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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 Government of Moldova and the leadership for Transdnistria indicate their willingness to reengage and I have tasked my special envoy to see what can be done to take the process forward. We have knowledge of the difficulties in front of us. But we can't give up.” Minister Kanerva announced his intention to visit the South Caucasus nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Chairman Hastings asked Kanerva to raise concerns relating to media freedom in Azerbaijan, the subject of a Commission hearing late last year, and provided a list of specific cases. Numerous other human rights concerns were also discussed from combating anti-Semitism and trafficking in humans as well as promoting democracy. In prepared remarks, Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin stressed the importance of sustained OSCE engagement in efforts to fight anti-Semitism. “In recent weeks we have convened a series of hearings to assess the ongoing work of the OSCE in this regard and have heard from experts. These sessions have confirmed the importance of maintaining a distinct focus on anti-Semitism, and resisting attempts by some to reduce the attention under some kinds of generic tolerance rubric. It has also become clear that the personal representatives need some form of meaningful support mechanism. Perhaps some arrangement could be put in place by the troika of past, present, and future OSCE chairs, to ensure continuity,” remarked Cardin. Similar concerns were echoed in a statement by Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith, “I appeal to you, in your term as Chairman-in-Office, not to allow the OSCE to give in to this fatigue and indifference! Anti-Semitism remains what it has always been, a unique evil, a distinct form of intolerance, the oldest form of religious bigotry, and a malignant disease of the heart that has often led to murder. 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Minister Kanerva reported that active discussions were underway among OSCE countries regarding the kinds of initiatives that might be undertaken to assist Afghanistan pursuant to a general decision agreed to by the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council last November. Priority attention is being given to strengthening border security and management, including along the 750 mile border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. “At the same time we are discussing whether the OSCE might eventually become active on Afghan territory,” said Kanerva. Before concluding the hearing, the Chairman-in-Office and Chairman Hastings touched on ways to enhance cooperation among the OSCE participating States and strengthen the organization. Hastings acknowledged the complex task of managing the OSCE given the diversity of countries and diverging views among some on fundamental aspects of the organization and its mission. The two agreed on the importance of engagement with Russia. One possibility raised by Chairman Hastings was the assembling of a “Council of Elder Statesmen” along the lines proposed by the Hamburg-based Centre for OSCE Research in its working paper, “Identifying the Cutting Edge: The Future Impact of the OSCE.” In an innovative move, the Finnish chairmanship has expanded the Troika – past, present, and future chairs – to include others slated to assume leadership of OSCE in future years. At the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council agreement was reached on chairmanships for Greece in 2009, Kazakhstan in 2010 and Lithuania in 2011. “I have invited my colleagues from the future chairmanships of Kazakhstan and Lithuania,” Kanerva reported, “to meet with the current Troika countries Spain, Finland and Greece to develop ideas for longer-term priorities. I am convinced there are many issues where the "Quintet" can add value and lead to more coherent OSCE action in the next few years.” Minister Kanerva concluded, “The Helsinki Commission embodies the longstanding engagement of the United States with the OSCE and the values that underpin it. The OSCE can only work with the full engagement of its participating States. The United States has always played a key role, and must continue to do so, if we are to achieve the ambitious goals we have set for our Organization.”

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In 1989, in the Vienna Concluding Document, the United States – along with all the other participating States – agreed to ensure that “all individuals in detention or incarceration will be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.” There are no exceptions or no loopholes, and this is the standard which the United States is obligated to uphold. As the Convention Against Torture states clearly, torture is prohibited at all times in all places, even during states of war or states of emergency. Moreover, waterboarding violates the doctrinal guidance our military personnel have followed for years. I am hopeful for several reasons that the United States is on the verge of changing its policy on the issue of torture. First, the majority of the Members of Congress reject the President’s views on this matter. Last week Congress enacted the Intelligence Authorization bill for 2008, which requires the intelligence agencies to adopt the Army Field Manual’s restrictions on “enhanced” interrogation techniques. The Army Field Manual complies with U.S. law and our obligations under the Geneva Conventions. The Manual prohibits “acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, or exposure to inhumane treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation.” This legislation therefore creates one consistent interrogation policy across both the U.S. military and the Intelligence Community. President Bush has threatened to veto this legislation because of this provision, and Congress will attempt to override his veto. Second, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I can tell you that the issue of torture almost led the Senate to reject the confirmation of President Bush’s latest nomination to be Attorney General of the United States. I voted against the nomination of Michael Mukasey to be the Attorney General. I am disturbed that Judge Mukasey could not bring himself to say that waterboarding is torture. Let us recall that the United States has prosecuted Japanese soldiers for using waterboarding during World War II. During our final panel of witnesses at the confirmation hearing for Michael Mukasey, I asked Admiral John Hutson about this matter. Admiral Hutson is a distinguished and highly decorated military lawyer, and in his capacity as the former Navy Judge Advocate General was the senior uniformed legal advisor to the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations. Admiral Hutson testified, in sum, that the Attorney General as our chief law enforcement officer has to be absolutely unequivocal as to what is torture and what is not torture. We should not even be close to the line of what is torture. Admiral Hutson testified that waterboarding is one of the most iconic examples of torture, and it was devised during the Spanish Inquisition. Its use has been repudiated for centuries. And that is why I voted against confirming our Attorney General. Third, all three of the leading candidates for the office of President in the United States have categorically denounced torture. One way or another, come November, there will be a change, in policy and in practice. Finally, I am hopeful that the next Administration – in contrast to the current Administration – will work with the international community to heed the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission that “the United States should engage its friends to develop a common coalition approach toward the detention and humane treatment of captured terrorists. New principles might draw upon Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions on the law of armed conflict. That article was specifically designed for those cases in which the usual laws of war did not apply. Its minimum standards are generally accepted throughout the world as customary international law.” The reality is that the fight against global terrorism is a battle we will be waging for a long time – and we have to get it right. We don’t make ourselves safer by torturing people. I know damage has been done to the moral leadership of the United States. I look forward to working with a new administration to undo that damage, and I will do everything I can to ensure that torture is prohibited in law and in practice, in word and in deed.

  • Finland’s Leadership in the OSCE

    The hearing focused on Finland’s plans and priorities as well as challenges confronting the OSCE in 2008 and beyond. Additionally, the hearing addressed election observation activities by the OSCE; prospects for OSCE continued engagement in Kosovo; ongoing initiatives to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance; and the CFE Treaty.

  • Human Rights, Civil Society, and Democratic Governance in Russia: Current Situation and Prospects for the Future

    This hearing, chaired by Helsinki Commission Chairman Hon. Sam Brownback and Ranking Member the Hon. Benjamin Cardin, focused on the tumoltuous developement of human right in Russia. For the past few years, a series of events in Russia has given cause for concern about the fate of human rights, civil society, and democratic governance in that country. Of particular concern is the recent promulgation of a law establishing greater governmental control over NGOs and an attempt by the Russian secret services to link prominent Russian NGOs with foreign intelligence services. Newsweek International wrote in its February 6, 2006 issue: “The Russian secret service is acting more and more like the old KGB.” At the same time, the Russian Federation accedes this year to the chairmanship of the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8), and will chair the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers beginning in May 2006.  

  • Taking Stock: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region (Part II)

    This hearing, which Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings presided over, was the second in a set of hearings that focused on combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE region. Hastings lauded the efforts regarding this approach to anti-Semitism by bringing up how impressive it was for these states to look at issues of tolerance, while a few years before the hearing took place, not all participating states thought that there was a problem. Since the Commission’s efforts regarding anti-Semitism began in 2002 with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, a lot of progress had been achieved, but attendees did discuss work that still needed to be accomplished. For example, as per Commission findings, even Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka had made anti-Semitic comments, underscoring the inadequate efforts the Belarusian government had made to hold those guilty of anti-Semitic vandalism accountable. The Russian Federation had operated under similar circumstances, but the situation for Jewish individuals was better in Turkey. However, attendees did discuss “skinhead gangs” and similar groups elsewhere in the OSCE.   http://www.csce.gov/video/archive2-08.ram

  • Taking Stock: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region

    The Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, presided ove this hearing focused on combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE region. He was join by Commissioner Christopher H. Smith; Gert Weisserchen, personal representative of the Chariman of the OSCE on combating anti-Semitism; and Kathrin Meyer, an advisor on anti-Semitism issues. It was the first of a series of Commission hearings focused on reviewing efforts to monitor and combat anti-Semitic activities throughout the OSCE region. The hearing was designed to establish the record of what was happening within the OSCE region, including in North America, living up to the mandate that started in 2002 of ridding the OSCE region - indeed, ridding the world - of anti-Semitism.

  • Taking Stock: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region (Part I)

    This hearing, over which Commission Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin presided, was the first of a series of Commission hearings that focused on reviewing efforts to monitor and combat anti-Semitic activities throughout the OSCE region. These hearings came out of a successful effort to have a separate conference that dealt with anti-Semitism, which currently exists. The goal of such conferences was education, particularly as it concerned young people, and development of programs to sensitize people to anti-Semitism. The attendees of this hearing reflected on a lot of the progress that had been achieved regarding anti-Semitism, as well as progress that still remained to be achieved. For example, not all OSCE member states had a Holocaust Day of Remembrance.    http://www.csce.gov/video/archive1-29.ram

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