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Helsinki Commission Report Describes Investigations Into Wrongful Sterilizations in Slovakia and Czech Republic

Commissioners Urge Czech Government to Implement Recommendations, Slovak Government to Acknowledge Sterilizations
Monday, August 14, 2006

A United States Helsinki Commission staff report released today describes investigations into the practice of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The report describes an investigation by the Czech Public Defender of Rights as an “unflinching examination” of “highly sensitive issues.” An investigation of the same issue by the Slovak Government was “marred by numerous shortcomings and insufficient follow up.”

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Czechoslovak Government pursued a policy aimed at reducing the birthrate of Roma, including by targeting Romani women for sterilization. Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Slovakia investigated allegations regarding sterilization in 2003, and questions continue to be raised about this matter at international fora. The Czech Public Defender of Rights issued a report on December 23, 2005, confirming that some women had been sterilized without informed consent.

“I commend the Czech Public Defender of Rights for his courageous and principled investigation into this sensitive issue,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), “and I call on the next Czech Government to move quickly to act on his recommendations.”

“Unfortunately,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), “Slovakia has yet to admit that this terrible practice occurred, despite clear evidence to the contrary. I urge the Slovak Government to acknowledge that some Roma women were sterilized without their consent and to ensure that women are given proper access to their own medical records.”

The report states, “[T]he Slovak Government has failed to demonstrate any compassion for women and girls who were sterilized without their consent and deprived of the opportunity to bear children again. By treating their claims as lies, the government has effectively treated these victims as liars, and compounded their original injury with this indignity. If the Slovak Government is to counter the endemic prejudice faced by its most marginalized minority, it must acknowledge the fact – and state it publicly – that wrongful sterilizations of Romani women did occur.”

Recent parliamentary elections in Slovakia are cited in the report as a potential hindrance to progress on this issue. Slovak parliamentary elections were held on June 17, and those elections produced a coalition government that includes the extremist Slovak National Party. As recently as February 2006, Jan Slota, head of the Slovak National Party, stated that if his party joined the government after the June elections, he would seek to control the birth rate of “unadapted” Roma.

The report is available through the Helsinki Commission's web site at www.csce.gov. The Commission will examine the issue in more detail during a briefing featuring Ms. Gwendolyn Albert, Director of the League of Human Rights in Prague, that will be held on August 15, 2006, at 2:00 PM in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

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    By Alex Johnson, Policy Advisor and Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel In December 2009, Commission staff attended the 2009 OSCE Mediterranean Conference on “The Mediterranean Partners and the OSCE: Cooperation Toward Enhanced Security and Stability” in Cairo, Egypt. This conference brought together 33 of the 56 OSCE participating States, four of the Asian Partners for Cooperation (Australia, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand), and representation from all of the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. The Palestinian National Authority attended at the invitation of the host government. The conference featured three sessions focusing on the politico-military aspects of security in the OSCE area, implications of the current financial crisis on migration, and prospects for OSCE Mediterranean Cooperation. These sessions featured presentations from Mediterranean Partner OSCE delegations, academics, international organizations, and relevant ministry representatives. Participation in this conference was at a high level with the majority of the participating States and all of the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation represented by their Ambassadors to the OSCE. Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE in attendance included a Vice-President and officers of two of the Assembly’s General Committees. Discussion in all of the sessions was lively with active participation by the Ambassadors, particularly those representing the Mediterranean Partners, as well as other public and private sector participants. A number of themes emerged across the sessions including agreement that the partnership between the OSCE participating States and their Mediterranean Partners has strengthened. The establishment of the Partnership Fund and the Athens’ Ministerial invitation to the Partners to contribute to the Corfu Process are largely attributed with bolstering the strength of the Partnership. Findings included a future activity emphasis on specific areas of cooperation by setting both short and long-term goals and providing a mechanism to assess effectiveness. In addition, the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership should undertake its work in coordination with other regional organizations and institutions, through which the possibility of expanding the Partnership could be considered. Session 1: Politico-military aspects of security in the OSCE area and the Mediterranean The session’s moderators were Ambassador Ian Cliff, Head of the delegation of the United Kingdom to the OSCE and Ambassador Taous Feroukhi, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the OSCE. Panelists included Mr. Pascal Heyman, Deputy Director of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Center, Ambassador Gyorgy Molnar, Head of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Hungary to the OSCE, and Dr. Mostafa Elwy Saif, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Political Science, Cairo University and Member of the Shura Council. Ambassador Cliff opened the discussion by pointing out that the OSCE had developed expertise on crisis prevention and conflict resolution, particularly regarding protracted conflicts. He believes there has recently been some incremental progress. Pascal Heyman emphasized that the OSCE has developed a unique conflict prevention and resolution expertise through constant political dialogue, dedicated crisis management mechanisms such as fact-finding missions, the Conflict Prevention Center, confidence and security building measures and the establishment of field operations. While these are effective tools, Heyman maintained that workable and lasting conflict resolution depends ultimately on the political will of the participating States and the parties in a conflict. Ambassador Molnar spoke to the destabilizing consequences of transnational or multi-dimensional threats to security in the OSCE space. He noted that participating States are attempting to address these threats through the Maastricht Strategy and decisions adopted at both the Madrid and Athens Ministerials regarding transnational threats, combating terrorism, and promoting effective law enforcement and police training programs. Dr. Saif presented a detailed review of Egypt’s political and military security concerns and concluded that the primary challenges to his country’s security stem from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s regional and nuclear ambitions, water shortages, the political situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Ambassador Feroukhi said that the absence of a dedicated institutional forum in the Mediterranean region hampered the development of effective security mechanisms but felt that the development of confidence-building measures – particularly involving civil society and academic communities – should be encouraged as a first step. She also agreed that a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and better protection of the environment were vital for the stability and security of the Mediterranean region. All delegations who participated in the discussion welcomed the Athens Ministerial decision to invite input from the Partners for Cooperation on furthering the Corfu Process. A number of delegations raised the possibility of enlarging the Mediterranean Partnership to include the Palestinian National Authority, while others pointed out the difficulties of doing so, due to the fact that the OSCE is a state-based organization. The Partnership Fund was hailed as an effective tool to enhance the Mediterranean Partnership and it should continue to be used to sustain a culture of cooperation, including the possible creation of a clearing house on water issues within the OSCE. It was also stressed that the OSCE should coordinate its activities with relevant international and regional organizations. The moderators stated the following conclusions emanating from the discussion: The confidence and security building measures as well as early warning mechanisms developed in the framework of the OSCE could serve as a model and help to foster cooperation and confidence in the Mediterranean region; the participation of the Partners in the Corfu process should enhance the Mediterranean Partnership; and, the Partnership should move forward based on concrete, achievable objectives with possible long-term goals of establishing a Mediterranean conflict prevention center and developing regional codes of conduct to enhance dialogue and cooperation. Session 2: Implications of the current economic and financial crisis on migration The second session was moderated by Mr. Daman Bergant, Head of the OSCE Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, and panelists included Ambassador Omar Zniber, Head of the Delegation of the Kingdom of Morocco to the OSCE, and Ms. Rebecca Bardach, Director of the Center for International Migration and Integration of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Mr. Bergant began the session by explaining that the global economic and financial crisis has an impact on migration and development. He outlined several topics to guide the discussion including the development of cooperative migration policies between the OSCE and the Mediterranean Partners; dialogue on how to prevent and combat illegal migration; international and regional cooperation on preventing trafficking in human beings, including trafficking for forced labor; protecting the human rights of migrants, including through combating hate crimes; and, the role of migrants in promoting tolerance and non-discrimination. Ambassador Zniber spoke to the impact of the current economic crisis on both migrants and development. He pointed out that the impact of the crisis makes migrants even more vulnerable and they face increased discrimination and further marginalization in society. Decreasing remittances, said the Ambassador – 10 to 15% in 2009 according to the World Bank – are a destabilizing factor, impacting countries of origin like Morocco which are particularly dependent on revenues from abroad. The Ambassador welcomed the Athens Ministerial Council Decision on migration management and urged that the OSCE continue its work in this area, in particular, by facilitating dialogue, exchanging best practices and fighting discrimination against migrants. Specifically, he recommended that the OSCE and its Mediterranean Partners establish a working group on migration management and related security aspects; develop a multi-dimensional and long-term approach on migration management; promote regional cooperation and partnerships between all responsible parties including countries of origin, transit and destination, civil society and the private sector; create reintegration and training programs; and, protect the human rights of migrants and their families. Ms. Bardach gave a comprehensive review of migration issues impacting Israel. She explained that only in the last two decades has Israel seen a significant increase in migration flows across its borders. This is presenting challenges to the government in managing migration and dealing with large numbers of refugees, asylum seekers, and labor migrants, in addition to human smuggling and trafficking. While Israeli efforts to combat trafficking for sexual exploitation have resulted in marked progress, she said, efforts to combat labor trafficking are still in their infancy. Based on this experience, Ms. Bardach suggested that the OSCE should develop policies to address irregular recruitment practices and raise awareness about such practices; develop cooperation on both the regional and bilateral level to increase information sharing, strengthen border controls and address the humanitarian needs of migrants; develop culturally sensitive tools for law enforcement officials; and, improve the reception and registration of refugees, including assisted voluntary return. During the discussion following the panel presentations, a number of delegations echoed the view that the OSCE and its Mediterranean Partners should serve as a broad regional platform for a coordinated dialogue on migration, and should develop a comprehensive strategy to prevent cross-border trafficking that includes the private sector. The contributors in this session demonstrated the need for better data collection and sharing regarding migration in the Euro-Mediterranean context. This goal was identified as a potential priority for the Partnership Fund. Proposals distributed by the Moroccan and Egyptian delegations have both cited the importance of developing research institutions, which could serve to further the goal of better data collection and expertise sharing. Session 3: Prospects for OSCE Mediterranean Cooperation The third session Chaired by Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Head of the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the OSCE and Chair of the OSCE Permanent Council, focused on a review of achievements to date in improving dialogue and cooperation between the participating States and the Mediterranean Partners, and developing effective follow-up on recommendations of previous seminars and ministerial declarations referencing the Partners. Featured speakers were Ambassador Makram Queisi, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the OSCE, and Mr. Agustin Nunez, Deputy Head of Mission of the Permanent Mission of Spain to the OSCE. Ambassador Queisi presented four areas in which he felt cooperation could improve the relationship between the OSCE and the Mediterranean region – environmental aspects of security such as soil erosion, desertification and water management including the possible creation of an environmental data collection center in the region; enhanced border security to combat terrorism and trafficking including cooperation with the Regional Counter Terrorism Training Center in Jordan; combating discrimination against Muslims; and developing nuclear non-proliferation strategies for the region. The Ambassador also stated his view that Partner status should be granted to the Palestinian National Authority as a confidence building measure. Mr. Nunez reviewed the development of the participating State’s cooperation with their Mediterranean Partners including increased participation by Mediterranean Partners in OSCE activities and recent examples of concrete cooperation on issues such as countering terrorism, promoting tolerance and freedom of the media, and enhancing border management. He emphasized the importance of having a strategic vision for the Partnership and commended the proposal by the Kazakh Chair of the Mediterranean Contact Group that three priority areas should be identified for developing projects to be financed by the Partnership Fund. Mr. Nunez concurred with Ambassador Queisi’s view that the Partnership should be enlarged to include the Palestinian National Authority and noted that Spain had circulated two food-for-thought papers on this topic in 2008. Following the presentations, active debate among the delegations ensued and focused primarily on the current status of the Partnership and its achievements to date, proposals for additional areas of cooperation, procedural improvements and the issue of possible enlargement of the Partnership. Enhanced cooperation in the areas of promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, freedom of the media, gender, combating trafficking in human beings, energy security, security aspects of climate change, water management and fighting corruption, drug trafficking and terrorism was discussed. It was suggested that working groups should be established to examine these issues and make recommendations for action. Participants also called for the establishment of a system for effective follow-up on recommendations and agreed proposals, as well as enhanced coordination with other regional institutions and organizations. The participants actively discussed the question of enlarging the Mediterranean Partnership with some participants supporting the granting of Partner status to the Palestinian National Authority as a confidence building measure conducive to dialogue and peace in the region. Debate over this particular consideration illuminated the need for an expeditious response to the request of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to become an OSCE Mediterranean Partner for Cooperation. It is apparent that a number of participating States and partners recognize the value of their participation in Mediterranean Dimension activities. Yet, disagreement arises when considering the implications of recognizing a territory as a full-fledged partner. Some participating States see the case of the PNA as unique in that there is already international agreement on the existence of a future Palestinian State. Other participating States believe that affording a territory official status sets a precedent for other territories seeking recognition in the OSCE region. A number of these leaders believe that a future Palestinian State should be granted partner status after formal international recognition. Thus, it will be unlikely that consensus on partnership with the PNA will be reached at this time and the OSCE Chair-in-Office should issue a formal response acknowledging this. The question of PNA participation will continue to mire productive dialogue on other opportunities for cooperation until a decisive response is issued by the OSCE Chair-in-Office. Alternatives for their participation should however be explored. Some possibilities include establishment of an alternative status of “observer” or other title within the framework of the Partners for Cooperation to allow for a transitional process of full recognition as a Partner. In addition, some sort of agreement should be established on recommended countries outside of the Mediterranean Partnership for invitations to OSCE Mediterranean Dimension activities. Conclusion: Future Considerations for Annual Conference Administration A tremendous success of the 2009 Mediterranean Conference was the engagement of the Ambassadors from the Mediterranean Partners in the agenda. Each panel featured a Mediterranean Partner Ambassador, which helped balance the contributions during the discussion. Previous conferences did not adequately balance the opportunities for contributions between the Mediterranean Partners and the OSCE participating States. In the most grievous of incidences, panelists and participating States at the 2008 Mediterranean Conference in Amman, Jordan took so much time during the discussion that contributions from representatives of the Partners were significantly curtailed. It only makes sense that the contributions of the Partners be prioritized when the purpose of the conference is enhancing cooperation with their respective countries. Meaningful participation by the Partners remains the only way to sustain the future of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension. A recurring challenge of the annual Mediterranean conference is a lack of willingness to host the event among the Mediterranean Partners. The venue question remains an issue that paralyzes cooperation among the Mediterranean Partners and has the potential to diminish the productivity of the conference each year. The venue question stems from a number of factors. Not only is the conference capital-intensive for the hosting State, political considerations regarding the participants in the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension keep Partners like Algeria and Tunisia from taking a leadership role in hosting the event. Thus, active Partners like Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Israel bear the burden of hosting the conference most frequently. Ownership of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension through hosting the conference and originating initiatives remains an ideal that the partnership should aspire to. However, it is not unprecedented that participating States would host the conference. Previous Mediterranean seminars were hosted by Greece (2002), Croatia (2001), Slovenia (2000), and Malta (1998), prior to the elevation of the event to a “conference” by the Greek chairmanship of the OSCE in 2008. Participating States have offered to host the upcoming 2010 conference. Proceeding with an established venue earlier in the year may provide for more time for substantive topic development. Such a deviation from Mediterranean Partner ownership of the event should be seen as an exception until a more appropriate mechanism for rotating the responsibility of hosting the conference is devised. The 2009 Mediterranean Conference was well executed by the Egyptian government, especially considering the short time between their final commitment to do so and the date of the event. However, NGO participation was notably missing. The 2008 OSCE Mediterranean Conference in Amman featured a session for NGOs from throughout the Mediterranean region on the day prior to the conference and subsequently included a robust NGO presence during the conference proceedings. OSCE Participating States led by the United States made extra-budgetary contributions to the OSCE Partnership Fund to help facilitate a robust NGO presence. International organization representatives that were invited to present on the session panels in the 2009 Cairo conference were among the few non-governmental participants present. It is true that participating States lack the wherewithal to contribute annually to facilitate an NGO presence especially given global fiscal challenges. However, exploring partnerships with appropriate foundations, endowments, and institutions involved in Euro-Mediterranean engagement may result in a consistent and strong NGO presence at events within the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension.

  • Natural Resource Charter

    Mr. President, I am pleased to report to you and my colleagues on the excellent work that is being done to help developing countries capitalize on their natural resource wealth. This unique initiative is called the Natural Resource Charter, and it is designed to give countries the tools and knowledge they need to develop their natural resources for the good of their citizens in a transparent and accountable manner. As a collective work coordinated by established academics and development experts, the charter provides a set of policy principles for governments on the successful translation of natural resource wealth into fair and sustainable development. At the U.S. Helsinki Commission we monitor 56 countries, including the United States, with the mandate to ensure compliance to commitments made under the Helsinki Final Act with focus on three dimensions: security, economics and the environment, and human rights. The management of extractive industries has broad implications covering all three dimensions of the Helsinki process. We know that oil, gas, and mining are potential sources of conflict and their supply has a direct impact on our national security. The often negative economic consequences for resource rich countries are well documented and we see constant reminders of the environmental impact of extraction both at home and abroad. Finally, the resultant degradation of human rights in countries that are corrupted by resource wealth is a real concern that we must address. When the charter was launched last year, I was struck by how far we have come in terms of bringing the difficult conversation on extractive industries into the lexicon of world leaders. Only a few short years ago, the word "transparency'' was not used in the same sentence with oil, gas or mining revenue. After the launch of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2002, we have seen a major shift in attitude. This was followed by G8 and G20 statements in support of greater revenue transparency as a means of achieving greater economic growth in developing countries. But it is clear that given the challenge ahead, more than statements are needed. The Natural Resource Charter is a concrete and practical next step in the right direction. Economists have found that many of the resource-rich countries of the world today have fared notably worse than their neighbors economically and politically, despite the positive opportunities granted by resource wealth. The misuse of extractive industry revenues has often mitigated the benefits of such mineral wealth for citizens of developing nations; in many cases the resources acting instead as a source of severe economic and social instability. In addressing the factors and providing solutions for such difficulties, the Natural Resource Charter aims to be a global public resource for informed, transparent decision-making regarding extractive industry management. The charter's overarching philosophy is that development of natural resources should be designed to secure maximum benefit for the citizens of the host country. To this end, its dialogue includes a special focus on the role of informed public oversight through transparency measures such as EITI in establishing the legitimacy of resource decisions and attracting foreign investment. On fiscal issues, the charter presents guidelines for the systematic reinvestment of resource revenues in national infrastructure and human capital with the goal of diminishing effects of resource price volatility and ensuring long-term economic growth. This week the commission will hold a public briefing on the Natural Resource Charter and I am pleased to say that there was a candid conversation between the audience and the panel that revealed much about how the charter could be used to promote human rights and good governance. The briefing also addressed ways that U.S. support of democratic and economically sensible extractive industry standards could have a powerful effect in securing the welfare and freedoms of citizens in resource-rich countries. In particular, it was noted that the Energy Security Through Transparency Act, S. 1700, a bipartisan bill I introduced with my colleague Senator Lugar and 10 other colleagues is consistent with the principles set out in the Natural Resource Charter. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure our continued progress on these issues.

  • Ethnic and Racial Profiling in the OSCE Region

    In this briefing, held by Commissioners Alcee L. Hastings and Benjamin L. Cardin, the topic of discussion was combatting ethnic and racial profiling. To this end, years ago, Hastings and Cardin began such efforts for the OSCE. Consequently, the OSCE established a tolerance unit that publishes an annual hate crimes report, has three personal representatives to address these issues, and has developed numerous initiatives to address prejudice and discrimination. Likewise, the OSCE’s High Commissioner on National Minorities has convened experts to discuss the issue of multiethnic policing. In spite of substantial progress made, there continues to be a lot of work to be done to address ethnic and racial profiling. In fact, the Commission, U.S. Government, and organizations like the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Human Rights First have, quite recently, called for a response to the profiling of Roma, Muslims, persons of African descent or blacks, and other groups in Europe and the U.S.

  • Helsinki Commission Applauds U.S. Human Rights Reports

    U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) hailed today’s release of the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices as a key tool to monitor and track progress on universal freedoms. “The State Department reports on human rights provide a valuable reference point for assessing human rights trends in countries throughout the world, including those in the expansive OSCE region stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” Chairman Cardin said. This year’s reports have increased significance as 2010 is the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and the 20th anniversary of other international human rights agreements. “In a year commemorating landmark human rights documents of the Helsinki Final Act, the Copenhagen Document, and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, today’s State Department reports remind us that many of the promises countries made in those historic documents still have not been met with meaningful action,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “These reports on human rights around the world are a critical tool, and they’ll provide a fact-base to inform our foreign policy in the year ahead,” said Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor. Posner, who serves as the State Department Commissioner on the U.S. Helsinki Commission, unveiled the reports with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a news conference this morning. As leaders of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, the Co-Chairmen have consistently voiced concerns about the pattern of rights violations cited in several of the OSCE participating States. “In Belarus, the political space for opposition remains tightly controlled and independent media face continual harassment,” said Cardin, who travelled to Minsk in July 2009. “The overall situation in Russia remains disturbing with the murder of a leading human right advocate, harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and forceful break up of public demonstrations. I urge Kazakhstan, as the current chair of the OSCE, to lead by example through concrete actions, starting with the release of activist Yevgeny Zhovtis.” The Co-Chairmen welcomed Assistant Secretary Posner to the Commission Feb. 25.Posner’s activity with the Commission and the State Department’s annual human rights reports mandated by Congress are examples of legislative-executive branch cooperation to keep a spotlight on human rights abuses.

  • 65th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz

    Mr. President, on January 27, 1945, the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, including Birkenau and other related camps near the Polish city of Oswiecim, was liberated by the Soviet Army. This week, people have gathered at Auschwitz and in many other places to mark the 65th anniversary of that event. I am pleased that President Obama presented a video address in which he underscored--using Elie Wiesel's words--the sacred duty of memory. Auschwitz-Birkenau was the principal and most notorious of the six death camps built by Nazi Germany to achieve its goal of the mass extermination of the Jewish people of Europe. Built in Nazi-occupied Poland initially as a concentration camp for Poles and later for Soviet prisoners of war, it soon became a prison for a number of other nationalities. Ultimately, a minimum 1,300,000 people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945, and of these, at least 1,100,000 were murdered at that camp. An estimated 6 million Jews--more than 60 percent of the pre-World War II Jewish population of Europe--were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators at Auschwitz and elsewhere in Europe. In addition, hundreds of thousands of civilians of Polish, Roma, and other nationalities, including in particular disabled individuals, homosexuals, political, intellectual, labor, and religious leaders, all of whom the Nazis considered `undesirable,' as well as Soviet and other prisoners of war, perished at Auschwitz . On that day of liberation , 65 years ago, only 7,000 camp prisoners who had passed through the infamous Auschwitz gates, the ones who promised "Arbeit Macht Frei" -- "Work Will Make You Free" -- managed to survive the selections, torture, starvation, disease, inhuman medical experiments, and executions that occurred at Auschwitz. According to a new survey published this week by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, at least 41 of the OSCE's 56 participating states commemorate the Holocaust with official events. Thirty-three participating states have established official memorial days for Holocaust victims, and January 27 is the official Holocaust Memorial Day in many European countries, including Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. I am deeply gratified that since 2005, the United Nations has also observed January 27 as a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust. In fact, Auschwitz -Birkenau was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979. I personally visited Auschwitz in 2004 and cannot overstate the importance of the Memorial Museum there today in the effort to teach future generations about the Holocaust. The recent theft of the "Arbeit-Macht-Frei" sign -- which, fortunately, was recovered -- has certainly heightened awareness of the need for additional security measures there, and I support the efforts to secure increased funding for the preservation of the Memorial Museum. Teaching about the Holocaust is an obligation that must be met not only at Auschwitz , but at places where people learn around the globe. As chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am deeply concerned by the rise of anti-Semitism and violent extremism in some OSCE participating states. In particular, I am deeply troubled by the continued prevalence of Nazi-era discourse to describe Roma. As Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, has said: Even after . . . the Nazi killing of at least half a million Roma, probably 700,000 or more, there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma. With this concern in mind, I was pleased to learn that the United Nations invited the OSCE senior advisor for Romani issues, Andrzej Mirga, to participate in the commemoration they organized this year. Sadly, as Mr. Mirga observed, although approximately 23,000 Romani people were sent to Auschwitz , none were among the survivors liberated there 65 years ago.  

  • Russia’s Muslims

    This briefing evaluated the status of Islam in Russia, including religious freedom, the radical Islam, terrorism, demographic issues as far as where the community’s growing, and other issues. In particular the rise of Islam in the North Caucuses and the inter-religious, inter-ethnic harmony within that region was addressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Paul Goble, Professor at the Institute of World Politics and Shireen Hunter, Visiting Professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service – discussed the growing numbers of people of the Islamic heritage in the Russian Federation, and evaluated the factors that have produced such an increase both in terms of absolute numbers and relative to the total population. The numerous implications of this growth were topics of discussion as well.

  • Slovakia and Hungary Relations

    Mr. President, in 1991, then-Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel brought together his counterparts from Poland and Hungary. Taking inspiration from a 14th century meeting of Central European kings, these 20th century leaders returned to the same Danube town of Visegrad with a view to eliminating the remnants of the communist bloc in Central Europe; overcoming historic animosities between Central European countries; and promoting European integration. Today, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are together known as the Visegrad Group, and all four have successfully joined NATO and the European Union. They are anchors in the Trans-Atlantic alliance, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to travel to all four of these countries where I have met with public officials, non-governmental representatives and ethnic and religious community leaders. Unfortunately, it appears that some additional work is necessary to address one of the principal goals of the Visegrad Group; namely, overcoming historic animosities. In recent months, relations between Hungary and Slovakia have been strained. Having traveled in the region and having met with leaders from both countries during their recent visits to Washington, I would like to share a few observations. First, an amendment to the Slovak language law, which was adopted in June and will enter into force in January, has caused a great deal of concern that the use of the Hungarian language by the Hungarian minority in Slovakia will be unduly or unfairly restricted. Unfortunately, that anxiety has been whipped up, in part, by a number of inaccurate and exaggerated statements about the law. The amendment to the state language law only governs the use of the state language by official public bodies. These state entities may be fined if they fail to ensure that Slovak--the state language--is used in addition to the minority languages permitted by law. The amendment does not allow fines to be imposed on individuals, and certainly not for speaking Hungarian or any other minority language in private, contrary to what is sometimes implied. The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has been meeting with officials from both countries and summarized the Slovak law in his most recent report to the OSCE Permanent Council: “The adopted amendments to the State Language Law pursue a legitimate aim, namely, to strengthen the position of the State language, and, overall, are in line with international standards. Some parts of the law, however, are ambiguous and may be misinterpreted, leading to a negative impact on the rights of persons belonging to national minorities.” Since the law has not yet come into effect, there is particular concern that even if the law itself is consistent with international norms, the implementation of the law may not be. I am heartened that Slovakia and Hungary have continued to engage with one of the OSCE's most respected institutions--the High Commissioner on National Minorities--on this sensitive issue, and I am confident that their continued discussions will be constructive. At the same time, I would flag a number of factors or developments that have created the impression that the Slovak Government has some hostility toward the Hungarian minority. Those factors include but are not limited to the participation of the extremist Slovak National Party, SNS, in the government itself; the SNS control of the Ministry of Education, one of the most sensitive ministries for ethnic minorities; the Ministry of Education's previous position that it would require Slovak-language place names in Hungarian language textbooks; the handling of the investigation into the 2006 Hedvig Malinova case in a manner that makes it impossible to have confidence in the results of the investigation, and subsequent threats to charge Ms. Malinova with perjury; and the adoption of a resolution by the parliament honoring Andrei Hlinka, notwithstanding his notorious and noxious anti-Hungarian, anti-Semitic, and anti-Roma positions. All that said, developments in Hungary have done little to calm the waters. Hungary itself has been gripped by a frightening rise in extremism, manifested by statements and actions of the Hungarian Guard, the ``64 Counties'' movement, and the extremist party Jobbik, all of which are known for their irredentist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Roma postures. Murders and other violent attacks against Roma, repeated attacks by vandals on the Slovak Institute in Budapest, attacks on property in Budapest's Jewish quarter in September, and demonstrations which have blocked the border with Slovakia and where the Slovak flag is burned illustrate the extent to which the Hungarian social fabric is being tested. Not coincidentally, both Hungary and Slovakia have parliamentary elections next year, in April and June respectively, and, under those circumstances, it may suit extremist elements in both countries just fine to have these sorts of developments: nationalists in Slovakia can pretend to be protecting Slovakia's language and culture--indeed, the very state--from the dangerous overreach of Hungarians. Hungarian nationalists--on both sides of the border--can pretend that Hungarian minorities require their singular protection--best achieved by remembering them come election day. Meanwhile, the vast majority of good-natured Slovaks and Hungarians, who have gotten along rather well for most of the last decade, may find their better natures overshadowed by the words and deeds of a vocal few. In meetings with Slovak and Hungarian officials alike, I have urged my colleagues to be particularly mindful of the need for restraint in this pre-election season, and I have welcomed the efforts of those individuals who have chosen thoughtful engagement over mindless provocation. I hope both countries will continue their engagement with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, whom I believe can play a constructive role in addressing minority and other bilateral concerns.

  • United Nations Forum on Minority Issues - Geneva, Switzerland

    Good afternoon. I am Congressman Alcee Hastings from the United States. I am honored to be here today with a number of my colleagues from the US Congress, including the Chair of this Forum - Congresswoman Barbara Lee. I am pleased that this week’s event offers the opportunity for us to work together in the international arena on an issue of great importance - minority political participation. I am pleased that the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall invited me to present on a minority political participation effort I recently initiated that I believe will be useful for today’s discussion in developing recommendations for this forum’s final document. As the Chair and co-Chair the US Helsinki Commission over the past few years, I have been tasked with the responsibility of monitoring and supporting 56 European and North American countries’ efforts to uphold the Helsinki Accords and related commitments, including fostering equal rights and combating intolerance and discrimination. A series of hearings we held in the US Congress on these issues including existing inequalities and discrimination faced by Black Europeans and other visible minorities throughout the OSCE, led to a call for action. Instrumental to those hearings were the testimonies of UN representatives Gay McDougall and Joe Frans that assisted in identifying patterns of concern in the OSCE region. Following those hearings, I introduced the first US bill calling for transatlantic government partnerships to combat racism and discrimination and partnered with UN Working Group of People of African descent head Joe Frans and current and former EU Parliamentarians Harlem Desir, Claude Moraes, and Glyn Ford to begin an initiative that would support the needed involvement of minorities in the policymaking arenas to effectively address these issues. I’m happy to see a number of my colleagues here today. The resulting event was the “Black European Summit: Transatlantic Dialogue on Political Participation.” The Summit took place over two days in April (15-16) at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. For the first time a small group of political and intellectual minority leaders from more than ten countries exchanged information on barriers to political participation and the roles of minority policymakers in representing minority interests, including promoting equal rights in the United States and Europe. Following the event, participants adopted the Brussels Declaration which addressed the importance of and strategies for increasing racial and ethnic minority political participation. Materials on each of these initiatives have been made available today. What did we learn? Whether a Parliamentarian, Mayor, or City Counselor, we had much in common. First, the majority of our political and legal systems do not accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our societies. Second, we have often not been sufficiently included in the development and/or implementation of government policies, even when the stated goal was to combat racism and discrimination. Third, institutionalized processes are often at fault, yet, despite stated commitments to democracy, there continues to be a lack of political will from government, political parties and other actors to include us. Fourth, the lack of political knowledge of our communities often made it difficult to garner the necessary support to effectively address these issues. We noted that often times, political participation was defined as whether minorities had the right to vote or be elected. While this is one aspect of participation, there are many others. Policymaking via obtaining positions in the government and/or with political parties, grassroots advocacy, and an understanding of the political process such as how laws are drafted are also of great importance. We discussed simple solutions governments, political parties, and non-governmental organizations can employ such as advertising employment opportunities in minority communities, requiring that at least a percentage of persons interviewed for a position are minorities, and providing minority fellowships and internships for teenagers and college students in Parliament, government agencies, and other organizations are initial steps. Financing degrees for minorities in relevant fields such as law, international relations, political science, or even economics is another. Tapping minorities in the private sector for public-private policy initiatives such as the development of energy and trade policies are also necessary. We determined that government agencies, parliamentarians, and other government officials can also foster strong relationships with minority communities through educational information sessions on political rights and even regular face to face meetings that allow minorities to be in on the decision-making of policies that impact them. This could be small regular monthly meetings or even town hall sessions. The need for increased support for minorities currently in political careers was deemed essential. Mentorship opportunities for current elected officials and those seeking elections, establishing support networks such as our Congressional Black Caucus, and having procedures in place to address workplace discrimination were noted. In discussing the realm of possible solutions, we agreed to make the initial Summit an annual event and to continue the dialogue. Moving forward we plan to address the following issues, which are also detailed in the final Brussels Declaration: 1. Political education for minority communities, including advocacy, 2. The development of physical and electronic support networks for minority elected officials, 3. Youth and community outreach, including the development of targeted professional development and hiring strategies in the political arena, and 4. Opportunities for self-organization and other empowerment initiatives. Importantly, we believe these efforts must be applied to all levels of national, regional, and local government to ensure that our societies are fully participatory. In the interest of time, I will conclude here. I would urge that many of the concrete steps I detailed be included in the Final Document of this forum. I look forward to answering any questions regarding the Summit, US initiatives, and other thoughts on concrete strategies regarding minority political participation during the discussion. Thank you.

  • Embassy Row: Wall Fallout

    A Democratic congressman this week used a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall to criticize President Obama for failing to nominate a U.S. ambassador to a key European human rights panel. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings of Florida urged Mr. Obama to find time to fill the ambassadorship to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). "I'm disappointed that the administration has still not yet nominated an ambassador to one of the pre-eminent human rights organizations," said Mr. Hastings, co-chairman of the congressional version of the OSCE, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. "For a president who so strongly supports international engagement and reinvigorating multilateral institutions, I expected better." Mr. Hastings added that he hopes Mr. Obama will nominate an ambassador to the 56-nation OSCE before the end of the year. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, chairman of the congressional panel, called on the United States "to renew its commitment to human rights, not as a personal belief of any political leader or simply an administration policy but as a moral obligation of our country to uphold international law and universal principles." The Maryland Democrat joined other panel members, including the ranking Republican, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, for the commemoration of the fall of the Wall at the Newseum, which displays the largest section of the Wall outside of Germany. Ambassadors Klaus Scharioth of Germany and Cosmin Vierita of Romania also attended the event, along with House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, who chaired the congressional commission in 1989 when Germany tore down the Berlin Wall.

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