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Press Releases

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

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  • CHAIRMAN CARDIN’S STATEMENT ON INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR THE ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

    WASHINGTON - Today, the Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following statement commemorating the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: “As incidents of racial discrimination continue to plague the OSCE region, I call on world leaders to come together to do more. Last year the OSCE was poised to adopt a Ministerial Decision to strengthen efforts to combat racism and xenophobia that would have furthered North American and European efforts to address the problem. Not only is a revival of that agreement needed, but also a global effort that capacitates governments, the civil society, and private sector to address racism, prejudice, and discrimination. As our countries become more diverse, the stabilities of our democracies, economies, and security will likewise become dependent on strengthening policies that support inclusion and capitalize on diversity alongside anti-discrimination policies.”   “With the focus of this year’s theme for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Racism in Sport, I am reminded that a focus on anti-discrimination and diversity issues in the management of sports has been instrumental in curbing ethnic and gender biases not only in the sports arena, but also wider society in my own country. Additionally, a 2011 OSCE meeting on the topic revealed heightened incidents of discrimination experienced by persons of African descent in sport, including monkey chants in soccer stadiums, stereotypes of enhanced athletic ability, exclusion from leadership opportunities, and being targets of violent hate crimes around sporting events. This issue in addition to continuing manifestations of anti-Semitism and xenophobia displayed at soccer and other sporting events must be addressed.”   “Continuing discrimination against Roma, the rise of xenophobic political platforms, and almost daily racist incidents in sport, are a constant reminder that the global community has more work to do in this area. As we commemorate this year's International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I echo the words of the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in supporting the creation of a global fund to fight intolerance and foster inclusion. Providing the necessary funding is a way the global community can effectively move beyond words to actions to eradicate this problem be it in sports or other sectors of our societies.”     The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is observed annually on March 21, following the UN General Assembly’s 1966 recognition of the deaths of 69 demonstrators protesting apartheid in South Africa killed by police on March 21, 1960.

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ON HUNGARY

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing: The Trajectory of Democracy – Why Hungary Matters Tuesday, March 19, 2013 3:00 p.m.   Capitol Visitor Center, Room SVC 210 (Senate side) Over the past two years, Hungary has instituted sweeping and controversial changes, prompting the European Commission and Council of Europe jointly to express concern regarding the rule of law in Hungary. Concerns about the erosion of democratic safeguards in Hungary have coincided with a rise in extremism. This hearing will examine Hungary’s constitutional changes with a particular view to the independence of the judiciary, present-day Hungary’s relationship to its Holocaust-era past, and the implications of Hungary’s sweeping legal changes for civil society, including an independent media and religious organizations. Scheduled to testify: **Mr. Brent Hartley, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State **The Honorable Jozsef Szajer, Hungarian Member of the European Parliament, Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Union Dr. Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University Ms. Sylvana Habdank-Kolaczkowska, Freedom House Dr. Paul A. Shapiro, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

  • CHAIRMAN CARDIN MOURNS THE PASSING OF AMBASSADOR MAX M. KAMPELMAN

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), issued the following statement today: It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Ambassador Max Kampelman, long-time friend of the Helsinki Commission and a champion of human rights and democracy.  Ambassador Kampelman had a long and storied career spanning more than half a century, and the Helsinki Commission was fortunate to have worked with him as a partner during many of those years. Max Kampelman led U.S. negotiating teams during some of the most difficult periods of U.S.-Soviet relations.  Whether he was working for the release of Soviet refuseniks or imprisoned Solidarity trade unionists in Poland, his calm and understated demeanor covered a resolve of steel and set of principles that never wavered from true north. His contributions to the achievement of U.S. foreign policy goals were considerable, but he is owed a special debt of gratitude for his stewardship of the U.S. team in 1990 in Copenhagen.  As head of the delegation to that historic human rights meeting, he played a pivotal role in securing agreement on the first international instrument to recognize the specific problem of anti-Semitism and the human rights problems faced by Roma.  Moreover, at a moment when Europe stood at a crossroads, Max Kampelman negotiated standards on democracy and the rule of law that remain unmatched. It was a privilege for me and so many of my colleagues to work with a great and good man, whose example reminded us every day:  this is what leadership looks like.

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION BRIEFING: THE STATE-SANCTIONED MARGINALIZATION OF CHRISTIANS IN WESTERN EUROPE

    WASHINGTON —The Helsinki Commission hosted a briefing in Washington, D.C. on “The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western Europe” in order to look more closely at recent reports and studies showing an alarming rise in social and governmental hostility toward religion in general—and Christianity in particular—in Western Europe. This briefing follows seminars on the same topic held in the European Parliament and by the OSCE in Vienna and Rome. The Helsinki Commission was briefed by Professor Tom Farr, Dr. Roger Trigg, and Roger Kiska. Professor Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, noted a three-year Pew Forum study that shows “of all the regions of the world, social hostilities toward religion are rising most rapidly, not in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia, but in Europe.” The study ranks the United Kingdom 17th out of 200 countries in social hostilities toward religion. Germany was ranked 23rd and France 25th. Professor Farr explained that these countries also showed significant increases in government restrictions on religion: “Between 2007 and 2010 government restrictions in the UK increased by 63%, in France by 20%, and in Germany by 23%.” Professor Farr underscored how the current state of affairs is in tension with Europe’s history as the intellectual birthplace of religious freedom, as well as with its commitment to democracy. Dr. Roger Trigg, Academic Director, Kellogg Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Oxford University and Associate Scholar of Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University noted with concern the growing European trend to pit human rights against religious freedom. He observed that the English courts are now, through the Human Rights Act of 1998 and the Equality Act of 2010, placing “more importance on ‘equality,’ and tend to enforce non-discrimination on grounds of race, sex, and sexual orientation, rather than because of religion.” Dr. Trigg emphasized that, historically, Britain and the United States did not “see religion on the one hand, human rights on the other,” but rather “rights as growing out of religion”—particularly the right to equality. “We are equal because we are equal in the sight of God. We are free because God has given us free will,” Dr. Trigg explained.    Roger Kiska, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has intervened in four religious freedom cases from the UK currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights, noted that in all four cases, “the applicants…were fired or pushed out of their jobs because they sought reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs where such accommodations were fairly de minimus and absolutely no business hardship would have occurred.”  Kiska also noted the censorship of the cross and other religious symbols from the public square, growing restrictions on parental rights in the area of the education of their children, and limitation on free expression—including religious expression—through “hate speech” laws.             The full transcript of the briefing can be found on the Helsinki Commission Web site. 

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH RESPONDS TO BRITISH GOVERNMENT RELEASE OF FINUCANE REPORT

    WASHINGTON —In response to the release today of Sir Desmond de Silva’s report on his review of papers relating to the 1989 murder in Northern Ireland of human rights attorney Patrick Finucane, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), released the following statement: The release of this report in no way fulfills the British government’s promise, which it freely undertook in the 2001 Weston Park Agreement, to conduct a public inquiry regarding collusion in the Finucane murder if so recommended by former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory.  Justice Cory formally recommended such an inquiry in 2004. Since that time the British government has delayed. It has changed its law on public inquiries, so as to give it political control over what in 2001 was a judicial process. It has insulted the Finucane family by calling to London, for a meeting with Prime Minister Cameron, the widow of the man in whose death it admits shocking collusion, only to tell her it will not fulfill its promise. To his credit, the Prime Minister has apologized. But to acknowledge such a serious official crime, yet to say that there will not be an independent judicial investigation nor will those ultimately responsible for this crime be punished, is a grotesque injustice. The British government is a respected friend and ally, yet Sir Desmond de Silva’s document review is in no sense the equivalent of, or substitute for, the public inquiry that was promised in 2001. A public judicial inquiry is owed to the Finucane family and to the people of Northern Ireland. It is a solemn promise, and remains critical to the peace process in Northern Ireland. Time is important in bringing closure to all, and the net effect of the review of papers has been a year’s further delay. Once again I urge Prime Minister Cameron to call a public inquiry now as a demonstration of his personal commitment to justice.  Rep. Smith has chaired 13 congressional hearings on the Northern Ireland justice and peace process, many of them focusing on issues of police reform and government collusion in the crimes of paramilitary organizations. Four of Rep. Smith’s bills and resolutions have been passed addressing the British government’s role in the murder of Pat Finucane, most recently H. Con. Res. 20 (110th Congress).

  • GOOD GOVERNANCE DECLARATION STRENGTHENS OSCE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION AND TERRORISM

    WASHINGTON —At the Dublin Ministerial Council meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on December 7, the 57 participating States of the organization agreed to pursue greater cooperation in combating corruption and fighting terrorism in the OSCE region. “This declaration is a step toward more effective good governance programs, which will promote greater security and rule of law throughout the OSCE region. Particularly worthwhile is the declaration’s emphasis on preventing criminals from transferring money and on freedom of information in public procurement transactions,” said Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission). “It is only unfortunate that, for the second year in a row, the organization wasn’t able to achieve necessary consensus for a declaration pertaining to human rights, such as media freedom.” “This declaration is important to the work of the OSCE because for the first time we have a comprehensive document that provides a framework for the OSCE’s work in combating corruption,” said Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission, “and I am particularly pleased that in this declaration the participating States have acknowledged the importance of transparency in combating corruption and specifically called out the work of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). I also want to thank fellow Commissioner and Commerce Assistant Secretary Michael Camuñez, who played an integral role in developing and advancing this declaration across the finish line.” “Reinforcing the OSCE’s commitment to good governance and the fight against corruption is essential to attracting investment, driving economic growth, and promoting trade in the OSCE region,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael Camuñez, who concurrently serves as an Executive Branch Commissioner on the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Camuñez, who has helped elevate the Commission’s engagement on the Economic and Environmental Dimension of the OSCE, said “This declaration will also empower the OSCE field missions to assist participating States in their good governance commitments to help promote greater transparency and the rule of law in the region.”  The declaration, formally titled, “Ministerial Council declaration on Strengthening Good Governance and Combating Corruption, Money-Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism,” is one of five declarations agreed to by consensus of the participating States in Dublin. The declaration recognizes the role that good governance plays in furthering “economic growth, political stability, and security,” and calls on the OSCE to play a greater role in fostering good governance through increased efforts in combating corruption and money laundering. Achieving the declaration has been a priority for the Commission and benefited from the active participation of Commissioner Camuñez in pushing forward the concept of good governance within the OSCE.

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD BRIEFING ON STATE-SANCTIONED MARGINALIZATION OF CHRISTIANS IN WESTERN EUROPE

    WASHINGTON –The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing: The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western Europe Monday, December 10, 2012 2:00 pm Room B318 Rayburn House Office Building Reports from Western Europe raise the question whether it has become an increasingly hostile place for Christian religious practice or presence outside the four walls of a church – and whether  governments are involved in or support the marginalization of Christians.  Most prominent was the 2004 case in which the European Union openly denied Italian Minister for European Politics Rocco Buttiglione a position as European Commissioner due to his adherence to Catholic moral teaching.  Reports also indicate that the marginalization of Christians occurs through subtle changes in law and policy that drive Christian expression off the public square or signal that Christians are not welcome on the square. In recent months four British Christians filed petitions with the European Court of Human Rights after they were denied reasonable religious accommodation in the workplace first by their respective employers, and then by the UK courts.  This briefing will examine reports of the Western European movement toward state-sanctioned marginalization of Christians. It will further analyze the origins, methods, and implications of such a movement and its relation to religious freedom rights as they are protected in major international human rights agreements. The Following Witnesses are scheduled to Present: Roger Kiska, Legal Counsel, Aliance Defending Freedom (Vienna, Austria) Professor Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown University Dr. Roger Trigg, Academic Director, Kellogg Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life, Oxford University and Associate Scholar, Religious Freedom Project, Georgetown University

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH WELCOMES MONGOLIA INTO THE OSCE

    WASHINGTON — Welcoming Mongolia’s successful application to join the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as a participating State, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation (U.S. Helsinki Commission), said, “Mongolia has been an active partner with the OSCE as an Asian Partner for Cooperation since 2004 and by establishing a framework for cooperation with like-minded countries such as Mongolia, the OSCE is able to further its mandate particularly in addressing security threats and conflict prevention. We congratulate Mongolia for not only its accomplishments to date, including joining the OSCE, but also for its aspirations of strengthening its democratic development.” Mongolia became the OSCE’s 57th participating State on November 21. The OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization, working to ensure peace, democracy and stability for more than a billion people in Europe, Asia and North America. The decision to welcome Mongolia into the Organization was taken by consensus among the other participating States.

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD BRIEFING ON UKRAINE

    WASHINGTON —Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing: Assessing Ukraine’s Parliamentary Elections Friday, November 16, 2012 10 am – 11:30 am Room B-318 Rayburn House Office Building The OSCE and United States assessed Ukraine’s October 28 parliamentary elections as representing a step backwards compared with recent national elections and lacking a level playing field. Voters had a choice between distinct parties and the voting and counting were largely positively assessed, but the counts and tabulation in some closely contested single-mandate districts were problematic. While the ruling party along with Communist allies retains a majority, opposition parties displayed a strong showing, winning the party-list vote in Ukraine’s hybrid system. Experts from three key organizations working on the ground will examine the conduct and results of the election and their implications for Ukraine’s democratic future.  The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Olha Ajvazovska, Board Chair, Ukrainian citizen network OPORA Katie Fox, Deputy Director-Eurasia, National Democratic Institute (NDI) Stephen Nix, Regional Director, Eurasia, International Republican Institute (IRI)

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION WELCOMES UNVEILING OF BERLIN MEMORIAL FOR ROMANI GENOCIDE VICTIMS

    WASHINGTON –The Chairman and Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission welcomed the unveiling of a memorial in Berlin for the Romani victims of the Nazi regime’s genocide against the Roma.  Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, commended German Chancellor Angela Merkel for participating in this historic event and honoring the Romani people who suffered and the estimated 500,000 who perished in the genocide of WWII.   “Today marks an important step in acknowledging and teaching about the fate of Roma at the hands of the Nazi regime and the Axis powers:  persecution, confiscation of property, forced sterilization, slave labor, inhumane medical experimentation, and ultimately genocide.” Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission, noted the Commission’s long-standing support for building a memorial and stated “I commend Romani Rose, who lost so many of his own family, for his tireless work to ensure that Romani victims of genocide are remembered and honored.  I am deeply heartened that efforts to build this memorial, underway for over a decade, have finally been realized.   There is much work still to do, however, across the entire OSCE region to change the attitudes and prejudices that were at the heart of Nazi crimes.” Smith added, “Earlier this year, I chaired a hearing on the extreme violence and threats of violence against Roma which, in some countries, are actually on the rise.  Just a month ago, a Romani camp near Marseilles was burned down by a mob.  While today provides an opportunity to remember the tragic genocide of Roma, those experiences should compel us to intensify our efforts to combat today’s bigotry and acts of violence.”

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH CRITICIZES UNFAIR TRIAL OF VLADIMIR KOZLOV IN KAZAKHSTAN

    WASHINGTON – Responding to the sentencing of Kazakhstani opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), criticized the conduct of the trial and renewed his call for a serious international investigation into the December 2011 violence in Zhanaozen, Kazakhstan. “The trial against Mr. Kozlov and his codefendants Akzhanat Aminov and Serik Sapargali was unfairly conducted and appears to have had political motives,” said Chairman Smith. “Both local and international observers reported that evidence was fabricated and defense witnesses were not allowed to testify. It is especially outrageous that Kozlov’s participation in the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting last year was presented as evidence against him.” Kozlov leads the Alga party, which has long been denied registration.  He and his codefendants were found guilty on October 8 of forming an illegal group, inciting social hatred, and calling for the violent overthrow of Kazakhstan's constitutional order.  They were arrested after an almost year-long strike by oil workers which government forces violently put down in December 2011 in the town of Zhanaozen. Kozlov was sentenced to 7 ½ years in prison and confiscation of property, while his codefendants received suspended sentences. “I call on Kazakhstan – a former Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE – to stop using the Zhanaozen events to silence political opposition and allow full access for an international investigation of the events and the conduct of the trials related to them,” said Chairman Smith. “Not only was Mr. Kozlov’s trial poorly conducted, but Kazakh authorities have ignored credible evidence that, in other trials related to the Zhanaozen events, police used torture and coercion to extract confessions.” The United States government has documented numerous severe human rights violations by the government of Kazakhstan, including in the U.S. State Department’s most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (click here for 2011 report on Kazakhstan).

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD BRIEFING ON CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY IN THE TECH SECTOR

    WASHINGTON –The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing: Online Safety under Repressive Regimes: What is the Responsibility of Technology Companies? Friday, October 19, 2012 10:00 am Room 2203 Rayburn House Office Building U.S. technology companies are increasingly aware of the risks of working in repressive countries where the internet has become a tool of censorship and surveillance. How these companies respond to these risks has life and death consequences for the activists who use these important communication tools. The Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA, H.R. 3605), introduced by Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04), requires technology companies that are listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose their human rights due diligence policies. The measure is designed to provide users with information on how companies work with repressive governments so that they can safeguard their information and communications. The panel will address the current practices of tech companies, the role of the Global Network Initiative (GNI) in fostering greater transparency, as well as what additional actions companies should be taking to safeguard their users. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Amol Mehra, Coordinator, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable Susan Morgan, Executive Director, Global Network Initiative Meg Roggensack, Senior Advisor, Human Rights First

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH CALLS ON DUTCH GOVERNMENT TO CONDUCT THOROUGH INVESTIGATION OF CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING ALLEGATIONS

    WASHINGTON – Chairman Smith led a Commission briefing on sex trafficking and abuse of children—a crime that destroys the lives of the victims. Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), a member of the Commission also participated in the briefing. “The sex trafficking and abuse of children is one of the most despicable, violent crimes on earth – shattering the lives of the victims and their families – a crime from which the victims struggle for a lifetime to recover,” said Smith. “The traffickers and abusers rely on their ability to frighten a child into silence or the reluctance of adults to listen when children speak. They also use their own reputations, standing, or power in the community to prevent allegations from being properly considered and investigated.” Click here for Chairman’s Smith opening statement. The briefing addressed the question of how justice systems can most effectively respond to domestic and international allegations of child trafficking, specifically in the context of a current case in the Netherlands, where a high-level government official, Joris Demmink, the current Secretary General of the Dutch Ministry of Justice, has been accused of child sex trafficking offenses against Turkish children during his alleged visits to Turkey in the 1990s. Dutch authorities have conducted only preliminary investigations, but many have found them grossly unsatisfactory as Dutch authorities have interviewed only one of three victims and none of the available witnesses or facilitators of the alleged crime—including Turkish law enforcement who have come forward to contradict Mr. Demmink’s statements. Briefing the commission were: Adèle van der Plas, attorney for domestic and international child victims of sex trafficking, Bakker Schut & Van der Plas; Klaas Langendoen, private investigator, former Chief of the Criminal Intelligence Service, Netherlands; a survivor of child trafficking in Amsterdam, Netherlands (whose name was withheld to protect his privacy); Samantha Vardaman, Senior Director for Shared Hope International, a leading anti-child trafficking organization trying to bring attention to the Netherland case. Their statements and the unoffcial transcript are posted on the Commission Web site; the video recording of the hearing will be posted as soon as it is available.

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD BRIEFING ON CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING

    WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing:  Listening to Victims of Child Sex Trafficking Thursday, October 4, 2012 2:00 pm Room 2255 Rayburn House Office Building The sex trafficking and abuse of children is a crime that destroys the lives of the victims as well as the social fabric of society. The traffickers and abusers rely on their ability to frighten a child into silence or the reluctance of adults to listen when children speak. It is imperative that the justice system be ready to listen to allegations and to thoroughly investigate them.  The Helsinki Commission, in conjunction with the Victims’ Rights Caucus, will hold a briefing on how justice systems can most effectively respond to domestic and international allegations of child trafficking. The briefing will include a current case study in the Netherlands, where a government official has been accused of domestic and international child sex trafficking.  Dutch authorities conducted a preliminary investigation, but many have found it grossly unsatisfactory as Dutch authorities interviewed only one of three victims and none of the available witnesses or facilitators of the alleged crime was interviewed.  For more on the case study, please view the following video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmeYiR-yyS4. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Adèle van der Plas, Attorney for domestic and international child victims of sex trafficking, Bakker Schut & Van der Plas Klaas Langendoen, Private Investigator, Former Chief of the Criminal Intelligence Service, Netherland Survivor of child trafficking in Amsterdam, Netherlands  Samantha Vardaman, Senior Director for Shared Hope International ** Panelists may be added**

  • Commission Hearing on Georgia

    WASHINGTON –The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing: Georgia’s Parliamentary Election: How Free and Fair Has the Campaign Been, and How Should the U.S. Government Respond? Thursday, September 20, 2012 12:30 p.m. 2255 Rayburn House Office Building Georgia’s upcoming election will be a critical moment in the country’s development of democratic governance.  An energized opposition coalition has posed the first serious challenge in years to the ruling party. The opposition has accused the government of harassment and skewing the playing field, while the government has denied these allegations and charged opposition with violating campaign laws.  The atmosphere of the campaign and contending claims has been unusually heated, with both sides employing lobbyists to make their case in foreign capitals, especially Washington. The focus of the hearing will be on the election’s fairness during the run-up to the vote and vote count, human rights issues connected to the election, and U.S. policy in response. The administration witness, Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Melia, has just returned from leading an interagency delegation to Georgia to assess the pre-election environment. The Following Witnesses are scheduled to testify: Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Dr. Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy, Heritage Foundation Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli,   Director, Center for Black Sea-Caspian Studies at the School of International Service, American University **Dr. Archil Gegeshidze, Senior Fellow, Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies

  • “GEORGIA’S PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION: HOW FREE AND FAIR HAS THE CAMPAIGN BEEN, AND HOW SHOULD THE U.S. GOVERNMENT RESPOND?”

    WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: “Georgia’s Parliamentary Election: How Free and Fair Has the Campaign Been, and How Should the U.S. Government Respond?” Thursday, September 20, 2012 2:00 p.m. 2255 Rayburn House Office Building Georgia’s upcoming election will be a critical moment in the country’s development of democratic governance. An energized opposition coalition has posed the first serious challenge in years to the ruling party. The opposition has accused the government of harassment and skewing the playing field, while the government has denied these allegations and charged opposition with violating campaign laws. The atmosphere of the campaign and contending claims has been unusually heated, with both sides employing lobbyists to make their case in foreign capitals, especially Washington. The focus of the hearing will be on the election’s fairness during the run-up to the vote and vote count, human rights issues connected to the election, and U.S. policy in response. The administration witness, Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Melia, has just returned from leading an interagency delegation to Georgia to assess the pre-election environment. The Following Witnesses are scheduled to testify: Hon. Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Dr. Ariel Cohen, Senior Research Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy, Heritage Foundation Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli, Director, Center for Black Sea-Caspian Studies at School of International Service, American University *Additional witness may be added.

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH URGES RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT TO CANCEL PLANS FOR MILITARY EXERCISES ON GEORGIAN TERRITORY

    WASHINGTON – Responding to Russia’s planned “Caucasus 12” military exercises, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, urged the Russian Government to cancel the exercises. The Russian Government has publicly announced plans for large-scale military exercises, to be held not only in Russia but also in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – regions which are internationally recognized as Georgian territory but which the Russian government has illegally occupied and militarized since its August 2008 invasion of Georgia. The dates of the exercises are September 17-23, little more than one week before parliamentary elections in Georgia. “To hold large-scale military exercises on occupied Georgian territory is a crude intimidation stunt,” said Chairman Smith. “The Russian Government should cancel these exercises – which are contrary to the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states enshrined in the OSCE’s Helsinki Accords. In any case, the fact that the Russian Government can even contemplate holding such exercises shows that the U.S. should strengthen its engagement and support of Georgia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.”

  • LIVE WEBCAST: U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ON ESCALATION OF VIOLENCE AGAINST COPTIC WOMEN AND GIRLS IN EGYPT

    WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: “Escalating Violence Against Coptic Women and Girls: Will the New Egypt Be More Dangerous Than the Old?” Wednesday, July 18, 2012  2:00 p.m. 210 Cannon House Office Building The Commission will hold a hearing to examine evidence that, as Egypt’s political and social crisis persists, violence against Coptic women and girls is escalating, including kidnappings, forced conversions, and other human rights abuses.  According to a new report to be released at the hearing by Michele Clark, at least 550 Coptic women and girls over the last five years have been kidnapped from their communities.  The few who have been found suffered human rights abuses including forced conversion, rape, forced marriage, beatings, and domestic servitude while being held by their captors, raising the question whether developments in the new Egypt are leaving Coptic women and their families more vulnerable than ever – and what U.S. policy should be toward the developing situation.  The Following Witnesses are scheduled to testify:  Ms. Michele Clark, Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Dr. Walid Phares, Author of “The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East,” and Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Legislative Group on Counterterrorism Victim Witnesses, two Coptic women who experienced attempted kidnapping and forced conversion before they found asylum in the United States. To view the live webcast click here at the start of the hearing.

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH INTRODUCES MEASURE CALLING ON UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES TO RELEASE POLITICAL OPPOSITION LEADERS AND HOLD FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS

    WASHINGTON – Responding to the selective prosecution of opposition political leaders, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, by the Ukrainian government, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced a resolution promoting human rights and democracy in that country. The resolution demands that the Ukrainian government cease selective prosecutions, free Ms. Tymoshenko and other officials of the former government currently in prison, and act to ensure a democratic, fair and transparent election process in the run-up to the October 28, 2012, parliamentary elections.   (To read the resolution, H.Res. 730, please click here.) “Under President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine has seen an alarming decline in its democratic development,” said Rep. Smith, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. “This resolution outlines measures the Ukrainian government must take, consistent with its OSCE obligations, to reverse the backsliding. Congress has a longstanding record of supporting the Ukrainian people in building an independent, democratic Ukraine based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. Americans are profoundly interested in Ukraine’s independence and future democratic evolution.” With Ukraine’s impending leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – the country will be Chair-in-Office for 2013 – the resolution urges the Ukrainian government to take immediate measures to reverse the current anti-democratic course and display exemplary conduct, especially in human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law. To underscore the seriousness of concerns about Ukraine’s democratic regression, the resolution calls for denying U.S. visas to Ukrainian officials involved in serious human rights abuses, anti-democratic actions, such as electoral fraud, or corruption, including officials involved in the selective prosecution and persecution of political opponents. On May 17, Chairman Smith chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing addressing the upcoming elections and imprisonment of opposition leaders.  (To view Chairman Smith’s remarks and witness testimony, please click here.)

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH CONDEMNS DENIAL OF GENOCIDE IN BOSNIA, URGES INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY TO RESPOND

    WASHINGTON – Responding to a statement by Serbia’s newly elected President, Tomislav Nikolic, denying the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Helsinki Commission expressed his indignation at the offense given to the memory of the victims, and his concern at the destabilizing effect of Nikolic’s remarks. “I condemn President Nikolic’s denial that genocide took placed in Srebrenica in 1995,” said Chairman Smith.  “I’ve been to Srebrenica and seen some of the coffins of those killed laid out for burial, and met some of the mothers and surviving family – it was a heart-rending experience. President Nikolic’s genocide denial insults the dead and their families, and it defies international legal judgments based on well-known and documented fact.  For a head of state to do such a thing is reprehensible and, if he were to persevere in defying the decisions of the established legal authority that genocide did indeed take place, it could quickly erase the progress in reconciliation we have seen in recent years.  I support a Euro-Atlantic future for Serbia, but not at the expense of the most basic standards of decency for  heads of state.” Chairman Smith was the author of H.Res. 199 (109th Cong.), which was passed on June 27, 2005, stating the sense of the House of Representatives that “the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing as implemented by Serb forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 meet the terms defining the crime of genocide in Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” In 1995 the University of Sarajevo presented Chairman Smith the “Srebrenica 1995” Award in recognition of his contribution to resistance against genocide.

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH EXPRESSES GRAVE CONCERN FOR HEALTH OF JAILED IRANIAN BLOGGER

    WASHINGTON — In response to reports that Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki, an Iranian Internet freedom activist imprisoned for ‘insulting’ the Iranian supreme leader, may be close to death in his hunger strike, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) issued the following statement: “I am deeply concerned about the health of Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki, a political prisoner in Iran who is suffering from kidney problems. I urge the Iranian Government to provide Mr. Ronaghi-Maleki with the immediate and appropriate medical care that he has requested and has so far been denied. The fact that Mr. Ronaghi-Maleki is in jail at all shows what a travesty justice is in Iran today. As one of the earliest challengers of Iran’s heavy-handed censorship of the Internet, Mr. Ronaghi-Maleki came under immense political pressure and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.. This sentence should not by default become a death sentence. The purposeful deprivation of medical care for Mr. Ronaghi-Maleki and other political prisoners is a gross violation of human rights and should be stopped immediately.” “In the past few years repressive governments have transformed the Internet from a freedom plaza to a dictator’s best friend. 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 Iran, 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.” Chairman Smith is the sponsor of the Global Online Freedom Act of 2012 (H.R. 3605). The bill is 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.

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD BRIEFING ON ELECTIONS IN THE CAUCASUS

    WASHINGTON —Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing: Democratization in the Caucasus: Elections in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia Wednesday, May 23, 2012 2:00-4:00 p.m. 334 Cannon House Office Building The latest round of elections in the Caucasus has begun.  Armenia held parliamentary elections on May 6; Georgia’s parliamentary election follows in October, and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will hold presidential elections in 2013.  Controversy has surrounded elections in the region in the past and may do so again, given political polarization and problematic government-opposition relations in all three countries.  This briefing will look at how far free and fair elections have come in the Caucasus, and what the United States can do to promote progress in upcoming elections. Panelists Scheduled to Appear: Tom de Waal, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Dr. Cory Welt, Associate Director, Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, George Washington University Christopher Walker, Vice President for Strategy and Analysis, Freedom House Stephen B. Nix, Regional Director, Eurasia, International Republican Institute (IRI) Anthony Bowyer, Program Manager, Caucasus and Central Asia, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT UKRAINIAN ELECTION PREPARATION, IMPRISONMENT OF OPPOSITION LEADERS

    WASHINGTON – “Given Ukraine’s democratic backsliding under Viktor Yanukovych, we have reason to be concerned about the pre-election climate and watchful for attempts to skew the conditions in which the campaigns will be conducted,” said Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) at a May 17 hearing he chaired of  the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The hearing addressed the electoral framework and events that are already shaping, and potentially skewing, Ukraine’s scheduled October parliamentary elections. “Especially disconcerting – and disgusting – is the unjust imprisonment of political opposition leaders, former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko, removing their participation in the elections and casting a shadow over the entire election process,” said Smith.  “Unless they and other senior former government officials are released from prison and restored to their full political and civil rights, the October elections will, by the very fact of their imprisonment, be tainted.”  Testifying at the hearing from Kyiv via skype was Yevhenia Tymoshenko, daughter of Yuliya Tymoshenko, who told the Commission of fears for her mother’s life in the hospital where she is currently receiving treatment and called for continued pressure on the Ukrainian authorities to release political opposition figures. Also testifying at the hearing were David Kramer, President, Freedom House, Stephen B. Nix, Regional Director, Eurasia, International Republican Institute (IRI), Katie Fox, Deputy Director, Eurasia, National Democratic Institute (NDI),[1] Gavin Weise, Deputy Director, Europe and Asia, International Foundation for Electoral Systems   (IFES).  Witnesses examined the potential impact on the upcoming elections of Ukraine’s democratic backsliding, including the consolidation of power in the presidency, pressures on the media, civil society, and the opposition, especially selective prosecution of political opponents. Witnesses also discussed the legal framework and administration of the elections, ways to restore credibility to the electoral process, gave recommendations for policymakers, and described the work of their organizations with civil society and political parties in Ukraine.   To read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks and the testimony of witnesses, please click here.

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH CALLS INTERNET A “WEAPON OF MASS SURVEILLANCE” IN THE HANDS OF REPRESSIVE GOVERNMENTS

    WASHINGTON –Addressing a Capitol Hill audience on Thursday, May 10, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that American technologies were enabling repressive governments like China and Iran to turn the Internet into a “weapon of mass surveillance.” “In 2006 I held the first major hearing on Internet freedom,” Rep. Smith said. “Even in 2006 the technologies to track, monitor, block, filter, trace, remove, attack, hack, and remotely take over Internet activity, content and users allowed the Chinese government to massively censor and surveil the Internet. Just as disturbing was the involvement of Western companies and technology… that enabled the Chinese, as well as the Iranian and other governments to transform the Internet into a `weapon of mass surveillance.’” (Click here to read Cong. Smith’s remarks about internet freedom.) The Thursday event, hosted by the Center for a New American Security, highlighted the need for the U.S. to focus on global internet freedom as a foreign policy priority.  Joining Chairman Smith at the event was Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), co-chair of the Senate Global Internet Freedom Caucus. Smith said he believes the Global Online Freedom Act of 2012 (H.R. 3605) will ensure that U.S. companies are not complicit in human rights abuses abroad. He introduced this legislation in December and in March it was passed by the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights. (Click here to read the amended text of H.R. 3605.) “This legislation is now even more relevant because…technological developments have given repressive governments even more control over the Internet in their countries,” Smith said. The Global Online Freedom Act requires the State Department to identify by name Internet-restricting countries. It also 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. The Global Online Freedom Act has been supported by Yahoo! and many leading human rights organizations, including Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and Access. (Click here to read Yahoo!’s letter of support; click here to read letters of support from human rights NGOs.)

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD BRIEFING ON POLITICAL PRISONERS IN CENTRAL ASIA

    WASHINGTON – The United States Helsinki Commission announced today a briefing on the situation of political prisoners in Central Asia. “Political Prisoners in Central Asia” Tuesday, May 15, 2012 2:00 p.m. Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2203 Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have some of the highest numbers of political prisoners in the former Soviet Union. While each country in Central Asia is different, there are worrying trends among all five.  In Uzbekistan, human rights activists, journalists, and members of certain religious groups fall victim to restrictive laws and policies. In Turkmenistan, would-be political opposition and human rights activists are targeted. In Kyrgyzstan, trials following ethnic violence in June 2010 have been biased against ethnic Uzbeks and human rights activists supporting them. Tajikistan has enacted a restrictive religion law, and Kazakhstan has arrested political opposition figures in the wake of a violent crackdown on protesters late last year. While some governments claim that ensuring stability and fighting extremism are paramount, laws restricting political participation, independent journalism, civil society, and freedom of religion may have the opposite effect. This briefing will look at these trends, as well as the conditions under which such prisoners are kept. Witnesses: Dr. Sanjar Umarov, Chairman of the Sunshine Coalition and former political prisoner Cathy Cosman, Senior Policy Analyst, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom ** BRIEFER ADDED: Muzaffar Suleymanov, Europe and Central Asia Research Associate, Committee to Protect Journalists

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

    WASHINGTON —Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing: Ukraine’s Upcoming Elections: A Pivotal Moment Thursday, May 17, 2012 2pm -3:30 pm 210 Cannon House Office Building Ukraine will hold parliamentary elections in October. Under President Victor Yanukovych, Ukraine has experienced democratic regression, including the unjust imprisonment of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and other senior members of her government. There are widespread concerns that the upcoming elections—in contrast to the four previous national elections—will not meet international standards. Experts from three key organizations working in Ukraine will discuss their work with political parties, civil society and domestic observers ahead of the elections, the electoral framework, as well as the broader political context. Panelists Scheduled to Appear: Stephen B. Nix, Regional Director, Eurasia, International Republican Institute (IRI) Katie Fox, Deputy Director, Eurasia, National Democratic Institute (NDI) Gavin Weise, Deputy Director, Europe and Asia, International Foundation for Electoral Systems   (IFES)

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH RESPONDS TO RELEASE OF TWO BELARUSIAN POLITICAL PRISONERS—CALLS FOR INCREASED EFFORTS TO SECURE THE RELEASE OF OTHERS

    WASHINGTON — Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, issued the following statement on the April 14 release from prison of former Belarusian presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau and his campaign manager Zmitser Bandarenka: “The release of political prisoners Andrei Sannikau and Zmitser Bandarenka, following 16 months of incarceration, is a step in the right direction. The Government of Belarus must take the next step and immediately and unconditionally release all of the remaining political prisoners, including Mikalai Statkevich, Ales Bialiatski, Syarhei Kavalenka, Zmitser Dashkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, Mikalai Autukhovich, Eduard Lobau, Mikalai Dziadok and others, and guarantee the full restoration of their civil and political rights. The Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011, which the President signed into law on January 4, calls on the International Ice Hockey Federation to suspend its plan to hold the 2014 International World Ice Hockey championship in Minsk until the Government of Belarus releases all political prisoners. That condition has not yet been fulfilled. While I welcome the release of Sannikau and Bandarenka, and share the happiness of their families and friends, we must redouble our efforts to secure the release of the remaining political prisoners.”

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH INTRODUCES BILL PROMOTING CLOSURE FOR FAMILIES OF MISSING PERSONS

    WASHINGTON — Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), today introduced legislation to authorize the Secretary of State to advance efforts at the United Nations to establish an international legal standing for International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). Smith’s bill, the International Commission on Missing Persons Assistance Act of 2012, H.R. 4344, would allow the ICMP to provide assistance globally on identifying and locating persons missing as a result of conflict and disaster – particularly through DNA technologies that it has developed in the western Balkans since the 1990s. (Click here for the text of H.R. 4344.) “No other organization can fill this role – and if the ICMP isn’t given the status it requires to ‘go global,’ its institutional capacity could be lost, due to the winding-up of its work in the Balkans and the lack of clarity in its legal status elsewhere,” said Chairman Smith. “Because of the sensitive information the ICMP acquires in the process of identifying missing persons, it cannot simply work with governments outside the western Balkans.  H.R. 4344 will ensure that the ICMP obtains the internationally-recognized legal status necessary to carry out its mandate globally – wherever governments need assistance in locating and identifying missing persons.” On February 28 Chairman Smith held a hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe to examine the effectiveness of global efforts to identify missing persons. At that hearing, Smith took testimony from Queen Noor of Jordan, an ICMP commissioner, and others on the ICMP’s unique resources to locate and identify persons missing as a result of conflicts, natural or man-made disasters, to support investigation of genocide and mass atrocities, and other human rights violations, as well as the emotional relief and closure families receive when the ICMP provides them with reliable information about the fate of missing loved ones. Queen Noor testified, “I have been in the mass graves. I am still haunted by the memory. I still cannot comprehend… the calculated, systematic attempts to strip these people of their humanity and to hide their bodies repeatedly so that they would never be identified, in order to deny that these atrocities took place… Through painstaking work and the exquisitely sensitive techniques of DNA analysis, ICMP is able to make genetic matches between DNA profiles taken from skeletal remains recovered from mass graves and DNA profiles provided voluntarily by living family members, thus merging state-of-the-art science with human outreach in the service of justice and human rights… Today, of the approximately 8,100 persons killed and missing from the 1995 fall of Srebrenica, ICMP has helped identify 6,700… The need for knowledge, for closure, in these situations is universal… the healing and recovery it provides the victims, as well as the process of accountability it helps foster with governments, are absolutely integral to the processes of healing, reconciliation, justice and ultimately conflict prevention.” There are currently over a million reported cases of persons missing/ unidentifiable from wars and violations of human rights, and an estimated 150,000 individuals go missing from natural disasters alone. (Click here to read about the February 28 hearing.) Original co-sponsors of H.R. 4344 are Rep. Michael Turner (OH-03), Rep. Mike McIntyre (NC-07), and Rep. James Moran (VA-08).

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH’S BILL TO HELP VICTIMS OF INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION APPROVED BY PANEL

    WASHINGTON - With David Goldman and other left-behind parents from around the country at a congressional markup Tuesday, Chairman Smith’s bill to empower the U.S. State Department with more tools to achieve the return of children abducted from the U.S. and to enforce the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was approved by Members of the House panel that oversees human rights. Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), saw his bill, H.R. 1940, now named the “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction, Prevention and Return Act,” lauded by the panel members as a way to help bring thousands of American children who are victims of international parental child abduction back home. According to the U.S. State Department, over 3,200 new international parental child abduction cases involving over 4,700 children were reported from October 2008 to December 2010. “Parental child abduction is child abuse,” Smith said. “Too many families have been waiting too long for the return of their children. Our current system with its endless delays and lack of proper accountability has failed too many. It is time for an approach that backs our demands with penalties and makes very clear to foes and friends alike that our children are our top priority.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks, which spell out 17 presidential actions the bill provides to help recover U.S. children. Smith said the bill, approved by unanimous consent, “will put teeth into U.S. government efforts to reclaim abducted American children by giving the President important tools that motivate other countries to more quickly respond to efforts to return an abducted child.” At the markup were left-behind parents and family members, including Goldman of Monmouth County, N.J., father of Sean Goldman who was abducted to Brazil. Goldman was engaged in a widely-publicized, grueling, five-year battle to see his son again and bring him home on Dec. 24, 2009. Unfortunately many left-behind parents, unlike Goldman, have never seen their children again after the abduction. Left-behind parents Chris Savoie, Paul Toland and Douglas Berg all offered their personal, painful experiences at the proceeding, as did left-behind grandparent of two New Jersey abducted children, Nancy Elias. All spoke with reporters prior to the mark-up. Seated next to Goldman and the other left-behind parents at the hearing was NBC Dateline journalist Meredith Vieira, who helped bring critical attention Goldman’s case. “H.R. 1940 as amended is also for the left-behind parents and bereaved children who have been taken to countries that are not party to the Hague Abduction Convention,” Smith said. “Parents like Michael Elias, a combat-injured Iraqi veteran from New Jersey, whose ex-wife used her Japanese consulate connections to abduct little Jade and Michael Jr., after the New Jersey court had ordered surrender of passports and joint custody.” Smith said H.R. 1940 directs the President to take measured, effective, and predictable actions to aggressively advocate for our children’s return. Such actions range from denial of certain assistance to prohibiting the procurement of certain goods or services from the government or instrumentality responsible for the pattern of noncooperation. “I hope that it will not be necessary to use the penalties provided in this bill,” Smith said. “In the best case scenario, just the possibility of adverse consequences will motivate the resolution of current open cases of international child abduction, and prevent additional cases from happening in the first place. If parents have no place to hide, they are less likely to run with the children. “We must act quickly and decisively to raise international awareness of the gravity of parental child abduction and galvanize the will of the international community to stop it,” Smith said. “This Subcommittee’s approval of this bill is a first step to achieving these goals.” Chairman Smith is also working to strengthen international efforts to address the issue through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its Parliamentary Assembly. His resolution calling for all 56 OSCE participating States to adhere to the Hague Convention was adopted at the 2011 Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Belgrade, and he is working to have the OSCE Ministerial Council adopt a similar decision at its meeting in Dublin, Ireland in December.

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH’S BILL PROMOTING ONLINE FREEDOM IS PASSED BY KEY HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE

    WASHINGTON  – Promoting online freedom in repressive countries is at the core of the Global Online Freedom Act (GOFA) passed yesterday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights.  The Subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who is also Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission). At the March 27, 2012, markup, Chairman Smith described the deteriorating state of freedom of political and religious speech online and the growing danger for dissidents who use the Internet. “The threat to human rights is very serious,” said Smith. “Reporters Without Borders just released its ‘Internet Enemies’ list that names the countries that violate their citizen’s online freedoms. Their report tells us that China, Vietnam and Iran are the world’s biggest prisons for netizens. But other countries are not lagging far behind. Sadly, it’s through the assistance of Western companies and technology – and this includes American companies and technology – that governments like those of Iran, China, Syria, and many other countries are transforming the Internet into a ‘weapon of mass surveillance.’” (Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening statement.) By unanimous consent the subcommittee agreed to amend Smith’s original bill and replace it with new revised text that is expected to win full committee support. The provisions added by Smith through an amendment in the nature of a substitute (Click here for the amended text of H.R. 3605) are designed to significantly help democratic activists and human rights defenders by creating a new transparency standard for Internet companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges and operating in countries that substantially censor or control the Internet. As amended, H.R. 3605 now 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. 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. The Global Online Freedom Act has been supported by Yahoo!, Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Access, (Click here to read Yahoo!’s letter of support; click here to read letters of support from human rights NGOs.) On July 15, 2011, Chairman Smith held a hearing, “The Promises We Keep Online: Internet Freedom in the OSCE Region,” at the Helsinki Commission. (Click here to read a transcript of the Helsinki Commission hearing.) Rep. 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.

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTHERN IRELAND

    WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: Prerequisites for Progress in Northern Ireland Wednesday, March 21, 2012 2:00 p.m. Room 2247 Rayburn House Office Building After decades of political violence, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement began a new era of improved security and the promise of both reform and accountability to ensure lasting peace.  The hearing will look at current challenges to full implementation of the agreement and the action that is necessary for continued confidence and progress in the peace process.  This will include an examination of various mechanisms presently available for addressing past abuses and suggestions for moving forward, including in the case of murdered human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane.     The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Geraldine Finucane, widow of murdered human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane Christopher Stanley, British-Irish Rights Watch Mark Thompson, Director, Relatives for Justice

  • LIVE WEBCAST AND WITNESS ADDED: U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ON MISSING PERSONS WITH QUEEN NOOR

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following hearing: Healing the Wounds of Conflict and Disaster: Clarifying the Fate of Missing Persons in the OSCE Area Tuesday, February 28, 2012 2:00 p.m. Room 2172 Rayburn House Office Building The Commission will hold a hearing to examine efforts by governments and their partners in clarifying the fate of persons missing within a number of OSCE participating States and partner countries, especially in the western Balkans and northern Caucasus. The hearing will also appraise the adequacy of assistance to governments and other entities engaged in locating missing persons, the obstacles that impede progress in some areas, as well as how rule of law mechanisms help governments fulfill their obligations to the affected families and society in clarifying the fate of missing persons.  Currently, over a million persons are reported missing from wars and violations of human rights. In addition, there are thousands of reported cases a year of persons missing from trafficking, drug-related violence, and other causes. Locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, trafficking in humans and human rights violations and other causes remains a global challenge, with significant impact within the OSCE area.  The following witnesses have been invited to testify: Her Majesty Queen Noor, Commissioner, the International Commission on Missing Persons Mr. Shawn A. Bray, Deputy Director, INTERPOL Washington, U.S. National Central Bureau Mr. Amor Masovic, Member of the Board of Directors of the Missing Persons Institute of Bosnia and Herzegovina Ms. Fatima Tlisova, Writer/Editor/Producer, Voice of America

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH WELCOMES RELEASE OF KAZAKHSTANI HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST YEVGENIY ZHOVTIS

    WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), welcomed the release on February 17 of well-known human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis from a prison colony in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, where he had served two and half years of a four-year sentence. At the same time, he also expressed concern about the apparent political nature of the sweeping arrests taking place in the wake of the December 2011 riots in Zhanaozen. “Like many who admire his human rights work, I am relieved that Mr. Zhovtis has finally been released from prison,” said Chairman Smith. "The judicial proceedings against Mr. Zhovtis were unfairly conducted and appeared to have been politically motivated. This was a poor reflection on the Government of Kazakhstan, particularly as it held the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe at the time of Mr. Zhovtis's arrest.” “The Government of Kazakhstan continues its pattern of human rights abuses, as we saw most recently in connection with the December violence in Zhanaozen and the poor conduct of the parliamentary elections in January,” said Chairman Smith. “I urge the government to stop the ongoing arrests and to allow an independent international investigation of the Zhanaozen events.” The Helsinki Commission recently held a hearing on the human rights situation in Kazakhstan; the proceedings can be found here. Mr. Zhovtis has testified before the Commission several times, most recently in May 2009, just months before his arrest. On December 16, a long-standing oil workers’ strike in the western city of Zhanaozen erupted in violence, leaving at least 16 dead. Human rights activists reported subsequent police abuse, and opposition activists and independent media have been arrested as part of the government’s investigation. The government’s own investigation so far has blamed a few incompetent policemen, greedy local officials, and opposition activists while clearing the country’s political elite and central government of responsibility.

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

     WASHINGTON — Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following briefing: Dispatches from Moscow: Luke Harding’s chilling tale of KGB harassment Wednesday, February 22, 2012 2:00 pm 210 Cannon House Office Building Please join the U.S. Helsinki Commission for a timely on-the-record discussion with veteran war correspondent and acclaimed author Luke Harding. Last year, Harding became the first Western journalist to be expelled from Russia since the Cold War. Arriving in Moscow in 2007 as Guardian correspondent, Harding’s incisive reporting on sensitive subjects such as human rights abuses in the North Caucasus and the secret wealth of senior officials earned him a faithful readership and the wrath of Russia’s secret police. Struggling to faithfully report the news, he experienced numerous break-ins, aggressive surveillance, and was even summoned to the infamous Lefortovo prison. Harding’s recently published Mafia State has been called, “required reading for anyone seeking to understand the new yet familiar face of Russian authoritarianism.”  

  • IRISH FOREIGN MINISTER TESTIFIES BEFORE U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION ON IRELAND'S NEW LEADERSHIP OF OSCE

    WASHINGTON —  Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore testified before a hearing held yesterday by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission).  “While today many countries in Europe are inwardly focused on economic crises, the world still cries out for global leadership,” Smith said. “Ireland has stepped up to the plate, accepting the 2012 chairmanship of Europe’s largest regional security organization, the OSCE, which does its best work in promoting human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and free elections.” (Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks.) Smith commended the Foreign Minister for his plans—as head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—to put emphasis on Internet freedom, noting Smith’s own proposed Global Online Freedom Act which would counteract the efforts of many governments (including some in the OSCE) to purchase U.S. technology to transform the Internet into a tool of censorship and surveillance. Smith noted that Gilmore’s and Ireland’s experiences in the Northern Ireland peace process could be used in working on conflicts in the OSCE region, and remarked that since the mid-1990s he has chaired 13 congressional and Helsinki Commission hearings on Northern Ireland and the peace process.   Smith told Gilmore of another issue the Helsinki Commission will be pursuing in the OSCE in 2012: international parental child abduction. Last year the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly passed Smith’s resolution urging the “OSCE to take up the issue of international parental child abduction,” as governments and national courts too often fail to live up their obligations under the Hague Convention. Smith also noted the OSCE’s activities in fighting anti-Semitism. Gilmore testified before the Helsinki Commission in his capacity as the new Chair-in-Office of the OSCE.  The hearing took place as Ireland begins its year-long leadership of the 56-nation OSCE, based in Vienna, Austria. “Ireland has always attached a particular importance to the Human Dimension and we will aim to make progress in this field,” Gilmore said. “The continuing threat to fundamental freedoms and human rights in a number of OSCE participating States is a cause for real concern.”  (Click here to read Minister Gilmore’s statement.)                “Our key priority in this Dimension will be Internet freedom,” Gilmore said. “As in others parts of the world, the threat to freedom of expression online is ever-present in the OSCE region and, regrettably, appears to be growing. Our intention is to highlight the simple fact that human rights and fundamental freedoms do not change with new technologies, but extend into the digital age. We will work to ensure that existing OSCE commitments in relation to freedom of expression, freedom of the media, freedom of assembly and other fundamental liberties apply to all forms and means through which they are exercised. As part of these efforts, we intend to organize a Human Dimension meeting in Dublin in June, with involvement of key stake-holders, such as civil society and ICT companies. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that many Governments, including my own, are still grappling with the implications of rapid technological change. We can all benefit from an in-depth discussion of this kind.”   Ireland assumes the stewardship of Europe’s largest security and human rights organization faced with the ongoing crackdown in Belarus, rule-of-law backsliding in Ukraine, the unsettled political situation in Russia with presidential elections set for March, issues stemming from the outbreak of conflict in Kyrgyzstan last year and the prospect of instability in Kazakhstan. 

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