Justice at Home
Promoting human rights, good governance, and anti-corruption abroad can only be possible if the United States lives up to its values at home. By signing the Helsinki Final Act, the United States committed to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, even under the most challenging circumstances. However, like other OSCE participating States, the United States sometimes struggles to foster racial and religious equity, counter hate and discrimination, defend fundamental freedoms, and hold those in positions of authority accountable for their actions. The Helsinki Commission works to ensure that U.S. practices align with the country’s international commitments and that the United States remains responsive to legitimate concerns raised in the OSCE context, including about the death penalty, use of force by law enforcement, racial and religious profiling, and other criminal justice practices; the conduct of elections; and the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption; protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.
Helsinki Commission Leaders Urge President Trump to Seek Due Process for Americans Jailed in Turkey
WASHINGTON—Ahead of today’s meeting between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the four senior members of the Helsinki Commission – Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Ranking Commissioner Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL-20) – urged President Trump to seek guarantees that several U.S. citizens currently jailed in Turkey will have their cases promptly and fairly adjudicated and receive full consular assistance.
The bipartisan letter from Commission leadership, which was also signed by Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Randy Hultgren (IL-14) and Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02), Co-Chairs of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, reads in part:
“The Government of Turkey has repeatedly extended its state of emergency authority since the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Under the state of emergency, Turkish authorities have arrested, detained, and fired scores of alleged coup plotters and thousands of others without due process. We are concerned that, under the state of emergency, at least nine Americans and one consulate employee have been detained and imprisoned on what appear to be false charges…
“All American citizens should receive consular assistance and each of these individuals must be guaranteed timely and transparent due process. Raising these cases will send a strong and important message that the United States remains deeply committed to safeguarding human rights and the rule of law across the globe.”
The letter highlighted the cases of Andrew Brunson, an American pastor, and Serkan Golge, a NASA scientist, both of whom were arrested in Turkey following the coup. At least seven additional American citizens are currently jailed in Turkey. The letter also noted the case of Hamza Uluçay, a Turkish national employed by the U.S. Consulate in Adana who was arrested earlier this year by Turkish authorities.
The full text of the letter can be found below:
Dear Mr. President:
We write today as members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission regarding your upcoming meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During your meeting, we ask that you raise the issue of American prisoners in Turkey and a Turkish national employed by the U.S. Consulate in Adana who was also jailed earlier this year.
The Government of Turkey has repeatedly extended its state of emergency authority since the failed coup attempt in July 2016. Under the state of emergency, Turkish authorities have arrested, detained, and fired scores of alleged coup plotters and thousands of others without due process. We are concerned that, under the state of emergency, at least nine Americans and one consulate employee have been detained and imprisoned on what appear to be false charges.
Among the American prisoners is Mr. Andrew Brunson, a pastor working in Turkey since 1993, who was arrested in October for his alleged support for an armed terrorist organization. The Turkish Government has repeatedly denied Pastor Brunson regular and appropriate access to legal counsel and American consular services. Unfortunately, high-level efforts to secure Mr. Brunson’s release have been unsuccessful.
Another prisoner is Mr. Serkan Golge, a NASA scientist from Houston, Texas, who was vacationing with his family when he was arrested last July for supposedly threatening national security. There are at least seven more dual American-Turkish citizens like Mr. Golge, who are currently in jail on similar charges and barred by the Turkish government from receiving consular assistance from American diplomats.
Most recently, in February, Turkish authorities arrested Mr. Hamza Uluçay, a Turkish citizen, who has worked for the U.S. Consulate in Adana since 1980. Mr. Uluçay is a respected employee of the U.S. consulate. Nevertheless, and despite his frail health, he now sits in prison accused of supporting a Kurdish terrorist organization.
Your meeting with President Erdogan offers an important opportunity to advocate on behalf of these individuals. We urge you to raise these specific cases with President Erdogan and request that he take urgent action to resolve them. All American citizens should receive consular assistance and each of these individuals must be guaranteed timely and transparent due process. Raising these cases will send a strong and important message that the United States remains deeply committed to safeguarding human rights and the rule of law across the globe.
Thank you for your careful consideration of this matter.