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

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  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Praises OSCE Decision on Peacekeeping and Human Trafficking

    WASHINGTON - The Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), applauded today the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) adoption of a decision on “Ensuring the Highest Standards of Conduct and Accountability of Persons Serving on International Missions and Forces.” The decision was agreed to by the OSCE’s Ministerial Council which met in Ljubljana, Slovenia on December 5th and 6th. The decision calls on the 55 OSCE States to prevent military and civilian personnel deployed abroad to peacekeeping forces or other international missions, as well as OSCE officials, from engaging in trafficking in human beings or exploiting victims of trafficking, and to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers, as well as incidents of forced labor. Any such cases should be properly investigated and appropriately punished. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “The OSCE has taken an important step in establishing an internationally recognized standard for the behavior of military and civilian personnel serving in peacekeeping and related roles around the world,” said Smith. “It is helping to insure that those entrusted to keep the peace and protect vulnerable populations do not, instead, add to human suffering.” “While the overwhelming majority of persons serving on peacekeeping missions adhere to the highest standards of conduct, there have been cases of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse of local populations. With this, and NATO’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy against human trafficking, the international community has made clear that those entrusted with protecting the innocent will not become their exploiters,” added Smith. Rep. Smith, who serves as the Special Representative on Human Trafficking for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, authored the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its reauthorization in 2003, which made the United States among the first countries to outlaw human trafficking as a specific crime and also to provide aid to victims. Rep. Smith is also the author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, HR 972, which is scheduled to be considered by the House Judiciary Committee on December 8. “The OSCE’s action is consistent with HR 972 which would focus further attention on the need to ensure accountability of all who represent their countries abroad. I am hopeful that Congress will act swiftly to pass HR 972 to send the message that the world is not closing its eyes to this terrible crime,” added Smith. “Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, who headed our delegation to the OSCE Ministerial, and countries like Germany, Russia, Norway, Sweden, Armenia and Albania were instrumental in getting this decision through. I am deeply grateful for their support,” added Smith.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Decry Kazakh Elections, Fraudulent Vote Count and Intimidation Cited

    WASHINGTON - Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission condemned today the conduct of presidential elections in Kazakhstan, citing reports of numerous procedural violations, government intimidation of opposition supporters, as well as ballot stuffing on Election Day. “Regrettably, the authorities, including President Nazarbayev, failed to move the democratic process forward in Kazakhstan, continuing a pattern of fundamentally flawed elections,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “These elections were marred by egregious violations of OSCE commitments President Nazarbayev himself accepted when Kazakhstan joined the Helsinki Process in 1992.  Almost every aspect of the elections were tainted by widespread media bias, harassment, and voter intimidation as well as ballot stuffing.  Kazakhstan’s desire to lead the OSCE in 2009 has been undermined by the conduct of these elections.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “President Nazarbayev has once again made it obvious that he is not concerned about meeting Kazakhstan's obligations under the Helsinki Process,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).  “It is quite clear that the promises of the Kazakh Government to hold free and fair elections that meet internationally recognized standards remain empty.  The massive fraud, intimidation and outright abuse of power are blatantly inconsistent with a government seeking to lead the premier human rights organization in Europe.” Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who began his political rise during the Soviet period, won 91% of the vote on December 4.  The elections were observed by 460 monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The OSCE has also condemned the elections as badly flawed.  Previously, Nazarbayev had expressed his desire to have Kazakhstan chair the OSCE in 2009, a decision requiring consensus of all 55 OSCE countries. “I am extremely disappointed with the conduct of the Nazarbayev Government in these elections,” added Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin.  “The government committed explicit and massive violations of the most basic international standards which flouted their clear responsibilities under the Helsinki Process.” President Nazarbayev claimed that the results of the election demonstrated the Kazakh people’s desire for the status quo and preference for calm and stability.   The election had been watched closely given the OSCE bid, the country’s strategic importance, and dramatic democratic change in Georgia and Ukraine. “I regret that President Nazarbayev did not take advantage of these elections to break with the past and open the door to a freer and more democratic future for the people of Kazakhstan.  Sooner or later the Kazakh people will claim the same rights and freedoms that they saw people win in Georgia and Ukraine.  Meanwhile, our task is to support civil society and those committed to peaceful, democratic change in Kazakhstan,” added Brownback. Earlier this year, Co-Chairman Rep. Smith introduced legislation to put pressure on Central Asian states to reform and adopt human rights standards.  The bill, HR 3189, is called the Central Asia Democracy and Human Rights Act (CADHRA) of 2005.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Release Letter Denouncing Russian NGO Legislation

    WASHINGTON - The U.S. Helsinki Commission released today a letter sent by Commission Members to the Speaker of the Russian Duma regarding proposed legislation that would require non-governmental organizations to re-register with a government commission empowered to monitor NGO activities.   The measure passed by 370 to 18, but must go through several further readings and be signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin before it becomes law. “The proposed NGO legislation is another indication that independent civic and social organizations are not getting the breathing space they need,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  “The Members of the Commission simply had to make it clear to the Russian Government that we are deeply alarmed by the implications of this bill.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “Unfortunately, this bill reflects the continued wariness of some Kremlin officials, including President Putin, toward the concept of an independent civil society,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). “I hope the Duma will reject such a divisive measure and realize that Russia will only flourish when civil society begins to flourish.”    The letter, which was signed by ten Helsinki Commissioners and sent to Speaker Boris Gryzlov on November 18, states that the NGO legislation “would have a chilling effect on civil society in the Russian Federation, including the functioning of non-governmental organizations focused on human rights and democracy.”  The letter goes on to state that the bill would “seriously undermine the rights of individuals in Russia to freedom of association....”  “If this bill passes and causes as much harm to Russia’s NGO community as feared, it will further isolate the Russian Government from the public feedback it needs to respond to the legitimate concerns of the Russian people,” added Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD).  The proposed legislation would require Russia’s approximately 450,000 NGOs to re-register with a government commission under a complicated registration procedure, and would expand the ability of the government to deny registration permission.   Financial auditing, a tactic currently used to harass “opposition” NGOs, would also become more intrusive under the bill’s provisions.  It would also have a negative impact on foreign-based organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the Carnegie Foundation, while increasing controls over NGOs of Russian origin. It is expected that President Putin would sign the measure should it reach his desk. Prospects for final passage of the legislation are considered certain since it has drawn support from the four largest factions in the Duma.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Condemn Andijan Trial Verdicts in Uzbekistan

    WASHINGTON - Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission strongly condemned the outcome of the trial of 15 men in Uzbekistan for the outbreak of unrest in the city of Andijan. The verdicts, which were announced on November 14th, found the men guilty of trying to oust the Uzbek Government and set up an Islamic state. “The Uzbek Government, after blocking international investigation of the bloody events in Andijan, set up a kangaroo court and expects the world to accept the verdict,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “It is especially telling that official Uzbek sources have accused the United States of involvement in terrorism. Regrettably, the Uzbek Government seems determined to isolate itself from the Western world.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “The convictions in the Andijan trial were based on an unjust trial that included evidence that couldn’t come close to passing the credibility smell test,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). “The trials were a sham and in complete violation of Uzbekistan’s obligations under the Helsinki Process. As a first step, Uzbekistan needs to allow a credible international investigation into what happened at Andijan. This situation proves the need for passage of my Central Asia Democracy and Human Rights Act." On May 12, an unidentified group of armed men broke open a jail to free a group of 23 local businessmen who had been facing trial on charges of extremism, as well as seized the city hall and other government facilities in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijan. Human rights groups and the United Nations say that Uzbek security forces fired upon the anti-government demonstrators, leaving hundreds of people dead. The Uzbek Government has claimed that Islamic radicals, trained in neighboring Kyrgyzstan, organized the incident in Andijan. “The human rights situation in Uzbekistan continues to deteriorate, and the convictions in the Andijan trial simply highlight a desperate and unacceptable situation,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “The international community has to take a more aggressive stand on what is happening in Uzbekistan and pressure the government to undertake a serious democratization effort.” The fifteen men found guilty in the case have been sentenced to anywhere between 14 and 20 years in prison. Uzbekistan’s history of torturing persons in custody, the numerous irregularities in the trial process, and the almost exclusive reliance on confessions for obtaining convictions in this case have led many human rights organizations to express the concern that testimony was obtained under duress. The Helsinki Commission held a hearing on Uzbekistan on June 29th at which eye-witnesses to the Andijan crisis provided testimony.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Introduces Legislation Urging Romania to Immediately Reform Harmful Adoption Policies

    WASHINGTON - Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman of the US Helsinki Commission, today introduced legislation urging Romania to reform its adoption policies which have prevented thousands of children from being placed in permanent loving families in the United States and Western Europe.  The measure (H.Res. 578) is cosponsored by Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Commissioners Rep. Mike Pence (R-ID) and Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA). The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. More than 200 Americans had pending adoption applications when Romania's law prohibiting inter-country adoptions took affect.  UNICEF reports that more than 9,000 children a year are abandoned in Romania’s maternity wards or pediatric hospitals.  According to the European Union, 37,000 children remain in institutions.  Nearly 49,000 more live in non-permanent settings in “foster care” or with extended families.  An unknown number of children live on the streets. Smith has conducted a hearing on the effect of the law and the dire situation for Romania’s abandoned children. “The current Romanian law is based upon the misguided belief that an institution of the state or foster family is preferable to an adoptive family from outside the child’s country of origin,” said Smith, who has championed human rights causes since being elected to Congress.  “In each of the thousands of instances that Romania denies a child a loving home and a caring family, they commit another human rights abuse.” Following the execution of Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, it was discovered that more than 100,000 underfed, neglected children were living in hundreds of squalid and inhumane institutions throughout that country.  Smith, who visited Romania six weeks after the fall of the Ceausescu regime, witnessed first hand the misery and suffering of children. “For years, Americans have opened their hearts and checkbooks and worked to help Romania improve living conditions for children in these institutions,” said Smith.  “Many families also opened their homes to Romanian children through adoption.”  Between 1990 and 2004, 8,213 Romanian children found permanent families in the United States; thousands of others joined families in Western Europe.  In June, 2004, the Romanian government enacted a law that prohibits inter-country adoption except by a child’s biological grandparent(s).   Prior to enactment of the 2004 anti-adoption law, approximately 1,700 adoption cases remained pending with the Romanian government. Of these, 200 children have been matched with adoptive parents in the United States, and the remainder with parents in Western Europe.  Earlier this week it was revealed that the Romanian government had delivered to the State Department a list containing final decisions in 101 of the Americans cases. During Romania’s accession to the European Union, allegations were made about the fate of children adopted from Romania and about the qualifications and motives of those who adopt internationally.  Sadly, no one within the European Union successfully countered these efforts and, as a result, Romania adopted the law against inter-country adoption in order to secure its EU accession. Smith’s bill recognizes the need and desire of the Romanian government to improve the care and well being of their children, but urges that they amend child welfare and adoption laws to decrease obstacles to both domestic and international adoption.  In addition, it requests that the European Union and its member states not intercede in Romania’s efforts to place orphaned or abandoned children in permanent homes. “We can not sit by and allow petty politics to ruin the lives of thousands of children in need of a loving home,” said Smith.  “My bill urges the Romanian government to remove the restrictive laws that are prohibiting their own children access to loving families."

  • Helsinki Commissioners Laud Bosnian War Crimes Tribunals, Call for Continued Cooperation from Balkan States

    WASHINGTON - At a briefing held today, Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission praised the progress of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and called on Serbia , Bosnia and other Balkan states to cooperate with the tribunal in order to bring to justice those guilty of war crimes. In the wake of a Commission briefing, which was held in cooperation with the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the commissioners noted the success of the tribunal and praised the recent establishment of the Bosnian War Crimes Chamber. “Nothing can ever undo the carnage that was unleashed by the Balkan wars of the 1990s, but out of those dark days the global community established that justice is a global principle to which all nations must adhere,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “The ICTY has lain to rest the idea that national sovereignty is a shield behind which the most horrible crimes can be committed with impunity.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe , also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “The genocide and ethnic cleansing that occurred in Europe during the 1990s is something that we never expected to witness again after 1945. The existence of such atrocities is proof that the world must always be on guard and prepared to bring to justice those who would commit the most heinous acts. That principle has been reaffirmed by the International Criminal Tribunal,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement which ended the 1992-1995 civil war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The war, which was characterized by the “ethnic cleansing” of civilian populations, was the most violent conflict in Europe since the Second World War. After the war’s conclusion, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established at The Hague to prosecute those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. “It has been a long, hard road, but slowly there has been a reckoning for those who committed the most brutal atrocities in Europe since the Second World War. Governments are beginning to realize that their place in the international community is dependent on their adhering to a standard of international justice. I call on all governments in the region to immediately apprehend and extradite the remaining at-large war criminals to the ICTY,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). The 55 participating States in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) played a crucial role in helping to stabilize the situation in Bosnia by assisting in peacekeeping efforts and election monitoring subsequent to the signing of the Dayton Agreement. The OSCE was established pursuant to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act which enshrined for the first time in international affairs the idea that issues of security were directly related to the acceptance of human rights. The outcome of the Bosnia conflict, specifically the establishment of the war crimes tribunal, has been seen by some experts as a reaffirmation of the Helsinki principles. “Some of the worst alleged war criminals remain at large, but it is only a matter of time before they are caught and brought to justice,” added Commissioner and President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL). “The international community was universally horrified by the atrocities that we saw in the Balkans. A sharp line has now been drawn in the sand, and the word is out that no nation may cross it.” This year, with considerable U.S. support, the Bosnian War Crimes Chamber has become operational. This specialized court is part of the effort to complete the work of the ICTY by bringing the focus of the tribunal down to the national level. “The establishment of specialized courts to try the crimes that have been committed in the region is part of a long-term goal to bring justice closer to home for those who believed that their positions made them immune to justice,” added Chairman Brownback. “Now we are a step closer to achieving that ambition.”

  • Helsinki Commissioner Lauds Resolution on Religious Liberties in Russia

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) today lauded the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Relations for approving a resolution calling on Russia to fully protect the freedoms of all religious communities as is required under its constitution and international commitments. “Russia’s religious minorities have suffered from harassment and even violence,” said Smith, who also serves as the Chairman of the Human Rights Subcommittee.  “This resolution urges the Government of Russia to ensure religious freedom for all.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “This resolution calls on the Russian Government to adhere to the standards and obligations set forth not only under international agreements, but under the Russian Constitution itself.” Under the 1997 Russian law on freedom of conscience and religious associations, religious organizations must be registered with the government in order to enjoy legal personality and own property.  Those groups that are not registered have often been subject to discrimination and occasional violence.  While the federal government in Russia has generally been supportive, it has turned a blind eye to local officials who raid unregistered religious communities or overlook crimes committed against religious minorities. The State Department’s 2005 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom noted that Russia’s protections for religious minorities were insufficient, and that conditions in Russia continue to deteriorate for some minority religious faiths.  The report stated that “some federal agencies and many local authorities continued to restrict the rights of various religious minorities.”  “I’ll never forget the pictures I saw of the arson attack against a Baptist church in Tula,” remarked Smith.  “After receiving numerous anonymous threats, late one night hate mongers finally took action and razed the church to the ground.  The local authorities have been no help, attributing the explosion to a natural gas leak, although the local gas company reportedly found no gas residue at the site.”  “Russia is a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and as such has committed to meeting an international standard of religious freedom.  I hope federal and local officials in Moscow will take the necessary steps to bring Russia in line with its own laws and its international commitments.” said Smith.

  • Helsinki Commission to Examine Bosnian War Crimes Trials

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission, in cooperation with the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, will hold a briefing to explore the latest developments regarding the start of the Bosnian war crimes trials, including a discussion of how to assist Bosnia-Herzegovina to move forward toward democracy: BRINGING JUSTICE HOME: THE WAR CRIMES TRIALS IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Tuesday, November 15, 2005  2200 Rayburn House Office Building The featured panelists will be: Judge Medzida Kreso, President of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina Slobodan Kovac, Minister of Justice, Bosnia and Herzegovina Vaso Marinkovic, Deputy Chief Prosecutor and Head of War Crimes Office Michael Johnson, Registrar of the War Crimes Chamber of the Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina

  • Helsinki Commission Releases Report on OSCE's Annual Human Dimension Meeting

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission released today a staff report on the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE’s) 2005 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.  The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. According to the U.S. Helsinki Commission report, the HDIM, held in Warsaw, Poland, from September 19-30, drew record attendance by 331 nongovernmental organizations from across the OSCE region.  The U.S. Delegation to the meeting was headed by former Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lorne Craner. Each year the OSCE holds a meeting to review the participating States’ implementation of the human dimension commitments to which they had previously agreed.  This year’s meeting opened just as show trials began in Uzbekistan of individuals arrested following the May 13 government massacre in Andijon.  At the close of the meeting, a joint statement by non-governmental organizations called for an independent investigation of the massacre.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Call On Egypt to Protect Coptic Christians

    WASHINGTON - Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission have called on the Government of Egypt to take more proactive steps to protect its Coptic Christian minority specifically, as well as all non-Muslims.  Speaking at a press conference, the Commissioners called recent violence against the Copts incompatible with both Egypt’s Constitution and international human rights obligations, and urged that Egyptian authorities take action to ease tensions between Muslims, Copts and other religious groups. “The Egyptian Government has said some good things about fostering better relations between Muslims and Copts, but the message has not gotten down to the State Security Intelligence forces,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  “The recent violence against the Copts in Egypt seems to have been instigated by the security services and that is unacceptable.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “Since the 1990’s attacks on churches, property and businesses of the Copts have been on the increase, including the abduction of young Coptic girls for the purposes of forcing them to convert to Islam. The Egyptian Government needs to work harder to put a stop to this kind of violence,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (D-NJ). On October 21, a Muslim mob in Alexandria, Egypt, killed four Coptic Christians and injured over 80 others in riots sparked after showing of a film perceived as derogatory to Muslims.  Reports state that Muslim leaders went to State Security Headquarters in Alexandria to protest the film as early as October 14 and were told by officials to “take revenge for your faith by yourselves.”  “Egyptian officials have been at best lax and, at worst, criminally negligent in the October 21 riots,” said Commissioner Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).  “Some have alleged that the security officials let this happen for political purposes related to the parliamentary elections.  If true, than what looked unacceptably incompetent has taken on a more sinister tone.” The Government of Egypt has been critical of violence against Coptic Christians, but has been criticized for failing to take more than rhetorical action to stop such violence.  Against this backdrop, Coptic Christians have been subject to discrimination and have had increasing difficulty obtaining permits to construct and maintain churches.  Similar discrimination has been experienced by the Baha’i community as well. “Over the past 25 years, the Islamic religious police and the State Security Intelligence forces have victimized or killed hundreds of Coptic Christians,” added Brownback.  “The Egyptian Government is mistaken if it believes that it is honoring its international human rights commitments by saying the right things while this kind of discrimination and violence continues.”

  • U.S. Helsinki Commissioners Express Disappointment in Azeri Elections

    WASHINGTON- Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission voiced disappointment today about the elections in Azerbaijan, complaining that they were marred by numerous procedural violations, ballot stuffing, and government intimidation of opposition supporters. "We were hoping this election would mark a first step for democracy in Azerbaijan. Leading up to the election, the President of Azerbaijan made technical improvements designed to make the election as free and fair as possible. Unfortunately, the authorities who implemented the election did not pass the test.  As is clear from the OSCE assessment, Baku has failed to fully observe its obligations under the Helsinki Final Act, hindering the democratic process in Azerbaijan," said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. "The high expectation that the elections would move democratization forward in Azerbaijan has, regretfully, not been realized," added Commission Co-Chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).  "Not only did the Azeri elections not meet international standards, any improvements in the election process itself were later undermined by fraud after the polls closed." According to Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission, 47% of the 4.5 million registered voters cast their ballots in parliamentary elections that were held to choose from among 1,500 candidates. With more than 90% of the ballots counted, the ruling New Azerbaijan Party has won 62 of 125 seats, with the main opposition Azadlyq Bloc netting only 5 seats.  Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission has claimed that there were no reports of serious violations. "There is not even the pretense that the elections results are legitimate," said Commission Ranking Member, Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD).  "It is not at all clear where Azerbaijan goes from here, but I am not optimistic.  The international community is clearly going to have to make its displeasure heard." Azerbaijan is about to become a major oil exporter as the country begins to tap into its vast reserves and to export them via a pipeline running through Georgia to Turkey.  International observers had hoped that Azerbaijan would see the establishment of a stable democratic system before an energy export boom began in earnest. "Technical improvements made to the election procedures did not compensate for faulty results in some of the districts," added Brownback.  "We recognize the President of Azerbaijan’s call to investigate irregularities in numerous districts, but I also urge Baku to schedule re-votes in districts where OSCE observers noted serious violations. The opposition has announced plans to protest this vote fraud and I call on both sides to avoid violence."

  • Helsinki Commissioners Praise State Department Report, Say Religious Freedom "Endangered"

    WASHINGTON - More work still remains to be done among the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the area of religious freedom.  That is the conclusion of U.S. Helsinki Commissioners in response to the State Department’s 2005 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.  “I am pleased that the State Department continues to maintain intense scrutiny of the problematic OSCE participating States,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  “The report makes clear that freedom of religion remains at the top of the list of endangered human rights, and I congratulate the State Department and Ambassador John Hanford for their work in bringing this to the public’s attention.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “The State Department report goes to the heart of the problem, and I congratulate Ambassador Hanford for his work.  Belarus continues to violate religious liberties, and I am especially troubled that Turkmenistan was listed as having made ‘significant improvements’ in the promotion of religious freedom,” said Commission Co-Chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).  “The reforms that were instituted by the Niyazov regime over the past year did not go far enough, and even the report itself states that serious violations of religious freedom continue.” The Annual Report on International Religious Freedom was mandated by Congress under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.  Under the Act, the President can designate certain states to be “Countries of Particular Concern” if he finds there are “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” occurring.  “Particularly severe violations” means there are “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom” State Department and the Office of International Religious Freedom taking place. “The State Department report is a useful tool for shining a spotlight on a grim picture.  In fact, I think it even somewhat understates the problem,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD).  “The fact that Uzbekistan was not listed as a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ is surprising.  Uzbekistan has one of the worst records on religious freedom in the entire 55-nation OSCE area.  It needs continued close scrutiny.” Among the OSCE participating States noted in the Annual report were Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia and Turkey.  In Western Europe, Belgium, France and Germany were also highlighted. “Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have clearly received more credit than the facts would warrant,” added Brownback.  “The Congress will not make excuses for states that are not living up to their most basic human rights commitments.  Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan should not conclude from this report that they are out of the woods.”

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Press Conference on the Plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a press conference to discuss recent attacks on the Coptic Christian community in Egypt.  The press conference will be held on: WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 9 11:00 A.M. to 12:00 Noon 430 DIRKSEN BUILDING Participants will include: Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) - Chairman The Honorable Frank Wolf (R-VA) – Member of the Commission Michael Meunier – President, U.S. Copts Association Others to be Announced Media interested in participating should contact James Geoffrey, Director of Communications, at (202) 225-2054, or by e-mail at James.Geoffrey@mail.house.gov.  Please indicate PRESS CONFERENCE on the subject line of your e-mail response.

  • OSCE Central to U.S. Foreign Policy, Should Not Be Weakened, Say U.S. Helsinki Commissioners

    WASHINGTON - The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) remains a central component in the United States’ efforts to promote democracy and human rights and should not be weakened under the guise of reform.  That was the conclusion reached by participants at a hearing held today by the U.S. Helsinki Commission. “When you look at Ukraine, Georgia and much of Eastern Europe, you cannot dismiss the central role that has been played by the OSCE in sustaining the move toward democracy and protection for human rights,” said U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ). “Clearly the OSCE remains a key element in America’s efforts to spread freedom in the OSCE region and beyond.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “The attempt by Russia and some other countries to water down and weaken the OSCE would merely undermine what has been one of the world’s premier international bodies in supporting human rights and democracy.  We cannot let that happen.” said Commission Ranking Member, Rep. Ben Cardin, (D-MD). Russia and several other former Soviet republics are pushing to make changes to the OSCE, including placing restrictions on the organization’s ability to observe and assess elections in participating States, activity that has proven valuable in ushering democratic change in Georgia, Ukraine, and most recently Kyrgyzstan.  The United States has generally resisted such proposals, arguing that to do so would weaken the OSCE’s ability to monitor compliance with the requirements of the Helsinki Final Act. “Russia has argued that the OSCE is reaching beyond its mandate when it becomes involved with election monitoring and related issues, but there is no historical basis for that claim,” added Smith.  “What Russia is really proposing is to hollow out the Helsinki Process and turn back the clock on what has been 30 years of global human rights progress.”  Russia, scheduled to hold critically important presidential elections in 2007 recently adopted a restrictive law on elections. Amb. Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary at the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, testified.  The hearing, held by the U.S. Helsinki Commission, demonstrated the continuing role of the OSCE as a tool in advancing American foreign policy priorities. The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is charged with implementing the Helsinki Final Act, and is made up of 55 participating States, including the United States, Canada, numerous governments in Europe, Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union.  The OSCE is active in the fields of military security, economic and environmental cooperation, human rights and humanitarian concerns, and the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts within and between participating States.

  • Helsinki Commission to Examine Role of the OSCE in the Advancement of U.S. Interests

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a hearing to investigate how the U.S. can best utilize the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in advancing the interests of the United States: THE UNITED STATES AND THE OSCE: A PARTNERSHIP FOR ADVANCING FREEDOM 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. Tuesday, October 25, 2005  124 Dirksen Senate Office Building The featured panelist will be: Mr. Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs U.S. Department of State

  • Helsinki Commissioners Blast Turkey on Prosecution of Noted Writer, Call on Turks to "Face Their History"

    WASHINGTON- Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission this week sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, calling on him to authorize the removal of charges on noted writer, Orhan Pamuk, who was recently indicted for speaking openly on the Armenian question and charged with “public denigration of the Turkish identity.” "Turkey has come a long way in terms of human rights, but the Pamuk case and the ongoing controversy over the treatment of Armenians during World War I leave a cloud hanging over Turkish democracy," said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. "Clearing Mr. Pamuk would be a strong demonstration that Turkey is abiding by its human rights commitments under the Helsinki Final Act.  A stable democracy cannot blossom until the government ends the practice of stifling free speech and removes the clouds of deception and censorship from a true telling of history," added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ).  During World War I, one and a half million Armenians were subject to mass deportations and massacred by the Ottoman regime.  Historians have called it the first great genocide of the 20th century and the issue remains extremely controversial in Turkey, where open discussion of the topic can still lead to criminal prosecution. A conference on the topic was recently held at Bilgi University in Istanbul, but has been bitterly denounced by Turkish officials who failed to block it. "Turkey has barely taken the first steps toward coming to terms with its history," added Smith.  "Until the Turks honestly and openly discuss their history, their democracy will never be on a firm foundation." Orhan Pamuk, a noted Turkish writer, was charged for speaking out on the Armenian massacre and for other comments he made in the Swiss press.  He is scheduled to be tried in December and faces a maximum sentence of three years.  His release has become a major concern of human rights groups, particularly those focused on freedom of speech and freedom of the press. "Dropping the charges against Orhan Pamuk is not sufficient for Turkey to come to grips with its past, but it is necessary," commented Brownback.  "If nothing else, the prosecution of Pamuk feeds the worst fears of those who are skeptical about Turkey's commitment to freedom and democracy."

  • Egyptian Elections "First Step on a Long Road" Say Helsinki Commissioners

    WASHINGTON- The recent Egyptian presidential election was flawed but still may offer prospects for increased liberalization in Egypt and the Middle East generally, according to Commissioners and witnesses participating in a briefing held today by the U.S. Helsinki Commission. “While the Egyptian elections did not meet internationally recognized standards of fairness, the mere fact that the regime allowed the opposition a place on the ballot has opened a doorway,” said U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  “The Egyptian elections were the first step on a long road to creating a true democracy, but it remains to be seen whether the regime will walk the rest of the path.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “The Egyptian people tasted electoral freedom for the first time and began to debate the future of their country in a way that once was unthinkable.   This is the beginning of a long process of democratic reform which over time will reverberate throughout the Arab world,” said Commission Co-Chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ). The Commission briefing was held to discuss the impact of the recent Egyptian presidential and forthcoming parliamentary elections on Egypt and the wider Middle East region.  For the first time in Egyptian history, opposition candidate’s names appeared on the ballot, and some campaigning by candidates was permitted.  Previously, the Egyptian Parliament would vote to permit only one name to go forward on the Presidential ballot, and then voters would be given the option only of voting “yes” or “no” to the chosen candidate, who was typically the incumbent President. “Nobody would mistake this election as free and unfettered.  The opposition was fragmented, its main party excluded, and campaigning was tightly restricted,” added Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD).  “Still, the sight of any public debate in the very heart of the Arab world’s most important state is the first crack in the façade of the old regime.” “Nobody is expecting that Egypt, with all of its problems, is going to become a model democracy overnight,” added Brownback. “But the Egyptian Government knows that it cannot continue to repress its people and expect to have normal relations with the United States.” Witnesses at the briefing included Thomas Garrett, Director of the Middle East and North Africa program for the International Republican Institute, Dr. Amr Hamzawy, a Senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Khairi Abaza, past Secretary of the Egyptian Wafd Party.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on the Implications of the Egyptian Election Results

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a briefing on the results and implications of the recent elections in Egypt: THE MEANING OF EGYPT’S ELECTIONS AND THEIR RELEVANCE TO THE MIDDLE EAST 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon Wednesday, October 12, 2005 2360 Rayburn House Office Building The panelist will include: Mr. Thomas Garrett, Director of Middle East and North Africa Program International Republican Institutes Dr. Amr Hamzawy, Senior Associate Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Mr. Khairi Abaza Past Secretary, Wafd Party Visiting Fellow, The Washington Institute

  • Helsinki Commissioner Smith Hails Lech Walesa and 25th Anniversary of Solidarity Union

    WASHINGTON - Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) praised today the former President of Poland, Lech Walesa, in a speech commemorating the 25th Anniversary of the founding of the Solidarity Union. “Mr. Walesa is a man of bravery, tenacity, faith and innate goodness, who set the first domino in motion that resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the final defeat of the Soviet Union,” said Smith. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “Lech Walesa was one of the great leaders of freedom who in the 80s gave voice to his people and helped them to be free. What he started with the Solidarity Union in 1981, he led Europe into what can only be called its second Renaissance,” added Smith. Rep. Smith’s remarks were made at an anniversary luncheon held on Capitol Hill and sponsored by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. Also in attendance were former Secretary of State, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., and former National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski. “The world will be forever in the debt of this modest man of faith, this electrician from a shipyard in Poland. He and the other brave men and women in the Solidarity Union, and the people of Poland, lifted the totalitarian nightmare of communism and gave a new generation hope that freedom would triumph,” said Smith. The Solidarity Union was founded in Poland in 1981 and is credited with helping to bring about the downfall of communism in central and eastern Europe. Lech Walesa eventually went on to serve as President of Poland and was the recipient of the Nobel Peace prize.

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Mourn Passing of Simon Wiesenthal

    WASHINGTON– The Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Co-Chairman, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), and Ranking Members Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) expressed sorrow at the passing of Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who devoted much of his life to documenting the crimes perpetrated by the Nazis and their allies and tracking down war criminals as well as monitoring neo-Nazi and other extremist groups. “The world has lost a courageous man determined to keep alive the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust,” said Brownback.  “In a very real sense, Simon Wiesenthal was the ‘conscience of the Holocaust.’  His tireless work was fueled by a passion for justice that should inspire others.  He challenged us not to be complacent in the face of injustice, hatred, and genocidal forces unleashed in seemingly far-off places like Darfur.” The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “Simon Wiesenthal confronted us with the truth about those who masterminded and carried out the Holocaust,” said Smith.  “As a testament to the memory of the millions of victims, he gave meaning to the words ‘never again’ by helping us learn from the lessons of the past.  Today, as we fight anti-Semitism across the OSCE region, we remember his legacy and act on the lessons of the Holocaust.” A Ukrainian civil engineer by training, Wiesenthal survived five Nazi death camps during World War II.  He lost 89 relatives in the Holocaust.  After the war, he made it his life’s work to track down Nazi war criminals, reportedly bringing 1,100 to justice, and opened the Jewish Historical Documentation Center to be a repository of concentration camp testimonials and dossiers on Nazis. “Simon Wiesenthal once said ‘there is no freedom without justice,’” added Dodd.  “The world will not forget his tireless pursuit of justice, as his work brought freedom to millions.  The memory of the Holocaust will never fade, and Mr. Wiesenthal did much to ensure future generations will never forget.” “The murderers who oversaw Hitler’s death camps could never rest,” said Cardin, “because they knew Simon Wiesenthal was pursuing them.  Many of those who escaped justice after the end of World War II did not escape it forever, thanks to Simon Wiesenthal’s dedication and determination.  His passing challenges all of us to continue his life’s work of keeping alive the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.”  In 1977, the Simon Wiesenthal Center was founded in Los Angeles as an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust by confronting contemporary issues including racism, anti-Semitism, terrorism and genocide.  The Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Marvin Hier, participated in the U.S. delegation to the Cordoba OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance in June. 

  • Helsinki Commissioners Voice Doubts About Kazakh Bid for OSCE Chairmanship

    WASHINGTON - The Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Co-Chairman, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), and Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD) questioned today whether Kazakhstan has earned the right to lead the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), citing ongoing human rights problems in that country. Kazakhstan, which joined the OSCE in 1992, has announced its desire to serve as Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, which is holding its annual Human Dimension Implementation (HDIM) meeting from September 19-30 in Warsaw, Poland.   “I would be willing to support Kazakhstan’s chairmanship but they have to earn it. I believe they still have a long way to go,” said Brownback. “Kazakhstan can boost its prospects by taking timely steps to improve its human rights climate and accelerate the process of democratization, especially media and religious freedoms.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “The leadership of the OSCE must never be determined by default,” said Commission Co-Chairman Smith. “It is not a right, but an honor. Kazakhstan must demonstrate leadership in implementing its OSCE commitments, starting with a good presidential election in December.” The Kazakh presidential election is scheduled for December 4th. Previous elections have not met OSCE standards. The United States has warned Kazakhstan that the conduct of the election and improvements in human rights are a critical yardstick for measuring Kazakhstan’s progress. The 2009 Chairmanship of the OSCE will be decided at its December 2006 Ministerial meeting. All 55 OSCE participating States must agree for a country’s candidacy to succeed. Kazakhstan is the first Central Asian country to aspire to the chairmanship. “Leading by example is a prerequisite for any country desiring to chair, and to lead the Organization a country must lead on implementation,” said Commission Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-MD). “Kazakhstan’s December presidential elections will provide an excellent opportunity for it to show that it is serious about human rights, as the OSCE considers its candidacy for the OSCE chairmanship.” Chairman Brownback concurred: “The upcoming presidential contest must get a clean bill of health from the OSCE election monitors for Kazakhstan’s candidacy to receive serious consideration,” he said. “It will not be enough to see progress over past elections.”  

  • Helsinki Commission Members Blast Romania Adoption Policies, Call for Immediate Reform

    WASHINGTON - Members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission criticized Romania’s ban on international adoptions in a hearing held today.  Entitled, “In the Best Interests of the Children? Romania’s Ban on Inter-Country Adoption,” the hearing focused on Romania’s recent implementation of a law prohibiting inter-country adoptions which has blocked over 200 Americans from taking custody of children that they were qualified to adopt. “The Romanian Government was told by the European Union to ban inter-country adoptions as the price for membership, and they capitulated.  That the EU should demand such a policy is appalling.  That the Romanians should accept it is equally troubling.” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  “Romania has denied thousands of children a loving home and a caring family, and the EU is at fault for letting politics get in the way of helping children.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “The law is based upon the misguided proposition that an institution, or even a foster family, is preferable to an adoptive family from outside the child’s country of birth,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).  “Each year, 1,000 children are adopted domestically while 8,000 children in Romania are being sentenced to a life without knowing family or a parent’s love.  This is undeniably a human rights abuse.” Prior to enactment of the 2004 anti-adoption law, approximately 1,700 adoption cases were pending with the Romanian Government.  Of these, 200 children have been matched with adoptive parents in the United States, and the remainder with parents in Western Europe.  Currently, despite promises from the Romanian Government, including President Basescu, none of these “pipeline cases” have been resolved. “This new Romanian law could very well harm the safety of children.  My heart goes out to the children and families who have been caught up in this troubling new law,” said Commission Ranking Member, Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “You can be sympathetic with Romania’s need to join the European Union and still recognize that these adoption laws are deeply damaging to the lives of thousands of children,” added Senator Brownback.  “There has to be a better and more humane way to deal with this problem and I urge the EU and Romania to sit down and take seriously the fate of thousands of innocent children and loving families.”

  • U.S. Helsinki Commissioners Express Gratitude for Hurricane Aid from OSCE States

    WASHINGTON- Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission expressed today their gratitude for aid that has been dispatched to the United States by the participating States in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. “It’s heartening to see the outpouring of support provided by OSCE countries and others in the international community in this time of need in America,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).  “The human tragedy that has unfolded here transcends barriers of language, borders and the things that usually divide us.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “The unified response that we have seen by countries and citizens throughout the OSCE region to the tremendous needs of Hurricane Katrina’s victims is greatly appreciated,” remarked Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “Almost four years ago, we witnessed so many expressions of solidarity following the terrorist attacks of September 11 and today we see a similar outpouring of support in the face of this overwhelming natural disaster.” In addition to nearly a billion dollars in financial assistance, the participating States in the OSCE have sent medical and rescue teams, tents, water treatment equipment and other types of logistical and material aid.   The Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe is composed of the countries that are signatories to the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. “It overwhelms you when you see countries like Bosnia that are trying to rebuild their own societies, sending aid to the United States.  It’s moments like these when you see the true brotherhood of the human race,” added Commissioner Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). Hurricane Katrina hit the United States Gulf Coast on August 29, bringing destruction to an area the size of Great Britain, including the city of New Orleans.  It is expected that it will be three months to a year before flood waters in the city have been pumped out and basic services restored.  The surrounding area may even take longer to rebuild. “We have a long hard slog ahead of us, but with the aid of our friends in the OSCE and the international community, I am confident that New Orleans and the surrounding region will be  rebuilt and will be able to make a strong comeback,” added Brownback.  

  • Helsinki Commission to Examine Impact of Romania's Adoptions Policy

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a hearing on the impact of Romania’s newly implemented ban on inter-country adoptions: IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILDREN?  ROMANIA’S BAN ON INTER-COUNTRY ADOPTION 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Wednesday, September 14, 2005  2237 Rayburn House Office Building The featured panelists will be: Panel I Maura Harty, Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State Panel II Sorin Ducaru, Ambassador of Romania to the United States Panel III Thomas Atwood, President & CEO, National Council for Adoption Debra Murphy-Scheumann, President of the Board of Directors, Joint Council on International Children’s Services Dr. Dana Johnson, Director of the International Adoption Clinic, University of Minnesota Elliot Forsyth, Waiting to adopt Romanian child

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair Introduce Resolution Calling for Religious Freedom in Russia

    WASHINGTON - The Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Co-Chairman, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), have introduced a resolution to the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively, calling upon the Government of Russia to fully protect religious freedom. “The Russian government’s record on religious freedom has not met the standards of the Helsinki Process, or even the Russian Constitution itself,” said Brownback.  “Freedom of religion is the linchpin of all other freedoms.  President Putin must do more to ensure all Russian citizens enjoy their religious liberties.” “The Russian system of registering faith is used as a shield by the Russian police and other government agencies to discriminate against and mistreat people who hold certain religious beliefs,” noted Smith. “This resolution makes clear that whether registered or unregistered, Russia must abide by its commitments to support religious freedom.” Under the Russian system, a religion must be registered with the government in order to enjoy certain rights and privileges.  Historically, some religious groups have refused to do so on grounds of doctrine or because they do not wish to be implicated in Russian Government policy. “Russia needs to immediately improve its record on protecting religious freedoms for unregistered groups.  Nobody is expecting Jeffersonian pluralism overnight, but the Russian Government need to take positive steps to assure equal protection of all religious groups,” said Rep. Ban Cardin (D-MD). According to some statistics, in the past two years there have been as many as ten arson attacks on unregistered Protestant churches in Russia, with little or no effective response by law enforcement officials to bring the perpetrators to justice.  There have also been incidents of discrimination against other religious groups.  In April, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on unregistered religious groups in Russia, which highlighted the problem facing these communities throughout the Russian Federation. 

  • U.S. Helsinki Co-Chairman Introduces Central Asia Democracy and Human Rights Legislation

    WASHINGTON - The Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), has introduced legislation to withhold American aid to the governments of Central Asia that fail to democratize and respect human rights, while focusing foreign assistance on related civil society activity.  The bill, HR 3189, is called the Central Asia Democracy and Human Rights Act (CADHRA) of 2005. “After almost 15 years of independence, the five countries of Central Asia are still struggling in their transition to democracy.  I believe the United States should use every means at its disposal to encourage real reform, which ultimately promotes long-term stability and security in the region and supports American values.  That’s the objective of my legislation,” said Smith. Under CADHRA, all non-humanitarian assistance to each government covered under the legislation would be conditioned on the President certifying that the country is making “substantial, sustained and demonstrable progress toward democratization and full respect for human rights.”  U.S. assistance would be reduced by 33% for each year a positive determination cannot be made.  In the third year, all aid to that government would be discontinued, unless the President restores 33% on national security grounds.  Assistance can be restored over a three-year period if a country is certified to be making progress on democratization and human rights.  The ban on non-humanitarian aid would include military assistance. “The ban on military aid is critical,” said Smith.  “The governments of the Central Asia region need to be aware that they endanger the length and breadth of their relationship with the United States when they fail to respect human rights.  Repression often breeds extremism and terrorism.  President Bush called for America to stand with freedom, and my bill embraces that call.” Under CADHRA, the President evaluates whether the governments of Central Asia are eligible for U.S. aid on the basis of their adherence to democratization, the protection of press and speech freedoms, freedom of religion and assembly, the establishment and enforcement of legal prohibitions against torture and inhumane punishment or imprisonment, and the maintenance of the rule of law, including prohibitions against discrimination, corruption and human trafficking. “CADHRA is a comprehensive approach, as withheld funds are redirected towards democratization and human rights projects.  I hope my colleagues recognize the urgent need for this legislation, especially given the deteriorating political situation in Central Asia,” added Smith. “We will never win the war on terrorism unless the United States clearly stands for freedom.” In addition to reallocating withheld funds from Central Asian governments to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), individuals, and entities that support democracy, the bill also allocates set funds to promote democracy and U.S. radio broadcasts to the states of Central Asia.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Impact of "Yukos Affair" on Russian Business

    WASHINGTON - Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission, announced that the Commission will hold a briefing on the political and business implications of the prosecution and imprisonment of Russian Yukos Oil Chairman and CEO, Mikhail Khodorkovsky: THE “YUKOS AFFAIR” AND ITS IMPLICATIONS FOR POLITICS AND BUSINESS IN RUSSIA 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13, 2005  192 Dirksen Senate Office Building The featured panelist will be: Mr. Leonid Nevzlin, longtime business partner and friend of former Yukos Oil Chairman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Mr. Peter Roudik, Senior Foreign Law Expert, Congressional Research Service

  • Helsinki Commissioners Call for Remembrance of Srebrenica Massacre

    WASHINGTON - Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Commission Ranking Member, called today for all Americans to join the tens of thousands who have gathered together to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.  The Members also drew attention to recent passage by the House of Representatives of House Resolution 199 expressing the sense of the Congress that the tragedy was an act of genocide. “Srebrenica involved the bloodiest atrocities in Europe since the end of the Second World War, and we cannot forget what happened,” said Smith.  “The fact that the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic backed this brutal act of ethnic cleansing should be a warning to the whole world that even at the end of a bloody century, evil men are still doing evil things and the free world must be on watch and prepared to act.” “When you look at the Genocide Convention, and when you hear what happened in Srebrenica ten years ago, you can only agree with the Appeals Chamber at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that what happened was genocide,” added Rep. Cardin. In July of 1995, 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were executed by Serb forces in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.  H.Res. 199, sponsored by Rep. Smith, expresses the collective sense of the House of Representatives that the massacre was an act of ethnic cleansing, that the United Nations failed to intervene, and that the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia should punish those guilty of the atrocity.  The resolution also reaffirms that it is in the interests of the United States to support the independence and territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Though a cliché, justice delayed is truly justice denied.  It is well past time that all persons who have been indicted by the ICTY should be apprehended and tried without further delay,” added Smith. “Twenty-three people have been indicted for genocide by The Hague.  Regardless of individual guilt or innocence, the legitimacy of the charges of genocide is not in question.  When we add what happened at Srebrenica to what transpired in Foca, Brcko, the Prijedor region and so many other places, is there any doubt that what happened was not 100,000 murders, as one official put it at the time, but the first genocide in Europe since 1945,” noted Cardin. A resolution similar to H.Res 199, Senate Resolution 134, was introduced by Commissioner Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and was passed in the Senate in mid-June.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Hail OSCE PA Resolution Calling on Arab League to End Boycott of Israel

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Benjamin L. Cardin, Ranking Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, hailed the approval today of a resolution which urges the Mediterranean Partners to work with the Arab League to rescind the trade boycott of the State of Israel.  Cardin successfully offered the amendment in committee. “The termination of the Arab League boycott against Israel is long overdue,”  said  Cardin, who served as the Chairman of the OSCE PA’s  Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment (Second Committee).  “The boycott has been in existence for nearly 50 years, and has served only to exacerbate tensions between the United States, Israel, and our partners in the Middle East.” Several Mediterranean Partners, including Egypt and Jordan, have shown leadership on this issue and signed agreements with Israel terminating their participation in the boycott. “The continued enforcement of any level of the boycott against Israel is unacceptable.  Trade is one of the greatest tools for promoting peace and integration,” added Rep. Cardin.  “Continuing the boycott against Israel only furthers isolation and misunderstanding among countries in the Middle East.  Arab League countries must also end their boycott of Israel in order to accede to the World Trade Organization.” “The passage of this resolution is really heartening.  The first step toward better relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors is to create an environment where trade, tourism and commerce can flourish.  This just shows that there is a real desire to foster those conditions, and to finally bring peace to the Middle East,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Cardin, who was unanimously reelected as Chairman of the Second Committee, also participated in a side panel discussion with Moroccan Ambassador to the United States Aziz Mekouar.  Cardin praised the free trade agreements between the United States and Israel, Jordan, and Morocco, and expressed support for the Administration’s long-term goal of establishing a Middle East Free Trade Agreement. The OSCE PA also approved an amendment by Cardin which welcomes the creation of qualifying industrial zones (QIZ) between Israel, Jordan, and Egypt as a model for promoting peace and development in the greater Middle East.

  • Christopher Smith Rebuts Kazakh Claims on Meeting

    WASHINGTON - Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, disassociated himself from views attributed to him in a July 4 press release by Kazinform.  That release claimed Smith had said Kazakhstan has “real chances” to become OSCE Chairman-in-Office in 2009, as “all requirements are quite feasible.” Smith, Co-Chairman of the US Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly which is holding its annual meeting in Washington, said the English-language press release failed to convey accurately his position. “Unfortunately, the remarks in that press release distort the tenor of my message to the Kazakh delegation when we met a few days ago.  My emphasis was that if various benchmarks are not met, Kazakhstan has no chance to win the chairmanship.” The US Government has given Kazakhstan a list of minimum requirements that must be met to gain American backing for Kazakhstan’s bid.  These include: - Conducting free and fair presidential elections - Passing legislation on NGOs that does not inhibit their ability to function - Allowing opposition party Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan to function legally - Amend the criminal code to protect journalists against criminal libel lawsuits “I would be delighted if Kazakhstan’s record on democratization and human rights were such that Washington could support its candidacy,” said Smith.  “But in fact, we are concerned that Kazakhstan has been backsliding on its OSCE commitments.  Secretary Rice could not certify to Congress this year that Kazakhstan is making progress on human rights.  Unless they make a lot of progress quickly, they’ll have no chance.” The Russian version of the press release notes that Smith told the Kazakh Delegation that the requirements listed above are realizable – if Kazakhstan showed “strong political will” to implement them.  “That language is closer to what I wanted to convey,” said Smith.  “I do believe Kazakhstan can meet these benchmarks.  Now they must demonstrate their willingness to do so."

  • Helsinki Commissioners Praise OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Resolution on Election Monitoring

    WASHINGTON - Members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission praised today a resolution of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly strengthening the organization’s role in election monitoring. “The Parliamentary Assembly has reaffirmed the central and historic leadership role of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in monitoring elections,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).  “The resolution demonstrates that the participating States in the Helsinki Process remain deeply committed to ensuring that elections meet the highest international standards, and that the OSCE will remain key to promoting free and fair elections. Unfortunately, members of the Belarus delegation abstained during the vote on the resolution.” “This is really an extraordinary development.  Not only did the Assembly reaffirm the OSCE’s role in monitoring elections, it significantly strengthened it,” added Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Washington Declaration included a strong reaffirmation of the “preeminence” of the OSCE’s methodology for monitoring elections and a provision urging all participating States to fully implement their commitments to conduct free and fair democratic elections.  The Assembly defeated overwhelmingly text offered by the Russian delegation that would have called for the creation of a working group to study and revise OSCE election monitoring procedures.  The U.S. delegation argued that the measure would have undercut ongoing OSCE election monitoring activities and would not have improved the quality of such activities.  The Russian delegation offered their proposal after a year in which Russia had attempted to weaken ODIHR’s election observation program.  ODIHR has run successful election monitoring efforts in Georgia, Ukraine and Kazahkstan. Following negotiations, the Russians supported the Assembly’s final resolution, including the unqualified language on election monitoring. “The Russians realized that the momentum on the election monitoring issue was against them,” added Smith.  “This should finally put to rest the issue of creating an elections working group.  Parliamentarians from the participating States have soundly rejected the ploy to weaken OSCE election standards, holding participating States accountable when they fail to fulfill their OSCE election commitments.” 

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman’s Resolution on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings by Peacekeeping Forces Adopted by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) successfully offered a resolution entitled “Combating involvement in trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation and abuse by international peacekeeping forces” to the declaration of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session.  Smith serves as the OSCE PA’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking.    “By adopting this resolution, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will call for an end to trafficking in human beings, and other forms of sexual exploitation and abuse by members of peacekeeping contingents,” said Co-Chairman Smith, Co-Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA. “I’m gratified that my resolution was endorsed by the Human Rights Committee today and I expect it to be endorsed by the full Assembly tomorrow morning.  Parliamentarians then need to follow through on its recommendation in their national legislatures.” “In the past, the lack of appropriate codes of conduct for international personnel, including military service members, contractors, and international organizations’ employees, limited the ability to counter sexual exploitation and trafficking.  That is finally changing,” said Smith. The need for control and accountability for peacekeeping operations was highlighted credible evidence surfaced of more than 150 allegations against personnel serving with the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Exploitation typically involved peacekeepers’ sexual contact with Congolese women and girls, some as young as 11, in exchange for food or small sums of money.  The resolution expressed disgust at the sexual exploitation and abuse perpetrated by these peacekeeping forces. “It is a sad fact that international peacekeeping troops, international aid workers, government contractors in post-conflict environments have in the past contributed to the demand for trafficking of women and girls into sexual exploitation,” said Smith.  “My resolution calls on governments to ensure that their citizens, when deployed abroad, are not involved in any way, shape or form with the exploitation of victims of human trafficking or the sexual exploitation or abuse of local populations.” The 317-member Assembly is the parliamentary dimension of the OSCE, whose primary task is “to facilitate inter-parliamentary dialogue.”

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Secures Passage of Religious Freedom Amendments at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    WASHINGTON - This morning, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) successfully offered two amendments concerning religious freedom to the draft declaration of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Washington Annual Session.  “I am very pleased that these amendments passed,” said Co-Chairman Smith, Co-Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA.  “However, the fact that the first amendment passed by only 10 votes underscores the continuing challenge in the fight for religious liberties in the OSCE region.  The fact that parliamentarians are willing to discriminate against minority religious communities is sobering.”  The first Smith amendment reads, “Commits to ensure and facilitate the freedom of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief, alone or in community with others, through transparent and non-discriminatory laws, regulations, practices and policies, and to remove any registration or recognition policies that discriminate against a religious community and hinders their ability to operate freely and equally with other faiths.”  It passed with 33 votes in favor, 23 against, and 7 abstentions. “The amendment is a basic statement of faith that all persons have the right to profess or practice, either alone or in community with others, the religion of their choice,” said U.S. delegation member Senator George Voinovich (R-OH).  “All OSCE religious freedom commitments are founded upon this bedrock principle.” “The passage of these amendments reaffirms the Parliamentary Assembly’s commitment to the principle of religious freedom for all,” said Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA).  “It’s unfortunate that some parliamentarians felt the need to debate whether or not the Assembly should endorse these values.  The close vote on this amendment shows much work remains.” The second Smith amendment was adopted by a wider margin.  It reads, “Welcomes the involvement and expertise of the OSCE/ODIHR Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief with technical assistance to ensure current or draft legislation fulfills all OSCE commitments on religious freedom, as well as encourages all parliaments to utilize the Guidelines for Legislative Reviews of Laws Affecting Religion or Belief drafted by the OSCE/ODIHR Panel when crafting laws or regulations affecting religious practice.”  The 317-member Assembly is the parliamentary dimension of the OSCE, whose primary task is “to facilitate inter-parliamentary dialogue, an important aspect of the overall effort to meet the challenges of democracy throughout the OSCE area.”

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Calls on Azerbaijan to Hold Free, Fair Elections

    WASHINGTON - Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, met with Azerbaijani parliamentarians to urge that Baku hold free and fair parliamentary elections this November.  The Azerbaijani legislators, led by Sattar Safarov, are in Washington to participate in the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly’s 14th annual meeting. “I was very disappointed to learn that Azerbaijan’s parliament passed an election law this week that does not incorporate key proposals of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe,” said Smith who is serving as the Co-Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly. “Especially problematic is Baku’s refusal to change the composition of election commissions, as the Venice Commission and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights have been recommending for several years.”  The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “In 2003, the Azerbaijani elections fell short of international standards,” added Smith.  “That must not happen again.  The only way to ensure stability in Azerbaijan is through democracy, which assumes an electoral process perceived as fair by Azerbaijani society and international community.” Rep. Smith is an original co-sponsor of House Resolution 326, which calls on the Azerbaijani Government to assure that November’s elections are “orderly, peaceful, free and fair,” with the full participation of opposition parties on an equal basis.  The resolution is expected to be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives after its Independence Day recess. Azerbaijan has come under strong international criticism for election irregularities and human rights abuses, including the imprisonment of opposition politicians, restrictions on political rallies and pressure on independent media.  After the 2003 elections, several international organizations including the OSCE, urged Azerbaijan to reform its Unified Election Code.  However, the suggested reforms have never been fully implemented. “Fair elections will assure that Azerbaijan has a stable and prosperous future and will mark a watershed in the political development of the entire Caucasus region,” noted Smith.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commissioners Urge Focus on Implementation of OSCE Commitments, Avoid "Tinkering"

    WASHINGTON - Reacting to two reports on the future of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), several of the Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission urged today that the focus of the OSCE remain on advancing human rights and democratization. “Those insisting on the need for OSCE ‘reforms’ are the very countries ignoring their commitments to human rights and democracy.  Clearly, Russia, Belarus and others are not interested in strengthening the OSCE, but in scuttling the organization’s human rights and democracy promoting activities,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “We should not allow our attention to be diverted from effective implementation.” The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.  The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. Two reports were issued on possible strengthening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  The first, issued by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, argues that problems in the OSCE are largely political and not structural.  The second report, issued by a Panel of Eminent Persons appointed by the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, emphasizes organizational changes.  “Overall I think the Parliamentary Assembly report is closer to the mark,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ).  “What makes the Helsinki Process work is not a question of which organizational box goes where.  It is a question of whether we can make sure that all participating States have the political will to meet their obligations under the Helsinki Final Act.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was created as an outgrowth of the Helsinki Process.  The Helsinki Process began with adoption of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, which enshrined the concept that human rights are integral aspects of international security. “The OSCE should not become the Trojan horse for Russian foreign policy preferences.  The history of the Helsinki Process is that there has always been a strong focus on basic human rights and democracy.  The historical record shows that was the right way to go, and whatever structural changes might be made at the OSCE, we can’t let those changes become a pretext for ignoring the mission,” said Smith. “Our assessment of any recommendations for strengthening the OSCE will be made based on how the proposal will help improve implementation of Helsinki commitments and enhance European security.  Tinkering with structures will not generate political will on the part of those determined to repress the rights of their people and maintain their undemocratic hold on power,” said Brownback.   

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