Title

Helsinki Commission to Screen Acclaimed Film Aferim! (Bravo!)

Panel Discussion on Roma in Romania to Follow
Friday, February 10, 2017

WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, with the participation of the Embassy of Romania and the U.S. Department of State, will host a screening of the acclaimed Romanian film Aferim! (Bravo!), the first Romanian film to grapple with the enslavement of Roma.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Romani activist Dr. Margareta Matache, FXB Center for Health & Human Rights, Harvard University. Additional remarks will be offered by Cristian Gaginsky, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Romania, and Dereck Hogan, Director, Office of Central European Affairs, Department of State.

AFERIM! (BRAVO!)

Thursday, February 16
Cannon House Office Building
Room 122

2:00PM – Film Screening
4:00PM – Panel Discussion

Aferim!, Romania’s 2016 submission for the foreign-language Oscar, follows a constable and his son in 1835 as they track down a run-away slave, encountering various Romanian archetypes along the way. 

Roma, Europe’s largest ethnic minority, were enslaved in Romania until their emancipation during the founding of the modern Romanian nation state in the second half of the 19th century. Today, approximately two million of Europe’s 15 million Roma citizens live in Romania.

Romania commemorates the end of slavery on February 20.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Relevant issues: 
Relevant countries: 
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  • Remarks on Passage of H.Res.578, Concerning the Government of Romania's Ban on Intercountry Adoptions and on the Welfare of Orphaned and Abandoned Children in Romania

    Mr. Speaker, H. Res. 578 expresses deep disappointment that the Romanian government has instituted a virtual ban on intercountry adoptions with serious implications for the well-being of orphaned and abandoned children in Romania.   Immediately after the December 1989 revolution, Mr. Speaker, which ousted the much-hated dictator Nicholae Ceausescu, the world learned that tens of thousands of underfed, neglected children were living in institutions, called orphanages, throughout Romania. A month after the fall of Ceausescu, Dorothy Taft, who is our deputy chief of staff at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and I traveled to Bucharest and visited those orphanages. We also met with government officials and spoke about the hope for democracy in that country. But one of the most lasting impressions that I have from that trip is being in an orphanage in Bucharest, where dozens of children were lined up with no one to turn them, to change their diapers and, in some cases, even to feed them with the frequency that their little bodies required. It left a lasting impression upon me.   Sadly, all these years later, Mr. Speaker, Romania's child abandonment rate that we witnessed firsthand on that trip has not changed significantly over those years. As of December 2005, 76,509 children are currently in the child protection system.   While the Romanian government deserves at least some credit for reducing the number of children living in institutions from 100,000 to 28,000, this is only part of the picture. The government statistics do not include the abandoned infants living for years in maternity and pediatric hospitals, where donations from charities and individuals keep the children alive; and more than 40,000 of the children moved out of the institutions are living in nonpermanent settings or foster care, or with maternal assistance, paid by the government or with a distant relative who do not intend to adopt them, but do accept them for a stipend.   In the context of Romania's ascension to the European Union, unsubstantiated allegations have been made about the qualifications and motives for those who adopt internationally and the fate of those adopted children.   Intercountry adoption, Mr. Speaker, was falsely equated with child trafficking, and Romania faced relentless pressure to prohibit intercountry adoptions. Sadly, rather than focusing on the best interest of the children, Romanian policymakers acquiesced to the European Union's pressure, especially its rapporteur, Lady Emma Nicholson, by enacting a law in 2004 that banned intercountry adoption, except by biological grandparents. By foreclosing foreign adoptions, the laws codified the misguided proposition that a foster family, or even an institution, is preferable to an adoptive family outside of the child's country of birth.   Between 1990 and 2004, I would note, more than 8,000 Romanian children found permanent families in the United States and thousands more joined families in Western Europe and elsewhere. This possibility is now gone. Some Romanians and Europeans argue that this law, this misguided law, is somehow consistent with Hague Convention on the Intercountry Adoptions and the Rights of the Child Convention. They also allege that  “there is little scope, if any, for international adoptions in Romania because there are so few children who are legally adoptable.”   Mr. Speaker, the low numbers declared “legally adoptable” is not something to be proud of. It is a contrivance. Indeed, it is a denunciation of the child welfare system, which now places such an unrealistic priority on unification with blood relatives that it is nearly impossible to determine any child is adoptable, no matter how old and how long they have been in state care without contact with the blood relatives.   If more children were made available for adoption, there would be a great need for intercountry adoption. Barely a thousand children have ever been domestically adopted in Romania in any given year. As a result of the new laws, only 333 children were entrusted for domestic adoption last year.   For thousands of children abandoned annually in Romania, domestic or intercountry adoption offered the hope of a life outside of foster care or an institution. That hope has now been dashed and destroyed.   Last September, Mr. Speaker, I chaired a hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe at which Maura Harty, the Deputy Under Secretary of State, rebutted the argument that the adoption ban is somehow consistent with Romania's intercountry international treaty obligations. Likewise, our witnesses, including Dr. Dana Johnson, Director of the International Adoption Clinic and Neonatology Division at the University of Minnesota's Children's Hospital, testified that Romania's concentration on reunification of an abandoned child with his or her biological family is only superficially consistent with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.   He also talked about the deleterious effect of such waiting, being held in foster care and especially in institutions, has on a child's mental, as well as their physical health.   When Romania enacted its intercountry adoption ban, there were 211 pending cases in which children have been matched with adoptive parents in the United States. Approximately a thousand more have been matched with parents in Western Europe, Israel and Australia. In the past few weeks there have been unofficial reports that pending applications are being rejected across the board and the dossiers returned to the adoptive parents.   A document from the Romanian Office for Adoption acknowledged that fewer than 300 of these children have been placed in permanent situations, either returned to biological parents or adopted within Romania. The vast majority remain in limbo. This cannot be the last word of what we often call “the pipeline cases.”   The Romanian government repeatedly promised to analyze each pending case thoroughly, but the review that has supposedly been done was not transparent, was not done on a case-by-case basis, and was not conducted according to clear and valid criteria that is in the best interest of each individual child. These cases involve prospective families who have proven their good faith, by waiting for years for these children. Many cases involve children who will not be domestically adopted due to their special needs, medical or societal prejudices.   In at least three cases, Mr. Speaker, children are already living in the United States with their prospective adoptive parents while receiving life-saving medical treatment, including a child with spina bifida. These children were legally adoptable until Romania's new law took effect.   Let me say that when I introduced this resolution in November, I asked the question, who in the European Union will stand with Members of our Congress, to protect these defenseless children?   Today I am happy to say, members of the European Parliament are challenging the anti-adoption monopoly over this issue and that is encouraging. On December 15, the European Parliament urged Romania to act in the pending cases with the goal of allowing intercountry adoptions to take place where justified and appropriate. In March, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Romania's EU accession, Mr. Pierre Moscovici, reported that he notably differs on the issue of international adoption of Romanian children from the previous rapporteur, Baroness Emma Nicholson, whose virulent anti-adoption views that hurt the children of Romania are now very, very well known.   I applaud the European Parliament and I am glad that our parliament, this Congress, is poised to go on record very strongly in trying to resolve these pipeline cases.   In closing, I want again to thank Chairman Hyde and Ranking Member Lantos for their tremendous support for this resolution and the underlying issue of trying to encourage intercountry adoption in a country, Romania that has now, in a misguided fashion, turned their back on those children who could find loving, durable homes with the adoption option.   Let me also thank so many other people who were a part of this, but especially Maureen Walsh, who is our General Counsel for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, for her extraordinary expertise and work on the issue and this resolution. We have had an ongoing process, contacting the highest levels of the government of Romania, from the President on down. It has been ongoing. It has been frequent.   Our hearing that Ben Cardin and I put on last year I think brought all of these issues to the fore in a way that were very persuasive on the part of the pipeline families, as well as the issue itself. The intercountry adoption is a loving, compassionate option, and certainly is far better than languishing in an orphanage somewhere where the child is warehoused.   Mr. Speaker, so we call upon the Romanian government again to reverse its position, to cease its mucking under Lady Nicholson's pressure, which is now going into reverse. The European Union, as I said before, is showing clear signs that it concludes it has made a profound mistake.   I want to thank Mr. Cardin, who is our ranking member on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, who has been working on these issues side by side.  

  • European Court Rules in Critical Czech Desegregation Case; Equal Access to Education for Roma Remains Goal

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law Summary In 1999, several Romani students from the Czech Republic brought a suit before the European Court on Human Rights alleging that their assignment to “special schools” for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated European human rights law.  On February 7, 2006, a seven-member Chamber of the Court held that the applicants failed to prove that their placement in “special schools” was the singular result of intentional racial discrimination.  The plaintiffs have 3 months to appeal to a 17-member Grand Chamber.  Elsewhere in Central and Southern Europe, Roma are also pursuing efforts to achieve equal access to education. Background During the Communist-era, many East European countries developed a practice of channeling Roma into schools for children with mental disabilities, called “special schools.”  Critics have argued that this practice constitutes, de facto, a form of segregating Roma into a separate and inferior school system. The Ostrava Case “Unsatisfactory performance of Gypsy children in Czech and Slovak schools is often “solved” by transferring the children to special schools for the mentally retarded. During the school year of 1970-71 in the Czech lands alone, about 20% of Gypsy children attended these special schools as against only 3% of children from the rest of the population. According to psychological tests the great majority of these children should not be in these schools. This indiscriminate transferring of Gypsy children to these special schools, which is the general practice, reflects unfavorably on the whole Gypsy population. A child who “graduates” from such a school has the same standing as a child who did not finish his basic schooling. Access to better employment opportunities is closed. Even art schools are closed to them, while persons with special musical talent - not uncommon among Gypsies - are shunned. Musical and dance groups are interested in these talented persons, however, they cannot employ them. “The main reason for the unsatisfactory performances of Gypsy children is the fact that there are no schools which teach Gypsy culture and try to develop it. The powers that be are, on the contrary, doing everything to suppress Gypsy culture and the media assists in this destruction by spreading lies, such as that Gypsy culture does not exist. Gypsy children are forced to attend schools where they are taught in the Czech or Slovak language and where, from the pictures in the primer, they get the impression that they are foreign, that they are second class citizens, without their own language, without a past and without a future.”   - Situation of the Gypsies in Czechoslovakia, Charter 77 Document No. 23, issued December 13, 1978 by Vaclav Havel and Dr. Ladislav Hejdanek, Charter 77 Spokesmen In 1999, a group of Roma from Ostrava, the Czech Republic’s third largest city, brought suit against their government, alleging that their assignment to “special schools” for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated Czech national and constitutional law, as well as European human rights law. At the time the case was brought, a number of Czech newspapers ran editorials indirectly espousing some form of school segregation.  For example, one leading newspaper ran an article arguing that educating a “future plumber” and a “future brain surgeon” together ultimately benefits neither one. On October 20, 1999, the Czech Constitutional Court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim.  In the view of the court, it did not have the jurisdiction to address the broad pattern of discriminatory treatment alleged – allegations supported by compelling statistical evidence but no smoking gun that proved an explicit intent to discriminate against the individual plaintiffs. Notwithstanding the Constitutional Court’s perceived jurisdictional inability to provide a remedy to the plaintiffs, the Court recognized “the persuasiveness of the applicants’ arguments” and “assume[d] that the relevant administrative authorities of the Czech Republic shall intensively and effectively deal with the plaintiffs’ proposals.” Having exhausted their domestic remedies, the students then turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, an organ of the Council of Europe. In connection with that suit, Case of D.H. and Others v. The Czech Republic, the Czech Government acknowledged that, nationwide, 75 percent of Czech Roma were channeled into special schools.  In some special schools, Roma made up 80-90 percent of the student body.  The Czech Government also acknowledged that “Roman[i] children with average or above-average intellect [we]re often placed in such schools” for children with mental disability. In opposing the plaintiffs’ claims, the Czech Ministry of Education attempted to deflect an examination of whether their placement in schools for the mentally disabled was the result of racial bias by claiming (among other things) that Romani parents have a “negative attitude” toward education. This assertion was particularly ironic, given the lengths to which the plaintiffs’ parents were willing to go – all the way to Europe’s highest human rights court – to ensure their children could get a good education. “In countries with substantial Romani communities, it is commonplace for Romani children to attend schools that are largely comprised of Roma or to be relegated to Roma classes within mixed schools. In its most pernicious form, segregation is achieved by routing Romani children into ‘special schools’ – schools for the mentally disabled – or into classes for mentally disabled children within regular schools”. - Report on the Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area, issued by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, 2000 Moreover, this broad sweeping generalization, originally made before the Czech Constitutional Court, was viewed by some as confirmation of racial prejudice in the Czech education system. Remarkably, it was repeated without comment in the European Court’s decision.  Putting aside the bias reflected in the Ministry of Education’s assertion, there is no evidence demonstrating that a parent’s “negative attitude” results in actual mental disability in his or her children. Meanwhile, the Czech Government adopted some changes to the law on special schools which came into effect on January 1, 2005 (Law No. 561/2004) and on February 17, 2005 (Decree No. 73/2005).  To some degree, these changes were reactive to the issues raised by the Ostrava suit, including the criticisms of the procedures by which parental consent was purportedly obtained for the placement of children in special schools.  Nevertheless, non-governmental groups monitoring this situation argue that the changes have not dismantled an education system that remains effectively segregated and that the changes fail to provide redress or damages for the Romani plaintiffs from Ostrava who were denied equal access to mainstream schools. The case in Strasbourg was heard by a seven-member Chamber of European Court and resulted in a 6-1 decision.  Significantly, the President of the Chamber issued a concurring decision, in which he stated that some of the arguments of the dissenting judge were very strong.  He also suggested that in order to hold that there had been a violation of the Convention in this case, the Chamber might have to depart from previous decisions of the Court.  In his view, overturning or deviating from past rulings is a task better undertaken by the Grand Chamber of the Court.  The applicants have three months to decide whether to appeal this decision to a 17-member Grand Chamber. While the underlying issues which led Roma to bring this suit still persist, there are many indications that prejudices against Roma in the Czech Republic have diminished since the Ostrava case was first heard by the Czech Constitutional Court.  For example, when the European Court issued its holding in the case, a leading daily paper wrote that although the Czech Government “won” its case, there were still significant problems for Roma in the Czech educational system that needed to be addressed. Limitations of the European Court Decision Significantly, there were several issues the court did not address. The suit in question was brought under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the non-discrimination provision of the Convention, in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention, which provides for a right to education.  In essence, discrimination in education based on race, ethnicity or social origin is prohibited. When interpreting this standard, the Court referred to previous cases in which it held that States party to the European Convention “enjoy a certain margin of appreciation in assessing whether and to what extent differences in otherwise similar situations justify a difference in treatment.”  The Court also reiterated “that the setting and planning of the curriculum falls in principle within the competence of the Contracting States.”  In short, while European Convention norms prohibit discrimination in education, States still have considerable discretion in designing their education programs.  But while the Court reiterated this jurisprudence, it failed to indicate what is meaningfully left of Articles 14 and Protocol 1, Article 2?  What threshold must be crossed before the court will actually determine that alleged discrimination takes a case out of the discretion of the States party to the Convention and brings it within the reach of the Court? Two other issues the court did not address do not relate so much to the court’s own jurisprudence, but from parallel developments in European Union norms in the field of non-discrimination. “The European Parliament [ . . . c]alls on Member States in which Roma children are segregated into schools for the mentally disabled or placed in separate classrooms from their peers to move forward with desegregation programmes within a predetermined period of time, thus ensuring free access to quality education for Roma children and preventing the rise of anti-Romani sentiment amongst school-children.” - European Parliament resolution on the situation of the Roma in the European Union, adopted April 25, 2005 In 2000, the European Union adopted “Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin,” more commonly known as the “Race Directive.”  The directive is binding on all current 25 Member States of the European Union and is intended to ensure a minimum level of protection from race discrimination in all EU countries in several areas, including education.  (The fifteen countries that were EU members as of 2000 had until July 19, 2003, to transfer the directive into national law; applicant countries had until the date of their accession.  The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004 but, in fact, it has not yet adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.  Legislation was introduced in the parliament in late 2005, but the draft was narrowly rejected by the Senate in January 2006.) The Race Directive requires Member States to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that, among other things, requires anti-discrimination legislation to include both direct and indirect discrimination.  Indirect discrimination, which is at issue in the Ostrava case, is defined by the directive as occurring when “an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of a racial or ethnic origin at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are proportionate and necessary.”  The legislation should also shift the burden of proof in civil cases from the plaintiffs to the defendants once a prima facie case of discrimination has been made. Thus, the EU Race Directive anticipates exactly the kind of case the plaintiffs in the Ostrava case presented.  Under the provisions of the directive, the overwhelming pattern of disparate treatment of Roma demonstrated by the plaintiffs should shift the burden of proof from them to the Czech Government.  (Notably, the directive was not applicable to the Czech Republic at the time of the Constitutional Court’s decision.) While the European Court of Human Rights does not adjudicate compliance with or implementation of the EU Race Directive, the Court’s overall approach to the Ostrava case appears to lag behind the legal developments in the European Union and, potentially, render the European Court a less effective vehicle for addressing discrimination than other existing or emerging tools in Europe. Regional Issues and Trends On November 27, 2003, the OSCE Permanent Council adopted “Decision No. 566, Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area.”  In particular, that Action Plan calls on the participating States to “[e]nsure that national legislation includes adequate provisions banning racial segregation and discrimination in education and provides effective remedies for violations of such legislation.”  In addition, participating States were urged to: 73.  Develop and implement comprehensive school desegregation programmes aiming at:  (1) discontinuing the practice of systematically routing Roma children to special schools or classes (e.g., schools for mentally disabled persons, schools and classes exclusively designed for Roma and Sinti children); and  (2) transferring Roma children from special schools to mainstream schools. 74. Allocate financial resources for the transfer of the Roma children to mainstream education and for the development of school support programmes to ease the transition to mainstream education. Thus, all OSCE participating States, including the Czech Republic, have agreed, in principle, to the goal of integrating Roma in education and eradicating de facto segregated school where it may exist. In 2004, the European Roma Rights Center issued a report, Stigmata: Segregated Schooling of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, examining the experiences of five countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia).  The report describes the most common ways of segregating Romani children from non-Roma: channeling Roma into “special schools” for children with developmental disabilities; the de facto segregation that goes hand-in-hand with existence of Romani ghettos; having mixed-population schools where Romani children are segregated into all-Romani classes; and the refusal of some local authorities to enroll Romani children in mainstream schools. The report concludes that, unfortunately, “with the exception of Hungary, concrete government action aimed at desegregating the school system has not been initiated to date.” In addition to the countries examined in Stigmata, the European Roma Rights Center has reported on unequal access to education for Roma in other countries, including Greece and Denmark.  In a 2004 Danish case, Roma were placed into separate classes in one particular locality.  Following complaints from a Romani non-governmental organization, the Danish Ministry of Education intervened to end this practice.  In the case of Greece, the Greek Helsinki Monitor has reported on several localities where Roma are denied equal access to schools.  These cases remain unresolved. In Hungary and Bulgaria, some efforts to litigate this issue have made their way into the courts, with mixed results. “Education is a prerequisite to the participation of Roma and Sinti people in the political, social and economic life of their respective countries on a footing of equality with others. Strong immediate measures in this field, particularly those that foster school attendance and combat illiteracy, should be assigned the highest priority both by decision-makers and by Roma and Sinti communities. Educational policies should aim to integrate Roma and Sinti people into mainstream education by providing full and equal access at all levels, while remaining sensitive to cultural differences.” - OSCE Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area, 2003 In October 2004, the Budapest Metropolitan City Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision ordering a primary school and the local government of Tiszatarjan to pay damages to nine Romani families whose children were wrongly placed in “special schools” between 1994 and 1999.  In June 2005, a court dismissed a case brought against the Miskolc Municipality alleging city-wide segregation.  A Hungarian non-governmental organization which assisted in filing the suit, Chance for Children Foundation, is appealing.  Other legal disputes continue to surround a self-proclaimed “private school” in Jaszladany (established at least in part with municipal resources).  A study commissioned by the Ministry of Education found the “private school” violated the law and contributed to racial segregation. Notwithstanding some recent government initiatives to address this problem in Hungary, desegregation initiatives have met resistance in significant quarters.  Former Prime Minister Victor Orban (who also heads of Hungary’s largest opposition party, FIDESZ), argued in a speech on January 29, 2006, that integrated schooling should not be mandatory, but left to local officials and parents to “choose” or reject.  In fact, the greatest resistance to integrated schooling often comes at the local level. In Bulgaria – where the government continues to deal with Roma through an office for “demographic issues” – efforts to address the causes of segregation have largely originated with the non-governmental community.  Particularly promising results have been achieved in Viden, where community-based efforts, supported by international non-governmental organizations, have resulted in integrating Roma and ethnic Bulgarian school children.  Efforts to replicate that program elsewhere, however, have not been embraced by the government. In addition, in a landmark holding, the Sofia District Court held on October 25, 2005, that the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, the Sofia Municipality and School Number 103 of Sofia violated the prohibition of racial segregation and unequal treatment provided in Bulgarian and international law.   In welcoming that ruling, the European Roma Rights Center declared, “After a period of 51 years, the soul of Brown v. Board of Education has crossed the Atlantic.”

  • European Parliament Restores Support for Inter-Country Adoption

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that yesterday our colleagues in the European Parliament voted unanimously in favor of an important measure urging the Romanian Government to settle the cases of applications for international adoption which have been in limbo since the Romanians imposed a moratorium in June 2001. The amendment was successfully offered to the European Parliament "Report on the Extent of Romania's Readiness for Accession to the European Union." Final approval on the report was adopted by the Parliament on December 15.   Amid credible allegations of corruption in the adoption system in Romania, the European Union had put intense pressure on Romania four years ago to impose a moratorium on international adoptions. In June 2004, Romanian Law 273/2004 enacted a permanent ban on international adoptions and, in practice, the law was being applied retroactively to cases that were registered before the ban came into effect on January first of this year. There were approximately 1,500 cases pending in which the children had been matched with parents in Western Europe, and 211 cases had been matched with adoptive parents in the United States.   As a party to the Hague convention on Intercountry Adoption, Romania has agreed to certain international standards and Principles. In fact, intercountry adoption is a recognized as a legitimate option for children who have not found permanent placement in their country of origin. The amendment adopted by the European Parliament is consistent with this principle and urges settlement of the pending cases "with the goal of allowing inter-country adoptions to take place, where justified and appropriate, in those special cases." I applaud the European Parliament in offering this assurance that they will not stand in the way of these adoptions.   I am hopeful, Mr. Speaker, that this action by the European Parliament will embolden authorities in Romania to look again at the cases which have been pending. Given this reassurance that resolving the pipeline cases will not jeopardize their efforts toward accession, I would hope that the authorities would consider the cases only with the best interests of the children in mind. They have heard the European Parliament speak with one voice in favor of adoptions for these pipeline cases.   Mr. Speaker, for these children who had already had a loving adoptive family identified, I encourage the Romanians to examine these cases with alacrity and transparency. Such a priority could mean this Christmas would be filled with renewed hope for hundreds of children and the prospects of a permanent home in the New Year.

  • Romania's Ban on Intercountry Adoptions

    Mr. Speaker, last month I introduced a resolution, H. Res. 578, expressing disappointment that the Government of Romania has instituted a virtual ban on intercountry adoptions that has very serious implications for the welfare and well-being of orphaned or abandoned children in Romania. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), I am pleased to be joined as original cosponsors by the Commission's Ranking House Member, Representative CARDIN, fellow Commissioners Representative PITTS and PENCE as well as Chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Representative BURTON, and Representative NORTHUP, COSTELLO, JO ANN DAVIS, TIAHRT, BRADLEY and FRANK. Mr. Speaker, the children of Romania, and all children, deserve to be raised in permanent families. Timely adoption of H. Res. 578 will put the Congress on record: Supporting the desire of the Government of Romania to improve the standard of care and well-being of children in Romania; Urging the Government of Romania to complete the processing of the intercountry adoption cases which were pending when Law 273/2004 was enacted; Urging the Government of Romania to amend its child welfare and adoption laws to decrease barriers to adoption, both domestically and intercountry, including by allowing intercountry adoption by persons other than biological grandparents; Urging the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to work collaboratively with the Government of Romania to achieve these ends; and Requesting that the European Union and its member States not impede the Government of Romania's efforts to place orphaned or abandoned children in permanent homes in a manner that is consistent with Romania's obligations under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. In 1989, the world watched in horror as images emerged from Romania of more than 100,000 underfed, neglected children living in hundreds of squalid and inhumane institutions throughout that country. Six weeks after the end of the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, I visited Romania and witnessed the misery and suffering of these institutionalized children. They were the smallest victims of Ceausescu's policies which undermined the family and fostered the belief that children were often better cared for in an institution than by their families. Americans responded to this humanitarian nightmare with an outpouring of compassion. For years now, Americans have volunteered their labor and donated money and goods to help Romania improve conditions in these institutions. Many families in the United States also opened their hearts to Romania's children through adoption. Between 1990 and 2004, more than 8,000 children found permanent families in the U.S.; thousands of others joined families in Western Europe. The legacies of Ceausescu's rule continue to haunt Romania and, when coupled with widespread poverty, have led to the continued abandonment of Romania's children. According to a March 2005 report by UNICEF, "child abandonment in 2003 and 2004 [in Romania] was no different from that occurring 10, 20, or 30 years ago.'' UNICEF reports that more than 9,000 children a year are abandoned in Romania's maternity wards or pediatric hospitals. According to the European Union, 37,000 children remain in institutions; nearly 49,000 more live in nonpermanent settings in ``foster care'' or with extended families. An unknown number of children live on the streets. During Romania's first decade of post-communist transition, the corruption which plagued Romania's economy and governance also seeped into the adoption system. There is no question that corruption needed to be rooted out. The U.S. Government and the U.S. Helsinki Commission have been steadfast in our support of Romania's efforts to combat corruption and to promote the rule of law and good governance. I strongly disagree, however, with supporters of the current ban on intercountry adoption who allege that it was a necessary anti-corruption measure. There are many indications that corruption has been used as a hook to advance an ulterior agenda in opposition to intercountry adoption. In the context of Romania's desire to accede to the European Union, unsubstantiated allegations have been made about the fate of adopted children and the qualifications and motives of those who adopt internationally. Romanian policy makers chose to adopt this law against intercountry adoption in an effort to secure accession despite the fact, as stated in H. Res. 578, that there is no European Union law or regulation restricting intercountry adoptions to biological grandparents or requiring that restrictive laws be passed as a prerequisite for accession to the European Union. The resolution notes that the Romanian Government declared a moratorium on international adoptions in 2001 but continued to accept new applications and allowed many such applications to be processed under an exception for extraordinary circumstances. Then, in June 2004, Law 273/2004 was adopted, taking effect on January 1, 2005, which banned intercountry adoption except in the exceedingly rare case of a child's biological grandparent living outside the country. At the time of enactment, approximately 1,500 adoption applications were registered with the Romanian Government; of these, 200 children had been matched with prospective parents from the United States and the remainder from Western Europe. Intercountry adoption is, and always should be, anchored on the need to find homes for children, not to find children for would-be parents. Nonetheless, the individuals who applied to adopt Romanian children in the past few years committed their hearts to these children and we must recognize that the Romanian Government's mishandling of their applications has put them through a years-long emotional agony. H. Res. 578 calls on the Government to conclude the processing of these cases in a transparent and timely manner. Since introduction of the resolution, the Romanian press has reported that intercountry adoption would be denied in all of the pending cases. If indeed this is accurate, then it is impossible to believe that the standard applied in each case was that of the best interest of the child. Romania's new adoption law and another addressing child protection, Law 272/2004, create a hierarchy of placement for orphaned or abandoned children. By foreclosing the option of intercountry adoption, the laws codified the misguided proposition that a foster family, or even an institution, is preferable to an adoptive family outside the child's country of birth. On November 29, the European Commission issued a press release stating that "according to the Romanian Office for Adoptions, there are 1,355 Romanian families registered to adopt one of the 393 children available for adoption. Thus there is little scope, if any, for international adoptions.'' The European Commission's press release fails to mention that more than 80,000 children in Romania are growing up without permanent families--in orphanages, foster care, maternity hospitals, or on the streets. That less than 400 have been declared available for adoption is a denunciation of the child welfare system. Barely 1,000 children have ever been domestically adopted in Romania in any given year and since enactment of the new laws in 2004, the rate of domestic adoption has fallen further. There is no doubt that if more children were to be made available for adoption, there would be a great need for intercountry adoption to provide them with permanent, loving homes. For thousands of children abandoned annually in Romania, intercountry adoption offered the hope of a life outside of foster care or an institution. That hope has now been taken away. This will fall hardest on the Roma children who are least likely to be adopted in-country due to pervasive societal prejudice. The Romanian Government and the European Commission are attempting to use a Potemkin Village to hide a grim reality of suffering children and bureaucratic obstacles which prevent them from being declared legally available for adoption. In one case that has come to the Commission's attention, an adoptive family is waiting for biological parents to sign away their rights to a child they abandoned at birth and who has spent the first four years of her life with her prospective adoptive parents. She knows no other parents. Her biological parents have on four previous occasions relinquished their parental rights and yet, because of the new laws, the child has still not been declared available for adoption. Other sources also belie a Potemkin approach. A November 5th article in the British journal The Lancet entitled "Romania's Abandoned Children are Still Suffering,'' quotes a charity worker saying, "of course something needs to be done to help the children here, but at the moment all the Romanian government is doing is signing forms sending children back to their parents ..... It doesn't seem to matter that the parents might be alcoholics or have no means to look after their kids as long as the numbers are cut.'' The article continues, "Romanian authorities have proudly claimed that last year only 1,483 children aged 0-2 years were in state institutions, compared with 7,483 in 1997. But those figures do not include hospitals, where staff admit they rely on donations from charities and individuals to keep helping such children. ..... The head of the Neonatology Department at the University Hospital in Bucharest says abandoned children stay on average for 6-7 months [and] the situation is almost as bad as it was in Ceausescu's time.'' The article also quotes the head of the Neonatology Section at the Bucur Maternity Hospital, also in Bucharest, as saying "last year, we had more abandoned kids than ever because the law changed. And it changed for the worse for the people in the maternity wards because the law forbids us to send children under 2 years old to state orphanages.'' At a Helsinki Commission hearing on September 14, Dr. Dana Johnson, Director of the International Adoption Clinic and Neonatology Division at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, testified that Romania's concentration on the reunification of an abandoned child with his or her biological family is only superficially consistent with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. According to Dr. Johnson,"in neither of those documents is the mention of time. . . . It doesn't tell you how long you should spend reunifying that child with the family. . . . Contemporary child development research has clearly shown that there is a known amount of deterioration that occurs in children who are in hospitals or institutional care and outside of family care during the first few years of life. . . . You can predict that every child who is in institutional care during that period of time will lose one month of physical growth, one month of motor development, one month of speech development for every three months they're in institutional care. You also can predict that from age four months through 24 months of age, they will lose one to two I.Q. points a month during that period of time. The other thing we know is that by placing them into a caring, competent family, that you can recover some of this function. . . . A child that is abandoned in Romania today at the end of next summer will have permanently lost 15 I.Q. points. That child two years from now will have permanently lost 30 I.Q. points, which means that half of those kids are going to be mentally retarded.'' Mr. Speaker, the clock is ticking for Romania's children. H. Res. 578 notes that Romania is a party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption which recognizes that "intercountry adoption may offer the advantage of a permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be found in his or her State of origin.'' State Department officials and nongovernmental experts from the adoption and child welfare communities have testified that Romania's child welfare and adoption laws are inconsistent with Romania international commitments under this and other agreements. The resolution further notes that UNICEF has issued an official statement in support of intercountry adoption which, in pertinent part, reads: "for children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate alternative family environment should be sought in preference to institutional care, which should be used only as a last resort and as a temporary measure. Intercountry adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution. In each case, the best interests of the individual child must be the guiding principle in making a decision regarding adoption.'' Finally, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the role of the European Union in this debacle, I ask who in the European Union will stand with Members of Congress to protect these defenseless children? All children deserve better than to spend their lives in group homes or warehoused in institutions where their physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being is critically endangered. It is indeed tragic if the price of admission to the European Union is the sacrifice of thousands of Romania's orphaned or abandoned children. I strongly urge my colleagues to support this resolution. For the sake of the innumerable children in need of permanent families, the voice of the United States Congress must be heard clearly in this transatlantic dialogue on intercountry adoption.

  • Romania's Ban on Intercountry Adoptions

    Mr. Speaker, last month I introduced a resolution, H. Res. 578, expressing disappointment that the Government of Romania has instituted a virtual ban on intercountry adoptions that has very serious implications for the welfare and well-being of orphaned or abandoned children in Romania. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), I am pleased to be joined as original cosponsors by the Commission's Ranking House Member, Representative Cardin, fellow Commissioners Representative Pitts and Pence as well as Chairman of the International Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere Representative Burton, and Representative Northup, Costello, Jo Ann Davis, Tiahrt, Bradley and Frank.   Mr. Speaker, the children of Romania, and all children, deserve to be raised in permanent families. Timely adoption of H. Res. 578 will put the Congress on record:   Supporting the desire of the Government of Romania to improve the standard of care and well-being of children in Romania;   Urging the Government of Romania to complete the processing of the intercountry adoption cases which were pending when Law 273/2004 was enacted;   Urging the Government of Romania to amend its child welfare and adoption laws to decrease barriers to adoption, both domestically and intercountry, including by allowing intercountry adoption by persons other than biological grandparents;   Urging the Secretary of State and the Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development to work collaboratively with the Government of Romania to achieve these ends; and   Requesting that the European Union and its member States not impede the Government of Romania's efforts to place orphaned or abandoned children in permanent homes in a manner that is consistent with Romania's obligations under the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.   In 1989, the world watched in horror as images emerged from Romania of more than 100,000 underfed, neglected children living in hundreds of squalid and inhumane institutions throughout that country. Six weeks after the end of the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, I visited Romania and witnessed the misery and suffering of these institutionalized children. They were the smallest victims of Ceausescu's policies which undermined the family and fostered the belief that children were often better cared for in an institution than by their families.   Americans responded to this humanitarian nightmare with an outpouring of compassion. For years now, Americans have volunteered their labor and donated money and goods to help Romania improve conditions in these institutions. Many families in the United States also opened their hearts to Romania's children through adoption. Between 1990 and 2004, more than 8,000 children found permanent families in the U.S.; thousands of others joined families in Western Europe.   The legacies of Ceausescu's rule continue to haunt Romania and, when coupled with widespread poverty, have led to the continued abandonment of Romania's children. According to a March 2005 report by UNICEF, “child abandonment in 2003 and 2004 [in Romania] was no different from that occurring 10, 20, or 30 years ago.” UNICEF reports that more than 9,000 children a year are abandoned in Romania's maternity wards or pediatric hospitals. According to the European Union, 37,000 children remain in institutions; nearly 49,000 more live in nonpermanent settings in “foster care” or with extended families. An unknown number of children live on the streets.   During Romania's first decade of post-communist transition, the corruption which plagued Romania's economy and governance also seeped into the adoption system. There is no question that corruption needed to be rooted out. The U.S. Government and the U.S. Helsinki Commission have been steadfast in our support of Romania's efforts to combat corruption and to promote the rule of law and good governance.   I strongly disagree, however, with supporters of the current ban on intercountry adoption who allege that it was a necessary anti-corruption measure. There are many indications that corruption has been used as a hook to advance an ulterior agenda in opposition to intercountry adoption. In the context of Romania's desire to accede to the European Union, unsubstantiated allegations have been made about the fate of adopted children and the qualifications and motives of those who adopt internationally. Romanian policy makers chose to adopt this law against intercountry adoption in an effort to secure accession despite the fact, as stated in H. Res. 578, that there is no European Union law or regulation restricting intercountry adoptions to biological grandparents or requiring that restrictive laws be passed as a prerequisite for accession to the European Union.   The resolution notes that the Romanian Government declared a moratorium on international adoptions in 2001 but continued to accept new applications and allowed many such applications to be processed under an exception for extraordinary circumstances. Then, in June 2004, Law 273/2004 was adopted, taking effect on January 1, 2005, which banned intercountry adoption except in the exceedingly rare case of a child's biological grandparent living outside the country. At the time of enactment, approximately 1,500 adoption applications were registered with the Romanian Government; of these, 200 children had been matched with prospective parents from the United States and the remainder from Western Europe.   Intercountry adoption is, and always should be, anchored on the need to find homes for children, not to find children for would-be parents. Nonetheless, the individuals who applied to adopt Romanian children in the past few years committed their hearts to these children and we must recognize that the Romanian Government's mishandling of their applications has put them through a years-long emotional agony. H. Res. 578 calls on the Government to conclude the processing of these cases in a transparent and timely manner. Since introduction of the resolution, the Romanian press has reported that intercountry adoption would be denied in all of the pending cases. If indeed this is accurate, then it is impossible to believe that the standard applied in each case was that of the best interest of the child.   Romania's new adoption law and another addressing child protection, Law 272/2004, create a hierarchy of placement for orphaned or abandoned children. By foreclosing the option of intercountry adoption, the laws codified the misguided proposition that a foster family, or even an institution, is preferable to an adoptive family outside the child's country of birth.   On November 29, the European Commission issued a press release stating that “according to the Romanian Office for Adoptions, there are 1,355 Romanian families registered to adopt one of the 393 children available for adoption. Thus there is little scope, if any, for international adoptions.” The European Commission's press release fails to mention that more than 80,000 children in Romania are growing up without permanent families, in orphanages, foster care, maternity hospitals, or on the streets. That less than 400 have been declared available for adoption is a denunciation of the child welfare system. Barely 1,000 children have ever been domestically adopted in Romania in any given year and since enactment of the new laws in 2004, the rate of domestic adoption has fallen further. There is no doubt that if more children were to be made available for adoption, there would be a great need for intercountry adoption to provide them with permanent, loving homes. For thousands of children abandoned annually in Romania, intercountry adoption offered the hope of a life outside of foster care or an institution. That hope has now been taken away. This will fall hardest on the Roma children who are least likely to be adopted in-country due to pervasive societal prejudice.   The Romanian Government and the European Commission are attempting to use a Potemkin Village to hide a grim reality of suffering children and bureaucratic obstacles which prevent them from being declared legally available for adoption. In one case that has come to the Commission's attention, an adoptive family is waiting for biological parents to sign away their rights to a child they abandoned at birth and who has spent the first four years of her life with her prospective adoptive parents. She knows no other parents. Her biological parents have on four previous occasions relinquished their parental rights and yet, because of the new laws, the child has still not been declared available for adoption.   Other sources also belie a Potemkin approach. A November 5th article in the British journal The Lancet entitled “Romania's Abandoned Children are Still Suffering,” quotes a charity worker saying, “of course something needs to be done to help the children here, but at the moment all the Romanian government is doing is signing forms sending children back to their parents ..... It doesn't seem to matter that the parents might be alcoholics or have no means to look after their kids as long as the numbers are cut.” The article continues, “Romanian authorities have proudly claimed that last year only 1,483 children aged 0-2 years were in state institutions, compared with 7,483 in 1997. But those figures do not include hospitals, where staff admit they rely on donations from charities and individuals to keep helping such children. ..... The head of the Neonatology Department at the University Hospital in Bucharest says abandoned children stay on average for 6-7 months [and] the situation is almost as bad as it was in Ceausescu's time.'' The article also quotes the head of the Neonatology Section at the Bucur Maternity Hospital, also in Bucharest, as saying “last year, we had more abandoned kids than ever because the law changed. And it changed for the worse for the people in the maternity wards because the law forbids us to send children under 2 years old to state orphanages.”   At a Helsinki Commission hearing on September 14, Dr. Dana Johnson, Director of the International Adoption Clinic and Neonatology Division at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, testified that Romania's concentration on the reunification of an abandoned child with his or her biological family is only superficially consistent with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. According to Dr. Johnson, “in neither of those documents is the mention of time. . . . It doesn't tell you how long you should spend reunifying that child with the family. . . . Contemporary child development research has clearly shown that there is a known amount of deterioration that occurs in children who are in hospitals or institutional care and outside of family care during the first few years of life. . . . You can predict that every child who is in institutional care during that period of time will lose one month of physical growth, one month of motor development, one month of speech development for every three months they're in institutional care. You also can predict that from age four months through 24 months of age, they will lose one to two I.Q. points a month during that period of time. The other thing we know is that by placing them into a caring, competent family, that you can recover some of this function. . . . A child that is abandoned in Romania today at the end of next summer will have permanently lost 15 I.Q. points. That child two years from now will have permanently lost 30 I.Q. points, which means that half of those kids are going to be mentally retarded.”   Mr. Speaker, the clock is ticking for Romania's children. H. Res. 578 notes that Romania is a party to the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption which recognizes that “intercountry adoption may offer the advantage of a permanent family to a child for whom a suitable family cannot be found in his or her State of origin.” State Department officials and nongovernmental experts from the adoption and child welfare communities have testified that Romania's child welfare and adoption laws are inconsistent with Romania international commitments under this and other agreements.   The resolution further notes that UNICEF has issued an official statement in support of intercountry adoption which, in pertinent part, reads: “for children who cannot be raised by their own families, an appropriate alternative family environment should be sought in preference to institutional care, which should be used only as a last resort and as a temporary measure. Intercountry adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution. In each case, the best interests of the individual child must be the guiding principle in making a decision regarding adoption.”   Finally, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the role of the European Union in this debacle, I ask who in the European Union will stand with Members of Congress to protect these defenseless children? All children deserve better than to spend their lives in group homes or warehoused in institutions where their physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual well-being is critically endangered. It is indeed tragic if the price of admission to the European Union is the sacrifice of thousands of Romania's orphaned or abandoned children.   I strongly urge my colleagues to support this resolution. For the sake of the innumerable children in need of permanent families, the voice of the United States Congress must be heard clearly in this transatlantic dialogue on intercountry adoption.

  • In the Best Interest of the Children? Romania’s Ban on Inter-Country Adoption

    Commissioners Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Chris Smith (NJ-04) expressed their displeasure with  Romania’s ban on adoption.  Romania’s international adoption ban had prevented over 200 Americans from taking adopting children from the Eastern European country, regardless of the prospective adoptive parents' qualifications. The law that enabled this ban came after the Romanians consented to ban inter-country adoptions in exchange for acquiring membership in the European Union.  

  • Progress and Challenges: The OSCE Tackles Anti-Semitism and Intolerance

    By Ron McNamara, International Policy Director & Knox Thames, Counsel The OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance convened in Córdoba, Spain, from June 8-9, 2005. The conference, the third since the Helsinki Commission’s 2002 groundbreaking hearing on “Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe,” was well attended with many participating States represented by senior-level officials.  New York Governor George E. Pataki headed the U.S. Delegation. Specific sessions were held on: Fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination, and promoting tolerance - from recommendations to implementation; Anti-Semitism and the media; Education on the Holocaust and on anti-Semitism; Responding to anti-Semitic and hate-motivated crimes; Fighting intolerance and discrimination against Muslims; Fighting intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions; and, Fighting racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination. Specialized workshops were focused on: Anti-Semitism and the Media; Implementation of OCDE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ (ODIHR) Taskings in the Field of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination; Promoting Tolerance and Ensuring Rights of Religion and Belief; and Combating Racism and Discrimination against Roma and Sinti. Side events were organized to address:  Education on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism; Combating hate speech online in the OSCE framework; Anti-Semitism and satellite television; Teaching the Holocaust and the History of Anti-Semitism in Catholic Schools: Promoting Tolerance and Interfaith Understanding; Why Should We Work Together? The ODIHR’s Law Enforcement Officer Training Program for Combating Hate Crimes; The role of Parliaments in Combating Anti-Semitism; The Anti-Semitism/terrorism Nexus, Hate sites on the Internet; and Discrimination, Hate crimes and Intolerance on the grounds of homophobia. The Conference was preceded by a one-day NGO Forum hosted by the Three Cultures Foundation on June 7, 2005 in Seville.  The opening session included presentations by Professors Gert Weisskirchen and Anastasia Crickley and Ambassador Omur Orhun, who are the three Personal Representatives of the outgoing OSCE Chair-in-Office, Slovene Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel.   There was also a video presentation by U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback [available here]. The Córdoba Conference was the product of intense negotiations following last year’s Berlin Conference and the adoption of a number of specific commitments by OSCE countries aimed at stemming the tide of anti-Semitism and related violence.  Numerous participating States had actively resisted the convening of a meeting exclusively focused on anti-Semitism and instead argued in favor of a “holistic” approach to tolerance issues.  As OSCE Chair-in-Office (CiO) Dimitrij Rupel put it, “I also hope that Córdoba, and after Córdoba, a truly holistic approach to combat all forms of discrimination and intolerance will prevail, as this is the most effective way to address this issue.” While supporting a broader approach, others, including the U.S. Helsinki Commissioners, voiced concern that the focus on anti-Semitism as a unique form of intolerance not be lost, especially given the dimensions of the Holocaust and European history. Most participating States used the Córdoba Conference to reiterate their commitment to combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.  Disappointingly few, however, cited concrete steps they are undertaking to implement existing OSCE commitments.  One of the few exceptions was the Solicitor General of the United Kingdom, who reported on the evolution of anti-hate legislation in his country and a new law being considered by Parliament to address anti-religious bigotry.  The Italian and Polish delegations also noted some tangible progress. CiO Rupel reported on initiatives undertaken by the OSCE to improve implementation of commitments made in Berlin.  He also warned that “we must be vigilant against discrimination and show no tolerance for intolerance,” a theme repeated by numerous subsequent speakers. U.S. Helsinki Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings addressed the Córdoba Conference in his capacity as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  Hastings reminded participants of the role of parliamentarians, including members of the Helsinki Commission, in ensuring that the issue of anti-Semitism and related violence were given priority in the OSCE framework. The most tangible results to come out of the Córdoba Conference was the Córdoba Declaration, as well as reports presented by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on “Combating Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region” and “Education on the Holocaust and on Anti-Semitism.”  The declaration recognized that some forms of intolerance need proper definition, and reiterated the Berlin Declaration’s  acknowledgement that “international developments or political issues, including in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.” According to the ODIHR reports, 13 participating States have not provided any information on statistics, legislation and national initiatives relating to hate crimes.  Of the 42 participating States that have responded, only 29 countries have provided information and statistics on hate crimes and violent manifestations of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and intolerance.  The quality of information varied widely – one country’s statistical submission consisted of a single sentence. Beyond implementation issues and concerns, three outstanding questions remain to be resolved: Will the OSCE maintain a distinct focus on anti-Semitism or will the issue be folded into a more generic tolerance rubric? Will the current mandates for the three personal representatives be extended? What form will future follow-up, including the possible location of future conferences, on tolerance-related matters take? There is also some concern that the Personal Representatives of the Chair-in-Office have been hampered in undertaking their tasks, and have been hamstrung by limitations that have been imposed on their activities.  It is also unclear whether the newly incoming Chair-in-Office will reappoint the three representatives or, if so, if he will maintain their distinct portfolios. Discussions in Córdoba did little to narrow differences on these points.  The United States has been among the few stalwarts committed to sustaining a particular focus on anti-Semitism.   At the same time, a growing number of countries prefer a “holistic” approach, where distinct issues are discussed under a generic theme. Governor Pataki in closing remarks stressed the need to move beyond words: “We have all given our speeches in the best prose we can muster, but there is more to combating anti-Semitism and intolerance than mere speeches.”  He urged that future follow-up focus on implementation; endorsed the reappointment of the three Personal Representatives under their existing titles; called for preserving a distinct focus on anti-Semitism; supported continuing efforts to combat intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, Christians, and other faiths; and urged further institutionalization of tolerance and non-discrimination work.  Pataki concluded, “We can talk, we can coordinate through the OSCE, but the primary responsibility ultimately rests with the participating States.”      U.S. DELEGATION Governor George E. Pataki, Head of U.S. Delegation Hon. Jennette Bradley, Treasurer, State of Ohio The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver and Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Sander Ross Gerber, Chairman and CEO of the XTF Group and President of the Gerber Capital Management Group Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder, Simon Wiesenthal Center Kamal Nawash, founder, Free Muslims Coalition Rabbi David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President for Government and Public Affairs, Agudath Israel of America

  • The Future of Human Rights in Kosovo

    This hearing, held by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith , stressed, among other things, that there was still a lot of work to be achieved regarding human rights in Kosovo, such as security and property issues. In particular, Brownback and Smith focused on the international community, including countries in the OSCE region. This hearing was held with increased diplomatic activity that may have led to consideration of Kosovo’s status in 2005 in mind. Witnesses to this hearing included Soren Jessen-Petersen, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, and Charles L. English, Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  

  • Racist Manifestations in Romania Deserve Government Response

    Mr. President, as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I welcomed the recent visit of Romanian Foreign Minister Razvan Ungureanu, and I regret that I was not in Washington D.C. to meet with him. Our countries have forged closer links, and I hope that trend will continue.  While there have been many positive reforms implemented in Romania, unfortunately the situation of the Romani minority has remained the same. Romania has the largest Roma minority in Europe, estimated at 1.5-2 million people yet they remain profoundly marginalized and subjected to pervasive discrimination and prejudice.  A soccer match in Bucharest on April 13th was a clear example of the explicit acts of hatred that have been widespread throughout the country. Fans of one team, Steaua Bucharest, unfurled a banner reading "We have always had and will always have something against Gypsies." They chanted, "We have always hated Gypsies and we have always urinated on you." During the game, the stadium announcer played an anti-Roma song called "Gypsies and UFOs" and made anti-Roma remarks. The coach of Steaua Bucharest called the coach of the opposing team a "stinking Gypsy." The opposing team, Rapid Bucharest, is from a district with a significant Romani minority.  Response to this rabid anti-Roma manifestation was swift with mixed results. On April 20th, the Romanian Football League suspended the stadium announcer for 6 months. However, the League sanctioned both teams that were present at the April 13th match: Steaua Bucharest, the team responsible for hurling racist invective was fined, as well as Rapid Bucharest, the team against whom these slurs were directed. While it is completely appropriate for a sports league to police itself and its members, sanctioning those who were the targets of this abuse is absurd. No one will be fooled by the League's effort to appear pro-active and even-handed while punishing the very people who were the victims of abuse.  The National Council for Combating Discrimination, a Romanian Government body, also sanctioned the offending team about $1400 and fined the stadium announcer about $600. The fact that a governmental body so quickly recognized the racist nature of these events was a positive signal. However, any time a state positions itself to regulate speech, there is the risk that free speech, which may include unpopular or controversial views, will be unduly limited. I strongly believe that there are other ways to combat racist, xenophobic, or anti-Semitic manifestations. In particular, it is critical that Romania's public leaders, including President Traian Basescu, speak out against such acts of discrimination.  Unfortunately, the April 13th events were not an isolated phenomenon, but part of a larger pattern of racist abuse in Romania. In 2002, scores of fans at a Bucharest soccer match worked in concert to display a massive sign reading "Die, Gypsy." In 2003, like-minded fans displayed a sign reading "One million crows, one solution--Antonescu." In this context, "Crow" is a pejorative slang term in Romanian for a member of the Romani minority and General Ion Antonescu was Romania's World War II fascist dictator who spearheaded the selection of Roma for deportation to Transnistria.  These manifestations tell us two things. First, it is not enough for public leaders to leave it to the National Council for Combating Racism to speak out against these manifestations. Romania's highest leaders must stand up themselves to confront such outrages. Those who would foment racism, and who potentially incite racist violence, must be given no safe harbor. Invoking praise for the World War II dictator who oversaw the persecution of Romania's Jews and Roma is despicable.  Second, these manifestations underscore the need for continued efforts to improve Holocaust education in Romania.  Following decades of denial, the Government of Romania has made great strides in the past year in recognizing Romania's role in the Holocaust and in the deportation and death of Jewish and Romani citizens. The government is to be commended for taking steps to examine this dark and painful chapter in the country's history. Last November, the International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, led by Elie Wiesel, officially issued its findings in Bucharest. In addition to the establishment of a national Holocaust Remembrance Day, which Romania marks on October 9th, the Commission recommended that Romania establish a national Holocaust memorial and museum in Bucharest, annul war criminal rehabilitations and develop a Holocaust education curricula and courses in secondary schools and universities. I hope the Government of Romania will move quickly to implement the Wiesel Commission's recommendations.  With this in mind, I was heartened to learn that in April the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest hosted the premier of "Hidden Sorrows," a documentary about the tragic deportation of 25,000 Roma from Romania to Transnistria during the Holocaust. In this time, more than 11,000 men, women and children died from the horrific conditions of their internment. Several, nearly 100-year-old survivors attended the premier, adding a deeply personal element to the documentary's message.  From the Inquisition to the Holocaust, Roma have suffered some of humanity's worst abuses. They were enslaved in Romania until the formation of the modern Romanian state in 1864. They were persecuted and deported and murdered during the Holocaust. Even after the fall of Ceausescu, they were subjected to dozens of pogroms. And yet after all this, they have survived.  The Romani people, who have endured so much, should not be made to suffer at a time that otherwise holds so much promise and hope for others. We must ensure that these people, their culture, and their heritage are not destroyed by hatred and violence. We must call upon the Romanian Government to abolish these ongoing acts of discrimination.

  • The Decade of Roma Inclusion

    Mr. President, last month, the Prime Ministers of eight Central and Southern European countries met in Sofia, Bulgaria, for their first meeting in what has been dubbed “the Decade of Roma Inclusion.” This initiative is designed to spur governments to undertake intensive engagement in the field of education, employment, health and housing with respect to Europe's largest, most impoverished and marginalized ethnic minority, the Roma. The Open Society Institute, the World Bank, the European Commission and the United Nations Development Program, all supporters of this initiative, hope that this effort will result in meaningful improvements over the course of a 10-year period. In December, a donors' conference pledged $42 million for a Roma Education Fund. But the real goal is to get governments to give more help to their own people from their own budgets, as well as to make better use of the funds already available from organizations like the EU. The fact is that Romani riots in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in 2002 and in eastern Slovakia last year should be a wake-up call for governments with significant Romani communities. These countries cannot afford to ignore the crushing impoverishment and crude bigotry that so many Roma face on a daily basis. The Decade of Romani Inclusion is all well and good, and I commend the governments that are participating in this initiative. But much more needs to be done to truly advance Romani integration. It must start with a message of tolerance and inclusion from the highest levels of government. Unfortunately, too often the voices that are heard are those spreading crude stereotypes and inter-ethnic hatred. I am particularly alarmed by what appears to be an increase in anti-Roma statements in Bulgaria. Last summer, the head of one of Bulgaria's leading trade unions, Konstantin Trenchev, broadly characterized all Roma as criminals, and then called for the establishment of vigilante guards to deal with them. More recently, Ognian Saparev, a Member of Parliament from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, dismissed the significance of reports that the Mayor of Pazardzhik has trafficked Romani girls for the benefit of visiting foreigner diplomats. Saparev reportedly claimed that the statutory rape of these girls shouldn't be considered a crime because Romani girls are “mature” at age 14. Significantly, Saparev also gained headlines last year for publishing an inflammatory article about Roma in which he argued they should be forced to live in ghettos. Even worse statements have come from Russia. Yevgenii Urlashov, a city official in Yaroslavl, recently characterized all Roma as drug dealers and called for them to be deported. Not to be outdone, fellow municipal legislator, Sergei Krivnyuk, said, "residents are ready to start setting the Gypsies' houses on fire, and I want to head this process." Although nongovernmental human rights groups have condemned this anti-Romani rhetoric, other leaders in Bulgaria and Russia have largely remained silent. But it is critical that public leaders, from all walks of life, speak out against such hate mongering. Speaking on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Polish President Kwasniewski noted that “complete extermination was also [intended] to be the fate of the Roma community.” It will not do, 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, to stand by in silence while Roma are crudely caricatured as criminals, just as they were by the Nazis. And we must not stand by in silence when a member of Parliament dismisses the criminal act of trafficking of children, simply because they are Romani.

  • Winds of Change in Romania?

    Mr. President, I rise to congratulate the people of Romania and newly elected President Traian Basescu on the success of their recent national elections, and to encourage them in their efforts to consolidate democracy in Romania. In the 15 years since the overthrow of the brutal Communist dictatorship which ruled that country for decades, Romania has undertaken four successful national elections and peaceful transfers of power, and has made important strides in building democratic institutions and the rule of law.  I was recently appointed chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe--the Helsinki Commission--and have followed events in Romania for many years. In that capacity, I look forward to working with the government and the people of Romania on the challenges confronting both of our countries.  Romania is a good friend of the United States and a strong partner in the war on global terrorism. I 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. More than 700 Romanian soldiers contributed to the efforts that supported the people of Iraq in their historic ballot. Romania is our NATO ally and anticipates accession to the European Union in 2007.  President Basescu has recognized that endemic corruption and the poverty it breeds are a threat to Romania's national security, and his government is already taking steps to combat this scourge and to institute effective government reform. We commend the President's efforts and stand ready to assist him as he shines the light of transparency across Romania.  President Basescu's focus and determination give me hope that progress can also be made on a number of matters that have been of concern.  In 2001, Romania imposed a moratorium on all international adoptions under pressure from the European Union, and amid allegations of “baby selling”. This moratorium was extended several times pending development of comprehensive child protection legislation to include new rules on adoption. The new legislation came into effect in January of this year and limits international adoption to the grandparents of the Romanian child--effectively ending international adoption. More than 200 U.S. families were in the process of adopting Romanian children when the moratorium was established, and the Government of Romania indicated that it would proceed with those adoption requests that were “already in the pipeline”.  However, to date, these cases remain unresolved. This total ban on international adoptions is regrettable and means that many children in Romania will now grow up without permanent families. I am particularly concerned about the over 200 adoption cases which were already being processed for U.S. parents, and I urge the Government of Romania to resolve these cases quickly, so these children can be placed with the families as promised. I also urge President Basescu to consider revising existing law to allow the resumption of international adoptions with appropriate safeguards.  The Government of Romania enacted a comprehensive antidiscrimination law in 2000 and has in place a national action plan on Roma. Yet the great majority of Roma and Sinti in Romania remain marginalized, living in abject poverty due to severe discrimination in employment, housing, and education. President Basescu should take bold and concrete steps to ensure that Romani citizens have full opportunity to participate in the civil and political life of Romania. The establishment of a fund to implement school desegregation would be an important step toward achieving that goal and would make the Romanian government's participation in the Decade of Roma Inclusion truly meaningful.  Following decades of denial, the Government of Romania has made great strides in the past year in recognizing Romania's role in the Holocaust. I commend the government for taking steps to examine this dark and painful chapter in the country's history. The International Commission for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, led by Elie Wiesel, officially issued its findings last November in Bucharest. In addition to the establishment of a national Holocaust Remembrance day, which Romania marks on October 12, the Commission's recommendations include the construction of a national Holocaust memorial and museum in Bucharest, the annulment of war criminal rehabilitations, and the establishment of Holocaust education curricula and holocaust courses in secondary schools and universities. The government should move quickly to implement that Commission's recommendations.  In a related matter, I hope that the Government of Romania will finally bring to closure the rehabilitation and honoring of World War II dictator, Marshall Ion Antonescu, Hitler ally and war criminal condemned for the mass murder of Jews and Roma. During the past 3 years, 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 Cluj, Targu Mures, and Campulung Muscel continue to be named after him. I urge the Government of Romania to remove these remaining vestiges honoring the former dictator.  The process of providing restitution or compensation for property confiscated by former regimes in Romania has been slow, complicated, and difficult. Government records indicate that more than 200,000 claims for property restitution have been filed by individuals, and more than 7,000 claims have been filed by religious denominations and communal groups. The plight of Romania's Greek Catholic Uniate Church, which was banned by the Communist government in 1948, is particularly troubling. 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 the Greek Catholics, fewer than 200 have been returned. I hope that this government will finally take significant steps toward the restitution of Greek Catholic property as well as that of other religious denominations. Romania's failure to return religious properties to their rightful owners 15 years after Communist rule is inexcusable and, in my view, a destabilizing element in Romanian society.  Trafficking in human beings will continue to challenge the new government. Romania is a source and transit country primarily for women and girls trafficked for sexual exploitation. While the Romanian Government has made tremendous progress in its anti-trafficking initiatives in the past several years, there are still some areas of concern including corruption within the law enforcement community, light penalties for those convicted of trafficking, and proposals to legalize or regulate prostitution.  Greater accountability is needed among members of the law enforcement community in view of allegations that officials have assisted traffickers in obtaining false passports, facilitated illegal border crossings and accepted bribes to tamper with witnesses' testimony. Traffickers are increasingly likely to be prosecuted for their crimes in Romania, however, the penalties imposed by judges are still too low--usually 1 year or less in prison. Penalties should be severe enough to reflect the heinous nature of the crime and to serve as a deterrent to other prospective traffickers. Finally, it is important for the government to take a firm stance against all efforts to legalize or regulate prostitution. Legalized and regulated prostitution is a magnet for human trafficking and provides a shield behind which traffickers hide.  While many challenges remain on the road ahead for President Basescu, his new government, and the people of Romania, I am convinced that, working together, they will move toward a bright and prosperous future. I stand ready to assist our friends in Romania in any way I can.

  • Religious Freedom in Southeastern Europe

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel While the free practice of religion is generally enjoyed in Southeastern Europe, problematic policies exist that run counter to commitments made when countries from the region joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Issues range from discriminatory legal schemes denying small religious communities registration to harsh government actions against unpopular religious groups and their leaders. As will be discussed, having a legal mechanism for religious groups to achieve juridical personhood is important in ensuring religious freedom for all. Furthermore, this does not necessitate the creation of special religion laws, as legal status can be established through tax or corporation laws. Albanian and Bosnian Examples Despite shortcomings in other areas, Albania’s system for conferring registration and legal status to religious communities could serve as a model to others in the region. All religious groups with at least five members and meeting minimal criteria may obtain legal and non-profit status under the Law on Associations, the same status given to any applicant group, whether religious or secular. Albania’s neutral approach avoids the problematic entanglements of special religion laws common elsewhere in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina missed an opportunity to lead by example, as many parts of its recently passed Law on Freedom of Religion and the Legal Position of Churches and Religious Communities are well constructed, explicitly protecting manifestations of religious belief while limiting the ability of the government to interfere in the internal affairs of a religious group. Unfortunately, the law also contains troubling provisions which include penalties against free speech while setting numerical thresholds for obtaining legal status. For unregistered groups to qualify for official status, they must meet a membership threshold of at least 300 citizens. The law could be brought into harmony with OSCE commitments, should the Bosnian parliament amend the law, either expunging or significantly reducing this numerical requirement. While there has been marked improvement in recent years, the lack of physical security for minority religious communities and their places of worship as well as ineffective law enforcement and judicial action remain real problems. Police and prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina have proven slow or unwilling to protect minority groups in some areas. The answer is not a specially crafted religion law with novel criminal penalties, but better enforcement of current laws by police and determined prosecutions by authorities. OSCE Leadership: Bulgaria and Slovenia Despite Bulgaria’s status as OSCE Chairman-in-Office in 2004, religious freedom conditions took a turn for the worse when, in July, the authorities seized properties used by the alternative Bulgarian Orthodox synod for more than 10 years. The 2002 Law on Religions blatantly favors the Bulgarian Orthodox Church over the alternative Orthodox synod and other religious groups, thereby providing legal cover for the church seizures. While there is no numerical threshold for registration, the legal system established by the law appears open to manipulation and arbitrary decisions. Additionally, the sanctions available under the Law on Religions are also ambiguous yet far-reaching, potentially restricting a variety of religious freedom rights. It is not too late for Bulgarian authorities to erase this dark spot by immediately reinstating to the alternative synod full control of the seized properties until the courts settle the dispute. The overall situation for religious freedom is good in Slovenia, which became Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE on January 1, 2005. The registration system for religious communities is simple, and there are no numerical thresholds or formal requirements to overcome. While the small Muslim community in Ljubljana has experienced problems in obtaining permission to build a mosque, it appears the matter is being resolved. One city counselor successfully initiated a referendum in May opposing the zoning regulation change to allow the building of the mosque. However, the Constitutional Court found the referendum to be unconstitutional, thereby removing this hurdle to construction. It is hoped there will be no further bureaucratic delays, so construction can begin as Slovenia takes up the OSCE chairmanship. Law and Practice in Croatia and Macedonia While the freedom to practice religion is generally respected in Croatia, the Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities passed in July 2002 falls short of OSCE commitments, establishing a discriminatory, tiered system of registration. For a new religious group to enjoy the rights and benefits available with the higher Religious Communities status, it must demonstrate a membership of at least 500 individuals and be registered under the lesser Religious Association status for five years. Benefits explicitly given to Religious Communities include: freedom to operate independently; capacity to determine their internal organization; freedom to conduct religious meetings in their own or leased space; tax exemptions; the right to establish schools; and ability to receive state funding. Considering Croatia’s candidacy for the European Union, current EU members France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia do not use membership thresholds in conferring registration. In addition to the excessive numerical threshold and the five-year prohibition on registering new groups as Religious Communities, the law declares that the name and insignia of a religious group may not contain the official names and insignia of other countries. Doing so will cause the denial of registration. In addition, it is unclear under the law whether Religious Communities or Associations may legally conduct meetings in private homes or apartments. To lessen the likelihood of problems in the future and to set a positive example for others, Croatia should correct these deficiencies, as well as eliminate or significantly reduce the 500-member threshold. The legal framework governing religious freedom in Macedonia is ambiguous, due to Constitutional Court decisions striking down provisions of the 1997 Law on Religious Communities and Religious Groups, such as the numerical threshold for registration. Since religious groups are required to register, the lack of a clear mechanism can be problematic. Adding to the confusion, the U.S. State Department reports that the remaining provisions of the religion law are not consistently applied, leading to arbitrary delays in granting registration. The government could easily close this gap by creating simple avenues to obtain equal status either through the civil or administrative code. In addition to these legal problems, concern exists about the situation surrounding Bishop Jovan (Zoran Vraniskovski). Macedonian officials, in response to the ecclesiastical dispute concerning the status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, have over-reacted to Jovan’s activities on behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Authorities in January 2004 arrested Jovan for conducting a church service in a private apartment. Responding to complaints of neighbors about disturbing the peace is appropriate, but sentencing him to 18 months in jail for “causing national, racial or religious hate, discord and intolerance” is excessive and unjustified. Escalating things further, police officials in October reportedly bulldozed the foundations of a new chapel Jovan’s followers had begun to build, allegedly because local authorities had not received permission to start construction. (There is also concern about reports the government intends to demolish another Serbian Orthodox Church established in the village of Luzani.) Those sympathetic to the larger issues surrounding the Macedonian Orthodox Church and its status should be among the first to defend the rights of others to participate in the church of their choosing. The government, at least, must exhibit more restraint and end these harassments, and also pay reparations for the destroyed buildings. Problematic Draft Laws Elsewhere The legal framework for Serbia remains uncertain, since the 1976 communist-era law was abandoned in 1993. A draft religion law circulated earlier this year contained numerous shortcomings, blatantly tilting the playing field in favor of seven “traditional” communities and establishing the numerical threshold of 1000 members for new groups to register. Despite improvements, the new draft micromanages the affairs of religious groups, while making contingent most of the rights and benefits available to religious communities on the meeting of the burdensome 1000-member threshold. For smaller groups, this will result in the serious limitation of their activities; the draft prohibits unregistered groups from renting or owning land for worship, using private apartments for meetings, holding public events, receiving donations or opening schools or orphanages. Registration can be revoked for vague and arbitrary reasons – if a group “destroys family” or “disrupts spiritual integrity . . . for the purpose of . . . spreading its doctrine.” The draft reaches into the internal affairs of religious groups, as all are “obliged” to “inspire understanding” of others and not “spread lies, prejudices or intolerance” against other faiths. In addition, local officials would be empowered to monitor how religious groups use voluntary contributions. Serbian authorities are urged to seek technical assistance and input from individuals on the OSCE Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom or Belief, just as their predecessors at the federal, Yugoslav level did roughly two years ago, in order to develop a new draft that comports with international norms and practice. Regarding other issues, a dispute over a Romani church in Leskovac will be resolved when municipal authorities fulfill a pledge to provide some of the land nearby for an alternative site. The State Department reports the Belgrade Islamic community continues to have problems obtaining land and government approval to open an Islamic cemetery. In addition, in response to the burning of two mosques in March, reports indicate that 12 people of the 100 plus arrested have been charged with criminal offenses, and news of convictions should be forthcoming. There is also concern about religious freedom in Kosovo, as reportedly only three individuals have been found guilty for their involvement in the March violence that resulted in the destruction or damage of 30 Serbian Orthodox Churches and monasteries. The two-year prison sentences issued were suspended, making the penalties nothing more than a slap on the wrist. In addition, recent legislative initiatives are troubling, as the latest draft of the Law on Religious Freedom and Legal Status of Religious Communities falls short of international standards. The drafting process has been closed to minority religious communities, as well. The comments of minority communities should be actively sought and fully considered during the public debate. Among its many problematic portions, the draft creates the preferential status of a Religious Community, while providing virtually no rights for the lesser Union of Natural Persons. Small or new groups are prevented from obtaining Religious Community status, as they must have 500 members and have been operating in Kosovo for at least five years, but it is unclear how that time is tolled. Only Religious Communities can publish materials, either in print or electronically, or obtain funds from voluntary contributions. The draft unduly limits speech and activities of all groups, stating they shall not “disrupt other religious communities, or citizens without religious convictions, in public manifestation of religion or other conviction.” The government may also select certain religious groups to participate in the Committee for Relations with Religious Communities, thereby giving favored faiths an inappropriate degree of oversight or veto over other religious groups. Lastly, for existing Religious Communities, the law would make rights contingent on reregistering successfully within six months of passage. There is growing concern by reports coming out of Romania regarding a new draft religion law being reviewed by a parliamentary subcommittee. Reliable sources indicate this legislation is based on the highly flawed 1999 draft, which set the numerical threshold for registration at 0.5% of Romania’s population, or over 100,000 people. If reports are true, it is deeply concerning that the parliament would resurrect this seriously problematic bill rather than starting afresh and incorporating the views of interested Romanian religious communities. The OSCE Panel of Experts would be willing to provide technical assistance if invited by the government, and such a gesture would help ensure the legislation upholds all OSCE commitments on religious freedom.

  • Briefing Surveys Human Rights of Russia's Roma Population

    By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law On September 23, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on “The Roma in Russia.”  Panelists included Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director, Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, a consultant for the Open Society Institute specializing in minority issues in the former Soviet Union. Elizabeth Pryor, Senior Advisor to the Helsinki Commission, moderated the briefing.  She noted the Commission’s long engagement regarding the human rights problems faced by Roma as well as the overall human rights situation in Russia.  Highlighting the need to examine the particular situation of Roma in Russia, she observed that since Roma “constitute a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight is often overlooked.” Dr. Petrova noted that, for the 2002 Russian census, approximately 182,000 individuals identified themselves as Romani.  Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the number of Roma in Russia is much higher; a figure often cited is 1.2 million.  She argued that the fate of Roma in Russia is emblematic of the racism, xenophobia, and discrimination faced by other ethnic minorities in Russia, particularly Jews and people from the Caucasus region. In a comprehensive statement, Dr. Petrova outlined nine key areas of concern:  historical and social discrimination against Roma; the legal and institutional context of anti-discrimination legislation; the current political and ideological climate in Russia; the abuse of Roma rights by state actors (primarily the police); the abuse of Roma rights by non-state actors; discrimination in the criminal justice system; the portrayal of Roma in the Russian media; the lack of personal documents; and access to housing and education.  The main focus of Dr. Petrova’s statement concerned abuse by both state and non-state actors.  The main impetus of anti-Roma abuse in Russia is related directly to the ideological “war on drugs.”  People of Roma descent are targeted through racial profiling and various media outlets as illegal drug dealers and are subject to frequent police raids.  The “war on drugs” has also become an excuse for police brutality and racial targeting in which police plant drugs on the Roma or in their homes and then arrest them for the possession of illegal substances. Dr. Petrova ended her statement with a call for the United States Government “to play a leadership role and use its economic and political weight to help improve the position of Roma in Russia and address the human rights problems of Roma in Russia as a matter of urgency and as a primary concern in combating racial discrimination.”  She asked human rights monitoring agencies both in the United States and in Europe to prioritize Roma rights in Russia and to draw the Russian Government’s attention to Roma issues that are currently not being addressed. Dr. Torkohov, representing the Ekaterinburg-based Roma Ural, presented his organization’s efforts to monitor media coverage of Roma, examine factors contributing to lower levels of education among Roma, and assist Romani Holocaust survivors obtain compensation through existing programs. Torkohov offered a number of recommendations to improve the current situation.  With respect to education, he suggested creating preschool programs for Roma children to improve literacy, working with both children and parents to understand the value of education, and facilitating cooperation between parents and schools.  Given the pronounced bigotry against Roma that characterizes portrayals of Roma in the broadcast and print media, he also suggested training journalists to improve their professional skills. Leonid Raihman focused on ill treatment of Roma by the police, access to justice, and problems associated with the lack of personal documents, including passports.  Endemic corruption among the poorly paid and poorly trained police in Russia has fostered an environment in which Roma are the routine victims of extortion by the police.  This extortion, in turn, contributes to the economic marginalization of Roma. Raihman also described the serious and complex problem of personal documents for the Roma.  He said the absence of personal documents, as well as the rigid nature of the personal documents system in Russia, represents an aspect of the problem.  However, he felt that ethnicity was the primary reason for problems in obtaining a passport.  “Administration officials,” he stated, “especially in housing and immigration departments abuse the discretionary decision-making power accorded to them by the passport system to discriminate against Roma and members of the vulnerable groups.” Mr. Raihman urged the U.S. Government to use its power “to persuade the Russian Government to place the human rights problems which the Roma face high on their agenda.”  He stated that it is time for the Russian Government, as well as the rest of the world, to acknowledge and deal with the problems faced by the Roma in Russia.   United States Helsinki Commission Intern Judy Abel contributed to this article.

  • Briefing Surveys Human Rights of Russia's Roma Population

    By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law On September 23, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on “The Roma in Russia.”  Panelists included Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director, Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, a consultant for the Open Society Institute specializing in minority issues in the former Soviet Union. Elizabeth Pryor, Senior Advisor to the Helsinki Commission, moderated the briefing.  She noted the Commission’s long engagement regarding the human rights problems faced by Roma as well as the overall human rights situation in Russia.  Highlighting the need to examine the particular situation of Roma in Russia, she observed that since Roma “constitute a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight is often overlooked.” Dr. Petrova noted that, for the 2002 Russian census, approximately 182,000 individuals identified themselves as Romani.  Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the number of Roma in Russia is much higher; a figure often cited is 1.2 million.  She argued that the fate of Roma in Russia is emblematic of the racism, xenophobia, and discrimination faced by other ethnic minorities in Russia, particularly Jews and people from the Caucasus region. In a comprehensive statement, Dr. Petrova outlined nine key areas of concern:  historical and social discrimination against Roma; the legal and institutional context of anti-discrimination legislation; the current political and ideological climate in Russia; the abuse of Roma rights by state actors (primarily the police); the abuse of Roma rights by non-state actors; discrimination in the criminal justice system; the portrayal of Roma in the Russian media; the lack of personal documents; and access to housing and education. The main focus of Dr. Petrova’s statement concerned abuse by both state and non-state actors.  The main impetus of anti-Roma abuse in Russia is related directly to the ideological “war on drugs.”  People of Roma descent are targeted through racial profiling and various media outlets as illegal drug dealers and are subject to frequent police raids.  The “war on drugs” has also become an excuse for police brutality and racial targeting in which police plant drugs on the Roma or in their homes and then arrest them for the possession of illegal substances. Dr. Petrova ended her statement with a call for the United States Government “to play a leadership role and use its economic and political weight to help improve the position of Roma in Russia and address the human rights problems of Roma in Russia as a matter of urgency and as a primary concern in combating racial discrimination.”  She asked human rights monitoring agencies both in the United States and in Europe to prioritize Roma rights in Russia and to draw the Russian Government’s attention to Roma issues that are currently not being addressed. Dr. Torkohov, representing the Ekaterinburg-based Roma Ural, presented his organization’s efforts to monitor media coverage of Roma, examine factors contributing to lower levels of education among Roma, and assist Romani Holocaust survivors obtain compensation through existing programs. Torkohov offered a number of recommendations to improve the current situation.  With respect to education, he suggested creating preschool programs for Roma children to improve literacy, working with both children and parents to understand the value of education, and facilitating cooperation between parents and schools.  Given the pronounced bigotry against Roma that characterizes portrayals of Roma in the broadcast and print media, he also suggested training journalists to improve their professional skills. Leonid Raihman focused on ill treatment of Roma by the police, access to justice, and problems associated with the lack of personal documents, including passports.  Endemic corruption among the poorly paid and poorly trained police in Russia has fostered an environment in which Roma are the routine victims of extortion by the police.  This extortion, in turn, contributes to the economic marginalization of Roma. Raihman also described the serious and complex problem of personal documents for the Roma.  He said the absence of personal documents, as well as the rigid nature of the personal documents system in Russia, represents an aspect of the problem.  However, he felt that ethnicity was the primary reason for problems in obtaining a passport.  “Administration officials,” he stated, “especially in housing and immigration departments abuse the discretionary decision-making power accorded to them by the passport system to discriminate against Roma and members of the vulnerable groups.” Mr. Raihman urged the U.S. Government to use its power “to persuade the Russian Government to place the human rights problems which the Roma face high on their agenda.”  He stated that it is time for the Russian Government, as well as the rest of the world, to acknowledge and deal with the problems faced by the Roma in Russia. 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 Judy Abel contributed to this article.

  • Roma in Russia

    Ms. Elizabeth B. Pryor, Senior Advisor for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, moderated this briefing on the Romani minority in Russia. The Roma in Russia were a particularly vulnerable minority, and since they constituted a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight was often overlooked. They were invisible, and they had not the subjects of detailed reports by human rights organizations and almost no legal cases defending their rights had been taken by domestic and international human rights lawyers. Ms. Pryor was joined by Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director of Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, Consultant of Open Society Institute. The witnesses presented their view about historical and social background, abuse of Roma rights by State and Non-State actors, access to social and economic rights, access to education, appearances in the media about Roma issues, and discrimination in the criminal justice service.

  • The Romani Minority in Russia

    The Helsinki Commission examined the situation of the Romani minority in Russia, with a focus on hate crimes, police abuse, and discrimination in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Beslan, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the potential for many ethnic-confessional conflicts in the Federation. Reports by Roma of racially motivated attacks by law enforcement agents were also points of discussion. Panelists – including Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director of Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, Consultant for Open Society – provided background information on Russia’s Romani minority, setting their discussion in the current context of the current political, economic and security climate in Russia.

  • Advancing U.S. Interests through the OSCE

    The OSCE has been a pioneer in defining an integrated approach to security, one in which human rights and economic well-being are as key to a nation’s stability as are traditional military forces.  It remains not only the largest trans-Atlantic organization, but the one with the broadest definition of security.  The OSCE has also created the most innovative habits of dialogue and collective action of any multilateral organization in the world.  The focus of the hearing will be how the OSCE can be used most effectively to highlight and advance the interests of the United States.  Among the subjects to be covered will be objectives for the December (2004) meeting of Foreign Ministers in Sofia; recent high-impact security initiatives; expectations for the upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw; and refining and strengthening the OSCE.

  • Mass Murder of Roma at Auschwitz Sixty Years Ago

    Madam President, during World War II, some 23,000 Roma were sent to Auschwitz, mostly from Germany, Austria, and the occupied Czech lands. Sixty Years ago, on the night of August 2 and 3, the order was given to liquidate the “Gypsy Camp” at Auschwitz. Over the course of that night, 2,898 men, women, and children were put to death in the gas chambers. In all, an estimated 18,000 Roma died at Auschwitz-Birkenau.   During the intervening years, Aug. 2 and 3 have become days to remember the Porrajmos, the Romani word that means "the Devouring," and to mourn the Romani losses of the Holocaust.   As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has suggested, Roma are ``understudied victims'' of the Nazis. What we don't know about the Romani experiences during the war is far greater than what is known.   But we do know that the fate of the Roma varied from country to county, and depended on many factors. We know that, in addition to the atrocities in Auschwitz, thousands of Roma were gassed at Chelmno. We know that an estimated 90 percent of Croatia's Romani population--tens of thousands of people--was murdered. We know that approximately 25,000 Roma were deported by the Romanian regime to Transnistria in 1942, where some 19,000 of them perished there in unspeakable conditions. We know that in many places, such as Hungary, Roma were simply executed at the village edge and dumped into mass graves. We know that in Slovakia, Roma were put into forced labor camps, and that in France, Roma were kept in internment camps for fully a year after the war ended.   Still, far more research remains to be done in this field, especially with newly available archives like those from the Lety concentration camp in the Czech Republic. I commend the Holocaust Museum for the efforts it has made to shed light on this still dark corner of the past, and I welcome the work of nongovernmental organizations, such as the Budapest-based Roma Press Center, for collecting the memories of survivors.   I do not think I can overstate the consequences of the Porrajmos. Some scholars estimate that as many as half of Europe's Romani minority perished. For individuals, for families, and for surviving communities, those losses were devastating. Tragically, the post-war treatment of Roma compounded one set of injustices with others. Those who were most directly involved in developing the Nationalist-Socialist framework for the racial persecution of Roma--Robert Ritter and Eva Justin--were never brought to justice for their crimes and were allowed to continue their medical careers after the war. The investigative files on Ritter--including evidence regarding his role in the forced sterilization of Roma--were destroyed. German courts refused to recognize, until 1963, that the persecution of Roma based on their ethnic identity began at least as early as 1938. By the time of the 1963 ruling, many Romani survivors had already died.   During my years of service on the leadership of the Helsinki Commission, I have been struck by the tragic plight of Roma throughout the OSCE region. It is not surprising that, given the long history of their persecution, Roma continue to fight racism and discrimination today. I commend Slovakia for adopting comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation in May. As the OSCE participating states prepare for a major conference on racism, discrimination, and xenophobia, to be held in September, I hope they will be prepared to address the persistent manifestations of racism against Roma--manifestations that often carry echoes of the Holocaust.

  • Roma Still Waiting for Their "Brown v. Board of Education"

    Mr. President, 2 years ago, the United States Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, held its third hearing on the human rights problems faced by Roma. At that time, we gave particular attention to the barriers Roma face in the field of education. As the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities said in his very helpful report on Roma in OSCE region, “exclusion of Roma extends to every sphere of social life, perhaps nowhere with more far-reaching and harmful effect than in respect of schooling.” In other words, ensuring equal access for Roma in the fields of education is an essential element for their integration in other areas of life. The World Bank and United Nations Development Program have also emphasized, in their reports, that integration in education is an essential ingredient for improving the overall conditions in which Roma live. Last month, as our own country was commemorating the Supreme Court's historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the European Roma Rights Center issued a report entitled “Stigmata: Segregated Schooling of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe.” This report evaluates practices and policies in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia and describes the most common ways of segregating Romani children from non-Roma: channeling Roma into so-called “special schools” for children with developmental disabilities; the de facto segregation that goes hand-in-hand with Romani ghettos; having mixed population schools where Romani children are segregated into all-Romani classes; and the refusal of some local authorities to enroll Romani children in mainstream schools. The European Roma Rights Center report concludes that, unfortunately, “with the exception of Hungary, concrete government action aimed at desegregating the school system has not been initiated to date.” It is surely not a coincidence that Hungary is also the only country in Europe where the mainstream political parties have started to compete for the Romani vote--both developments which reflect meaningful steps towards the real integration of Roma in that country. As the European Roma Rights Center notes, segregated schooling is the result of many factors which conspire together--not the least of which is the pernicious stereotype that Romani culture is somehow incompatible with education. This fiction continues to be widely held and disseminated by the media, by government officials and public leaders, and sometimes even by the representatives of respected international organizations. Frankly, this myth needs to be debunked. In reality, before World War II, there was no country in Europe that allowed Roma to attend school and maintain their language and cultural identity at the same time. Formal schooling, by definition, meant forced assimilation. It is amazing testimony to the strength of Romani culture that--after centuries as a dispersed people in Europe, after slavery in Romania and Moldova, after forced assimilation campaigns, and after the Holocaust--Romani identity has survived. For most Roma in Europe, concentrated in countries that fell behind the Iron Curtain, it is only the context of a post-communist world, a Europe which has now recognized the rights of ethnic and linguistic minorities, that the theoretical opportunity to be educated without having to hide or surrender one's Romani identity is within grasp. Kids like Elvis Hajdar, the Romani-Macedonian computer whiz-kid the Christian Science Monitor profiled in April, embrace this opportunity. For many other Roma, however, educational opportunities remain only distant and only theoretical. And, contrary to popular mythology, it is not Romani culture that holds them back, but crushing poverty and entrenched racism. Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and it is no surprise that Romani organizations across Europe have made access to education one of their principle demands. Moreover, the “Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area,” adopted at the Maastricht Ministerial last December, the OSCE participating states outlined a variety of concrete measures states might undertake to achieve this goal. But desegregation will not just happen on its own. It will take leadership and political will and--as we know from our own experiences after the Brown decision--it may still take many years. The time to get started is now.

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