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Helsinki Commissioners Introduce Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act

Friday, December 13, 2019

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Commissioner Rep.  Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05) yesterday introduced the bipartisan Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act (H.R. 5408) in the House of Representatives. The legislation combats Russia’s religious freedom violations in the Crimea and Donbas regions of Ukraine. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) plans to introduce a companion bill in the Senate next week.

“For more than five years, Russia has illegally occupied Crimea and controlled part of the Donbas with the armed groups it commands. Kremlin personnel and proxies abduct, imprison, and torture people in those regions for their faith,” said Rep. Wilson. “Russian officials are culpable, and this bill helps ensure they are held accountable.”

“The Kremlin persecutes peaceful religious communities in occupied Crimea and crony-controlled eastern Donbas even more brutally and broadly than it does in Russia,” said Rep. Cleaver. “The Russian Government is violating international humanitarian law and its international commitments to respect and protect religious freedom. Creating consequences for the Kremlin for this lawlessness will mean justice for the people of Ukraine.”

The Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act would require the President of the United States to consider particularly severe violations of religious freedom in Russia-occupied or otherwise controlled territory in Ukraine when determining whether to designate Russia as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for such violations. The bill clarifies that Russia should be held responsible for violations in territory it occupies illegally or controls, not just for violations inside Russia’s internationally-recognized borders.

The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requires the president to designate CPCs when their governments engage in or tolerate particularly severe violations of religious freedom. It also requires the president to take 15 specific actions, or commensurate action, in response. Last year, on behalf of President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo designated Russia for the Special Watch List of countries where violations are severe.

Russian forces first invaded Crimea in February 2014 and continue to illegally occupy it. Since April 2014, Russia has controlled parts of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine with non-state armed groups and illegal entities it commands. Under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions, Russia is responsible for religious freedom violations in Crimea and parts of the Donbas.

As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia has repeatedly committed to respect and protect freedom of religion or belief. The Helsinki Commission has compiled 16 documents outlining religious freedom commitments made by OSCE participating States.

Original co-sponsors of the legislation include Helsinki Commissioners Rep. Gwen S. Moore (WI-04), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Rep. Marc A. Veasey (TX-33), and Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09). Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (CA-18), Rep. Mark Meadows (NC-11), Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-05), Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis (FL-12), Rep. Daniel W. Lipinski (IL-03), Rep. Andy Harris, M.D. (MD-01), and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-09) are also original co-sponsors.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
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    Mr. President, I am pleased to sponsor Senate Concurrent Resolution 7, expressing the sense and concern of the Congress regarding the recent spike in anti-Semitic violence that occurred in many participating States of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It is incumbent upon us to send a clear message that these malicious acts are a serious concern to the United States Senate and American people and that we will not be silent in the face of this disturbing trend. The anti-Semitic violence we witnessed in 2002, which stretched the width and breadth of the OSCE region, is a wake-up call that this old evil still lives today. Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi “skin head” activity, myself, and other Commissioners on the Helsinki Commission, have diligently urged the leaders of OSCE participating States to confront and combat the evil of anti-Semitism. 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  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act 2003

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  • Condemning Anti-Semitism

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce, along with my colleagues Rep. Cardin, Rep. Wolf, Rep. Hoyer, Rep. Lantos, Rep. Wamp, Rep. Slaughter, Rep. Aderholt and Rep. Hastings, this resolution expressing the sense of the Congress that the sharp escalation of anti-Semitism, including violence, throughout the region of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is of serious concern to the U.S. Congress and the American people. We should make a concerted effort in our respective countries to end this disturbing trend.   Anti-Semitism is a disease that has bedeviled previous generations of Jews throughout the centuries and formed a black spot on human history. As the 20th century witnessed the nadir of extreme violence against the Jewish community and their institutions, we must take extraordinary steps to ensure this plague does not infect the 21st century to contaminate future generations. Yet our work is cut out for us, as this past year Europe witnessed a profound increase in vandalism against Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and cultural property, as well as mob assaults, fire bombings and gunfire. This year already a Jewish rabbi was stabbed twice in his Paris synagogue by an assailant. Thankfully, he was released from the hospital the same day. Certainly our own country is not immune, as acts of vandalism and violence continue to sporadically occur. As these incidents made graphically clear, silence is not an option when we are witnesses to insensitivity and violence.   The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair and on which Mr. Cardin serves has taken the lead in voicing concern and working for real change. On May 22, 2002, the Commission held a hearing to raise specific attention to the growing problem of anti-Semitic violence in the OSCE region. From that hearing a number of initiatives emerged. At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Berlin last July, I introduced and successfully secured unanimous approval of a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism and calling for all OSCE governments to do more. Mr. Speaker, for the record, I submit the text of the OSCE PA resolution.   In addition, the U.S. delegation co-sponsored an unprecedented special session with the German delegation to further discuss the alarming trend with our fellow parliamentarians. In December, the Commission co-hosted here in Washington a parliamentary forum on anti-Semitism with German parliamentarians, also attended by a prominent member of the Senate of Canada, Jerry Grafstein. At the conclusion of this event, myself and the German co-chair, Gert Weisskirchen, signed a letter of intent highlighting specific areas for further work and pledging to enlist the support of other parliamentarians from OSCE participating States. I have submitted a copy of the letter of intent, for the record.   Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce this resolution, and I am eager for the House to go on record in support, making sure both the Congress and our government are doing everything possible to see an end to this scourge. I am especially pleased that the resolution calls for all OSCE participating States to ensure effective law enforcement and prosecution of individuals perpetrating anti-Semitic violence, as well as urging the parliaments of all participating States to take concrete legislative action at the national level. In sum, I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue our steadfast efforts to see an end to anti-Semitic violence.

  • Hearing Surveys Human Rights in Republic of Georgia

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The Helsinki Commission held a hearing September 24, 2002 on developments in the Republic of Georgia, with particular focus on the recent violent attacks against selected minority religious communities, as well as the threat of Russian aggression against that Caucasus nation. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing that examined Georgia’s prospects for democratization, its security situation, and how Washington can best promote the complementary goals of advancing democracy, human rights and economic liberty while leading the battle against international terrorism. The hearing opened with a gripping video documenting mob violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and the failure of Georgian police to quell such attacks. Georgia, which became an OSCE participating State in 1992, was seemingly headed toward domestic stability and democratic governance in the mid-1990s, but recent trends have been disappointing. The official results of elections have not inspired confidence, undermining the public’s faith in democracy and the right of the people to choose their government. While civil society has grown substantially, independent media and non-governmental organizations remain at risk. The savage attack on the human rights organization, Liberty Institute, like the campaign of violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths, as well as efforts to silence Rustavi-2 Television, testify to the lingering influence of forces bent on preventing Georgia from consolidating democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Meanwhile, Georgia has been under intensifying pressure from Russia, with Moscow accusing Georgia of failing to cooperate in the war on terrorism. Russian planes have invaded Georgian airspace and bombed the territory, killing Georgian citizens. Russian officials increasingly threaten to launch unilateral military actions within Georgia against Chechen rebels. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently asked the United Nations to support his country’s threats to launch military strikes inside Georgia. Moscow’s threats place at risk Georgia’s sovereignty and stability, moving Washington to consider how best to help Georgia defend itself and maintain control of its territory, while moving decisively against criminal elements and terrorists. This is a very complicated situation because much of the assistance from the United States is contingent upon Georgia’s compliance to stop religious violence within its borders. Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing by acknowledging Georgia’s progress since the last hearing in 1995, but was quick to point out salient shortcomings. Mr. Smith voiced several concerns pertaining to Georgia’s internal problems. Special attention was paid to the inaction of the Georgian Government in regard to the mob attacks on minority faiths. “I am especially concerned and appalled by the ongoing religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there has been a campaign of assaults against members of minority faiths – especially Jehovah’s Witnesses – which Georgian authorities has tolerated,” Smith commented, “there can be no excuse for state toleration of such barbarity. It must end, and it must end now.” Not only was Mr. Smith concerned about the violence, but he also was concerned with the future of Georgia - U.S. relations because of the “rampant corruption,” unsatisfactory rate of democratization, and lack of compliance with OSCE standards. Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, voiced concern about the violence in the Pankisi Gorge and the Russian pressure on Georgia to eradicate the Chechen terrorist threat. Turning to trends in the areas of democracy and human rights, Pascoe noted, “We have stressed to President Shevardnadze and his government again and again that poor records on human rights and freedom of religion not only undermine Georgia's efforts at economic and democratic reform, but will also negatively affect our assistance if such problems are not addressed.” He further explained efforts in the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) to help Georgia in the war on terrorism, but suggested that U.S. assistance would diminish if Georgia does not act on the concerns voiced in the hearing. Georgian Ambassador Levan Mikeladze expressed his remorse for the mob attacks. He reassured the Commission that Georgia fully recognizes the problems in religious persecution and legal and practical actions are being taken to ensure there will be no more violent attacks: “We are hopeful that after all these assignments are executed, we will be in a position to say religion-based intolerance in Georgia has no future and manifestations of religiously motivated violence no longer occur.” Georgia’s security was a pressing issue for Ambassador Mikeladze given intrusions and aggression by the Russian Federation. He encouraged the United States to continue the GTEP and continue the strong rapport between the two nations. Co-Chairman Smith and Commissioner Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) were not satisfied with Ambassador Mikeladze’s explanation and expressed concern regarding the lack of action on the part of the Georgian Government to bring the perpetrators of attacks against minority faiths to justice. Smith issued a strong call to action, explaining the injurious nature to Georgia-U.S. relations of Georgia’s failure to actively stop the mob attacks. Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Baptist Union of Georgia set forth a long list of why and how such violence and hatred could be permitted in a democratic state. In attempting to give an explanation as to why such events have occurred in Georgia, the Bishop observed, “We gained independence but we still have not reached freedom. Old values have gone. New values have not come yet.” Songulashvili remarked, “It is not an absence of religious legislation which causes religious violence and persecution but rather absence of culture, justice and general law.” Despite all the grievances noted, Bishop Songulasvili remained hopeful that there would be progress. He offered four “targets” as a solution for the current religious violence: “Family, Mass Media, School and Teaching Institutions, and Religious Congregations.” He concluded, “Our optimism for the better future should not be overshadowed by the turmoil of the present time.” Mr. Gennadi Gudadze, a Jehovah’s Witness from Tbilisi, testified to the brutality experienced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia, including himself. He noted that “since then [October 1999], there have been 133 separate incidents involving either mob attacks, individual attacks or destruction of property.” Gudadze also pointed out that minimal action has been taken by the authorities against the criminals. He called for a three-pronged solution: apply the law, arrest the perpetrators, and remove the corrupt officials. Dr. Gia Nodia, Director of the Institute for Peace, Development, and Democracy, discussed the interrelationship between security on human rights. Dr. Nodia was very concerned with the possibility that the religious violence might evolve into political violence, hence impinging on the democratic process, causing much more turmoil within Georgia. Professor Stephen Jones of Mount Holyoke College gave a dismal summary of the current state of affairs in Georgia. He asserted that the government is failing its citizens and its current stability is based on the “thinnest of ice.” Professor Jones highlighted three main reasons for these failures: lack of economic security in Georgia; lack of proper institutions to carry out governmental and economic functions (i.e. Georgia’s current economy has shrunk 67% and industry is working at 20% of its capacity. Between 1997-2000, expenditure on defense decreased from $51.9 million to $13.6 million, education from $35.6 to $13.9 million, agriculture forestry and fishing from $13.4 to $7.2 million); and lack of political and public support for reform. Jones’ recommendation called for increased western aid, but the burden of progress lays heaviest on Georgia itself. The hearing concluded with a strong statement from Co-Chairman Smith urging the Government of Georgia to work quickly and effectively to eradicate its corruption and religious violence. He concluded his statement with these words, “Our only hope here is to try to promote human rights, democracy, and to protect the sovereignty of Georgia . . . from any forays by Russia.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s web site. 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.

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE - 2003

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission hearing focused on how the Administration has been using the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the expansive OSCE region, particularly as a tool for advancing democracy. In addition the hearing touched on the anticipated OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review. In light of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the hearing discussed the link between state repression and violence and the role of building democracy  in U.S. national security interest. The witnesses and Commissioners discussed how the Helsinki Accords is based on mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems and how this concept can be effective tool for the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. In particular, the hearing covered situations in Central Asia and in authoritarian countries within the OSCE that are not putting forth meaningful reform.

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noted: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. This report conducts a review of Eastern European and Eurasian countries' records on these commitments over the course of the decade following the Soviet Union's collapse.

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noticed: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)*, which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the now 55-nation organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. Each of the OSCE participating States, including those examined in this report, has committed to “build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.” Similarly, the participating States have declared that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of government. Respect for them is an essential safeguard against an over-mighty State.” In a step designed to preserve the unity of the Helsinki process, each new participating State submitted a letter accepting in their entirety all commitments and responsibilities contained in the Helsinki Final Act, and all subsequent documents adopted prior to their membership (see Appendix I). To underscore this continuity, the leaders of each of the countries signed the actual original Final Act document (see Appendix II).

  • Parliamentary Forum Launches Process to Confront Anti-Semitism

    By Donald B. Kursch, CSCE Senior Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission hosted an inter-Parliamentary Forum December 10, 2002 on Confronting and Combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region. The meeting, held in conjunction with the observance of International Human Rights Day, strengthened the partnership between members of the U.S. and German delegations which began earlier this year in Berlin during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). This process was launched in response to shared U.S. and German concerns with the upsurge in anti-Semitism in many parts of the 55-nation OSCE region and is designed to encourage parliaments to take decisive actions to counter this disturbing trend. A letter of intent outlining concrete steps to be pursued was signed at the conclusion of the Forum. Chairing the meeting jointly were Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and German Bundestag Member Professor Gert Weisskirchen of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Group. Helsinki Commission Members Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated, with Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) in attendance. Other German Bundestag participants were Dietmar Nietan of the SPD and Markus Löning of the Liberal Party (FDP). Senator Jerahmiel Grafstein (Liberal Party) of the Senate of Canada also took part in the Forum. In his opening statement, Rep. Smith, who led the U.S. Delegation to Berlin, reaffirmed the principles that were set out in a U.S.-sponsored resolution from the Berlin OSCE PA meeting that anti-Semitism must have no place in the 21st century and that parliaments should “take concrete steps to make this vision a reality.” He expressed the hope that representatives of other parliaments from the OSCE participating States would join this process. Prof. Weisskirchen defined anti-Semitism as a unique kind of racism. He stressed that the threat of ethnic hatred is an affront to the principles of democracy. Weisskirchen suggested that programs with long-term goals would be most effective at combating anti-Semitism and that focusing “on the education, both formal and informal, and on the media and on religion” are vital parts of a preventive strategy. Rep. Cardin spoke to two points raised in the letter of intent. The first was the importance of education as a tool of erasing ignorance and promoting tolerance. The second was the establishment of a “coalition of the willing” to address the rise of anti-Semitic propaganda in the OSCE’s Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, including Egypt. He proposed a parliamentary dialogue with these countries to deal with this problem. Rep. Hastings noted that in his home state of Florida a 1400 percent increase in anti-Semitism occurred this past year and that much of this increase was attributed to people under 21 years of age. Mr. Nietan spoke from the perspective of a member of the younger generation of parliamentarians in the German Bundestag. Like his colleagues, he emphasized youth education as a crucial step in fighting discrimination. Mr. Löning emphasized two points: the need for instilling respect for other peoples, especially minorities, and creating the ability to “deal with the identity of others on an open and fair basis.” Senator Grafstein noted a disturbing increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Canada pointing out that there had been four arson attacks on synagogues during the past year, a number greater than at any time in his country’s history. He underscored his strong support for complementary parliamentary initiatives process and his determination to have the Canadian Parliament adopt a resolution he has introduced condemning anti-Semitism. Three European and three American expert witnesses shared their views and recommendations with the parliamentarians. The first witness was Juliane Danker-Wetzel from the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism of the Technical University in Berlin. She tied the rise of anti-Semitic acts in the European Union states to the recent conflict in the Middle East. Danker-Wetzel pointed to the Internet as an important conduit for disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. She then highlighted how the Arab-Israeli conflict and criticism of Israel is often linked to anti-Semitic attitudes. Ken Jacobson, Associate National Director of the Anti Defamation League began by suggesting the OSCE as an “ideal forum for meaningful action.” He noted a rise in the incidences of hate propaganda, citing the “big lie” which holds that Jews were responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He concluded with ten recommendations for fighting the virus of anti-Semitism, including increased anti-Israel bias and Holocaust awareness education programs, improved monitoring instruments and training for law enforcement and military personnel. Jacobson also recommended that the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 2003 be utilized for a special meeting to stress Holocaust education. Dr. Hanno Loewy, Founder of the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt, argued that the most serious threat of anti-Semitism in Europe derives from the conflicts and discontent that exist in a post-colonial world. He cited as evidence, the large immigrant populations in Europe, who brought with them anti-Semitic beliefs. Loewy recommended that European countries establish legal structures regarding education, tax collection and access to public funds for Europeans of Islamic faith comparable to those that Christians and Jews already have. Ambassador Alfred Moses, former President of the American Jewish Committee, asserted that modern manifestations of hatred towards Jews are rooted in a tradition of anti-Semitism that has plagued Europe for centuries. He argued that anti-Semitism must be defined more broadly than a “purely political phenomenon.” As such, he recommended that the United States and Germany use their influence in organizations such as the OSCE, NATO and the EU to raise anti-Semitism as a top priority to be addressed at the highest levels. Rabbi Israel Singer, President of the World Jewish Congress, highlighted the problem of cynicism and indifference on issues of anti-Semitism by legislators. He deplored how Holocaust restitution efforts were used by some Europeans to justify anti-Semitic attitudes, an increased tendency by European politicians to use anti-Semitic nuances to appeal to certain constituencies, and the lack of balance in the positions of certain international institutions, such as the World Council of Churches, to developments in the Middle East. The final panelist, Dr. Arkadi Vaksberg, Deputy Head of the Moscow PEN Center, recommended that a uniform legal structure be established across Europe and Russia for dealing with issues of human rights. He supported a clear and concrete definition of anti-Semitic acts, as well as creating an international commission to monitor and fight global anti-Semitism on a global basis. Rep. Smith and Prof. Weisskirchen, concluded the Forum by signing a “Letter of Intent” that affirms a commitment to work together closely to fight anti-Semitism and encourage their colleagues in the U.S. Congress, German Bundestag, and in the parliamentary legislative bodies of other OSCE participating States, to adopt an action plan of concrete measures to counter anti-Semitic actions and attitudes. Recommended measures include: the adoption of parliamentary resolutions condemning anti-Semitism; the swift, forceful and public denunciation by parliamentarians of anti-Semitic acts; the enactment and vigorous enforcement of appropriate criminal legislation to punish anti-Semitic actions; the promotion of educational efforts among younger persons to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes; and the creation of an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly-based “coalition of the willing” among OSCE parliamentarians to address anti-Semitic propaganda that appears to be increasing rapidly in a number of countries designated as OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. The signatories pledged to meet again in conjunction with the February 2003 Winter Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna to evaluate progress, seek active support from other parliamentarians and determine how the July 2003 Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to be held in Rotterdam can be best utilized to combat anti-Semitism. 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.

  • Commission Staff Meet with Georgian Officials While Religious Persecution Persists

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel   United States Helsinki Commission staff held consultations in Tbilisi, Georgia from October 14-16, 2002, with senior government officials, religious groups and NGOs to assess religious freedom and other human rights developments in that country. The discussions specifically focused on the ongoing mob violence against non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups, the prospects for ending the attacks, and what actions the Georgian Government should take to stop the depredations. The trip occurred on the heals of a Commission hearing on democracy, human rights and security in Georgia. During that hearing, Members of Congress raised their concerns regarding the ongoing violence against members of minority religious communities, Georgian authorities’ unwillingness to take action against the perpetrators of violence, and Georgia’s relationship with Russia concerning the Panksi Gorge. Commission Members have also written three letters in as many years to President Eduard Shevardnadze urging him to take concrete steps to quell the violence. The violence against minority religious communities began roughly three years ago, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals all being victimized. Over that period, the frequency and intensity of the attacks have increased. Police have been implicated in the attacks, but as of late, their transgressions consist of omissions, such as reportedly refusing to intervene when notified of assaults in-progress. More recently, the main instigators of mob violence are Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. In addition, demagogic parliamentarians, like Guram Sharadze, have led rallies and made inflammatory statements about the so-called “dangers” of non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups to Georgian society and nationhood. The victimization of minority religious groups is often justified through the language of Georgian nationalism. The small former Soviet Republic is squeezed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Once a desired Soviet vacation destination, Georgia’s economy and infrastructure are crumbling, with the government struggling to provide the most basic of services. For example, there is much debate on whether sufficient gas and electricity will be available to avoid outages during the upcoming winter. Some Georgian public figures and religious leaders apparently see political profit from fighting religious pluralism behind the flag of Georgian nationalism, and non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups and their adherents have been characterized as unpatriotic and dangerous to Georgian society. On October 14, President Shevardnadze and the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II, signed a concordat concretizing the church’s relationship with the state. The Georgian Parliament, by a vote of 203 to one, ratified the concordat, bringing the measure into force. In addition to the questionable legal status of a concordat between a government and an entity lacking both sovereignty and any international legal personality, other problems arise. Foremost, the concordat creates an unbalanced playing field against other religious groups. The agreement grants the Catholicos-Patriarch immunity, excludes Georgian Orthodox clergy from military service and limits the creation of chaplain institutions in both prisons and the military to this one religious group. Also troubling is the provision granting the Georgian Orthodox Church the power to approve licenses for “official symbols and terminology of the Church.” As the concordat appendix enumerates a broad and vague list of items and terms falling under the church’s purview, which includes, inter alia, church buildings, liturgical items, crosses, and theological literature, other religious groups, like the schismatic True Orthodox Church, fear this will limit their ability to operate freely. The concordat is not the only legal issue of concern to minority religious communities, as a draft law on religion is circulating in the Georgian Parliament. The draft law, in its current form, contains several problematic articles. The term “improper proselytism” makes impermissible offers of “material or social benefits” or use of “psycho-ideological influence.” Charges of “improper proselytism” could have criminal repercussions, as Article 155 of the criminal code punishes the “offering of material or social care to attract new members to a religious organization or confession” by a fine or two-years imprisonment. Other troubling portions of the legislation include the creation of a registration scheme for religious groups. The draft law mandates the submission of the names of 50 members, as well as information on the group’s doctrines and activities, “attitude towards the family and marriage issues” and “the peculiarities of the attitude of the adherents towards health.” The draft also restricts the use of “Georgia” or “of Georgia” to groups “operating on the territory of Georgia for not less than 50 years.” Denial of registration can occur if, “as a result of the state religious expertise it is established that the entity is not religious.” Lastly, the draft law would allow the termination of religious activities, if the group is found to violate “state security and public order” or for refusing to “administer medical assistance on religious grounds.” If passed in its current form, the law would violate Georgia’s OSCE commitments, as these provisions appear tailored to ensure the curtailing, if not outright banning, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious communities. While there is a legitimate need to provide religious groups juridical personality, the draft law is too invasive and burdensome. The question is will it ever become law. Several officials and NGOs have indicated their general unhappiness with the current draft, saying it is too liberal for some and too limiting for others, but neither viewpoint has the numbers in the fractious parliament to amend the text. Others opined that with the Georgian Orthodox Church secured through the concordat as the preeminent Georgian faith and considering their dissatisfaction with the draft text, the church will no longer push for the religion law. As an alternative, the Supreme Court Chairman has proposed allowing religious groups to access the simple civil code registration process currently provided for non-profit organizations. The Ministry of Justice is reportedly reviewing this option. In discussions with Commission staff, minority religious community leaders expressed greater concern about the unchecked violence, rather than the future implications under the concordat or law on religion. Their concerns are warranted, as several assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the days immediately following the Commission’s September 24 hearing. Additionally, during the first week of October, villagers in Shemokmedi destroyed a church built by the in independent True Orthodox Church. Georgian officials and NGO representatives offered conflicting opinions on the phenomenon of violence inflicted by Vasili Mkalavishvili. Some view Mkalavishvili as an agent of the Russian Government, whose mission is to further destabilize Georgia. Others believe the Georgian Government and the Georgian Orthodox Church purposefully allow Mkalavishvili and his mobs to run wild. The government may benefit from the mob attacks distracting the Georgian polity from numerous government failures. For the Georgian Orthodox Church, the mobs intimidate and harass religious groups considered competition, and elevates the church as the protector of Georgian heritage and nationhood. However, while it is difficult to establish a direct link between the defrocked Mkalavishvili and the government or the Georgian Orthodox Church, the government appears hesitant to stop the cycle of violence. Commission staff also met with officials of the State Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Security Council and the Ombudsman for Human Rights, as well as members of the Supreme Court and several parliamentarians. Each admitted the mob violence was a serious problem, but some were quick to raise what they believe to be contributing factors, such as lack of education, poor economic situation, weak government, or Russian aggression. Government officials and religious groups agreed that if authorities had immediately arrested Mkalavishvili and his thugs three years ago, the problem would not exist today. Georgian officials, for the most part, seem fearful of repercussions which may result from any conviction against mob leaders. Nevertheless, most officials admitted that if authorities arrested, tried and jailed the top perpetrators, even for only six months, the violence would end. Commission staff expressed to Georgian officials the danger of allowing the brutality to continue and escalate, which could have repercussions for the government and the future of Georgia. Staff also made clear the great concern Commissioners maintain about the unwillingness of Georgian authorities to prosecute and jail the perpetrators of violence against members of minority faiths. Commission staff pushed Georgian officials for the provision of proper security for the ongoing trial of Mkalavishvili. In response, each of the Georgian officials repeated their resolution to thwart the violence, with both Georgia’s Ministry of Interior and National Security Council promising adequate police protection. Mkalavishvili’s trial, which started in January of this year, has been postponed five times, with Mkalavishvili’s mob crashing the courtroom and assaulting those in attendance. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) wrote President Eduard Shevardnadze in late October 2002, seeking to reaffirmation of these guarantees. To the credit of the Georgian Government, they have provided adequate security personnel at the subsequent court proceedings of Mkalavishvili’s case. However, during a November 16th hearing, Mkalavishvili’s followers verbally assaulted and forcibly removed a reporter from Radio Free Europe. Security personnel did not intervene. In addition, one of the accused perpetrators reportedly was carrying a concealed firearm inside the courtroom. In closing, there is little hope for religious freedom if the Georgian Government remains unwilling to arrest, prosecute and jail the perpetrators of the mob attacks. While the providing of proper security at the Mkalavishvili trial is a welcomed step, it is long overdue. Considering the hundreds of criminal complaints against Mkalavishvili and other perpetrators of mob violence, the government must bring more prosecutions on serious criminal charges. It is the Georgian Government’s duty to ensure that all its citizens, regardless of their faith, can enjoy religious freedom, as well as personal and communal security. 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.

  • Commission Holds Briefing on Ethnic and Religious Intolerance in Today's Russia

    By John Finerty, CSCE Staff Advisor On October 15, 2002, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing devoted to two recently issued reports on the subject of ethnic and religious intolerance in today’s Russia: the Moscow Helsinki Group’s “Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Contemporary Russia” and “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions” issued by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union. Expert panelists were Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Tatyana Lokshina, International Department, Moscow Helsinki Group; Micah Naftalin, Executive Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union; and Dr. Leonid Stonov, Director of International Programs for the Union. In his opening statement, Commission Senior Advisor Donald Kursch welcomed the prospect of openness and tolerance in Russia, calling for the Russian leadership to set an example for its citizens to emulate. “Achieving success in the fight against intolerance demands strong leadership by the Russian Government and the Duma to provide effective legislation, regulations and standards. Training and sensitizing public officials...to be proactive in dealing with attacks on religious and ethnic minorities is critical,” he remarked. The panelists described the rise of ethnic and religious intolerance in several regions of the Russian Federation and the general lack of adequate response by authorities to the violence that frequently accompanies this intolerance. Such inaction, Alexeyeva contended, sends a message encouraging further manifestations of violence based on xenophobia and intolerance. She pointed to growing prejudice against persons from the Caucasus region of Russia, “Caucasophobia (sic) is definitely the most serious problem that Russia is faced with today. It is very widespread among the population in general, at all levels.” As an example of this phenomenon, Ms. Alexeyeva cited remarks by the former governor of the Krasnodar Region, Alexander Tkachev, who stated that people who do not have Russian last names or last names with typical Russian endings “have no place in the territory of Krasnodar Region.” Ms. Lokshina addressed the “religious xenophobia” carried out against minority religions, most notably against Catholics. There have been several instances in which Catholic clergymen from abroad have been denied permission to return to the Russian Federation despite their possession of valid entry visas and longstanding ties with their Russian parishes. “The introduction of educational programs that focus on the dangers of racism, nationalism and xenophobia and that foster respectful attitudes toward cultural diversities in officials, especially in police officials, judges and law enforcement, is vital and necessary in Russia,” she contended. Mr. Naftalin supported the statements made by the prior panelists, raising particular concern about anti-Semitism in the Russian Federation. He reported that, according to his organization’s research, there had been instances of xenophobic aggression and anti-Semitism in 63 of Russia’s 89 regions, and that violent incidents against minorities in Russia has increased 30 percent from last year. This exemplifies “a failed criminal justice system that it is in both Russia's and America's interest to repair,” he asserted. Against the negative attitudes of many public officials, Mr. Naftalin complimented the positive attitude and actions of Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, and his regional network of regional offices. Naftalin concluded that the West should treat and monitor human rights abuses as seriously as the West monitors and inspects access to weapons of mass destruction. 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 Shadrach Ludeman contributed to this article.

  • The War in Chechnya and Moscow

    Mr. Speaker, next week following the NATO conference in Prague, President Bush is scheduled to meet with President Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is expected that the two leaders will discuss such vital issues as the war against terrorism, the policies in Iraq, safeguards against weapons of mass destruction, and expanded energy cooperation between the United States and Russia. I would urge Mr. Bush to include on the agenda the continuing conflict in Chechnya.   At this time, the Russian Government and its people are still recovering from the horrific events of last month, when a group of armed Chechen terrorists seized approximately 700 hostages in a Moscow theater and threatened them with execution if the Putin Administration did not withdraw its forces from Chechnya. After three days of terror, Russian special forces captured the theater, apparently killing all the terrorists. In the preliminary gas attack to neutralize the terrorists, over one hundred hostages lost their lives. This terrorist attack was appropriately condemned by the Bush Administration, and we all sympathize with the innocent victims of this attack.   But Mr. Speaker, this does not mean that we should not step back and seriously examine the circumstances that have driven some elements of the Chechen resistance to such suicidal extremes.   Perhaps it is because the Russian military, in its drive to suppress Chechen separatism, has employed means which virtually guaranteed to drive a despairing civilian population into the arms of a radicalized resistance. In the three and a half years since the war reignited when Chechen militants invaded neighboring Dagestan, the Russian military has embarked on a campaign of carnage, destruction, and looting against the civilian population. There are credible and ongoing reports of atrocities committed by members of the Russian military – indiscriminate shelling and bombing, murder, assault, rape, torture, arrests and “disappearances,” kidnaping and holding civilians for ransom. It is imperative that military personnel who commit such egregious human rights violations face criminal charges but the Russian military and judicial system has yet to demonstrate its commitment to bring such criminal actions to account.   Nor should we have any illusions about some elements among the Chechen fighters, who have murdered hostages, kidnapped civilians for ransom and used them as shields during combat operations, and embarked on a campaign of assassination against fellow Chechens who work for the Russian civil government in Chechnya. And, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Steve Pifer testified before the Helsinki Commission, “We have seen evidence of individuals or certain factions in Chechnya who are linked to international terrorist elements, including Al Qaeda.” Without a doubt, war criminals and terrorists should be brought to justice, wherever they are and whomever they serve.   In the wake of the attack on the theater in Moscow, President Putin has hardened an already uncompromising position against the Chechen fighters. But, it should be clear that the Russian scorched-earth policy against Chechnya and the Chechen people is not bringing peace to the region. Rather, such policies are sowing the dragon’s teeth of hatred and conflict for generations to come.   The distinguished Newsweek commentator Fareed Zakaria recently wrote:   Terrorism is bad, but those fighting terror can be very nasty, too. And the manner in which they fight can make things much, much worse. It is a lesson we had better learn fast because from Egypt to Pakistan to Indonesia, governments around the world are heightening their repression and then selling it to Washington as part of the war on terror. Russian officials called the Chechen fighters “rebels” or “bandits” until recently. Now they are all “international Islamic terrorists.”   Secretary of State Colin Powell continues to call for the observation of human rights and a political settlement in Chechnya, while consistently and properly supporting Russia’s territorial integrity. But as the Danish Foreign Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, recently summed up the issue, “We, of course, support Russia in the fight against terrorism ... but it is not a long-term solution to the Chechnya problem to launch a military action and bomb the country to pieces."   In addition, the war in Chechnya has affected thousands of refugees, who have fled the constant carnage. In September of this year, I and 10 other colleagues from both the House and Senate wrote President Putin regarding the plight of the internally displaced persons escaping Chechnya to the neighboring province of Ingushetia. We urged the president to resist the forcible return of internally displaced persons seeking refuge in Ingushetia, elsewhere in the Russian Federation, or to any location where the security situation is unstable and proper housing unavailable. However, I have recently learned of 300 Chechen families who are currently facing expulsion from Ingushetia and are seeking refugee status in Kazakhstan. I hope the Russian Government will not expel these individuals, but instead will take all possible actions to alleviate the situation for the many innocent victims of the brutal violence.   Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge President Bush to include these important issues in his talks with President Putin when they meet in St. Petersburg.

  • Turkey: What Can We Expect After the November 3 Election?

    This briefing addressed the November 3 elections, which were held during a rather turbulent time in Turkey. Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, won an unprecedented 34.27 percent of the votes in Turkey’s legislative election while the Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Deniz Baykal, received 19.39 percent of the votes and won 178 seats in the next Parliament. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Abdullah Akyuz, President of the Turkish Industrialist’s and Businessmen’s Association, U.S. Representative Office; Sanar Yurdatapan, Musician and Freedom of Expression Advocate; and Jonathan Sugden, Researcher for Turkey with Human Rights Watch – addressed the massive recession face by Turkey and the concern of another war with Iraq. The effect, if any, on the rise of Islamist parties in Turkish politics is yet another concern. All of this following the recent snub by the European Union regarding Turkish accession, and increasingly bleak prospects for a resolution of the Cyprus impasse.

  • Prospects for Change in Turkey

    Mr. Speaker, I wish to extend my congratulations to the people of Turkey for their elections held on November 3. Witnessing the peaceful change of government is a change that is significant for both Turkey's citizens and for their neighborhood. Many of Turkey's neighbors need to see that such a transfer of power is possible, for the people of these countries have for too long suffered under the illusion that they must live with their repressive regimes that maintain power through undemocratic means.   It is also important to keep in mind that the Turks, seen by some as a model for the countries of Central Asia, are not new kids on the block--former President Demirel was an original signer of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), I have followed closely the developments in Turkey . With a particularly keen interest in the protection of human rights which has such an impact on the lives of individual men, women and children, I continue to be concerned about the ongoing use of torture, violations of religious freedom and threats to civil society.   Through the ballot box, the Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, received 34.3 percent of the vote, giving them a clear majority of 363 seats in the 550-seat Turkish Grand National Assembly. This entitles the AKP, led by former Istanbul Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to govern without sharing political power. He will not be without challenges to his authority though.   On November 8, the anniversary of the death of the Turkish reformer Kemal Ataturk, General Hilmi, Ozkok issued a statement vowing "to protect the republic against all types of threats, especially fundamentalism and separatist activities,'' reiterating strongly the military's view of itself as the historical guarantor of Turkey's secular system. Mr. Speaker, while the transition appears peaceful, it is not without its strains and stresses, even with the potential of the military stepping in like it has done repeatedly in the past. We can only hope that is not the outcome of this transition.   As an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Turkey has accepted a broad range of human rights obligations. As head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I have worked with my parliamentary colleagues from Turkey to encourage protection for these commitments. With a new government not obligated to continue the ways of the old, there is a welcome opportunity for such initiatives to be undertaken.   There are a few specific matters that I urge the incoming government to address without delay. Four Kurdish members of the Grand National Assembly have been in prison since March 1994. I call upon the new government to free Layla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak and remove the trumped-up charges from their records. They were convicted for, among other things, speaking their mother tongue in and out of the parliament building. As Mr. Erdogan himself has said, such convictions should not stand.   Also, past efforts to return the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Kurds to their homes in southeastern Turkey have proven ineffectual. The government should take concrete steps to ensure that refugees are allowed to return to their own homes in safety and dignity, which may well require the clearing of land mines and repairing of villages.   Mr. Speaker, without reciting the lengthy list of Turkey's human rights violations, including the use of torture, it is fair to say that Turkey's record of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments remains poor. While progress has been made, the authority of police officials must be checked by the rule of law. All claims of torture must be seriously investigated, no matter where the investigation leads. It is important that anyone who commits torture--especially police, the security forces or other agents of the state--must be taken to court and tried for high crimes. The Forensic Medical Association should be allowed to carry out its professional responsibilities and act without fear in its attempts to document torture. Victims of torture should be paid due recompense by the state.   I am very concerned about the continuing difficulty no-governmental organizations face throughout Turkey, particularly the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. The Human Rights Foundation exists in an uncertain environment, with arbitrary shutdowns and having its officials harassed, intimidated or arrested. Property has been seized and not returned.   Religious freedom in Turkey, whether for Muslims or other religious communities, had suffered from heavy-handed government involvement and control. The government allows Turkish Muslims to only attend state-approved mosques, listen to state-funded Imams, and receive religious education from state-funded schools. The Directorate of Religious Affairs, which regulates all of Turkey's 75,000 mosques and employs Imams, has been criticized for only promoting Sunni branch of Islam. I would encourage the new government to bring to a close its regulation of all religious institutions.   The wearing of headscarves has also been regarded as quite controversial since it is seen as a religious totem in a secular state. Women who choose this expression of religious conviction are denied the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public building, including schools and hospitals. The public sharing of religious belief in Turkey with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view is severely curbed for both Muslims and Christians. A number of evangelical Protestant groups throughout Turkey have reported being targeted because of their religious free speech, which contradicts OSCE commitments on religious liberty and freedom of expression.   Turkey's Office of Foundations has contributed its own difficulties for faith communities, as it has closed and seized properties of "official'' minority religious groups and unrecognized faith communities. Several religious groups, most notably the Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches report difficulties, particularly on the local level, in repairing and maintaining existing buildings or purchasing new buildings. The continued closure of the Orthodox seminary on Halki Island remains a concern.   Furthermore, religious groups not considered "official minorities'' under the Lausanne Treaty are provided no legal route to purchase or rent buildings to meet, and are thereby forced to hold meetings in private apartments. In response, provincial governorships, after receiving a letter from the Ministry of Internal Affairs last year, have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant communities without any options. The lack of official recognition is an insurmountable hurdle for minority religious groups wishing to practice their faith as a community.   Turkey is at a critical crossroads. I am hopeful that the new government will take this opportunity to move forward, and craft policies which are consistent with OSCE commitments and protective of all peoples living in Turkey.

  • Situation in Belarus Continues to Deteriorate

    Mr. Speaker, I want to bring to the attention of my colleagues the latest outrage perpetrated by the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka.   Last week, immediately after leaving the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, the Chairman of the opposition United Civic Party Anatoly Lebedka, was picked up by plainclothes police officers and driven to KGB headquarters for interrogation. Anatoly had been at the Embassy to pick up the invitation for a conference on Belarus to be held this week here in Washington. In a clear effort at intimidation, Lukashenka’s KGB thugs accused him of maintaining ties with supposed “intelligence agents” and other foreigners, purportedly for the purpose of undermining Belarus.   Mr. Speaker, this accusation is patently absurd. I know Anatoly Lebedka, having met with him in Washington and at several meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, most recently this past July in Berlin. It is clear to me that Mr. Lebedka is an honorable man committed to his country’s development as an independent, democratic nation in which respect for human rights and the rule of law is the norm. There is no doubt in my mind that the real reason for the harassment of Anatoly – and this is not the first time – is his opposition to Lukashenka, to whom democracy and human rights are anathema.   Sadly, this is only the latest in a long list of human rights assaults by Lukashenka. Just within the last few months, we have seen the passage of a repressive law on religion, the bulldozing of a newly built church, the jailings of three leading independent journalists, the continued and persistent harassment of the political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations, and the effective expulsion of the OSCE presence there. These tactics are in keeping with the climate of fear which Lukashenka has sought to create.   Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the missing and presumed dead political opponents – perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence links the Lukashenka regime with these murders, and growing evidence also indicates Belarus has been supplying weapons and military training to Iraq. Both in Berlin and in Washington, I have had the honor of meeting with the wives of the disappeared.   Mr. Speaker, the state of human rights and democracy in Belarus is abysmal, and the manifest culprit is Lukashenka and his minions. The longsuffering Belarusian people deserve to live in a country in which human rights are not flouted. Those in Belarus, like Anatoly Lebedka, who struggle for human rights and democracy deserve better. The Belarusian people deserve better.

  • Human Rights and Inhuman Treatment

    As part of an effort to enhance its review of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, the OSCE Permanent Council decided on July 9, 1998 (PC DEC/241) to restructure the Human Dimension Implementation Meetings periodically held in Warsaw. In connection with this decision - which cut Human Dimension Implementation Meetings from three to two weeks - it was decided to convene annually three informal supplementary Human Dimension Meetings (SHDMs) in the framework of the Permanent Council. On March 27, 2000, 27 of the 57 participating States met in Vienna for the OSCE's fourth SHDM, which focused on human rights and inhuman treatment. They were joined by representatives of OSCE institutions or field presence; the Council of Europe; the United Nations Development Program;  the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees;  the International Committee of the Red Cross; and representatives from approximately 50 non-governmental organizations.

  • Intolerance in Contemporary Russia

    Donald Kursch, senior advisor at the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, led this briefing regarding the emergence of bigotry and anti-semitic rhetoric in Russia. Kursch emphasized that the Russian Federation pledged to promote tolerance and non-discrimination and counter threats to security such as intolerance, aggressive nationalism, racist chauvinism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.  In the then open environment that prevailed in Russia, proponents of bigotry were more at ease to propagate their unwelcome messages. Experts discussed current trends as well as prospects for fostering a climate of tolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities in the Russian Federation. Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, presented the group’s recent report entitled “Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Contemporary Russia.”  Micah Naftalin, Executive Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union presented its compilation on “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions.”

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE - 2002

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission hearing focused on how the Administration has been using the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the OSCE region, particularly as a tool for advancing democracy. The witnesses and Commissioners discussed how the Helsinki Accords is based on mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems and how this concept can be an effective tool for the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. In particular, the hearing covered situations in Central Asia where corruption threatens the development of democratic institutions.

  • Human Rights and Security Issues in the Republic of Georgia

    Mr. Speaker, on September 24, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on democracy, human rights and security in the Republic of Georgia. Despite the progress that country has made in the development of civil society, in the last few years much of the optimism about Georgia's future has dissipated. Last year, a Georgian official devoted a large part of his public address in Washington to refuting the notion--which was being discussed at the time--that Georgia is a "failed state.'' I reject that characterization, but the hearing offered a good opportunity to discuss the serious problems Georgia does face.                                                Preeminent among them is systemic, rampant corruption, which has impeded economic reforms and sickened the body politic. Despite lectures from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the U.S. Government, the Georgian Government has proved incapable or unwilling to do what is necessary to stamp out this multidimensional problem--even though President Shevardnadze himself has called corruption a threat to Georgia's security. There are also grounds for concern about democratization. The last few elections have clearly not met OSCE standards, which raises questions about the important parliamentary election scheduled for 2003, and the 2005 presidential election that will usher in the post-Shevardnadze era in Georgia, with all the attendant uncertainties. Meanwhile, the media and NGOs have been under severe pressure. Last fall, a foolish ploy by the Ministry of Internal Affairs to intimidate Rustavi-2 Television backfired, resulting instead in the fall of the government. While society's response was heartening--thousands of people came out into the streets to defend the station--the attempt to silence one of the country's most popular media outlets indicated that some Georgian officials are still mired in Soviet patterns of thinking. Especially appalling is the ongoing religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there has been a campaign of assaults against members of minority faiths, especially Jehovah's Witnesses, which Georgian authorities have tolerated. Occasionally, policemen have even participated in attacks on defenseless men, women and children who have congregated for the purpose of worship. Attempts to bring the perpetrators to justice have foundered, as throngs of fanatics hijack the trial proceedings. If such travesties are allowed to continue, the country's entire judicial system is at risk of falling victim to mob rule. Though Jehovah's Witnesses have borne the brunt of this savagery, other religious minorities have suffered as well, including Baptists, Pentecostals and Catholics. Earlier this year, for example, a mob invaded a Baptist warehouse, threw the religious literature outside and burned it. How awful to think that events in Georgia today remind us of Germany in the 1930s! Georgians have a long tradition of religious tolerance, of which they are rightly proud. It is all the more puzzling, therefore, why religiously-based violence has erupted and continued only in Georgia, of all the post-Soviet states. The leadership of the Helsinki Commission and other Members of the House and Senate have been in correspondence with President Shevardnadze about this disturbing trend. He has assured us that the problem will be corrected and the perpetrators arrested. Georgia's Ambassador, Levan Mikeladze, testified at the September 24 hearing and suggested that Georgia has so little experience with religious persecution that it has been difficult to cope with its sudden emergence. He too offered assurances that Georgia fully recognizes the gravity of the problem and that legal and practical actions are being taken to ensure there will be no more violent attacks. Alas, extremists in Georgia must not have been listening. Since the September 24 hearing, more assaults have taken place. The next day, some 15 extremists of the ultra-Orthodox "Jvari'' organization in Rustavi forcibly entered a private home where Jehovah's Witnesses and their non Witness guests had gathered for Bible study. Two Witnesses and one non-Witness visitor were physically assaulted. On September 26, in the village of Napareuli, masked men with firearms burst into a private home where meetings were underway, beating those in attendance and ransacking the house. Most striking, eyewitnesses claim the attack was led by the village administrator, Mr. Nodar Paradashvili, who beat one of the victims into unconsciousness. In a third incident, on September 29, a mob gathered outside the residence of a Jehovah's Witnesses in Tbilisi. They refused to let others enter the premises where a meeting was to be held, seized Bibles and literature from the group, verbally abusing those arriving for the meeting and assaulting at least one person. In all three cases, police reportedly refused to intervene after learning that the incidents involved attacks on Jehovah's Witnesses--as has often been the case in Georgia. Mr. Speaker, there may be many explanations for this peculiar phenomenon but there can be no excuse for state toleration of such barbarity. It must end, and it must end now. Though such attacks have been one reason for Georgia's prominence in the news lately, more attention has been focused on Moscow's campaign of intimidation against Georgia. Russia has been leaning on pro-Western, strategically-located Georgia for years, but the temperature has in the last few weeks approached the boiling point. President Putin's request for United Nations backing for Russian military action against Georgia was not any less objectionable for having been anticipated. I have been watching with growing alarm as Russia ratchets up the pressure on its small neighbor. Georgian parliamentarians on September 12 unanimously approved an appeal to the United Nations, the OSCE, the European Union, the Council of Europe, and NATO for protection from anticipated Russian military aggression. Georgian lawmakers should know that their American colleagues have heard their appeal and stand with them. While we are cooperating with Russia in the war against terrorism, we have in no way given Moscow leave to attack Georgia, nor will we do so. The United States is now more than ever directly engaged in the Caucasus and is stepping up military cooperation with the region's governments, especially Georgia. While we have many issues of concern to raise with Georgia's Government, when it comes to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is no more ardent supporter than the United States. That has been the case for the last ten years, and it will be the case in the future as well.

  • Russian Democracy Act of 2002

    Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and concur in the Senate amendments to the bill (H.R. 2121) to make available funds under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to expand democracy, good governance, and anti-corruption programs in the Russian Federation in order to promote and strengthen democratic government and civil society in that country and to support independent media.   The Clerk read as follows:   Senate amendments:   Strike out all after the enacting clause and insert:   SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.   This Act may be cited as the ``Russian Democracy Act of 2002''.   SEC. 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSES.   (a) FINDINGS.--Congress makes the following findings:   (1) Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the leadership of the Russian Federation has publicly committed itself to building--   (A) a society with democratic political institutions and practices, the observance of universally recognized standards of human rights, and religious and press freedom; and   (B) a market economy based on internationally accepted principles of transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.   (2) In order to facilitate this transition, the international community has provided multilateral and bilateral technical assistance, and the United States' contribution to these efforts has played an important role in developing new institutions built on democratic and liberal economic foundations and the rule of law.   (3)(A) Since 1992, United States Government democratic reform programs and public diplomacy programs, including training, and small grants have provided access to and training in the use of the Internet, brought nearly 40,000 Russian citizens to the United States, and have led to the establishment of more than 65,000 nongovernmental organizations, thousands of independent local media outlets, despite governmental opposition, and numerous political parties.   (B) These efforts contributed to the substantially free and fair Russian parliamentary elections in 1995 and 1999.   (4) The United States has assisted Russian efforts to replace its centrally planned, state-controlled economy with a market economy and helped create institutions and infrastructure for a market economy. Approximately two-thirds of the Russian Federation's gross domestic product is now generated by the private sector, and the United States recognized Russia as a market economy on June 7, 2002.   (5)(A) The United States has fostered grassroots entrepreneurship in the Russian Federation by focusing United States economic assistance on small- and medium-sized businesses and by providing training, consulting services, and small loans to more than 250,000 Russian entrepreneurs.   (B) There are now more than 900,000 small businesses in the Russian Federation, producing 12 to 15 percent, depending on the estimate, of the gross domestic product of the Russian Federation.   (C) United States-funded programs have contributed to fighting corruption and financial crime, such as money laundering, by helping to--   (i) establish a commercial legal infrastructure;   (ii) develop an independent judiciary;   (iii) support the drafting of a new criminal code, civil code, and bankruptcy law;   (iv) develop a legal and regulatory framework for the Russian Federation's equivalent of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission; (v) support Russian law schools; (vi) create legal aid clinics; and (vii) bolster law-related activities of nongovernmental organizations.   (6) Because the capability of Russian democratic forces and the civil society to organize and defend democratic gains without international support is uncertain, and because the gradual integration of the Russian Federation into the global order of free-market, democratic nations would enhance Russian cooperation with the United States on a wide range of political, economic, and security issues, the success of democracy in Russia is in the national security interest of the United States, and the United States Government should develop a far-reaching and flexible strategy aimed at strengthening Russian society's support for democracy and a market economy, particularly by enhancing Russian democratic institutions and education, promoting the rule of law, and supporting Russia's independent media.   (7) Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Russian Federation has stood with the United States and the rest of the civilized world in the struggle against terrorism and has cooperated in the war in Afghanistan by sharing intelligence and through other means.   (8) United States-Russia relations have improved, leading to a successful summit between President Bush and President Putin in May 2002, resulting in a ``Foundation for Cooperation''.   (b) PURPOSES.--The purposes of this Act are--   (1) to strengthen and advance institutions of democratic government and of free and independent media, and to sustain the development of an independent civil society in the Russian Federation based on religious and ethnic tolerance, internationally recognized human rights, and an internationally recognized rule of law; and   (2) to focus United States foreign assistance programs on using local expertise and to give local organizations a greater role in designing and implementing such programs, while maintaining appropriate oversight and monitoring.   SEC. 3. UNITED STATES POLICY TOWARD THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION.   (a) SENSE OF CONGRESS.--It is the sense of Congress that the United States Government should--   (1) recognize that a democratic and economically stable Russian Federation is inherently less confrontational and destabilizing in its foreign policy and therefore that the promotion of democracy in Russia is in the national security interests of the United States; and   (2) continue and increase assistance to the democratic forces in the Russian Federation, including the independent media, regional administrations, democratic political parties, and nongovernmental organizations.   (b) STATEMENT OF POLICY.--It shall be the policy of the United States--   (1) to facilitate Russia's integration into the Western community of nations, including supporting the establishment of a stable democracy and a market economy within the framework of the rule of law and respect for individual rights, including Russia's membership in the appropriate international institutions;   (2) to engage the Government of the Russian Federation and Russian society in order to strengthen democratic reform and institutions, and to promote transparency and good governance in all aspects of society, including fair and honest business practices, accessible and open legal systems, freedom of religion, and respect for human rights;   (3) to advance a dialogue among United States Government officials, private sector individuals, and representatives of the Government of the Russian Federation regarding Russia's integration into the Western community of nations;   (4) to encourage United States Government officials and private sector individuals to meet regularly with democratic activists, human rights activists, representatives of the independent media, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, civic organizers, church officials, and reform-minded politicians from Moscow and all other regions of the Russian Federation;   (5) to incorporate democratic reforms, the promotion of independent media, and economic reforms in a broader United States dialogue with the Government of the Russian Federation;   (6) to encourage the Government of the Russian Federation to address, in a cooperative and transparent manner consistent with internationally recognized and accepted principles, cross-border issues, including the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, crime, trafficking, and corruption;   (7) to consult with the Government of the Russian Federation and the Russian Parliament on the adoption of economic and social reforms necessary to sustain Russian economic growth and to ensure Russia's transition to a fully functioning market economy and membership in the World Trade Organization;   (8) to persuade the Government of the Russian Federation to honor its commitments made to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the November 1999 Istanbul Conference, and to conduct a genuine good neighbor policy toward the other independent states of the former Soviet Union in the spirit of internationally accepted principles of regional cooperation; and   (9) to encourage the G-8 partners and international financial institutions, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to develop financial safeguards and transparency practices in lending to the Russian Federation.   SEC. 4. AMENDMENTS TO THE FOREIGN ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1961.   (a) IN GENERAL.--   (1) DEMOCRACY AND RULE OF LAW.--Section 498(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295(2)) is amended--   (A) in the paragraph heading, by striking ``DEMOCRACY'' and inserting ``DEMOCRACY AND RULE OF LAW'';   (B) by striking subparagraphs (E) and (G);   (C) by redesignating subparagraph (F) as subparagraph (I);   (D) by inserting after subparagraph (D) the following:   ``(E) development and support of grass-roots and nongovernmental organizations promoting democracy, the rule of law, transparency, and accountability in the political process, including grants in small amounts to such organizations;   '`(F) international exchanges and other forms of public diplomacy to promote greater understanding on how democracy, the public policy process, market institutions, and an independent judiciary function in Western societies;   ``(G) political parties and coalitions committed to promoting democracy, human rights, and economic reforms;   ``(H) support for civic organizations committed to promoting human rights;''; and   (E) by adding at the end the following:   ``(J) strengthened administration of justice through programs and activities carried out in accordance with section 498B(e), including-- ``(i) support for nongovernmental organizations, civic organizations, and political parties that favor a strong and independent judiciary; ``(ii) support for local organizations that work with judges and law enforcement officials in efforts to achieve a reduction in the number of pretrial detainees; and ``(iii) support for the creation of legal associations or groups that provide training in human rights and advocacy, public education with respect to human rights-related laws and proposed legislation, and legal assistance to persons subject to improper government interference.''.   (2) INDEPENDENT MEDIA.--Section 498 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295) is amended--   (A) by redesignating paragraphs (3) through (13) as paragraphs (4) through (14), respectively; and   (B) by inserting after paragraph (2) the following:   ``(3) INDEPENDENT MEDIA.--Developing free and independent media, including--   ``(A) supporting all forms of independent media reporting, including print, radio, and television;   ``(B) providing special support for, and unrestricted public access to, nongovernmental Internet-based sources of information, dissemination and reporting, including providing technical and other support for web radio services, providing computers and other necessary resources for Internet connectivity and training new Internet users in nongovernmental civic organizations on methods and uses of Internet-based media; and   ``(C) training in journalism, including investigative journalism techniques that educate the public on the costs of corruption and act as a deterrent against corrupt officials.''.   (b) CONFORMING AMENDMENT.--Section 498B(e) of such Act is amended by striking ``paragraph (2)(G)'' and inserting ``paragraph (2)(J)''.   SEC. 5. ACTIVITIES TO SUPPORT THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION.   (a) ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS.--In providing assistance to the Russian Federation under chapter 11 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295 et seq.), the President is authorized to-- (1) work with the Government of the Russian Federation, the Duma, and representatives of the Russian Federation judiciary to help implement a revised and improved code of criminal procedure and other laws; (2) establish civic education programs relating to democracy, public policy, the rule of law, and the importance of independent media, including the establishment of ``American Centers'' and public policy schools at Russian universities and encourage cooperative programs with universities in the United States to offer courses through Internet-based off-site learning centers at Russian universities; and (3) support the Regional Initiatives (RI) program, which provides targeted assistance in those regions of the Russian Federation that have demonstrated a commitment to reform, democracy, and the rule of law, and which promotes the concept of such programs as a model for all regions of the Russian Federation.   (b) RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY AND VOICE OF AMERICA.--RFE/RL, Incorporated, and the Voice of America should use new and innovative techniques, in cooperation with local independent media sources and using local languages as appropriate and as possible, to disseminate throughout the Russian Federation information relating to democracy, free-market economics, the rule of law, and human rights.   SEC. 6. AUTHORIZATION OF ASSISTANCE FOR DEMOCRACY, INDEPENDENT MEDIA, AND THE RULE OF LAW.   Of the amounts made available to carry out the provision of chapter 11 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295 et seq.) and the FREEDOM Support Act for fiscal year 2003, $50,000,000 is authorized to be available for the activities authorized by paragraphs (2) and (3) of section 498 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended by section 4(a) of this Act.   SEC. 7. PRESERVING THE ARCHIVES OF HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER ANDREI SAKHAROV. (a) AUTHORIZATION.--The President is authorized, on such terms and conditions as the President determines to be appropriate, to make a grant to Brandeis University for an endowment for the Andrei Sakharov Archives and Human Rights Center for the purpose of collecting and preserving documents related to the life of Andrei Sakharov and the administration of such Center. (b) FUNDING.--There is authorized to be appropriated to the President to carry out subsection (a) not more than $1,500,000.   SEC. 8. EXTENSION OF LAW.   The provisions of section 108(c) of H.R. 3427, as enacted by section 1000(a)(7) of Public Law 106-113, shall apply to United States contributions for fiscal year 2003 to the organization described in section 108(c) of H.R. 3427.   Amend the title so as to read: ``An Act to make available funds under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to expand democracy, good governance, and anti-corruption programs in the Russian Federation in order to promote and strengthen democratic government and civil society and independent media in that country.''.   The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) and the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Watson) each will control 20 minutes.   The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith).   GENERAL LEAVE   Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks on the bill under consideration.   The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New Jersey?   There was no objection.   Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.   This bill, the Russian Democracy Act, ensures that American assistance will continue to be available to help strengthen and consolidate democracy in the Russian Federation. While this seems to be a routine measure, we should take a few minutes to note what this bill represents. The mere fact that we can talk of democracy in Russia as a reality in the present and not some dim prospect in the hazy future is one of the many wonders of the past decade that have grown familiar and now is largely taken for granted. Its existence, however, is a testament to the deep commitment to fundamental values shared by peoples all over the world.   Mr. Speaker, this bill before us represents an important part of the effort to continue that democratization. It focuses our attention and assistance on many of the prerequisites of a free and a prosperous society, including the creation of a resilient civil society, the strengthening of an independent press, and the establishment of the rule of law.

  • The Republic of Georgia: Democracy, Human Rights and Security

    This Commission hearing focused on democracy, human rights, and security in Georgia. The discussion reviewed the serious challenges that have been facing Georgia. In particular, the Commissioners and witnesses discussed the systematic rampant corruption which has impeded economic reforms. In addition, the Commission touched on concerning religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there have been many assaults against members of minority faiths, particularly the Jehovahs Witnesses.

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