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Rep. Smith Chairs Helsinki Commission Hearing on ISIS Recruitment of Foreign Fighters in Central Asia

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers examined why Central Asia has become an increasingly fertile source of foreign fighters for radical militant groups like ISIS, and explored how the United States can continue supporting efforts in Central Asia aimed at countering violent extremism and preventing the flow of foreign fighters to radical organizations.

“A year ago today, the city of Mosul fell to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, during a wave of violence that swept brutally through Northern Iraq,” said Rep. Smith, who called today’s hearing. “Many of those who took part in the offensive were foreign fighters – in fact, the UN Security Council recently estimated that there are now at least 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 100 countries who have travelled internationally to join or fight for terrorist entities associated with ISIS and Al-Qaida.”

“According to the International Crisis Group, as many as 4,000 foreign fighters come from the five countries of central Asia. Just last week, we learned that the chief of Tajikistan’s counter-terrorism program – someone highly trained by our own government – abandoned his post to join ISIS,” he continued.

“What does this say about the current efforts to stop terror-minded men and women from volunteering and traveling to the Middle East?” Rep. Smith asked. “Clearly, our government – working with others and with organizations like the OSCE – must take stronger action to combat radicalization beyond our borders, as well as to ensure that returning foreign fighters do not bring jihad and murder back home.”

Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the risk factors for radicalization of Central Asian nationals, as well as efforts currently underway and additional recommendations on combating the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters at the national and international levels.

“The nations of Central Asia, and the nations of the world, are waking up to the challenge of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq,” said Daniel N. Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia. “The United States plans to continue to work with global institutions, regional groups, and national governments to confront the challenge of foreign fighters and reduce the threat to our partners, allies, and to our own country…the Department of State is eager to work closely with this Commission and others in Congress to address this generational challenge.”

Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at the George Washington University, noted, “The ideology and narrative of violent Islamist extremist movements and groups continues to resonate with and successfully recruit individuals who are susceptible to such propaganda...Pushing back on this narrative in order to expose its inherent inconsistencies and falsehoods must therefore be a crucial plank in both national and transnational strategy.”

“We must maximize the intelligence that US officials and their counterparts in allied nations possess in order to best formulate and execute the measures that will keep foreign fighters’ plans left of boom,” Cilluffo continued. “The United States should work with the countries of Central Asia to assist them in building the capacities that are necessary for them to be their own best guardians. For instance, more could be done in the area of border security.”

Deputy Director of the International Crisis Group Jennifer Leonard said, “[Central Asian] governments must assess accurately the long-term danger jihadism poses to the region and take effective preventive action now…addressing multiple political and administrative failures, responding to an unmet demand for increased democratic space, revising discriminatory laws and policies, implementing outreach programs for men and women, creating jobs at home for disadvantaged youths, ensuring better coordination between security services, and police reform.”

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It may be too much, given the historical differences between our respective societies, to hope the post-Soviet states could find among their political leaders a George Washington, who could have been king but chose not to be, and who chose to leave office after two terms. But it is not too much to hope that other post-Soviet leaders might emulate Ukraine's former President Leonid Kravchuk or Moldova's former President Mircea Snegur, not to mention Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas, who all allowed a peaceful transfer of power. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, Central Asian leaders give every indication of intending to remain in office for life. Their desire for unlimited and permanent power means that they cannot implement all OSCE commitments on democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as doing so would create a level playing field for challengers and allow the media to shine the light on presidential misdeeds and high-level corruption. 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Last month's parliamentary election, according to the OSCE, was “severely marred by widespread, pervasive and illegal interference by executive authorities in the electoral process.” In response, President Nazarbaev has attacked the OSCE, comparing it to the Soviet Communist Party's Politburo for trying to “tell Kazakstan what to do.” Tajikistan has suffered the saddest fate of all the Central Asian countries; a civil war that killed scores of thousands. In 1997, the warring sides finally ceased hostilities and reached agreement about power-sharing, which permitted a bit of hopefulness about prospects for normal development and democratization. It seems, however, that the accord will not ensure stability. Tajikistan's Central Election Commission refused to register two opposition candidates for the November 6 presidential election. The sole alternative candidate registered has refused to accept the results of the election, which, according to official figures, current President Emomaly Rakhmonov won with 97 percent of the vote, in a 98 percent turnout. Those numbers, Mr. Speaker, say it all. The OSCE properly declined to send observers. Benighted Turkmenistan practically beggars description. This country, which has been blessed with large quantities of natural gas, has a political system that combines the worst traits of Soviet communism with a personality cult seen today in countries like Iraq or North Korea. No dissidence of any kind is permitted and the population enjoys no human rights. While his impoverished people barely manage to get by, President Niyazov builds garish presidential palaces and monuments to himself. The only registered political party in Turkmenistan is the Democratic Party, headed by President Niyazov. 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Central Asian leaders make decisions in a region far from Western Europe, close to China, Iran and Afghanistan, and they often assert that “human rights are only for the West” or the building democracy “takes time.” But delaying steps towards democracy is very risky in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious region of Central Asia, where many people are highly educated and have expectations of faster change. If it does not come, tensions and conflicts could emerge that could endanger security for everyone. To lessen these risks, continuous pressure will be needed on these countries to move faster on democracy. Even as the United States pursues other interests, we should give top priority to democracy and respect for human rights, or we may live to regret not doing so.

  • Central Asia: The “Black Hole” of Human Rights

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Throughout the region, super-presidents pay lip service to OSCE commitments and to their own constitutional provisions on separation of powers, while dominating the legislative and judicial branches, crushing or thwarting any opposition challenges to their factual monopoly of power, and along with their families and favored few, enjoying the benefits of their countries' wealth. Indeed, though some see the main problem of Central Asia through the prism of real or alleged Islamic fundamentalism, the Soviet legacy, or poverty, I am convinced that the essence of the problem is more simple and depressing: presidents determined to remain in office for life must necessarily develop repressive political systems. To justify their campaign to control society, Central Asian leaders constantly point to their own national traditions and argue that democracy must be built slowly. Some Western analysts, I am sorry to say, have bought this idea, in some cases, quite literally, by acting as highly paid consultants to oil companies and other business concerns. But, Mr. Speaker, building democracy is an act of political will above all. You have to want to do it. If you don't, all the excuses in the world and all the state institutions formed in Central Asia ostensibly to promote human rights will remain simply window dressing. Moreover, the much-vaunted stability offered by such systems is shaky. The refusal of leaders to allow turnover at the top or newcomers to enter the game means that outsiders have no stake in the political process and can imagine coming to power or merely sharing in the wealth only be extra-constitutional methods. For some of those facing the prospect of permanent exclusion, especially as living standards continue to fall, the temptation to resort to any means possible to change the rules of the game, may be overwhelming. 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Neither country observes the most fundamental human rights, including freedom of religion, or permits any electoral challenges to its all-powerful president. Kazakstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev has played a more clever game. Pressed by the OSCE and Western capitals, he has formally permitted opposition parties to function, and they did take part in the October 10 parliamentary election. But once again, a major opposition figure was not able to participate, and OSCE/ODIHR monitors, citing many shortcomings, have criticized the election as flawed. In general, the ability of opposition and society to influence policymaking is marginal at best. At the same time, independent and opposition media have been bought, coopted or intimidated out of existence or into cooperation with the authorities, and those few that remain are under severe pressure. Tajikistan suffered a devastating civil war in the early 1990's. In 1997, war-weariness and a military stalemate led the disputants to a peace accord and a power-sharing agreement. But though the arrangement had promise, it now seems to be falling apart, as opposition contenders for the presidency have been excluded from the race and the major opposition organization has decided to suspend participation in the work of the National Reconciliation Commission. Mr. Speaker, along with large-scale ethnic conflicts like Kosovo or Bosnia, and unresolved low-level conflicts like Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia, I believe the systemic flouting of OSCE commitments on democratization and human rights in Central Asia is the single greatest problem facing the OSCE. For that reason, I am introducing this resolution expressing concern about the general trends in the region, to show Central Asian presidents that we are not taken in by their facade, and to encourage the disheartened people of Central Asia that the United States stands for democracy. The resolution calls on Central Asian countries to come into compliance with OSCE commitments on democracy and human rights , and encourages the Administration to raise with other OSCE states the implications for OSCE participation of countries that engage in gross and uncorrected violation of freely accepted commitments on human rights . Mr. Speaker, I hope my colleagues will join me, Mr. Hoyer, and Mr. Forbes in this effort and we welcome their support.

  • Kazakstan's Parliamentary Elections

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  • Uzbekistan's Litany of Violations

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Arbitrary arrests, abuse and torture of detainees are pervasive, and flagrantly politicized judicial proceedings are routine. According to Human Rights Watch/Helsinki Watch, there are well over 200 individuals who are prisoners of conscience either for their religious or political activities. Defendants have been convicted of criminal offenses based on forced confessions and planted evidence. The regime has also refused to register independent human rights monitoring organizations (the Human Rights Society and the Independent Human Rights Society), while groups which cooperate closely with the government (Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Individual) have been registered without delay. On June 25, Uzbek police savagely beat Mikhail Ardzinov, one of the country's most prominent human rights activists. A key component of Uzbekistan's assault on human rights has been a thorough campaign against religious believers. Since 1997, hundreds of independent Muslim activists and believers associated with them have been arrested. In February of this year, bombs exploded in the capital, Tashkent, which killed sixteen bystanders and damaged government buildings, narrowly missing President Karimov and government officials. Karimov accused Muslim activists of having carried out a terrorist attack intended to assassinate him. The harassment and detention of Muslim activists has greatly intensified since then and an ongoing series of show trials had discredit them as dangerous religious extremists. Last month, six people were sentenced to death and another 16 received prison terms ranging from eight to 20 years in a trial that by no means met Western standards for due process. Since then, two arrested Muslims have died in prison, and there is no sign of a let up. President Karimov has argued that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia's most populous and traditional state necessitates a hard line, especially because Islamic radicals from neighboring Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan are determined to subvert Uzbekistan's secular, developing democracy. But the state's repressive policies are radicalizing Muslims and turning them against the regime. Non-Muslims faiths, particularly Christians, have also been subjected to harassment, imprisonment and violations of their religious liberty, especially those who share their faith and are actively meeting. According to Compass Direct, Ibrahim Yusupov, the leader of a Pentecostal church in Tashkent, was tried and sentenced last month to one year in prison on charges of conducting missionary activity. Another court in June sentenced Christian pastor Na'il Asanov to five years in prison on charges of possession of drugs and spreading extremist ideas. As with other cases mentioned below, witnesses attest that police planted a packet of drugs on Pastor Asanov and also severely beat him while he was in detention. Also in June, three members of the Full Gospel Church in Nukus were sentenced to long prison sentences. Pastor Rashid Turibayev received a 15-year sentence, while Parhad Yangibayev and Issed Tanishiev received 10-year sentences for “deceiving ordinary people” as well as possessing and using drugs. Their appeal was denied on July 13. Reports indicate that they have suffered severe beatings in prison, have been denied food and medical attention, and their personal possessions have been confiscated by the police, leaving their families destitute. Recently, the most senior Pentecostal leader in Uzbekistan, Bishop Leonty Lulkin, and two other church members were tried and sentenced on charges of illegally meeting. The sentence they received was a massive fine of 100 times the minimum monthly wage. The leaders of Baptist churches, Korean churches, the Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as many others, have also been subjected to harsh legal penalties. Although they have filed for registration, local authorities refused to sign their documents. Mr. Speaker, the State Department's report on Human Rights Practices for 1998 reported that the Uzbekistan law on religion “limits freedom of religion” with strict registration requirements which make it virtually impossible for smaller church organizations to gain legal status. The law passed in June 1998, “prohibits proselytizing, bans religious subjects in school curriculums, prohibits teaching of religious principles, forbids the wearing of religious clothing in public by anyone except clerics, and requires all religious groups and congregations to register or re-register.” Also approved last May was a second law establishing the penalties if one were convicted of violating any of the statutes on religious activities. The penalties can range anywhere from lengthy prison sentences, massive fines, and confiscation of property, to denial of official registration rights. On May 12 of this year, Uzbekistan tightened its Criminal Code, making participation in an unregistered religious group a criminal offense, punishable by a fine equivalent to fifty times the minimum monthly wage or imprisonment of up to three years. Mr. Speaker, these actions indicate that the policies of the Government of Uzbekistan toward religious groups are not moving in the right direction. In fact, these initiatives are in direct violation to Uzbekistan's OSCE commitments, including Article 16.3 of the Vienna Concluding Document which states that “the State will grant upon their request to communities of believers, practicing or prepared to practice their faith within the constitutional framework of their States, recognition of the status provided for them in the respective countries.” In the Copenhagen Concluding Document of 1990 Article 9.1, Uzbekistan has committed to “reaffirm that everyone will have the right to freedom of expression including the right to communication. This right will include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Uzbekistan's current course of strangling all forms of religious discourse is a flagrant, deliberate, and unrelenting violation of these principles. Last year Congress overwhelmingly passed the Religious Freedom Act of 1998 which reaffirmed the United States' commitment to supporting religious freedom abroad through U.S. foreign policy. Considering the litany of violations affecting religious liberty and the ongoing persecution of believers, it is time for Congress to consider our aid programs to Uzbekistan, including our military cooperation programs which cost about 33 million dollars in this year alone. Congress should also reconsider our trade relationship with Uzbekistan and scrutinize other programs such as Cooperative Threat Reduction where we can leverage our influence to help protect religious liberty and human rights.

  • The Sex Trade: Trafficking of Women and Children in Europe and the United States

    This Commission examined an escalating human rights problem in the OSCE region: the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Trafficking in human beings is a form of modern-day slavery. When a woman or child is trafficked or sexually exploited by force, fraud, or coercion for commercial gain, she is denied the most basic human rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous international human rights agreements. Although trafficking has been a problem for many years in Asian countries, it was not until the end of communism in East-Central Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union that a sex trade in the OSCE region began to develop. The hearing looked into the U.S. and the global response to this appalling human challenge and what else could be done to address it.

  • The State of Human Rights and Democracy in Kazakhstan

    Commission Chairman Christopher Smith presided over a hearing on the status of democratization and human rights in Kazakhstan following the country's presidential election in January of 1999. The election, which saw the victory of incumbent presient Nursultan Nazarbayev, was strongly criticsed by the OSCE, which stated that it had fallen "far short" of meeting OSCE commitments. Ross Wilson, Principal Deputy to the Ambassador At-Large, noted that opposition figures were beaten, arrested, and convicted for attending political meetings. Independent media organizations were bought out, silenced, and in extreme cases firebombed by allies of President Nazarbayev. Finally, a new law barred candidates who had been conviced of administrative violations from running for president. Akezhan Kazhegeldin, former prime minister of Kazakhstan and leading opposition member in the election, noted in his testimony that he was barred from running in the election due to this law. Bolat Nurgaliev, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States, acknowledged "imperfections" in the state of Kazakhstan's political system, but defended the legal and ethical credentials of the election. The hearing concluded by offering a set of recommendations calling for the abolition of laws restricting opposition members from running, improved anti-corruption legislation, and greater press freedom.      

  • Democratization and Human Rights in Kazakhstan

    This hearing reviewed the democratization process, human rights, and religious liberty in Kazakhstan. This was one in a series that the Helsinki Commission has held on Central Asia. The hearing focused on Kazakhstan for two reasons: first, the country held a presidential election, almost 2 years ahead of schedule. The OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, used unusually strong language, and criticized the conduct of the election as far short of meeting OSCE commitments. The witnesses gave testimony surrounding the legal obstacles in the constitution of Kazakhstan and other obstacles that the authoritarian voices in the government use to suppress opposition.

  • Kazakhstan's Presidential Elections

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring to the attention of my colleagues concerns about the general prospects for democratization in Kazakstan, considering the disturbing news about the presidential elections in that country earlier this year. On January 10, 1999, Kazakstan held presidential elections, almost two years ahead of schedule. Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev ran against three contenders, in the country's first nominally contested election. According to official results, Nazarbaev retained his office, garnering 81.7 percent of the vote. Communist Party leader Serokbolsyn Abdildin won 12 percent, Gani Kasymov 4.7 percent and Engels Gabbasov 0.7 percent. The Central Election Commission reported over 86 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast ballots. Behind these facts, and, by the way, none of the officially announced figures should be taken at face value, is a sobering story. Nazarbaev's victory was no surprise: the entire election was carefully orchestrated and the only real issue was whether his official vote tally would be in the 90s, typical for post-Soviet Central Asia dictatorships, or lower, which would have signaled some sensitivity to Western and OSCE sensibilities. Any suspense the election might have offered vanished when the Supreme Court in November upheld a lower court ruling barring the candidacy of Nazarbaev's sole possible challenger, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, on whom many opposition activists have focused their hopes. The formal reason for his exclusion was both trivial and symptomatic: in October, Kazhegeldin had spoken at a meeting of an unregistered organization called “For Free Elections.” Addressing an unregistered organization is illegal in Kazakstan, and a presidential decree of May 1998 stipulated that individuals convicted of any crime or fined for administrative transgressions could not run for office for a year. Of course, the snap election and the presidential decree deprived any real or potential challengers of the opportunity to organize a campaign. More important, most observers saw the decision as an indication of Nazarbaev's concerns about Kazakhstan's economic decline and his fears of running for reelection in 2000, when the situation will presumably be even much worse. Another reason to hold elections now was anxiety about uncertainties in Russia, where a new president, with whom Nazarbaev does not have long-established relations, will be elected in 2000 and may adopt a more aggressive attitude towards Kazakhstan than has Boris Yeltsin. The exclusion of would-be candidates, along with the snap nature of the election, intimidation of voters, the ongoing attack on independent media and restrictions on freedom of assembly, moved the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to urge the election's postponement, as conditions for holding free and fair elections did not exist. Ultimately, ODIHR refused to send a full-fledged observer delegation, as it generally does, to monitor an election. Instead, ODIHR dispatched to Kazakhstan a small mission to follow and report on the process. The mission's assessment concluded that Kazakhstan's “election process fell far short of the standards to which the Republic of Kazakhstan has committed itself as an OSCE participating State.” That is an unusually strong statement for ODIHR. Until the mid-1900s, even though President Nazarbaev dissolved two parliaments, tailored constitutions to his liking and was single- mindedly accumulating power, Kazakhstan still seemed a relatively reformist country, where various political parties could function and the media enjoyed some freedom. Moreover, considering the even more authoritarian regimes of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the war and chaos in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan benefited by comparison. In the last few years, however, the nature of Nazarbaev's regime has become ever more apparent. He has over the last decade concentrated all power in his hands, subordinating to himself all other branches and institutions of government. His determination to remain in office indefinitely, which could have been inferred by his actions, became explicit during the campaign, when he told a crowd, “I would like to remain your president for the rest of my life.'' Not coincidentally, a constitutional amendment passed in early October conveniently removed the age limit of 65. Moreover, since 1996, Kazakhstan's authorities have co-opted, bought or crushed any independent media, effectively restoring censorship in the country. A crackdown on political parties and movements has accompanied the assault on the media, bringing Kazakhstan's overall level of repression closer to that of Uzbekistan and severely damaging Nazarbaev's reputation. Despite significant U.S. strategic and economic interests in Kazakhstan, especially oil and pipeline issues, the State Department issued a series of critical statements after the announcement last October of pre-term elections. In fact, on November 23, Vice President Gore called President Nazarbaev to voice U.S. concerns about the election. The next day, the Supreme Court, which Nazarbaev controls completely, finally excluded Kazhegeldin. On January 12, the State Department echoed the ODIHR's harsh assessment of the election, adding that it had “cast a shadow on bilateral relations.” What's ahead? Probably more of the same. Parliamentary elections are expected in late 1999, although they may be held before schedule or put off another year. A new political party has been created as a vehicle for President Nazarbaev to tighten his grip on the legislature. Surprisingly, the Ministry of Justice on March 1 registered the Republican People's Party, headed by Akezhan Kazhegeldin, as well as another opposition party, probably in response to Western and especially American pressure. But even if they are allowed to compete for seats on an equal basis and even win some representation, parliament is sure to remain a very junior partner to the all-powerful executive. Mr. Speaker, Kazakhstan's relative liberalism in the early 1990s had induced Central Asia watchers to hope that Uzbek and Turkmen-style repression was not inevitable for all countries in the region. Alas, the trends in Kazakhstan point the other way: Nursultan Nazarbaev is heading in the direction of his dictatorial counterparts in Tashkent and Ashgabat. He is clearly resolved to be president for life, to prevent any institutions or individuals from challenging his grip on power and to make sure that the trappings of democracy he has permitted remain just that. The Helsinki Commission, which I chair, plans to hold hearings on the situation in Kazakhstan and Central Asia to discuss what options the United States has to convey the Congress' disappointment and to encourage developments in Kazakhstan and the region toward genuine democratization.

  • Kazakhstan's Presidential Election

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring to the attention of my colleagues disturbing news about the presidential elections in Kazakhstan last month, and the general prospects for democratization in that country. On January 10, 1999, Kazakhstan held presidential elections, almost two years ahead of schedule. Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev ran against three contenders, in the country's first nominally contested election. According to official results, Nazarbaev retained his office, garnering 81.7 percent of the vote. Communist Party leader Serokbolsyn Abdildin won 12 percent, Gani Kasymov 4.7 percent and Engels Gabbasov 0.7 percent. The Central Election Commission reported that over 86 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast ballots. Behind these facts, and by the way, none of the officially announced figures should be taken at face value, is a sobering story. Nazarbaev's victory was no surprise: the entire election was carefully orchestrated and the only real issue was whether his official vote tally would be in the 90s, typical for post-Soviet Central Asian dictatorships, or the 80s, which would have signaled a bit of sensitivity to Western and OSCE sensibilities. Any suspense the election might have offered vanished when the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling barring the candidacy of Nazarbaev's sole plausible challenger, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, on whom many opposition activists have focused their hopes. The formal reason for his exclusion was both trivial and symptomatic: in October, Kazhegeldin had spoken at a meeting of an unregistered organization called “For Free Elections.” Addressing an unregistered organization is illegal in Kazakhstan, and a presidential decree of May 1998 stipulated that individuals convicted of any crime or fined for administrative transgressions could not run for office for a year. Of course, the snap election and the presidential decree deprived any real or potential challengers of the opportunity to organize a campaign. More important, most observers saw the decision as an indication of Nazarbaev's concerns about Kazakhstan’s economic decline and fears of running for reelection in 2000, when the situation will presumably be even much worse. Another reason to hold elections now was anxiety about the uncertainties in Russia, where a new president, with whom Nazarbaev does not have long-established relations, will be elected in 2000 and may adopt a more aggressive attitude towards Kazakhstan than Boris Yeltsin has. The exclusion of would-be candidates, along with the snap nature of the election, intimidation of voters, the ongoing attack on independent media and restrictions on freedom of assembly, moved the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to call in December for the election's postponement, as conditions for holding free and fair elections did not exist. Ultimately, ODIHR refused to send a full-fledged observer delegation, as it generally does, to monitor an election. Instead, ODIHR dispatched to Kazakhstan a small mission to follow and report on the process. The mission's assessment concluded that Kazakhstan’s “election process fell far short of the standards to which the Republic of Kazakhstan has committed itself as an OSCE participating State.” That is an unusually strong statement for ODIHR. Until the mid-1990s, even though President Nazarbaev dissolved two parliaments, tailored constitutions to his liking and was single-mindedly accumulating power, Kazakhstan still seemed a relatively reformist country, where various political parties could function and the media enjoyed some freedom. Moreover, considering the even more authoritarian regimes of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the war and chaos in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan benefited by comparison. In the last few years, however, the nature of Nazarbaev's regime has become ever more apparent. He has over the last decade concentrated all power in his hands, subordinating to himself all other branches and institutions of government. His apparent determination to remain in office indefinitely, which could have been inferred by his actions, became explicit during the campaign, when he told a crowd, “I would like to remain your president for the rest of my life.” Not coincidentally, a constitutional amendment passed in early October conveniently removed the age limit of 65 years. Moreover, since 1996-97, Kazakhstan’s authorities have co-opted, bought or crushed any independent media, effectively restoring censorship in the country. A crackdown on political parties and movements has accompanied the assault on the media, bringing Kazakhstan’s overall level of repression closer to that of Uzbekistan and severely damaging Nazarbaev's reputation. Despite significant U.S. strategic and economic interests in Kazakhstan, especially oil and pipeline issues, the State Department has issued a series of critical statements since the announcement last October of pre-term elections. These statements have not had any apparent effect. In fact, on November 23, Vice President Gore called President Nazarbaev to voice U.S. concerns about the election. Nazarbaev responded the next day, when the Supreme Court, which he controls completely, finally excluded Kazhegeldin. On January 12, the State Department echoed the ODIHR's harsh assessment of the election, adding that it had “cast a shadow on bilateral relations.” What's ahead? Probably more of the same. Parliamentary elections are slated for October 1999, although there are indications that they, too, may be held before schedule or put off another year. A new political party is emerging, which presumably will be President Nazarbaev's vehicle for controlling the legislature and monopolizing the political process. The Ministry of Justice on February 3 effectively turned down the request for registration by the Republican People's Party, headed by Akezhan Kazhegeldin, signaling Nazarbaev's resolve to bar his rival from legal political activity in Kazakhstan. Other opposition parties which have applied for registration have not received any response from the Ministry. Mr. Speaker, the relative liberalism in Kazakhstan had induced Central Asia watchers to hope that Uzbek- and Turkmen-style repression was not inevitable for all countries in the region. Alas, all the trends in Kazakhstan point the other way: Nursultan Nazarbaev is heading in the direction of his dictatorial counterparts in Tashkent and Ashgabat. He is clearly resolved to be president for life, to prevent any institutions or individuals from challenging his grip on power and to make sure that the trappings of democracy he has permitted remain just that. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, plans to hold hearings on the situation in Kazakhstan and Central Asia to discuss what options the United States has to convey the Congress's disappointment and to encourage developments in Kazakhstan and the region towards genuine democratization.

  • The Ombudsman in the OSCE: An American Perspective

    This briefing assessed the role of ombudsmen institutions in the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from an American perspective. The ombudsman institution was described as a flexible institution; adaptable to national and local government structures in a wide variety of countries, and a brief evaluation of the evolution of this institution was presented. Dean M. Gottehrer, a consultant on ombudsmen in human rights institutions for the United Nations Development Program, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, and the United States Information Agency, presented a personal analysis of the role of ombudsmen institutions in protecting human rights in OSCE participating states.

  • Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)

    This briefing focused on the topics of European security and NATO enlargement, specifically in terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Elements of the treaty that remained especially important, including the goal of avoiding destabilizing concentrations of forces in Europe and the goal of creating greater transparency and promoting information exchange among governments in Europe, were discussed. Witnesses testifying at this briefing spoke to the need for amendments and changes to the CFE, but maintained the relevance of the treaty to international security. Different strategies for making these changes related to Russian pressure and NATO involvement were presented. 

  • U.S. Statements on the Human Dimension, 1996 OSCE Vienna Review Conference and Lisbon Summit

    This compendium of statements illustrates the U.S. perspective that one of the key and distinguishing features of the OSCE is the interlocking framework of critical, politically binding commitments which provide a common set of principles to which all participating States can aspire. The OSCE draws its real strength and practical flexibility from participating states' commitments to the values of the original Helsinki Act, rather than from a legalized, treaty-based institutional structure. A fundamental strength of the OSCE is the review process, which provides a regular opportunity to assess a participating states' efforts to further the realization of the Helsinki Accords within its own borders, and in its relations with other OSCE states. The OSCE is increasingly a pillar of European security. By facilitating honest implementation review the OSCE can strengthen security links based on common values.

  • Summary of the OSCE Rule of Law Seminar

    From November 28 to December 1, 1995, the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) convened a seminar on the rule of law. The meeting was organized by the Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Thirty-eight of the 53 fully participating States attended, along with representatives from two Non-Participating Mediterranean States, six international organizations, and 25 non-governmental organizations. Over the course of two days, a number of emerging democracies described the constitutions and other legislative provisions that had been adopted in their countries to provide for the rule of law, at least on paper. Western participants, for their part, generally spoke of the specific and concrete challenges faced in their countries in actually implementing safeguards for the rule of law. In general, the participation of East-Central European and former Soviet countries—most of which attended this meeting—was more active than at the 1991 Oslo meeting, and Western participants, for their part, avoided the West-West bickering that marred the earlier seminar. At the end of the meeting, the rapporteurs produced summaries of the discussions.

  • Religious Liberty: The State Church and Minority Faiths

    Samuel G. Wise, Director for International Policy at the US Helsinki Commission, presented the second briefing in a series focusing on religious liberty in the participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This particular discussion was intended to evaluate the relationship between state churches or traditional religious and freedom of religion for minority faiths in the OSCE region through an analysis of the effects of certain historical legacies on individual states. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Father Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer of the Orthodox Church in America; Father George Papaioannou, Pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church; Gerard Powers, Foreign Policy Advisor for the U.S. Catholic Conference; Lauren Homer, Founder of Law and Liberty Trust; and Lee Boothby, Vice President of the Council on Religious Freedom – focused on the issue of minority and majority in society as it relates to religion and the potential for this issue to result in conflict. The historical origins of these tensions, especially in Eastern Europe, were particularly emphasized. 

  • Religious Liberty in the OSCE: Present and Future

    Speaking on behalf of Congressman Christopher H. Smith and Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, chairman and co-chairman of the Helsinki Committee, the Committee’s Director for International Policy, Samuel G. Wise, addressed the improvements made by the countries of the OSCE in religious liberty since the demise of communism. Observed deficits in this particular subject were also evaluated, including acts of OSCE governments perpetrating religious intolerance and discrimination against people of faith by passing laws favoring certain religions, turning a blind eye to harassment, and establishing bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent religious minorities from practicing their faith. Each panelist – including Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow of Political Theory for the Institute for Christian Studies; Dr. Khalid Duran, Senior Fellow for the Institute for International Studies; and Micah Naftalin, National Director for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke to the overall factors affecting religious freedom in the OSCE, including: respect for other freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion, ethno-cultural tensions, and the relevance of old prejudices. These ideas were presented in the context of moving towards a more comprehensive respect for religious freedom among OSCE member states in the future.

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