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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
Phone: 
202.225.1901
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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Escalating Violence and Rights Violations in Central Asia

    This briefing was moderated by CSCE Commissioner Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), and witnesses included Vitaly Pononaryov, Director of the Central Asia Program; Abdusalom Ergashev at the Head Ferghana Branch of the Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan; Pulat Akhunov, Director of the Central Asian Association of Sweden; and Michael Ochs, Senior Staff Advisor at the Helsinki Commission. As a briefing that took place shortly after the events on September 11, 2001, it was noted that ties between the United States and Central Asian states had become a lot closer to strategically adapt to the changing circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, Presidents Karimov and Bush signed a declaration on strategic partnership and cooperation. Unfortunately, though, Central Asian republics, especially Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, do not have very good human rights records, which were discouraging for the case of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with these countries, something that the Bush Administration had intended to commit to.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns

    This briefing addressed U.S. policy in Central Asia and human rights concerns in the region in advance of the President of Uzbekistan’s visit to Washington, which had drawn attention to the deepening engagement of the United States in the region. Questions about Washington’s leverage presently and in the foreseeable future as well as the prospects for improving the dismal human rights situation in the region were discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence Uzzell, Director of the Keston Institute; E. Wayne Merry, Senior Associate of the American Foreign Policy Council; and Nina Shea, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – presented numerous examples of the human rights violations that occur in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and pointed to the inheritance of imperial policies of commodity exploitation, ecological damage, and extremely bad demographics as several of the motivating factors of these violations.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Delegation Visits Ukraine

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor A delegation of nine parliamentarians from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) representing eight countries, along with a Helsinki Commission staff member, traveled to Ukraine from January 30 – February 1, 2002 to learn about the progress which has been made in the development of democratic institutions on the basis of the rule of law, and how the cooperation with the OSCE Project Coordinator in Ukraine has facilitated related developments. The Office of the OSCE Project Coordinator has been functioning in Ukraine since 1999 and its projects aim at supporting Ukraine in the adaptation of its legislation, institutions and processes to the requirements of a modern democracy, based on the rule of law. The Delegation met with the OSCE Project Coordinator, representatives of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament), Members of the Ukrainian delegation to the OSCE PA, the Ombudsman of Ukraine, the Prosecutor General, and officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Justice. The representatives of these institutions commented favorably on the level of cooperation with the OSCE Project Coordinator and expressed thanks and strong support for the OSCE’s efforts in assisting their institutions with concrete projects. The delegation noted the expressed desire and practical efforts among the Ukrainian authorities to increase cooperation with European institutions. The Delegation has recommended that OSCE participating States continue their funding for OSCE projects in Ukraine and seek ways to increase the level of support. The delegation has also recommended that the OSCE Project Coordinator identify projects which would contribute to the protection of human and civil rights, the transition to civilian control over armed forces, the fight against terrorism, and the strengthening of the independent media. Subjects that touch upon human rights and rule of law in Ukraine also came up in the course of the meetings, including human trafficking, the upcoming March 31 parliamentary elections, and the unsolved case of murdered independent journalist Georgiy Gongadze. In response to a question by Commission staff about the possibility for the establishment of an independent commission of international experts into the Gongadze case, Prosecutor General Potebenko responded that he was interested in a full, open investigation and noted that foreign experts have been enlisted. He then questioned the motives of the United States in raising this case and called upon the U.S. Congress to assist in facilitating the extradition of Mykola Melnychenko, claiming that his extradition would speed up the investigation of the murder. Melnychenko was President Kuchma’s bodyguard whose secret recordings of conversations in the President’s office appear to link implicate him and top officials with the murder of Gongadze. Melnychenko was granted refugee status in the United States last April. Focusing on the upcoming elections and their potential in the consolidation of democracy in Ukraine, Helsinki Commission staff also met with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Carlos Pascual, and members of his staff, Agency for International Development (AID) officials, the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, representative of several Ukrainian political parties, and non-governmental organizations. On February 7, 2002, Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) introduced 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. Senate Helsinki Commissioners Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have cosponsored this resolution. Earlier, on January 29, Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), joined by Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA), introduced a companion resolution – H. Res. 339 – in the House.

  • Anti-Terrorism Conference Held in Bishkek

    By Janice Helwig Policy Advisor The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – together with the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP) – organized the Bishkek International Conference on Enhancing Security and Stability in Central Asia from December 13-14, 2001 to discuss ways in which the Central Asian countries can contribute to the global fight against terrorism. The conference was a step in implementing the OSCE Action Plan for Combating Terrorism, adopted by the OSCE participating States at the Bucharest Ministerial Meeting earlier in December. The meeting culminated with the adoption of a political declaration and an action program outlining areas where international assistance is particularly needed. (All documents are available on the OSCE website at www.osce.org) The conference also gave State authorities a chance to share experiences and ideas with each other; Spain and the United Kingdom, in particular, discussed lessons they had learned in combating terrorism in their countries. OSCE States had the opportunity to exchange views with countries not normally included in OSCE meetings, such as Pakistan, Iran, India, and China. The goal of the conference was to progress from discussion to action by identifying concrete areas for international assistance to Central Asia in fighting terrorism. The success of the conference depends on whether OSCE States and international organizations follow up on the areas identified and come forward with projects and funding. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev opened the meeting, and Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Imanaliev also participated. In addition to OSCE participating States, then Chairman-in-Office Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana attended the conference, as did representatives from several OSCE Institutions – including High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, Director of ODIHR Gerard Stoudmann, OSCE Secretary General Jan Kubis, and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice-President Ahmet Tan. In addition to UNODCCP, several other international organizations participated, including the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). President Akaev stressed the importance of international support for a neutral Afghanistan that will no longer be a haven for extremism, drugs, or terrorism. Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian states had been pointing out the potential for violence, terrorism, and extremism to spill over from Afghanistan for several years, he noted, but the international community had taken no preventive steps. International efforts to combat terrorism now need to be more proactive. Poverty must be addressed throughout the region in order to minimize the possibility of its being exploited by terrorists to gain followers. All Central Asian states asked for technical and financial assistance, particularly to fight drug trafficking and organized crime, which are often sources of funding for terrorist organizations. The U.S. delegation was co-headed by Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, and Steven Monblatt, Deputy Coordinator in the State Department Office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism. Other members of the delegation included representatives from the State Department’s Bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and of International and Law Enforcement Affairs, as well as a representative of the CSCE. Ambassador Minikes summed up the U.S. position in his closing statement, “We must ensure that our societies are ones in which terrorists cannot thrive, that our societies are ones in which human rights are respected, and in which rule of law, freedom of expression, tolerance, and democracy strengthen stability. As so many noted in Bishkek, societies of inclusion, with economic opportunities for all, pluralistic debate, a political commitment to conflict resolution, and where integration does not mean losing one's identity, are those where extremists have the least chance of generating sympathy and support from the moderate majority.” Other OSCE States discussed the importance of a concerted international effort against terrorism that includes fostering human rights, the rule of law, and economic development. The delegations of the United Kingdom and Spain shared their experiences fighting terrorism. The UK underscored that, based on lessons learned in Northern Ireland, respect for rule of law and human rights must be the basis for any approach to fighting terrorism; otherwise, authorities lose the moral high ground and the support of moderates. In addition, free political debate is essential to provide a peaceful alternative for dissenting views and prevent terrorists from gaining the support of those who share their views but not their methods. ODIHR Director Stoudmann stressed the need for caution as new procedures and legislation are put in place to combat terrorism; government authorities should not, above all, use terrorism as an excuse to rid themselves of opposition or dissent, he suggested. He offered ODIHR’s services in reviewing draft anti-terrorism legislation to ensure that international standards are upheld. In the political declaration, states participating in the conference pledged to work together against terrorism in full conformity with their OSCE commitments and fully respect human rights and the rule of law. They rejected the identification of terrorism with any particular religion or culture. They also noted that, as a neighbor to Afghanistan, the Central Asian region has been exposed to specific challenges and threats to security and therefore needs particular assistance in combating terrorism. The program of action outlined the following priorities for concrete programs: Promoting ratification and implementation of international conventions related to combating terrorism; Enhancing cooperation between both national and international agencies involved in combating terrorism and in fighting crime; Adopting national anti-money laundering legislation and create corresponding structures; Increasing cooperation in the protection of human rights and in strengthening rule of law and democratic institutions; Assisting judicial systems through training and strengthening independence; Fostering political dialogue, including through political parties, civil society, and free media; Addressing economic problems, including through programs to attract investment; Assisting Central Asian states in controlling their borders, particularly with regard to drug trafficking; and Encouraging joint training and operational activities among the countries of Central Asia.

  • Introduction of S. Res. 205 on Parliamentary Elections in Ukraine

    Mr. President, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I today am introducing a resolution urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections. I am pleased to be joined by fellow Commissioners Dodd and Brownback. Several of our colleagues from the House have introduced a companion resolution. Ukraine's success as an independent, democratic state is vital to the stability and security in Europe, and that country has, over the last decade, enjoyed a strong relationship with the United States. The Helsinki Commission 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. Ukraine enjoys goodwill in the Congress and remains one of our largest recipients of assistance in the world. Clearly, there is a genuine desire that Ukraine succeed as an independent, democratic, stable and economically successful state.   It is against this backdrop that I introduce this resolution, as a manifestation of our concern about Ukraine's direction at this critical juncture. These parliamentary elections will be an important indication of whether Ukraine moves forward rather than backslides on the path to democratic development. Indeed, there has been growing cause for concern about Ukraine's direction over the last few years. Last May, I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing: “Ukraine at the Crossroads: Ten Years After Independence.'' Witnesses at that hearing testified about problems confronting Ukraine's democratic development, including high-level corruption, the controversial conduct of authorities in the investigation of murdered investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and other human rights problems. I had an opportunity to meet Mrs. Gongadze and her daughters who attended that hearing. While there has been progress over the last few months with respect to legislation designed to strengthen the rule of law, it is too early to assert that Ukraine is once again moving in a positive direction. With respect to the upcoming elections, on the positive side we have seen the passage of a new elections law which, while not perfect, has made definite improvements in providing safeguards to meet Ukraine's international commitments. However, there are already concerns about the elections, with increasing reports of violations of political rights and freedoms during the pre-campaign period, many of them documented in reports recently released by the non-partisan, non-government Committee on Voters of Ukraine, CVU.   It is important for Ukraine that there not be a repeat of the 1999 presidential elections which the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, stated were marred by violations of the Ukrainian election law and failed to meet a significant number of commitments on the conduct of elections set out in the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document. Therefore, this resolution urges the Ukrainian Government to enforce impartially the new election law and to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections and to address issues identified by the OSCE report on the 1999 presidential election such as state interference in the campaign and pressure on the media. The upcoming parliamentary elections clearly present Ukraine with an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to OSCE principles. The resolution we introduce today is an expression of the importance of these parliamentary elections, which could serve as an important stepping-stone in Ukraine's efforts to become a fully integrated member of the Europe-Atlantic community of nations.   SENATE RESOLUTION 205--URGING THE GOVERNMENT OF UKRAINE TO ENSURE A DEMOCRATIC, TRANSPARENT, AND FAIR ELECTION PROCESS LEADING UP TO THE MARCH 31, 2002, PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS   Mr. Campbell (for himself, Mr. Dodd, and Mr. Brownback) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations: S. Res. 205 Whereas Ukraine stands at a critical point in its development to a fully democratic society, and the parliamentary elections on March 31, 2002, its third parliamentary elections since becoming independent more than 10 years ago, will play a significant role in demonstrating whether Ukraine continues to proceed on the path to democracy or experiences further setbacks in its democratic development;   Whereas the Government of Ukraine can demonstrate its commitment to democracy by conducting a genuinely free and fair parliamentary election process, in which all candidates have access to news outlets in the print, radio, television, and Internet media, and nationally televised debates are held, thus enabling the various political parties and election blocs to compete on a level playing field and the voters to acquire objective information about the candidates;   Whereas a flawed election process, which contravenes commitments of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on democracy and the conduct of elections, could potentially slow Ukraine's efforts to integrate into western institutions;   Whereas in recent years, government corruption and harassment of the media have raised concerns about the commitment of the Government of Ukraine to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, while calling into question the ability of that government to conduct free and fair elections; Whereas Ukraine, since its independence in 1991, has been one of the largest recipients of United States foreign assistance;   Whereas $154,000,000 in technical assistance to Ukraine was provided under Public Law 107-115 (the Kenneth M. Ludden Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, Fiscal Year 2002), a $16,000,000 reduction in funding from the previous fiscal year due to concerns about continuing setbacks to needed reform and the unresolved deaths of prominent dissidents and journalists;   Whereas Public Law 107-115 requires a report by the Department of State on the progress by the Government of Ukraine in investigating and bringing to justice individuals responsible for the murders of Ukrainian journalists;   Whereas the disappearance and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze on September 16, 2000, remains unresolved;   Whereas the presidential election of 1999, according to the final report of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of OSCE on that election, was marred by violations of Ukrainian election law and failed to meet a significant number of commitments on democracy and the conduct of elections included in the OSCE 1990 Copenhagen Document;   Whereas during the 1999 presidential election campaign, a heavy pro-incumbent bias was prevalent among the state-owned media outlets, members of the media viewed as not in support of the president were subject to harassment by government authorities, and pro-incumbent campaigning by state administration and public officials was widespread and systematic;   Whereas the Law on Elections of People's Deputies of Ukraine, signed by President Leonid Kuchma on October 30, 2001, was cited in a report of the ODIHR dated November 26, 2001, as making improvements in Ukraine's electoral code and providing safeguards to meet Ukraine's commitments on democratic elections, although the Law on Elections remains flawed in a number of important respects, notably by not including a role for domestic nongovernmental organizations to monitor elections; Whereas according to international media experts, the Law on Elections defines the conduct of an election campaign in an ambiguous manner and could lead to arbitrary sanctions against media operating in Ukraine;   Whereas the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) on December 13, 2001, rejected a draft Law on Political Advertising and Agitation, which would have limited free speech in the campaign period by giving too many discretionary powers to government bodies, and posed a serious threat to the independent media;   Whereas the Department of State has dedicated $4,700,000 in support of monitoring and assistance programs for the 2002 parliamentary elections;   Whereas the process for the 2002 parliamentary elections has reportedly been affected by apparent violations during the period prior to the official start of the election campaign on January 1, 2002; and   Whereas monthly reports for November and December of 2001 released by the Committee on Voters of Ukraine (CVU), an indigenous, nonpartisan, nongovernment organization that was established in 1994 to monitor the conduct of national election campaigns and balloting in Ukraine , cited five major types of violations of political rights and freedoms during the pre-campaign phase of the parliamentary elections, including-- (1) use of government position to support particular political groups; (2) government pressure on the opposition and on the independent media; (3) free goods and services given in order to sway voters; (4) coercion to join political parties and pressure to contribute to election campaigns; and (5) distribution of anonymous and compromising information about political opponents:   Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate— (1) acknowledges the strong relationship between the United States and Ukraine since Ukraine's independence more than 10 years ago, while understanding that Ukraine can only become a full partner in western institutions when it fully embraces democratic principles; (2) expresses its support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to promote democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights in Ukraine; (3) urges the Government of Ukraine to enforce impartially the new election law, including provisions calling for— (A) the transparency of election procedures; (B) access for international election observers; (C) multiparty representation on election commissions; (D) equal access to the media for all election participants; (E) an appeals process for electoral commissions and within the court system; and (F) administrative penalties for election violations; (4) urges the Government of Ukraine to meet its commitments on democratic elections, as delineated in the 1990 Copenhagen Document of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with respect to the campaign period and election day, and to address issues identified by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of OSCE in its final report on the 1999 presidential election, such as state interference in the campaign and pressure on the media; and (5) calls upon the Government of Ukraine to allow election monitors from the ODIHR, other participating states of OSCE, and private institutions and organizations, both foreign and domestic, full access to all aspects of the parliamentary election process, including— (A) access to political events attended by the public during the campaign period; (B) access to voting and counting procedures at polling stations and electoral commission meetings on election day, including procedures to release election results on a precinct by precinct basis as they become available; and (C) access to postelection tabulation of results and processing of election challenges and complaints

  • Alarming Developments for Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan

    Mr. Speaker, troubling amendments to the current Kazakh law on religion await President Nursultan Nazarbayev's signature to enter into force. Both the lower and upper houses of the Kazakh parliament passed the amendments without any substantive modifications. As a result, if President Nazarbayev signs the legislation into law during the ten-day window, Kazakhstan would seriously undermine its commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice their religion or belief. Introduced without public consultation in late November 2001, the amendments passed the lower house on January 17 and the upper house on January 31 of this year. The sudden rush to passage was surprising. Kazakhstan had been working with the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts for Freedom of Religion or Belief to craft a law in harmony with its OSCE commitments. In fact, an earlier draft heavily criticized by the Advisory Panel was withdrawn in August 2001. The Advisory Panel issued a report on the latest draft on January 16, 2002, highlighting serious deficiencies in the text. However, it appears little heed was given to their critique. Reportedly, the executive branch pushed vigorously for legislation providing stricter controls on minority religious groups, which would explain the rapid consideration. In response to these unfolding events, myself, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell and six other Commissioners of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, wrote President Nazarbayev last week about these developments. The text of that letter, which I am submitting for the RECORD, highlights several, but not all problematic elements of the recently passed legislation. Of particular note are the increased hurdles for registration and vaguely worded articles, which could allow for arbitrary denials of registration for religious groups, and consequently their legal existence. Accordingly, there is great concern for the future of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, whether for Muslims or Christians. Mr. Speaker, in the letter we respectfully asked President Nazarbayev not to sign the amendments into law. Our concerns are not based on mere supposition; related laws and regulations have been utilized to suppress faith communities in Kazakhstan. For example, this past summer Article 375 of the Administrative Code was introduced, requiring the registration of all religious groups and including language penalizing unregistered religious groups. Police have since justified several raids on religious meetings citing Article 375, resulting in harassment and imprisonment as well as reported beatings and torture. Actions late last year against unregistered Baptist pastors is an illustrative example. On October 27, 2001, Pastor Asylbek Nurdanov, a Baptist leader in the Kyzyl-Orda regional city of Kazalinsk, went to a police station after his church was raided for failing to register. Once there, he was reportedly severely beaten and stripped, with one officer attempting to strangle him with a belt. Another threatened to cut off his tongue with scissors if he did not renounce his faith. It was also reported that on November 10, Pastor Nurdanov was forcibly taken and detained in a psychiatric hospital in Kyzyl-Orda. While he was released on November 16, such abuse is unacceptable. Other reports of police harassment and detention of Baptist pastors who have not registered their faith communities also exist. For example, on September 25, 2001, the Aktobe public prosecutor initiated legal proceedings against Baptist Pastor Vasily Kliver on the charge of ``evading the registration of a religious community.'' In October, Baptist pastor Valery Pak was jailed in Kyzyl-Orda for five days on the same charge. These reports of harassment, torture and detention indicate a serious failure to uphold Kazakhstan's human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State. As is evident, our concerns about Kazakh authorities utilizing the proposed amendment's restrictive nature to harass, if not condemn, religious groups are borne out by past practice in Kazkahstan. Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that President Nazarbayev will honor the obligations his nation freely chose to uphold as a participating OSCE state and not sign the amendments into law. Mr. Speaker, I request that the text of the letter sent to President Nazarbayev last week be included in the Record. January 30, 2002. His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana, Kazakhstan. Dear President Nazarbayev: The OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion and Belief issued a review of the proposed amendments on January 16, 2002. The review found the proposed amendments, while an improvement from an earlier draft withdrawn in August 2001, seriously deficient in many respects. In addition, the OSCE Centre in Almaty has stated the current religion law meets international standards and found no justification for initiating the new provisions. Therefore, we believe the remarks contained in the OSCE Advisory Panel critique should be followed fully. Problematic areas include, but are not limited to, permitting the registration of Muslim groups and the building of mosques only after a recommendation of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan. In addition, the number of individuals required to form a religious association would increase from 10 to 50, regardless of religion. Furthermore, the proposed amendments would permit dissolution of a religious group should individual members of the group commit repeated violations of the law. Each of these examples would allow the government to arbitrarily deny registration, and thereby legal existence, on specious legal grounds not in harmony with OSCE commitments. Reportedly, your government's justification for the new requirements in the current amendments, which create hurdles for registration, is to combat religious extremism. Yet the definition of "religious extremism'' in the amendments is vague and inherently problematic, potentially categorizing and prohibiting groups on the basis of their beliefs, rather than on their having committed illegal actions. Such vague language would allow the arbitrary interpretation of a group's beliefs and uneven implementation of the law. Our fear of Kazakh authorities harshly employing new requirements against religious groups is not unfounded. While the existing religion law does not require registration of faith communities, Article 375 of the Administrative Code, a provision added last year, requires the registration of faith communities. Since the promulgation of that article, we have received several reports of unregistered groups being penalized through criminal sanctions, as well as individuals being beaten while in custody. The harassment, detention and beating of individuals for merely belonging to unregistered religious groups, as well as disproportionate criminal charges for an administrative violation, are in direct violation of OSCE commitments. In calling for these actions, we remind you of the 1991 Moscow Document in which the OSCE participating States declared that "issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern'' and "are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.'' It is in this light that these requests are made. Last autumn, your government made a wise decision by choosing to honor its OSCE commitments and withdrawing the earlier version of the amendments. Recognizing the crucial importance that the very highest standards of religious freedom and human rights agreed to and proclaimed in various Helsinki documents be upheld, we respectfully urge you to take similar steps and not sign the amendments into law, should they pass the Senate without substantive modification. Sincerely, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S. Chairman Christopher H. Smith, M.C. Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer, M.C.; Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.; Zach Wamp, M.C.; Robert B. Aderholt, M.C.; Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.; Louise McIntosh Slaughter, M.C.  

  • Alarming Developments for Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan

    Mr. Speaker, troubling amendments to the current Kazakh law on religion await President Nursultan Nazarbayev's signature to enter into force. Both the lower and upper houses of the Kazakh parliament passed the amendments without any substantive modifications. As a result, if President Nazarbayev signs the legislation into law during the ten-day window, Kazakhstan would seriously undermine its commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice their religion or belief. Introduced without public consultation in late November 2001, the amendments passed the lower house on January 17 and the upper house on January 31 of this year. The sudden rush to passage was surprising. Kazakhstan had been working with the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts for Freedom of Religion or Belief to craft a law in harmony with its OSCE commitments. In fact, an earlier draft heavily criticized by the Advisory Panel was withdrawn in August 2001. The Advisory Panel issued a report on the latest draft on January 16, 2002, highlighting serious deficiencies in the text. However, it appears little heed was given to their critique. Reportedly, the executive branch pushed vigorously for legislation providing stricter controls on minority religious groups, which would explain the rapid consideration. In response to these unfolding events, myself, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell and six other Commissioners of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, wrote President Nazarbayev last week about these developments. The text of that letter, which I am submitting for the RECORD, highlights several, but not all problematic elements of the recently passed legislation. Of particular note are the increased hurdles for registration and vaguely worded articles, which could allow for arbitrary denials of registration for religious groups, and consequently their legal existence. Accordingly, there is great concern for the future of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, whether for Muslims or Christians. Mr. Speaker, in the letter we respectfully asked President Nazarbayev not to sign the amendments into law. Our concerns are not based on mere supposition; related laws and regulations have been utilized to suppress faith communities in Kazakhstan. For example, this past summer Article 375 of the Administrative Code was introduced, requiring the registration of all religious groups and including language penalizing unregistered religious groups. Police have since justified several raids on religious meetings citing Article 375, resulting in harassment and imprisonment as well as reported beatings and torture. Actions late last year against unregistered Baptist pastors is an illustrative example. On October 27, 2001, Pastor Asylbek Nurdanov, a Baptist leader in the Kyzyl-Orda regional city of Kazalinsk, went to a police station after his church was raided for failing to register. Once there, he was reportedly severely beaten and stripped, with one officer attempting to strangle him with a belt. Another threatened to cut off his tongue with scissors if he did not renounce his faith. It was also reported that on November 10, Pastor Nurdanov was forcibly taken and detained in a psychiatric hospital in Kyzyl-Orda. While he was released on November 16, such abuse is unacceptable. Other reports of police harassment and detention of Baptist pastors who have not registered their faith communities also exist. For example, on September 25, 2001, the Aktobe public prosecutor initiated legal proceedings against Baptist Pastor Vasily Kliver on the charge of "evading the registration of a religious community.'' In October, Baptist pastor Valery Pak was jailed in Kyzyl-Orda for five days on the same charge. These reports of harassment, torture and detention indicate a serious failure to uphold Kazakhstan's human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State. As is evident, our concerns about Kazakh authorities utilizing the proposed amendment's restrictive nature to harass, if not condemn, religious groups are borne out by past practice in Kazkahstan. Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that President Nazarbayev will honor the obligations his nation freely chose to uphold as a participating OSCE state and not sign the amendments into law. Mr. Speaker, I request that the text of the letter sent to President Nazarbayev last week be included in the Record.   January 30, 2002. His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana, Kazakhstan.   Dear President Nazarbayev: The OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion and Belief issued a review of the proposed amendments on January 16, 2002. The review found the proposed amendments, while an improvement from an earlier draft withdrawn in August 2001, seriously deficient in many respects. In addition, the OSCE Centre in Almaty has stated the current religion law meets international standards and found no justification for initiating the new provisions. Therefore, we believe the remarks contained in the OSCE Advisory Panel critique should be followed fully. Problematic areas include, but are not limited to, permitting the registration of Muslim groups and the building of mosques only after a recommendation of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan. In addition, the number of individuals required to form a religious association would increase from 10 to 50, regardless of religion. Furthermore, the proposed amendments would permit dissolution of a religious group should individual members of the group commit repeated violations of the law. Each of these examples would allow the government to arbitrarily deny registration, and thereby legal existence, on specious legal grounds not in harmony with OSCE commitments. Reportedly, your government's justification for the new requirements in the current amendments, which create hurdles for registration, is to combat religious extremism. Yet the definition of "religious extremism'' in the amendments is vague and inherently problematic, potentially categorizing and prohibiting groups on the basis of their beliefs, rather than on their having committed illegal actions. Such vague language would allow the arbitrary interpretation of a group's beliefs and uneven implementation of the law. Our fear of Kazakh authorities harshly employing new requirements against religious groups is not unfounded. While the existing religion law does not require registration of faith communities, Article 375 of the Administrative Code, a provision added last year, requires the registration of faith communities. Since the promulgation of that article, we have received several reports of unregistered groups being penalized through criminal sanctions, as well as individuals being beaten while in custody. The harassment, detention and beating of individuals for merely belonging to unregistered religious groups, as well as disproportionate criminal charges for an administrative violation, are in direct violation of OSCE commitments. In calling for these actions, we remind you of the 1991 Moscow Document in which the OSCE participating States declared that "issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern'' and "are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.'' It is in this light that these requests are made. Last autumn, your government made a wise decision by choosing to honor its OSCE commitments and withdrawing the earlier version of the amendments. Recognizing the crucial importance that the very highest standards of religious freedom and human rights agreed to and proclaimed in various Helsinki documents be upheld, we respectfully urge you to take similar steps and not sign the amendments into law, should they pass the Senate without substantive modification. Sincerely, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S. Chairman Christopher H. Smith, M.C. Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer, M.C.; Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.; Zach Wamp, M.C.; Robert B. Aderholt, M.C.; Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.; Louise McIntosh Slaughter, M.C.  

  • Commission Holds Hearing on Human Rights in Kyrgyzstan

    By Michael Ochs, CSCE Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission, in its most recent of a series of hearings on Central Asia, examined the state of human rights and democracy in Kyrgyzstan. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), who chaired the hearing, voiced concern about the regression in democratic reforms, as well as disturbing trends involving election rigging, high-level corruption, and the crackdown on the opposition and independent media. Commission members Reps. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) also participated in the hearing on December 12. “In the last few years, almost all of the opposition and independent newspapers have been forced to close after losing lawsuits when officials accused of corruption launched slander cases against media outlets,” Smith said. Considering that Kyrgyzstan was once viewed as the most democratic state in Central Asia, the turnaround was particularly disheartening; in fact, Co-Chairman Smith observed, “I think it would be fair to say that Kyrgyzstan, under the leadership of Askar Akaev, is the most disappointing country in the former USSR.” Commissioner Pitts noted his disappointment with the tempo of democratization in Kyrgyzstan but called for continued engagement with the government to encourage reforms. “If we are to be an honest partner with Kyrgyzstan, we must not miss opportunities to encourage the good that has been done,” Pitts said. “We must look at Kyrgyzstan and other countries with promise in the region not only from OSCE standards, but also as a potential leader in building regional cooperation.” In prepared remarks, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) expressed particular concern over corruption: “The former Soviet republics, as is widely known, are notorious for corruption. Kyrgyzstan is no exception. On August 11, the Kyrgyz Prime Minister – not an opposition politician but the head of government – described efforts by law-enforcement bodies to counter corruption, smuggling and economic crime as ‘total disaster.’ He attributed that failure to the fact that most criminal groups have protectors within the law-enforcement bodies and estimated financial losses from smuggling to be in the millions of dollars annually.” Ranking Commission Member Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) similarly observed, “There is good reason to be concerned about terrorism. But Central Asian leaders have, up to now, contributed significantly to their own security problems by stifling political discourse, by rigging elections, and by not permitting the development of open societies that could provide an outlet for discontent and freedom of expression. It seems to me that if Washington lets these leaders shift the focus of relations primarily towards security issues, they will deflect attention from their determination to remain in power indefinitely, which is one of the greatest threats to democratization and stability in the region.” Hearing witnesses were Lynn Pascoe, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs; His Excellency Baktibek Abdrisaev, Kyrgyzstan’s Ambassador to the United States; Dr. Martha Olcott, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Natalia Ablova, Director of the Kyrgyz-American Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law in Bishkek. Co-Chairman Smith focused specific attention on the plight of opposition figure Felix Kulov, leader of the Ar-Namys Party, who has been in jail since January 2001. As the leading rival of Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, Kulov has suffered the consequences of attempting to engage in normal electoral politics in an increasingly authoritarian environment. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations consider Felix Kulov a political prisoner. Kyrgyz authorities barred Kulov’s party from participating in the February 2000 parliamentary election. Kulov ran as an independent and made it into the second round but, according to official results, lost the runoff. The OSCE’s election report documented rampant vote fraud designed to keep Kulov from winning and, in an unusual move, openly questioned the results in his district. After the election, Kulov – a former vice-president, minister, governor and mayor – was arrested in March 2000. Remarkably, a military court acquitted him in August. Kulov then sought to run in the October 2000 presidential election, but he withdrew from the race rather than take a Kyrgyz-language test that many observers believed had been mandated specifically to complicate his campaign. Subsequently, prosecutors who had appealed his acquittal indicted him again, and this time secured a conviction. On January 22, 2001, a closed military court sentenced Kulov to a seven-year jail term. Kyrgyz authorities have pursued him further, opening yet another criminal case against him, in an obvious effort to remove Kulov from the political arena by any means necessary. Some of Kulov’s relatives now live in New York, and they came to Washington to attend the hearing. Co-Chairman Smith invited his wife, Nailya Kulova, to take the floor and make a brief intervention on human rights problems in Kyrgyzstan and the persecution of her husband. A consistent theme in Rep. Smith’s remarks was the hope that the U.S. war on terrorism, which has led Washington to deepen its ties with Central Asian governments, will not overshadow human rights concerns. Speaking for the State Department, Lynn Pascoe said that since September 11, the U.S. has received “an unprecedented level of support and cooperation from Kyrgyzstan and our other Central Asian partners.” But he pledged that Washington will not cease pressing Bishkek to address human rights concerns and promote democratic reform. Pascoe said that human rights, fair elections, religious freedom, open markets, and foreign investment were indispensable to long-term stability for Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. He added that Secretary of State Colin Powell had planned to raise the case of Felix Kulov with President Akaev during a scheduled trip to Bishkek in December that had to be canceled due to blizzard conditions. For his part, Ambassador Abdrisaev acknowledged there were human rights problems in his country and that reforms may not be proceeding fast enough. But he maintained that Kyrgyzstan was nevertheless making progress and that expectations for a country in a very complex neighborhood after only a decade of independence should not be too high. “The road to building a democracy is a rocky one, and we have been on that road for a mere 10 years. We have from the beginning, however, been dedicated to the ideals of democracy and human rights. We respect and appreciate constructive criticism issuing from human rights and non-governmental organizations,” Abdrisaev concluded. Dr. Olcott took a regional-comparative approach in assessing Kyrgyzstan’s level of democracy. “To say that the situation in Kyrgyzstan is better than that in neighboring countries is damning with faint praise and no solace for those whose lives are currently being trampled on. But, in fact, it remains true,” Olcott said. She concluded that “it is not too late to influence developments...Kyrgyzstan must open up again politically and work toward greater economic transparency, both through the creation of a more independent judiciary and through a more directed and far-reaching campaign against corruption.” In this latter respect, Dr. Olcott urged Kyrgyzstan’s first family to withdraw from commercial activities and “quietly sell off” all their current assets. Discussing the slowness of democratic change, Ms. Ablova bemoaned the call for patience: “We are frequently told by our political elite that in our part of the world people are not ready for democracy.... The process takes time. Therefore, all criticisms, grounded or ungrounded, should be toned down to better times of democratic maturity.” In fact, she maintained, “Fifteen years of my experience in public activism prove that it is not the people, but the political leadership of the country that always waits for better times to implement basic rights and civil liberties.” Ending the hearing, Co-Chairman Smith promised that the Helsinki Commission would continue to keep a close eye on developments in Kyrgyzstan. The Commission’s series on hearings on Central Asia, which began in 1999, will conclude in 2002 with a hearing on Tajikistan.

  • Human Rights in Central Asia

    Mr. Speaker, on Friday, December 21, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev will be meeting with President Bush. Sometime in January, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov is likely to arrive for his visit. The invitations to these Heads of State obviously reflect the overriding U.S. priority of fighting international terrorism and the corresponding emphasis on the strategic importance of Central Asia, which until September 11 had been known largely as a resource-rich, repressive backwater.   As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have chaired a series of hearings in recent years focused on human rights and democratization in the Central Asian region.   Clearly, we need the cooperation of many countries, including Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors, in this undertaking. But we should not forget, as we conduct our multidimensional campaigns, two vitally important points: first, Central Asian leaders need the support of the West at least as much as we need them.   Unfortunately, Central Asian presidents seem to have concluded that they are indispensable and that we owe them for allowing us to use their territory and bases in this fight against the terrorists and those who harbor them. I hope Washington does not share this misapprehension. By striking against the radical Islamic threat to their respective security and that of the entire region, we have performed a huge service for Central Asian leaders.   Second, one of the main lessons of September 11 and its aftermath is that repression of political opposition and alternative viewpoints is a key cause of terrorism. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have declared that the war on terrorism will not keep the United States from supporting human rights. I am hopeful the administration means what they have said. But given the sudden warming of relations between Washington and Central Asian leaders, I share the concerns voiced in many editorials and op-eds that the United States will downplay human rights in favor of cultivating ties with those in power. More broadly, I fear we will fall into an old pattern of backing repressive regimes and then being linked with them in the minds and hearts of their long-suffering peoples.   In that connection, Mr. Speaker, on the eve of President Nazarbaev's meeting with President Bush and in anticipation of the expected visit by President Karimov, as well as possible visits by other Central Asian leaders, I want to highlight some of the most glaring human rights problems in these countries.   To begin with, corruption is rampant throughout the region, and we should keep this in mind as the administration requests more money for assistance to Central Asian regimes. Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev and some of his closest associates are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for massive corruption. Not surprisingly, to keep any information about high-level misdeeds from the public, most of which lives in dire poverty, the Nazarbaev regime has cracked down hard on the media. Family or business associates of President Nazarbaev control most media outlets in the country, including printing houses which often refuse to print opposition or independent newspapers. Newspapers or broadcasters that try to cover taboo subjects are harassed by the government and editorial offices have had their premises raided. The government also controls the two main Internet service providers and regularly blocks the web site of the Information Analytical Center Eurasia, which is sponsored by Kazakhstan's main opposition party.   In addition, libel remains a criminal offense in Kazakhstan. Despite a growing international consensus that people should not be jailed for what they say or write, President Nazarbaev on May 3 ratified an amendment to the Media Law that increases the legal liability of editors and publishers. Furthermore, a new draft religion law was presented to the Kazakh parliament at the end of November without public consultation. If passed, it would seriously curtail the ability of individuals and groups to practice their religious faith freely.   Uzbekistan is a wholesale violator of human rights. President Karimov allows no opposition parties, permits no independent media, and has refused even to register independent human rights monitoring groups. Elections in Uzbekistan have been a farce and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) rightly refused to observe the last presidential “contest,” in which Karimov's “rival” proclaimed that he was planning to vote for the incumbent.   In one respect, however, Karimov is not lacking, brazen gall. Last week, on the eve of Secretary Powell's arrival in Tashkent, Uzbek authorities announced plans to hold a referendum next month on extending Karimov's tenure in office from five years to seven. Some members of the tightly controlled parliament urged that he be made “president for life.” The timing of the announcement could have had only one purpose: to embarrass our Secretary of State and to show the United States that Islam Karimov will not be cowed by OSCE commitments on democracy and the need to hold free and fair elections.   I am also greatly alarmed by the Uzbek Government's imprisonment of thousands of Muslims, allegedly for participating in extremist Islamic groups, but who are probably “guilty” of the “crime” of attending non-government approved mosques. The number of people jailed on such dubious grounds is estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000, according to Uzbek and international human rights organizations. While I do not dismiss Uzbek government claims about the seriousness of the religion-based insurgency, I cannot condone imprisonment of people based on mere suspicion of religious piety. As U.S. Government officials have been arguing for years, this policy of the Uzbek Government also seems counterproductive to its stated goal of eliminating terrorists. Casting the net too broadly and jailing innocent people will only inflame individuals never affiliated with any terrorist cell.   In addition, Uzbekistan has not only violated individual rights, but has also implemented policies that affect religious groups. For example, the Uzbek Government has consistently used its religion law to frustrate the ability of religious groups to register, placing them in a “Catch-22". By inhibiting registration, the Uzbek Government can harass and imprison individuals for attending unregistered religious meetings, as well as deny property purchases and formal education opportunities. As you can see, Mr. Speaker, Uzbekistan's record on human rights, democratization and religious freedom is unacceptable.   I am not aware that Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev has been invited to Washington, but I would not be too surprised to learn of an impending visit. Once the most democratic state in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has gone the way of its neighbors, with rigged elections, media crackdowns and repression of opposition parties. At a Helsinki Commission hearing I chaired last week on democratization and human rights in Kyrgyzstan, we heard from the wife of Felix Kulov, Kyrgyzstan's leading opposition figure, who has been behind bars since January 2001. Amnesty International and many other human rights groups consider him a political prisoner, jailed because he dared to try to run against President Akaev. Almost all opposition and independent newspapers which have sought to expose high-level corruption have been sued into bankruptcy.   With respect to the proposed religion law the Kyrgyz Parliament is drafting, which would repeal the current law, significant concerns exist. If the draft law were enacted in its current emanation, it would categorize and prohibit groups based on beliefs alone, as well as allow arbitrary decisions in registering religious groups due to the vague provisions of the draft law. I encourage President Akaev to support a law with strong protections for religious freedom. Implementing the modification suggested by the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom would ensure that the draft religion law meets Kyrgyzstan's OSCE commitments.   Mr. Speaker, this morning I had a meeting with Ambassador Meret Orazov of Turkmenistan and personally raised a number of specific human rights cases. Turkmenistan, the most repressive state in the OSCE space, resembles North Korea: while the people go hungry, megalomaniac President Saparmurat Niyazov builds himself palaces and monuments, and is the object of a Stalin-style cult of personality. No opposition of any kind is allowed, and anyone who dares to express a view counter to Niyazov is arrested. Turkmenistan is the only country in the OSCE region where places of worship have been destroyed on government orders; in November 1999 the authorities bulldozed a Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Since then, Niyazov has implemented his plans to provide a virtual bible for his benighted countrymen; apparently, he intends to become their spiritual as well as secular guide and president for life.   Turkmenistan has the worst record on religious freedom in the entire 55-nation OSCE. The systematic abuses that occur almost weekly are an abomination to the internationally recognized values which undergird the OSCE. Recent actions by Turkmen security agents against religious groups, including harassment, torture and detention, represent a catastrophic failure by Turkmenistan to uphold its human rights commitments as a participating OSCE State. In addition, last January, Mukhamed Aimuradov, who has been in prison since 1995, and Baptist pastor Shageldy Atakov, imprisoned since 1999, were not included in an amnesty which freed many prisoners. I hope that the Government of Turkmenistan will immediately and unconditionally release them, as well as all other prisoners of conscience.   Rounding out the Central Asian countries, Tajikistan also presents human rights concerns. A report has recently emerged concerning the government's religious affairs agency in the southern Khatlon region, which borders Afghanistan. According to reliable sources, a memorandum from the religious affairs agency expressed concern about “increased activity” by Christian churches in the region, calling for them to be placed under “the most stringent control.” Tajik Christians fear that this statement of intolerance could be a precursor to persecution. Keston News Service reported that law enforcement officials have already begun visiting registered churches and are trying to find formal grounds to close them down. Additionally, city authorities in the capital Dushanbe have cracked down on unregistered mosques.   Mr. Speaker, as the world focuses on Central Asia states with unprecedented energy, I wanted to bring these serious deficiencies in their commitment to human rights and democracy to the attention of my colleagues. All these countries joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe soon after their independence from the Soviet Union a decade ago. By becoming OSCE participating States, they agreed without reservation to comply with the Helsinki Final Act and all subsequent agreements. These documents cover a wide range of human dimension issues, including clear language on the human right of religious freedom and the right of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief. Unfortunately, as I have highlighted, these countries are failing in their commitment to promote and support human rights, and overall trends in the region are very disturbing.   The goals of fighting terrorism and steadfastly supporting human rights are not dichotomous. It is my hope that the U.S. Government will make issues of human rights and religious freedom paramount in bilateral discussions and public statements concerning the ongoing efforts against terrorism. In this context, the considerable body of OSCE commitments on democracy, human rights and the rule of law should serve as our common standard for our relations with these countries.

  • Do Registration Requirements Thwart Religious Freedom?

    Mr. Speaker, the “Helsinki” Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe recently convened a briefing which examined the policies of various governments which require registration of religious groups and the effect of such policies on the freedom of religious belief and practice. There was evidence that such requirements can be, and often are, a threat to religious freedom among countries in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, mandated to monitor and encourage compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE commitments, I have become alarmed over the past decade by the creation of new laws and regulations in some OSCE countries that serve as a roadblock to the free exercise of religious belief. These actions have not been limited to emerging democracies, but include Western European countries such as Austria. Many of these laws are crafted with the intent to repress religious communities deemed nefarious and dangerous to public safety. One cannot deny that certain groups have hidden behind the veil of religion in perpetrating monstrous and perfidious acts. The September 11th tragedies have been a grim reminder of that. Yet, while history does hold examples of religion employed as a tool for evil, these are exceptions and not the rule. In our own country, during the Civil Rights Movement, religious communities were the driving force in the effort to overturn the immoral “separate but equal” laws and provide legal protections. If strict religious registration laws had existed in this country, government officials could have clamped down on this just movement, possibly delaying long overdue reform. While OSCE commitments do not forbid basic registration of religious groups, governments often use the pretext of “state security” to quell groups espousing views contrary to the ruling powers’ party line. Registration laws are often designed on the premise that minority faiths are inimical to governmental goals. Proponents of more strenuous provisions cite crimes committed by individuals in justifying stringent registration requirements against religious groups, ignoring the fact that criminal laws should be adequate to combat criminal activity. In other situations, some governments have crafted special church-state agreements, or concordats, which exclusively give one religious group powers and rights not available to other communities. By creating tiers or hierarchies, governments run the risk of dispersing privileges and authority in an inequitable fashion, ensuring that other religious groups will never exist on a level playing field, if at all. In a worst case scenario, by officially recognizing “traditional” or “historic” communities, governments can reflect an ambivalence towards minority religious groups. Such ambivalence can, in turn, create an atmosphere in which hostility or violence is perpetrated with impunity. The persistent brutality against Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelical groups in Georgia is an example of State authorities’ failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of such violence. Mr. Speaker, religious registration laws do not operate in a vacuum; other rights, such as freedom of association or freedom of speech, are often enveloped by these provisions. Clamping down on a group’s ability to exist not only contravenes numerous, long-standing OSCE commitments, but can effectively remove from society forces that operate for the general welfare. The recent liquidation of the Salvation Army in Moscow is a lucent example. Who will suffer most? The poor and hungry, who now benefit from the Salvation Army’s ministries of mercy. Each OSCE participating State has committed to full compliance with the provisions enumerated in the various Helsinki documents. The Bush Administration’s commitment to religious freedom has been clearly articulated. In a March 9, 2001 letter, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor, wrote: “President Bush is deeply committed to promoting the right of individuals around the world to practice freely their religious beliefs.” She also expressed her concern about religious discrimination. In a separate letter on March 30th of this year, Vice President Dick Cheney echoed this commitment when he referred to the promotion of religious freedom as “a defining element of the American character.” He went on to declare the Bush Administration’s commitment “to advancing the protection of individual religious freedom as an integral part of our foreign policy agenda.” Since the war on terrorism was declared, the President has made clear the distinction between acts of terrorism and religious practice. In his address to the country, Mr. Bush stated: “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends....... Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.” He further stated, “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.” Accordingly, I believe this administration will not stray from supporting religious freedom during this challenging time. Out of concern about recent developments and trends in the OSCE region, the Helsinki Commission conducted this briefing to discuss registration roadblocks affecting religious freedom. I was pleased by the panel of experts and practitioners assembled who were kind enough to travel from Europe to share their thoughts and insights, including Dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld, a professor of law in The Netherlands and current Co-Chair of the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Dr. Gerhard Robbers, a member of the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts and professor of law in Germany; Mr. Vassilios Tsirbas, interim executive director and senior legal counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice in Strasbourg; and Col. Kenneth Baillie, commanding officer for the Salvation Army in Eastern Europe. Dr. van Bijsterveld made the point that “the assessment of registration from the point of view of religious liberty depends entirely on the function that registration fulfills in the legal system, and the consequences that are attached to registration.” She continued: “A requirement of registration of religious groups as a pre-condition for the lawful exercise of religious freedom is worrisome in the light of international human rights standards. [Needing the government’s] permission for a person to exercise his religion in community with others is, indeed, problematic in the light of internationally acknowledged religious liberty standards. Religious liberty should not be made dependent on a prior government clearance. This touches the very essence of religious liberty.” Dr. Robbers noted that registration of religious communities is often a requirement but “it need not be a roadblock to religious freedom. In fact, it can free the way to more positive religious freedom if correctly performed.” If utilized, “registration and registration procedures must meet certain standards. Registration must be based on equal treatment of all religious communities....... [and] the process of registration must follow due process of law.” He further noted that “religious activity in and as community, must be possible even without being registered as religious community.” He made clear that the minimum number of members required for registration need not be too many and there should be no minimum period of existence before registration is allowed. The third panelist, Mr. Tsirbas, opined, “Within this proliferation of the field of human rights, the Helsinki Final Act is a more than promising note. The commitment to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief for all, without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion, basically summarizes the ..... protection of international and domestic legal documents. Religious liberty stands out as one of those sine qua non conditions for an atmosphere of respect for the rights of individuals or whole communities.” Mr. Tsirbas also stated, “If the protection of the individual is considered the cornerstone of our modern legal system, religious freedom should be considered the cornerstone of all other rights. The right itself is one of the most recent to be recognized and protected, yet it embraces and reflects the inevitable outworking through the course of time of the fundamental truths of belief in the worth of a person.” Lastly, Col. Kenneth Baillie, spokesman for the Salvation Army in Eastern Europe, outlined the experience of registering his organization in Moscow. “In Russia, as of February this year, we are registered nationwide as a centralized religious organization, [however] the city of Moscow is another story. We have been registered as a religious group in Moscow since 1992. In response to the 1997 law, like everyone else, we applied for re-registration , thinking that it would be merely pro forma. Our application documents were submitted, and a staff person in the city Ministry of Justice said everything was in order, we would have our signed and stamped registration in two days. “Two days later,” Col. Baillie continued, “the same staffer called to say, in a sheepish voice, ‘There’s a problem.’ Well, it is now three years later, and there is still a problem. Someone took an ideological decision to deny us, that is absolutely clear to me, and three years of meetings and documents and media statements and legal briefs are all window-dressing. Behind it all is an arbitrary, discriminatory, and secret decision, and to this day I do not know who made the decision, or why.” Based on the difficult experience of trying to register in Moscow and the Salvation Army’s subsequent “liquidation” by a Moscow court, Col. Baillie offered some observations. He noted how “the law’s ambiguity gives public officials the power to invent arbitrary constructions of the law.” Col. Baillie concluded by stating, “We will not give up,” but added he is “understandably skeptical about religious registration law, and particularly the will to uphold what the law says in regard to religious freedom.” Mr. Speaker, this Helsinki Commission briefing offered a clear picture of how the law and practice affecting, registration of religious groups have become critical aspects in the defense of the right to freedom of conscience, religion or belief. No doubt registration requirements can serve as a roadblock which is detrimental to religious freedom. The Commission will continue to monitor this trend among the region’s governments which are instituting more stringent registration requirements and will encourage full compliance with the Helsinki commitments to ensure the protection of this fundamental right.

  • U.S. Special Coordinator for Cyprus Briefs Commission as Talks Renew in Nicosia

    By Chadwick R. Gore, CSCE Staff Advisor U.S. Special Coordinator for Cyprus Ambassador Thomas G. Weston participated in a Commission public briefing in Washington on December 4 just hours after Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot Leader Rauf Denktash resumed contacts in Nicosia, Cyprus. The briefing was moderated in the Cannon House Office Building by Commission Chief of Staff Ron McNamara who opened the discussion by noting that the Cyprus conflict predates the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Final Act, and that Cyprus was an original signatory. McNamara underscored the human dimension of the longstanding conflict. Weston reviewed the outcome of the talks that had transpired that morning between Clerides and Denktash at the residence of the U.N. Chief of Mission in the presence of Mr. Alvaro de Soto, the Special Advisor to the U.N. Secretary General on Cyprus. They agreed that the Secretary General, in the exercise of his mission of good offices, would invite the two leaders to direct talks to be held in Cyprus starting in mid-January 2002 on United Nations premises with no preconditions and with all issues on the table. They are to negotiate in good faith until a comprehensive settlement is achieved, and nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed. Ambassador Weston viewed this as a major step forward in the stagnant Cypriot peace process noting that Clerides would dine at the home of Denktash that evening, an unprecedented event. "Efforts to settle the Cyprus problem have been going on for a long, long time," Weston remarked, describing the process’ evolution since 1999 and its subsequent breakdown, concluding, “I think what you're seeing here is a culmination of a long effort rather than something which just came out of the blue.” “I should make very clear,” said the Ambassador, “that the suggestion for direct talks did come from the Turkish Cypriot leader [and] that needs to be acknowledged. …It's important to remember who actually suggested it and give credit where credit is due.” Weston made clear, “The efforts of all others who have been pushing in this direction, including Greece and Turkey, but all others, are also to be strongly commended. …The efforts of the U.N. Secretary General, his direct involvement in this process repeatedly over the last two-and-a-half years, and the excellent work done by his Special Advisor in getting us to this point—all are to be commended.” While the resumption of talks was of interest, what could be expected to be the outcome was the real focus of the briefing. “What can we expect to come from the process is obviously the key,” said Weston. “I think the fact that these two leaders have agreed to go to direct talks under these circumstances, with no preconditions, all issues on the table, and with a commitment to continue to negotiate in good faith until a comprehensive settlement is achieved, are very dramatic indications of a willingness on the part of both leaders to actually try and get a comprehensive settlement in the short period of time we have available before Cyprus secedes to the European Union. “I do not believe that this should be underestimated in any way in terms of what it indicates about the willingness of these two leaders to move forward.” Ambassador Weston was not prepared to predict whether these resumed contacts would lead to a comprehensive settlement in time to permit a unified Cyprus in the European Union at an early date. On the other hand, he was much more hopeful that that could be achieved. “It is incumbent on all of us interested in a just and durable settlement of the Cyprus problem to redouble our efforts in support of this effort to get a comprehensive settlement in a brief period of time,” Weston concluded. A career Foreign Service Officer since 1969, Weston has served as the special coordinator for Cyprus since August of 1999. Ambassador Weston has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs responsible for multilateral diplomacy with Europe including the U.S. participation in NATO, the OSCE, and the OECD as well as U.S. relations with European Union and the Council of Europe. He has also served as Chargé and Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Mission to the European Communities. A Helsinki Commission delegation visited Cyprus in January of 1998 to assess developments in the security, economic and human dimensions. Members of the delegation held a series of meetings with officials, international peacekeepers, and private citizens.

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