Title

Helsinki Commission Leaders Slam Detention of Georgian Opposition Leader Nika Melia

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

WASHINGTON—Following the February 23 detention of Georgian opposition leader Nika Melia by authorities, Helsinki Commission leaders Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL-20), Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), and Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following joint statement:

“As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Georgia has committed to respecting democratic institutions, human rights, and the rule of law.

“Storming the headquarters of an opposing political party and arbitrarily detaining its leader is not in keeping with democratic progress. We urge the Government of Georgia to release Nika Melia, deescalate the crisis, and recommit to dialogue rather than aggression.”

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
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csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
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202.225.1901
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  • Combating Torture and Assisting Victims of Torture

    Mr. President, I rise to address the barbaric practices that constitute torture as we mark the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture. Astonishingly, an estimated 500,000 victims of torture live in the United States today, including many in my home State of Colorado. The United States has provided vital leadership in the campaign to prevent torture around the world. The United States must not equivocate on this most basic of human rights. While the United States has consistently spoken out forcefully against the use of torture around the world, serious questions have been raised suggesting U.S. complicity in torture as part of the war against terrorism. This prompted me to join other members of the Helsinki Commission in writing to the White House recently urging an investigation of "serious allegations that the United States is using torture, both directly and indirectly, during interrogations of those suspected of terrorism." Against this backdrop, I urge the administration to issue a forthright statement on torture. In his State of the Union Address, President Bush described the horrific forms of torture employed by the Hussein regime and concluded, "If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning." Even as experts document the scope of torture in Iraq, there must be no doubt concerning U.S. policy and practice. As Cochairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am particularly concerned that torture remains a tolerated if not promoted practice by come countries, even within the membership of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. In some places, like Uzbekistan, members of the political opposition or religious minorities are especially likely to be the victims of torture. Tragically, two more people there have joined the long list of those who have died in custody amid credible allegations of abuse and torture, just weeks after the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development hosted a prestigious meeting in Tashkent, and days after the Secretary of State determined Uzbekistan is eligible for continued U.S. assistance. Moreover, the shortsighted practice of making martyrs out of Islamic extremists may have exactly the opposite effect the government claims to be seeking in its efforts to combat terrorism. In Georgia, torture and abuse comes hand in hand with police corruption. In the most recent State Department Country Report on human rights in Georgia, the Department stated: "[s]ecurity forces continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse detainees.... NGOs also blamed several deaths in custody on physical abuse, torture, or inhumane and life-threatening prison conditions." Even President Shevardnadze has, in the past, acknowledged the prevalence of abuse against detainees and prisoners. I welcome a new initiative of the OSCE Mission in Georgia to combat torture, but I would also note that antitorture initiatives have come and gone in Georgia with little to show for it. Without real political will, I am afraid this latest initiative may end up like the others. In Turkey--a country which has been given particular attention by the Helsinki Commission--even the doctors who treat the victims of torture have become targets themselves. Their offices have been raided, records seized, and even some doctors have been arrested and tortured. Moreover, the patients of these doctors, all of whom have already suffered at the hands of the authorities, have often been rearrested, retortured and recharged based on their testimonies given to the medical authorities. As a result of these practices, Turkey has been repeatedly sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights. The Turkish nongovernmental organization, the Human Rights Foundation, appears to be making some headway in defending these doctors. Last year, Turkey's Grand National Assembly has passed significant legislation with severe penalties for those convicted of torture. A major effort still needs to be made to conform the application of the law in the regional courts of Turkey with the intent of the parliamentarians. The Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor developments in Turkey and the implementation of this law. In the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Charter, the participating States committed themselves to "eradicating torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment throughout the OSCE area. To this end, we will promote legislation to provide procedural and substantive safeguards and remedies to combat these practices. We will assist victims and cooperate with relevant international organizations and nongovernmental organizations, as appropriate." Clearly a strategy to confront and combat torture must emphasize prevention of torture, prosecution of those who commit torture, and assistance for the victims of torture. As we mark the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, I note the good work being done by the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, located in Denver. The center is part of a nationwide network committed to assisting the victims of torture living in the United States.

  • Certification of Assistance to Serbia

    Mr. Speaker, the U.S. Department of State last week made its determination to certify compliance by the Government of Serbia and Montenegro with the terms of section 578 of the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution (P.L. 108-7). This section conditions certain bilateral assistance to Serbia on progress in three areas, although by far the most critical being cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.   I agree with the Department’s assessment that progress has been made, especially since March. In particular, I welcomed action earlier this month by the Serbian authorities to apprehend Veselin Svjilancanin, indicted by the Tribunal for the 1991 massacre near Vukovar in Croatia. Although there was resistance, this action was a success and signaled what is perhaps a new determination by Belgrade to transfer all remaining indictees. Having been in Vukovar, along with my good friend and colleague Mr. Wolf, just before the city fell to Serb forces, I am glad to see all three indicted by the Tribunal for this crime will be tried in The Hague.   Nevertheless, Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that the Department’s determination was the wrong one to make. While progress has been made, it remains insufficient. Still at large and believed to have been in Serbia are several other persons, including Ratko Mladic and others, Ljubisa Beara, Vujadin Popovic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Vinko Pandurevic and Drago Nikolic, indicted by the Tribunal for their connection to the1995 Srebrenica massacre in which thousands of innocent people were executed.   I am concerned, deeply concerned, that these individuals will continue to evade justice while officials in Belgrade may get the impression they have done enough. Clearly, they have not. Mr. Speaker, I would urge Serbian authorities to take the action necessary to remove "cooperation with the Tribunal" as an outstanding issue in our bilateral relationship. In doing so, they will also continue to help Serbia emerge from Slobodan Milosevic’s legacy of nationalist hatred.   In the meantime, Mr. Speaker, I also urge the State Department to use remaining levers to encourage not just better, but full, cooperation with the Tribunal, which Secretary Powell had assured Mr. Cardin and myself in correspondence was a position we all shared. The crimes which occurred were too severe and too horrendous to allow those responsible to escape justice.

  • Democracy, Human Rights and Justice in Serbia Today

    Donald Kursch, Senior Advisor at the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, moderated this briefing that discussed, among other things, the trajectory of democratic institutions in Serbia. This briefing was held in the wake of the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic, after which the authorities in Belgrade undertook tough measures to crack down on the criminal elements that had continued to be a barrier to Serbia and Montenegro’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic community’s institutions. More restrictive measures against crime in Serbia and Montenegro had underscored the progress already made by democratic forces in overcoming the estrangement between the two countries and the West.

  • Internally Displaced Persons In The Caucasus Region And Southeastern Anatolia

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), other legislators, and witnesses discussed Internally Displaced Persons (or IDPs) in the north Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. At the time of this hearing, this set of countries represented the greatest concentration of IDPs fleeing conflicts anywhere in the OSCE, which then consisted of 55 states. IDPs are not granted the same protections as refugees as stipulated under the U.N. Refugee Convention, although IDPs face similar problems, due to the fact that IDPs do not cross international borders.

  • The Critical Human Rights and Humanitarian Situation in Chechnya

    This briefing followed a defeat, by a vote of 15-21 at the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, of a U.S.–supported resolution expressing “deep concern” about reported human rights violation in Chechnya.  The developments in Chechnya since the outbreak of the war in 1994 were briefly surveyed, while the focus of discussion was largely on the human dimension of the situation and the dangers faced by average Chechen civilians. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Eliza Moussaeva, Director of the Ingushetia Office of the Memorial Human Rights Center; Bela Tsugaeva, Information Manager of World Vision; and Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for the Europe and Eurasia division of Amnesty International – addressed the dismal state of human rights in Chechnya and the issue of international assistance, which was less effective than it could have been due to government accountability issues. The lack of infrastructure and security guarantees was additional topics of discussion.

  • President Shevardnadze’s Statement Welcomed, but Action also Needed

    Today I want to acknowledge and welcome the March 14th statement of the President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, pledging his commitment to religious freedom for all Georgians and promising the punishment of individuals complicit in mob attacks on religious minorities. (I am submitting the statement for the RECORD below.) President Shevardnadze made this pledge during an ecumenical service in Tbilisi’s Evangelist-Baptist Cathedral Church, attended by leaders of the Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist churches and many individuals from the diplomatic community. The U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, also attended and addressed the gathering. Reportedly, so many people came that hundreds had to listen via loudspeakers in the churchyard.   The service was initially planned for late January, but defrocked priest Basil Mkalavishvili and his crowd of thugs assaulted worshipers and clergy an hour before it was scheduled to begin -- as they have been doing with impunity since 1999. Individuals were beaten as they tried to leave, with rocks and stones being reportedly thrown. While President Shevardnadze quickly condemned that attack, ordering the Interior Minister, the Prosecutor General, State Chancellery Head, and the Security Council Secretary to investigate and punish the perpetrators, no arrests or prosecutions followed.   Despite Georgia’s appalling record on religious tolerance for the last few years, I hope President Shevardnadze’s speech at the Baptist church signals a new determination to arrest and aggressively prosecute the mob leaders and their henchmen. He promised that “as the President of Georgia and a believer, I shall not restrict myself only to a mere expression of resentment. I do promise that the President and the Authorities of Georgia will do their utmost to grant every person freedom of expression of faith.” Driving home the point further, Mr. Shevardnadze declared, “the state will exert its pressure on whoever comes in defiance of this principle. You may stand assured that the aggressors will be brought to justice.”   As Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, over the past three years I have watched with increasing alarm the escalation of mob violence. On September 24th I chaired a Commission hearing focused on this disturbing pattern. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have borne the brunt of attacks, along with Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists and Catholics. Most disheartening has been the government's indifference; victims throughout the country have filed approximately 800 criminal complaints, without one criminal conviction.   Despite a series of statements by President Shevardnadze, Georgia's Minister of Interior and Prosecutor General appear unwilling to effectively enforce the rule of law, refusing to arrest mob leaders like Mkalavishvili and Paata Bluashvili and not attempting serious prosecutions. For example, the trial of Mkalavishvili has dragged on for more than a year, without a single piece of evidence considered yet. I would hope the provision of adequate and visible security, which took months to organize, will continue and that the prosecutor will begin his case shortly. Also, the inauguration of trial proceedings against Bluashvili in Rustavi is positive; I trust the delays and shenanigans seen in Mkalavishvili’s trial will not be repeated there. I also urge the Government of Georgia to arrest and detain Mkalavishvili, Bluashvili and other indicted persons who continue to perpetrate violent criminal acts against religious minorities.   Undoubtedly, President Shevardnadze’s presence at the March 14th service and his statement illustrate his personal commitment to religious tolerance and basic law and order. Yet, while I appreciate his gesture, it is time for real action. If the attacks are allowed to continue, it will only become more difficult to rein in this mob violence. If presidential orders are repeatedly ignored, it will only further weaken the government’s ability to enforce the rule of law. And, of course, we must not forget the plight of minority religious communities that continue to live in a state of siege, without any real protection from their government. Ironically, it appears that minorities’ religious communities are freer to profess and practice their faith in regions of Georgia not under the control of President Shevardnadze’s government.   In closing, I urge President Shevardnadze to fulfill his most recent commitment to punish the aggressors, thereby restoring Georgia’s international reputation and upholding its international commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. I and other Members of Congress are acutely interested in seeing whether the Government of Georgia will actually arrest the perpetrators of violence and vigorously prosecute them.   Speech of the President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, at the Evangelist-Baptist Cathedral Church   “Representatives of all Religions and Nations have to Raise Prayers for Peace Together” Tbilisi, Georgia March 14, 2003   My dear friends, Christians, Dear Ambassadors!   I am here to give utterance to my contentment and admiration, which derives from seeing you, all Christians, or, to be more precise, representatives of all Christian folds, assembled here, under the same roof of this temple, in the capital of Georgia famed as the Virgin’s lot.   I am happy to be a witness to this occurrence. I am happy because you are together, because we are together. But all of us have our own faith.   I am an Orthodox believer, but we are all Christians. It is what we should always bear in mind and keep intact this wholeness and unity.   Georgia is one of those countries on the planet whose roots go back the farthest in history. Tolerance has become particularly entrenched in its history and nature since the days we embraced Christianity.   Christ granted that we be together. And more than this: Georgia is a multinational country, where Muslims and followers of other confessions have dwelt along with Christians in the course of centuries.   We live presently in a world of stark contradictions. It remains anybody’s guess when a bomb may blast. You probably understand what I mean. Therefore, we should pray for peace, and these prayers should be raised by all of us: Christians, Muslims, representatives of every religion, confession and nation.   But prayers alone will not keep us together. We have also to struggle, in order that, through our benevolence, faith, love and respect to one another, we may put up resistance to the eradicating processes of which I already made a mention.   As was customary with my great ancestors, I go to an Orthodox church. But nor do I keep distance from synagogues, mosques or churches of different Christian confessions.   I feel respect for all who have confident belief in kindness and its victory.   I am happy to see, along with Georgian citizens, the attendance of the distinguished ambassadors and diplomats accredited in Georgia, who have come this evening to share our happiness.   I cannot but express a deep sense of regret, even resentment at the gross infringement of our unity, mutual respect and freedom of faith by some of the aggressors.   As the President of Georgia and a believer, I shall not restrict myself only to a mere expression of resentment. I do promise that the President and the Authorities of Georgia will do their utmost to grant every person freedom of expression of faith.   The state will exert its pressure on whoever comes in defiance of this principle. You may stand assured that the aggressors will be brought to justice.   I would like to greet you once more and wish you happiness and advancement of goals. So as with Georgia, a multinational country of various religious confessions, my wishes are for joy, happiness and prosperity.

  • In Memory of Zoran Djindjic

    Mr. Speaker, we learned today of the assassination in Belgrade of the Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran Djindjic.   This is a true tragedy, not only for family and friends of Mr. Djindjic but for all the people of Serbia and, indeed, for all who struggle for human rights and democratic development.   Zoran Djindjic became a leader during difficult times in his country. He chose to stand in opposition to Slobodan Milosevic and his regime. That certainly was not the easiest course, and it took courage. Zoran Djindjic also had determination and, after repeated setbacks and obstacles, he played a key role in ousting Milosevic from power in 2000. He subsequently became, as Prime Minister of Serbia, a force for reform, recognizing that Serbia needed to cast off not only the yoke of Milosevic's rule but also Milosevic's legacy of nationalist hatred, organized crime, corruption and greed. Transferring Milosevic to The Hague in 2001 to face charges for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide perhaps best symbolized Djlndjic's continued courage and determination to conquer the sinister forces which seized his country.   Zoran Djindjic was still battling resistance to reform in Serbia when his life was taken by the vicious act of cold-blooded assassins.   These will undoubtedly be turbulent times for Belgrade, for Serbia, and for Montenegro which is just embarking on a new relationship with Serbia. This tragedy may have reverberations throughout the region, particularly in Bosnia and in Kosovo.   It is my hope and prayer, Mr. Speaker, that the people of Serbia will respond to this crime with a loud and united cry: ``Enough is enough.'' In the past, they have seen the lives of journalist Slavko Curuvija and politician Ivan Stambolic snuffed out for their advocacy of a civilized Serbia, in which human rights and the rule of law are respected.   Similarly Djindjic, too, was advocating such noble objectives. The very decent people of Serbia deserve a society which respects human rights and upholds the rule of law. That is what the leaders of Serbia must now provide without further hesitation or delay. I take heart in knowing that Djindjic had many colleagues who shared his vision of a reformed Serbia.   My deepest condolences go to the family of Zoran Djindjic. I hope that the incredible grief they must now feel will be tempered by the pride they should feel in his accomplishments and service to his country.

  • Mourning the Assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic

    Mr. Speaker, I want to join the gentleman from California (Mr. Dreier) in his comments about Mr. Djindjic, the Prime Minister of Serbia. Serbia in the 1990s, like Iraq has gone through, was under the heel of a despot who was vicious and who in my opinion was a war criminal. When the United States acted to displace the Milosevic regime and ultimately Milosevic was voted out of office because we went into Kosovo, it was Mr. Djindjic who showed the courage and the moral commitment to ensure that Mr. Milosevic would be transferred to The Hague to answer for his crimes. That trial currently is going on. It is going on because Mr. Djindjic had the courage to facilitate the transfer out of Serbia to The Hague of the alleged war criminal Slobodan Milosevic.   He has now been assassinated. We do not know yet who the perpetrator of that assassination is. Suffice it to say, we have lost someone whose courage and commitment to freedom and human rights was an important aspect for his country and for the international community. We are a lesser international community for his loss.

  • Assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today with a heavy heart to condemn in the strongest possible terms the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. As a Member of Congress, I express my condolences to the government of Serbia and Montenegro and to the family of the late Prime Minister. Mr. Djindjic was one of the driving forces behind the extradition of Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague for war crimes, and also favored increased political and economic cooperation with the West. Mr. Speaker, I think it is our responsibility to encourage the government of Serbia and Montenegro to hold all of those responsible for the assassination accountable and to continue their work for economic reform and full cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal, including the turning over of those indictees who still remain at large and cooperation on the witnesses and the information that is needed. Again, Mr. Speaker, we offer our condolences to the family.

  • Disturbing Developments in the Republic of Georgia

    Mr. President, as cochairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am concerned by a myriad of problems that plague the nation of Georgia a decade after restoration of its independence and nearly eleven years after it joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. Among these pressing concerns that I would like to bring to the attention of my colleagues is the ongoing violence against non-Orthodox religious groups, as well as allegations of torture perpetrated by Georgian security officials.   Concerning religious freedom, the situation in Georgia is one of the worst in the entire 55-nation region constituting the OSCE. Georgia is the only OSCE country where mobs are allowed to attack, violently and repeatedly, minority religious groups with complete impunity. Most recently, on January 24th, worshipers and clergy were assaulted and beaten in a mob attack on the Central Baptist Church in Tbilisi, where an ecumenical service was to have taken place. While police did eventually intervene, no arrests were made, and the planned ecumenical service between Baptists, Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholics and Lutherans was canceled. While I am pleased President Shevardnadze did issue a decree calling for a full investigation, to date no action by police or the Prosecutor General has taken place.   During the past three years of escalating mob violence, the Jehovah's Witnesses have experienced the majority of attacks, along with Baptists, Pentecostals, and Catholics. Sadly, victims from throughout the country have filed approximately 800 criminal complaints, and not one of these has resulted in a criminal conviction. The mob attacks are usually led by either Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, or Paata Bluashvili, the leader of the Orthodox ``Jvari'' Union. Often the police and media are tipped off in advance of an attack--probably so that the media can arrive early and the police can show up late. The brazen leaders of these attacks have even given television interviews while mob brutality continues in the background.   In response to this ongoing campaign of violence against members of minority faiths, the leadership of the Helsinki Commission and other members of the Senate and House have been in correspondence with President Shevardnadze on numerous occasions. Congressional dismay over this ongoing issue was also reflected in language included in the omnibus appropriations bill underscoring concern over the Georgian Government's apparent resistance to prosecuting and jailing the perpetrators of these mob attacks. Despite assurances, Georgian officials have neither quelled this violence nor taken effective measures against the perpetrators of these assaults. Ironically, it appears that minority religious communities may be freer in parts of Georgia outside of Tbilisi's control than those under the central authorities.   The conference report language should send a strong message to President Shevardnadze and other Georgian leaders. They must understand the Congress's deep and abiding interest in this matter and our desire to see those responsible for the violence put in jail.   I also must express my concern regarding the widespread, indeed routine, use of torture in the Republic of Georgia. While law enforcement remains virtually nonexistent when it comes to protecting religious minorities from violent attacks, the use of torture by police remains a commonplace tool for extracting confessions and obtaining convictions in other areas. A government commission has also acknowledged that the scale of corruption in law enforcement has seriously eroded public confidence in Georgia's system of justice and the rule of law.   At one point, a few years ago, there appeared to be real political will to address this problem. Sadly, increased protections for detainees, adopted to facilitate Georgia's accession to the Council of Europe, were quickly reversed by the parliament once Georgia's admission was complete. Moreover, I am particularly concerned by remarks made by Minister of Interior Koba Narchemashvili in November. In a move calculated to look tough on crime following a notorious murder, he called for seizing control of pre-trial detention facilities from the authority of the Ministry of Justice. This would move Georgia in exactly the wrong direction. Reform must continue on two levels; continuing to move Georgia's legal standards into compliance with international norms, and improving actual implementation by law enforcement officers.   I want to see a prosperous, democratic, and independent Georgia, but these facts are deeply disturbing and disappointing. The Government of Georgia's failure to effectively address these concerns through decisive action will only further erode confidence here in Washington as well as with the people of Georgia.

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act 2003

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, which is intended to help promote democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus , as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. I am joined by Congressmen HOYER, HOEFFEL and Congresswoman Slaughter, as original cosponsors.   When measured against other European countries, the state of human rights in Belarus is abysmal--it has the worst record of any European state.   Through an illegitimate 1996 referendum, Alexander Lukashenka usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The democratic opposition, nongovernmental organizations and independent media have all faced harassment. Just within the last few months, we have seen a number of events reflecting the negative trend line: the passage of a repressive law on religion which bans religious activity by groups not registered with the government and forbids most religious meetings on private property; the bulldozing of a newly-built church; the incarceration of leading independent journalists; and the continued harassment, as well as physical attacks on the political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations--in short, anyone who, through their promotion of democracy , would stand in the way of the Belarusian dictator. Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents--perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders. Furthermore, growing evidence also indicates Belarus has been supplying military training and weapons to Iraq, in violation of UN sanctions.   Despite efforts by the U.S. Government, non-govermental organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, the regime of Alexander Lukashenka continues its hold onto power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people.   One of the primary purposes of this bill is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes increases in assistance for democracy building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus , and international exchanges. The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards--in sharp contrast to recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Belarus which flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential [Page: E242] GPO's PDF and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation.   In addition, this bill would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny highranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs.   The bill would require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states.   Mr. Speaker, finally, it is my hope that this bill would help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belaras' integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount. The Belarusian people deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country based on the rule of law and democratic institutions.

  • Hearing Surveys Human Rights in Republic of Georgia

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The Helsinki Commission held a hearing September 24, 2002 on developments in the Republic of Georgia, with particular focus on the recent violent attacks against selected minority religious communities, as well as the threat of Russian aggression against that Caucasus nation. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing that examined Georgia’s prospects for democratization, its security situation, and how Washington can best promote the complementary goals of advancing democracy, human rights and economic liberty while leading the battle against international terrorism. The hearing opened with a gripping video documenting mob violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and the failure of Georgian police to quell such attacks. Georgia, which became an OSCE participating State in 1992, was seemingly headed toward domestic stability and democratic governance in the mid-1990s, but recent trends have been disappointing. The official results of elections have not inspired confidence, undermining the public’s faith in democracy and the right of the people to choose their government. While civil society has grown substantially, independent media and non-governmental organizations remain at risk. The savage attack on the human rights organization, Liberty Institute, like the campaign of violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths, as well as efforts to silence Rustavi-2 Television, testify to the lingering influence of forces bent on preventing Georgia from consolidating democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Meanwhile, Georgia has been under intensifying pressure from Russia, with Moscow accusing Georgia of failing to cooperate in the war on terrorism. Russian planes have invaded Georgian airspace and bombed the territory, killing Georgian citizens. Russian officials increasingly threaten to launch unilateral military actions within Georgia against Chechen rebels. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently asked the United Nations to support his country’s threats to launch military strikes inside Georgia. Moscow’s threats place at risk Georgia’s sovereignty and stability, moving Washington to consider how best to help Georgia defend itself and maintain control of its territory, while moving decisively against criminal elements and terrorists. This is a very complicated situation because much of the assistance from the United States is contingent upon Georgia’s compliance to stop religious violence within its borders. Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing by acknowledging Georgia’s progress since the last hearing in 1995, but was quick to point out salient shortcomings. Mr. Smith voiced several concerns pertaining to Georgia’s internal problems. Special attention was paid to the inaction of the Georgian Government in regard to the mob attacks on minority faiths. “I am especially concerned and appalled by the ongoing religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there has been a campaign of assaults against members of minority faiths – especially Jehovah’s Witnesses – which Georgian authorities has tolerated,” Smith commented, “there can be no excuse for state toleration of such barbarity. It must end, and it must end now.” Not only was Mr. Smith concerned about the violence, but he also was concerned with the future of Georgia - U.S. relations because of the “rampant corruption,” unsatisfactory rate of democratization, and lack of compliance with OSCE standards. Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, voiced concern about the violence in the Pankisi Gorge and the Russian pressure on Georgia to eradicate the Chechen terrorist threat. Turning to trends in the areas of democracy and human rights, Pascoe noted, “We have stressed to President Shevardnadze and his government again and again that poor records on human rights and freedom of religion not only undermine Georgia's efforts at economic and democratic reform, but will also negatively affect our assistance if such problems are not addressed.” He further explained efforts in the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) to help Georgia in the war on terrorism, but suggested that U.S. assistance would diminish if Georgia does not act on the concerns voiced in the hearing. Georgian Ambassador Levan Mikeladze expressed his remorse for the mob attacks. He reassured the Commission that Georgia fully recognizes the problems in religious persecution and legal and practical actions are being taken to ensure there will be no more violent attacks: “We are hopeful that after all these assignments are executed, we will be in a position to say religion-based intolerance in Georgia has no future and manifestations of religiously motivated violence no longer occur.” Georgia’s security was a pressing issue for Ambassador Mikeladze given intrusions and aggression by the Russian Federation. He encouraged the United States to continue the GTEP and continue the strong rapport between the two nations. Co-Chairman Smith and Commissioner Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) were not satisfied with Ambassador Mikeladze’s explanation and expressed concern regarding the lack of action on the part of the Georgian Government to bring the perpetrators of attacks against minority faiths to justice. Smith issued a strong call to action, explaining the injurious nature to Georgia-U.S. relations of Georgia’s failure to actively stop the mob attacks. Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Baptist Union of Georgia set forth a long list of why and how such violence and hatred could be permitted in a democratic state. In attempting to give an explanation as to why such events have occurred in Georgia, the Bishop observed, “We gained independence but we still have not reached freedom. Old values have gone. New values have not come yet.” Songulashvili remarked, “It is not an absence of religious legislation which causes religious violence and persecution but rather absence of culture, justice and general law.” Despite all the grievances noted, Bishop Songulasvili remained hopeful that there would be progress. He offered four “targets” as a solution for the current religious violence: “Family, Mass Media, School and Teaching Institutions, and Religious Congregations.” He concluded, “Our optimism for the better future should not be overshadowed by the turmoil of the present time.” Mr. Gennadi Gudadze, a Jehovah’s Witness from Tbilisi, testified to the brutality experienced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia, including himself. He noted that “since then [October 1999], there have been 133 separate incidents involving either mob attacks, individual attacks or destruction of property.” Gudadze also pointed out that minimal action has been taken by the authorities against the criminals. He called for a three-pronged solution: apply the law, arrest the perpetrators, and remove the corrupt officials. Dr. Gia Nodia, Director of the Institute for Peace, Development, and Democracy, discussed the interrelationship between security on human rights. Dr. Nodia was very concerned with the possibility that the religious violence might evolve into political violence, hence impinging on the democratic process, causing much more turmoil within Georgia. Professor Stephen Jones of Mount Holyoke College gave a dismal summary of the current state of affairs in Georgia. He asserted that the government is failing its citizens and its current stability is based on the “thinnest of ice.” Professor Jones highlighted three main reasons for these failures: lack of economic security in Georgia; lack of proper institutions to carry out governmental and economic functions (i.e. Georgia’s current economy has shrunk 67% and industry is working at 20% of its capacity. Between 1997-2000, expenditure on defense decreased from $51.9 million to $13.6 million, education from $35.6 to $13.9 million, agriculture forestry and fishing from $13.4 to $7.2 million); and lack of political and public support for reform. Jones’ recommendation called for increased western aid, but the burden of progress lays heaviest on Georgia itself. The hearing concluded with a strong statement from Co-Chairman Smith urging the Government of Georgia to work quickly and effectively to eradicate its corruption and religious violence. He concluded his statement with these words, “Our only hope here is to try to promote human rights, democracy, and to protect the sovereignty of Georgia . . . from any forays by Russia.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE - 2003

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission hearing focused on how the Administration has been using the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the expansive OSCE region, particularly as a tool for advancing democracy. In addition the hearing touched on the anticipated OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review. In light of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the hearing discussed the link between state repression and violence and the role of building democracy  in U.S. national security interest. The witnesses and Commissioners discussed how the Helsinki Accords is based on mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems and how this concept can be effective tool for the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. In particular, the hearing covered situations in Central Asia and in authoritarian countries within the OSCE that are not putting forth meaningful reform.

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noticed: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)*, which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the now 55-nation organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. Each of the OSCE participating States, including those examined in this report, has committed to “build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.” Similarly, the participating States have declared that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of government. Respect for them is an essential safeguard against an over-mighty State.” In a step designed to preserve the unity of the Helsinki process, each new participating State submitted a letter accepting in their entirety all commitments and responsibilities contained in the Helsinki Final Act, and all subsequent documents adopted prior to their membership (see Appendix I). To underscore this continuity, the leaders of each of the countries signed the actual original Final Act document (see Appendix II).

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noted: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. This report conducts a review of Eastern European and Eurasian countries' records on these commitments over the course of the decade following the Soviet Union's collapse.

  • Commission Staff Meet with Georgian Officials While Religious Persecution Persists

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel   United States Helsinki Commission staff held consultations in Tbilisi, Georgia from October 14-16, 2002, with senior government officials, religious groups and NGOs to assess religious freedom and other human rights developments in that country. The discussions specifically focused on the ongoing mob violence against non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups, the prospects for ending the attacks, and what actions the Georgian Government should take to stop the depredations. The trip occurred on the heals of a Commission hearing on democracy, human rights and security in Georgia. During that hearing, Members of Congress raised their concerns regarding the ongoing violence against members of minority religious communities, Georgian authorities’ unwillingness to take action against the perpetrators of violence, and Georgia’s relationship with Russia concerning the Panksi Gorge. Commission Members have also written three letters in as many years to President Eduard Shevardnadze urging him to take concrete steps to quell the violence. The violence against minority religious communities began roughly three years ago, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals all being victimized. Over that period, the frequency and intensity of the attacks have increased. Police have been implicated in the attacks, but as of late, their transgressions consist of omissions, such as reportedly refusing to intervene when notified of assaults in-progress. More recently, the main instigators of mob violence are Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. In addition, demagogic parliamentarians, like Guram Sharadze, have led rallies and made inflammatory statements about the so-called “dangers” of non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups to Georgian society and nationhood. The victimization of minority religious groups is often justified through the language of Georgian nationalism. The small former Soviet Republic is squeezed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Once a desired Soviet vacation destination, Georgia’s economy and infrastructure are crumbling, with the government struggling to provide the most basic of services. For example, there is much debate on whether sufficient gas and electricity will be available to avoid outages during the upcoming winter. Some Georgian public figures and religious leaders apparently see political profit from fighting religious pluralism behind the flag of Georgian nationalism, and non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups and their adherents have been characterized as unpatriotic and dangerous to Georgian society. On October 14, President Shevardnadze and the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II, signed a concordat concretizing the church’s relationship with the state. The Georgian Parliament, by a vote of 203 to one, ratified the concordat, bringing the measure into force. In addition to the questionable legal status of a concordat between a government and an entity lacking both sovereignty and any international legal personality, other problems arise. Foremost, the concordat creates an unbalanced playing field against other religious groups. The agreement grants the Catholicos-Patriarch immunity, excludes Georgian Orthodox clergy from military service and limits the creation of chaplain institutions in both prisons and the military to this one religious group. Also troubling is the provision granting the Georgian Orthodox Church the power to approve licenses for “official symbols and terminology of the Church.” As the concordat appendix enumerates a broad and vague list of items and terms falling under the church’s purview, which includes, inter alia, church buildings, liturgical items, crosses, and theological literature, other religious groups, like the schismatic True Orthodox Church, fear this will limit their ability to operate freely. The concordat is not the only legal issue of concern to minority religious communities, as a draft law on religion is circulating in the Georgian Parliament. The draft law, in its current form, contains several problematic articles. The term “improper proselytism” makes impermissible offers of “material or social benefits” or use of “psycho-ideological influence.” Charges of “improper proselytism” could have criminal repercussions, as Article 155 of the criminal code punishes the “offering of material or social care to attract new members to a religious organization or confession” by a fine or two-years imprisonment. Other troubling portions of the legislation include the creation of a registration scheme for religious groups. The draft law mandates the submission of the names of 50 members, as well as information on the group’s doctrines and activities, “attitude towards the family and marriage issues” and “the peculiarities of the attitude of the adherents towards health.” The draft also restricts the use of “Georgia” or “of Georgia” to groups “operating on the territory of Georgia for not less than 50 years.” Denial of registration can occur if, “as a result of the state religious expertise it is established that the entity is not religious.” Lastly, the draft law would allow the termination of religious activities, if the group is found to violate “state security and public order” or for refusing to “administer medical assistance on religious grounds.” If passed in its current form, the law would violate Georgia’s OSCE commitments, as these provisions appear tailored to ensure the curtailing, if not outright banning, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious communities. While there is a legitimate need to provide religious groups juridical personality, the draft law is too invasive and burdensome. The question is will it ever become law. Several officials and NGOs have indicated their general unhappiness with the current draft, saying it is too liberal for some and too limiting for others, but neither viewpoint has the numbers in the fractious parliament to amend the text. Others opined that with the Georgian Orthodox Church secured through the concordat as the preeminent Georgian faith and considering their dissatisfaction with the draft text, the church will no longer push for the religion law. As an alternative, the Supreme Court Chairman has proposed allowing religious groups to access the simple civil code registration process currently provided for non-profit organizations. The Ministry of Justice is reportedly reviewing this option. In discussions with Commission staff, minority religious community leaders expressed greater concern about the unchecked violence, rather than the future implications under the concordat or law on religion. Their concerns are warranted, as several assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the days immediately following the Commission’s September 24 hearing. Additionally, during the first week of October, villagers in Shemokmedi destroyed a church built by the in independent True Orthodox Church. Georgian officials and NGO representatives offered conflicting opinions on the phenomenon of violence inflicted by Vasili Mkalavishvili. Some view Mkalavishvili as an agent of the Russian Government, whose mission is to further destabilize Georgia. Others believe the Georgian Government and the Georgian Orthodox Church purposefully allow Mkalavishvili and his mobs to run wild. The government may benefit from the mob attacks distracting the Georgian polity from numerous government failures. For the Georgian Orthodox Church, the mobs intimidate and harass religious groups considered competition, and elevates the church as the protector of Georgian heritage and nationhood. However, while it is difficult to establish a direct link between the defrocked Mkalavishvili and the government or the Georgian Orthodox Church, the government appears hesitant to stop the cycle of violence. Commission staff also met with officials of the State Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Security Council and the Ombudsman for Human Rights, as well as members of the Supreme Court and several parliamentarians. Each admitted the mob violence was a serious problem, but some were quick to raise what they believe to be contributing factors, such as lack of education, poor economic situation, weak government, or Russian aggression. Government officials and religious groups agreed that if authorities had immediately arrested Mkalavishvili and his thugs three years ago, the problem would not exist today. Georgian officials, for the most part, seem fearful of repercussions which may result from any conviction against mob leaders. Nevertheless, most officials admitted that if authorities arrested, tried and jailed the top perpetrators, even for only six months, the violence would end. Commission staff expressed to Georgian officials the danger of allowing the brutality to continue and escalate, which could have repercussions for the government and the future of Georgia. Staff also made clear the great concern Commissioners maintain about the unwillingness of Georgian authorities to prosecute and jail the perpetrators of violence against members of minority faiths. Commission staff pushed Georgian officials for the provision of proper security for the ongoing trial of Mkalavishvili. In response, each of the Georgian officials repeated their resolution to thwart the violence, with both Georgia’s Ministry of Interior and National Security Council promising adequate police protection. Mkalavishvili’s trial, which started in January of this year, has been postponed five times, with Mkalavishvili’s mob crashing the courtroom and assaulting those in attendance. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) wrote President Eduard Shevardnadze in late October 2002, seeking to reaffirmation of these guarantees. To the credit of the Georgian Government, they have provided adequate security personnel at the subsequent court proceedings of Mkalavishvili’s case. However, during a November 16th hearing, Mkalavishvili’s followers verbally assaulted and forcibly removed a reporter from Radio Free Europe. Security personnel did not intervene. In addition, one of the accused perpetrators reportedly was carrying a concealed firearm inside the courtroom. In closing, there is little hope for religious freedom if the Georgian Government remains unwilling to arrest, prosecute and jail the perpetrators of the mob attacks. While the providing of proper security at the Mkalavishvili trial is a welcomed step, it is long overdue. Considering the hundreds of criminal complaints against Mkalavishvili and other perpetrators of mob violence, the government must bring more prosecutions on serious criminal charges. It is the Georgian Government’s duty to ensure that all its citizens, regardless of their faith, can enjoy religious freedom, as well as personal and communal security. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

  • Turkey: What Can We Expect After the November 3 Election?

    This briefing addressed the November 3 elections, which were held during a rather turbulent time in Turkey. Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, won an unprecedented 34.27 percent of the votes in Turkey’s legislative election while the Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Deniz Baykal, received 19.39 percent of the votes and won 178 seats in the next Parliament. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Abdullah Akyuz, President of the Turkish Industrialist’s and Businessmen’s Association, U.S. Representative Office; Sanar Yurdatapan, Musician and Freedom of Expression Advocate; and Jonathan Sugden, Researcher for Turkey with Human Rights Watch – addressed the massive recession face by Turkey and the concern of another war with Iraq. The effect, if any, on the rise of Islamist parties in Turkish politics is yet another concern. All of this following the recent snub by the European Union regarding Turkish accession, and increasingly bleak prospects for a resolution of the Cyprus impasse.

  • Human Rights and Inhuman Treatment

    As part of an effort to enhance its review of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, the OSCE Permanent Council decided on July 9, 1998 (PC DEC/241) to restructure the Human Dimension Implementation Meetings periodically held in Warsaw. In connection with this decision - which cut Human Dimension Implementation Meetings from three to two weeks - it was decided to convene annually three informal supplementary Human Dimension Meetings (SHDMs) in the framework of the Permanent Council. On March 27, 2000, 27 of the 57 participating States met in Vienna for the OSCE's fourth SHDM, which focused on human rights and inhuman treatment. They were joined by representatives of OSCE institutions or field presence; the Council of Europe; the United Nations Development Program;  the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees;  the International Committee of the Red Cross; and representatives from approximately 50 non-governmental organizations.

  • Intolerance in Contemporary Russia

    Donald Kursch, senior advisor at the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, led this briefing regarding the emergence of bigotry and anti-semitic rhetoric in Russia. Kursch emphasized that the Russian Federation pledged to promote tolerance and non-discrimination and counter threats to security such as intolerance, aggressive nationalism, racist chauvinism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.  In the then open environment that prevailed in Russia, proponents of bigotry were more at ease to propagate their unwelcome messages. Experts discussed current trends as well as prospects for fostering a climate of tolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities in the Russian Federation. Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, presented the group’s recent report entitled “Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Contemporary Russia.”  Micah Naftalin, Executive Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union presented its compilation on “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions.”

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE - 2002

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission hearing focused on how the Administration has been using the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the OSCE region, particularly as a tool for advancing democracy. The witnesses and Commissioners discussed how the Helsinki Accords is based on mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems and how this concept can be an effective tool for the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. In particular, the hearing covered situations in Central Asia where corruption threatens the development of democratic institutions.

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