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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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  • Displaced Persons Facing Serious Obstacles in Russia

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As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Russian Federation has committed to facilitate sustainable solutions to the plight of IDPs and the voluntary return of such individuals in dignity and safety. I urge President Putin to intervene to ensure that Russian policy and practice are consistent with these OSCE commitments and that no IDPs be effectively forced to return to their homes in Chechnya until the conditions have been created for their return. To do otherwise would place the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Russian citizens at risk.   The second situation I want to briefly highlight concerns the plight of Meskhetian Turks in the Krasnodar Krai region of the Russian Federation. Also known as Ahiska Turks or Meskhetians, Meskhetian Turks were forced to relocate twice within the past 50 years, first from Soviet Georgia in November 1944 to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan. In 1989, approximately 90,000 Meskhetian Turks fled ethnic conflicts in Uzbekistan to all parts of the Soviet Union, with the largest concentration today found in Krasnodar Krai. Numbering approximately 13,000, these displaced individuals find themselves in a virtual no man's land, denied citizenship and permanent residency permits, as well as many other fundamental rights.   Due to loopholes in the Russian citizenship law and the improper application of this law by Krasnodar Krai authorities, Meskhetian Turks must register as “guests” every 45 days, may not legally register the purchase of a house or car, and their marriages and deaths are not officially recorded. Most are denied education above high school, as well. The Krasnodar regional legislature enacted a series of laws in 2002 in an attempt to pressure the Meskhetian Turks to leave. Corresponding with the expiration of the temporary registration held by most Krasnodar Meskhetian Turks, the laws reportedly cancelled leases on land or denied lease renewals for the 2002 crop season. Furthermore, chauvinistic local authorities have not intervened to prevent local Cossack paramilitary units from repeatedly victimizing Krasnodar Meskhetian Turks through public harassment, robbery, and vandalism. In late May, a mob of around 50 people attacked Meskhetian Turks and other non-Russian-looking individuals in two villages, injuring 30 people and hospitalizing six.   By not granting citizenship or providing permanent residency status, current Russian policy enables the discriminatory practices subjugating the rights of Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai to continue. Mr. Speaker, President Putin cited the problems of citizenship and stateless persons in his annual State of the Federation address earlier this year. The Russian President pointed out the complexities and uncertainties faced by stateless persons in Russia. I urge him and Members of the State Duma to rectify the status of Meskhetian Turks and other stateless persons. Meanwhile, the Kremlin should intervene to ensure that Krasnodar Krai officials desist in their discriminatory treatment of the Meskhetian Turks until their status is normalized, as well as guarantee the prosecution of violent criminals.  

  • Helsinki Commissioners Press Belgrade to Apprehend Indicted War Criminals, Cooperate with Hague Tribunal

    By Bob Hand CSCE Staff Advisor On June 16, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell certified that Serbia and Montenegro met U.S. criteria set forth in section 578 of the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution. These criteria include Serbia and Montenegro’s level of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Without certification, certain bilateral assistance to Serbia would have been withheld. Leading Members of the United States Helsinki Commission have long been concerned with the level of cooperation by the Government of Serbia and Montenegro with ICTY and have consistently urged the authorities in Belgrade to do more. Concerned Commissioners have sought to increase attention paid to developments in Serbia in the aftermath of the March assassination of reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. There is a general sense among Commission leaders that while Belgrade’s cooperation with the Tribunal has been improving, it still remains insufficient. In the lead up to the June 15th certification deadline, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) participated in a Commission public briefing featuring Carla Del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor of the Tribunal. As of the May 15th briefing, Del Ponte characterized cooperation from Belgrade as uncertain, underscoring that movement comes only when it is seen as politically beneficial for the Serbian Government. She noted some cooperation in accessing documents; however, for more than a year, the prosecution has pushed for the transfer of 155 Serbian documents in connection with the Milosevic trial without success. Del Ponte expressed concern over the failure to detain wanted fugitives – particularly Veselin Sljivancanin, indicted for the 1991 Vukovar massacre in Croatia, and Ratko Mladic and five others wanted in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Mladic is a great mystery because we know where Mladic is,” she asserted. “We passed this information to the Serbian Government in Belgrade, and nothing happened.” Del Ponte stressed that if law and order is to prevail criminal justice must be credible. Failure to bring together all those accused to trial frustrates the progress of the Tribunal and forces the witnesses to present repeatedly their own horrific accounts each time a separate case is brought to trial. She also assessed cooperation with Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo during the course of the briefing. In a letter dated May 23, five Members of the Helsinki Commission urged Secretary of State Colin Powell to utilize the time prior to the certification deadline to press authorities in Belgrade to take the steps necessary to meet the certification requirements. The Commissioners recognized the significant strides Serbia has made in cooperation with the Tribunal, but underscored that “a failure to apprehend Mladic and other notorious war criminals soon would be a serious setback to the cause of reform and recovery at home and further delay Serbia’s integration in Europe.” The letter was signed by Co-Chairmen Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), and Commissioners Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). The United States Helsinki Commission held a second briefing on June 4, detailing Serbia and Montenegro’s cooperation with the Tribunal, and the prospects for human rights and democratic development in Serbia since the lifting of the state of emergency imposed after Djindjic’s assassination. Helsinki Commission Senior Advisor Donald Kursch opened the briefing, welcoming the tough measures authorities in Belgrade have taken in the wake of Mr. Djindjic’s murder to crack down on criminal elements. Nina Bang-Jensen, Executive Director and General Counsel for the Coalition for International Justice, described Serbia’s actual cooperation with the Court as “very limited, begrudging, and only under pressure.” After last year’s certification, Serbia’s government promised a consistent pattern of cooperation, but only three surrenders and one arrest have followed. Bang-Jensen cited the failure to apprehend nineteen Bosnian Serb and Serbian indicted suspects, either living within Serbia or frequently crossing into Serbia, as an indication that the current government is inclined to protect the old regime. Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, recommended that the United States look not only at Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY, but to its overall level of commitment to rule of law. Following Djindjic’s assassination in March, the Serbian Government imposed a state of emergency to crack down on organized crime. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people were held incommunicado for up to two months under this guise. International monitors were denied access to detainees until recently, and Andersen noted that released detainees reported widespread abuse. Despite increasing pressure from the international community on Serbia’s domestic courts to shoulder greater responsibility for holding war criminals accountable, only four domestic trials were held this year. There is also no indication of upcoming trials or of a permanent commitment to such a process. Trials that have proceeded suffered from a lack of witness protection, poor case preparation by prosecutors, and problems facilitating witnesses traveling from other areas of the former Yugoslavia. James Fisfis, Resident Program Officer for Serbia at the International Republican Institute, remained optimistic. Fisfis presented the results of an IRI survey suggesting that 56 percent of Serbian citizens believe the country is now on the right track, up from 38 percent before the assassination. Sixty-four percent of Serbian respondents currently support cooperation with The Hague, seeing it as a necessary measure toward gaining international acceptance. The data suggest a window of opportunity exists for pressure to reform to have an impact. Ivan Vujacic, Ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro to the United States, acknowledged that “more can be done and more will be done” in cooperation with the Tribunal, but focused on the progress made over the last two and half years, which he described as “remarkable.” In particular, he pointed to the recent arrests of three “pillars of Milosevic’s rule”: Miroslav Radic, Franko Simatovic, and Jovica Stanisic. Ambassador Vujacic said that the Serbian Government was highly committed to protecting human rights. He stated that during the war “the ultimate human right, the right to life was taken from the victims in atrocities defined as war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Vujacic promised that all indictees in the territory of Serbia and Montenegro will be arrested and transferred to The Hague. A second Helsinki Commission letter to Secretary of State Powell dated June 12th, declared that certification could not be justified at the time. The letter concluded: “To certify would be detrimental to U.S. foreign policy goals supporting international justice and successful and complete democratic change in Serbia.” The letter reiterated that the Serbian authorities had yet to arrest and transfer Mladic and other indictees who are most likely in Serbia, and even this did not define the full cooperation with the Tribunal desired. Commission Members warned that if certification occurred while the required conditions remained unmet, the United States’ ability to affect change in Serbia would be diminished, making it more difficult for Serbia’s political leadership to undertake necessary reforms. Some Commission Members view the June 13 arrest of the indicted war crimes suspect Veselin Sljivancanin by the Belgrade authorities as an important positive step toward increased cooperation with the ICTY. However, continued failure to apprehend Mladic and other leading indictees remains a serious cause of concern that places barriers to Serbia and Montenegro’s full re-integration into the international community. In a press release announcing certification, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher asserted that the Secretary’s decision to certify does not indicate that Serbia has fulfilled its commitment. “We have made clear ... that the United States expects further actions to be taken in order to meet those obligations,” Boucher said, “including by arresting and transferring Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.” 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. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Kristin Poore contributed to this article.

  • Helsinki Commission Members Press Belgrade to Apprend Indicted War Criminals, Cooperate with Hague Tribunal

    By Bob Hand CSCE Staff Advisor   On June 16, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell certified that Serbia and Montenegro met U.S. criteria set forth in section 578 of the Consolidated Appropriations Resolution. These criteria include Serbia and Montenegro’s level of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Without certification, certain bilateral assistance to Serbia would have been withheld. Leading Members of the United States Helsinki Commission have long been concerned with the level of cooperation by the Government of Serbia and Montenegro with ICTY and have consistently urged the authorities in Belgrade to do more. Concerned Commissioners have sought to increase attention paid to developments in Serbia in the aftermath of the March assassination of reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. There is a general sense among Commission leaders that while Belgrade’s cooperation with the Tribunal has been improving, it still remains insufficient. In the lead up to the June 15th certification deadline, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) participated in a Commission public briefing featuring Carla Del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor of the Tribunal. As of the May 15th briefing, Del Ponte characterized cooperation from Belgrade as uncertain, underscoring that movement comes only when it is seen as politically beneficial for the Serbian Government. She noted some cooperation in accessing documents; however, for more than a year, the prosecution has pushed for the transfer of 155 Serbian documents in connection with the Milosevic trial without success. Del Ponte expressed concern over the failure to detain wanted fugitives – particularly Veselin Sljivancanin, indicted for the 1991 Vukovar massacre in Croatia, and Ratko Mladic and five others wanted in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Mladic is a great mystery because we know where Mladic is,” she asserted. “We passed this information to the Serbian Government in Belgrade, and nothing happened.” Del Ponte stressed that if law and order is to prevail criminal justice must be credible. Failure to bring together all those accused to trial frustrates the progress of the Tribunal and forces the witnesses to present repeatedly their own horrific accounts each time a separate case is brought to trial. She also assessed cooperation with Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo during the course of the briefing. In a letter dated May 23, five Members of the Helsinki Commission urged Secretary of State Colin Powell to utilize the time prior to the certification deadline to press authorities in Belgrade to take the steps necessary to meet the certification requirements. The Commissioners recognized the significant strides Serbia has made in cooperation with the Tribunal, but underscored that “a failure to apprehend Mladic and other notorious war criminals soon would be a serious setback to the cause of reform and recovery at home and further delay Serbia’s integration in Europe.” The letter was signed by Co-Chairmen Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), and Commissioners Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). The United States Helsinki Commission held a second briefing on June 4, detailing Serbia and Montenegro’s cooperation with the Tribunal, and the prospects for human rights and democratic development in Serbia since the lifting of the state of emergency imposed after Djindjic’s assassination. Helsinki Commission Senior Advisor Donald Kursch opened the briefing, welcoming the tough measures authorities in Belgrade have taken in the wake of Mr. Djindjic’s murder to crack down on criminal elements. Nina Bang-Jensen, Executive Director and General Counsel for the Coalition for International Justice, described Serbia’s actual cooperation with the Court as “very limited, begrudging, and only under pressure.” After last year’s certification, Serbia’s government promised a consistent pattern of cooperation, but only three surrenders and one arrest have followed. Bang-Jensen cited the failure to apprehend nineteen Bosnian Serb and Serbian indicted suspects, either living within Serbia or frequently crossing into Serbia, as an indication that the current government is inclined to protect the old regime. Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, recommended that the United States look not only at Serbia’s cooperation with the ICTY, but to its overall level of commitment to rule of law. Following Djindjic’s assassination in March, the Serbian Government imposed a state of emergency to crack down on organized crime. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people were held incommunicado for up to two months under this guise. International monitors were denied access to detainees until recently, and Andersen noted that released detainees reported widespread abuse. Despite increasing pressure from the international community on Serbia’s domestic courts to shoulder greater responsibility for holding war criminals accountable, only four domestic trials were held this year. There is also no indication of upcoming trials or of a permanent commitment to such a process. Trials that have proceeded suffered from a lack of witness protection, poor case preparation by prosecutors, and problems facilitating witnesses traveling from other areas of the former Yugoslavia. James Fisfis, Resident Program Officer for Serbia at the International Republican Institute, remained optimistic. Fisfis presented the results of an IRI survey suggesting that 56 percent of Serbian citizens believe the country is now on the right track, up from 38 percent before the assassination. Sixty-four percent of Serbian respondents currently support cooperation with The Hague, seeing it as a necessary measure toward gaining international acceptance. The data suggest a window of opportunity exists for pressure to reform to have an impact. Ivan Vujacic, Ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro to the United States, acknowledged that “more can be done and more will be done” in cooperation with the Tribunal, but focused on the progress made over the last two and half years, which he described as “remarkable.” In particular, he pointed to the recent arrests of three “pillars of Milosevic’s rule”: Miroslav Radic, Franko Simatovic, and Jovica Stanisic. Ambassador Vujacic said that the Serbian Government was highly committed to protecting human rights. He stated that during the war “the ultimate human right, the right to life was taken from the victims in atrocities defined as war crimes and crimes against humanity.” Vujacic promised that all indictees in the territory of Serbia and Montenegro will be arrested and transferred to The Hague. A second Helsinki Commission letter to Secretary of State Powell dated June 12th, declared that certification could not be justified at the time. The letter concluded: “To certify would be detrimental to U.S. foreign policy goals supporting international justice and successful and complete democratic change in Serbia.” The letter reiterated that the Serbian authorities had yet to arrest and transfer Mladic and other indictees who are most likely in Serbia, and even this did not define the full cooperation with the Tribunal desired. Commission Members warned that if certification occurred while the required conditions remained unmet, the United States’ ability to affect change in Serbia would be diminished, making it more difficult for Serbia’s political leadership to undertake necessary reforms. Some Commission Members view the June 13 arrest of the indicted war crimes suspect Veselin Sljivancanin by the Belgrade authorities as an important positive step toward increased cooperation with the ICTY. However, continued failure to apprehend Mladic and other leading indictees remains a serious cause of concern that places barriers to Serbia and Montenegro’s full re-integration into the international community. In a press release announcing certification, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher asserted that the Secretary’s decision to certify does not indicate that Serbia has fulfilled its commitment. “We have made clear ... that the United States expects further actions to be taken in order to meet those obligations,” Boucher said, “including by arresting and transferring Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.” 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.

  • 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.

  • International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture

    Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I find myself dealing with the issue of torture many times over during the course of any given year--torture committed by Russian forces in Chechnya, systematic police abuse of Roma in Greece, prisoners tortured to death in Uzbekistan, to give just a few recent examples.   Unfortunately, torture remains the weapon of choice by many oppressive regimes, systematically used to silence political opposition, punish religious minorities, or target those who are ethnically or racially different from those in power.   But on the occasion of the United Nations' Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, I'd like to reflect on the steps that can be taken to help prevent torture from occurring in the first place.   Torture is prohibited by a multitude of international instruments, including documents of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Moreover, it is absolute and nonderogable under any circumstances, even wartime. The challenge, then, is to translate this commitment into practice.   Amnesty International has issued a number of recommendations to help end torture. They are remarkably straightforward and easy to grasp: officials at the highest level should condemn torture; governments should ensure access to prisoners; secret detentions should be prohibited; and confessions obtained through torture should be excluded from evidence in the courtroom. I believe the implementation of these fundamental principles would have a significant impact in reducing torture. At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Annual Session two years ago, I introduced a resolution, passed by the Assembly, that built on these basic concepts.   While we work to eradicate torture, we must not forget those who have already become its victims. Along with Representative TOM LANTOS, I have introduced H.R. 1813, legislation to re-authorize the Torture Victims Relief Act and the list of cosponsors is growing. The Senate companion bill, S. 854 was introduced by Senator COLEMAN. This reauthorization will continue funding for centers here in the United States that help provide treatment for the estimated half million survivors, most of whom came to this country as refugees. It will also provide funds, distributed through the Agency for International Development or the U.N. Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture, for treatment centers abroad. While life for torture survivors can never be the same, treatment can provide victims the hope of becoming stable and productive members of their communities. I urge my colleagues in the House to join in supporting this measure as a tangible support of the victims of torture.

  • 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.

  • Human Rights in Chechnya Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    By John Finerty, CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing April 24, 2003 on the critical human rights and humanitarian situation in war-torn Chechnya, Russian Federation. The panelists of the briefing were Eliza Moussaeva, Director of the Ingushetia office of the Memorial Human Rights Center, and Bela Tsugaeva, Information Manager of World Vision, Ingushetia. The Commission guests were accompanied by Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for Europe and Eurasia, Amnesty International, USA. Helsinki Commission Deputy Chief of Staff Ron McNamara opened the briefing. “Despite concerted efforts by the Russian leadership to portray the situation in Chechnya as approaching normal, the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by Russian forces continues,” McNamara said. “From reports of credible and courageous human rights activists such as our panelists, it is clear that the most egregious violations of international humanitarian law anywhere in the OSCE region are occurring in Chechnya today.” Ms. Moussaeva said that, as of late, Russian forces no longer conduct sweep operations (“zachistki”) in search of rebels, but now rely on night raids by masked personnel. In the three months from January to March, there were 119 abductions by federal forces engaged in such operations, according to Moussaeva, who added that during the same period last year, there were 82 abductions marking an increase in such activity by Federation forces. This shift in tactics has made it more difficult for families to trace their abducted relatives, whereas previously relatives generally knew which units had conducted the sweeps. Now, units and identities of the raiders are unknown, as well as the location of detainees. Officially, 2,800 persons are missing. Memorial believes the actual number to be significantly higher. Mass graves are a common find. In January, one mass grave was found in which the exact number of corpses could not be ascertained, because the bodies had been blown up by grenades to hide traces of torture and abuse. Authorities claim these individuals were abducted by Chechen rebel forces; yet some family members, who were able to identify their relatives by the clothing on the bodies, say that these individuals were actually taken by federal forces. According to Moussaeva, Moscow’s highly-touted March 23rd constitutional referendum has not marked an improvement in Chechen life on the ground. On one single day after the referendum, Memorial received reports of several cases of individuals abducted by federal forces. On the same day, a bus exploded, killing nine. Ms. Moussaeva asked, “So we have the question, why did we need that referendum if it didn’t change the situation for the better, if it didn’t bring us stability?” Regarding an OSCE presence in Chechnya, Moussaeva said, “We hope that they would have the opportunity to open in Chechnya again, and it will be a great help for us. The OSCE had a very positive experience and a good image after the first war.” Ms. Tsugaeva spoke about the situation for internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to information compiled by the Danish Refugee Council, there are some 92,000 IDPs in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, which has a population of only 350,000. Fifteen thousand of the IDPs live in five large tent camps, 27,000 in other structures such as industrial plants or farms, and 50,000 in private accommodations, for which most have to pay rent. Most individuals lack basic necessities and have been asked by Ingushetia to leave, yet they have nowhere to go. Refugees in this region have also been subjected to efforts by federal officials to drive them away. Seventy percent of aid comes mainly from international NGOs, and the remainder from the UN. Bread distribution to these people is vital but irregular. Most international NGOs have been unable to open offices in Chechnya due to the security situation, meaning only the most needy, such as children and the elderly, can be provided for. Many land mines scattered throughout parts of the country formerly occupied by military forces are an additional cause for concern. According to official statistics, there were over 5,000 victims of landmine explosions in 2002. Despite the work of international NGOs such as the Handicap International Organization, most of these victims do not have access to adequate medical care and are in one way or another incapacitated for life. Ms. Moussaeva stated that an office established by the Putin government to monitor the human rights situation in Chechnya was ineffectual and merely for show. Of more than 29,000 complaints of harassment by federal forces filed by individuals, only 550 had been investigated. Ms. Greenwood commended the Helsinki Commission for its letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell urging the U.S. delegation at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to push for a strong resolution to the conflict in Geneva. The recently concluded 58th Meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights failed by a vote of 15-21 to adopt a U.S.-supported resolution expressing “deep concern” about reported human rights violations in Chechnya. “Amnesty would like to thank co-signers Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Representative Christopher Smith, Senator Gordon Smith, Representative Steny Hoyer, Representative Robert Aderholt and Representative Ben Cardin,” Greenwood said. Furthermore, Greenwood expressed Amnesty International’s concern regarding the targeting of civilians on both sides of the conflict. Chechen rebel forces have engaged in abductions, hostage taking, and assassinations. Russians have used tactics such as extra-judicial executions, rape, and torture. Amnesty International profiles a few prominent cases, but these represent hundreds of other cases of human rights abuses. Ms. Greenwood presented Amnesty International’s recommendations for the United States Government, including: pressuring the Russian Government not to close tent camps for IDPs; encouraging the US Government to maintain funding levels of the Freedom Support Act for pro-human rights and democracy NGOs in the Russian Federation; demanding access to Chechnya for international journalists and observers; and, supporting the establishment of a human rights tribunal in the Council of Europe. Amnesty International’s recommendations for the Russian Government included providing accountability for previous abuses and ending violations of human rights law. Finally, Amnesty International called upon Chechen rebels to abide by international law, and stop the kidnaping and killings. 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. United States Helsinki Commission intern Sean Callagy contributed to this article.

  • Coerced Sterilization Investigated in Slovakia

    Mr. Speaker, on May 8, the Senate gave its consent to protocols providing for the accession of seven new members to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I have supported Slovakia's admission to NATO and am heartened that the post-1998 democratic and human rights progress in Slovakia made the Senate vote possible. Slovak leaders continue to demonstrate in many concrete ways their commitment to the oftcited but not always visible "shared values" that are central to the trans-Atlantic community. I was moved to read that several Slovak leaders, including Speaker of the Parliament, Pavol Hrusovsky, with whom I met last year, Laszlo Nagy, Chairman of the Parliament's human rights committee, and the Foreign Ministry have spoken out so clearly and strongly on behalf of the Cuban dissidents victimized by Castro's recent sweeping crackdown on human rights activists. At the same time, I have continuing concerns about the Slovak Government's ongoing investigation into allegations that Romani women were sterilized without proper informed consent. Mr. Speaker, I know these allegations are of concern to many members of the Helsinki Commission, one of whom recently sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing concerning the sterilizations. I also discussed the issue with Slovak Ambassador Martin Butora and Deputy Minister Ivan Korcok in March. Eight Helsinki Commissioners joined me in writing to Prime Minister Dzurinda to express our concern, and U.S. Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor, Lome Craner, commented on this abhorrent practice at his hearing on the State Department's annual human rights report. I was encouraged by the Prime Minister's substantive and sympathetic response, and I commend his commitment to improve respect for the human rights of Slovakia's Romani minority. At the same time, I am deeply troubled by one particular aspect of the government's response to the reports documenting that sterilizations occurred without proper informed consent. Shortly after the release in January of a lengthy report on sterilization of Romani women, a spokesperson for the ministry responsible for human rights was quoted in The New York Times as saying: "If we confirm this information, we will expand our charges to the report's authors, that they knew about a crime for a year and did not report it to a prosecutor. And if we prove it is not true, they will be charged with spreading false information and damaging the good name of Slovakia." In other words, if the government's investigation does not find evidence of coerced sterilization, they intend to make those who dared make the allegation pay a price. And if the government's investigation does confirm the allegation, they will still make those who made the allegation pay a price. I believe this is what is meant by the old expression, "Damned if you do, and damned if you don't." This is really an outrageous threat, and it's hard to believe that an official responsible for human rights would have made it. Mr. Speaker, I had hoped that this was an unfortunate misstatement and not really reflective of the Slovak Government's policies. I had hoped that the fact that almost every newspaper article, from Los Angeles to Moscow, about coerced sterilization in Slovakia has mentioned this threat would lead the Slovak Government to issue some kind of clarification or retraction. Unfortunately, not only has there been no such clarification or retraction, but the threat has now been repeated--not once, but at least twice. First, in mid-March, the Ministry of Health issued a report based on its own investigation into the allegations. (A separate government investigation continues.) Naming a particular Slovak human rights advocate by name, the ministry complained that she had refused to cooperate with police investigators and this could be considered covering up a crime. Essentially the same point was made by Slovakia's Ambassador to the OSCE in early April, ironically during a meeting on Romani human rights issues. Mr. Speaker, these threats raise serious doubts about the breadth and depth of the Slovak Government's commitment to get at the truth in this disturbing matter. Can the Slovak Government really expect women who may have been sterilized without consent to come forward and cooperate with an investigation with a threat like this hanging over them? A few brave souls may, but I believe these threats have had a substantial chilling effect on the investigative process. In fact, it is not unusual for those whose rights have been violated to confide their stories only upon condition of anonymity. And while I realize there has been a very serious effort in Slovakia to improve the professionalism of the police and to address past police abuses against Roma, I certainly can't blame Romani women if they are unwilling to pour their hearts out to their local constables. Simply put, the police have not yet earned that trust. I hope the Slovak Government will set the record straight on this and remove any doubt that the days when human rights activists could be sent to jail for their reports is over. Doing so is critical for the credibility of the government's ongoing investigation.

  • The Continuing Plight of Roma in Greece

    Mr. Speaker, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) have just published a report on the human rights situation of Roma in Greece. “Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece” documents the plight of the inhabitants of the Romani settlement of Aspropyrgos, outside Athens, and details the problems of Roma across the country. Illustrated with stark scenes of bulldozed homes and marginalized and neglected Romani communities, a picture disturbing in more ways than one has been painted.   In particular, the report supports the accusation that the Government of Greece has used preparations for the 2004 Olympics as justification for the campaign to uproot Roma. Ironically, Greece currently holds the presidency of the European Union.   The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, held hearings in 1998, 2000, and in 2002 focused on the human rights problems faced by Roma with the intent of raising the awareness of these problems amongst the governments of the OSCE participating States. The plight of the Roma has also been addressed in specific hearings or briefings covering Greece, Russia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Romania, as well as the OSCE process.   Members of the Commission have also sent several letters to Greek leaders in recent years addressing longstanding human rights concerns in the Hellenic Republic, including those affecting the Romani community. These expressions of concern have specifically addressed forced evacuations of Roma from numerous villages, the abusive application of the use of national identity cards issued to Roma, the inability of Roma children to have access to schools on a non-discriminatory basis and other matters of blatant racial discrimination.   This newly released report on Roma clearly indicates that the Greek Government has failed to properly address many of these ongoing concerns. At a June 2002 Commission hearing on Greece, in fact, I raised the specter of an intensified campaign targeting Roma to obtain land for use as venues for the 2004 Olympics. This campaign is well documented in this report.   Notwithstanding the assertions of Greek officials at the Commission hearing that “everything is done (concerning the relocation) in consultation with, and with the consent of, the Roma involved,” numerous non-governmental organizations have raised such issues with Athens. Greek human rights activists have stepped forward.   As an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, Greece has accepted numerous commitments pertaining to the treatment of Roma and joined in condemning discrimination against Roma, a provision found in the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit Document. Regrettably, the Greek Government has failed to fulfill these commitments, as documented in the new ERRC/GHM report on Roma in Greece.   The ERRC and GHM conducted intensive field missions that revealed several patterns of human rights abuse against Roma in Greece: cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment of Roma in housing; police violence against Roma; exclusion of Roma from the educational system; and, barriers to access to health care and other social support services for Roma.   Based on the facts in this report and the discussions I have had over the years in my leadership capacity with the Helsinki Commission, I urge the Government of Greece to take corrective measures, without delay, along the lines recommended by the ERRC and the GHM:   1. Facilitate access to Greek citizenship for those Roma residing in Greece who are stateless and provide the necessary legal documents (such as identity cards) to all Roma.   2. Use all appropriate means to guarantee protection against forced evictions outside the rule of law and without due process.   3. Bring to justice public officials and private individuals responsible for forced evictions of Roma in breach of Greek law.   4. Carry out thorough and timely investigations into all alleged instances of police abuse.   5. Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons factually residing in a given municipality, without regard to ethnicity.   6. Ensure that Romani schoolchildren have equal access to education in a desegregated school environment.   7. Without delay, adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, as called for in the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Document.   8. Conduct public information campaigns on human rights and remedies available to victims of human rights abuse, and distribute in both the Greek and Romani languages.   9. Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for national and local administrators, members of the police force, and the judiciary.   10. At the highest levels, speak out against racial discrimination against Roma and others, and make clear that racism will not be tolerated.   The Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor the situation of Roma in the Hellenic Republic with the aim of encouraging the Government of Greece to implement commitments it has agreed to within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Commission will also work to ensure that the plight of Roma in Greece is raised at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to be held this fall in Warsaw.

  • Bringing Justice to Southeastern Europe

    Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey spoke on behalf of the Commission on the Yugoslav conflicts and its tumultuous impact on the development of post-Cold War Europe, as it exposed flaws in the United Nations and the European Union, whilst simultaneously inspiring the OSCE and NATO to act. The briefing addressed the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the understanding that justice must be part of a post-conflict recovery. The speaker – Honorable Carla del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia since 1999 – was responsible for ensuring that those individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in contemporary Southeast Europe were held accountable. She spoke of the limitations and successes of the Tribunal, referring to two decades of experience as a prosecutor.

  • Human Rights in Belarus and Russia

    Mr. Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed with particular concern both the deadly climate in Chechnya and the deterioration of human rights in Belarus. Such violations of basic human rights deserve focused criticism, and it is appropriate that the agenda of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights included resolutions on each situation.   On April 17, the U.N. Commission voted 23-14 with 16 abstentions to approve a U.S.-cosponsored resolution urging the Belarusian authorities to investigate "fully and impartially" credible reports that senior government officials were involved in the disappearances in 1999 and 2000 of leading opposition figures and a journalist. I have followed these cases closely and have become increasingly frustrated at the Belarusian regime's intransigence in meaningfully investigating these disappearances. Here in Washington and at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meetings in Paris and Berlin, I have had occasion to meet with the wives of the disappeared. These meetings have been heart-wrenching. The cases of their husbands--who disappeared in 1999 and 2000 and are presumed to have been murdered--offer a chilling glimpse into the nature of the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka, a regime that has the worst human rights record in Europe today. In February, I introduced H.R. 854, the Belarus Democracy Act, designed to bolster democratic development in that beleaguered country, and I am pleased that the State Department authorization bill approved yesterday by the House International Relations Committee includes key provisions of the Belarus Democracy Act. This bill encourages sanctions against the Belarusian regime until certain conditions are met, including a full accounting of these tragic disappearances.   The Belarusian people deserve to live in a society where democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount, and I believe that the passage of the U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution is an important step towards that end.   Mr. Speaker, I wish I could report that the U.N. Commission on Human Rights had acted with equal conscience on the issue of Chechnya. We all know the desperate human rights situation in that war-torn region of the Russian Federation. Since the Chechen war reignited in 1999, international and domestic Russian human rights organizations have documented the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by elements of the Russian military, as well as extrajudicial killings, abuse of prisoners, kidnaping, rape, and extortion of civilians. According to official statistics, 2,800 persons are missing in Chechnya; mutilated bodies of young Chechen males turn up almost daily. A representative of the respected human rights organization Memorial reported at a recent Helsinki Commission briefing that "one of the recent tendencies is to explode the corpses" in order to prevent identification. Needless to say, all of this is in clear violation of the Geneva Convention and the OSCE Code of Conduct during internal conflicts.   What's left of the Chechen capital of Grozny after Russian artillery shelling has been compared to the ruins of Stalingrad in 1943. According to the U.N., there are 92,000 internally displaced persons forced to flee from the fighting, with around 17,000 living in tent camps in neighboring Ingushetia.   Chechen forces are not entirely blameless. There are credible reports of their executing prisoners and using non-combatants as human shields. They have also assassinated pro-Moscow Chechen officials. The U.S. Government has placed three militant groups involved in the Chechen resistance on its list of terrorist groups.   Still, is this an excuse for Russia's savage war against the civilian population?   Despite all the documentation and eyewitness testimony on egregious human rights violations committed in Chechnya, the Commission on Human Rights rejected by a vote of 15-21 an even-handed European Union resolution expressing deep concern at the reported ongoing violations of international law in Chechnya. I note that the U.S. delegation did not cosponsor the resolution, though it did support it when the measure came to a vote. We should not be surprised that China, Sudan and Zimbabwe voted against the resolution. I do find it disconcerting, though, that the delegations of Armenia and Ukraine are in that less than distinguished company.   Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Commission noted: "The United States believes it important that the Commission address the serious human rights abuses that have occurred in Chechnya. We recognize Russia's right to defend its territorial integrity and itself against terrorism. The broader conflict in Chechnya cannot be resolved militarily and requires a political solution. Human rights violations by Russian forces in Chechnya need to be curtailed, and abusers held accountable."   So the people of Chechnya continue to suffer, and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights looks the other way.

  • Taking Stock in Romania

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the consolidation of democracy in Romania. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe--the Helsinki Commission--I have followed events in Romania for many years. The Romanian people have survived the repression of a brutal communist dictatorship and, in the years since the fall of that regime, have made great strides in building democratic institutions and the rule of law. However, much remains to be done to overcome the legacy of the past.   Romania is a good friend and strong ally of the United States. I appreciate and thank the Government of Romania for its steadfast support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where a battalion serves on the ground, and for its support of the U.S.-led military action in Iraq. Romania has been offered the much sought after admission to NATO, and today the Senate began debate on the Protocols of Accession. Romania is also an accession candidate to the EU.   It is in the spirit of friendship that I continue to follow the human rights issues there, based on a belief that Romania will be a stronger democracy, and therefore a stronger partner, when respect for human rights is strengthened. Frankly, I am concerned that, following Romania’s invitation to join NATO, the reform momentum in Bucharest may have dissipated.   Mr. Speaker, I believe that there is no greater barometer of democracy than free speech and freedom of the press. While there is no doubt that the Romanian people have access to a broad range of print and electronic media, 13 years after the fall of Ceausescu, Romanian law still includes communist-era criminal defamation provisions which impose prison terms for offenses such "insult" or "offense against authority." These laws cause a chilling effect on independent and investigative journalism and should be repealed.   Today, I received a letter from Foreign Minister Geoana, informing me that a new draft Penal Code would do exactly that. This is encouraging news, and I will follow this process closely with the hope that articles 205, 206, 236, 236 (1), 238, and 239 of the Romanian Penal Code will actually be repealed and not just modified.   Mr. Speaker, there is no international requirement that countries must make property restitution or provide compensation for confiscated properties. However, if a legal process for property restitution or compensation is established, international law requires that it be nondiscriminatory and be implemented under the rule of law. Property restitution in Romania since the fall of communism has been slow and ineffective, and the laws--which the government has enacted to address the problem--lack transparency, are complex, and have not been effectively implemented.   Restitution of communal property--for example, churches or synagogues--is especially difficult. In 1948, Romania’s communist government banned the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church and ordered the incorporation of the Greek Catholic Church into the Orthodox Church. More than 2,500 churches and other buildings seized from the Uniates were given to Orthodox parishes. The government decree that dismantled the Greek Catholic Church was abrogated in 1989, however, of the thousands of properties confiscated from Greek Catholics, fewer than 200 have been returned nearly 15 years later. The status of thousands of properties belonging to the historic Hungarian faiths (Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran and Unitarian), and the Jewish community, as well as other non-traditional religions has not been resolved, despite the enactment of a communal property restitution law in July of 2002.   The restitution of private property in Romania is equally as murky. In February 2001, the Romanian Parliament enacted Law 10/2001, the express purpose of which, according to Article 1 (1) of the Law, is to make restitution in-kind of nationalized real property and, whenever such in-kind restitution is not possible, to make restitution in an equivalent consisting of cash for residential properties and vouchers to be used in exchange for shares of state-owned companies or services. This clearly stated principle has been undermined by so many exceptions that it becomes virtually meaningless. Those claimants who have overcome the numerous exceptions contained in the law have then been stymied by government recalcitrance when they have attempted to obtain the necessary documentation to support their claims. Many title deeds were purposely destroyed by the former communist regime. State archives, having been deluged with a significant volume of requests, complicate the process with chronic bureaucratic delays in processing property records, and seeming indifference to the urgency of those requests. The Government of Romania cannot expect claimants to file within prescribed deadlines, and then not provide them with the means to obtain the proof of their clams from the government’s own records.   Further, I am disappointed by the ineffective and inadequate attempts of the Romanian Government to register the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion. The inability of the government to make this happen is a serious concern, as it is more than an issue of legal personality, but also of rule of law, religious freedom and discrimination. In October 2001, I received personal assurances from Foreign Minister Geoana that this longstanding matter would be resolved; it has not despite a ruling by Romania’s highest court dating back to 2000. The Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs seemed to provide a fix in October of last year, but it proved faulty and failed to bring closure to this matter. Mr. Speaker, I urge the competent Romanian authorities to remove this issue from the agenda by facilitating the recognition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion without further delay.   Another matter which I hope the Government of Romania will bring to closure is the rehabilitation and honoring of World War II dictator, Marshall Ion Antonescu, Hitler ally and war criminal condemned for the mass murder of Jews. Last year government officials publicly condemned efforts to honor Antonescu and removed from public land three statues that had been erected in his honor. One statue remains on public land in Jilava, the site of Antonescu’s execution, and important streets in the cities of Timisoara and Oradea continue to be named after him. I urge the Government of Romania to remove these remaining vestiges honoring the former dictator.   Finally, Mr. Speaker, I want to express my continuing concern about the Romani minority in Romania. I appreciate that Romania was the first country in Central Europe to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. This was an extremely important and positive step. But there appears to be a rising tide of intolerance against Roma, manifested by scapegoating of Roma in the media and in the statements of some public officials. In all likelihood, this climate contributed to the tragic events in Buhusi last December, when a number of Roma were shot during a police raid, including a 14-year-old boy who was reportedly shot in the back. I hope the Romanian Government will play a leadership role in countering prejudice against Roma and will continue to implement programs to address discrimination against them.   Protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights, as well as commitment to the Helsinki Final Act and respect for Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe norms and principles, are requirements for NATO membership. As a participating State of the OSCE, and as a candidate for admission to NATO, Romania has made that commitment. It is my hope, Mr. Speaker, that the Government of Romania will use this opportunity to strengthen its democracy, not retreat from it.

  • 10 Years of Remembrance: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

    Mr. Speaker, today I want to pay special tribute on the 10th anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. During the past decade, the institution and its dedicated staff members have worked tirelessly to promote remembrance of the Holocaust and to draw lessons for the future from this very dark chapter of mankind's recent history. When the Museum was dedicated and formally opened in late April 1993, this event culminated over 10 years of preparation that started in 1980 with the chartering of the institution by a unanimous Act of Congress. Recognizing the work of the Museum this week is very fitting, as it is the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time for honoring the millions of Jews who died almost 60 years ago under Nazi tyranny. As set forth in its mission statement, the Holocaust Memorial Museum has become America's national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and is this country's memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust. The Museum and its International Archives Project focuses on all individuals who suffered during the Holocaust, in addition to the six million executed Jews, the horrific Nazi treatment of millions of Roma, disabled, religious and political prisoners, and prisoners of war. The Museum plays a critical role in advancing and disseminating information, documenting the historicity of the Holocaust, while also preserving the memory of individuals who suffered. While insuring that the lessons of the past will not be forgotten, the Museum has actively and creatively developed ways to work towards a better future. The institution's dedication to dealing with the horrors of genocide, whether in Nazi Germany, Bosnia, Rwanda or Cambodia is a critical part of the effort to mobilize international action against this plague on all humanity. The Committee on Conscience plays a particularly significant role in bringing timely attention to acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity. The Museum has rightfully become one of Washington's most revered attractions. The hundreds of thousands of visitors who have toured the Museum since its opening have left with an unforgettable experience and the opportunity to reflect on the deep moral questions stemming from the tragedy of the Holocaust. The Museum's research center has served as a critical resource for scholars who try to help us better understand the lessons of this terrible chapter of human history. The creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has also encouraged other countries to move to establish comparable institutions including, most significantly, in Berlin, Germany. The U.S. Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has worked with the Museum on several occasions, from pushing for the release of documents from the Romani concentration camp in Lety, Czech Republic, to urging Romania to give greater meaning to its stated commitment of rejecting anti-Semitism by removing Antonescu statues from public lands. In response to the alarming spike of anti-Semitic incidents found last summer in Europe, myself and other Members of the Commission have been very active in urging governments and elected officials to denounce the violence and ensure their laws are enabled to prosecute the perpetrators. In support of this effort, I have introduced H. Con. Res. 49, urging, among other things, European states to "promote the creation of educational efforts throughout the region encompassing the participating States of the OSCE to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people, increase Holocaust awareness programs, and help identify the necessary resources to accomplish this goal." It is my hope that other countries will copy the unique and effective model of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Congress has designated April 27th to May 4th as "Days of Remembrance," when our nation will commemorate again the victims of the Holocaust. May we use this time of reflection that will reinforce our common determination to learn from history's harsh lessons.

  • 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.

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