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U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Human Rights in Turkmenistan

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following briefing:

Disappeared in Turkmenistan’s Prisons: Are They Still Alive? 

Thursday, February 20, 2014
3:00 p.m.
Cannon House Office Building
Room 122

Ten years ago, the Organization for Cooperation in Europe’s Moscow Mechanism was invoked against Turkmenistan after hundreds were arrested in the wake of an alleged coup attempt. The resulting report detailed the lack of rule of law during the arrest process and subsequent trials, as well as the absence of information about the health and whereabouts of those imprisoned. And despite years of inquiries and a change in regime in Turkmenistan, the fate of many of those who have disappeared into Turkmenistan’s prisons over the past ten years remains unknown. Their families deserve answers, and this briefing will take a new look at these cases.

Turkmenistan has been characterized as one of the world’s most repressive countries, with virtually no freedom of expression, association, or assembly. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom again recommended in 2013 that the Secretary of State designate Turkmenistan a “country of particular concern,” and the State Department placed Turkmenistan on its “Tier 2 Watch List” for trafficking in persons - the second lowest category. Imprisonment has been used as a tool for political retaliation against those who do speak out, and Turkmenistan’s prisons – closed to outside monitoring - are notorious for torture, poor conditions, and disease.

The following panelists are scheduled to participate:

  • Rachel Denber, Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch
  • Catherine Fitzpatrick, Independent Expert on Eurasia
  • Peter Zalmayev, Director, Eurasia Democracy Initiative
  • Kate Watters, Executive Director, Crude Accountability
  • Boris Shikmuradov, Editor, Gundogar.org
Media contact: 
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
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  • Constitutional Impasse Continues in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, on May 16, the alternative Presidential election concluded in Belarus within the timeframe envisioned by the legitimate 1994 Constitution. While the opposition Central Election Commission (CEC) concluded that the final results of the voting were invalid because of various violations deriving from the impediments placed by Belarusian authorities, the ballot served as an important barometer of democratic engagement by the citizens of Belarus. In the months leading up to the election, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka had imprisoned one of the two Presidential candidates, former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir, on what were clearly politically motivated charges, arrested hundreds of election officials and volunteers, and instituted administrative proceedings against others. Nevertheless, the authorities were unable to thwart the election in at least one critically important respect, according to the opposition CEC, the voting itself was valid because more than half, or 53 percent of the electorate, participated. When one considers that these were unsanctioned elections that challenged Lukashenka's legitimacy, this is a substantial number of people. No matter what the imperfections, Mr. Speaker, the opposition's electoral initiative should send a powerful message to Lukashenka. Clearly, an appreciable number of Belarusian citizens are dissatisfied with the profoundly negative political and socio-economic fallout stemming from his dictatorial inclinations and misguided nostalgia for the Soviet past or some misty “Slavic Union.” The vote highlights the constitutional and political impasse created by Lukashenka's illegitimate 1996 constitutional referendum, in which he extended his personal power, disbanded the duly elected 13th Supreme Soviet, and created a new legislature and constitutional court subservient to him. Last month, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), which I chair, held a hearing on the situation in Belarus, with a view toward promoting human rights and democracy there. Testimony from the State Department, OSCE mission in Belarus, the Belarusian democratic opposition and several human rights NGOs all reaffirmed that Belarus is missing out on what one witness characterized as “the great market democratic revolution that is sweeping Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia” because of Lukashenka's power grab and backsliding on human rights and democracy. Despite repeated calls from the international community, including the Helsinki Commission, for Lukashenka to cease harassment of the opposition, NGO's and the independent media; allow the opposition access to the electronic media; create the conditions for free and fair elections and strengthen the rule of law, we have failed to see progress in these areas. Indeed, we see more evidence of reversals. Earlier this year, for example, Lukashenka signed a decree which introduces extensive restrictions on non-governmental activity and mandates re-registration, by July 1, of political parties, NGOs and trade unions. The decree, which among other onerous stipulations requires that organizations acknowledge the results of Lukashenka's illegitimate 1996 referendum, is clearly designed to destroy democratic civil society in Belarus and further consolidate Lukashenka's repressive rule. Moreover, within the last few months, several disturbing incidents have occurred, among them the March arrests of Viktor Gonchar, Chairman of the opposition CEC, and the Chygir imprisonment, as well as the mysterious disappearances of Tamara Vinnikova, former chair of the National Bank of Belarus and, on May 10, Gen. Yuri Zakharenko, former Interior Minister and a leading opponent of Lukashenka. Just a few days ago, Lukashenka's government announced that no more foreign priests will be allowed to serve in Belarus, making it extremely difficult for the Roman Catholic Church, which is rebuilding following the travails of the Soviet era, to function. Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge the Belarusian Government to comply with its freely undertaken commitments under the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE agreements and to immediately, without preconditions, convene a genuine dialog with the country's democratic forces and with the long-suffering Belarusian people.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Children's Day in Turkey

    Mr. Speaker, later this week the Republic of Turkey will celebrate “Children's Day” as has been the custom every April 23rd since the early 1920s. Such festive occasions are important reminders of the wonderful blessing that children are to family and society alike. Regrettably, the joy of this celebration will not be shared by all children in Turkey.   Recently, I chaired a hearing of the Helsinki Commission that reviewed human rights practices in Turkey, an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The disturbing testimony presented at that hearing underscored the vulnerability of children. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Harold Koh, cited the case of two-year-old Azat Tokmak to illustrate how terrible and dehumanizing the practice of torture is for everyone involved, including children. Azat was tortured, according to Mr. Koh, in an effort to secure a confession from her mother. He testified: “In April [1998] the Istanbul Chamber of Doctors certified that Azat showed physical and psychological signs of torture after detention at an Istanbul branch of the anti-terror police. Azat's mother, Fatma Tokmak, was detained in December 1996 on suspicion of membership in the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Azat was burned with cigarettes and kicked in an effect to make her mother confess.” Mr. Speaker, we are talking about a two-year-old child, a baby, being tortured by police.   At the same March 18th hearing, Stephen Rickard, Director of the Washington Office of Amnesty International USA, observed, “There is something Orwellian about calling units that torture and beat children and sexually assault their victims “anti-terror” police.” Mr. Rickard displayed a photograph of Done Talun, a twelve-year-old girl from a poor neighborhood in Ankara, to give a human face to the problem of torture in Turkey. “For five days, she was beaten and tortured while her frantic family asked for information about her whereabouts and condition,” Rickard said. Done was accused of stealing some bread. Her torture reportedly occurred at the Ankara Police Headquarters. “Is this young girl's case unique? Unfortunately, it is not,” he concluded. Mr. Rickard presented the Commission with a recent AI report: “Gross Violations in the Name of Fighting Terror: The Human Rights Record Of Turkey's ‘Anti-Terror’ Police Units.” The report includes a section on the torture of children.   Mr. Douglas A. Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for Victims of Torture, testified that there are thirty-seven different forms of torture practiced in Turkey today. Addressing the torture of children, Johnson observed, “twenty percent of our clients over the years were tortured when they were children, and usually that was to use them as a weapon against their parents,” similar to the case of two-year-old Azat Tokmak.   Mr. Speaker, I urge the Clinton Administration to press the Government of Turkey to eliminate the climate of impunity that has allowed children like Azat and Done to be subjected to such gross abuse at the hands of the police. Then, and only then, will children such as these, “the least of these,” be able to fully partake in the joy of this special Children's Day set aside to celebrate their lives and those of all children in Turkey.

  • Condemning the Murder of Rosemary Nelson and Urging Protection of Defense Attorneys in Northern Ireland

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce a bipartisan resolution which condemns the brutal murder of Northern Ireland defense attorney Rosemary Nelson and calls on the British Government to launch an independent inquiry into Rosemary's killing. The resolution also calls for an independent judicial inquiry into the possibility of official collusion in the 1989 murder of defense attorney Patrick Finucane and an independent investigation into the general allegations of harassment of defense attorneys by Northern Ireland's police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC). I am pleased that Mr. Gilman, Mr. King, Mr. Crowley, Mr. Payne, and Mr. Menendez are original sponsors of this resolution.   Mr. Speaker, Rosemary Nelson was a champion of due process rights and a conscientious and courageous attorney in Northern Ireland. She was the wife of Paul Nelson and the mother of three young children: Christopher (13), Gavin (11), and Sarah (8). Her murder was a cowardly act by those who are the enemies of peace and justice in Northern Ireland. Her death is a loss felt not just by her family and friends, but by all of us who advocate fundamental human rights.   I first met Rosemary Nelson in August, 1997, when she shared with me her genuine concern for the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. She explained how, as an attorney, she has been physically and verbally assaulted by RUC members and how the RUC sent messages of intimidation to her through her clients. Many of her clients were harassed as well. Notwithstanding these threats, Rosemary Nelson still carried an exhaustive docket which included several high profile political cases. She became an international advocate for the rule of law and the right of the accused to a comprehensive defense and an impartial hearing. She also worked hard to obtain an independent inquiry into the 1989 murder of defense attorney of Patrick Finucane. For this, Rosemary Nelson was often the subject of harassment and intimidation. For her service to the clients, on March 15, 1999, Rosemary Nelson paid the ultimate price with her life, the victim of a car bomb.   Last September, 1988, Rosemary testified before the subcommittee I chair, International Operations and Human Rights. She told us she feared the RUC. She reported that she had been “physically assaulted by a number of RUC officers” and that the RUC harassment included, “at the most serious, making threats against my personal safety including death threats.” She said she had no confidence in receiving help from her government because, she said, in the end her complaints about the RUC were investigated by the RUC. She also told us that no lawyer in Northern Ireland can forget what happened to Pat Finucane, nor can they dismiss it from their minds.   She said one way to advance the protection of defense attorneys would be the establishment of an independent investigation into the allegations of collusion in his murder. Despite her testimony and her fears, the British government now wants to entrust the investigation of Rosemary Nelson's murder to the very agency she feared and mistrusted most, the RUC. Instead, I believe that in order for this investigation to be beyond reproach, and to have the confidence and cooperation of the Catholic community that Rosemary Nelson adeptly represented, it must be organized, managed, directed and run by someone other than the RUC. It just begs the question as to whether or not we can expect a fair and impartial investigation when the murder victim herself had publicly expressed deep concern about the impartiality of RUC personnel.   Mr. Speaker, the major international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights , British/Irish Human Rights Watch Committee for the Administration of Justice, and Human Rights Watch have all called for an independent inquiry. Param Cumaraswamy, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, who completed an extensive human rights investigative mission to the United Kingdom last year, has also called for an independent inquiry of Rosemary Nelson's murder. At our September 29, 1998 hearing, Mr. Cumaraswamy stated that he found harassment and intimidation of defense lawyers in Northern Ireland to be consistent and systematic. He recommended a judicial inquiry into the threats and intimidation Rosemary Nelson and other defense attorneys had received. It's hard not to wonder if the British government had taken the Special Rapporteur's recommendations more seriously, Rosemary Nelson might have been better protected and still with us today. I express my heartfelt condolences to the Nelson family and I urge my colleagues to support the following resolution.

  • THE ROAD TO THE OSCE ISTANBUL SUMMIT AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY

    The hearing focused specifically on the human rights situation in the Republic of Turkey, an original signatory of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. These two issues, OSCE and Turkey, intersected in this hearing due to the decision taken in Oslo the previous December by the OSCE Ministerial Council to convene a summit Meeting of Heads of State or Government in Istanbul in November 1999. The Commissioners expressed concern over Ankara’s failure to implement a wide range of OSCE human dimensions commitments, the United States labored to secure a consensus in support of Turkey’s bid to host the OSCE Summit in Istanbul. The hearing touched on how the U.S. should respond to make improved human rights implementation in Turkey a priority. Though, one year after a Commission delegation visited Turkey, the Commission’s conclusion is that there has been no demonstrable improvement in Ankara’s human rights practices and that the prospects for much needed systemic reforms are bleak given the unstable political scene that seemed likely to continue.

  • Democratic Processes in Slovakia

    Mr. Speaker, this week a distinguished delegation from the Slovak parliament visited Washington to meet with congressional leaders and other officials. I regret that, because of a hearing on urgent developments in Kosovo, I was unable to meet with them. Nevertheless, the occasion of their visit prompts me to reflect on some of the developments in Slovakia since the elections there on September 25 and 26, 1998. Since a new government was installed on October 30, there has been a sea change in Slovak political life. The very fact that a peaceful transition of power occurred is something we could not have taken for granted, given the increasingly authoritarian rule of Vladimir Meciar manifested by, for example, the refusal of the parliament he controlled to seat two duly elected members. Today, the situation is very different. The formation of a new government has included key changes that were much needed and will foster greater confidence in Slovakia's renewed process of democratization. In particular, the appointment of a new head of the intelligence service, the resolution of competing claims to the position of chief of the armed forces, and the selection of a new general prosecutor help address many of the concerns that arose during Meciar's tenure. The new government's efforts to hold previous officials accountable for their violations of the rule of law and manipulation of parliamentary and constitutional democracy is also a positive sign. During local elections in the fall, non-governmental monitors were permitted to observe the counting of the vote, further fostering public and international confidence in Slovakia's democratic structures. Direct presidential elections are scheduled to be held in May, which will fill a constitutional lacuna. The decision to permit, once again, the issuance of bi-lingual report cards restores common sense to the discussion of issues of concern to the Hungarian minority. The government's stated intent to address the concerns of the Romani minority, concerns which have led many Slovak Roma to seek asylum in other countries, is a welcome step in the right direction. In short, Mr. Speaker, the new government is Slovakia has already undertaken important steps towards fulfilling the promises made when communism collapsed. Slovakia is now at a critical juncture, having succeeded by a slim electoral margin in peacefully removing Vladimir Meciar after 4 years of increasing authoritarian rule. The new government must struggle to restore Slovakia's good name, repair the economy, and get Slovakia back on track for NATO and EU membership. If Slovakia is to succeed in this effort, it is critical that the current coalition hold together long enough to implement real reforms. As it seeks to do so, the new government will be aided by a wellspring of credibility with the internationally community and certainly in Washington, where as the Meciar government, in the end, had none. That wellspring of credibility, however, is not bottomless and time is truly of the essence in Slovakia's reform process. I hope all of the parties participating in the ruling coalition will quickly address some of the issues that have been of special concern to the international community, including the adoption in the first half of this year of a minority language law. Such a step would be a concrete demonstration of the differences between this government and the last. Mr. Speaker, I wish this new coalition government of Slovakia every success in their resolve to make lasting reforms.

  • The Serbia and Montenegro Democracy Act of 1999

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Serbia and Montenegro Democracy Act of 1999, a bill which will target much needed assistance to democratic groups in Serbia and Montenegro. I am joined by Representatives Ben Gilman, Steny Hoyer, John Porter, Dan Burton, Eliot Engel, Dana Rohrabacher, Louise Slaughter and Jim Moran, all strong promoters of human rights worldwide and the original cosponsors of this Act. It is fitting that this important piece of legislation be introduced today, as a high-level envoy for the United States is in Belgrade to seek the blessing of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for a political settlement which hopefully will restore peace to the troubled region of Kosovo. We are dealing directly with the man most responsible for the conflict in Kosovo, not to mention Bosnia and Croatia. Milosevic has maintained his power from within Serbia throughout the 1990s at the cost of 300,000 lives and the displacement of 3 million people. He has relied on virulent Serbian nationalism to instigate conflict which will divide the people of the region for decades. The most fundamental flaw in U.S. policy toward the region is that it relies on getting Milosevic's agreement, when Milosevic simply should be forced to stop his assaults on innocent civilians. It relies on Milosevic's dictatorial powers to implement an agreement, undermining support for democratic alternatives. In short, U.S. policy perpetuates Milosevic's rule and ensures that more trouble will come to the Balkans. There can be no long-term stability in the Balkans without a democratic Serbia. Moreover, we need to be clear that the people of Serbia deserve the same rights and freedoms which other people in Europe enjoy today. They also deserve greater prosperity. Milosevic and his criminal thugs deny the same Serbian people they claim to defend these very rights, freedoms and economic opportunities. Independent media is repeatedly harassed, fined and sometimes just closed down. University professors are forced to take a ridiculous loyalty oath or are replaced by know-nothing party hacks. The regime goes after the political leadership of Montenegro, which is federated with Serbia in a new Yugoslav state but is undergoing democratic change itself. The regime goes after the successful Serb-American pharmaceutical executive Milan Panic, seizing his company's assets in Serbia to intimidate a potentially serious political rival and get its hands on the hard currency it desperately needs to sustain itself. The regime also goes after young students, like Boris Karajcic, who was beaten on the streets of Belgrade for his public advocacy of academic freedom and social tolerance. Building a democracy in Serbia will be difficult, and it is largely in the hands of those democratic forces within Serbia to do the job. However, given how the regime has stacked the situation against them, through endless propaganda, harassment and violence, they need help. This Act intends to do just that. It would allocate $41 million in various sectors of Serbian society where democratic forces can be strengthened, and to encourage further strengthening of these forces in neighboring Montenegro. It would ensure that this funding will, in fact, go to these areas, in contrast to the Administration's budget request which indicates that much of this funding could be siphoned off to implement a peace agreement in Kosovo. Another $350,000 would go to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly, which could provide assistance on a multilateral basis and demonstrate that Serbia can rejoin Europe, through the OSCE, once it moves in a democratic direction and ends its instigation of conflict. This Act also states what policy toward Serbia and Montenegro must be: to promote the development of democracy and to support those who are committed to the building of democratic institutions, defending human rights, promoting rule of law and fostering tolerance in society. This funding, authorized by the Support for East European Democracy Act of 1989, represents a tremendous increase for building democratic institutions in Serbia and Montenegro. This fiscal year, an anticipated $25 million will be spent, but most of that is going to Kosovo. The President's budget request for the next fiscal year is a welcome $55 million, but, with international attention focused on Kosovo, too much of that will likely go toward implementing a peace agreement. Make no mistake, I support strongly assistance for Kosovo. I simply view it as a mistake to get that assistance by diverting it from Serbia and Montenegro. We have spent billions of dollars in Bosnia and will likely spend at least hundreds of millions more in Kosovo, cleaning up the messes Milosevic has made. The least we can do is invest in democracy in Serbia, which can stop Milosevic from making more problems in the future. Building democracy in Serbia will be difficult, given all of the harm Milosevic has done to Serbian society. The opposition has traditionally been weak and divided, and sometimes compromised by Milosevic's political maneuvering. There are signs, however, the new Alliance for Change could make a difference, and there certainly is substantial social unrest in Serbia from which opposition can gain support. In addition, there are very good people working in human rights organizations, and very capable independent journalists and editors. The independent labor movement has serious potential to gain support, and the student and academic communities are organized to defend the integrity of the universities. Simply demonstrating our real support for the democratic movement in Serbia could convince more people to become involved. Finally, Montenegro's democratic changes in the last year place that republic in a difficult position. A federation in which one republic is becoming more free and open while the other, much larger republic remains repressive and controls federal institutions cannot last for long, yet Montenegrins know they could be the next victims of Milosevic. It would be a mistake to leave those building a democracy in Montenegro out on that limb. They need our support as well. In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I am today introducing the Serbia and Democracy Act of 1999 because I feel our country's policy in the Balkans has all too long been based on false assumptions about the region. Granted, social tensions, primarily based on ethnic issues, were bound to have plagued the former Yugoslavia, but it is an absolute fact that violence could have been avoided if Slobodan Milosevic did not play on those tensions to enhance his power. As we prepare to debate the sending of American forces to Kosovo to keep a peace which does not yet exist, we must address the root cause of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to today. This Act, Mr. Speaker, does just that, and I urge my colleagues to support its swift and overwhelming passage by the House. The Senate is working on similar legislation, and hopefully the Congress can help put U.S. policy back on the right track.

  • Politically Motivated Arrests in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to decry the growing litany of repressive measures undertaken by the Government of Belarus against the opposition, especially against members of the opposition's Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Earlier this year, the legitimate Belarusian parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, disbanded by president Alexander Lukashenka after the illegal constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16 and set up a Central Election Commission to conduct these elections.   According to the 1994 constitution, which most of the international community recognizes as legitimate, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Lukashenka has rejected calls for a presidential election and is clearly attempting to neutralize democratic opposition to his authoritarian rule. The most egregious crackdown in recent weeks was the sentencing of CEC chairman Viktor Hanchar, to 10 days “administrative detention.” Hanchar suffered some injuries when he was detained and treated roughly by police. He was not given access to his lawyer, Hari Pahanyayla, and his wife was not permitted to see him. A few days earlier, on February 25, fifteen members of the CEC were arrested by police in a café where they were meeting and discussing reports from local election commissions. Special police did not have a warrant and prevented the videotaping of the arrest by Russian television. Five-day detentions or heavy fines were meted out to several CEC members, including Boris Gyunter, Anatoly Gurinovich, Sergei Obodovsky, Iosif Naumchik, Algimantas Dzyarginchus, Alexander Koktysh, Nikolay Pohabov, Valery Sidorenko and Leonid Zakurdayev. Additionally, warnings have been issued to several members of regional opposition elections committees, such as Iosif Naumchik in Vitebsk and Sergei Abadowski in Mogilev. According to Radio Liberty, in Zhodzina, Miensk region, local authorities have begun intimidating people who joined or elected opposition regional election commissions. In Gomel, several opposition activists have been summoned and questioned about their role in the organization of the May presidential elections scheduled by the opposition. Police had seized leaflets about these elections at the office of the Gomel branch of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.   The repression of the opposition's elections committees is part of a longstanding pattern of Lukashenka's assault on democratic institutions and his campaign to stifle dissent in Belarus. On February 14, 20 students were arrested by police in Miensk for violating street demonstration laws. Among them, Yevgeny Skochko was sentenced to 10 days in jail, Victor Antonov to 5 days in jail, and Kazimir Kuchun and Ilya Banel were fined. Other opposition activists in Gomel and Borisov have been tried for unsanctioned demonstrations over the last few months. Two young workers in Gomel, for instance, were sentenced to 3 days administrative detention for holding an unsanctioned march. According to Reuters, the men were returning from a disco late in the evening and waving banners, which they were bringing home to wash. Earlier in the month, on February 5, members of the human rights movement Charter '97 were attacked and beaten in Miensk by members of the fascist Russian National Unity party. Andrei Sannikov, the Charter's international coordinator and former deputy foreign minister of Belarus was beaten unconscious. According to the International League for Human Rights a few days later, President Lukashenka trivialized the incident on Belarusian television, saying: “They say that some fascists have appeared in Miensk and have beaten somebody up. Do you know who they have beaten? Other fascists.” On February 27, several thousand marchers participated in a peaceful anti-fascist demonstration in Miensk. Organizers of the demonstration, Ales Bilyatsky who was sentenced to 10 days administrative detention and Oleg Volchek who was given a stiff fine, were cited for committing administrative offenses.   In late January, Lukashenka signed a decree ordering political parties, public organizations and trade unions to re-register during the period February 1 and July 1. The re-registration process includes a variety of onerous stipulations which would have the effect of weakening the NGOs and political parties. On February 17, the Lukashenka-controlled State Press Committee threatened six independent newspapers with closure if they continued to publish information about the opposition's presidential election plans in May, charging them with “calling for the seizure of power in Belarus.” On March 2, police searched the offices of one of the six independent newspapers, “Pahonya” in Hrodno, confiscating political cartoons and letters from readers.   Clearly, political tensions are increasing in Belarus, and the divide between the authoritarian president and the democratic opposition is widening. Mr. Lukashenka and his minions should cease and desist their campaign to harass journalists, to drain and demoralize individuals and organizations in the opposition through administrative fines and detentions, and to forcefully squelch the right to the freedoms of expression and of assembly. Continued harassment of the opposition will only aggravate the current constitutional crisis in Belarus and most certainly will not serve to promote reconciliation between the government and opposition. Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that the international community continue to speak out on behalf of those whose rights are violated, and that we continue to support the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Belarus.

  • Politically Motivated Arrests in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to decry the growing litany of repressive measures undertaken by the Government of Belarus against the opposition, especially against members of the opposition's Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Earlier this year, the legitimate Belarusian parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, disbanded by president Alexander Lukashenka after the illegal constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16 and set up a Central Election Commission to conduct these elections.   According to the 1994 constitution, which most of the international community recognizes as legitimate, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Lukashenka has rejected calls for a presidential election and is clearly attempting to neutralize democratic opposition to his authoritarian rule. The most egregious crackdown in recent weeks was the sentencing of CEC chairman Viktor Hanchar, to 10 days “administrative detention.” Hanchar suffered some injuries when he was detained and treated roughly by police. He was not given access to his lawyer, Hari Pahanyayla, and his wife was not permitted to see him. A few days earlier, on February 25, fifteen members of the CEC were arrested by police in a café where they were meeting and discussing reports from local election commissions. Special police did not have a warrant and prevented the videotaping of the arrest by Russian television. Five-day detentions or heavy fines were meted out to several CEC members, including Boris Gyunter, Anatoly Gurinovich, Sergei Obodovsky, Iosif Naumchik, Algimantas Dzyarginchus, Alexander Koktysh, Nikolay Pohabov, Valery Sidorenko and Leonid Zakurdayev. Additionally, warnings have been issued to several members of regional opposition elections committees, such as Iosif Naumchik in Vitebsk and Sergei Abadowski in Mogilev. According to Radio Liberty, in Zhodzina, Miensk region, local authorities have begun intimidating people who joined or elected opposition regional election commissions. In Gomel, several opposition activists have been summoned and questioned about their role in the organization of the May presidential elections scheduled by the opposition. Police had seized leaflets about these elections at the office of the Gomel branch of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.   The repression of the opposition's elections committees is part of a longstanding pattern of Lukashenka's assault on democratic institutions and his campaign to stifle dissent in Belarus. On February 14, 20 students were arrested by police in Miensk for violating street demonstration laws. Among them, Yevgeny Skochko was sentenced to 10 days in jail, Victor Antonov to 5 days in jail, and Kazimir Kuchun and Ilya Banel were fined. Other opposition activists in Gomel and Borisov have been tried for unsanctioned demonstrations over the last few months. Two young workers in Gomel, for instance, were sentenced to 3 days administrative detention for holding an unsanctioned march. According to Reuters, the men were returning from a disco late in the evening and waving banners, which they were bringing home to wash. Earlier in the month, on February 5, members of the human rights movement Charter '97 were attacked and beaten in Miensk by members of the fascist Russian National Unity party. Andrei Sannikov, the Charter's international coordinator and former deputy foreign minister of Belarus was beaten unconscious. According to the International League for Human Rights a few days later, President Lukashenka trivialized the incident on Belarusian television, saying: “They say that some fascists have appeared in Miensk and have beaten somebody up. Do you know who they have beaten? Other fascists.” On February 27, several thousand marchers participated in a peaceful anti-fascist demonstration in Miensk. Organizers of the demonstration, Ales Bilyatsky who was sentenced to 10 days administrative detention and Oleg Volchek who was given a stiff fine, were cited for committing administrative offenses.   In late January, Lukashenka signed a decree ordering political parties, public organizations and trade unions to re-register during the period February 1 and July 1. The re-registration process includes a variety of onerous stipulations which would have the effect of weakening the NGOs and political parties. On February 17, the Lukashenka-controlled State Press Committee threatened six independent newspapers with closure if they continued to publish information about the opposition's presidential election plans in May, charging them with “calling for the seizure of power in Belarus.” On March 2, police searched the offices of one of the six independent newspapers, “Pahonya” in Hrodno, confiscating political cartoons and letters from readers.   Clearly, political tensions are increasing in Belarus, and the divide between the authoritarian president and the democratic opposition is widening. Mr. Lukashenka and his minions should cease and desist their campaign to harass journalists, to drain and demoralize individuals and organizations in the opposition through administrative fines and detentions, and to forcefully squelch the right to the freedoms of expression and of assembly. Continued harassment of the opposition will only aggravate the current constitutional crisis in Belarus and most certainly will not serve to promote reconciliation between the government and opposition. Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that the international community continue to speak out on behalf of those whose rights are violated, and that we continue to support the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Belarus.

  • Civil Society, Democracy, and Markets in East Central Europe and the NIS: Problems and Perspectives

    This briefing, led by Chief of Staff Dorothy Douglas Taft, was prompted by the book Nations in Transit 1998, a study and analysis of 25 post-Communist countries which supported the monitoring of the region’s adherence to the Helsinki Accords. Questions included in the report were organized in the categories of political processes, civil society, independent media, the rule of law, governance and pubic administration, macro-economic policy, micro-economic policy, and privatization. The witnesses - Adrian Karatnycky, Professor Alexander Motyl, and E. Wayne Merry - discussed the document and interpreted some of the political and economic trends in the region. They expanded upon some of the insights provided in the book and analyzed the region’s progress, reflecting on their own experiences working with the Soviet Union.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia: Electoral and Political Outlook for 1999

    Robert Hand, policy advisor at the Commission, led a discussion regarding Bosnia and its different regions. He spoke of the situation in Bosnia in 1998 and the power of ethnically-based political parties, retained through nationalism, corruption, and control of the media. Reconstruction in Bosnia is poor due to poor economic conditions and the continued displacement of certain populations.  The witnesses - Luke Zahner, Candace Lekic, Jessica White, Roland de Rosier, Kathryn Bomberger, Brian Marshall – have served in regions all over Bosnia and gave valuable input on the differences between regions and their rehabilitations processes after the Dayton Accords. They also spoke of the influence of Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Federation on said regions.  Paying attention to these differences, the state, is important in that the United States wants to support only those that successfully implement the Dayton Accords. 

  • 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.

  • The Milosevic Regime Versus Serbian Democracy and Balkan Stability

    This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Chris Smith, then Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, was held on the fiftieth anniversary of Human Rights Day, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in Paris by 56 members of the United Nations. Regarding the atrocities of Slobodan Milosevic and his regime, then, this hearing’s date was perfectly apropos. The storied crimes by the Milosevic Regime are world renowned. The hearing was held in the wake of actions by the regime taken against Serbia’s independent media. Earlier on, Milosevic refused to acknowledge the results of municipal elections in Serbia, and, of course, the violent conflicts that the regime was culpable for.  

  • 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.

  • 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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