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

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  • Helsinki Commission Efforts Reflected in Istanbul Charter

    WASHINGTON - “As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am particularly pleased that the Istanbul Charter and Declaration approved by the 54 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) today, includes a number of specific initiatives advanced by the Commission. They address trafficking in human beings, particularly women and children; corruption; eradication of torture; and protection of Roma. Members of the Commission had been fighting for advancements on these pressing issues for several years,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). A 17-member U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in July in St. Petersburg, Russia, paved the way for these advances by building a wider and stronger consensus for them. The Istanbul Declaration suggests some progress on Chechnya, another issue to which the Commission has given priority. But questions remain whether Russia is really interested in finding a political solution. With regard to Chechnya, Chairman Smith calls on Russia to “cease immediately and without precondition its use of massive and indiscriminate force against civilians. The use of such force has led to an enormous humanitarian tragedy, one that every day looks more comparable in humanitarian destruction to the terror that Serbian leader Milosevic unleashed on the civilians of Kosovo. Those in Chechnya responsible for the scores who have been kidnaped or unaccounted for should immediately release the victims and provide an accounting for all who are missing.” “Although Russia made promises in Istanbul about seeking a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya and allowing the OSCE to play a role in this,” Smith continued. “Early post-Summit reports from Moscow suggest the sincerity of these pledges is already in doubt. According to press reports, senior figures in Moscow refer to President Yeltsin’s ‘rigid’ position in Istanbul and say ‘no new orders’ have been given. Russia should make a good faith effort to find a political solution, with assistance from the OSCE. Not to do so and to continue Moscow’s brutal attacks would condemn many thousands more innocent people to tragic consequences.” “I was disappointed that the documents do not build on OSCE commitments in the field of religious liberty at a time when there is increasing intolerance toward minority faith communities in much of the OSCE region, including Western Europe,” Smith continued, “Similarly, I am disheartened at the failure of efforts to set a standard for the removal of criminal defamation from the law books of OSCE States. Such an effort was seen as unacceptable by several countries. But we will not retreat.” Members of the Commission have been particularly active in supporting concrete steps to combat trafficking of human beings, the subject of a June 28 hearing. The U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July introduced an anti-trafficking initiative that was unanimously approved by the Assembly. The introduction of this issue into the Istanbul Charter and Declaration also has been received with broad approval, which will help spur serious efforts in the OSCE States to stop this modern form of slavery. Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) especially welcomed the high-level recognition of the problems posed by corruption in the OSCE region. “Corruption has implications well beyond the economic dimension, undermining the core OSCE values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Rampant corruption in many of the economies in transition pose a great threat to their ability to develop as democracies and create prosperous private market economies. These problems likewise afflict the United States and other advanced countries. Thus this issue is ripe for a much higher level of international attention. I would add that corruption has cost U.S. business firms billions of dollars in lost contracts abroad with direct implications for our economy here at home. The comprehensive nature and membership of the OSCE make it ideally suited to play a leading role in combating corruption in a region of vital interest to the United States," Campbell concluded. Campbell served as Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the St. Petersburg Assembly and spearheaded calls for the OSCE to play an active role in combating corruption and organized crime. A Commission hearing in July on “Corruption and Bribery in the OSCE Region” highlighted the multidimensional aspects of the problem. The Commission has conducted hearings this year on the use of torture in countries of the OSCE, especially in Turkey, a NATO ally. Efforts by several Members of the Commission to stop the export of torture equipment by U.S. companies to Turkey's Government followed a 1998 congressional fact-finding mission to Turkey which included interaction with families of torture victims, and a March hearing. In many OSCE participating States, safeguards—such as due process of law and independent judicial oversight of police and security forces—to prevent torture and prosecute and punish those responsible are weak or non-existent. Abuses of prisoners and detainees occur with alarming frequency throughout the NIS; arrest of those responsible is rare. Last year, Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman reported that torture was widespread. In Uzbekistan, political activists and religious believers have been tortured in custody, to extract confessions. In Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, oppositionists have been targets for similar abuse. In Central Europe and the former Yugoslavia, there have been many incidents of police brutality against Roma. Torture is widespread in Turkey, but Ankara's recently stated policy of zero tolerance and their plans for additional legal reforms and human rights education are welcomed. Some 400,000 victims of torture worldwide have made their way to the United States, recognized as a global leader in supporting the rehabilitation of victims of torture. The November 19 Charter for European Security includes a clear commitment of OSCE states to eradicate torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The Heads of State have further pledged to promote legislation to provide safeguards and legal remedies to combat torture and assist victims. Members of the Commission hoped to expand the language to further protect minority religious believers, many of whom are currently under legal attack in a number of the OSCE States. Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants, for example, are having a difficult time in much of the former Soviet Union and in countries like France and Austria in obtaining legal standing in the courts, and in buying property. The bulldozing of the only Seventh Day Adventist church in Turkmenistan last weekend is a shocking reminder of the frightening threats to religious freedom in some areas of the OSCE region. Summit leaders acknowledged that Roma are subjected to violence and discrimination, as well as other manifestations of racism. There is no clearer manifestation of the racism Roma face than the wall recently erected in the Czech city of Usti nad Labem. The United States has commended the Czech Government and Parliament for opposing the wall, which is incompatible with a democratic society. This wall deserves the same fate as the Berlin wall, and now. A number of countries have no comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and Roma have often faced unremedied discrimination in the workplace, housing, education, the military, and public places. Therefore, in addition to acknowledging the violence and discrimination Roma face, the November 19 Declaration calls for the adoption of anti-discrimination legislation to promote respect for the rights of Roma. The Commission will actively work to build on the progress at the Summit to add impulse and content to the work of the OSCE on the issues of on trafficking, corruption, torture, and Roma. The Commission will also make stronger efforts to develop more support among OSCE states for expanding protections to minority religions and faiths, and bringing an end to the infamous criminal defamation laws that, in some countries, are used to squelch voices of freedom. Members of the Commission do not underestimate the exertions required to achieve these goals. In this regard it especially looks forward to close cooperation with NGOs and other OSCE states that shared the Commission’s priorities.

  • Commissioners: "Mrs. Clinton, Support the 'Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 1999' as an Example in Istanbul!"

    WASHINGTON - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Commissioners Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) today called on First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to express her support for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 1999—a bi-partisan bill HR 3244, under consideration in Congress—in her speech at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, tomorrow. The provisions of the legislation complement language expected in the Istanbul Charter which President Clinton and leaders of the fifty-four OSCE participating States will sign tomorrow. Last July, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the governments of OSCE participating States to adopt or strengthen legislation and enforcement mechanisms which would punish those who forcibly or fraudulently recruit and transport individuals within or across borders in order to force them into prostitution or slavery-like labor conditions. It is expected that the Summit document will also specify that States should promote the adoption or strengthening of legislation to hold accountable persons responsible for trafficking in human beings and to strengthen the protection of victims. Immediately following the Charter signing tomorrow, the First Lady will speak publicly to the OSCE Summit gathering about this issue. “Trafficking in human beings is a form of modern day slavery,” said Smith. “The international community has made it clear that lawmakers must declare war on those that commit these crimes. The U.S. Congress recognizes the need for improved legislation to combat trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 1999 gained strong bipartisan support last week in the House International Relations Committee. When enacted, this law will strengthen U.S. laws and penalties against trafficking so that the United States will become the last place that traffickers want to commit their crimes. The bill would represent a direct fulfillment of this latest OSCE human rights commitment.” H.R. 3244 would severely punish persons in the United States convicted of trafficking, including recruitment, harboring, transporting, purchasing or selling the trafficking victim. The bill would authorize $94.5 million for programs in the United States and abroad to assist and protect victims of trafficking, such as the provision of shelters and rehabilitation programs for victims and limited provision of relief from deportation for victims who expose their traffickers. Foreign aid would be authorized to help other countries improve their laws against trafficking and to establish protections for victims, but, for those countries that still do not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, non-humanitarian U.S. assistance would be withheld. According to Smith, “H.R. 3244 will make important and necessary changes to U.S. law designed to help end this brutal, inhumane, and horrific exploitation of human beings, especially women and children. The First Lady should use her speech tomorrow as an opportunity to support this bi-partisan effort against trafficking. H.R. 3244 is a model for the many other countries that are just beginning to address this affront to the human rights of millions of people, particularly women and children.”

  • Helsinki Commission Alleges Horrific Humanitarian Disaster Unfolding in Chechnya

    WASHINGTON - “The Clinton Administration has, for the past few years, refrained from any criticism or challenge of the policies of President Yeltsin in the fragile hope that this will enhance the prospect that democracy and civil society will prevail. Unfortunately, strains of democracy and civil society have been drowned out by the sound of tank treads moving over the countryside of Chechnya,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith today at the Commission hearing “The Chechen Crisis and Its Implications for Russian Democracy.” “The Russian Government is applying indiscriminate force far out of proportion to its stated objectives in Chechnya,“said Smith. “As was the case four years ago, thousands of innocent persons are being killed or displaced by the Russian offensive.” Smith commented, “Any country, including the Russian Federation, is justified in using appropriate methods to combat terrorism. However, launching a war against innocent civilians is another matter. Russia is a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and has agreed to certain standards regarding the protection of citizens when addressing internal security matters.” “Ironically, the leaders of the 54 OSCE countries are preparing to assemble shortly in Istanbul for the final major summit of the century,” said Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “The horrific humanitarian disaster unfolding in Chechnya will loom large over that important meeting. While none should discount that threats posed by terrorism in the North Caucasus, neither should that serve as a pretext to use force against non-combatants and civilian populations.” Ranking Commissioner Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) lamented, “The policy is not only murderous, but incredibly short-sighted. However it may have been planned, the war in Chechnya has not only become an attack on innocent non-combatants, but it will strain the fabric of Russia’s democratic development, to say nothing of the financial resources that could be used to build up a society, rather than destroy it.” “There is a major humanitarian disaster underway in the Caucasus,” said Lyoma Usmanov, the Representative of Chechen Republic to the United States. “Hundreds of civilians have already been killed in Russian air and artillery attacks, mostly women and children, and thousands have fled to neighboring regions. As these regions are completely unequipped to cope with this influx of refugees, the scale of the disaster will grow exponentially as colder weather sets in. Neither the Chechen nor the Russian Ingush governments are capable of preventing this unfolding tragedy, affecting those most vulnerable in our society; the elderly, women and children.” Professor John Dunlop, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution said, “It is my conclusion that this campaign of terror against Chechen civilians has been fully intentional on the part of the Russian military, Prime Minister Putin and President Yeltsin. Its principal aim appears to have been ethnically to cleanse hundreds of thousands of Chechens from their home republic, in what resembles a repeat performance of the Stalinist deportation of 1944, which eventually resulted in the Chechens losing 20-25% of their populace.” Journalist Yo’av Karny noted, “The Chechens do not deserve capital punishment on the account of [their] flaws. Their quest for independence is no less legitimate, no less warranted by a history of struggle, than that of any people I know of. “Chechnya’s fate has been ignored too often by the outside world. Their own holocaust, which coincided with that of the Jews in Europe, is still awaiting world recognition and Russian repentance. It is our moral duty to make sure that this tiny and stubborn nation does not perish.” Fiona Hill of the Eurasia Foundation commented, “The peace the Khasavyurt Accord brought proved to be as unpopular as the war it ended, and the Accord is now nothing more than a glorified cease-fire document.” She said, “Sympathy for the Chechens rapidly dissipated both in Moscow and in the surrounding region of the North Caucasus [following the 1994-96 war] in the face of widespread and blatant kidnapings, assassinations, murders, and attacks on economic targets in neighboring areas.” Most importantly, Hill said, “This Second War is all about politics in Moscow in the run up to the December 1999 Russian parliamentary and the June 2000 presidential elections, and all about defeat in the first war. In October 1995, in the face of persistent Russian military reversals and an increasing public backlash against the war, Boris Yeltsin described Chechnya as the biggest mistake of his Presidency. This is now a chance for the Yeltsin regime and the Russian military to fight the war again––and this time to do it right and correct that mistake. It is also an opportunity for a victorious little war to propel the regime’s designated successor to Yeltsin––Prime Minister Vladimir Putin––up the popularity polls and into the presidency in June 2000.” Ms. Hill offered the following recommendations: “We must continue to condemn attacks on the civilian population of Chechnya, and highlight the humanitarian tragedy and the threats to democracy in Russia posed by the press blackout. We must engage those Russian politicians who are beginning to speak out against the civilian casualties and the conduct of the War and stress the importance of negotiations. We should encourage the renewed engagement of the OSCE in the region given the positive role that this organization played in the first war, and should offer humanitarian assistance for the refugees and the neighboring republics that are hosting them.”

  • Czech Prime Minister Commended by Helsinki Commission for Condemning Roma Ghetto in Usti nad Labem

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe released the text of a letter to His Excellency Milos Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, commending him for his leadership in passing a resolution which overrules the Usti nad Labem city council’s decision to build a wall separating Roma from non-Roma residents and urging him to continue his efforts to remove this barrier which divides the citizens of his country, effectively creating a ghetto reminiscent of 1930s Europe. The letter was signed by Commissioners Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Ranking Members Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Michael P. Forbes (D-NY). The full text of the letter follows: Dear Mr. Prime Minister: We write to commend you for your leadership in the passage of a resolution on October 13 which overrules the Usti nad Labem city council’s decision to build a wall separating Roma from non-Roma residents. We urge you to continue your efforts to remove this barrier which divides the citizens of your country. In May 1998, the international community was shocked when local officials in Usti nad Labem announced plans to build a wall that would separate ethnic Czechs, whom Mayor Ladislav Hruska reportedly deemed “decent” citizens, from the Roma whom he derided as “indecent.” Foreign journalists immediately converged in Usti to report on the proposed wall, often comparing it to the Berlin wall or to Nazi ghettos. A member of the Commission staff also visited Maticni Street in Usti, as an observer on a Council of Europe delegation. In the seventeen months since this controversy erupted, human rights organizations from Skopje to Berlin to New York have criticized the wall. Dozens of representatives from the diplomatic community in Prague and from international organizations, including the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Council of Europe, and the European Union have visited Usti and condemned the proposed wall. At a September 6 OSCE meeting in Vienna—a meeting devoted exclusively to Romani human rights issues—Usti was repeatedly held up as the symbol for every injustice faced by Roma. We understand that some local officials have defended the wall as a “noise barrier”; others view it as “just a wall.” But in Usti, this wall was specifically designed to divide a community along racial lines. Accordingly, no matter what euphemism local officials may use for this structure, it will simply be known internationally as a monument to racism. These developments have already inflicted considerable damage to the good name and reputation of your country. We regret that, notwithstanding the Cabinet’s May 26 resolution opposing the wall, local officials in Usti proceeded with construction of the wall at 4:00 a.m. on October 13— behind a police cordon to keep away the dozens of demonstrators who blocked construction last week. Regrettably, local officials in Usti have also stated their intent to disregard the Parliament’s resolution. Mr. Prime Minister, a Czech official from the Foreign Ministry complained at an OSCE-Council of Europe meeting on October 5 that international observers have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past seventeen months talking about a wall that has not even been built yet. Well, now the wall has been built. As long as this controversy persists, the Usti wall will erode the Czech Republic’s international standing and cast a shadow over U.S.-Czech relations. Dialogue on many other issues of mutual interest will inevitably share the agenda with the wall in Usti. Under these circumstances, it is critical that Czech political leaders act decisively and quickly to end this crisis. Sincerely, BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S Co-Chairman FRANK LAUTENBERG, U.S.S. Ranking Member JOSEPH R. PITTS, M.C. Commissioner CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C. Chairman STENY H. HOYER, M.C. Ranking Member MICHAEL P. FORBES, M.C. Commissioner 

  • Belarus' President Lukashenka Called on the Carpet by Helsinki Commission for Human Rights Violations

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe released the text of a letter to His Excellency Alyaksandr Lukashenka, President of the Republic of Belarus, expressing growing concern about violations of human rights, democracy and rule of law, specifically: the arrest yesterday of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in an "unsanctioned" march; the continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir; the disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar and others; increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals; the denial of registration of non-governmental organizations; the police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96; criminal charges against opposition activists; and, the initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday's Freedom March. The Commission has been concerned about this deterioration in Belarus for quite some time and has raised such issues with the Government of Belarus to little avail. The letter was signed by Commissioners Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), and Ranking Members Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). The full text of the letter follows: Dear President Lukashenka: We are writing to express our serious and growing concerns about recent developments in Belarus. Until recently, we were becoming more hopeful that meaningful dialogue between the Belarusian Government and opposition would take place. Within the last month, however, violations of the principles of human rights, democracy and rule of law have come to our attention that, frankly, lead us to question your government's seriousness in finding a solution to the problems of democracy in Belarus. We were disturbed to learn of the arrest earlier today of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in "an unsanctioned march." Our concerns include the following: • the continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir, who was supposed to be released from investigative detention where he has been held for six months. • the disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar, his colleague Yuri Krasovsky, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenka, and former National Bank Chair Tamara Vinnikova. • increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals, and especially the harassment of Naviny through the use of high libel fees clearly designed to silence this independent newspaper. • the denial of registration of non-governmental organizations, including the Belarusian Independent Industrial Trade Union Association. • the police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96, and confiscation of computers which stored data on human rights violations. • criminal charges against opposition activist Mykola Statkevich and lawyer Oleg Volchek and continued interrogation of lawyer Vera Stremkovskaya. • the initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday's Freedom March. Your efforts to address these concerns would reduce the climate of suspicion and fear that currently exists and enhance confidence in the negotiation process which we believe is so vital to Belarus' development as a democratic country in which human rights and the rule of law are respected. Sincerely, BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S Co-Chairman FRANK LAUTENBERG, U.S.S. Ranking Member CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C. Chairman STENY H. HOYER, M.C. Ranking Member

  • "Uzbekistan is One of the Most Repressive New Independent States," says Helsinki Commission Chairman Smith

    WASHINGTON - “Since mid-1992, Uzbekistan has been one of the most repressive New Independent States under President Islam Karimov,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today at a Commission hearing, “The State of Democratization and Human Rights in Uzbekistan.” “There are no registered opposition parties, all media are tightly censored and there are no independent human rights monitoring organizations,” said Smith. “Religious liberty has also been challenged. While for the most part the Jewish community has not encountered difficulties from government bodies, and President Karimov has pursued good relations with Israel, Evangelical Christian denominations have faced official harassment. Moreover, since 1997, an ongoing crackdown on Islamic believers has been underway. That has been documented in the State Department’s Human Rights Report and many reports by non-governmental human rights groups. Uzbekistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election in January 2000 against this general background.” Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) commented, “From my travels, I saw that the fear of Islamic extremism is one of the main motivating factors behind the Uzbek Government's crackdown on all religious groups…However, fear does not absolve governments of their responsibilities to protect the rights of citizens to religious liberty…By prohibiting unregistered religious gatherings and criminalizing free religious speech, Uzbekistan violates its OSCE commitments to religious liberty and free expression.” “No democratic state can ever justify what reliable reports tell us about continuing torture, extorted confessions, or the planting of false evidence. Even in circumstances where a genuine threat exists to the well-being of the state, rule of law and due process norms must be followed in order to insure that human rights are protected,” he said. Pitts concluded, “The current government policy of violating human rights of Uzbek citizens is an obstacle that must be overcome. Uzbekistan's full potential cannot be realized until these human rights issues are dealt with in a constructive and just way.” John Beyrle, Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States, testified, “Uzbekistan has shown little progress in democratization. The U.S. will likely discourage other governments and the OSCE field missions from monitoring the upcoming December and January elections.” “Free and open media are vital to the growth of true democracy, [yet] soviet-style press censorship remains pervasive; the rule of law remains weak; and, the exercise of religion is hindered by the 1998 restrictive law on religion,” he said. His Excellency Sodyq Safaev, Ambassador of the Republic of Uzbekistan commented, “Uzbeks today face the numerous challenges of building a secular democracy and opposing the threats of religious fundamentalism and political extremism. … The main achievement of Uzbekistan during the short period of its independence was that it has managed to avoid altogether the disintegration of society, economic collapse and chaos. …76% of the population of Uzbekistan is satisfied with the government’s job. … They see that all institutions of statehood and government are functioning and providing them whatever the state should provide to its citizens. …The people also see that they have been freed from the shackles of the state economy. …The people also see that now, at last, for the first time this century, they are genuinely free to travel abroad. …Both individuals and ethnic groups are free to leave the country, should they so desire. Although Uzbekistan is not fully democratic in the sense that the West understands it, although mistakes have been done, although plenty of shortcomings still exist, it is certainly the freest system under which Uzbeks have ever lived. And [the] nation is firmly committed to the further strengthening of secular democracy and [the] free market,” he concluded. Cassandra Cavanaugh, Researcher, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, presented a very different perspective: “By the Fall of 1998, …some have estimated that over 80% of all working mosques were closed.” “We see the following pattern of human rights violations: Arrests are clearly discriminatory, based on evidence of piety such as beard-wearing (now extremely uncommon), regular attendance at suspect mosques or individual prayer or Koranic study alone or in groups; Police often plant evidence which forms the basis for initial charges: small amounts of narcotics, ammunition, or increasingly, banned religious literature, or a combination; The authorities act as hostage-takers, arresting family members or occupying family homes to coerce the appearance of a wanted person. Family members have also been sentenced to prison terms solely on the basis of their affiliation with suspected religious figures; From beginning to end, the right to a fair hearing is violated, with accused persons most often deprived of the right to counsel, held in incommunicado detention, and tortured. There are increasing reports of deaths in detention. Being accused is usually tantamount to being convicted, as the presumption of evidence is entirely lacking,” she said. Alarmingly, she noted, “The government is building what can only be described as a concentration camp reportedly exclusively for Muslim prisoners at Jaslyk, in the ecological disaster zone of the Ust-Yurt plateau. According to the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan there have been at least 38 deaths in custody in this facility.” “The U.S. should move beyond talking about the threat of terrorism not justifying repression.…Recent experience shows that the threat of sanctions can bring about change.…Therefore, we urge you to make Uzbekistan subject to all measures provided for under the Religious Freedom Act,” she concluded. Paul Goble, Communications Director, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, noted that “Tashkent is converting Islam from a religion to a political force of enormous and potentially destabilizing force.” Noting the building of two prison camps for political opponents, he noted, “These camps will resemble the GULAG of the Soviet past, and even if no one is ever confined to them, their existence will cast a chilling shadow over the population.” “Uzbekistan’s most open question is “after Karimov, what?” said Goble. Lawrence Uzzell, Director, Keston Institute, commented, “It cannot be stressed too often that Uzbekistan’s 1998 law on religion is the most repressive in all of the former Soviet Union. Only in Uzbekistan has the state formally criminalized religious dissent, by formally amending its criminal code to impose prison terms of up to five years for unauthorized religious activity. Unlike Russia, which allows even unregistered groups to gather in the homes of their own members, Uzbekistan explicitly prohibits any kind of communal activity by such a group—even a Bible study in one of its member’s apartments. By law Uzbekistan explicitly bans all forms of missionary activity, bans religious education at the elementary or secondary level, and subjects all imported religious literature to state censorship.” Abdurahim Polat, Chairman of the Birlik Party and exiled opposition leader, noted, “Preparations for elections in Uzbekistan are going ahead with full speed, which are going on totally against democratic principles. The opposition is banned from participating in these campaigns. Exiled leaders of democratic opposition decided to delay their return to Uzbekistan. These elections will not have any positive effect on the state of the nation. On the contrary, it may have a negative effect and destabilize the situation. It seems like civil war is unavoidable.” “With the assistance of the international community, mainly from the member countries of the OSCE, it is still possible to stop the bloodshed and find the solution in the best interests of the Uzbek nation,” he concluded.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Voice Outrage Over Wall

    WASHINGTON - “The wall in Usti nad Labem is a symbol of intolerance and racism against Roma that cannot be allowed to stand in today’s Europe,” said Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), following the construction of a wall between Roma and non-Roma residents in the Czech city of Usti nad Labem on Wednesday (October 13). “The human rights situation in the Czech Republic has taken an alarming turn for the worse.” Plans to build the wall between Roma and non-Roma residents on Maticni Street were announced in May 1998 by Usti Mayor Ladislav Hruska, a member of Vaclav Klaus’ Civic Democratic Party. Since then, the wall has been the subject of intense criticism by non-governmental human rights organizations and representatives of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, and the Council of Europe. In May 1999, the Czech Cabinet adopted a resolution opposing the wall, but took no decisive action to prevent it from being built. Last week, efforts by municipal authorities to begin construction of the wall resulted in a temporary stalemate, as approximately 50 Romani demonstrators occupied the construction site. At 4:00 a.m. on October 13, police cordoned off the site and construction of the wall was hastily completed. On the evening of October 13, the Czech Chamber of Deputies adopted a resolution by a vote 100 to 58 opposing the wall, but local officials in Usti have remained defiant and say they will not remove it. Chairman Smith continued, “I have been heartened by some of the improvements this year in the human rights situation for Czech Republic’s Romani minority, especially the change in the Czech citizenship law. I regret that Czech officials have allowed this controversy to escalate to these proportions. As long as this crisis persists, the Usti wall will erode the Czech Republic’s international standing and cast a shadow over U.S.-Czech relations. Dialogue on many other issues of mutual interest will inevitably share the agenda with the wall in Usti. These developments certainly undermine the credibility of those who have argued that Romani asylum seekers from the Czech Republic do not have a well-founded fear of persecution.” Ranking Commission Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) added: “Last year, during the debate on NATO expansion, I supported the admission of the Czech Republic. I noted there were issues of concern there, including discrimination against the Romani minority. At the same time, I stated my belief that Czech leaders were committed to resolving these problems. I certainly expected to see an improvement with respect to those problems -- not their escalation. Today, I want to voice my profound concern about the wall in Usti nad Labem. I urge every leader of every Czech political party to voice his unequivocal opposition to this symbol of racism.” “It reportedly took an 80-member police cordon to enable this wall to be built,” observed Ranking Commissioner Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “But human rights activists have long vowed to take sledge hammers to any wall there. Is there going to be a permanent police presence in Usti to maintain this wall? This is just not normal.”

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Ukraine Elections Briefing

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus announce a cosponsored public briefing: High Stakes: Upcoming Presidential Elections in Ukraine Friday, October 15 2:00 p.m. Room 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Capitol Hill Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff the Press and Public Questions and answers to follow presentations   Participating in the briefing will be: John Tedstrom, Director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council Nadia Diuk, Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the New Independent States at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) Michael Conway, Program Officer for Europe and Asia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Moderator: Amb. William Courtney, Senior Advisor, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • Helsinki Commission Urges Restraint in North Causasus

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today urged the Russian Government to cease its bombing campaign in Chechnya and address the social and economic problems that have caused discontent. “Moscow is undoubtedly entitled to defend its territorial integrity and resist terrorism. Our government is justified in assisting legitimate anti-terrorism efforts by the Russian Government,” said Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “But bombing Grozny, taking more innocent lives, and creating hordes of refugees in Chechnya is not likely to end the conflict in Dagestan. Such a policy is more likely to widen the conflict and sow enmity that will last for generations. President Yeltsin’s refusal to meet with President Maskhadov says volumes about Moscow’s willingness to settle the issue peacefully.” “Instead of leaving the Caucasus region on ‘auto-pilot,’ Moscow might better have done its part to live up to the Khasavurt Agreement and help Chechnya recover from the devastation of the war,” said Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, (R-CO). “Now it is reaping the harvest of neglect. Military overreaction in Chechnya does nothing to address the social and economic problems that have plagued Dagestan and made it ripe for the militants’ incursion. I hope wiser heads will prevail and work to remove the causes of discontent.” For the past four days, Russian planes have pounded strategic targets near the Chechen capital of Grozny, ostensibly to reduce the combat capabilities of Islamic militants who invaded western Dagestan from Chechnya in mid-August. The government of President Aslan Maskhadov has disavowed any connection with the militant forces, but appears unable to control them. Since the end of the Chechen War in 1996, the region has been plagued by violence, kidnapings, and a failing economy. According to many observers, the dismal economic prospects are responsible for the popularity of the Islamic militants, especially the Wahhabi sect, under whose banner many of the insurgents in Dagestan claim to be fighting.

  • Commission Chairman Welcomes Vote on Czech Citizenship

    WASHINGTON - “Friday's vote by the Czech Chamber of Deputies to amend the Czech citizenship law represents an important victory in the Romani civil rights movement,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today. “It is another concrete manifestation of the current Czech Government’s efforts to address the human rights concerns of the Czech Republic’s largest minority, the Roma. I commend those parliamentarians who supported this legislation and those in the government, especially Human Rights Commissioner Petr Uhl and Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky, for their leadership. The previous government policy—saying that the Romani minority need not seek asylum in Canada or elsewhere, while simultaneously denying many Czech Roma citizenship—simply made no sense. Friday’s vote restores common sense to the government’s citizenship policy. I hope the Czech Senate will quickly approve this measure and that President Havel will sign this into law at the earliest opportunity, ” said Smith. After the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation on January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic implemented a citizenship law that was one of the most restrictive of any of the 21 newly independent states of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Tens of thousands of former Czechoslovak citizens who were permanent residents of the Czech Republic were rendered de facto or de jure stateless; all of them were members of the Romani minority. In 1996, the law was amended in an effort to placate international critics of the law, but the 1996 amendment failed to make substantive changes or to address the law's fundamental shortcomings. On Friday, July 9, the Czech Chamber of Deputies adopted an amendment by 114 to 58 which will enable Roma who are permanent residents in the Czech Republic and who had been previously been excluded from citizenship to regularize their status. Chairman Smith also stated, “Many non-governmental organizations share the credit for this success: the Tolerance Foundation, the Czech Helsinki Committee, the Gremium of Roma Regional Representatives, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, the European Roma Rights Center and others have played a critical role in monitoring and documenting the problems faced by Roma in the Czech Republic. Finally, I commend the Romani men and women who had the courage to stand up for their inalienable rights. The non-governmental community has once again demonstrated the critical role they play in any civil society—a role that should never be underestimated.”

  • Commission Chairman: "It's Time to Declare War on Sex Traffickers"

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today examined an escalating human rights problem in the OSCE region— the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. “Trafficking in human beings is a form of modern day slavery,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “When a woman or child is trafficked or sexually exploited by force, fraud or coercion for commercial gain, she is denied the most basic human rights–namely, her rights to liberty and security of person, her right not to be held in slavery or servitude, and her right to be free from cruel or inhumane treatment. In the worst cases, she is denied her right to life. Under the laws and practices in the United States and in European countries, trafficking victims are denied an effective remedy against those who have violated their rights. Ironically, it is the women who are trafficked who end up being arrested in brothel raids, locked up and then deported as illegal immigrants while their perpetrators rarely suffer repercussions for their actions,” he concluded. “It is time to declare war on those that commit these crimes,” said Smith. “That is why earlier this Congress I introduced the Freedom from Sexual Trafficking Act of 1999, H.R. 1356, which would severely punish persons in the United States convicted of sexual trafficking, including recruitment, harboring, transporting, purchasing or selling the trafficking victim. Non-humanitarian U.S. assistance would not be provided to foreign countries which do not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of sexual trafficking. Of critical importance is the assistance and protection that would be provided to victims of trafficking, such as the provision of shelters and rehabilitation programs for victims and limited provision of relief from deportation for victims who expose their traffickers. These are important and necessary changes to U.S. law designed to help end this brutal, inhumane, and horrific exploitation of women and children.” Commissioner Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-PA) commented, “This is some of the most heartbreaking testimony I’ve heard.” Anita Botti, Deputy Director and Senior Advisor on Trafficking in the State Department’s Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues testified, “Over 50,000 of these women and children are trafficked into the U.S. annually, primarily from Latin America, the former Soviet Union and South East Asia. Russia, Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic are major countries of origin in Central and Eastern Europe.” Wendy Young, speaking about the threat of trafficking of refugees, reported, “Despite the lack of concrete data, disturbing reports regarding the situation of women and children are emerging, including stories of women and girls caught up in the trafficking network that was already thriving in the region, especially in Albania. For example, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and others have reported that existing trafficking rings in Vlore, Albania have smuggled as many as 10 boatloads of 40 or more Kosovars each night into Italy. The price paid for the perilous journey is approximately $750 per person, totaling up to $50,000 each night in profits per smuggler. Among their number are an unknown number of young women who are recruited or abducted by the smugglers and forced into prostitution.” Wendy Young serves as the Washington Liaison and Staff Attorney for the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children which is a program of the International Rescue Committee. Steven Galster, Executive Director of Global Survival Network, who, between 1994 and 1996, led an undercover investigation into the trafficking of women and girls from countries of the former Soviet Union to Asia, Europe, and North America, commented, “I believe the United States Government is now moving in the right direction to combat trafficking on U.S. soil and abroad…Specifically, U.S. policy on this issue should emphasize the following components: increase public awareness [of the trafficking issue]; increase economic opportunities for women at risk; emphasize national civil rights laws and international human rights treaties in anti-trafficking enforcement activities; recall the existence of several international, anti-slavery instruments, which should be taken into account before OSCE states create new laws or agencies to fight slavery. “An effective response to trafficking would provide a victim with a stay of deportation for at least the period during which the investigation and potential trial against the trafficker takes place. Also, don't forget that these women are potential sources of information that aid law enforcement actions against organized crime groups. But they must be guaranteed protection,” said Galster. Dr. Louise Shelley, American University Professor and Director of the Center for the Study of Transnational Crime and Corruption, who since 1995 has conducted a program in coordination with specialists in Russia, and more recently Ukraine, on the problem of organized crime, pointed out that the main features of the trafficking problem are heavy involvement of organized crime; lack of capacity and motivation; complicity and corruption in law enforcement, passport services and consular divisions; corruption within NIS law enforcement, border guards and passport services; absence of law enforcement links; and, absence of victim protection. Among other points, she recommended that there be cooperation between telecommunications companies and law enforcement investigations in the trafficking area particularly in the American-European-Eastern European-NIS area. “Next week,” pointed out Chairman Smith, “the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in St. Petersburg will be advancing a resolution I have proposed calling for the governments of OSCE participating States to develop nationally and internationally coordinated law enforcement strategies to combat international organized crime, particularly the role of organized crime in trafficking of women and children. We are hopeful that the OSCE can be a valuable forum in which we can work with other governments in the region to bring an end to this demeaning, exploitive, and violent trade.” Laura Lederer, Research Director and Project Manager of an extensive research project under way in the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, which aims to gather and disseminate information regarding laws that protect women and children from commercial sexual exploitation, noted that in studying the laws of 154 countries, “we find that the prostitution laws, which are aimed at women and children, are enforced, while the procuration laws, aimed at the traffickers, are almost never invoked.”

  • Council of Europe Action on "Sects" Alarms Chairman

    WASHINGTON - Following passage June 22 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of its Recommendation on “Illegal Activities of Sects, ” Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) commented: “Parts of the Council of Europe’s Recommendation 1412 (1999) are inconsistent with international human rights standards, such as the Helsinki Final Act, to which the Council of Europe’s members have agreed. “Specifically, the Council of Europe calls on states to set up or sponsor ‘information centres’ and a Europe-wide information exchange on religious groups. This is dangerous. Who will determine whether the information is objective, accurate and fair? The risk is that misinformation with an official imprimatur will reinforce unfair stereotypes, prejudice, intolerance and xenophobia. In some countries in transition, government-backed centers could easily be abused to fan ethnic bigotry and to discriminate against minority religious and belief groups. Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief is a fundamental human right. Furthermore, religion is not a social problem. As the Council of Europe has recognized in the past, genuine social problems are best addressed by existing criminal and civil laws and the application of due process—not the sinister defaming of selected religious organizations and their members by governments.” “Last week’s action by the Council of Europe, and its application, will receive very close attention from the U.S. Congress,” said Smith, “Now is not the time for Europe to retreat on fundamental human rights. Rather, religious liberty issues deserve ever wider public discussion.” While the Recommendation is more moderate than the original draft proposed by Mr. Adrian Nastase, a Romanian deputy on the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Recommendation still contains alarming provisions that may provide overzealous government officials the opportunity and excuse to violate people’s religious liberty, particularly that of minority religious and belief groups. The Recommendation causes specific concern in several areas, saying: –“It is unnecessary to define what constitutes a sect or to decide whether it is a religion or not. However, there is some concern about groups which are considered as sects, whatever religious, esoteric or spiritual description they adopt, and this needs to be taken into account.” –“It is essential to ensure that the activities of these groups…are in keeping with the principles of our democratic societies and, in particular, with Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights, as well as being legal.” [emphasis added] –“It is of prime importance to have reliable information on these groups that emanates neither exclusively from the sects themselves nor from associations set up to defend the victims of sects, and to circulate it widely among the general public, after those whom it regards have had the chance to be heard as to the objectivity of such information.” The Recommendation: –“calls on the governments of member states: * “to set up or support independent national or regional information centres on groups of a religious, esoteric or spiritual nature;” * include the information in educational curricula; and, * to force families to enroll their children in school, even if in violation of their religious belief. –“where necessary, provide for specific action to set up information centres on groups…in the countries of central and eastern Europe in its aid programmes for those countries; –“set up a European observatory on groups…to make it easier for national centres to exchange information.” Copies of the Recommendation are available from the Commission.

  • Europe's Anti-Religious Trends Focus of Commission Hearing; Chairman Calls for Raising Priority in OSCE

    WASHINGTON - “Testimony before this Commission over the last two years has left the clear impression of rising intolerance toward religion—all religions—by many of the governments of Western Europe, most notably France and Belgium. This is often exercised under the guise of anti-sect or anti-cult activity ostensibly to ‘protect’ the people,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) following today’s hearing “Religious Freedom in Western Europe: Religious Minorities and Growing Government Intolerance.” “I am greatly alarmed—as are many of my fellow Commissioners—at this trend. We must raise religious liberty to the top of the human rights focus in Europe through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to prevent their gradual slide into the dark abyss of state-sponsored intolerance.” According to the witnesses’ testimony, it became apparent that, while the original target of these efforts was sects or cults, the government policies are evolving into anti-religion policies. “Recognizing and respecting the individual’s right to freedom of thought, conscience or belief is not an abstract ideal.” said Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “It is an issue with direct impact on peace and security, because when this human right is violated, people will react and react strongly.” The Commission hearing, the third in recent years on the topic of religious liberty, featured Dr. Willy Fautré of Human Rights Without Frontiers; The Rev. Louis DeMeo of Grace Church, Nimes, France; and Alain Garay, Esq., human rights lawyer and counsel for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Each presented case after case of the evolving picture of religious intolerance throughout Europe. “In the city of Nimes, there stands a monument of a former pastor and mayor from the 18th century whose inscription states that ‘all religious freedom is ensured to all people.’ This is in total contradiction [to what we] have been able to enjoy in the country of France,” said Rev. DeMeo. Dr. Fautré pointed out, “In France and in the French-speaking part of Belgium, the authorities have chosen to reject any sort of dialogue with minority religions, favoring the confrontational method, more often than not with the support of anti-sect associations. Ever since the beginning of the phenomenon, no dialogue has been entered into and there is no sign of a change in course.” Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer commented, “Religious liberty is the most fundamental of all human rights. If it is not being observed and protected, it is most likely that all other human rights are in grave danger as well.” The hearing was also attended by Commissioners Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).

  • Commission Chairman Praises Czech Government Decision

    WASHINGTON - “I commend the courage and leadership of the Czech cabinet which voted yesterday to block plans by local officials in Usti nad Labem to build a Romani ghetto,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “Usti nad Labem -- a city that could be famous for its potential as a tourist attraction -- has instead become the symbol of the rampant racism that plagues Europe’s Romani minority.” The cabinet vote was taken after local officials in Usti nad Labem received a building permit to construct a wall to divide Romani from ethnic Czech townspeople. “Last year, the international community was shocked by stories coming from the Czech Republic. In two separate cities, Usti nad Labem and Pilsen, local officials proposed building walls that would create de facto ghettos. Insidious euphemisms like ‘social hygiene measure,’ reminiscent of Nazi terminology, were used to describe the wall and Roma were referenced as ‘asocial.’ In a setting like this, it is understandable why thousands of Czech Roma have sought refugee status in Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. “Officials in Pilsen quickly dropped these plans. Regrettably, officials in Usti have held their ground and, for a year now, this issue has dogged the homeland of Vaclav Havel, one of the world’s most respected human rights leaders. “The reaction to the original plans from the international community was swift and predictable. Voices from around the world condemned the Usti plans: the U.N. Committee Against All Forms of Racial Discrimination demanded an explanation from the Czech Government; Josephine Verspaget, the Chairwoman of the Council of Europe’s Specialist Group on Romani Issues, condemned the planned wall as ‘a step towards apartheid;’ journalists and human rights activists flocked to Usti, an historic city embraced by picturesque mountains, to see the three modest, Romani-inhabited apartment buildings which the proposed wall would enclose.” Many Czech leaders immediately condemned plans for the wall. Jan Urban, from the Freedom Union party, declared that the wall was unacceptable in a democratic society and pledged that he would do everything he could to prevent the wall from being built. President Havel has visited the site of the proposed wall and repeatedly condemned the plan. Petr Uhl, a dissident who spent years in prison for standing up to the Communists and now serves as the government’s point-man for human rights, has likewise stood firm against the wall. Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous addressed the OSCE at a November 1998 human rights meeting and, responding to criticism of the proposed wall raised by the U.S. delegation to the meeting, assured the OSCE participating States that the Czech Government had “found the segregationist approach in this particular case absolutely unacceptable.” Similarly, Mr. Palous assured Representative Smith and Ranking Member Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), in a meeting in January that the Czech Government would not allow a ghetto to be built in Usti nad Labem. “Yesterday’s strong position taken by the Czech Government should be commended,” continued Smith. “I recognize the courage needed to take such a principled position. I am hopeful, though, that his leadership reflects the commitment in Czech society to reconcile inter-ethnic differences in a manner consistent with international norms and the highest respect for human rights. “In the event that the local Usti officials persist with their plans, it is possible the Czech parliament will schedule further consideration of this matter. Hopefully, that body will show the same courage and moral leadership that the Czech cabinet displayed yesterday.”

  • Commission Witnesses Call for Stronger Action Against Milosevic

    WASHINGTON — “Regrettably, in spite of all that has happened in Bosnia and now Kosovo, the Clinton Administration still seems to cling to the idea that Milosevic is someone with whom we can cut a deal,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) in his opening remarks at the Helsinki Commission hearing “Holding War Criminals Accountable.” The hearing was also attended by (in order of arrival) Commissioners Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-PA), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ). When asked whether Milosevic is a war criminal or not, witness Paul Williams pointed out, “In 1992, then-Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger called Milosevic a war criminal based on the information he had then.” Mr. Smith responded, “Well, we can’t have it both ways. On April 5, when Secretary of State Albright was asked the same question, she stated ‘Technically he is not a war criminal because the War Crimes Tribunal, that has a legal process, has not indicted him.’ So is he or not?” The witnesses suggested several steps that should be taken to assist in the conviction of war criminals. Nina Bang-Jensen recommended: 1) Communicate to the White House that Members believe that risks inherent in arresting indicted war crimes suspects in Bosnia are outweighed by the risks of inaction; 2) Support efforts to provide additional funds for Tribunal investigations in Kosovo and additional resources to the Human Rights and Democracy Fund to document human rights abuses; 3) Support re-authorization of the Lautenberg Amendment in the Foreign Operations Bill, which directs that U.S. economic reconstruction assistance not go to indicted war criminals or to projects in municipalities that are failing to cooperate with the Tribunal; 4) and, publicly oppose any short-sighted peace plan that might undermine the Tribunal’s authority by offering Milosevic de facto immunity from prosecution by allowing him to be transported to a friendly third country that will not honor any arrest warrant the Tribunal may issue. Ms. Bang-Jensen concluded with a statement: “After all the promises we and the international community have made to the people of the former Yugoslavia about bringing those responsible for their misery to justice at the Tribunal, a “peace” that would allow the architect of four wars and a serial ethnic cleanser to slip away as if there were no Tribunal at all will not be a lasting peace.” Mr. Cardin assured his colleagues, “There is bipartisan support for ensuring that the United States assistance to the War Crimes Tribunal is one of its highest priorities.” Mr. Smith also announced that he will soon introduce a resolution calling for the indictment of Milosevic, a close but stronger version of the resolution that passed both the House and the Senate in the last Congress.

  • Commissioners Voice Concern Over Condition of Democracy in Kazakhstan

    WASHINGTON — "We view the situation regarding democracy in Kazakstan with great concern,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), “and that’s with a capital C.” Smith was responding to the testimony of Bolat Nurgaliev, Ambassador from the Republic of Kazakstan to the United States, wherein Nurgaliev laid out the official position of the Government of Kazakstan. Despite assurances from the Ambassador that elections have been and would be democratic, the media are independent, and that Kazakstan is building a free market, Chairman Smith and the other attending Commissioners were skeptical. “I’ve read your statement that commits to democracy and a free and open economic system.” said Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “Clearly that cannot be accomplished in a unitary system. But I must emphasize that the impression amongst the members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is that there is not an open system in Kazakstan, but a closed one.” Commissioner Rep. Michael P. Forbes (R-NY) said, “ I share my colleagues’ concerns. While I appreciate the economic advances of the last few years in Kazakstan, true democracy is not reflected in Kazakstan’s actions. You need more openness.” Ambassador Nurgaliev followed Ross Wilson of the State Department who also voiced concerns about recent developments in Kazakstan, but was hopeful that U.S. cooperation with Kazakstan in democracy building would bear fruit. Also testifying were two opposition politicians and one human rights advocate from Kazakstan: Akezhan Kazhegeldin, former Prime Minister of Kazakstan and Chairman of the Republican Party; Pyotr Svoik, Chairman of Azamat; and, Yevgenyi Zhovtis, Director of the Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. They described in detail the deteriorating situation in Kazakstan, in particular the failures of the Nazarbaev regime to implement Helsinki Commitments. They called for full implementation of these commitments, including free speech and access to the media for private citizens and political opposition, a commitment to the rule of law and removal of arbitrary sentencing used to harass the opposition. The final witness was Dr. Martha Olcott, Professor of Political Science at Colgate University specializing in Central Asian affairs and inter-ethnic-relations in the Soviet successor states. After itemizing the components of Kazakstan that gave them a head-start over other post-Soviet states in moving toward democratic rule-of-law, she concluded, “We do not recognize that certain systems are more predisposed to democracy than others. Kazakstan has no historic, cultural or ethnic excuse for lagging in this regard. They should and could be a vibrant democracy.” Before the close of the hearing, Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L Cardin (D-MD) commented, “This is clearly a country that has not lived up to its OSCE obligations.” He suggested that Kazhegeldin, Svoik and Zhovtis should consider coming to St. Petersburg in July to discuss these developments with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s members.

  • Belarus' Human Rights Record, OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group Under Fire at Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON — “The actions of your government send fear through every level of Belarusian society,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today at a Commission hearing entitled “Belarus—Back in the USSR? The political and economic situation in Belarus remains dire under President Lukashenka’s authoritarian rule.” Chairman Smith singled out Lukashenka’s crackdown on NGOs and Decree Number 2, which introduces stifling restrictions on re-registration of political parties, NGOs and trade unions. Smith, as well as Commissioner Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), specifically pressed Belarusian Charge D’Affaires Arkady M. Cherepansky as to whether there would be a massive crackdown against opposition political parties if they carry out elections on May 16. “I can assure you, as a representative of the executive branch of the Belarusian Government, that no massive crackdown will occur even though those elections will be in violation of existing law,” said Cherepansky. “The only punishment meted out will be according to the current laws of the government. We are actually working with international experts on a new criminal code.” Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) then pointed out that “if your existing laws are in conflict with your international obligations, it does not rationalize them nor justify the denial of human rights to your people.” These exchanges followed comments by Ross Wilson, Principal Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States regarding U.S. policy concerning Belarus and the current state of its government. Asked whether the United States was assisting Belarusian victims of Chernobyl, Wilson answered that the United States was assisting people and hospitals. As for the status of the 13th Supreme Soviet, Wilson pointed out that it was generally the only parliament the international community acknowledged, and that it is “a burr in the hide of Lukashenka.” Regarding the absence of a U.S. Ambassador in Miensk, Wilson explained the United States has “asked for written assurances from the Belarusian Government regarding the Vienna Convention, and as progress is being made, about mid-way through the process, we expect to send Ambassador Speckhard back.” Ambassador Hans-Georg Wieck, Head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, testified about his views on the situation, that there were a number of difficulties working with a government that did not follow the rule of law. “I will work to have free and fair elections in 2000, but the parties must have access to the media. While it may not be reasonable to expect a complete set of legal changes, we can expect an immediate application of international obligations by the regime,” said Wieck. The AMG’s work was immediately criticized by a panel consisting of Ambassador Andrei Sannikov, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus and Coordinator of Charter 97; Catherine Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, International League for Human Rights; and, Rachel Denber, Deputy Director, Europe Division, Human Rights Watch. Sannikov felt that the AMG’s monies spent on election training and monitoring “was a waste of the money of the participating States. It is wasted in a country that doesn’t apply the rule of law.” Sannikov and Fitzpatrick urged the return of U.S. Ambassador Speckhard to the U.S. Embassy in Miensk parallel to continuing negotiations.

  • Hearing Announced: "Belarus - Back in the USSR?"

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announce the forthcoming hearing: Belarus—Back in the USSR? Tuesday, April 27 10 a.m.—12:00 noon 340 Cannon House Office Building Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff, the Public and Press The political and economic situation in Belarus remains dire under President Lukashenka's authoritarian rule. Repression of human rights and his assault on democratic institutions are the subject of continuing concern. The hearing will provide a timely opportunity to review the current situation in Belarus in advance of the May 16 presidential elections called by the democratic opposition. Lukashenka has rejected calls for an election and is attempting to neutralize democratic opposition to his rule. Scheduled witnesses include: Ross Wilson, Principal Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States Ambassador Hans-Georg Wieck, Head of OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus Ambassador Andrei Sannikov, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus and Coordinator of Charter 97 Catherine Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, International League for Human Rights Rachel Denber, Deputy Director, Europe Division, Human Rights Watch

  • Commission releases Chairman's statement on the assassination of Slavko Curuvija

    WASHINGTON — Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe released the statement of the Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) on the assassination yesterday of Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija. Full attribution follows: Mr. Speaker, yesterday Serbia lost a courageous citizen – one committed to an open society, to a free press, to reporting the truth. Slavko Curuvija was gunned down in front of his Belgrade apartment on Sunday by two men, dressed in black with black face masks. Branka Prpa, who was with him at the time, said that the murderers were certainly professionals. I extend my deepest condolences to her and to all of Slavko’s family and friends. Slavko Curuvija was editor of the independent Serbian newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, as well as the news magazine The European. Though he had ties with Serbia’s establishment, this last year he sought his own independent course, and became a leading critic of the Milosevic regime. Mr. Speaker, last December Slavko Curuvija testified before the Helsinki Commission which I chair. In his testimony, he said: "I come from a country where there is no rule of law... By making an example out of me, the regime sends a message to all who would oppose it, intimidating and bullying all the independent media in the process... The crackdown on my publications and other media organizations has jeopardized the right to free speech in Serbia. The crackdown on the universities jeopardizes another basic human right, freedom of thought. Belgrade University has been deprived of autonomy, its professors have been sacked for failing to sign loyalty oaths, its students jailed for protesting... After all his other wars, Slobodan Milosevic appears to be preparing to wage war against his own people in Serbia and Montenegro." More recently, on March 8, Slavko Curuvija, was sentenced along with two of his journalists to five months in prison by a Belgrade court for “spreading false reports with an intention to endanger public order, ” dictator-speak for telling the truth. The three remained free on appeal. When Milosevic used NATO’s action against his forces as an excuse to eliminate any remaining independent media, Curuvija chose to shut down operations rather than succumb to state censorship. A week ago, according to today’s issue of The Washington Post, a pro-regime newspaper accused Curuvija of supporting NATO bombing and said that “people like him” will neither be “forgiven nor forgotten.” People like Slavko Curuvija, who act upon their rights and freedoms and promote the protection of those rights, have fought for what is best for their country. Their patriotism is expressed in their opposition to a regime which does not want any independent voice, nor criticism. They see that Serbia only has a future if it becomes a democracy. I ask the people of Serbia, and Serbs in this country and around the world, to think hard about what has just happened. If this Milosevic regime is willing to do this to an independent thinker in Belgrade, a Serb, why is it not possible that this same regime can be responsible for the genocides in Bosnia and now in Kosovo? Is it worth rallying around Milosevic, who is President of Yugoslavia only through ruthlessly undemocratic means and who brought this upon Serbia? Can’t you see that Milosevic, not Curuvija, wants Serbia to be bombed, because he believes this will enhance his power and somehow justify getting rid of those who advocate freedom? I ask the people of Serbia to take a close look around you. Who has isolated you from a Europe more free and united than ever before? Who has caused your living conditions to be so much less than they had been, or could be? The answer should be clear – Slobodan Milosevic. You must no longer allow his propaganda to succeed in convincing you otherwise. Mr. Speaker, while we may have differences regarding what the U.S. role should be in stopping the genocide in Kosovo, we should be able to agree on one central point: Slobodan Milosevic is the problem, and he must account for his crimes. In my view, the cold-blooded murder of an independent journalist, Slavko Curuvija, is the latest crime to add to the list.

  • "What should NATO do now?" asks Helsinki Chairman

    WASHINGTON — “NATO’s military action has not accomplished the stated objectives to protect helpless Kosovars from Belgrade’s brutal offensive and to cripple Milosevic’s military capability. The humanitarian needs are ballooning and we must respond to that crisis. I do not, however, believe that NATO’s manhood is sufficient reason to put lives at risk,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today in a Commission hearing on the “Atrocities and the Humanitarian Crisis in Kosovo.” Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said in his opening remarks, “I have talked about the necessity of confronting Slobodan Milosevic—not the Serbian people, but the leader of the Serbian and now Yugoslav Government—confronting him is a way that he clearly understood the West was serious; that the West would not tolerate genocide in Europe. Though we are now doing that, the delay has cost us. … Having made the commitment to stop this madness, the United States and our NATO allies must see this action through.” The lead-off witness, Ambassador William G. Walker, Head of the Kosovo Verification Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, detailed the process by which the West has come to where it is in Kosovo, beginning with the October 1998 agreements and leading up to the break-down of the cease-fire agreement and the Rambouillet talks in March. He concluded that unarmed peacekeeping with no enforcement mechanism doesn’t work, nor does attempting to be balanced, where one side is consistently far worse. Nancy Lindborg of Mercy Corps International described the deteriorating situation in Kosovo over the years, and how the provision of humanitarian aid to the Kosovars had become increasingly inefficient. She agreed with Chairman Smith and Mr. Hoyer that several opportunities to resolve the conflict were missed. Dr. Jennifer Leaning of the Physicians for Human Rights detailed, through statistics and anecdotal evidence, the terrible situation in and around Kosovo, including a deterioration of the situation prior to the NATO air strikes; the terrible medical conditions, lack of food and the difficulty of gaining access to the refugees. She recommended that the Macedonian Government open its borders and open multiple sites for the refugees, and for NATO to use troops in Macedonia to assist the refugees. Mark S. Ellis of the Coalition for International Justice described legal methods that could be used to indict and arraign Slobodan Milosovic. He pointed out that the War Crimes Tribunal must aggressively investigated Kosovo atrocities committed by the Yugoslav authorities. He also emphasized that deportation and depopulation are to be considered acts of genocide under the Genocide Convention, and that Milosovic’s activities in Kosovo would appear to fall within that Convention. The conclusion of the hearing was that NATO bombing has failed to stop genocide and that the international community needs not only to care for the displaced but to consider other options to restore peace in Kosovo.

  • Russian Legislator Addresses Helsinki Commission

    Washington — Russian Duma Deputy Alexandr Shishlov, a member of the Yabloko Party from St. Petersburg, addressed a Helsinki Commission briefing on March 24 providing his assessment of the political and human rights situation in Russia. Attending the briefing were Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NY), Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Michael Forbes (R-NY), Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI). In a prepared statement, Shishlov noted that political developments in Russia have been hampered over the past few years by a lack of political infrastructure, undeveloped civil society, and problems in relations between the central government and the regions. With regard to human rights and the rise in anti-Semitism and extremism, Shishlov stated that Russia’s poor economy has served as a breeding ground for such attitudes: “Poverty is the best soil for communism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism...we may say that anti-Semitism had been the state policy in Soviet times, when communists ruled the country, and now it is once again the voice of communists.” More dangerous, in Shishlov’s opinion, however, has been the lack of strong reaction from governmental bodies. Attempts in the Duma to condemn anti-Semitic statements made by General Makashov, for instance, have been blocked by the communists in the Duma. [Note: On March 23, 1999 the House of Representatives passed unanimously a resolution condemning anti-Semitic statements made by members of the Russian Duma. The House resolution was introduced by Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and all House Commissioners. A similar resolution sponsored by Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Ranking Minority Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and eight other Senators, is pending in the Senate.] Deputy Shishlov noted the scheduled parliamentary elections in December 1999, and sees them as indicators of “Whether we continue with oligarch rule, or travel the road to democracy.” Joining Mr. Shishlov at the briefing were several other speakers involved in human rights issues in Russia: Thomas Jandl of the Bellona Foundation, Judah Schroeder of the Watch Tower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Leonid Stonov of the Moscow Human Rights Monitors, Steve Mills of the Sierra Club, and Micah Naftalin of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry. They briefed Members and the public on such issues as the case of environmental “whistle blower” Alexandr Nikitin and Russia’s environmental situation overall; anti-Semitism, political extremism, and the criminalization of Russian society; and continuing difficulties for Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities in Russia. In this connection, Deputy Shishlov noted that NGOs have become a significant segment of the political landscape in Russia and expressed appreciation for the efforts of NGOs from abroad who assist Russia in human rights efforts. He cautioned, however, that ignorance of Russia has undermined some efforts at assistance. Chairman Smith noted that several Members of the Commission are interested in attending the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg in July. Deputy Shishlov expressed the hope that Members would attend and invited them to visit the Yabloko headquarters in St. Petersburg.

  • "Anti-American discrimination must cease," says Helsinki Commission Chairman

    WASHINGTON — “Anti-American discrimination must cease in the area of property restitution,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today following a hearing “The Long Road Home: Struggling for Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe.” Chairman Smith also commented “ill treatment afforded some religious communities suggests that religious inequality and discrimination are often at the heart of a government’s restitution policies rather than economic constraints or other legitimate issues that need to be worked through.” Testifying at the hearing, attended by Smith, fellow Commissioners Reps. James C. Greenwood (R-PA) and Michael P. Forbes (R-NY), and Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-CA), were: Stuart E. Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs and U.S. Special Envoy for Property Claims in Central and Eastern Europe; Michael Lewan, Chairman, United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad; Bishop John Michael Botean, Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio; Vladislav Bevc, Ph.D., Executive Officer, American Owners of Property in Slovenia; Jan Sammer, The Czech Coordinating Office (non-governmental organization), Toronto, Canada; and, Vytautas Sliupas, Lithuanian “Class Action Complaint Group.” Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, commented, “property restitution and compensation are not favors these newly free countries do for those who fled for their lives. They are essential steps forward in their own economic and political development.” Eizenstat testified, “Restitution claims should be honored before privatization takes place. Governments should be very cautious about privatizing property, confiscated by the Nazis or Communists, whose ownership is in dispute. If this is not done, original owners should have a right to fair compensation,” and “We [the U.S.] encourage governments to establish equitable, transparent and non-discriminatory procedures to evaluate specific claims. In most countries this requires national legislation.” Lewan, Bishop Botean, Bevc, Sammer and Sliupas detailed the lack of willingness on the part of most central- and east-European governments to meet appropriate restitution standards and procedures. Copies of their testimonies are available from the Commission.

  • U.S. House condemns anti-Semitism in Russian Duma

    WASHINGTON - Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed unanimously a resolution (H.Con.Res. 37) condemning anti-Semitic remarks made by members of the Russian Duma, commending actions taken by fair-minded members of the Duma to censure the purveyors of anti-Semitism within their ranks and commending Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other members of the Russian Government for rejecting such statements. Introduced by Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), the resolution was co-sponsored by all Representatives on the Commission. A companion resolution , S.Con.Res. 19, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and nine co-sponsors. “The Congress must adamantly condemn these anti-Semitic statements made by members of the Duma—and any other anti-Semitic statements or activities that arise in Russia,” said Chairman Smith. “We understand that the Vice President intends to raise the issue of anti-Semitism with Mr. Primakov when they ultimately meet. Passage of this resolution demonstrates the solidarity of Congress with the Administration on this issue, as well as fair-minded members of the Russian Duma in the constant struggle against bigotry and racism.” “To remain silent is to condone,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “We owe it to the many Russians—Jewish and non-Jewish—who are distressed and disgusted by such intolerant statements emanating from their national legislature, to add our voices of protest to theirs.” Since the fall of the ruble last August and associated economic problems in Russia, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic statements made by Russian political figures. In December of 1998, Chairman of the Duma Security Committee Viktor Ilyukhin stated that President Yeltsin’s “Jewish entourage” was responsible for alleged genocide against the Russian people. At public rallies, retired Army General and Duma Member General Albert Makashov has blamed “the Yids” and other “reformers and democrats” for Russia’s problems and threatened to “send them to the other world.” On March 2, The New York Times quoted General Makashov as saying, among other things, “We will remain anti-Semites, and we must triumph.”

  • "Stop the torture in Turkey - or move this year's Summit," says Commission Chairman

    WASHINGTON - “Systematic State-sponsored torture in The Republic of Turkey should be brought to a halt before the Summit that is planned for Istanbul this Fall,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today at a Commission hearing entitled “The Road to the OSCE Istanbul Summit and Human Rights in the Republic of Turkey.” “Testimony today has confirmed our worst fears,” said Smith. “For over a year-and-a-half, Commissioners and other Members of Congress tried to make clear that siting the Summit in Istanbul was an inappropriate reward for a participating State that practices thirty-seven different types of torture, as documented by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. And today’s depiction by Amnesty International of the electric shock torture of a twelve-year-old girl for stealing bread—in the Ankara Police Headquarters, in the capital of Turkey—confirms our worst fears that there is little guarantee of the basic human right of physical safety and due process guaranteed by one’s government.” “Additionally,” said Smith, “it has become increasingly necessary for the international community to monitor and defend the defenders, those non-governmental organizations and people who speak out in defense of human rights despite constant threats and harassment from the Government of Turkey. Thus, sadly, the human rights situation in this most important U.S. ally has deteriorated.” The hearing provided a timely review of U.S. policy regarding both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as preparations get underway for the OSCE Summit Meeting scheduled to convene in Istanbul later this year and the status of human rights in Turkey in light of Ankara’s OSCE human dimension commitments. Unfortunately, all of the witnesses were less than sanguine regarding Turkey’s human rights progress. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Marc Grossman, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Harold H. Koh, Amnesty International USA’s Stephen Rickard, The Center for Victims of Torture’s Executive Director Douglas A. Johnson, and Lawyers Committee for Human Rights’ Neil Hicks all presented testimony and answered questions from Commissioners.

  • Commission Hearing Announced The Long Road Home: Struggling for Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe

    WASHINGTON —The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announces a forthcoming hearing:   The Long Road Home: Struggling for Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe Thursday, March 25 10:00 a.m.—12:30 p.m. Room 2255 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff, Press and the Public Scheduled to testify are: Panel 1: Stuart E. Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs and U.S. Special Envoy for Property Claims in Central and Eastern Europe Michael Lewan, Chairman, United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Panel 2: Bishop John Michael Botean, Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio. Vladislav Bevc, Ph.D., Executive Officer, American Owners of Property in Slovenia. Jan Sammer, The Czech Coordinating Office (non-governmental organization), Toronto, Canada Vytautas Sliupas, Lithuanian “Class Action Complaint Group” Background A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The end of communist tyranny after 1990 sparked hope that governments in this region would redress these wrongful seizures of private property and communal property, such as churches, synagogues, schools and hospitals. This hearing will further address issues initially raised in a 1996 Commission hearing concerning the return of property confiscated by fascist and communist regimes to their rightful owners in post-communist Europe. The hearing occurs several months after a U.S. Government-sponsored international conference addressed the issue of restituting Holocaust-era assets, including communal property, and several months before a conference in Warsaw to focus exclusively on communal property restitution issues. Witnesses will discuss the progress made and the remaining obstacles to restitution and compensation in Central and Eastern Europe. Special attention will be given to recent restitutions in Poland, the controversy over restitution to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, and the bureaucratic and legal obstacles faced by individuals seeking restitution of family homes, businesses and land in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Lithuania.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing on The State of Democratization and Human Rights in Turkmenistan Announced

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe announced today a forthcoming hearing:   The State of Democratization and Human Rights in Turkmenistan Tuesday, March 21 2:00-4:00 p.m. 334 Cannon House Office Building Capitol Hill Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff, the Public and Press Testifying before the Commission will be: John Beyrle, Principal Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for New Independent States Avdy Kuliev, Turkmen opposition leader in exile Pyotr Iwaszkiewicz, formerly of the OSCE Office in Ashgabat Firuz Kazemzadeh, Member, International Commission of Religious Freedom Cassandra Cavanaugh, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki E. Wayne Merry, Atlantic Council of the United States Turkmenistan's Ambassador Halil Ugur has been also been invited. Background On Tuesday the Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on Turkmenistan, the most repressive of the New Independent States. President Niyazov is the subject of a pervasive cult of personality, there is only one registered party, all media are tightly censored, and there are no independent human rights monitoring organizations. Christian denominations have faced official harassment and Turkmen authorities demolished a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in November. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe declined to observe Turkmenistan’s December 1999 parliamentary election, and delegates to the meeting of the People’s Assembly later that month essentially approved making Saparmurat Niyazov “president-for-life.” In sum, Turkmenistan has become the worst-case scenario of post-Soviet development. With the U.S. Government seeking Ashgabat’s cooperation in constructing a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, this hearing provides a timely opportunity to discuss the country’s prospects for democratization, fair elections and observance of human rights, and how the United States can promote Turkmenistan’s observance of OSCE commitments. The hearing is part of an ongoing series convened by the Commission to assess the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the countries of Central Asia.

  • The Road to the OSCE Istanbul Summit and Human Rights in the Republic of Turkey

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming public hearing:   The Road to the OSCE Istanbul Summit and Human Rights in the Republic of Turkey Thursday, March 18 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Room SR-485, Russell Senate Office Building Open to Members, Staff the Public and the Press The hearing will provide a timely opportunity to review U.S. policy and strategy for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as preparations get underway for the OSCE Summit Meeting scheduled to convene in Istanbul later this year. Key decisions are expected to be announced at the summit, including the adoption of a Charter on European Security. The hearing will also focus on human rights in Turkey in light of Ankara’s OSCE human dimension commitments. Witnesses: The Honorable Marc Grossman, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs The Honorable Harold H. Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Mr. Stephen Rickard, Director, Washington Office, Amnesty International USA Mr. Douglas A. Johnson, Executive Director, The Center for Victims of Torture Mr. Neil Hicks, Senior Program Coordinator, Middle East and North Africa Program, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Additional experts have been invited to testify.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Again Calls Upon Russian Officials to Prevent Murder in St. Petersburg

    WASHINGTON - This is an update to Commission release of February 19: On February 19, Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) called upon the authorities of the Russian city of St. Petersburg to act immediately to prevent the murder of Inga Ivanova, director of the Prins Maurits school of Open Christianity. Since then the situation at the school has deteriorated. Police sent to the school have entered the building and gathered the parents, children and teachers in the chapel. The parties are at a stand-off but the environment is very tense. The school is asking for international intervention to prevent any violence, and for the international community to seek city Governor Vladimir Jakovlev’s intervention to resolve this dispute peacefully. Reprise of the February 19 release: “Local officials must intervene immediately to prevent another murder similar to that of human rights activist and Duma member Galina Starovoitova,” said Smith. “Great issues are at stake here for the Russian people. Are they to be at the mercy of thugs and brigands, or live in a nation of law and justice? It is up to the current officials to insure that it is the latter.” Smith was referring to recent alarming reports that on the night of February 17 Inga Ivanova was seized by three men, pulled into a car and threatened with death if she continued to fight for the legal right to keep the building where the school is located. Fearing for her life, Ivanova fled to the Netherlands. Earlier, on the evening of February 17, St. Petersburg television had aired a program depicting the school with its 150 children and the 40 students of the pedagogical academy as being run by “sects” and representing a threat to Russian society. “Who runs St. Petersburg, the law or the criminals?” asked Smith. “The armed threats on the life of Inga Ivanova over a piece of property are another indication that the civil authorities have abdicated their responsibilities to protect life and have turned the streets over to criminal elements. One would think that with the still unsolved murder of Galina Starovoitova last year, and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly scheduled to meet this July in St. Petersburg, city authorities would struggle to prevent letting thugs run rampant in the city. I urge Governor Yakovlev to stop these threats against Inga Ivanova, find the purveyors of this assault and bring the parties guilty of this latest outrage to justice.” The Open Christianity school was established in the early 1990s as an ecumenical private school. According to records provided by Ivanova, the building that houses the school was given “in perpetuity” to the Open Christianity organization by city officials under the condition that the building be restored. Volunteers from the Netherlands, United States and Russia have assisted in the restoration. Nevertheless, city officials are now trying to seize the building for alleged breach of contract, sending police to forcibly seize the premises.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Calls Upon Russian Officials to Prevent Murder in St. Petersburg

    WASHINGTON - Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today called upon the authorities of the Russian city of St. Petersburg to act immediately to prevent the murder of Inga Ivanova, director of the Prins Maurits school of Open Christianity. “Local officials must intervene immediately to prevent another murder similar to that of human rights activist and Duma member Galina Starovoitova,” said Smith. “Great issues are at stake here for the Russian people. Are they to be at the mercy of thugs and brigands, or live in a nation of law and justice? It is up to the current officials to insure that it is the latter.” Smith was referring to recent alarming reports that on the night of February 17 Inga Ivanova was seized by three men, pulled into a car and threatened with death if she continued to fight for the legal right to keep the building where the school is located. Fearing for her life, Ivanova fled to the Netherlands. Earlier, on the evening of February 17, St. Petersburg television had aired a program depicting the school with its 150 children and the 40 students of the pedagogical academy as being run by “sects” and representing a threat to Russian society. “Who runs St. Petersburg, the law or the criminals?” asked Smith. “The armed threats on the life of Inga Ivanova over a piece of property are another indication that the civil authorities have abdicated their responsibilities to protect life and have turned the streets over to criminal elements. One would think that with the still unsolved murder of Galina Starovoitova last year, and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly scheduled to meet this July in St. Petersburg, city authorities would struggle to prevent letting thugs run rampant in the city. I urge Governor Yakovlev to stop these threats against Inga Ivanova, find the purveyors of this assault and bring the parties guilty of this latest outrage to justice.” The Open Christianity school was established in the early 1990s as an ecumenical private school. According to records provided by Ivanova, the building that houses the school was given “in perpetuity” to the Open Christianity organization by city officials under the condition that the building be restored. Volunteers from the Netherlands, United States and Russia have assisted in the restoration. Nevertheless, city officials are now trying to seize the building for alleged breach of contract, sending police to forcibly seize the premises.

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Expresses Regret Over Czech Parliament's Actions

    WASHINGTON — Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) today released the following joint statement: “The Parliament of the Czech Republic yesterday debated and rejected a proposed amendment to their law on extrajudicial rehabilitation that would have eliminated Czech citizenship as a condition for property restitution claims. We commend Parliamentarians Jiri Karas and Pavel Tollner for raising this complex issue. We profoundly regret that, in rejecting the amendment, the Czech Parliament has missed an excellent opportunity to resolve a long-standing and contentious issue between the Czech Republic and the United States. Enactment of the amendment also would have brought the Czech restitution law into conformity with decisions of the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee that these citizenship restrictions violate the anti-discrimination clause (article 26) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “We hope that the Czech Government will move forward swiftly with alternative mechanisms to restore property to those victims of fascism and communism who have thus far been excluded from restitution solely due to their lack of current Czech citizenship. In a meeting two weeks ago, Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous assured members of this Commission that his government would soon propose a new citizenship law which will permit dual citizenship. We urge the Czech Government to promptly put forth this new law as a first step towards resolving the discrimination Czech Americans have faced in making claims for restitution or compensation for property that was wrongly taken from them by the previous Communist regime. “In addition, we are alarmed by recent statements from Prime Minister Zeman and Deputy Prime Minister Rychetsky that question the legitimacy of returning seven hundred properties to the Catholic Church in 1996. The re-nationalization of these properties would send a troubling signal regarding the Czech government’s commitment to private property rights and respect for religious liberties. We will be monitoring these developments closely and hope the government’s position will soon be constructively clarified.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Reps. Smith and Hoyer Discuss Key Issues with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Palous

    WASHINGTON - Meeting with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous in the U.S. Capitol last night, Commissioners Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Minority Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) complemented the Government of the Czech Republic for allowing the Radio Farsi/Radio Free Iraq station to be placed in its country, for standing firm against municipal plans to wall off Roma and President Havel’s new “Holocaust Phenomenon” initiative. At the same time, they urged the Czech leader to condemn the wave of anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-foreign violence that plagues the Czech Republic. “We welcome this opportunity to discuss with Mr. Palous several matters of mutual concern and to express our appreciation for the support his government recently provided Radio Free Europe in agreeing to host the Radio Farsi/Radio Free Iraq station. I believe that the experience of Radio Free Europe demonstrates the value of such a medium and am gratified that the Czech Republic shares that perception,” said Smith. Smith also commented that he was “…gratified to learn that your government announced on January 11 that it would block the construction of a wall in the village of Usti that, if built, would effectively create a Roam ghetto. Such walls have no place in modern Europe. In fact, Mr. Minister, it is regrettable that it took as long as it did for your government to reach this conclusion—or at least to publicly announce its decision.” Mr. Hoyer pointed out that he was, “deeply concerned by the general failure of high-level Czech officials to condemn anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner acts. Xenophobia is out of place in contemporary Europe, and must not be tolerated nor ignored. President Havel has made such statements, but he stands virtually alone. There does not appear to be a serious willingness to ensure that such acts are vigorously prosecuted. We are not asking more of you than of any other countries, nor than what Americans ask from us when our own country experiences acts of intolerance.” The Commissioners and Mr. Palous discussed the case of Bob Joyce, the American teacher beaten in November for defending a Rom against skinhead harassment. (Note: At last July’s Commission hearing on Romani human rights the Czech Republic was cited as one of the worst countries on this issue.) In a similar vein, they discussed the ongoing problems with the citizenship law of the Czech Republic, specifically those provisions which deny citizenship to thousands of Czech Roma who previously had Czechoslovak citizenship. “I hope that a new law will be adopted quickly,” said Smith. “In particular I hope that the new law will provide citizenship ex lege; if Roma and others are required to go through a cumbersome application process, that will inevitably be subject to abuse at the local level and financially burdensome to implement.” The Commissioners expressed encouragement over President Havel’s new initiative, called the “Holocaust Phenomenon,” which is designed to provide greater insight into what happened to Jews and Roma during the war. They expressed hope that a full and complete copy of the archives from the Lety camp—the only archives from a Roma concentration camp known to exist—would be given to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) fulfilling a four-year-old pledge. In addition, they urged the USHMM be given rapid access to Czech-held Waffen-SS and related archives. Mr. Palous was urged to have the Czech Republic repeal its criminal defamation law, which violates international norms protecting free speech and a free press. “Although President Havel has pardoned everyone who has been convicted under this law, what will happen when someone else becomes President?” asked Smith. “This is an unnecessary legacy of the communist past.” The Czech Republic was urged to follow Hungary’s example, which repealed its criminal defamation law in 1994.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders: Milosevic Responsible for "Barbaric" Kosovo Massacre

    WASHINGTON — Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) released today the following statement on the situation in Kosovo: “The massacre committed in the Kosovo village of Racak is nothing short of barbaric. The mutilation and killing of 45 villagers, including three women and at least one child, constitutes a crime against humanity, and units which participated in this gruesome act must be identified, as well as the chain of command. Ultimately, Slobodan Milosevic must himself be held accountable for the crimes committed in Kosovo and in Bosnia. The U.S. Congress has already stated its belief that Milosevic should be tried as a war criminal, and the recurrence of events like this massacre should remove all doubt as to the urgency of such a step. “The arrogant response of the Yugoslav and Serbian authorities to the incident—denying access to the site by the International Tribunal prosecutor and declaring the head of the OSCE Mission as persona non grata—cannot be tolerated. In fact, Serbia may well have lost Kosovo once and for all. No state has the right to exercise its authority in this manner, and we consider Serbian authority in Kosovo to be illegitimate. The international community should begin to treat it as such. “Trying to coax Belgrade for an agreement on Kosovo has proven fruitless. NATO must respond to these atrocities. Unfortunately, the hesitance of the Alliance to take firm and definitive action in the face of Serbian atrocities continues to cost innocent lives. While we had hoped that the OSCE Verification Mission ably led by Ambassador Walker could make a difference, the Mission’s success hinges on Belgrade’s understanding that each atrocity will face a swift and severe international response. This latest brutality shows Belgrade’s real intentions. An unarmed “verification mission” is not the answer to the current human crisis.”

  • Helsinki Commissioners Reps. Smith and Hoyer Urge Czech Leaders to Condemn Xenophobic Attacks

    WASHINGTON - Meeting with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous in Washington last evening, Commissioners Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) praised the Government of the Czech Republic for standing firm against municipal plans in the village of Usti nad Labem to wall off Roma, for plans to resolve long-standing problems of statelessness for Roma and discrimination against Czech Americans in the Czech property restitution/compensation law, and for allowing the Radio Farsi/Radio Free Iraq station to be placed in the Czech Republic. They also discussed regional security issues, including the crisis in Kosovo. At the same time, they underscored the need for Czech leaders to condemn the wave of anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner violence that plagues the Czech Republic. Following the meeting, Smith welcomed the many positive messages brought to Washington by the Deputy Minister. Smith noted “I was deeply gratified to learn that the Czech government has announced that it would block the construction of a wall in the village of Usti nad Labem that, if built, would effectively create a Roma ghetto. Such walls have no place in modern Europe. I hope this decision reflects a new and deeper political will on the part of the Czech Government to combat manifestations of xenophobia.” Hoyer emphasized that “the key to this effort is a strong government reaction” when xenophobic attacks occur. “President Havel has, for too long, carried the burden of reacting to such acts. It is time for other Czech leaders, including Prime Minister Zeman, to be equally assertive in condemning hate crimes.” The Commissioners provided Deputy Prime Minister Palous with a list of recent xenophobic attacks, including one against Bob Joyce, a 61-year-old American teacher who was beaten unconscious in November for defending a Rom against skinhead harassment. In a similar vein, they discussed the citizenship law of the Czech Republic which has left stateless thousands of Czech Roma who previously had Czechoslovak citizenship. “I was deeply heartened by my discussion with Mr. Palous on this issue,” said Smith. “Not only does there appear to be a fast-track timetable for moving legislation forward, but Mr. Palous has assured us of his government’s commitment to ensure that new citizenship procedures will not entail a lot of bureaucratic red tape.” Hoyer added, “the adoption of the new citizenship law, which Minister Palous said will permit dual citizenship, will also be a first step towards resolving the discrimination Czech Americans have faced in making claims for restitution or compensation for property that was wrongly taken from them by the previous Communist regime.” The Commissioners and Mr. Palous also discussed the status of the Lety archives—the only known archives from a Roma concentration camp—and welcomed news that Mr. Palous had brought copies of one-third of the archives with him to deliver to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “I am gratified that this moves towards fulfilling a pledge made to me over four years ago, and I hope that the remaining two-thirds of the archive copies will be delivered soon,” said Hoyer. The Commissioners also urged Mr. Palous to seek the repeal of the Czech Republic’s Communist-era criminal defamation law. “Criminalizing people because of their criticism of the government, its offices or its personalities is simply contrary to international norms and contrary to the Helsinki Final Act,” said Hoyer. “Although President Havel pardons everyone who gets convicted under this law, what will happen when someone else becomes President?” asked Smith. “This is an unnecessary legacy of the Communist past.”

  • “Human Rights in Russia Are Headed Down the Wrong Road” Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Chris Smith says

    WASHINGTON - “Human rights in Russia are no longer at a crossroads but have been headed down the wrong road for several years,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today at a Commission hearing “Whither Human Rights in Russia?” Against the backdrop of the National Security hearing room and its symbols of U.S. military might, the Commission heard from witnesses about the deteriorating human rights situation that is affecting the average citizen due to increased corruption at every level of government, corrupt journalists who are in the pocket of the mafia-styled oligarches and political czars, pointed “ethnic cleansing” aimed at “blacks” (which in Russia means peoples from the Caucasus), religious repression from the Federal Security Bureau aimed at minority faiths, and ever-increasing anti-Semitism. Witnesses included: Dr. Elena Bonner, chair of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation; Ludmilla Alexeyeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Larry Uzzell, Moscow-based director of the Keston Institute; Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews; David Satter, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute; and Mark B. Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. “The decline in Russia’s recent economic fortunes has been accompanied by disturbing developments in the area of human rights and civil liberties,” said Smith. “Anti-Semitism in Russia—thought to have been exiled since the Soviet period to the pages of rabidly nationalistic newspapers—has moved into the more comfortable seats of the Russian Duma. Last October, at two public rallies, a Communist Party Member of the Duma, Albert Makasho, blamed ‘the Yids’ for Russia’s current problems. In December, at Duma hearings, the chairman of the Defense Committee blamed President Yeltsin’s ‘Jewish entourage’ for alleged ‘genocide against the Russian people.’ In response to the public outcry, both in Russia and abroad, Communist Party chairman Zyuganov explained that the Party had nothing against ‘Jews,’ just ‘Zionism.’ Smith pointed out that “Russia has laws on the books, but they seem to work only when bureaucrats see legal justice in their own interest. The average citizen appears helpless before the arrogant bureaucracy, coupled with brutal crime and economic chaos.” Dr. Bonner pointed out that the anti-Semitism may be virulent right now, but that it is not “in-bred.” Regarding U.S. financial support, Bonner recognized the allocation of the funds to various domestic projects, but pointed out that no one knows how the monies have actually been spent. “I cannot state whether the funds were stolen or not, that must be decided by the courts,” she said. Bonner also expressed support for linking human rights and civil liberties improvement to any future U.S. support for the Russian Government. Ms. Alexeyeva believed that the comments from the leaders of the Communist Party were actually true reflections of the Party, not of the Russian people. She also felt that other self-respecting parliamentarians from other countries should not deal with the Duma until the anti-Semitic remarks are rebuked and the purveyors of anti-Semitism denounced by the government and the Duma. She felt it would be helpful if distinguished Members of Congress would lead the way by telling Yeltsin they would oppose support for Russia until appropriate steps are taken to quell anti-Semitism. “Russian human rights activists perceive that the contemporary major problem is not in the domain of political persecutions the way it used to be in the USSR, but instead in the phenomenon of legal nihilism of all the state officials, from the most powerful ones to the most insignificant ones,” she said. David Satter’s conclusion was, “The new face of human rights abuses in Russia, in which the individual is deprived utterly of the protection of the law in the face of criminal business mafias, should be of deep concern to the United States. Fear for one’s physical security and the conviction that one is helpless to assure the safety of one’s family can only have a corrosive effect both morally and spiritually. When this condition is generalized to an entire population, it instills a distaste for democracy and a desire for authoritarian solutions which, in Russia, could have extremely violent consequences.” Larry Uzzell described in some detail the plight of religious believers in the new Russia, and felt that “Russians don’t have significantly less religious freedom than they did one-and-a-half years ago, but less than they did five years ago.” He did feel that the ongoing transfer of power to the provinces “is a good thing” and that different provinces apply laws very differently, resulting in varying degrees of freedom throughout the country. He optimistically felt that while “in the short term Russia will have less freedom, in the long term it will be free.” Naftalin and Levin discussed the current trends of anti-Semitism and how it manifests itself across Russia. They pointed out that there are both extremes, areas where there is little or no religious bigotry and other areas where there is extreme anti-Semitism—to the point of cemetery defacement and synagogue burning. But they both felt that the actions of a radical few were having a tremendous impact overall, that the public anti-Semitism was not shared by most common people. Background: The Commission decided to hold this hearing because the decline in Russia’s economic fortunes in 1998 has been accompanied by disturbing developments in the areas of human rights and civil liberties. A religion law adopted in 1997 has led to legal difficulties with local authorities for some religious organizations. After seven indictments, environmental activist Alexandr Nikitin is still being confined to St. Petersburg having been neither acquitted nor convicted at an October 1998 trial for allegedly revealing state secrets. Nikitin has been listed by Amnesty International as Russia’s first political prisoner. Communist Party members of the Russian Duma have blamed “Yids” for Russia’s economic travails and Jewish members of Yeltsin’s entourage for “genocide” against the Russian people. In November, one of the most prominent liberal Duma members, Galina Staravoitova, was murdered in St. Petersburg. Ironically, Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared 1998 “The Year of Human Rights” in Russia in honor of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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