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House Majority Leader, Helsinki Commissioners Decry Efforts to Shutter Community Center in Hungary

Monday, August 19, 2019

WASHINGTON—Following renewed efforts by authorities in Hungary to shutter the Aurora Community Center in Budapest, House Majority Leader Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05), Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), and Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) issued the following statements:

“During my visit to Budapest earlier this summer, I saw firsthand the important resources Aurora provides to the community,” said Majority Leader Hoyer. “The latest attempt by Hungarian authorities to shut down Aurora speaks volumes about the country’s shrinking space for civil society. On the thinnest of pretexts, the rule of law in Hungary is being hijacked to serve one party's political interests.”

“Aurora nurtures a vibrant community of civil society groups and has become a symbol of independent organizations in Hungary,” said Sen. Cardin, who also serves as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance. “Unfortunately, such activism is viewed as a threat by those in power, who—through constant legal harassment—are attempting to permanently close Aurora’s doors. Aurora and organizations like it should be protected, not targeted.”

“In a time when those who spew hate and divisiveness seem to be ascendant, initiatives like Aurora that build inclusive societies and strengthen democracy are needed more than ever,” said Rep. Moore. “I was honored to visit the center and meet with its president, Adam Schonberger, with my colleagues earlier this year.”

Majority Leader Hoyer, Sen. Cardin, and Rep. Moore visited the Aurora Community Center in Budapest in July, en route to the 2019 OSCE PA Annual Session in Luxembourg.

Marom, a Hungarian Jewish association, established and runs Aurora Community Center, an umbrella organization that provides office space to other small civil society groups in Budapest, including the Roma Press Center, migrant aid, and Pride Parade organizers. Over the past two years, Hungarian authorities repeatedly have accused Marom of administrative violations ranging from mismatched dates on official documents to, most recently, lacking an appropriate agreement with the center’s landlord.

Under the Orbán government, the conditions for independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Hungary have deteriorated. In 2014, armed police carried out raids on 13 civil society organizations, seizing computers and documents for alleged financial misconduct. No charges were ever brought against the NGOs. 

In 2017, Hungary adopted a Russian-style "foreign agent" law which, according to the U.S. Department of State, “unfairly burdens a targeted group of Hungarian civil society organizations, many of which focus on fighting corruption and protecting human rights and civil liberties.”

In 2018, Hungary passed a law establishing a 25 percent tax on organizations which engage in “propaganda activity that portrays immigration in a positive light.” It is a tax on government-disfavored speech.  Hungary also adopted amendments to its "law on aiding illegal migration" that makes handing out know-your-rights leaflets punishable by up to one year in prison. 

Hungary will hold municipal elections on October 13.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
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It has been a great honor to work with him and for him in bringing this important resolution to the floor of the Senate. I ask unanimous consent that at the appropriate time, the Senator from Maryland and I be allowed to engage in a colloquy. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The Senator from Maryland. Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, let me thank Senator McCain, not just for taking time for this colloquy concerning Mr. Magnitsky but for his longstanding commitment to justice issues, human rights issues, and the values the United States represents internationally. We have had a long, proud, bipartisan, and, most importantly, successful record of promoting basic American values such as democratic governance and the rule of law around the world. Engaging the countries of the Eastern Bloc in matters such as respect for human rights was critical to winning the cold war. We will never know how many lives were improved and even saved due to instruments such as the Helsinki Final Act and the Jackson-Vanik amendment. These measures defined an era of human rights activism that ultimately pried open the Iron Curtain and brought down the Wall. Thankfully, the cold war is over and we have a stronger relationship, both at the governmental and societal levels, with countries in Eastern Europe. But, sadly, internationally recognized rights and freedoms continue to be trampled and, in many cases, with absolute impunity. With the possibility of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, and the Presidents of the United States and Russia meeting in France, ours is a timely discussion. Last week, I joined my distinguished colleague, the Senator from Arizona, and 14 other Senators from both parties to introduce the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act--a broad bill to address what the respected watchdog Transparency International dubbed a ``systematically corrupted country'' and to create consequences for those who are currently getting away with murder. Actions always speak louder than words. The diplomatic manner of dealing with human rights abuses has frequently been to condemn the abusers, often publicly, with the hope that these statements will be all they need to do. They say oh, yes, we are against these human rights violations. We are for the rule of law. We are for people being able to come forward and tell us about problems and be able to correct things. They condemn the abusers, but they take no action. They think their words will be enough. Well, we know differently. We know what is happening today in Russia. We know the tragedy of Sergei Magnitsky was not an isolated episode. This is not the only time this has happened. My colleague from Arizona mentioned the Mikhail Khodorkovsky case. Mr. Khodorkovsky is today in prison with even a longer sentence. Why? Because he had the courage to stand up and oppose the corrupt system in Russia and something should be done about it. That is why he is in prison, and that is wrong. So it is time we do something about this and that we make it clear that action is needed. For too long, the leaders in Russia have said we are going to investigate what happened to Sergei Magnitsky . We think it is terrible he died in prison without getting adequate medical care. As Senator McCain pointed out, here is a person whose only crime was to bring to the proper attention of officials public corruption within Russia. As a result of his whistleblowing, he was arrested and thrown in jail and died in jail. He was tortured. That cannot be allowed, to just say, Oh, that is terrible. We know the people who were responsible. In some cases they have been promoted in their public positions. Well, it is time for us to take action. That is why we have introduced this legislation. While this bill goes far beyond the tragic experiences of Sergei Magnitsky , it does bear his name, so let me refresh everyone's recollection with some of the circumstances concerning his death. I mention this because some might say, why are we talking about one person? But as the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin said, ``One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.'' I rarely agree with Dictator Stalin, but we have to put a human face on the issue. People have to understand that these are real people and real lives that have been ruined forever as a result of the abuses within Russia. Sergei was a skilled tax lawyer who was well known in Moscow among many Western companies, large and small. In fact, he even did some accounting for the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Working at the American law firm of Firestone Duncan, Sergei uncovered the largest known tax fraud in modern Russian history and blew the whistle on the swindling of his fellow citizens by corrupt officials. For that he was promptly arrested by the subordinates of those he implicated in the crime. He was held under torturous conditions in detention for nearly a year without trial or visits from family. He developed severe medical complications which went deliberately untreated, and he died on November 16, 2009, alone in an isolation cell while prison doctors waited outside his door. Sergei was 37 years old. He left behind a wife, two sons, a dependent mother, and so many friends. Shortly after his death, Philip Pan of the Washington Post wrote: Magnitsky's complaints, made public by his attorneys as he composed them, went unanswered while he lived. But in a nation where millions perished in the Soviet gulag, the words of the 37-year-old tax lawyer struck a nerve after he died ..... his descriptions of the squalid conditions he endured have been splashed on the front pages of newspapers and discussed on radio and television across the country, part of an outcry even his supporters never expected. I think Senator McCain and I would agree, there is a thirst for democracy around the world. People in Russia want more. They want freedom. They want accountability. They want honest government officials. They are outraged by what happened to Sergei Magnitsky . I would point out just last week I met with a leader of the Russian business community who came here and traveled at some risk, I might say. Just visiting me was a risk. We have people from Russia who are being questioned because they come and talk to us. But he said to me that what happened here needs to be answered by the Russian authorities. He understands why we are introducing this legislation. A year after his death, and with no one held accountable, and some of those implicated even promoted and decorated, The Economist noted: At the time, few people outside the small world of Russian investors and a few human-rights activists had heard of Mr. Magnitsky . A year later, his death has become a symbol of the mind-boggling corruption and injustice perpetrated by the Russian system, and the inability of the Kremlin to change it. Regrettably, we know Sergei's case, egregious as it is, is not isolated. Human rights abuses continue unpunished and often unknown across Russia today. To make this point more clear, let's look at another example far outside the financial districts of Moscow and St. Petersburg in the North Caucasus in southern Russia where Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, condones and oversees massive violations of human rights, including violations of religious freedom and the rights of women. His militia also violates international humanitarian laws. As of this April, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled against Russia in 186 cases concerning Chechnya, most involving civilians. So Sergei Magnitsky's case is not an isolated case of abuse by the Russian authorities. There has been a systematic effort made to deny people their basic human rights, including one individual, Natalia Estemirova, who personally visited my office at the Helsinki Commission. She was a courageous human rights defender who was brutally assassinated. So it is time for Russia to take action. But we cannot wait; we need to take action. Mr. McCAIN. Will the Senator yield for a question? Mr. CARDIN. I yield back to my colleague. Mr. McCAIN. First, I thank my colleague from Maryland for a very eloquent and, I think, very strong statement, to which I can add very little. But isn't it true, I ask my friend, that this Magnitsky case and the Khodorkovsky case, which I would like for us to talk a little bit more about, are not isolated incidents? In other words, this is the face of the problem in Russia today. As the Senator mentioned, in its annual index of perceptions of corruption, Transparency International ranked Russia 154th out of 178 countries--perceived as more corrupt than Pakistan, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. The World Bank considers 122 countries to be better places to do business than Russia. One of those countries is Georgia, which the World Bank ranks as the 12th best country to do business. In other words, isn't it true in the Magnitsky case, it is what has been taking place all across Russia, including this incredible story of Khodorkovsky, who was one of the wealthiest men in Russia, one of the wealthiest oligarchs who rebelled against this corruption because he saw the long-term consequences of this kind of corruption and was brought to trial, convicted, and then, when his sentence was completed, they charged him again? Talk about a corrupt system, isn't it true that Vladimir Putin said he should ``sit in jail,'' and we now know that the whole trial was rigged, as revealed by people who were part of the whole trial? In other words, isn't it true, I would ask my friend from Maryland, that what we are talking about is one human tragedy, but it is a tragedy that is unfolding throughout Russia that we do not really have any knowledge of? And if we allow this kind of abuse to go on unresponded to, then, obviously, we are abrogating our responsibilities to the world; isn't that true? Mr. CARDIN. I say to Senator McCain, you are absolutely right. This is not isolated. Magnitsky is not an isolated case of a lawyer doing his job on behalf of a client and being abused by the authorities. We have a lot of examples of lawyers trying to do their jobs and being intimidated and their rights violated. But in Mr. Khodorkovsy's case, we have a business leader who was treated the same way just because he was a successful business leader. Even worse, he happened to be an opponent of the powers in the Kremlin. So we are now seeing, in Russia, where they want to quell opposition by arresting people who are just speaking their minds, doing their business legally, putting them in prison, trying them, and in the Khodorkovsky case actually increasing their sentences the more they speak out against the regime. That is how authoritarian they want to be and how oppressive they are to human rights. But I could go further. If one is a journalist in Russia, and they try to do any form of independent journalism, they are in danger of being beaten, being imprisoned, being murdered. It is very intimidating. The list goes on and on. Mr. McCAIN. Could I ask my colleague, what implications, if any, does the Senator from Maryland believe this should have on the Russian entry into the World Trade Organization? Mr. CARDIN. Well, it is very interesting, I say to Senator McCain. I just came from a Senate Finance Committee hearing, and we were talking about a free-trade agreement. I am for free-trade agreements. I think it makes sense. It is funny, when a country wants to do trade with the United States, they all of a sudden understand they have to look at their human rights issues. I think all of us would like to see Russia part of the international trade community. I would like to see Russia, which is already a member of a lot of international organizations, live up to the commitments they have made in joining these international organizations. But it is clear to me that Russia needs to reform. If we are going to have business leaders traveling to Russia in order to do business, I want to make sure they are safe in Russia. I want to make sure they are going to get the protection of the rule of law in Russia. I want to make sure there are basic rights that the businesspeople in Russia and the United States can depend upon. So, yes, I understand that Russia would like to get into the WTO. We have, of course, the Jackson-Vanik amendment that still applies. I understand the origin of that law, and I understand what needs to change in order for Russia to be able to join the World Trade Organization. But I will tell you this: The best thing that Russia can do in order to be able to enter the international trade regime is to clean up its abuses in its own country, to make clear it respects the rule of law; that businesspeople will be protected under the rule of law and certainly not imprisoned and tortured, as in the cases of Mr. Khodorkovsky and Mr. Magnitsky . We do not want to see that type of conduct. If Russia would do that, if they would reform their systems, then I think we would be a long way toward that type of integration and trade. Mr. McCAIN. I thank my colleague from Maryland for an eloquent statement about the situation as regards Russia. I thank him, and I can assure my colleague from Maryland that, as we speak, this will provide--and this legislation which he has introduced, will provide--some encouragement to people who in Russia now, in some cases, have lost almost all hope because of the corruption of the judicial system, as well as other aspects of the Russian nation. We all know that no democracy can function without the rule of law; and if there are ever two examples of the corruption of the rule of law, it is the tragedy of Sergei Magnitsky and, of course, Mr. Khodorkovsky, who still languishes in prison; who, in his words, believes he--by the extension of his prison sentence--may have been given a death sentence. So I thank my colleague from Maryland. Mr. CARDIN. Will my colleague yield for just one final comment? I think the Senator is right on target as to what he has said. I appreciate the Senator bringing this to the attention of our colleagues in the Senate. I will respond to one other point because I am sure my colleague heard this. Some Russian officials say: Why are we concerned with the internal affairs of another country? I just want to remind these Russian officials, I want to remind my colleagues here, that Russia has signed on to the Helsinki Final Act. They did that in 1975, and they have agreed to the consensus document that was issued in Moscow in 1991 and reaffirmed just last year with the heads of state meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, just this past December. I am going to quote from that document: The participating States-- Which Russia is a participating state-- emphasize that issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern, as respect for these rights and freedoms constitutes one of the foundations of international order. They categorically and irrevocably declared that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States-- The United States is a participating state-- and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned. Mr. McCAIN. That was a statement by the Government of Russia? Mr. CARDIN. That was a statement made by the 56 states of the OSCE at a meeting of the Heads of State, which happens about every 10 years. It just happened to have happened last year. Russia participated in drafting this statement. Russia was there, signed on to it, and said: We agree on this. It is a reaffirmation as to what they agreed to in 1991 in Moscow where we acknowledged that it is of international interest, and we have an obligation and right to question when a member state violates those basic human dimension commitments. Russia clearly has done that. We have not only the right but the obligation to raise that, and I just wanted to underscore that to my colleagues. I say to Senator McCain, your comments on the Senate floor are so much on point. I think people understand it. They understand the basic human aspect to this. But sometimes they ask: Well, why should America be concerned? Do we have a legitimate right to question this? Russia signed the document that acknowledges our right to challenge this and raise these issues. I thank my colleague for yielding. Mr. McCAIN. I thank my colleague from Maryland, and I hope we would get, very rapidly, another 98 cosponsors. I suggest the absence of a quorum. The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll. The legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.  

  • Northern Ireland: Why Justice in Individual Cases Matters

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  • Senator Cardin’s Response to Rep. King’s U.S. Anti-Muslim Hearings

    Mr. President, I rise today to share my thoughts on the hearings held last week in the House of Representatives called "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." Congressional hearings are supposed to serve as an important role of oversight, investigation, or education, among other purposes. However, this particular hearing--billed as the first of a series--served only to fan flames of fear and division.  My first concern is the title of the hearing--targeting one community. That is wrong. Each of us has a responsibility to speak out when communities are unfairly targeted.  In 1975, the United States joined all the countries of Europe and established the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now known as the OSCE. The Congress created the U.S. Helsinki Commission to monitor U.S. participation and compliance with these commitments. The OSCE contains commitments in three areas or baskets: security, economics, and human rights. Best known for its human rights advancements, the OSCE has been aggressive in advancing these commitments in each of the OSCE states. The OSCE stands for religious freedom and protection of minority rights.  I am the Senate chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. In that capacity, I have raised human rights issues in other countries, such as in France when, in the name of national security, the Parliament banned burqas and wearing of all religious articles or when the Swiss restricted the building of mosques or minarets.  These policies were restrictive not only to the religious practice of Muslims but also Christians, Jews, and others who would seek to wear religious symbols and practice their religion as they saw fit.  I have also raised human rights issues in the United States when we were out of compliance with our Helsinki commitments. In that spirit, I find it necessary to speak out against the congressional hearing chaired by Congressman Peter King.  Rather than constructively using the power of Congress to explore how we as a nation can use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent future terrorist attacks and defeat those individuals and groups who want to do us harm, this spectacle crossed the line and chipped away at the religious freedoms and civil liberties we hold so dearly.  Radicalization may be the appropriate subject of a congressional hearing but not when it is limited to one religion. When that is done, it sends the wrong message to the public and casts a religion with unfounded suspicions.  Congressman King's hearing is part of a disturbing trend to demonize Muslims taking place in our country and abroad. Instead, we need to engage the Muslim community in the United States.  A cookie-cutter approach to profile what a terrorist looks like will not work. As FBI Director Mueller recently testified to the Senate:  “... During the past year, the threat from radicalization has evolved. A number of disruptions occurred involving extremists from a diverse set of backgrounds, geographic locations, life experiences, and motivating factors that propelled them along their separate radicalization pathways.”  Let us remember that a number of terrorist attacks have been prevented or disrupted due to informants from the Muslim community who contacted law enforcement officials.  I commend Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Mueller for increasing their outreach to the Arab-American community. As Attorney General Holder said:  “Let us not forget it was a Muslim-American who first alerted the New York police to a smoking car in Times Square. And his vigilance likely helped to save lives. He did his part to avert tragedy, just as millions of other Arab-Americans are doing their parts and proudly fulfilling the responsibility of citizenship.” We need to encourage this type of cooperation between our government and law enforcement agencies in the Muslim community.  As the threat from al-Qaida changes and evolves over time, the piece of the puzzle is even more important to get right. FBI Director Mueller testified before the House recently that:  At every opportunity I have, I reaffirm the fact that 99.9 percent of Muslim-Americans, Sikh-Americans, and Arab-Americans are every bit as patriotic as anyone else in this room, and that many of the anti-terrorism cases are a result of the cooperation from the Muslim community and the United States.  As leaders in Congress, we must live up to our Nation's highest ideals and protect civil liberties, even in wartime when they are most challenged. The 9/11 Commission summed up this well when they wrote:  The terrorists have used our open society against us. In wartime, government calls for greater powers, and then the need for those powers recedes after the war ends. This struggle will go on. Therefore, while protecting our homeland, Americans must be mindful of threats to vital personal and civil liberties. This balancing is no easy task, but we must constantly strive to keep it right.  I agree with Attorney General Holder's recent speech to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, where he stated:  “In this Nation, our many faiths, origins, and appearances must bind us together, not break us apart. In this Nation, the document that sets forth the supreme law of the land--the Constitution--is meant to empower, not exclude. And in this Nation, security and liberty are--at their best--partners, not enemies, in ensuring safety and opportunity for all.” Actions, such as the hearing held last week, that pit us against one another based on our religious beliefs, weaken our country and its freedoms and ultimately do nothing to make our country any safer. Hearings such as the one held last week only serve as a distraction from our real goals and provide fuel for those who are looking for excuses to find fault or blame in our way of life.  Let's not go the way of other countries but instead hold dear the protections in our Constitution that safeguard the individual's right to freely practice their religion and forbid a religious test to hold public office in the United States. Our country's strength lies in its diversity and our ability to have strongly held beliefs and differences of opinion, while being able to speak freely and not fear the government will imprison us for criticizing the government or holding a religious belief that is not shared by the majority of Americans.  On September 11, 2001, our country was attacked by terrorists in a way we thought impossible. Thousands of innocent men, women, and children of all races, religions, and backgrounds were murdered. As the 10-year anniversary of these attacks draws closer, we continue to hold these innocent victims in our thoughts and prayers, and we will continue to fight terrorism and bring terrorists to justice.  After that attack, I went back to my congressional district in Maryland at that time and made three visits as a Congressman. First I visited a synagogue and prayed with the community. Then I visited a mosque and prayed with the community. Then I went to a church and prayed with the community. My message was clear on that day: We all needed to join together as a nation to condemn the terrorist attacks and to take all necessary measures to eliminate safe havens for terrorists and bring them to justice. We all stood together on that day regardless of our background or personal beliefs.  But my other message was equally important: We cannot allow the events of September 11 to demonize a particular community, religion, or creed. Such actions of McCarthyism harken back to darker days in our history. National security concerns were used inappropriately and led to 120,000 Japanese-Americans being stripped of their property and rights and placed in internment camps in 1942, though not a single act of espionage was ever established.  The United States should not carry out a crusade against any particular religion as a response to 9/11 or other terrorist attacks. The United States will not tolerate hate crimes against any group, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, and we should not allow our institutions, including Congress, to be used to foment intolerance and injustice. Let's come together as a nation and move forward in a more constructive and hopeful manner.

  • Attacks in Hungary and the Czech Republic

    Mr. President, as co-chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I wanted to bring to the Senate's attention that next week, February 23, will mark a tragic anniversary. Two years ago on that date, assassins gathered outside the home of Robert Csorba. They threw a Molotov cocktail into the house. Although some family members escaped the blaze, five-year-old Robert Csorba and his father did not: as they tried to flee the flames, their attackers riddled them with bullets. The murderers were prepared: if the bomb did not finish them off, their guns would. They were prepared to kill men, women, and children. The Csorbas were just two of the victims in a wave of racially motivated attacks against Roma that has roiled Hungary. According to the European Roma Rights Center, between January 2008 and July 2010 there were at least two dozen cases where Molotov cocktails, hand grenades or sniper fire were used. The victims included nine fatalities, including two children, and others who were seriously injured. Among them was the 13-year-old daughter of Maria Balogh. Ms. Balogh was murdered when snipers shot into her home in the middle of the night on August 3, 2009, killing her and leaving her daughter an orphan. Her daughter was also grievously wounded: she was shot in the face, blinded in one eye, and maimed for life. It is no wonder that these attacks led one Romani activist to declare that Roma would need to arm themselves or flee, and another asserted that if these attacks continued, Hungary would be headed toward civil war. There are some positive developments. The fatal attacks have stopped. Hungary's new government has reached out to the victims to provide support for rebuilding homes that were damaged or destroyed in arson attacks. Hungary's new Minister for Social Inclusion, Zolton Balog, has demonstrated a rare and welcome compassion for his Romani fellow citizens. But the wounded and the dead still wait for justice in Hungary. Although four men have been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the serial killings of Roma that occurred in 2008 and 2009, there have been no trials and no convictions. The Czech Republic has also seen a dramatic rise in anti-Roma rhetoric and violent actions in the past few years. Last October, I joined Helsinki Commission cochairman, Alcee Hastings in welcoming the lengthy sentences handed down in the Czech Republic to four neo-Nazis who firebombed a Romani home in 2009, an act which left an infant, widely known simply as ``Baby Natalka,'' with second and third degree burns over 80 percent of her body and a lifetime of painful rehabilitation ahead of her. When that judgment was handed down against the four men who firebombed Baby Natalka, I was heartened. I also said I was watching another Czech case--one that is largely unknown. On November 8, 2008, a roving mob attacked several Roma in the town of Havirov. One teenager was so savagely beaten, he was effectively left for dead. For a prolonged period of time afterwards, he was in a coma, and when he regained consciousness, he was unable to talk. Although he has learned to speak again, he has suffered permanent brain damage. He is paralyzed, was forced to end his studies, and may never be able to work. A decision in the case is expected to be announced in the Ostrava regional court at 8:30 a.m. on February 24. Behind the high profile murder cases of Roma that make their way into the news, there is an even larger number of cases involving Roma who have been attacked, but not fatally; they do not die but are maimed, disabled, and traumatized for life by the racially motivated violence they have encountered. Their stories are often never told, but each of them stands as a living monument to everyone in their families and everyone in their communities, testifying to the government's failure to protect them. Each of them deserves justice, including Jaroslav Horvath, the teenager attacked in Havirov.  

  • Beyond Corporate Raiding: A Discussion of Advanced Fraud Schemes in the Russian Market

    This briefing was part of a number of Helsinki Commission events focusing on corruption and fraud in modern Russia’s businesses and law enforcement. Kyle Parker led a fascinating and provocative discussion with Russia's leading anti-corruption crusader, shareholder activist, and blogger extraordinaire Alexei Navalny who Time Magazine dubbed "Russia's Erin Brockovich." Alexei shared his experiences with Russian corruption and shed light on the measures one must take to be successful. Parker and Navalny addressed the death of Sergei Magnitsky in 2009 and the fraud against Hermitage Capital. They looked at the possibility of similar situations in the future and whether or not there is hope for change. They also discussed the sharp contrast of this corruption against the strident anti-corruption rhetoric of President Dmitriy Medvedev, who has called for an end to "legal nihilism" and the corrosive practice of law enforcement "nightmaring" legitimate businesses.

  • Russia: U.S. Congressmen Propose Sanctions in Lawyer’s Death

    Members of the United States Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday that would impose financial sanctions and visa bans on Russian officials implicated in the case of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison in Moscow in November after being ensnared in tax inquiry. The measure’s sponsors — including Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat — said it was intended to spur the Russian government to properly investigate Mr. Magnitsky’s death. His defenders contend that he was jailed in an effort to force him to falsify testimony against Hermitage Capital Management, a major foreign investment fund that once had large holdings in Russia. His death caused widespread outrage and focused renewed attention on police tactics and corruption in Russia.

  • U.S. Lawmakers Push Visa Sanctions in Russian Case

    More than 60 Russians linked to the death of an anti-corruption lawyer would be barred from the United States and its financial markets under a bill introduced in the Congress on Wednesday. The measure says that sanctions would be lifted only after Russia brings to justice those responsible for the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer for what was once Russia's top equity fund, Hermitage. But the bill, introduced by Senator Benjamin Cardin and Representative James McGovern, both Democrats, faces a steep climb to get passed before Congress completes its work for the year. Human rights activists charge that Russian authorities subjected Magnitsky to conditions amounting to torture in a failed bid to force him to testify in their favor in a battle with Hermitage over a $234 million tax fraud scheme. Magnitsky died after being repeatedly denied medical treatment in pre-trial detention. He had accused Russian officials of stealing the millions of tax dollars paid by his client. A Democratic aide said the bill has drawn bipartisan interest and lawmakers might get to it when they return to Washington after the November 2 congressional election for what is expected to be a final few weeks of work. "Nearly a year after Sergei's death, the leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia," said Cardin, who also chairs the human rights monitoring U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency. "If we expect any measure of justice in this case, we must act in the United States," said Cardin. "At the least, we can and should block these corrupt individuals from traveling and investing their ill-gotten money in our country."

  • Opening a Second Front

    The death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian lawyer, remains one of the darkest scandals in the blotchy history of Russia's criminal justice system, exemplifying a culture of impunity in which power and wealth are fungible, and those who get in the way get squashed. Mr Magnitsky died of untreated pancreatis in pre-trial detention. He hadaccused Russian officials of stealing millions of tax dollars paid by his client, Hermitage Capital Management. Energetic lobbying by the head of Hermitage, the American-born financier Bill Browder, now seems to be getting somewhere. Two senior American lawmakers, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (a Democrat from Maryland), who is Chairman of the congressional Helsinki Commission and James P. McGovern (a Democratic congressman from Massachussetts), who chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, have introduced laws that would prohibit some 60-odd Russian officials linked to his death from visiting the United States, and freeze any assets they hold under American jurisdiction. (The Russian officials concerned have either made no public comment, or deny all wrongdoing). Mr Cardin said: “Nearly a year after Sergei’s death, the leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia. It has become clear that if we expect any measure of justice in this case, we must act in the United States...At the least we can and should block these corrupt individuals from traveling and investing their ill-gotten money in our country.” Mr McGovern said: “I have introduced the ‘Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010’ in the House of Representatives as a direct consequence of the compelling testimony at a hearing on human rights in the Russian Federation in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The death of this courageous whistleblower in a Russian prison is the consequence of an abysmal prison system and corruption aimed at defrauding the Russian Treasury of billions. We know about Sergei Magnitsky, and we know about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but how many more Magnitskys and Khodorkovskys are currently suffering in Russian prisons? My bill addresses the root causes of these severe human rights violations -- the Russian prison system and official corruption. We should not rest until justice is achieved in Sergei’s case, and the money is returned to its rightful owners -- the people of the Russian Federation."

  • Copenhagen Anniversary Conference

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Policy Advisor Representatives from a majority of the 56 OSCE participating States and several dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in Copenhagen on June 10-11 to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the 1990 Copenhagen Document and to assess implementation of key provisions of that landmark document. The anniversary conference, titled “20 years of the OSCE Copenhagen Document: Status and Future Perspectives,” was co-organized by the Kazakhstani OSCE Chairmanship and Denmark, and held at the Eigtveds Pakhus, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Michael Haltzel led the U.S. delegation, which was joined by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly and representatives from the OSCE Mission in Vienna, the State Department and the Helsinki Commission. Five substantive working sessions, reflecting some of the major themes of the groundbreaking Copenhagen Document, were held: Democratic processes – elections and human rights; Rule of Law; National Minorities; Freedom of Movement; and Measures to improve implementation of the human dimension commitments. Many speakers highlighted the historic importance of the Copenhagen Document, which offered a blueprint for pluralistic democratic development, rooted in the rule of law and protection of human rights, throughout the OSCE region – a revolutionary document at the time and one that remains highly relevant two decades later. The June 1990 Copenhagen Meeting came at a unique time in history when dramatic changes were taking place; the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of one-party regimes in Eastern Europe had taken place only months earlier. And the following year – 1991 -- witnessed the emergence of 15 independent states with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Truly, those were dynamic days during which sweeping new commitments -- which would have been impossible to garner consensus for years or even months prior -- received universal support. Indeed, it is questionable as to whether consensus to the Copenhagen agreement would be found today, given the democratic and human rights backsliding that has occurred in a number of participating States. The Copenhagen Document underlines the centrality of political pluralism, civil society and human rights as fundamental elements of functioning democracies. As Ambassador Max Kampelman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the 1990 conference summed it up, “In effect, the Copenhagen document represents the first formal proclamation, by the States themselves, of a Europe both whole and free.” It identified the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of the basic purposes of government and acknowledged that democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law. Among the achievements of the Copenhagen Document were the far-reaching commitments on democratic elections which laid the groundwork for the OSCE’s future activities with respect to election observation. Copenhagen also represented a significant step forward with respect to the protection of minorities, and for the first time there was a direct reference to Roma and to anti-Semitism. While participants at the anniversary meeting underscored the significant progress over the last 20 years, many also called for fuller compliance with the Copenhagen commitments, noting, for instance, backsliding in holding democratic elections in some participating States; suppression of civil society, including independent media, NGOs and human rights defenders; the deficit of impartial and independent justice; and the lack of separation of powers – especially the concentration of power in the executive. The last session of the conference discussed measures to improve implementation of human dimension commitments, including the prevention of human rights violations through the use of reporting before the violations occur; enhancement of standards and commitments; strengthened monitoring mechanisms, including a U.S. proposal to dispatch special representatives to investigate reports of egregious human rights violations and make corrective recommendations before the violations become entrenched; and improved cooperation with, and involvement of, civil society actors in advancing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ultimately, however, compliance with existing standards enshrined in the Copenhagen Document, the Helsinki Final Act and all other OSCE commitments remains the primary responsibility of the participating State.

  • In the Eye of the Storm: Chechnya and the Mounting Violence in the North Caucasus

    A year after the leading Russian human rights defender, Natalya Estemirova, was abducted near her apartment building in the Chechen capital Grozny, transported to the neighboring republic of Ingushetia and brutally killed, human rights abuses and a continuing climate of fear prevailed in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation.  Ronald McNamara, International Policy Director at the Commission, led a discussion on the marked increase in extrajudicial killings and politically motivated disappearances in Chechnya as well as in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan.  Witnesses – Elena Milashina, Raisa Turlueva, and Igor Kalyapin – discussed how strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, the Republic’s Kremlin-backed president, publicly labeled independent journalists and rights activists as “traitors and enemies of the state” and how he reportedly praised the perpetrators of recent paintball gun attacks on the streets of Grozny targeting women for not wearing headscarves.  They emphasized the difficulty of resolving the problem because of Moscow’s backing of Ramzan and of a political model in which “bandits” serve as a prop for the federal powers that be.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in Oslo

    Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I want to report on the activities of a bicameral, bipartisan congressional delegation I had the privilege to lead last week as chairman of the Helsinki Commission. The purpose of the trip was to represent the United States at the 19th Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, otherwise known as the OSCE PA. The annual session this year was held in Oslo, Norway, and the U.S. delegation participated fully in the assembly's standing committee, the plenary sessions, the three general committees and numerous side events that included discussion of integration in multiethnic societies and addressing gender imbalances in society.  Although some last-minute developments at home compelled him to remain behind, our colleague from the other Chamber, Mr. Alcee Hastings of Florida, was present in spirit as the deputy head of the delegation. Mr. Hastings, who co-chairs the Helsinki Commission, was very active in the preparations for the trip, and his legacy of leadership in the OSCE PA--for over a decade--is tangible in the respect and goodwill afforded the United States during the proceedings.  Our assistant majority leader, Mr. Durbin of Illinois, joined me on the trip, as he did last year. Our colleague from New Mexico who serves as a fellow Helsinki Commissioner, Mr. Udall, also participated. Helsinki Commissioners from the other Chamber who were on the delegation include Mr. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, serving as the ranking member of the delegation, as well as Mrs. Louise McIntosh Slaughter of New York, and Mr. Robert Aderholt of Alabama. Although not a member of the Helsinki Commission, Mr. Lloyd Doggett of Texas has a longstanding interest in OSCE-related issues and also participated on the delegation.  As many of you know, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of over 300 Parliamentarians from virtually every country in Europe, including the Caucasus, as well as from Central Asia, and the United States, and Canada. The annual sessions are held in late June/early July as the chief venue for debating issues of the day and issuing a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development and the rule of law; economic cooperation and environmental protection; and confidence building and security among the participating states and globally.  This active congressional participation helps ensure that matters of interest to the United States are raised and discussed. Robust U.S. engagement has been the hallmark of the Parliamentary Assembly since its inception nearly 20 years ago.  The theme for this year's annual session was ``Rule of Law: Combating Transnational Crime and Corruption.'' In addition to resolutions for each of the three general committees, delegations introduced a total of 35 additional resolutions for consideration, a record number, including 4 by the United States dealing with:  Nuclear security , which followed up directly on the Nuclear Summit here in Washington in April;  The protection of investigative journalists, a critical human rights issue as those who seek to expose corruption are targeted for harassment or worse;  Mediterranean cooperation, building on the OSCE partnerships to engage important countries in North Africa and the Middle East; and  Combating the demand for human trafficking and electronic forms of exploitation, a longstanding Helsinki Commission issue requiring persistence and targeted action.  U.S. drafts on these relevant, important topics received widespread support and were adopted with few if any amendments.  Beyond these resolutions, the United States delegation also undertook initiatives in the form of packages of amendments to other resolutions. These initiatives addressed:  The needs of the people of Afghanistan in light of the smuggling and other criminal activity which takes place there. The struggle for recovery stability and human rights in Kyrgyzstan, which is an OSCE state in the midst of crisis. And  Manifestations of racism and xenophobia that have become particularly prevalent in contemporary Europe. A critical U.S. amendment allowed us generally to support a French resolution that usefully addressed issues relating to the closure of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Still other amendments coming from specific members of the U.S. Delegation covered a wide range of political, environmental and social issues relevant to policymakers. My colleagues and I were also active in the successful countering of amendments that would have steered resolutions on the Middle East and on the future of the OSCE multilateral diplomatic process in directions contrary to U.S. policy.  Beyond the consideration of the resolutions which now comprise the Oslo Declaration, the annual session also handled some important affairs for the OSCE PA itself. These, too, had relevance for U.S. policy interests:  the American serving as OSCE PA Secretary General, Spencer Oliver, was reappointed to a new 5-year term; a modest--and for the third fiscal year in a row--frozen OSCE PA budget of about $3 1/2 million was approved that requires continued and unparalleled efficiency in organizing additional conferences, election observation missions, and various other activities that keep the Parliamentary Assembly prominently engaged in European and Central Asian affairs;  in addition to my continued tenure as a vice president in the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr. Aderholt of Alabama was reelected as the vice chair of the general committee dealing with democracy, human rights, and humanitarian questions which ensures strong U.S. representation in OSCE PA decision-making; and a Greek parliamentary leader defeated a prominent Canadian senator in the election of a new OSCE PA president, following a vigorous but friendly campaign that encouraged the assembly to take a fresh look at itself and establish a clearer vision for its future.  While the congressional delegation's work focused heavily on representing the United States at the OSCE PA, we tried to use our presence in Europe to advance U.S. interests and express U.S. concerns more broadly. The meeting took place in Norway, a very close friend and strong, long-time ally of the United States of America. In discussions with Norwegian officials, we expressed our sorrow over the recent deaths of Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan. We also shared our concerns about climate change and particularly the impact global warming has on polar regions  Indeed, on our return we made a well-received stop on the archipelago of Svalbard, well north of the Arctic Circle, to learn more about the impact firsthand, from changing commercial shipping lanes to relocated fisheries to ecological imbalance that make far northern flora and fauna increasingly vulnerable. The delegation also visited the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a facility that preserves more than 525,000 types of seeds from all over the world as a safeguard for future crop diversity, and took the opportunity to donate additional U.S. seeds to the collection.  Norway is located close to a newer, but also very strong, ally with close ties to the United States, Estonia. Since last year's delegation to the OSCE PA Annual Session went to Lithuania and included Latvia as a side trip, I believed it was important to utilize the opportunity of returning to northern Europe to visit this Baltic state as well.  While some remained in Oslo to represent the United States, others traveled to Tallinn, where we had meetings with the President, Prime Minister, and other senior government officials, visited the NATO Cooperative Cyber-Defense Center of Excellence and were briefed on electronic networking systems that make parliament and government more transparent, efficient and accessible to the citizen. Estonia has come a long way since it reestablished its independence from the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago, making the visit quite rewarding for those of us on the Helsinki Commission who tried to keep a spotlight on the Baltic States during the dark days of the Cold War.  During the course of the meeting, the U.S. delegation also had bilateral meetings with the delegation of the Russian Federation and a visiting delegation from Kyrgyzstan to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest.  U.S. engagement in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly sends a clear message to those who are our friends and to those who are not that we will defend U.S. interests and advance the causes of peace and prosperity around the world.

  • A Decade of the Trafficking in Persons Report

    Senator Benjamin L. Cardin convened a standing-room only hearing centered on the diplomatic impact of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  The hearing focused on the ten years that the annual TIP report has been prepared by the State Department. Improvements to TIP-related efforts were suggested, such as working more closely with the Tier 2 Watch List countries in the OSCE Region, – Azerbaijan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – helping them to implement the changes necessary to meet the minimum standards and to avoid statutory downgrades which will otherwise be required in next year’s TIP report. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador at Large of the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Jolene Smith, CEO & Co-Founder of Free the Slaves; and Holly J. Burkhalter, Vice President for Government Relations of the International Justice Mission – explored ways to potentially create extra-territorial jurisdiction for trafficking cases.  They also focused on ways to deter demand for trafficking victims in all countries, including Tier 1 countries.

  • Global Threats, European Security and Parliamentary Cooperation

    From nuclear security to climate change, global terrorism to anti-corruption efforts, this hearing examined what parliamentarians can do to work together on some of the most significant challenges facing the world. Members addressed European and Central Asian security concerns, including unresolved conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere, and considered how international parliaments can cooperate to address challenges related to trafficking, tolerance, and democratic development, including elections and media freedom.

  • The Link Between Revenue Transparency and Human Rights

    This hearing focused on the lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector posing both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. The hearing examined how such policies affect government accountability. Instead of serving their citizens, politicians often take advantage of the resources of the country in pursuit of their own self-interest. In particular, the continued assaults on freedom of speech and on civil society and how that bodes for the future of EITI implementation in Azerbaijan were discussed. The Commissioners and the witnesses looked into the present actions of the U.S. and what could be done within the OSCE process to address these issues.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission: Ukraine Needs to Accelerate Reforms

    Ukraine's new President Viktor Yanukovych 'will need to accelerate economic and political reforms, tackle systemic corruption and overcome the rule of law deficit, including building up an underdeveloped judiciary to strengthen its independence', U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin said in the first Congressional hearing on Ukraine in Washington on Tuesday, information of the Voice of America. "Such reforms will reduce Ukraine's vulnerability to outside pressures and bring it closer to its stated goals of European integration," Senator Cardin emphasized. "Ukraine has developed an open and pluralistic political system and media freedoms have expanded," said U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, who served as deputy head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly election observation mission in Ukraine in February and has observed two other national elections there. "Although Ukraine has had good elections now for the last five years, I can tell you that you need more than good elections to make a functioning democracy," he added. In turn, Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics, underlined that two thirds of young Ukrainians have higher education, but they have no opportunity to apply their knowledge in particular areas. Aslund said that this is a reason why Ukraine is ranked 110th worldwide on GDP per capita.

  • Ukraine: Moving Beyond Stalemate

    This hearing examined how the U.S. can best continue to encourage and assist Ukraine in developing democracy, rule of law, and a market economy.   The panel also discussed Ukraine’s relationships with its neighbors, the United States, and European states and organizations. The panel of witnesses explored the democratic developments and progress since the Orange revolution and U.S. policy implications of Ukraine’s interest in further integration with Europe.

  • Kazakhstan’s Leadership of the OSCE

    This hearing, presided over by Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings, was a largely positive affirmation concerning the strides that Kazakhstan had taken regarding human rights and democratization. The commissioners commended  Kazakhstan’s elimination of its nuclear program, which is rare for a country with an emerging economy and democracy. However, the Commissioners believed that further justification would be required for Kazakhstan's bid to host the 2010 OSCE Summit.

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