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
  • Hastings and Cardin to Hold Hearing on Energy Security and Democracy

    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 Monday, July 23, 2007, at 3:00 p.m. in room 419 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The hearing, entitled “Energy and Democracy: Oil and Water?”, will examine the question of whether the development of democracy is incompatible with the development of a country’s energy resources. For many countries energy resources can be a blessing as they provide much needed income; however, they can also be a curse that leads to stunted economic and political development. Witnesses at the hearing will discuss international efforts to combat this “resource curse” through programs that seek to instill transparency and accountability such as “Publish What You Pay” and the “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.” The hearing will focus specifically on the energy-rich countries that are members of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. In addition, witnesses are expected to discuss how energy kleptocracy impacts U.S. energy security. Six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are ranked by Transparency International as some of the world’s most corrupt countries. Corruption and kleptocracy often lead to political instability and subsequently higher oil prices, which have the potential to impact the economic and national security interests of the United States. Witnesses invited to testify include: Mr. Simon Taylor, Director, Global Witness Mr. Roman Kupchinsky, Regional Analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

  • Hastings and Cardin Troubled Over Russia’s Decision to Suspend CFE Treaty

    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 Russia’s decision to suspend its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Russia notified member countries of the North Atlantic Trade Organization (NATO) of its intended suspension of the treaty, effective 150 days from July 14, 2007, stating that it was due in part to “extraordinary circumstances” affecting security: “We are deeply disappointed in Russia’s decision to suspend the CFE treaty. This unilateral pronouncement is clearly not about ‘extraordinary circumstances’ affecting Russia’s security, but rather a discontent with the United States’ plan to place missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. We find this not only to be unsettling, but also quite unfortunate. While Russia claims that it is not ‘shutting the door to dialogue,’ it is quite evident that this one-sided decision has been made out of haste and is a step backwards for European security. It is our most sincere hope that Russia will reconsider its decision,” said Hastings and Cardin. The CFE was negotiated by NATO and ex-Warsaw Pact member states and signed in 1990. The CFE, one of the most significant arms control treaties of the Cold War, established comprehensive limits on key categories of conventional military equipment in Europe and mandated the destruction of excess weaponry. It was amended in 1999 to reflect the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and the fact that many of the Warsaw Pact allies had joined NATO. However, this revised version has not yet been ratified by NATO member states.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission’s Trip to Ukraine

    WASHINGTON - From July 5 to 9, 2007, 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 House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), a former Chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission led a Congressional delegation to Ukraine for the 16th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. House Majority Leader Hoyer was the highest ranking Member of Congress to ever attend the session and was joined by U.S. Helsinki Commissioners Representatives Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) as well as Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Michael McNulty (D-NY) and Gwen Moore (D-WI). On July 9, the OSCE PA adopted the Kyiv Declaration, which expresses regret at the lack of progress in resolving so-called “frozen conflicts” in the OSCE region and recommends strengthened action in several fields including migration and energy and environmental security, anti-Semitism and democracy in Belarus. This Declaration is the result of five days of work by the 250 parliamentarians who participated in the session and will be sent to the governments of the 56 OSCE participating States. (For more information on the Kyiv Declaration, please visit www.oscepa.org) While in Kyiv, the delegation held direct talks with President Viktor Yushchenko on the political situation in Ukraine. “It was clear from our meeting with the President that the state of affairs here remains unsettled. And while the situation is not resolved, it is important to note an agreement has been reached, which I and my colleagues in the delegation welcome. The May 27 agreement resolves this political crisis through pre-term parliamentary elections scheduled for September 30, and it is my sincere hope that this extremely important agreement is honored and implemented,” said Chairman Hastings. House Majority Leader Hoyer added, “This trip comes at an important time in Ukrainian history; however, our message is clear. The people of Ukraine deserve to participate in free and fair elections to ensure the integrity of their democratic process continues to be preserved and protected.” Members of the delegation also visited the Babi Yar Memorial with Rabbi Alexander Duchovny, Chief Progressive Rabbi of Kyiv and the Ukraine Union of the Progressive Jewish Congregations, where they laid a wreath in tribute to the more than 100,000 Ukrainians killed there during World War II – including 33,000 Jews from Kyiv that were shot in a two-day period in September 1941. This was one of the worst massacres of the Holocaust. In addition, the delegation visited the Famine-Genocide Memorial (1932-33), where they met with survivor Eugenia Dallas. Ms. Dallas spoke of her experience as a famine survivor and what she had to do in order to survive. The memorial is dedicated to the millions of Ukrainians who died in one of the largest man-made famines to take place during the 20th century. Congressman McIntyre noted, “I was touched by Ms. Dallas’ story and by visiting this memorial. It is imperative that we raise awareness here in Washington of this terrible tragedy in an effort to ensure that this never happens again.” The delegation also hosted a reception for parliamentarians from the United Kingdom and Canada where Chairman Hastings noted, “I am proud to stand with my friends from Canada, the United Kingdom and United States and I believe that it is important to recognize the long historical bonds our nations share. This historic partnership has faced challenges in the past; however the United States stands shoulder to shoulder with Britain and Canada and looks forward to continuing this unbreakable bond.” The delegation also travelled to Chornobyl and visited the site where on April 26, 1986, the fourth reactor of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, releasing radioactive materials across Europe.  While in Chornobyl the group visited the “ghost town” of Pripyat located right next to the nuclear plant, where after the explosion in 1986, its nearly 50,000 residents were told that they must leave immediately only taking their passports and money, never to return again. Senator Cardin noted, “I am very pleased to have travelled to Chornobyl to witness first hand what took place here in 1986. The devastation of this explosion will never be forgotten, but I am glad to see that the Chornobyl Nuclear Plant is at a turning point and is working to repair the damage that was done.” In addition, the delegation also held bilateral meetings with parliamentarians of the Russian Duma, Ukrainian parliamentarians, as well as with parliamentary delegations from the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Lastly, during the Annual Session, Congresswoman Hilda Solis was elected as Vice Chair of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions for the OSCE PA. This Committee is responsible for addressing humanitarian and human rights-related threats to security and serves as a forum for examining the potential for cooperation within these areas. Congressman Hastings and Senator Cardin noted, “Hilda’s two decades of public service is truly exemplified by her commitment to the guiding principles of the OSCE. In Congress, she has been a leader in the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and is an outspoken advocate for issues of importance to women and families. Hilda has also continued to play a tremendous role on the OSCE PA forum on gender issues. We are honored to serve with Hilda on the U.S. Helsinki Commission and know that she will be an excellent representative of the United States in her new post.”

  • Hastings and Cardin Laud Representative Solis’ Win as OSCE Vice Chair on Human Rights Committee

    KYIV, UKRAINE - Today, 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), who are currently leading a Congressional delegation in Ukraine for the 16th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, issued the following statement on Congresswoman Hilda Solis’ (D-CA) electoral victory as Vice Chair of the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions for the OSCE PA. This Committee is responsible for addressing humanitarian and human rights-related threats to security and serves as a forum for examining the potential for cooperation within these areas. “We are elated by Congresswoman Solis’ victory today. Hilda’s two decades of public service is truly exemplified by her commitment to the guiding principles of the OSCE. In Congress, she has been a leader in the bipartisan Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues and is an outspoken advocate for issues of importance to women and families. Hilda has also continued to play a tremendous role on the OSCE PA forum on gender issues. We are honored to serve with Hilda on the U.S. Helsinki Commission and know that she will be an excellent representative of the United States in her new post,” said Hastings and Cardin. The OSCE PA is the parliamentary dimension of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The primary task of the 320 member Assembly, comprised of elected officials from the 56 OSCE participating States is to facilitate inter-parliamentary dialogue in an effort to meet the overall challenges of democracy throughout the OSCE region. Congresswoman Solis follows in the footsteps of Congressman Hastings, past President of the OSCE PA, Senator Cardin who is currently Vice President, and House Majority Leader Hoyer who is a past Vice President of the Assembly.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin and House Majority Leader Hoyer to Lead Congressional Delegation to Ukraine

    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 House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), a former Chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the highest ranking Member of Congress to attend an OSCE PA meeting, will lead a Congressional delegation to Ukraine from July 5 to 9, 2007. The Members of Congress that will be traveling with the delegation are U.S. Helsinki Commissioners Representatives Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Hilda L. Solis (D-CA) as well as Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Doris Matsui (D-CA), Michael McNulty (D-NY) and Gwen Moore (D-WI). While in Kyiv, the delegation will attend the 16th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. The session will focus on regional security, including energy security, migration, corruption, democratic development and election standards. An additional focus will be on human rights issues affecting the OSCE region, including protection of minorities, press freedom and human trafficking. Upon arrival, the delegation will meet with Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko on Thursday, July 5. The delegation will also hold a press conference at the Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) on Friday, July 6 at 10:00 a.m. (PLEASE NOTE DATE AND TIME CHANGE OF PRESS CONFERENCE) The delegation also plans to hold bilateral meetings with Ukrainian officials and will discuss U.S.-Ukrainian relations to include greater economic, security and humanitarian cooperation; the prospects of integration into NATO and the European Union; efforts to provide greater political stability in light of the recent political crisis and upcoming parliamentary elections on September 30. In addition, the delegation plans to hold bilateral meetings with members of the Russian delegation, where they hope to discuss U.S.-Russia relations, energy security, greater economic cooperation and civil liberties. On June 22, Congressman Hastings and Senator Cardin sent a letter to President Putin questioning state efforts to limit media freedom, citing professional and legal dangers associated with Russia’s media industry and the failure of President Putin’s government to allow the news to be reported accurately. The delegation also plans to meet with parliamentarians from the Kazakhstan delegation. The meeting will focus on recent political developments, Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE in 2009, as well as religious freedoms, tolerance and human rights issues in the country. Congressman Hastings, OSCE Special Representative for the Mediterranean, will chair a meeting with parliamentary delegations from the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. The Mediterranean partners include Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia. During the meeting they plan to discuss the tenuous circumstances of the Palestinian government, the future for Middle East peace and the current refugee situation in the region. The delegation also plans to travel to Chernobyl and visit the site where on April 26, 1986, the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded, releasing radioactive materials across Europe.  During the visit to the Chernobyl Zone, the delegation plans to discuss energy and environmental security in the region. The delegation will also visit the sites of the Babi Yar and Famine-Genocide (1932-1933) Memorials.  Babi Yar is the site of one of the worst massacres during the Holocaust where over 33,000 Jews from Kyiv and its suburbs were killed on September 29 to 30, 1941. The Famine-Genocide Memorial is dedicated to the millions of Ukrainians who died in 1932-33 from the largest famine to take place during the 20th century.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Urges Bush to Question Putin on Russia’s Authoritarian Domestic Policies

    WASHINGTON - Today, 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 members Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), sent the following letter to President Bush urging him to question President Putin on Russia’s authoritarian domestic policies during their meeting that begins Sunday in Kennebunkport, Maine. The letter cites that while President Putin has changed the stature of Russia globally, it has come at the expense of a “managed democracy” that is less accountable to its people. Furthermore, the letter raises serious concern with the Kremlin’s control over media freedom and its failure to protect the rights of journalists. On June 22, Congressman Hastings and Senator Cardin sent a letter to President Putin questioning state efforts to limit media freedom, citing professional and legal dangers associated with Russia’s media industry and the failure of President Putin’s government to allow the news to be reported accurately. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 13 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 and only three individuals have faced charges in connection with these killings, where no convictions have been made. Please find a copy of the letter below: June 29, 2007 The President The White House Washington, D.C. 20500 Dear Mr. President: We hope that your upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin results in improvements in bilateral relations and decisions that prove mutually beneficial to citizens in both countries. As he prepares to leave elected office, President Putin enjoys considerable popularity at home, following almost a decade of economic difficulties and political uncertainty. Indeed, many Russians have seen material improvements in their lives and welcome the domestic stability and renewed international stature under his leadership. His legacy in terms of democratic pluralism and fundamental freedoms is accentuated by a creeping authoritarianism that has characterized the Kremlin’s policy of “managed democracy.” These troubling trends have included close control of political processes, key broadcast media and industries as well as the functioning of non-governmental organizations and other elements of civil society. Such developments are particularly disturbing as Russia prepares to hold important parliamentary and presidential elections. Against this backdrop, we would especially emphasize the difficult situation regarding the free flow of information. The Kremlin directly or indirectly controls the nationwide TV networks, while Russian authorities at all levels routinely exert various forms of pressure on journalists, editors, and publishers in an effort to shape the news to their liking. Especially disturbing is the fact that at least 13 journalists are known to have been killed in Russia since 2000. Notwithstanding President Putin’s pronouncements regarding the need to ensure protection of journalists in Russia and the need for objective investigation of the murders of slain journalists, only three persons have been taken to court in connection with these slayings and there have been no convictions. Mr. President, the Congress is on record expressing concern over attempts to limit the free flow of information in Russia and the fate of journalists, including American Paul Klebnikov, killed as a result of their professional pursuits. Echoing these concerns, we urge you to make a concrete offer of U.S. law enforcement assistance to help identify and bring to justice those responsible for these murders and to encourage President Putin to put an end to the harassment and attempts at intimidation of independent journalists in Russia. We are convinced that democratic governance and rule of law, development of genuinely competitive markets, and the free flow of information are essential to long-term stability and prosperity in Russia, a country with tremendous potential to be a reliable partner in areas of mutual interest to our countries. Sincerely, ALCEE L. HASTINGS, M.C.                    BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, U.S.S. Chairman                                               Co-Chairman   CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C.             SAM BROWNBACK, U.S.S. Ranking Member                                    Ranking Member

  • Hastings and Cardin Examine Russia’s Role as a Reliable Energy Supplier

    WASHINGTON - On the heels of Gazprom’s buyout of British Petroleum’s Siberian gas field, 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), held a hearing today, entitled “Pipeline Politics: Achieving Energy Security in the OSCE Region.” The hearing focused on conflict prevention and the security of supply and transit of oil and natural gas. More specifically, as the demand for energy continues to increase, disruptions in the source and transit of oil and natural gas can be a source of profound economic and political instability. This was demonstrated in January 2007 when Russia halted oil supplies to Belarus for three days, creating a ripple effect on shipments to western Europe. Current attempts at consolidation of oil and gas pipelines by Russia’s state-owned monopoly energy companies raise serious questions about the future of Europe’s energy security. Testimony was given by Mr. Greg Manuel, Special Advisor to the Secretary and International Energy Coordinator, Department of State; Ambassador Steven R. Mann, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Department of State; Mr. Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Department of State; Mr. Al Hegburg, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Energy Policy, Department of Energy; His Excellency Yashar Aliyev, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan; His Excellency Mikhail Khvostov, Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus; Ambassador Keith Smith, Senior Advisor, Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Dr. Pierre Noel, Research Associate, University of Cambridge. Please find below statements made at today’s hearing by Congressman Hastings and Senator Cardin: Statement from Congressman Alcee L. Hastings – “Today’s hearing is the first of three hearings the Commission plans to hold on the topic of energy security, an issue that spans the security, economic and environmental, and human dimensions of the Helsinki process. This hearing series is designed to give the Commission a comprehensive picture of this complex issue and highlight areas where the Commission, the U.S. Government and the OSCE can take effective action. “Today’s hearing will focus on conflict prevention and the security of supply and transit of oil and gas. The supply and transit of energy is often a source of insecurity and conflict. For OSCE participating States, the recent challenges faced when Russia shut off gas supplies to transit and consumer countries highlighted the potential for political and economic conflict. “The second hearing in the series will focus on the development of democracy and civil society in countries with abundant energy resources. This problem is often referred to as the “resource curse.” In the economic sense, energy resources are a blessing as they provide countries with needed income, but these resources can also lead to unintended consequences such as stunted economic and political development. “It is remarkable that only two of the world’s top 10 oil exporters are established liberal democracies. I hope I’ve piqued your curiosity on that one--you’ll have to come to the hearing to find out which countries they are. We’ll look at efforts to combat this “resource curse” through programs that seek to instill transparency and accountability into this payment system. “The third hearing will address the nexus of energy security and environmental security, focusing on the diversification of energy supply and sustainable technologies. The quest for diversification of energy supplies and greater energy security gives consumer countries an opportunity to address the environmental challenges of energy supplies by adopting new technologies that not only decrease dependence on foreign sources, but also help address environmental concerns. “But today we are going to take a geostrategic look at energy supply and transit. Specifically, we hope to address questions such as: What are the factors in ensuring reliable and predictable supply and transit of oil and natural gas? What is the United States doing to ensure our own energy security? And: What role does the United States have to play in Eurasian energy security? “To answer these complex questions, we are pleased to have an excellent slate of witnesses. In addition to our exceptional (and unusually large) panel of U.S. government witnesses, I am quite pleased to welcome two distinguished Ambassadors from the OSCE participating States of Azerbaijan and Belarus. Both countries represent different aspects of the issue of energy security and we are pleased to hear their experiences and insights on how they view energy security given their geographic and political positions in the world. “Clearly, during today’s hearing we are going to hear a lot about Russia’s role as a supplier of oil and natural gas. And notice I didn’t say “reliable” supplier—the jury is still out on that decision. Just in the past week President Putin stated that Russia has a major stake in forming “an infrastructure of trust” in the global and regional economies, including in the energy sector. That would be a welcome development, although many would say that there is already plenty of evidence to convict at this point based on Russia’s actions in the recent past. “I want to state for the record that we did invite the Russian Ambassador to join us here today so that we could hear the Russian view on these issues, but he declined. That said, I am very pleased with the assembled witnesses here today. I will be interested to hear from our panelists on the prospects for improving the energy security situation, where they think Russia is going, and actions the U.S. can take to foster a more secure energy environment,” said Hastings. Statement from Senator Benjamin L. Cardin – “I am pleased that the Commission is focusing on energy security—a topic that binds all of the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). We are truly all part of a global energy system that requires us to work together to achieve our common energy goals. “It has become clear that real energy security requires not only reliable sources of oil and gas, but a decrease in dependency on hydrocarbons. Recently I introduced legislation that would create a framework for the United States to become energy independent in a decade, and put us on the path to become fossil fuel independent. For too long America has been held hostage by its reliance on foreign energy. Energy independence is critical for our national security and for our environment, and this bill provides a much-needed framework for developing a comprehensive energy policy for our nation. “The Energy Independence Act would create a bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission to study and review policy changes that are needed for the United States to achieve energy independence. Starting in 2009, the Commission would meet every two years and report to Congress on how to adjust our policies to achieve energy independence by 2017. Energy independence is defined as getting 90 percent of our energy needs from domestic sources. “Petroleum accounts for 84 percent of our nation's imported energy. Transportation accounts for approximately 28 percent of all energy used in the United States, so sourcing our energy domestically will require major changes in how we use our energy resources. I support raising CAFE standards, which could save more than 36 billion gallons of gas a year. There are other significant steps we can take such as creating standards for replacement tires, increased energy efficiency standards for buildings, and an increased availability of renewable energy products. “A comprehensive energy policy must include conservation, greater availability of renewable energy sources and investment in our transportation infrastructure, including more funding for rail systems, buses, subways and light rail. “Equally important, we need to become energy independent to protect our environment. Global climate change is a real danger to this country and we need an energy policy that will also make us friendlier towards the environment. We need greater investment in renewable sources of energy. Wind, solar, and biofuels all hold great promise for our future. But we need to make a firm commitment to investing in these technologies, to increase efficiency and reduce costs to the consumer. “Energy security is not just about the high price of oil—this is also about helping to create a more stable and secure world. Our quest for hydrocarbons has led us to partner with countries that are either unstable or have horrendous human rights records. Real energy security means we can rely less on energy sources that come from unstable and unsavory countries. By removing the stranglehold they hold on our economy, we can more effectively address the economic and civil society developments in these countries. I know this aspect will be part of our second hearing in this series and I look forward to that discussion,” said Cardin.

  • Hastings and Cardin Express Serious Concern with Putin’s Limit of Media Freedoms in Russia

    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), sent the following letter to Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, raising serious concerns about state efforts to limit media freedom in Russia. The letter sites professional and legal dangers associated with Russia’s media industry and the failure of the Putin government to allow the news to be reported accurately. According to independent news reports, 13 journalists have been killed in Russia since 2000 and only three individuals have faced charges in connection with these killings, where no convictions have been made: June 22, 2007 His Excellency Vladimir V. Putin President Russian Federation Dear President Putin: We write you to convey our serious concerns about state efforts to limit media freedom in Russia, including reprisals against selected editors and reporters, while those responsible for the murder of other journalists have yet to be brought to justice.   It would be incorrect to suggest that power structures in Russia fully control the large and growing network of media outlets throughout your country. However, the fact remains that the three largest television channels in Russia are either owned entirely or otherwise dominated by the state. Sources indicate that Russian authorities at all levels frequently exert pressure on journalists, editors, and publishers in an effort to shape the news to their liking. This was recently demonstrated when the management of the Russian News Service informed its employees that, in future, reporting on Russia would have to be "at least fifty percent positive." Unfortunately, there are numerous examples of such official coercion in your country. In addition to the professional and legal dangers associated with the media industry in Russia, journalism can also be a physically dangerous profession. According to independent reports, 13 journalists were killed in Russia since 2000 and only three people have faced charges in connection with these killings and there have been no convictions. As you have publicly stated, the existence of democratic society is impossible where freedom of the media does not exist. An independent and pluralistic media is a fundamental pillar of any healthy society and the Russian people suffer when constraints on media freedom are imposed. Mr. President, we urge you to ensure that restraints on journalists in your nation are lifted and that the appropriate law enforcement officials redouble their efforts to bring the killers of journalists to justice. We look forward to your response. Sincerely, ALCEE L. HASTINGS, M.C.                                                  BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, U.S.S. Chairman                                                                             Co-Chairman

  • Hastings and Cardin: Detainee Policies at Guantanamo a Stain on U.S. Record

    WASHINGTON - Today, 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), made the following statements at a hearing held by the U.S. Helsinki Commission entitled “Guantanamo: Implications for U.S. Human Rights Leadership.” The hearing focused on the international perspective of Guantanamo, particularly in the 56 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the implications for U.S. leadership on human rights issues. Testimony was received from Mr. John B. Bellinger III, Legal Adviser, Department of State; Senator Anne-Marie Lizin, President of the Belgian Senate and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Guantanamo who has just visited Guantanamo; Mr. Tom Malinowski, Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch; and Mr. Gabor Rona, International Legal Director, Human Rights First. In addition, testimony was received for the record from the International Helsinki Federation. Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer also addressed the hearing. Copies of all the statements and an unofficial transcript will be posted on the Commission’s website. During the hearing, Congressman Hastings and Senator Cardin were critical of the United States detainee policies at Guantanamo and expressed deep concern about the indefinite detention of individuals for the duration of a conflict that has no foreseeable end in sight. They called for the Guantanamo facility to be closed and detainees to be transferred to the United States for trial, or to be released as appropriate. Please find their statements below: Statement from Congressman Alcee L. Hastings – “This is the Helsinki Commission's first hearing in some time examining an issue of domestic compliance, an area which will receive warranted attention during my Chairmanship. As many people here know, in executing the Helsinki Commission's mandate, Members of this Commission are engaged in a continual dialogue with representatives of other countries – including parliamentarians – on issues of concern, with a particular focus on human rights. This is, of course, a two-way street. Just as we raise issues of concern with representatives of other countries, our colleagues raise issues with us. And no issue has been raised with us more vigorously and vocally than questions relating to the status and treatment of detainees, particularly those at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. These concerns have been raised for several years at meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, they have been raised at meetings of the OSCE permanent Council in Vienna, and they have been raised at the human dimension meetings of the OSCE. “I believe very strongly that our colleagues who have raised concerns with us deserve our considered response and engagement. The fact is, for all the 56 OSCE participating States – and not just the United States – the issue of how to safeguard human rights while effectively countering terrorism may be one of the most critical issues our countries will face for the foreseeable future. “In organizing this hearing, it is painfully difficult to un-package a whole set of issues related to our counterterrorism efforts: the offshore detention center at Guantánamo; the treatment of detainees in custody and the interrogation practices to which they may be subjected; the legal procedures for holding, trying and (potentially) convicting detainees of crimes; and the issue of extraordinary rendition to name a few. Frankly, the United States has not covered itself with glory when it comes to any of these issues. “I am, of course, mindful of the fact that many other committees of both the House and the Senate are actively engaged in oversight on many aspects of this subject. It is not our intention to duplicate those efforts. Rather, we hope to address the specific implications of Guantánamo for U.S. human rights leadership. In no small understatement, this year’s State Department Country Report on Human Rights notes: ‘We recognize that we are writing this report at a time when our own record, and actions we have taken to respond to the terrorist attacks against us, have been questioned.’ “Most importantly, we’ve got to figure out where we go from here. Pretty much everybody and his brother, including the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State, have said that Guantanamo ought to be closed down – either because they believe it never should have been opened to begin with, or because they’ve concluded that the stigma associated with Guantanamo is so great that the entire operation serves to undermine our alliances and strengthen the propaganda machinery of our enemies, rather than make us safer. “But the question is, where do we go from here? I am hoping our hearing today will help us answer that question. “In closing, I would like to note that on May 15, we sent a letter to Secretary Gates inviting the Department of Defense to send a witness to this hearing. The Department has declined the opportunity to have its views heard. I am frankly quite disappointed by the message this sends. I know some tough questions may come up today, but it seems to me that there is nothing to be gained by ducking them,” said Congressman Hastings. Statement from Senator Benjamin L. Cardin – “The credibility of the United States demands that we answer our critics when they raise human-right issues with us, just as we hope representatives of other countries will respond seriously and substantively when we raise concerns with them. “The fact is, in all the years that I have served as a member of the Helsinki Commission, there is no other concern that has been raised with the United States by our colleagues in Europe as often – and in earnest – as the situation in Guantánamo. As a member of the U.S. Delegation to meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, this has been a subject of constant debate. “Of course, when Belarus introduces resolutions at the United Nations bashing the United States for Guantanamo and a litany of other alleged human rights violations, we can dismiss this as a classic piece of self-serving, Soviet-style propaganda. But we cannot be so cavalier when Switzerland, a guardian of humanitarian law, expresses concern at the OSCE Permanent Council regarding U.S. practices and policies. And when Vladimir Putin can get crowds cheering by bemoaning the lack of proper trials at GTMO, there is something terribly wrong with this picture. “The damage done to the United States goes beyond undermining our status as a global leader on human rights. Our policies and practices regarding Guantanamo and other aspects of our detainee policies have undermined our authority to engage in the effective counter-terrorism measures that are necessary for the very security of this country. As Gijs de Vries of the Netherlands, who stepped down in March from his position as the EU’s first counter-terrorism coordinator, recently observed: ‘The United States used to be known as a country of the rule of law and of liberty. Today, it’s associated with Abu Ghraib, with Guantanamo, and with CIA renditions to secret prisons in blatant violation of international law. That is sapping support for the United States, and indirectly also for Europe worldwide.’ “This view was echoed by former National Security Advisor Brent Scrowcroft, who stated ‘that the international community no longer trusts our motives is a new phenomenon, and I see it as one of many warning signs of a possible lasting realignment of global power. [ . . . ] I don't think were there yet, but it's certainly possible that we've created such a menace, and alienated so much of the world that we can never go back to where we were at the end of the Cold War. At that time, the United States was considered the indispensable ingredient in any attempt to make the world better.’ Or, as Phillip Zelikow, a former Bush administration official recently argued, ‘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.’ This is not just a sad or even tragic commentary on how fast and how far we’ve fallen in the eyes of the world, it is dangerous for our citizens if we cannot build and maintain effective global alliances “To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that America should hold its finger to the wind of international opinion and make policy accordingly. The fact is, sometimes being a global leader means bearing the burden of persuasion, the burden of bringing other countries around to our position. In fact, there have been many times when the United States has been almost a lone voice on critical human-rights issues. When our policies are just ones, then that is a burden we should be prepared to carry. But I think the question here is: are our underlying policies upholding the rule of law or attempting to circumvent it? Are our positions really defensible at home and abroad?” asked Senator Cardin.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Energy Security in the OSCE Region

    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 Monday, June 25, 2007, at 3:00 p.m. in room 419 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The hearing, entitled “Pipeline Politics: Achieving Energy Security in the OSCE Region,” will focus on conflict prevention and the security of supply and transit of oil and natural gas. More specifically, the hearing will address such questions as: What factors ensure reliable and predictable supply and transit of oil and gas? What is the United States doing to secure and promote its own energy security? What role should the United States play in Eurasian energy security? As global demand for energy continues to increase, disruptions in the source and transit of oil and natural gas can be a source of profound economic and political instability. This was demonstrated in January 2007 when Russia halted oil supplies to Belarus for three days, creating a ripple effect on shipments to western Europe. Current attempts at consolidation of oil and gas pipelines by Russia’s state-owned monopoly energy companies raise serious questions about the future of Europe’s energy security. Invited witnesses: Mr. Greg Manuel, Special Advisor to the Secretary and International Energy Coordinator, Department of State Ambassador Steven R. Mann, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Department of State Mr. Matthew Bryza, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Department of State Mr. Al Hegburg, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Energy Policy, Department of Energy His Excellency Yashar Aliyev, Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan His Excellency Mikhail Khvostov, Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus Ambassador Keith Smith, Senior Advisor, Center for Strategic and International Studies Dr. Pierre Noel, Research Associate, University of Cambridge

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Implications of Guantanamo for U.S. Human Rights Leadership

    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 Thursday, June 21 at 10:00 am in room 2325 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing is entitled “Guantanamo: Implications for U.S. Human Rights Leadership” will focus on the international perspective of Guantanamo, particularly in the 56 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and implications for U.S. leadership on human rights issues. President of the Belgian Senate and Special Representative on Guantanamo, Anne-Marie Lizin, will testify at the hearing. In February 2005, Senator Lizin was appointed by Chairman Hastings, acting in his capacity as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, as Special Representative on Guantanamo.  In addition, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), who is a former Chair and Ranking Democrat of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, will participate in the hearing. The detention facility at the U.S. Naval Bases at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was opened in January 2002 and, it currently holds around 385 detainees. The facility has come under fire from human rights organizations and others for the alleged mistreatment of detainees and the legal framework according to which they have been held. On June 10, Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” called for the closing of Guantanamo. Powell stated, “Guantanamo has become a major, a major problem for America’s perception — as it’s seen, the way the world perceives America. And if it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo — not tomorrow, this afternoon. I’d close it. And I’d not let any of those people go. I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, well, then they’ll have access to lawyers, then they’ll have access to writs of habeas corpus. So what? Let them. Isn’t that what our system’s all about?” Witnesses to testify at hearing are as follows: Mr. John B. Bellinger III, Legal Adviser, Department of State Senator Anne-Marie Lizin, President of the Belgian Senate and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Guantanamo Mr. Tom Malinowski, Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch Mr. Gabor Rona, International Legal Director, Human Rights First

  • Hastings and Cardin Honor 59th Anniversary of UN Human Rights Commission’s

    WASHINGTON - Today, 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 59th Anniversary of the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “On this day, we honor the 59th Anniversary of the Commission on Human Rights adoption of its Universal Declaration. This historic achievement was the first time a diverse group of individuals had come together with a common goal to address the rights and freedoms for all human beings. As we commemorate this day, it is our hope that the international community will work together to uphold this declaration in an effort to promote universal respect for all,” said Hastings and Cardin. The Universal Declaration, which was adopted on June 18, 1948, is the most cited human rights document in the world. This declaration has served as the inspiration for international treaties and declarations and has been incorporated into the constitutions and laws of many countries worldwide. For more information, please visit www.un.org. 

  • Hastings Lauds State Department’s Report on Human Trafficking

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement on the U.S. State Department’s release of the 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report: “The trafficking of any persons will not be tolerated by the United States and for that matter must not be tolerated by the international community. The unfortunate fact is that innocent victims everyday who are seeking a better life for themselves and their loved one’s are deceived into thinking they will be offered a better life by their captors, but instead exploited for profit. This is a clear violation of ones human rights and freedoms. “I applaud the State Department’s efforts in continuing to raise awareness on such a critical issue facing not only the United States but the international community. It is imperative that we continue to raise awareness in hopes of preventing trafficking of persons from taking place. My heart breaks for those innocent victims who often suffer physical abuse, rape or even death at the hands of their captors’. This kind of treatment is inhumane and must be stopped.” The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 requires that the State Department report annually to Congress the status of foreign governments’ efforts to combat the trafficking of human persons. The report is intended to raise awareness globally of this issue in hopes that the international community will take the necessary actions possible to counter all forms of human trafficking. The report rates 164 countries in all and covers the period from April 2006 to March 2007. For more information, please visit www.state.gov

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Briefing on Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons in Albania

    WASHINGTON - The Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) announced today that the Commission will hold a joint briefing with the Albanian Issues Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Human Trafficking entitled: “Combating Trafficking in Persons in Albania” Tuesday, May 22, 2007 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm Room 2255, Rayburn House Office Building In recent years, the U.S. Department of State has ranked Albania in “Tier 2” regarding trafficking in persons, not fully complying with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking but making significant efforts to do so. A transit country in the past, traffickers today look to Albania as a source country for women and children for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor, including use of Romani children for begging. The briefing will focus on the efforts of Albania’s National Coordinator to Combat Trafficking to implement a national action plan, as well as efforts by the United States and other international actors to help. Appearing at the joint briefing will be: Iva Zajmi, Deputy Minister of Interior and National Coordinator to Combat Human Trafficking in Albania Bruce A. Hintz, U.S. Department of Justice Liaison for Assistance to Europe and Eurasia at the U.S. Department of State Ernest E. Allen, President and CEO, International Center for Missing and Exploited Children

  • U.S. Representative Alcee L. Hastings Praises Decision to Permit Distribution of Holocaust Archives

    WASHINGTON -Chairman of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) applauded the decision announced yesterday at the meeting in the Netherlands by the 11 member countries of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) which will provide open access to the Holocaust archives located at Bad Arolsen, Germany. “I am thrilled that our efforts in Congress to spotlight the injustice being committed against Holocaust survivors have been successful,” said Representative Hastings. “Had we waited for the remaining four countries to ratify the treaty, precious time and efforts of survivors and their families would have been wasted. The remaining European countries have rightly chosen morality over bureaucracy by permitting the immediate and public access to these Holocaust archives.” The members of the ITS approved a plan to begin the immediate transfer of scanned documents to receiving institutions as soon as they are available. However, the receiving institutions cannot offer unfettered access until all 11 countries ratify the May 2006 amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords that will throw open the archives. The plan would circumvent the legal obstacles which have delayed the ability to make the documents publicly accessible and come as a direct result of the leadership of Representative Hastings. Efforts by the United States House of Representatives to achieve open access to the archives were first initiated by Representatives Hastings in January of this year. Representatives Hastings and Robert Wexler (D-FL) first spearheaded a bipartisan call with over 40 other Members of Congress to the German ambassador urging immediate action. In February, Representatives Hastings, Wexler, and Mark Kirk (R-IL) recruited nearly 50 members of Congress to send similar letters to British, French, Italian, Belgium, Greek, and Italian ambassadors, urging these ITS Commission member countries to expedite the ratification process. In April, Representative Hastings authored, and led the House of Representatives to unanimously pass, a bipartisan resolution calling on European nations to grant open access to the archives. The resolution called for members of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) to ratify amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords to open the millions of records lying within Bad Arolsen. These efforts helped spur Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium to ratify the amendments. The Holocaust archives located in Bad Arolsen remain the largest closed Second World War-era archives in the world. Inside the archives are 50 million records that disclose the fate of some 17.5 million individual victims of Nazism. In order to allow for open access to these important archives, the member countries had agreed that each of the 11 members of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) (the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom) would have to individually ratify through their respective parliaments the May 2006 amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords. To date, only seven out of the 11 Commission member countries (the United States, Israel, Poland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium) have ratified the treaty. The political momentum garnered by Representative Hastings helped the member countries of the ITS come to yesterday’s decision to bypass the requirement to withhold the documents until all of the countries ratified the 2006 treaty amendments.

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Briefing on Uzbekistan

    WASHINGTON - The Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) announced today that the Commission will hold a briefing entitled: “Uzbekistan: Two Years after Andijon” Friday, May 18, 2007 10:00 am to 12:00 noon Room 1100, Longworth House Office Building Two years after hundreds of protesters were gunned down in Andijon, President Islam Karimov’s crackdown on civil society continues and U.S.-Uzbek relations are in a deep freeze. The briefing will focus on prospects for human rights observance and improving US-Uzbek relations. Attention will also be paid to the role of the European Union, which is scheduled to decide next week whether to renew, end or limit sanctions imposed after Andijon. Testifying before the Commission will be: Robert Templer, Director, Asia Program, International Crisis Group Olga Oliker, Senior International Policy Analyst, the RAND Corporation Daniel Kimmage, Central Asia analyst, RadioFree Europe/Radio Liberty Other witnesses may be invited.

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Hearing on Russia

    WASHINGTON - The Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) announced today that the Commission will hold a hearing entitled: “Russia: In Transition or Intransigent?” Thursday, May 24, 2007 10:00 am to 12:00 noon Room B318, Rayburn House Office Building The hearing will focus on the reemergence of Russia as a major political and economic power in the world, examine current trends in Russia today, and consider the implications for United States’ policy. The reemergence of Russia as a major political and economic power in the world has been accompanied by a cooling of relations with the United States over a number of issues, such as foreign policy, human rights, and the war in Iraq. Russia remains interested in cooperation with the U.S. in the war on international terrorism and other issues, but the recent chill in relations has curtailed expectations on both sides. Testifying before the Commission will be: The Hon. Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S.Department of State Sarah Mendelson, Senior fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies E. Wayne Merry, Senior Associate, American Foreign Policy Council Lilia Shevtsova, Senior Associate, Carnegie Moscow Center. Jeffrey W. Hahn, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Russian Area Studies Concentration Villanova University Other witnesses may be invited.  

  • U.S. House Unanimously Passes Hastings-Kirk Resolution Demanding European Nations Open Holocaust Archives

    WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution calling on European nations to grant open access to Holocaust archives located at Bad Arolsen, Germany. Introduced by U.S. Representatives Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL), House Resolution (H. Res.) 240 calls on all members of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) to ratify amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords, thereby opening millions of records on ghetto life, deportations, labor camps, death camps and post-war displacement. “It is beyond shameful that for 62 years, Holocaust survivors, their families and historians continue to be denied immediate access to Nazi archives,” said Representative Hastings, who serves as Chairman of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) and President Emeritus of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). “In our world, filled with Anti-Semitism, hate, racial bigotry, xenophobia, and religious intolerance, it is imperative to expose the horrors of the Holocaust to all humanity. If European countries are truly committed to closing this dark chapter in world history and combating modern day anti-Semitism, then they must agree to open the archives immediately.” The Holocaust archives located in Bad Arolsen remain the largest closed Second World War-era archives in the world. Inside the archives are 50 million records that disclose the fate of some 17.5 million individual victims of Nazism. In order to allow for open access to these important archives, each of the 11 members of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) (the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom) must individually ratify through their respective parliaments the May 2006 amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords. To date, however, only six out of the 11 Commission member countries (the United States, Israel, Poland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany) have ratified the treaty. “At a time when the President of Iran sponsors official Holocaust denial conferences, Europe bears a unique responsibility in helping us bring Nazi archives to public view,” said Representative Kirk, who serves as co-chair of the House Taskforce on anti-Semitism and co-chair of the bipartisan Iran Working Group. “More than 60 years ago, we made the promise of 'Never Again.' As President Ahmadinejad threatens a second Holocaust in Israel, we must open these archives and renew that vow.” In January 2007, United States Representative Hastings and Robert Wexler (D-FL) led a bipartisan letter with over 40 other Members of Congress to the German ambassador urging immediate action. In February of this year, Representatives Hastings, Kirk and Wexler recruited nearly 50 members of Congress to send similar letters to British, French, Italian, Belgium, Greek, and Italian ambassadors, urging these Commission member countries to expedite the ratification process. In March 2007, Representative Wexler, as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Europe, held a hearing on the Bad Aroloson archives. All of these efforts helped pressure Great Britain, the Netherlands and Germany to ratify the amendments.

  • Helsinki Commission Mourns Death of former President Yeltsin

    WASHINGTON -The Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), today made the following statement on the death of Boris Yeltsin, former president of the Russian Federation. “It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of former President Boris Yeltsin. I am sure I speak for all the members of the Helsinki Commission when I say that we join with millions of others in Russia and throughout the world in mourning the loss of the first freely-elected president of the Russian Federation and an honored world leader. Mr. Yeltsin was a man of the people who rose up to lead his nation through a time of tumult and crisis. The American people will long remember him for his courage and determination in defending Russia against the forces of reaction and for his desire to see Russia a free and democratic member of the international community. We extend our deepest sympathy to the Yeltsin family and to the Russian people on their loss. "

  • The Crying Sun

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in cooperation with The National Endowment for Democracy is pleased to invite you to a screening and discussion of:   "The Crying Sun: The Impact of War in the Mountains of Chechnya" Wednesday, April 25, 2007 10:00 am -11:30 am 1105 Longworth House Office Building This documentary focuses on the life stories of people from the high mountainous village of Zumsoy in Chechnya who struggle to preserve their cultural identity and traditions in the background of military raids and attacks by guerilla fighters, torture and forced disappearances, and internal displacement. “The Crying Sun” was produced by Memorial* in partnership with WITNESS and completed in February 2007. The film is 25 minutes long. Attendees will have an opportunity to engage in discussion with the filmmakers and leading human rights activists from the region. Congressional Host • Hon. Alcee L. Hastings – Chairman, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Lead Discussant • Carl Gershman – President, National Endowment for Democracy Panelists • Zarema Mukusheva – Filmmaker and Producer, Memorial-Grozny • Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya – Co-Producer, Chechen State University Professor Memorial-Nazran • Shamil Tangiev – Head of Memorial-Grozny • Ousam Baysaev – RFE/RL reporter for Chechnya, Memorial-Ingushetia *Memorial is a human rights organization based in Russia and is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy. Since 2000, it has been the only Russian human rights group with permanent offices in Chechnya that document human rights violations and offer assistance to victims.

  • House Foreign Affairs Committee Unanimously Reports Out Hastings Resolution Calling for the Opening Up of Holocaust Archives

    WASHINGTON - The House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday marked-up and reported out H. Res. 240, legislation authored by U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) urging all European nations to allow for open access to the Holocaust archives in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The bipartisan legislation received unanimous support from the whole Foreign Affairs Committee and is expected to be considered by the full House following the House's April recess. “I am deeply appreciative that the Foreign Affairs Committee marked-up this critical legislation today. It is beyond shameful that 62 years after the Holocaust ended, the Holocaust archives located in Bad Arolsen remain closed,” said Representative Hastings today. “These archives are a testament and memorial to the suffering and bravery that united all Holocaust victims of all ethnic communities. It is imperative that we open these archives to Holocaust researchers now, while survivors still remain among us, so researchers can benefit from the insights of eyewitnesses.” The Holocaust archives located in Bad Arolsen remain the largest closed Second World War-era archives in the world. Inside the archives are 50 million records that disclose the fate of some 17.5 million individual victims of Nazism. In order to allow for open access to these important archives, each of the 11 members of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) (the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom) must individually ratify through their respective parliaments the May 2006 amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords. To date, however, only 5 out of the 11 Commission member countries (the United States, Israel, Poland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) have ratified the treaty. In February 2007, United States Representative Hastings resolution led two additional bipartisan efforts with over 40 other Members of Congress to the German, British, French, Italian, Belgium, Greek, and Italian ambassadors urging these Commission member countries to expedite the ratification process. “Today's actions serve as a reminder to all countries that we are watching them to ensure they fulfill their obligations under the signed amendments to the Bonn Accords,” said Representative Hastings. “These states have an opportunity before the next International Tracing Service Commission member meeting in May to fulfill their previous pledges and allow for open access to the archives. For the remaining Holocaust survivors there is no time for further delay.” Representative Hastings is schedule to be the lead witness at a hearing today in the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe titled “Opening up of the Bad Arolsen Holocaust archives in Germany.” The hearing will occur at 1:30 PM in room 2255 Rayburn House Office Building. Also testifying will be officials from the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA, Inc., and National Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors (NAHOS).

  • U.S. Representative Alcee L. Hastings Introduces Bipartisan Legislation Urging European Nations to Allow for Open Access to Holocaust Archives

    WASHINGTON - United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (D-Florida) this week introduced H. Res. 240, bipartisan legislation urging all European nations to allow for open access to the Holocaust archives located in Bad Arolsen, Germany. “62 years after the end of the Holocaust these crucial archives remain difficult to access for survivors and off limits to researchers,” said Representative Hastings. “After all of the horrors and suffering they have experienced, the world owes it to the remaining Holocaust survivors to inform them of the truth about their family and their loved ones without hassle or delay.” The Holocaust archives located in Bad Arolsen remain the largest closed Second World War-era archives in the world. Inside the archives are 50 million records that disclose the fate of some 17.5 million individual victims of Nazism. In order to allow for open access to these important archives, each of the 11 members of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) (the United States, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, and the United Kingdom) must individually ratify through their respective parliaments the May 2006 amendments to the 1955 Bonn Accords. To date, however, only 4 out of the 11 Commission member countries (the United States, Israel, Poland and the Netherlands) have ratified the treaty. In February 2007, United States Representative Hastings resolution led two additional bipartisan efforts with over 40 other Members of Congress to the German, British, French, Italian, Belgium, Greek, and Italian ambassadors urging these Commission member countries to expedite the ratification process. “Recent progress to open the archives was made at the Commission’s recent meeting in the Hague. But until the amendments are ratified, their treaty obligations remain unfulfilled. The short time left for the remaining Holocaust survivors does not afford us time to delay any longer,” Representative Hastings noted. Among the 32 original cosponsors of the bill were Foreign Affairs Committee Chair and Ranking Member Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia Gary Ackerman (D-NY). The lead Republican cosponsor is Representative Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL).  

  • New Chairman and Co-Chairman Appointed to the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

    WASHINGTON - Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) has been appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to serve as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) has been appointed by the President of the United States Senate to serve as Co-Chairman of the Commission for the 110th Congress. The first African-American to chair the Commission, Chairman Hastings brings considerable international experience to the leadership post, having served on the Commission since 2001 and in a variety of other assignments involving foreign policy and intelligence during his congressional career. “My leadership role at the Commission will provide me with an important platform from which to increase security, broaden economic development and bolster respect for human rights, with the ultimate aim of upholding the dignity of each person,” said Mr. Hastings. “Through engagement at home and abroad, I hope to forge partnerships that will translate the historic Helsinki commitments into concrete deeds. I will speak out when circumstances warrant, and I will also listen to those seeking to be heard.” Chairman Hastings has held several leadership positions, including president, of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), an inter-parliamentary body bringing together parliamentarians from the 56 OSCE countries. Rep. Hastings currently serves as president emeritus of the OSCE PA and also serves as the Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs. In addition, Chairman Hastings has lead OSCE International Election Observation Missions to Azerbaijan, Belarus and Ukraine. Co-Chairman Cardin has been a strong advocate when it comes to core principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As a Congressman, Mr. Cardin, served on the Commission from 1993 to 2006. His extensive work in the field of international trade has given him a unique perspective on the interrelationship between the human, economic and security dimensions of the OSCE. He has also been an outspoken advocate of justice and the rule of law in responding to post-conflict situations. "I believe that everyone - both in America and around the world - deserves to live with dignity, free of oppression and discrimination," said Sen. Cardin. "Unfortunately, too many people still live under a dark cloud of abuse, torture and intimidation. We need to give these ethnic and religious minorities a voice and draw the world's attention to their plight. I am proud to continue leading the Helsinki Commission in its mission to advance basic human rights and economic opportunity to people around the world." Senator Cardin currently serves as a vice president of the OSCE PA, having earlier held several leadership posts in that body, including chairman of the General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine members from the U.S. House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. The positions of Chair and Co-Chair are shared by the House and Senate and rotate every two years, when a new Congress convenes.

  • Commission Leadership Concerned by Romanian Religion Law

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chairman and Co-Chairman, respectively, of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) wrote Romanian President Traian Basescu today regarding the passage of a new religion law. The Law on Religious Freedom and Status of Religious Denominations passed the Romanian House of Deputies on Wednesday and is now before President Basescu for signature. Concerned by the “serious shortcomings” in the legislation, the letter signed by both Senator Brownback and Rep. Smith “respectfully urges” President Basescu to “return the draft law to the parliament for revision.” “If the Law on Religious Freedom and Status of Religious Denominations were to pass in its current form, it would give Romania the dubious distinction of having the most burdensome religious registration system in the entire 56-nation OSCE region,” concluded Senator Brownback and Rep. Smith in their letter. In addition, the letter conveys the Commissioners belief that the law is incompatible with Romania’s OSCE religious freedom commitments. The bill passed the Romanian Senate passively in December 2005, without modification, despite more than 60 substantive amendments that were never considered. Once before the House of Deputies, the Judicial Committee and the Human Rights Committee reviewed the bill for almost a year but made no improvements, despite repeated intervention during the drafting stage by Helsinki Commission members and international organizations. The full House of Deputies approved the bill without substantive amendments on Wednesday.

  • OSCE States to Intensify Efforts to Combat Sexual Exploitation of Children

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chairman and Co-Chairman, respectively, of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) praised the decision of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) participating States to strengthen international efforts to combat sexual exploitation, in particular child pornography and sex tourism.  This decision follows a July 2006 OSCE Parliamentary Assembly resolution championed by members of the Helsinki Commission that called for increased cooperation to combat such pernicious crime. “This ministerial decision is a great step forward in recognizing the scope of the war we are fighting to protect our children,” said Senator Brownback.  “The blight of child pornography cannot be erased until each country does its part to shut down safe havens for those who exploit the most vulnerable among us.” The high-level decision, adopted in Brussels at the meeting of the foreign ministers of the 56 OSCE countries, provides political impetus for enhanced cooperation between these nations as well as intensified work by the organization.  The decision recognizes that the sexual exploitation of children is a “grave and large-scale problem throughout the OSCE region.”  It calls on the participating States to conform their legislation to international norms and to take all legal measures to prosecute the sexual exploitation of children. “I want to thank the countries of Belgium and France who worked closely with the United States in developing a comprehensive package to combat these forms of exploitation,” commented Rep. Smith.  “In addition, this work would not have been possible without the vital contribution of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children (ICMEC).” The Helsinki Commission initiative was introduced based on a new study of child pornography released by the ICMEC, surveying laws in 184 Interpol member countries produced alarming results: more than half of these countries (95) have no laws addressing child pornography and in many other countries, the existing laws are inadequate. A survey of the OSCE countries based on the report, Child Pornography: Model Legislation & Global Review, finds that -- • 6 countries lack any laws criminalizing any aspect of child pornography • 32 countries lack any legal definition of child pornography • 16 countries have failed to make the possession of child pornography a crime • 20 countries lack laws criminalizing the distribution of child pornography via computer and the Internet • 50 do not require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to report suspected child pornography to law enforcement To date, Belgium, France and the United States are the only OSCE countries to have enacted comprehensive laws addressing all 5 of these areas.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Tajikistan's Upcoming Presidential Elections

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chairman and Co-Chairman respectively of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), announce the convening of a Commission briefing entitled “Democracy in Tajikistan: Preview of the Presidential Election” on Thursday, October 26, 2006, at 2:00 p.m. in room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building. Tajikistan was the only former Soviet state to experience a protracted civil war after the fall of communism.  Despite significant poverty, the country has made notable gains since the peace agreement signed almost 10 years ago.  The accord created a power-sharing agreement among the warring parties, including the only legal Islamic party in Central Asia.  The upcoming presidential election, scheduled for November 6, will demonstrate prospects for systemic democratization in Tajikistan. President Imomali Rakhmonov, who is running for reelection, has been in power since 1994.  If he wins, constitutional amendments passed last year allow him to remain in office until 2020. Recent decrees by the Tajik Central Commission on Elections and Referenda addressed some election system deficiencies, but questions remain about the follow through necessary to ensure a free and fair election. The government has provided opposition parties free time on state television, but also limited the ability of independent media outlets to operate freely. While there are multiple candidates, the major opposition leaders have experienced significant harassment from authorities and most have decided not to run. The following panelists will address these and other related issues: H.E. Khamrokhon Zaripov, Ambassador, Republic of Tajikistan Dr. Eric M. McGlinchey, Assistant Professor of Government and Politics, George Mason University Dr. Dennis de Tray, Vice President, Center for Global Development Anthony C. Bowyer, Program Manager for Central Asia, IFES

  • Helsinki Commissioners Express Sorrow and Outrage at the Murder of Prominent Russian Journalist

    Washington - Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed sorrow and outrage after learning of the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Ms. Politkovskaya was found dead after being shot outside of her apartment. “The murder of Ms. Politkovskaya, clearly a contract killing, is a devastating blow to journalism and civil society in Russia – an incalculable loss,” said Senator Brownback. “This murder of one of the most prominent journalists in Russia is a chilling reminder of the fragile façade of political and social stability in Russia.  I call on the Russian authorities to conduct an immediate, thorough, and transparent investigation of this murder that will find not only those who carried out the attack, but also those who ordered it,” added Senator Brownback. “Ms. Politkovskaya faced death threats in the past yet she bravely continued her calling,” said Rep. Smith.  “Her testimony on Chechnya at a 2003 Helsinki Commission hearing reflected both her professional excellence and her deep commitment to humanitarian values.  Her outstanding contribution to journalism and the cause of human rights will be deeply missed.”   “Truth in journalism is a commodity with an immense price tag in today’s Russia,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD).  “The assassination of Anna Politkovskaya places in jeopardy the life of every journalist in Russia who attempts to tell the truth about events in that country.”   In 2003, Ms. Politkovskaya was awarded the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly Prize for Journalism and Democracy for her reporting from Chechnya, where she exposed the brutal methods used by some elements of the Russian military forces against Chechen civilians.    

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Combating the Sexual Exploitation of Children

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chairman and Co-Chairman, respectively, of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a hearing on “Protecting Children: The Battle Against Child Pornography and Other Forms of Sexual Exploitation” on September 27, 2006, at 2:00 pm. The hearing will be held in room 2200 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The hearing will examine U.S. Government efforts to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation, as well as discuss international initiatives by Helsinki Commissioners to combat child pornography and trafficking. Key findings from a recent review of U.S. Government programs designed to combat child sex tourism, child prostitution, child pornography and sex-trafficking of children will first be released at the hearing. Panelists will highlight the shifting trends of child commercial sexual exploitation, including the changing role of technology in these crimes. The testimony is also expected to include a discussion of demand, the proliferation of child pornography, cooperation between civil society and law enforcement, development of legislation, and resources needed to combat these forms of child abuse and exploitation. Helsinki Commission members will discuss U.S. and international initiatives to combat child pornography and child trafficking in the region covered by the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe (OSCE). A recent survey by the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children revealed that many OSCE countries have significant gaps in their existing legal framework that hamper the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies to combat the pornography networks operating across borders, principally via the Internet. The results from the Mid-Term Review of the United States on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) will be made public. The Review organized by Shared Hope International, ECPAT-USA and The Protection Project at The Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) assessed efforts by government and civil society taken to combat commercial sexual exploitation of children. In 2007, the Mid-Term Review will be presented at the United Nation’s 3rd World Congress on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.    Witnesses: Panel One:  James Plitt, Unit Chief, Cyber Crimes Center, Immigration and Customs Enforcement James E. Finch, Assistant Director, Cyber Division, Federal Bureau of Immigration Panel Two:  Linda Smith, Founder and Executive Director, Shared Hope International  Carol Smolenski, Executive Director, ECPAT-USA Mohamed Mattar, Executive Director, The Protection Project, Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies Ernie Allen, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, International Center for Missing and Exploited Children

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Shanghai Cooperation Organization

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chairman and Co-Chairman respectively of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), announce that the Commission will hold a hearing entitled “The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Is it Undermining U.S. Interests in Central Asia?” on September 26, 2006, at 3:00 p.m. in room 538 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Since its inception five years ago, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has been touted by its members -- Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- as a multilateral, regional security and economic organization which is “not directed against any states and regions.”  SCO member states, some of which have endured terrorist attacks, have sought to develop a unified approach to combating terrorism, and member states have cooperated with the United States in this regard.  Nevertheless, the SCO is viewed with concern by some in Washington.  Some fear the SCO will be used as a way to limit the United States' influence in the region, and indeed the grouping has called for the closure of U.S. bases there.  As an alliance of authoritarian states, it also supports the current repressive and less reformist policies of the Central Asian governments which contravene their OSCE human dimension commitments.  This hearing will examine the SCO as an organization and what impact it has on U.S. interests in Central Asia. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1: Hon. Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, U.S. Department of State Panel 2: Dr. Steven Blank, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College Dr. Martha Olcott, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Dr. Sean R. Roberts, Central Asian Affairs Fellow, Georgetown University  

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Mourns the Death of Journalists

    WASHINGTON - Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed their sadness today at the death of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reporter Ogulsapar Muradova. Ms. Muradova died while in a Turkmen prison.  “The death of Ms. Muradova is tragic,” said Senator Brownback, “and we mourn her passing.  Ms. Muradova was a brave journalist who dared to expose government abuses even while living in one of the most oppressive countries.  The charges for which she was recently sentenced to six years in prison were highly suspect, and we call on the Government of Turkmenistan to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation of her death.” “I am extremely saddened by the death of Ogulsapar Muradova and extend my condolences to her family,” said Rep. Smith.  “Aware of the brutal nature of the regime, I raised with Turkmen officials my deep concern about her imprisonment and the risk of torture.  We denounce the continued detention of her colleagues, Amankurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev, and urge the Turkmen authorities to release them immediately.”  Between June 16-18, 2006, Muradova, along with Amanklychev and Khajiev, were detained by Turkmen security forces.  Turkmen authorities reportedly arrested them because of their connection to a documentary about President Saparmurat Niyazov’s cult of personality and their use of hidden video equipment in making this film.  On August 25, Muradova was sentenced to six years in prison for “illegal possession of weapons” in a closed trial that fell far short of international standards.  On that same day, Amanklychev and Khajiev were sentenced to seven years of imprisonment on identical charges.  Ogulsapar Muradova was affiliated with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, a non-governmental organization that monitors human rights in Turkmenistan. In addition, Ms. Muradova has served as a journalist for Radio Liberty, a private communications service funded by the Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

  • Helsinki Commission to Examine State of Care for Disabled in Romania

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chairman and Co-Chairman respectively of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), announce that the Commission will hold a hearing entitled “Care for the Disabled in Romania” on September 13, 2006, at 2:00 p.m. in Room 562 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.  In the early 1990s, images of Romanian children tied to cribs -- neglected, underfed, and often languishing in their own filth --shocked the world and prompted calls for radical reform of Romania's care for disabled and disadvantaged children.  The hearing will examine Romanian governmental and non-governmental perspectives on the current state of care of persons with disabilities in Romania.  The witnesses confirmed to testify at the hearing are: Adrian Mindroiu,Director for European Integration, Government of Romania; Eric Rosenthal, Executive Director, Mental Disabilities Rights International; and Cristian Ispas, Founder and Director of Motivation Romania International and National Director of Special Olympics Romania Foundation. 

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Welcome Russian Decision to Suspend Extradition of Refugees to Uzbekistan

    WASHINGTON - Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) welcomed the decision by Russian authorities to suspend the extradition to Uzbekistan of 13 Central Asian refugees who have been granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Senator Brownback and Representative Smith recently urged both the Russian courts and the Office of the Procurator General to prevent the extradition of these refugees, 12 of whom are Uzbek nationals and one of whom is a national of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. “I welcome Russia’s decision not to return these individuals to Uzbekistan, a country widely recognized for its egregious violations of basic rights.  Perhaps this is a hopeful sign that Moscow takes its international obligations seriously and will lead by example in this and other cases involving human rights,” said Chairman Brownback. “The forcible return of refugees to Uzbekistan, an egregious human rights abuser, would be unacceptable,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “I hope the Russian Government, currently chair of the Council of Europe, will stick by this decision to halt extradition and work with the UN to resettle these individuals.” According to the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005, Uzbekistan’s security services “routinely tortured, beat, and otherwise mistreated detainees to obtain confessions or incriminating information.”  A 2003 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture stated that the practice of torture in Uzbekistan is “systematic.” Under the nonrefoulement obligation of the UN Refugee Convention, to which Russia is a signatory, Contracting States must not forcibly return individuals to situations where their life and freedom would be threatened. Russia is also a signatory state to the 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Article 3 of which prohibits the extradition of individuals to destinations where they are likely to be tortured.

  • Helsinki Commission Report Describes Investigations Into Wrongful Sterilizations in Slovakia and Czech Republic

    A United States Helsinki Commission staff report released today describes investigations into the practice of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The report describes an investigation by the Czech Public Defender of Rights as an “unflinching examination” of “highly sensitive issues.” An investigation of the same issue by the Slovak Government was “marred by numerous shortcomings and insufficient follow up.” During the 1970s and 1980s, the Czechoslovak Government pursued a policy aimed at reducing the birthrate of Roma, including by targeting Romani women for sterilization. Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Slovakia investigated allegations regarding sterilization in 2003, and questions continue to be raised about this matter at international fora. The Czech Public Defender of Rights issued a report on December 23, 2005, confirming that some women had been sterilized without informed consent. “I commend the Czech Public Defender of Rights for his courageous and principled investigation into this sensitive issue,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), “and I call on the next Czech Government to move quickly to act on his recommendations.” “Unfortunately,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), “Slovakia has yet to admit that this terrible practice occurred, despite clear evidence to the contrary. I urge the Slovak Government to acknowledge that some Roma women were sterilized without their consent and to ensure that women are given proper access to their own medical records.” The report states, “[T]he Slovak Government has failed to demonstrate any compassion for women and girls who were sterilized without their consent and deprived of the opportunity to bear children again. By treating their claims as lies, the government has effectively treated these victims as liars, and compounded their original injury with this indignity. If the Slovak Government is to counter the endemic prejudice faced by its most marginalized minority, it must acknowledge the fact – and state it publicly – that wrongful sterilizations of Romani women did occur.” Recent parliamentary elections in Slovakia are cited in the report as a potential hindrance to progress on this issue. Slovak parliamentary elections were held on June 17, and those elections produced a coalition government that includes the extremist Slovak National Party. As recently as February 2006, Jan Slota, head of the Slovak National Party, stated that if his party joined the government after the June elections, he would seek to control the birth rate of “unadapted” Roma. The report is available through the Helsinki Commission's web site at www.csce.gov. The Commission will examine the issue in more detail during a briefing featuring Ms. Gwendolyn Albert, Director of the League of Human Rights in Prague, that will be held on August 15, 2006, at 2:00 PM in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Condemns Kyrgyz Return of Uzbek Refugees

    Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed outrage about the forced return of Uzbek refugees by the Kyrgyz Government. Four refugees and one asylum seeker were deported on Wednesday to Uzbekistan, from which they had fled. “I am profoundly disappointed that Kyrgyzstan has forcibly returned these five individuals,” said Senator Brownback. “Kyrgyzstan did allow the UN to resettle to third countries the majority of refugees fleeing the Andijon shootings. I do not understand this change in policy, which certainly damages Kyrgyzstan’s international reputation. The consequences of this decision may be life threatening for the refugees.” “I urge President Bakiev to ensure this grave mistake is not repeated with other Uzbeks seeking shelter in Kyrgyzstan from the repressive Karimov regime,” added Senator Brownback. “I also urge President Karimov to allow the international community access to the returnees.” Four individuals were recognized as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which had reportedly found third countries to accept their resettlement. Despite repeated UNHCR requests to Kyrgyz officials to allow the transfer, Kyrgyz authorities deported all five individuals to Uzbekistan on Wednesday. UNHCR had not been granted sufficient access to the fifth individual to determine whether he qualified as a refugee. “The forcible return of refugees to Uzbekistan, an egregious human rights abuser, is unconscionable and outrageous,” said Rep. Smith. “I had hoped the United States had found a reliable partner in President Bakiev, but apparently he’s more interested in pleasing Tashkent by offering up these poor souls for likely mistreatment than in upholding international commitments.” “Considering this and the recent expulsion of two American diplomats on specious grounds, we should take a long and hard look at the policies coming out of Bishkek and how they will affect the bilateral relationship,” said Rep. Smith. The four Uzbeks were being detained in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh for over one year due to an Uzbek extradition request. They were part of a larger group of over 400 refugees that crossed into Kyrgyzstan fleeing the shootings by Uzbek security forces in May 2005 in the Uzbek city of Andijon. UNHCR recognized the entire group as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory. The group was transferred to Romania last year for resettlement processing. Under the nonrefoulement obligation of the UN Refugee Convention, Contracting States must not forcibly return individuals to situations where their life and freedom would be threatened. In addition, Kyrgyzstan is obligated by the UN Convention Against Torture to not return individuals if there are substantial grounds for believing they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on the Sterilization Investigation in the Czech Republic

    WASHINGTON - During the 1970s and 1980s, the Czechoslovak Government pursued a policy aimed at reducing the birthrate of Roma, including by targeting some Romani women for sterilization.  Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  On December 23, 2005, the Czech Public Defender of Rights issued a report confirming that some women had been sterilized without informed consent.  The Czech Government has not yet acted on the Public Defender’s recommendations.  In order to examine this issue more fully, the Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on the state of the investigation into sterilization in the Czech Republic.          "The Sterilization Investigation in the Czech Republic" Tuesday, August 15, 2006 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. 2255 Rayburn House Office Building In particular, the briefing will address: The investigations into sterilization practices in the Czech Republic; The impact of sterilizations without informed consent on victims; and Recommendations for further action.      Witness: Gwendolyn Albert, Director, League of Human Rights (Prague)

Pages