Title

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir to Appear at Helsinki Commission Hearing

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing:

STATE OF MEDIA FREEDOM IN THE OSCE REGION

Thursday, July 25, 2019
3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Capitol Visitor Center
Room HVC-210

Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission

Journalists working in the 57 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) are facing increased risks to their lives and safety. According to a new report released the Office of the Representative for Freedom of the Media, in the first six months of 2019, two journalists have been killed and an additional 92 attacks and threats—including one bombing, three shootings, and seven arson attacks—have targeted members of the media.

In his first appearance before Congress, OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir will assess the fragile state of media freedom within the OSCE region. Mr. Desir also will address the number of imprisoned media professionals as well as the violence, threats, and intimidation directed toward female journalists. The hearing will explore the threat posed by disinformation and online content designed to provoke violence and hate. 

Following the hearing, at 5:00 p.m. in Room HVC-200, the Helsinki Commission will host a viewing of the documentary, “A Dark Place,” which details the online harassment of female journalists working in the OSCE region.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
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He reassured the Commission that Georgia fully recognizes the problems in religious persecution and legal and practical actions are being taken to ensure there will be no more violent attacks: “We are hopeful that after all these assignments are executed, we will be in a position to say religion-based intolerance in Georgia has no future and manifestations of religiously motivated violence no longer occur.” Georgia’s security was a pressing issue for Ambassador Mikeladze given intrusions and aggression by the Russian Federation. He encouraged the United States to continue the GTEP and continue the strong rapport between the two nations. Co-Chairman Smith and Commissioner Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) were not satisfied with Ambassador Mikeladze’s explanation and expressed concern regarding the lack of action on the part of the Georgian Government to bring the perpetrators of attacks against minority faiths to justice. Smith issued a strong call to action, explaining the injurious nature to Georgia-U.S. relations of Georgia’s failure to actively stop the mob attacks. Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Baptist Union of Georgia set forth a long list of why and how such violence and hatred could be permitted in a democratic state. In attempting to give an explanation as to why such events have occurred in Georgia, the Bishop observed, “We gained independence but we still have not reached freedom. Old values have gone. New values have not come yet.” Songulashvili remarked, “It is not an absence of religious legislation which causes religious violence and persecution but rather absence of culture, justice and general law.” Despite all the grievances noted, Bishop Songulasvili remained hopeful that there would be progress. He offered four “targets” as a solution for the current religious violence: “Family, Mass Media, School and Teaching Institutions, and Religious Congregations.” He concluded, “Our optimism for the better future should not be overshadowed by the turmoil of the present time.” Mr. Gennadi Gudadze, a Jehovah’s Witness from Tbilisi, testified to the brutality experienced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia, including himself. He noted that “since then [October 1999], there have been 133 separate incidents involving either mob attacks, individual attacks or destruction of property.” Gudadze also pointed out that minimal action has been taken by the authorities against the criminals. He called for a three-pronged solution: apply the law, arrest the perpetrators, and remove the corrupt officials. Dr. Gia Nodia, Director of the Institute for Peace, Development, and Democracy, discussed the interrelationship between security on human rights. 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Jones’ recommendation called for increased western aid, but the burden of progress lays heaviest on Georgia itself. The hearing concluded with a strong statement from Co-Chairman Smith urging the Government of Georgia to work quickly and effectively to eradicate its corruption and religious violence. He concluded his statement with these words, “Our only hope here is to try to promote human rights, democracy, and to protect the sovereignty of Georgia . . . from any forays by Russia.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

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

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

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

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

  • Parliamentary Forum Launches Process to Confront Anti-Semitism

    By Donald B. Kursch, CSCE Senior Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission hosted an inter-Parliamentary Forum December 10, 2002 on Confronting and Combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region. The meeting, held in conjunction with the observance of International Human Rights Day, strengthened the partnership between members of the U.S. and German delegations which began earlier this year in Berlin during the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). This process was launched in response to shared U.S. and German concerns with the upsurge in anti-Semitism in many parts of the 55-nation OSCE region and is designed to encourage parliaments to take decisive actions to counter this disturbing trend. A letter of intent outlining concrete steps to be pursued was signed at the conclusion of the Forum. Chairing the meeting jointly were Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and German Bundestag Member Professor Gert Weisskirchen of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Group. Helsinki Commission Members Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated, with Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY) in attendance. Other German Bundestag participants were Dietmar Nietan of the SPD and Markus Löning of the Liberal Party (FDP). Senator Jerahmiel Grafstein (Liberal Party) of the Senate of Canada also took part in the Forum. In his opening statement, Rep. Smith, who led the U.S. Delegation to Berlin, reaffirmed the principles that were set out in a U.S.-sponsored resolution from the Berlin OSCE PA meeting that anti-Semitism must have no place in the 21st century and that parliaments should “take concrete steps to make this vision a reality.” He expressed the hope that representatives of other parliaments from the OSCE participating States would join this process. Prof. Weisskirchen defined anti-Semitism as a unique kind of racism. He stressed that the threat of ethnic hatred is an affront to the principles of democracy. Weisskirchen suggested that programs with long-term goals would be most effective at combating anti-Semitism and that focusing “on the education, both formal and informal, and on the media and on religion” are vital parts of a preventive strategy. Rep. Cardin spoke to two points raised in the letter of intent. The first was the importance of education as a tool of erasing ignorance and promoting tolerance. The second was the establishment of a “coalition of the willing” to address the rise of anti-Semitic propaganda in the OSCE’s Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, including Egypt. He proposed a parliamentary dialogue with these countries to deal with this problem. Rep. Hastings noted that in his home state of Florida a 1400 percent increase in anti-Semitism occurred this past year and that much of this increase was attributed to people under 21 years of age. Mr. Nietan spoke from the perspective of a member of the younger generation of parliamentarians in the German Bundestag. Like his colleagues, he emphasized youth education as a crucial step in fighting discrimination. Mr. Löning emphasized two points: the need for instilling respect for other peoples, especially minorities, and creating the ability to “deal with the identity of others on an open and fair basis.” Senator Grafstein noted a disturbing increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Canada pointing out that there had been four arson attacks on synagogues during the past year, a number greater than at any time in his country’s history. He underscored his strong support for complementary parliamentary initiatives process and his determination to have the Canadian Parliament adopt a resolution he has introduced condemning anti-Semitism. Three European and three American expert witnesses shared their views and recommendations with the parliamentarians. The first witness was Juliane Danker-Wetzel from the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism of the Technical University in Berlin. She tied the rise of anti-Semitic acts in the European Union states to the recent conflict in the Middle East. Danker-Wetzel pointed to the Internet as an important conduit for disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. She then highlighted how the Arab-Israeli conflict and criticism of Israel is often linked to anti-Semitic attitudes. Ken Jacobson, Associate National Director of the Anti Defamation League began by suggesting the OSCE as an “ideal forum for meaningful action.” He noted a rise in the incidences of hate propaganda, citing the “big lie” which holds that Jews were responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He concluded with ten recommendations for fighting the virus of anti-Semitism, including increased anti-Israel bias and Holocaust awareness education programs, improved monitoring instruments and training for law enforcement and military personnel. Jacobson also recommended that the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 2003 be utilized for a special meeting to stress Holocaust education. Dr. Hanno Loewy, Founder of the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt, argued that the most serious threat of anti-Semitism in Europe derives from the conflicts and discontent that exist in a post-colonial world. He cited as evidence, the large immigrant populations in Europe, who brought with them anti-Semitic beliefs. Loewy recommended that European countries establish legal structures regarding education, tax collection and access to public funds for Europeans of Islamic faith comparable to those that Christians and Jews already have. Ambassador Alfred Moses, former President of the American Jewish Committee, asserted that modern manifestations of hatred towards Jews are rooted in a tradition of anti-Semitism that has plagued Europe for centuries. He argued that anti-Semitism must be defined more broadly than a “purely political phenomenon.” As such, he recommended that the United States and Germany use their influence in organizations such as the OSCE, NATO and the EU to raise anti-Semitism as a top priority to be addressed at the highest levels. Rabbi Israel Singer, President of the World Jewish Congress, highlighted the problem of cynicism and indifference on issues of anti-Semitism by legislators. He deplored how Holocaust restitution efforts were used by some Europeans to justify anti-Semitic attitudes, an increased tendency by European politicians to use anti-Semitic nuances to appeal to certain constituencies, and the lack of balance in the positions of certain international institutions, such as the World Council of Churches, to developments in the Middle East. The final panelist, Dr. Arkadi Vaksberg, Deputy Head of the Moscow PEN Center, recommended that a uniform legal structure be established across Europe and Russia for dealing with issues of human rights. He supported a clear and concrete definition of anti-Semitic acts, as well as creating an international commission to monitor and fight global anti-Semitism on a global basis. Rep. Smith and Prof. Weisskirchen, concluded the Forum by signing a “Letter of Intent” that affirms a commitment to work together closely to fight anti-Semitism and encourage their colleagues in the U.S. Congress, German Bundestag, and in the parliamentary legislative bodies of other OSCE participating States, to adopt an action plan of concrete measures to counter anti-Semitic actions and attitudes. Recommended measures include: the adoption of parliamentary resolutions condemning anti-Semitism; the swift, forceful and public denunciation by parliamentarians of anti-Semitic acts; the enactment and vigorous enforcement of appropriate criminal legislation to punish anti-Semitic actions; the promotion of educational efforts among younger persons to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes; and the creation of an OSCE Parliamentary Assembly-based “coalition of the willing” among OSCE parliamentarians to address anti-Semitic propaganda that appears to be increasing rapidly in a number of countries designated as OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. The signatories pledged to meet again in conjunction with the February 2003 Winter Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna to evaluate progress, seek active support from other parliamentarians and determine how the July 2003 Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to be held in Rotterdam can be best utilized to combat anti-Semitism. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Commission Staff Meet with Georgian Officials While Religious Persecution Persists

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel   United States Helsinki Commission staff held consultations in Tbilisi, Georgia from October 14-16, 2002, with senior government officials, religious groups and NGOs to assess religious freedom and other human rights developments in that country. The discussions specifically focused on the ongoing mob violence against non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups, the prospects for ending the attacks, and what actions the Georgian Government should take to stop the depredations. The trip occurred on the heals of a Commission hearing on democracy, human rights and security in Georgia. During that hearing, Members of Congress raised their concerns regarding the ongoing violence against members of minority religious communities, Georgian authorities’ unwillingness to take action against the perpetrators of violence, and Georgia’s relationship with Russia concerning the Panksi Gorge. Commission Members have also written three letters in as many years to President Eduard Shevardnadze urging him to take concrete steps to quell the violence. The violence against minority religious communities began roughly three years ago, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals all being victimized. Over that period, the frequency and intensity of the attacks have increased. Police have been implicated in the attacks, but as of late, their transgressions consist of omissions, such as reportedly refusing to intervene when notified of assaults in-progress. More recently, the main instigators of mob violence are Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. In addition, demagogic parliamentarians, like Guram Sharadze, have led rallies and made inflammatory statements about the so-called “dangers” of non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups to Georgian society and nationhood. The victimization of minority religious groups is often justified through the language of Georgian nationalism. The small former Soviet Republic is squeezed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Once a desired Soviet vacation destination, Georgia’s economy and infrastructure are crumbling, with the government struggling to provide the most basic of services. For example, there is much debate on whether sufficient gas and electricity will be available to avoid outages during the upcoming winter. Some Georgian public figures and religious leaders apparently see political profit from fighting religious pluralism behind the flag of Georgian nationalism, and non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups and their adherents have been characterized as unpatriotic and dangerous to Georgian society. On October 14, President Shevardnadze and the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II, signed a concordat concretizing the church’s relationship with the state. The Georgian Parliament, by a vote of 203 to one, ratified the concordat, bringing the measure into force. In addition to the questionable legal status of a concordat between a government and an entity lacking both sovereignty and any international legal personality, other problems arise. Foremost, the concordat creates an unbalanced playing field against other religious groups. The agreement grants the Catholicos-Patriarch immunity, excludes Georgian Orthodox clergy from military service and limits the creation of chaplain institutions in both prisons and the military to this one religious group. Also troubling is the provision granting the Georgian Orthodox Church the power to approve licenses for “official symbols and terminology of the Church.” As the concordat appendix enumerates a broad and vague list of items and terms falling under the church’s purview, which includes, inter alia, church buildings, liturgical items, crosses, and theological literature, other religious groups, like the schismatic True Orthodox Church, fear this will limit their ability to operate freely. The concordat is not the only legal issue of concern to minority religious communities, as a draft law on religion is circulating in the Georgian Parliament. The draft law, in its current form, contains several problematic articles. The term “improper proselytism” makes impermissible offers of “material or social benefits” or use of “psycho-ideological influence.” Charges of “improper proselytism” could have criminal repercussions, as Article 155 of the criminal code punishes the “offering of material or social care to attract new members to a religious organization or confession” by a fine or two-years imprisonment. Other troubling portions of the legislation include the creation of a registration scheme for religious groups. The draft law mandates the submission of the names of 50 members, as well as information on the group’s doctrines and activities, “attitude towards the family and marriage issues” and “the peculiarities of the attitude of the adherents towards health.” The draft also restricts the use of “Georgia” or “of Georgia” to groups “operating on the territory of Georgia for not less than 50 years.” Denial of registration can occur if, “as a result of the state religious expertise it is established that the entity is not religious.” Lastly, the draft law would allow the termination of religious activities, if the group is found to violate “state security and public order” or for refusing to “administer medical assistance on religious grounds.” If passed in its current form, the law would violate Georgia’s OSCE commitments, as these provisions appear tailored to ensure the curtailing, if not outright banning, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious communities. While there is a legitimate need to provide religious groups juridical personality, the draft law is too invasive and burdensome. The question is will it ever become law. Several officials and NGOs have indicated their general unhappiness with the current draft, saying it is too liberal for some and too limiting for others, but neither viewpoint has the numbers in the fractious parliament to amend the text. Others opined that with the Georgian Orthodox Church secured through the concordat as the preeminent Georgian faith and considering their dissatisfaction with the draft text, the church will no longer push for the religion law. As an alternative, the Supreme Court Chairman has proposed allowing religious groups to access the simple civil code registration process currently provided for non-profit organizations. The Ministry of Justice is reportedly reviewing this option. In discussions with Commission staff, minority religious community leaders expressed greater concern about the unchecked violence, rather than the future implications under the concordat or law on religion. Their concerns are warranted, as several assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the days immediately following the Commission’s September 24 hearing. Additionally, during the first week of October, villagers in Shemokmedi destroyed a church built by the in independent True Orthodox Church. Georgian officials and NGO representatives offered conflicting opinions on the phenomenon of violence inflicted by Vasili Mkalavishvili. Some view Mkalavishvili as an agent of the Russian Government, whose mission is to further destabilize Georgia. Others believe the Georgian Government and the Georgian Orthodox Church purposefully allow Mkalavishvili and his mobs to run wild. The government may benefit from the mob attacks distracting the Georgian polity from numerous government failures. For the Georgian Orthodox Church, the mobs intimidate and harass religious groups considered competition, and elevates the church as the protector of Georgian heritage and nationhood. However, while it is difficult to establish a direct link between the defrocked Mkalavishvili and the government or the Georgian Orthodox Church, the government appears hesitant to stop the cycle of violence. Commission staff also met with officials of the State Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Security Council and the Ombudsman for Human Rights, as well as members of the Supreme Court and several parliamentarians. Each admitted the mob violence was a serious problem, but some were quick to raise what they believe to be contributing factors, such as lack of education, poor economic situation, weak government, or Russian aggression. Government officials and religious groups agreed that if authorities had immediately arrested Mkalavishvili and his thugs three years ago, the problem would not exist today. Georgian officials, for the most part, seem fearful of repercussions which may result from any conviction against mob leaders. Nevertheless, most officials admitted that if authorities arrested, tried and jailed the top perpetrators, even for only six months, the violence would end. Commission staff expressed to Georgian officials the danger of allowing the brutality to continue and escalate, which could have repercussions for the government and the future of Georgia. Staff also made clear the great concern Commissioners maintain about the unwillingness of Georgian authorities to prosecute and jail the perpetrators of violence against members of minority faiths. Commission staff pushed Georgian officials for the provision of proper security for the ongoing trial of Mkalavishvili. In response, each of the Georgian officials repeated their resolution to thwart the violence, with both Georgia’s Ministry of Interior and National Security Council promising adequate police protection. Mkalavishvili’s trial, which started in January of this year, has been postponed five times, with Mkalavishvili’s mob crashing the courtroom and assaulting those in attendance. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) wrote President Eduard Shevardnadze in late October 2002, seeking to reaffirmation of these guarantees. To the credit of the Georgian Government, they have provided adequate security personnel at the subsequent court proceedings of Mkalavishvili’s case. However, during a November 16th hearing, Mkalavishvili’s followers verbally assaulted and forcibly removed a reporter from Radio Free Europe. Security personnel did not intervene. In addition, one of the accused perpetrators reportedly was carrying a concealed firearm inside the courtroom. In closing, there is little hope for religious freedom if the Georgian Government remains unwilling to arrest, prosecute and jail the perpetrators of the mob attacks. While the providing of proper security at the Mkalavishvili trial is a welcomed step, it is long overdue. Considering the hundreds of criminal complaints against Mkalavishvili and other perpetrators of mob violence, the government must bring more prosecutions on serious criminal charges. It is the Georgian Government’s duty to ensure that all its citizens, regardless of their faith, can enjoy religious freedom, as well as personal and communal security. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

  • Parliamentary Forum: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region

    This briefing, which Commissioner Christopher Smith (NJ – 04) presided over, was a follow-up to an earlier Commission conference in Berlin, which focused on the rising tide of anti-Semitic violence and, subsequently, catalyzed so much of what the Commission had been doing on the issue of rising anti-Semitism. The conference in Berlin took place in July of 2001. The “Parliamentary Forum: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region” briefing was held on International Human Rights Day, and was part of an ongoing effort by the Commission to address anti-Semitic violence, more specifically necessitated by vandalism against Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, cultural property, mob assaults, firebombing, and gunfire. Witnesses and participants of the briefing included members of the German Bundestag.

  • U.S. Delegation Pursues Broad Agenda at Berlin Parliamentary Assembly Session

    By Chadwick R. Gore CSCE Staff Advisor The United States delegation to the 11th Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in (OSCE PA) hosted by the German Bundestag in Berlin, July 6-10, 2002, contributed to the work of the meeting through the introduction of measures on topics ranging from anti-Semitic violence in the OSCE region to developments in Southeastern Europe and the deteriorating situation in Belarus. Attended by nearly 300 parliamentarians from over 50 countries, the OSCE PA unanimously adopted the Berlin Declaration on the political, economic and the human rights aspects of the central theme of the Session: “Confronting Terrorism: a Global Challenge in the 21st Century.” The U.S. Delegation was headed by Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) with Commissioner Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) serving as Vice Chairman. Other Commissioners participating were Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), OSCE PA Vice President Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), and Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA). Other delegates from the House of Representatives were Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel (D-PA), Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D-IL), Rep. Thomas G. Tancredo (R-CO), and Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA). Although OSCE PA President Adrian Severin attempted to register and seat a Belarus Delegation with “provisional” badges, following a raucous debate the Assembly denied seating members of the National Assembly. The debate expressed continued concern from many parliamentarians about the severe irregularities in Belarus’ 2000 parliamentary elections. Commissioners Smith, Hoyer and Cardin took an active part in the debate. Mr. Severin’s motion was defeated in a close vote. The matter is expected to be revisited at the Assembly’s Winter Session scheduled to be held in Vienna in February 20-21, 2003. The opening ceremonies included addresses by OSCE PA President Adrian Severin, President of the German Bundestag Wolfgang Thierse, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Gerhard Schröder and the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE Foreign Minister of Portugal Antonio Martins da Cruz. Mr. da Cruz responded to questions from the floor, a procedure that has become the norm for the OSCE PA annual sessions. Several senior OSCE Officials, including the OSCE Secretary General, Ján Kubiš, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, Rolf Ekéus, and the Representative on Freedom of the Media, Freimut Duve, also briefed the parliamentarians. During the various sessions, delegates heard from such notables as Minister of Defense Mr. Rudolf Scharping, Minister of Economy Dr. Mr. Werner Müller, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Joseph Fischer. The 2002 OSCE PA Prize for Journalism and Democracy was shared between Austrian TV-journalist Friedrich Orter and Belarusian TV-journalist Pavel Sheremet. The prize is awarded by the Assembly to journalists who, through their work, “have promoted OSCE principles on human rights, democracy and the unimpeded flow of information.” This represents the seventh annual prize. The PA reported that “Dr. Orter has promoted OSCE Principles on human rights and democracy through his comprehensive and impartial reporting in the Balkans and lately in Afghanistan. Mr. Sheremet has shown admirable courage in his independent and reliable reporting on the lack of free expression in Belarus and on violations of human rights, including disappearances of opposition politicians and journalists.” The U.S. delegation had a private meeting with the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Antonio Martins da Cruz. Matters discussed included the field operations, the developing memorandum of understanding with the PA and the OSCE response to terrorism. The delegation also had a private meeting with the delegation from the Russian Federation. Members of the U.S. delegation played a leading role in debate in each of the Assembly’s three General Committees: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. In addition to U.S. amendments to the committee resolutions, several free-standing resolutions were adopted that were sponsored by members of the U.S. delegation concerning critical topics. They included: “Anti-Semitic Violence in the OSCE Region” and “Roma Education” by delegation Chairman Mr. Smith; “Human Rights and the War on Terrorism” by Smith and co-sponsor Dragoljub Micunovic of Yugoslavia; “Southeast Europe” by delegation Vice Chairman Senator Voinovich; and, “Belarus” by Mr. Hoyer. Other free-standing Supplementary Items were adopted on “Moldova,” “Combating Trafficking in Human Beings,” “The Impact of Terrorism on Women,” and “The Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and their Destruction.” A Supplementary Item on “Peace in the Middle East: the protection of the Holy Basin of Jerusalem” was tabled pending consultations among interested parties. Mr. Cardin was a key negotiator in the effort to table the draft item. The resolution condemning the increasing rate of anti-Semitism throughout the OSCE region called upon the participating States to make vigorous public statements against anti-Semitism and to ensure aggressive law enforcement and thorough investigation of anti-Semitic acts. As further emphasis on this matter, the United States and the host German Parliament co-sponsored a seminar on anti-Semitism in the OSCE. (See Digest, Volume 35, no. 15, August 6, 2002, “Berlin Forum Highlights Disturbing Rise in Anti-Semitism”) Addressing the discrimination faced by Roma, the U.S. resolution focused on the concerns of under-education and inadequate schools. All OSCE States were called upon to rectify these problems and to eradicate segregated schools and the mis-diagnosis of Romani children which erroneously assigns them to “special schools” for those with mental disabilities. Expressing concern about states which compromise human rights in the struggle against terrorism, the “War on Terrorism” resolution called on States to adhere to the rule of law, avoiding xenophobic reactions against Muslims since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The language addressing past developments in Southeast Europe commended the ongoing presence and constructive work of the OSCE and called upon the OSCE to lead in the fight against organized crime, corruption and trafficking in human beings, narcotics and arms. The resolution also encouraged the use of regional mechanisms, especially the Stability Pact. The Assembly adopted the resolution expressing concern about the state of democracy and the rule of law in Belarus, restrictions on basic freedoms and harassment of political opposition, media and religious minorities. The Government of Belarus was called upon to live up to its OSCE obligations, cease the human rights abuses, and cooperate with the OSCE and its institutions. Mr. Hoyer reported to the Assembly on the activities of the Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency and Accountability which he chaired. The committee developed guidelines on the relationship between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Vienna-based, 55-nation OSCE. On July 10, the final day of the Session, the Assembly elected Mr. Bruce George, MP (United Kingdom) as its new president for a one-year term, succeeding Mr. Severin who has served the Assembly for the past two years. Mr. George, Chairman of the British House of Commons Defense Committee, has been an active member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly since its first gathering in Budapest in 1992. Recently a Vice-President of the Assembly, he has served the Assembly as Rapporteur and Chair of the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security and as Vice-Chairman and chaired the Assemblýs Working Group on the Rules of Procedure. Other Officers elected at the Berlin Session: Vice Presidents: Ms. Barbara Haering (Switzerland), Mr. Ihor Ostash (Ukraine), Mr. Gert Weisskirchen (Germany); General Committee on Political Affairs and Security: Chair: Mr. Goran Lennmarker (Sweden), Vice-Chair: Mr Panyiotis Kammenos (Greece), Rapporteur: Mr. Clifford Lincoln (Canada); General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment: Chair: Mr. Oleg Bilorus (Ukraine), Vice-Chair: Ms Monika Griefahn (Germany), Rapporteur: Mr. Leonid Ivanchenko (Russia); General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions: Chair: Mrs Elena Mizulina (Russia), Vice-Chair: Mr. Svend Robinson (Canada), Rapporteur: Ms. Nebahat Albayrak (Netherlands). German Minister of Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer addressed the Berlin Session. As an indicator of the evolution of the OSCE, Fischer said, “The OSCE has ceased to be a conference of governments a long time ago and has become an international organization which deeply penetrates our societies. Where governments come upon their limits, parliaments can often act with greater independence. During the ten years the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has existed it has shown how important impulses and support can be given to the work of the Organization ... The Parliamentary Assembly has at its disposal a political potential which should be further utilized in the Organization.” The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

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

    By John Finerty, CSCE Staff Advisor On October 15, 2002, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing devoted to two recently issued reports on the subject of ethnic and religious intolerance in today’s Russia: the Moscow Helsinki Group’s “Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Contemporary Russia” and “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions” issued by the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union. Expert panelists were Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Tatyana Lokshina, International Department, Moscow Helsinki Group; Micah Naftalin, Executive Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union; and Dr. Leonid Stonov, Director of International Programs for the Union. In his opening statement, Commission Senior Advisor Donald Kursch welcomed the prospect of openness and tolerance in Russia, calling for the Russian leadership to set an example for its citizens to emulate. “Achieving success in the fight against intolerance demands strong leadership by the Russian Government and the Duma to provide effective legislation, regulations and standards. Training and sensitizing public officials...to be proactive in dealing with attacks on religious and ethnic minorities is critical,” he remarked. The panelists described the rise of ethnic and religious intolerance in several regions of the Russian Federation and the general lack of adequate response by authorities to the violence that frequently accompanies this intolerance. Such inaction, Alexeyeva contended, sends a message encouraging further manifestations of violence based on xenophobia and intolerance. She pointed to growing prejudice against persons from the Caucasus region of Russia, “Caucasophobia (sic) is definitely the most serious problem that Russia is faced with today. It is very widespread among the population in general, at all levels.” As an example of this phenomenon, Ms. Alexeyeva cited remarks by the former governor of the Krasnodar Region, Alexander Tkachev, who stated that people who do not have Russian last names or last names with typical Russian endings “have no place in the territory of Krasnodar Region.” Ms. Lokshina addressed the “religious xenophobia” carried out against minority religions, most notably against Catholics. There have been several instances in which Catholic clergymen from abroad have been denied permission to return to the Russian Federation despite their possession of valid entry visas and longstanding ties with their Russian parishes. “The introduction of educational programs that focus on the dangers of racism, nationalism and xenophobia and that foster respectful attitudes toward cultural diversities in officials, especially in police officials, judges and law enforcement, is vital and necessary in Russia,” she contended. Mr. Naftalin supported the statements made by the prior panelists, raising particular concern about anti-Semitism in the Russian Federation. He reported that, according to his organization’s research, there had been instances of xenophobic aggression and anti-Semitism in 63 of Russia’s 89 regions, and that violent incidents against minorities in Russia has increased 30 percent from last year. This exemplifies “a failed criminal justice system that it is in both Russia's and America's interest to repair,” he asserted. Against the negative attitudes of many public officials, Mr. Naftalin complimented the positive attitude and actions of Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, and his regional network of regional offices. Naftalin concluded that the West should treat and monitor human rights abuses as seriously as the West monitors and inspects access to weapons of mass destruction. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Shadrach Ludeman contributed to this article.

  • Turkey: After the Election

    Mr. Donald Kursch, Senior Advisor of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, on behalf of Chairman Hon. Campbell and Co-Chairman Hon. Smith, moderated this briefing on  Turkey's post-election future. The briefing promoted the U.S. partnership with Turkey in the post-election environment. The elections had all the characteristics of what could be described in the United States as political earthquake. New political forces, led by Mr. Recep Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party), had won a decisive victory, while long-term fixtures on the Turkish political scene had been obliged to relinquish political power. The process in which these changes have taken place appeared to be totally consistent with the fundamental principles of democracy that both Turkey and the United States strongly endorse, yet the changes were so sweeping that the Commission also felt the need to make a special effort to determine their meaning for Turkey and its future relationship with US. Mr. Kursh was joined by Mr. Abdullah Akyuz, Mr. Sanar Yurdatapan, and Mr. Jonathan Sugden, an expert on Turkish affairs with Human Rights Watch.

  • The War in Chechnya and Moscow

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

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

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

  • Prospects for Change in Turkey

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

  • Situation in Belarus Continues to Deteriorate

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

  • Helsinki Commission on Property Restitution Issues

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law On September 10, 2003, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) held a briefing to assess the status of governmental efforts to provide restitution of, or compensation for, property wrongfully seized in Europe under communist and Nazi rule. Ambassador Randolph M. Bell, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, provided an update on developments since his participation in the Commission's July 2002 hearing on this subject. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) chaired the September 10 briefing, noting that "this issue will continue to be on our agenda until we accomplish the objectives of transparent laws in all of the states [and] fair and just compensation for the properties that were unlawfully taken during the Nazi and communist years." The Helsinki Commission has previously held three hearings specifically on these issues. In a related development, on October 13, Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Mr. Cardin, Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), and Representative Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) met with Polish officials in Warsaw to raise directly their concerns regarding Poland's failure to adopt any private property restitution or compensation law at all. Members met with Piotr Ogrodzinski, Director of the Americas Department at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Andrzej Szarawarski, Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Treasury, and Under-Secretary of State Barbara Misterska-Dragan. The Members reminded their interlocutors that President Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz gave their personal assurances to congressional leaders (including Chairman Smith) in a meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert in July 2002 that a private property law would be ready by the beginning of 2003. Notwithstanding this pledge, the Government of Poland has failed to submit such a law to parliament. In Warsaw, Members voiced acute frustration at continuing delays and urged the Polish Government to move quickly on this time-sensitive issue. Briefing Reviews Mixed Record In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Bell stressed that a number of measures must be in place for effective restitution: open access to archival records, uniform enforcement of laws, clear procedures, and provisions for current occupants of property subject to restitution. Uniform, fair, and complete restitution is necessary to establish the rule of law and to safeguard rights and freedoms in many countries, he noted. Ambassador Bell also suggested that restitution can facilitate reform and thereby help countries gain entry into multilateral institutions. Most OSCE countries working toward restitution are making slow but steady progress on the return of communal property, such as educational, church, and hospital buildings. According to Bell, some countries have nearly completed the return of such property, including Slovakia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria. In other instances, returning property to its owners, or reimbursing them, is fraught with political obstacles. "While leaders may achieve our praise for facing these issues, they often gain little or nothing in the way of parliamentary support at home for doing so," Bell said. Speaking from the audience, one observer suggested that restitution often stalls when it becomes a political issue that leaders can manipulate and that economic challenges in restitution create further challenges. He added that politicians should speak more frequently and positively about their experiences restoring property to the rightful owners. "This is a part of the process of becoming an open democratic society, part of the family of Western nations," he said. Progress has been frustratingly slow, acknowledged Commissioner Cardin. The Commission has frequently encountered barriers to restitution, such as residency or citizenship requirements and management of funds under different domestic laws. "We have found that we have gotten commitments from the leaders of countries, only to find that those commitments are not really carried out," Cardin said. Another audience member expressed concern that the Slovenian Government has discriminated against American property owners, arguing that as foreigners, they were less likely to have property returned in Slovenia. Ambassador Bell noted that even when a court does rule in favor of a claimant, the Slovenian Government has the ability to appeal for a reversal. He said the State Department would continue to press for fair property returns in Slovenia. A few countries came in for particular criticism during the briefing. "I am following the advice of our chairman, Chairman Smith, when he says that we have to start naming countries and naming practices, because we cannot let this continue," Mr. Cardin said. "The current situation is not acceptable in Poland or in Romania or in the Czech Republic." Poland Poland has failed to adopt any law providing for private property restitution or compensation. In meetings with congressional leaders last July, visiting President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz gave assurances that a draft private property law would be ready by early 2003. The government has yet to submit a draft to the parliament. Ambassador Bell urged Poland to make good on its promises to return private property to its rightful owners. "To delay action will only make it more difficult to address this issue down the road," he said. Romania Property restitution in Romania since the fall of communism has been slow and ineffective. The laws enacted by the government to address the problem lack transparency, are complex, and have not been properly implemented. The law governing the restitution of private property was enacted in February 2001 and provided a one-year deadline for filing claims. Documentary proof of those claims was required to be submitted by August 2002. This deadline was revised several times and finally set for May 14, 2003, due to the fact that claimants were experiencing great difficulty in obtaining from state archives the necessary documents to support their claims. More than two and a half years after enactment of the restitution law, the government finally promulgated regulations governing the documentation necessary to support property claims--on May 14, 2003, the same day as the deadline for filing those claims. Of 210,000 claims registered, only 6,300 properties have been returned. Commissioner Cardin described one Romanian case that suggests the kinds of struggles involved with restitution. The claimant in that case had clear title to the property and had won multiple cases in court--but was still unable to regain the property because the government would not relinquish it. Ultimately, the property was returned because of the international publicity it generated. Czech Republic The Czech Republic's restitution laws limit redress for confiscated properties to people who are currently citizens of the Czech Republic. Prior to 1999, Czech law prohibited naturalized U.S. citizens from having dual Czech and American citizenship. In order to participate in the property restitution program, therefore, Czech-Americans had to renounce their U.S. citizenship and few, if any, Czech-Americans exercised this option. In other words, at the same time the Czech Republic was being welcomed into NATO, Czech Americans were uniquely excluded by virtue of their U.S. citizenship from the possibility of regaining properties stolen from them by Nazi or communist regimes. (Czechoslovak citizens who sought refuge in other countries--e.g., Canada, France, or Australia--were not automatically stripped of their Czechoslovak citizenship and were therefore eligible to make restitution claims.) Some Czech parliamentarians have sponsored legislation to remedy this injustice, but the Czech Government has consistently opposed it. Serbia Since the fall of the Milosevic regime, civil society has sought to advance a number of initiatives to address past wrongs, including property reform. While privatization is an important component of economic reform, there is concern that insufficient consideration is given to individuals seeking restitution of property they or their families owned prior to World War II. One observer from the audience noted that the International Crisis Group and others have reported that corruption may make the privatization effort in Serbia all the more difficult for those with property claims. Addressing this issue, Ambassador Bell asserted that corruption inevitably slows down privatization. In addition, he noted that, although the Serbia-Montenegro Government has said it will restitute property seized during communist rule, no law has yet been put in place to do so. "There is a gap between what the new democratic Government of Serbia said when it took office, and what has happened," he said. There are people in the government of Serbia and Montenegro who are serious about reform, but it is a difficult struggle, he added. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Lauren Smith contributed to this article.

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