Podcast: Nobody Cheers for Goliath
The physical battle of tanks and bombs or territory gained and lost is only one terrible part of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s war against the people of Ukraine. The unprovoked war is also taking place in the media, on computer keyboards, and in the hearts and mind of people in Ukraine, in Russia, and worldwide. Just as Ukraine has won important battlefield successes in the face of what appeared to be an overwhelming Russian force, Ukraine has also waged a highly sophisticated public diplomacy campaign to counter what many thought was a Russian strength. Dr. Nicholas J. Cull, a pioneering scholar and educator in the field of public diplomacy and mass communication in foreign policy, joins "Helsinki on the Hill" to examine the fight over narratives around Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine, how it shapes how different audiences understand the war, and the ultimate real-world impact of information warfare. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 21 | Nobody Cheers for Goliath: How Ukraine Is Winning the Information War Against Russia
Podcast: Russia Hates the Truth
Transgender journalist Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, a U.S. citizen, joins host Alex Tiersky to describe her journey, first to Ukraine as a war correspondent, then her decision to enlist in the Ukrainian Armed Forces as a combat medic on the front lines, as well as becoming a high-value target for Russian propaganda, and the importance of pursuing the truth against a regime that thrives on lies. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 25 | Russia Hates the Truth
Podcast: Disappeared in Turkmenistan
In Turkmenistan, detainees serving long-term prison sentences often literally “disappear” into the notorious Ovadan Depe prison outside of Ashgabat. Disappeared prisoners have no access to medical care or legal assistance; no information is provided to their families about their well-being. Current estimates indicate that more than 120 individuals are currently disappeared in Ovadan Depe, including Turkmenistan’s former foreign minister and former ambassador to the OSCE Batyr Berdiev, who disappeared into the Turkmen prison system in 2003. Kate Watters of the Prove They Are Alive! Campaign joins Helsinki Commission Senior Policy Advisor Janice Helwig to discuss the tragedy of those who have been disappeared, as well as the current situation in Turkmenistan and the steps that are being taken to encourage the Government of Turkmenistan to halt the practice and live up to its international commitments to human rights. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 7 | Disappeared in Turkmenistan
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 Panel Reports on Torture in Chechnya and Turkey
WASHINGTON - Torture, including sawing off teeth, remains a widespread abuse in some countries according to panelists at a briefing today of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission). In advance of the U.N. International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture (June 26), the Helsinki Commission heard reports on the use of torture in Turkey and Chechnya. At an OSCE Summit of Heads of State and Government held last November in Istanbul, Turkey and Russia and the other OSCE Participating States committed themselves to “eradicating torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.” Despite the countries’ commitments, however, panelists said torture remains a widespread human rights problem.
Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) said the issue of torture is one of long-standing concern to the Commission. “We have addressed it at numerous Commission hearings and briefings. We have raised it at OSCE implementation meetings. We urged inclusion of language on torture adopted by the OSCE Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Istanbul last November,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, in spite of these efforts, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every single OSCE country, including the United States,” Smith added. “There is no OSCE country that does not have some instances of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Chairman Smith was the principal sponsor of the Torture Victims Relief Act and subsequent re-authorization bills authorizing $106 million over 5 years and signed into law by President Clinton.
Helsinki Commission member Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) said, “It is vital that we as a nation, as a government, and as Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe do all we can to stop torture throughout the world. I give my pledge to help end these human rights violations as soon as possible.”
According to the Denmark-based International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims’ Dr. Inge Genefke, the Turkish Government has ignored many complaints by torture victims. Genefke cited a report by the Turkish Parliament’s human rights commission which documented widespread use of torture. “The victims stated they did not complain to the government or to the courts since very few complaints are acted upon,” Genefke said, adding that “this is the first time an official [Turkish] government body has admitted to the widespread practice of torture.”
“When a party is out of power, it opposes the use of torture. But when it is in power it tends to deny or condone the practice,” Genefke said. Amnesty International’s Maureen Greenwood noted that there is a problem with torture and ill-treatment in Russia in general, but described the situation in Chechnya as “out of control” and “indicates a new level of the problem of torture in Russia, including new types of torture that Amnesty has not previously recorded such as the filing of teeth with a metal saw.”
“Despite recent Russian Government assurances that all crimes against civilians will be investigated, the perpetrators remain unpunished,” Greenwood said. “Responding to the current level of torture and ill-treatment is a test of the professionalism and the military competence of the Russian armed forces and security forces. They are failing miserably,” she concluded.
Douglas A. Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for Victims of Torture, said the remedy to government sanctioned torture lies in the willingness of leaders world-wide to combat the issue up-front. “Torture exists in highly complex systems, and is reinforced by police training and impunity, prosecutorial zeal, political revenge and fears, corrupt or inefficient judiciaries, public attitudes and apathy, even apathy caused by fear,” Johnson said. “The use of torture will not yield to individual tactics, no matter how well conceived or pushed by governments, by non-government organizations, or by international agencies.” Johnson also underscored the role of treatment centers for torture survivors as tools to help “restore the dignity of the human spirit.”
Although OSCE countries committed, in the November 1999 summit agreement, to assist torture victims, Johnson noted that there are no rehabilitation centers in Central Asia or the Caucusas. Moreover, he said that some existing centers may be in danger of losing their funding, such as the center in Romania. “Thus, the need is more urgent to find a resource for financial and political support from the West to develop and sustain new treatment centers if we are to meet the recommendations of numerous OSCE meetings on the subject.”