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Wicker, Cardin Condemn Detention of Russian Activist Nastya Shevchenko

Thursday, February 07, 2019

WASHINGTON—Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) today issued the following statements on the detention of Anastasia (Nastya) Shevchenko, a human rights activist with the Open Russia organization, who was placed under house arrest on January 23:

“No one should face jail time for peaceful advocacy,” said Sen. Wicker. “The callous and cruel treatment of Nastya Shevchenko by Russian authorities is a disturbing tactic to silence a citizen-activist.”

“The Russian authorities must release Nastya Shevchenko,” said Sen. Cardin. “It should not be a crime to advocate for the best interests of one’s country and fellow citizens.”

Shevchenko is the first Russian to face criminal charges under Russia’s 2015 “undesirable organizations” law, which is intended to prevent NGOs based outside of Russia from operating within the country. A single mother, she was prevented from visiting her critically-ill special needs daughter until shortly before her daughter’s death at the end of January.

Open Russia is a Russian-led, Russia-based organization that advocates for greater government transparency and accountability. Amnesty International has declared Shevchenko a prisoner of conscience.

Media contact: 
Name: 
Stacy Hope
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csce[dot]press[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov
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    On behalf of Chairman Chris Smith, CSCE Chief of Staff Dorothy Taft addressed Alexandr Nikitin’s personal legal case against the Russian government for his dedication to environmentalism.  Nikitin called speaks of the government’s harassment of grassroots advocates in Russia and their repeated failure to find him guilty in court. Alexandr Nikitin spoke of his prolonged legal case, which was reopened three times, and expressed his desire to help others who find themselves in similar situations with Russian law. He also addressed Russia’s abolishment of the State Committee to Protect the Environment and the overall lack of environmentalism in Russia.

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    At the briefing, an in-depth study examining the religious liberties laws and constitutional provisions of twelve countries: Austria, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, the United States, and Uzbekistan formally released by the Helsinki Commission was discussed. The project was inspired by the agreement of OSCE participating States to “ensure that their laws, regulations, practices and policies conform with their obligation under international law and are brought into harmony with the provisions of the Declaration on Principles and other OSCE commitments.” Various panelists addressed the issue of governments continuing to impose restrictions on individual religious liberties, despite a prior agreement to curtail anti-religious laws and governmental practices designed to prevent people from practicing or expressing their religious beliefs. Legal specialists from the Law Library of Congress emphasized a “frightening” trend in France to limit an individual’s right to freely express religious views or participate in religious activities, a Greek policy requiring one’s religious affiliation to be listed on government-issued identification cards, and Turkish raids on Protestant groups as examples of the violations of religious liberty that continue to plague these selected OSCE countries.

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I believe we must build on this initiative, and offered my amendment to urge the convening of a ministerial meeting with the goal of making specific recommendations to the member states about steps which can be taken to eliminate this primary threat to economic stability and security and major obstacle to U.S. businesses seeking to invest and operate abroad.   My anti-crime amendment was intended to address the negative impact that crime has on our countries and our citizens. Violent crime, international crime, organized crime and drug trafficking all undermine the rule of law, a healthy business climate and democracy building. This amendment was based on my personal experiences as one of the only members of the United States Senate with a law enforcement background and on congressional testimony that we are witnessing an increase in the incidence of international crime, and we are seeing a type of crime which our countries have not dealt with before. 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  • Tenth Anniversary of Ukraine Sovereignty Declaration

    Mr. Speaker, ten years ago, on July 16th 1990, the Supreme Soviet (parliament) of the Ukrainian S.S.R. adopted a far-reaching Declaration on State Sovereignty of Ukraine. The overwhelming vote of 355 for and four against was a critical and demonstrative step towards independence, as Ukraine was at that time a republic of the Soviet Union.   The Declaration, inspired by the democratic movement Rukh whose key members were veterans of the Helsinki movement seeking greater rights and freedoms, proclaimed Ukraine's state sovereignty and stressed the Republic's intention of controlling its own affairs. Ukraine and its people were identified as the sole source of state authority in the republic, and they alone were to determine their own destiny. The Declaration asserted the primacy of Ukraine's legislation over Soviet laws and established the right of Ukraine to create its own currency and national bank, raise its own army, maintain relations with foreign countries, collect tariffs, and erect borders. Through this Declaration, Ukraine announced its intention not to use, possess, or acquire nuclear weapons. Going beyond Soviet leader Gorbachev's vision of a `renewed' Soviet federation, the Declaration asserted Ukraine's sovereignty vis-a-vis Moscow, a move that only a few years earlier would have been met with the harshest of sanctions. The Declaration's assurances on the protection of individual rights and freedoms for all of the people of Ukraine, including national and religious minorities, were extremely important and viewed as an integral aspect of the building of a sovereign Ukraine.   The Declaration itself was the outcome of emerging democratic processes in Ukraine. Elections to the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet, the first in which non-communists were permitted on the ballot, had been held only a few months earlier, in March 1990; one-third of the new members elected were representatives of the democratic opposition. Even the Communist majority voted for the Declaration, reflecting the reality that the Soviet Empire was steadily unraveling. A year later, on August 24, 1991, the same Ukrainian parliament declared Ukraine's independence, and in December of that year, on the heels of a referendum in Ukraine in which over 90 percent voted for independence, the Soviet Union ceased to exist.   Mr. Speaker, since the adoption of the Declaration ten years ago Ukraine has witnessed momentous transformations. Independent Ukraine has developed from what was, for all practical purposes, a colony of the Soviet empire into a viable, peaceful state with a commitment to ensuring democracy and prosperity for its citizens. It has emerged as a responsible and constructive actor in the international arena which enjoys good relations with all its neighbors and a strategic partnership with the United States. Obviously, the heavy legacy of communism and Soviet misrule has not yet disappeared, as illustrated by stifling corruption, and inadequate progress in rule of law and economic reforms. However, the defeat of the communists in last November's presidential elections, and the appointment of genuinely reformist Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko have given grounds for renewed optimism, which is supported by evidence of growth in some sectors of the economy.   Mr. Speaker, now is the time for the Ukrainian people to strengthen and ensure independence by redoubling their efforts to build democracy and a market economy, thereby keeping faith with the ideals and goals of the historic 1990 Declaration on Sovereignty.

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

    In advance of the 2000 commemoration of the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing to focus on the continuing problem of torture in the OSCE region. In spite of these efforts and the efforts of our Commission, including introducing and working for passage of two bills, the Torture Victims Relief Act and the Reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every OSCE country including the United States. This briefing considered two specific problem areas, Chechnya and Turkey, as well as efforts to prevent torture and to treat torture survivors. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Inge Genefke, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims; Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for  Europe and the Middle East, Amnesty International; and Douglas Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for the Victims of Torture – highlighted statistics about the number of torture victims in Turkey and Chechnya and related violations of individual rights.

  • President Putin's Visit to Moldova

    Mr. Speaker, President Putin of Russia continues to maintain a heavy schedule of international visits. Among the several destinations, he is scheduled to visit Moldova later this week.   The Republic of Moldova is located principally between the Prut River on the west and the Dniestr River to the east, between Romania and Ukraine. A sliver of the country, the `left bank' or `Transdniestria' region, extends beyond the Dniestr River and borders with Ukraine. The 4.3 million population in Moldova is 65 percent ethnic Romanian, with significant Ukrainian and Russian minorities. Gagauz, Bulgarians, Roma, and Jews constitute the bulk of the remainder. While Moldova and Romania were united between World Wars I and II, following seizure by the Soviets in World War II, Moldova became a Soviet `Republic.' When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Moldova gained its independence and is now an internationally-recognized sovereign state, a member of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and a host of other international organizations.   When Moldova became independent, there were approximately 15,000 Soviet troops of the 14th Army based in the Transdniestria region of Moldova. In 1992, elements of these troops helped pro-Soviet elements establish a separatist state in Transdniestria, the so-called Dniestr Moldovan Republic. This state, unrecognized and barely changed from the Soviet era, continues to exist and defy the legitimate authorities of Moldova. Meanwhile, elements of the former Soviet army, now the Russian army, remained in Transdniestria after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Renamed the Operational Group of Forces, they presently number about 2,500. The Moldovan Government has wanted the troops to leave, and the Russians keep saying they are going to leave. The Moldovan and Russian Governments signed an agreement in 1994 according to which Russian forces would withdraw in three years. Obviously, that deadline has passed. Russia was supposed to remove her forces from Moldova as a part of the Council of Europe accession agreement in February 1996. In fact, language in the declaration of the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit insists that Russia remove its military arsenals from Moldova by December 2001 and its forces by December 2002. This latest OSCE language enhances language included in the 1994 Budapest document and the 1996 Lisbon document calling for complete withdrawal of the Russian troops.   Mr. Speaker, there is no legitimate security reason for the Russian Government to continue to base military forces on the territory of a sovereign state that wishes to see them removed. This relatively small contingent of troops is a vestige of the Cold War. I would add also that the United States Government has agreed to help finance some of the moving costs for the Russian equipment. I would hope President Putin will assure his hosts in Moldova that the Russian forces will be removed in accordance with the OSCE deadline, if not earlier.  

  • Helsinki Final Act 25th Anniversary Resolution

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a resolution commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, an international accord whose signing represents a milestone in European history. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, I have been privileged to be associated with the Helsinki process and its seminal role in advancing human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. I am pleased to be joined by my fellow Helsinki Commissioners Representatives Hoyer, Wolf, Cardin, Salmon, Slaughter, Greenwood, Forbes and Pitts as original cosponsors. A companion resolution is being introduced today in the Senate by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.   The Helsinki Final Act and the process it spawned have been instrumental in consigning the Communist Soviet Empire, responsible for untold violations of human rights, into the dustbin of history. With its language on human rights, the Helsinki Final Act, for the first time in the history of international agreements, granted human rights the status of a fundamental principle in regulating international relations. The Final Act's emphasis on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is rooted in the recognition that the declaration of such rights affirms the inherent dignity of men and women and not privileges bestowed at the whim of the state.   Equally important, Mr. Speaker, the standards of Helsinki which served as a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues also provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive communist regimes. Many of these brave men and women, members of the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, and similar groups in Poland and Czechoslovakia, Soviet Jewish emigration activists, members of repressed Christian denominations and others, paid a high price in the loss of personal freedom and, in some instances, their lives, for their active support of principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. Western pressure through the Helsinki process, now advanced in the forum of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, greatly contributed to the freeing of the peoples of the Captive Nations, thus bringing an end to the Cold War.   The Helsinki Commission, on which I have served since 1983, played a significant role in promoting human rights and human contacts. The congressional initiatives such as hearings, resolutions, letters and face-to-face meetings with representatives of Helsinki signatories which violated human rights commitments, encouraged our own government to raise these issues consistently and persistently. The Commission's approach at various Helsinki meetings has always been to encourage a thorough and detailed review of compliance with Helsinki agreements. Specific cases and issues are cited, rather than engaging in broad, philosophical discussions about human rights. With the passage of time, and with the leadership of the United States, this more direct approach in pressing human rights concerns has become the norm. In fact, by 1991 the Helsinki signatory states accepted that human dimension commitments `are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned.'   With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the OSCE region has changed dramatically. In many States, we have witnessed dramatic transformation and a consolidation of the core OSCE values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In others, there has been little if any progress, and in some, armed conflicts have resulted in hundreds of thousands having been killed and in the grotesque violation of human rights. The OSCE, which now includes 54 participating States, has changed to reflect the changed international environment, undertaking a variety of initiatives designed to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict and emphasizing respect for rule of law and the fight against organized crime and corruption, which constitute a threat to economic reform and prosperity. The Helsinki process is still dynamic and active, and the importance of a vigorous review in which countries are called to account for violations of their freely undertaken Helsinki commitments has not diminished.   This resolution calls on the President to issue a proclamation reaffirming the United States' commitment to full implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. All signatory states would be asked to clarify that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles as well as economic liberty, and the implementation of related commitments continue to be vital elements in promoting a new era of democracy, peace and unity in the OSCE region. In the twenty-five years since this historic process was initiated in Helsinki, there have been many successes. Mr. Speaker, the task is still far from complete, and we must continue to do our part in championing the values that Helsinki espouses.

  • The Putin Path: Are Human Rights in Retreat?

    Mr. Speaker, two days ago, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe , which I am honored to chairman, held a hearing entitled “The Putin Path: Are Human Rights in Retreat?” I was pleased to be joined on the dais by my colleagues on the Commission, Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Senator Tim Hutchinson, Ranking House Member Representative Steny Hoyer, and Representative Matt Salmon. As part of the hearing, the Commission had also planned to feature a video-conference with Moscow-based Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky. As Members are aware, Mr. Babitsky was arrested by Russian authorities for allegedly `participating in an armed formation,' as a result of his reporting from besieged Grozny last year. Subsequently, as a civilian, Babitsky was 'exchanged' to Chechen forces in return for certain captured Russian military personnel, and is not permitted to leave Moscow. 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I have yet to hear of a working church in Russia being destroyed by bulldozers and wrecking cranes, as was the case last November in Turkmenistan. And we know that in China religious believers of many faiths are thrown in jail for simply desiring to worship without government interference. Indeed, under the administration of President Yeltsin, human rights activists were able to achieve significant gains in making respect for human rights, if not a standard, at least a consideration in public policy. There is growing concern, however, that Russia's development in the area of human rights is taking a turn for the worse under recently-elected President Vladimir Putin. The testimony of Igor Malashenko, First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Media-Most and President of NTV, summarized how their offices were the target of the infamous raid by government agents on May 11. Mr. Malashenko described how the agents carted away documents, tapes, computer discs and equipment, and subsequently issued `contradictory and unsatisfactory justifications' for this raid. Moreover, he provided extensive information on several other less-publicized examples of violence and intimidation toward media outlets and journalists throughout Russia. General William Odom, former director of the National Security Agency, and a man of exceptional expertise in things Soviet and Russian, noted that Russia is a `weak state' and suffers from a lack of institutions capable of providing the level of civil society and economic development that we had hoped would follow after the collapse of the Soviet Union. General Odom also suggested that the United States should not treat Russia as a major power, or think that much of Russia's internal problems can be solved by 'ventriloquism' from the West. Professor Georgi Derluguian of Northwestern University asserted that President Putin is the product of the KGB network that survived the collapse of the Soviet Union. In order to seek a distraction from the Chechen quagmire, suggested Professor Derluguian, Putin will most likely launch a massive anti-crime campaign. I would note that when Yuri Andropov and his KGB began to assume power in the twilight of the Brezhnev regime, part of the crackdown on political dissent at that time was under the guise of cracking down on corruption. Ms. Rachel Denber, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch, testified that in Grozny, “the graffiti on the walls reads 'Welcome to Hell Part Two.' The bombing campaign has turned many parts of Chechnya into a wasteland even the most experienced war reporters that we have spoken to have told us they have never seen anything in their careers like the destruction of the capital Grozny.” Ms. Denber also described summary executions of civilians, including the death of three generations of one family shot to death in the yard of their own home. One of the brighter aspects of civil society under President Yeltsin was the expansion of NGO activity. However, Professor Sarah Mendelson of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy and Law at Tufts University noted that there is in Russia today “an atmosphere that is hostile to civil rights activists, and in fact, anyone with opinions that differ from the Kremlin's.” While “the treatment of Andrei Babitsky in January and February was shocking and disturbing, and the FSB raid on MediaMost in May was brazen,” she testified, this is “part of a larger pattern of harassment that has grown steadily worse over the last year and a half.” In this connection, I would like to point out another proposal made by Professor Mendelson in her testimony. She suggested that President Clinton, while in Moscow next month at the Summit with President Putin, should meet with activists who are promoting human rights and democracy in Russia today. This gesture, she notes, “would send a signal not only to those in Russia who care about democracy but to those in Russia who do not.” I believe this idea is right on target. In fact, Mr. Hoyer and I have written to the President noting that this year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Accords. We have encouraged the President to meet with the surviving veterans of the Soviet-era human rights struggle, and with their contemporary colleagues, in both Moscow and in Kyiv, where the President plans to meet with President Kuchma following his Moscow visit. I hope that President Clinton will take this advice, as I believe such a gesture would give new impetus to the struggle for human rights and democracy in two pivotal nations of the international community. In closing, I would call attention to a resolution to be introduced by our colleague Mr. Lantos and House International Affairs Committee Chairman Ben Gilman, regarding the issue of free media in Russia. I am pleased to join as an original cosponsor of this resolution, which among other provisions, calls upon the President, the Secretary of State, and other officials and agencies of the United States Government to emphasize to Russian government officials our concern and preoccupation that official pressures against the independent media are incompatible with democratic norms. I am pleased to co-sponsor this resolution, I hope my colleagues will join us, and I hope that President Clinton will heed this call when he meets with President Putin in Moscow next month.  

  • The Putin Path: Are Human Rights in Retreat?

    This hearing, held on the eve of President Clinton’s first summit meeting with Russia’s recently elected President, Vladimir Putin, provided a timely opportunity to assess bilateral relations between the United States and the Russian Federation, as well as domestic developments. Russia has multi-candidate presidential elections, with viable candidates, unlike the Central Asian states where presidents do not tolerate serious challengers. Nevertheless, this hearing examined how reliable are multi-candidate elections as a gauge of democratic development when the media is intimidated by government pressure and raids.

  • The Deterioration of Freedom of the Media in OSCE Countries

    The stated purpose of this hearing, presided over by Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ-04) was to draw attention to the deteriorating status of free speech and press throughout the OSCE region, raise alarm about this deterioration, and call upon OSCE participating states to recommit themselves to these freedoms. Such an impetus was drawn from how members of the press were mistreated in foreign countries. For example, 34 journalists were killed in the OSCE region in the year of 1999.

  • Anti-Democratic Actions in Belarus

    Mr. President, I rise to speak today about the dramatically deteriorating situation in Belarus. As of Sunday, March 26, more than 100 opposition activists remained in custody after a rally on Saturday that turned from a peaceful event into a demonstration that saw police clubbing protesters with nightsticks, hitting journalists covering the event and sending armored cars into Central Minsk. More than 500 people were detained, most of whom were not formally charged until Monday. This is only one of the examples of how, in Belarus, the Lukashenka regime continues to try to suppress the will of the people. In November, Senator Campbell and I introduced a resolution condemning the Lukashenka regime and its actions towards the country. The sad reality is that Belarus is being left behind while the rest of Europe is building a foundation of democratic governance, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. Since 1996, President Lukashenka has been responsible for numerous unconstitutional steps. He unilaterally extended his term until 2001 after he promised to hold democratic elections in 1999. He replaced the 13th Supreme Soviet with a rubberstamp parliament and he rewrote the country's constitution. Belarus has turned into a country where those who choose to participate in civil society by speaking truth to power must do so at great risk to their freedom, and even their lives, under Lukashenka's rule. Two prominent opposition figures, General Yuri Zakharenko and Viktor Gonchar, as well as another associate, Anatoly Krasovsky, have disappeared. Many of the people arrested on March 25 as well as other peaceful protesters were members of the opposition. Belarus' economy is apparently imploding and neighboring countries, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, are concerned about regional instability. Our resolution condemns the arrest of opposition figures and the disappearance of others; calls for a dialogue between Lukashenka and the opposition; calls for the restoration of a democratically-elected government and democratic institutions; calls on the U.S. President to fund travel by Belarusian opposition figures and non-governmental organizations in Belarus; and supports information flows into Belarus. Belarus is not making progress. We must do what we can to sustain the remarkable progress of the other countries that have transformed themselves into fully democratic market democracies, and encourage the development of a democracy in Belarus. Mr. Campbell: Mr. President, on March 25, Belarusian authorities harshly suppressed a pro-democracy demonstration in the capital of Minsk, arresting and detaining hundreds of peaceful protestors, including nearly 30 domestic and foreign journalists. Riot police, deployed with dogs and armored personnel carriers, used excessive force against some peaceful demonstrators. Among those detained and beaten was democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedka, Deputy Chairman of the 13th Supreme Soviet. Many of my Senate colleagues met Mr. Lebedka last September when I introduced him right here on the Senate floor. Mr. Lebedka was just in Washington earlier this month to testify at a Helsinki Commission hearing about the deteriorating situation in Belarus. Based on information I obtained from the State Department, I am advised that Anatoly Lebedka was arrested by plainclothes police during the demonstration, kept in detention, and reportedly beaten over the course of two days. He spent most of Monday in a police van outside the courthouse awaiting trial, but was released at 5:00 p.m. His trial has been scheduled for April 4. Mr. President, the harsh overreaction by the authorities to this peaceful demonstration represents a clear violation of the freedom of association, assembly, and information guaranteed both by the Belarusian constitution and OSCE agreements. In addition, the Belarusian authorities detained a U.S. citizen who is an accredited diplomat and a member of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, and who was observing the demonstration in line with his official responsibilities. This action also violates international conventions. It appears that the green light for the most recent crackdown was given by Belarusian President Lukashenka, who praised the police for their actions. Reports indicate that earlier this month, he cautioned that the riot police will “beat the stuffing out” of any protestor who “gets out of line.” Unfortunately, the suppression by the Belarusian authorities of peaceful protest, along with the sentencing last week of a prominent member of the opposition, does nothing to encourage a constructive dialogue with the democratic opposition that can lead Belarus out of its continuing constitutional impasse and end its self-imposed international isolation. Mr. President, I call upon the Government of Belarus to thoroughly investigate reports of police brutality during the course of the demonstration and subsequent detentions and take measures to ensure that citizens are guaranteed their rights to engage in peaceful protests, keeping with that country's OSCE commitments. I was pleased to join Senator Durbin as an original cosponsor to Senate Concurrent Resolution 75 which we introduced last November. That resolution summarized many of the political problems facing the democratic opposition in Belarus expressing strong opposition to the continued egregious violations of human rights, the lack of progress toward the establishment of democracy and the rule of law in Belarus, and calls on President Lukashenka to engage in negotiations with the representatives of the opposition and to restore the constitutional rights of the Belarusian people. In light of the recent violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators last weekend, I urge my colleagues to support passage of the Durbin/Campbell resolution. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a news report from the Washington Post on this latest crackdown be printed in the Record. There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: [From the Washington Post, Mar. 26, 2000] Belarus Police Crack Down on Protest Minsk, Belarus.: “Hundreds of police beat back thousands of protesters at an opposition rally, sending armored personnel carriers into central Minsk and detaining 400 people in one of the country's harshest crackdowns on dissent in recent years. The rally was held to commemorate the founding of the Belarusian Popular Republic on March 25, 1918, when German forces were ousted from Minsk in the waning days of World War I. The independent state was short-lived and within a year, much of Belarus was part of the Soviet Union. Belarus' hardline government had said it would allow the rally to be held on the outskirts of Minsk, but several thousand demonstrators went instead to a central square in the capital.”

  • The Impact of Organized Crime and Corruption On Democratic and Economic Reform

    Commissioners Christopher Smith and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, along with others, discussed just how detrimental organized crime and corruption are on society. More specifically, organized crime negatively impact democracy’s expansion, the promotion of civil society, and security in the OSCE region, as well as economic development, particularly in southeast Europe and Central Asia. This is relevant to the United States because it has a strategic interest in promoting democratic reform and stability in the former U.S.S.R. and Central Asia. Countries in this region assist U.S. businesses exploring market opportunities, and the U.S. provides a good bit of bilateral assistance to these countries. The Helsinki Commission has pressed for greater OSCE involvement in efforts to combat corruption.

  • HEARING: THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN TURKMENISTAN

    This hearing reviewed the democratization process, human rights, and religious liberty in Turkmenistan. This was one in a series that the Helsinki Commission has held on Central Asia. Turkmenistan has become a worse-case scenario of post-Soviet development. Human Rights Watch Helsinki did not yield from calling Turkmenistan one of the most repressive countries in the world. As a post-Soviet bloc country, Turkmenistan remains a one-party state, but even that party is only a mere shadow of the former ruling Communist Party. All the real power resides in the country’s dictator, who savagely crushes any opposition or criticism. The witnesses gave testimony surrounding the legal obstacles in the constitution of Turkmenistan and other obstacles that the authoritarian voices in the government use to suppress opposition.

  • The Ordeal of Andrei Babitsky

    Mr. Speaker, a small bit of good news has emerged from the tortured region of Chechnya, where the Russian military is killing, looting, and terrorizing the population under the guise of an “anti-terrorism operation.” Andrei Babitsky, the Radio Liberty correspondent who had disappeared in Chechnya in early February after Russian authorities had “exchanged” him to unknown persons in return for some Russian prisoners of war, has emerged in Dagestan and is now in Moscow recuperating from his ordeal. Mr. Babitsky's courageous reporting from the besieged city of Grozny had infuriated Russian military authorities, and he was arrested in mid-January and charged with “participating in an unlawful armed formation.” Prior to his release, Mr. Babitsky had spent time in the notorious Chernokozovo “filtration” camp where the Russian military has been detaining and torturing Chechens suspected of aiding the resistance. Following his arrival in Moscow, Mr. Babitsky provided a harrowing account of his incarceration at the Chernokozovo prison, and especially the savage treatment of his fellow prisoners. It is another graphic reminder that for all the fine words and denials coming out of Moscow, the Russian military has been conducting a brutal business that makes a mockery of the Geneva Conventions and the code of military conduct stipulated in the 1994 Budapest Document of the OSCE. Mr. Speaker, last month President Clinton stated that Russia's Acting President Putin is a man the United States “can do business with.” With this in mind, I would suggest for the Record excerpts from Mr. Babitsky's interview with an NTV reporter in Russia. If Mr. Putin is aware of the state of affairs at Chernokozovo and condoning it, I would submit that our business with Mr. Putin should be extremely limited. If he is not aware of the truth, then his authority over Russia is a chimera, and we might better deal with the real rulers of Russia. Babitsky's statement follows: [From Hero of the Day NTV Program, 7:40 p.m., Feb. 29, 2000] INTERVIEW WITH RADIO LIBERTY CORRESPONDENT ANDREI BABITSKY Babitsky: On the 16th I tried to leave the city of Grozny through the settlement of Staraya Sunzha, a suburb of Grozny which at the time was divided into two parts. One part was controlled by federal troops and the other by the Chechen home guard. I entered the territory controlled by the federals and it was there that I was recognized. I was identified as a journalist, I immediately presented my documents. All the subsequent claims that I was detained as a person who had to be identified are not quite clear to me. I had my passports with me, my accreditation card of a foreign correspondent. Then I was taken to Khankala. Not what journalists who had covered the first war regarded as Khankala, but to an open field. There was an encampment there consisting of trucks used as their office by army intelligence officers. Two of my cassettes that I had filmed in Grozny were taken from me. They contained unique frames. I think those were the last video pictures ever taken by anyone before Grozny was stormed. Those, again, were pictures of thousands of peaceful civilians many of whom, as we now know, were killed by federal artillery shells. I spent two nights in Khankala, in the so-called Avtozak, a truck converted into a prison cell. On the third day I was taken to what the Chechens call a filtration center, the preliminary detention center in Chernokozovo. I believe I am the only journalist of those who covered the first and the second Chechen wars who has seen a filtration center from the inside. I must say that all these horrors that we have heard from Chechens who had been there have been confirmed. Everything that we read about concentration camps of the Stalin period, all that we know about the German camps, all this is present there. The first three days that I spent there, that was the 18th, 19th and the 20th, beatings continued round the clock. I never thought that I would hear such a diversity of expressions of human pain. These were not just screams, these were screams of every possible tonality and depth, these were screams of most diverse pain. Different types of beatings cause a different reaction. Q. Are you saying that you got this treatment? A. No, that was the treatment meted out to others. I was fortunate, it was established at once that I am a journalist, true, nobody knew what type of journalist I was. Everybody there were surprised that a journalist happened to be there. In principle, the people there cannot be described as intellectuals. They decided that there was nothing special about this, that such things do happen in a war. As a journalist I was “registered”, as they say, only once. They have this procedure there. When a new detainee is being taken from his cell to the investigator he is made to crawl all the way under a rain of blows with rubber sticks. It hurts but one can survive it. This is a light treatment as compared with the tortures to which Chechens are subjected day and night, those who are suspected of collaborating with the illegal armed formations. There are also cases when some testimony is beaten out of detainees. Q. What is the prison population there? A. In my opinion ..... I was in cell No. 17 during the first three days. In that cell there were 13 inhabitants of the village Aberdykel (sp.--FNS). Most of them were young. Judging by their stories, I am not an investigator and I could not collect a sufficiently full database, but in such an atmosphere one very rarely doubts the veracity of what you are told. Mostly these were young men who had nothing to do with the war. They were really common folk. They were treating everything happening around them as a calamity but they were not taking any sides. They were simply waiting for this calamity to pass either in this direction or that direction. Beatings as a method of getting testimony. This is something that, unfortunately, is very well known in Russian and not only Russian history and tradition. But I must say that apart from everything, in my opinion, in all this torture, as it seemed to me, a large part is due to sheer sadism. In other words, an absolutely unwarranted torturing of people. For instance, I heard ..... You know, you really can't see this because all this happens outside of your cell. But the type of screams leaves no doubt about what is happening. You know this painful reaction. For two hours a woman was tortured on the 20th or the 19th. She was tortured; I have no other word to explain what was happening. That was not hysteria. I am not a medic but I believe that we all know what hysteria is. There were screams indicting that a person was experiencing unbearable pain, and for a long period of time.

  • Protection of Human Rights Advocates in Northern Ireland

    This hearing examined allegations of the involvement of security forces in intimidation and harassment of human rights advocates in Northern Ireland. The hearing focused on the unsolved murders of two Belfast defense attorneys, Rosemary Nelson, and Patrick Finucane, killed in 1999 and 1989. Commissioner Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, expressed the State Department’s concern with that there was not sufficient protection of lawyers, the rule of law, and human rights in Northern Ireland.  Commissioner Smith noted that “Defense attorneys are the ‘Helsinki Commissioners’ of Northern Ireland. The OSCE can be a valuable forum in which to provide cover for these human rights advocates. The United States and United Kingdom are quick to criticize emerging democracies that fail to abide by the rule of law and due process. The best way to lead in these matters is by example.”

  • The Status of Religious Liberty in Russia Today

    Hon. Cristopher H. Smith, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided over this hearing on the status of religious liberty in Russia. It was one in a series of Helsinki Commission hearings to examine human rights issues in the nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Hon. Smith was joined by panelists to provide their insights on these issues: Robert Seiple, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; Rabbi Lev Shemtov, Director of American Friends of Lubavitch; Pastor Igor Nikitin, Chariman of the Assosiation of Christian Churches of St. Petersburg; Father Leonid Kishkovsky, Pastor; and Anatoly Krasikov, Chairman of Russian Chapter, International Association for Religious Liberty in Moscow.      

  • Hearing Announced on Kosovo's Displaced and Imprisoned

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming hearing: Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned Monday, February 28 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Room B-318, Rayburn House Office Building   Open to Members, Staff, Public and Press Scheduled to testify: Bill Frelick, Director of Policy, U.S. Committee for Refugees His Grace Artemije, Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Prizren and Raska Andrzej Mirga, Co-Chair of the Council of Europe Specialists Group on Roma and Chairman of the Project on Ethnic Relations Romani Advisory Board Susan Blaustein, Senior Consultant, International Crisis Group Approximately two years ago, a decade of severe repression and lingering ethnic tensions in Kosovo erupted into full-scale violence, leading eventually to NATO intervention in early 1999 and UN administration immediately thereafter. The conflict in Kosovo was ostensibly between the Serbian and Yugoslav forces controlled by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic—since indicted for war crimes—on the one hand, and the Kosovo Liberation Army which arose from more militant segments of Kosovo’s Albanian majority on the other. As with previous phases of the Yugoslav conflict, however, the primary victims have largely been innocent civilians. Over one million ethnic Albanians were displaced during the conflict, as well as over one hundred thousand Serbs and tens of thousands of Roma in the aftermath of the international community’s intervention. Senseless atrocities were frequently committed throughout this process of forced migration. Many remain unable to return, and the recent violence in the northern city of Mitrovica demonstrates the continued volatility of the current situation. Meanwhile, a large number of Kosovar Albanians, removed from the region while it was still under Serbian control, languish in Serbian prisons to this day. The February 28 hearing intends to focus on the plight of these displaced and imprisoned people from Kosovo, as well as the prospects for addressing quickly and effectively their dire circumstances.

  • Chechen Parliamentarians

    Representative Chris Smith, Chairman of the Commission, addressed the “war of destruction” in Chechnya and the Russian government’s claim of it being an anti-terrorist operation. Smith condemned Russia’s actions on behalf of the Commission and highlighted its application of indiscriminate force on an entire population to punish a handful of guilty. In response to concern from the international community, the Russian Government and military simply claim that the conflict is an internal matter. The witnesses – Seilam Bechaev, Vice President of the Chechen Praliament and Mr. Tourpal-Ali Kaimov, Chairman of the Budget Committee of the Chechen Parliament – discuss the current state of Chechnya and its deterioration since declaring independence in 1997.

  • Democratization and Human Rights in Central Asia

    Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed that the House schedule did not permit consideration of my resolution, H. Con. Res. 204, which has been co-sponsored by Representative Hoyer, Representative Forbes and Representative McKinney. The resolution voices concern about serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in most states of Central Asia, in particular, substantial noncompliance with OSCE commitments on democratization and the holding of free and fair elections. Among the countries of the former Soviet Union, only in Ukraine and Moldova have sitting presidents lost an election and peacefully left office. We will yet see what happens in Russia, where President Yeltsin has launched another war in Chechnya. It may be too much, given the historical differences between our respective societies, to hope the post-Soviet states could find among their political leaders a George Washington, who could have been king but chose not to be, and who chose to leave office after two terms. But it is not too much to hope that other post-Soviet leaders might emulate Ukraine's former President Leonid Kravchuk or Moldova's former President Mircea Snegur, not to mention Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas, who all allowed a peaceful transfer of power. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, Central Asian leaders give every indication of intending to remain in office for life. Their desire for unlimited and permanent power means that they cannot implement all OSCE commitments on democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as doing so would create a level playing field for challengers and allow the media to shine the light on presidential misdeeds and high-level corruption. The result has been an entire region in the OSCE space where fundamental OSCE freedoms are ignored while leaders entrench themselves and their families in power and wealth. To give credit where it is due, the situation is least bad in Kyrgyzstan. President Akaev, a physicist, is the only Central Asian leader who was not previously the head of his republic's Communist Party. One can actually meet members of parliament who strongly criticize President Akaev and the legislature itself is not a rubber stamp body. Moreover, print media, though under serious pressure from the executive branch, exhibit diversity of views and opposition parties function. Still, in 1995, two contenders in the presidential election were disqualified before the vote. Parliamentary and presidential elections are approaching in 2000. Kyrgyzstan's OSCE partners will be watching carefully to see whether they are free and fair. Until the mid-1990s, Kazakstan seemed a relatively reformist country, where various political parties could function and the media enjoyed some freedom. But President Nazarbaev dissolved two parliaments and single-mindedly sought to accumulate sole power. In the last few years, the regime has become ever more authoritarian. President Nazarbaev has concentrated all power in his hands, subordinating to himself all other branches and institutions of government. A constitutional amendment passed in October 1999 conveniently removed the age limit of 65 to be president. The OSCE judged last January's presidential elections, from which a leading opposition contender was barred as far short of OSCE standards. Last month's parliamentary election, according to the OSCE, was “severely marred by widespread, pervasive and illegal interference by executive authorities in the electoral process.” In response, President Nazarbaev has attacked the OSCE, comparing it to the Soviet Communist Party's Politburo for trying to “tell Kazakstan what to do.” Tajikistan has suffered the saddest fate of all the Central Asian countries; a civil war that killed scores of thousands. In 1997, the warring sides finally ceased hostilities and reached agreement about power-sharing, which permitted a bit of hopefulness about prospects for normal development and democratization. It seems, however, that the accord will not ensure stability. Tajikistan's Central Election Commission refused to register two opposition candidates for the November 6 presidential election. The sole alternative candidate registered has refused to accept the results of the election, which, according to official figures, current President Emomaly Rakhmonov won with 97 percent of the vote, in a 98 percent turnout. Those numbers, Mr. Speaker, say it all. The OSCE properly declined to send observers. Benighted Turkmenistan practically beggars description. This country, which has been blessed with large quantities of natural gas, has a political system that combines the worst traits of Soviet communism with a personality cult seen today in countries like Iraq or North Korea. No dissidence of any kind is permitted and the population enjoys no human rights. While his impoverished people barely manage to get by, President Niyazov builds garish presidential palaces and monuments to himself. The only registered political party in Turkmenistan is the Democratic Party, headed by President Niyazov. In late October he said the people of his country would not be ready for the stresses and choices of a democratic society until 2010, adding that independent media are “disruptive.” On December 12, Turkmenistan is holding parliamentary “elections,” which the OSCE will not bother to observe. Finally, we come to Uzbekistan. The Helsinki Commission, which I chair, held hearings on democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan on October 18. Despite the best efforts of Uzbekistan's Ambassador Safaev to convince us that democratization is proceeding apace in his country, the testimony of all the other witnesses confirmed the widely held view that after Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan is the most repressive country in Central Asia. No opposition political activity is allowed and media present only the government's point of view. Christian denominations have faced official harassment. Since 1997, a massive government campaign has been underway against independent Muslim believers. In February of this year, explosions rocked Tashkent, which the government described as an assassination attempt by Islamic radicals allied with an exiled opposition leader. Apart from elections, a key indicator of progress towards democratization is the state of media freedom. On October 25-27, an International Conference on Mass Media in Central Asia took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Not surprisingly, Turkmenistan did not allow anyone to attend. The other participants adopted a declaration noting that democratization has slowed in almost all Central Asian states, while authoritarian regimes have grown stronger, limiting the scope for genuine media freedom as governments influence the media through economic means. I strongly agree with these sentiments. The concentration of media outlets in pro-regime hands, the ongoing assault on independent and opposition media and the circumscription of the media's legally-sanctioned subject matter pose a great danger to the development of democracy in Central Asia. Official statistics about how many media outlets have been privatized cover up an alarming tendency towards government monopolization of information sources. This effectively makes it impossible for citizens to receive unbiased information, which is vital if people are to hold their governments accountable. Mr. Speaker, it is clear that in Central Asia, the overall level of democratization and human rights observance is poor. Central Asian leaders make decisions in a region far from Western Europe, close to China, Iran and Afghanistan, and they often assert that “human rights are only for the West” or the building democracy “takes time.” But delaying steps towards democracy is very risky in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious region of Central Asia, where many people are highly educated and have expectations of faster change. If it does not come, tensions and conflicts could emerge that could endanger security for everyone. To lessen these risks, continuous pressure will be needed on these countries to move faster on democracy. Even as the United States pursues other interests, we should give top priority to democracy and respect for human rights, or we may live to regret not doing so.

  • Chechen Crisis and its Implications for Russian Democracy

    This hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe was held to discuss the renewed military action taken against Chechnya in response to terrorist bombings. There is extensive discussion on the ramification of Russian human rights violations for the state of Russian Democracy. Additionally, there are several arguments that the war could destabilize the Caucus region.

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