Title

Helsinki Commission Chairman Condemns Mob Attacks on Roma in Europe

Friday, April 12, 2019

WASHINGTON—Following reports of a mob attack against the Roma community and a police station in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) today issued the following statement:

“I am very disturbed by the increasing frequency of mob attacks on Roma in Europe—most recently in Bulgaria, but also in Italy, France, and the Czech Republic. Governments must do more to counter the corrosive effects of hate-mongering and protect their most vulnerable communities from bias-motivated crimes.

“The violence in Bulgaria is particularly concerning. As they say in the horror movies, ‘the call is coming from inside your house.’ An attack on a government institution like a police station is an attack on democracy itself.”

Reports indicate that earlier this week, an anti-Roma group attacked the police station in Gabrovo when officers refused to turn over three Roma to the mob following an altercation at a local shop. Some Romaní homes were subsequently destroyed.

The attack comes on the heels of recent anti-Roma rhetoric at the highest levels of the Government of Bulgaria. In February, Bulgarian Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Krasimir Karakachanov proposed offering free abortions to limit the Roma birthrate.

In early April, a mob attacked 70 Roma, including children, in a suburb of Rome, Italy. Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the attack.  Similar attacks on Roma in the town of Dvorec in the Czech Republic forced a Romani family to leave the area. Three Romani children were subsequently attacked in the Czech village of Lipník nad Bečvou.

In France in late March, false kidnapping accusations against Roma circulated on social media were associated with gang attacks on Roma in France. Local police issued statements to quell the disinformation. 

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Leadership: 
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Iraqi refugees entering Turkey are not permitted to reside in Ankara or Istanbul – where they may have relatives or access to an established Iraqi community – but are directed to a number of “satellite cities” in different locations throughout Turkey. In most instances, there is no Iraqi community or support system in these remote locations, making resettlement, access to services, and integration into the local community extremely difficult for the refugees. The Turkish government has accepted in principle the establishment of seven ‘Reception Centers,’ to provide services to refugees from Iraq – planned in or near the satellite cities to which they are currently directed. These centers would be co-financed with the European Commission (EC). The EC would pay 75 percent of the project and the Turkish government would pay the remaining 25 percent. However, the day-to-day oversight and financial obligations would fall to the Turkish government. 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    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law U.S. Embassy in Athens Organizes Conference on Romani Issues On February 29, Helsinki Commission staff participated in a conference on Romani issues organized by the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece, primarily for human rights officers from U.S. Embassies in Europe. The conference was designed to improve understanding of Romani minority concerns, and to allow human rights officers to share information and ideas related to their congressionally mandated human rights reporting obligations. The conference underscored the strong interest of the United States in the situation of Romani minority communities throughout the OSCE region and provided a useful opportunity for human rights officers to improve their knowledge of this minority group’s history and experiences. Roma now constitute the largest ethnic minority in the European Union. The conference was opened by the United States Ambassador to Greece, Daniel Speckhard. Andrzej Mirga, the senior advisor for Romani issues with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (Warsaw) and Helsinki Commission staff served as speakers during the morning session. Panayote Dimitras of the Greek Helsinki Monitor spoke during a working lunch. In the afternoon, Embassy officials from various posts led “best practices” discussion groups – although it proved more difficult to identify such practices than one might have hoped. Commission Staff Visit Romani Shanty Towns On the margins of the conference, Commission staff held meetings on Romani issues with representatives of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Division for International Human Rights, Refugees, and Immigration; the Ombudsman for Human Rights; the Ministry of Interior; and the Ministry of Education. In addition, staff visited several Romani shanty towns in the Athens region, including the infamous Aspropyrgos camp. Greece does not recognize any groups as “minorities” other than those few formally recognized under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne (primarily the Muslims of Western Thrace). Accordingly, Roma are not considered an ethnic minority but a “socially vulnerable group.” It is estimated that there are roughly 150,000-300,000 Roma in Greece, out of a population of 11-million-plus. This population largely consists of indigenous Greek Roma, but also includes some Roma who have migrated from Albania in recent years. Greece does not count people according to ethnic affiliation or identity on its national census. Roma in Greece face problems similar to those faced by Roma in other countries. In recent years, Romani plaintiffs have successfully brought cases against Greece before the European Court of Human Rights, including for ill-treatment or excessive use of force by the police. Non-governmental organizations have also been particularly concerned by the deplorable conditions in some Romani shanty towns and the lack of equal access to education and the ability of Roma to obtain documents. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has also expressed concern about forced evictions of Roma. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin and Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter participated in a Helsinki Commission delegation to Greece in early 1998, and met with (among others) Romani representatives. Greece Slated to Serve as OSCE Chair Greece is slated to serve as Chair of the OSCE in 2009; Kazakhstan has been selected to serve in that position in 2010. Finland serves as the current OSCE Chair-in-Office. At his inaugural address to the OSCE Permanent Council in January, Finnish Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva stated, “More can be done also to fight discrimination against Roma and Sinti. I count on all participating States to renew their commitment to implementing the recommendations in the OSCE Action Plan of 2003.” Finland plans to schedule one of this year’s three Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings on Romani human rights issues.

  • 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 (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

  • Torture

    Madam President, as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I chaired a field hearing this week at the University of Maryland College Park campus. The title of that hearing was “Is It Torture Yet?”, the same question I was left with after Attorney General Michael Mukasey's nomination hearings.  The day of the hearings was also International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights nearly 60 years ago. The historic document declares, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” In the Helsinki process, the United States has joined with 55 other participating States to condemn torture. I want to quote one particular provision, because it speaks with such singular clarity. In 1989, in the Vienna Concluding Document, the United States, along with the Soviet Union and all of 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.” This is the standard, with no exceptions or loopholes, which the United States is obligated to uphold.  I deeply regret that six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration, we find it necessary to hold a hearing on torture and, more to the point, I regret that the United States' own policies and practices must be a focus of our consideration.  As a member of the Helsinki Commission, I have long been concerned about the persistence of torture and other forms of abuse in the OSCE region. For example, I am troubled by the pattern of torture in Uzbekistan, a country to which the United States has extradited terror suspects. Radio Free Europe reported that in November alone two individuals died while in the custody of the state. When their bodies were returned to their families, they bore the markings of torture. And, as our hearing began, we were notified that a third individual had died under the same circumstances.  Torture remains a serious problem in a number of OSCE countries, particularly in the Russian region of Chechnya. If the United States is to address these issues credibly, we must get our own house in order.  Unfortunately, U.S. leadership in opposition to torture and other forms of ill-treatment has been undermined by revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere. When Secretary of State Rice met with leading human rights activists in Moscow in October, she was made aware that the American forces' conduct at Abu Ghraib has damaged the United States' credibility on human rights.  As horrific as the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib were, our Government's own legal memos on torture may be even more damaging, because they reflect a policy to condone torture and immunize those who may have committed torture.  In this regard, I was deeply disappointed by the unwillingness of Attorney General Mukasey to state clearly and unequivocally that waterboarding is torture. I chaired part of the Attorney General's Judiciary confirmation hearing and found his responses to torture-related questions woefully inadequate. On November 14, I participated in another Judiciary Committee hearing at which an El Salvadoran torture survivor testified. This medical doctor, who can no longer practice surgery because of the torture inflicted upon him, wanted to make one thing very clear: as someone who had been the victim of what his torturers called “the bucket treatment,” he said, waterboarding is torture.  This week, this issue came up again, this time at the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on Guantanamo. One of the witnesses was BG Thomas Hartman, who was specifically asked whether evidence obtained by waterboarding was admissible in Guantanamo legal proceedings. Like Judge Mukasey, he would not directly answer that question. Nor would he respond directly when asked if a circumstance arose, hypothetically, whether waterboarding by Iranians of a U.S. airman shot down over Iran would be legal according to the Geneva Conventions. In fact, the Geneva Conventions prohibit the use of any coercive interrogation methods to obtain information from a Prisoner of War. I am deeply concerned that the administration's efforts to avoid calling waterboarding what it is, torture, is undermining the interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, which we have relied upon for decades to protect our own service men and women.  The destruction of tapes by the CIA showing the interrogation of terror suspects raises a host of additional concerns. First, these tapes may have documented the use of methods that may very well have violated U.S. law. Second, the tapes may have been destroyed in violation of court orders to preserve exactly these sorts of materials. If the administration is willing to destroy evidence in violation of a valid court order, we have a serious rule-of-law problem. Finally, it is profoundly disturbing that materials formally and explicitly sought by the 9/11 Commission, mandated to investigate one of the worst attacks on American soil in the history of our country, were not turned over by the CIA. The destruction of the CIA tapes should be carefully investigated.  Mr. President, the Congress must act to ensure that abuses by U.S. Government personnel are not committed on the false theory that this somehow makes our country safer.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region Part 2

    Freedom of media is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and recognized as such under international human rights law and in numerous OSCE commitments.  Moreover, a free and independent media is not only an essential tool for holding governments accountable; the media can serve as an agent of change when it shines a light into the darkest crevices of the world (examining environmental degradation, corporate or government corruption, trafficking in children, and healthcare crises in the world's most vulnerable countries, etc.) Freedom of the media is closely connected to the broader right to freedom of speech and expression and other issues including public access to information and the conditions necessary for free and fair elections.  The hearing will attempt to illustrate the degree in which freedom of the media is obstructed in the greater OSCE region.

  • Continuing the Fight: Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims

    By Mischa Thompson, PhD, Staff Advisor The Cordoba conference was the first OSCE event to solely focus on the experiences of intolerance and discrimination against Muslim communities within the OSCE. Despite concerns that the conference took place during Ramadan and was primarily planned by the Spanish Chair-in-Office (CiO), the event offered an important forum for highlighting and addressing a range of concerns from both OSCE Participating States and the Muslim community. While questions of what form OSCE follow-up efforts will take remain, the need for such a conference was underscored by the multitude of concerns raised at the conference as well as current events highlighting existing tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities within and between OSCE Participating States. With estimates of 20 million Muslims in Western Europe and 14-23 million Muslims in Russia, Muslims are often cited as the largest religious minority in Europe and Islam as the fastest growing religion. Spain, in particular is experiencing an unprecedented growth in its immigrant population with the majority being Muslims. While Muslim communities’ experiences of prejudice and discrimination within many parts of the OSCE are not new, following the terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, and the United States, many participating States have increased their focus on the Muslim community amidst security and immigration concerns. In this context, the conference was planned by the Spanish CiO to address the historical and contemporary causes and consequences of intolerance against Muslims and the use of media, education, and other strategies to address the problem. In particular, five themes dominated the discussions: “Islamophobia”: Participants were concerned by the use of the term Islamophobia, which currently describes attitudes and behaviours ranging from hate crimes to housing discrimination and has led to unclear and inconsistent use. Several participants noted that the term leads all problems experienced by Muslims to be viewed as religious based, when race, culture, and socio-economic factors have also been cited as reasons for tensions and problems. Notably, the Holy See cautioned against only religious approaches and argued for increased attention on migration and culture. Gender equality: Participants raised concerns that gender equality issues were often confined to discussions about forced marriages, honor killings, and head scarves and other dress, while ignoring everyday experiences of discrimination, for example in employment. It was suggested that Muslim women were often politicized to exacerbate differences between Muslims and others, but often did not actually address the realities of Muslim women or serve to benefit them. Integration: Many Participating States highlighted changes to or the creation of integration policies and programs to address concerns voiced by Muslim communities. Several civil society groups noted that some of these efforts did not address: 1) the issues of xenophobia and racism exhibited by hate crimes and employment and housing discrimination that target even ‘integrated’ immigrants – i.e., those who are citizens, speak the language, hold college degrees, etc. and 2) that some of these policies were inherently discriminatory in that they only applied to Muslims and not other migrant populations. It was stressed that integration and discrimination policies be discussed together and that Muslim populations be able to participate in the decision-making process of the development of these policies in some capacity. Stereotypes: Concerns surrounding monolithic image of Muslims, such as all women wearing head scarves and all men being terrorist were highlighted. Mechanisms for addressing these stereotypes included ensuring that school textbooks accurately reflect the history of migration and Islam and Muslims in the world, especially in cases where religion is taught in schools. ‘Cultural competence’ and other diversity or sensitivity training for teachers and media was suggested. Several speakers suggested that aims to utilize “moderate Muslims” for public platforms had the potential to backfire by not being seen by Muslims as ‘true representatives’ and also serving to reinforce a non-existent, yet stereotypical dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Islam. Hate Speech: The need to strike a balance between protecting freedom of speech and the protection of vulnerable groups and individuals was discussed. Despite calls for defamation of religion laws, it was generally recommended that publicly speaking out and unequivocally condemning intolerant speech, not legislating against it, was the best response. Self-regulation, codes of conduct, internet monitoring and training for the media and other sectors of society, including the positive involvement of political leaders, was discussed as a means to best counter hate speech. The Conference ended with a declaration drafted by the Spanish CiO, which: reaffirmed that racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, discrimination against Christians, and discrimination against Muslims, are against the core OSCE commitments, offered support for the three Personal Representatives, and, called upon the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to strengthen the work of its Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Program on intolerance and discrimination against Muslims. The conference was preceded by a one-day Civil Society Preparatory Meeting hosted by the Spanish CiO with the goal of providing NGOs with an opportunity to prepare recommendations to be presented to the Cordoba conference. Of great concern were allegations that the Spanish CiO attempted to restrict the participation of NGOs in the preparatory meeting and at the Cordoba conference at a time when human rights defenders have increasingly been under attack within the OSCE. Generally, because there was such interest by participating States to speak during the opening sessions of the conference, there was little time to adequately discuss solutions to many of the issues on the Cordoba Conference agenda. While this suggests the need for a follow-up OSCE conference as proposed by the OSCE Mediterranean Partner, Algeria, few participating States explicitly outlined whether and how the OSCE should implement efforts discussed at the conference. Further consideration should therefore be given for ways to ensure the expeditious implementation of mechanisms that combat intolerance towards Muslims within the OSCE. This assertion was underscored one week later at a University of Michigan conference entitled, “Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend” where Muslim and non-Muslim scholars from around the world addressed the global security implications and human rights concerns associated with not successfully combating prejudice and discrimination against Muslims and mischaracterizations of Islam.

  • Introducing Legislation to Honor Theodor Criveanu for Saving Romanian Jews During the Holocaust

    Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to introduce legislation with my colleagues and friends Representatives Dan Burton, Chris Smith, andLinda Sanchez that will properly recognize the selfless efforts to save innocent lives during the Holocaust of Theodor Criveanu and all other righteous individuals.  Non-Jews who sacrificed their lives in an effort to save Jews from their fate at the Nazi's hands are known to the world as the ``Righteous Persons.'' The most renowned among these righteous persons is probably Oscar Schindler. Oscar Schindler should rightly be recognized as the altruistic and extraordinarily courageous non-Jew who saved more Jewish lives from the gas chambers than any other.  But many other brave individuals risked their lives by rescuing Jews during the Holocaust that have still yet to be recognized.  Thousands of these hero's stories have remain untold because the Nazis mercilessly ended their lives. For those that survived the Holocaust and for those that did not, I rise today to honor their heroism and their memory.  In 1963, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Israel, initiated a worldwide project to grant the title of Righteous Among the Nations to individuals who were not Jewish and who risked their lives to rescue and protect Jews and others during the Holocaust. To date, more than 21,000 heroic individuals have been honored as Righteous Among the Nations.  Theodor Criveanu was one of such courageous righteous individuals.  When serving as a reserve officer in the Romanian military, he was assigned the task of presenting military authorities with a list of Jews who would be given work permits to work in the ghetto instead of being deported to Transnistria. Risking his life to defy Nazi orders, Mr. Criveanu secretly issued work permits in numbers that exceeded the work permit quota and to Jews who were not essential to the workforce, saving countless of innocent Jewish lives.  The brave efforts of Mr. Criveanu have not gone unnoticed. On August 8, 2007, Yad Vashem named Theodore Criveanu as Righteous Among the Nations, posthumously honoring him for his courageous work to block the deportation of Romanian Jews to Nazi death camps.  Today I rise to honor these individuals for their bravery and humanity. Mr. Criveanu and other such individuals deserve to be remembered and revered by the United States Congress.

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