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

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  • 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. 

  • LIVE WEBCAST: U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION HEARING ON THE IRISH CHAIRMANSHIP OF THE OSCE

    WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: Ireland’s Leadership of the OSCE Wednesday, February 8, 2012 11:30 a.m. B-318 Rayburn House Office Building Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, will testify before the Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing takes place as Ireland begins its year-long leadership of the 56-nation OSCE, based in Vienna, Austria, and best known for its work in promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ireland assumes the stewardship of Europe’s largest security and human rights organization faced with the ongoing crackdown in Belarus, 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. Additionally, the minister is expected to discuss areas of protracted conflict in the OSCE region. Developments in Egypt and Tunisia, OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, may also be raised. The following witness is scheduled to testify: His Excellency Eamon Gilmore T.D., Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland and OSCE Chair-in-Office for 2012

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ON IRELAND’S LEADERSHIP OF THE OSCE

    WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: Ireland’s Leadership of the OSCE Wednesday, February 8, 2012 11:30 a.m. B-318 Rayburn House Office Building Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, will testify before the Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The hearing takes place as Ireland begins its year-long leadership of the 56-nation OSCE, based in Vienna, Austria, and best known for its work in promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ireland assumes the stewardship of Europe’s largest security and human rights organization faced with the ongoing crackdown in Belarus, 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.  Additionally, the minister is expected to discuss areas of protracted conflict in the OSCE region.  Developments in Egypt and Tunisia, OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, may also be raised.     The following witness is scheduled to testify: His Excellency Eamon Gilmore T.D., Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland and OSCE Chair-in-Office for 2012

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

    WASHINGTON –The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today a briefing: Moldova: The Growing Pains of Democracy Tuesday, January 31, 2012 2:00 pm 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Prolonged political stalemate in Moldova raises questions about the country’s ability to stay the course of reform despite the lack of immediate and gratifying results. At the same time, December’s election of Yevgeny Shevchuk – a new and younger face in Transnistria – has again raised hopes for normalization of the decades-old conflict with the breakaway region. Is Moldova’s political deadlock proof that the democratic process is working or evidence of a failing system? Is Russia losing the ability to impose its own flagging brand of “sovereign democracy” in nearby separatist enclaves? What can the United States do to encourage Moldova’s slow, but steady progress toward greater implementation of Helsinki commitments? Please join our distinguished panel for a timely discussion of recent developments in Moldova. Witnesses Scheduled to Testify: H.E. Igor Munteanu, Ambassador of Moldova to the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Brazil Ambassador William Hill, Professor of National Security Strategy at the National War College   and former Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova Mr. Matthew Rojansky, Deputy Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment

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

    WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today a hearing on the situation in Kazakhstan following recent violence and early parliamentary elections.  Kazakhstan: As Stable as Its Government Claims? Wednesday January 25, 2012 2:00 p.m. Room 2200 Rayburn House Office Building The hearing will examine whether the recent shooting of protesters by security forces means that Kazakhstan’s repressive government is no longer as stable as it has long claimed, and whether its poor human rights record contributes to instability. For years the government of Kazakhstan has held up the country’s stability as one of its greatest achievements, and used that to justify its undemocratic government. Yet questions have arisen about that claim in light of recent events in Zhanaozen, western Kazakhstan. In December a long standing oil workers’ strike erupted in violence, leaving at least 16 dead. Video footage has emerged of security forces firing at fleeing protesters and beating those who had fallen. Human rights activists reported subsequent abuse of detainees in police custody. The violence in Zhanaozen rounded out a year that also saw several suicide bombings and the apparent emergence of extremist religious groups.  In what may be further signs of the government’s sense of insecurity, last week the government of Kazakhstan held early parliamentary elections, which, according to the OSCE, did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections. At the same time, the government is putting into place several restrictive new laws including on religion, broadcast media, and national security.  The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Ambassador William Courtney (retired), former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia Dr. Sean Roberts, Associate Professor and Director of the International Development Studies program, George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs Ms. Susan Corke, Director for Eurasia programs, Freedom House

  • REVISED: LIVE WEBCAST: U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION HEARING ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN KAZAHKSTAN

    WASHINGTON –The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today a hearing on the situation in Kazakhstan following recent violence and early parliamentary elections. Kazakhstan: As Stable as Its Government Claims? Wednesday January 25, 2012 2:00 p.m. Room 2200 Rayburn House Office Building The hearing will examine whether the recent shooting of protesters by security forces means that Kazakhstan’s repressive government is no longer as stable as it has long claimed, and whether its poor human rights record contributes to instability. For years the government of Kazakhstan has held up the country’s stability as one of its greatest achievements, and used that to justify its undemocratic government. Yet questions have arisen about that claim in light of recent events in Zhanaozen, western Kazakhstan. In December a long standing oil workers’ strike erupted in violence, leaving at least 16 dead. Video footage has emerged of security forces firing at fleeing protesters and beating those who had fallen. Human rights activists reported subsequent abuse of detainees in police custody. The violence in Zhanaozen rounded out a year that also saw several suicide bombings and the apparent emergence of extremist religious groups. In what may be further signs of the government’s sense of insecurity, last week the government of Kazakhstan held early parliamentary elections, which, according to the OSCE, did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections. At the same time, the government is putting into place several restrictive new laws including on religion, broadcast media, and national security. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Ambassador William Courtney (retired), former U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Georgia Dr. Sean Roberts, Associate Professor and Director of the International Development Studies program, George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs Ms. Susan Corke, Director for Eurasia programs, Freedom House

  • U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION TO HOLD HEARING ON WESTERN BALKANS AND THE 2012 NATO SUMMIT

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced today the following hearing: “The Western Balkans and the 2012 NATO Summit” Wednesday, January 18, 2012 2:00 pm Room B-318 Rayburn House Office Building As the United States and other NATO allies prepare for their summit in Chicago on May 20-21, this hearing will assess the current relationship with NATO of each of the countries of the Western Balkans with the goal of deeper engagement and further enlargement.  While further enlargement of the European Union after Croatia’s entry next year remains a more distant goal, greater Euro-Atlantic integration has the potential to increase stability in the Western Balkans now, and strengthen the Alliance in the process. The focus of the hearing will be on what Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia need to do meet their respective Euro-Atlantic aspirations, including the building of democratic institutions and adherence to the rule of law at home.  The hearing will also look at the potential contribution each could make to the NATO alliance, as well as NATO’s continuing role in deterring further violence and conflict in the Western Balkans.   Witnesses Scheduled to Testify: Nida Gelazis, Senior Associate, European Studies, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Daniel Serwer, Professor and Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (will particpate via Skype) Ivan Vejvoda, Vice President for Programs, German Marshall Fund of the United States

  • Chairman Smith’s Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011 Passes, Goes to White House

    WASHINGTON —Legislation authored by Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) responding to the Belarusan government’s latest crackdown on human rights that began with the fraudulent December 19, 2010 Belarusan election, was passed by the House of Representatives today by a voice vote. Since last year’s fraudulent election, the Belarusan government of Alexander Lukashenka, infamous for heading “Europe’s last dictatorship,” has stepped up its campaign of repression against human rights and democratic activists. The bill now goes to the White House where President Obama is expected to sign it. The bill – H.R. 515, the “Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2011” – strengthens and expands previous legislation authored by Chairman Smith, the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 and the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006. The new legislation: Expands the list of Belarusan officials who may be subject to visa and financial sanctions so as to include security officials involved in the post-election crackdown; Requires the release of all individuals jailed in connection with the post-election crackdown as a condition for ending U.S. government sanctions on the government of Belarus; Requires the State Dep’t to report to Congress on the government of Belarus’s arms sales and cooperation with other governments in censoring or surveilling the Internet; States a U.S. government policy to condemn the fraudulent December 19, 2010 election and work for the release of all Belarusan political prisoners and an end to repression of civil society; Calls for new presidential and parliamentary elections that will comply with OSCE standards; and Calls on the International Ice Hockey Federation to suspend its plan to hold the 2014 International World Ice Hockey championship in Minsk, Belarus – a major sporting event which the Belarusan government plans to use to legitimize its unjust rule, just as the Chinese Communist Party used the 2008 Olympics. Chairman Smith’s bill was originally passed by the House of Representatives on July 6, 2011. (Click here to read Smith’s floor remarks during House debate.) In anticipation of the tragic one-year anniversary of the crackdown, and the desire of Senate leaders to send a strong message to the dictator Lukashenka, Rep. Smith’s bill was “hotlined” in the Senate, which made technical amendments requested by the State Dep’t, approved by unanimous consent on December 14, and, in view of the amendments, was scheduled for final passage by the House. The House debate on the bill fortuitously came on the December 19 commemoration of the crackdown that inspired the legislation. (Click here to read Congressman Smith’s floor remarks.) Final passage by voice vote came on December 20. “This new law will send a powerful message to the Belarusan dictator,” said Smith, a long-time advocate for human rights and democracy in Belarus and other countries of the former Soviet Union. “This law addresses the two indispensable tools of every dictator – security services and propaganda. It puts Lukashenka’s secret police on notice that we are paying attention to who they are and what they do. And it gathers information on how he is expanding his control over the Internet in Belarus. It also sends a signal to the Belarusan people – the United States government hasn’t forgotten what happened last December, and we stand in solidarity with them, not their oppressor Lukashenka and his henchmen.” On December 19, 2011, Rep. Smith held a press conference at which he called for the release of Belarusan political prisoners. One of the speakers at the press conference was Irina Krasovskaya, whose husband was kidnapped and presumed murdered in 1999 by Belarusan secret police. She is now president of the We Remember Foundation and was on the square in Minsk one year ago with friends when police beat and arrested the protestors, and she was also in Minsk one week ago to meet with the families of political prisoners. “The situation today is even worse than it is described in the press,” Ms. Krasovskaya said. “The physical pressure on political prisoners is dramatically increasing, and I believe that now there is a real threat to the lives of political prisoners. Please do not allow Lukashenko to kill again (as happened in 1999 with political kidnapping and extrajudicial execution of his opponents). The release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners can become the first step in the effort to save ten million people from dictatorship and create a new democratic and free Belarus.” (Click here to read the rest of Ms. Krasovskaya’s statement.) In November Smith chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing on Lukashenka’s post-election crackdown, at which Ales Mikhalevich, an opposition candidate for the presidency, described how he was jailed and tortured following the election. It was in response to revelations made at this hearing, building on a long record of violent harassment of the democratic opposition, which has included torture and murder, that Smith pledged to push for an indictment of Lukashenka by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Lukashenka’s long record of egregious human rights abuses has been amply documented by the U.S. State Department in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights. In 2009, Chairman Smith, along with Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and other members of the Helsinki Commission, met with Lukashenka in Minsk.    

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

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

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

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

  • Chairman Smith to Hold Press Conference on Belarus

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

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

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

  • Chairman Smith Introduces New Global Online Freedom Act

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

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

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

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