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Co-Chairman Wicker Commends Decision by Belarus to Refuse Extradition of Jehovah’s Witness to Russia

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

WASHINGTON—Following the April decision by the Prosecutor General of Belarus to reject the Government of Russia’s request to extradite a Russian national to face criminal charges for being a Jehovah’s Witness, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement:

“I commend the government of President Alexander Lukashenko for releasing Nikolai Makhalichev and rejecting the Kremlin’s request to extradite him. If forced to return to Russia, Mr. Makhalichev would face detention, a criminal trial, certain conviction, and imprisonment—merely for practicing his sincerely-held religious beliefs.

“In keeping with Belarus’ OSCE commitments and other international obligations, Belarusian authorities should continue to resist the extradition of Mr. Makhalichev to Russia, allow him to move freely, and respect his human rights and fundamental freedoms, regardless of whether the Government of Belarus grants him refugee status or another country gives him legal protection.”

Background

Amendments in 2006 to Russia’s Federal Law on Countering Extremist Activity criminalized a wide range of religious activities as “extremist,” without precisely defining extremism or requiring that such activities have a violent element. The Russian Government invoked the law as it began relentlessly targeting Jehovah’s Witnesses, a peaceful faith community, with investigations, raids, arrests, detention, trials, the closure of local congregations, website and literature bans, and more.

In July 2017, the Supreme Court of Russia upheld an earlier ruling in favor of the Ministry of Justice that Jehovah’s Witnesses are an “extremist” group, criminalizing and effectively banning their activities, and ordering their property to be seized and liquidated. Since then, Russian authorities have conducted criminal investigations into at least 333 Jehovah’s Witnesses, including Makhalichev; courts have convicted at least 32 of them. The authorities have engaged in raids, detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, property confiscations, and even torture.

In February 2020, Belarusian police detained Makhalichev, citing the criminal charges against him in Russia. He then applied for refugee status in Belarus. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office formally requested extradition in March. The Belarusian Ministry of Interior is currently adjudicating Makhalichev's refugee application.

In September 2019, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing highlighting how the Kremlin and other autocratic governments engage in transnational repression against people they perceive as hostile to them: using tools such as INTERPOL to request arrest and extradition, and sometimes even surveilling, abducting, and assassinating targeted persons on foreign soil. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L Hastings (FL-20), Co-Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), and Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) introduced the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) Act to combat such threats.

Like all participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia and Belarus have repeatedly committed themselves to recognizing, respecting, and protecting freedom of religion or belief. In December 2019, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo redesignated Russia for the Special Watch List of countries that have committed severe violations of religious freedom, per the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act. Since 2017, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended designating Russia as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.

Belarusian law authorizes the government to grant refugee status to a foreigner if he or she has a “well-founded fears of being persecuted in the country of his/her citizenship for the reason… of…religion,” and prohibits the government from expelling the applicant to that country, even if the government denies, revokes, or otherwise removes their refugee status. The law also requires the government to give foreigners requesting refugee status or related legal protection access to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
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  • Religious Persecution Occurring in Turkmenistan

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  • 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act

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Many of these brave men and women, members of the Helsinki Monitoring and affiliated Groups in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, and similar groups in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere, Soviet Jewish emigration activists, members of repressed Christian denominations and others, paid a high price in the loss of personal freedom and, in some instances, their lives, for their active support of principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. Pressure by governments through the Helsinki process at various Helsinki fora, thoroughly reviewing compliance with Helsinki commitments and raising issues with Helsinki signatory governments which violated their freely undertaken human rights commitments, helped make it possible for the people of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to regain their freedom and independence. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the OSCE region has changed dramatically. 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    On behalf of Chairman Chris Smith, CSCE Chief of Staff Dorothy Taft addressed Alexandr Nikitin’s personal legal case against the Russian government for his dedication to environmentalism.  Nikitin called speaks of the government’s harassment of grassroots advocates in Russia and their repeated failure to find him guilty in court. Alexandr Nikitin spoke of his prolonged legal case, which was reopened three times, and expressed his desire to help others who find themselves in similar situations with Russian law. He also addressed Russia’s abolishment of the State Committee to Protect the Environment and the overall lack of environmentalism in Russia.

  • Religious Liberty: The Legal Framework in Selected OSCE Countries

    At the briefing, an in-depth study examining the religious liberties laws and constitutional provisions of twelve countries: Austria, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, the United States, and Uzbekistan formally released by the Helsinki Commission was discussed. The project was inspired by the agreement of OSCE participating States to “ensure that their laws, regulations, practices and policies conform with their obligation under international law and are brought into harmony with the provisions of the Declaration on Principles and other OSCE commitments.” Various panelists addressed the issue of governments continuing to impose restrictions on individual religious liberties, despite a prior agreement to curtail anti-religious laws and governmental practices designed to prevent people from practicing or expressing their religious beliefs. Legal specialists from the Law Library of Congress emphasized a “frightening” trend in France to limit an individual’s right to freely express religious views or participate in religious activities, a Greek policy requiring one’s religious affiliation to be listed on government-issued identification cards, and Turkish raids on Protestant groups as examples of the violations of religious liberty that continue to plague these selected OSCE countries.

  • OSCE PA Delegation Trip Report

    Mr. President, I take this opportunity to provide a report to my colleagues on the successful congressional delegate trip last week to St. Petersburg, Russia, to participate in the Eighth Annual Parliamentary Assembly Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, known as the OSCE PA. As Co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I headed the Senate delegation in coordination with the Commission Chairman, Congressman Chris Smith. This year's congressional delegation of 17 members was the largest representation by any country at the proceedings and was welcomed as a demonstration of continued U.S. commitment to security in Europe. Approximately 300 parliamentarians from 52 OSCE participating states took part in this year's meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. My objectives in St. Petersburg were to advance American interests in a region of vital security and economic importance to the United States; to elevate the issues of crime and corruption among the 54 OSCE countries; to develop new linkages for my home state of Colorado; and to identify concrete ways to help American businesses. The three General Committees focused on a central theme: ``Common Security and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.'' I served on the Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment Committee which took up the issue of corruption and its impact on business and the rule of law. I sponsored two amendments that highlighted the importance of combating corruption and organized crime, offering concrete proposals for the establishment of high-level inter-agency mechanisms to fight corruption in each of the OSCE participating states. My amendments also called for the convening of a ministerial meeting to promote cooperation among these states to combat corruption and organized crime. My anti-corruption amendment was based on the premise that corruption has a negative impact on foreign investment, on human rights, on democracy building and on the rule of law. Any investor nation should have the right to expect anti-corruption practices in those countries in which they seek to invest. Significant progress has been made with the ratification of the new OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Under the OECD Convention, companies from the leading exporting nations will have to comply with certain ethical standards in their business dealings with foreign public officials. And, last July, the OSCE and the OECD held a joint conference to assess ways to combat corruption and organized crime within the OSCE region. I believe we must build on this initiative, and offered my amendment to urge the convening of a ministerial meeting with the goal of making specific recommendations to the member states about steps which can be taken to eliminate this primary threat to economic stability and security and major obstacle to U.S. businesses seeking to invest and operate abroad.   My anti-crime amendment was intended to address the negative impact that crime has on our countries and our citizens. Violent crime, international crime, organized crime and drug trafficking all undermine the rule of law, a healthy business climate and democracy building. This amendment was based on my personal experiences as one of the only members of the United States Senate with a law enforcement background and on congressional testimony that we are witnessing an increase in the incidence of international crime, and we are seeing a type of crime which our countries have not dealt with before. During the opening Plenary Session on July 6, we heard from the Governor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Yakolev, about how the use of drugs is on the rise in Russia and how more needs to be done to help our youth. On July 7, I had the opportunity to visit the Russian Police Training Academy at St. Petersburg University and met with General Victor Salnikov, the Chief of the University. I was impressed with the General's accomplishments and how many senior Russian officials are graduates of the university, including the Prime Minister, governors, and members of the Duma. General Salnikov and I discussed the OSCE's work on crime and drugs, and he urged us to act. The General stressed that this affects all of civilized society and all countries must do everything they can to reduce drug trafficking and crime. After committee consideration and adoption of my amendments, I was approached by Senator Jerry Grafstein from Canada who indicated how important it was to elevate the issues of crime and corruption in the OSCE framework. I look forward to working with Senator Grafstein and other parliamentarians on these important issues at future multi-lateral meetings. St. Petersburg is rich in culture and educational resources. This grand city is home to 1,270 public, private and educational libraries; 181 museums of art, nature, history and culture; 106 theaters; 52 palaces; and 417 cultural organizations. Our delegation visit provided an excellent opportunity to explore linkages between some of these resources with the many museums and performing arts centers in Colorado. On Thursday, July 8, I met with Tatyana Kuzmina, the Executive Director for the St. Petersburg Association for International Cooperation, and Natalia Koltomova, Senior Development Officer for the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg. We learned that museums and the orchestras have exchanges in New York, Michigan and California. Ms. Kuzmina was enthusiastic about exploring cultural exchanges with Denver and other communities in Colorado. I look toward to following up with her, the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, and leaders in the Colorado fine arts community to help make such cultural exchanges a reality. As proof that the world is getting smaller all the time, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a group of 20 Coloradans on tour. In fact, there were so many from Grand Junction alone, we could have held a Town Meeting right there in St. Petersburg! In our conversations, it was clear we shared the same impressions of the significant potential that that city has to offer in future linkages with Colorado. I ask unanimous consent that a list of the Coloradans whom I met be printed in the Record following my remarks. In the last Congress, I introduced the International Anti-Corruption Act of 1997 (S. 1200) which would tie U.S. foreign aid to how conducive foreign countries are to American businesses and investment. As I prepare to reintroduce this bill in the 106th Congress and to work on combating crime and corruption within the OSCE framework, I participated in a meeting of U.S. business representatives on Friday, July 9, convened by the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Denver. We were joined by my colleagues, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator George Voinovich and my fellow Coloradan, Congressman Tom Tancredo. We heard first-hand about the challenges of doing business in Russia from representatives of U.S. companies, including Lockheed Martin Astronautics, PepsiCo, the Gillette Company, Coudert Brothers, and Colliers HIB St. Petersburg. Some issues, such as export licensing, counterfeiting and corruption are being addressed in the Senate. But, many issues these companies face are integral to the Russian business culture, such as taxation, the devaluation of the ruble, and lack of infrastructure. My colleagues and I will be following up on ways to assist U.S. businesses and investment abroad. In addition, on Wednesday, July 7, I participated in a meeting at the St. Petersburg Investment Center. The main focus of the meeting was the presentation of a replica of Fort Ross in California, the first Russian outpost in the United States, to the Acting U.S. Consul General on behalf of the Governor of California. We heard from Anatoly Razdoglin and Valentin Makarov of the St. Petersburg Administration; Slava Bychkov, American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, St. Petersburg Chapter; Valentin Mishanov, Russian State Marine Archive; and Vitaly Dozenko, Marine Academy. The discussion ranged from U.S. investment in St. Petersburg and the many redevelopment projects which are planned or underway in the city. As I mentioned, on Wednesday, July 7, I toured the Russia Police Training Academy at St. Petersburg University and met with General Victor Salnikov, the Chief of the University. This facility is the largest organization in Russia which prepares law enforcement officers and is the largest law institute in the country. The University has 35,000 students and 5,000 instructors. Among the law enforcement candidates, approximately 30 percent are women. The Police Training Academy has close contacts with a number of countries, including the U.S., France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Finland, Israel and others. Areas of cooperation include police training, counterfeiting, computer crimes, and programs to combat drug trafficking. I was informed that the Academy did not have a formal working relationship with the National Institute of Justice, the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Justice which operates an extensive international information-sharing program. I intend to call for this bilateral linkage to facilitate collaboration and the exchange of information, research and publications which will benefit law enforcement in both countries fight crime and drugs. In addition to the discussions in the plenary sessions of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, we had the opportunity to raise issues of importance in a special bilateral meeting between the U.S. and Russia delegations on Thursday morning, July 8. Members of our delegation raised issues including anti-Semitism in the Duma, developments in Kosovo, the case of environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin, the assassination of Russian Parliamentarian Galina Starovoitova, and the trafficking of women and children. As the author of the Senate Resolution condemning anti-Semitism in the Duma (S. Con. Res. 19), I took the opportunity of this bilateral session to let the Russian delegation, including the Speaker of the State Duma, know how seriously we in the United States feel about the importance of having a governmental policy against anti-Semitism. We also stressed that anti-Semitic remarks by their Duma members are intolerable. I look forward to working with Senator Helms to move S. Con. Res. 19 through the Foreign Relations Committee to underscore the strong message we delivered to the Russians in St. Petersburg. We had the opportunity to discuss the prevalence of anti-Semitism and the difficulties which minority religious organizations face in Russia at a gathering of approximately 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious leaders and business representatives, hosted by the U.S. Delegation on Friday, July 9. We heard about the restrictions placed on religious freedoms and how helpful many American non-profit organizations are in supporting the NGO's efforts. I am pleased to report that the U.S. Delegation had a significant and positive impact in advancing U.S. interests during the Eighth OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in St. Petersburg. To provide my colleagues with additional information, I ask unanimous consent that my formal report to Majority Leader Lott be printed in the Record following my remarks. Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

    In advance of the 2000 commemoration of the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing to focus on the continuing problem of torture in the OSCE region. In spite of these efforts and the efforts of our Commission, including introducing and working for passage of two bills, the Torture Victims Relief Act and the Reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every OSCE country including the United States. This briefing considered two specific problem areas, Chechnya and Turkey, as well as efforts to prevent torture and to treat torture survivors. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Inge Genefke, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims; Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for  Europe and the Middle East, Amnesty International; and Douglas Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for the Victims of Torture – highlighted statistics about the number of torture victims in Turkey and Chechnya and related violations of individual rights.

  • President Putin's Visit to Moldova

    Mr. Speaker, President Putin of Russia continues to maintain a heavy schedule of international visits. Among the several destinations, he is scheduled to visit Moldova later this week.   The Republic of Moldova is located principally between the Prut River on the west and the Dniestr River to the east, between Romania and Ukraine. A sliver of the country, the `left bank' or `Transdniestria' region, extends beyond the Dniestr River and borders with Ukraine. The 4.3 million population in Moldova is 65 percent ethnic Romanian, with significant Ukrainian and Russian minorities. Gagauz, Bulgarians, Roma, and Jews constitute the bulk of the remainder. While Moldova and Romania were united between World Wars I and II, following seizure by the Soviets in World War II, Moldova became a Soviet `Republic.' When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Moldova gained its independence and is now an internationally-recognized sovereign state, a member of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and a host of other international organizations.   When Moldova became independent, there were approximately 15,000 Soviet troops of the 14th Army based in the Transdniestria region of Moldova. In 1992, elements of these troops helped pro-Soviet elements establish a separatist state in Transdniestria, the so-called Dniestr Moldovan Republic. This state, unrecognized and barely changed from the Soviet era, continues to exist and defy the legitimate authorities of Moldova. Meanwhile, elements of the former Soviet army, now the Russian army, remained in Transdniestria after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Renamed the Operational Group of Forces, they presently number about 2,500. The Moldovan Government has wanted the troops to leave, and the Russians keep saying they are going to leave. The Moldovan and Russian Governments signed an agreement in 1994 according to which Russian forces would withdraw in three years. Obviously, that deadline has passed. Russia was supposed to remove her forces from Moldova as a part of the Council of Europe accession agreement in February 1996. In fact, language in the declaration of the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit insists that Russia remove its military arsenals from Moldova by December 2001 and its forces by December 2002. This latest OSCE language enhances language included in the 1994 Budapest document and the 1996 Lisbon document calling for complete withdrawal of the Russian troops.   Mr. Speaker, there is no legitimate security reason for the Russian Government to continue to base military forces on the territory of a sovereign state that wishes to see them removed. This relatively small contingent of troops is a vestige of the Cold War. I would add also that the United States Government has agreed to help finance some of the moving costs for the Russian equipment. I would hope President Putin will assure his hosts in Moldova that the Russian forces will be removed in accordance with the OSCE deadline, if not earlier.  

  • Helsinki Final Act 25th Anniversary Resolution

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a resolution commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, an international accord whose signing represents a milestone in European history. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, I have been privileged to be associated with the Helsinki process and its seminal role in advancing human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. I am pleased to be joined by my fellow Helsinki Commissioners Representatives Hoyer, Wolf, Cardin, Salmon, Slaughter, Greenwood, Forbes and Pitts as original cosponsors. A companion resolution is being introduced today in the Senate by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.   The Helsinki Final Act and the process it spawned have been instrumental in consigning the Communist Soviet Empire, responsible for untold violations of human rights, into the dustbin of history. With its language on human rights, the Helsinki Final Act, for the first time in the history of international agreements, granted human rights the status of a fundamental principle in regulating international relations. The Final Act's emphasis on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is rooted in the recognition that the declaration of such rights affirms the inherent dignity of men and women and not privileges bestowed at the whim of the state.   Equally important, Mr. Speaker, the standards of Helsinki which served as a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues also provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive communist regimes. Many of these brave men and women, members of the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, and similar groups in Poland and Czechoslovakia, Soviet Jewish emigration activists, members of repressed Christian denominations and others, paid a high price in the loss of personal freedom and, in some instances, their lives, for their active support of principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. Western pressure through the Helsinki process, now advanced in the forum of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, greatly contributed to the freeing of the peoples of the Captive Nations, thus bringing an end to the Cold War.   The Helsinki Commission, on which I have served since 1983, played a significant role in promoting human rights and human contacts. The congressional initiatives such as hearings, resolutions, letters and face-to-face meetings with representatives of Helsinki signatories which violated human rights commitments, encouraged our own government to raise these issues consistently and persistently. The Commission's approach at various Helsinki meetings has always been to encourage a thorough and detailed review of compliance with Helsinki agreements. Specific cases and issues are cited, rather than engaging in broad, philosophical discussions about human rights. With the passage of time, and with the leadership of the United States, this more direct approach in pressing human rights concerns has become the norm. In fact, by 1991 the Helsinki signatory states accepted that human dimension commitments `are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned.'   With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the OSCE region has changed dramatically. In many States, we have witnessed dramatic transformation and a consolidation of the core OSCE values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In others, there has been little if any progress, and in some, armed conflicts have resulted in hundreds of thousands having been killed and in the grotesque violation of human rights. The OSCE, which now includes 54 participating States, has changed to reflect the changed international environment, undertaking a variety of initiatives designed to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict and emphasizing respect for rule of law and the fight against organized crime and corruption, which constitute a threat to economic reform and prosperity. The Helsinki process is still dynamic and active, and the importance of a vigorous review in which countries are called to account for violations of their freely undertaken Helsinki commitments has not diminished.   This resolution calls on the President to issue a proclamation reaffirming the United States' commitment to full implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. All signatory states would be asked to clarify that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles as well as economic liberty, and the implementation of related commitments continue to be vital elements in promoting a new era of democracy, peace and unity in the OSCE region. In the twenty-five years since this historic process was initiated in Helsinki, there have been many successes. Mr. Speaker, the task is still far from complete, and we must continue to do our part in championing the values that Helsinki espouses.

  • The Putin Path: Are Human Rights in Retreat?

    Mr. Speaker, two days ago, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe , which I am honored to chairman, held a hearing entitled “The Putin Path: Are Human Rights in Retreat?” I was pleased to be joined on the dais by my colleagues on the Commission, Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Senator Tim Hutchinson, Ranking House Member Representative Steny Hoyer, and Representative Matt Salmon. As part of the hearing, the Commission had also planned to feature a video-conference with Moscow-based Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky. As Members are aware, Mr. Babitsky was arrested by Russian authorities for allegedly `participating in an armed formation,' as a result of his reporting from besieged Grozny last year. Subsequently, as a civilian, Babitsky was 'exchanged' to Chechen forces in return for certain captured Russian military personnel, and is not permitted to leave Moscow. Unfortunately, technical problems precluded the possibility of the videoconference, but Mr. Babitsky provided a written statement for the hearing record. Mr. Babitsky was recently awarded the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's prize for journalism, and as head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA, I hope that he will be able to attend the award ceremony at the Assembly's annual meeting in Bucharest this July. Tuesday's hearing was one of a series of hearings the Commission has held to examine human rights issues in the States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe . The mandate of the Commission is to monitor and encourage compliance with the provisions of the Helsinki Accords and successive documents of the OSCE. As I have noted on previous occasions, Russia is no longer the dictatorial, closed society that it was during the Soviet period, and certainly there are countries around the world where human rights are in much more perilous straits. I have yet to hear of a working church in Russia being destroyed by bulldozers and wrecking cranes, as was the case last November in Turkmenistan. And we know that in China religious believers of many faiths are thrown in jail for simply desiring to worship without government interference. Indeed, under the administration of President Yeltsin, human rights activists were able to achieve significant gains in making respect for human rights, if not a standard, at least a consideration in public policy. There is growing concern, however, that Russia's development in the area of human rights is taking a turn for the worse under recently-elected President Vladimir Putin. The testimony of Igor Malashenko, First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Media-Most and President of NTV, summarized how their offices were the target of the infamous raid by government agents on May 11. Mr. Malashenko described how the agents carted away documents, tapes, computer discs and equipment, and subsequently issued `contradictory and unsatisfactory justifications' for this raid. Moreover, he provided extensive information on several other less-publicized examples of violence and intimidation toward media outlets and journalists throughout Russia. General William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, and a man of exceptional expertise in things Soviet and Russian, noted that Russia is a `weak state' and suffers from a lack of institutions capable of providing the level of civil society and economic development that we had hoped would follow after the collapse of the Soviet Union. General Odom also suggested that the United States should not treat Russia as a major power, or think that much of Russia's internal problems can be solved by 'ventriloquism' from the West. Professor Georgi Derluguian of Northwestern University asserted that President Putin is the product of the KGB network that survived the collapse of the Soviet Union. In order to seek a distraction from the Chechen quagmire, suggested Professor Derluguian, Putin will most likely launch a massive anti-crime campaign. I would note that when Yuri Andropov and his KGB began to assume power in the twilight of the Brezhnev regime, part of the crackdown on political dissent at that time was under the guise of cracking down on corruption. Ms. Rachel Denber, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, testified that in Grozny, “the graffiti on the walls reads 'Welcome to Hell Part Two.' The bombing campaign has turned many parts of Chechnya into a wasteland even the most experienced war reporters that we have spoken to have told us they have never seen anything in their careers like the destruction of the capital Grozny.” Ms. Denber also described summary executions of civilians, including the death of three generations of one family shot to death in the yard of their own home. One of the brighter aspects of civil society under President Yeltsin was the expansion of NGO activity. However, Professor Sarah Mendelson of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy and Law at Tufts University noted that there is in Russia today “an atmosphere that is hostile to civil rights activists, and in fact, anyone with opinions that differ from the Kremlin's.” While “the treatment of Andrei Babitsky in January and February was shocking and disturbing, and the FSB raid on MediaMost in May was brazen,” she testified, this is “part of a larger pattern of harassment that has grown steadily worse over the last year and a half.” In this connection, I would like to point out another proposal made by Professor Mendelson in her testimony. She suggested that President Clinton, while in Moscow next month at the Summit with President Putin, should meet with activists who are promoting human rights and democracy in Russia today. This gesture, she notes, “would send a signal not only to those in Russia who care about democracy but to those in Russia who do not.” I believe this idea is right on target. In fact, Mr. Hoyer and I have written to the President noting that this year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Accords. We have encouraged the President to meet with the surviving veterans of the Soviet-era human rights struggle, and with their contemporary colleagues, in both Moscow and in Kyiv, where the President plans to meet with President Kuchma following his Moscow visit. I hope that President Clinton will take this advice, as I believe such a gesture would give new impetus to the struggle for human rights and democracy in two pivotal nations of the international community. In closing, I would call attention to a resolution to be introduced by our colleague Mr. Lantos and House International Affairs Committee Chairman Ben Gilman, regarding the issue of free media in Russia. I am pleased to join as an original cosponsor of this resolution, which among other provisions, calls upon the President, the Secretary of State, and other officials and agencies of the United States Government to emphasize to Russian government officials our concern and preoccupation that official pressures against the independent media are incompatible with democratic norms. I am pleased to co-sponsor this resolution, I hope my colleagues will join us, and I hope that President Clinton will heed this call when he meets with President Putin in Moscow next month.  

  • The Putin Path: Are Human Rights in Retreat?

    This hearing, held on the eve of President Clinton’s first summit meeting with Russia’s recently elected President, Vladimir Putin, provided a timely opportunity to assess bilateral relations between the United States and the Russian Federation, as well as domestic developments. Russia has multi-candidate presidential elections, with viable candidates, unlike the Central Asian states where presidents do not tolerate serious challengers. Nevertheless, this hearing examined how reliable are multi-candidate elections as a gauge of democratic development when the media is intimidated by government pressure and raids.

  • Expressing Condemnation of Continuing Human Rights Violation of Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the gentleman from Connecticut (Mr. Gejdenson) and the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) for their leadership in constructing this resolution condemning violations of human rights and the erosion of democracy in Belarus in calling upon the Lukashenka regime to restore the constitutional rights of the Belarusian people and on the Russian Federation to respect the sovereignty of Belarus. In March, Mr. Speaker, I chaired a second Helsinki Commission hearing on Belarus which addressed many of the issues that are very importantly highlighted in this resolution. The hearing featured key leaders of Belarus's opposition, including Semyon Sharetsky and two leading State Department officials as well as the person in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Adrian Severin, who was attempting to forge dialogue between the Belarusian authorities and the opposition. This hearing was a follow-up to our April 1999 hearing on Belarus. In the last year our commission has made repeated and consistent intercessions, including through the OSCE, to draw attention to the deplorable situation in Belarus and to encourage the establishment of a democracy there. As my friend and colleague from Connecticut just pointed out, there are the allegations, and they would seem to be real, that have been in some of the newspapers, including the London Sunday Telegraph about the Russians brokering an arms deal to rebuild the Iraqi air defenses using the Belarusians as the conduit. The Telegraph reported that Beltechexport, the State-owned Belarusian military hardware company, has agreed to upgrade Iraqi's air defense systems to reequip the Iraqi Air Force and to provide air defense training for Iraqi troops. The deal is estimated to be worth about $90 million. It was signed in the middle of April, or last February, I should say, during a visit to Baghdad by high-ranking Belarusians. It also points out, the article, that Belarusian officials have agreed to undertake a detailed overhaul of 17 Soviet-made Iraqi war planes which had been in Belarus since the late 1980s. Again, Mr. Speaker, this directly puts our pilots at risk who are trying to enforce the no-fly zone, and I think this resolution again gets this Congress focused on the egregious human rights situation and also the military implications of the Belarusian regime. Mr. Pallone: Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this Resolution, of which I am proud to be an original co-sponsor. I would like to praise the sponsor, the Gentleman from Connecticut, Mr. Gejdenson, for introducing this Resolution, and to thank both the Ranking Member and the Chairman of the International Relations Committee, Mr. Gilman, for bringing the Resolution to the Floor of the House so quickly. Mr. Speaker, while there have been many success stories among the new independent states of the former Soviet Union and the other former Warsaw Pact nations, Belarus has not been one of them. Over nearly a decade of independence, the promise of democracy, freedom of expression and association, and a new flowering of a national identity have not come to pass for the Belarusian people. The fault for this sad state of affairs rests with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The President has illegally extended his term of office beyond the legally mandated expiration date. Throughout his tenure, President Lukashenka has monopolized the mass media, undermined the constitutional foundation for the separation of powers, used intimidation and strong-arm tactics against the political opposition, suppressed freedom of the press and expression, defamed the national culture, maligned the national language and eroded Belarus's rightful position as a sovereign nation. Apart from the daily deprivations and indignities that the Belarusian people must endure, perhaps the saddest outcome of Mr. Lukashenka's rule is that his efforts have created the impression, a false one, that Belarus really has no distinct national culture or character. Nothing could be further from the truth. But the formation of the Union State between Russia and Belarus only serves to further perpetuate this false impression. While the tragic reality is that Belarus has been dominated politically for centuries by Russia, the fact remains that Belarus has its own national symbols and a distinct language. It's no coincidence that authoritarian President Lukashenka has targeted such national symbols as the nation's flag and coat of arms. As part of this campaign, Lukashenka's regime has ordered that schools go back to using Soviet-Russian textbooks, while the Russian language has been made the official language of the Belarusian Parliament in Minsk. Lukashenka's strategy has been to create conditions to justify the claim that history, language and culture inevitably tie the two countries together. The Belarusian language endures to this day as a key to national survival, both for the people living in the Republic of Belarus and among the Belarusian diaspora in the U.S. and elsewhere. There are centuries-old legal documents and religious texts written in the Belarusian language, as well as modern literary and historic works. Despite Lukashenka's repression, the cause of Belarusian nationalism still burns in the heart of the Belarusian people, with the Belarusian language the means of expressing it. Failure to acknowledge the harm done to Belarusian culture and national singularity by the Russian-Belarus merger can only give comfort to Lukashenka and the Russian-Soviet irredentists. Mr. Speaker, the negligence and mismanagement of Mr. Lukashenka's regime has also put at risk the nation's environment and the health of the people. Just last week, former Belarusian President Stanislau Shushkevich spoke at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL) Washington office on the occasion of the 14th anniversary of the Chernobol nuclear disaster in neighboring Ukraine. More than 70 percent of the radioactive fallout from the world's worst nuclear accident fell on Belarusian territory. While there is plenty of blame to go around for mishandling of this disaster, among Soviet officials, and post-Soviet officials in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, President Lukashenka exacerbates the problems by insisting that all aid to Chernobol victims pass through his hands. These funds often are diverted to other uses. Fortunately, some Western NGOs and religious organizations have bypassed Lukashenka to get aid to the people who really need it. Also last week, RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine denounced efforts by the Belarusian KGB to intimidate journalists from that organization working in Belarus. Mr. Dine's statement came in response to the threats against Yahor Mayorchyk, a reporter for the news service funded by this Congress to provide objective information to people from the region. A KGB officer told Mr. Mayorchyk that the `same thing will happen to you as to Babitsky,' a reference to RFE/RL journalist Andrei Babitsky who was arrested for his coverage of the war in Chechnya and faces trumped-up charges in Moscow. Mr. Speaker, the abuses of the Lukashenka regime have been a source of concern for at least the past four years. In 1996, I introduced a Resolution expressing concern over the Lukashenka regime's violations of human and civil rights in direct violation of the Helsinki accords and the constitution of Belarus, and expressing concern about the union between Russia and Belarus. That Resolution also recognized March 25 as the anniversary of the declaration of an independent Belarusian state. A year later, I worked with leaders of the International Relations Committee to include language in the State Department Authorization bill, which passed the House, calling for our President to press the Government of President Lukashenka on defending the sovereignty of Belarus and guaranteeing basic freedoms and human rights. For years now, the Belarusian-American community has been trying to inform the American people about the truth in Belarus that President Lukashenka's actions do not have widespread support and his regime has lost any sense of legitimacy it once may have had. I want to thank the Belarusian-American community in New Jersey and throughout the nation for continuing to speak the truth about events in the land of their ancestors. Obviously, President Lukashenka has not been moved by these expressions of concern by the United States and the international community. But we must not give up. We should go on record condemning the abuses that have taken place, and continue to take place in Belarus. We must urge our President and State Department to keep the pressure on President Lukashenka, and also Russian President Vladimir Putin. For these and many other reasons, I urge my colleagues to support passage of this Resolution.

  • The Deterioration of Freedom of the Media in OSCE Countries

    The stated purpose of this hearing, presided over by Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ-04) was to draw attention to the deteriorating status of free speech and press throughout the OSCE region, raise alarm about this deterioration, and call upon OSCE participating states to recommit themselves to these freedoms. Such an impetus was drawn from how members of the press were mistreated in foreign countries. For example, 34 journalists were killed in the OSCE region in the year of 1999.

  • Anti-Democratic Actions in Belarus

    Mr. President, I rise to speak today about the dramatically deteriorating situation in Belarus. As of Sunday, March 26, more than 100 opposition activists remained in custody after a rally on Saturday that turned from a peaceful event into a demonstration that saw police clubbing protesters with nightsticks, hitting journalists covering the event and sending armored cars into Central Minsk. More than 500 people were detained, most of whom were not formally charged until Monday. This is only one of the examples of how, in Belarus, the Lukashenka regime continues to try to suppress the will of the people. In November, Senator Campbell and I introduced a resolution condemning the Lukashenka regime and its actions towards the country. The sad reality is that Belarus is being left behind while the rest of Europe is building a foundation of democratic governance, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. Since 1996, President Lukashenka has been responsible for numerous unconstitutional steps. He unilaterally extended his term until 2001 after he promised to hold democratic elections in 1999. He replaced the 13th Supreme Soviet with a rubberstamp parliament and he rewrote the country's constitution. Belarus has turned into a country where those who choose to participate in civil society by speaking truth to power must do so at great risk to their freedom, and even their lives, under Lukashenka's rule. Two prominent opposition figures, General Yuri Zakharenko and Viktor Gonchar, as well as another associate, Anatoly Krasovsky, have disappeared. Many of the people arrested on March 25 as well as other peaceful protesters were members of the opposition. Belarus' economy is apparently imploding and neighboring countries, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, are concerned about regional instability. Our resolution condemns the arrest of opposition figures and the disappearance of others; calls for a dialogue between Lukashenka and the opposition; calls for the restoration of a democratically-elected government and democratic institutions; calls on the U.S. President to fund travel by Belarusian opposition figures and non-governmental organizations in Belarus; and supports information flows into Belarus. Belarus is not making progress. We must do what we can to sustain the remarkable progress of the other countries that have transformed themselves into fully democratic market democracies, and encourage the development of a democracy in Belarus. Mr. Campbell: Mr. President, on March 25, Belarusian authorities harshly suppressed a pro-democracy demonstration in the capital of Minsk, arresting and detaining hundreds of peaceful protestors, including nearly 30 domestic and foreign journalists. Riot police, deployed with dogs and armored personnel carriers, used excessive force against some peaceful demonstrators. Among those detained and beaten was democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedka, Deputy Chairman of the 13th Supreme Soviet. Many of my Senate colleagues met Mr. Lebedka last September when I introduced him right here on the Senate floor. Mr. Lebedka was just in Washington earlier this month to testify at a Helsinki Commission hearing about the deteriorating situation in Belarus. Based on information I obtained from the State Department, I am advised that Anatoly Lebedka was arrested by plainclothes police during the demonstration, kept in detention, and reportedly beaten over the course of two days. He spent most of Monday in a police van outside the courthouse awaiting trial, but was released at 5:00 p.m. His trial has been scheduled for April 4. Mr. President, the harsh overreaction by the authorities to this peaceful demonstration represents a clear violation of the freedom of association, assembly, and information guaranteed both by the Belarusian constitution and OSCE agreements. In addition, the Belarusian authorities detained a U.S. citizen who is an accredited diplomat and a member of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, and who was observing the demonstration in line with his official responsibilities. This action also violates international conventions. It appears that the green light for the most recent crackdown was given by Belarusian President Lukashenka, who praised the police for their actions. Reports indicate that earlier this month, he cautioned that the riot police will “beat the stuffing out” of any protestor who “gets out of line.” Unfortunately, the suppression by the Belarusian authorities of peaceful protest, along with the sentencing last week of a prominent member of the opposition, does nothing to encourage a constructive dialogue with the democratic opposition that can lead Belarus out of its continuing constitutional impasse and end its self-imposed international isolation. Mr. President, I call upon the Government of Belarus to thoroughly investigate reports of police brutality during the course of the demonstration and subsequent detentions and take measures to ensure that citizens are guaranteed their rights to engage in peaceful protests, keeping with that country's OSCE commitments. I was pleased to join Senator Durbin as an original cosponsor to Senate Concurrent Resolution 75 which we introduced last November. That resolution summarized many of the political problems facing the democratic opposition in Belarus expressing strong opposition to the continued egregious violations of human rights, the lack of progress toward the establishment of democracy and the rule of law in Belarus, and calls on President Lukashenka to engage in negotiations with the representatives of the opposition and to restore the constitutional rights of the Belarusian people. In light of the recent violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators last weekend, I urge my colleagues to support passage of the Durbin/Campbell resolution. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a news report from the Washington Post on this latest crackdown 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, Mar. 26, 2000] Belarus Police Crack Down on Protest Minsk, Belarus.: “Hundreds of police beat back thousands of protesters at an opposition rally, sending armored personnel carriers into central Minsk and detaining 400 people in one of the country's harshest crackdowns on dissent in recent years. The rally was held to commemorate the founding of the Belarusian Popular Republic on March 25, 1918, when German forces were ousted from Minsk in the waning days of World War I. The independent state was short-lived and within a year, much of Belarus was part of the Soviet Union. Belarus' hardline government had said it would allow the rally to be held on the outskirts of Minsk, but several thousand demonstrators went instead to a central square in the capital.”

  • The Impact of Organized Crime and Corruption On Democratic and Economic Reform

    Commissioners Christopher Smith and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, along with others, discussed just how detrimental organized crime and corruption are on society. More specifically, organized crime negatively impact democracy’s expansion, the promotion of civil society, and security in the OSCE region, as well as economic development, particularly in southeast Europe and Central Asia. This is relevant to the United States because it has a strategic interest in promoting democratic reform and stability in the former U.S.S.R. and Central Asia. Countries in this region assist U.S. businesses exploring market opportunities, and the U.S. provides a good bit of bilateral assistance to these countries. The Helsinki Commission has pressed for greater OSCE involvement in efforts to combat corruption.

  • The Ordeal of Andrei Babitsky

    Mr. Speaker, a small bit of good news has emerged from the tortured region of Chechnya, where the Russian military is killing, looting, and terrorizing the population under the guise of an “anti-terrorism operation.” Andrei Babitsky, the Radio Liberty correspondent who had disappeared in Chechnya in early February after Russian authorities had “exchanged” him to unknown persons in return for some Russian prisoners of war, has emerged in Dagestan and is now in Moscow recuperating from his ordeal. Mr. Babitsky's courageous reporting from the besieged city of Grozny had infuriated Russian military authorities, and he was arrested in mid-January and charged with “participating in an unlawful armed formation.” Prior to his release, Mr. Babitsky had spent time in the notorious Chernokozovo “filtration” camp where the Russian military has been detaining and torturing Chechens suspected of aiding the resistance. Following his arrival in Moscow, Mr. Babitsky provided a harrowing account of his incarceration at the Chernokozovo prison, and especially the savage treatment of his fellow prisoners. It is another graphic reminder that for all the fine words and denials coming out of Moscow, the Russian military has been conducting a brutal business that makes a mockery of the Geneva Conventions and the code of military conduct stipulated in the 1994 Budapest Document of the OSCE. Mr. Speaker, last month President Clinton stated that Russia's Acting President Putin is a man the United States “can do business with.” With this in mind, I would suggest for the Record excerpts from Mr. Babitsky's interview with an NTV reporter in Russia. If Mr. Putin is aware of the state of affairs at Chernokozovo and condoning it, I would submit that our business with Mr. Putin should be extremely limited. If he is not aware of the truth, then his authority over Russia is a chimera, and we might better deal with the real rulers of Russia. Babitsky's statement follows: [From Hero of the Day NTV Program, 7:40 p.m., Feb. 29, 2000] INTERVIEW WITH RADIO LIBERTY CORRESPONDENT ANDREI BABITSKY Babitsky: On the 16th I tried to leave the city of Grozny through the settlement of Staraya Sunzha, a suburb of Grozny which at the time was divided into two parts. One part was controlled by federal troops and the other by the Chechen home guard. I entered the territory controlled by the federals and it was there that I was recognized. I was identified as a journalist, I immediately presented my documents. All the subsequent claims that I was detained as a person who had to be identified are not quite clear to me. I had my passports with me, my accreditation card of a foreign correspondent. Then I was taken to Khankala. Not what journalists who had covered the first war regarded as Khankala, but to an open field. There was an encampment there consisting of trucks used as their office by army intelligence officers. Two of my cassettes that I had filmed in Grozny were taken from me. They contained unique frames. I think those were the last video pictures ever taken by anyone before Grozny was stormed. Those, again, were pictures of thousands of peaceful civilians many of whom, as we now know, were killed by federal artillery shells. I spent two nights in Khankala, in the so-called Avtozak, a truck converted into a prison cell. On the third day I was taken to what the Chechens call a filtration center, the preliminary detention center in Chernokozovo. I believe I am the only journalist of those who covered the first and the second Chechen wars who has seen a filtration center from the inside. I must say that all these horrors that we have heard from Chechens who had been there have been confirmed. Everything that we read about concentration camps of the Stalin period, all that we know about the German camps, all this is present there. The first three days that I spent there, that was the 18th, 19th and the 20th, beatings continued round the clock. I never thought that I would hear such a diversity of expressions of human pain. These were not just screams, these were screams of every possible tonality and depth, these were screams of most diverse pain. Different types of beatings cause a different reaction. Q. Are you saying that you got this treatment? A. No, that was the treatment meted out to others. I was fortunate, it was established at once that I am a journalist, true, nobody knew what type of journalist I was. Everybody there were surprised that a journalist happened to be there. In principle, the people there cannot be described as intellectuals. They decided that there was nothing special about this, that such things do happen in a war. As a journalist I was “registered”, as they say, only once. They have this procedure there. When a new detainee is being taken from his cell to the investigator he is made to crawl all the way under a rain of blows with rubber sticks. It hurts but one can survive it. This is a light treatment as compared with the tortures to which Chechens are subjected day and night, those who are suspected of collaborating with the illegal armed formations. There are also cases when some testimony is beaten out of detainees. Q. What is the prison population there? A. In my opinion ..... I was in cell No. 17 during the first three days. In that cell there were 13 inhabitants of the village Aberdykel (sp.--FNS). Most of them were young. Judging by their stories, I am not an investigator and I could not collect a sufficiently full database, but in such an atmosphere one very rarely doubts the veracity of what you are told. Mostly these were young men who had nothing to do with the war. They were really common folk. They were treating everything happening around them as a calamity but they were not taking any sides. They were simply waiting for this calamity to pass either in this direction or that direction. Beatings as a method of getting testimony. This is something that, unfortunately, is very well known in Russian and not only Russian history and tradition. But I must say that apart from everything, in my opinion, in all this torture, as it seemed to me, a large part is due to sheer sadism. In other words, an absolutely unwarranted torturing of people. For instance, I heard ..... You know, you really can't see this because all this happens outside of your cell. But the type of screams leaves no doubt about what is happening. You know this painful reaction. For two hours a woman was tortured on the 20th or the 19th. She was tortured; I have no other word to explain what was happening. That was not hysteria. I am not a medic but I believe that we all know what hysteria is. There were screams indicting that a person was experiencing unbearable pain, and for a long period of time.

  • Belarus at the Crossroads

    The hearing will examine Belarus’ track record with respect to human rights and democracy. Recent elections have severely damaged the democratic development of Belarus as Alyaksandr Lukashenka remains in power, well beyond the legal term limit. The hearing will look at the processes the United States and the OSCE set in place to enable Belarus towards a more democratic regime.

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