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Statement on Russian NGO ADC Memorial

Friday, April 11, 2014

WASHINGTON—In response to this week’s Russian court decision against Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial’s (ADC Memorial) challenge to the requirement to register as a foreign agent, Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) made the following statement:

“Often an organization closes its doors because they've accomplished a goal or outlived their usefulness to society or the market. But Russia's decision to force ADC Memorial in St. Petersburg to close if it does not register as a foreign agent is proof-positive that this NGO’s work is needed and their message is powerful. The affiliated Memorial in Moscow was founded during the Soviet period of perestroika to address a totalitarian past. Now, as the darkness of lies and propaganda appear again on the Russian horizon, we will not waiver in our support for groups like Memorial that are dedicated to telling the truth about the past and the present no matter the cost.”

ADC Memorial is one of many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia forced to fight for their right to operate in the wake of tremendous government pressure against them. Russian president Vladimir Putin has conducted a systematic campaign to shrink the space for independent voices in Russia. The “foreign agents law” enacted by Russia in 2012 requires all NGOs that accept foreign funds to register as foreign agents. Many groups such as ADC Memorial have decided to cease operations rather than submit to the onerous labeling and reporting requirements that are clearly meant to smear them as traitors and force them to close.

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The Parliamentary Assembly will meet again next year, July 3-7, in Brussels, Belgium. U.S. Delegation to 14th Annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly: Commission Chairman Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)

  • Helsinki Commission Examines Current State of Human Rights and Democracy in Russia

    By John Finerty Staff Advisor With the situation in Russia continuing to be uncertain, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also called the U.S. Helsinki Commission, convened a briefing on June 23, 2005 to update Members of Congress, press and staff on ongoing developments in the area of human rights.  The focus of the briefing was on analysis by Mr. Valentin Gefter, General Director of the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the Kennan Institute in Washington, D.C. Mr. Gefter presented balanced but critical testimony on the current state of human rights and politics in Russia, stressing that Russia was moving, albeit “slowly and controversially,” toward political normality and stability.  He described in detail what he termed a “new rise of authoritarian trends” in Russia, citing the increasing role of political institutions and security institutions in the country.  Mr. Gefter noted that there has been increased state persecution against “socially active” groups and individuals, noting that the scope and methods employed by Russian authorities were “not fair, obviously selective…and directed against those who are not liked by the authorities or just individual officials.” Specifically, Gefter focused on the resurgent trend of imprisoning citizens for political reasons, which he deemed the “most dangerous manifestations of the overall atmosphere” in Russia. “The authorities call them enemies of the state,” he remarked, “but we call them victims of the regime.” In his comments, Gefter focused on four individuals whom he considers political prisoners: Valentin Danilov and Igor Sutyagin, academics who were accused of espionage, and; Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, two businessmen convicted of various charges. Gefter argued that Lebedev and Khodorkovsky were had being made scapegoats by the Russian government for everyone who was involved in the development of capitalism in Russia. Against this backdrop, Gefter suggested that foreign officials seeking to influence human rights developments in Russia should place an emphasis on the resolution of these and other individual cases rather than trying to push sweeping systemic reforms. One ray of light on the relatively dark political landscape, Gefter noted, is the fact that there has not been mass criminal prosecutions reminiscent of the Red Terror at the height of the Soviet era. However, while significant changes to the social, political and legal situation in the post-Soviet era have taken place, Gefter said, the methods and mentality of Russian law enforcement agencies have remained generally the same. The result of this lack of change within Russian security agencies, Gefter asserted, has led to many instances of political, corporate, and even personal influence prevailing over the rule of law. With respect to the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, Gefter, who works closely with the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, suggested that regions neighboring the war torn republic are most directly affected by the war, and that the consequences of the war for the rest of Russia is comparatively limited.  In this connection, Gefter also mentioned a rise in discrimination faced by Chechens and other ethnic minorities from the Caucasus.  Gefter expressed particular concern over what he termed “state violence” perpetrated by the police and security services. In a broader context, Gefter expressed doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin had the necessary time and public support to accomplish whatever economic and social reforms he had originally planned. 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. PARTICIPATING COMMISSIONERS Moderator: Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) WITNESSES Mr. Valentin Gefter, General Director of the Mocow-based Human Rights Institute, co-editor of the Russian Human Rights Bulletin and editor of the human rights journal Russian Messenger and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Kennan Institute

  • The “Yukos Affair” and Its Implications for Politics and Business in Russia

    Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation, Hon. Chris Smith, addressed the subject of the rule of law in Russia and its relationship to business and politics in the context of Russia’s approaching chairmanship of the G-8 at the end of the year. An argument was made that the Yukos case was characterized by selective prosecution and blatant legal arbitrariness. The potential outcomes of Russia indifference or hostility to the rule of law were also addressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Leoni Nevzlin, Former Executive of Yukos Oil, and Peter Roudik, Senior Foreign Law Specialist for the Law Library of Congress – examined the deficiencies of Russia’s legal system and the shortcomings of the criminal justice reform that was supposedly implemented and completed successfully.

  • The Uzbekistan Crisis: Assessing the Impact and Next Steps

    This hearing focused on the protests in the Andijon that were met by a violent government response and the lack of meaningful democratization reform in Uzbekistan. The Commissioners touched on the lack of separation of powers in the government and the authoritarian governing institutions that cannot produce a reliable investigation into the violent government response to the protest. Human rights activists and journalists from Uzbekistan gave testimony on their experience of the oppressive leadership of the government and first-hand account of the horrific and bloody response by the government police to remove peaceful protestors. The hearing discussed what actions the United States can take, within the OSCE framework, to push for meaningful reform.

  • Russia: Human Rights and Political Prospects

    Mike McIntyre and other lawmakers evaluated the degree to which human rights were being respected in Russia in light of increasing authoritarian trends via so-called power institutions. The effect of the war in Chechnya on Russian society as a whole was also a topic of discussion. Valentin Gefter, General Director of the Human Rights Institute in Moscow spoke to several factors that had led to issues regarding human rights, including the situation of military conflict in Chechnya, protests initiated by individuals displeased with social and economic policies, and preventative action taken by the state.

  • 90th Commemoration of the Armenian Genocide

    Mr. Speaker, today we mark the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Armenian Genocide. Every year we participate in this solemn commemoration but this year it has a special significance.  For the families of the victims and the survivors, the horrors of that bygone era remain so painful that it is hard to believe how much time has passed. The passage of years has not dimmed the memory or eased the grief. Not a relative or friend has been forgotten, nor have fond memories of native cities faded away.  Moreover, no accounting for mass murder has been made. Though many governments and legislative bodies around the world have recognized the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish Government consistently refuses to acknowledge what happened. For Armenians everywhere, Turkey's policy of aggressive denial sharpens the feeling of loss, embittering the lives of those who miraculously survived.  Today, those of us without Armenian blood share the sorrow of Armenians everywhere. I had the privilege in September 2000 of chairing hearings on the Armenian Genocide in the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights of the International Relations Committee. The reading I have done over the years, which has included detailed descriptions of the atrocities, shock me. But, I am resolved to speak about this issue, loudly and often.  The Armenian Genocide has significance for all of us. It created a monstrous precedent which launched a century of genocides. In numerous countries and cultures, an ethnic group that controlled the state has used its instruments of coercion to slaughter members of a minority group, religion or class. It is enough to recall Adolf Hitler's smug remark, "Who remembers the Armenians?'' to grasp the universality of what happened to the Armenians.  Much has changed in the world since the mass, planned murder in 1915--two world wars, the fall of the Ottoman, Habsburg and Romanov Empires, the rise of the American superpower and most recently, the fall of the Soviet Union. One would have thought that we would have grown wiser over the years. Alas, we have not learned the appropriate lessons from the 20th century's first genocide. Just a few years after Rwanda, at this very moment, another genocide is taking place in Darfur. Yet, instead of mounting a united response, the international community has waffled or slithered away from responsibility, as hundreds of thousands are slaughtered.  The record of man's inhumanity to man is awful enough to produce a feeling of resignation. But we must fight that tendency. We must continue to remind the world of what occurred in 1915 and keep calling on Turkey to won up. We must not restrain ourselves from speaking of the Armenian Genocide. Along with many of my colleagues, I urge President Bush to speak the truth to Ankara, which needs to come to terms with its own past.  As this somber time, I want to note one optimistic point: OSCE negotiators are guardedly hopeful about the prospects of resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. True, we have experienced such moments before and should not get our hopes up. Still, I am encouraged to hear that there is at least some reason for hope. We all pray for a peaceful solution to this conflict, which has caused over 30,000 deaths and many more casualties. Next year, when we once again commemorate the Genocide of the Armenians, I hope their descendants will be living in peace with their neighbors, building a democratic, prosperous country that will be a light unto the world.

  • Unrest in Uzbekistan: Crisis and Prospects

    This briefing, held in the wake of protests in the town of Andijon in eastern Uzbekistan that were violently put down by Uzbek troops on May 13, examined the crisis in Uzbekistan and U.S. policy options toward the regime of President Islam Karimov. The Uzbek regime has long been listed as an abuser of human rights. Among those participating in the briefing were: H.E. Samuel Zbogar, Ambassador of Slovenia and representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office; Dr. Abdurahim Polat, Chairman of the Uzbek opposition Birlik Party; Mr. Michael Cromartie, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Dr. Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Mr. Daniel Kimmage, Central Asia Analyst for Radio free Europe/Radio Liberty. The participants called for Uzbekistan to strive to resolve this situation peacefully, and continue to meet its commitments as a participating State in the OSCE.

  • Helsinki Commission Examines Russian-Syrian Connection

    By Chadwick R. Gore, Staff Advisor On March 9, the Helsinki Commission convened a hearing, “The Russian-Syrian connection and threats to democracy in the Middle East and the greater OSCE Region” to examine burgeoning relations between Russia and Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism. Additionally, the hearing explored the scope of Syria’s dominant role in Lebanon, implications for a transition to an independent, sovereign and democratic Lebanon, and the prospects for the broader Middle East region. Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia are OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Lebanon and Syria were originally included in the Mediterranean dimension of the Helsinki process dating back to the early 1970s. Russia’s involvement with Syria is of particular concern to the Commission as the OSCE participating States have agreed to the Charter on Preventing and Combating Terrorism which commits all states “to refrain from harboring terrorists, organizing, instigating, providing active or passive support or assistance to, or otherwise sponsoring terrorist acts in another State.” The U.S. State Department has included Syria on the list of states sponsoring terrorism since December 29, 1979. Syria for years has served as a base of operations and training for the terrorist organizations HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command, al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and has supported the activities of Lebanese Hizbollah. Since the liberation of Iraq, Syria has served as a safe zone for the remnants of the regime of Saddam Hussein and allowed, if not encouraged, them and other terrorists to attack the military of the United States and her allies. Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Ranking House Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) heard from a panel of five witnesses: Dr. Walid Phares, Professor, Florida Atlantic University and senior fellow, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Farid N. Ghadry, President, Reform Party of Syria; Entifadh K. Qanbar, Special Envoy and Spokesperson, United Iraqi Alliance; Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy, American Foreign Policy Council; and Steven Emerson, Executive Director, The Investigative Project. Chairman Brownback opened the hearing by voicing concerns that warming relations between Moscow and Damascus are expected to lead to a series of arms deals for Syria and further transfers to Hizbollah and to others. He cited the fact that Russian-supplied SA-18s missiles, according to experts, can easily be dismantled into single man portable air defense systems (MANPADS), posing a potential threat to airliners. “The sale appears on track despite objections from the U.S., and Russia's commitments as a participating State of the OSCE not to support terrorist regimes,” Brownback noted. Commenting on the positive pro-democracy developments taking place in Lebanon, Chairman Brownback acknowledged the pressure on the people of Lebanon as they seek to restore control over their country. “The pro-democracy ‘Cedar Revolution’ is a call for freedom, sovereignty and independence. By contrast, what does Syria have to offer: authoritarianism, subjugation and dependence,” remarked Brownback. Commissioner Cardin stressed, “Syria represents a major challenge for all of us. They support terrorism. They are certainly counterproductive in the peace process in the Middle East. They certainly present a problem for the freedom of Iraq. And they clearly are interfering with Lebanon's opportunity to control its own country.” The Rule and Oppression of the Ba’ath Party in Syria Dr. Phares examined the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the support the Syrian-backed regime received from the Russian Federation in the form of weapons and intelligence. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon started officially in 1976. At that time, Syrian forces were supported by the Soviet Union. “With the collapse of the Soviet Union, one would have imagined that the Russian Federation, the inheritor of the Soviet Union, would basically cease its strategic relationship with Syria. In fact, it did not cease,” said Phares. Russia continued to provide weapons and strategic intelligence support to the Syrian Ba’athist regime in a variety of ways. Dr. Phares concluded that if the Russian Federation continues to arm and supply the Assad regime, and Damascus in turn continues to provide support for terrorists operating in Iraq, Israel, occupied-Lebanon and Hizbollah, then Congress and the Administration must act. Phares stressed that the Russian Federation needs to support stability in Lebanon and Syria by ceasing to supply weapons to Assad. He reiterated that Syria must comply with UN Resolution 1559. UN Resolution 1559 (2004): reaffirms strict respect for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout the country; calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and for the immediate removal of all foreign military and non-military personnel; calls upon all parties concerned to cooperate fully and urgently with the UN Security Council for the full implementation of all its resolutions concerning the restoration in Lebanon of territorial integrity, full sovereignty and political independence. Farid N. Ghadry provided insight into both the Assad regime and Ba’athist Party and how they control Syria. He appealed to the Commission to work to give democracy a chance in Syria. After explaining the evolution of the Assad regime going back to 1963, Ghadry discussed Syria today. He mentioned the killing of 30,000 innocent Syrians under the order of the regime in 1982, and Damascus’ involvement with a massive drug and counterfeiting operation located in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Most recently, the Assad regime reportedly struck a deal with the Russian Federation to purchase shoulder-held SA-18 missiles. “The SA-18 is capable of downing an aircraft flying at up to 900 miles per hour, so one can only imagine the possibilities if these weapons fell into the wrong hands,” Ghardry said. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Syrian counterpart in a state visit to Moscow in late January. Ghadry said that, given the chance to choose democracy freely, Syrians would appreciate the aid of the United States. He appealed for the Commission to understand the desires of the Syrian people -- “Only freedom and democracy can restore their rights and celebrate their contribution to the Syrian society.” Entifadh K. Qanbar, Special Envoy for the United Iraqi Alliance, noted that recent televised reports have proven that terrorist operations in Iraq were coordinated by Syrian intelligence, which is indirectly supported by the Russian Federation. He named Syria as the logistical, financial and training base for the terrorists in Iraq, stating: The leaders of the Iraqi terror campaign are high-ranking Ba’athist officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime, and all of them take refuge in Syria. The only way to win the war on terror in Iraq is to cut off Ba’athist support from Syria and expel them from the Iraqi government and specifically from the security police and army. Qanbar said the Ba’ath Party is the leading terrorist organization in Iraq, not Al Qaida, having modeled its ideology after the “genocidal” inspirations of 1930s Europe Russia’s Connection to Syria Chairman Brownback asked about the origins and development of the Ba’ath Party. The party goes back to the late ‘20s, with its founders being Michel Aflak and Salah a-Din. Aflak frequently visited Germany while studying in France during the early ‘30s. As he saw how the Germans were able to get people behind one cause and one dictator, the roots of most of the Ba’ath Party came from the “enlightenment” that Aflak obtained during these visits. Chairman Brownback sought an explanation for why Russia -- a country that has been the target of terrorism -- would maintain a relationship with a regime born out of fascism, especially with a history of links to terrorist organizations. Russia’s desire to develop a foothold in the Middle East, coupled with Cold War competition with the United States, were sufficient motives, said Qanbar. Plus, there are many common denominators between Russian ideology and the Ba’ath Party, he maintained. Dr. Phares recapped Syria’s instigation of Lebanon’s civil war in the 1970s, describing how pro-Ba’athist Siikas and other organizations moved inside Lebanon before 1975 in order to create civil war conditions. He reminded participants that Syria has never accepted the existence of a truly independent Lebanon. Listing a number of assassinations that have been carried out by Syrian Ba’athists, Phares showed how each assassination was of those who sought an independent Lebanon. Just days prior to the hearing, massive back-to-back anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian rallies had taken place in Beirut. The hearing helped reveal the connection between key actors in the region and how the United States can best support the courageous individuals in Lebanon. With regard to the pro-Syrian demonstration, Phares said, “One has to understand who is demonstrating and in which condition.” He explained that anti-Syrian demonstrators rally under threat from Hizbollah and other terrorist organizations and that if the Lebanese had the freedom to demonstrate against Syria without such threats, you would see a much larger anti-Syrian turn-out. In response to a question from Chairman Brownback on whether the Ba’athist regime should be identified has a terrorist regime, Ghadry stated it warranted such designation and his belief that Syria has sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq. “Public statements made by the entire apparatus of the Syrian Ba’athist regime have encouraged martyrdom operations,” Phares said. “Public knowledge would define by itself the Ba’athist regime in Syria as terrorists.” Qanbar volunteered that Syrian intelligence is the best he has ever seen, they are the most skilled in making car bombs, and the Ba’ath Party is not only the oldest organization that sponsors terrorism but the richest. Implications for Lebanon and the Middle East Steven Emerson explained the “dangerous” role Russia is playing in empowering and strengthening the Syrian regime, especially Russia’s agreement to upgrade Syria’s weapons systems with the sale of SA-18 Igla anti-aircraft missiles. “Syria has received extensive financial, political, military and technological support from Russia recently…while continuing to harbor, support and actively collaborate in the active commission of terrorism,” Emerson said. Emerson called for the United States to “disrupt” its trade, economic and technological relationships with Russia because of this sale of SA-18s. “As for Syria, the United States has to put on the table a whole range of new punitive actions,” he said. Emerson warned that the Russian Federation is arming Arab regimes as a resumption of Cold War strategies, saying “Russia has sought increasingly to play a countervailing weight to the United States in almost a replication of the Cold War strategy.” Ilan Berman detailed the relationship between Russia and Syria, explaining the “tangible outcomes” of the January Moscow meeting between Russian President Putin and Syrian President Assad. Bilateral ties were strengthened and long-term support was committed. Berman characterized the Russian-Syrian connection as “…a lifeline that will provide the Syrian Government with greater resources and greater capabilities to resist pro-independence stirrings in Lebanon or in its own country.” Asked about the nascent democratic movement developing in Syria, Berman replied, “I think what we are seeing are the last gasps of a desperate regime trying to provide the veneer of a new order while trying to preserve an old order.” United States Helsinki Commission Intern Jason D. Mann contributed to this article.

  • Unregistered Religious Groups in Russia

    This hearing focused the disfranchisement of religious minorities Russia.  In several cases, authorities unfairly targeted religious groups with excessive force and threatened their right to worship. The hearing examined these cases and what the OSCE and U.S. have done in response. The witness John V. Hanford, III, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, gave testimony about specific measures the State Department has in place in Moscow for addressing this issue and what the administration of President Bush has done to respond directly to these violations.

  • The Schneerson Collection and Historical Justice

    This hearing examined Russia’s failure to return the Schneerson Agudas Chabad collection of books to the Chabad community for 90 years, for study and use in preservation for the community. Consensus among the members of Congress and witnesses of the hearing was that the time has come for Russia to return these books to their rightful owners. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has worked tirelessly toward this goal. 

  • The Decade of Roma Inclusion

    Mr. President, last month, the Prime Ministers of eight Central and Southern European countries met in Sofia, Bulgaria, for their first meeting in what has been dubbed “the Decade of Roma Inclusion.” This initiative is designed to spur governments to undertake intensive engagement in the field of education, employment, health and housing with respect to Europe's largest, most impoverished and marginalized ethnic minority, the Roma. The Open Society Institute, the World Bank, the European Commission and the United Nations Development Program, all supporters of this initiative, hope that this effort will result in meaningful improvements over the course of a 10-year period. In December, a donors' conference pledged $42 million for a Roma Education Fund. But the real goal is to get governments to give more help to their own people from their own budgets, as well as to make better use of the funds already available from organizations like the EU. The fact is that Romani riots in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in 2002 and in eastern Slovakia last year should be a wake-up call for governments with significant Romani communities. These countries cannot afford to ignore the crushing impoverishment and crude bigotry that so many Roma face on a daily basis. The Decade of Romani Inclusion is all well and good, and I commend the governments that are participating in this initiative. But much more needs to be done to truly advance Romani integration. It must start with a message of tolerance and inclusion from the highest levels of government. Unfortunately, too often the voices that are heard are those spreading crude stereotypes and inter-ethnic hatred. I am particularly alarmed by what appears to be an increase in anti-Roma statements in Bulgaria. Last summer, the head of one of Bulgaria's leading trade unions, Konstantin Trenchev, broadly characterized all Roma as criminals, and then called for the establishment of vigilante guards to deal with them. More recently, Ognian Saparev, a Member of Parliament from the Bulgarian Socialist Party, dismissed the significance of reports that the Mayor of Pazardzhik has trafficked Romani girls for the benefit of visiting foreigner diplomats. Saparev reportedly claimed that the statutory rape of these girls shouldn't be considered a crime because Romani girls are “mature” at age 14. Significantly, Saparev also gained headlines last year for publishing an inflammatory article about Roma in which he argued they should be forced to live in ghettos. Even worse statements have come from Russia. Yevgenii Urlashov, a city official in Yaroslavl, recently characterized all Roma as drug dealers and called for them to be deported. Not to be outdone, fellow municipal legislator, Sergei Krivnyuk, said, "residents are ready to start setting the Gypsies' houses on fire, and I want to head this process." Although nongovernmental human rights groups have condemned this anti-Romani rhetoric, other leaders in Bulgaria and Russia have largely remained silent. But it is critical that public leaders, from all walks of life, speak out against such hate mongering. Speaking on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Polish President Kwasniewski noted that “complete extermination was also [intended] to be the fate of the Roma community.” It will not do, 60 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, to stand by in silence while Roma are crudely caricatured as criminals, just as they were by the Nazis. And we must not stand by in silence when a member of Parliament dismisses the criminal act of trafficking of children, simply because they are Romani.

  • Russian Support for the Syrian Regime

    Mr. President, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, held a hearing last week that examined the close relationship between Russian Federation and Syria. The Commission heard testimony detailing their intricate financial and military dealings that began in the earliest days of the Cold War and continue to this day. This relationship allows Syria to continue to support numerous terrorist groups, groups that have terrorized Lebanon for the past three decades and fuel the insurgency in Iraq. In addition, we heard details about Syria's support of terrorist organizations who operate around the world. Finally, we heard from both Lebanese and Syrians committed to freedom and democracy who have become victims of the Assad regime and are now languishing in the prison cells of Damascus.  The Commission's concern regarding Russia's involvement with Syria--a country that has been listed as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1979 by the State Department--rises from the Helsinki commitments that Russia has freely accepted as a participating State of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe OSCE. The OSCE Charter on Preventing and Combating Terrorism was agreed to at the Porto Ministerial in 2002. Russia then committed to refrain from instigating or providing active or passive support or assistance to, or otherwise sponsoring terrorist acts in another state. Russia also committed to reducing the risk of terrorists gaining access to weapons and materials of mass destruction and their means of delivery.  Russia's support for the terrorist regime in Damascus flies in the face of these commitments. Russia is an active enabler of the Assad regime, whose Ba'ath Party was described by one of our witnesses as the richest terrorist organization in the region. The Syrian regime has received untold amounts of military hardware, much of which are currently being used by terrorists in Iraq against our American troops and our allies. Additionally, Syrian intelligence supports terrorist units in Iraq, composed not only of Syrians, but including Egyptians, Sudanese, Moroccans, and other Islamic mujahidin.  Even more alarming is Russia's plan to sell an unknown number of Igla SA-18 shoulder-held missiles to Syria. Such a sale to this terrorist state is more than criminal. This sale will put in the hands of terrorists some of the most sophisticated shoulder-held missiles in the Russian inventory, and increases the likelihood that they will get into the arsenals of other terrorist organizations around the world. Despite Russia's denials, indicators are that this sale will go forward soon, putting at risk every airline flight, every military flight, with the potential for massive loss of life and the shutting down of modern transportation around the world.  We must focus on the fact that, while there is no apparent direct Russian involvement in Iraq, this direct support of Syrian military and intelligence operations, coupled with Syria's support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and the long list of evil deeds coming out of Damascus, cast Russia as a suspicious party to these terrorist activities. We should not sit idly by and allow this to transpire without comment. We must call upon President Bush and Secretary Rice to reiterate U.S. demands that Russia disengage from its support of Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism. It is not enough to stop the sale of the missiles. Complete cessation of financial and military support to this rogue regime is necessary.  On the eve of the Helsinki Commission hearing, a courageous group of human rights activists and pro-democracy reformists held a demonstration in Damascus, a daring display of dissent quickly broken up by the security forces. One of the protesters held up at banner that read: “Freedom for Prisoners of Opinion and Conscience.” According to the Syrian Human Rights Committee, the Assad regime in Damascus has executed nearly 17,000 Syrian and Lebanese prisoners. Additionally, there are over 600 prisoners of conscience in Syrian jails, champions of human rights, accountability and transparency who are still languishing under horrible conditions.  I would like to highlight a few of these prisoners of conscience whose names were submitted to us by one of the witnesses and call for their immediate release: Riad Seif, member of parliament; Aref Dalilah, economist; Maamun al-Homsi, member of parliament; Abdul Aziz al-Khayer, physician; Habib Issa, lawyer; Walid al-Bounni, physician; Mohammad Bashir al-Arab, student leader and doctor; Muhanad al-Debs, student leader; Mahmoud Ammo, activist; Mahmoud Abou Sader, activist; Mazid Ali Al-Terkawi, businessman; and Fawaz Tello, engineer.  I was pleased to hear of Syria's promise to a U.N. envoy to withdraw its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon, but as the counter-demonstrations yesterday against Syria demanded, Damascus must follow through with actions as soon as possible. I am hoping that details of the withdrawal plan from U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen after his talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud will allow the people of Lebanon to hold their parliamentary elections in May without any interference from the Syrians and to do so in a manner that is free, timely, and transparent.  What would be unacceptable is the kind of warning issued by Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami that polls may have to be postponed if the country's political opposition fails to enter a dialogue with the government. Such an effort will surely ignite the kind of violence that the Lebanese people have been yearning for so many years to avoid.  It is time for the international community to lend support for the slogan that defines the people's revolution in Lebanon and in the region: “Kifaya,” which means "enough." Let's listen to what the people in Lebanon are saying for what they are saying is now being heard not only in Beirut but in Damascus, in Cairo, and in Riyadh: enough of autocrats, enough of the corruption, and enough of the repression. 

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