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Press Releases

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

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  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Leaders Mourn Passing of Vaclav Havel

    WASHINGTON —Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) mourned the passing of former Czech President Vaclav Havel. "Vaclav Havel was a true hero of the human rights movement,” observed Chairman Smith.  “As a founding member and first spokesman for the Charter 77 movement, whose reports the Helsinki Commission published, he demanded his government implement the Helsinki Final Act and other human rights commitments it had freely undertaken. He remained constant to his ideals – prison and persecution notwithstanding. As a dissident, he exemplified the ‘power of the powerless,’ as he called it, the ability of ordinary people to live for truth and by doing so face down a regime built on lies.”  Senator Cardin added, “Even after becoming president, Vaclav Havel continued to serve as the conscience of the continent, warning presciently in 1993 that the treatment of Roma was ‘a litmus test’ for post-communist civil society. He remained a tireless defender of the unjustly persecuted whether they were Czech, Cuban, or Tibetan. And, in 2009, as a committed transAtlanticist, he joined other statesmen and women from Central Europe in calling for a renewal of that relationship. Vaclav Havel’s leadership and integrity will be sorely missed.” “It is testimony to his enduring devotion to human rights that one of his last public messages was an expression of solidarity with political prisoners in Belarus. Our thoughts and prayers today are with the people of the Czech Republic, his friends and family, and all those inspired by his ideals and the life he led,” concluded Chairman Smith. Chairman Smith and Co-Chairman Cardin met with Havel in 2007 and commemorated the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Charter 77 human rights movement.

  • Chairman Smith Calls for Final Passage of Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011

    WASHINGTON —On Monday, December 19, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) took to the floor of the House of Representatives to call for support of his “Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011,” expected to be brought to the floor Tuesday for a final vote. “I thank the distinguished chairwoman for yielding and join her first in mourning the passing of Vaclav Havel, the great President and human rights crusader, one of the founders of Charter 77, a magnificent human rights manifesto, that took the Helsinki final act and turned it into a very durable and tangible program of action for the people of Czechoslovakia. Charter 77 has been replicated all over the world… .” Click here to read the Chairman’s remarks.

  • Chairman Smith to Hold Press Conference on Belarus

    WASHINGTON — Rep. Chris Smith, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), announced today a press conference marking the anniversary of Belarusan dictator Lukashenka’s brutal crackdown on human rights that  began with the fraudulent December 19, 2010 Belarusan election. Monday, December 19, 2011 11:30 a.m.- 12:15 p.m. Capitol Triangle, located on the House side of the Capitol’s East front (in the event of rain: 2103 Rayburn House Office Building)   Who: Hon. Christopher H. Smith, M.C., Chairman, U.S. Helsinki Commission Ms. Alice Kipel, Belarusan-American Association Mr. Karl Altau, Joint Baltic American National Committee  

  • Chairman Smith Statement on One Year Since Brutal Election Crackdown in Belarus

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) released the following statement on the tragic one-year anniversary of the bloody December 19, 2010 election-night crackdown in Belarus, which swept up more than 700 opposition supporters who dared to challenge the rule of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka.  “The last year has been an awful one for the Belarusian people. The tactics employed on the infamous night of December 19, 2010 and afterwards confirm the nature of Lukashenka’s rule – a dictatorship that perpetuates a pervasive climate of fear to squelch dissent.  In the past year the dictator has undertaken repressive measures on a scale and of a brutality which has not been seen in Europe for more than a decade. These have included the torture of presidential candidates, such as Ales Mikhalevich who recently testified before the Helsinki Commission (link), and other democratic activists.  Over the past year, pressure on civil society and on the independent media has been unrelenting.  Meanwhile, the economic situation has deteriorated, causing suffering for all Belarusans.” “It is high time to hold Lukashenka and his henchmen accountable for their reprehensible, despicable treatment of those who defend human rights and struggle for their country’s freedom. On this sad anniversary, we reiterate our demand for the immediate and unconditional release of Andrei Sannikov, Mikalai Statkevich,  Zmitser Bondarenka, Zmitser Dashkevich, Ales Bialatski and others imprisoned for exercising their fundamental rights.  We call upon Mr. Lukashenka to immediately cease his campaign of repression and allow civil society to freely function, including human rights defenders, defense attorneys and independent journalists.”

  • Chairman Smith Introduces New Global Online Freedom Act

    WASHINGTON —The wave of Internet censorship appearing in repressive regimes around the world and legislation introduced yesterday—the Global Online Freedom Act of 2011 (GOFA)—were the focus of a hearing held by the Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who is also chairman of the House panel that oversees international human rights. At the hearing of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, Chairman Smith described the deteriorating state of freedom of political and religious speech online and the growing danger for dissidents who use the Internet – a major human rights concern in some OSCE participating states. “In the past five or six years the Internet has been transformed from a freedom plaza to dictator’s best friend,” said Smith. “Every day we learn of more democratic activists being arrested through the use of a growing array of Internet censorship and surveillance tools, abused by the governments of China, Belarus, Egypt, Syria and many other countries around the world. The stakes are life and death for online activists and they deserve our support and protection. I look forward to moving this bill forward during this session of Congress.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening statement. Click here to watch a video of Chairman's remarks. The provisions of the new legislation, H.R. 3605, are designed to help democratic activists and human rights defenders by creating a new transparency standard for U.S. Internet companies. The bill also restricts the flow of U.S. technology to repressive regimes. Click here for the text of H.R. 3605. H.R. 3605 requires Internet companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) how they conduct their human rights due diligence, including with regard to the collection and sharing of personally identifiable information with repressive countries, in addition to the steps they take to notify users when they remove content or block access to content. “With this bill we focus on creating transparency, so that ‘Netizens’ can hold companies accountable,” said Smith, whose first GOFA bill made it through three committees in 2008. “This will apply not only to U.S. companies but to the increasing number of foreign IT companies that raise capital here on our stock exchanges, including a large number of Chinese Internet companies that will soon have to report their practices to the SEC.” In response to numerous reports of U.S. technology being used to filter political and religious speech, as well as track down or conduct surveillance of activists through the Internet or mobile devices, the bill prohibits the export of hardware or software that can be used for surveillance, tracking, blocking, etc. to governments in an Internet-restricting country. “It’s unconscionable that U.S. technology is putting democracy activists at risk,” Smith said. “U.S. companies should not, knowingly or unwittingly, be providing the technology used by repressive regimes to hunt down and punish human rights activists. My bill provides the very clear guidance companies say they need to help them make the right business decisions when it comes to preventing human rights abuses. This bill will stop the vicious merry-go-round we are now on of exporting Internet-restricting technologies from the U.S. that we then have to spend millions of dollars helping activists circumvent.” Chairman Smith, a senior member of Congress, is also the Chairman of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He is a leading voice on human rights issues and the author of a number of landmark human rights bills, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Witnesses testifying at the hearing were (click on name to read testimony): Clothilde Le Coz, Washington Director, Reporters Without Borders; Daniel Calingaert, Ph.D., Vice President, Freedom House; Elisa Massimino, President and CEO, Human Rights First, and; Rebecca MacKinnon, Fellow, New America Foundation. 

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Call on Russian Authorities to Respect Democracy Commitments

    WASHINGTON – Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Senate Ranking Member Roger Wicker (MS), and House Ranking Member Alcee Hastings (FL-23) released the following statement on the December 4 Duma election--Russia’s most controversial election in decades. “These elections didn’t happen in a vacuum, but against the backdrop of a strident and cynical effort to limit ballot access and squelch public dissent. Russian executive authority controls national TV and the courts. They denied ballot access to genuine opposition parties and kept their message off the airwaves. The Russian Foreign Ministry spares no effort in its attempts to weaken the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) democracy promoting efforts, particularly election observation, while authorities inside Russia ruthlessly harass domestic observers. Further, unprecedented cyber attacks have brought down many websites in Russia dedicated to providing timely information on election violations. Despite these efforts, widespread violations on Election Day, including ballot box stuffing and carousel voting were documented by the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights as well as countless domestic observers. “We are deeply troubled over reports of the mistreatment of hundreds of demonstrators who have recently been arrested and are now in pre-trial detention facilities complaining of the lack of access to counsel, medical help, and basic foodstuffs. We call on the Russian government to comply with international norms and commitments to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law and urge authorities to respect the people’s right to demonstrate and demand that their voices are heard and that election violations are promptly and credibly addressed. “The situation in Russia is dynamic and no one yet knows where it will lead, but Sunday’s results suggest ‘sovereign democracy’ has run out of gas and Russian citizens are demanding the genuine article. We stand in solidarity with all Russians seeking their rightful role in the governing of their own country.” 

  • Combating Anti-Semitism: Taking Stock of the Situation Today

    WASHINGTON – “Our work fighting anti-Semitism is far from done,” said Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), at a hearing held in Washington, D.C. today by the U.S. Commission that oversees human rights in the 56 countries of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Smith, the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe also known as the Helsinki Commission said: “By most accounts, and thanks to the work of many courageous nongovernmental organizations, NGOs, the despicable evil of anti-Semitism has decreased in most parts of the OSCE region in recent years – but it still remains at higher levels than in 2000. This is simply unacceptable, and it’s why we’re here today.” 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. In 2009 Smith delivered the keynote address at the Interparliamentary Coalition Combating Anti-Semirtism London conference. As a result of his landmark 2002 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 56 member states on fighting anti-Semitism, and from 2004 to the present has held a series of high-level conferences on combating anti-Semitism. Rep. Smith is the author of numerous laws, resolutions, and member letters on combating anti-Semitism. In the 1990s Smith 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.” Experts testifying at the hearing addressed such key issues as anti-Semitism masking itself as criticism of Israel and the danger posed by Holocaust relativism (attempts to conflate other events that entailed great human suffering with the Holocaust). Other concerns raised included political transitions in the Arab world and how they might affect Muslim-Jewish relations, including in Europe; the importance of engagement with Muslim communities in Europe; and growing nationalist and extremist movements that target religious and ethnic minorities.  Additionally the roles of the OSCE, U.S. government, and Congress in addressing continuing issues of anti-Semitism at home and abroad were discussed. Testifying at the hearing were Hannah Rosenthal, U.S. State Dep’t Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism; Rabbi Andy Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chair-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism; Stacy Burdett, Director, Gov’t and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League; Eric Fusfield, Director, Legislative Affairs, B’nai B’rith International; Mark Levin, Executive Director, National Conference on Soviet Jewry; and Shimon Samuels, Director of International Relations, Simon Wiesenthal Center. To read Congressman Smith’s opening remarks and the testimony of witnesses, please click here.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission statement on Russian Government Harrassment of NGO Golos

    WASHINGTON —Helsinki commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (Miss.), and Commissioner Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) released the following statement today following a Russian court’s imposition of a 30,000 ruble fine on Golos – a respected Moscow-based non-governmental organization operating for over a decade –for publishing election poll data within five days of the election: “One of the many things we find compelling about Russia is the patriotism and bravery exemplified by so many of its citizens. To that end, we salute Grigory Melkonyants and his team of committed experts at Golos who appear to be the target of a politically motivated attack because of their dedication to objectively reporting on the political situation in their country. The data Golos publishes comes from Russian observers, and citizens everywhere have a right to report concerns about their electoral processes. We stand in total solidarity with those Russians who ask only that their basic rights be observed and protected. The campaign against Golos provides additional reason for doubt about the legitimacy of the parliamentary election that will take place in Russia on Sunday and the broader state of democracy there.”

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold a Briefing on Conflicts in the Caucasus

    WASHINGTON —The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following briefing: “Conflicts in the Caucasus: Prospects for Resolution” Wednesday, December 7, 2011 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm Room B-318 Rayburn House Office Building Twenty years after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the unresolved conflicts in the Caucasus remain one of its most problematic legacies. Despite the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) long mediation in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the results have been disappointing. After the 2008 Russia-Georgia war and Moscow’s subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the prospects for settling those conflicts seem more remote than ever. This Helsinki Commission briefing will examine where these conflicts stand today; what factors impede a settlement; whether the resumption of armed hostilities is a serious threat; whether changes in the negotiating format might yield a better outcome; and what, if anything, could the United States do to facilitate a resolution. Panelists scheduled to speak: Tom de Waal, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Fiona Hill, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution Wayne Merry, Senior Fellow, American Foreign Policy Council

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold a Hearing on Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region

    Please join the U.S. Helsinki Commission for a hearing on efforts to combat global anti-Semitism. The hearing will review U.S. Government and civil society efforts to combat anti-Semitism with a focus on initiatives designed to target violent and other manifestations of anti-Semitism in the fifty-six North American and European countries that comprise the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Lessons learned and the way forward in monitoring and combating anti-Semitism will be discussed. Witnesses Scheduled to Testify: Hannah Rosenthal, U.S. Department of State Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chair-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism, AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs Stacy Burdett, Director, Government and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League Eric Fusfield, Director, Legislative Affairs, B’nai B’rith International Mark Levin, Executive Director, National Conference on Soviet Jewry Shimon Samuels, Director of International Relations, Simon Wiesenthal Cen

  • Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty Reports Chairman Smith's Pledge To Push For ICC Indictment Of Belarusian President Lukashenka

    WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission has pledged to call on the Obama administration to push for the indictment of hard-line Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka by the International Criminal Court (ICC). While the chances of an indictment are unlikely, the pledge by Representative Chris Smith (Republican, New Jersey) was a clear sign that U.S. lawmakers have not forgotten the egregious human rights situation in the country ruled by the man some dub "Europe's last dictator." At a Helsinki Commission hearing that focused on Minsk's continuing crackdown on political opposition and civil society, Smith said he would send a letter to members of the Obama administration and the UN Security Council asking them to push for the indictment. In an interview with RFE/RL, he later said, "When you commit atrocities for 17 years, as [Lukashenka] has done, the time has come." "[Although] Belarus is not a signatory to the ICC, to the Rome Statute -- and nor are we, frankly -- we've done this before, and we did it with [President Omar al-] Bashir in Sudan. It will take a lot of work, but we need to begin that effort now to get the [UN] Security Council to make a special referral to begin that process," he said. "I'm sure China and Russia will object, but that's worth the fight, because this man commits atrocities on a daily basis against his own people," Smith added. The congressman made his pledge following the testimony of former Belarusian presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich, who is in Washington for the first time since his release from a detention center in Minsk on February 19. Mikhalevich was one of seven opposition candidates and more than 600 people arrested during the regime's violent crackdown on protesters following Lukashenka's disputed reelection in December 2010. The official reaction to demonstrations drew widespread international condemnation and a coordinated sanctions program by Brussels and Washington. The financial and travel restrictions were accompanied by a boost in funding for the country's beleaguered civil society, journalists, and activists. As the one-year anniversary of the election approaches, watchdogs say the jailing and harassment of human rights defenders and protesters continues, while the independent media and judiciary face intense, often institutionalized, pressure. Mikhalevich says he had to sign agreement on collaborating with the Belarusian state security forces, which are still called the KGB, in order to secure his release. He has since been granted political asylum in the Czech Republic. Ahead of meetings with State Department officials and Washington-based NGOs, he told U.S. lawmakers that supporting Belarusian civil society -- and not holding out hope that Lukashenka will reform -- is the only way to effect change. "I'm absolutely sure that Lukashenka is ready to defend his power by all possible means. Unfortunately, we can compare Lukashenka with [former Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi. So I urge the United States, the European Union, and the international community not to trust another game of liberalization badly played by the regime," he said. "Cooperate only with independent civil society in Belarus: nongovernmental organizations, both unregistered and registered, independent newspapers and media, and democratic activists." Analysts say Lukashenka has long employed the tactic of pledging to loosen to grip on the country in exchange for a reprieve from sanctions -- a tactic that has worked in the past. Observers say he has also sought to capitalize on rifts between the United States and the EU, as well as between neighboring Russia and the West, to inhibit united action against his regime. After testifying, Mikhalevich told RFE/RL that he hoped the United States would more fully take on the role of "bad cop" if the EU, which borders Belarus and relies on it as a transit country for gas from Russia, hesitates to do so. "I'm absolutely sure than in order to succeed, the international community should have both the good cop and bad cop. Someone should play the role of the bad cop, and unfortunately, the European Union would not play this role. So I hope that the United States will be ready to do it," Mikhalevich said. Mikhalevich also offered a harrowing account of what he called "constant mental and physical torture" during his two months in custody, including being "stripped naked and forced to assume various positions." "Our legs were pulled apart with ropes and we could feel our ligaments tear," Mikhalevich said in his prepared remarks. Smith appeared visibly moved by account. "Rather than calling them the KGB, it ought to be called the KGB 'P' for 'perverts.' Masked men who strip other men naked, and women, presumably, as well -- those are acts of perversion that should not go unnoticed by the international community," said the Congressman. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill sponsored by Smith that would strengthen existing sanctions against Minsk. It is awaiting consideration in the Senate. Smith told RFE/RL that Western attention on the situation in Belarus had been "obscured" to some extent by the events of the Arab Spring, and especially by the global economic downturn. He said that pushing for ICC action would be a sign that human rights are not "taking a back seat." "I've been very much involved for years in the special [UN-backed] court that [U.S. prosecutor] David Crane oversaw for Sierra Leone, and what I learned from that, and from the Rwandan court, and of course from the Yugoslav court, which held [Slobodan] Milosevic and [Ratko] Mladic and [Radovan] Karadzic to account, is that these thugs are frightened by the fact that they may be held to account. And Lukashenka will fear it, I believe, if we make a very serious effort to hold him to account at the International Criminal Court," said Smith. Mikhalevich told RFE/RL that he thinks the chances of ICC action against Lukashenka are slim, but that the prospect of such a move could help pressure the regime to release its political prisoners. "I think that definitely, it's very difficult to organize any [such] political process unless thousands of people are being killed, but still, it's necessary to do all attempts," he said

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Human Rights Play on Magnitsky Murder

    Human Rights Play on Magnitsky Murder Wednesday, Nov. 16th  6:00 pm  121 Cannon House Office Building After exposing the largest tax fraud in Russian history, Magnitsky was wrongly arrested and tortured in prison. Six months later he became seriously ill and was consistently denied medical attention despite 20 formal requests. On the night of November 16, 2009, he went into critical condition, but instead of being treated in a hospital he was put in an isolation cell, chained to a bed, and beaten by eight prison guards for one hour and eighteen minutes. Sergei Magnitsky was 37 years old and left behind a wife and two children. Those responsible for this crime have yet to be punished and his story has become a global human rights cause and is emblematic of corruption, violence, and impunity in Russia. Please join the Helsinki Commission on the second anniversary of Magnitsky’s death for a performance of Russian playwright Elena Gremina’s celebrated theatrical interpretation of Magnitsky’s final moments. The play juxtaposes moving and chilling testimony and documents from Magnitsky's diary; a radio interview with his mother; two judges; a prison doctor and paramedic; an investigator; and a young ambulance paramedic. “One Hour Eighteen” is produced by Philip Arnoult’s Center for International Theatre Development, with Russian director Yury Urnov and American actors. The performance lasts just under an hour and will be followed by a staff briefing and discussion

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Egypt

      WASHINGTON —The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: “From Arab Spring to Coptic Winter: Sectarian Violence and the Struggle for Democratic Transition in Egypt” Tuesday, November 15, 2011 2:00 p.m. Room 210 Cannon House Office Building Please join the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe for a heaing that explores the nexus between sectarian violence and democracy. On Sunday October 9, 2011, 25 people were killed and more than 300 injured when the Egyptian military attacked a peaceful group of Coptic Christians protesting the burning of a church in Aswan. In what has been deemed the “Massacre at Maspero,” referring to the location of the demonstration, witnesses say the army fired on the demonstrators with live ammunition and plowed into the crowd with armored vehicles. The military denied the use of live ammunition and claimed that their soldiers were attacked by an armed mob. The military has arrested at least 28 people, almost all Copts, including prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, and brought them before military prosecutors. The hearing will focus on violence perpetrated against the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the implications of the events for that community and the current Egyptian leadership, and prospects for the consolidation of democracy in Egypt. Witnesses Scheduled to Appear: Mr. Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State Ms. Dina Guirguis, Egyptian democracy activist and attorney and member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association (EARLA) Mr. Samuel Tadros, Research Fellow, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute Dr. Michele Dunne, Director, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Belarus

    WASHINGTON —The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: Belarus: The Ongoing Crackdown and Forces for Change Tuesday, November 15, 2011 10:30 am Room 210 Cannon House Office Building Nearly one year after the brutal post-December 19, 2010, election crackdown, the human rights picture in Belarus remains bleak. Brave and committed individuals who attempt to promote a democratic future for Belarus continue to be crushed by the dictatorial Lukashenka regime. Civil society continues to be under assault, with NGOs facing ever greater constraints, and freedoms of assembly and expression are severely curtailed. Yet the ongoing economic turmoil has produced growing disaffection, as manifested in Lukashenka’s plummeting popular support, and a changing domestic and international environment. The hearing will focus on the extent and impact of the crackdown on the lives of its victims and on the larger society, and what more can be done by the U.S. and our European partners to promote democratic change in Belarus. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Ales Mikhalevich, Prominent Belarusian pro-democracy activist and former presidential candidate arrested and tortured in the post-December 2010 election crackdown Rodger Potocki, Senior Director Europe, National Endowment for Democracy Susan Corke, Director for Eurasia, Freedom House

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission: Conviction of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko a Serious Setback for Ukrainian Democracy

    WASHINGTON — U.S. Helsinki Commission leadership today expressed dismay and alarm over the selective and politically motivated prosecution and conviction of Yuliya Tymoshenko.  Today, she was sentenced to 7 years in prison for executive decisions she made in 2009 when she was prime minister. “The politically motivated conviction of Ms. Tymoshenko starkly illustrates the undoing of democracy in Ukraine,” stated Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04). “Right after the Orange Revolution Ukraine was a beacon for hope for other post-Soviet states; now this beacon is almost extinguished. The prosecution and verdict in the Tymoshenko case call into grave question Ukraine’s commitment to OSCE human rights, democracy and rule of law standards.  Her conviction bans her from office for the next three years, which raises serious doubts about whether Ukraine’s 2012 elections can meet OSCE standards for democratic elections, and calls into serious question Ukraine’s suitability to assume the Chairmanship of the OSCE in 2013.” “This is a serious blow to democracy in Ukraine,” declared Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin, (MD). “The highly selective prosecutions of ranking members of the previous government, most notably today’s politically motivated conviction of former prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, fly in the face of Ukraine’s often-asserted aspirations and efforts to integrate into the European Union.  The Helsinki Commission and United States have strongly and consistently supported Ukraine’s European aspirations, which offer the best assurance of Ukraine’s future as an independent, democratic and flourishing state.  Unfortunately, the Tymoshenko conviction only jeopardizes these efforts.”  According to U.S. State Department and various NGO reports, the state of democracy and human rights in Ukraine has deteriorated since Viktor Yanukovych was elected President in February 2010. Worrisome trends include consolidation of power in the presidency; weakening of checks and balances; backpedaling on freedoms of expression and assembly; various forms of pressure on media and civil society groups (including the recent closure of three opposition television channels in Kharkiv); and seriously flawed local elections.  Endemic corruption continues unabated, with weak rule of law and lack of an independent judiciary.  Of immediate concern are selective prosecutions of high ranking members of the previous government. On October 11, Yulia Tymoshenko received a sentence of 7 years on charges of exceeding her authority as prime minister by agreeing to a 2009 gas deal with Russia that prosecutors say harmed Ukraine’s economy.  Both the European Union and U.S. (including the Helsinki Commission) have repeatedly criticized the trial as contravening European values, in effect criminalizing a political decision, which has harmed Kyiv’s efforts at closer integration with the EU, specifically Ukraine-EU Free Trade and Association agreements.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold a Briefing on Tunisia's Upcoming Elections

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing: Elections and Political Transition in Tunisia Thursday, October 13, 2011 9:30 a.m. B-318 Rayburn House Office Building On January 14, 2011, longtime President of Tunisia Zine el Abidine Ben Ali fled the country following weeks of mounting anti-government protests. Tunisia’s mass popular uprising, known as the “Jasmine Revolution,” sparked anti-government and pro-reform movements in other countries across the region, and precipitated the Arab Spring. On October 23, 2011 Tunisia will hold national elections to select a transitional, 218-seat “National Constituent Assembly,” which will be charged with drafting a new constitution and preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections.  Please join us for a discussion of what these elections will mean for the consolidation of democracy in Tunisia and throughout the region. Scheduled to make presentations: Stephen McInerney, Executive Director, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) Barrie Freeman, Director for North Africa, National Democratic Institute (NDI) Mohamed Malouche, President, Tunisian American Young Professionals

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Mongolia

    WASHINGTON —The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following briefing: Mongolia Moves Toward Europe Wednesday, October 12, 2011 2:00 p.m. 210 Cannon House Office Building The Government of Mongolia has announced its intention to seek status as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Mongolia has been an Asian Partner for Cooperation with the OSCE since 2004, and has expanded its cooperation with the European Union. Mongolia has also made particular strides in improving rule of law and democracy in its own country, and has stated its intention to abide by OSCE norms. At this briefing, the panelists will address what Mongolia’s bid to join Europe’s largest security organization could mean for both Mongolia and the OSCE.  Panelists: His Excellency Khasbazaryn Bekhbat, Ambassador of Mongolia Dr. Terrence Hopmann, Professor, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies Mr. John Tkacik, President, China Business Intelligence

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold a Briefing on Russia’s Upcoming Elections

    WASHINGTON —The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing: Russia’s Upcoming Elections and the Struggle for Public and Competitive Politics Thursday, September 22, 2011 2:00 p.m. 210 Cannon House Office Building In less than three months Russia will elect a national parliament and soon after a president. With liberal opposition parties disqualified or disinterested, a highly-controlled national media, and ongoing squabbles over international observation, many see the outcome as a foregone and negative conclusion. Please join us for an assessment of the campaign season, thoughts on possible outcomes, and a discussion on why we should care and what we can do. Panelists: Leon Aron, Director of Russian Studies, American Enterprise Institute Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, The Heritage Foundation Vladimir Kara-Murza, Member of the federal political council of the Russian democratic opposition movement Solidarity

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Calls on the Russian Federation to Withdraw from Georgia

    WASHINGTON —During the week that marks the third year since the Russian invasion of Georgia, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission, called on the government of the Russian Federation to withdraw its remaining troops from Georgian territory and allow refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes.  “Russia must cease its continuing, illegal occupation of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia and allow those who fled their homes during the 2008 war to go back without preconditions,” Rep. Smith said.  “Still today there are rampant human rights violations in the Russian-controlled areas - and Russia and its proxy authorities refuse to permit international monitors to enter South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russian government is not upholding its international commitments, in particular, maintaining respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other participating States of the OSCE, and refraining from the threat or use of force to resolve conflicts. Our government should put this at the top of the OSCE agenda.” "It is important for Russia to act now and remove all of its troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  Moreover, the Russian Federation must immediately permit the full return of the OSCE mission," added Senator Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission. Russia invaded Georgia on August 7, 2008 under the pretext of protecting Russian peacekeepers and citizens in the secessionist region of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  During the five-day war Russian military attacks destroyed key Georgian infrastructure and resulted in the loss of more than 850 civilian lives and the displacement of over 100,000 people. Shortly after the Russian invasion, Rep. Smith went to Georgia to help secure safe passage home for two young girls from Howell, New Jersey who were trapped in the conflict zone, behind Russian lines; Smith also helped facilitate passage home for several other American children. “At the same time that I saw the relief in the eyes of the girls when they were finally returned to their family – I also saw fear and despair in the eyes of the Georgians from the north of their country, driven out of their homes and villages and forced to live in camps for internally displaced persons,” Rep. Smith said. After the war, Russia set up puppet governments in and recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia – the only other countries to follow suit are Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Vanuatu. Since 2008 the Russian government has systematically entrenched itself in these occupied territories.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on U.S.-Russian Cooperation in the Fight against Alcoholism

    WASHINGTON —The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing: U.S.-Russian Cooperation in the Fight Against Alcoholism: A Glass Half Full? Tuesday, August 2, 2011 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. 2360 Rayburn House Office Building Following our recent hearing on demographic trends in the OSCE region, which featured Russia as a case study, the Helsinki Commission will discuss prospects for sharing experience, strength, and hope on treating the disease of alcoholism. Please join us for what promises to be a fascinating and informative look at divergent approaches to treating a problem that vexes American and Russian society and is a significant factor in the alarmingly low life expectancy of Russian men. Panelists: Dr. Margaret Murray, Director, International Research Program, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland Dr. Eugene Zubkov, Co-Founder, House of Hope on a Hill, Leningrad oblast, Russia Ms. Heidi Brown, Senior Analyst, Kroll Associates, New York, New York

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION WELCOMES RECOGNITION OF ROMANI VICTIMS OF NAZI GENOCIDE; URGES OTHER EUROPEAN NATIONS TO ACT

    WASHINGTON –The U.S. Helsinki Commission welcomed the Polish Parliament’s adoption today (July 29) of a resolution recognizing Romani victims of Nazi genocide and establishing August 2 as a remembrance day in Poland.  Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski will participate in a remembrance event at Auschwitz on the 2nd. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission said, “The vicious racism that led to the Nazi genocide against Roma seven decades ago continues to foster hatred and hate crimes against Roma.  Recognizing, teaching, and remembering that painful history in a most dignified, solemn way is a critical part of combating bigotry against Roma today.” “Throughout the OSCE region, including the United States, there is a crying need to better research, document, and convey information about the genocide of Roma," added Senator Ben Cardin (MD), the Commission’s Co-Chairman.  “This month, I met with Father Patrick Desbois whose efforts documenting 800 WWII-mass grave sites in Ukraine and other areas has included the identification of 48 mass grave sites Roma. I commend him for this important work.” Smith noted that even basic information about the Holocaust is sometimes incorrectly represented.  “It is an historical error when news agencies reporting about the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi German-occupied Poland call it a ‘Polish concentration camp.’” Cardin concluded by expressing regret that Germany has thus far failed to complete work on a memorial for Romani victims.  “Last year, I wrote to the German Minister of Culture regarding long-delayed efforts to build a memorial in Berlin for Romani victims of the genocide. There has been negligible progress on that effort, and I hope the German government will exercise greater leadership to get this memorial built.” Background: During the Holocaust, approximately 23,000 Romani people were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp from many countries in Europe.  Many Romani children died as the result of medical experiments performed by the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele; others died from starvation, disease, and abuse.  On the night of August 2-3, 1944, the “Zigeunerlager” (“Gypsy camp”) was liquidated and 2,897 Romani men, women, and children were killed in the gas chambers.  The total number of Romani people murdered during the war is conservatively estimated at 500,000. Poland recognizes January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, as Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The United States delegation to the commemoration event at Auschwitz on August 2 will include Ambassador Ian Kelly, Head of Delegation to the OSCE, and Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Douglas Davidson.

  • LIVE HEARING TODAY: THE HEARING ENTITLED, “U.S. POLICY AND THE OSCE: MAKING GOOD ON COMMITMENTS” WILL STREAM LIVE HERE

    Today: Thursday, July 28, 2011 from 1:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time 210 Cannon House Office Building Click here to view live webcast (please wait for a minute while it loads) * Please note that this link will only work during the hearing time *   Please visit the following links for the most up-to-date Helsinki Commission: Videos Pictures Updates

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION CALLS FOR DE-ESCALATION IN NORTHERN KOSOVO

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Helsinki Commission responded to reports of an armed attack, apparently by Serb hardliners, on a border crossing gate in northern Kosovo yesterday by calling on all parties to refrain from any further violence or provocation.   The attack is the latest of several destabilizing actions since last week’s postponement of the next scheduled round of the EU-facilitated Dialogue between the Serbian and Kosovo governments. Other actions included the partially successful effort of Kosovo officials to enforce an embargo on Serbian goods at border crossings in the Serb-controlled areas of northern Kosovo;  Serbia has enforced a similar embargo on Kosovo goods since 2008. The purpose of the Dialogue is to produce agreement that will improve the free movement of goods between the two. U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) said, “Following the Kosovo government’s actions to enforce its embargo, and efforts by KFOR peacekeepers to resolve differences on the ground, Serb hardliners launched an armed attack that included the burning of one of the border facilities, and reportedly threatened non-Serb neighborhoods in northern Kosovo. These acts of violence can threaten the lives of all ethnic groups and have no place in the quest for a just and lasting reconciliation in Kosovo. Particularly in Kosovo, where members of all ethnic groups have suffered so much from violence, any and all acts and threats of violence must be monitored closely by peacekeepers.  I welcome the quick response of KFOR forces thus far as they seek to put an end to this confrontation.” “Earlier this month in Belgrade, the message I heard from Serbian officials about the Dialogue was positive, but these recent events demonstrate just how delicate the situation really is,” added Senator Ben Cardin (MD), U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman.  “Both parties must return to the negotiating table immediately and work out their differences there.   Fomenting a violent confrontation is not the way to find agreement, nor is it the way to build trust or ease the many burdens the people in this part of Kosovo already face.”

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ON U.S. POLICY TOWARDS THE OSCE

    WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: “U.S. Policy and the OSCE: Making Good on Commitments” Thursday July 28, 2011 1:30 p.m. 210 Cannon House Office Building The OSCE region faces many challenges, including unresolved conflicts, ethnic tension, corruption and lack of good governance, racism and intolerance, and trafficking in persons. Challenges also include authoritarian regimes which fail to respect freedom of media, expression, assembly, association, and religion, and also obstruct the work of civil society and human rights defenders in their countries. The 2010 OSCE summit – the Organization’s first in ten years – reconfirmed commitment to the OSCE principles enshrined in prior decisions but was not able to agree on what the OSCE’s priorities and future work should be.  The upcoming Ministerial meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, will provide a second chance to set priorities. The hearing will discuss U.S. policy towards the OSCE, including the steps the Organization should take to promote participating States’ implementation of their commitments in the three dimensions of security: political-military security, economic security and human rights. It will also look at what the U.S. believes should emerge from the Vilnius Ministerial Meeting in December this year.  Witnesses: Assistant Secretary Philip H. Gordon, U.S. Department of State Office of European and Eurasian Affairs Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner, U.S. Department of State Office of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor  Assistant Secretary Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Department of Defense Office of International Security Affairs Dr. Michael Haltzel, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins University SAIS Catherine Fitzpatrick, Consultant, Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH CALLS ATTENTION TO PLIGHT OF COPTIC CHRISTIANS IN EGYPT

    WASHINGTON – On Friday, July 22, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, held a groundbreaking hearing, “Minority At Risk: Coptic Christians in Egypt”, and the evening before, on Thursday, July 21, House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a Smith amendment promoting Coptic Human Rights to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. The July 22 hearing focused “on the question of what is happening to the Coptic Christians in Egypt… in the new country that is emerging from the revolution this spring.” Rep. Smith (NJ-04) said that, “early signs are discouraging: there has been escalation in violence against Copts, which has included the killing of dozens of Copts, firebombings, and the destruction of at least three churches.” The hearing had a special focus, Rep. Smith said, on “the widespread and credible allegations that in Egypt Coptic women and girls are subject to abduction, forced conversion to Islam, and forced marriage to Muslims. They appear to be targeted with deceptive and abusive practices, which often include violence and separate them forever, against their will, from their families,” while the Egyptian government “has completely failed to initiate credible investigations into these cases, which creates a climate of impunity for the perpetrators.” Smith urged action in support of Egyptian Copts, especially women and girls threatened with abduction, including passage of legislation authored by Rep. Frank Wolf (VA-10) to create a State Department Special Envoy to promote the religious freedom of minorities in the Middle East, designation of Egypt as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and restructuring U.S. foreign aid to Egypt. To read the Congressman’s opening statement at the hearing, click here. Witnesses at the hearing spoke passionately on the abduction of women and girls, which Michele Clark, author of a important study of the issue, estimated to number “several thousand cases a year;” Jean Maher, Representative of the French Coptic Association, concurred that “we are also sure there are thousands.” The witnesses opening testimony can be viewed here: Jean Maher, President, French Office, Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization; Representative, French Coptic Associations; Michele A. Clark, Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University, and author of the 2009 study “The Disappearance, Forced Conversion, and Forced Marriages of Coptic Christian Women in Egypt”; and Caroline Doss, J.D., Vice President, Coptic Solidarity. The hearing aired live on C-SPAN and was re-broadcast several times over the weekend. It can be viewed by clicking here. On July 21, the evening before the hearing, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved an amendment offered by Rep. Smith to address violations of human rights of the Egyptian Coptic community. The measure was unanimously approved and included in H.R. 2583, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, and now moves to the House floor. To read the Smith amendment on Egyptian Coptic Christian human rights, click here.

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD BRIEFING ON BOSNIA

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following briefing on the current situation in Bosnia: Spotlight on Bosnia - Obstacles to Progress and Recommendations for the International Response Tuesday, July 26, 2011 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. 210 Cannon House Office Building Panelists: Clifford Bond, former U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Vice President of the American University in Bosnia-Herzegovina Kurt Bassuener, Senior Associate, Democratization Policy Council Nida Gelazis, Senior Associate, European Studies Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Bosnian politics have deteriorated in recent years. Since the October 2010 elections, the political parties have been unable to reach agreement on the formation of a new governing coalition at the state level. Bosnian politics today are marked by increased nationalist rhetoric, which sometimes threatens the country’s peace, stability and territorial integrity, and the parties’ unwillingness to work constructively with the representatives of the international community. Though Bosnia has made considerable progress in its recovery from the brutal conflict which began in early 1992 and lasted until the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in late 1995, the parties have failed in their attempts to move beyond Dayton compromises, which, though needed to end the conflict, have hindered the efficient and effective government needed to achieve Euro-Atlantic and European integration. The briefing will look at the sources of the political impasse and examine possible courses of action for the international community.      

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION WELCOMES ARREST OF HADZIC IN SERBIA

    WASHINGTON —The U.S. Helsinki Commission leadership welcomed the arrest of Goran Hadzic in Serbia. Following the arrest by Serbian authorities of Ratko Mladic on May 26, Hadzic was the only still at-large indictee facing charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), located in The Hague. He was indicted in July 2004 for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Croats and other non-Serbs in Croatia beginning in 1991. “While twenty years has been a long time for Hadzic’s victims to wait, I hope that those who lost so much – their homes, neighborhoods, and perhaps family and friends – will have a sense of justice in knowing he will finally have to account for his crimes,” said Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman. “In September 1991, I visited the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia, including Osijek and Vukovar when it was still under siege, and saw firsthand the incredible devastation which is the basis for the charges against Hadzic and his cohorts in The Hague. I will never forget the pulverized churches and other buildings, the injured defenders coming into the hospital, and the civilians huddled in underground shelters for weeks.” “Cooperation by all Western Balkan countries with the Tribunal has been a foreign policy priority for me since the 1990s,” remarked Senator Ben Cardin (MD), U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman. “Serbia’s cooperation, while improving, remained problematic over the years, but when I visited Belgrade earlier this month I felt the country was genuinely trying to remove the last vestiges of the extreme nationalist sentiment that has dominated the country’s politics for far too long. Serbia’s reluctance to change course certainly held their nation back from where it should be regarding European integration, but the arrest of Hadzic confirms a solid commitment to change. I encourage Serbian officials to continue to do the right thing for their country and its neighbors.”    

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ENTITLED "MINORITY AT RISK: COPTIC CHRISTIANS IN EGYPT"

    WASHINGTON –The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: “Minority at Risk: Coptic Christians in Egypt” Friday, July 22, 2011 9:30 a.m. 210 Cannon House Office Building Simmering discontent in the Republic of Egypt, an OSCE Mediterranean Partner for Cooperation, erupted earlier this year into popular upheaval and mass protests leading to the end of Hosni Mubarak’s 29-year long rule.  The turbulent transition following Egypt’s revolution offers potential promise as well as the very real prospect for instability.  Against the backdrop of revolutionary turmoil and tensions, members of minority communities often find themselves at particular risk.  The role and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and militant Islamic groups in post-revolution Egypt remain open an question and a source of some concern.  Violent attacks targeting Coptic Christians and their churches have escalated.  The tense situation has also renewed concerns over reports of disappearances, forced conversions and forced marriages of Coptic Christian women and girls. Witnesses: Jean Maher, President, French Office, Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization; Representative, French Coptic Associations Michele A. Clark, Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University Caroline Doss, JD, Vice President, Coptic Solidarity (*new witness*)

  • HOUSE OK’S SMITH BILL ON BELARUS

    WASHINGTON –Support for people struggling to obtain basic human rights in Belarus—often called Europe’s last dictatorship—came today in the form of the House of Representatives passage of the Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011. The bill, H.R. 515, sponsored by Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04), calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus, including those jailed in the December 19, 2010, post-election crackdown, and refuses to recognize the results of the flawed election. “The repressive regime in Belarus was in full force earlier this week as police broke up protestors attempting to mark their country’s independence day,” said Smith, who is also chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee panel that oversees human rights. “Hundreds were detained, including independent journalists reporting on rallies held across the country. “H.R. 515 states a U.S. government policy of strong support for the Belarusian people in their struggle against the Lukashenka dictatorship, aspiring to live in a free and independent country where their human rights are respected, they can choose their government, and officials apply just laws that they themselves are subject to,” said Smith. “This bill encourages those struggling for decency and basic rights against the overwhelming pressures from the anti-democratic regime.” To view Chairman Smith’s floor remarks, click here. The bill, which passed last night in a voice vote, requires the administration to report to Congress on the Belarusian government’s activities in selling arms abroad, censorship or surveillance of the Internet, and the personal assets and wealth of Lukashenka and other senior leadership figures. It also states the sense of the Congress that the administration should deny entry into the U.S. of Belarusian senior government officials, as well as their immediate family members and business partners, and members of the security services involved in the post-election crackdown. The measure also supports provisions prohibiting U.S. government financing, except for humanitarian goods and non-humanitarian loans from international financial institutions, such as the IMF, to the Belarusan government; and blocking assets owned by the Belarusian government senior leadership or their families and others involved in human rights violations. H.R. 515 supports radio, television and Internet broadcasting to Belarus, specifically Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, European Radio for Belarus and the satellite television station Belsat.  The fraudulent December 2010 elections and the more recent brutal crackdown follow the pattern of repression that has characterized Aleksandr Lukashenka’s nearly 17-year rule. During a Helsinki Commission visit to Minsk in June 2009, Smith and then-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and other Commissioners pressed Lukashenka directly on his dismal human rights record and denial of democratic freedoms. Smith authored the Belarus Democracy Acts of 2004 and of 2006; both bills passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and were signed into law.

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ON INTERNET FREEDOM

    WASHINGTON –The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today a hearing on Internet Freedom in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region: “The Promises We Keep Online: Internet Freedom in the OSCE Region” Friday, July 15, 2011 10:00 a.m. 210 Cannon House Office Building The hearing will examine the current trends in Internet governance in the OSCE region, with a particular focus on Belarus, Russia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia. The hearing is precipitated by recent arrests of bloggers, blocking of websites, online intimidation and surveillance of peaceful political activists, aggressive denial of service attacks, and other acts by OSCE Participating states that deter citizens from using the Internet as a forum for receiving and sharing information. Specifically, the hearing will address whether or not these countries are meeting international standards and OSCE commitments on freedom of expression and information in the online environment. Witnesses Scheduled to Appear: Dr. Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State Ms. Dunja Mijatovic, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media The Honorable David J. Kramer, President, Freedom House Mr. Rafal Rohozinski, Senior Scholar, Canada Center for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab (University of Toronto) Mr. Ivan Sigal, Executive Director, Global Voices

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION LEADERSHIP SEES GOALS REALIZED AT INTER-PARLIAMENTARY MEETING

    WASHINGTON —During the course of the Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), held in Belgrade, Serbia, from July 6-10, 2011, two resolutions introduced by Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and one by Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD) were among the 26 resolutions adopted and incorporated in the session’s final declaration. Senator Cardin also fielded several amendments to various resolutions which were adopted, and he used the occasion of the meeting to comment on issues of importance in U.S. foreign policy. The schedule for the U.S. House of Representatives precluded Representative Smith from attending the Belgrade meeting, but both of his resolutions were well-received by the parliamentarians and were successfully managed on his behalf by the heads of the Lithuanian and Italian delegations. The first resolution dealt with combating labor trafficking in supply chains, urging governments to ensure that all goods they procure are free from raw materials and finished products produced by trafficked labor and to press corporations to verify that their supply chains are free of exploitation. Two amendments authored by Senator Cardin welcomed a recent OSCE meeting on the issue and urged diplomats to put it on the agenda for a meeting of foreign ministers later this year. “Few of us have ever come face-to-face with a trafficking victim,” noted Chairman Smith in welcoming the resolution’s passage, “but all of us come into contact with products that have been tainted in whole or in part by forced and bonded labor. We must be vigilant to ensure that we do not profit those who enslave others. This resolution, adopted without opposition, promotes accountability, both in government and the private sector.” The second Smith resolution focused on international parental child abductions and passed without amendment. Its core focus was to press OSCE states to become parties to the 1983 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and to implement its provisions. “The growing incidence of international parental child abduction must be recognized for the serious human rights abuse that it is,” Chairman Smith remarked as he welcomed the passage of the widely supported resolution which “puts the issue on the agenda of the OSCE and helps to strengthen efforts to protect our children.” Co-Chairman Cardin’s major initiative was a resolution on Mediterranean political transition, which directs the OSCE and its participating States to make their expertise in building democratic institutions available to Mediterranean Partner States: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. The Senator collaborated with the head of the Spanish delegation on numerous additional amendments to demonstrate the real priority this should be for the organization, and the initiative received wide praise among the approximately 300 delegates.   “We have all been inspired by the movements for freedom and change sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa,” Senator Cardin noted while introducing the resolution, “and we support the citizens of the countries in the region as they demand respect for their basic human rights, economic opportunity, and open and responsive government…the OSCE and our Parliamentary Assembly have substantial capacity to assist our Mediterranean  Partners…we also must condemn in the strongest terms the unbridled violence unleashed by the governments of Libya and Syria against their own citizens.” As Head of the U.S. delegation, which included fellow Helsinki Commissioner Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Senator Cardin also worked on several detailed issues, such as amending the final declaration to include welcoming the arrest in Serbia of at-large war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic and to discourage an investigation of trafficking in human organ from becoming a political rather than legal issue. He also successfully added language to the text urging Turkey to allow the reopening of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay. During the course of debate, the Senator also suggested granting Mediterranean Partner countries a greater ability to participate in OSCE PA sessions, and highlighted U.S. policy on cyber security in light of OSCE work on this important issue.

  • Helsinki Commission to Screen Award-Winning Documentary

    WASHINGTON –The U.S. Helsinki Commission will screen the winner of this year’s Silverdoc’s Award for Best U.S. Feature.  Shot over the course of four years, the film “Our School” follows the attempt to integrate isolated rural Roma (or Gypsy) children into the mainstream school system of Romania.  Focusing on seven-year-old Alin, 12-year-old Beni and 16-year-old Dana, this fascinating film takes an unflinching look at the challenges of a longstanding tradition of prejudice.    Following the screening of the film there will be a panel discussion.  “Our School” Wednesday, June 29, 2011 2:00 p.m. 1539 Longworth House Office Building Panelists: Costel Bercus, Chair of the Roma Education Fund Board Serban Brebenel, Embassy of Romania Mona Nicoara, Director and Producer About the Film Our School follows three Romani children in a rural Transylvanian village who are among the pioneer participants in an initiative to integrate the ethnically segregated Romanian schools. When their district is ordered desegregated, Alin, Benjamin, and Dana set out for the city school, optimistic for education and new friendships, even as funds earmarked for integration are questionably used to build a "Roma-only" school in their village.  Their story touches on issues ranging from institutionalized racism, public education, and the intractability of poverty, and culminates in an unexpected outcome. Background Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe and have historically suffered widespread4discrimination.  In some areas, Roma were enslaved before 1865.  During World War II, they were the victims of genocide.  Romani organizations consistently identify equal access to education as essential for improving all aspects of life.  In several countries (including the Czech Republic, Croatia, and Greece), Romani families have sued their governments before the highest human rights court in Europe in an effort to end desegregation.  Many Romani groups have taken inspiration from the U.S. civil rights movement and the 2007 case, D.H. and Others v. the Czech Republic, is often compared to Brown v. Board of Education. Nevertheless, as in the United States, it is not always clear what measures will definitively lead to equal access to education, and sometimes efforts to improve education have unintended consequences.  

  • Co-Chairman Cardin on Russian Elections

    WASHINGTON –Today, U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) made the following statement regarding the Russian Ministry of Justice’s Refusal to Register the Party of People’s Freedom: “The refusal of Russian authorities to register the People’s Freedom Party yesterday was an early and serious indication that December’s parliamentary elections may not be free and fair.  We’ve heard the recent rhetoric about the importance of authentic competition, but this decision appeared to contradict the government’s commitment to a real contest.  I welcome today’s reports that this decision may be reconsidered and urge the Government of Russia to recommit itself to the cause of freedom and democracy.  As a member of numerous prestigious international organizations, including the OSCE, Russia has freely undertaken binding obligations concerning elections.  These obligations do not begin and end on Election Day, but include a full range of issues from ensuring ballot access to a campaign environment where candidates and voters are free to exercise the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association.  Russian TV – the only media reaching the vast majority of potential voters – also must reflect more than the opinions of those in power.  Otherwise citizens are denied their rightful participation in the reality and future of their own country.”

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Ethnic Violence in Kyrgyzstan

    WASHINGTON– The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on the violence that took place in southern Kyrgyzstan one year ago, as well as continuing human rights abuses and reconciliation efforts. The hearing will focus on the report of the International Commission of Inquiry into the Events in Southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010 (KIC) - which concluded that some acts committed could constitute crimes against humanity if proven in a court of law – and in particular its recommendations to address the current situation. “Addressing Ethnic Tension in Kyrgyzstan”  Wednesday June 22, 2011 1:00 p.m. 2118 Rayburn House Office Building During four days in June, 2011, ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks clashed in the southern region of Osh, leaving some 470 dead and over 400,000 displaced.  Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed. Although international assistance prevented a humanitarian disaster, rebuilding has barely started. Human rights abuses continue and ethnic nationalism is on the rise. An independent international investigative report released last month made numerous recommendations to the Government of Kyrgyzstan about addressing the serious ethnic situation.  So far, the reaction by the Kyrgyz authorities has been mixed, and it is unclear which proposals Bishkek will accept. In this complicated atmosphere, Kyrgyzstan is also facing presidential elections this fall, the final step in putting in place a new governmental system following the revolution that overthrew former President Bakiyev in April 2010. The hearing will discuss ways rising ethnic tension can be addressed and further violence prevented, as well as the potential influence of domestic and international factors. Witnesses: Mr. Kimmo Kiljunen, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry into the Events in Southern Kyrgyzstan in June 2010 (via video link) His Excellency Muktar Djumaliev, Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United States Dr. Martha Olcott, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Dr. Alisher Khamidov, Professorial Lecturer, Johns Hopkins University (SAIS)

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Demographic Trends in the OSCE Region

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to examine the demographic trends in OSCE participating States and the implications for the security, as well as the economic and social developments in the region. “2050: Implications of Demographic Trends in the OSCE Region” June 20, 2011 2:00 p.m.         Room 2247, Rayburn House Office Building The hearing will focus on the implications of current demographic trends in the expansive OSCE region through the prism of the security, economic and human dimensions.  Most of the OSCE’s 56 participating states are experiencing varying stages of demographic decline, marked by diminishing and rapidly aging populations. Such patterns will likely have significant social, economic and security consequences for countries throughout the region, including the United States.  Shrinking workforces in a growing number of participating States are expected to become increasingly dependent upon foreign workers in the coming decades.  Meanwhile, several OSCE countries are already witnessing dramatic changes in the pool of potential recruits for military service.  These and other factors could contribute to mounting social tensions as demonstrated by clashes in some participating States in recent years.   Witnesses Invited to Testify: Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy, the American Enterprise Institute Jack A. Goldstone, Virginia E. and John T. Hazel, Jr. Professor; Director, Center for Global Policy, George Mason University Richard Jackson, Director and Senior Fellow, Global Aging Initiative, Center for Strategic and International Studies Steven W. Mosher, President, Population Research Institute

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