Title

Smith Leads Mission to Genocide Survivors in Iraq

In Erbil, U.S. Congressman Asks Why Christian Survivors of Genocide Not Getting Humanitarian Aid from U.S. and Many Other OSCE Countries
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

ERBIL, Iraq—Just days before Christmas, a leading human rights lawmaker, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), went to Iraq to witness first-hand the plight of Christians who escaped ISIS into the Erbil area of the Kurdistan region and the failure of the Obama Administration to help them.

After meeting with Christian families and leaders, and officials from the U.S., other OSCE participating States, and the United Nations, Smith said he returns to Washington to lead Congressional efforts to target more humanitarian aid to Christians and other religious minorities who have survived genocide. Smith also visited a camp for 6,000 internally displaced people, managed and supported by the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil.

“This Christmas season, the survival of Christians in Iraq, where they have lived for almost 2,000 years, is at stake,” said Smith, who chairs both the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the House panel on global human rights and international organizations. “Today I met with Christian families who survived the ISIS genocide and have been ignored for two years by the Obama Administration. I hope that President-Elect Trump will act urgently to make sure his Administration helps these Christians with the funds Congress has approved for survivors of ISIS atrocities.”

The Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul, Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, who had to flee ISIS and seek refuge in Erbil, told Smith, “So often concern for Christians is minimized. I am so happy, because you are the first American who has come to just ask about the Christians. We pray that President Trump will help us. We are the last people to speak the Aramaic language. Without help, we are finished.”  

“I also saw how the Obama Administration has shortchanged organizations conducting criminal investigations and collecting, preserving, and preparing evidence usable in criminal trials. Perpetrators will dodge punishment unless there is specific evidence linking them to specific atrocity crimes. My Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act legislation is a blueprint for how to assist Christians and other genocide survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. I will be working tirelessly to get this bill on the new President’s desk when we reconvene in January,” added Smith.

Responding to reports that the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide is considering excluding Christians from its findings of ISIS genocide victims and recommendations for prosecution, Smith said, “Even the Obama Administration determined that ISIS has been committing genocide against Christians. It would be outrageous if the UN ignored the overwhelming evidence and turned its back on these people who have suffered so much.”

Background

In 2002, there were as many as 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. After years of sectarian conflict, followed by the ISIS genocide that began in 2014, they have dropped to less than 250,000. Most of the Christians who survived ISIS fled to the Erbil area, which now hosts more than 70,000 internally displaced Christians, almost a third of all Christians in Iraq. Iraqis have been eight percent of the refugees and migrants who arrived by sea in the OSCE region in 2016.

The Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil has provided most of the assistance to these displaced Christians – and has also assisted Yezidis and Muslims – including food, shelter, medical care, trauma care, and preparations for the impending winter. Smith was invited to Erbil by Archbishop Bashar Warda, head of the Archdiocese. During their meeting, Archbishop Warda emphasized that unless the ancient Christian communities of Iraq received significant financial support very soon, they may not survive.

At a September hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, chaired by Smith and titled Atrocities in Iraq and Syria: Relief for Survivors and Accountability for Perpetrators, Steve Rasche, Legal Counsel and Director of IDP Resettlement Programs for the Archdiocese, testified and said, “Since August 2014, other than initial supplies of tents and tarps, the Christian community in Iraq has received nothing in aid from any US aid agencies or the UN.”

He added, “There’s a mistaken belief that it doesn’t get cold in Iraq. It snows in Erbil in the wintertime. Even the people that we’ve put in shelters, it gets incredibly cold for them at night, and so there are additional costs for heating oil and blankets. That is a concern for us. Our costs will go up.”

Since 2013, Smith has chaired nine congressional hearings on atrocities in Iraq and Syria, including one titled The ISIS Genocide Declaration: What Next? and another titled Fulfilling the Humanitarian Imperative: Assisting Victims of ISIS Violence. He is also the author of the bipartisan Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 5961), co-sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18), which includes key provisions directing the U.S. Administration to:

  • Support entities that are effectively serving genocide survivors in-country, including faith-based entities;
  • Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force survivors to flee their homes;
  • Identify warning signs of deadly violence against genocide survivors and other vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq or Syria;
  • Support entities that are conducting criminal investigation into perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq and Syria;
  • Close gaps in U.S. law so that the American justice system can prosecute foreign perpetrators present in the U.S., as well as any Americans who commit such crimes;
  • Encourage foreign countries to add identifying information about suspected perpetrators  of such atrocity crimes in their security databases and security screening;
  • Create a “Priority Two” (“P-2”) designation for persecuted religious and ethnic groups in Iraq or Syria.

This legislation is supported by many groups including the Knights of Columbus, 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, In Defense of Christians, Yazidi Human Rights Organization International, Commission for International Justice and Accountability, Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, Religious Freedom Institute, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Open Doors, and others.

The bill has also been endorsed by all of the former U.S. Ambassadors-at-Large for War Crimes: David Scheffer (1997-2001), Pierre-Richard Prosper (2001-2005), Clint Williamson (2006-2009), and Stephen Rapp (2009-2015).

Smith also authored the bipartisan H. Con. Res 121, which the House passed overwhelmingly and calls for the formation of an ad hoc tribunal for perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Syrian conflict.

Just last week, the President signed into law the bipartisan, historic Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act (H.R. 1150), which Smith authored and Eshoo co-sponsored. This law makes sweeping changes that will help ensure that the U.S. Administration and the State Department have the tools, training, and resources to anticipate, help prevent, and respond to genocide and other persecution against religious communities like Christians in Iraq and elsewhere.

Smith continues to encourage leaders in other OSCE countries to provide more humanitarian assistance to Christian genocide survivors and support criminal investigations into and prosecutions of perpetrators.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Leadership: 
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I believe we must build on this initiative, and offered my amendment to urge the convening of a ministerial meeting with the goal of making specific recommendations to the member states about steps which can be taken to eliminate this primary threat to economic stability and security and major obstacle to U.S. businesses seeking to invest and operate abroad. My anti-crime amendment was intended to address the negative impact that crime has on our countries and our citizens. Violent crime, international crime, organized crime and drug trafficking all undermine the rule of law, a healthy business climate and democracy building. This amendment was based on my personal experiences as one of the only members of the United States Senate with a law enforcement background and on congressional testimony that we are witnessing an increase in the incidence of international crime, and we are seeing a type of crime which our countries have not dealt with before. During the opening Plenary Session on July 6, we heard from the Governor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Yakolev, about how the use of drugs is on the rise in Russia and how more needs to be done to help our youth. On July 7, I had the opportunity to visit the Russian Police Training Academy at St. Petersburg University and met with General Victor Salnikov, the Chief of the University. I was impressed with the General's accomplishments and how many senior Russian officials are graduates of the university, including the Prime Minister, governors, and members of the Duma. General Salnikov and I discussed the OSCE's work on crime and drugs, and he urged us to act. The General stressed that this affects all of civilized society and all countries must do everything they can to reduce drug trafficking and crime. After committee consideration and adoption of my amendments, I was approached by Senator Jerry Grafstein from Canada who indicated how important it was to elevate the issues of crime and corruption in the OSCE framework. I look forward to working with Senator Grafstein and other parliamentarians on these important issues at future multilateral meetings. CULTURAL LINKAGES WITH COLORADO St. Petersburg is rich in culture and educational resources. This grand city is home to 1,270 public, private and educational libraries; 181 museums of art, nature, history and culture; 106 theaters; 52 palaces; and 417 cultural organizations. Our delegation visit provided an excellent opportunity to explore linkages between some of these resources with the many museums and performing arts centers in Colorado. On Thursday, July 8, I met with Tatyana Kuzmina, the Executive Director for the St. Petersburg Association for International Cooperation, and Natalia Koltomova, Senior Development Officer for the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg. We learned that museums and the orchestras have exchanges in New York, Michigan and California. Ms. Kuzmina was enthusiastic about exploring cultural exchanges with Denver and other communities in Colorado. I look toward to following up with her, the U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg, and leaders in the Colorado fine arts community to help make such cultural exchanges a reality. As proof that the world is getting smaller all the time, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a group of 20 Coloradans on tour. In fact, there were so many from Grand Junction alone, we could have held a Town Meeting right there in St. Petersburg! In our conversations, it was clear we shared the same impressions of the significant potential that that city has to offer in future linkages with Colorado. I ask unanimous consent that a list of the Coloradans whom I met be printed in the Record following my remarks. HELPING AMERICAN BUSINESSES In the last Congress, I introduced the International Anti-Corruption Act of 1997 (S. 1200) which would tie U.S. foreign aid to how conducive foreign countries are to American businesses and investment. As I prepare to reintroduce this bill in the 106th Congress and to work on combating crime and corruption within the OSCE framework, I participated in a meeting of U.S. business representatives on Friday, July 9, convened by the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, headquartered in Denver. We were joined by my colleagues, Senator Kay Baily Hutchison, Senator George Voinovich and my fellow Coloradan, Congressman Tom Tancredo. We heard first-hand about the challenges of doing business in Russia from representatives of U.S. companies, including Lockheed Martin Astronautics, PepsiCo, the Gillette Company, Coudert Brothers, and Colliers HIB St. Petersburg. Some issues, such as export licensing, counterfeiting and corruption are being addressed in the Senate. But, many issues these companies face are integral to the Russian business culture, such as taxation, the devaluation of the ruble, and lack of infrastructure. My colleagues and I will be following up on ways to assist U.S. businesses and investment abroad. In addition, on Wednesday, July 7, I participated in a meeting at the St. Petersburg Investment Center. The main focus of the meeting was the presentation of a replica of Fort Ross in California, the first Russian outpost in the United States, to the Acting U.S. Consul General on behalf of the Governor of California. We heard from Anatoly Razdoglin and Valentin Makarov of the St. Petersburg Administration; Slava Bychkov, American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, St. Petersburg Chapter; Valentin Mishanov, Russian State Marine Archive; and Vitaly Dozenko, Marine Academy. The discussion ranged from U.S. investment in St. Petersburg and the many redevelopment projects which are planned or underway in the city. CRIME AND DRUGS As I mentioned, on Wednesday, July 7, I toured the Russia Police Training Academy at St. Petersburg University and met with General Victor Salnikov, the Chief of the University. This facility is the largest organization in Russia which prepares law enforcement officers and is the largest law institute in the country. The University has 35,000 students and 5,000 instructors. Among the law enforcement candidates, approximately 30 percent are women. The Police Training Academy has close contacts with a number of countries, including the U.S., France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Finland, Israel and others. Areas of cooperation include police training, counterfeiting, computer crimes, and programs to combat drug trafficking. I was informed that the Academy did not have a formal working relationship with the National Institute of Justice, the research and development arm of the U.S. Department of Justice which operates an extensive international information-sharing program. I intend to call for this bilateral linkage to facilitate collaboration and the exchange of information, research, and publications, which will benefit law enforcement in both countries that fight crime and drugs. U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS In addition to the discussions in the plenary sessions of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, we had the opportunity to raise issues of importance in a special bilateral meeting between the U.S. and Russia delegations on Thursday morning, July 8. Members of our delegation raised issues including anti-Semitism in the Duma, developments in Kosovo, the case of environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin, the assassination of Russian Parliamentarian Galina Starovoitova, and the trafficking of women and children. As the author of the Senate Resolution condemning anti-Semitism in the Duma (S. Con. Res. 19), I took the opportunity of this bilateral session to let the Russian delegation, including the Speaker of the State Duma, know how seriously we in the United States feel about the importance of having a governmental policy against anti-Semitism. We also stressed that anti-Semitic remarks by their Duma members are intolerable. I look forward to working with Senator HELMS to move S. Con. Res. 19 through the Foreign Relations Committee to underscore the strong message we delivered to the Russians in St. Petersburg. We had the opportunity to discuss the prevalence of anti-Semitism and the difficulties which minority religious organizations face in Russia at a gathering of approximately 100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs), religious leaders and business representatives, hosted by the U.S. Delegation on Friday, July 9. We heard about the restrictions placed on religious freedoms and how helpful many American non-profit organizations are in supporting the NGO's efforts. I am pleased to report that the U.S. Delegation had a significant and positive impact in advancing U.S. interests during the Eighth OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in St. Petersburg. To provide my colleagues with additional information, I ask unanimous consent that my formal report to Majority Leader Lott be printed in the Record following my remarks. Exhibit No. 1 Coloradans in St. Petersburg, Russia Iva Allen, Grand Junction. Kay Coulson, Grand Junction. Inez Dodson, Grand Junction. Isabel Downing, Grand Junction. Terry Eakle, Greeley. Betty Elliott, Grand Junction. Dorothy Evans, Grand Junction. Kay Hamilton, Grand Junction. Helen Kauffman, Grand Junction. Nancy Koos, Denver. Dick and Jay McElroy, Grand Junction. Lyla Michaels, Glenwood Springs. Carol Mitchell, Grand Junction. Neal and Sonya Morris, Grand Junction. Pat Oates, Grand Junction. Kawna Safford, Grand Junction. Phyllis Safford , Grand Junction. Dorothy Smith, Grand Junction. Irene Stark, Montrose.   Exhibit No. 2 COMMISSION ON SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE Washington, DC July 14, 1999 Hon. TRENT LOTT Majority Leader United States Senate Washington, DC Dear Senator Lott: I am pleased to report to you on the work of the bipartisan congressional delegation which I co-chaired that participated in the Eighth Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), hosted by the Russian Parliament, the Federation Council and the State Duma, in St. Petersburg, July 6-10, 1999. Other participants from the United States Senate were Senator Hutchison of Texas and Senator Voinovich. We were joined by 14 Members of the House: Rep. Smith, Rep. Hoyer, Rep. Sabo, Rep. Kaptur, Rep. Cardin, Rep. Sawyer, Rep. Slaughter, Rep. Stearns, Rep. Tanner, Rep. Danner, Rep. Hastings of Florida, Rep. Salmon, Rep. Cooksey, and Rep. Tancredo. The combined U.S. delegation of 17, the largest representation by any country in St. Petersburg was welcomed by others as a demonstration of the continued commitment of the United States, and the U.S. Congress, to Europe. This year's Assembly brought together nearly 300 parliamentarians from 52 OSCE participating States. Seven countries, including the Russian Federation, were represented at the level of Speaker of Parliament or President of the Senate. The Assembly continued to recognize the democratically elected parliament of Belarus which President Lukashenka dissolved following his illegal power grab in 1996. The inaugural ceremony included a welcoming address by the Speaker of the State Duma, Gennady Seleznev, and the Governor of St. Petersburg, Vladimir Yakovlev. The President of the Assembly, Ms. Helle Degn of Denmark, presided. The theme for the St. Petersburg Assembly was “Common Security and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.” Foreign Minister Knut Vollenback of Norway addressed the Assembly in his capacity of OSCE Chairman-in-Office to report on the organization's activities, particularly those relating to post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction in Kosovo. Vollenbaek urged the Parliamentary Assembly and its members to play an active role in promoting human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Kosovo. Considerable attention was given to the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe throughout the discussions on Kosovo. Members of the U.S. delegation actively participated in a special plenary session on Kosovo and contributed to a draft resolution concerning the situation in Kosovo. The delegation was successful in securing adoption of several amendments; underscoring the legal obligation of State to cooperate with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia; granting access to all prisoners by the International Committee on the Red Cross; extending humanitarian assistance to other parts of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; and supporting democracy in Serbia and Montenegro. Senator Voinovich introduced a separate resolution stressing the urgent need to support infrastructure projects which would benefit neighboring countries in the Balkans region. This resolution was widely supported and adopted unanimously. Work in the Assembly's three General Committee: Political Affairs and Security; Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment; and Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, focused on the central theme: “Common Security and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.” During discussion in the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, the U.S. pressed for greater transparency with respect to OSCE activities in Vienna, urging that meetings of the Permanent Council be open to the public and media. Considerable discussion focused on the Assembly's long-standing recommendation to modify the consensus rule that governs all decisions taken by the OSCE. During the closing session Rep. Hastings was unanimously elected committee Vice Chairman. Members offered several amendments to the draft resolution considered by the General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment. Two amendments that I sponsored focused on the importance of combating corruption and organized crime, offering concrete proposals for the establishment of high-level inter-agency corruption-fighting mechanisms in each of the OSCE participating States as well as the convening of a ministerial meeting to promote cooperation among these States to combat corruption and organized crime. Other amendments offered by the delegation, and adopted, highlighted the importance of reform of the agricultural sector, bolstering food security in the context of sustainable development, and regulation of capital and labor markets by multilateral organizations. The Rapporteur's report for the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions focused on the improvement of the human rights situation in the newly independent states. Amendments proposed by the U.S. delegation, and adopted by the Assembly, stressed the need for participating States to fully implement their commitments to prevent discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and condemned statements by parliamentarians of OSCE participating States promoting or supporting racial or ethnic hatred, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Other U.S. amendments that were adopted advocated the establishment of permanent Central Election Commissions in emerging democracies and emphasized the need for the Governments of the OSCE participating States to act to ensure that refugees and displaced persons have the right to return to their homes and to regain their property or receive compensation. Two major U.S. initiatives in St. Petersburg were Chairman Smith's resolution on the trafficking of women and children for the sex trade and Rep. Slaughter's memorial resolution on the assassination of Galina Starovoitova, a Russian parliamentarian and an outspoken advocate of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Russia who was murdered late last year. The trafficking resolution appeals to participating States to create legal and enforcement mechanisms to punish traffickers while protecting the rights of the trafficking victims. The resolution on the assassination called on the Russian Government to use every appropriate avenue to bring Galina Starovoitova's murders to justice. Both items received overwhelming support and were included in the St. Petersburg Declaration adopted during the closing plenary. An ambitious series of bilateral meetings were held between Members of the U.S. delegation and representatives from the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Turkey, France, Romania, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenian, Canada, and the United Kingdom. While in St. Petersburg, the delegation met with Aleksandr Nikitin, a former Soviet navy captain being prosecuted for his investigative work exposing nuclear storage problems and resulting radioactive contamination in the area around Murmansk. In addition, the delegation hosted a reception for representatives of non-governmental organizations and U.S. businesses active in the Russian Federation. Elections for officers of the Assembly were held during the final plenary. As. Helle Degn of Denmark was re-elected President. Mr. Bill Graham of Canada was elected Treasurer. Four of the Assembly's nine Vice-Presidents were elected: Mr. Claude Estier (France), Mr. Bruce George (U.K.), Mr. Ihor Ostach (Ukraine), and Mr. Tiit Kabin (Estonia). Rep Hoyer's current term as Vice-President runs through 2001. Enclosed is a copy of the St. Petersburg Declaration adopted by participants at the Assembly's closing session. Finally, the Standing Committee agreed that the Ninth Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held next July in Bucharest, Romania. Sincerely, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S., Co-Chairman

  • Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo: The Views of Local Human Rights Advocates

    This briefing addressed the current situation of human rights in the former Yugoslavia and examined the role of the OSCE in bringing human rights to the forefront and attempting to hold governments accountable to their commitments in the post-Cold War era. Representatives from the Helsinki Committees in Montenegro and Kosovo, as well as the Director of the International Helsinki Foundation, were present at the briefing and spoke about the difficulties of raising awareness about human rights problem in each country with respect for the individual circumstances within the countries, and about the steps that might be taken in the future regarding increasing transparency within human rights.

  • Administration Certification of Russia Regarding Religious Freedom

    Mr. Speaker, through Public Law 105-292, the International Religious Freedom Act, Congress is on record as standing for religious liberty throughout the world. Furthermore, Public Law 105-177, the foreign appropriations legislation passed in the 105th Congress, mandates that no foreign aid money be appropriated to the Government of the Russian Federation if the President determines that the Russian government has implemented legislation or regulations that discriminate, or cause discrimination, against religious groups or religious communities in Russia in violation of accepted international agreements on human rights and religious freedoms to which the Russian Federation is a party. This provision was in response to the 1997 Russian Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations, which many feared would lead to limitations on religious worship and a retreat from the standards of religious freedom that had been achieved in Russia following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.   This year, for the second year in a row, the President has made the determination that the Government of the Russian Federation has not implemented legislation or regulations that cause such discrimination against religious groups. The Presidential Determination states “During the period under review, the Government of the Russian Federation has applied the 1997 Law on Religion in a manner that is not in conflict with its international obligations on religious freedom. However, this issue requires continued and close monitoring as the Law on Religion furnishes regional officials with an instrument that has been interpreted and used by officials at the local level to restrict the activities of religious minorities.” Furthermore, the Presidential Determination states, “To the extent that restrictions on the rights of religious minorities have occurred, they have been the consequence of actions taken by regional or local officials and do not appear to be a manifestation of federal government policy. Such incidents, while they must be taken seriously, represent a relatively small number of problems when viewed against the size of the country and the number of religious organizations.”   Mr. Speaker, I believe that the above statements are a reasonably accurate representation of the religious liberty situation in Russia and that the Presidential Determination is probably a fair one, given the lack of firm legal structure and the geopolitical situation in the present-day Russian Federation. Moreover, some of the most egregious instances of restrictions against religious groups in Russia have been corrected through court action. And to be fair, Russia is hardly the worst offender in the former Soviet Union.   In Turkmenistan, for instance, religious groups are required to have five-hundred members before they can be legally registered with the government to operate openly. It is a ridiculously high number and has resulted in harassment of unregistered religious groups. Of course, unlike Russia, the Government of Turkmenistan doesn't claim to be much of a democracy or go out of its way to adhere to international standards of human rights.   In Uzbekistan, the 1998 law imposes severe criminal penalties for meeting without registering and for engaging in free religious expression with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view, in violation of OSCE religious liberty commitments. Since February 1999, several pastors in Uzbekistan have been detained and jailed on charges of drug possession eerily reminiscent of charges brought in years past against Soviet religious dissidents. These comparisons, however, do not change the fact that there are still several problems in the area of religious liberty in Russia that should be noted and corrected, especially if a considerable sum of U.S. taxpayer money still continues to go to Russia. In the East-West Church & Ministry Report of Winter 1999, Mark Elliot and Sharyl Corrado of the Institute for East-West Christian Studies write: Implementation of the 1997 law to date has been uneven. At least in the short run, a number of factors appear to have worked against consistently harsh application . ..... Still life since the passage of the law has not been easy for many who wish to worship outside the folds of the Moscow (Russian Orthodox) Patriarchate. The first 15 months of the new law included at least 69 specific instances of state harassment, restriction or threat of restriction against non-Moscow Patriarchate religious communities in the Russian Republic. For instance, I wonder if it was a coincidence that a few days after the Presidential Determination, the Russian Federation Ministry of Justice rejected the application of the Society of Jesuits for official registration. For that matter, most of the property seized by the Communists from the Roman Catholic Church in Russia has not been restored. In the city of Moscow, which is considered a liberal jurisdiction, the Jehovah's Witnesses have been subjected to a protracted trial that threatens to return them to “underground” status.   In Stavropol, the local Moslem community has not only been refused the return of a mosque that had been seized by the Communists, but also been prevented from holding worship services in other quarters. A provincial official justified this policy by saying that Moslems only make up 10 percent of the population in the city. These are only a few of the most prominent cases of concern. In rural areas, local officials attempt to hinder worship activities by a number of subterfuges, ranging from the refusal to rent city property to religious groups without their own premises to outright threats and eviction of missionaries.   Therefore, while I believe the Presidential Determination is, by and large, acceptable at this time, I would emphasize the reference to ``continued and close monitoring'' of the situation. In my opinion, the Administration has done a good job of monitoring the Russian religious liberty situation, and I trust these efforts will continue. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I urge the Russian government to take every appropriate step to see that religious freedom is a reality for all in Russia, and I know the Congress will continue to follow this issue closely.

  • Legal Status of Religious Groups in the US (1999)

    The United States does not require religious groups to register with the government in order to organize, meet, collect funds, or claim federal tax-exempt status. Such a registration requirement would violate a core freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution. This overview identifies the underpinnings of this freedom, including a discussion of the United States Constitution's religion and speech clauses. Following this discussion, the issues of association, legal status and tax exemption are addressed. Foundational to civil liberties inthe United States is the principle that government was created by and exists at the will of the people. Governmental power is a limited power conferred to the government by the people. In the United States, the fundamental rights of the individual are paramount and they may only be abrogated by the government under very limited and defined circumstances. Freedom of religion is a fundamental,  natural, and absolute right, deeply rooted in the American constitutional system. Available to all, citizen and non-citizen, the free exercise of religion includes the tight to believe and profess whatever religious belief one desires. Government officials may not compel any person to affirm a religious belief or punish the expression of religious doctrine deemed by officials to be false. The individual's freedom of conscience embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. This fundamental right was established by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the first of the original Bill of Rights. Specifically, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States forbids the government to make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. While originally an inhibition to action by the United States Congress only, the First Amendment has been made applicable to the individual state governments, as well, through the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.The First Amendment guarantees that the government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion, or otherwise act in a way which establishes a state religion. This constitutional constraint on the government's ability to enact legislation regarding religion has two primary aspects. First, the government is prevented fromenacting a law that requires citizens to accept a particular religious belief. Second, this constitutional provision safeguards the free exercise of each person.'s chosen for of religion. These two interrelated concepts are known, respectively, as the "establishment" and "free exercise" clauses. A Russian translation of the text is available here.

  • Report on Azerbaijan's Presidential Election

    On October 11, 1998, Azerbaijan held presidential elections. The contest pitted incumbent President Heydar Aliev, the former Communist Party leader who returned to power in 1993, against moderate opposition leader Etibar Mamedov, political maverick Nizami Suleimanov, and three other candidates with little recognition or following. While no one seriously expected Aliev to lose, the opposition candidates were hoping for a second round. Five leading opposition politicians—Abulfaz Elchibey, Isa Gambar, Rasul Guliev, Ilyas Ismailov and Lala Shovket—boycotted the vote, unwilling to legitimize by their participation an election they believed would be unfair. Negotiations that took place in August between the government and the boycotting opposition over the most controversial aspect of the election—the composition of the Central Election Commission—proved unsuccessful, with the authorities rejecting the opposition’s demand for equal representation on the CEC. The five leaders, joined by numerous other parties and groups in the Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections, urged voters not to go to the polls. The authorities minimized the boycott’s significance, arguing that the opposition leaders knew they had no chance in a fair election and therefore preferred to claim fraud and not participate. Beginning August 15, the boycotting parties organized a series of rallies and demonstrations to pressure the government and call for fair elections. These were the first mass street actions in Azerbaijan in years. The authorities refused to let the opposition hold a demonstration in Freedom Square, in the center of Baku, offering alternative venues instead. On September 12, protesters clashed with police, resulting in arrests and injuries. Afterwards, authorities and opposition tried to reach agreement on the demonstrators’ route, and most pre-election rallies, some of which drew big crowds, were largely peaceful. The increasingly tense relations between the government and boycotting opposition parties were one factor in the OSCE/ODIHR’s appraisal of the election.  In ODIHR’s view, these failings outweighed the positive aspects of the election, such as the election law, which all sides acknowledged as acceptable, the freedom for candidates to speak openly on television, the abolition of censorship and provisions for domestic observers. The OSCE/ODIHR assessment was that the election fell short of meeting international norms. With the OSCE assessment placing in question the official results, the CEC’s failure to publish election protocols until long after the stipulated time period heightens doubts about President Aliev’s standing. The election was largely a referendum on his five-year presidency. Since his return to power in 1993, he has not solved the major problems besetting the country. The NagornoKarabakh conflict remains unsettled; Azerbaijani territory is still under Armenian occupation and no refugees have returned to their homes. Living standards for the great majority of the population have declined precipitously, though it is widely known that a tiny stratum of corrupt officials and businessmen have become rich. Moreover, the predominance of people from Nakhichevan - Aliev’s home region - in positions of power exacerbates general discontent.

  • The Status of Human Rights in Russia

    This briefing addressed the recent changes in the Russian government and what they might portend for human Rights in Russia. Specifically, economic troubles that led to the emergence of extremist politics and subsequent human rights abuses were the main topic of discussion. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch; Mark Levin, Executive Director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; and Lauren Homer, President of Law and Liberty Trust – evaluated the status of human rights abuse in Russia resulting from a mix of repression, corruption, inertia, and neglect. Freedom of speech, freedom of information, and freedom of religion were especially emphasized as aspects of human rights that Russia needs to improve in the future

  • Deteriorating Religious Liberty in Europe

    Senior Advisor to the Commission, E. Wayne Merry, chaired this briefing which was part of a series by the Commission on the subject of religious liberties within the OSCE region. This series was prompted by a perceived developing problem of restrictions on religious liberties in several participating states to the OSCE. At the time, the Commission was devoting most of its attention to the countries that that traditionally had a much more tolerant view toward religious minorities, such as those in Western and Central Europe. Participants in this briefing included Francesca Binda, Karen Gainer, and Paul Rowland, all with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI) personnel Eric Jowett and Kent Patton.

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