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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
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202.225.1901
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  • Commission Hearing Surveys State of Ethnic Relations in Kosovo

    By Bob Hand, CSCE Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission held a hearing June 19, 2002 on the prospects for ethnic harmony in Kosovo amidst recent reports of ongoing human rights abuses against minority groups. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing. Commissioner Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) also participated. "Vandalizing or bombing churches is not just wrong, it is beneath the dignity of any Albanian who suffered under the Milosevic regime," Smith said, stressing that "revenge is not justice." He condemned the inexcusable acts of repression brought upon Albanians during the former Yugoslav President's rule. Co-Chairman Smith appealed for cooperation among all parties involved and called for fostering a climate of tolerance. Leaders within Kosovo, within minority communities, and in the Yugoslav Government have a crucial role to play, Smith noted. Senator Voinovich expressed alarm over the human rights situation in Kosovo. 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Co-Chairman Smith, concerned about reports of pervasive criminality in Kosovo, raised the issues of missing persons, human trafficking, and perpetuation of parallel institutions. Ms. Percival said that UNMIK, in cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), continues to exhume bodies from mass graves and is making efforts to account for missing persons. Though UNMIK established a trafficking and prostitution unit, the witness protection program is very weak. Mr. Covic responded that Yugoslav authorities are working hard to identify remains and find missing persons, noting the wide disparity between estimates of missing Albanians and Serbs. He added that Yugoslavia takes the issue of human trafficking very seriously and that anti-trafficking legislation is pending in Belgrade. Dr. Gashi labeled Yugoslav support for parallel institutions as an attempt to sabotage UNMIK's institutions. To calm the psychological insecurity, the Serbs have to demonstrate the will to work with us, Gashi testified. Mr. Covic stressed that parallel institutions were not created by the current Yugoslav authorities and once the Serbs' basic human rights in Kosovo are met, there will be no need for parallel institutions. Dr. Gashi reiterated his commitment to equal rights, an open civil society, and cooperation. In response to concerns raised, he indicated that a strong consensus exists among Kosovars opposing the destruction of Serb property and violence against Orthodox nuns and lay people in Kosovo. In light of the OSCE/UNCHR report, all witnesses agreed to its generally accurate portrayal of the situation and reasonable recommendations. Urging all parties to move forward, Senator Voinovich pressed for more information on allegations that Belgrade is "meddling" in the governance of Kosovo. Commissioners Smith and Voinovich pledged to continue their support for U.S. and international engagement to help resolve pressing issues in Kosovo. Any perpetrator of a human rights violation in Kosovo needs to be held accountable, Smith concluded. The hearing came to a close after Co-Chairman Smith recognized Daniel Serwer of the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) for a few closing remarks. Serwer stressed the need to support the creation of an infrastructure in which the next Kosovo parliament can effectively operate. USIP had recently hosted in Virginia a session on inter-ethnic cooperation among Kosovo parliamentarians. Thirty of the participants attended the hearing. An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission's Web site, http://www.csce.gov. 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, Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission intern Derek Politzer contributed to this article.

  • Concerning Rise in Anti-Semitism in Europe

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That Teflon has eroded, and what was considered distasteful and politically incorrect is becoming simply an opinion. But cocktail chatter at fine English dinners,'' he said, ``can end as Molotov cocktails against synagogues.   ``Political correctness is also eroding for others, as tolerance for multi-culturism gives way to populous voices in France, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Portugal, and in the Netherlands. 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And then the fists started coming their way and they were beaten right there in Berlin.   Let me finally say, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday we also passed a supplementary item at our OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I was proud to be the principal sponsor. The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin) offered a couple of strengthening amendments during the course of that debate, and we presented a united force, a U.S. force against anti-Semitism.   I would just point out this resolution now hopefully will act in concert with other expressions to wake up Europe. We cannot sit idly by. If we do not say anything, if we do not speak out, we allow the forces of hate to gain a further foothold. Again, that passed yesterday as well.   Mr. Speaker, I urge Members to become much more aware that this ugliness is rearing its ugly face, not just in the United States, but Canada, in Europe, and we have to put to an end to it. Hate speech and hate crimes go hand in hand.   Mr. Speaker, I urge support of the resolution.   United States Helsinki Commission--Anti -Semitism in the OSCE Region   The Delegations of Germany and the United States will hold a side event to highlight the alarming escalation of anti -Semitic violence occurring throughout the OSCE region.   All Heads of Delegations have been invited to attend, as well as media and NGOs.   The United States delegation has introduced a supplementary item condemning anti -Semitic violence. The Resolution urges Parliamentary Assembly participants to speak out against anti-Semitism.

  • New Lows for Religious Freedom in Uzbekistan

    Mr. Speaker, over the past several weeks, Uzbek authorities have increased the harassment and suppression of religious groups viewed as a threat to the government’s control of society. Uzbek authorities have systematically sought to stifle all aspects of religious life, including Muslim and Christian. It is currently believed that nearly 7,000 individuals are jailed for alleged crimes related to their religious affiliation or beliefs. Human rights organizations estimate that during the past year Uzbek courts convicted roughly 30 people a week under trumped-up charges.   Unfortunately, the list keeps growing. At the end of May, police arrested Yuldash Rasulov, a well-known human rights defender and devout Muslim. Rasulov’s work through the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan focused on government actions against Muslims choosing to worship outside the government-approved religious system. According to Human Rights Watch, officials charged Rasulov with “religious extremism,” claiming he recruited Islamic militants to work toward overthrowing the state. Notably, a search of his home reportedly found nothing of an incriminating nature. Since being arrested, Rasulov has been held in incommunicado detention.   Authorities also targeted Musharaf Usamnova, the widow of a prominent Muslim activist Farhod Usmanov. Her husband was reportedly murdered in an isolation cell while in government custody in 1999. Uzbek officials arrested Musharaf in April, bringing over 50 men to ensure her capture, and her situation is unknown at this time. Soon thereafter, the government arrested several other women who were protesting the long prison sentences given to relatives and Muslim activists. The court sentenced these women to jail terms, some up to four years.   Adding to the concern about the treatment of these individuals is the rampant torture throughout the Uzbek “justice” system. Once in custody, many are savagely tortured and beaten in hopes of securing self-incriminating statements or evidence against other suspects. To ensure convictions, police authorities plant evidence on innocent individuals, such as weapons, drugs or banned religious propaganda. Judges hand out harsh prison sentences, despite claims of pervasive torture. Furthermore, prison conditions are abominable, infested with disease and pestilence. Individuals imprisoned on religious offenses are reportedly treated extraordinarily harsh; persons wishing to pray are subjected to further beatings and harassment. Incommunicado detention and disappearances of individuals also occur.   Also of serious concern are the extrajudicial executions that transpired over the past year. Human rights organizations reported on the deaths of five individuals while in police custody. Despite some Uzbek Government reports listing the cause of death as “heart attack” or “brain tumor,” the open wounds, broken bones and multiple bruises on the corpses tell a very different story. Clearly, there is much cause to worry about the safety of all individuals in prison.   Besides physical arrests, the legal regime governing religious groups is designed to repress religious activity. Through these laws and regulations, the government places religious groups in an untenable situation. The government seems to allow approved mosques to operate and permits Christian communities to exist in relative peace (if they do not attempt to proselytize indigenous groups not traditionally Christian). Otherwise, for other religious groups, obtaining official recognition is nearly impossible, and the real threat of government repression looms large.   The 1998 Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations law instituted registration requirements designed to make achieving official recognition next to impossible. The 1999 amendments to the criminal code increased the importance of registration, as individuals attending an unregistered group are potentially subject to three to five years imprisonment for belonging to an “illegal” group. Individuals caught attending meetings of “banned” religious communities risk up to 20 years imprisonment. Uzbek courts frequently hand down lengthy prison sentences for alleged participation in illegal or banned groups. In addition, the religion law bans religious free speech and private religious instruction, and only permits government approved clerics to wear religious dress.   In recent weeks, Uzbek authorities appear more willing to use these provisions to repress unwanted groups and silence dissent.   Most recently, on May 25th, Uzbek officials raided the Mir Protestant Church in the Karakalpakstan region in western Uzbekistan. The raid, justified because the church is unregistered, interrupted a service and recorded the names of individuals representing local nationalities, such as Kazakhs and Uzbeks. Authorities ordered individuals of those ethnic groups to appear in court to explain their participation. While the court did not impose a fine, in a similar case in the same region, a court did fine four members of the New Life Church for violating the law on religious organizations.   Similarly, due to an inability to register, the small Christian community in Muinak has been denied permission to meet. According to Keston News Service, church members are now forced to meet in secret. Furthermore, the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the town of Bukhara could be sentenced to five years in jail for leading an “illegal” religious service, as their community is unregistered. In addition, in May a Tashkent court found a Jehovah’s Witness guilty and fined him for illegal religious teaching when he was caught praying at a friend’s funeral.   Even more alarming was the request by the Uzbek Committee for Religious Affairs that Protestant groups stop preaching the Uzbek language, the country’s official language.   Mr. Speaker, the overall situation for religious freedom, and human rights generally, in Uzbekistan is bleak. Despite US involvement in the region, the recent increase of government efforts to suppress unrecognized religious groups is deeply troubling. Consequently, I urge the Uzbek Government to honor its commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act

    Mr. Speaker, I am introducing today the Belarus Democracy Act of 2002, which is intended to help promote democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus’ sovereignty and independence. When measured against other European countries, the state of human rights in Belarus is abysmal – it has the worst record of any European state. Through an illegitimate 1996 referendum, Alexander Lukashenka usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has blatantly and repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The fledgling democratic opposition, non-governmental organizations and independent media have all faced harassment. There are credible allegations of Lukashenka regime involvement in the disappearances – in 1999 and 2000 – of opposition members and a journalist. There is growing evidence that Belarus is a leading supplier of lethal military equipment to rogue states. A draft bill is making its way in the Belarusian legislature that would restrict non-traditional religious groups. Several days ago, on June 24, two leading journalists were sentenced to two and 2 ½ years, respectively, of “restricted freedom” for allegedly slandering the Belarusian President. Despite efforts by Members of Congress, the Helsinki Commission which I co-chair, the State Department, various American NGOs, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, the regime of Alexander Lukashenka continues its hold onto power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people. One of the primary purposes of this bill is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes increases in assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media – including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards – in sharp contrast to recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Belarus which most assuredly did not meet democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country’s self-imposed isolation. In addition, this bill would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny high-ranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. The bill would require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states. Mr. Speaker, finally, it is my hope that this bill will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law prevails.

  • Hearing Addresses Dramatic Increase in Anti-Semitic Attacks Across Europe

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing May 22, 2002 on the continuing wave of anti-Semitic attacks that has swept across Europe this year. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH), and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Shimon Samuels, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris; Mark B. Levin, Executive Director of NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia; Alexandra Arriaga, Director of Government Relations for Amnesty International USA; Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; and Kenneth Jacobson, Director of International Affairs Division for the Anti-Defamation League. Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing with an urgent appeal to combat increasingly frequent acts of anti-Semitism – including synagogue fire bombings, mob assaults, desecration of cultural property and armed attacks. He detailed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s strong position on anti-Semitism, but voiced dismay that some participating States have not taken appropriate measures to combat acts of violence and incitement. “Anti-Semitism is not necessarily based on the hatred of the Judaic faith, but on the Jewish people themselves,” Smith said. “Consequently, the resurfacing of these . . . acts of violence is something that cannot be ignored by our European friends or the United States.” In a submitted statement, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell stated, “The anti-Semitic violence spreading throughout the OSCE region gives cause for deep concern for its scope and viciousness.” Senator Campbell insisted “no longer can these acts of intolerance and violence be viewed as separate occurrences.... [Such] manifestations of anti-Semitism must not be tolerated, period, regardless of the source.” Senator Voinovich expressed consternation over the increasing number of attacks in Europe. He stated he was “saddened and deeply disturbed by reports of anti-Semitism that have taken place recently in some of the world’s strongest democracies: France, Germany, Belgium.” Senator Voinovich added, “Many of Europe’s synagogues have become targets of arson and Molotov cocktails.” Senator Clinton added, anti-Semitism “is something for which all of us have to not only be vigilant but prepared to take action.” She urged President Bush to raise the issue during his planned trip to Europe, and expressed hope that the OSCE commitments undertaken by European governments, in reference to anti-Semitism, would be “followed up by action.” Rep. Cardin, in his opening statement, hoped the hearing would “remind OSCE participating States that they have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to both prosecute those committing such hate crimes and to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence.” Rep. Cardin also expressed his disappointment that European governments had not taken a more aggressive stand. Dr. Samuels presented chilling testimony on the extent of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and the failure of European governments and the international community to respond effectively. “Every Jewish building in Paris requires protection,” Samuels testified, reading from a January 16, 2002 Le Monde article. “Any child leaving school may be beaten because he is Jewish, only because he is a Jew.” Among the hundreds of attacks in France just this year, Samuels cited several compelling stories: An eight-year-old girl was wounded by a bullet when a Jewish school bus came under fire in suburban Paris. A rabbi’s car was defaced by graffiti that read “Death to the Jews.” Rather than documenting these incidents as anti-Semitic violence, the French Government identified them as a broken windshield and an act of vandalism, respectively. In effect, there exists what Dr. Samuels called a “black box of denial.” The perpetrators often go unpunished. Mr. Levin addressed anti-Semitism in the former Soviet states, urging appropriate criticism of countries’ shortcomings and recognition of their successes when it comes to combating anti-Semitism. Enforcing existing laws, using the bully pulpit, outreach to the general public, furthering understanding through education, and encouraging a role for religious leaders are all important steps, Levin testified. He concluded, “It is our hope and it is our expectation that when President Bush meets with President Putin in Moscow. . . he will carry this message.” Ms. Arriaga testified that Amnesty International strongly condemns the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks. “These acts are violations of the most fundamental human rights committed on the basis of an individual’s religion or identity,” she said. Ms. Arriaga made two recommendations. One, President Bush should raise issues of law enforcement accountability and other steps toward combating racist and anti-Semitic attitudes with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the late-May U.S.-Russia summit. Two, Congress should consider lifting the Jackson-Vanik amendment as a means of leveraging discussions. Rabbi Baker made a compelling statement that further highlighted the severity of anti-Semitism. Like Samuels, Baker outlined three sources of hatred that have converged to create the situation in which Europe now finds itself. They include radicalized Muslims, incited by the scathing coverage of Israel in the Arabic press; the surge in popularity of Europe’s far right wing; and a growing hatred of Israel on Europe’s left wing. “The image of an Israeli who is frequently portrayed as an aggressive violator of human rights is quickly conflated with the Jew,” Baker testified. Taking this one step further, Baker continued, cartoonists have depicted Israeli leaders with gross physical exaggerations just as the Nazis depicted the Jewish “villain.” Baker observed the need for U.S. political leaders to approach European leaders “in measured and sober tones.” Concluding his testimony, Baker acknowledged that the U.S. has been European Jewry’s strongest ally in the fight against anti-Semitism. Mr. Jacobson’s testimony framed the issue of anti-Semitism as a national security matter for the United States. Anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiments often go hand-in-hand, he said. Typically, this sort of hatred spreads from one region in the Middle East to another in Europe, in large part, because of anti-Jewish invective spewed by Al Jazeera television, anti-Israel media coverage in France, and trans-ideological Internet propaganda. Appealing for action, Jacobson recommended that Congress and the OSCE work to place this issue on the international diplomatic agenda. He also suggested the international community convene a conference on anti-Semitism. Finally, anti-bias education can help combat anti-Semitism, Jacobson said. Commissioners pledged to raise the issue of anti-Semitism at the upcoming OSCE Berlin Parliamentary Assembly meeting in early July. Among the initiatives discussed was the introduction of a free-standing resolution on anti-Semitic violence in the OSCE region for consideration in Berlin. An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses can be found on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet 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. Helsinki Commission intern Derek N. Politzer contributed to this article.

  • Commission Hearing Examines Cooperation in the War on Terrorism in the OSCE Region

      United States and European officials testified before a May 8, 2002 hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the degree of cooperation among OSCE participating States in the war against terrorism. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing with participation by Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA),Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL). Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz testified in his capacity as OSCE Chairman-in-Office, while Spain’s Ambassador to the United States, Javier Ruperez, spoke on behalf of the European Union. The State Department’s Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, Mark Wong, and the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Enforcement, Jimmy Gurulé, represented the Administration. OSCE to Focus on Policing, Border Control, Trafficking and Money Laundering While the OSCE participating States have undertaken anti-terrorism commitments dating as far back as the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States have given new urgency to cooperation in combating the threats posed by terrorism. Last December, the 55 participating States adopted a Decision on Combating Terrorism at the Bucharest OSCE Ministerial Meeting and subsequently agreed to a Plan of Action at an OSCE and UN-sponsored international conference on strengthening efforts to counter terrorism held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. At the hearing, Foreign Minister Martins da Cruz outlined related measures taken under Portugal’s chairmanship, including the appointment of former Danish Defense Minister Jan Troejborg to serve as the Chairman’s personal representative in coordinating OSCE activities relating to terrorism. Martins da Cruz highlighted policing, border control, trafficking and money laundering as four strategic areas for OSCE focus and noted the establishment of an anti-terrorism unit within the OSCE Secretariat to develop concrete projects in these areas. The Minister described a meeting of secretaries general and other high representatives of international and regional organizations to be held in Lisbon, on June 12, with the aim of enhancing collaboration and coordination on anti-terrorism initiatives. Finally, the Foreign Minister suggested that new measures to fight terrorism, and the financing of it, could be elaborated in an OSCE charter on terrorism. Skeptics have questioned the need for such a charter given the extensive body of existing OSCE anti-terrorism commitments and action plans. Several Helsinki Commissioners emphasized the responsibility first and foremost of the participating States themselves to implement such commitments whether through unilateral or bilateral action as well as multilateral initiatives undertaken by the OSCE. Co-Chairman Smith noted that “terrorists survive and thrive thanks to organized criminal activity, official corruption, inadequate law enforcement and state repression. The OSCE has developed an ability unique among international organizations to highlight these problems and encourage solutions, through multilateral cooperation and the implementation of commitments made by each participating State.” Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) echoed this theme in prepared remarks, “The OSCE participating States can make a meaningful contribution to the antiterrorism campaign by focusing on the OSCE principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law while promoting practical cooperation in combating corruption and international crime – issues closely linked to terrorism.” “It would be a mistake if the OSCE were to be a mere talk shop on terrorism, ” commented Ranking Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “The organization needs to engage: coordinating activities, reporting from the field, encouraging action to be taken as necessary by the participating States.” Commissioner Pitts, noting how many OSCE countries disregard their commitments, particularly in human rights, asked if there was really much value to negotiating an OSCE charter on terrorism instead of encouraging States to implement existing commitments. The Foreign Minister defended the proposal, arguing that a charter would serve as a useful guideline, especially for countries making the transition to a democracy. Contribution of the European Union Ambassador Javier Ruperez assured the Commission that the European Union “stands firmly with the people of this country, of the United States of America, and with its government in its common struggle against terrorism.” Ruperez then highlighted steps taken by the EU, leading up to the May 2nd Washington summit between President George W. Bush and EU President José María Aznar, with the fight against terrorism as its top priority. The EU Member States have agreed to a common definition of terrorism, adopted a Europe-wide arrest warrant (which the EU would like to extend bilaterally with the United States), and developed law enforcement and judicial cooperation through EUROPOL and EUROJUST. At the U.S.-EU summit, parties negotiated mandates for treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance. Ruperez stressed the importance of ongoing efforts aimed at developing a consolidated list of individuals and organizations considered to be terrorist by both the EU and the United States. He expressed Spain’s pride in presiding over the EU while these developments were accomplished, especially given Spain’s own struggle against terrorism. Co-Chairman Smith stressed the need to cooperate not only in preventing terrorist acts, but in dealing with them once they occur. Noting the attack on the World Trade Center and the subsequent spread of anthrax in the mail in his own congressional district, Smith expressed shock at how unprepared the authorities were to deal with such catastrophic events. “It’s a matter of when and not if,” Smith said. “I hate to say it, but I think there are enough people who are so radical, so extreme and so full of hate with access to potential weapons of mass destruction that we’ve got to prepare for the worst and pray it never happens.”Views from State and Treasury Mark Wong of the State Department’s Office for Counter-Terrorism stressed President Bush’s definition of the campaign against terrorism as multi-dimensional, entailing not just bilateral but multilateral cooperation in a variety of areas. “All partners in this battle have something to contribute and we all need that contribution,” Mr. Wong said. “No nation, even one as powerful as the United States, can succeed in this long-term battle going it alone.” Mr. Wong praised the EU for its support of the United States, especially in regard to the military response and the efforts to cut terrorist financing. He also called the OSCE one of the “most energetic and cooperative organizations” not only in rallying its participating States to respond to terrorism but also in promoting human rights and democracy building, which, along with the rule of law are “fundamental elements of our broad-based counter-terrorism strategy.” Mr. Wong also said that OSCE police training activities, focused on the Balkans, are very useful in the long-range fight against terrorism. The Coordinator also noted OSCE comprehensive membership as an asset, and pointed to U.S.-Russian cooperation in the OSCE response to terrorism. In his testimony, Secretary Gurulé detailed accomplishments to date in cutting the finances of terrorists. “Treasury has named 210 individuals and entities as financiers of terrorism,” Gurulé said, “and has blocked over $34.3 million in assets. Our coalition partners have blocked an additional $81.3 million. One hundred ninety-six nations have expressed support to disrupt terrorist financing, and 161 nations have blocking orders in place. It would do little good if the Treasury Department issued blocking orders on the bank accounts of terrorist financiers but the terrorists were, nonetheless, able to move their money globally through foreign bank accounts. It was imperative to work closely with our international partners to develop an international coalition to go after terrorist funds.” Secretary Gurulé saw potential for the OSCE as a clearinghouse for linking particular needs of participating States regarding a range of issues from anti-terrorist financing initiatives to expertise of terrorist networks. He noted that there is the will to cooperate but sometimes not the technical ability, legislation or law enforcement mechanisms to conduct complex money laundering and terrorist financing investigations. Country Critiques Particular concerns regarding countries or geographic areas within the OSCE region were raised either during the hearing or in subsequent questions submitted to the State and Treasury Departments which, along with official responses, will become part of the hearing record. Belarus was highlighted for allegedly selling weapons to rogue state sponsors of terrorism. Recent reports that Ukraine and the Czech Republic had also sold or allowed the delivery of weapons to countries like Iraq were raised as well. Commission Members expressed fear that the United States was working with governments in countering terrorism threats that also used such threats as a pretext to deny basic human rights, silence opposition or thwart religious freedoms. Concerns were also voiced with respect to developments in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Inquiries were made regarding the extent to which the Russian Federation is cooperating on the financial front and in isolating terrorist-supporting states around the globe. Finally, southeastern Europe was noted for being vulnerable to organized crime and corruption, especially in smuggling and trafficking, which could be used to help finance terrorist organizations. With the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Berlin Annual Session slated to focus on terrorism, several Commissioners asked the Administration witnesses for suggestions on issues relating to the war on terrorism which could be pursued during the course of the meeting in early July. An un-official transcript of the hearing is accessible through the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site at http://www.csce.gov. 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 Hearing Examines Cooperation in the War on Terrorism in the OSCE Region

    United States and European officials testified before a May 8, 2002 hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the degree of cooperation among OSCE participating States in the war against terrorism. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing with participation by Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL). Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz testified in his capacity as OSCE Chairman-in-Office, while Spain’s Ambassador to the United States, Javier Ruperez, spoke on behalf of the European Union. The State Department’s Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, Mark Wong, and the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Enforcement, Jimmy Gurulé, represented the Administration. OSCE to Focus on Policing, Border Control, Trafficking and Money Laundering While the OSCE participating States have undertaken anti-terrorism commitments dating as far back as the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States have given new urgency to cooperation in combating the threats posed by terrorism. Last December, the 55 participating States adopted a Decision on Combating Terrorism at the Bucharest OSCE Ministerial Meeting and subsequently agreed to a Plan of Action at an OSCE and UN-sponsored international conference on strengthening efforts to counter terrorism held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. At the hearing, Foreign Minister Martins da Cruz outlined related measures taken under Portugal’s chairmanship, including the appointment of former Danish Defense Minister Jan Troejborg to serve as the Chairman’s personal representative in coordinating OSCE activities relating to terrorism. Martins da Cruz highlighted policing, border control, trafficking and money laundering as four strategic areas for OSCE focus and noted the establishment of an anti-terrorism unit within the OSCE Secretariat to develop concrete projects in these areas. The Minister described a meeting of secretaries general and other high representatives of international and regional organizations to be held in Lisbon, on June 12, with the aim of enhancing collaboration and coordination on anti-terrorism initiatives. Finally, the Foreign Minister suggested that new measures to fight terrorism, and the financing of it, could be elaborated in an OSCE charter on terrorism. Skeptics have questioned the need for such a charter given the extensive body of existing OSCE anti-terrorism commitments and action plans. Several Helsinki Commissioners emphasized the responsibility first and foremost of the participating States themselves to implement such commitments whether through unilateral or bilateral action as well as multilateral initiatives undertaken by the OSCE. Co-Chairman Smith noted that “terrorists survive and thrive thanks to organized criminal activity, official corruption, inadequate law enforcement and state repression. The OSCE has developed an ability unique among international organizations to highlight these problems and encourage solutions, through multilateral cooperation and the implementation of commitments made by each participating State.” Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) echoed this theme in prepared remarks, “The OSCE participating States can make a meaningful contribution to the antiterrorism campaign by focusing on the OSCE principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law while promoting practical cooperation in combating corruption and international crime – issues closely linked to terrorism.” “It would be a mistake if the OSCE were to be a mere talk shop on terrorism,” commented Ranking Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “The organization needs to engage: coordinating activities, reporting from the field, encouraging action to be taken as necessary by the participating States.” Commissioner Pitts, noting how many OSCE countries disregard their commitments, particularly in human rights, asked if there was really much value to negotiating an OSCE charter on terrorism instead of encouraging States to implement existing commitments. The Foreign Minister defended the proposal, arguing that a charter would serve as a useful guideline, especially for countries making the transition to a democracy. Contribution of the European Union Ambassador Javier Ruperez assured the Commission that the European Union “stands firmly with the people of this country, of the United States of America, and with its government in its common struggle against terrorism.” Ruperez then highlighted steps taken by the EU, leading up to the May 2nd Washington summit between President George W. Bush and EU President José María Aznar, with the fight against terrorism as its top priority. The EU Member States have agreed to a common definition of terrorism, adopted a Europe-wide arrest warrant (which the EU would like to extend bilaterally with the United States), and developed law enforcement and judicial cooperation through EUROPOL and EUROJUST. At the U.S.-EU summit, parties negotiated mandates for treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance. Ruperez stressed the importance of ongoing efforts aimed at developing a consolidated list of individuals and organizations considered to be terrorist by both the EU and the United States. He expressed Spain’s pride in presiding over the EU while these developments were accomplished, especially given Spain’s own struggle against terrorism. Co-Chairman Smith stressed the need to cooperate not only in preventing terrorist acts, but in dealing with them once they occur. Noting the attack on the World Trade Center and the subsequent spread of anthrax in the mail in his own congressional district, Smith expressed shock at how unprepared the authorities were to deal with such catastrophic events. “It’s a matter of when and not if,” Smith said. “I hate to say it, but I think there are enough people who are so radical, so extreme and so full of hate with access to potential weapons of mass destruction that we’ve got to prepare for the worst and pray it never happens.” Views from State and Treasury Mark Wong of the State Department’s Office for Counter-Terrorism stressed President Bush’s definition of the campaign against terrorism as multi-dimensional, entailing not just bilateral but multilateral cooperation in a variety of areas. “All partners in this battle have something to contribute and we all need that contribution,” Mr. Wong said. “No nation, even one as powerful as the United States, can succeed in this long-term battle going it alone.” Mr. Wong praised the EU for its support of the United States, especially in regard to the military response and the efforts to cut terrorist financing. He also called the OSCE one of the “most energetic and cooperative organizations” not only in rallying its participating States to respond to terrorism but also in promoting human rights and democracy building, which, along with the rule of law are “fundamental elements of our broad-based counter-terrorism strategy.” Mr. Wong also said that OSCE police training activities, focused on the Balkans, are very useful in the long-range fight against terrorism. The Coordinator also noted OSCE comprehensive membership as an asset, and pointed to U.S.-Russian cooperation in the OSCE response to terrorism. In his testimony, Secretary Gurulé detailed accomplishments to date in cutting the finances of terrorists. “Treasury has named 210 individuals and entities as financiers of terrorism,” Gurulé said, “and has blocked over $34.3 million in assets. Our coalition partners have blocked an additional $81.3 million. One hundred ninety-six nations have expressed support to disrupt terrorist financing, and 161 nations have blocking orders in place. It would do little good if the Treasury Department issued blocking orders on the bank accounts of terrorist financiers but the terrorists were, nonetheless, able to move their money globally through foreign bank accounts. It was imperative to work closely with our international partners to develop an international coalition to go after terrorist funds.” Secretary Gurulé saw potential for the OSCE as a clearinghouse for linking particular needs of participating States regarding a range of issues from anti-terrorist financing initiatives to expertise of terrorist networks. He noted that there is the will to cooperate but sometimes not the technical ability, legislation or law enforcement mechanisms to conduct complex money laundering and terrorist financing investigations. Country Critiques Particular concerns regarding countries or geographic areas within the OSCE region were raised either during the hearing or in subsequent questions submitted to the State and Treasury Departments which, along with official responses, will become part of the hearing record. Belarus was highlighted for allegedly selling weapons to rogue state sponsors of terrorism. Recent reports that Ukraine and the Czech Republic had also sold or allowed the delivery of weapons to countries like Iraq were raised as well. Commission Members expressed fear that the United States was working with governments in countering terrorism threats that also used such threats as a pretext to deny basic human rights, silence opposition or thwart religious freedoms. Concerns were also voiced with respect to developments in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Inquiries were made regarding the extent to which the Russian Federation is cooperating on the financial front and in isolating terrorist-supporting states around the globe. Finally, southeastern Europe was noted for being vulnerable to organized crime and corruption, especially in smuggling and trafficking, which could be used to help finance terrorist organizations. With the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Berlin Annual Session slated to focus on terrorism, several Commissioners asked the Administration witnesses for suggestions on issues relating to the war on terrorism which could be pursued during the course of the meeting in early July. 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.

  • Escalating anti-Semitic Violence in Europe

    While the anti-Semitism scourge lurks in the United States, the sharp escalation of violence against Jews in the OSCE region deserves attention. The most brutal incidents in recent months have occurred in France, Belgium and Germany. Violence has also been directed toward the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, Greece and Ukraine. OSCE participating States have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence. Despite that commitment, attacks against Jews continue. Two Yeshiva students from New Jersey were assaulted in Germany. A mob attacked Jewish worshipers in a Ukraine synagogue. A gang attacked Jewish high school soccer players in France. Vandals vandalized several synagogues in Russia. A Marseille synagogue burned to the ground and synagogues elsewhere in the OSCE region have suffered firebomb attacks. Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi “skin head” activity, participating States throughout the OSCE region face the urgent challenge of stemming the tide of escalating anti-Semitic violence.

  • HEARING FOCUSES ON RUSSIAN-CHECHEN WAR

    By John J. Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a hearing on the latest developments in the conflict in Chechnya on May 9, 2002. Commissioner Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Ms. Aset Chadaeva, a pediatric nurse and former resident of Chechnya; Andrei Babitsky, Radio Liberty correspondent and author of Undesirable Witness; and Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The United States Government is committed to doing all that we can to bring about an end to this conflict and to relieve the suffering of the civilian population,” testified Secretary Pifer. He asserted that the issue of Chechnya has been raised frequently by U.S. government officials with their counterparts, and President George W. Bush discussed it with President Vladimir Putin last November. “We anticipate it will come up at the summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg in two weeks,” Pifer said. “We seek a political settlement that will end the fighting, promote reconciliation, and recognize the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation [as well as] accountability for human rights abuses committed by all sides, and unimpeded access to the displaced by humanitarian organizations,” Pifer elaborated. Referring to U.S. concern about links of some Chechen forces with international terrorist groups, Secretary Pifer stated that the United States Government has called on Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other moderate Chechens to disassociate themselves from terrorists. On this point, Pifer noted the United States Government’s efforts to train and equip Georgian military units to deal with terrorist elements in the Pankisi Gorge adjacent to Chechnya’s southern border. Pifer testified that the United States has been the largest single provider of humanitarian aid to the North Caucasus. Since 1999 the U.S. Government has contributed more than 30 million dollars to relieve war-related suffering in the region. Ms. Chadaeva presented gripping testimony based on her work as a nurse in the Chechen town of Aldi on February 5, 2000, when Russian contract soldiers conducted a “cleansing operation” that left sixty civilians dead. “They threw grenades into basements where people were hiding,” Chadaeva said. “They executed unarmed men, women, old people and children. The victims ranged in age from a one-year-old baby to an eighty-two-year-old woman. They killed a woman who was eight months pregnant and her one-year-old son. All my patients who had been wounded during the bombings, who were getting well, were killed and their bodies burned.” Asked if the soldiers intended to kill their victims or if the casualties were the result of random grenades, Chadaeva replied, “these people were killed by being shot in the head...the soldiers knew exactly whom they were killing.” Concluding her description of wanton killing of Chechen civilians by Russian forces, Ms. Chadaeva asked “Is it really necessary to have millions of victims to call such behavior genocide? Isn’t the death of 100,000 Chechens since 1994 in the two Russian-Chechen wars sufficient reason for effective international action to end the conflict and the agony of the Chechen people?” Andrei Babitsky briefly described the fate of people killed for unknown reasons in Chechnya their bodies found bearing signs of torture. They were killed, he said, “as part of the anarchy and arbitrary rule which is now the order of the day in Chechnya.” The Radio Liberty correspondent then described the efforts made by Russian authorities, to prevent information about the war, especially human rights violations and atrocities against non-combatants, from reaching the general public. Moscow had succeeded in creating a “ghetto” of the war zone, he asserted, “shut off from the sight and influence of the outside world.” The main issue, Babitsky contended, is not how individual Russian journalists view the war. Most reporters agree with the official position that Moscow is waging an “anti-terrorist” and “anti-separatist” operation. “The main issue is that the Russian military and the Kremlin have banned reports on killings, torture and kidnaping of civilians by the Russian military,” Babitsky said. “The lack of information about Chechnya is one of the most effective ways to create a situation in which killers and kidnappers in epaulets can operate without legal accountability.” Regarding assertions by Moscow of Chechen involvement with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Babitsky noted that during a recent visit to Afghanistan, neither he nor other Russian journalists found any Chechen fighters, despite a concerted search. Anatol Lieven observed that the United States now recognizes the presence of international Islamic militant forces in Chechnya and Georgia, whereas earlier, “this was downplayed or even ignored altogether by wide sections of U.S. officialdom, the media and public opinion.” The prevention or elimination of lawless areas and quasi-states in the Muslim world – of which Chechnya between 1996 and 1999 was one – is now recognized as a vital U.S. national interest, since such areas can all too easily become safe havens for Al Qaeda or allied groups,” Lieven continued. Nevertheless, Lieven stated, “while extremists and terrorists have established a strong presence in Chechnya, they have been able to do so because of the legitimate grievances and the great suffering of the Chechen people...The initial appearance of these forces – as in Afghanistan – was due to the brutal Russian military intervention of 1994-96; and the way in which they were able to carve out a powerful position for themselves in 1996-99 owed an enormous amount to the destruction, brutalization, and radicalization left behind by that war.” Summing up, Lieven suggested that U.S. goals should be the destruction or exclusion of the radicals followed by a sharp reduction of the Russian military presence, free elections for a Chechen administration, and the restoration of autonomy. However, he concluded, “before it can embark on any such path the U.S. needs to think very seriously about the correct balance between sympathy for Chechen suffering, respect for Russian security and sovereignty, and America’s own vital interests in this region, in the context of the wider war against terrorism.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet 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.

  • Hearing Focuses on Russian-Chechen War

    The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a hearing on the latest developments in the conflict in Chechnya on May 9, 2002. Commissioner Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Ms. Aset Chadaeva, a pediatric nurse and former resident of Chechnya; Andrei Babitsky, Radio Liberty correspondent and author of Undesirable Witness; and Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The United States Government is committed to doing all that we can to bring about an end to this conflict and to relieve the suffering of the civilian population,” testified Secretary Pifer. He asserted that the issue of Chechnya has been raised frequently by U.S. government officials with their counterparts, and President George W. Bush discussed it with President Vladimir Putin last November. “We anticipate it will come up at the summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg in two weeks,” Pifer said. “We seek a political settlement that will end the fighting, promote reconciliation, and recognize the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation [as well as] accountability for human rights abuses committed by all sides, and unimpeded access to the displaced by humanitarian organizations,” Pifer elaborated. Referring to U.S. concern about links of some Chechen forces with international terrorist groups, Secretary Pifer stated that the United States Government has called on Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other moderate Chechens to disassociate themselves from terrorists. On this point, Pifer noted the United States Government’s efforts to train and equip Georgian military units to deal with terrorist elements in the Pankisi Gorge adjacent to Chechnya’s southern border. Pifer testified that the United States has been the largest single provider of humanitarian aid to the North Caucasus. Since 1999 the U.S. Government has contributed more than 30 million dollars to relieve war-related suffering in the region. Ms. Chadaeva presented gripping testimony based on her work as a nurse in the Chechen town of Aldi on February 5, 2000, when Russian contract soldiers conducted a “cleansing operation” that left sixty civilians dead. “They threw grenades into basements where people were hiding,” Chadaeva said. “They executed unarmed men, women, old people and children. The victims ranged in age from a one-year-old baby to an eighty-two-year-old woman. They killed a woman who was eight months pregnant and her one-year-old son. All my patients who had been wounded during the bombings, who were getting well, were killed and their bodies burned.” Asked if the soldiers intended to kill their victims or if the casualties were the result of random grenades, Chadaeva replied, “these people were killed by being shot in the head...the soldiers knew exactly whom they were killing.” Concluding her description of wanton killing of Chechen civilians by Russian forces, Ms. Chadaeva asked “Is it really necessary to have millions of victims to call such behavior genocide? Isn’t the death of 100,000 Chechens since 1994 in the two Russian-Chechen wars sufficient reason for effective international action to end the conflict and the agony of the Chechen people?” Andrei Babitsky briefly described the fate of people killed for unknown reasons in Chechnya their bodies found bearing signs of torture. They were killed, he said, “as part of the anarchy and arbitrary rule which is now the order of the day in Chechnya.” The Radio Liberty correspondent then described the efforts made by Russian authorities, to prevent information about the war, especially human rights violations and atrocities against non-combatants, from reaching the general public. Moscow had succeeded in creating a “ghetto” of the war zone, he asserted, “shut off from the sight and influence of the outside world.” The main issue, Babitsky contended, is not how individual Russian journalists view the war. Most reporters agree with the official position that Moscow is waging an “anti-terrorist” and “anti-separatist” operation. “The main issue is that the Russian military and the Kremlin have banned reports on killings, torture and kidnaping of civilians by the Russian military,” Babitsky said. “The lack of information about Chechnya is one of the most effective ways to create a situation in which killers and kidnappers in epaulets can operate without legal accountability.” Regarding assertions by Moscow of Chechen involvement with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Babitsky noted that during a recent visit to Afghanistan, neither he nor other Russian journalists found any Chechen fighters, despite a concerted search. Anatol Lieven observed that the United States now recognizes the presence of international Islamic militant forces in Chechnya and Georgia, whereas earlier, “this was downplayed or even ignored altogether by wide sections of U.S. officialdom, the media and public opinion.” The prevention or elimination of lawless areas and quasi-states in the Muslim world – of which Chechnya between 1996 and 1999 was one – is now recognized as a vital U.S. national interest, since such areas can all too easily become safe havens for Al Qaeda or allied groups,” Lieven continued. Nevertheless, Lieven stated, “while extremists and terrorists have established a strong presence in Chechnya, they have been able to do so because of the legitimate grievances and the great suffering of the Chechen people...The initial appearance of these forces – as in Afghanistan – was due to the brutal Russian military intervention of 1994-96; and the way in which they were able to carve out a powerful position for themselves in 1996-99 owed an enormous amount to the destruction, brutalization, and radicalization left behind by that war.” Summing up, Lieven suggested that U.S. goals should be the destruction or exclusion of the radicals followed by a sharp reduction of the Russian military presence, free elections for a Chechen administration, and the restoration of autonomy. However, he concluded, “before it can embark on any such path the U.S. needs to think very seriously about the correct balance between sympathy for Chechen suffering, respect for Russian security and sovereignty, and America’s own vital interests in this region, in the context of the wider war against terrorism.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet 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.

  • Developments in the Chechen Conflict

    Since renewal of the Chechen war in late 1999, the conflict has been characterized by brutality and violations of human rights on both sides, especially on the part of the Russian military with its greater firepower. Hundreds of Chechens, especially males of military age, have been killed or have disappeared as a result of Russian military “sweeps.” An estimated 150,000 – 200,000 civilians have been forced to relocate to neighboring refugee camps. Moscow contends that the war in Chechnya is an integral part of the war against international terrorism, and the U.S. Government has confirmed links between some insurgents in Chechnya and “various terrorist organizations and mujahidin.” The U.S. Government has called upon Chechnya’s leadership to “immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups,” while calling for “accountability for human rights violations on all sides” and a political solution to the conflict.

  • Georgian Government Complicity in Mob Violence against Minority Religious Groups

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel Over the past two years, mob violence against minority religious groups has plagued the Republic of Georgia, a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since 1992. A country of five million people, Georgia has seen more than its share of sectarian violence, as individuals propagating religious chauvinism conduct a campaign of brutality against other religious communities. Adding to this, police units have reportedly participated in violence against minority religious groups, or have failed to respond to attacks in an adequate fashion. As a result, a number of minority religious communities remain at risk in Georgia today as depredations continue with impunity. As an OSCE participating State, Georgia pledged to uphold freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief for all individuals, without distinction. As stated in the 1983 Madrid Concluding Document, participating States “agree to take the action necessary to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Since 1999, organized mob brutality against minority religious groups has gradually escalated, with the Jehovah’s Witnesses being a repeated target. As stated by the Department of State’s 2001 International Religious Freedom Report, local “police and security officials at times harassed nontraditional religious minority groups and were complicit or failed to respond to attacks by Orthodox extremists against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other nontraditional religious minorities.” Despite the inability of Georgian authorities to incarcerate the perpetrators, the 1995 Georgian Constitution does guarantee protection. Despite constitutional protections, over the past two years, approximately 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, mostly led by Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, the director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. While victims have filed more than 700 criminal complaints, the authorities have not responded, leaving the perpetrators free to repeat their attacks. Reports give startling examples of individuals being dragged by their hair into a group, only to be pummeled with punches, kicks and clubs. Buses taking Jehovah’s Witnesses to various events have been stopped by police, and then attacked by Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob. In September 2001, Bluashvili led an attack during a Jehovah’s Witness religious service, with some of his militants brandishing firearms. In addition, Mkalavishvili, viewing himself as a pugilist defending Georgian Christianity, reportedly declared Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Soon thereafter, with the violence steadily increasing and the government declining to intervene, Jehovah’s Witnesses conducted their activities in private, and for four months no violence occurred. However, in April of this year, that calm was shattered when Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob attacked on two separate occasions private homes that were hosting meetings. Considering the brutality Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili have displayed, it is astonishing that to date no fatalities have occurred. While the Jehovah’s Witnesses have borne the brunt of these attacks, other minority religious communities have also suffered under this vigilantism. Last year, during choir practice of a Pentecostal church, Mkalavishvili’s militants raided the building, seriously injuring twelve church members. A mob exceeding 100 hooligans targeted an Evangelical church two days before Christmas 2001, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili’s mob tried to raze a warehouse owned by the Baptist Union, burning Bibles and religious materials. Mkalavishvili organized approximately 150 followers in three buses to accomplish this goal. In addition, Mkalavishvili has targeted the offices of government ombudswoman Nana Devdariani, the Tbilisi based NGO Liberty Institute, and the Rezonansi newspaper. The police have consistently refused to restrain the attackers, with only a few exceptions to note. Unfortunately, the judicial system has proven equally inept. On January 25th, prosecutors commenced legal proceedings against Mkalavishvili and one of his lieutenants for two mob attacks, although the minor charges brought do not reflect the gravity of their crimes. Yet, since the first hearing, the commitment of Georgian officials to vigorously prosecute Mkalavishvili has been evanescent. The case has been postponed five times, most recently due to the prosecutor failing to appear. These delays can be attributed to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, maintaining a menacing presence both outside and inside the Didube-Chugureti District Court. At several hearings, large numbers have crashed into the court while carrying wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Obviously feeling immune from government action, Mkalavishvili has used the courtroom itself as a platform, reportedly threatening lawyers and victims through a megaphone. Evidence of these events is readily available as local television stations are usually tipped in advance, airing footage of the attacks and interviews of Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili on the nightly news. Despite fervent appeals by victims and their lawyers, the police have refused to provide adequate courtroom security. Attorneys for the victims even petitioned the court for assistance, only for the judge to decide no more than 10 police officers would be permitted. Inexcusably, the judge put no limit on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers granted access to the courtroom. In a stark contradiction, more than 200 police and a SWAT team were ordered to protect officials from the Ministry of Interior when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges. In sum, the Georgian Government is proving ineffective in ameliorating the situation and protecting its citizens, regardless of their religious faith, from mob violence. Meanwhile, President Eduard Shevardnadze has held meetings with faith communities to demonstrate religious tolerance. He has also issued a presidential decree calling for the Ministry of Interior to take action, but by allowing lawless bands of militants to attack peaceful gatherings, his illusory actions are speaking louder than his words. By allowing the strength of the police and judicial systems to become a farce, it will only further encourage contravention of Georgian laws. However, despite actions demonstrated to date, the Georgian Government can end the attacks and bring to justice the perpetrators of this brutality.

  • Murder of Ukrainian Heorhiy Gongadze Still Unsolved

    Mr. Speaker, the murder of Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remains unsolved. On September 16, 2000, Gongadze, editor of an Internet news publication critical of official, high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared. Seven week later, his remains were found in Tarashcha in the Kyiv region.   Repeated expressions of concern to the Government of Ukraine have been met with stonewalling. Over the last 18 months, the Helsinki Commission, Members of the House and Senate, the Department of State, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other international institutions repeatedly have raised this case and urged President Kuchma and the Ukrainian Government to undertake a speedy, serious, open and transparent investigation into the Gongadze murder case.   Back in December of 2000, I urged Ukrainian authorities to resolve this grave matter in a timely and just manner before the case further tarnished their credibility in dealing with fundamental human rights. Last July, a number of us were present at the Paris OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting, where Gongadze’s widow Myroslava accepted the OSCE PA Prize for Journalism and Democracy on his behalf. A resolution adopted by the OSCE PA in Paris expressed dismay “that the criminal investigation into the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze has been obstructed by authorities and has not been carried out in accordance with the rule of law.”   Last month, Ukrainian authorities blocked FBI experts from examining evidence gathered during the initial investigation. The Bureau had been invited by Ukrainian authorities to advise and assist in the investigation of the case and earlier had participated in identifying Gongadze's remains. Over the last year, Ukrainian prosecutors routinely cited their request for assistance from the FBI as evidence that they were working diligently to solve the murder.   According to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, the four FBI experts were told that Ukrainian law prohibits prosecutors from releasing any information to them. They were "unable to discuss any aspects of the case, share evidence or conduct a joint site inspection. Because of this, the FBI team could not provide suggestions that might help Ukrainian law enforcement authorities advance the investigation of the murder of Mr. Gongadze.” This lack of cooperation – after promises to accept the U.S. technical assistance -- is an indication of bad faith on the part of the Ukrainian authorities.   This is only the latest example which seriously questions the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to resolving this case and has led many to conclude that the Procurator General’s office is hampering the investigation into Gongadze’s death. Particularly telling was the Procuracy’s initially casting doubt on the results of a DNA test reported in February 2001, which determined with a 99.6 percent probability that the body exhumed from a shallow grave in Tarashcha was, indeed, that of Gongadze. The Procurator General, Mykhaylo Potebenko, who recently announced he would resign to become a Member of Parliament from the Communist Party, has also been uncooperative with Gongadze’s widow and mother, even after the court gave them status that legally permitted them access to details of the investigation. An assessment of the case last year by Freimut Duve, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media, found that the investigation into Gongadze’s disappearance has been “extremely unprofessional.” It is high time for the Ukrainian authorities to mount a serious, transparent investigation into this case as well as the cases of other murdered journalists.   Since 1998, 11 journalists have been killed in Ukraine and 48 severely injured in unexplained attacks, according to Reporters Without Borders. Over the last year, several international bodies have called on Ukrainian authorities to launch a fresh investigation into the disappearance and death of Mr. Gongadze and other journalists and to allow for an independent investigation or to set up a new independent commission of inquiry comprising of international investigators. I also hope that the newly elected Ukrainian parliament will take aggressive action in encouraging governmental accountability for solving the murder and bringing the perpetrators to justice.   Mr. Speaker, on March 31, Ukraine held parliamentary elections. Despite governmental interference in the campaign and abuse of state resources, the Ukrainian electorate showed a strong independent streak with a strong pro-democratic, pro-European orientation. A substantial portion of the Ukrainian people clearly wants change – they want to live in a country where democracy and human rights are honored and where the rule of law prevails.   The United States remains committed to encouraging these yearnings. The U.S. Government is the largest bilateral donor in Ukraine, and American companies still are the largest investors in Ukraine. We are deeply engaged with Ukraine in military and security issues, educational exchanges, small business, agriculture, energy, and the development of civil society. American engagement with Ukraine is a testament to the importance that we attach to U.S.-Ukraine relations. However, the level of U.S. engagement is increasingly being questioned, in part because of the obstructionist actions of the authorities concerning the Gongadze case, the curtailing of media freedoms, the persistent debilitating problem of corruption and, most recently, troubling allegations that President Kuchma may have authorized the clandestine sale of the Kolchuga radar system to Iraq in violation of UN sanctions.   Mr. Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I once again urge in the strongest possible terms Ukrainian authorities to take seriously the concerns regarding the circumstances that led to the Gongadze murder and the subsequent investigation. His widow, young children, and mother deserve better. The Ukrainian people deserve better.

  • Unpunished Religious Persecution in the Republic of Georgia

    Mr. President, as a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed closely human rights developments in the participating States, especially as they have an impact on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. In many former communist countries, local religious establishments have reacted with concern and annoyance about perceived encroachment of religions considered “non-traditional.” But in the Republic of Georgia organized mob violence against those of nontraditional faiths has escalated, largely directed against Jehovah’s Witnesses. For over 2 years, a wave of mob attacks has been unleashed on members of this and other minority religious communities, and it is very disturbing that the police have consistently either refused to restrain the attackers or actually participated in the violence.   Since October 1999, nearly 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, most led by a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, Vasili Mkalavishvili. These violent acts have gone unpunished, despite the filing of over 600 criminal complaints. Reports cite people being dragged by their hair and then summarily punched, kicked and clubbed, as well as buses being stopped and attacked. The priest leading these barbaric actions has been quoted as saying Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Considering the well-documented frenzy of these depredations, it is only a matter of time before the assaults end in someone’s death.   Other minority religious communities have not escaped unscathed, but have also been targeted. Mkalavishvili coordinated an attack against a Pentecostal church last year during choir practice. His truncheon-wielding mob seriously injured 12 church members. Two days before Christmas 2001, over 100 of his militants raided an Evangelical church service, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili brought three buses of people, approximately 150 followers, to burn Bibles and religious materials owned by the Baptist Union.   Mkalavishvili brazenly holds impromptu press conferences with media outlets, often as the violence transpires in the background. With his hooligans perpetrating violent acts under the guise of religious piety, camera crews set up and document everything for the local news. The absence of a conviction and subsequent imprisonment of Mkalavishvili is not for lack of evidence.   After considerable delay, the Georgian Government did commence on January 25 legal proceedings for two mob attacks. However, considering the minor charges being brought and the poor handling of the case, I fear Mkalavishvili and other extremists will only be encouraged to continue their attacks, confident of impunity from prosecution.   Since the initial hearing in January of this year, postponement of the case has occurred four times due to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, overrunning the Didube-Chugureti District Court. Mkalavishvili’s marauding followers brought wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Mkalavishvili himself even threatened the lawyers and victims while they were in the courtroom. With police refusing to provide adequate security, lawyers filed a motion asking for court assistance, but the judge ruled the maximum security allowed would be 10 policemen, while no limit was placed on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers permitted in the courtroom. In contrast, the Ministry of Interior has reportedly provided more than 200 police and a SWAT team to protect officials of its office when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges.   Certainly, the Georgian Government could provide adequate security so that its judicial system is not overruled by vigilante justice. Unfortunately for all Georgians, the anemic government response is indicative of its inability or worse yet, its unwillingness to enforce the law to protect minority religious groups.   As is clearly evident, Georgian authorities are not taking effective steps to deter individuals and groups from employing violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths. With the ineptitude of the justice system now well known, Mkalavishvili has brazenly and publicly warned that the attacks will not cease.   Religious intolerance is one of the most pernicious human rights problems in Georgia today. Therefore, I call upon President Eduard Shevardnadze to take action to end the violence against religious believers, and prevent attacks on minority religious communities. Despite the meetings he held with the various faith communities intended to demonstrate tolerance, Georgian Government inaction is sending a very different message. Tbilisi’s pledge to uphold the rights of all believers and prosecute those who persecute the faithful must be followed by action.   As a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I urge President Shevardnadze to do whatever is necessary to stop these attacks, and to honor Georgia’s OSCE commitments to promote and ensure religious freedom without distinction. The Georgian Government should take concrete steps to punish the perpetrators through vigorous prosecution.

  • Commission Staff Observes Ukrainian Elections

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor United States Helsinki Commission staff observed the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections in Ukraine as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly contingent of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM). Half of the deputies to the 450-member parliament were elected from party lists and the other half from single-mandate districts. Six parties passed the 4 percent threshold necessary to be seated in the party list vote, with reformist former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc winning the most votes. In the single-mandate district voting, the pro-presidential For United Ukraine bloc obtained the largest number of seats. Both the OSCE and the U.S. State Department concluded that the March 31 elections indicated progress over the 1998 elections, but “important flaws persist.” In its April 1 press conference in Kyiv, the IEOM declined to prepare a final analysis before post-election procedures are concluded, and promised to return to Ukraine within a month to follow up, after watching how election authorities and the judiciary perform while tabulating and publishing results and adjudicating disputes. Positive elements cited included a new Election Law that took into account OSCE/ODIHR recommendations from previous elections; improvements in the mechanism to address election disputes, with clearer complaint and appeals procedures; multi-party commissions; the engagement of civil society in the electoral process; and greater access by candidates and parties to the media through TV debates, free air time and paid advertising. On the negative side, media coverage was biased and state-funded television gave disproportionate coverage to pro-presidential candidates. Other problem areas included abuses of state resources in the election campaign, interference by local authorities, and a campaign sullied by the murders of two candidates, and other isolated instances of violence, including one just a few days before the elections. Compared to previous elections, the level of pressure by government officials and workers to campaign in support of the main pro-presidential party, including direct pressure on individuals to vote for specific candidates, had significantly increased. The abuse of state resources created an uneven playing field and the main beneficiary of such violations was the pro-presidential bloc For a United Ukraine. Despite these advantages, pro-presidential parties did not do all that well in the party-list vote, and several did not even surpass the four percent threshold required for inclusion in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). Furthermore, the two opposition parties garnered more votes than expected, securing for themselves seats in the new parliament. According to the IEOM, there were also shortcomings in the implementation of the legal framework, including uneven enforcement of provisions on violations of electoral rights, the lack of deadlines, and clear definitions regarding candidate de-registration and campaigning. According to the OSCE experts, these weaknesses derived from the inability of the Rada and the President to agree on amendments to the Administrative Code, so, in effect some of the positive provisions of the Election Law could not be enforced. Another problem was the lack of reliable voter lists – outdated information, including voters who had moved to other districts, left the country, or are deceased – and the widespread practice of issuing absentee ballots to voters unrelated to their place of residence. Voter lists may be amended up until election day; however, voters cannot be included in the registers of their place of residence on election day without a judicial decision. Voters were added to registers and allowed to vote – without the required court order– in about one third of polling stations visited by international observers. Voting day During the polling on voting day, the most serious problems were violations of the secrecy of the vote and voters added to registers in apparent contravention of the law. OSCE staff observed the elections in Lviv oblast in western Ukraine. Most polling stations visited by Commission staff were run efficiently, in a calm atmosphere, and commission members seemed hard-working and dedicated. Furthermore, there were numerous party, candidate and domestic observers. In a minority of polling stations staff witnessed incompetence, chaos, overcrowding, inadequate facilities – usually premises that were much too small and had an inadequate number of voting booths. Overcrowding was responsible for the violation most frequently observed – voting outside of booths – but there appeared to be no element of intimidation here. Instead, voters simply did not feel like waiting in long lines. According to the non-partisan domestic observer group Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), 15 % of voters were unable to vote due to overcrowding or poor facilities. Also, CVU estimated that one third of precincts were not able to conduct the elections in an organized manner. Despite the uneven playing field and violations with respect to the vote tabulations in a number of single-mandate constituencies, generally, the elections reflected the will of the voters. The actual results did not differ significantly from the results of several exit polls. Results and What Next The results indicate a country divided into three broad political orientations. Our Ukraine, the center-right, pro-reform, pro-Western coalition headed by Yushchenko, took the most seats in the party-list vote. The Communists garnered 20 percent of the party-list vote, clearly indicating their continued downward trend with each passing election. For the first time since Ukraine became independent in 1991, they will not constitute the largest political grouping in the Rada. In third place in the party-list vote was the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine, which had benefitted the most from the authorities’ abuses of state resources in the campaign. This bloc, however, had a strong showing in the single-mandate district voting, and will almost certainly end up with the largest number of overall deputies, especially as their numbers will be expanded with those who ran as “independents.” No one political grouping will have a viable majority in parliament; hence, will need to make concessions with other groupings to act. The pro-presidential For a United Ukraine may be compelled to team up with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine to form a government and pass pro-reform legislative initiatives. With this kind of political configuration, shifting alliances may be more likely than any kind of solid coalition. As a result, cautious moves towards economic and political reform rather than sweeping changes are more likely. Nevertheless, judging by the results, the Ukrainian people are increasingly endorsing a pro-European, pro-market, pro-democratic orientation.

  • Ukraine Elections Resolution

    Mr. President, today the Senate, with bipartisan support, moves to consider S. Res. 205, a resolution urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31 parliamentary elections. I appreciate Chairman Biden and Senator Helms’ support in committee and the leadership for ensuring timely consideration of this important resolution. In adopting S. Res. 205, the United States Senate expresses interest in, and concerns for, a genuinely free and fair parliamentary election process which enables all of the various election blocs and political parties to compete on a level playing field. While expressing support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to promote democracy, rule of law, and human rights, the resolution urges the Ukrainian government to enforce impartially the new election law and to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections. I want to underscore commitments undertaken by the 55 OSCE participating States, including Ukraine, to build consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only form of government for each of our nations. Mr. President, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair has monitored closely the situation in Ukraine and has a long record of support for the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for human rights and democratic freedoms. A recent Commission briefing on the parliamentary elections brought together experts to assess the conduct of the campaign. High level visits to Ukraine have underscored the importance the United States attaches to these elections in the run up to presidential elections scheduled for 2004. As of today, with less than two weeks left before the elections, it remains an open question as to whether the elections will be a step forward for Ukraine. Despite considerable international attention, there are credible reports of various abuses and violations of the election law, including candidates refused access to media, the unlawful use of public funds and facilities, and government pressure on certain political parties, candidates and media outlets, and a pro-government bias in the public media. Ukraine’s success as an independent, democratic, economically successful state is vital to stability and security and Europe, and Ukraine has, over the last decade, enjoyed a strong relationship with the United States. This positive relationship, however, has been increasingly tested in the last few years because of pervasive levels of corruption in Ukraine and the still-unresolved case of murdered investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze and other issues which call into question the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to the rule of law and respect of human rights. Mr. President, Ukraine enjoys goodwill in the United States Senate and remains one of our largest recipients of U.S. assistance in the world. These elections are an important indication of the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to consolidate democracy and to demonstrate a serious intent regarding integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Thank you, Mr. President.

  • Re-Registration Campaign Denying Religious Freedom in Azerbaijan

    Mr. Speaker, the ongoing re-registration campaign for religious organizations conducted by the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations, headed by Chairman Rafik Aliev potentially violates Azerbaijan’s commitments to religious freedom as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Azerbaijan must take steps commensurate with its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice their religion or belief, alone or in community with others. The State Committee, created last year to replace the Religious Affairs Directorate, has broad administrative powers, which Chairman Aliev seems willing to utilize in an attempt to ban minority religious communities through denial of legal registration. Recent reports indicate that of the 407 religious groups previously registered, only approximately 150 are currently under consideration for re-registration by the State Committee. An additional 200 organizations were unsuccessful in their initial application due to technical errors and were asked to resubmit these requests. While I am pleased that 80 groups have been approved, reportedly most are Muslim, I hope that the State Committee is not specifically discriminating against minority faiths or religious groups. Despite the extension of the re-registration deadline to the end of March, there is legitimate concern that groups will be arbitrarily denied registration, and thereby legal status, despite fulfilling all requirements. In addition, although this is the third registration campaign since 1991, reportedly about 2,000 more religious groups remain unregistered. Recently, a senior official at the State Committee declared unregistered groups will be closed down. The fear that the State Committee will refuse to register religious groups for arbitrary reasons is supported by several statements from Chairman Aliev himself. For instance, he declared the State Committee hoped to introduce more stringent regulations to govern both religious organizations and individuals. He also said the State Committee can request a court to suspend activities of any religious organization conducting activities deemed illegal or found to undermine national security. The State Committee has also limited the ability for religious communities to import religious material. Reportedly, Chairman Aliev also stated “religious organizations must be controlled” and that “religion is dangerous.” This flies in the face of President Heydar Aliyev’s November 1999 public statements supporting religious freedom in Azerbaijan. Also of concern are the heavy-handed actions against religious groups by Azeri Government officials and police officers. For example, on January 18, 2002, National Security Ministry officers raided an unregistered Protestant church, Living Stones, which was meeting in a private apartment. The police and security officers searched the residence and seized religious literature. Ten individuals who were attending the meeting were taken into custody, transferred to a police station and interrogated. While eight individuals were released, two church leaders, Yusuf Farkhadov and Kasym Kasymov, were given two-week prison sentences for violating Article 310 of the Administrative Code, which addresses “petty hooliganism.” The reported justification for the raid was that the church is not registered. However, Living Stones had attempted to register with the government, but only after one and a half years of waiting did the government decide their application contained errors and must be resubmitted. In addition, the church is listed as a branch of the Nehemiah Protestant Church, which is registered. Many other religious communities are also concerned. It is feared the Ashkenzai Jewish community will not be successful in registering, because the State Committee is favoring a separate Jewish group. The liquidation suit brought by Chairman Aliev against the Love Baptist Church in the Narimanov district court continues to drag on. Liquidating the church due to alleged statements by its pastor is a disproportionate penalty and contravenes OSCE commitments. Illegal closures of churches by local officials, as in the case of the Gyanja Adventist Church on February 24, 2002, have not been halted by the State Committee. The closure of mosques under the pretext of state security is also a concern, as the government could ban unpopular groups, despite no proof of illegal activity. The Helsinki Final Act commits that “the participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Mr. Speaker, I urge President Aliyev to ensure that the re-registration process is accomplished in accordance with Azerbaijan’s OSCE commitments. In light of statements by Chairman Aliev, it is apparent the State Committee is perverting the re-registration process to arbitrarily deny legal registration to selected religious communities. The government must take the necessary steps to protect the right of individuals to profess and practice their faith by registering religious organizations, in keeping with Azerbaijan’s commitments as a participating OSCE State. In closing, Mr. Speaker, I am greatly alarmed by the re-registration campaign in Azerbaijan. This being the third time in a decade the government has required registration, it would seem Azerbaijan will continually “sift” minority religious groups until all are made illegal. Therefore, it is my hope that the Azeri Government will choose to honor its OSCE commitments and allow religious communities to register without harassment or bureaucratic roadblocks. Members of Congress will be watching to see if groups highlighted in this statement are harassed because of their mention.

  • Kyrgyzstan's Release of Azimbek Beknazarov

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday authorities in Kyrgyzstan released Azimbek Beknazarov, a parliamentarian who had been in jail since January 5. The decision was made after disturbances in the Ak-Su District of Jalal-Abad, Mr. Beknazarov’s native region in southern Kyrgyzstan. In an unprecedented outburst of violence on March 17, six people were killed and scores wounded when police opened fire on demonstrators. Mr. Beknazarov has pledged not to leave the area and his trial has been postponed indefinitely while the authorities and the public catch their breath and reassess the situation.   The incident and the events leading up to it are alarming--not only for Kyrgyzstan but for the United States, which is now basing troops in the country and expects to be in the region for the foreseeable future. Despite attempts by some Kyrgyz officials to pin the blame on a mob of demonstrators fired up by alcohol, the real cause of the bloody riot was popular discontent with an unresponsive government reaching the boiling point.   Kyrgyz authorities have accused Mr. Beknazarov of improperly handling a murder case when he was an investigator in a district prosecutor’s office years ago. In fact, it is widely believed that Beknazarov’s real transgression was to suggest that Kyrgyzstan’s parliament discuss the country’s border agreement with China, which would transfer some territory from the tiny Central Asian state to its giant neighbor.   This is reflective of Akaev’s intensified efforts to consolidate his power while cracking down on dissent and opposition. In February 2000, President Akaev rigged the parliamentary election to keep his main rival--Felix Kulov, who had served as Vice President and in other high-level positions--from winning a seat in the legislature. The observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) openly questioned the results in Kulov’s district, and said the election had fallen far short of international standards. Subsequently, Kulov was arrested and could not participate in the October 2000 presidential election, in which Akaev faced no serious contenders and was easily re-elected.   Kulov is serving a 7-year jail term and now faces new criminal charges. Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner. Last December I chaired a hearing of the Helsinki Commission which focused on the deterioration of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Mr. Kulov’s wife was able to attend the hearing and offered her perspective on the current political climate in her country.   The independent and opposition media in Kyrgyzstan have also been under severe pressure, usually in the form of libel cases which official authorities use to fine newspapers out of existence so they cannot report on corruption. In January 2002, the authorities issued Decree No. 20, which would introduce mandatory official inventory and government registration of all typographical and printing equipment, while imposing stricter controls on its imports. Decree No. 20 would also threaten U.S. Government plans to establish an independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, the decree will be used against religious groups, both Muslim and Christian, by blocking their ability to produce religious material and by calling for an “auditing” of all religious communities that create publications. While the pretext of the decree is to combat “religious extremists,” the decree has clear implications for religious communities out of favor with the government, as well as with opposition groups. The State Department has urged Kyrgyzstan to repeal Decree No. 20 but so far, Bishkek has stubbornly refused.   So when legislator Azimbek Beknazarov was arrested on January 5, his colleagues in parliament, members of opposition parties and human rights activists reacted strongly to the latest step in an ongoing campaign to clamp down on civil society. Since January, hundreds of people, including parliamentarians, have gone on hunger strikes to demand his release. Protests and demonstrations have continued throughout, which the police have either ignored or roughly dispersed. The U.S. Government, the OSCE and international human rights groups have called for Beknazarov’s release, but President Akaev, hiding behind the fig leaf of “executive non-interference in judicial deliberations,” contends that the case must be decided by the courts. His position is an absurd pretense in a country where the courts are under state influence, especially in sensitive political cases. More to the point, this stance is simply no longer credible, considering the widespread belief that Beknazarov’s imprisonment was politically motivated and the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s good faith.   Finally, pent-up tensions exploded two days ago, when demonstrators and police clashed, with tragic consequences. Kyrgyz officials have accused organizers of unauthorized pickets and rallies of responsibility for the violence. In an address to the nation, President Akaev described the events as “an apparent plot [in which] a group of people, including prominent politicians, staged unauthorized mass rallies simultaneously.” He said the events were “another move in the targeted activities of opposition forces to destabilize the situation in the country. They have been engaged in these activities for the last few years.”   Mr. Speaker, I would contend that the riots in Jalal-Abad Region were the predictable outcome of frustration and desperation. Askar Akaev, by falsifying elections and repressing freedom of expression, has made normal politics impossible in Kyrgyzstan. A long-suffering populace, which has seen its living standard plummet while corrupt officials grow rich, has signaled that enough is enough. The authorities have heard the message and now have to make a critical decision: either to try to find a common language with society or to crack down. If they choose the former, Kyrgyzstan may yet realize its promise of the early 1990s; if they choose the latter, more confrontations are likely, with unpredictable ramifications for Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors.   The United States has a real stake in the outcome. We are in Central Asia to make sure terrorists cannot use the region to plan attacks on us or recruit new members. But all the region’s states are led by men determined to stay in power indefinitely. This means they cannot allow society to challenge the state, which, in turn, insures that discontented, impoverished people with no other outlets could well be attracted by radical ideologies.   We must make it plain to President Akaev that we are serious when we declare that our war on terrorism has not put democracy and human rights on the back burner. And we must insist that he implement his OSCE commitments, as well as the pledge he made in last month’s bilateral Memorandum of Understanding with the United States. That document obligates Kyrgyzstan to “confirm its commitment to continue to take demonstrable measures to strengthen the development of democratic institutions and to respect basic human and civil rights, among which are freedom of speech and of the media, freedom of association and public assembly, and freedom of religion.”   The events earlier this week have given us a wake-up call. We had better understand properly all its implications.

  • Resolution Urging Ukraine to Ensure a Democratic, Transparent and Fair Election Process

    Mr. Speaker, today the House moves to the timely consideration of H. Res. 339 which urges the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections. I’d like to thank Mr. Armey for his commitment to schedule consideration of this measure this week. I was pleased to be an original cosponsor of the resolution which acknowledges the strong relationship between the United States and Ukraine, urges the Ukrainian Government to enforce impartially its new election law, and urges the Ukrainian Government to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections. I strongly encourage my colleagues to support this measure. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has a longstanding record of support for human rights and democratic development in Ukraine. Commission staff will be going to observe and report on these elections, as they have for virtually every election in Ukraine since 1990. The stakes in the Ukrainian elections are high – both in terms of outcome and as an indication of the Ukrainian Government’s commitment towards democratic development and integration into Europe.   Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to underscore the reason for this congressional interest in Ukraine. The clear and simple reason: an independent, democratic, and economically stable Ukraine is vital to the stability and security of Europe, and we want to encourage Ukraine in realizing its own often-stated goal of integration into Europe. Despite the positive changes that have occurred in Ukraine since independence in1991, including the economic growth over the last two years, Ukraine is still undergoing the difficult challenge of transition. The pace of that transition has been distressing, slowed by insufficient progress in respect for the rule of law, especially by the presence of widespread corruption which continues to exact a considerable toll on the Ukrainian people.   Another source of frustration is the still-unresolved case of murdered investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The flawed investigations of this case and the case of another murdered Ukrainian journalist, Ihor Aleksandrov call into question Ukraine’s commitment to the rule of law. There have also been a number of disturbing cases of violence or threats of violence. For instance, 78-year-old Iryna Senyk a former political prisoner and poetess who was campaigning for the pro-reform Our Ukraine bloc, was badly beaten by “unknown assailants.” Such unchecked violence has created an uncertain atmosphere. Most of independent Ukraine’s elections have generally met international democratic standards for elections. The 1999 presidential elections, however, were more problematic, and the OSCE Election Mission Report on these elections asserted that they “failed to meet a significant number of the OSCE election related commitments.”   Mr. Speaker, it remains an open question as to whether the March 31 elections will be a step forward for Ukraine. With less than two weeks until election day, there are some discouraging indications – credible reports of various violations of the election law, including campaigning by officials or use of state resources to support certain political blocs or candidates; the denial of public facilities and services to candidates, blocs or parties; governmental pressure on certain parties, candidates and media outlets; and a pro-government bias in the public media, especially the government’s main television network, UT-1. These actions are inconsistent with Ukraine’s freely undertaken OSCE commitments and undermine its reputation with respect to human rights and democracy. A democratic election process is a must in solidifying Ukraine’s democratic credentials and the confidence of its citizens, and in its stated desire to integrate with the West.   During his visit to Ukraine last week, the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Adrian Severin, expressed concern over the mistrust in the electoral process among certain candidates as well as general skepticism as to whether the elections would be truly free and fair and encouraged Ukrainian officials to take measures to address these concerns so as to ensure public trust in the outcome of the election. Mr. Speaker, I ask that the summary of the most recent Long Term Observation Report on the Ukrainian elections prepared by the non-partisan Committee of Voters of Ukraine, be submitted for the Record. I urge unanimous support for this resolution.

  • Upcoming Ukraine Parliamentary Elections Focus of Briefing

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission held a public briefing on February 27 which examined the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections scheduled for March 31, 2002. Commission Chief of Staff Ron McNamara noted commitments undertaken by the 55 OSCE participating States, including Ukraine, to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only form of government for each of the nations. The reason for congressional interest in Ukraine which has been manifested by Senate and House resolutions introduced by a bipartisan group of Helsinki Commissioners, he observed, is “because an independent, secure, democratic, economically stable Ukraine is important, and we want to encourage Ukraine in realizing its own goal of integration into Europe.” The measures call for Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process. McNamara underscored the potential impact of the elections, “The parliamentary elections, along with local elections taking place on the same day, will chart Ukraine's course over the next four years, including on the presidential elections scheduled for 2004.” Three experts – former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Green Miller, Ambassador Nelson Ledsky of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Stephen Nix of the International Republican Institute (IRI) – addressed both positive and negative features of the election process and campaign. All three highlighted the importance of these elections being free and fair. Ambassador Miller stated: “This election is a crucial election. And it’s very important for Ukraine, for its government, for its system of governance, to have as free and fair an election as possible. It’s crucial to its international reputation and to the dignity of its own people.” Ambassador Miller described the roles of the various blocs running for the elections, observing that – based on what the polls indicate at this point – the probable outcome reflects the reality of Ukrainian politics in 2002. He did note problem areas, stating that the smaller parties of Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Moroz are the ones to watch, “...and that’s where much of the pressure on preventing their crossing the four percent threshold will be evident.” These two parties are in open opposition to President Leonid Kuchma. The issue in the next month, according to Miller, is “whether the shortcomings that have been identified by various people – Ukrainians and sympathetic foreigners – will be attended to. But, I would say, given the complexion of the polling now, there is very little that can be done to alter what seems to be the likely outcome.” Ambassador Ledsky pointed to pre-election violations documented by the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) over the last four months which fall into two broad categories – one relating to access to the media and coverage of the elections and the second to the misuse of administrative resources as part of the campaign process. Violations with respect to administrative resources include: government spaces being used for campaign purposes, which is contrary to Ukrainian law; public employees working on political campaigns and citizens pressured to join parties and blocs; the interference of government authorities in campaigning; and the denial by officials of public facilities and services to candidates, parties and blocs. (On election day, the CVU is aiming to field 20,000 observers which would complement the OSCE observation effort which will likely include over 250 international observers.) Ledsky also emphasized “two distinct contests” going on in Ukraine – the first is the contest for the 225 proportional representation seats in which the parties vying need to surpass the four percent threshold. The second contest is for the 225 single mandate seats. “And here,” said Ambassador Ledsky, “what we are seeing is that the battle is going on behind the scenes in each district, in each oblast, in each constituency. There, administrative resources are being used illegally and with subtlety to make sure that the single mandate seats move in one direction.” In response to a question about Russian involvement, Ambassador Ledsky noted the “more extensive, more prominent, more visible” level of Russian involvement in this campaign. He underscored the importance of the elections, stating, “We believe very fervently that a correction in the course of the last two or three elections is very badly needed to put Ukraine back on the democratic path.” Mr. Nix, focusing his remarks on procedural, administrative and legal issues surrounding the elections, praised the new elections law passed by the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) as being “very progressive and a huge improvement over previous law.” Current election law provides dual remedies, both administrative and legal; if a similar complaint is filed both with the administrative agency and with the courts, the court shall issue a stay. Focusing on how election-related disputes will be handled, Mr. Nix expressed concern – based on IRI’s recent pre-election assessment mission to Ukraine – that many judges did not appear to understand “... that they had the right, in fact the duty, to take jurisdiction of these cases and order the administrative actions to cease.” Mr. Nix observed that a key difference in this election is that political parties now largely staff constituency (district) election commissions and, to a lesser extent, polling station (precinct) commissions – this can be a deterrent to fraud – and noted IRI’s role in training members of these commissions. While parties for the most part have placed people on the polling station commissions, there is concern that some areas in rural villages are not covered, concluding that places in which parties are not represented have “to be a big focus of the monitoring effort.”

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