Title

Title

Press Releases

Browse and search Helsinki Commission press releases, from 1994 to the present day.

  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • Chairman Smith Responds to ICTY's Verdict on Bosnian Serb Leader

    WASHINGTON—The long-awaited verdict handed down today to former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), prompted U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and chairman of the House Global Human Rights Subcommittee, to issue the following statement: “Once again, ICTY has proved its worth. It has provided justice regarding horrific atrocities which occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. Radovan Karadzic was a driving force in the encouragement, planning and execution of horrific crimes—from the artillery shelling and sniper attacks on Sarajevo, to the ethnic cleansing campaign that included the mass displacement, detention, abuse and execution of innocent civilians, to the taking of UN personnel as hostages, and ultimately to the Srebrenica genocide. “The guilty verdict and sentencing cannot replace action that could have been taken to prevent these crimes in the first place. But Karadzic’s 40-year sentence demonstrates a welcomed determination by the court to provide justice and some measure of closure for surviving victims and to hold to account one of the most egregious perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide. ICTY’s lessons and progress are not limited to Karadzic’s conviction, but instead stand as a model and prototype for a much needed tribunal for the prosecution of war crimes in Syria.” Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed Smith’s legislation (H. Con. Res. 121) urging the U.N. Security Council to immediately establish a Syrian war crimes tribunal (March 14th; by a vote of 392-3). Smith’s bill notes that “ad hoc or regional tribunals, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, have successfully investigated and prosecuted war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, and there are many positive lessons to be learned from such tribunals.” During debate in the House Smith said, “An ad hoc or regional court has significant advantages over the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a venue for justice. The ICC has operated since 2002 but boasts only two convictions. By way of contrast, the Yugoslavia court convicted 80 people; Rwanda, 61; and Sierra Leone, 9.  Moreover, a singularly focused Syrian tribunal that provides Syrians with a degree of ownership could significantly enhance its effectiveness.” Since 1995, Rep. Smith has chaired numerous hearings on the genocides and war crimes committed in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone. He has particularly worked to see that the perpetrators of the horrific crimes committed in Bosnia from 1992-1995 are punished and that closure is provided to survivors and victims’ families. In 2005, he authored H. Res. 199, which clearly and unambiguously condemned the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide and was passed with overwhelming support in the U.S. House of Representatives. In July 2007, Rep. Smith visited Srebrenica to witness the tragic aftermath of the genocide for himself. In 2015, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, he authored H. Res. 310, which condemned statements denying that the massacre was a genocide. Karadzic was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as one count of genocide, relating to Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces. Karadzic was acquitted of a second charge of genocide, relating to other Bosnian municipalities.

  • Chairman Smith Responds to Brussels Terror Attack

    WASHINGTON—In response to terrorists attacking the airport and a subway station in Brussels today, reportedly killing at least 30 people, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Senator Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman of the Commission, released the following statement: “Our prayers go out to the family and friends of those savagely murdered or maimed in Brussels today. We condemn these terrorist attacks and will continue working to ensure that the U.S. government and Congress relentlessly focus on thwarting future attacks and screening out and tracking down the culprits and all those who enable mass murder.” In April, the Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to highlight deadly threats to European Jewish communities – particularly from terrorists – and how to prevent them. Last year the Helsinki Commission held hearings on the dangers posed by “foreign fighters” volunteering for ISIS and other terrorist organizations in the Middle East, and on the security aspects of Europe’s refugee crisis.

  • Smith Responds to the Release of Political Prisoners by Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON—In response to the release of 14 political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, made the following statement: “I am relieved to know that these wrongly-held prisoners will be home with their families soon, but I remain concerned about the plight of the many other prisoners in Azerbaijan who are being held on politically-motivated charges. Anar Mammadli, the founder of an independent election monitoring group, was released, but he should have never been in prison. There are many others who should be released as well, such as Khadija Ismayilova, Intigram Aliyev, Ilgar Mammadov. I respectfully request President Aliyev to not only release all political prisoners, but also repeal the many undemocratic laws and regulations that prohibit the exercise of universally-recognized human rights in Azerbaijan.” Human rights organizations estimate there are approximately 100 political prisoners in Azerbaijan. Despite the release of 14 prisoners today, there continue to be new arrests of journalists, bloggers and others who voice opinions the government deems critical. Chairman Smith is the sponsor of the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015 (H.R. 4264), a bill he introduced on December 16, 2015, to draw attention to the systematic efforts of the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society groups. In addition to denying U.S. visas to senior leaders of the Government of Azerbaijan, those who derive significant financial benefit from business dealings with senior leadership, and members of the security or judicial branches, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act also expresses the sense of Congress that financial penalties should be considered. Sanctions could be lifted when the Azerbaijani government shows substantial progress toward releasing political prisoners, ending its harassment of civil society, and holding free and fair elections.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Announced: "Protection of Human Rights Advocates in Northern Ireland"

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announces a forthcoming hearing:   Protection of Human Rights Advocates in Northern Ireland Tuesday, March 14 10:00 a.m.—1:00 p.m. Room 2255 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff, Press and the Public Scheduled to testify are: Eunan Magee, brother of slain defense attorney Rosemary Nelson Geraldine Finucane, widow of slain defense attorney Patrick Finucane Paul Mageean, Legal Officer, Committee on the Administration of Justice, Belfast Jane Winter, Director, British Irish Rights Watch Representative from Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Other witnesses have been invited. Background: Since the early 1990s, human rights groups have documented a pattern of abuse by Northern Ireland’s police force—the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)—against defense lawyers representing those charged with political offenses in Northern Ireland. On March 15, 1999, human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson was killed by a car bomb outside her home in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Before her death, Nelson reported being harassed and intimidated by the RUC. At a congressional hearing in September 1998, she reported that this harassment, at its worst, included death threats against her. The Commission’s hearing—which will occur one day before the first anniversary of Rosemary Nelson’s brutal murder—will focus on the continued harassment of human rights advocates in Northern Ireland and the efforts, if any, of the British Government to prevent such acts or to hold accountable those who employ intimidation or violence to silence Northern Ireland’s human rights advocates and attorneys. Ten years before Nelson’s slaying, defense attorney Patrick Finucane was also murdered in his home under circumstances suggesting the involvement of police and other government agents. After a fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers found that “the RUC has engaged in activities which constitute intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” with defense attorneys. The Special Rapporteur described these activities as “consistent and systematic.” Numerous calls for independent judicial inquiries into the circumstances surrounding Finucane and Nelson’s murders—including legislation (H.Res. 128) passed by the House of Representatives—have gone unheeded by the British Government. OSCE commitments affirm that, where violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms are alleged to have occurred, individuals have a right to seek and receive adequate legal assistance, to seek and receive assistance from others in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to assist others in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Notwithstanding these commitments, human rights advocates, including attorneys, in Northern Ireland endure harassment, intimidation, and violence as a result of their efforts to protect human rights and fulfill their professional obligations to defend their clients’ rights. There are particularly troubling indications of official collusion in acts of violence against Northern Ireland’s human rights advocates.

  • German Foreign Minister to Testify at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Germany’s Chairmanship of the OSCE: Priorities and Challenges” March 1, 2016 2: 00 PM Cannon House Office Building Room 334 Live Webcast:www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Germany’s 2016 Chairmanship-in-Office of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – the world’s largest regional security body – comes at a turbulent time.  Russia’s aggression against Ukraine continues to have serious ramifications on pan-European security; the refugee crisis has exposed cracks in the European approach to migration; and some question the OSCE’s relevance and role in twenty-first century Europe.  Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, will discuss Germany’s plans to “renew dialogue, rebuild trust, and restore security” as it assumes the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office, including resolving the conflict in Ukraine; supporting negotiations in Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdniestra, and Georgia; renewing discussions on key European security agreements; counterterrorism and cybersecurity; and strengthening OSCE capacities.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Internet Freedom in the Age of Dictators and Terrorists

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Internet Freedom in the Age of Dictators and Terrorists” March 3, 2016 10:00AM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2255 The original promise of the internet as a mechanism for free exchange of information and greater democratization seems a dream from a distant past. Authoritarian leaders in China, Russia and around the world seek to build walls around their country’s internet and censor incoming information and online discourse, while in free societies we are grappling with the right balance between security and privacy of online information in the face of terrorist threats. The briefing will focus on internet freedom broadly, including censorship and surveillance; and trends in how internet companies are evolving to handle increased government requests from law enforcement. In addition, panelists will discuss the role of export controls in ensuring that U.S. and European technologies do not contribute to human rights abuses. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Lisl Brunner, Director of Policy and Learning, Global Network Initiative Rebecca MacKinnon, Director, Ranking Digital Rights Tim Maurer, Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

  • Helsinki Commission Chair: Serbia Legislation an Historic Step

    Newly-passed legislation in the Serbian parliament that offers compensation for heirless Jewish property seized during and after the Holocaust was called “historic” by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the Helsinki Commission. “As a long-time advocate of restitution for Jewish property stolen around the Holocaust, I applaud Serbia’s leadership in passing this historic legislation,” said Smith. “When there are no heirs, restitution should go to the Jewish community, especially to Holocaust survivors and their heirs. It is the least that can be done after the atrocities of the Holocaust.” Rep. Smith joined his fellow Co-Chairs of the Bipartisan Task Force for Combatting Anti-Semitism, and other Members of Congress, on a February 2 letter to Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, encouraging him to ensure that the law would be passed. Rep. Smith has a long record as a congressional leader in the fight against anti-Semitism. He authored the provisions of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 that created the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism within the U.S. State Department.  Following his 2002 landmark hearing “Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe,” he led a congressional drive to place the issue of combating anti-Semitism at the top of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agenda, as a result of which in 2004 the OSCE adopted new norms for its participating States on fighting anti-Semitism. In the 1990s, he chaired Congress’s first hearings on anti-Semitism and in the early 1980s, his first trips abroad as a member of Congress were to the former Soviet Union, where he fought for the release of Jewish “refuseniks.” Smith has held numerous congressional hearing on anti-Semitism and other human rights issues. In 2015, he chaired a hearing entitled, “After Paris and Copenhagen: Responding to the Rising Tide of Anti-Semitism.”

  • Helsinki Commission to Probe Threats to Religious Freedom and Rule of Law in Europe and Eurasia

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Update on the OSCE: Religious Freedom, Anti-Semitism, and Rule of Law” February 11, 2015 1:00PM House Visitor’s Center (HVC) Room 210 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest regional security body. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) spearheads the OSCE’s work in the fields of election observation, democratic development, human rights, and the rule of law. At the hearing, ODIHR Director Michael Georg Link will testify to current efforts by ODIHR, the OSCE, and countries in the region to battle rising anti-Semitism and promote and protect religious freedom; respond to the European refugee crisis; and to address anti-democratic government crackdowns, including in Crimea and other occupied territories of eastern Ukraine, as well as in Azerbaijan and Central Asia. More than 40 years ago, the OSCE adopted a comprehensive definition of security, recognizing that human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are part of security, along with military security, disarmament, and border issues. Participating states made commitments covering political-military matters, economics, and human rights and fundamental freedoms.   ODIHR aids the 57 OSCE participating States in fully meeting their OSCE commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms; abiding by the rule of law; promoting principles of democracy; and building, strengthening, and protecting democratic institutions.

  • Senator Wicker Urges Secretary Kerry to Address Corruption in Bosnia

    WASHINGTON – In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger Wicker urged the U.S. Administration to address the issue of worsening corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina involving regulatory institutions and high-level political officials. “This kind of corruption is inhibiting Bosnia and Herzegovina's economy, stealing a more prosperous future from its citizens, paralyzing its progress toward European integration, and putting foreign investment at risk, including investment from the United States,” wrote Co-Chairman Wicker. The letter encourages the Obama Administration to devote additional resources to uncovering and documenting corrupt conduct in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to take concrete steps – such as the potential denial of U.S. visas and seizure of U.S. assets – to hold Bosnian officials accountable for engaging in corrupt activities. In November 2015, Co-Chairman Wicker and Commissioner Senator Jeanne Shaheen introduced legislation in the Senate that would establish an enterprise fund modeled after U.S. programs that supported Central and Eastern European economies after the fall of the Berlin Wall with approximately $10 billion in public and private funding. Specifically, the legislation would promote the private sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina by authorizing the fund to use up to $30 million over 15 years to bring American investors into the Bosnian and Herzegovinian economy. The full text of the letter is below. -------------------- February 2, 2016   The Honorable John Kerry Secretary of State Department of State Washington, DC  20520 Dear Secretary Kerry, As co-chairman of the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe, I write regarding the issue of corruption and the worsening investment climate in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have been a longtime supporter of assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina during my tenure in Congress.  Last year, my colleague Senator Shaheen and I introduced legislation that would establish an enterprise fund for providing assistance to private sector development and foreign investment in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Twenty years after the Dayton Accords, I believe that Bosnia and Herzegovina's transition remains incomplete, and that the United States continues to have a strategic interest in ensuring a stable and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately, I am concerned to learn of indications of worsening corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including corruption in vital regulatory institutions and among high-level political officials.  I am troubled that responsible political authorities in Sarajevo tolerate the subversion of the rule of law by entrenched local interests.  This kind of corruption is inhibiting Bosnia and Herzegovina's economy, stealing a more prosperous future from its citizens, paralyzing its progress toward European integration, and putting foreign investment at risk, including investment from the United States. I strongly urge you to take concrete steps that will show that U.S. patience with such behavior is at an end.  Bosnian officials should be held accountable if they engage in corrupt activities or tolerate corrupt conduct by those in their ranks.  In particular, I hope that you will consider devoting additional U.S. resources to uncovering and documenting corrupt conduct in Bosnia and Herzegovina so that Bosnian officials and leaders can be publicly exposed and held to account. The United States should also consider a wide range of policy responses to corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the potential denial of U.S. visas and potential seizure of assets in the United States.  Evidence of corruption should also be shared with our European partners, giving the European Union the chance to take similar actions as well.  Coordinated international efforts against corruption in Albania might serve as a useful example in this regard. Thank you for your consideration.  I look forward to continuing my work with you to enhance security, stability, and economic prosperity throughout Southeast Europe. Sincerely, Roger F. Wicker Co-Chairman Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • Smith Bill Marking 20th Anniversary of Srebrenica Genocide Passes House

    WASHINGTON—Only hours after Russia vetoed a UN resolution to condemn the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war, the U.S. House of Representatives went on record defining the massacre as a “crime of genocide” by unanimously passing legislation sponsored by Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). H. Res. 310 affirms that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces in that country constituted genocide, and condemns statements denying that the massacres meet the definition of genocide. “The international community must recommit itself to bringing to justice once and for all those who perpetrated these heinous crimes,” said Rep. Smith ahead of the vote. “These brutal killings were not committed in battle.  They were committed against people who were unarmed and helpless and who had been repeatedly assured by Dutch peacekeepers that they would not be harmed if they surrendered.  The evidence is overwhelming that the executions were committed with specific intention of destroying the Bosnian Muslim population of the area.  This intention is the central element in the crime of genocide.” “Today the international community is nearly unanimous when it proclaims that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide,” he continued. “My resolution today reaffirms the U.S. support for this fact—and conveys our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victims.” (Read his full statement here.) The legislation passed today also urges the Atrocities Prevention Board—an interagency organization charged with helping the U.S. government identify and address atrocity threats—to issue guidance on preventing future genocides, and encourages the United States to continue to support the independence and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as peace and stability in southeastern Europe as a whole. The July 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica was one of the worst atrocities to occur in the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina between April 1992 and November 1995, during which period more than 2,000,000 people were displaced, more than 100,000 were killed, and tens of thousands were raped or otherwise tortured and abused. In addition to being the primary victims at Srebrenica, individuals with Bosniak heritage comprise the vast majority of the victims during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, especially among the civilian population. Since 1995, Rep. Smith has worked to see that the perpetrators of the horrific acts at Srebrenica are punished and that closure is provided to survivors and victims’ families. In 2005, he authored H. Res. 199, which clearly and unambiguously condemned the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide and was passed with overwhelming support in the U.S. House of Representatives.  In July 2007, Rep. Smith visited Srebrenica to witness the tragic aftermath of the genocide for himself.

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Acts to End Human Rights Violations in Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON—Following years of systematic efforts by the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society groups, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today introduced H.R. 4264, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, a landmark bill that will deny U.S. visas to senior members of the Azerbaijani government. “We recognize that there are important national security and economic ties that exist between our two countries, but the United States can no longer remain blind to the appalling human rights violations that are taking place in Azerbaijan,” said Rep. Smith. “Journalists and activists are routinely arrested and imprisoned; opposition politicians are in jail and elections are not free and fair; human rights lawyers have been harassed and disbarred; and religious freedom is under attack.  The Azerbaijan Democracy Act demonstrates that the United States takes human rights and fundamental freedoms seriously, and that we will not compromise when faced by a government that represses the political opposition, the media, and religious minorities.” In addition to denying U.S. visas to senior leaders of the Government of Azerbaijan, those who derive significant financial benefit from business dealings with senior leadership, and members of the security or judicial branches, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act also expresses the sense of Congress that financial penalties should be considered. Sanctions could be lifted when the Azerbaijani government shows substantial progress toward releasing political prisoners, ending its harassment of civil society, and holding free and fair elections. “It is unacceptable that senior members of the Azerbaijani government are free to visit the United States while courageous women and men like investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, attorney Intigam Aliyev, opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov, and activist Anar Mammadli are locked away in prisons with inadequate access to legal or even medical assistance,” Rep. Smith said. “If they can pay the price for standing up for human rights, the least we can do is to stand with them.” Rep. Smith is a long-standing advocate for human rights in Azerbaijan. Following the introduction of today’s legislation he will chair a 2PM hearing to examine Azerbaijan’s persecution of Ms. Ismayilova, who was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in early September.

  • Attacks on Press Freedom in Azerbaijan Investigated at Congressional Hearing

    WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers examined the plight of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and in particular the imprisonment of journalist of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist known for her reports into the wealth of the senior leadership of the Government of Azerbaijan. “Much of Khadija’s reporting was done as a journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This means that the U.S. government has a special obligation to do everything it can to secure Khadija’s release,” said Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). “Our government must take every opportunity, must leave no stone unturned, in the effort to secure her release. The State Department must make Khadija’s release a true diplomatic priority.” Following several months of harassment by Azerbaijani authorities, Ms. Ismayilova was arrested on spurious charges in December 2014. RFE/RL was subsequently raided and closed by the Government of Azerbaijan. After a lengthy trial that was widely condemned by the international community for numerous irregularities, in September Ms. Ismayilova was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. Her appeal was denied on November 25. “Human rights organizations have documented Azerbaijan’s crackdown on civil society over the last three years,” Rep. Smith continued. “The human rights situation has seriously deteriorated in Azerbaijan, causing damage to its relations with the United States and other countries, and has damaged its own society by imprisoning or exiling some of its best and brightest citizens. The time has come to send a clear message.” Nenad Pejic, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Programming at RFE/RL, testified at the hearing. He said, “The arrest and imprisonment of Khadija Ismayilova and the closure of RFE/RL’s Baku bureau represent a targeted and coordinated effort by the country’s most senior leadership to punish journalists who report on the government’s corruption, silence independent journalism, and end RFE/RL’s operations in Azerbaijan.” “[We urge] the Commission, the Obama Administration, and Members of Congress to raise the issue of restrictions on freedom of the press in meetings with senior Azerbaijani officials, to demand the immediate release of all Azerbaijani journalists, to put an end to these trumped-up prosecutions, to abandon the practice of collective punishment and to investigate the murders of journalists,” said Delphine Halgand, the U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders. “President Obama should meet with Khadija Ismayil’s mother, and members of Congress visiting Azerbaijan should visit Khadija Ismayil in prison,” said T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA. The Helsinki Commission has long pressed the Government of Azerbaijan to end its repression of the political opposition, journalists, and religious minorities. Earlier today, Chairman Smith introduced H.R. 4264, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, landmark legislation to deny U.S. visas to senior members of the Azerbaijani government following years of systematic efforts by the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society groups. In 2015 alone, the Commission has issued numerous statements on the rapid decline of human rights in the country and held a November briefing examining how the government of Azerbaijan uses its judicial system to intimidate and imprison critics of the government.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing to Scrutinize Azerbaijan’s Persecution of RFE/RL Reporter Khadija Ismayilova

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Azerbaijan’s Persecution of RFE/RL Reporter Khadija Ismayilova” Wednesday, December 16, 2015 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Live Webcast: http://bit.ly/1VRaf3G In December 2014 the Government of Azerbaijan arrested investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova on spurious charges and subsequently raided the offices of her employer, U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).  After a lengthy trial that was widely condemned by the international community for numerous irregularities, in September Ms. Ismayilova was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. Her appeal was denied on November 25 and the RFE/RL Baku Bureau has remained shuttered by the Government of Azerbaijan.  As Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) noted at the time of her sentencing, “[Ms. Ismayilova] is being robbed of her freedom for exposing corruption within the Azerbaijani government. Her arrest last December and the subsequent shutdown of the RFE/RL bureau in Baku were direct attacks on media freedom.”  Ms. Ismayilova is known for her well-documented investigative reports into the wealth of the senior leadership of the Government of Azerbaijan and had suffered harassment from the security services for some time before her arrest.  This hearing will examine the conduct of the trial against Ms. Ismayilova and whether or not the U.S. Government has done all it can to secure her release and to address the closing of the Baku bureau of RFE/RL. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Nenad Pejic, Vice President / Editor-in-Chief of Programming, RFE/RL Delphine Halgand, U.S. Director, Reporters Without Borders T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA Shelly Han, Policy Advisor, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe  

  • Chairman Smith Underscores Plight of Political Prisoners in OSCE Region on International Human Rights Day

    WASHINGTON–To mark International Human Rights Day on December 10, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement: “The number of political prisoners is growing in several OSCE countries. For example, Russian human rights organization Memorial estimates that there are currently 50 political prisoners in Russia – a spike in recent years. Their so-called ‘criminal’ activities include protesting Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, blogging on police misbehavior, or exchanging open source information with a foreign research partner. “The government of Azerbaijan has in recent years imprisoned scores of people—including human rights activists and journalists. The recent release of Leyla and Arif Yunus is a positive first step. President Aliyev now must insist that the spurious charges against not only the Yunuses, but also against Khadija Ismayilova, Intigam Aliyev, and many other political prisoners, be dropped. “The number of political prisoners in central Asia has been high for years and it is not declining. In Turkmenistan, former Foreign Ministers Batyr Berdiev and Boris Shikmuradov are just two of the more than 100 people who have disappeared into Turkmenistan’s prison system, which is known for shockingly terrible conditions. In Tajikistan, members of the opposition Islamic Renewal Party of Tajikistan have been arrested, alongside the lawyers who tried to defend them. Uzbekistan has jailed human rights activists, members of certain religious groups, and journalists – including Muhammad Bekjanov, who has been held since 1999 – after poorly conducted trials and despite allegations of torture and abuse.” “On International Human Rights Day, I call on the OSCE to place the release of political prisoners at the top of the organization’s agenda.” Smith also issued a statement calling on the administration to sanction the Chinese government egregious human rights violations. December 10, International Human Rights Day, commemorates the Universal Declaration on Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Welcomes Release of Leyla Yunus as “First Step”

    WASHINGTON–Following today’s announcement that the Azerbaijani government has released human rights defender Leyla Yunus from custody due to her ill health, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement: “The long-overdue release of Leyla Yunus from prison to house arrest is a welcome first step—but only a first step.  The Government of Azerbaijan must go further and now make immediate arrangements for her medical treatment. Leyla and her husband Arif are gravely ill and it is the responsibility of the government, which persecuted and imprisoned them unjustly, to see that they have top-quality care. Furthermore, the spurious charges against Leyla and Arif must be dropped and the Yunuses permitted to resume their peaceful efforts on behalf of human rights in Azerbaijan.”

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Welcomes NATO’s Invitation to Montenegro

    WASHINGTON – Following NATO’s formal invitation to Montenegro to join the alliance, Senator Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement: “I am pleased that Montenegro has been invited to become the next member of NATO. The security of Europe and the coalition will benefit greatly from adding this Balkan nation to the alliance, underscoring our common defense priorities. Moving forward, I encourage Montenegro to continue with its own domestic reforms as it prepares not just for the benefits, but also the responsibilities, of NATO membership.” In the Helsinki Final Act, OSCE participating States acknowledge the right of countries to choose their own alliances. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, has supported human rights and democratic development in Montenegro since observing the first multi-party elections in the country in 1990.  In addition, the Commission has been deeply involved in policy debates over NATO enlargement since the end of the Cold War. Its most recent hearing on NATO enlargement was held in 2012.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Probe Human Rights Violations in Occupied Crimea

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Human Rights Violations in Russian-Occupied Crimea” Friday, December 11 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room B-318 Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory of Crimea in March 2014 – which flagrantly violated numerous international agreements, including core OSCE principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act – resulted in a deplorable human rights situation that continues today.   Changes in government and the legal framework in Crimea following Russia’s annexation have had a toxic impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Violations of civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights are widespread, especially against those who openly oppose the Russian occupation, including Crimean Tatars and other ethnic, political, and religious groups. The Helsinki Commission briefing will present key findings of the recent report, “Human Rights on Occupied Territory: Case of Crimea,” prepared by an international team of lawyers led by Ivanna Bilych.  Panelists from Ukraine will provide valuable insights about the situation on the ground. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Ivanna Bilych, Co-founder and President of VOLYA Institute, board member of the Ukrainian American Bar Association Andriy Klymenko, Chief Editor of Black Sea News; prominent economist, originally from Crimea Bohdan Yaremenko, Chairman of the board of the Ukrainian non-governmental organization, Maidan of Foreign Affairs, former Ukrainian diplomat Yuriy Yatsenko, Activist of the Maidan Revolution of Dignity who was illegally imprisoned in Russia on political grounds and recently released after a year of imprisonment

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Best Practices for Rescuing Trafficking Victims

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Best Practices for Rescuing Trafficking Victims” December 1, 2015 2:00PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2255 The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its reauthorizations have numerous provisions to ensure that foreign victims trafficked into the United States receive at least the same care as refugees, and that they can apply for a T or a U visa if returning to their home country is too dangerous.  However, the numbers of foreign victims found in the United States each year is below the estimated thousands.  In 2014 approximately 750 foreign victims were identified, up from 520 in 2013, but still far below suspected numbers.  We can do better at identifying foreign victims. Recent research indicates that more than 80% of trafficking victims in the United States have contact with the healthcare system in the course of being trafficked.  Some are even brought to the clinic by their trafficker.  This hearing is the latest installment in the ongoing TVPA oversight series with a focus on best practice development for identifying--and rescuing--foreign trafficking victims in the U.S. Two foreign-born victims will be sharing insights on what helped them escape, and how doctors could have helped free them sooner. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Panel 1: Survivors “Roxana,” Foreign-born Female Survivor of Sex Trafficking in the United States “Celena,” Foreign-born Female Survivor of Sex Trafficking in the United States Panel 2: Experts Yaroslaba Garcia, ACT Clinical Director; President, Southwest Florida Regional Human Trafficking Coalition Dr. Kimberly Chang, Asian Health Services Community Health Clinic Dr. Jordan Greenbaum, Stephanie Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Honored by Voices of the Bosnian Genocide

    WASHINGTON—Voices of the Bosnian Genocide honored Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) on Thursday with an award recognizing his efforts to ensure that the genocide at Srebrenica is acknowledged. “It is moving to receive this award from young people, many of whom are survivors of the genocide or lost relatives at Srebrenica and are now working to promote human rights,” said Rep. Smith. “Today the international community is nearly unanimous when it proclaims that the Srebrenica massacre was a genocide, although shockingly, there are those who continue to deny that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces meet that criteria.” For more than 20 years, Rep. Smith has worked tirelessly to see that the perpetrators of the horrific acts at Srebrenica and elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina are punished and that closure is provided to survivors and victims’ families. In July 2015, Rep. Smith authored H. Res. 310 defining the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide, which was passed unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives.   Voices of the Bosnian Genocide is a Seattle-based nonprofit organization devoted to raising awareness and educating the public about the genocide that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s and the ongoing effects that the genocide is having on Bosnia and the world. The group is made up of individuals who are passionate about genocide education and prevention and human rights.

  • Smith Resolution to Help Protect Jewish Communities in Europe Passes House Unanimously

    WASHINGTON—Following the recent upswing in violent anti-Semitic attacks in several European nations, the U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously passed legislation urging the United States and European governments to take key steps to help keep Jewish communities safe. The legislation was introduced by Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). “The number of violent anti-Semitic attacks has increased from 100 to 400 percent in some European countries since 2013,” said Rep. Smith, who co-chairs the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism. “The murders in Paris, Copenhagen, and elsewhere reminded us that there are those who are motivated by anti-Semitism and have the will to kill.” H. Res. 354 calls on the U.S. Administration to encourage European governments, law enforcement agencies, and intergovernmental organizations to formally recognize and partner with Jewish community groups to strengthen crisis prevention, preparedness, mitigation, and responses related to anti-Semitic attacks. “This resolution calls for the United States Government to work with our European allies on specific actions that are essential to keep European Jewish communities safe and secure,” Rep. Smith continued. “It is based on consultations with the leading experts who are working directly with these communities.” The legislation passed today was endorsed by leading Jewish community groups including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Orthodox Union, the Secure Community Network, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The 89 bipartisan co-sponsors included all seven of the other co-Chairs of the House of Representatives Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism: Reps. Ted Deutch (FL-21), Nita Lowey (NY-17), Eliot Engel (NY-16), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Kay Granger (TX-12), Steve Israel (NY-03), and Peter Roskam (IL-06). “Jewish Federations are grateful to the House of Representatives for passing a responsive resolution today, which provides a needed framework for how the U.S. government and Jewish community security groups like the Secure Community Network can work with their European counterparts to combat increasing anti-Semitic attacks in Europe,” said William C. Daroff, Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of the Jewish Federations of North America. “Jewish Federations are proud to have worked with Congress on this resolution's language and passage.” “Battling the anti-Semitic threats facing European Jewish communities is vital to ensure the democratic and pluralistic fabric of Europe for all its citizens,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris. “This resolution sends a powerful message that battling the anti-Semitic threats facing European Jewish communities is a shared responsibility.” “As a former law enforcement executive responsible for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, I applaud the unwavering leadership and determination of Congressman Smith for bringing this resolution to fruition,” said Paul Goldenberg, National Director of the Secure Community Network.  “It is a time of tremendous need, concern and uncertainty for all faith-based communities who face intimidation, hate crimes and fear of violence.” Rep. Smith has a long record as a congressional leader in the fight against anti-Semitism.  He is the author of the provisions of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 that created the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism within the U.S. State Department. Following his 2002 landmark hearing on combating the escalation of anti-Semitic violence in Europe, “Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe,” he led a congressional drive to place the issue of combating anti-Semitism at the top of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agenda, as a result of which in 2004 the OSCE adopted new norms for its participating States on fighting anti-Semitism.  In 2009, he delivered the keynote address at the Interparliamentary Coalition Combating Anti-Semitism London conference. In the 1990s, he chaired Congress’s first hearings on anti-Semitism and in the early 1980s, his first trips abroad as a member of Congress were to the former Soviet Union, where he fought for the release of Jewish “refuseniks.”

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Serious Decline in Respect for Human Rights in Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “The Rule of Law and Civil Society in Azerbaijan” Thursday, November 5 2:00PM Cannon House Office Building Room 311 The last two years have witnessed a precipitous decline in the respect for rule of law and human rights in Azerbaijan. Many independent civil society organizations have been forced to close due to onerous regulations, threats of intimidation, or the arrest of the organization’s leaders. Independent media has been severely curtailed or closed down. Opposition parties are harassed and often shut out of the election process. High-profile politicians are serving lengthy prison sentences on charges that many observers believe were politically motivated. This briefing will have a particular focus on the rule of law and how the government of Azerbaijan is using its judicial system to intimidate and imprison critics of the government. The briefing will also analyze the results of the November 1 parliamentary election and its implications for Azerbaijan’s future direction. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Ambassador Richard Morningstar, US Ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan from July 2012 to August 2014 and Founding Director of the Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council Natalia Bourjaily, Vice President – Eurasia, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Dinara Yunus, Daughter of imprisoned Azerbaijani human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Honored by American Hungarian Federation

    WASHINGTON—The American Hungarian Federation honored Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) on October 22 with its Colonel Commandant Michael Kovats Medal of Freedom, awarded to outstanding individuals to recognize their life's achievements, dedication to freedom and democracy, promotion of transatlantic relations, and meritorious contribution to society. “I am delighted to have received the Kovats award, which represents the long-standing commitment of Hungarian Americans to the United States and is a testament to the special ties between our two nations,” said Rep. Smith. “Colonel Kovats gave his life for the cause of freedom during the American Revolution, and truly embodied the courage and patriotism of the Hungarian people. This courage was reflected during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against the Soviet-installed communist dictatorship, which remains a model of patriotism, heroism and resistance against tyranny.” Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-03) was also honored with the Kovats Medal by the American Hungarian Federation, which was founded in 1906. It is the largest Hungarian-American umbrella organization in the United States and among the oldest ethnic organizations in the country. “Rep. Smith is a strong supporter of good bilateral relations with Hungary, and recognizes that the U.S. has a strategic interest in maintaining good ties with that country,” said Frank Koszorús, Jr., National President of the American Hungarian Federation.  “He steadfastly promotes human rights and democracy, and has traveled to Budapest to better gauge what is happening on the ground and to understand the country, its people, its hopes and fears, and its accomplishments over the centuries.” Also attending Thursday’s event, which marked the 59th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, were Hungarian Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (FL-25), and Rep. Dennis Ross (FL-15). “It was in the month of October, on the twenty-third day in 1956, that the small Eastern European nation of Hungary rose up in a revolution against the Soviet Union that represented the first major challenge to its military dominion since World War II… this was David facing down Goliath in the modern era, and as such it remains and will remain an inspiration to freedom loving people everywhere,” said Dr. Louis S. Segesvary of the American Hungarian Federation. “Hungary and the United States share a similar past. Both risked revolutions against the greatest powers of their times.” “Almost 60 years after the Hungarian revolution, and more than 25 years after the regime change, it is more important than ever for Hungarians and Americans alike to remember that communism was not a beautiful utopia,” said Marion Smith, Executive Director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which co-hosted the program. “It was and is an ideology that enables tyranny. Communist regimes everywhere systematically killed a portion of their own people as a matter of policy in peacetime, denied citizens their basic rights, robbed them of their food and of their labor, and tore families apart in maintaining a police state.”

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Chris Smith Shines Light on Egregious Rule-of-Law Abuses by Russian Government

    WASHINGTON—At a Congressional hearing today, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, spotlighted the many recent violations of the rule of law committed by the Russian government. “Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, we face a set of challenges with Russia, a founding member of the organization, that mirror the concerns that gave rise to the Helsinki Final Act,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who called the hearing. “At stake is the hard-won trust between members, now eroded to the point that armed conflict rages in the OSCE region. The question is open whether the principles continue to bind the Russian government with other states in a common understanding of what the rule of law entails.” “Russia’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent intervention in the Donbas region not only clearly violate this commitment, but also every guiding principle of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act.  It appears these are not isolated instances.  In recent years, Russia appears to have violated, undermined, disregarded, or even disavowed fundamental and binding arms control commitments,” Smith continued. “[I also] question Russia’s OSCE commitment to develop free, competitive markets that respect international dispute arbitration mechanisms...[and recent government actions] demonstrate Russia’s readiness to abuse its laws and judicial system to limit individual freedoms both within and beyond its borders.” Witness testimony highlighted case studies corresponding to each of the three dimensions of comprehensive security established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE): politico-military security; economic and environmental security; and human rights and fundamental freedoms. Tim Osborne, executive director of GML Ltd., the majority owner of the now-liquidated Yukos Oil Company, said, “It is clear that the Russian Federation is not honoring its obligations and commitments under the rule of law or in a manner consistent with the Helsinki process.  Russia’s tendency, more often than not, has been to ignore, delay, obstruct or retaliate when faced with its international law responsibilities…Russia cannot be trusted in international matters and that even when it has signed up to international obligations, it will ignore them if that is what it thinks serves it best.” “Russia had engaged in the uncompensated expropriation of billions of dollars of U.S. investments in Yukos Oil Company,” observed former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Ambassador Alan Larson. “American investors—who owned about 12 percent of Yukos at the time of the expropriation—have claims worth over $14 billion, and they are entitled to compensation under international law even though they have no option for bringing claims directly against the Russian Federation.” Vladimir Kara-Murza, a well-known Russian activist and the coordinator of the Open Russia Movement, said, “Today, the Kremlin fully controls the national airwaves, which it has turned into transmitters for its propaganda…the last Russian election recognized by the OSCE as conforming to basic democratic standards was held more than 15 years ago.” “There are currently 50 political prisoners in the Russian Federation,” Kara-Murza continued. “These prisoners include opposition activists jailed under the infamous ‘Bolotnaya case’ for protesting against Mr. Putin’s inauguration in May 2012; the brother of anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny; and Alexei Pichugin, the remaining hostage of the Yukos case.” “A clear pattern emerges when one looks at Russia’s implementation of its arms control obligations overall,” observed Stephen Rademaker, former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Nonproliferation. “Should Moscow conclude such agreements have ceased to serve its interest, it will ignore them, effectively terminate them, violate them while continuing to pay them lip service, or selectively implement them…Russia believes that this is how great powers are entitled to act, and today Moscow insists on acting and being respected as a great power.” Chairman Smith was joined at the hearing by a panel of lawmakers including Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger Wicker (MS) and Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-04).

  • Smith Calls for Action on Worst Refugee Crisis in Europe since WWII

    WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers scrutinized actions being taken to deal with Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II by the United States, European governments, regional bodies like the OSCE and the EU, and civil society. The Commission also reviewed recommendations on developing a long-term solution to the crisis. “The European crisis requires a response that is European, national, and international. There must be effective coordination and communication directly between countries as well as through and with entities like the OSCE and European Union,” said Rep. Smith, who called today’s hearing. “There is real human need and desperation. Refugees are entrusting themselves to smugglers and where there is human smuggling there is a higher risk of human trafficking,” he continued. “There is also the real threat that terrorist groups like ISIS will infiltrate these massive movements of people to kill civilians in Europe and beyond. I am deeply concerned that the screening at many European borders is inadequate and putting lives at risk. All of us must be responsive to the humanitarian needs without compromising one iota on security.” Smith said that “given the disproportionate number of men fleeing to Europe and potentially soon to the United States – currently only 14 percent of the refugees and migrants arriving via the Mediterranean Sea are women, 20 percent are children, and the remaining 65 percent are men – robust vetting is essential. We must ensure that lone wolf terrorists don’t turn into wolf packs.” Smith noted that during the conflict in Kosovo, he travelled to Stenkovec refugee camp in Macedonia and was at the McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey to welcome some of the 4,400 people brought from there to the United States. A refugee – Agron Abdullahu – was apprehended and sent to jail in 2008 for supplying guns and ammunition to the “Fort Dix 5,” a group of terrorists who were also sent to prison for plotting to kill American soldiers at the Fort Dix military installation. Given Secretary Kerry’s announcement in September that the United States intended to resettle at least 85,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016, including at least 10,000 Syrians, and at least 100,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017, “The United State and Europe must be on high alert to weed out terrorists from real refugees,” Smith said. He added, “ISIS has committed genocide, mass atrocities, and war crimes, against Christians and other minorities. Religious and ethnic minorities often have additional risks and vulnerabilities even as refugees and should be prioritized for resettlement.”   Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the root causes of the refugee crisis as well as the current measures being put into place to help mitigate the humanitarian impact and ensure that security and economic challenges are addressed. In addition, witnesses emphasized the importance of a shared and coordinated response by all actors involved to ensure a long-term solution to the crisis. “It’s a very challenging situation,” said Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. “The scale of this migration is much bigger than before.” “The US government has a three-pronged approach: strong levels of humanitarian assistance; active diplomacy; and expanded refugee resettlement,” she continued. “Without our support, more people would be making the dangerous journey to the north.” “Europe is facing its biggest refugee influx in decades. UNHCR is calling upon the European Union to provide an immediate and life-saving response to the thousands of refugees as they are crossing the Mediterranean and making their way through Europe,” said Shelly Pitterman, Regional Representative to the United States and Caribbean, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Europe can no longer afford to continue with this fragmented approach that undermines efforts to rebuild responsibility, solidarity and trust among states, and is creating chaos and desperation among thousands of refugee women, men and children. After the many gestures by governments and citizens across Europe to welcome refugees, the focus now needs to be on a robust, joint European response.” “The ongoing refugee crisis is not a European crisis. It is a global crisis, fueled by conflicts, inequality and poverty, the consequences of which unfolded in Europe but the roots of which are far away from our continent,” noted EU Ambassador to the United States David O’Sullivan. “The EU and its Member States are firmly committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrants. Despite the influx, we do not remove or return genuine refugees, we respect the fundamental rights of all persons arriving in the EU, and we invest major resources in saving lives at sea.” Djerdj Matkovic, Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to the United States, said, “The OSCE region is witnessing the largest refugee influx in decades. Apart from being a significant economic challenge, this is a process with potentially very serious security implications and the cause of concern in regards to the respect for human rights… As the presiding country [of the OSCE] Serbia recognizes the importance of this issue and is trying to provide more active and concrete approach of the OSCE in addressing it. In light of this bleak security situation and looming instability, it is paramount that all the mechanisms that were designed and adopted by the participating States to oversee the implementation of commitments are strong and functioning.” Sean Callahan, chief operating officer of Catholic Relief Services, observed, “As global leaders in international humanitarian and refugee response, the US and Europe must find new and creative ways to help to alleviate this suffering and protect the vulnerable.  Pope Francis has led in this effort to do more by asking every Catholic parish in Europe to reach out and assist the refugees; he reminds us of our moral obligation to help the stranger... Despite efforts by [international NGOs] like CRS, local civil societies, governments, and non-traditional donors, the despair of so many refugees indicates that assistance must move beyond short-term band-aids to longer-term solutions.” Chairman Smith was joined at the hearing by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Senator John Boozman (AR), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Representative Michael Burgess (TX-26), Representative Randy Hultgren (IL-14), and Representative Joe Pitts (PA-16).

  • Russian Rule-of-Law Abuses to Be Examined at Upcoming Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Russian Violations of the Rule of Law: How Should the U.S. Respond? 3 Case Studies” Wednesday, October 21 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2255 Live Webcast: http://bit.ly/1VRaf3G The actions of the Russian government have raised questions about Russia’s failure to respect its commitment to the rule of law in the areas of military security, commerce, and laws bearing on human rights – each corresponding to one of the three dimensions of security established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).   Using the Helsinki Final Act as a basis for discussion, the hearing will focus on security violations of the Budapest Memorandum; the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), Open Skies, Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaties, and the Vienna Document.  Regarding international legal and commercial agreements such as the Energy Charter Treaty, the New York Convention and bilateral investment treaties the hearing will review developments in the Yukos Oil case.  On human rights, it will inquire into cases of abduction/unjust imprisonment, torture, and abuse, including those of Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov, and Eston Kover.   The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Coordinator, Open Russia Movement Alan Larson, Senior International Policy Advisor with Covington & Burlington LLP, former Under Secretary of State for Economics and Career Ambassador, U.S. State Department      Tim Osborne, Executive Director of GML Ltd. - the majority owner of the now liquidated Yukos Oil Company Stephen Rademaker, Principal with the Podesta Group, Former Assistant Secretary of State for the U.S. State Department Bureau of Arms Control and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Hearing to Examine Europe's Refugee Crisis

    Europe is experiencing an enormous refugee crisis. An estimated half a million migrants and refugees have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2015; as many as 50 percent are Syrian refugees.  Thousands more join them each day, and many of the European nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are struggling to cope.

    As the regional security organization in Europe, how can the OSCE use its tools, standards, and commitments to help manage the humanitarian crisis and ensure that security and economic challenges are addressed? What has the US government done, and what should it be doing? The hearing will examine the reasons for the current crisis; relevant OSCE and other European agreements, commitments, and structures; the response of the OSCE, the EU, and the US; potential security issues related to the ability of extremists to infiltrate the refugee stream; and the potential for refugees to become victims of human trafficking.

  • House Panel Passes Smith Resolution to Protect Europe’s Jewish Communities

    WASHINGTON—With violent anti-Semitic attacks doubling in some European countries over the past year, today the House Committee on Foreign Affairs passed Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith’s (NJ-04) resolution (H. Res. 354) that urges key actions from the United States and European governments to keep Jewish communities safe. The resolution passed with broad bipartisan support and endorsement from leading Jewish community groups. “This resolution is a blueprint for actions that are critical to prevent more deadly attacks on Europe’s Jewish communities. Formal recognition and partnerships between governments and Jewish community groups are key, as we see here in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France,” said Rep. Smith. “The resolution also highlights the need for research, training, resources, public awareness campaigns, and communication as part of the fight against anti-Semitic violence.” Rep. Smith added, “If our government encourages and works with our European allies to do these things, it will help save lives.” Rep. Smith has a long record as a congressional leader in the fight against anti-Semitism.  He is a Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Task Force for Combatting Anti-Semitism and authored the provisions of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 that created the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism within the U.S. State Department. Following his 2002 landmark hearing on combating the escalation of anti-Semitic violence in Europe, “Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe,” he led a congressional drive to place the issue of combating anti-Semitism at the top of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agenda, as a result of which in 2004 the OSCE adopted new norms for its participating States on fighting anti-Semitism.  In 2009, he delivered the keynote address at the Interparliamentary Coalition Combating Anti-Semitism London conference. In the 1990s, he chaired Congress’s first hearings on anti-Semitism and in the early 1980s, his first trips abroad as a member of Congress were to the former Soviet Union, where he fought for the release of Jewish “refuseniks.”

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Calls for the Immediate Release of Ukrainian Fighter Pilot Nadiya Savchenko

    WASHINGTON—Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, today called for the immediate release of former Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko from a Russian jail. “Nadiya is yet another victim of the Russian government’s contempt for human dignity,” Smith said. “We must recognize that this isn’t just about her, but it manifests the Russian government’s aggression towards Ukraine – which wishes to remain free, independent, and democratic.” Also today, the Russian government began Savchenko’s trial – a show trial intended to demoralize the Ukrainian people – and in response the House passed H. Res. 50, expressing its support for her cause. The resolution included Smith’s amendment, which substantially strengthened the resolution by calling for the imposition of personal sanctions against individuals responsible for the kidnapping, arrest, and imprisonment of Savchenko and other Ukrainian citizens illegally incarcerated in Russia. “With its illegal annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, Russia has made a mockery of its international commitments, including all ten core OSCE principles enshrined in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act,” Smith continued. “Nadiya’s illegal detention, along with that of other Ukrainian citizens held hostage by Moscow, represents yet another in a long list of violations of international agreements and the norms of civilized behavior.”   Savchenko was abducted by pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and illegally transferred across the border to Russia, where she has remained imprisoned and subject to interrogations, involuntary psychiatric evaluations, and solitary confinement.

  • Investigative Journalist in Azerbaijan Sentenced to 7 1/2 Years

    WASHINGTON—In response to the verdict rendered against journalist Khadija Ismayilova in Baku today, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman of the Commission, issued the following statement: “We are deeply troubled by today’s guilty verdict and sentencing of Ms. Ismayilova. She is being robbed of her freedom for exposing corruption within the Azerbaijani government. Her arrest last December and the subsequent shutdown of the RFE/RL bureau in Baku were direct attacks on media freedom. These actions directly contradict Azerbaijan’s many international obligations and domestic laws, including its commitments in the OSCE.  We call on Azerbaijan to release Ms. Ismayilova and other prisoners of conscience immediately.” Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist with RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, was arrested in December 2014 and charged with embezzlement, tax evasion, and abuse of power, in addition to other charges.

  • Helsinki Commission Condemns Trial and Harsh Sentencing of Leyla and Arif Yunus in Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON—After a Baku, Azerbaijan court today sentenced human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus to 8 ½ years and seven years, respectively, in prison, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement: “I condemn today’s harsh sentencing of Leyla and Arif Yunus, two human rights activists who drew attention to the government’s repression of political dissent. Both Leyla and Arif are very ill and have already endured almost a year in pre-trial detention.  Sentencing them to further time in jail is hardly better than a death sentence. The charges brought against the Yunuses for their peaceful efforts on behalf of many other political prisoners – including journalists and lawyers – are yet another indication that the Government of Azerbaijan is out to erase all forms of free expression and dissent.” Leyla and Arif Yunus were charged with tax evasion and other economic crimes, and are also facing separate charges of treason for their work advocating reconciliation with Armenia. Both are in poor health and their detention and trials have been marred by consistent government harassment, including disbarring and dismissing their lawyers. At the sentencing today, Leyla Yunus expressed her clear understanding of the political motivation behind the charges against them: "This government is afraid of a word. This trial showed that all of you are afraid of words. This is why you chose to hold this trial behind closed doors, not letting any journalists come in and do their reporting. You have issued a death sentence for us. Because neither mine, nor Arif's health will let us stay in jail for a long time."

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Deplores Attack on Serbian Prime Minister during Srebrenica Commemoration

    WASHINGTON—Following the stone-throwing attack on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic at Saturday’s ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement: “Such violence is unworthy of the memory of the thousands of innocent civilians who were massacred in the genocide 20 years ago. Prime Minister Vucic’s attendance at the ceremony demonstrated a willingness to seek reconciliation and learn from the past.  I add my voice to those who have condemned the mob attack in the strongest possible terms and I urge the Bosnian authorities to take the necessary steps to apprehend and prosecute those responsible.” Rep. Smith is the author of the recently passed H. Res. 310, which affirms that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces at Srebrenica constituted genocide, and condemns statements denying that the massacres meet the definition of genocide. Since 1995, Rep. Smith has worked to see that the perpetrators of the horrific acts at Srebrenica are punished and that closure is provided to survivors and victims’ families.

  • House Unanimously Adopts Smith Resolution Defining Srebrenica Massacre as Genocide

    “By adopting this resolution, we make it clear that the United States will never again stand by and silently witness the horrific acts of brutality, wanton cruelty, and mass murder that characterize a genocide such as the one that took place at Srebrenica two decades ago.” Rep. Chris Smith Author of H. Res. 310, defining the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide WASHINGTON—Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war on July 11, the U.S. House of Representatives went on record defining the massacre as a “crime of genocide” by unanimously passing legislation sponsored by Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). H. Res. 310 affirms that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces in that country constituted genocide, and condemns statements denying that the massacres meet the definition of genocide. “By adopting this resolution, we make it clear that the United States will never again stand by and silently witness the horrific acts of brutality, wanton cruelty, and mass murder that characterize a genocide such as the one that took place at Srebrenica two decades ago,” said Rep. Smith. The legislation passed Wednesday also urges the Atrocities Prevention Board—an interagency organization charged with helping the U.S. government identify and address atrocity threats—to issue guidance on preventing future genocides, and encourages the United States to continue to support the independence and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as peace and stability in southeastern Europe as a whole. The July 1995 massacre of more than 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica was one of the worst atrocities to occur in the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina between April 1992 and November 1995, during which period more than 2,000,000 people were displaced, more than 100,000 were killed, and tens of thousands were raped or otherwise tortured and abused. In addition to being the primary victims at Srebrenica, individuals with Bosniak heritage comprise the vast majority of the victims during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, especially among the civilian population. Since 1995, Rep. Smith has worked to see that the perpetrators of the horrific acts at Srebrenica are punished and that closure is provided to survivors and victims’ families. In 2005, he authored H. Res. 199, which clearly and unambiguously condemned the Srebrenica massacre as a genocide and was passed with overwhelming support in the U.S. House of Representatives.  In July 2007, Rep. Smith visited Srebrenica to witness the tragic aftermath of the genocide for himself.

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Introduces Resolution to Enhance Security of Europe’s Jewish Communities

    WASHINGTON—In response to the alarming escalation of anti-Semitic violence in Europe, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today introduced a resolution calling for critical, concrete actions to support Jewish community groups that focus on safety awareness, crisis management and response, as well as preparedness and prevention. H. Res. 354 is cosponsored by all seven of the other co-Chairs of the House of Representatives Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism: Reps. Ted Deutch (FL-21), Nita Lowey (NY-17), Eliot Engel (NY-16), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Kay Granger (TX-12), Steve Israel (NY-03), and Peter Roskam (IL-06). The resolution urges the U.S. Administration to work closely with European governments, law enforcement agencies, and intergovernmental organizations – including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – to formally recognize and partner with Jewish community groups to strengthen crisis prevention, preparedness, mitigation, and responses related to anti-Semitic attacks. “Around the world – most notably in Europe – we continue to see an alarming increase in violent anti-Semitic activity,” the Taskforce co-Chairs said in a joint statement. “This bipartisan resolution highlights some key ways the U.S. government can best partner with our allies in Europe to prevent deadly anti-Semitic attacks like we saw in Paris, Copenhagen, and Brussels. While individual governments have the primary responsibility for protecting all of their citizens, Jewish community groups play a vital role in keeping their communities safe, and deserve our support. We believe European governments should enhance their partnerships with Jewish community security groups, thereby ensuring access to the agencies, resources, and expertise they need to guard against such vicious, hateful attacks. Establishing baseline standards across Europe, including for law enforcement personnel specifically trained to prevent and respond to anti-Semitism, would also improve the safety and security of many Jewish communities.” Models of such formal partnerships include those between the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Secure Community Network, the Government and police of the United Kingdom and the Community Security Trust, and the Government of France and the Service de Protection de la Communauté Juive (Jewish Community Security Service). Rep. Smith has a long record as a congressional leader in the fight against anti-Semitism.  He is the author of the provisions of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 that created the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism within the U.S. State Department. Following his 2002 landmark hearing on combating the escalation of anti-Semitic violence in Europe, “Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe,” he led a congressional drive to place the issue of combating anti-Semitism at the top of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agenda, as a result of which in 2004 the OSCE adopted new norms for its participating States on fighting anti-Semitism.  In 2009, he delivered the keynote address at the Interparliamentary Coalition Combating Anti-Semitism London conference. In the 1990s, he chaired Congress’s first hearings on anti-Semitism and in the early 1980s, his first trips abroad as a member of Congress were to the former Soviet Union, where he fought for the release of Jewish “refuseniks.”

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Urges Release of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON—In response to the recent escalation of pressure on religious minorities—particularly Jehovah’s Witnesses—in Azerbaijan, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement: “I am deeply concerned for Irina Zacharchenko and Valida Jabrayilova, currently held in pre-trial detention. They are two members of the Jehovah’s Witness religious community, and were arrested almost four months ago—the government has charged them with publicly sharing their faith. For four months they have been imprisoned with no access to family, or even a Bible, and in appalling conditions. Reportedly their health is failing. “The Government often touts its record of protecting religious freedom yet the truth is that it has imprisoned many people for practicing their faith. I call on the Government of Azerbaijan to release Ms. Zacharchenko and Ms. Jabrayilova immediately.” Ms. Zacharchenko is a 55-year-old disabled widow, and Ms. Jabrayilova is 38 and the main caretaker for her aging mother. Their pre-trial detention has been extended through at least July 15, 2015. As a participating State of the OSCE, Azerbaijan has committed to respecting religious freedom.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Call for Free and Fair Municipal Elections in Albania

    WASHINGTON—Ahead of this Sunday’s municipal elections in Albania, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Commissioner Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04) issued the following statement: “The people of Albania deserve a fair chance to elect the responsive, honest local government that is vital to helping them achieve their aspirations to rule of law and prosperity. Albanian citizens must be able to have confidence that they are participating in a transparent electoral process, free from intimidation, harassment, or attacks on candidates, the media, election officials, or voters. “Unfortunately, these are all ongoing areas of concern in Albania, and we hope that these elections will be closely observed by the international community, especially the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and by domestic groups within Albania itself.” According to the OSCE, Sunday’s elections for mayors and local councils are the first elections to be conducted for new local government units introduced by parliament in 2014 and will see 61 newly formed municipalities, replacing 373 municipalities and communes. For 25 years, the U.S. Helsinki Commission has monitored and encouraged Albania in its implementation of OSCE commitments through visits to the country, congressional hearings and briefings, and periodic statements.  In addition to serving as a Helsinki Commissioner, Rep. Aderholt is currently a Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  

Pages