Title

Title

Press Releases

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

  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Expresses Deep Regret Over Loss of Life in Armenia

    Washington, D.C. - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), remarked that the post-election violence in Armenia was a tragedy for the entire nation. “I extend my profound condolences to the victims’ families. It is deeply regrettable that tensions following last month's presidential election could not be handled peacefully,” said Chairman Hastings. Armenia held a presidential election on February 19. According to official figures, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkissian won, with over 52 percent of the vote, while his main rival, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, garnered 21.5 percent. Though international observers noted problems with the election, they said that it largely met the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) standards. However, Ter-Petrossian, leading a coalition of opposition forces, refused to accept the outcome. He and his supporters rallied in Yerevan for days, demanding new elections. On Saturday, violent confrontations broke out when police, claiming that the demonstrators were armed and were planning a coup, attacked them. In the country’s worst violence since independence in 1991, Armenian officials report eight fatalities and numerous injuries. A state of emergency has been imposed for 20 days. OSCE’s leadership issued a statement condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters. The Finnish Chair-in-Office (CiO) Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva has sent Finnish diplomat Heikki Talvitie to Yerevan to act as a mediator. “I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in Armenia,” said Co-Chairman Cardin. “It is essential that the authorities exercise restraint. A political dialogue between the government and opposition is a prerequisite to reconciliation in Armenia.” Ranking Minority Member Smith echoed these sentiments, adding that “I call on Armenia’s authorities to restore regular news sources, which have been silenced. This includes broadcasts by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is an important source of objective information and which has been taken off the air.” Chairman Hastings noted that Armenia’s Constitutional Court is scheduled to rule on a complaint about the election by the opposition coalition. “I urge the Court to consider this critical case with all the somber objectivity mandated by the seriousness of the political crisis in Armenia.” Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), remarked that the post-election violence in Armenia was a tragedy for the entire nation. “I extend my profound condolences to the victims’ families. It is deeply regrettable that tensions following last month's presidential election could not be handled peacefully,” said Chairman Hastings. Armenia held a presidential election on February 19. According to official figures, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkissian won, with over 52 percent of the vote, while his main rival, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, garnered 21.5 percent. Though international observers noted problems with the election, they said that it largely met the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) standards. However, Ter-Petrossian, leading a coalition of opposition forces, refused to accept the outcome. He and his supporters rallied in Yerevan for days, demanding new elections. On Saturday, violent confrontations broke out when police, claiming that the demonstrators were armed and were planning a coup, attacked them. In the country’s worst violence since independence in 1991, Armenian officials report eight fatalities and numerous injuries. A state of emergency has been imposed for 20 days. OSCE’s leadership issued a statement condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters. The Finnish Chair-in-Office (CiO) Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva has sent Finnish diplomat Heikki Talvitie to Yerevan to act as a mediator. “I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in Armenia,” said Co-Chairman Cardin. “It is essential that the authorities exercise restraint. A political dialogue between the government and opposition is a prerequisite to reconciliation in Armenia.” Ranking Minority Member Smith echoed these sentiments, adding that “I call on Armenia’s authorities to restore regular news sources, which have been silenced. This includes broadcasts by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is an important source of objective information and which has been taken off the air.” Chairman Hastings noted that Armenia’s Constitutional Court is scheduled to rule on a complaint about the election by the opposition coalition. “I urge the Court to consider this critical case with all the somber objectivity mandated by the seriousness of the political crisis in Armenia.”

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on NATO Enlargement

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing entitled “NATO Enlargement and the Bucharest Summit,” on Tuesday, March 4 at 3:00 p.m. in room B-318 of the Rayburn House Office Building.  The hearing will examine enlargement issues for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in light of the April 2008 summit in Bucharest, Romania. Currently, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia hope for invitations to join the alliance, while Ukraine and Georgia expect to be offered Membership Action Plans. The hearing will assess the readiness of these countries to take next steps in their respective integration paths, with a particular focus on their democratic development and respect for the rule of law.  Testifying before the Commission will be:  Dr. Michael Haltzel, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, The Johns Hopkins University  The Honorable Steven Pifer, Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Senior Adviser, Russia and Eurasia Program Center for Strategic and International Studies Mr. Janusz Bugajski, Director, New European Democracies Project and Senior Fellow, Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies 

  • Helsinki Co-Chairman Cardin Debates Kosovo at OSCE PA Winter Meeting in Vienna

    WASHINGTON - Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), made the following statement at the 7th Annual Winter Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, during a debate on Kosovo’s decision to declare independent statehood. The debate took place a day after the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, Serbia, was attacked by Serb protesters of U.S. recognition of Kosovo:  “The people of the former Yugoslavia have paid a heavy price because of the repressive and extreme nationalist policies of the Milosevic years. It was clear that the protection of minority communities would require our attention. Nine years ago, the international community, led by NATO, acted to end brutal attacks against the Kosovar Albanian population. This intervention led to an international decision to suspend Belgrade’s governance and place Kosovo under an interim UN administration.  “Kosovo represents the last unsolved conflict resulting from the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. I understand that we have different views to the actions taken by Kosovo by its declaration on independence. I would hope that we would all agree that status quo was unacceptable. We should also agree that open dialogue is important, demonstrations should be peaceful, restraint should be encouraged, and embassies must be protected.  “I believe – as does the U.S. government – that the Ahtisaari plan advanced through the UN represents the best option for the democratic future of Kosovo and the protection of the human rights of all its ethnic communities. It was for that reason that the United States recognized the independence of Kosovo and has urged similar action by each of our OSCE states. That recognition is based on the commitment of Kosovo to implement the Ahtisaari plan, protecting the rights of all of the citizens.  “The Ahtissari plan deserves support, because it is a comprehensive approach that provides considerable advantages for the Serb community and other minorities and mandates international supervision to ensure that the advantages are recognized. It includes new Serb dominated municipalities, the opportunities for direct and transparent links to Serbia, the protection of cultural and religious sites, the certainty of political representation, and the whole range of individual human rights and fundamental freedoms.  “I am sure that, for their goals to be achieved, Kosovo needs the help of international institutions, including OSCE. The OSCE mission in Kosovo has had strong outreach to vulnerable and isolated populations and should be allowed to continue. Kosovo should be represented here and made accountable for the OSCE norms by formally accepting our large body of common commitments.  “UN Security Council Resolution 1244, acknowledged Kosovo’s status needed to be determined, and an independent Kosovo was clearly an option. Further delay would reward those who are intransigent and encourage a hardening of positions.  “In closing, I want to stress the unique nature of Kosovo. It must be viewed in the context of the breaking up of Yugoslavia, the history of ethnic cleansing and crimes against civilians and an extended period of UN administration. In short, the circumstances made a special case and cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today.  “Let us work together to achieve a democratic government for Kosovo that respects human rights of all its citizens.” 

  • U.S. Congressional Delegation to Hold Press Roundtable at OSCE PA Winter Meeting in Vienna

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a press roundtable on Thursday, February 21 at 2:30 p.m. in room 525 of the Hofburg Congress Center. The Members of Congress that will be travelling with the delegation are Representatives Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Hilda Solis (D-CA), and Michael McNulty (D-NY).  At the press roundtable they plan to discuss the issues being debated at the Winter Meeting as well as the economic, security, and political ramifications of migration, and efforts to combat prejudice and discrimination in the OSCE region, as well the upcoming Presidential elections in Russia and European cooperation to address the Iraqi refugee crisis. 

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing with Edward Lucas of "The Economist"

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will hold a briefing on Wednesday, February 20 at 10:00 a.m. in B-318 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The briefing will feature Mr. Edward Lucas, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent, and former Moscow bureau chief for The Economist. Lucas is the author of the recently published book entitled, “THE NEW COLD WAR: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West.” During the briefing, he will share his thoughts on current political events in Russia, such as the upcoming Presidential elections on March 2 as well as Moscow’s relations with the international community during President Putin’s era and beyond. 

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin Express Support for Kosovo’s Independence

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), expressed their support for the decision of Kosovo to declare its independence:  “Since the late 1980s, Kosovo has remained an important human rights issue for the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Kosovo’s decision to declare independence begins a new chapter in its history, and we remain committed to encouraging the new state to develop democratic institutions and respect human rights,” said Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin. Hastings added, “As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, which advocates human rights, I have expressed my continued support for the Ahtisaari plan. This plan not only acknowledges the overwhelming sentiment of Kosovo’s population, but also provides a real opportunity for the Serb community in particular to remain in Kosovo and have a future there. It is my hope that the Ahtisaari provisions can now become a reality.”  Cardin further noted, “I stand behind Kosovo’s status decision within the Ahtisaari framework and pledge my full support for recognition of an independent Kosovo. I am concerned about stability in the Balkans, but further delay would only bring greater instability by encouraging intransigence and mutual hostility. It is clear that peace can only be achieved through the respect for human rights and democratic development. This will continue to remain a priority of this Commission moving forward.”  “We remain troubled by the decision of Serbia and Russia to place the future of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo in doubt. The Mission has done considerable outreach to the Serb, Roma and other minority communities in Kosovo, much to the benefit of those communities, which must continue. It is unfortunate that the very mission concerned about the plight of minority communities is being threatened by those countries claiming to care about those communities,” said Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin. 

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin to Lead Congressional Delegation to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will lead a Congressional delegation to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Austria from February 18-22, 2008. The Members of Congress that will be travelling with the delegation are Representatives Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Hilda Solis (D-CA), and Michael McNulty (D-NY).  While in Prague, the delegation plans to meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout, President of the Senate Premysl Sobotka, Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Džamila Stehlíková, and representatives of civil society and the Romani and the Jewish communities. The delegation will also hold meetings at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Broadcast Center.  Immediately following their visit and meeting with RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin on Tuesday, February 19, the delegation will hold a press roundtable at 3:30 p.m. at the RFE/RL Broadcast Center (Vinohradska 1, 110 00 Prague 1, across from the National Museum). During the press roundtable, they plan to discuss U.S.-Czech bilateral relations, the situation of the Romani minority, and questions of tolerance and non-discrimination. (NOTE: If you are a member of the media that would like to attend the press roundtable at the RFE/RL Broadcast Center on Tuesday, February 19 at 3:30p.m., please contact: Julian Knapp, Deputy Director of Communications at RFE/RL. You can RSVP by email - knappj[at]rferl[dpt]org or +420.221.122.074 (office), +420.602.611.008 (mobile). On Wednesday, February 20, the delegation will travel to Bratislava, where they plan to meet with Prime Minister Robert Fico, Foreign Minister Jan Kubis, U.S. Ambassador Vincent Obsitnik, independent analysts, and Romani activists. They will hold a press conference at 5:15 p.m. the residence of the U.S. Ambassador (14/A Stara Vinarska, Bratislava). During the press conference, the delegation is expected to discuss U.S.-Slovak relations, the situation of the Romani minority, and regional issues of concern to the OSCE community. The delegation will then travel to Vienna, where they will attend the 7th Annual Winter Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. The purpose of the meeting is to examine unfolding trends and events within the OSCE region and beyond with a particular focus on Kosovo, missile defense, and conventional forces in Europe. The parliamentarians will also receive briefings by high-level OSCE officials on the diplomatic response to these events. The work conducted during this meeting is in preparation for the upcoming Annual Session, which will take place in Astana, Kazakhstan this summer.  On Thursday, February 21 at 2:30 p.m. the delegation will hold a press roundtable in room 525 of the Hofburg Congress Center. At the press roundtable they plan to discuss the issues being debated in the meeting as well as the economic, security, and political ramifications of migration, and efforts to combat prejudice and discrimination in the OSCE region, as well the upcoming Presidential elections in Russia and European cooperation to address the Iraqi refugee crisis. 

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing with Edward Lucas of "The Economist"

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will hold a briefing on Wednesday, February 20 at 10:00 a.m. in B-318 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The briefing will feature Mr. Edward Lucas, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent, and former Moscow bureau chief for The Economist. Lucas is the author of the recently published book entitled, “THE NEW COLD WAR: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West.” During the briefing, he will share his thoughts on current political events in Russia, such as the upcoming Presidential elections on March 2 as well as Moscow’s relations with the international community during President Putin’s era and beyond. 

  • Hastings and Cardin: World Mourns Passing of Rep. Lantos

    WASHINGTON -  Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), issued the following statement on the passing of House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, the only survivor of the Holocaust to serve in the United States Congress:  “It is with a heavy heart that we express our profound sympathies and deepest condolences to Congressman Lantos’ wife Annette, and his children and grandchildren. Tom was a great man of courage and intellect. As the only Holocaust survivor in the U.S. Congress, he fought to bring attention to the fight for human rights, combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. His extraordinary commitment to his constituents, to the Congress, and the people of this great nation will never be forgotten. While his life has so sadly come to an end, his legacy of inclusion and tolerance will forever endure in the halls of Congress,” said Hastings and Cardin. 

  • Finland’s Foreign Minister Kanerva to Testify Before Helsinki Commission

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing on Wednesday, February 13 at 11:00 a.m. in room B-318 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Finland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ilkka Kanerva, will testify before the Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for 2008.  The hearing entitled, “Finland’s Leadership of the OSCE,” will focus on Finland’s plans and priorities as well as challenges confronting the OSCE in 2008 and beyond. Additionally, the hearing is expected to address election observation activities by the OSCE; prospects for OSCE continued engagement in Kosovo; ongoing initiatives to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance; and the CFE Treaty. 

  • Reps. Hastings and Dingell Call on Secretary Rice to Layout Long-Term Plan for Iraqi Refugee Crisis

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, and Congressman John D. Dingell (D-MI), Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent the following letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The letter outlines the Members’ concern over the lack of attention and resources that have been focused on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced populations (IDP), and the failure of the United States to implement a long-term plan to address this humanitarian crisis in the region.  In particular, the letter lays out specific questions to Secretary Rice to better understand the State Department’s efforts of resettlement and humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees and IDPs. Hastings and Dingell have requested an official response to the letter by March 7, 2008. (Please find below a copy of the letter)  On January 22, Hastings and Dingell sent a letter to President Bush requesting an additional $1.5 billion in funding in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget to aid Iraqi refugees and IDPs. In response to the President’s budget proposal, Hastings and Dingell are leading efforts with other Members of Congress, urging the House Appropriations Committee to recognize the critical need for a robust increase in funding for Iraqi refuges and IDPs.  February 5, 2008  The Honorable Condoleezza Rice  Secretary  U.S. Department of State  2201 C Street NW  Washington, DC 20520  Dear Madam Secretary:  We write to express our continued concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. While we commend you for your appointment of Ambassador James Foley as Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugee Issues, we remain concerned that not enough attention and resources have been focused on the situation deemed by many the most pressing humanitarian crisis in the world. Most disconcerting is the fact that our government does not appear to have a long-term strategy to address this crisis. We have a number of specific questions about the State Department’s response to this situation, which we have outlined below.  According to recent news reports and discussions with representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and others who have been active in the region, the displaced refugee situation may have stabilized, but the humanitarian situation in countries such Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Turkey and within Iraq is becoming increasingly desperate. In addition to the moral and humanitarian elements of this problem, the lack of resources being provided to refugees and displaced persons from the United States and the international community is creating a potential security crisis, as the most vulnerable Iraqis are turning to extremist elements for assistance.  Additionally, we are troubled by the lack of progress the United States has made to resettle the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees. As you know, the United States fell far short of meeting its revised goal of admitting 7,000 Iraqi refugees in Fiscal Year 2007, and reports indicate that the United States does not appear to be making progress towards its goal of admitting 12,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2008. In fact, only 1,324 refugees have been granted admission to the United States this fiscal year, and the rate of admission has actually slowed from 450 in October 2007 to only 245 in December 2007.  Given these concerns, we ask that you respond to the following questions, so we may better understand the State Department’s efforts to improve resettlement efforts and provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s):  What are the State Department’s long-term objectives in terms of addressing the plight of Iraqi refugees and IDP’s?  What plans are in place to coordinate with the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration to assist with this crisis?  What plans exist to work with the Iraqi government once the United States military forces withdraw from the region to prevent a vacuum that non-state actors providing humanitarian assistance might fill?  Do you believe that the United States will meet its goal of admitting 12,000 refugees this year? If not, what is preventing the United States from meeting this goal? Given the State Department’s difficulties in meeting its resettlement goals, why does the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget submitted by the President reduce funding for Migration and Refugee Assistance by $59 million?  It is our understanding that very few Iraqis currently in Iraq are able to apply for resettlement. Why has the United States not begun to process larger numbers of IDP’s in Iraq, many of whom have been forced to leave their homes because of the assistance they provided to the United States government? What actions does the State Department need to take to begin processing these internally displaced Iraqis? Does the State Department need additional resources to process externally displaced refugees, particularly in Jordan and in Syria, to meet its resettlement goal for 2009?  Please clarify exactly what Ambassador Foley’s role is. During a briefing to Congressional staff last year, he indicated that he is tasked solely with improving the processing of visa applications for Iraqi refugees and IDP’s. However, as stated above, the United States does not appear to be making progress towards this goal. We are troubled that Ambassador Foley’s mandate apparently does not include coordination of humanitarian efforts, either in Iraq or in other nations in the region currently hosting Iraqi refugees. To that end, are Ambassador Foley’s actions limited by a narrow mandate? Does the State Department have any plans to appoint another Senior Coordinator who is solely responsible for coordinating the United States’ humanitarian efforts in Iraq and surrounding nations?  What further resources does the State Department need to adequately respond to the Iraqi refugee and IDP crisis? Are there legislative or budgetary issues that Congress should address in the coming year that will assist you in responding to this crisis?  What actions has the State Department taken to encourage the full distribution of the Iraqi Government's pledge of $25 million in assistance to neighboring countries last April? What steps does the State Department intend on taking to ensure future Iraqi Government pledges are fully accounted for and disbursed in a timely manner?  What efforts have been made to engage the international community to address this growing humanitarian catastrophe? What has the State Department done, or what is it planning to do, to encourage our European and other allies to increase their contribution to UNHCR appeals?  The United States government has a moral responsibility to lead the international response to the Iraqi refugee crisis. We urge the State Department to make it a priority to address the Iraqi refugee crisis and lead the international response as a focal point of United States diplomatic efforts in the region.  Thank you in advance for your response to these questions. In order for Congress to be able to address these issues in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget process, we ask that you respond to this letter by March 7, 2008. We look forward to working with you in any way we can to help you respond to this crisis.  Sincerely,    Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.   John D. Dingell, M.C.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Ramifications of Presidential Elections in the Republic of Georgia

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing entitled “Georgia in 2008: Elections or Street Politics?” on Wednesday, February 6 at 2:30 p.m. in B-318 of the Rayburn House Office Building.  Over the last few months, Georgia has experienced considerable turmoil, with the violent confrontation between riot police and protesters in November, the imposition of a state of emergency, the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili and the holding of a snap presidential election in early January. Although President Saakashvili narrowly won re-election in the first-round, opposition leaders refuse to recognize the outcome and have pledged to launch another round of protests beginning on February 15 unless their extensive list of demands are met. The hearing will examine the ramifications of these developments for Georgia, the United States and NATO, which Georgia is hoping to join.  Chairman Hastings led the International Election Observation Mission for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and was accompanied by Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX).  Testifying before the Commission will be:  Mr. Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia  H.E. Vasili Sikhuralidze, Ambassador of Georgia  Salome Zurabishvili, former Foreign Minister of Georgia, now opposition leader and head of the "Georgia's Way" Party 

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing Examining U.S. and Civil Society Efforts to Combat Anti-Semitism

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing on Thursday, February 7 at 2:30 p.m. in room 406 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The hearing is the second in a two-part series that will review U.S. government and civil society efforts to combat anti-Semitism in North America and Europe. In particular, the hearing will examine lessons learned and a way forward in monitoring and combating anti-Semitism with a focus on Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) initiatives. The hearing will be webcast from the Helsinki Commission website at www.csce.gov.  On January 29, the Helsinki Commission held the first hearing in this series entitled, “Taking Stock: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region.” The transcript and testimonies from this hearing can be found on the Commission’s website.  Testifying before the Helsinki Commission will be:  Dr. Gregg Rickman, U.S. Department of State, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism  Ms. Felice D. Gaer, Commissioner, US Commission on International Religious Freedom  Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs, American Jewish Committee  Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean and Founder, Simon Wiesenthal Center  Mr. Mark Levin, Executive Director, National Conference on Soviet Jewry  Ms. Stacy Burdett, Associate Director, Government and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League 

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Concerned Over Russia’s Efforts to Limit Election Observers

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Ranking Minority Members Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), issued the following joint statement regarding a decision by the Russian Federation to limit the number of election observers for its upcoming March 2 presidential elections:  “Russia’s decision to restrict the number of election observers is quite unfortunate and undermines an essential aspect of the OSCE and Parliamentary Assembly’s ongoing work to foster democracy through free and fair elections. It is not only troubling that the short-term observation mission has been limited, but that the long-term mission whose job is to observe the quality of the campaign period for at least two months, will not be feasible given restrictions being imposed by Moscow.  “All OSCE participating States – regardless of the level of their democratic development – are obligated under longstanding OSCE commitments to invite observation of their elections. Several dozen OSCE countries, including the United States, have hosted election observation missions, with the decision to deploy a mission left to the OSCE. As Russian observers joined us in 2004, we hope that they and others come to observe our upcoming elections in November.  “We have no doubt that the March 2 elections are very important to Russia’s future. We urge the Russian Federation to work with the OSCE and Parliamentary Assembly to resolve this unfortunate situation,” said Hastings, Cardin, Smith, and Brownback. 

  • Hastings ‘Welcomes’ Russian Think Tank to Study Democracy and Human Rights in U.S.

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), issued the following statement regarding the creation of a Russian think tank, known as the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation. The think tank, which has been approved by the Kremlin, will be funded through unknown private donations and will reportedly study human rights and democratic development in the United States and Europe.  “The United States is a free and open society, with a vibrant civil society. In fact, at the Helsinki Commission I spend a great deal of time looking at our own human rights record and democratic development. We have nothing to hide. I welcome Russian interest in examining our nation’s implementation record of OSCE commitments agreed to by all Helsinki signatory countries, including the Russian Federation, and look forward to any findings and recommendations they might produce.  “Such scrutiny is consistent with the recognition by all 56 OSCE countries that questions relating to democracy, human rights and the rule of law are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States,” said Hastings.   

  • Reps. Hastings and Dingell Disappointed in Bush’s Failure to Recognize Iraqi Refugee Crisis in State of the Union Address

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, and Congressman John D. Dingell (D-MI), Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, issued the following statement in response to President Bush’s State of the Union Address. Hastings and Dingell are deeply disappointed by the President’s failure to recognize the massive displacement of Iraqis and the impending humanitarian crisis rapidly ensuing in the region. More than two million refugees have fled to neighboring countries and an additional 2.5 million Iraqis have been internally displaced.  “Whether or not you agree with the Administration’s strategy in Iraq, one cannot forget that we have a moral obligation to help, not ignore the crisis ensuing in the region. We are deeply troubled by the fact that President Bush did not mention once in his State of the Union Address a plan to aid the millions of Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge either in neighboring countries or elsewhere in Iraq.  “Just last week we wrote to President Bush requesting an additional $1.5 billion to address this growing humanitarian and security crisis in an effort to prevent the further destabilization of an already volatile region. We have yet to receive a response to our letter, which clearly demonstrates this Administration’s refusal to address the crisis. We cannot turn a blind eye and hope the problem fixes itself. It is imperative that we lead the international response to this imploding situation, before it is too late,” said Hastings and Dingell.  On January 22, Hastings and Dingell sent a letter to President Bush requesting additional funding in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget to aid Iraqi refugees and internally displaced populations (IDP) in Iraq. In particular, Hastings and Dingell requested $80 million to resettle 20,000 Iraqi refugees next year, $80 million in benefits for 5000 special immigrant visa recipients, $200 million for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance that will provide humanitarian assistance for those displaced within Iraq and $700 million in bilateral humanitarian assistance to Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon. The Bush Administration has not yet responded to the letter.  Following the release of the President’s budget on February 4, Hastings and Dingell will be leading efforts with other Members of Congress, urging the House Appropriations Committee to recognize the critical need for a robust increase in funding for Iraqi refuges and IDPs. 

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing to Review Efforts on Combating Anti-Semitism and Related Violence in Europe

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing on Tuesday, January 29 at 10:00 a.m. in room 419 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The hearing entitled, “Taking Stock: Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region,” will focus on efforts to combat anti-Semitism and related violence in Europe.  The hearing will be webcast from the Helsinki Commission website at www.csce.gov.  Testifying before the Commission will be:  Professor Gert Weisskirchen, member of the German Parliament, OSCE Chairman-in Office’s Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism  Dr. Kathrin Meyer, Advisor on Anti-Semitism Issues, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights  WHAT: Helsinki Commission Hearing to Review Efforts on Combating Anti-Semitism and Related Violence in Europe WHEN: Tuesday, January 29 at 10:00 a.m. WHERE: 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building

  • Reps. Hastings and Dingell Urge Increased Funding for Iraqi Refugees

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, and Congressman John D. Dingell, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, sent the following letter yesterday to President Bush. The letter requests that the President appropriately address in his Fiscal Year 2009 budget the growing humanitarian crisis regarding Iraqi refugees and internally displaced populations (IDP) in Iraq.  In particular, Hastings and Dingell are requesting $80 million to resettle 20,000 Iraqi refugees next year, $80 million in benefits for 5000 special immigrant visa recipients, $200 million for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance that will provide humanitarian assistance for those displaced within Iraq and $700 million in bilateral humanitarian assistance to Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon. In addition, the letter highlights the fact that additional funds may be required in any emergency supplemental appropriation bill for Iraq that the Administration may submit to Congress for this fiscal year.  January 22, 2008  President George W. Bush  The White House  1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW  Washington, DC 20500  Dear Mr. President:  As you prepare to submit your budget request for Fiscal Year 2009, we write to request that you appropriately address the growing population of Iraqi refugees and internally displaced populations (IDP’s) in Iraq. As you are no doubt aware, Iraqis are now the third-largest displaced population in the world and the fastest-growing refugee population globally. More than two million refugees have fled to neighboring countries such as Jordan and Syria, causing serious resource and security challenges for these countries. An additional 2.5 million Iraqis have been internally displaced, having fled their homes due to the ongoing threat of sectarian violence.  Our government has a moral responsibility to provide leadership for this expanding humanitarian crisis. The prolonged massive displacement of Iraqis has grave potential to lead to a regional crisis with major security implications. Further, the current status of the United States international credibility means we can ill afford to continue to ignore the plight of our remaining allies. The United States Congress recently appropriated $70 billion to pay for the military effort in Iraq in Fiscal Year 2008. Surely we can dedicate appropriate funding for humanitarian aid to address this political and moral crisis before it further implodes.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) recently called for $261 million in assistance for refugees and IDPs, which would be used for financial support, health care, and other critical needs. We believe that it would be appropriate for the United States to fund at least 50% of this request, given our leadership role in the region. In addition, we request that you provide an additional $300 million in Migration and Refugee Assistance funds to address other needs that have been identified by nongovernmental organizations who have been working to assist the refugee population.  We applaud the State Department’s decision to make Iraqi refugee resettlement a top priority, as evidence by the appointment of Ambassador James Foley as Senior Coordinator for Iraqi Refugee Issues. We also commend the State Department’s laudable goal of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees this year. We recommend you include in your budget $80 million to resettle 20,000 Iraqi refugees next year, and $80 million in benefits for 5000 special immigrant visa recipients. We also recommend that you provide $200 million for the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance that will provide humanitarian assistance for those displaced within Iraq, and $700 million in bilateral assistance to Jordan, Egypt, and Lebanon. We believe that additional funds may be required in any emergency supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq that your administration may submit to Congress for this fiscal year.  We implore you to include, at a minimum, these necessary and critical funds in your budget request. We note that the $1.5 billion in funding that we have requested for next year is less than the cost of one week’s worth of war funds. The lives of millions of Iraqis literally depend on this aid. Thank you for considering these very important provisions to address the Iraqi refugee and internally displaced persons humanitarian crisis. We look forward to your response.  Sincerely,  ____________________      ____________________  Alcee L. Hastings                      John D. Dingell  Member of Congress               Member of Congress 

  • Hastings to Meet with Finland’s Foreign Minister Kanerva on Georgian Elections

    TBILISI, GEORGIA - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will meet with Finland’s Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva on Monday, January 7 in Helsinki, Finland. Hastings, who is currently leading the election observation mission in the Republic of Georgia on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has been asked by Foreign Minister Kanerva to brief him on conclusions of the election. Hastings also plans to discuss Russia, Kosovo, and Finland’s leadership as the new Chairman-in-Office (CiO) of the OSCE. Foreign Minister Kanerva assumed the Chairmanship of the OSCE on January 1, 2008.  Hastings will also hold a joint press conference directly following his meeting with Foreign Minister Kanerva at 12:00 p.m. at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Helsinki, Finland. 

  • Hastings to Lead OSCE Election Observation Mission in the Republic of Georgia

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will lead the international election observation mission for the presidential elections to be held in the Republic of Georgia on January 5. Chairman Hastings was jointly appointed to the position on behalf of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) by Foreign Ministers Miguel Angel Moratinos of Spain and Ilkka Kanerva of Finland. Foreign Minister Moratinos is the outgoing Chairman-in-Office (CiO) of the OSCE and Foreign Minister Kanerva will assume the chairmanship on January 1, 2008. The observation mission will bring together parliamentarians from throughout the OSCE region. Also accompanying Chairman Hastings will be Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), a former Justice of the Texas Supreme Court and a strong advocate of transparency. Congressman Doggett has served as an election monitor in the past. Chairman Hastings, who is President Emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, has led similar observation missions in Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Ukraine. On January 6, Chairman Hastings will hold a press conference to announce conclusions of the election observation mission – DETAILS TO FOLLOW. “A fundamental function of any democracy is ensuring that citizens are able to vote and know that their vote will be counted. While I deeply regret the political turmoil and violence that unfolded in Georgia, I am pleased that early presidential elections were called and that hundreds, if not thousands, of election observers have been invited. The world will be watching Georgia, and it is my sincere hope that these elections are conducted in the most free, fair, and transparent manner. I wish the people of Georgia much success and look forward to heading the observation mission for the OSCE,” said Chairman Hastings. The call for early presidential elections followed large street protests and turmoil in Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital, in early November. A temporary state of emergency imposed to quell the demonstrations ended on November 16. Sanctions against selected media outlets were also instituted, but have since been lifted. In the interim, Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burjanadze, a longtime member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, has assumed the role of acting President.

  • Hastings and Cardin Condemn Former Prime Minister Bhutto's Assassination

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), issued the following statement in response to Pakistan’s former Prime Minister and opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s assassination earlier today outside a campaign rally in Rawalpindi: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the attack that killed Prime Minister Bhutto and over 20 others earlier today. The cowards who orchestrated these atrocities must be brought to justice and the violence must come to an end. Prime Minister Bhutto was a courageous example to those of us who believe in unfettered participatory democracy and reform. We extend our most sincere condolences to Prime Minister Bhutto’s family and to the people of Pakistan. “As leaders of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, whose job is to encourage compliance with the Helsinki Final Act, the landmark human rights and democracy-building declaration signed in 1975, we are deeply concerned by this attack and the outbreak of violence in its response. Prime Minister Bhutto fought for democracy and made the ultimate sacrifice for her country. The political unrest in Pakistan comes at a critical time for the region and we must not forget what Prime Minister Bhutto was fighting for and urge peace, stability, and democracy to prevail,” said Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin.

  • Hastings to Putin: Call Off the Docs

    WASHINGTON - ongressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), issued the following statement in response to news reports of Russian opposition activists and journalists being involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals for speaking out against the Russian government.  On November 23, just a day before a planned demonstration against the Putin government, Mr. Artern Basyrov, an opposition activist of the “Other Russia” organization was detained by authorities and committed to a psychiatric hospital in the central region of Mari El.  Mr. Basyrov’s case is slated to be reviewed in the near future.  Earlier this month, Mr. Andrei Novikov, a journalist accused by police of “extremism,” was ordered released by court order from a psychiatric hospital after being held there for nine months.  Ms. Larisa Arap of Murmansk, another “Other Russia” activist and journalist, was released earlier this year after spending six weeks at a psychiatric clinic.     “The news reports of activists and journalists being involuntarily imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals for disagreeing with policies of the Kremlin are quite reminiscent of acts committed against dissidents during the Soviet era.  President Putin claims to be a democratic leader, but democratic leaders don’t let local officials turn psychiatric hospitals into jails for dissidents. It is a horrible practice of another time; I would urge President Putin to condemn such heinous acts immediately, and remove from positions of authority any officials responsible for these acts,” said Chairman Hastings.

  • Hastings Condemns Terrorist Attacks in Algeria

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, introduced a resolution condemning the December 11, 2007, terrorist bombings in Algeria and expressing sympathy to the victims of the terrorist attacks. According to Algeria’s Interior Ministry, the official death toll is 37, with numerous others injured. Chairman Hastings was joined by Representatives William Delahunt (D-MA), Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Ted Poe (R-TX), and Stephen Cohen (D-TN), in introducing the resolution. “The deplorable attacks on civilian targets illustrates al-Qaeda’s determination to continue to spread its destructive aims globally. The American people understand the pain suffered by Algeria for the loss of so many innocent lives and the injury of numerous others. These inhumane attacks by al-Qaeda in the Maghreb are intended to sow insecurity and divisiveness, and, as in Iraq, can impede progress in the social and economic spheres. “I stand in strong support of the people and Government of Algeria in their continued struggle against extremism and violence, and condemn in the strongest possible terms these terrorist attacks,” said Chairman Hastings. The OSCE maintains special relations with six Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia.  

  • Helsinki Commission Addresses the Challenges to Protecting Free Speech

    WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) held a hearing with Mr. Miklos Haraszti, Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing entitled, “Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region,” focused on media freedom trends in the OSCE region. During the hearing, Mr. Haraszti voiced his support for the draft “shield law” (H.R. 2102). Haraszti noted that all 50 U.S. states already have similar protections for journalists and that adoption of a federal law would set a positive example for other OSCE countries. Chairman Hastings noted, “When it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of the media, I believe the United States has a record of which we can truly be proud. But every democracy – even a well-established democracy – has room for improvement and I believe the United States would benefit from having a shield law. For this reason, I joined 398 of my colleagues in the House in voting for such a bill. A companion bill has been voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and I hope we will see this legislation signed into law.” Helsinki Commissioner Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL), raised concerns during the hearing about the dangers faced by journalists in Azerbaijan, noting that this country has more journalists in jail than any other OSCE country. Chairman Hastings echoed Representative Aderholt’s views, voicing particular concern about the recent conviction of Mr. Ilgar Nasibov, a correspondent for RFE/RL's Azeri service. Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC), who is also a member of the Commission, noted that Kazakhstan will host the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's annual meeting next year and will serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2010. He asked Mr. Haraszti to outline concrete steps that Kazakhstan should take to improve conditions for journalists in an effort to set a good example for other countries in the region. In response, Mr. Haraszti singled out three measures as priorities: 1) the repeal of Kazakhstan’s “insult” and criminal defamation law; easing the administrative framework for handling the media (including licensing and registration for print media); and enhancing media pluralism, particularly in broadcasting.  

  • Hastings Travels to Israel

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) and Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly, will travel on an official CODEL to Israel from December 16 to 19, 2007. While in Israel, Hastings plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, attend the OSCE Mediterranean Partners conference entitled, “Combating Intolerance and Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding,” and also hold bilateral meetings with other leading government officials. Hastings, who is President Emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, will chair a meeting on countering discrimination during the conference. “Over the past year, in my travel to the region and in meetings that I have held with representatives of our Mediterranean Partners, I have continued to urge that the annual OSCE Mediterranean Conference be held in Israel. I am quite pleased that it will be taking place there this year. This conference undoubtedly comes at a time in which manifestations of intolerance and discrimination have increased within the OSCE region and beyond. We must ensure the protection and preservation of rights for the most vulnerable in our societies, no matter their race, religion, national origin or gender. These are the core principles of the Helsinki process and are essential to stable, productive, and democratic societies. “Furthermore, I believe this visit comes at a critical time for the region as the first round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks since the Annapolis Summit has been launched in Jerusalem. I look forward to meeting with Prime Minister Olmert to discuss the many pressing bilateral issues facing both our countries and to express my steadfast support for Israel’s on-going peace negotiations,” said Hastings.  

  • Hastings Outraged by Merciless Attack on Belarus’ Young Front Leader Zmitser Fedaruk

    WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) issued the following statement in response to news reports that one of the Young Front leaders, 19-year-old Zmitser Fedaruk was beaten by riot police during an otherwise peaceful demonstration in Belarus. According to witnesses, Fedaruk was beaten and knocked unconscious by riot policemen, then rushed by ambulance to the hospital. “The merciless beating of Mr. Fedaruk is both outrageous and tragic. Just last week, he was here in Washington appearing before the Helsinki Commission, where he spoke of the dangers young human rights activists face in Belarus. I not only stand behind Mr. Fedaruk’s fight for freedom, but I condemn in the strongest possible terms these acts of violence against innocent individuals. Belarus’ dismal track record with respect for human rights and democracy is no secret. Unfortunately, the intimidation and abuse by Alexander Lukashenka’s regime does not seem to be coming to an end any time soon. My colleagues and I on the Helsinki Commission are determined to stand by young Mr. Fedaruk and all those in Belarus – young and old – struggling for freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.” On December 4, Fedaruk testified before the Helsinki Commission at a briefing entitled, “The Future Belarus: Democracy or Dictatorship?” that focused on the prospects for change in a country that is widely considered to have Europe’s worst record with respect to human rights and democracy. During the briefing, Fedaruk commented, “We want to present a new generation of Belarusian youth which will join the Front, young people who believe in God and love their country, because such features were very usual for the people who also founded your country. So we have a good example before our eyes.”

  • Hastings Lauds International Tracing Service on Ratifying Holocaust Archives Agreement

    WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), introduced a resolution expressing gratitude to all of the member states of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) for ratifying the May 2006 Agreement to amend the 1955 Bonn Accords granting open access to vast Holocaust and other World War II related archives located in Bad Arolsen, Germany. Chairman Hastings was joined by Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Mark S. Kirk (R-IL), in introducing the resolution. The opening of the archives is an historical moment that will allow public access to approximately 50 million records on the fates of some 17.5 million individual victims of Nazi brutality. Digital copies of the millions of documents are already being transferred to receiving institutions that include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel, and will be made available to survivors and scholars beginning in early 2008. “The opening of the Holocaust archives in Bad Arolsen is quite a momentous occasion. It saddens me to think that it has taken more than 62 years to open the largest remaining Holocaust archive in the world. Clearly, it should never have taken so long. “This has been a long path, which I have travelled with my friends and colleagues Robert Wexler, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mark Kirk and others, but nonetheless it brings me great joy to know that Holocaust survivors and researchers alike will be able to view these tremendously important documents and hopefully find closure on one of the darkest moments in history,” said Hastings.  

  • Cardin and Hastings Examine U.S. Policy on Torture

    COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND - Today at the University of Maryland at College Park, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), chaired a field hearing examining torture and other forms of banned treatment, with Commission Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).  The hearing entitled, “Is it torture yet?” focused on what  constitutes torture or other forms of prohibited ill-treatment, what legal norms apply, and what is known about the effectiveness of various interrogation methods. Expert testimony was received from Ms. Devon Chaffee, Associate Attorney, Human Rights First; Dr. Thomas C. Hilde, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland-College Park; Dr. Christian Davenport, Professor of Political Science, University of Maryland-College Park, and Senior Fellow and Director of Research at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management; and  Mr. Malcom Nance, Director, Special Readiness Services International and Director, International Anti-Terrorism Center for Excellence. During the hearing, both Senator Cardin and Congressman Hastings were critical of United States policy on torture and expressed their concerns over the destruction of CIA videotapes of terror suspects under interrogation.  It was also noted that today is International Human Rights Day, a day which commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights nearly 60 years ago.  “I deeply regret that, six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration, it is necessary to have a hearing on torture and, more to the point, I regret that the United States’ own policies and practices must be a focus of our consideration,” said Senator Cardin. Congressman Hastings also noted:  “I am profoundly frustrated by the damage that has been done to America’s good name and credibility by the documented instances of abuse that have occurred in the context of our country’s effort to combat terrorism, and by the erosion of the legal principles which make torture and other forms of ill-treatment a crime.”  Full opening statements from the hearing are below: Co-Chairman Cardin’s Statement: “Mr. Chairman, I am happy to conduct this hearing today, examining some of the complex legal and policy questions relating to torture, and very grateful to the University of Maryland for providing us with the outstanding facilities to hold this field hearing. “As it happens, today is International Human Rights Day, a day which commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights nearly 60 years ago.  As stated in that historic document:  “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”’ “Since then, the United States has adopted other international commitments and obligations relating to humane treatment:  the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, of course, the 1984 Convention Against Torture. “In the Helsinki process, the United States has joined with the 55 other participating States to condemn torture.  A compilation of those OSCE commitments is available on the table outside this room, but I want to quote one particular provision, because it speaks with such singular clarity.  In 1989, in the Vienna Concluding Document, the United States – along with the Soviet Union and all the other participating States – agreed to “ensure that all individuals in detention or incarceration will be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.” There are no exceptions or no loopholes, and this is the standard which the United States is obligated to uphold. “I deeply regret that, six decades after the adoption of the Universal Declaration, it is necessary to have a hearing on torture and, more to the point, I regret that the United States’ own policies and practices must be a focus of our consideration. “As a member of the Helsinki Commission, I have long been concerned about the persistence of torture and other forms of abuse in the OSCE region.  I am particularly troubled by the pattern of torture in Uzbekistan -- a country to which the United States has extradited terror suspects.  In November alone, Radio Free Europe reported that two individuals died while in the custody of the state.  Their bodies, when returned to their families, bore all the markings of torture. “Unfortunately, United States leadership in the effort to combat torture and other forms of ill-treatment has been undermined by the revelation of abuse at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.  In fact, when Secretary of State Rice met with leading human rights activists in Moscow in October, they told her that allegations of abuse at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq have hurt Washington's authority on human rights.  "As horrific as the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib were, in a certain respect the government’s own legal memos on torture may be even more damaging, since they appear to reflect a policy to condone torture and immunize those who may have committed torture. “Torture remains a serious problem in a number of OSCE countries, particularly in the Russian region of Chechnya, but if the United States is to address those issues credibly, we must get our own house in order. “In this regard, I was deeply disappointed by the unwillingness of Attorney General Mukasey to state clearly and unequivocally that waterboarding is torture.  As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I chaired part of the Attorney General's confirmation hearing.  And I found his responses to questions relating to torture woefully inadequate.  As it happens, on November 14, I also participated in another Judiciary Committee hearing at which an El Salvadoran torture survivor testified.  This medical doctor, who can no longer practice surgery because of the torture inflicted upon him, wanted to make one thing very clear: as someone who had been the victim of what his torturers called “the bucket treatment,” he said, waterboarding is torture. “Earlier this year, former Bush administration counselor Phillip Zelikow argued that, whether legal or not, the interrogation policies developed in 2002 were just flat-out "immoral."  (Specifically, he said, “My own view is that the cool, carefully considered, methodical, prolonged, and repeated subjection of captives to physical torment, and the accompanying psychological terror, is immoral. I offer no opinion as to whether such conduct is a federal crime; merely that it is immoral.”)  He added: “Sliding into habits of growing non-cooperation and alienation is not just a problem of world opinion.  It will eventually interfere – and interfere very concretely – with the conduct of worldwide operations.”’ “At today’s hearing, we will certainly consider the laws that govern torture and other forms of ill-treatment – and on that score, we may hear views that differ from Mr. Zelikow’s.  But our witnesses will expand this discussion to the moral and ethical issues that Zelikow argued should have been considered by the administration – and were not.  I believe our witnesses may also pose some provocative questions about the relationship between human rights violations and democracy,” said Cardin.  Chairman Hastings’ statement: “Senator Cardin, I want to thank you for your leadership in convening this field hearing and I’d also like to express my appreciation to President Mote and the University of Maryland for their hospitality today. “This hearing comes just days after the revelation that two videotapes made in 2002, showing the CIA’s interrogation of two terror suspects, were destroyed by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2005.  One can only wonder what those videos showed.  “The destruction of these tapes is disturbing on many levels, but especially when one considers that the 9/11 Commission specifically and formally sought these sorts of recordings and were not given them.  I cannot imagine why, when the 9/11 Commission was investigating one of the worst attacks on American soil in the history of our country, why the CIA did not fully cooperate with that investigation. "Like you, Senator Cardin, I am profoundly frustrated by the damage that has been done to America’s good name and credibility by the documented instances of abuse that have occurred in the context of our country’s effort to combat terrorism, and by the erosion of the legal principles which make torture and other forms of ill-treatment a crime.  “Many people have said it, but it seems to me to deserve repeating, and I put this in the context as someone who has visited more intelligence stations than probably any other current Member of Congress:  Torture does not make us any safer.  Torture does not produce good intelligence.  “In fact, there have been several notorious instances of detainees providing testimony under duress that has subsequently been shown to be false.  Some of the evidence relied upon by Secretary Powell, in his 2003 speech to the UN making the case for the war in Iraq, came from a detainee who later recanted that testimony and stated that he made his claims as a result of coercive interrogation. Three British detainees at Guantanamo confessed to being at an Al Qaeda training camp, but British authorities later confirmed that all three of the men were in the United Kingdom at the time they told their American interrogators they were meeting with Osama bin Laden.  Those men have all been released now. “As we examine the subject of torture today, I look forward to hearing our witnesses discuss various aspect of this issue.  But I also hope that the administration will begin to devote some serious attention and resources to study better ways to gain intelligence.  Too often intelligence gathering and respect for human rights are presented as a zero-sum game, where more of one means less of another.  I think that is a false paradigm.  There is more we can be doing to improve our intelligence gathering that does not have to come at the expense of human rights – for example, we could stop kicking people out of the military who have critically needed foreign language skills just because they’re gay.  We can provide more training for critical languages.   We can study non-coercive interrogation methods – something we haven’t done since World War II.  None of those things involve or require torture. “Finally, Senator Cardin, I would like to express my immense disappointment – to say the least – to hear that President Bush is prepared to veto the 2008 Fiscal Year intelligence authorization bill because it would require the Central Intelligence Agency to follow the same interrogation norms that apply to military personnel.  As it now stands, the 2006 Detainee Treatment Act prohibits military personnel from engaging in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees.  “Last February, Jeffrey H. Smith, the former General Counsel to the CIA, argued strongly in the pages of the Washington Post that armed services and the CIA should not have different standards for the treatment and interrogation of detainees – and I think he’s right.  So I truly hope that the intelligence authorization bill will be passed, including its provision regarding CIA interrogations norms, and I hope that the President will expeditiously sign it into law. “Senator, thank you again for your thoughtful and long-standing leadership on this issue.  I am proud to be with you today at your state’s flagship university to explore how this issue impacts the United States-- both right here at home and across the globe.  Thank you,” said Hastings.  

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Media Freedom Hearing

    WASHINGTON -  Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing on “Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region” on Thursday, December 13 at 10:00 a.m. in room B-318 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Testifying before the Commission will be Mr. Miklos Haraszti, Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). During the hearing, Mr. Haraszti will address media freedom trends in the OSCE region as well as the challenge of protecting freedom of the media while combating intolerance. As OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Mr. Haraszti observes media developments for all of the 56 participating OSCE States, provides early warnings on violations of freedom of expression, and promotes full compliance with OSCE press freedom commitments. WHAT: Helsinki Commission Media Freedom Hearing WHEN: Thursday, December 13 at 10:00 a.m. WHERE: B-318 Rayburn House Office Building

  • Senator Cardin to Hold Field Hearing on Torture and other Forms of Banned Treatment

    COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND - Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will hold a field hearing on Monday, December 10 at the University of Maryland in College Park from 10am-12noon. The hearing, “Is it torture yet?” will examine what constitutes torture or other forms of prohibited ill-treatment, what legal norms apply, and what is known about the effectiveness of various interrogation methods. Joining Co-Chairman Cardin at the hearing will be Helsinki Commission Chairman, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Co-Chairman Cardin, who also is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired part of the October confirmation hearing for Attorney General Michael Mukasey, during which the administration’s views on what is or is not torture were extensively debated. WHAT: “Is it Torture Yet?” - Field Hearing on Torture WHO: Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, and leading experts WHEN: Monday, December 10, 2007 – 10am-12noon WHERE: University of Maryland, College Park Campus, Stamp Student Union – The Atrium (Building located on Campus Drive) Scheduled witnesses include (updated): Ms. Devon Chaffee – Associate Attorney, Human Rights First. Ms. Devon was a contributing author of the publication issued jointly by Human Rights First and Physicians for Human Rights, Leave No Marks: Enhanced Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality (2007). Dr. Thomas C. Hilde – School of Public Policy, University of Maryland. Dr. Hilde is the editor a forthcoming book, On Torture (2008). Dr. Christian Davenport – Professor of Political Science, University of Maryland-College Park, and Senior Fellow and Director of Research at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management. Dr. Davenport’s research includes the relationship between democracy and human rights. Mr. Malcom Nance – Director, Special Readiness Services International; Director, International Anti-Terrorism Center for Excellence. Nance is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. intelligence community’s “Combating Terrorism” program.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen: Russia Shouldn’t Become “Belarus Writ Large”

    WASHINGTON - Today, the Co-Chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), noted with regret Russia’s movement away from democratic norms – as reflected in the December 2 elections to the Russian State Duma -- and hoped that Russia would not become a “Belarus writ large.” “It is regrettable that the conduct of Russia’s State Duma elections were fraught with numerous violations of widely accepted democratic standards,” said Chairman Hastings, “especially in the pre-election campaign period, which at times made Russia look like Belarus writ large.” I truly hope that this will not be Russia’s future direction.” “Despite his denials, it would seem clear that President Putin allowed government officials to use their coercive power to produce the desired turnout and results. I realize that a large number of Russian citizens genuinely admire and support Mr. Putin for the economic progress and political stability he has accomplished, and I respect the choice they have made. Nevertheless, true democracies, and Russia claims to be one, do not make a mockery of elections.” “President Putin was running public approval numbers that would be the envy of the heads of state of any modern democracy.”  There was no need to seize opposition literature, confiscate computers, intimidate and beat up campaign workers.    The tactics used by Russian officials to assure a heavy vote total in favor of Mr. Putin and his “United Russia” Party, does not bode well for democratic governance and civil liberties in Russia’s future,” Co-Chairman Cardin further remarked. Russian and international media have reported that President Putin and his “United Russia” party won approximately 63 percent of the vote. Their nearest competitor, the Communist Party, gained approximately 11 percent of the vote. News reports described “unprecedented administrative pressure and harassment” (Washington Post, November 30, 2007), including in some cases physical attacks, employed throughout Russia by authorities loyal to the Kremlin to disrupt the opposition and bring out the vote for President Putin and “United Russia.” International observers were quoted as finding the elections failing to meet democratic standards, because the government abused its power to sway the vote in favor of President Putin and his “United Russia” Party, while harassing opposition parties and candidates. According to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Mr. Goran Lennmarker, the vote “failed to meet many of the commitments and standards that we have.” Belarus, Russia’s western neighbor, is ruled by the authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, and has been described by the U.S. State Department as “the last dictatorship in Europe.”  

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Post Analysis of the Russia Duma Elections

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a briefing entitled,” The Duma Elections, Politics and Putin: Where is Russia Going?" on Thursday, December 6 at 10:00 a.m. in B-318 of the Rayburn House Office Building.  The briefing will focus on the December 2 parliamentary elections, which saw President Vladimir Putin´s United Russia Party win an absolute majority of votes.  The lead up to the elections were fraught with many problems that led to significantly less election monitors as well as authorities intimidating the opposition and pressuring voters to support the defacto ruling party – United Russia.    Speakers will include:   Mr. Paul Goble, longtime specialist on the former Soviet Union and post-Soviet states for various government agencies Dr. Nikolas K. Gvosdev, Editor of The National Interest and a Senior Fellow of Strategic Studies at The Nixon Center.   Dr. Sarah Mendelson, Director of the Human Rights and Security Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)  

  • Rep. Hastings to Hold Roundtable with Journalists at OSCE Ministerial Council in Madrid

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will hold a roundtable discussion with journalists on Thursday, November 29 at 12:30 p.m. at the Palacio Municipal de Congresos – Press Briefing Room (Madrid, Spain). Hastings plans to discuss, the challenges faced by election observers in the lead up to the Russian Duma Elections, Russia’s suspensions of the CFE Treaty, Kosovo’s status, Kazakhstan’s aspirations to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the upcoming elections in Georgia. Hastings is travelling on an official CODEL and is participating in the 15th OSCE Ministerial Council meeting taking place in Madrid, Spain. This event is being held at the invitation of the current Chairman-in-Office (CiO) of the OSCE, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos. The purpose of the meeting is for the Foreign Ministers of the 56 OSCE participating States to have the opportunity to fully review and access the Organization’s activities over the past year as well as offer national viewpoints on issues of security.

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Praise Landmark Desegregation Case in Europe

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), welcomed Tuesday’s decision of the European Court of Human Rights in a school desegregation case brought by 18 Romani children in the Czech Republic. Chairman Hastings praised the outcome of the case, observing that, “Europe’s highest court has held that channeling Romani children into so-called ‘special schools’ constitutes, in fact, a form of pernicious race discrimination. This decision should compel governments throughout the region to accelerate their efforts to end de facto segregation and ensure that there is equality of opportunity for all children in the field of education.” The European Court of Human Rights hears cases arising under the European Convention on Human Rights, a legally binding treaty adopted by the Council of Europe’s 47 member states. All 47 member states are also participating States in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Co-Chairman Cardin stated, “This case originates in the Czech Republic, but the sad fact is that artificial barriers have been created in numerous OSCE participating States that impede access to education for Romani children. In some places, Romani efforts to go to school are met with open hostility. For example, arsonists burned down a Romani school in Greece in April, and at the beginning of this academic year, 29 Romani pupils in Csorog, Hungary, were left without a school when their own school closed and neighboring jurisdictions refused to enroll them.” Chairman Hastings continued, “Every OSCE participating State with a significant Romani minority claims that improving Romani participation in education is a government priority. But too often, government practices don’t match up with that stated policy. I hope the European Court’s decision will spur governments to take a long hard look at whether their actions live up to their stated goals, and take the necessary steps to ensure that Roma have equal access to all levels of education.” On November 15, Slovakia’s Amnesty International will unveil a report entitled, “Still Separate, Still Unequal: Violations of the Right to Education for Romani Children in Slovakia.” The report will highlight the grave disparity and discrimination in the education of Romani children. More specifically, the report stresses the fact that a significant number of Romani children are still being placed in special schools and classes for children with mental disabilities and learning difficulties, or segregated in Roma-only schools.  

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Expresses Deep Regret Over Violence in Georgia

    WASHINGTON -  Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Ranking Minority Members Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KA), expressed “profound regret” over the recent violence in Georgia, when law enforcement troops attacked demonstrators in Tbilisi. They criticized the imposition of a state of emergency but commended President Mikheil Saakashvili’s call for early presidential elections in January 2008, as well as a referendum on the date of parliamentary elections. “I read about the events in Georgia with great disappointment,” said Hastings. “Having been to Georgia many times, I was surprised and saddened by the violence which erupted. The state of emergency should be lifted as soon as possible. Freedom of expression must be honored and conditions created which will permit the holding of free and fair elections.” Co-Chairman Cardin also voiced concern about the crackdown and the closure of TV stations, as well as U.S. Government-funded Radio Liberty broadcasts. “Shutting down independent sources of news is not the answer to Georgia’s problems. The country’s leadership and opposition must resolve their differences peacefully. The election and referendum called by President Saakashvili offers an opportunity to restore Georgia’s image.” Ranking Minority Member Smith concurred, adding that he was puzzled by the decision to send troops against protesters when the demonstration appeared to be winding down. “I extend my sympathy to all those who were injured in the violence. Emergency rule and the closure of media outlets are not in line with Euro-Atlantic values. Georgia needs to ensure that the election and referendum in January meet the highest OSCE standards.” Ranking Minority Member Brownback said he was dismayed by the violence but strongly supported Georgia’s ambitions to join NATO. “I hope these recent events will not derail Tbilisi’s membership bid. Russia, which resents Georgia’s pro-Western orientation, has been pressuring the country for years. We must continue to support Georgia’s progress towards democracy and integration into Western institutions.” Chairman Hastings said he would be in touch with Parliament Speaker Nino Burjanadze, who has long maintained close relations with the Helsinki Commission and the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

Pages