Title

U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on U.S.-Russia Relations

Thursday, March 20, 2014

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

The Dog Barks, but the Caravan Moves On: Highs and Lows in U.S.-Russia Relations

Thursday, March 27, 2014
1:00 p.m.
Rayburn House Office Building
Room 2103

Russia’s flag flies over Crimea, Spaso House is vacant, and there’s talk of a new Cold War. The framework for U.S.-Russia relations appears to be in shambles. And Kremlinology may yet be fetched from the proverbial ash heap of history and pressed into the service of a new policy of containment. Is this chill in relations deja vu all over again or a new and different break? Are bilateral relations doomed to perpetual confrontation? What are reasonable expectations for the future of the U.S.-Russia relationship? The United States and Russia share a long, complex history replete with burden and angst, but also grounds for hope. Arguably, no strategic relationship is as vital to security and cooperation in Europe—a key national interest.

Come for the context essential to understanding the current crisis, stay for a timely discussion on what is to be done.

  • Lead Discussant: Matthew Rojansky, Director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute
  • Panelist: James W. Warhola, Chairman, University of Maine’s Department of Political Science
  • Moderator: Kyle Parker, Policy Advisor for the U.S. Helsinki Commission
Media contact: 
Email: 
csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
Phone: 
202.225.1901
Leadership: 
  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • The Case of Mikhail Trepashkin

    Mr. Speaker, there is reason to fear for the fate of rule of law in Russia. I want to present one relevant example.   Mikhail Trepashkin, an attorney and former Federal Security Service, FSB, officer was arrested on October 24, 2003, a week before he was scheduled to represent in legal proceedings the relatives of one of the victims of a terrorist attack in Moscow. Mr. Trepashkin's American client is Tatyana Morozova of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In September 1999, Ms. Morozova's mother was killed and her sister barely survived the bombing of an apartment house in Moscow. Officially, the crime was blamed on Chechen separatists, but Mr. Trepashkin was expected to present the findings of his investigation which suggested involvement of elements of the FSB in the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow as well as an aborted attempted bombing in the city of Ryazan.   Mr. Trepashkin had been a consultant to the public commission set up by prominent human rights activist and former Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev to investigate the 1999 bombings. The Kovalev commission asked many unpleasant questions but got precious few answers from the authorities. Meanwhile, in the course of his investigation Trepashkin discovered evidence that didn't track with the official version of the bombing incidents. This included events in Ryazan, where a bomb in an apartment basement was discovered by local police and safely detonated hours before it was due to explode. The two suspects in that case were released after presenting FSB identification documents. The whole incident was later declared a "readiness exercise" by Russian authorities.   Several months later, the co-chairman of the Kovalev Commission, Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, was assassinated in front of his home. Four persons were convicted of the murder. Another member of the Commission died of food poisoning in a hospital, another was severely beaten by thugs, and two members lost their seats in the Duma. The activities of the decimated commission came to an abrupt halt.   A week before the October 24, 2003 trial opened, the police just happened to pull Trepashkin over on the highway, and just happened to find a revolver in his car. Trepashkin claims the gun was planted. Three weeks later, he was put on trial and sentenced to 4 years labor camp by a closed court for allegedly divulging state secrets to a foreign journalist.   Mr. Speaker, I don't know all the details of this case, but it looks very much like Mr. Trepashkin was prosecuted in order to prevent him from releasing potentially damaging information regarding the activities of the FSB. The U.S. State Department has commented diplomatically: "The arrest and trial of Mikhail Trepashkin raised concerns about the undue influence of the FSB and arbitrary use of the judicial system."   Today Mr. Trepashkin is held in a Volokolamsk city jail in a 130-square foot, lice-infested cell, which he shares with six other prisoners. He suffers from asthma but reportedly has been denied health care or even medicine. These arduous conditions may be retaliation for Mr. Trepashkin's filing a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.   It is difficult to believe that President Putin, given his KGB and FSB background, is unaware of the controversy surrounding the bombing investigations and the possibility that elements of the security services were involved. He must realize that corruption and personal vendettas within the FSB are dangerous commodities not only for the people of Russia, but for an entire civilized world that relies on the combined efforts of the intelligence community in the war against terrorism.   I urge President Putin to order a thorough and honest investigation of Mikhail Trepashkin's jailing and full cooperation with the Kovalev Commission. While the jury is still out on the 1999 bombings, persecution of those who want to find out the truth does not add to Mr. Putin's credibility among those in the West who so far have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  

  • Ukraine’s Presidential Election: The Turning Point?

    This briefing examined the pre-election conditions in Ukraine ahead of the country’s presidential election run-off set for November 21. The contest, pitting democratic opposition leader Victor Yushchenko against Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych in a November 21 run-off, represented a potential turning point for Ukraine. The OSCE Election Observation Mission, with more than 600 international observers, concluded that the October 31 first round, in which no candidate garnered the required majority, did not meet a considerable number of OSCE standards for democratic elections, representing a step backward from the 2002 elections. Both the election campaign and vote were seriously flawed. Panelists who spoke at this briefing identified violations that included, but by no means were limited to, overwhelming media bias against Yushchenko; the abuse of administrative resources; obstruction of opposition campaign events; and untoward pressures on state employees, students, and voters to support government candidates. Voting day itself saw significant problems with voter lists, pressure on election commissions and even outright ballot stuffing. The consequences of a bad election process were addressed.

  • Briefing Surveys Human Rights of Russia's Roma Population

    By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law On September 23, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on “The Roma in Russia.”  Panelists included Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director, Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, a consultant for the Open Society Institute specializing in minority issues in the former Soviet Union. Elizabeth Pryor, Senior Advisor to the Helsinki Commission, moderated the briefing.  She noted the Commission’s long engagement regarding the human rights problems faced by Roma as well as the overall human rights situation in Russia.  Highlighting the need to examine the particular situation of Roma in Russia, she observed that since Roma “constitute a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight is often overlooked.” Dr. Petrova noted that, for the 2002 Russian census, approximately 182,000 individuals identified themselves as Romani.  Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the number of Roma in Russia is much higher; a figure often cited is 1.2 million.  She argued that the fate of Roma in Russia is emblematic of the racism, xenophobia, and discrimination faced by other ethnic minorities in Russia, particularly Jews and people from the Caucasus region. In a comprehensive statement, Dr. Petrova outlined nine key areas of concern:  historical and social discrimination against Roma; the legal and institutional context of anti-discrimination legislation; the current political and ideological climate in Russia; the abuse of Roma rights by state actors (primarily the police); the abuse of Roma rights by non-state actors; discrimination in the criminal justice system; the portrayal of Roma in the Russian media; the lack of personal documents; and access to housing and education.  The main focus of Dr. Petrova’s statement concerned abuse by both state and non-state actors.  The main impetus of anti-Roma abuse in Russia is related directly to the ideological “war on drugs.”  People of Roma descent are targeted through racial profiling and various media outlets as illegal drug dealers and are subject to frequent police raids.  The “war on drugs” has also become an excuse for police brutality and racial targeting in which police plant drugs on the Roma or in their homes and then arrest them for the possession of illegal substances. Dr. Petrova ended her statement with a call for the United States Government “to play a leadership role and use its economic and political weight to help improve the position of Roma in Russia and address the human rights problems of Roma in Russia as a matter of urgency and as a primary concern in combating racial discrimination.”  She asked human rights monitoring agencies both in the United States and in Europe to prioritize Roma rights in Russia and to draw the Russian Government’s attention to Roma issues that are currently not being addressed. Dr. Torkohov, representing the Ekaterinburg-based Roma Ural, presented his organization’s efforts to monitor media coverage of Roma, examine factors contributing to lower levels of education among Roma, and assist Romani Holocaust survivors obtain compensation through existing programs. Torkohov offered a number of recommendations to improve the current situation.  With respect to education, he suggested creating preschool programs for Roma children to improve literacy, working with both children and parents to understand the value of education, and facilitating cooperation between parents and schools.  Given the pronounced bigotry against Roma that characterizes portrayals of Roma in the broadcast and print media, he also suggested training journalists to improve their professional skills. Leonid Raihman focused on ill treatment of Roma by the police, access to justice, and problems associated with the lack of personal documents, including passports.  Endemic corruption among the poorly paid and poorly trained police in Russia has fostered an environment in which Roma are the routine victims of extortion by the police.  This extortion, in turn, contributes to the economic marginalization of Roma. Raihman also described the serious and complex problem of personal documents for the Roma.  He said the absence of personal documents, as well as the rigid nature of the personal documents system in Russia, represents an aspect of the problem.  However, he felt that ethnicity was the primary reason for problems in obtaining a passport.  “Administration officials,” he stated, “especially in housing and immigration departments abuse the discretionary decision-making power accorded to them by the passport system to discriminate against Roma and members of the vulnerable groups.” Mr. Raihman urged the U.S. Government to use its power “to persuade the Russian Government to place the human rights problems which the Roma face high on their agenda.”  He stated that it is time for the Russian Government, as well as the rest of the world, to acknowledge and deal with the problems faced by the Roma in Russia.   United States Helsinki Commission Intern Judy Abel contributed to this article.

  • Briefing Surveys Human Rights of Russia's Roma Population

    By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law On September 23, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on “The Roma in Russia.”  Panelists included Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director, Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, a consultant for the Open Society Institute specializing in minority issues in the former Soviet Union. Elizabeth Pryor, Senior Advisor to the Helsinki Commission, moderated the briefing.  She noted the Commission’s long engagement regarding the human rights problems faced by Roma as well as the overall human rights situation in Russia.  Highlighting the need to examine the particular situation of Roma in Russia, she observed that since Roma “constitute a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight is often overlooked.” Dr. Petrova noted that, for the 2002 Russian census, approximately 182,000 individuals identified themselves as Romani.  Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the number of Roma in Russia is much higher; a figure often cited is 1.2 million.  She argued that the fate of Roma in Russia is emblematic of the racism, xenophobia, and discrimination faced by other ethnic minorities in Russia, particularly Jews and people from the Caucasus region. In a comprehensive statement, Dr. Petrova outlined nine key areas of concern:  historical and social discrimination against Roma; the legal and institutional context of anti-discrimination legislation; the current political and ideological climate in Russia; the abuse of Roma rights by state actors (primarily the police); the abuse of Roma rights by non-state actors; discrimination in the criminal justice system; the portrayal of Roma in the Russian media; the lack of personal documents; and access to housing and education. The main focus of Dr. Petrova’s statement concerned abuse by both state and non-state actors.  The main impetus of anti-Roma abuse in Russia is related directly to the ideological “war on drugs.”  People of Roma descent are targeted through racial profiling and various media outlets as illegal drug dealers and are subject to frequent police raids.  The “war on drugs” has also become an excuse for police brutality and racial targeting in which police plant drugs on the Roma or in their homes and then arrest them for the possession of illegal substances. Dr. Petrova ended her statement with a call for the United States Government “to play a leadership role and use its economic and political weight to help improve the position of Roma in Russia and address the human rights problems of Roma in Russia as a matter of urgency and as a primary concern in combating racial discrimination.”  She asked human rights monitoring agencies both in the United States and in Europe to prioritize Roma rights in Russia and to draw the Russian Government’s attention to Roma issues that are currently not being addressed. Dr. Torkohov, representing the Ekaterinburg-based Roma Ural, presented his organization’s efforts to monitor media coverage of Roma, examine factors contributing to lower levels of education among Roma, and assist Romani Holocaust survivors obtain compensation through existing programs. Torkohov offered a number of recommendations to improve the current situation.  With respect to education, he suggested creating preschool programs for Roma children to improve literacy, working with both children and parents to understand the value of education, and facilitating cooperation between parents and schools.  Given the pronounced bigotry against Roma that characterizes portrayals of Roma in the broadcast and print media, he also suggested training journalists to improve their professional skills. Leonid Raihman focused on ill treatment of Roma by the police, access to justice, and problems associated with the lack of personal documents, including passports.  Endemic corruption among the poorly paid and poorly trained police in Russia has fostered an environment in which Roma are the routine victims of extortion by the police.  This extortion, in turn, contributes to the economic marginalization of Roma. Raihman also described the serious and complex problem of personal documents for the Roma.  He said the absence of personal documents, as well as the rigid nature of the personal documents system in Russia, represents an aspect of the problem.  However, he felt that ethnicity was the primary reason for problems in obtaining a passport.  “Administration officials,” he stated, “especially in housing and immigration departments abuse the discretionary decision-making power accorded to them by the passport system to discriminate against Roma and members of the vulnerable groups.” Mr. Raihman urged the U.S. Government to use its power “to persuade the Russian Government to place the human rights problems which the Roma face high on their agenda.”  He stated that it is time for the Russian Government, as well as the rest of the world, to acknowledge and deal with the problems faced by the Roma in Russia. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords.  The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Judy Abel contributed to this article.

  • Roma in Russia

    Ms. Elizabeth B. Pryor, Senior Advisor for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, moderated this briefing on the Romani minority in Russia. The Roma in Russia were a particularly vulnerable minority, and since they constituted a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight was often overlooked. They were invisible, and they had not the subjects of detailed reports by human rights organizations and almost no legal cases defending their rights had been taken by domestic and international human rights lawyers. Ms. Pryor was joined by Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director of Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, Consultant of Open Society Institute. The witnesses presented their view about historical and social background, abuse of Roma rights by State and Non-State actors, access to social and economic rights, access to education, appearances in the media about Roma issues, and discrimination in the criminal justice service.

  • The Romani Minority in Russia

    The Helsinki Commission examined the situation of the Romani minority in Russia, with a focus on hate crimes, police abuse, and discrimination in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Beslan, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the potential for many ethnic-confessional conflicts in the Federation. Reports by Roma of racially motivated attacks by law enforcement agents were also points of discussion. Panelists – including Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director of Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, Consultant for Open Society – provided background information on Russia’s Romani minority, setting their discussion in the current context of the current political, economic and security climate in Russia.

  • Advancing U.S. Interests through the OSCE

    The OSCE has been a pioneer in defining an integrated approach to security, one in which human rights and economic well-being are as key to a nation’s stability as are traditional military forces.  It remains not only the largest trans-Atlantic organization, but the one with the broadest definition of security.  The OSCE has also created the most innovative habits of dialogue and collective action of any multilateral organization in the world.  The focus of the hearing will be how the OSCE can be used most effectively to highlight and advance the interests of the United States.  Among the subjects to be covered will be objectives for the December (2004) meeting of Foreign Ministers in Sofia; recent high-impact security initiatives; expectations for the upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw; and refining and strengthening the OSCE.

  • Background: OSCE Election Observation

    The United States has provided important leadership within the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in advancing democracy and human rights. In 1990, the U.S. and all OSCE participating States agreed by consensus to the Copenhagen Document, reaffirming principles to strengthen respect for fundamental freedoms, and inviting observers from other participating States to observe national elections. That same year, a U.S.-sponsored initiative led to the creation of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODllR) as the OSCE's focal point for all election-related matters, including election observation, technical assistance, and the review of electoral legislation. Thus OSCE commitments require participating States, including the United States, to invite other participating States to observe their elections. Consistent with this commitment, the U.S. formally invited ODllR to send observers to elections in 1996, 1998 2000 and 2002. In 2002, ODllR deployed a team of 10 international observers to Florida and produced a largely positive report saying "measures adopted in Florida can serve as an example of good practice to the rest of the U.S. and other OSCE participating States." In 2003 ,two ODIHR observers came to observe the California gubernatorial recall election. Each year, the ODllR deploys thousands of observers to monitor elections throughout the OSCE region in order to assess participating States ' compliance with OSCE election-related commitments. At the parliamentary level, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has developed a particularly active program for monitoring elections. The United States has fielded thousands of American election observers in OSCE countries since the early 1990s as part of these missions. ODllR missions are funded from the core budget of the OSCE to which the U.S. contributes 9% annually. These funds cover expenses for ODllR experts and basic support of the mission and are not used to finance the participation of individual observers. Thus, election observation has become an integral part of U.S. efforts to advance democracy throughout the OSCE region. Consistent with its OSCE commitments and in keeping with customary practice, the United States Government - through the U. S. Mission to the OSCE in Vienna - extended an invitation for the ODllR to observe the U.S. elections in November. An ODllR assessment team was in Washington September 7- 10 and visited the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission the Republican and Democratic National Committees, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and relevant non-governmental organizations. An assessment report will be prepared with recommendations concerning whether or not to observe, if so where, and how many observers following their return to Warsaw, Poland. While most ODIHR election observation missions have been deployed to the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, elections in established democracies have also been observed. The latter have included France (2002 presidential), the United Kingdom (2003 devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), and Spain (2004 parliamentary). In an unprecedented development, ODllR was invited to observe the 2004 elections to European Parliament in 25 OSCE participating States: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France Germany, Greece Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania Luxembourg, Malta The Netherlands Poland, Portgal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The only OSCE participating State to outright refuse to invite an election observation mission was Yugoslavia in 2000 under then-President Slobodan Milosevic. Prepared by the staff of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Engages Heads of Nine CIS Countries

    By Elizabeth B. Pryor CSCE Senior Advisor On July 21, 2004, the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) responded to a Declaration signed by nine members of the group known as the Commonwealth of Independent States. The text was presented to the OSCE Permanent Council earlier this month by Russia ’s Ambassador to the OSCE, Alexey N. Borodavkin. The presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan signed the declaration. CIS members Azerbaijan and Georgia declined to sign. Turkmenistan did not participate. While acknowledging that the OSCE occupies “a key place in the European security architecture,” the Declaration maintains that the organization has been unable to adapt to the changing political and security environment. The Helsinki Commission leadership – Chairman Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), House Ranking Member Representative Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Senate Ranking Member Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) – responded to each of the nine presidents who signed the Declaration. The Commissioners noted that three of those signing the Declaration, President Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, President Akaev of Kyrgyzstan, and President Karimov of Uzbekistan actually signed the original Helsinki Final Act document when their countries were accepted as OSCE participating States in 1992. In the letter to President Nazarbaev, the Commission leaders stressed that they “were particularly troubled to see Kazakhstan included on the signatories to the declaration, since you have expressed an interest in undertaking the chairmanship of the organization [OSCE] in 2009.” In their replies, Commissioners agreed about the importance of the Vienna-based OSCE and that its ability to adapt was essential to its continued relevance. They pointed out, however, that many of the assertions of the Declaration were already being addressed by the participating States. The CIS signatories had criticized the OSCE for “failing to implement in an appropriate manner” the fundamental documents of the organization, stating that the OSCE is not observing an allegedly agreed Helsinki principle of non-interference in internal affairs. Refuting the assertion that the OSCE was failing to implement its principles, the Commission leaders pointed out that the participating States, not the organization, are responsible for such implementation: “We should look to capitals when failures in implementation arise, not Vienna .” On the matter of “internal affairs,” the leadership reminded the presidents that this issue was definitively decided in the politically-binding concluding document to the 1991 Moscow Human Dimension meeting, which states: “They [the participating States] categorically and irrevocably declare that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension ... are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.” Turning to the assertion that there is a serious imbalance between the three security dimensions of the OSCE – political-military, economic and environmental, and the human dimension – the Commissioners noted that since the issue of “imbalance” in OSCE priorities was raised several years ago, there has been significant movement in anti-terrorism and tangible military security issues. For example, path-breaking agreements on export controls for MANPADs, on assistance for reduction of excess ammunition, and on uniform standards for travel documents have been achieved in the last few months. The economic dimension is also being revitalized. For example, the OSCE has the most concrete and robust action plan to fight human trafficking of any international organization. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has called for a ministerial-level meeting to discuss ways of halting terrorist financing and has spoken out for increased membership in the World Trade Organization. Though welcoming the development of all of the OSCE dimensions, the Commissioners took issue with the idea that this should come at the expense of the promotion of human rights. The CIS signatories expressed concern that human dimension activities are concentrated in the states of the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia , and that unfair standards regarding elections are directed at these nations. They went on to accuse OSCE missions of focusing on human rights and democratic development at the expense of the “full range of work covered by the Organization.” In response to the assertion that undue concentration was focused on human rights in the countries of the CIS and former Yugoslavia , the Commission leaders noted that on 85 occasions since January 2003 the Helsinki Commission had addressed, often publicly, human rights concerns in NATO countries. Public criticism of actions by the United States , as in the recent criminal treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, has also been made in OSCE meetings and has been taken seriously. The United States has made clear that free and fair elections are crucial to the ongoing process of democratic development and welcomes election monitors to its own national elections in November 2004. The letters also addressed the continued need to locate missions or other OSCE representatives in the former Soviet and Yugoslav countries. In the case of every signatory to the CIS Declaration, there are persistent human rights violations and backward trends on democratic development. Specific concerns were cited for each country, including fraudulent conduct of elections, hindrance of free media, curtailment of religious freedom and freedom of assembly, corruption among public officials and, in several of the countries, detention of political opposition leaders. These abuses have been documented in the Commission report Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe. It is with the goal of reversing these trends that all OSCE states have agreed to the establishment and retention of these missions. The poor implementation record on OSCE commitments argues for the continued necessity of these field offices, the Commissioners concluded. Finally, the leaders of the Commission expressed the hope that the discussion of OSCE’s development would move beyond the Declaration’s inaccurate reinterpretations of key OSCE documents and center on concrete suggestions. They welcomed any positive proposals that the presidents might offer. In this, as in all their work, the Helsinki Commission expressed confidence that by working together, the States of the OSCE region could reach their goal of true security and cooperation in Europe. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Commission Hearing Surveys Human Rights in Putin's Russia

    By John Finerty Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing on May 20, 2004 to review governance practices and human rights in the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin.  Witnesses focused on media independence, religious freedom, judicial procedures, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and the war in Chechnya. Opening the hearing, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed apprehension that President Putin was leading Russia in an authoritarian direction, increasingly reliant on Russia’s security apparatus and intelligence agencies to govern the country.  Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) also voiced his concerns, focusing on corruption in the Russian Government and abuses in the war in Chechnya. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Steven Pifer stated that Russians enjoy freedom of travel and emigration, and an independent print media that engages in robust political debates; religious association and expression is generally free, and Russians have incorporated voting into their political practices. However, Pifer voiced concern with the Putin administration’s undue influence on judicial proceedings, state control or sway over the broadcast media, the pressuring of non-governmental organizations, anti-Semitism, abuses in the war in Chechnya, and the lack of a level electoral playing field for the political opposition. Ambassador Pifer cited the U.S. record of advocating democratization and human rights to the Russian leadership, while pursuing cooperation on mutual security interests such as the war on terrorism, arms control, counter-proliferation, and the resolution of regional conflicts. Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion and chairman of Committee 2008: Free Choice, presented a critical view of the Putin administration, lamenting the slide of the Russian Government into authoritarianism.  He described a variety of policies undertaken by the Putin administration that he viewed as backtracking from the democratic progress of the 1990s, including the curtailment of civil liberties and the flagrant abuse of human rights. Specifically, Kasparov described government influence over the broadcast media and manipulation of elections. The war in Chechnya had been sidelined as a topic of news discussion, he asserted, thus facilitating the concealment of wartime human rights abuses.  He also faulted the media for disregarding the ineptness of government responses to terrorist attacks. On elections, Kasparov characterized the December 2003 parliamentary polls as unfair, and predicted that President Putin would use parliamentary maneuvers to change the constitution and extend his term, perhaps indefinitely. Mr. Kasparov condemned Russian activities in the Chechen war and described how “hundreds of Chechens, if not thousands, are being interrogated, tortured and killed” by Russian soldiers. He called for the deployment of independent observers to monitor Russian behavior and promote observance of human rights.  As a final critique, Kasparov charged that Putin had stripped the judicial system of its independence and was using it to silence political opponents and critics, such as Mikhail Khordorkovsky and Igor Sutyagin. As for solutions, Kasparov highlighted his efforts to expose the corruption of the December 2003 elections through a lawsuit and public advocacy. He also urged the United States to use diplomatic means to leverage the Russian Government into democratic and civil liberties concessions. Edward Lozansky, president of Russia House and the American University in Moscow, offered a contrasting opinion, pointing to the successes of the Putin administration in taming the “oligarchs” and encouraging economic growth. He viewed state control of the broadcast media as less of a crisis, contending that free alternatives, such as print, electronic, and foreign media, provide the people with a variety of viewpoints. Ultimately, Dr. Lozansky argued, “President Putin enjoys overwhelming support of the Russian people” and that the Russian people “can freely express their opinions.” In closing, Lozansky suggested the United States should not undermine its relationship with Russia through unnecessary criticism, since bilateral cooperation between the nations remains essential in the war on terrorism, space exploration, energy, and the environment.  Engagement and dialogue, rather than condemnation, is paramount, he suggested. Reverend Igor Nikitin, president of the Association of Christian Churches in Russia, offered a mixed assessment of the status of religious liberty in Russia.  In northwest Russia and St. Petersburg particularly, religious tolerance is the norm.  In other regions, however, Protestant churches and other non-Orthodox denominations have experienced discrimination and bureaucratic malfeasance.  For instance, an unconstitutional requirement for churches to register their members – as opposed to merely the institution – is frequently enforced by local authorities, and a Moscow court has ordered the “liquidation” of the city’s community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Nikitin urged measures to educate Russian officials on the importance of religious freedom as a civil liberty. Nickolai Butkevich, Research and Advocacy Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, discussed the situation regarding xenophobia and the treatment of minorities in Russia. Mr. Butkevich noted that President Putin has made efforts at the national level to combat xenophobia, but that implementation of relevant directives is uneven at the local level. Some regions and cities have combated xenophobia and anti-Semitism, while other authorities have actively encouraged it. Mr. Butkevich described cases in Vladivostok, Voronezh, and other cities where individuals had been subject to abuse and local authorities reacted uncaringly or in collusion with perpetrators. In answer to a question posed by Chairman Smith on the disparity between the Russian Government’s public and international pronouncements that it will combat anti-Semitism and its failed implementation of such policies domestically, Butkevich blamed the disparity on a lack of prioritization by the central government.  Mr. Kasparov contended though that President Putin has done nothing to address anti-Semitism or quell xenophobia. Answering other questions on the attitudes of the United States and the West toward the Chechen situation, governmental corruption, and the judiciary, Dr. Lozansky replied that Russia is stabilizing under the pragmatic policies of President Putin and that the international community must engage the country on matters of mutual interest. The witnesses responded with divergent views as to whether Russia was moving toward autocracy.  While Kasparov made his case strongly that Russia was, Lozansky again insisted that it was not.  Mr. Butkevich suggested that Russia was “backsliding toward authoritarianism,” but that President Putin certainly retains popular support. Reverend Nikitin stressed that the next few years will determine whether Russia evolves toward civil and religious liberty or tsarist, oppressive governance reemerges. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent 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 from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Colby Daughtry contributed to this article.

  • Activists Brief Commission on the War in Chechnya, Civil Society and Military Reform in Russia

    By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing entitled “The War in Chechnya and Russian Civil Society” on June 17, 2004 with representatives of one of the largest and most active nongovernmental organizations in Russia, the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia. Valentina Melnikova, National Director of CSM, and Natalia Zhukova, Chairwoman of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee of CSM, briefed the Commission on their efforts to publicize and protest human rights abuses in the Russian military and the current state of civil society in Russia. Helsinki Commission Senior Advisor Elizabeth B. Pryor opened the briefing, noting concerns that President Vladimir Putin’s verbal attacks on human rights organizations and their funding sources – delivered on May 26 during his annual State of the Federation address – may indicate future trouble for Russian NGOs perceived as politically hostile to the Kremlin. Ms. Zhukova described the work of her committee and addressed the impact of Putin’s recent comments on the committee’s activities.  The Nizhny Novgorod Committee is one of 300 such bodies under the umbrella of CSM, comprising approximately 30 volunteer workers and handling nearly 2,000 requests for assistance from parents and soldiers annually.  “The problem is that most [people] have simply no idea of what’s going on in their military…because television is censored,” she said. According to Zhukova, the Nizhny Novgorod Committee also provides assistance to approximately 700 deserters annually, precipitated by “beatings, harsh hazing on the part of officers and other soldiers, a criminal environment in the unit, lack of medical assistance, cases of extortion of money, [and] use of soldiers for slave labor.”   In cooperation with the Foundation for Civil Liberties, CSM provides mediation services with authorities and legal assistance to the military deserters and their families. The Committee also works to ensure social protection for veterans of the Chechen wars with disabilities, lobbying and leading demonstrations in support of adequate allowances for wounded soldiers, and the families of those killed in action. Regarding the recent condemnation of Russian NGOs by top military and administration officials, Ms. Zhukova noted, “I can’t say that we experience direct persecution.… But after the onslaught announced by the Minister of Defense and after the State of the Nation address by President Putin, we believe that we have to expect financial pressure.” President Putin’s May 26 address, in which he accused some NGOs of serving “dubious group and commercial interests” rather than those of the Russian people, has been “viewed by the local authorities as an order,” according to Ms. Zhukova.  Since Putin’s speech, she noted, the local governor has revoked the Committee’s discount on their office rent, resulting in a tenfold cost increase.  Moreover, local funding has been depleted because “local businessmen have been so intimidated by the onslaught against us by the Ministry of Defense and by President Putin that we cannot expect anything from them,” she said. Neither does CSM receive substantial financing from abroad, Zhukova maintains, “We serve the interests of millions of Russian soldiers and their parents, defending them from arbitrary rule and lawlessness of the authorities.” Ms. Melnikova addressed the effects of the Putin administration on Russian civil society.  The Russian people, she asserted, have been deprived of both political opposition and independent media since Putin came to power.  She listed “the closed nature of the Chechen war, lack of information, [and] direct deceit of the population by the authorities,” as the negative effects of his administration’s actions.  As a result of Putin’s policies, she said, “The war in Chechnya has ceased to exist as far as the Russian public is concerned.”  Through media controls and a vigorous propaganda campaign, she said, the Russian Government has led the people to believe “that what’s going on in Chechnya is a counterterrorist operation, that we are fighting Arab mercenaries and Al Qaeda units.”  “In reality, the Chechen problem has nothing to do with international terrorism or Islamic fundamentalism…. There is no trace of stabilization in Chechnya, and there are no attempts by the Russian authorities to strive for a peaceful resolution of the problem,” Melnikova stated. Portraying the Russian military as a “decrepit, poorly managed, federally-corrupted structure,” she described the same grim situation as Ms. Zhukova.  In Chechnya, she charged, Russian officers force young men to become military criminals.  If they return from service alive, they are often psychologically or physically disabled, and abandoned by the government that sent them to Chechnya. In answer to a question by Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) regarding the recently enacted Russian legislation on alternative military service, Melnikova called the alternative civil service law “inadequate.” She noted that it requires that soldiers serve terms double the length of ordinary military service, perform tasks that do not serve civil society, and often work hundreds of miles away from home.  The panelists requested that Chairman Smith raise such issues as the fate of a bill regarding civilian control of the armed forces, which has been introduced in the State Duma, and the possibility for a second amnesty for military deserters when he meets with the Speaker of the State Duma at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in early July. Chairman Smith indicated that U.S. officials have, in past meetings with Russian leaders, raised concerns about violent hazing of military conscripts.  In response, Melnikova provided Smith with recent copies of “The News of the Committee of the Soldiers’ Mothers,” featuring vivid photographs of soldiers that had suffered serious injuries as a result of such hazing.  “Russian officers do not treat their soldiers as human beings,” she said, “therefore, everything goes on as before.” Regarding the international community’s response to the Chechen conflict, Melnikova claimed: “There is not enough pressure exerted on Mr. Putin. … Ten years of war have infuriated both the Russian military and the Chechens to such an extent that we don’t see any possibility of peaceful resolution....  But I think Russia’s partners simply have to exert pressure on Putin to make him make at least some tentative steps toward peace, maybe offer some intermediate negotiations, maybe seek some mediation efforts on the part of governments or nongovernmental organizations.  At least something has to be done.” Ms. Melnikova further criticized “the active connivance of the leaders of Western countries, including the United States” as one of the key reasons for the continued restriction of human rights in Russia.  She voiced concern that Washington leaders now believe “that the Russian people don’t need democracy…. That the West supports the anti-democratic policies of the Russian authorities is simply absurd,” she said. She concluded by stating that the CSM “advocates and conducts a social campaign for military reform, for abolition of conscription and for the [establishment] of a professional armed force,” as well as for peace in Chechnya and the expansion of civilian control over the military.  The CSM provides direct aid to more than 50,000 soldiers and their families annually. Finally, Melnikova argued that the “legal slavery, chaos, and corruption at all levels of the Russian military compromises not only Russian civil society but also the strategic objectives of Russia’s allies, including nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Absent democracy,” she said, “there can be no safe Russia.” Asked about recent attacks on nongovernmental organizations by Putin administration officials, Melnikova mentioned that Putin’s criticisms were preceded by comments by the Minister of Defense and Deputy Minister of Justice to the effect that NGOs were pursuing subversive or illegal activities.  Although she hopes that NGOs will not be targeted by the national authorities, she said that the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky has tempered her optimism. Responding to questions about funding from Russian oligarchs, Melnikova stated, “Oligarchs dread to touch us [because] there is always a chance that the authorities can charge any businessman with any crime and throw him in prison, and they know it.” The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords.  The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Christen Broecker contributed to this article.

  • OSCE Meeting Examines Hate Crimes and Racist, Xenophobic, and Anti-Semitic Internet Propaganda

      “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law On June 16 and 17, 2004, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s participating States met in Paris for a meeting on “the Relationship between Racist, Xenophobic and Anti-Semitic Propaganda on the Internet and Hate Crimes.”  The meeting was part of an OSCE focus this year on racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and anti-Semitism and, like two other special human dimension meetings scheduled for this year, was mandated by the OSCE Ministerial Meeting held Maastricht last December. Conferences on anti-Semitism (held in Berlin, April 28-29) and racism, discrimination and xenophobia (to be held in Brussels, September 13-14) are intended to build on high-level meetings already held last year in Vienna on those same subjects. The Paris meeting focused on a specific issue – the Internet - related to the overall topic.   The convocation of a special meeting on the relationship between racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and hate crimes was the product of advocacy by non-governmental organizations such as IN@CH, the International Network Against Cyber Hate, and the leadership of the Government of France.  IN@CH had previously raised awareness of the problem of hate mongering on the Internet at the OSCE’s annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in 2002 and, at the 2003 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, hosted a side-event on the subject.  Historically, the OSCE has been most effective when governments gain a sense of ownership of an issue and exercise leadership in moving it forward.  Non-governmental organizations typically play a critical role in identifying concrete human rights problems and bringing them to the attention of governments. The U.S. Delegation to the Paris meeting was jointly led by Ambassador Stephan M. Minikes, head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights; and Dan Bryant, Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy.  Markham Erickson, General Counsel from Net Coalition; Brian Marcus, Director of Internet Monitoring; Anti-Defamation League, and Ronald Rychlak, Professor of Law and Associate Dean, University of Mississippi Law School, joined the delegation as Public Members.  Other members of the delegation came from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Helsinki Commission.  The United States Delegation engaged fully in the 2-day meeting, making presentations in all formal sessions and side events, holding bilateral meetings, and conducting consultations with non-governmental organizations.  Assistant Attorney General Dan Bryant was a keynote speaker. Although the meeting was mandated to examine the relationship between hate propaganda on the Internet and hate crimes, few participants actually discussed the nexus between these two phenomena.  For many participants, the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship was simply an article of faith or intuition, and did not lead to an exploration of the nature of that relationship.  As a consequence, the meeting made only a marginal contribution to an understanding of which populations might be most vulnerable to the influence of hate propaganda, whether hate propaganda on the Internet fosters some particular kinds of hate crimes more than others, or whether the effect of hate propaganda on the Internet plays a different role in fostering violent crimes than, for example, weak law enforcement or public officials who make or refuse to condemn racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic remarks.  It is not clear whether web-based hate propaganda is related to spikes in hate crimes that have occurred in some countries in recent years, or why, as seems to be the case, some places with unfettered Internet access have relatively lower levels of hate crimes than other places with similarly unfettered Internet access. Nevertheless, participants did address a broad range of subjects related to hate propaganda, hate crimes and the Internet over the course of the two days.  Formal sessions focused on “Legislative Framework, Including Domestic and International Legislation Regarding Propaganda on the Internet and Hate Crimes,” “The Nature and Extent of the Relationship between Racist, Xenophobic and anti-Semitic Propaganda on the Internet and Hate Crimes,” “Public and Private Partnerships in the Fight Against Racism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism on the Internet – Best Practices,” and “Promoting Tolerance on and through the Internet – Best Practices to Educate Users and Heighten Public Awareness.”   Side events were held on “Guaranteeing Media Freedom on the Internet,” “‘The IN@CH Network’ - Dealing with Cyber Hate on a Daily Basis,” “Identifying Examples of Hate Speech: A BBC Monitoring Project,” “Filtering: Princip, the Solution that goes beyond Key Words,” “Satellite Television and Anti-Semitism: How to Combat the Dissemination in Europe of Racist and Anti-Semitic Propaganda through Satellite Television?” and “Promoting Awareness of Anti-Semitism in the European Classroom: Teacher Training, Curricula, and the Internet.” A number of speakers, including U.S. Government representatives, discussed the legal mechanisms for action that might be taken when hate propaganda rises to the level of a crime in and of itself, such as when the hate propaganda constitutes a threat or incitement to a criminal action.  Many speakers discussed the role of non-governmental organizations in monitoring and facilitating the removal of hate sites from the web when they violate the terms of agreements with their Internet service providers (ISPs).  Some participants described ways in which the pernicious effects of hate speech can be mitigated or countered.  For example, a Canadian non-governmental organization, Media Awareness Network, made a presentation on programs in Canadian schools designed to teach children to distinguish between hate propaganda sites and legitimate information sources.  Vividly illustrating the challenges and risks for those organizations which monitor and report on the activities of extremist hate groups, the offices of People Against Racism, a Slovak non-governmental organization that participated in Paris meeting, were burned out only weeks before the meeting opened. Although there was broad agreement on the goal of combating hate propaganda, some participants flagged concerns about the methods that might be used to that end.  For example, industry representatives provided some insight regarding difficulties faced due to the technological challenges of tracking, filtering, or blocking hate propaganda transmitted through the Internet, emails, or text messaging.  Some concepts of regulation, they argued, could not be effectively implemented given the state of current technology.  Asking ISPs to be responsible for screening all content on the web is not feasible, anymore than making telephone companies responsible for everything that gets said over the telephone. A few participants drew attention to factors other than hate propaganda on the Internet that may contribute to hate crimes.  A Russian non-governmental representative, for example, remarked that there was more anti-Semitism in the Russian State Duma than on Russian-language web sites.  And, illustrating the complexities of deciding exactly what constitutes hate propaganda, one non-governmental representative argued that evangelical Christian sites that reach out to Jews should be considered anti-Semitic.  Similarly, the Russian delegation identified the web sites of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hare Krishnas as “promoting hate doctrines.” Other concerns were voiced as well.  Some non-governmental groups suggested that ISPs were ill-suited to determine whether web sites constituted hate propaganda or not.  One described an ISP that removed an innocuous site devoted to English philosopher John Stuart Mill after that non-governmental organization – testing the bases upon which ISPs would act – urged the ISP to take down the allegedly racist site. Regulation of hate propaganda by ISPs, they concluded, lacked transparency and accountability. Some speakers warned that combating hate propaganda could be used as a pretense for sanctioning views disfavored by the regime.  The International League for Human Rights suggested that states with “weak democratic institutions and traditions” should not be entrusted with additional powers of control beyond those that already exist.  Indeed, some speakers argued there have already been instances where laws against incitement to racial hatred (or similar laws) have been misapplied for political or other purposes.  The ongoing fight against terrorism, they suggested, increases that danger.  In fact, only days after the Paris meeting concluded [June 22], the Paris-based watchdog Reporters without Borders released a report entitled “Internet Under Surveillance,” documenting repression of the Internet around the globe.  One of the U.S. recommendations made during the meeting was that the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media should examine whether hate speech laws are being enforced in a discriminatory or selective manner or misused to suppress political dissent.  The full texts of statements circulated at the Paris meeting by the United States and other participants are available through the OSCE’s Internet web site at http://www.osce.org/events/conferences/anti-racism. One of the sub-texts of the meeting was the putative “Atlantic Divide.” In the context of discussions of “cyber hate” and hate crimes, this phrase was used to describe the perceived gulf between the United States’ and Europe’s approaches to hate propaganda.  According to the adherents of the “Atlantic divide” theory, the United States is a free-speech Wild West, where speech has no limitations or legal consequences.  “Europe,” in contrast, is portrayed as a unified region speaking with one voice, populated by those who have wisely learned from the horrors of World War II that dangerous speech can and must be sanctioned and that governments are easily capable of performing this task and do so as a matter of course.  The “Atlantic Divide” perception was fostered by Robert Badinter, former French Minister of Justice and current president of the OSCE Court of Arbitration and Conciliation, who, in a keynote address, dramatically appealed to the United States to “stop hiding behind the first amendment.” Others, however, implicitly or explicitly rejected this overly simplistic image.  In the United States, a long chain of legal authority recognizes that the right to free speech and freedom of expression is not absolute.  As U.S. Public Member Robert Rychlak noted, “When speech crosses the line and becomes more than speech – when it presents a clear and present danger – the authorities must be prepared to step in and take legal action.  At that time, the speech may constitute an actual threat, true harassment, or be an incitement to imminent lawlessness.”  Department of Justice officials separately gave examples of numerous recent cases where individuals were prosecuted for sending email messages that rose to the level racially motivated threats.  While it is important not to over-read these or related cases – criminal sanctions based purely on one’s opinion remain prohibited – they should dispel the misimpression that there are no limitations whatsoever on speech or the consequences of speech in the United States. Conversely, the context of the meeting also provided an opportunity to reflect on the image of Europe as a continent uniformly bound in a single regulatory approach to hate speech.  In reality, the national laws relating to hate speech of individual European countries vary considerably; what constitutes prohibited speech in one country may be permitted in the next.  Moreover, both national courts and the European Court of Human Rights apply balancing tests to speech restrictions that, while not identical to balancing tests applied by U.S. courts, are not entirely dissimilar.  The Hungarian Constitutional Court, for example, in May 2004 held that a proposed hate speech law would violate the free speech provisions of the Hungarian Constitution.  Just before the opening of the Paris meeting, on June 13, the French Constitutional Council struck down parts of a new law governing communication over the Internet (adopted to implement a June 8, 2000, European Union directive on electronic commerce). 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.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing Sheds Light on Russia's Human Rights Situation

    By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor On June 7, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing with four prominent Russian human rights activists to examine the state of human rights and civil liberties in the Russian Federation.  Entitled “Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?,” the briefing covered such topics as elections, Chechnya, religious liberty, media freedom and the overall functioning of the legislative and judicial branches. The briefing was a follow up to the Commission’s May 20th hearing on “Human Rights in Putin’s Russia.” The briefing panel included Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group and President of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.  Other participants were Arseni Roginsky, Chairman of the International Memorial Society; Alexei Simonov, Head of the Glasnost Defense Fund; and Mara Polyakova, Director of the Independent Council for Legal Expertise. Commission Deputy Chief of Staff Ronald J. McNamara began the briefing with a moment of silence to honor the passing of President Ronald Reagan, a “stalwart supporter of freedom and human rights.” McNamara noted the timeliness of the briefing given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s U.S. visit to Sea Island, Georgia, for the G-8 Summit.  He stated that despite Putin’s claim that “nothing will stop Russia” in its quest for economic and democratic freedom, some of Putin’s comments in his State of the Federation address had raised concerns over the Kremlin’s commitment to promote civil society in Russia.  Putin’s accusations of NGOs seeking outside funding and not addressing serious issues were particularly troubling insofar as they may signal the beginning of a crackdown against NGOs in Russia.  Mr. McNamara also referenced the growing problem of “spy mania,” with potentially chilling implications for Russia’s academics and scientific community. Arseni Roginsky began his remarks by stating that the trend in Russia over the past few years has been marked by “the efforts of the powers-that-be to destroy the isolated islands of independence and democracy that still continue to exist in Russia.”  Specifically, Roginsky pointed to the new Russian law limiting public demonstrations and a new law on referenda.  In sentiments echoed by other panelists, he decried the emergence of “made-to-order” elections controlled almost exclusively by the Putin administration and moneyed interests. Ms. Alexeeva later reiterated the concern about the changes on referenda, noting that even if the requisite two million signatures can be garnered, under the new law she believes mid-level Russian bureaucrats will be able to stop indefinitely the progress of a referendum. While the Putin administration has been quick to point to the Russian Constitution and its promise of free speech, Roginsky and panelist Alexei Simonov both claimed that this de jure right does not exist in reality.  According to Simonov, while Russians may be legally entitled to say or print controversial statements, these sentiments are ignored by the powers-that-be. He contended that “[freedom of speech] means not only to shout out but to be heard.”  According to Simonov, there are only four independent-minded Russian magazines with a combined circulation of around 500,000. Smaller such newspapers exist as well, but the costs of protecting against defamation suits, which number more than 50 per month according to Simonov, make it increasingly hard for them to stay in business.  He also stated that most editorials in newspapers are written by what amount to essentially local bureaucrats; most newspapers rely on government or private funding, making them hardly free and independent.  Simonov estimates that only 10 to 15 percent of newspapers are self-sustaining. “Most of them take money from somewhere, and each has this special somewhere, but nobody wants to speak of these ‘somewheres,’” he concluded. Related to this issue is more direct government control over radio and television broadcasts which are the main source of information for most Russians. Ms. Alexeeva and other panelists asserted that “government-controlled media reported those campaigns [in 2003/2004] in an utterly biased way,” denying access to opposition candidates and giving the United Russia Party extensive coverage. Another common theme throughout the briefing was the lack of judicial independence or reform. Mr. Roginsky prefaced the topic by noting that “…the court system is under great influence of the nationalistic, patriotic ideology that is flourishing in Russia at this time.” He specifically spoke of a recent case involving four Russian soldiers who admitted to killing six Chechen civilians by mistake and then attempting to cover it up.  In Mr. Roginsky’s words, “The jury and the courts did state that indeed the murder had taken place; the people were killed. The people who were being tried were those who perpetrated the killing; however, they were not [found] guilty.” Mara Polyakova spoke extensively about judicial reform.  She admitted that new democratic laws are being passed which reflect democratic principles, but the mechanisms needed to implement these principles are often lacking or are thwarted.  She also stated that prisoners in Russia are tortured and that court records are still falsified.  “The judges are still dependent in spite of the fact that their independence was loudly proclaimed in the constitution and other laws, because the real power remains in the hands of the chairmen of the courts who are part of or prone to influence by the executive,” Polyakova said. Speaking specifically on the war in Chechnya, Roginsky described the large number of Chechen civilians abducted or kidnapped monthly, and the one-sided propaganda about the conflict emanating from the state-controlled media. However, Mr. Roginsky denied that the term “genocide” applies to the current Chechen situation (as opposed to the 1944 deportations), calling it instead state-sponsored terror.  In response to a question regarding cutbacks in U.S. assistance for democracy programs in Russia, Simonov said, “Americans do not quite correctly understand what is happening in Russia.  They seem to like the democratic record of the current Russian Government, and they seem to be taking this rhetoric as the truth.”  On a similar note, he later recommended that U.S. officials and international organizations should “never take at face value anything said by officials in Russia.” Mr. McNamara raised the religious freedom issue, specifically the labeling of non-Russian Orthodox groups as “non-traditional religions” and the court-ordered “liquidation” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Moscow, despite federal recognition.  Ms. Alexeeva responded by saying that it would appear the Russian Orthodox Church is striving to become a state religion as it once was.  The panelists were pessimistic about the chances of a successful appeal of the recent Moscow court decision against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, although Simonov suggested that any pressure from President Bush during the G-8 Summit might have an impact. Despite the comments of the panelists painting a fairly bleak picture of the state of civil and human rights in Russia, Ms. Alexeeva did caution that “if you look from the outside in, everything seems to be more frightening than when you are on the inside of that state. I don’t think the fascist system is being created in our country, and even less that it has already been created.” In closing the briefing, Mr. McNamara sought to put events in perspective by recalling that in November 1986 there were 700 known Soviet political prisoners and prisoners of conscience as well as tens of thousands of divided families in the U.S.S.R.  He noted that all of those prisoners had been released and many of those emigration cases resolved by January 19, 1989, President Reagan’s final day in office. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Nicholas Adams contributed to this article.

  • The War in Chechnya and Russian Civil Society

    This briefing was held in light of recent verbal attacks by President Putin and other Russian officials on human rights organizations and their funding sources that raised concerns about the future of Russian NGOs that may be viewed by the government as politically hostile.  Regarding Moscow’s conduct of the war in Chechnya, the Commission recognized Russia’s right to defend its territorial integrity, but asserted that territorial integrity can be preserved without resorting to the brutal methods employed by some members of the Russian military and the pro-Moscow Chechnya militia. Valentina Melnikova, National Director of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia and Natalia Zhukova, Chairperson of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers testified at this briefing. The “Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers” has become the largest NGO in Russia as an umbrella organization embracing nearly 300 groups and thousands of members. The Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers have opposed the Kremlin’s conduct of the war in Chechnya and have accused the Russian Government of consistently under-reporting the number of Russian military casualties in the conflict.

  • Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?

    The Helsinki Commission briefing occurred in conjunction with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the United States to attend the G8 Summit and focused on the status of democratic progress, human rights, civil liberties, and press freedom in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The consequences of President Putin’s ascent to power and elements of his government determined to reverse Russia’s direction and institute more authoritarian policies were among several topics that were discussed. Four prominent Russian human rights activists – including Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and President, International Helsinki Commission for Human Rights; Arseni Roginsky, Chairman of the International Memorial Society; Alexei Simonov, Head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation and Mara Polyakova, Director of the Independent Council for Legal Experts – gave their assessment of the human rights situation in Russia today, including specific cases of particular interest.

  • OSCE Commitments on Trafficking in Human Beings - Russian

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing Highlights OSCE's Military Dimension of Security

    By Bob Hand CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing February 11, 2004 to review the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Forum for Security Cooperation, particularly during the period in late 2003 when the United States chaired the FSC. The purpose of the briefing was to gauge how the OSCE is responding to the latest changes in the security environment, such as the war on terrorism, weapons proliferation, and regional conflicts involving OSCE states.  The briefing featured James Cox, the Chief Arms Control Delegate of the United States to the OSCE in Vienna. Helsinki Commission Senior Advisor Elizabeth B. Pryor opened the briefing, noting the OSCE’s well-known contribution to security through the promotion of human rights and democratic change.  She stressed, however, that the military dimension of the OSCE should not be overlooked. “Measures such as advance notification of troop maneuvers and observation of military exercises have become such a part of our way of interacting that we too frequently take such transparency for granted,” Ms. Pryor stated.  Capitalizing on the dramatic changes in Europe in the 1990s, the OSCE “expanded the degree of military openness, then encouraged further reductions in force levels and equipment, and placed military institutions under democratic civilian control.” Mr. Cox began by describing the FSC’s creation in 1992 to respond to military questions in the post-Cold War era, such as the change in force levels and the significant shift in the security environment.  Among other things, the Forum has been tasked to establish a web of arms control agreements and confidence- and security-building measures.  The FSC also pursues the implementation of these agreements, develops a security dialogue, and considers norms and standards on such politico-military features of security as civilian control of armed forces and adherence to international humanitarian law. The OSCE made crucial steps toward addressing new threats to security and stability in the 21st century when the United States held the FSC chairmanship from September to December of 2003.  These steps were taken with the realization that the FSC now must expand beyond the limits of arms control and confidence- and security-building measures.   Mr. Cox stressed that the FSC needs to broaden its focus not only to address interstate relations between armed forces of OSCE participating States, but also non-OSCE States.  New security threats to the OSCE region include non-state actors, terrorism, proliferation, and organized crime. Under the United States’ chairmanship, the FSC highlighted the proliferation of arms, the control of man-portable air defense systems, and civil-military emergency preparedness.  With regard to non-proliferation, the United States hosted a number of speakers to suggest ways to curb the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Effective and comprehensive controls for MANPADS were discussed, highlighting the threat posed by these weapons to civil aviation.  The FSC encouraged the participating States to prevent illicit transfers of MANPADS by destroying excess devices.  In addition, the EU, NATO, and UN speakers, and others were invited to the FSC to discuss their disaster response procedures. The OSCE’s Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons, or SALW, contains provisions for the destruction of excess MANPADS.  The provisions also allows states to request assistance on the security and management of stockpiles, encourage the establishment of border controls in order to reduce the transfer of small arms, and provide for the disposal of light arms.  Mr. Cox also discussed initiatives addressing management and destruction of excess stockpiles of ammunition and explosive material, both through better management and destruction.  In closing his presentation, Cox asserted that progress has been made in all spheres of European security, but he did not want to leave “too rosy a picture.”  The FSC is a consensus body which, by its nature, limits what any one country can achieve and has no enforcement capability. Nevertheless, he stressed that the FSC is useful to the 55 participating OSCE countries because it has norm and standard setting capabilities and provides a forum to discuss issues of national interest. During a question-and-answer period, a question was asked about the stance of FSC participants that may be hiding their weapons and stockpiles.  Mr. Cox reiterated that although the FSC has no enforcement capability, its politically binding decisions are to be taken very seriously.  Positive developments have occurred with recent requests for clean-up disarmament assistance, including by Belarus. Another issue raised was the failure of Russia to implement commitments adopted at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit with respect to Moldova and Georgia.  The Istanbul commitments require Russia to remove troops and arsenals from Moldova and close military bases in the Republic of Georgia.  To this day, Russian troops and weapons remain in Moldova and Georgia.  Mr. Cox affirmed that these issues are raised in Vienna.  A related issue is OSCE peacekeeping.  As Cox explained, the notion of OSCE peacekeeping would be difficult to undertake, as the organization lacks the necessary infrastructure to conduct such operations.  Compared to NATO forces and European Union efforts to take on these operations, peacekeeping is on the low end of FSC considerations, and there has been no agreement to go beyond the original OSCE language on the matter developed in 1992. In response to a question regarding Russian military conduct in Chechnya, Cox noted that this is usually discussed as a human rights issue at the Permanent Council.  He did note, however, initiatives within the military dimension, including a Swedish request to observe a Russian military exercise in Dagestan, neighboring Chechnya, which Moscow denied on security grounds, are addressed in the FSC. Finally, Cox was asked about the focus of the 2004 Annual Security Review Conference.   He predicted this second meeting will center on the implementation of counterterrorism measures, including commitments agreed at the Maastricht Ministerial, and further enhancing border security.  The first ASRC was held in 2003 to review select issues such as organized crime, arms trafficking, and terrorism.  It also encouraged the adoption of biometric standards for travel documents as a means to improve border security. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords.  The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Interns Colby Daughtry and Erin Carden contributed to this article.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Reviews Bulgaria’s Leadership of the OSCE

    His Excellency Solomon Passy, Foreign Minister of Bulgaria and Chair-in-Office of the OSCE testified in front of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, chaired by the Honorable Christopher Smith (NJ-04).  Passy’s testimony regarded the OSCE’s program for 2004 under Bulgaria’s leadership. Passy stated that implementations of OSCE commitments would top the agenda for Bulgaria’s Chairmanship of the OSCE. The hearing covered the conflict in Chechnya; OSCE efforts to resolve the Transdniestrian conflict and “frozen conflicts” in the Caucasus; OSCE efforts to combat anti-Semitism and human trafficking; the situation in Central Asia; and promoting respect for human rights and democratic values throughout the OSCE region.  Passy also spoke about Bulgaria’s experience with its own transition to democracy and its ongoing human rights efforts.

  • The Bulgarian Leadership of the OSCE

    This hearing, which Representative Christopher H. Smith presided over, focused on the Bulgarian Chairmanship of the OSCE, which had begun in for January 2004 and would continue for a year. The hearing specifically reviewed the OSCE’s program for 2004 under Bulgaria’s leadership. Solomon Passy, witness at the hearing, said that implementation of OSCE commitments would top the agenda for Bulgaria’s OSCE Chairmanship. Specific issues that attendees discussed included the Chechnyan conflict, OSCE efforts to revoke the Transdniestrian conflict, work to resolve the “frozen conflicts” in the Caucasus, efforts to combat anti-Semitism and human trafficking, the situation in Central Asia, and promoting respect for human rights and democratic values throughout the OSCE region.

  • Strong Substance, Potent Politics Mark Historic Maastricht OSCE Ministerial Council

    By Elizabeth B. Pryor, CSCE Senior Advisor The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) once again demonstrated its ability to promote candid political discussion and take prescient decisions when the Eleventh OSCE Ministerial Council met December 1-2, 2003. The meeting took place in Maastricht, the Netherlands, capping the Dutch chairmanship of the OSCE, under the leadership of Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Ministers and other senior officials from the 55 OSCE states engaged in extensive consultations and approved an impressive array of action programs and strategic initiatives. Members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, including Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), and representatives of OSCE partner states and other affiliated organizations joined them. Secretary of State Colin Powell led the United States delegation. The Ministerial meeting was historic, not only for the quantity and quality of the decisions it took, but because it signaled a move away from defining the organization solely on the basis of broad formalized statements. The flexibility of the organization was also on display. When one participating state threatened a veto on jointly agreed political positions, the Chairman and other members turned it into an opportunity to forcefully reiterate their determination to see conflicts resolved through the standards set in OSCE agreements. They also intensified the pressure to fulfill previously taken commitments. The result was a stronger expression of collective political will than might have been made in a compromise document. By moving beyond the predictable rhetoric of a communiqué, the OSCE underscored its own political vitality and the unique platform it offers for frank debate and creative political action. The Maastricht Ministerial took place in the wake of Georgia’s "Revolution of the Roses" and was attended by the Acting President of Georgia, Nino Burjanadze. That situation, and growing concern over disputes in the Transdniestria region of Moldova, produced frank comments from the Ministers, opening the way for real dialogue on the issues and an expression of international concern that was impossible to ignore. Secretary Powell was among those who used the unconstrained OSCE stage to address issues directly. He cautioned that no support would "be given to breakaway elements seeking to weaken Georgia’s territorial integrity" and called for international support for the new elections to be held January 4, 2004. The European Union, and Dutch OSCE Chairman echoed this, voicing their own warnings against interference in Georgia’s democratic development. The Chairman also strongly reasserted the OSCE’s role in deliberations over the political future of Transdniestria. He was joined by many of the Ministers, who took exception to Russian efforts to broker an inequitable accord outside of the internationally coordinated mediation process. While applauding some progress on arms reductions by Russia in Transdniestria, the U.S. delegation, as well as many others, spoke forthrightly of the need to fulfill all provisions of the 1999 Istanbul agreement which called for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova. Even when given an extension to withdraw by December 31, 2003, no progress has been made. The exchange also gave Russia the opportunity to express its viewpoint: that ratification of the revised Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was being held up over the implementation of the Istanbul commitments and that the collapse of its diplomatic initiative in Moldova would delay any chance of reaching a settlement. The initiatives unanimously agreed by the Ministers reflect the OSCE’s dedication to strong standard setting and innovative yet practical solutions for entrenched problems. The decisions taken on security issues continue OSCE’s long tradition of crafting action-oriented agreements with low political cost and long-term stabilizing effects. The development of more secure travel documents, export controls on portable air defense systems, "best practices" for the transfer of small arms and new measures for the destruction of stockpiles of ammunition are among the most robust set of security decisions taken in recent years by any international organization. The United States welcomed these decisions and praised the OSCE’s work as an example of effective multilateralism. These concrete action programs were coupled with a comprehensive strategy for addressing the changing security environment of the 21st century. The holistic OSCE approach to stability is evident in this document, which encompasses everything from arms control to environmental concerns and fighting corruption. "The [Helsinki] Final Act tells us that lasting security requires not just respect for the sovereignty of states, but also respect for the integrity of human beings," noted Secretary Powell in Maastricht. In keeping with this integrated approach to security, the OSCE agreed to a strategic roadmap for tackling the difficult problem of trafficking in human beings. The OSCE Action Plan is the most detailed blueprint devised by any international organization; in Maastricht Ministers decided to appoint a Special Representative to ensure that its provisions are carried out. In addition, the OSCE approved a comprehensive policy for improving the situation of Roma and Sinti, the first of its kind in the region. They also strengthened their commitment to an enhanced economic and environmental work plan. In a matter of particular interest to numerous Helsinki Commissioners, the Maastricht Ministerial formally welcomed the offer by Germany to host a conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin. Belgium will host a meeting on racism, xenophobia and discrimination. In a letter to Secretary Powell in the lead up to the ministerial, Commissioners urged U.S. leadership in securing agreement on the German proposal as well as other areas of particular concern, including disturbing developments in Turkmenistan, Chechnya, Belarus and severe limitations placed on minority religious communities in some parts of the region. "The United States’ leadership is essential to secure consensus on initiatives on combating anti-Semitism and racism; human trafficking; internally displaced persons; corruption and international crime; cooperation with the ICTY; withdrawal of foreign forces from Moldova; and the Annual Security Review Conference," Commissioners wrote. Ministers also addressed the wider sharing of OSCE norms, principles and commitments with others, pledging to identify additional fields of cooperation and interaction with OSCE Mediterranean and Asian Partners for Cooperation. 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.

Pages