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  • 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)

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Prospects for Political Change in Uzbekistan

    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 briefing entitled, “Uzbekistan: Are There Prospects for Change?” on Tuesday, July 25, 2006, at 4:00 PM in room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Testifying before the Commission are Mr. Abdurahim Polat, Chairman of the Birlik Party; Mr. Muhammad Salih, Chairman of the Erk Party; Mr. Gulam Umarov, son of Sanjar Umarov, the imprisoned Chairman of the Sunshine Coalition; and Dr. Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Uzbekistan, under the rule of President Islam Karimov, has been a repressive, authoritarian state that bans opposition and maintains Soviet-style censorship.  Since the bloody events in Andijon in May 2005, however, repression has intensified, with a country-wide crackdown on human rights activists, religious groups and members of opposition groups.  Many Western NGOs that promote democracy have been forced to leave the country.  At the same time, Tashkent has turned towards Moscow, accusing the United States of trying to orchestrate a revolution in Uzbekistan. To present an alternative perspective, three opposition spokesmen, as well as an American expert on Central Asia will present testimony on prospects for democratization in Uzbekistan, particularly in light of the upcoming presidential election in that country.

  • Human Rights and U.S.-Russian Relations: Implications for the Future

    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 entitled, “Human Rights and U.S.-Russian Relations: Implications for the Future,” on Thursday, July 27, 2006, at 1:00 PM in Room 562 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Testifying before the Commission are Ms. Felice D. Gaer, Chair of the United Stations Commission on International Religious Freedom; Mr. Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy; Mr. Tom Melia, Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House; Mr. Fritz Ermarth, former Chairman of the National Intelligence Council and National Intelligence Officer for USSR and East Europe, CIA; and Mr. Nikolas Gvosdev, Editor of The National Interest. A representative of the State Department has been invited to testify. The hearing will examine ways the U.S. Government can live up to its commitment to promote human rights and democratic governance in Russia while preserving a relationship with Moscow that advances U.S. interests and is conducive to resolving issues of importance to both nations and the international community. Russia's economic resurgence and re-emergence as an important political player in the international community has increased focus on its domestic governance and its place among the industrial democracies of the world. Actions by Russian law enforcement authorities to intimidate political opposition and NGOs during the recent G-8 summit heightened concerns about Russia's commitment to the principle of governance that characterizes those democracies.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on the Medical Evidence of Torture by U.S. Personnel

    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 briefing on the medical evidence of torture of detainees by U.S. personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay on Thursday, July 24 at 2:00 p.m. in room 311 of the Cannon House Office Building. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) will present its recently released report entitled, “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” which documents torture by U.S. personnel and its impact. PHR mobilizes health professionals, such as doctors, nurses, public health specialists, and scientists to investigate human rights abuses worldwide. PANELISTS Leonard Rubenstein, J.D., President, Physicians for Human Rights Allen Keller, M.D., Advisor to Physicians for Human Rights and Director of the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture

  • Brownback Praises Passage of Resolution on Religious Freedom in Russia

    WASHINGTON -U.S. Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, today praised the passage of S.Res. 500, which urges the Russian Federation to fully protect the freedom of all domestic religious communities, both registered and unregistered.  “While we recognize that religious freedom has advanced significantly for the Russian people since the collapse of the Soviet Union,” said Brownback, “I am concerned by sporadic yet consistent reports of local government harassment and uninvestigated assaults against religious groups.”  “The passage of this resolution sends a clear message to the Russian leadership that more work is needed to fully protect the fundamental rights of individuals in Russia to profess and practice their faith,” said Brownback, adding that, “the United States will continue to engage the Russian authorities on this issue.”  The resolution, which was sponsored by Brownback and attracted bipartisan support, calls for the United States to urge the Russian Federation to ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities, and for the Council of Europe members and G-8 members to raise these concerns with President Putin.  A similar resolution sponsored by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), passed on March 15.  The Helsinki Commission highlighted the growing problem of religious liberty violations in Russia at an April 14, 2005, hearing entitled "Unregistered Religious Groups in Russia." In addition to harassment against some Christian groups and other minority religious communities, two disturbing trends highlighted in the resolution are the rise of anti-Semitism within certain segments of Russian society, as well as increases in the severity and frequency of oppressive actions taken by both local and federal officials against Muslim communities within the country. The Russian Government has recently enacted legislation potentially curtailing religious freedoms.  The January 2006 law regulating non-commercial organizations gives authorities the ability to attend meetings of any registered religious community, as well as increased control over foreign donations.  The Senate resolution calls on the Russian Government to invite Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representatives and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to visit and discuss concerns regarding religious freedom.

  • Religious Freedom Gains in Romania threatene by Regressive Draft Law

    WASHINGTON -  Despite extensive consultations with Romanian officials and parliamentarians, Helsinki Commission members are increasingly concerned about the draft Law on Religious Freedom and Status of Religious Denominations currently before Romania’s Chamber of Deputies.  “Romania has made considerable advancements since the Ceausescu period concerning respect for religious freedom.  This draft law could undermine that progress,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “I am particularly alarmed by reports of amendments that would limit religious-based speech for believers in Romania.  The draft legislation should be withdrawn or significantly amended to comply with OSCE commitments.”   The draft law is currently before the Judicial Committee and the Human Rights Committee of the lower house of parliament. Reports indicate that these committees recently approved an amendment criminalizing the vaguely defined act of “aggressive proselytizing” with fines or jail terms of up to three years.   “Romania is approaching a historic moment, as it stands at the door of accession into the European Union,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “The parliament has the duty to ensure Romania upholds its religious freedom commitments, so I urge the withdrawal of the current draft and the removal of provisions limiting free speech.  Religious speech is a fundamental part of religious liberty and must be protected.” In addition to the speech limitations, the draft would create the most burdensome registration system in the entire OSCE region, by creating a multi-tiered system where applicant religious communities for the most preferential status must wait 12 years and show their membership exceeds 0.1% of the population of Romania, or 23,000 persons.  Of the 18 currently registered religious groups, approximately one-fourth would fail to meet the proposed numerical threshold. “Ensuring the full realization of religious freedom in Romania in compliance with OSCE commitments is critical,” said Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “Considering that Romania wishes to host a major OSCE meeting next year on tolerance, the Chamber must ensure its own laws promote that theme rather than discriminate against minority religious groups.”  Efforts to improve the text last year were unsuccessful, as the draft was rushed to the Romanian Senate under “emergency procedures” before additional technical improvements could be made. The bill passed passively in the Senate in December, without modification, despite more than 60 substantive amendments that were never considered.  The bill was registered with the Chamber of Deputies in February of this year. “I have fought for religious freedom in Romania for years, and I am very troubled that such a regressive law is being considered,” said Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA).  “I urge the Deputies reviewing the draft to respect international norms and eliminate the onerous tiered system of recognition, in favor of a system that provides one general status for all religious communities.”  “In addition to the concerns expressed by my colleagues, I believe forcing ‘religious associations’ to wait more than a decade before qualifying for the highest ‘religion’ status is blatantly discriminatory,” said Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA).  “The 12-year moratorium amounts to a ban and should be eliminated.  Romania should do more to uphold its OSCE commitments.”    The concerns raised by members of the Helsinki Commission have also been voiced by other groups. The OSCE/ODIHR Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief has been consulted in the drafting process, providing technical assistance for some time.  In October 2005, the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission found several key areas needing further refinement.  The Venice Commission’s concerns have also gone unaddressed.

  • Belgium's Chairmanship of the OSCE

    WASHINGTON - Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht will discuss the work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the 56-nation organization.  The hearing, titled “Belgium’s Chairmanship of the OSCE,” will be held on Wednesday, June 28, 2006, at 11:00 a.m. in Room 2359 of the Rayburn House Office Building.  The Belgian Government assumed Chairmanship of the OSCE in January 2006.  The first half of this year has seen a number of developments within, and adjacent to, the OSCE region that will form the focus of the hearing.  Among the issues expected to be addressed are developments in Central Asia and neighboring Afghanistan, the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the political situation in the Caucasus, and human rights trends in the Russian Federation.  Commissioners are also expected to focus on OSCE democracy-promotion work, with a special emphasis on election monitoring, programs to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, and initiatives aimed at promoting greater international cooperation to curtail human trafficking and child pornography.   Minister De Gucht has had an extensive political career in Belgium, including service in the Belgian Federal Parliament, the Flemish Parliament and the European Parliament.  He has served as Foreign Minister since 2004.  As Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, Minister De Gucht has devoted considerable personal attention to ongoing conflicts in the OSCE region, including those in Transdniestria and Nagorno-Karabakh and has traveled widely within the OSCE in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Southern Europe and the Balkans as well as Afghanistan, an OSCE partner country.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Situation of Roma

    WASHINGTON - Estimated at 8-12 million, Roma are Europe’s largest ethnic minority – and also one of its most marginalized.  Throughout the region, Roma face disproportionate levels of poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment.  In a classic downward spiral, each of these conditions exacerbates the others in a self-perpetuating cycle.  Efforts to improve the situation of Roma are often stunted by pervasive discrimination, opportunistic political anti-Romism, and government neglect.  In spite of this, Roma are taking control of their political destiny as never before – winning seats in the European Parliament and winning cases before the European Court on Human Rights.  In order to address the challenges the Roma community continues to confront, the Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing to examine the current situation of Roma in Central Europe, with a focus on human rights.  In particular, the briefing will address:           - The causes and implications of the housing crisis facing Roma;           - The progress of efforts to end segregated education in the region; and            - The impact on Roma of rising populist and extremist movements. “The Human Rights Situation of Roma:  Europe’s Largest Ethnic Minority” Friday, June 16, 2006 10:00 a.m. 226 Dirksen Senate Office Building Witnesses: Madga Matache, Director, Romani CRISS (Center for Social Intervention and Studies) (Romania) Timea Junghaus, Arts and Culture Network Program, Open Society Institute (Hungary) Tano Bechev, Program Director, Regional Policy Development Centre (Bulgaria) Nicolae Gheorghe, Senior Advisor, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • OSCE States Encouraged to Intensify Efforts to Combat Child Pornography

    BRUSSELS - U.S. lawmakers from the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe urged fellow parliamentarians from more than 50 countries to enact comprehensive laws to combat child pornography and prosecute those involved in the multi-billion dollar industry.  A U.S.-sponsored resolution on “Combating Trafficking and the Exploitation of Children in Pornography,” was unanimously adopted and issued in Brussels today.     “Child pornography is a plague that affects every OSCE participating State,” said Helsinki Commissioner Representative Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA). “Currently, those who produce or disseminate child pornography can evade criminal liability by operating in countries with weak laws against child abuse and child pornography.” On Monday, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s plenary session unanimously approved the resolution cosponsored by Rep. Pitts.  Pitts heads the U.S. Delegation in Brussels for the annual meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The delegation includes Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who serves as PA President, Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), Rep. Diane E. Watson (D-CA), Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), and Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI).  “As the parliamentary resolution recognizes, the lives of children exploited through child pornography are forever altered,” said Pitts.  “First, they are victimized by the sexual abuse involved in producing the pornography.  Then, they are re-victimized as the images are irretrievable and potentially viewed forever.”  Pitts called on lawmakers to pass legislation to combat child pornography and strengthen the ability of law enforcement to crack down on networks often operating across borders.   The appeal came at a special side meeting convened by the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC) to educate parliamentarians on the scope of exploitation and abuse of children through pornography widely distributed via the Internet.     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.  “Child pornography is a high profit/low risk business,” concluded Pitts.  “The risk of prosecution is low, and the potential to make huge sums of money is high.  I urge my parliamentary colleagues to criminalize the exploitation of children in pornography.  Only then can we ensure our children are protected.”  In many OSCE countries there remain significant gaps in the existing legal framework that hamper the effectiveness of law enforcement agencies to combat international child pornography networks operating across borders, principally via the Internet. 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; and 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 Hearing on South Central Europe

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chairman and Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, announce that on June 15th the Commission will hold a hearing to discuss many of the human rights challenges that countries in South Central Europe face as they seek integration into the European Union and/or NATO Alliance.  “Human Rights, Democracy, and Integration in South Central Europe" Thursday, June 15, 2006  2:00 p.m.  2226 Rayburn House Office Building The primary topics to be discussed include legal restrictions on religious activities and other attacks on religious freedom, lagging efforts to combat trafficking in persons, discrimination and violence against Roma, and the prevalence of official corruption and organized crime.  In addition, witnesses at the hearing are expected to address:  - efforts to encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to move beyond the limitations imposed by the Dayton Peace Agreement despite the recent defeat of a constitutional reform package, and to facilitate further returns; - the plight of the displaced and minority communities of Kosovo within the context of Kosovo's status negotiations, and what steps are needed to preclude renewed violence and foster interethnic tolerance;  - the need for Serbia to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and deal more effectively with the nationalist legacy of the Milosevic years;  - the implications of Montenegro’s recent declaration of independence;  - the prospects for the July 5 parliamentary elections in Macedonia to meet international standards;  - progress in implementing the Ohrid Agreement in Macedonia;  - consolidating democratic change and the rule of law in Croatia; and  - enhancing anti-corruption and rule of law efforts in Albania. Witnesses: Panel I The Honorable Rosemary A. DiCarlo, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasia Affairs, U.S. Department of State Panel II Daniel Serwer, Director of Peace and Stability Operations, United States Institute of Peace Janusz Bugajski, Director of the New European Democracies Project and Senior Fellow in the Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies Joseph K. Grieboski, President and Founder, Institute for Religion and Public Policy Nicolae Gheorghe, Senior Advisor, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • OSCE at “Critical Point” in Fight against Anti-Semitism

    WASHINGTON - On May 9, 2006, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing on Holocaust education tools and law enforcement training programs undertaken by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The briefing titled “Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education” was chaired by Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  Co-Chairman Smith cited the vicious murder of Ilan Halimi as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to speak out when manifestations of related hatred occur.  A French Jew, Halimi was kidnapped and gruesomely tortured to death earlier this year because of his faith.  “His tragedy made brutally clear that Jews are still attacked because they are Jews, and that our work to eradicate all forms of anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms and manifestations is far from done,” said Smith.  Because of incidents like this, Rep. Smith cited his request for approximately $200,000 in appropriations to support OSCE anti-Semitism activities.    The Helsinki Commission leadership has worked to build a bipartisan coalition of Members of Congress to launch a series of initiatives at home and abroad.  The efforts to bring attention to troubling trends of rising anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region have been the catalyst elevating the issue of anti-Semitism on the agenda of the 55-nation organization.   The ongoing work of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the focus of the Capitol Hill briefing, is part of a broader plan to address anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, including hatred aimed at Muslims, Christians, and others.  The briefing highlighted specific programs which promote awareness of the Holocaust and provide law enforcement professionals with the tools to investigate and prosecute hate-inspired crimes.    “Communities within the OSCE region have turned from tranquil to chaotic in an instant . . . by a single hate crime,” noted Paul Goldenberg, a Special Advisor to ODIHR who designed the law enforcement training program which assists police to recognize and respond to hate crimes.  Goldenberg stressed that law enforcement professionals must be recognized as an integral part of the solution.  ODIHR and Goldenberg have successfully implemented the program in Spain, Hungary, Croatia and Ukraine, and hope to conduct additional trainings if resources permit.  ODIHR also issued a report on “Combating Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region: An Overview of Statistics, Legislation, and National Initiatives,” based on information submitted by participating States about statistics, legislation, and national initiatives to combat hate crimes. Dr. Kathrin Meyer, ODIHR Advisor on Anti-Semitism Issues, presented ODIHR developed documents for Holocaust education, such as “Education on the Holocaust and on Anti-Semitism: An Overview and Analysis of Educational Approaches.” The book provides an overview of current teaching on the Holocaust in the OSCE region, highlighting good practices and recommending areas to improve.  It also addresses the challenges presented by contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and highlights ways to address the subject in the classroom. “The ODIHR was tasked to disseminate best practices and to assist the states to implement these commitments,” said Dr. Meyer.  These guidelines will assist OSCE participating States in meeting their commitment “to promote educational programs to combat anti-Semitism, to promote the remembrance of and education on the Holocaust, and to promote respect for all ethnic and religious groups.” On the second panel, Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, praised the serious and substantive work of the OSCE.  “There has been a remarkable set of achievements in getting the OSCE to address [anti-Semitism,] and to address it seriously and substantively.”  However, Baker warned that “right now we are in a really critical point, a point where we may be in danger of losing these gains.”  He urged Commissioners to ensure that the OSCE remains vigorously engaged in combating anti-Semitism, and called for the formal OSCE acceptance of Romania’s offer to host a major conference on anti-Semitism in 2007. Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, stressed the particular responsibility of OSCE countries to implement their commitments to undertake the concrete steps they have promised in recent years.  “One of the strengths of the ministerial decisions in OSCE, the declarations and the conferences is that they highlight that the primary responsibility for implementing commitments for addressing acts of intolerance rests with participating States,” said Burdett, “Putting those commitments into action has been a challenge…what is lacking, not just funding, is really political will.” Liebe Geft, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, expressed alarm over exploitation and perversion of justifiable complaints over anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice to undermine support for educating new generations about Hitler’s crimes. “Learning about Europe’s historic persecution, culminating in the Holocaust of its archetypal minority, the Jews, can educate other minorities, including today’s Muslim immigrant communities in Europe, about the dynamics of prejudice and discrimination against which they seek to empower themselves.” A full transcript of the hearing as well as the official statements from each of the witnesses is available here.

  • Helsinki Commission to Examine Human Rights and Democracy Programs in the OSCE

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Sam Brownback and Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Chairman and Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a hearing to examine programs within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that focus on the development of human rights and democracy. The hearing will have a specific focus on the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and its role in monitoring elections in OSCE countries. The hearing will also commemorate the work of the ODIHR as it marks its 15th anniversary. Advancing the Human Dimension in the OSCE The Role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Wednesday, May 17, 2006 2:00 PM Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 226 The ODIHR has played an important role over the last fifteen years in advancing human rights and the development of democracy in the OSCE participating States. ODIHR is engaged throughout the OSCE area in the fields of democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and promotion of the rule of law and has set the international standard for election observation. This hearing will examine the unique role played by the ODIHR in election observations and will address the current challenges faced by the OSCE as it seeks to define and strengthen the role the organization plays in election monitoring. Panel I Mr. Kurt Volker, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State Panel II Ambassador Christian Strohal, Director, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, OSCE Panel III Mr. Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy Mr. Jeff Fischer, Senior Director, Center for Transitional and Post-Conflict Governance, IFES Mr. Patrick Merloe, Senior Associate and Director, Programs on Election Processes, National Democratic Institute Mr. Lorne Craner, President, International Republican Institute

  • Combating Anti-Semitism: OSCE Police Training Initiative and Holocaust Education

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a briefing on the activities of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights concerning Holocaust education and law enforcement training to track crimes motivated by anti-Semitism. Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education Tuesday, May 9, 2006 2:30 PM Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 628 Panel I Paul Goldenberg, Special Advisor, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Dr. Kathrin Meyer, Adviser on Anti-Semitism Issues, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights   Panel II Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs, American Jewish Committee Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League Liebe Geft, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance

  • Helsinki Commissioners Voice Alarm at Surge of Violent Attacks and Murders of Minorities in Russia

    WASHINGTON - Following a spate of attacks this month on Roma in Russia which ended in at least four deaths, the leadership of the Helsinki Commission called upon Russian President Putin and other elected officials to condemn these crimes.  They also urged intensified efforts to combat a wave of violence against ethnic and religious minorities that has spiked in Russia recently.  On April 13, two people were beaten to death at a Romani camp in southern Russia, and two days later two Romani brothers were shot to death in a town in northwest Russia. " "A nation that strives to be a rule of law state must protect all its citizens,” said Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.  “The alternatives are a police state that protects only some citizens or anarchy that protects no one.” “Some people are debating whether these crimes were racially motivated or mere ‘hooliganism,’ the favorite charge used by Russian prosecutors to downgrade manifestly serious offenses,” added Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “Whatever the motivation, these are very serious crimes that resulted in the deaths of Roma and other minorities, including students from Africa, and justice demands that the perpetrators be prosecuted.” Ranking Member Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) remarked, “We look to Russia, the Chairman of the G-8 and a member of the OSCE, to uphold the rule of law by protecting the weak and vulnerable.  Like all nations, Russia should aggressively pursue those who violate the law and basic principles of human dignity by hatefully targeting minorities.” Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) urged Russian law enforcement to act.  “The families of these victims deserve justice, and minority communities need reassurance from the Russian Government.  I’m sure I speak not only for myself and other Helsinki Commissioners, but for millions of Russian citizens who expect their political leaders to provide whatever federal oversight is necessary to ensure that these crimes are vigorously prosecuted.” Background Russian domestic media and non-governmental organizations have reported on an escalation of violence against foreigners as well as minorities indigenous to the Russian Federation.  Earlier in the month, two Mongolian students were attacked in St. Petersburg and a Senegalese student was shot to death by a student wielding a pistol with a swastika design.   The assailant who slashed several worshippers at a Moscow synagogue in January 2006 was sentenced in March to a thirteen-year labor camp sentence.    However, the jury trial for eight men charged in connection with the 2004 assualt in St. Petersburg of three ethnic Tajiks, that caused the death of a nine-year old girl, resulted in March 2006 only in “hooliganism” convictions for seven of the perpetrators and acquittal for the other.   On April 22, an Armenian teenager was stabbed to death in the Moscow Metro by an unknown attacker who, according to witnesses, had a shaved head and was dressed in black.   In the days prior to Hitler’s birthday, April 20th, skinhead leaders had threatened racist violence and several foreign embassies received menacing e-mails.        In March 2005, Helsinki Commissioners condemned a pogrom against Roma in the Siberian town of Iskitim, where hundreds of Roma were burned out of their homes. A subsequent arson attack in Iskitim in November resulted in the death of an eight-year-old girl. The U.S. Helsinki Commission held a briefing on the situation of Roma in Russia in 2004.  The transcript is available on our website.

  • Commissioners Disappointed by Serbian Religion Legislation

    WASHINGTON - The leadership of the U.S. Helsinki Commission expressed concern today over the Serbian parliament’s abrupt passage of the Law on Churches and Religious Communities and called upon Serbian President Boris Tadic to veto the legislation.  “Until recently, Serbia welcomed international expertise during the drafting process, as Serbian officials considered many suggestions and revised early drafts,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  “Unfortunately, elements in the government and the Serbian National Assembly then forced through a draft that retreats from Serbia’s OSCE religious freedom commitments. The secrecy of the process and the sudden loss of transparency are troubling.”  At the working level, the Helsinki Commission has a positive relationship with the Serbian Embassy in Washington and visiting Belgrade officials. Technical critiques of the various drafts have been exchanged freely. A recent version shared with the Commission required further refinement, but the text was in closer conformity than earlier drafts to Serbia’s commitments as an OSCE participating State. The National Assembly passed the law on April 20. “Considering Serbian officials prepared multiple drafts, each time steadily improving the text, it is unclear why a deficient version was suddenly rushed through the parliament on the eve of Orthodox Easter,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “As he seeks counsel on the legislation’s ramifications, President Tadic should also consult with minority religious communities, as they will acutely feel the effects of such a law. I therefore urge President Tadic to return this legislation to the parliament and ask that the text be withdrawn entirely.” Among the most serious problems in the legislation are ambiguous registration requirements, limitations on naming rights, ill-defined state deregistration powers, speech limitations, improper public disclosure requirements, and undue deference to registration decisions of other EU countries.  Particularly problematic was adoption of a blatantly discriminatory amendment aimed against most minority religious communities.  That measure removed safeguards that would have allowed all religious communities currently registered to maintain that status. Regardless of whether they already enjoy registration, all but seven communities would need to reregister.  “Serbia was right to work with the OSCE Mission, the Helsinki Commission and other experts to ensure the draft adhered to OSCE norms,” said House Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “Considering the shortcomings in the text, the current legislation should be rejected.  Such a step would be a welcomed repudiation of the notion that national unity is achieved by restricting individual rights and freedoms.  The international community wants to work with Serbia on the draft, and I hope Serbian officials will take full advantage of that good will.”

  • Helsinki Commission Reviews Long-term Health and Safety Issues from Chornobyl Disaster

    WASHINGTON - The Helsinki Commission held a hearing on “The Legacy of Chornobyl:  Health and Safety 20 Years Later,” commemorating the 20th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear accident at the Chornobyl power plant in Ukraine. The health, environmental, and socio-economic costs of the disaster at Chornobyl continue to have a profound impact on people in the region, especially in Ukraine and Belarus which bore the brunt of Chornobyl’s radioactive fallout. “The bitter legacy of Chornobyl continues to be felt twenty years later, and its consequences will remain for the people of the region and beyond for a long time to come,” said Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) who chaired the hearing.  “We need to be vigilant of the latent health effects that still are expected to emerge and ensure that there is public awareness about the health threat.” Smith stressed the importance of the completion of the Chornobyl Shelter Implementation Plan to cover the rapidly deteriorating sarcophagus covering the damaged reactor:  “We need to do everything possible to protect people and the environment from the large quantity of radioactive remains of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant even as we persist in our assistance to the victims.”   “An important lesson from Chornobyl – one that remains relevant today – is in the importance of transparency in governance,” said Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “The nature of the Soviet system did not lead to a humane or rational response to the tragedy. The consequences of this secrecy remain with us to this day.  They are a vivid reminder of the value of open, democratic and accountable governments which respect the human rights and dignity of the individual.” Testifying at the hearing were:  Stephen G. Rademaker, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation; Oleh Shamshur, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States; David Marples, Professor of History at the University of Alberta and author of three books on Chornobyl; Pablo Rubenstein, M.D., Director, National Cord Blood Program at the New York Blood Center; and Kathleen Ryan, Executive Director, USA, Chernobyl Children’s Project International. An transcript of the hearing is on the Commission website.

  • Chornobyl: Consequences and Responses

    WASHINGTON -Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a hearing in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the disaster at Chornobyl.                                        "The Legacy of Chornobyl: Health and Safety 20 Years Later" Tuesday, April 25, 2006 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2226 The health, environmental, and socio-economic costs of the disaster at Chornobyl continue to have a profound impact on countries in the region, especially Ukraine and Belarus, which bore the brunt of Chornobyl’s radioactive fallout. The hearing will examine the consequences of the disaster and the response of the affected countries and the international community. Panel I Stephen G. Rademaker, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation Panel II H.E. Oleh Shamshur, Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Panel III David Marples, Ph.D., Professor of History, Director, Stasiuk Program on Contemporary Ukraine, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta    Pablo Rubinstein, M.D., Director, National Cord Blood Program, New York Blood Center       Kathleen Ryan, Executive Director, USA, Chernobyl Children's Project International

  • House Passes Resolution Supporting Intercountry Adoptions in Romania

    WASHINGTON - Last night the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.Res. 578, encouraging the Government of Romania to “amend its child welfare and adoption laws to decrease barriers to adoption, both domestically and intercountry, including by allowing intercountry adoption by persons other than biological grandparents.” “The Romanian child welfare system, including its ban on intercountry adoption, has been hailed by some as a model for protecting orphaned or abandoned children.  In reality, the Romanian Government’s own statistics and reports from concerned individuals in Romania indicate that the children’s situations have actually worsened since passage of the new laws in 2004,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  “Members of Congress and the U.S. Helsinki Commission will not stand idly by as these children suffer.  We will also vehemently oppose any effort to replicate the Romanian model in other countries.” A major problem with Romania’s laws is that they place an unrealistic priority on “unification” of an abandoned child with biological relatives without regard for how long unification should be attempted, how old the child is, or how long he or she has been in state care without contact with relatives.  As a result, it is nearly impossible to declare any child adoptable.  The U.S. Helsinki Commission examined these problems at a September 14, 2005, hearing entitled “In the Best Interest of the Children: Romania’s Ban on Inter-Country Adoption.”  “I am very pleased that the House of Representatives has forcefully spoken about the need to provide permanent homes and families for tens of thousands of children in Romania,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) who sponsored the measure.  “We urge Romanian authorities to reconsider their adoption law. The law is bad for children---it has nearly shut down adoptions within Romania and completely foreclosed the option for adoption by a loving family in another country.  It is also inconsistent with the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption which supports the propriety of international adoption as a legitimate way to find families for children in need.”  “The Romanian Government heard from the House of Representatives today that more must be done to provide permanent, loving homes for children,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “If adoptive families can be found within Romania that is wonderful.  But that capacity clearly does not yet exist and, in the meantime, intercountry adoption must be reconsidered as an option for children who will otherwise spend a lifetime languishing in state care.” The House resolution passed by a vote of 428-0.  The resolution notes that when intercountry adoptions were prohibited by law 273 in 2004, there were believed to be approximately 1,700 pending cases in which children had been matched with adoptive parents in other countries, including the United States.  Recent statements by the Romanian Government have placed the actual number of pending cases at 1,100.  The resolution “urges the Government of Romania to complete the processing of the intercountry adoption cases which were pending when Law 273/2004 was enacted.”   Romania is party to the Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (commonly known as the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption). “Despite the Romanian Government’s repeated promises to analyze each pending case thoroughly, transparently and with the child’s best interest in mind, we’re hearing that they have now all been rejected,” said Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA).  “The majority of these children still do not have permanent families in Romania, but the government has denied them permanence elsewhere due to misguided politics driven by EU accession.” “It is my fervent hope that passage of this resolution will cause the Romanian authorities, and those in the European Union to whom they look for advice, to take a new stand for innocent babies and children,” said Smith.

  • 54 Members of Congress Write President of Turkmenistan Urging Release of Prisoner of Conscience

    WASHINGTON - Fifty-four members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives wrote the President of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, urging the immediate and unconditional release of prisoner of conscience, Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev. “This bipartisan initiative sends a clear message to President Niyazov on congressional concern over the plight of Mr. Durdykuliev, an individual who has languished in a psychiatric hospital for two years simply for attempting to exercise his right to freedom of expression,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “We urge Mr. Niyazov to set this gentleman free without further delay and cease imprisoning dissidents in psychiatric hospitals.” “The unjust detention of Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev flies in the face of the fundamental freedoms Mr. Niyazov accepted when he signed the Helsinki Final Act on behalf of his country in 1992,” stressed Commission Co-Chairman Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “We had hoped such Soviet-esque punishments had ended with the collapse of the USSR, so we urge President Niyazov to end this practice, beginning with the immediate release of Mr. Durdykuliev.” In January 2004, Mr. Durdykuliev requested permission for a public demonstration protesting government policies. He had earlier repeatedly criticized President Niyazov’s policies in Radio Liberty interviews and had spoken openly about the need for an opposition political party in Turkmenistan. In response to his letter requesting permission for a public demonstration, he was forcibly confined to a psychiatric hospital in February 2004.   Senator Christopher J. Dodd [D-CT], Helsinki Commission Senate Ranking Member, decried the jailing of dissidents in psychiatric institutions, as was done during the Soviet period. “The practice of using psychiatric hospitals to punish political dissidents is despicable,” he said. “Others should never have to suffer through what Mr. Durdykuliev has experienced.” Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin [D-MD], Commission Ranking House Member, called on President Niyazov to consider steps beyond releasing Mr. Durdykuliev. “We urge President Niyazov to personally intervene to end the injustices perpetrated against Mr. Durdykuliev. Mr. Niyazov must begin to open the political space for dissenting views, as he promised to do when Turkmenistan joined the OSCE.” Several hospital medical staff reportedly told Mr. Durdykuliev’s relatives that they had not found any sign of mental illness but that authorities had pressured them to diagnose him as mentally ill. Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev is believed to be in a poor state of health, suffering from fever, severe stomach pains, and the after-effects of a heart attack. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for expressing his peaceful views. The human rights situation in Turkmenistan remains grave. According to the State Department’s recently released Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, “Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state dominated by president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov.... The government continued to commit serious abuses and its human rights record remained extremely poor.”

  • Commissioners Concerned About Death Penalty Case in Afghanistan

    WASHINGTON - The leadership of the U.S. Helsinki Commission expressed grave concern about the situation facing Abdul Rahman, an Afghan citizen who converted to Christianity and is now on trial in Kabul for rejecting Islam.  Afghanistan has status as a Partner for Cooperation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).      “I urge the Government of Afghanistan to abide by the international principles enshrined in its constitution and for the prosecutor to drop the charges against Mr. Rahman,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “The Afghan constitution promises to respect the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the freedom to change one’s faith.  If Mr. Rahman is sentenced to death, it would be a grievous violation of their constitution and this fundamental tenet of the Universal Declaration.” Article 3 of Afghanistan’s constitution declares that “no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” Under Shari’a law, Islamic law that governs both the public and private lives of those living in an Islamic state, apostasy from Islam is punishable by death.  The preamble of the Afghan constitution, however, states the country will “respect the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which in Article 18 guarantees the freedom to change one’s religion.  “First and foremost, I am very concerned about protecting Mr. Rahman’s life,” said Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “If the prosecutor presses these charges, this will be the first time an Afghan court has tested their ambiguous 2004 constitution and could set a troubling precedent.  For sure, sentencing Mr. Rahman to death is contrary to human rights and religious freedoms in the 21st century.”  While Mr. Rahman converted over 14 years ago, his family reportedly turned him into the authorities after he tried to gain custody of his two daughters.  The Primary Court expects to render a decision in two months.  Both the prosecutor and the trial judge have reportedly stated Mr. Rahman will be spared if he converts back to Islam.  If Mr. Rahman refuses and the court finds in favor of the death penalty, Mr. Rahman can appeal the ruling to the Provincial Court and the Supreme Court.  In addition, President Hamid Karzai must consent to the application of the death penalty before any execution.

  • Bush Administration Report Reveals Lukashenka’s Links to Rogue Regimes and Corruption

    WASHINGTON - Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today welcomed President Bush’s transmission of reports on the sale or delivery of weapons and weapons-related technologies and on the personal assets and wealth of the senior Belarusian leadership. The reports were mandated by the Belarus Democracy Act, sponsored by Smith, and signed into law President Bush in October 2004. The unclassified portion clearly indicates a pattern of Belarusian sales or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies to states of concern, including state sponsors of terrorism. “I am especially concerned about the Belarusian Parliament’s ratification of a security cooperation agreement with Iran last May and the Belarusian authorities’ public suggestions that Belarus and Iran increase their nuclear cooperation, as well as links to Syria, Sudan and other rogue regimes,” said Chairman Brownback. Co-Chairman Smith added: “The report’s finding that there is credible information that the Lukashenka regime abuses public resources comes as no surprise and is consistent with the behavior of a dictatorship whose priority is clearly not the welfare of the Belarusian people. Instead, the report makes clear that Lukashenka has made relations with the regimes of Iran, Sudan and Syria more of a priority.” Among the key points of the unclassified report are: • Lukashenka’s abuse of public resources places him among the world’s most corrupt leaders with assets potentially worth billions of dollars. • Lukashenka and other high officials maintain slush funds for their personal use that is funded by secret arms sales to rogue regimes, profits from the transit of oil and gas, confiscated goods, and the skimming of state contracts. • Arms sales are unilaterally approved by the Belarusian Presidential Administration. Knowledge of these deals is often is kept from others in the Belarusian Government, including the Parliament. • Belarus has aided, through the sales of substantial weapons systems, the regime in Sudan responsible for genocide • Belarus has sold WMD-related technologies to Iran. • Under Lukashenka, Belarus has strengthened high-level ties with bastions of tyranny throughout the world including the Iraqi Government under Saddam Hussein, Syria, Sudan and Iran. The report can be found here on the Department of State’s website.

  • Belarusian Election Turning Into a Farce

    WASHINGTON - .S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) today described Belarus’ election as a farce. “The detention of hundreds of opposition activists in advance of Sunday’s voting in Belarus has deprived opposition campaigns of their leaders, further contributing to a climate of fear in that country.  Newspapers have been seized.  An early voting system is in full force in which people are being pressured to vote for the regime.  International observers are being detained, denied visas or turned away at the border.  Belarus’ KGB chief is engaging in hysterical threats that protests will be viewed as ‘terrorism’ and Lukashenka is threatening to ‘break the neck’ of dissent.  These are all indications of a regime terrified of its own people and that has no intention of conducting a free and fair vote,” concluded Chairman Brownback.  “Once again, Lukashenka is taking no chances and tightening his grip as Europe’s last dictator.” Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) concurred: “We see acts of desperation by a despot interested in one thing: maintaining power no matter what.  The regime is fueling an already tense situation, brought about by its wholesale violations of elementary human rights and democratic norms.  Far-fetched accusations of opposition plans for an uprising show contempt for the people of Belarus and are reminiscent of the Soviet Union circa 1938.  I am deeply concerned over the escalating paranoia evidenced by Lukashenka and his inner circle and their threats to resort to force in the face of peaceful dissent.”   In the last day alone, the Belarusian authorities have detained a group of Georgian parliamentarians, denied visas for Members of the European Parliament, two Helsinki Commission staff members and other OSCE observers, and turned many away at the border, underscoring that regime’s siege mentality.   Helsinki Commission staff members Ronald McNamara and Orest Deychakiwsky were denied accreditation by the Central Election Commission and visas to observe Sunday’s elections.  The two were to have been part of the OSCE’s International Election Observation Mission to Belarus, headed by Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).   A transcript of the Helsinki Commission’s March 9 hearing, “Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election,” is available on the Commission’s website.  

  • House Passes Resolution on Religious Freedom in Russia

    WASHINGTON -  The House of Representatives has passed H.Con.Res. 190, which expresses the sense of the House that the “Russian Federation should fully protect the freedoms of all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, as stipulated by the Russian Constitution and international standards.”  “I am very pleased that the House of Representatives has forcibly spoken about the problems and limitations facing religious communities throughout the Russian Federation,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) who sponsored the measure.  “I want to reiterate the call of the resolution and urge Russian authorities to fully protect the religious liberties of all faith communities, whether registered or unregistered, as well as ensure that law enforcement officials vigorously investigate all acts of violence.”    Conditions have deteriorated for minority religions at the regional and local level in some areas of Russia, and the restrictive law on freedom of conscience and religion continues to disadvantage many minority religious groups considered “non-traditional.”  Reports of violent acts against minority religious communities, sometimes committed by the police and rarely investigated, continue to sporadically but consistently arise. The U.S. Helsinki Commission highlighted these problems at an April 14, 2005 hearing entitled “Unregistered Religious Groups in Russia.”    “The Russian Government heard loud and clear from the House of Representatives that more must be done to protect religious freedom and support Helsinki commitments,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “I hope Russian officials will actively protect the rights of all believers, regardless of faith or creed, especially those communities indigenous to Russia and not well known in America.”   The House resolution passed 411-1 on Wednesday afternoon.  Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) has introduced a companion resolution in the Senate, S.Con.Res. 46.    The resolution notes that “over the past 2 years there have been an estimated ten arson attacks on unregistered Protestant churches, with little or no effective response by law enforcement officials to bring the perpetrators to justice.”  The resolution calls upon the U.S. Government to urge Russia to ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities and to “continue to raise [with Russian officials] concerns” over violations of religious freedom, “especially indigenous denominations not well known in the United States.”    “Over the past two years we have witnessed an increase in acts of violence against unregistered and minority religious communities, as well as the troubling introduction of draft amendments to the religion law,” said Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA).  “As this resolution makes clear, Russian authorities at all levels must do more to ensure that everyone can enjoy their religious freedoms without fear of violence or harassment.”    “Throughout the vast Russian Federation there are many faithful public servants who do respect religious freedoms,” said Commissioner Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC).  “I hope this resolution will encourage them to redouble their efforts, but also make clear the importance of religious freedom in Russia to the U.S. House of Representatives.”    

  • Commission Warns Belarus of Repercussions for Crackdown on Opposition

    WASHINGTON - Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) condemned today’s arrests of supporters and aides of opposition presidential candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich and yesterday’s sentencing of numerous Belarusian and Ukrainian activists to up to 15 days in prison. This comes on the heels of last week’s repressive measures against Milinkevich campaign assistants, including the sentencing to 15 days imprisonment of Belarus Popular Front Chairman Vintsuk Viachorka. “These latest arrests follow a disturbing pattern, where activists – including senior campaign officials – are prevented from working actively on behalf of their candidates in the final days of the campaign,” said Chairman Brownback.  “Authorities who engage in attempts at intimidation, electoral abuse or violence will face repercussions from the international community,” he continued.  “Mr. Lukashenka has continued to engender a climate of fear, while at the same time expressing confidence in his victory.  I ask Mr. Lukashenka to stop the bullying and to give the people of Belarus a chance to freely determine their own destiny,” stated Chairman Brownback. Brownback also criticized Russia for its apparent complicity in forcing the very few remaining independent newspapers in Belarus to suspend operations as of yesterday.  These media outlets learned that the Russian printing house they relied upon, for vague economic and political reasons, will no longer produce their editions for distribution in Belarus.  “Clearly the Russian leadership is squarely behind Europe’s last dictator as he intensifies his crackdown in the final days of the campaign,” said Brownback.      “These latest arrests are without a doubt part of a pattern of intimidation and suppression of independent voices, which has escalated as election day approaches” said Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “Moreover, the detention of non-partisan election observers and the beatings and detention of opposition candidate Aleksandr Kozulin and his supporters as well as journalists, cast serious doubt as to whether this Sunday’s election can be in any way considered to be free and fair.”  “The searches, confiscations, beatings, arrests and imprisonments harken back to Soviet times, underscoring the weakness of the regime.  Such actions indicate the contempt for freely undertaken OSCE commitments, and stand in glaring contrast to the growing reality of a democratic and free Europe,” noted Co-Chairman Smith.

  • Helsinki Commission Probes Belarus’ Elections

    WASHINGTON - The deeply disturbing pre-election environment in Belarus, efforts to foster democracy and civil society, and U.S. policy options toward the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka were examined at a hearing held today by the U.S. Helsinki Commission.  Presidential elections are scheduled to be held on March 19. “The pre-election climate in Belarus has been abysmal, with daily reports of arrests, beatings, and closures of NGOs and independent newspapers.  It is high time to put an end to the climate of fear which has permeated Belarusian society under Aleksandr Lukashenka,” said Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.   “The international community – including Russia – should collectively put Lukashenka on notice that continuing pre-election violations and in particular post-election violence against peaceful demonstrations will be unacceptable.” In a specific message to Belarusians, Chairman Brownback said: “I have a specific message to those who seek liberty in Belarus, especially the courageous youth:  Know that in fighting for your freedom and dignity, which has long been denied you, you are engaged in a noble cause.  Truth is on your side and you will ultimately prevail.” “Given the disturbing pre-election environment – where candidates and their assistants have been beaten and imprisoned, where meaningful access to the media by opposition candidates is denied, where independent voices are stifled, and where the regime maintains pervasive control over the election process – it is very hard to imagine that next week’s election will be free.  We already know that the election climate is not fair,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act which was signed in law in 2004. “Stepped up harassment, arrests, and the jailing of opposition supporters and the inability of candidates standing against Lukashenka to conduct anything like normal campaigns speak volumes about the run up to the elections,” noted Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in a prepared statement.  “The only question is when the people of Belarus will say enough: enough to intimidation, enough to manipulation, enough to falsification.”   Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) has been designated by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office as Special Coordinator for the International Election Observation Mission to Belarus.  Commission staff are also scheduled to observe the March 19 election. Testifying before the Commission were David Kramer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia; Iryna Vidanova, Belarusian activist; Stephen Nix, International Republican Institute (IRI); Patrick Merloe; National Democratic Institute (NDI); Rodger Potocki, National Endowment for Democracy (NED); and Celeste Wallander, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).  

  • Helsinki Commission Condemns Imprisonment of Uzbek Activists

    WASHINGTON - Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback [R-KS] sharply criticized the conviction of Uzbek opposition and human rights activists Nodira Hidoyatova and Sanjar Umarov. “With these latest arrests, President Karimov is clearly determined to isolate his country even farther,” said Brownback. “I urge him to pull back from this misguided campaign, release these activists and seek a serious dialogue with Uzbek society before it is too late.” A criminal court in Tashkent on March 1 sentenced Hidoyatova to a 10-year prison term, accusing her of being part of a “criminal gang.” Sanjar Umarov, head of the Sunshine Coalition, was found guilty on March 6 by a Tashkent criminal court of ‘economic’ crimes and given a 14 ½ year sentence. The verdict will be reportedly reduced by one fourth, in accordance with the amnesty issued by the Uzbek Senate in December 2005. “President Islam Karimov has run a police state in Uzbekistan since the early 1990s, but since last May’s massacre in Andijan, he has cracked down even harder, in an effort to completely stifle civil society,” said Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith [R-NJ] “I urge Uzbek authorities to immediately and unconditionally release these moderate opposition activists.” The Sunshine Coalition emerged in 2005, calling for political and economic reforms. After Uzbek security forces shot hundreds of demonstrators in Andijan last May, the Coalition criticized the use of force and urged an open accounting of what happened. Commission Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin [D-MD] criticized the sentencing. “Since Andijan, Uzbek authorities have forced many Western NGOs, such as Freedom House and the BBC, to cease their activities in Uzbekistan, and many Uzbek human rights activists have been jailed. The case of Nodira Hidoyatova and Sanjar Umarov is the latest example of the government’s failure to respect its Helsinki commitments.”

  • Belarus: Freedom Denied?

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a hearing to discuss the complete absence of political freedom in Belarus and the implications this has on its upcoming elections. "Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Elections" Thursday, March 9, 2006 2:00-4:00 PM Room 138, Dirksen Senate Office Building Presidential elections in Belarus are scheduled to be held March 19, against the backdrop of stepped up repression by the regime of Alexander Lukashenka – Europe’s last dictator. The Belarusian strongman’s power grab, begun a decade ago, has included liquidation of the democratically elected parliament, a string of fundamentally flawed elections and manipulation of the country’s constitution to maintain power. A climate of fear following the disappearance of leading opposition figures in 1999 has continued with the harassment and arrests of opposition activists and the forced closure of independent newspapers. Rights violations in Belarus have intensified in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, as the regime seeks to squelch dissent. The repressive environment has made it difficult for opposition candidates to engage in normal campaign activities. Meanwhile, administration of the elections at all levels remains firmly in the hands of Lukashenka loyalists. The Commission hearing will examine developments in Belarus in the lead up to the elections, including the pre-election crackdown, efforts to foster democracy and civil society, the international community's increased focus on the country as well as post-election policy options.  Testifying before the Commission will be: Representative of the U.S. Government David J. Kramer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State Witnesses from NGOs Stephen B. Nix, Regional Program Director, Eurasia, International Republican Institute Rodger Potocki, Senior Program Officer for East Central Europe, National Endowment for Democracy Iryna Vidanava, Belarusian Activist, Editor-in-Chief, Students’ Thought Celeste A. Wallander, Director of the Russia and Eurasian Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies  

  • Helsinki Commission Welcomes Shelly Han as Senior Advisor

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Sam Brownback announced today that Shelly Han has joined the staff of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe as a Senior Advisor. Senator Brownback is Chairman of the Commission. Prior to joining the Commission, Han was a senior advisor on immigration policy at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), focusing on border security, worksite enforcement and asylum issues. While at the Department she also served as acting Chief of Staff and acting Director of Policy at U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the second largest federal investigative agency with over 15,000 employees and budget authority of over $4 billion. Prior to joining DHS, Han was a Senior International Advisor at the Bureau of Industry and Security in the Department of Commerce. At Commerce, she was the lead staff negotiator on successful negotiation with China to enhance safeguards for exports of sensitive U.S. technology to China; she managed the Bureau’s attaches posted in U.S. Embassies; and she advised on sensitive issues such as the Iraq Oil-for-Food program, trade in conflict diamonds and nuclear sanctions on India and Pakistan. Before joining the U.S. government, Han was an international trade consultant in the private sector for over ten years, focusing on international trade in the Asia-Pacific region. Han has a Master of Arts degree in International Commerce and Policy from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Oriental Studies from the University of Arizona.