al Qaeda’s terrorist network in Afghanistan.” Cardin, the chairman of the commission, also thanked the Spanish Executive for its decision to accept five prisoners from the U.S. prison in Guantanamo. While expressing that he is "very pleased with Spain’s leadership of the European Union (EU), the senator confessed that he is “very disappointed" with the decision of the European Parliament (EP) to block the banking transfer agreement with the U.S. "We believe this is a step backwards (...) in curbing terrorism," said the chairman of the Helsinki Commission, arguing that "money can lead to information that can prove invaluable in catching terrorists," Cardin said that "Spain shares this concern,” since the decision of the EP forces the EU to renegotiate the controversial agreement to ensure greater privacy and data protection. For its part, the Spanish Interior Ministry issued a statement saying that Rubalcaba and the delegation had met to analyze the cooperation between Spain and the U.S. in combating terrorism. Both sides agreed on the need to continue working together in this area and addressed, among others, issues relating to air safety. The congressmen also met with other members of the Spanish executive, such as the Secretary General of the Spanish Presidency, Bernardino Leon, and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Angel Losada. Established in 1976, the Helsinki Commission is an independent U.S. government agency that monitors and encourages compliance with the commitments of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

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