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
  • 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.  

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Decries Human Rights Situation in Azerbaijan as European Games Open in Baku

    WASHINGTON—Upon the opening of the first-ever European Games today in Baku, Azerbaijan, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement: “For the next 17 days, the eyes of Europe will be on Baku. It is sad that the European Olympic Committees do not require that a potential host government take human rights seriously. The colorful festivities in Baku must not blind anyone to the Azerbaijani government’s terrible and worsening human rights record. “Over the past two years, the government has sharply curtailed media freedom. Last month’s closure of the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) bureau in Baku was the culmination of a months-long campaign to silence one of the last free media sources in the country. RFE/RL investigative reporter Khadija Ismayilova remains in jail on trumped-up criminal charges, and scores of other journalists, civil society activists, and religious believers are also imprisoned on politically motivated charges. “Azerbaijan’s recent unilateral closure of the OSCE Project Coordinator’s office in Baku underscores its complete disregard for the OSCE commitments to which it has pledged to adhere.”

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Introduces Resolution Marking 20th Anniversary of Srebrenica Genocide

    WASHINGTON—Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the atrocity committed at Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina in July, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today introduced a resolution to affirm that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces in that country constituted genocide as well as to condemn statements denying that the massacres meet the definition of genocide. The resolution has 28 original co-sponsors, 14 Republicans and 14 Democrats. H. Res. 310 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. This comes as part of a broader effort to push the Obama Administration to take atrocities prevention seriously. “The thousands of innocents who were brutally slaughtered at Srebrenica deserve our remembrance of the tragedy for what it was: genocide,” said Rep. Smith. “The international community must ensure the perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, and study the lessons of Srebrenica with the aim of preventing future atrocities, particularly in current conflicts in the Central African Republic, Burundi, and Syria. In addition, we must continue to uphold the right of all people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and throughout the Balkans today—no matter their ethnic or religious background—to enjoy the benefits of democracy, the rule of law, and economic opportunity.” The July 1995 massacre 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.

  • Rep. Smith Chairs Helsinki Commission Hearing on ISIS Recruitment of Foreign Fighters in Central Asia

    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 why Central Asia has become an increasingly fertile source of foreign fighters for radical militant groups like ISIS, and explored how the United States can continue supporting efforts in Central Asia aimed at countering violent extremism and preventing the flow of foreign fighters to radical organizations. “A year ago today, the city of Mosul fell to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, during a wave of violence that swept brutally through Northern Iraq,” said Rep. Smith, who called today’s hearing. “Many of those who took part in the offensive were foreign fighters – in fact, the UN Security Council recently estimated that there are now at least 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 100 countries who have travelled internationally to join or fight for terrorist entities associated with ISIS and Al-Qaida.” “According to the International Crisis Group, as many as 4,000 foreign fighters come from the five countries of central Asia. Just last week, we learned that the chief of Tajikistan’s counter-terrorism program – someone highly trained by our own government – abandoned his post to join ISIS,” he continued. “What does this say about the current efforts to stop terror-minded men and women from volunteering and traveling to the Middle East?” Rep. Smith asked. “Clearly, our government – working with others and with organizations like the OSCE – must take stronger action to combat radicalization beyond our borders, as well as to ensure that returning foreign fighters do not bring jihad and murder back home.” Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the risk factors for radicalization of Central Asian nationals, as well as efforts currently underway and additional recommendations on combating the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters at the national and international levels. “The nations of Central Asia, and the nations of the world, are waking up to the challenge of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq,” said Daniel N. Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia. “The United States plans to continue to work with global institutions, regional groups, and national governments to confront the challenge of foreign fighters and reduce the threat to our partners, allies, and to our own country…the Department of State is eager to work closely with this Commission and others in Congress to address this generational challenge.” Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at the George Washington University, noted, “The ideology and narrative of violent Islamist extremist movements and groups continues to resonate with and successfully recruit individuals who are susceptible to such propaganda...Pushing back on this narrative in order to expose its inherent inconsistencies and falsehoods must therefore be a crucial plank in both national and transnational strategy.” “We must maximize the intelligence that US officials and their counterparts in allied nations possess in order to best formulate and execute the measures that will keep foreign fighters’ plans left of boom,” Cilluffo continued. “The United States should work with the countries of Central Asia to assist them in building the capacities that are necessary for them to be their own best guardians. For instance, more could be done in the area of border security.” Deputy Director of the International Crisis Group Jennifer Leonard said, “[Central Asian] governments must assess accurately the long-term danger jihadism poses to the region and take effective preventive action now…addressing multiple political and administrative failures, responding to an unmet demand for increased democratic space, revising discriminatory laws and policies, implementing outreach programs for men and women, creating jobs at home for disadvantaged youths, ensuring better coordination between security services, and police reform.”

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Foreign Fighters

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Wanted: Foreign Fighters – The Escalating Threat of ISIL in Central Asia” Wednesday, June 10 2:00PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2175 Over the past several years, Central Asia has become an increasing source of foreign fighters for radical militant groups operating in the Middle East. According to data from the U.S. Counter-Terrorism Center, the Islamic State (ISIL) has already recruited hundreds of men from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and more than 1,000 men from Kazakhstan. Extremist groups like ISIL actively target vulnerable young men, including unemployed guest workers facing deportation from Russia, with promises of generous salaries and support for fighters’ families. These alluring and aggressive recruiting tactics, along with declining economic prospects and repressive measures imposed by regional governments, pose serious threats to peace and security in Central Asia. This hearing will provide an opportunity to assess the growing influence of extremist militant groups in the region, and to explore how the United States can continue supporting efforts in Central Asia aimed at countering violent extremism and preventing the flow of foreign fighters to ISIL and other radical organizations. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel One Daniel N. Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central Asia, U.S. Department of State Panel Two Frank J. Cilluffo, Associate Vice President & Director, Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, The George Washington University Jennifer Leonard, Deputy Director, International Crisis Group

  • Chairman Smith Deeply Concerned about Illness of Vladimir Kara-Murza

    WASHINGTON—Following the sudden and debilitating illness of Russian political activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement:   “I am deeply concerned about the mysterious illness of Vladimir Kara-Murza, especially given the recent murder of Boris Nemtsov and the number of Putin’s opponents who have been poisoned. I strongly urge the Russian government to guarantee Mr. Kara-Murza’s safety and facilitate his transfer to a hospital outside of the Russian Federation for further evaluation and care.” In 2011, Mr. Kara-Murza spoke at a Helsinki Commission briefing, “Russia’s Upcoming Elections and the Struggle for Public and Competitive Politics.”

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Introduces Bill to Help Bring Convicted Criminals Living Abroad to Justice

    WASHINGTON—To mark the 42nd anniversary of the brutal murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster by Joanne Chesimard on May 2, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today announced the introduction of a bill to strengthen the ability of the United States to extradite convicted killers like Chesimard from countries where they have taken refuge, and bring them home to face justice. The bill is cosponsored by Rep. Albio Sires (NJ-08). “In many cases around the world, efforts to extradite convicted criminals have simply stalled, leaving surviving families without closure and our efforts to seek justice in limbo. Instead of continuing to allow violent criminals to live openly abroad – apparently outside of our government’s reach – we must strengthen the Executive Branch’s ability to take action to resolve such failed extraditions,” said Rep. Smith. “In particular, the Obama Administration’s recent efforts to normalize relations with Cuba gloss over the fact that the Castro regime harbors known fugitives from justice, including Joanne Chesimard. This bill will force the Administration to shine a bright light on nations that harbor fugitives and build up U.S. efforts to extradite criminals who have escaped justice so far.” "While U.S. policy has shifted to increased engagement with the Castro regime, Joanne Chesimard continues to roam freely in Cuba despite being convicted for the brutal murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster,” said Sires, ranking member of the House Western Hemisphere Subcommittee. “As I have said many times before, the Administration should be pushing for the extradition of Joanne Chesimard and all fugitives that Cuba continues to harbor. This legislation takes steps towards extraditing fugitives that have evaded justice for far too long by hiding under the Castro brothers' protection." The bill, H.R. 2189, known as the “Walter Patterson and Werner Foerster Justice and Extradition Act,” honors Walter Patterson, a World War II veteran, as well as Foerster. They both were viciously murdered by criminals who were convicted, escaped prison, and simply moved abroad, where they live freely today. George Wright, convicted of murdering Patterson, broke out of jail in 1970 and fled to Portugal, while Chesimard escaped prison in 1979 and made her way to Cuba. The United States currently has bilateral extradition treaties with more than 100 nations–including Cuba and Portugal–as well as an extradition agreement with the EU. However, both countries refuse to repatriate the convicted criminals living in their midst. The “Walter Patterson and Werner Foerster Justice and Extradition Act” would require the executive branch to submit an annual report to Congress on fugitives currently residing in other countries whose extradition is sought by the United States, including the number of fugitives; efforts undertaken to date to secure their return; the average length of time that such cases have been outstanding; how many cases have been successfully resolved; and any barriers to resolution of such cases. In addition, the report requires information about U.S. citizens whose extradition has been sought by other countries during the past five years, including a list of countries seeking extradition and the outcomes of those requests. “I am happy that justice is still being pursued for my father’s murder,” said Ann Patterson, who testified at a 2012 hearing of the Helsinki Commission Smith chaired on the case. “If George Wright had only served his sentence he would have been out of jail long ago. The lack of justice has been stressful on me and my family. It was very discouraging to think this case had just ended.  George Wright may never complete his sentencing, but this bill gives hope that a positive change may be made to prevent this from happening again. Convicted criminals/fugitives should not be allowed to live free, just because they choose to flee to, and reside in, a country that refuses to extradite." “Every additional day Joanne Chesimard gets to enjoy in Cuba is a further affront to our justice system and an insult Trooper Foerster's family,” said Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association. “Joanne Chesimard has had her due process under the law and our nation must demand that Cuba return her to face her punishment. We fully support Congressman Smith's efforts and will be working with him to keep the heat on in this case.” “Re-introduction of this legislation reminds us all that our work is not yet done in seeking justice for the family of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster,” said Christopher Burgos, president of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey. “We will not forget his 1973 murder, committed by Joanne Chesimard. She and other fugitives still live in comfort in Cuba, after having tried to destroy our way of life here in America. We strongly support Congressman Smith and our NJ delegation for their continued tireless efforts on our behalf.” Rep. Smith is also the author of the Cuba Human Rights Act of 2015, H.R. 1782, which calls for any change in U.S. foreign policy to be contingent on the Castro regime ceasing its violation of the human rights of the Cuban people and returning fugitives such as Chesimard.

  • Helsinki Commission Calls for Release of Imprisoned Journalists in OSCE Region

    WASHINGTON—In advance of World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the Helsinki Commission, issued the following statement:   “On World Press Freedom Day, I pay tribute to the courage and commitment of the many journalists in the OSCE region and beyond who risk their lives on a daily basis to document stories of corruption, conflict, and human rights abuses.   “In several OSCE participating States, governments use increasingly sophisticated tactics to threaten and discourage professional journalism. In the worst cases, journalists are being jailed in failed attempts to stifle political dissent. This is unacceptable behavior for nations committed to the fundamental freedoms and human rights described in the Helsinki Final Act, and I call on all OSCE participating States, particularly Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan, to release those journalists who remain imprisoned.   “Unfortunately, journalists in the OSCE region also face other daily threats to their lives, especially those members of the media who report from conflict zones. More than 200 attacks on journalists have been reported as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict alone; some of those brave journalists have paid the ultimate price.   “I am proud that the OSCE continues to lead the way with initiatives focused on journalist safety in the field, ending impunity, and improving media safety online, and I especially commend the work of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic. However, much remains to be done to advance the safety of journalists in our region and around the world.”   On May 5, Chairman Smith plans to introduce the World Press Freedom Protection Act of 2015 in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation would authorize the President to deny entry visas to individuals who have credibly threatened press freedom; restrict some U.S. activities of executives of state-owned media organizations from countries where American journalists are threatened or harassed; and urge the U.S. Government to include press freedoms and Internet freedom as part of international treaty negotiations and trade agreements.

Pages