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  • Helsinki Commission Leaders React to State Department's Anti-Semitism Report

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission leaders today welcomed the State Department’s release of its report on global anti-Semitism, as mandated in legislation calling for an assessment of the level of anti-Semitic activity worldwide. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) offered their appraisal of the report. "I am very pleased by the release of the Report on Global Anti-Semitism, and I want to thank Ambassador Ed O'Donnell and his staff for overseeing the writing of this groundbreaking document,” said Chairman Smith.  "Thanks to their good work, we now have a comprehensive record of whether countries are propagating or combating the evil of anti-Semitism.  With this information in hand, the United States can confront state-sponsors of anti-Semitism and press recalcitrant countries to clamp down on anti-Semitic activity." "Anti-Semitism is a scourge that must be defeated, and understanding where problems begin is the first step toward a solution," Smith continued. "This report establishes a clear benchmark for reporting by the State Department and should lead to consistent and thorough coverage of anti-Semitism each year." "I commend the State Department for issuing its first-ever comprehensive global report on anti-Semitism," said Commissioner Cardin. "I was pleased to work with Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith and International Relations Committee Ranking Member Tom Lantos to enact the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, which led to today’s report.  This report surveys the rising tide of anti-Semitism in numerous countries, and most importantly details the responses of foreign governments to combat anti-Semitism in their countries.” “I am encouraged that this report specifically names countries that are still falling short in meeting their OSCE commitments, as well as countries that have adopted ‘best practices,’ by strictly enforcing anti-discrimination legislation and promoting anti-bias and tolerance education,” Cardin continued.  “I am confident that this report will serve as an important baseline to build upon in future country reports and religious freedom reports by the State Department.” “The Helsinki Commission and the OSCE must continue to play a leading role in combating the scourge of anti-Semitism, and I look forward to working with the State Department and my colleagues in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to fully implement the Berlin Declaration and insure that participating States meet their OSCE commitments,” Cardin added. Chairman Smith served as Vice Chairman of the U.S. Delegations to the Vienna and Berlin OSCE Conferences on Anti-Semitism, and Ranking Member Cardin was part of the U.S. Delegation to the Berlin meeting.  Former New York City Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Edward Koch led the delegations to the Vienna and Berlin conferences, respectively, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spoke at the Berlin conference. “The increasing frequency and severity of anti-Semitic incidents since the start of the 21st century, particularly in Europe, has compelled the international community to focus on anti-Semitism with renewed vigor,” the report states.  “In recent years, incidents have been more targeted in nature with perpetrators appearing to have the specific intent to attack Jews and Judaism.  These attacks have disrupted the sense of safety and well being of Jewish communities.” “This nation will keep watch; we will make sure that the ancient impulse of anti Semitism never finds a home in the modern world,” said President George W. Bush as he signed the legislation into law last year.  “The unwavering support from the Bush Administration on this issue has greatly aided our efforts to fight anti Semitism across the globe.” Today’s report was mandated by the Global Anti Semitism Review Act of 2004.  A joint effort between Chairman Smith, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Commissioner Cardin and Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), the Act increases U.S. efforts to combat anti-Semitism through the establishment of a monitoring office, new reporting standards for acts of anti-Semitism both in the United States and abroad. The Act also established additional requirements for reporting on anti-Semitism when appropriate in the State Department’s annual reports to Congress on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom.  These standards parallel the areas covered by the Office, enabling U.S. embassies to more thoroughly and consistently document acts of anti-Semitism. The report is available through the State Department’s Internet web site at www.state.gov. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Leaders Decry Widespread Fraud in Ukrainian Elections

    Washington – United States Helsinki Commission leaders today issued statements in support of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens of all ages amassing in a nationwide protest in the face of outright fraud and falsification in Ukraine’s presidential election held Sunday. “I offer my heartfelt support for Ukrainians seeking truth during this critical period for democracy,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “I admire the bravery and determination of those demonstrating their desire for an honest count of election votes and encourage Ukrainians to continue their resolve in their pursuit of democratic freedoms.  As we prepare to give thanks for our cherished freedoms this Thanksgiving Day, let us not forget those struggling peacefully for their rights and freedoms in cities throughout Ukraine.  I urge a constructive resolution of the current impasse that would fully respect the will of the Ukrainian people and the rule of law.” Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) stated: “The numerous findings of domestic and international observers, including Helsinki Commission staff, make clear that the Ukrainian authorities are determined to thwart the will of the Ukrainian people through intimidation, manipulation and outright falsification.  These elections have profound implications not only for Ukraine, but for pro-democracy forces in Russia, Belarus and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.”   “What we’ve seen in Kiev’s Independence Square over the last three days is reminiscent of Georgia’s Revolution of Roses one year ago,” said Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “The level of fraud witnessed by Ukrainian and international observers is shocking.  I share in the hope that Ukrainians will be allowed to continue their peaceful protests in their quest for honest election results.” Estimates of up to 500,000 citizens have filed into Kiev’s Independence Square since Sunday night in a growing protest of the government’s official tally of presidential election votes. Ukrainian election officials purport to show Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych ahead of democratic candidate Viktor Yushchenko by more than two percentage points – figures at odds with exit poll numbers, and further compromised by widespread election day fraud and manipulation of the vote count and tabulation.

  • Ukraine Presidential Election Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing to examine the pre-election conditions in Ukraine ahead of the country’s presidential election run-off set for November 21. Ukraine’s Presidential Election: The Turning Point? Tuesday, November 16, 2004 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon 2255 Rayburn House Office Building Former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery, member of the Association of Former Members of Congress/U.S.-Ukraine Foundation election monitoring delegation to Ukraine. Ambassador Nelson Ledsky, Senior Associate and Regional Director, Eurasia Programs, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Taras Kuzio, visiting professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University and author of numerous articles about the Ukrainian elections. Ukraine’s presidential election is the most important event in Ukraine since independence was achieved in 1991. The contest, pitting democratic opposition leader Victor Yushchenko against Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich in a November 21 run-off, represents a potential turning point for Ukraine. The OSCE Election Observation Mission, with more than 600 international observers, concluded that the October 31 first round, in which no candidate garnered the required majority, did not meet a considerable number of OSCE standards for democratic elections, representing a step backward from the 2002 elections. Both the election campaign and vote were seriously flawed. Despite the profound lack of an even playing field and numerous abuses and blatant violations which disadvantaged Mr. Yushchenko and his campaign, the Central Election Commission today announced him the winner of the first round with 39.87 percent of the vote against Mr. Yanukovich’s 39.32 percent. The November 21 runoff will determine whether Ukraine fulfills its quest for democracy and integration into the Euro-Atlantic community or maintains its corrupt status-quo drifting increasingly toward an authoritarian system along the Eurasian model.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Alarmed at French Students' Expulsion over Religious Attire

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commissioners today expressed alarm over the expulsion by French school officials of students because of their refusal to remove their religious apparel, a move which violates France’s commitment to protect freedom of religion and speech under the 1975 Helsinki Accords. Enforcing new regulations in France banning “obvious” religious apparel in public schools, officials have, so far, expelled approximately 13 students.  Reportedly, the French Ministry of Education indicates another 62 cases are pending before school disciplinary councils. “I urge French authorities to rethink their policy and make reasonable accommodations for students to wear religious dress,” said Chairman Smith. “Expelling children is not the answer.  Students attending public schools should not have to sacrifice their religious beliefs to enjoy the same educational opportunities as their fellow classmates.” To date French school officials have expelled 10 Muslim girls and three Sikh boys for refusing to remove their headscarves or turbans.  Ironically, the disciplinary council hearings concerning religious attire were delayed until after All Saints Day, a Roman Catholic holiday. “This policy to ban religious attire is counterproductive, as it could further marginalize the very people the government wishes to further integrate,” said Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “The ban on religious expression also violates France’s commitments to protect religious freedom.  As policymakers are realizing, school officials have been given the impossible task of defining religious clothing for students.” Responding to a request by President Jacques Chirac, France’s National Assembly passed the ban earlier this year to prohibit students from wearing “obvious” religious symbols in public schools.  The law was applied for the first time in September as the new academic year began.  Under the law, young Muslim women are prohibited from wearing headscarves, Sikh boys cannot wear turbans, Jewish boys are prevented from wearing yarmulkes, and Christians are prohibited to wear “large crosses.” Chairman Smith, along with Ranking Member Cardin and Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), wrote in January to Jean-Louis Debré, President of the National Assembly, asking that the law not be passed. “France is a steadfast protector of human rights, and I understand that the French perspective on church-state relations is different from our own,” added Smith.  “Yet, current efforts to protect secularism [laïcité] appear to unduly infringe on other fundamental freedoms and rights, and I fail to see how penalizing students for their religious expression upholds France's commitment to religious liberty or better integrates students.”  

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Commend Romania's Historic Holocaust Remembrence Observation

    Washington– United States Helsinki Commission leaders lauded Romania’s first Holocaust Remembrance Day on October 12, 2004.  President Ion Iliescu presided over  a  ceremony marking the event  in the Romanian Parliament.  The ceremony -- attended by national religious leaders, Holocaust survivors and Romanian schoolchildren -- attempted to bring national attention to Romania’s wartime complicity for the brutal ethnic cleansing and stressed the importance of educating Romanians about their history. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) noted, “Over the last decade, our concerns regarding anti-Semitic trends in Romania, as well as efforts by some groups in Romania to rehabilitate Marshall Antonescu and honor him as a war hero, have been raised often.” “The establishment of a National Day of Holocaust Remembrance, the work of the Wiesel Commission, and President Iliescu's direct statements about Romania's role in that tragedy are important steps in reversing those trends and in educating the people of Romania about that dark and important part of their country's history,” said Smith. “It is important that this tragic chapter in Romania’s history be publicly commemorated and the victims mourned,” said Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “Only by learning from its past can Romania look forward to a bright, democratic future.” In his address, President Iliescu stated, “Holocaust Day must represent a moment of reflection to us all, an opportunity to ponder on totalitarianism and its tragic consequences, on community relations and the values of human solidarity, the perennial democracy, legality and observance of fundamental citizen rights and freedoms.” During the communist era, Romania’s education system was silent regarding the extent of Romania’s role in the Holocaust.  This legacy has denied many Romanians a proper understanding of their history.  By directly confronting the issue of the Holocaust, President Iliescu’s speech and the events of the Holocaust Memorial Day serve to strengthen Romania against resurgent anti-Semitism and the dangers of extreme nationalism. In the past year, Romania's government has made encouraging strides toward bringing a dark period of its history into the public consciousness.  Romania has added curriculum changes and textbooks teaching the history of the Holocaust to primary school students and at the National Defense College.  President Iliescu also established an International Historic Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, a panel of experts and historians led by Dr. Elie Wiesel, to make recommendations on how Romania can address its role in the Holocaust.  Dr. Wiesel is a Romanian-born Jew, Holocaust survivor and the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Under the Fascist government of Marshall Ion Antonescu, Romanian soldiers and gendarmeries targeted Jews and Roma in pogroms, deportations, confiscation of property and genocide.  Hundreds of thousands of Romania’s 760,000 pre-war Jewish population were killed in the Holocaust.  Today an estimated 6,000 Jews live in Romania.  Approximately 25,000 Roma were deported from Romania en masse to Transnistria in 1942 where half of them perished.

  • President Bush Signs Belarus Democracy Act on Heels of Rigged Elections and Referendum

    Washington - President George W. Bush signed the Belarus Democracy Act into law Wednesday, stating, “At a time when freedom is advancing around the world, Aleksandr Lukashenka and his government are turning Belarus into a regime of repression in the heart of Europe, its government isolated from its neighbors and its people isolated from each other.” The Belarus Democracy Act (H.R. 854), sponsored by United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), unanimously passed the House of Representatives on October 4 and the United States Senate on October 6.  The original measure had been introduced in the Senate by Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO).  President Bush’s signature comes three days after Belarus held fundamentally flawed parliamentary elections and a referendum allowing Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenka unlimited terms as president.  Lukashenka’s current “term” expires in 2006.  “The Belarus Democracy Act will help us support those within Belarus who are working toward democracy,” Bush added. “We welcome this legislation as a means to bolster friends of freedom and to nurture the growth of democratic values, habits, and institutions within Belarus. The fate of Belarus will rest not with a dictator, but with the students, trade unionists, civic and religious leaders, journalists, and all citizens of Belarus claiming freedom for their nation.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, with nearly 300 election observers, said Belarus’ elections fell significantly short of OSCE commitments for democratic elections. “Given the state's domination over the media and constant assault on the independent press, and given the authorities’ near total control of all facets of the electoral apparatus, the referendum and parliamentary elections in Belarus were neither free nor fair,” said Chairman Smith.  “Yet again there was no hint of a level playing field nor transparency in the electoral process.  The Government of Belarus has failed to address the four OSCE criteria for free and fair elections in Belarus which were established more than four years ago.  It was evident throughout the electoral period that a chilling climate of fear remains in Belarus.” “The rigged referendum certainly did nothing to legitimize Lukashenka's now ten-year repressive rule.  Likewise, the new National Assembly will lack legitimacy because of the fundamentally flawed nature of these elections,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Campbell.  “These farcical elections underscore the importance of the Belarus Democracy Act, with its strong commitment to democracy, human rights and rule of law in Belarus.” Chairman Smith and Co-Chairman Campbell expressed outrage at Tuesday’s vicious beating by security forces of United Civic Party leader Anatoly Lebedka, causing him to be hospitalized.  Both Smith and Campbell have met with Lebedka on several occasions in Washington and in Europe during meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Some 40 individuals were beaten, arrested and detained for peacefully protesting the “official results” of Sunday’s elections and referendum. “The violence perpetrated by the authorities only serves to further expose the nature of Lukashenka’s dictatorial regime,” said Chairman Smith. “One would think that with his referendum ‘victory,’ Lukashenka would have enough confidence to allow peaceful expression of views without resorting to brutal force,” added Co-Chairman Campbell. The Belarus Democracy Act promotes democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus, and encourages the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus’ sovereignty and independence.  The bill authorizes assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media – including radio broadcasting into Belarus – and international exchanges.  The Belarus Democracy Act also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections; supports imposition of sanctions on Lukashenka’s regime; and requires reports from the president concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states and reports on Lukashenka’s personal wealth and assets as well as those of other senior Belarusian leaders.

  • Members Urge Aggressive Investigation of Murdered Forbes’ Moscow Editor

    Washington – Eleven Members of the United States Helsinki Commission are calling on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to do everything in his power to ensure that authorities aggressively investigate the July 9 murder of Paul Khlebnikov, chief editor of the Forbes Russia magazine. An American journalist of Russian descent, Khlebnikov was shot multiple times by at least one assassin as he stepped outside Forbes’ Moscow bureau.  According to the New York City-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Khlebnikov is the 11th journalist in Russia to have been killed in a contract-style murder in the past four and a half years. “In the interest of justice and accountability, we respectfully urge you to ensure an aggressive investigation into the murder of Paul Khlebnikov and his colleagues whose killings remain unsolved,” the Commissioners wrote in their October 5 letter to Putin.  “The most plausible motive appears to be Khlebnikov's investigative journalism which focused on the nexus of business, politics and crime.” The Times of London reports that Khlebnikov had “earned a reputation for exposing the murky relationship between the Kremlin and a handful of businessmen – known as the oligarchs – who made vast fortunes buying state assets on the cheap during the privatisations of the 1990s.” “The fear and self-censorship generated by these killings benefit corrupt officials and businessmen, as well as organized crime figures who seek to avoid public scrutiny,” the Commissioners wrote.  “A press crippled by fear cannot play the vital role in rooting out corruption and informing the public.  Corruption and crime remain significant obstacles to [Putin’s] aim of raising living standards and securing a safe, free and comfortable future for the Russian people.  Accountability is essential if you are to make progress in pursuing reforms.” “Paul Khlebnikov’s love of Russia motivated him to confront corruption in hopes of contributing to a brighter future for the people of Russia,” concluded the Commissioners.  “Ultimately, he paid the highest price for his commitment and dedication.” Forbes published its first Russian edition in April.  In May, two months before Khlebnikov’s murder, the magazine published a list of Russia’s 100 richest entrepreneurs, including 36 billionaires. Khlebnikov was born in New York to a family of Russian immigrants.   He began working for Forbes magazine at age 15.   Khlebnikov was 41 at the time of his assassination. Signing the letter to President Putin were Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Ranking Commissioners Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Commissioners Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL). 

  • Europe's Largest Human Rights Meeting Concludes

    Washington – At the conclusion today of Europe’s largest annual human rights meeting,  United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) welcomed the declaration of human rights advocates from 16 countries countering criticism by several former Soviet states of the OSCE’s human rights work. On July 3, 2004, nine OSCE countries – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan– issued a statement criticizing the human dimension activities of the OSCE.  A subsequent document signed in Astana, Kazakhstan by eight of the above signatories claimed that there are double standards in fulfillment of commitments concerning democracy and human rights.  "I welcome the declaration issued today in Warsaw.  While many of the men and women who signed this document engage in human rights advocacy at considerable personal sacrifice and risk, they have clearly stated – in their words – their ‘categorical disagreement with the negative evaluation of OSCE activity,’" said Smith. "I joined the leadership of the Helsinki Commission in writing to the governments of those countries to challenge those views," said Smith.  "In fact, the review of human rights issues just concluded in Warsaw is a strong reminder of exactly why the human rights work of the Helsinki process must continue with unabated vigor.  The OSCE’s implementation meetings remain a critical forum for NGOs to have their views heard." This year’s OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting drew record attendance by 220 non-governmental organizations from across the region.  Many took advantage of the opportunity to present focused presentations at side events on a broad range of subjects. During the meeting, the United States drew particular attention to the situation in Turkmenistan, where conditions have regressed to those of the Stalinist era. Azerbaijani officials had prevented one human rights defender and religious freedom activist from attending the Warsaw meeting.  On October 6, authorities at the Baku airport blocked Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu from boarding his Warsaw-bound flight.   Ibrahimoglu was set to attend the HDIM session on religious freedom and speak out against the forcible seizure of his congregation’s mosque earlier this year.

  • Belarus Democracy Act Unanimously Passes U.S. House

    Washington - The Belarus Democracy Act (H.R. 854), sponsored by United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), unanimously passed the House of Representatives late Monday. Among bipartisan supporters of the measure were Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). The move comes less than two weeks before voters in the former Soviet republic elect a new parliament and decide whether to extend the rule of President-turned-dictator Alexander Lukashenka. Consideration of the Belarus Democracy Act by the United States Senate is expected prior to adjournment. Chairman Smith hailed passage of the bill as an opportunity to promote democratic development in a country held hostage by Lukashenka’s dictatorial regime. “With important parliamentary elections and a questionable referendum to extend Lukashenka’s rule beyond his two-term tenure set to expire in 2006, the United States has demonstrated our unwavering support for pro-democracy forces in Belarus,” said Chairman Smith. “With passage of the Belarus Democracy Act, we send a strong signal that we stand firmly on the side of those who long for freedom.” “Lukashenka’s regime continues to trample upon basic rights and freedoms with impunity, giving Belarus the worst human rights record in Europe today,” Chairman Smith added. High- ranking Belarusian officials have been implicated in the disappearances and presumed murders in 1999 and 2000 of political opposition leaders Yuri Zakharenka, Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky and journalist Dmitri Zavadsky. Not surprisingly, these cases remain unresolved. Furthermore, over the last year, Lukashenka has increased harassment, arrests, detentions and violence against independent media, non-governmental organizations, independent trade unions, religious groups and political opposition leaders. “The Belarusian people – who have suffered so much under the current and previous dictators – deserve to live in a society where democratic principles and human rights are respected,” Smith said. “As matters stand now, the cards appear to be stacked in Lukashenka’s favor in the upcoming October 17 elections, since the regime has almost total control over the electoral process.” The Belarus Democracy Act is designed to promote democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus’ sovereignty and independence. The bill authorizes necessary assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media – including radio and television broadcasting into Belarus – and international exchanges. The Belarus Democracy Act also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections; supports imposition of sanctions on the Lukashenka regime; and requires reports from the president concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states and reports on Lukashenka’s personal wealth and assets as well as those of other senior Belarusian leaders.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Delivers Remarks on Belarus, Ukraine Elections

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission released the keynote address by Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) before The Heritage Foundation’s  Conference on the Implications of the East European Elections: Ukraine and Belarus.   Keynote Remarks by Hon. Christopher H. Smith Conference on the Implications of the East European Elections: Ukraine and Belarus The Heritage Foundation September 28, 2004 Thank you for inviting me to participate in your important and timely session. Both Ukraine and Belarus face important elections in the coming month.  Both are societies burdened by the Soviet communist legacy of the past.  Both were “Captive Nations” and both, albeit to varying degrees,  are vulnerable to Russia’s political and economic influence, especially  as all too many among the Russian political elite have not yet reconciled themselves to the loss of empire.  Both now border on NATO and the EU.   Both face serious challenges to democracy and Euro-Atlantic integration.  There are many other similarities.  There are also important distinctions. Belarus is ruled by a dictator who controls the levers of power and increasingly all facets of Belarusian society.  Given the level of control and repression, there are few counterweights to Lukashenka’s rule.  The parliament, the National Assembly lacks real powers and Members have little power to be independent of Lukashenka’s strong-arm tactics.  Civil society, including NGOs and independent media, is under a tight lid.  Fundamentally flawed elections have left that country lacking a legitimate president and legislature. Ukraine, for all of the backsliding, scandals, and problems with respect to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, has institutions that act at least somewhat as a check on the powers-that-be, despite the ruling regime’s attempts to control and, in some instances, stifle genuine democratic development and civil society.  Civil society is tolerated to a greater extent than in Belarus, and independent media, while under severe pressure, is more widespread.  There are competing centers of power and many diverse economic, political and social interests in Ukraine.  In the case of Ukraine, despite the progress in many areas since independence, there have been significant problems with respect to implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, including in the areas of media freedoms, freedom of association and assembly, corruption, the rule of law and elections.  The largest faction in the Rada is that of democratic opposition and presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine.  The pro-presidential parliamentary majority has disintegrated, with the defection earlier this month of the party led by Rada Speaker Lytvyn.  Genuine political competition exists, and, of course, there is competition among the oligarchs.  In Belarus, there is only one oligarch.  Although the Kuchma regime might be tempted, thus far, they have not been able to act with the same degree of impunity that Lukashenka exhibits. International attention is rightly now focused on ensuring free, fair, open and transparent presidential elections on October 31 with a second round likely in late November.  These elections are critically important to the future of Ukraine, yet we see on a daily basis an election campaign that calls into question Ukraine’s commitment to OSCE principles.  Without exaggeration, Ukraine is facing a critical presidential election – a choice not only between Euro-Atlantic integration versus reintegration into the former Soviet Eurasian space, but a choice between further development toward a European-style democracy, such as in Poland or Hungary,  versus the increasingly authoritarian system that prevails in Russia today. Many analysts and organizations, including the Helsinki Commission, have chronicled the numerous election campaign violations taking place in Ukraine.  We continue to maintain our strong interest and concern.  Along with Chairman Henry Hyde, I joined him in introducing H.Con.Res. 415, calling on the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for the presidential campaign.  We make clear the expectation that Ukrainian authorities should – consistent with their own laws and international agreements – ensure an election process that enables all of the candidates to compete on a level playing field.   We urge the Ukrainian Government to guarantee freedom of association and assembly, ensure full transparency of the election process, free access for Ukrainian and international election observers, and unimpeded access by all candidates to the media on a non-discriminatory basis. Unfortunately, the pre-election environment in Ukraine gives great cause for concern.  Ukrainian voters clearly are not receiving balanced and objective information about all the candidates in the race, independent media providing Ukrainians with objective information about the campaign – including channel 5 – is being shut down in the regions, and journalists who don’t follow the infamous secret instructions from the presidential administration, or temnyky, are harassed and even fired.  Ukraine’s state-owned television channels are blatantly anti-Yushchenko.  Given the stakes in these elections, we should not be surprised that the ruling regime has launched an all-out campaign against the free media and against the opposition, the most recent of numerous examples being the highly suspicious poisoning of Victor Yushchenko.  To its credit, the Rada last week overwhelmingly approved a resolution creating a special commission to investigate this alleged assassination attempt.  We will be eager to see if the investigation will get underway.  Four years have passed since the killing of independent journalist Georgi Gongadze, and the case remains unresolved.  As you know, Gongadze was bravely exposing high-level corruption in Ukraine. The Rada has also created an ad-hoc committee to monitor the upcoming election.  Prime Minister Yanukovych, the presidential candidate of the ruling regime, instead of welcoming this move, called the Rada move “disloyal”.  This speaks volumes.   The independence exhibited by the Rada in Ukraine would be unthinkable in Belarus.  There, serious and persistent violations have been committed in most human dimension areas, including freedom of speech, association and assembly, media freedoms, religious liberties, elections and the rule of law.  Thanks to Lukashenka’s iron rule, Belarus has the worst human rights record in Europe today, although Russia under the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Putin appears to be catching up, and, perhaps, even emulating Mr. Lukashenka.  Regrettably, the Belarusian authorities have disregarded the four democratic benchmarks established by the OSCE in 2000 – ending repressions and the climate of fear, permitting a functioning independent media, ensuring transparency of the elections process, and strengthening the functions of parliament. Lukashenka has flaunted shamelessly his 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit declaration commitments for a political dialogue, with OSCE participation which stressed the necessity of removing "all remaining obstacles in Belarus to this dialogue by respecting the principles of the rule of law and the freedom of the media.” Lukashenka has pointedly ignored this commitment and the situation with respect to the rule of law and media freedoms has only continued its steady deterioration. At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Bucharest in 2000, I offered language to continue to deny the seating of the illegitimate Lukashenka parliament.  We won.  I continued to fight this battle until 2003, when the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly abandoned this position and seated the Members of the National Assembly.  Since that time, I’ve continued to be an outspoken critic of the dismal human rights record of the Lukashenka regime. Parliamentary elections are scheduled in Belarus for October 17, and they now have an added dimension, with Lukashenka’s September 7 announcement of a referendum that would pave the way to extend his rule beyond 2006, when his ten-year tenure is due to expire, to potentially join the ranks of “presidents for life,” like President Niyazov in Turkmenistan and others in Central Asia.   The fact that, according to the Belarusian electoral code, a referendum cannot contain any questions related to presidential elections will certainly not deter him.  Interestingly, opinion polls suggest that most Belarusians are against extending Lukashenka’s rule, and the threshold for passage of the referendum is high, as at least 50 percent of all eligible voters – and not merely those casting ballots – have to vote “yes” for the referendum to pass.  We will see how they manipulate that one. Nevertheless, to say that the deck is stacked in favor of Lukashenka is an understatement.   The Belarusian Government has almost total control over the electoral process and considerable experience in conducting elections that, to put it mildly, do not meet international democratic standards.  For example, opposition parties have been allocated a mere two percent of seats on the district election commissions, and an appalling 0.2 percent of the 7,000 precinct commissions.  One-third of the candidates proposed by Belarusian opposition parties were reportedly denied registration. Ladies and gentlemen, to their credit, Belarus’ repressed and embattled opposition and NGOs have not yet given up.  We need to continue to support these brave men and women and all those struggling for democracy and human rights in Belarus.  I am the sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act, which is waiting for consideration by the full House.  The BDA is intended to promote democracy, human rights and rule of law in Belarus, including assistance for democracy building activities such as support for NGOs, independent media, international exchanges and international broadcasting.  We want to stand firmly on the side of those who long for freedom.   As President Bush noted at Madison Square Garden earlier this month [on September 2], “The story of America is the story of expanding liberty:  an ever-widening circle, constantly growing to reach further and include more.  Our nation’s founding commitment is still our deepest commitment:  In our world, and here at home, we will extend the frontiers of freedom.” We are eager to have governments and parliaments in both countries with whom we can join forces to combat the scourges of our day, such as human trafficking, HIV/AIDS which has reportedly infected one percent of Ukraine’s population, or corruption and cooperation on movement towards common security and Euro-Atlantic integration.  We know that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian and Belarusian women and children have been trafficked mostly to Europe and the Middle East over the course of the last decade.  The problem is especially acute in Ukraine – one of the largest source countries in Europe.  Ukraine is also a major transit country.  Both Ukraine and Belarus have been designated in the most recent State Department report as Tier II countries (there are three tiers), meaning that these governments do not yet fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so.  As the lead author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and its reauthorization which became law in 2003, I am pleased that our government, the OSCE and other international organizations and NGOs are devoting resources to combat this modern day slavery, but much more remains to be done.             For both Ukraine and Belarus, the best guarantee for their survival as independent countries is the full establishment of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, including, very importantly, democratic elections.  In short, the best guarantee is their implementation of commitments both nations freely undertook when they joined the OSCE.  Standing in solidarity with the courageous pro-democracy in both countries and with the people of Belarus and Ukraine, we must continue to encourage compliance with these commitments. END REMARKS The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Welcomes Senate Passage of Resolution on Anti-Semitism, Intolerance

    Washington – The United States Senate approved legislation Thursday expressing support for the ongoing work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to combat anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and intolerance.  United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) sponsored the legislation, S.Con.Res. 110. The bipartisan measure was cosponsored by Ranking Helsinki Commission Member Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), and Commissioners Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), and Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR). “I applaud the leadership for taking up S.Con.Res. 110 and I am pleased the United States Senate will be on record in our fight against anti-Semitism and intolerance,” said Co-Chairman Campbell.  “The Senate’s timely approval will bolster the ongoing work of the OSCE in confronting and combating these evils.” Two years ago, Europe and North America experienced a profound increase in anti-Semitic attacks.  Members of the Helsinki Commission and other Members of Congress worked diligently to move the OSCE and its participating States to take action against anti-Semitism. A Helsinki Commission hearing in June examined how governments have responded to anti-Semitism in the OSCE region.  The OSCE has also acted by convening two high-level conferences specifically on anti-Semitism, the most recent held in Berlin in April.  Recognizing the ongoing problem of racism, xenophobia and discrimination throughout the OSCE region, the organization held two conferences to examine these issues, with a conference in Brussels concluding just last week. “The latent, yet persistent, problem of anti-Semitism is one that cannot be ignored, but rather must be met head-on, with the full force and weight of elected leaders and government officials publicly denouncing acts of anti-Semitism and related violence,” added Campbell.  “I hope the House of Representatives will take up its version before adjournment.” U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) introduced companion legislation, H.Con.Res. 425, in May.  The House and Senate resolutions were introduced after the Berlin OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism, to ensure an active response by the U.S. Congress against incidents of anti-Semitism. The resolutions urge “officials and elected leaders of all Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe participating states, including all OSCE Mediterranean Partner for Cooperation countries” to “unequivocally” condemn acts of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and discrimination “whenever and wherever they occur.” The resolutions also call on the Bulgarian Chairman-in-Office and the incoming Slovenian CiO to “consider appointing” an individual to the post of “personal envoy.”  Such a high profile position would help ensure “sustained attention with respect to fulfilling OSCE commitments on the reporting of anti-Semitic crimes.”  The measures urge all participating States to “forward their respective laws and data on incidents of anti-Semitism and other hate crimes to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) for compilation and provide adequate resources for the completion of its duties.”  To date, approximately 20 of the 55 participating States have yet to make submissions to ODIHR. The resolutions also urge OSCE participating States to support the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust of January 2000, and the work of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research, in developing effective methodologies to teach the lessons of the Holocaust.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing Surveys Plight of Russia’s Roma Minority

    Washington – The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing to examine the plight of Roma in the Russian Federation.   Roma in Russia Thursday, September 23, 2004 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM 2325 Rayburn House Office Building   Panelists: Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center  Leonid Raihman, Consultant, Open Society Institute Alexander Torokhov, Director, Roma Ural In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Beslan, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the potential for many ethnic-confessional conflicts in the Federation. Separately, he also remarked that "one of the tasks pursued by the terrorists was to stoke ethnic hatred, to blow up the whole of our North Caucasus. . . . Anyone who feels sympathetic toward such provocations will be viewed as accomplices of terrorists and terrorism,” Putin warned. In this context, Roma, like other minorities in Russia, report that they are frequently the victims of racially motivated attacks and have been targeted by law enforcement agents on the basis of their ethnic identity. This briefing will examine the situation of the Romani minority in Russia, with a focus on hate crimes, police abuse, and discrimination. Panelists will provide background information on Russia’s Romani minority, setting their discussion in the current context of the current political, economic and security climate in Russia.

  • Helsinki Commission, House Armed Services Committee Review Defense Department Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking

    Washington – The United States Helsinki Commission and the House Committee on Armed Services will jointly convene an Issue Forum on Trafficking in Persons and the U.S. Military.   Enforcing U.S. Policies against Trafficking in Persons: How is the U.S. Military Doing? 3:00 PM Tuesday, September 21, 2004 2118 Rayburn House Office Building   The Issue Forum will examine Department of Defense efforts to implement the zero-tolerance policy on trafficking in persons issued by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in January 2004, in accordance with a National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD-22) on Trafficking in Persons issued by President Bush in December 2002.   Testifying: Charles S. Abell, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness General Leon J. LaPorte, Commander, United States Forces Korea Joseph E. Schmitz, Inspector General, Department of Defense Ambassador John R. Miller, Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Department of State Dr. Sarah Mendelson, Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and International Studies Martina E. Vandenberg, Attorney, Jenner and Block In March 2002, Cleveland, Ohio’s Fox Affiliate WJW-TV aired an investigative report indicating that U.S. troops in South Korea were patronizing bars and other establishments where women from the Philippines and former Soviet states were trafficked and forced to prostitute themselves.  In response to the report, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and a dozen other Members of Congress wrote to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld requesting an immediate investigation into the veracity of the allegations as well as the appropriateness of the U.S. military's policies and response to prostitution and human trafficking worldwide. Department of Defense Inspector General Joseph Schmitz subsequently conducted investigations in South Korea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo and issued two reports assessing the U.S. military's policies and practices with respect to activity that might fuel sex trafficking and prostitution.  The reports contain numerous recommendations for action by DoD, including recommending a new department policy on trafficking. In January 2004, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz issued a policy directive on human trafficking stating, in pertinent part: “[I]t is the policy of the Department of Defense that trafficking in persons will not be facilitated in any way by the activities of our Service members, civilian employees, indirect hires, or DoD contract personnel.  Following the policy set by the Commander-in-Chief, DoD opposes prostitution and any related activities that may contribute to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons as inherently harmful and dehumanizing.” Wolfowitz’s policy directive outlined four specific objectives, including anti-trafficking education requirements for all service members and DoD civilians serving overseas and the incorporation of language into DoD contracts for services overseas reflecting such trafficking-related prohibitions. The Issue Forum will assess the Department of Defense anti-trafficking policy in the context of findings and recommendations in the Inspector General's reports and examine the implementation of the January 2004 directive.  The Defense Department's implementation efforts will also be examined within the context of overall U.S. Government policy and efforts on combating trafficking in persons.  Particular attention will be given to current efforts by United States Forces Korea and the State Department to address trafficking of persons. This event is part of the House Armed Services Committee’s Issue Forum series.  Issue Forums are designed to provide members of the committee with the opportunity to discuss current matters of relevance with government officials, selected experts, scholars and opinion makers in an informal setting.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Delivers Remarks on Ukraine

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) released the following statement on freedom of the media, free and fair elections and human trafficking presented today before the Ukraine's Quest for Mature Statehood conference. Held in Washington on September 13 and 14, 2004, the conference was devoted to assessing Ukraine ’s progress in developing the rule of law, civil society and the protection of human rights in advance of Ukraine ’s October 31 presidential elections. Ukraine 's Quest for Mature Statehood: Ukraine 's Transition to a Stable Democracy Panel on Freedom of Speech and Press Library of Congress, Madison Building, Montpelier Room September 14, 2004 Statement of Rep. Christopher H. Smith Chairman, U.S. Helsinki Commission Thank you for inviting me to participate in this conference on Ukraine 's Transition to a Stable Democracy. Media freedom is an especially important topic with the upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine , in what will be a defining year with respect to Ukraine 's democratic transition. Given the stakes, we should not be surprised by the fact that the powers-that-be have launched an all-out campaign to pressure the media. Freedom of expression - and its corollary, freedom of the media - is one of the most basic human rights. It is vital to the development of civil society. Numerous OSCE agreements include various commitments on freedom of the media. These are agreements that Ukraine has voluntarily and freely committed to abide by as one of the 55 participating States of the OSCE. The Helsinki Commission, whose mandate is to monitor and encourage compliance by the OSCE States with their OSCE agreements, has also maintained a strong interest in freedom of media in general and recognizes its importance in democratic development. As many of you know, the Commission has also maintained a strong interest in Ukraine and has, over the last several decades, been steadfast in encouraging Ukraine's independence. We are eager to have as an ally a democratic country where human rights are respected and the rule of law prevails. We continue to maintain our strong interest and concern, especially with the critically important October 31 presidential elections. I am the original cosponsor of a House resolution, H.Con.Res. 415, introduced by Rep. Henry Hyde, the Chairman of the House International Relations Committee, calling on the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for the presidential election. (This resolution, which was introduced by Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Campbell, has recently passed the Senate and will soon be taken up by the House.) The resolution outlines measures Ukrainian authorities need to take - consistent with their own laws and international agreements - to ensure an election process that enables all of the candidates to compete on a level playing field. The resolution specifically identifies violations to free media and urges unimpeded access by all parties and candidates to print, radio, television, and Internet media on a non-discriminatory basis. Unfortunately, the situation with respect to the media in Ukraine in the run-up to the elections is discouraging. The election - apparently because of the clear-cut choice between current Prime Minister Yanukovich, and leader of the Our Ukraine democratic bloc Victor Yuschenko - seems to have frightened those who are now in power. It seems the ruling regime has decided to interfere in media election coverage at an unprecedented scale, presumably with the expectation that the interference will ensure their victory at the polls. The OSCE recently assessed the media situation in the election campaign. They noted that overall, media pluralism is present in Ukraine - different views are represented and politicians of all ranks are regularly criticized - and in general the legal framework is satisfactory. On the other hand, according to OSCE and many other observers, "the one view dominating the airwaves is that of the government", due to an ownership structure closely connected to, or influenced by the current government. It is also due to the infamous so-called "temniki" or "secret instructions" to media from the presidential administration about what or what not to cover and how to cover it. The institutional framework of frequency allocation and licensing also allows for favoritism in the electronic media. In short, the electronic media is heavily dominated by government and oligarchs, and the media tilts heavily towards Yanukovich, while casting Yuschenko in a negative light. The media is under attack: * Since the beginning of this year, Ukrainian authorities have harassed, closed and filed lawsuits against numerous electronic and print media. * Radio Liberty , an important source of objective information, and other radio stations such as Radio Kontynent have been either partially or totally taken off the air. Months of promises to various U.S. officials that Radio Liberty would be put back on the air have come to naught. * Print runs have been permanently or temporarily stopped for several newspapers. Just a few days ago, authorities in the Kharkiv region temporarily confiscated 42,000 copies of the newspaper Without Censorship. Other media face politically motivated law suits. * Volia cable, the leading cable television operator in Ukraine , (which carries the only channel which reports objectively on the democratic opposition - Channel 5) is experiencing severe pressure from the Prosecutor-General's office. Almost all cable companies that carry Channel 5 received a variety of threats and tax inspections, and some reportedly had cables "accidentally" cut. * Reporters face harassment and censorship daily for their objective reporting. Ladies and Gentlemen, equal access to media must be provided during the remainder of the presidential campaign and will be key in determining whether or not the presidential elections will be judged as free and fair by the OSCE and the international community. The elections will be a watershed for the future direction of that country. Ukraine has tremendous potential. Ukrainian authorities need to radically improve the election environment, including the media environment, if there is to be hope for these elections to meet OSCE standards. In just two days, on September 16, we will mark the fourth anniversary of the killing of independent journalist Georgi Gongadze, who was exposing high-level corruption in Ukraine. His murder has been subject to numerous international protests, including statements, intercessions, and queries, by me and other Helsinki Commission members. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a case of a massive cover-up by high-level officials. This is the fifth time that your conference is being held. The first took place four years ago just two days after Gongadze's disappearance. It was at that first conference that representatives of the Helsinki Commission and State Department first called for the Ukrainian government to investigate his disappearance. Four years later, the case remains unresolved. Ukrainian President Kuchma and a number of high-ranking officials have been implicated in his disappearance and the circumstances leading to his murder. The Ukrainian authorities' handling, or more accurately mishandling of this case, has been characterized by obfuscation and stonewalling, destruction of evidence, and the persecution and even death, in one instance, of those who tried to tell the truth about the case. Tragically for Ukraine, the handling of this case has made a mockery of the rule of law. Not surprisingly, lack of transparency illustrated by the Gongadze case has fueled the debilitating problem of widespread corruption reaching the highest levels in Ukraine. A credible and transparent investigation of this case by Ukrainian authorities is long overdue and the perpetrators - no matter who they may be - need to be brought to justice. I hope that well before the sixth of your conferences, this case is resolved, as well as the cases of at least 18 other journalists in Ukraine who, according to Western media watchdog organizations, have died because of their work. These journalists, including Mr. Gongadze, were exposing the massive problem of corruption and crime in Ukraine. One important issue intimately linked with corruption and crime worldwide - a global scourge to which Ukraine is by no means immune - is the trafficking of women and children. Each year, an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 girls, boys, women and men, including tens of thousands of Ukrainians, are bought and sold like chattel across international borders, many of them for brutal exploitation in the commercial sex industry. The plight of these individuals has touched many hearts and has led to a global movement to eradicate this form of modern-day slavery known as trafficking in human beings. In November 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which I authored, was enacted with broad, bi-partisan support. The Act provides a framework for combating trafficking through law enforcement, prevention programs, and assistance to those victimized. The Act mandated major changes in U.S. law, including severe penalties of up to life in prison for those who traffic in humans and treatment of the victims - mostly women and children - as victims of crime rather than criminals themselves. This past December, President Bush signed a reauthorization of the Act, which I also wrote, to expand and strengthen the U.S. response to this scourge. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian women and children have been trafficked mostly to Europe and the Middle East over the course of the last decade, making it one of the largest source countries in Europe . It is also a major transit country. Ukraine has been designated in the most recent State Department report as a Tier II country (there are three tiers), meaning that the Ukrainian Government does not yet fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. I am pleased that our government, the OSCE and other international organizations and NGOs are devoting resources to combat this modern day slavery, but much more remains to be done. I encourage the Ukrainian Government to make further progress, and implement its Comprehensive Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons, better coordinate with law enforcement officials of destination countries, and fight government corruption. By conducting free and fair elections, respecting media freedoms, including resolving the Gongadze case, and effectively tackling the scourge of trafficking, the Ukrainian authorities will go a long way in restoring the trust of the citizens of Ukraine and strengthening Ukraine's independence, democracy, sending a powerful signal of its readiness to join the Euro-Atlantic community of nations. I stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian people as they strive to achieve these important goals. END REMARKS The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing: Advancing U.S. Interests through the OSCE

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to examine how the U.S. can best utilize the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to advance its political, security and humanitarian interests. Advancing U.S. Interests through the OSCE Wednesday, September 15, 2004 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon 334 Cannon House Office Building   Witnesses: The Honorable A. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs The Honorable Stephen G. Rademaker, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control The Honorable Michael G. Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor The OSCE has been a pioneer in defining an integrated approach to security, one in which human rights and economic well-being are as key to a nation’s stability as are traditional military forces.  It remains not only the largest trans-Atlantic organization, but the one with the broadest definition of security.  The OSCE has also created the most innovative habits of dialogue and collective action of any multilateral organization in the world.  The focus of the hearing will be how the OSCE can be used most effectively to highlight and advance the interests of the United States.  Among the subjects to be covered will be objectives for the December meeting of Foreign Ministers in Sofia; recent high-impact security initiatives; expectations for the upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw; and refining and strengthening the OSCE.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders React to Terrorist Massacre in Russia

    Washington – United States Helsinki Commission leaders today expressed their sympathy to the relatives of the victims of the terrorist massacre in Beslan, North Ossetia, Russian Federation. “Words cannot adequately express the shock and sorrow we feel at the events in Beslan,” stated Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “We offer our deepest sympathy to the relatives and loved ones of the victims of the Beslan massacre.” “The perpetrators and planners of this terrorist act have committed a heinous crime against the most innocent of victims,” said Ranking Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “The civilized world grieves with the people of Russia as they bury their children.” “We stand united with the people of Russia in denouncing the forces of international terrorism,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO).  “If requested, our government should render all appropriate assistance to the Russian Government in tracking down those responsible for the atrocity in Beslan, including any terrorists who may have escaped.  Russia and the U.S. should work together, within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to further strengthen cooperation in combating the common threat of terrorism.” “This horrific act carried out by fanatical terrorists allegedly on behalf of the Chechen people will only exacerbate the suffering and violence throughout the North Caucasus,” concluded Ranking Senate Commissioner Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT).  “They have killed hundreds and condemned thousands more to lives of fear and desperation.” On September 1, 2004, terrorists seized School No. 1 in the North Ossetian city of Beslan, Russia and held over 1,000 children, teachers, school employees and parents hostage under inhuman conditions for more than two days.  In the ensuing armed confrontation with authorities, terrorists opened fire on their hostages, resulting in the loss of more than 330 lives. According to the Russian Federation Ministry of Emergency Situations, as of September 6, 156 of the deceased were children.  The Russian Security Service claimed that 10 of the approximately 30 terrorists involved in the hostage-taking were foreigners.  The terrorists were reportedly seeking release of combatants fighting for the independence of Chechnya.  Conflicting details on the tragedy continue to emerge.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Frustrated with Azeri Supreme Court’s Ruling on Juma Mosque Eviction

    Washington – United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed frustration with today’s ruling by the Azerbaijan Supreme Court to uphold the eviction of the Juma Mosque community and the continuing harassment of community members. “The actions of the Azerbaijani Government are shameful and demonstrate real contempt for international human rights norms and OSCE commitments,” said Chairman Smith. “I again call for the government to end this embarrassment, return full control of the mosque to the community and allow them to operate freely.  These Soviet-like actions by authorities – harassing and detaining community members and imposing a state-appointed imam at the mosque – must end.” In March, the Sabial District Court ruled in favor of Baku city authorities’ petition to oust the Juma Mosque community, reportedly citing the community’s lack of any rental agreement or government registration, and arguing that the 1,000-year-old mosque was a historical site.  Government authorities in 1992 returned the Juma Mosque which during the Soviet period had been converted into a carpet museum and that community was twice registered in the early 1990s.  But, the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations, a frequent and vocal critic of the independent mosque, refused to re-register the mosque.  A Baku appeals court upheld the eviction on April 22. When the community gathered on July 30 at a private home to hold prayer services, the police raided the home and arrested all 26 members present, detaining them for two hours.  The police colonel overseeing the raid reportedly suggested that if the Juma community meets again, authorities would take stronger actions.  In addition, Forum 18 reported that a member of the community was fired from his government job at a hospital for refusing to accept the new leadership of the mosque.  The Juma Mosque, through the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights concerning the April eviction.  The U.S. Helsinki Commission recently convened a congressional briefing on religious freedom in the Caucasus and the Beckett Fund’s counsel, Eric Rassbach, was among the presenters.

  • Bulgarian Police Seizures of Church Properties in Conflict with Religious Freedom Commitments

    Washington – United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed alarm today over the widespread seizure of church properties in Bulgaria, which currently serves as Chair-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  Bulgarian authorities raided more than 200 properties used by the alternative Bulgarian Orthodox synod for more than 10 years. “I’m deeply distressed that Bulgarian police, with the apparent approval of the state prosecutor’s office, would forcibly seize some 200 churches and church-owned properties,” declared Chairman Smith.  “While there may be disputes within the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, it is certainly not the proper role of government to interfere with internal church affairs.  Unfortunately, Bulgarian authorities have abandoned neutrality and chosen sides, potentially endangering religious freedom.” News reports indicate that throughout the day on July 21 Bulgarian police across the country expelled members of the alternative Orthodox synod of Bishop Inokentii, taking control of properties used by the synod. A longstanding church dispute between the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the alternative synod has existed since they split in 1992. The raids were discussed with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, visiting Washington last week in his capacity as Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, in a meeting with Chairman Smith. “Property issues should be decided by a court, not through legislative fiat or the unilateral actions of a state prosecutor and police,” said Chairman Smith.  “Considering that Bulgaria is the current OSCE Chair-in-Office, I urge the Bulgarian Government to end this embarrassment, lead by example, and honor its OSCE human rights commitment toward religious freedom.”  “Bulgarian authorities should stop interfering and reinstate to the alternative synod full control of the properties,” Smith added.  “The state should play no role in forcibly reconciling the two Orthodox communities.” These raids are not the first time that the Bulgarian Government has favored one synod over the other.  The December 2002 religion law enumerated detailed characteristics of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, thereby establishing the synod of Patriarch Maxim above the alternative synod and all other religious communities.  The law also laid the groundwork for the seizures by vesting government recognition and property rights with only the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.  This provision works to the detriment of the alternative synod, placing it in a precarious and vulnerable position. The United States Helsinki Commission issued a report on the religion law, highlighting this problematic provision and other shortcomings.

  • United States Senate Passes Ukraine Elections Resolution

    Washington – The United States Senate unanimously passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 106 late Thursday night prior to adjournment.  The bipartisan resolution urges the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for the presidential election set for October 31, 2004.  The resolution also outlines measures Ukrainian authorities need to take – consistent with their own laws and international agreements – to ensure an election process that enables all of the candidates to compete on a level playing field. The measure was sponsored by United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO).  Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Senator Joseph R. Biden (D-DE) were original cosponsors of the resolution.   Other Commission cosponsors were Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), and Gordon Smith (R-OR). “The October elections will be vital in determining Ukraine’s course for years to come.  This resolution is a concrete expression of the commitment of the U.S. Senate to the Ukrainian people,” said Co-Chairman Campbell.  “Ukraine’s elections should be a watershed for the future direction of that country of great potential.  Ukrainian authorities need to radically improve the election environment if there is to be hope for these elections to meet OSCE standards.  By doing so, they will go a long way in restoring the trust of the citizens of Ukraine and strengthening Ukraine’s independence and democracy.” An identical resolution, H.Con.Res. 415, introduced by House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL), together with Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), was reported out of the International Relations Committee and awaits passage by the full House of Representatives. “The resolution underscores that an election process and the establishment of a genuinely democratic political system consistent with Ukraine’s freely-undertaken OSCE commitments is a prerequisite for Ukraine’s full integration into the Western community of nations as an equal member, including into NATO,” Campbell added.  “Yesterday I raised our concerns about the Ukrainian election with OSCE Chairman-in-Office Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy, who assured me of the OSCE’s commitment to encouraging democratic elections in Ukraine.” Ukraine’s pre-election environment has already proven problematic in such key areas as control and manipulation of the media; attempts by national authorities to limit access to international broadcasting, including Radio Liberty; obstacles to free assembly and a free and fair political campaign. Substantial violations in several recent elections, notably, the Mukacheve mayoral election give rise to deep concern over the conduct of the pre-election environment.  The Committee of Voters of Ukraine, a non-governmental organization, in its most recent report, noted an increase in the number of cases of government pressure against political opposition figures designed to impede their activities.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing Reviews Religious Freedom in the Caucasus

    Washington – The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on the current state of religious freedom in the Caucasus due to recent events in Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.   Religious Freedom in the Caucasus 11:00 AM – 1:30 PM Wednesday, July 21, 2004 340 Cannon House Office Building   Panelists: Eric Rassbach, Counsel, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, represents Azerbaijani Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu and the Juma Mosque Community before the European Court of Human Rights Andre Carbonneau, Attorney, Jehovah’s Witnesses, represents Armenian and Georgian Jehovah’s Witnesses before the European Court of Human Rights Dr. Paul Crego, Senior Cataloging Specialist, Library of Congress, is responsible for materials in Georgian and Armenian and recently traveled to Georgia On June 30, Azerbaijani authorities forcibly seized the independent Juma Mosque, with police reportedly expelling worshipers before taking control of the place of worship.  The authorities imposed a new imam appointed by the Muslim Board of the Caucasus, a Soviet-era Muftiate backed by the government, to replace the community’s leader, Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu.  Other unregistered religious communities, such as Adventists and Baptists, have also experienced repeated harassment from authorities. Armenian policy toward religious freedom also conflicts with the government’s commitments to respect human rights.  Government registration restrictions make it more difficult for religious groups to rent property, publish newspapers or magazines, or officially sponsor visas of visitors.  The approval system has proven extremely problematic, as on June 17 when the government again refused to recognize the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion because of their proselytizing activities.  Other small religious groups, including Hare Krishnas and many Baptist communities, are frequently unable to attain the minimum number of members required by the government and are barred from applying for registration.  Armenia has currently imprisoned 20 Jehovah’s Witnesses for their conscientious refusal of military service – a principle of their religious beliefs. The situation for religious freedom in Georgia improved substantially with the long overdue arrest on March 12 of renegade Orthodox priest and mob leader, Basili Mkalavishvili, who instigated violent assaults against religious minorities.  But, Georgian authorities need to investigate and prosecute others known to have perpetrated similar criminal acts.  Legal problems also persist, as some minority religious communities are unable to obtain legal entity status or to build new worship facilities.  In addition, a concordat with the state granted the Georgian Orthodox Church special privileges to the detriment of other confessions.

  • Advancing Democracy in Albania Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to examine the prospects for advancing democracy in Albania.  Advancing Democracy in Albania Tuesday, July 20, 2004 10:00 AM - 12:30 PM 334 Cannon House Office Building   Scheduled to testify: Osmo Lipponen, Ambassador, Head of OSCE Presence (field mission) in Albania Nicholas C. Pano, Professor Emeritus of History, Western Illinois University Erion Veliaj, Executive Director, MJAFT! ("Enough!")/Balkans Youth Link Kreshnik Spahiu, Executive Director, Citizen's Advocacy Office, and Chairperson,                             Albanian Coalition Against Corruption Fatmir Mediu, President, Albanian Republican Party Fatos Tarifa, Ambassador of the Republic of Albania to the United States Edward Selami, Former Member of Albanian Parliament Within the next 12 months, Albania is expected to hold new parliamentary elections, and further reform is viewed as key to their success.  The country has faced tremendous challenges in its democratic development since emerging from harsh communist rule and self-imposed isolation in the early 1990s.  Initial progress was quite dramatic in some respects but proved also to be highly fragile.  Pyramid banking schemes collapsed in 1997, causing massive civil unrest.  The Democratic Party which came to power in 1992 lost to the former communists - renamed the Socialist Party - in elections that year.  During this period, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe deployed a field mission or "presence" to help restore stability in the country and get democratic development back on track.  Despite highly polarized politics and splits within the Socialist camp in particular, there has been renewed progress.  Albania, nevertheless, continues to face the difficult task, common to the region, of tackling organized crime and official corruption. The Albanian Government is making efforts, for example, to combat trafficking in persons, though it remains a source and a transit country for women and children who are sexually exploited or used as forced labor elsewhere in Europe.  Meanwhile, Albania has maintained strong bilateral ties with the United States and cooperated with the international response to past regional conflicts. The country is a strong supporter of the war on terrorism and works within the framework of the Adriatic Charter, a U.S. initiative that includes Macedonia and Croatia, in laying the groundwork for further European and Euro-Atlantic integration. 

  • Helsinki Commission Members Active, Effective in Parliamentary Assembly Meeting

    Washington -- Members of the United States Helsinki Commission returned to Capitol Hill after productive participation in the 13th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly which met in Edinburgh, Scotland July 5-9, 2004. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) led the 13-Member United States Delegation which included Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC). Commissioner Hastings was elected to a one-year term as President of the Parliamentary Assembly, having served for the past three years as one of the PA’s nine Vice Presidents. “I am overwhelmed by the support and confidence entrusted to me by parliamentarians from 55 European, Central Asian and North American countries,” said Commissioner Hastings. “With my election, there is no doubt that the trans-Atlantic relationship will improve during my tenure.” Commissioner Cardin was re-elected to his post as chairman the Parliamentary Assembly's General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science Technology and Environment. He was first elected to the position during last year's session held in Rotterdam, Netherlands. “I am pleased to have been re-elected by my fellow parliamentarians as the Chairman of the Second Committee,” Commissioner Cardin said. “Our committee will continue to urge participating States to ratify and implement anti-corruption conventions. We will also continue to promote the development of small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly those that are managed by women and minorities.” Chairman Smith, who serves as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Human Trafficking, briefed the Assembly’s leadership on parliamentary developments aimed at combating human trafficking and protecting victims of trafficking. Smith introduced key elements of a related resolution emphasizing the responsibility of participating States to fulfill their many OSCE commitments to combat human trafficking and reiterating the importance of ensuring that strong domestic laws exist to target this scourge through appropriate penalties against traffickers and with vigilance that victims’ rights will be protected. The sponsor of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Smith voiced particular concern over the correlation between international personnel arriving in large numbers in post-conflict regions and the resulting increased demand for commercial sex services that promotes the trafficking of women and girls. Introducing a resolution he sponsored on torture, Chairman Smith stressed, “The measures we proposed were designed to make it absolutely clear that the United States delegation -- and the Parliamentary Assembly -- rejects and totally condemns any and all acts of torture, abuse, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners. The revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib have shocked and dismayed the American people and people around the world. The acts committed are deplorable and appalling and violate both U.S. law and international law.” The resolution called upon participating States to abide by the obligation that no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture and that an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture. Chairman Smith continued to play a leadership role in pressing for an effective response to anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region, working closely with colleagues from France and Germany. He circulated the transcript of the June 16 Commission hearing “Government Actions to Combat Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region” together with a copy of the extremely anti-Semitic TV series, “Al Shattat” (Diaspora), produced especially for Ramadan by the Syrian television station, Al-Manar, with the aid of the Syrian Government. While in Edinburgh, members of the U.S. Delegation held bilateral talks with parliamentarians from the Republic of Ireland, The Netherlands, the Russian Federation, Belarus, Serbia and Montenegro, and Germany. A representative of Speaker J. Dennis Hastert briefed the Assembly’s leadership on preparations for the OSCE PA Annual Session to be held in Washington, D.C., July 1-5, 2005.

  • Chairman Smith Outraged over Azerbaijan’s Seizure of Juma Mosque

    Washington – United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today expressed outrage over a Wednesday morning seizure by Azerbaijani authorities of the independent Juma Mosque in Baku, where police reportedly beat some worshipers before taking control of the place of worship. “The government’s forcible eviction of this peaceful Islamic community is an outrage,” said Chairman Smith, “no charges should be brought against the mosque's leadership.”  The Juma Mosque community operated freely for nearly 10 years until its leader dared to speak out against the repressive policies of the Azerbaijani Government.  “These Soviet-style tactics demonstrate the government is determined to control individuals’ religious beliefs and ignore internationally recognized standards of religious freedom, including OSCE commitments,” Chairman Smith observed. Agence France Presse reported Wednesday, “Worshippers said they were kicked and punched as police burst in during morning prayers at the Juma mosque in the capital, Baku, one of the country's few mosques to remain outside strict state control.” “These actions represent a serious breach in Azerbaijan’s human rights commitments and further tarnishes its international reputation,” said Chairman Smith. “Government violence against religious communities harkens back to the darker, Soviet days of Azerbaijan’s history.  The government should allow for religious freedom and permit the Juma Mosque congregation to worship and operate free from government control.” Earlier this year, Baku city authorities successfully sued to oust the Juma Mosque community, reportedly claiming that the community lacked any rental agreement or government registration, and that the 1,000-year-old mosque was an historical site.  Government authorities in 1992 returned the Juma Mosque – which during the Soviet period had been converted into a carpet museum – to this community, and registered it in 1992 and 1993.  However, the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations has reportedly refused to re-register the mosque.  Before the seizure, Azerbaijani authorities visited the mosque several times in June threatening closure of the worship site.  Helsinki Commission Members denounced Azeri Government tactics in March as a “land grab dressed up as a legal proceeding.” Government actions have not been limited to the mosque.  During the raid on Wednesday morning, police aided the unilateral installation of a new imam appointed by the Muslim Board of the Caucasus, a Soviet-era Muftiate close to the government, to replace the community’s leader, Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu.  Authorities had jailed Imam Ibrahimoglu in December 2003 on charges related to his alleged connection to demonstrations following last October’s flawed presidential elections.  He was released in early April after receiving a five-year suspended sentence.  In addition to congressional actions, other governments and NGOs have often expressed concerned.  In April, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, noting that the Azerbaijani Government was threatening to use force to expel the Juma Mosque congregation “in retaliation for the pro-democracy, pro-human rights, and pro-religious freedom activities of its leadership.”

  • Democracy and Human Rights in Uzbekistan Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    Washington – The United States Helsinki Commission will hold the following hearing:   “Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in Decline” Thursday, June 24, 2004 11:30 AM – 2:00 PM 2203 Rayburn House Office Building   Testifying before the Commission: Hon. Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lynn Pascoe, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia H.E. Abdulaziz Komilov, Ambassador, Republic of Uzbekistan Dr. Fred Starr, Chairman, Caucasus–Central Asia Institute, SAIS Dr. Martha Olcott, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Dr. Abdurahim Polat, Chairman, Birlik Party Ms. Veronika Leila Szente Goldston, Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch The hearing will examine democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan in light of the impending decision by the Department of State whether to certify Uzbekistan to continue receiving U.S. assistance.  Uzbekistan, an OSCE participating State since 1992, has been closely cooperating with the United States in the campaign against international terrorism.  There is a U.S. military base in Uzbekistan and Washington has stepped up assistance significantly since 2001.  The agreement on Strategic Partnership and Cooperation signed by President Bush and President Karimov in March 2002 committed Tashkent to make progress towards developing democracy and observing human rights norms.   However, Uzbekistan’s human rights record has remained poor, impeding the further development of U.S.-Uzbek relations.  Late last year, the State Department decertified Uzbekistan for aid under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program because it had not made progress toward ending police torture and other abuses. Now the State Department must decide on certifying Uzbekistan for broader assistance programs.  Section 568 (a) of the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2004 states that foreign aid to Uzbekistan can continue only if the State Department certifies that the Government of Uzbekistan is making substantial and continuing progress in meeting its commitments, including respect for human rights, establishing a genuine multi-party system, and ensuring free and fair elections, freedom of expression, and the independence of the media.  This decision is due to be taken sometime soon, with important implications for both Washington and Tashkent.  For that reason, a hearing on democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan and the factors influencing whether or not to certify is particularly timely.

  • Activists Brief Commission on Plight of Russian Conscripts in Chechnya

    Washington - The Helsinki Commission will hold a public briefing on: "The War in Chechnya and Russian Civil Society” Thursday, June 17, 2004 2:30 pm – 4:00 pm 2325 Rayburn House Office Building   Panelists will be:  Valentina Melnikova, National Director, Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia Natalia Zhukova, Chairperson, Nizhny Novgorod Committee of Soldiers' Mothers The “Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers” has become the largest NGO in Russia as an umbrella organization embracing nearly 300 groups and thousands of members.  Founded in 1989, the organization publicizes and combats human rights violations in the Russian armed forces, such as hazing or abusive treatment.  Committee members also arrange legal help for conscripts and their families, consult on legislation affecting military and alternative service, and press for improved living conditions for military personnel. The Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers have opposed the Kremlin’s conduct of the war in Chechnya and have accused the Russian Government of consistently under-reporting the number of Russian military casualties in the conflict. Meanwhile, recent verbal attacks by President Putin and other Russian officials on human rights organizations and their funding sources raise concerns about the future of Russian NGOs that may be viewed by the government as politically hostile. 

  • Promoting Democracy and Human Rights in the Middle East Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold the following hearing: “The Middle East:  Would the Helsinki Process Apply?” Tuesday, June 15, 2004 2:30 – 4:30 PM 334 Cannon House Office Building As the United States and the international community – especially the G-8, NATO and the European Union – explore avenues for advancing democracy and human rights in the broader Middle East region, some have suggested that the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and related institutions could serve as useful models for promoting reforms in that region.  A provision of the 1994 bilateral treaty between Israel and Jordan actually envisioned the possibility of creation of a Helsinki-like framework for the Middle East.  The Final Act, a politically binding agreement, included specific provisions on military security, economic cooperation, and human rights. Many credit the Helsinki Process with contributing to the end of the Cold War and dramatic political, social and economic change in Europe and Eurasia.  Today, 55 countries from Europe, Eurasia, and North America, including the United States, are signatory members of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).         Could this model be used by countries of the broader Middle East region, including Israel, to ease tensions and provide a viable framework for promoting cooperation while advancing reforms?  To what extent are leaders from the region willing to take ownership of such a process?  Is Islam compatible with democratic governance?  Would such a process be comprehensive, encompassing military security, economic cooperation, and human rights?  Which countries would or should be involved in such a process?   These and similar issues will be covered at the hearing. Testifying before the Commission: H.E.  Natan Sharansky, Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs and former Soviet dissident Amb. Max M. Kampelman, Chairman Emeritus, Freedom House and former Counselor of the Department of State, U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, U.S. negotiator with Soviet Union on Nuclear and Space Arms Peter Jones, Research Associate, Munk Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto and Policy Analyst, Canada’s Privy Council Amb. (ret.) Craig Dunkerley, Distinguished Visiting Professor, Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University who has recently published a paper on the matter. In the early 90s, he served in Vienna as Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Mission to the OSCE Prof. Michael Yaffe, Ph.D., Near East-South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University who has been a consultant on the Greater Middle East Initiative. From 1993 to 2001, he served as a Foreign Service Officer on the U.S. delegation to the Middle East Peace Process Background: Since its inception the OSCE has included a Mediterranean dimension. Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia are currently designated as Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, a special status similar to that of observer status in other multilateral organizations. As Mediterranean Partners, none of the countries is obligated to implement the OSCE human rights commitments contained in the Helsinki Final Act and other documents. Representatives of these countries may attend Council of Ministers meetings, review conferences, regular meetings with the Troika and, on a case-by-case basis, to seminars and other ad hoc meetings in which they have an interest. The Helsinki Commission held a briefing on October 11, 2003, where the human rights situation of the Mediterranean Partners was discussed.

  • How Government Can Combat Anti-Semitism Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    The Helsinki Commission will hold a public hearing to assess the results of the historic April 2003 Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism, organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and consider appropriate concrete steps to follow up to the conference. “Government Actions to Combat Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region” Wednesday, June 16, 2004 10:00 AM 334 Cannon House Office Building Testifying before the Commission: Panel I: Rep. Tom Lantos, Ranking Member, House International Relations Committee Panel II: His Excellency Natan Sharansky, Israeli Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Head of the Israeli Delegation to the Berlin OSCE Conference on Anti Semitism Panel III: Betty Ehrenberg, Director, Institute for Public Affairs, Orthodox Union of Jewish Congregations Paul Goldenberg, National Security Consultant, American Jewish Committee Jay Lefkowitz, Partner, Kirkland & Ellis, LLP Fred Zeidman, Chairman, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council Panel IV: Stacy Burdett, Associate Director, Government & National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League Shai A. Franklin, Director of Governmental Relations, NCSJ: Advocates on Behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States, & Eurasia Dan Mariaschin, Executive Vice President, B’nai B’rith International Israel Singer, Chairman, World Jewish Congress James S. Tisch, Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Mark Weitzman, Director, Task Force Against Hate, Simon Wiesenthal Center The Berlin Declaration, issued at the conference, highlights commitments made by the 55 OSCE States and declares that “international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.”  The action-oriented declaration also highlighted the commitment to monitor anti-Semitic crimes and hate crimes, including through collection and maintenance of statistics about such incidents. Helsinki Commission Members have spearheaded efforts to draw attention to anti-Semitism and related violence.  These efforts helped create the momentum that moved the OSCE to convene this historic and high-level conference on anti-Semitism, attended by Secretary of State Colin Powell. Commission leaders recently introduced resolutions in the House and Senate encouraging the “ongoing work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)” in combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, urging the 55 OSCE countries to do more. An un-official transcript will be available on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site at www.csce.gov within 24 hours of the hearing. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Urge President Bush to Raise Russian Rights Concerns

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission today released the text of a letter signed by Commission leaders addressed to President George W. Bush in conjunction with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s U.S. visit to attend the G8 Summit, set to open a week from today, in Sea Island, Georgia . As noted at a May 20th Helsinki Commission hearing, President Putin is increasingly relying on the security-intelligence apparatus to run Russia, with ominous consequences for human rights, civil liberties and democratic progress.  The leaders cited specific concerns over the targeting of a number of Russian academics and environmentalists; a ban on religious activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian capital; and egregious violations of international humanitarian law in Chechnya . May 28, 2004 The President The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC   20500 Dear Mr. President:             We write urging you to raise human rights concerns in the Russian Federation when you meet with President Putin at the Sea Island G-8 Summit.  As noted at a recent Helsinki Commission hearing, Mr. Putin is increasingly relying on the security-intelligence apparatus to run Russia , with ominous consequences for human rights, civil liberties and democratic progress. One of the telling results has been what human rights activists are calling “spy mania,” whereby a number of academics and environmentalists have been accused of collaborating with Western intelligence agencies on the basis of questionable evidence and procedures.   A case in point involves Igor Sutyagin, a researcher from the U.S. and Canada Institute, recently sentenced by a Moscow court to 15 years in hard labor for “espionage.”  His “crime” was to pass scientific analyses based upon open source material to associates abroad.  While his is not an isolated case, Sutyagin has received the harshest sentence to date.  We urge you to raise this case as well as the broader trend.             In another troubling trend, a recent Moscow municipal court ruling effectively bans the religious activities of the local community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian capital. This case should set off alarm bells for members of other religious minorities in Moscow and beyond. There has also been heightened rhetoric by Russian officials with frequent references to so-called “traditional religions,” which raises serious concerns over the status of individuals belonging to “minority” religious communities in Russia (many of whom have existed in Russia for over a century). Government pressure on electronic media outlets, denunciations by government officials of human rights and pro-democracy NGOs, and manipulations of elections give further rise for concern.  President Putin is well positioned to reverse these troubling trends away from protection of human rights, civil liberties and democratic progress and toward governance based upon the misguided notion of so-called “managed democracy.”             Finally, we reiterate longstanding concerns regarding developments in Chechnya where the most egregious violations of international humanitarian law anywhere in the OSCE region are occurring.  President Putin’s efforts to manipulate political developments in Chechnya have failed to move the region toward normalization, as evidenced by the recent assassination of his handpicked leader for the region. Besides alleviating the grave humanitarian situation in Chechnya , President Putin should move to allow the Chechen people to have a voice and choice in their future, while preserving the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation .             Mr. President, we urge you to set aside a portion of your time with President Putin to discuss these particularly disturbing developments in the Russian Federation . Sincerely, CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C. Chairman BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S.                             Co-Chairman BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, M.C. Ranking Member

  • "Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?"

    Washington - The Helsinki Commission will hold a public briefing, "Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?" on Monday, June 7, 2004, at 2:00 pm in room 2255 Rayburn House Office Building.  The briefing will take place in conjunction with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the United States to attend the G8 Summit, June 8 -10, in Sea Island, Georgia. Four prominent Russian human rights activities will give their assessment of the human rights situation in Russia today, including specific cases of particular interest. Panelists will be: Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chairwoman, Moscow Helsinki Group (founded in 1976), and President, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights Arseni Roginsky, Chairman, International Memorial Society Alexei Simonov, Head, Glasnost Defense Foundation Mara Polyakova, Director, Independent Council for Legal Expertise Russia has made huge strides in democratic progress, human rights, civil liberties, and press freedom since the collapse of the Soviet Union.  However, since President Putin’s ascent to power, influential elements in his government appear determined to reverse Russia’s direction and institute more authoritarian policies in what some have characterized as “managed democracy.” President Putin is increasingly relying on the “security-intelligence complex” to run Russia.  One academic specialist has determined that the proportion of former intelligence, military, police or prosecutorial personnel in the Kremlin’s power structure has increased from about 5 percent under Mr. Gorbachev to nearly 60 percent under Putin.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Spearhead Initiative to Combat Anti-Semitism

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission leaders introduced concurrent resolutions in the House and Senate encouraging the “ongoing work of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)” in combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, urging the 55 OSCE countries to do more.  “As we must pursue the scourge of anti-Semitism with steadfast vigilance, I am eager for my colleagues in the House of Representatives to join this bipartisan effort to spur on action,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “Having just returned from the historic Berlin OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism, I have introduced this resolution to build on the momentum and press ahead for concrete change.” “I remain concerned over manifestations of anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “I urge my Senate colleagues to take up the Senate resolution quickly, putting the Senate on record in support of the ongoing work of the OSCE in combating anti-Semitism.” “While anti-Semitism continues to be a serious problem throughout Europe and North America, the United States Helsinki Commission has, over the past two years, successfully moved the OSCE and its participating States to take action,” added Ranking Commission Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “This resolution focuses on the need for sustained involvement by governments in a variety of areas.” The House and Senate “sense-of-Congress resolutions” are aimed at building upon the work of the Berlin Conference and encouraging OSCE countries to implement their commitments to combat anti-Semitism.  The resolutions urge all 55 OSCE countries to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitic acts and create legal mechanisms to track anti-Semitic crimes.  They also call for the designation of a special OSCE envoy to ensure sustained attention to the issue.  In April, Chairman Smith, Commissioner Cardin and Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) attended the historic Berlin OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism.  The Berlin Declaration highlights commitments made by the 55 States and declares that “international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.”  The action-oriented declaration also highlighted the commitment to monitor anti-Semitic crimes and hate crimes, including through collection and maintenance of statistics about such incidents.

  • Putin’s Human Rights Record Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    Washington – The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to examine Russia’s progress toward respecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin.  The hearing is timed in advance of Putin’s scheduled visit to the United States to attend the G8 Summit set for June 8-10 in Sea Island, Georgia.      “Human Rights in Putin’s Russia” Thursday, May 20, 2004 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM 334 Cannon House Office Building   Testifying before the Commission: Ambassador Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Garry Kasparov, Former World Chess Champion and Chairman, Committee 2008: Free Choice Dr. Edward Lozansky, President, American University in Moscow and Russia House Rev. Igor Nikitin, Chairman, Association of Christian Churches in Russia Nicholai Butkevich, Research and Advocacy Director, Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union Since President Putin assumed office in 2000, human rights activists have charged that civil liberties and democratic development in Russia have been sacrificed to a "managed democracy" under the influence of both active and former officials of the security services.  Putin’s tenure in office has been characterized by the demise of independent national broadcast media, election manipulations and a "spy mania" that has led to espionage charges against several Russian scientists and environment activists.  Nevertheless, Putin has rejected parliamentary initiatives that would have further restricted freedom of the press and assembly. The recent assassination of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov demonstrates the fragility of Moscow's “normalization” policy in that brutalized secessionist region of Russia.

  • Commission Leaders Urge Fair Election Process in Ukraine

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission leaders have introduced House and Senate resolutions to encourage a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for the upcoming presidential election in Ukraine. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) has co-sponsored the House resolution with House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL). Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) is sponsor of the Senate resolution which is co-sponsored by Commission Ranking Member Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Senator Joseph R. Biden (D-DE). “I have been a steadfast supporter of human rights and democracy in Ukraine, and I value independent Ukraine’s contribution to security and stability in Europe,” Chairman Smith said.  “The stakes in the upcoming elections are high, not only with respect to the outcome, but also as a fundamental indicator of Ukraine’s democratic development.” “The Helsinki Commission, which has long monitored and encouraged human rights, rule of law and democracy in Ukraine, continues to be a stalwart supporter of Ukraine’s development as an independent, democratic and market-oriented state,” said Co-Chairman Campbell. “It is abundantly clear that a small clique have a vested interest in perpetuating the outmoded status quo. Ukrainian authorities need to radically improve the election environment if there is to be hope for these elections to meet OSCE standards. The question is whether their perceived self-interest will trump the interest of the people of Ukraine.” “Ukraine remains at a crossroads,” Smith added.  “Developments with respect to democracy have been discouraging over the last few years.  The elections represent a real chance for Ukraine to get back on the road to full respect for the tenets of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  The United States stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they strive to achieve these essential goals.”

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing Reviews Religious Freedom in Turkmenistan

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to examine obstacles to religious freedom in Turkmenistan.   Religious Freedom in Turkmenistan 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM Tuesday, May 11, 2004 485 Russell Senate Building   Panelists: Najia Badykova, Research Associate, George Washington University Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies and former head of the Department of Economic Relations with the Turkmen Government Lawrence Uzzell, President, International Religious Freedom Watch, an independent research center reporting on threats to freedom of conscience in totalitarian and authoritarian countries Felix Corley, Editor, Forum 18 News Service, a news service reporting on threats and actions against religious freedom in the former Soviet Bloc The State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, released on December 18, 2003, sharpened its criticism of the repressive practices of Saparmurat Niyazov’s regime in Turkmenistan. The report concluded that the “status of government respect for religious freedom deteriorated during the period covered by this report.” The situation for religious freedom in Turkmenistan is bleak.  Late in 2003, Niyazov instituted new laws harshly restricting freedom of religion; groups brave enough to meet risk home raids, house eviction, imprisonment and possibly torture, internal exile, or deportation. Individuals caught more than once in a year acting on behalf of an unregistered religious community can be fined between ten and thirty months of wages, or be sent to hard labor for up to one year.   In March, Niyazov issued new edicts on religious freedom, theoretically increasing the ability of individuals to actually enjoy these rights. Yet these promises were bracketed by further repression.  Roughly one week before the announcement, a court convicted the former Islamic leader of Turkmenistan of treason and sentenced him to 22 years in jail.  The imam reportedly ran afoul of authorities when he refused to place in his mosque Niyazov’s self-written spiritual book next to the Koran and the same day Niyazov announced the “legislative improvements,” authorities reportedly arrested a Jehovah’s Witness in the capital and pressured him to renounce his faith.  A few weeks later, Niyazov declared on public television that Muslim communities could not build any more mosques.  Under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, the State Department may designate a state a “Country of Particular Concern” for its “particularly severe violations of religious freedom,” which is defined as being “systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”  The briefing will provide a timely opportunity to assess developments in Turkmenistan as the State Department prepares to make designation determinations in the near future.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Examines Cory Reports on Collusion in Northern Ireland Murder Cases

    Washington – The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to examine the impact in Norhtern Ireland of recently published reports on collusion in prominent murder cases. Northern Ireland Update: Implementation of the Cory Reports and Impact on Good Friday Agreement Wednesday, May 5, 2004 11:30 AM to 2:00 PM 334 Cannon House Office Building Witnesses: Peter Cory, former Canadian Supreme Court Justice, author of independent investigative reports requested by the Irish and British Governments as part of the Weston Park agreement Geraldine Finucane, wife of slain human rights attorney Patrick Finucane In April 2002, Peter Cory, a distinguished former justice of the Canadian Supreme Court, was appointed to investigate the question of whether there was collusion in six high-profile murders. Cory’s appointment was a critical element of the Weston Park Agreement in which the British and Irish governments recognized jointly that “certain cases from the past remain a source of grave public concern, particularly those giving rise to serious allegations of collusion by security forces in each of our jurisdictions.” Four of the murders took place in Northern Ireland -- those of Belfast lawyer Patrick Finucane who was shot in his home in 1989; construction worker Robert Hamill who was kicked to death in 1997 in Portadown; dissident loyalist leader Billy Wright who murdered in Maze prison in 1997; and Lurgan lawyer Rosemary Nelson who was blown up in a car bomb in 1999. The other two murders happened in the Republic of Ireland -- those of Lord Justice Gibson and his wife when their car was blown up in 1987; and of Royal Ulster Constabulary officers Harry Breen and Bob Buchanan who were ambushed and shot in 1989. Former Justice Cory delivered his reports to the governments of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom on October 7, 2003. On December 18, the Irish Government published the two reports it received. The UK Government delayed publication until April 1, 2004, following public pleas and legal action by some of the victims’ families. The hearing will review Cory’s findings and recommendations, including the launching of public inquiries in all but the Gibson case, and the action the two governments have taken or need to take in response to his recommendations.

  • Helsinki Commission Members Hail Success of Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism

    Berlin – Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) joined Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other foreign ministers in a conference this week focusing on anti-Semitism, hosted by the 55-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.   The meeting of more than 1,000 participants focused on the roles of governments, civil society, education and the media in combating anti-Semitism and in promoting tolerance. The U.S. delegation was headed by former New York City mayor Ed Koch, and Chairman Smith again served as Vice Chairman, as he did for the first OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism, held last summer in Vienna. “Each of our countries – some more than others – harbors men and women poisoned by anti-Jewish hate,” said Chairman Smith. “Indifference or inaction in robustly confronting this evil only enables it and allows it to fester. Silence is not an option, nor is inaction.”  Smith addressed the conference on Wednesday, challenging governments to actively fight anti-Semitism of all forms. “The Berlin Declaration represents a significant diplomatic victory for the United States and its friends, such as Germany and Bulgaria , who have partnered with us in this endeavor,” said Commissioner Cardin. “I urge all countries to take these commitments seriously and to work with OSCE institutions in following up on the commitments highlighted in Berlin .” Mr. Cardin gave the official U.S. delegation statement on Wednesday. Commissioner Hastings, a Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, delivered a statement today, concluding, “As citizens of the world we have come to this place to teach and learn. The challenges are obvious and many - and we have a responsibility to meet them all.” “The Berlin Declaration is an unambiguous, sweeping denunciation of anti-Semitism,” continued Chairman Smith, “and commits each nation to seriously monitor and combat hate crimes, promote Holocaust remembrance and education – especially for the young – and to work more effectively with NGOs to mitigate – no, end – anti-Semitism.  The purveyors of hate never take a holiday or grow weary, nor should we. Holocaust remembrance and tolerance education must dramatically expand, and we need to ensure that our respective laws punish those who hate and incite violence against Jews," said Chairman Smith. All three Commissioners have worked actively to move the OSCE and its participating States to confront the spike in anti-Semitic violence that occurred throughout the region in 2002. This week's Berlin conference is the second high-level governmental meeting, organized by OSCE, focused on combating anti-Semitism.  The historic meeting is the latest in a series of initiatives following the Helsinki Commission’s May 2002 hearing on escalating anti-Semitic violence in Europe .  Helsinki Commission leaders, together with Members of the German Bundestag, took the initiative to address the issue during the 2002 OSCE Parliamentary Assembly annual session also held in Berlin .   Both delegations together have organized forums – in Berlin, Washington and Vienna – on anti-Semitism. The OSCE PA also unanimously approved in 2002 and 2003 resolutions condemning anti-Semitism.  

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