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Press Releases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • House Unanimously Adopts Smith Resolution Defining Srebrenica Massacre as Genocide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    WASHINGTON—Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the atrocity committed at Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina in July, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today introduced a resolution to affirm that the policies of aggression and ethnic cleansing implemented by Serb forces in that country constituted genocide as well as to condemn statements denying that the massacres meet the definition of genocide. The resolution has 28 original co-sponsors, 14 Republicans and 14 Democrats. H. Res. 310 urges the Atrocities Prevention Board—an interagency organization charged with helping the U.S. government identify and address atrocity threats—to issue guidance on preventing future genocides, and encourages the United States to continue to support the independence and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as peace and stability in southeastern Europe as a whole. This comes as part of a broader effort to push the Obama Administration to take atrocities prevention seriously. “The thousands of innocents who were brutally slaughtered at Srebrenica deserve our remembrance of the tragedy for what it was: genocide,” said Rep. Smith. “The international community must ensure the perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, and study the lessons of Srebrenica with the aim of preventing future atrocities, particularly in current conflicts in the Central African Republic, Burundi, and Syria. In addition, we must continue to uphold the right of all people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and throughout the Balkans today—no matter their ethnic or religious background—to enjoy the benefits of democracy, the rule of law, and economic opportunity.” The July 1995 massacre at Srebrenica was one of the worst atrocities to occur in the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina between April 1992 and November 1995, during which period more than 2,000,000 people were displaced, more than 100,000 were killed, and tens of thousands were raped or otherwise tortured and abused. In addition to being the primary victims at Srebrenica, individuals with Bosniak heritage comprise the vast majority of the victims during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole, especially among the civilian population.

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

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

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

    WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers examined why Central Asia has become an increasingly fertile source of foreign fighters for radical militant groups like ISIS, and explored how the United States can continue supporting efforts in Central Asia aimed at countering violent extremism and preventing the flow of foreign fighters to radical organizations. “A year ago today, the city of Mosul fell to Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, during a wave of violence that swept brutally through Northern Iraq,” said Rep. Smith, who called today’s hearing. “Many of those who took part in the offensive were foreign fighters – in fact, the UN Security Council recently estimated that there are now at least 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 100 countries who have travelled internationally to join or fight for terrorist entities associated with ISIS and Al-Qaida.” “According to the International Crisis Group, as many as 4,000 foreign fighters come from the five countries of central Asia. Just last week, we learned that the chief of Tajikistan’s counter-terrorism program – someone highly trained by our own government – abandoned his post to join ISIS,” he continued. “What does this say about the current efforts to stop terror-minded men and women from volunteering and traveling to the Middle East?” Rep. Smith asked. “Clearly, our government – working with others and with organizations like the OSCE – must take stronger action to combat radicalization beyond our borders, as well as to ensure that returning foreign fighters do not bring jihad and murder back home.” Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the risk factors for radicalization of Central Asian nationals, as well as efforts currently underway and additional recommendations on combating the recruitment of foreign terrorist fighters at the national and international levels. “The nations of Central Asia, and the nations of the world, are waking up to the challenge of foreign terrorist fighters in Syria and Iraq,” said Daniel N. Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia. “The United States plans to continue to work with global institutions, regional groups, and national governments to confront the challenge of foreign fighters and reduce the threat to our partners, allies, and to our own country…the Department of State is eager to work closely with this Commission and others in Congress to address this generational challenge.” Frank J. Cilluffo, director of the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at the George Washington University, noted, “The ideology and narrative of violent Islamist extremist movements and groups continues to resonate with and successfully recruit individuals who are susceptible to such propaganda...Pushing back on this narrative in order to expose its inherent inconsistencies and falsehoods must therefore be a crucial plank in both national and transnational strategy.” “We must maximize the intelligence that US officials and their counterparts in allied nations possess in order to best formulate and execute the measures that will keep foreign fighters’ plans left of boom,” Cilluffo continued. “The United States should work with the countries of Central Asia to assist them in building the capacities that are necessary for them to be their own best guardians. For instance, more could be done in the area of border security.” Deputy Director of the International Crisis Group Jennifer Leonard said, “[Central Asian] governments must assess accurately the long-term danger jihadism poses to the region and take effective preventive action now…addressing multiple political and administrative failures, responding to an unmet demand for increased democratic space, revising discriminatory laws and policies, implementing outreach programs for men and women, creating jobs at home for disadvantaged youths, ensuring better coordination between security services, and police reform.”

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Foreign Fighters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Rep. Smith Chairs Helsinki Commission Hearing on Armenian Genocide

    WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers examined denialism of the Armenian Genocide by the Government of Turkey and the decades-long effort to seek accountability.  “The Armenian genocide is the only genocide of the 20th century in which a nation that was decimated by genocide has been subject to the ongoing outrage of a massive campaign of genocide denial, openly sustained by state authority,” said Smith, who called today’s hearing and chaired Congress’s first-ever hearing on the Armenian Genocide in 2000. “Sadly, the Turkish government has driven this campaign of denial, and has done so over a course of decades.” Smith continued, “I must respond to President Obama. On Tuesday his aides met with Armenian leaders and made it clear that once again he will not recognize the Armenian genocide. This is in direct contradiction to the promises he made before becoming president—and in order to become president.  “While a candidate, in 2008 the President made passionate statements in support of genocide recognition… these are beautiful words which echo hollowly today,” Smith said. “The president’s abandonment of this commitment is unconscionable and cynical. With Germany and the EU lining up to do the right thing, our government needs to do likewise. Sadly, after the President’s powerful promise, he is following, not leading – or rather, we are not even following.” Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the sustained campaign of the Turkish government to deny the Armenian genocide and its impact on Armenian-Turkish relations and foreign policy in the region. “Turkey’s denialism of its past and making it an essential part of its foreign policy is not simply a moral abomination; it represents a threat to democracy, stability and security, not only in Turkey but in the region too,” testified Dr. Taner Akçam, a Turkish scholar who holds the chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. “The refusal [of the U.S.] to recognize past injustices is fundamentally undemocratic and contributes to the destabilization of Turkey and the region. How can the United States, which prides itself on its exceptionalism in supporting liberal values and human rights at home and across the world, justify a position at odds with its own democratic values?” “Far too often, over the past several decades, under Turkey's arm-twisting here in Washington, DC, official discussions of the Armenian Genocide were framed in denialist terms, on the basis of Ankara's artificially contrived ‘debate’ about whether there was an Armenian Genocide,” said Kenneth Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America. “Turkey's denial of truth and justice for the Armenian Genocide remains the central issue between Turks and Armenians, the one that must be openly acknowledged, honestly discussed, and fairly resolved for there to be real, sustained progress in relations between these two nations.”  “How did denial start and how did it last as long as it has?  The answer is simple—successive Turkish governments have used the issue to instill fear, promote racism, distract their population from the truth, and avoid progress,” said Van Krikorian, co-chairman of the board of trustees of the Armenian Assembly of America. “Having re-written their own history, they are now afraid to tell the truth as they will lose votes and risk power. Tragically, this pattern has found accomplices, as Turkish leaders have openly threatened countries which do not deny the Armenian Genocide.  Those who bend to bullying continue to be bullied. Those who do not, show honor and backbone.” Additional witnesses who testified at the hearing, “A Century of Denial: Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for Justice,” included Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, visiting associate professor of conflict resolution at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, and Mrs. Karine Shnorhokian, representative of the Genocide Education Project.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Armenian Genocide

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, has announced the following hearing: “A Century of Denial: The Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for Justice” Thursday, April 23 1:30PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2175 “I appeal to the President to recognize the genocide of the Armenians. On the centenary of this tragedy we should join the German government and Pope Francis in speaking this word of truth,” said Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the Helsinki Commission, ahead of the hearing. “I also appeal to the Turkish government to recognize the genocide and issue a genuine apology. As mass atrocities unfold in Syria and Iraq, the world needs Turkey to engage constructively with its neighbors. The Turkish government can do this only after it honestly faces its own past.” On the 100th anniversary of the first genocide of the modern era, Armenians are still fighting for recognition of the genocidal nature of the massacres that began in 1915 and resulted in the death of as many as 1.5 million people. The government of Turkey continues to deny the genocide and actively punishes those who recognize it. The hearing will examine denialism by the Government of Turkey and the decades-long effort to seek accountability. The hearing will also provide an opportunity to assess potential countercurrents in Turkish society that could move the Government of Turkey toward recognition, and explore what the United States and other countries can do to help bring about recognition and eventually, reconciliation. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Dr. Taner Akçam, Professor of History, Robert Aram, Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marian Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies,  Clark University Mr. Kenneth V. Hachikian, Chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America Mr. Van Z. Krikorian, Co-Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Armenian Assembly of America Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, Visiting Associate Professor of Conflict Resolution, The Fletcher School, Tufts University Additional witnesses may be added. The hearing will be webcast live. In September 2000, Rep. Smith chaired Congress’s first-ever hearing on the Armenian genocide.

  • Helsinki Commission Urges Prime Minister Abe to Address U.S. Victims of International Parental Child Abduction in Japan

    WASHINGTON—Ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s address to Congress on Wednesday, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, urged Prime Minister Abe to help the many American victims of international parental child abduction in Japan. “It is tragic that hundreds of American children have been parentally abducted to Japan – and it’s outrageous that the Japanese government has returned not a single one. Each case is a heartbreaking story of a child unjustly separated from a loving parent, causing enormous suffering to both,” said Smith, the author of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2014. “Under the Goldman Act, when a country such as Japan has failed to resolve 30 percent of abduction cases that have been pending more than 12 months, U.S. law requires the Secretary of State to take action. Required measures can include the withdrawal of foreign assistance and cooperation, including suspension of security assistance.  As the mandated compliance report due to be released on April 30 will likely assess, Japan has failed to resolve almost 100 percent of U.S.-Japan abduction cases. “I strongly urge Prime Minister Abe to take swift action to resolve these outstanding cases and avoid the serious penalties authorized against countries that fail to help bring abducted children home. The left-behind parents have already lost countless years with their children; it is time for the Japanese government to create a bilateral process to reunite these families.” Currently, more than 50 American children are living in Japan and separated from their American parent as a result of abduction by their other parent. In addition, eight new abductions have occurred in the last year since Japan signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Japanese government has yet to enforce the return of a single American child since ratifying the Hague Convention, nor has it provided access to the children, as required by the treaty, to the left-behind parents seeking return. Chairman Smith is a longtime advocate for the parents of children illegally abducted from the U.S. by non-custodial parents and has held seven hearings on the issue, including the most recent hearing in March 2015. In 2014, Smith saw more than five years of work come to fruition with the enactment of his groundbreaking Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (now Public Law 113-150) to help bring home American children abducted from the U.S. to foreign countries.

  • Helsinki Commission Calls for Renewed Commitment to Defending Human Rights of Roma

    WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman of the Commission, released the following statement regarding the observation of International Roma Day:  “In a number of OSCE countries, Roma continue to be denied equal access to housing, suffer disproportionately from high unemployment, and routinely face discrimination in public life. Racial profiling by police, mass evictions, and forced expulsions are commonplace. “Roma children are underserved by governments that fail to guarantee them access to a quality education. In some countries, systematic segregation removes Roma from regular schools and places them into educational institutions designed for children with learning disabilities. Some Roma children succeed against overwhelming odds; the vast majority of them are left behind. “In response to this human tragedy, European governments have promoted ‘action plans’ and ‘framework strategies’ for Roma over the past two decades. However, these efforts have largely lacked a key ingredient for success: political will. On International Roma Day, we strongly urge the governments of OSCE participating nations to renew their commitment to defending and promoting basic human rights of Roma throughout the region.”

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Reviews Progress toward Accountability, Justice, and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland

    WASHINGTON—At its March 18 hearing on “Northern Ireland: Stormont, Collusion, and the Finucane Inquiry,” the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, reviewed ongoing efforts for accountability, justice, and reconciliation in Northern Ireland.   Witness testimony focused on the provisions of the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement, especially those aspects addressing government collusion in paramilitary crimes, and the long-promised inquiry into the 1989 murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane. “For years, British officials denied collusion in crimes committed by paramilitaries,” said Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). “In recent years, evidence has mounted that its security services enabled or had advance knowledge of a substantial number of paramilitary murders. We hope to find out what the British government has done in response.” “The many previous denials [by the British government] and the time that has passed in the Finucane case have drained public confidence in the peace process and diminished respect for the rule of law in Northern Ireland,” Chairman Smith continued. “There are those who oppose the peace process and their opposition is dangerous. The failure to address the case of Patrick Finucane in the manner promised by the British government provides a readily available propaganda tool for those who would abuse it to further their own ends.” “Many people in Ireland lack confidence in the establishment and are slow to accept that things have really changed,” said Mrs. Geraldine Finucane, widow of Patrick Finucane. “One of the examples that is often pointed to as a reason for this mistrust of the establishment is the lack of an inquiry in Pat’s case, despite the truly shocking revelations of several major investigations … it is clear that the British Government is fighting against the prospect of full and public accountability for its actions.” “It was quite a formidable political achievement to achieve consensus on the…Stormont House Agreement,” said Professor Kieran McEvoy, Queen’s University School of Law, Belfast. “If the political will exists from the different political actors, and that will is translated into robust legislation designed to maximize the effectiveness of the different mechanisms, the Stormont House Agreement does provide a roadmap to make significant progress in dealing with the past in Northern Ireland.” “Most of the families we [at the Pat Finucane Center] represent realize that seeing anyone brought to court for the crimes…is beyond their reach,” said Anne Cadwallader, author of Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland.  “They are, however, full of steely determination that the truth should be told.  They hope that this will ensure that those responsible for taking similar decisions will never again collude in the deaths of the citizens they are meant to protect.” Chairman Smith was joined at the hearing by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY-14), Rep. Bill Keating (MA-09), and Rep. Brendan Boyle (PA-13).

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Northern Ireland: The Stormont House Agreement, Collusion, and the Finucane Inquiry

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Northern Ireland: Stormont, Collusion, and the Finucane Inquiry” Wednesday, March 18 2:00PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2175 The Helsinki Commission hearing will review progress toward holding individuals accountable for past injustices in Northern Ireland. This will include the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement, as well as government collusion in paramilitary crimes, and the long-promised—but not yet delivered—inquiry into the murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane. In the December 2014 Stormont House Agreement, the parties of the Northern Ireland Executive and the British and Irish governments agreed on a process to resolve a number of outstanding issues in Northern Ireland. These include accountability for past injustices, or what has become known as “dealing with the past.” The success of the process is far from assured, and the hearing will investigate its prospects, and help determine how the US government can best support its implementation. The hearing will examine other issues of accountability for past government collusion in paramilitary crimes. This will include the Finucane case: as part of the Good Friday Agreement, the government of the United Kingdom solemnly committed to conducting a public, independent judicial inquiry into its collusion in Mr. Finucane’s murder. Yet 17 years after the accord and 26 years after Mr. Finucane’s death, the British government has not yet conducted the promised inquiry. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Anne Cadwallader, author, Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland Mrs. Geraldine Finucane, widow of murdered human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane Professor Kieran McEvoy, Queen’s University School of Law, Belfast, Northern Ireland

  • Chairman Smith Rebukes U.S. Administration: "Delay Is Denial" Regarding Military Aid to Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—At today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, “Ukraine Under Siege,” Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) took the U.S. Administration to task for its delay in providing defensive military assistance to Ukraine. “We have a de facto defensive weapons arms embargo on Ukraine … Delay is denial. People are dying,” Chairman Smith said. “Over 6,000 are dead. Many of these are children and women.” He continued, “[The Ukrainians] need us …they told me off-the-record how profoundly disappointed they are in President Obama, especially in light of people around him saying, ‘Please, Mr. President, this is a time for American leadership.’ When will the decision [to provide defensive military assistance] be made?” “They need defensive weapons and they need them now,” he concluded. During his remarks, Chairman Smith compared the current situation in Ukraine to the conflict in the Balkans in the 1990s, when the U.S. failed to provide military assistance that would have allowed Bosnians and Croatians to defend themselves against the aggression of Slobodan Milošević. He also expressed concern about the plight of detained Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who is currently on the 82nd day of a hunger strike in Moscow.

  • Chairman Smith Condemns Brutal Murder of Former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov

    WASHINGTON—Following tonight’s reports of the shooting death of peaceful opposition leader and former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov in Moscow, Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement:   “I condemn the brutal slaying of Boris Nemtsov in the strongest terms possible. The gangland-style murder of a leading Russian dissident on the streets of Moscow raises the question of whether bullets have replaced the ballot box in Russia, and whether any peaceful opposition voice is safe. We mourn Mr. Nemtsov’s death and send our deepest condolences to his family and friends.” According to Russian officials, Mr. Nemtsov was shot four times in the back on a street near the Kremlin. A leader of Russia’s political opposition, he was a co-founder of Solidarity and a key organizer of a scheduled March 1 protest in Moscow. Mr. Nemtsov served as First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia under President Boris Yeltsin. He spoke at a Helsinki Commission event in Washington in November 2010 at the world premiere of the film “Justice for Sergei.”

  • Chairman Smith and Serbian Foreign Minister Support OSCE Role in Promoting Peace in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON–On February 25, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, held a hearing at which Ivica Dacic, the Foreign Minister of Serbia and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), testified as to his plans for Serbia’s 2015 leadership of the OSCE. The chief issue facing the organization is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the humanitarian needs of the people of eastern Ukraine, including the OSCE’s role in monitoring the Minsk cease-fire agreement. Both Russia and Ukraine are among the 57 member states of the OSCE, the world’s largest regional security organization. Opening the hearing, Chairman Smith said that Foreign Minister Dacic’s leadership of the OSCE “comes at a moment of tragedy, of tremendous human suffering.” Smith emphasized that “one OSCE member – the Russian government – is tearing the heart out of a neighboring member, Ukraine.” “Understanding that the OSCE is a consensus organization – meaning that the Russian government has an effective veto over many significant actions – we believe that the OSCE is still able and responsible to speak the truth about the conflict, to find ways to limit it, and to help the people of Ukraine,” he said. Foreign Minister Dacic emphasized that “the Serbian Chairmanship will make every effort to help restore peace in Ukraine.” In its role as Chairman of the OSCE, Dacic said, “Serbia brings to the table good relations with all the key stakeholders, and we are making every effort to serve as an honest broker and use our leadership role to utilize the OSCE toolbox impartially and transparently.” Foreign Minister Dacic also discussed the fight against human trafficking and anti-Semitism with Chairman Smith.  Other members of the Helsinki Commission participating in the hearing included Senator Ben Cardin, and Congressmen Joe Pitts, Alcee Hastings, and Steve Cohen.

  • Chairman Smith Urges OSCE Leaders: Respond to Humanitarian Needs in Eastern Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—A renewed effort is underway in the Organization for Cooperation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to urge it to respond to humanitarian needs in eastern Ukraine, and to follow through on OSCE commitments to fight human trafficking and anti-Semitism. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) led the U.S. Delegation to the annual Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) last week in Vienna, where he spearheaded this push. Smith expressed particular concern about the potential for human trafficking of vulnerable groups stemming from the current conflict in Ukraine. In a question to Ivica Dačić, the OSCE’s Chairman-in-Office for 2015 and the Foreign Minister of Serbia, Smith drew attention to the needs of internally displaced persons and the potential for human trafficking in eastern Ukraine. He noted that, among the nearly one million internally displaced persons, woman and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, and raised concerns that criminal gangs are taking advantage of the conflict:   “Is the OSCE equipping the special monitoring mission and other OSCE entities working in the Ukraine conflict zone, or with IDPs, to recognize and protect human trafficking victims, and is the OSCE taking trafficking prevention measures for this particular vulnerable population?” At a private meeting during the event, Chairman Smith met with Chairman-in-Office Dačić  to discuss the humanitarian, human rights, and security concerns arising from the Russian-backed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Smith encouraged Serbia to vigorously uphold the commitments made at the at the 10th  anniversary of the OSCE's Berlin Conference on anti-Semitism, and to review and reform the OSCE’s contracting regulations to ensure that OSCE activities do not contribute to trafficking in persons. He also urged Chairman-in-Office Dačić to promote an appropriate commemoration by the OSCE of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide. Chairman Smith also met the Director of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Michael Georg Link. In addition to human trafficking and anti-Semitism, the two discussed OSCE election observation missions, as well as the organization’s current efforts to protect freedom of religion. In a meeting with Ambassador Madina Jarbussynova, the OSCE Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, Chairman Smith spoke about the most effective ways to fight human trafficking and assist with the rehabilitation of trafficking victims – including by working with faith-based organizations, as well as by encouraging participating States to adopt legislation preventing child sex tourism, such as Chairman Smith’s legislation currently pending in the U.S. Senate. Chairman Smith has pioneered OSCE engagement in fighting human trafficking and anti-Semitism. Since 2004, he has served as the OSCE PA’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues – click here to read his most recent report. Starting in 2002, Smith led the movement to put anti-Semitism on the agenda of the OSCE, and he continues to work closely with Rabbi Andy Baker, the OSCE’s Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism, to ensure a more vigorous implementation of OSCE commitments in the area. In 2005 Smith authored H. Res. 199, a landmark congressional resolution recognizing the atrocity at Srebrenica in which an estimated 8,000 civilian men and boys were murdered by Serb forces as a genocide.

  • Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs to Testify at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Serbia’s Leadership of the OSCE” Wednesday, February 25, 2015 2:30PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Serbia’s 2015 Chairmanship-in-Office of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) comes at a pivotal point in European security. The OSCE, a regional security organization based known for its work in promoting democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, operates on the front lines of Russia-Ukraine conflict and seeks to counter backsliding on human rights in other countries of the OSCE region.   Serbia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Ivica Dačić, will testify before the Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. He takes the helm to conclude the implementation of a joint leadership plan developed with Switzerland, which chaired the OSCE in 2014. Minister Dačić is expected to discuss the Serbian Chairmanship-in-Office’s priorities, including resolution of the conflict in and around Ukraine; reconciliation and cooperation in the Western Balkans; reforming security sector governance; combating transnational threats, including foreign terrorist fighters, terrorism, and cyber-security; safeguarding journalists; fostering freedom of expression, assembly, and association; combating organized crime and its linkages to human trafficking; combating corruption; and improving water governance. He will also provide insights regarding the ongoing work of the OSCE.

  • Chairman Smith Calls for Strong International Response to Slaughter of Egyptian Christians in Libya

    WASHINGTON—Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Congressional panel that oversees global human rights and the Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, issued the following statement following the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya by the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS): “My heart and prayers go out to the families and friends of these 21 Egyptian men savagely murdered in Libya. These men, earning money to support their families in Egypt, were killed in the most deliberately shocking fashion because of their Christian faith. ISIS has set no limits on its ferocity, and everywhere targets people of other faiths. In Iraq and Syria it has murdered thousands of Christians and members of other religious minorities and forced hundreds of thousands of them to flee their homes. “The muted response of so many leading governments of the world and the international press to this latest outrage is an ominous sign for the future of the Middle East. If we drift toward a tacit acceptance of genocide – and the Genocide Convention covers ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group’ – we will only have more of it. “I welcome the strong response of Egyptian President  Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to these brutal murders. It is also heartening that he attended Mass at the Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo this past Christmas Eve, the first time an Egyptian president has joined Copts for this annual liturgy. “President Obama should lead other heads of state in a movement to support the Egyptian President and other Middle Eastern leaders willing to protect their religious minorities. This sometimes requires tact – but it urgently requires energy. The minorities that require protection include Christians from many churches and denominations, Jews, Yezidi – and Muslims as well, Shia in some areas and Sunni in others.” Chairman Smith has long been a leader on many international human rights issues. In recent years he has chaired a series of hearings that drew attention to the persecution, discrimination, and disadvantage that Coptic Christians have faced in Egypt over the decades – particularly violence against Coptic women and girls. Since 1995, Egypt has been one of the six Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The other Mediterranean Partners are Algeria, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. OSCE participating States (representing 57 countries in Europe and Eurasia and Canada and the United States) and the Partners work together to improve human rights, security, and the rule of law.

  • Helsinki Commission Chair Calls for Huseynov’s Safe Passage Out of Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON—Following yesterday’s disclosure that Azerbaijani press freedom advocate Emin Huseynov has spent the past six months sheltering in the Swiss Embassy in Baku, Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement:  “Through the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), Emin Huseynov has worked tirelessly to defend journalists and promote media freedom in Azerbaijan. I appeal to President Aliyev to immediately allow Mr. Huseynov to leave the Swiss Embassy and give him safe passage out of Azerbaijan. Sadly, the persecution of Mr. Huseynov is part of a larger crackdown on human rights activists – I have met some of their family members and friends, and join my voice to those calling for their release.” Mr. Huseynov heads the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS), an independent NGO that has provided training and legal support to journalists under threat in Azerbaijan since 2006. Approximately eight months ago, the Azerbaijani authorities froze IRFS’ bank account and seized the organization’s computers and other work materials. Mr. Huseynov was forbidden to leave the country and sought asylum in the Swiss Embassy after learning that he was likely to be arrested.

  • Helsinki Commission Urges End to Ongoing Bloodshed In Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—Following the recent offensive by Russian-led militants, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 250 civilians in recent weeks, Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Co-Chairman Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement:   “Hundreds of civilians have tragically lost their lives in these indiscriminate attacks. They are the latest victims of an offensive supported by the Russian government, which has provided troops, heavy weapons, funding, and supplies to separatists in the region. The death toll in this conflict is now over 5,500. Our hearts go out to the mothers, fathers, children, siblings, and friends who have lost someone they love. “The violence promoted by the Russian government and its proxies has created a humanitarian catastrophe, forcing more than one million people to flee the occupied regions.  Unfortunately, many others are still trapped in the conflict zone, where they endure tremendous hardships.  The civilian population lives under relentless attack from militants. “Our government should lead the world in supporting Ukraine. The Administration should vigorously implement the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, including the provision of military arms to assist Ukrainians in protecting their sovereignty as needed and the delivery of necessary humanitarian and economic aid.  “Over the past year, Ukrainians have demonstrated a strong commitment to comprehensive reform. The United States should support these efforts to address acute security, economic, and humanitarian needs.  A stable, independent, and democratic Ukraine is essential to a free and peaceful Europe. “The Russian government has consistently flouted the September Minsk agreements, as well as the Budapest Memorandum and all 10 core OSCE principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. We welcome news that an agreement has been reached on a ceasefire and heavy weapons withdrawal in eastern Ukraine.  However, until such a time as the provisions of the new Minsk agreement are fully implemented, the United States needs to maintain sanctions on Russia and encourage the European Union to do the same.”

  • Rep. Chris Smith, Sen. Roger Wicker to Lead Helsinki Commission

    WASHINGTON—Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) has been appointed by Speaker of the House John Boehner as chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, during the 114th Congress. Senator Roger Wicker (MS) has been appointed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to co-chair the Commission. “Today, the principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act are under attack. The Russian government is blatantly violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” said Chairman Smith. “More than 20 million people are trafficked each year for sexual or other forms of exploitation. Journalists in the OSCE region are being imprisoned, tortured, and even murdered for exposing corruption or publishing controversial pieces. In Europe, violent anti-Semitism is again rearing its ugly head, and in some OSCE countries religious people face restrictions and even persecution merely for practicing their faith.” “The United States must advocate much more vigorously for those who are victims and are voiceless. As the chair of the bipartisan, bicameral Helsinki Commission, I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms and to safeguard the principles shared by the 57 participating States of the OSCE,” said Chairman Smith, who has been an active member of the Helsinki Commission since 1983. “I am pleased to join Chairman Smith and the other members of the Helsinki Commission in defending democratic values and the rule of law,” said Co-Chairman Wicker. “Peace and security are under threat in the wake of escalating Russian aggression – impacting our economic and strategic interests in the region. This situation calls for a unified response from the United States and our OSCE partner countries. We should work together to ensure a safe, free, and prosperous Europe for this generation and those that follow.” Chairman Smith has previously chaired the Commission and serves as a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), which facilitates inter-parliamentary dialogue among the 57 participating States; he is also the OSCE PA’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues. Senator Wicker also serves as a member of the OSCE PA, where he chairs the Committee on Political Affairs and Security.

  • Chairman Smith and Rep. McGovern Introduce “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act”

    WASHINGTON—Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02), today introduced the “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act” (H.R. 624). The bill prohibits foreign human rights offenders and corrupt officials operating anywhere in the world from entering into the United States and blocks their U.S. assets. It effectively globalizes and strengthens the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012,” which was directed at individuals and entities from Russia. “The ‘Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act’ is a game-changer, and demonstrates America’s commitment to protecting human rights worldwide,” said Chairman Smith. “We are sending a message to the world’s worst human rights violators:  we will shine a spotlight on your crimes. We will deny your visas. We will freeze your assets. No matter who you are or how much money you have, you won’t be enjoying the fruits of your misdeeds by visiting the United States or taking advantage of our financial institutions.” “We have made important progress in the last few years,” Rep. McGovern said.  “But since the introduction of the original Magnitsky Act, human rights defenders and anti-corruption activists worldwide have urged us to pass a law that covers similar violations in countries other than Russia.  Through the Global Magnitsky Act, we can better standardize our approach to human rights violators and provide clear guidance to the executive branch on how we expect these perpetrators to be held accountable.” “Conscripting child soldiers, kidnapping political opponents, and brutalizing people based on their religion are horrifying acts for which people must be held accountable – and this bill will do it,” said Chairman Smith. “The earlier Magnitsky Act enjoyed overwhelmingly bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. I expect the Global Magnitsky Act to move forward with the same level of commitment in both chambers, and on both sides of the aisle.” Earlier this week, Senators Ben Cardin (MD) and John McCain (AZ) introduced similar legislation in the Senate, which also applies worldwide and employs visa bans and property freezes. Unique aspects of the House bill include the requirement that the President impose sanctions if he or she determines that a foreign person has committed gross human rights offenses. The bill also permits the President to sanction perpetrators regardless of whether the victims were exercising or defending basic human rights; requires that the annual Global Magnitsky List be released each year on Human Rights Day; and directs the Comptroller General to assess and report on implementation. Both the “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act” and the earlier “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012” were inspired by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested and imprisoned by the Russian government following his investigation into fraud involving Russian officials. He was beaten to death by prison guards in 2009 after being held in torturous conditions for 11 months without trial. Summary: The “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act” This act requires the President to publish and update a list of foreign persons or entities that the President determines are responsible, and who the President has sanctioned, for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights – including extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and prolonged, arbitrary detention – or significant corruption. Known as the Global Magnitsky List, the list will be due annually on December 10 (Human Rights Day). Although the bill directs the President to prioritize cases where the victims were seeking to exercise or defend internationally recognized human and rights and freedoms, like freedom of religious, assembly, and expression, or expose illegal government activity, the President can act regardless of the victim. Sanctions on these individuals and entities will include: Prohibiting or revoking U.S. visas or other entry documentation for foreign individuals. Freezing and prohibiting U.S. property transactions of a foreign individual or entity if such property and property interests are in the United States; come within the United States; or are in, or come within, the control of a U.S. person or entity. This act also requires the Comptroller General of the United States to assess the implementation of the law and report to Congress, so that Congress can ensure it is being executed fully.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Chair Slams Verdicts in Navalny Trial

    WASHINGTON—Following Tuesday’s guilty verdicts and subsequent sentencing of Alexei and Oleg Navalny in Moscow, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement: “I am deeply troubled by the guilty verdicts handed down in the latest manipulation of Russia’s so-called justice system against brothers Alexei and Oleg Navalny. The decision further demonstrates how the Russian government has warped what should be an independent voice and check on executive power into a tool to retaliate against its political opponents, continuing its ongoing crackdown on civil society in general.   “By punishing those who dare to voice their dissent, the Russian government undermines only itself. The Russian people deserve better than leaders who attempt to strangle their freedoms under the guise of deterring criminal activity.  As I noted in my statement Tuesday regarding the addition of names to the U.S. government’s visa ban and asset freeze lists, accountability and transparency are sadly lacking in President Putin’s Russia. “I remind Russia, as an OSCE participating State, that the Helsinki Final Act establishes principles and commitments including respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms within states which it has pledged to uphold. I urge the government of Russia to uphold its obligations and commitments to respect the freedoms of expression, assembly and of the media.  The Russian people must be allowed the right to voice their opinions openly, without fear of retaliation by their own government.” Alexei and Oleg Navalny were accused by the Russian authorities of fraud, charges which are viewed as politically motivated; Alexei Navalny is Russia’s leading anti-corruption crusader and a key member of the political opposition. In 2010, Alexei Navalny appeared at a Helsinki Commission briefing on fraud schemes in the Russian market.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Chair Welcomes Additions to Magnitsky List

    WASHINGTON—Following Monday’s addition of four Russian individuals to the Magnitsky List by the Obama Administration, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement: “I welcome the announcement made by the Obama Administration that it has added four additional individuals to the visa ban and asset freeze lists mandated under the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act.  I applaud the work of the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury to continue to focus attention on Russian government officials implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky and to demonstrate America's willingness to penalize human right violators when their own country refuses to act. "These sanctions are not sanctions against Russia, but against individuals who have committed serious human rights violations against Russians. The American people will continue to support Russians like Sergei Magnitsky who speak out about injustice and seek redress. “While I am pleased that additional names have been added to the Magnitsky List, there remain a significant number of Russians – both government officials and private individuals – against whom evidence exists of their involvement in the conspiracy and cover-up of Magnitsky’s death in 2009, but who have yet to be added to the visa ban and asset freeze lists.  I strongly encourage the Administration to continue its examination of the information available with regard to these individuals and add them to the List. The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act must continue to be used to demonstrate to the world that the voices of those who seek justice and who speak out about human rights violations are heard and valued by the United States of America.”

  • Helsinki Commission Condemns Raid on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Bureau in Baku

    WASHINGTON—Following yesterday’s raid by authorities in Azerbaijan on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Baku bureau, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement: “The free and independent press in Azerbaijan remains under attack by the very authorities who should be most committed to its protection. Yesterday’s raid on RFE/RL’s Baku bureau continues the recent and deeply disturbing trend of the government of Azerbaijan to silence dissenting voices within the country, and comes hard on the heels of the recent arrest and pre-trial detention of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist and contributor to RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service. “Once again, we call on the Azerbaijani authorities to immediately end their harassment of journalists and to respect the commitments they have made in the past, as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

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