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

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  • 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.  

  • Secretary Powell, Helsinki Commission Leaders Open OSCE’s Berlin Anti-Semitism Conference

    Berlin - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) today joined Secretary of State Colin L. Powell on the opening of an historic international conference aimed at combating anti-Semitism. The Berlin Conference is currently in progress under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe , an international regional security organization.  The conference is focused on anti-Semitism in the 55-nation OSCE region, specifically addressing the roles of governments, civil society, education and the media in combating prejudice and in promoting tolerance. Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is Chairman of the U.S. Delegation.  Smith is again serving as Vice-Chairman of the Delegation as was his role during the first OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism, held last summer in Vienna and headed by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Chairman Smith and Commissioner Cardin delivered their remarks during Wednesday morning’s opening session.  The Conference runs from April 28 to April 29. "We gather to enlighten and motivate with particular emphasis on what practical steps we must take not just to mitigate this centuries-old obsession, but to crush this pernicious form of hate," Chairman Smith said.  "This increase in violence is a chilling reminder that our societies still harbor a dangerous collection of bigots and racists who hate Jews." "If our fight is to succeed, we need government officials at all levels to denounce, without hesitation or delay, anti-Semitic acts wherever and whenever they occur.  No exceptions,” continued Chairman Smith.  “The purveyors of hatred 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.”  “So, clearly, our words this week are extremely important,” concluded Smith.  “I respectfully submit that they must be matched with deeds.  Paper promises must be followed with concrete actions.” “Having just come from Auschwitz, I understand the importance of this Conference and the opportunity today that I have to speak about the urgency of ensuring proper responses by national leaders and government officials to anti-Semitism,” said Ranking Member Cardin.  “Seeing the remains of that factory of intolerance, hate and death, I believe we cannot be reminded enough of the real consequences of not protecting universal human rights in the OSCE region.  We must tirelessly work to build understanding between different communities to prevent future acts of prejudice and injustice.” “The first way to promote tolerance is to fight intolerance,” Commissioner Cardin added.  “By speaking out forcefully when instances of bigotry and hate arise at home, we can make certain that acts of intolerance will not be entertained or sanctioned.  Remembering the horrors of Auschwitz and other grotesque examples of hatred, I genuinely hope States will leave today fully committed to combat intolerance and discrimination.”

  • Powell Urged to Attend Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) have urged Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to join them in Berlin at an historic international conference aimed at combating anti-Semitism.  The move comes just three weeks after Powell announced that Smith and Cardin had been appointed to serve as members of the official United States delegation to the Berlin Conference. The Berlin Conference will be held April 28-29 under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an international regional security organization.  The conference will focus on anti-Semitism in the 55-nation OSCE region, specifically addressing the roles of governments, civil society, education and the media in combating prejudice and in promoting tolerance. “As members of the official U.S. delegation to the Berlin Conference, we respectfully ask that you join us for the meeting,” Smith and Cardin wrote in their April 16 letter to Powell.  “Your presence in Berlin would underscore the commitment of the United States to fight anti-Semitism, while also encouraging other participating States to send delegations of the highest level.  Your participation will complement the leadership of Mayor Ed Koch, whose expertise and energy make him an excellent head of delegation.” Chairman Smith and Commissioner Cardin also raised their concerns about the stance taken by some OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation trying to block a reference to the State of Israel, also a Mediterranean Partner, in the conference declaration under discussion in Vienna. “We also raise our concern about reported efforts by the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation (Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, and Jordan) to block a reference to the State of Israel in the conference declaration, which is currently under discussion in Vienna,” Smith and Cardin wrote.  “The Egyptian Embassy in Vienna apparently led the move, and the Mediterranean Partners are threatening to diminish or withdraw their participation in OSCE if such a statement is included.  Any action that even hints at giving these States a role in drafting an OSCE document, let alone a veto, would be completely unacceptable given their Partner status.” “Mr. Secretary, again we greatly value your personal commitment to denounce and combat anti-Semitism and intolerance, wherever it may occur,” the letter concludes.  “Your personal participation in the Berlin Conference would underscore U.S. leadership in this effort, highlight U.S.-German cooperation in combating anti-Semitism, and enhance the visibility of this historic meeting.” Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch will chair the U.S. Delegation.  Chairman Smith will again serve as Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Delegation, as he was to the first OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism, held last summer in Vienna and led by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.  Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) will also attend the conference in his capacity as a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The U.S. and German delegations to the OSCE PA began addressing the unprecedented rise of anti-Semitic violence in the OSCE region at the Annual Session in 2002.  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, advanced by Chairman Smith, condemning anti-Semitism.

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses Banned in Moscow

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission leaders today reacted to a recent municipal court ruling in Moscow effectively banning the religious activities of the local community of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Russian capital.  The decision will not be enforced while the Jehovah’s Witnesses pursue an appeal with the Moscow City Court.  “The Moscow authorities have doggedly pursued the case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses in a manner reminiscent of the Brezhnev days,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ).  “The prosecution is an embarrassment to the new democratic Russia, flies in the face of Russia’s commitment to religious freedom as an OSCE participating State.  Hopefully the decision will be overturned on appeal and the prosecution dropped.”  Under the Soviet system, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities were forced to worship underground and faced criminal penalties for practicing their faith.  “I urge the Moscow authorities to respect the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to profess and practice their faith in the Russian capital.  This case should set off alarm bells for members of other religious minorities in Moscow and beyond,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO).   “I wish Moscow city authorities would devote similar energies to protecting religious freedom, instead of impeding it,” said Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD).  “This court case dates back to 1998, although one would expect it to have been instituted in 1978.  If this verdict holds, it may have devastating effects for any religious denomination whose beliefs don’t have the government’s stamp of approval.” It is unclear upon what grounds the court reached its decision on March 26.  As reported by Forum 18, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were originally charged with “inciting religious hatred,” “forcing families to disintegrate” and encouraging on religious grounds the refusal of medical aid to the critically ill.  The heavily criticized 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience allows for the liquidation of a religious community’s legal status for failing to meet registration requirements, and the law enables authorities to ban organizations deemed a threat to society, thereby prohibiting their ability to operate legally. Over the past six years, the case has seen two different judges, numerous “expert studies” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their religious materials, and repeated appeals and counter appeals. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been in Russia since the late 1800s.  Persecuted during the Soviet era, the Jehovah’s Witnesses were officially registered at the federal level by the Ministry of Justice in March 1991.    

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Urge Tough U.S. Stance on Indicted War Criminals

    Washington - At a March 17 hearing of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Europe focusing on Serbia, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and House Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) urged the U.S. Department of State to insist on Belgrade’s full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, located in The Hague.  The remarks were made in anticipation of a March 31 deadline for State Department certification that Belgrade is cooperating with the ICTY.  U.S. assistance to Serbia beyond March 31 is conditioned by law on such certification, a contingency placed on assistance since 2001. Chairman Smith noted that some senior Belgrade officials “do not have the political will to break fully from the past,” viewing with “great dismay…reluctance if not obstruction in cooperation with The Hague.”  Smith urged that certification await a sea change in Belgrade on this issue. Commissioner Cardin expressed concern that “U.S. policy to date has made authorities in Belgrade, Banja Luka and elsewhere feel they can wait the Tribunal out.  We need an unambiguous policy response which includes withholding certification on assistance…until Belgrade demonstrates concrete progress on meeting its international legal obligations to comply with the Tribunal.” Both Commissioners noted many improvements in relations between the United States and Serbia since 2000 and said the United States should continue to strengthen this relationship. Commissioner Cardin noted, however, that integration of Serbia and Montenegro into Europe and other regional and international organizations depends upon Serbia’s progress in cooperating with The Hague. The hearing, while focusing on current developments in Serbia, took place amid an eruption of violence in Kosovo caused by a lack of ethnic reconciliation.  Kosovo is an Albanian-dominated region with a sizable Serb minority.  It was also ruled by Serbia until 1999. Reacting to press reports of several deaths and hundreds wounded in the clashes, Smith said that “attacks on innocent people cannot be tolerated by the international community, nor be allowed to justify political ends.  This is neither a Serb nor an Albanian tragedy, but a human tragedy, and I urge everyone in Kosovo to refrain from further violence.” Chairman Smith also noted that, while he is dismayed with Serbian officials’ lack of cooperation with the ICTY, he shares “Serbian concerns about…the situation for the Serb, Roma and other minority groups in Kosovo, and the continued obstacles to the return of the displaced.”  Chairman Smith recently met with Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije regarding attacks on churches in Kosovo and has pressed for greater international attention to outstanding missing persons cases.  The Helsinki Commission has actively followed events in southeast Europe with particular regard to the Serbian cooperation with The Hague:

  • Powell Announces Helsinki Commission Members Among U.S. Delegation to Anti-Semitism Conference

    Washington - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell today announced the appointment of  Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking House Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) to the U.S. Delegation to an international  Conference on Anti-Semitism.  The Berlin conference will be held April 28-29 under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe , an international regional security organization. “I am greatly honored to represent the United States at this historic meeting,” said Chairman Smith.  “I expect this conference to be very instrumental in the battle against anti-Semitism, as elected officials, government leaders and executives of non-governmental organizations come together to discuss how to fight this destructive evil.  We will continue our efforts to speak out publicly in the struggle against this ancient plague.” “The Berlin Conference will continue to shine the light on these destructive actions, and I am pleased to have been selected to serve on the official delegation at this important event,” said Commissioner Cardin. “Anti-Semitism still afflicts societies throughout the world, including the United States . While we've made some progress in moving governments to respond through public denunciations and vigorous law enforcement, there is much more we can do to confront and combat anti-Semitism.” Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch will chair the U.S. Delegation.  Chairman Smith served as Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the first OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism, held last summer in Vienna and headed by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. During the 2002 Berlin Parliamentary Assembly session, the U.S. and German Delegations organized an historic forum focused on the troubling rise in anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region.  The forthcoming conference in April is another in a series of OSCE meetings on anti-Semitism since the U.S. and German delegations forged new ground on this critical issue. The United States Helsinki Commission has been actively involved in the battle against anti-Semitism.  May 22, 2002 – Helsinki Commission Hearing: Escalating anti- Semitic Violence in Europe July 8, 2002 – Berlin Parliamentary Forum: The Disturbing Rise in anti-Semitism – organized by Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and German Bundestag Member Gert Weisskirchen July 9, 2002 – Congressional Record Statement: Concerning Rise in anti-Semitism in Europe (HRes. 393) by Chairman Smith July 10, 2002 – Berlin OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Meeting Supplementary Item “anti-Semitic Violence in the OSCE Region” – offered by Chairman Smith and Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) December 6-7, 2002 – Porto OSCE Ministerial Council – Decision No. 6, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination – condemned increase of anti-Semitic violence and called for a special OSCE event to address the reoccurring problem December 10, 2002 – Washington Parliamentary Forum: Combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region – cosponsored by Chairman Smith and Weisskirchen February 13, 2003 – Introduction of concurrent resolutions on anti-Semitism (SConRes 7 and HConRes 49) – sponsored by Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Chairman Smith February 13, 2003 – Congressional Record Statement by Co-Chairman Campbell: Resolution on anti-Semitism and Related Violence February 19, 2003 – Congressional Record Statement by Chairman Smith: Condemning anti-Semitism February 21, 2003 – Vienna Parliamentary Forum: Special Meeting on anti-Semitism – co-chaired by Chairman Smith, Weisskirchen and French National Assembly Member Michel Voisin March 14, 2003 – Congressional Record Statement by Chairman Smith: Commemorating 60th Anniversary of Rescue of 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from the Holocaust April 30, 2003 – Statement by Chairman Smith: Ten Years of Remembrance: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum May 22, 2003 – SConRes 7 passes by unanimous consent – Concerning the Rise of anti-Semitism in Europe May 22, 2003 – Congressional Record Statement by Co-Chairman Campbell: Prevention of anti- Semitic Violence June 19-20, 2003 – Chairman Smith serves as Vice-Chair of U.S. Delegation to Vienna OSCE Conference on anti-Semitism June 25, 2003 – Debate in House of Representatives on HConRes 49 with Chairman Smith, Commissioner Cardin, Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) June 25, 2003 – House passes HConRes 49 – Concerning the Rise of anti-Semitism in Europe July 5, 2003 – During Rotterdam OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Meeting, Chairman Smith sponsors Supplementary Item on Combating anti-Semitism in the 21st Century October 14, 2003 – Warsaw OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting Chairman Smith presents U.S. statement on Prevention of anti-Semitism December 1-2, 2003 – Maastricht Ministerial Council – Decision No. 4, Tolerance and Non-Discrimination – approves Berlin follow-up meeting on anti-Semitism and tasks ODIHR with collecting information on legislation fighting anti-Semitism

  • Commission Leaders Welcome Arrest of Caustic Georgian Cleric

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) today welcomed positive developments in the Republic of Georgia where authorities arrested Basili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, for his agitation of violence against members of minority religions.  On Friday, March 12th, authorities arrested Mkalavishvili, along with a number of his followers, enforcing a June 2003 Tbilisi court order to take Mkalavishvili into preventive detention.  “This is a bright day for the rule of law in Georgia, and I thank President Mikheil Saakashvili’s administration for taking this courageous step,” said Chairman Smith.  “I hope this represents the beginning of the end of mob violence against minority religious communities.  I'll have greater confidence when Georgian officials investigate and prosecute others, such as Paata Bluashvili who is known to have perpetrated violent criminal acts against religious minorities.” “Members of the Helsinki Commission have repeatedly called upon the Georgian Government over the past four years to take action against Mkalavishvili and other mob leaders,” said Co-Chairman Campbell.  “This is good news, and I urge the authorities to vigorously prosecute Mkalavishvili and his collaborators in trials which adhere to international norms.” In a closed hearing in June 2003, the Vake-Saburtalo district court ordered authorities to take Mkalavishvili into preventive detention for his well-documented involvement in numerous mob attacks. The court hearing concerned the February 2002 attack, aired on local television, led by Mkalavishvili on a Baptist warehouse and the subsequent burning of Bibles stored in the facility.  A separate long-running case against Mkalavishvili and others is pending for their involvement in three attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Since 1999, several non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups have been the subject of violent mob attacks, usually led by Mkalavishvili, Bluashvili or their followers.  Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals and especially Jehovah’s Witnesses have been repeatedly targeted for assault.  Members of the Helsinki Commission have repeatedly spoken out against the violence and lack of legal action under the previous government; however, in a recent letter to President Saakashvili, seven Members of the Commission expressed their eagerness to assist in establishing the rule of law on the heels of the recent revolution.  The Helsinki Commission maintains on its Internet site a detailed list of activities concerning freedom of religion and issues related to the Republic of Georgia.

  • Powell Urged on U.S. Support of Strong Resolution on Chechnya

    Washington - In a letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, five members of the U.S. Helsinki Commission have urged the United States to press for the adoption of a strong resolution on the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, now entering its fifth year of human rights tragedies.  Signing the letter were Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Commissioner Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR), Commissioners Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA). “As the United States prepares for the 60th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, we urge that the United States delegation in Geneva press for the adoption of a strong resolution on the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, entering its fifth year,” the Commissioners wrote.  “We believe that the situation in Chechnya represents the most egregious violation of international humanitarian law in the OSCE region.” Referring to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003, the Commissioners noted that “the Government's record remained poor in the continuing struggle with separatists in Chechnya, where federal security forces demonstrated little respect for basic human rights…” and that “efforts to ‘normalize’ Chechnya such as the March constitutional referendum and the flawed presidential elections in November will prove meaningless unless Moscow takes conscientious and effective steps to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights.” The letter also calls for condemnation of human rights violations perpetrated by Chechen insurgents. “Mr. Secretary, you have stated, and we agree fully, that a world in which every person can exercise fundamental freedoms is a world in which terrorism cannot thrive,” the letter concludes.  “We view a strong resolution on Chechnya at the UNCHR as consistent with that principle and urge strong U.S. leadership in Geneva to put this principle into action.” In response to reports that the European Union intended to submit a resolution on Chechnya at the UNCHR (as it has in previous years), the Russian Foreign Ministry has labeled such a step as “inappropriate” and “untimely.”   At the opening session of the meeting on March 15, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called upon the Russian Government to protect human rights in the northern Caucasus and to bring human rights violators in the region to justice. 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.

  • Policing and Human Rights Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on Northern Ireland’s Human Rights and Police Reform.  Policing Reforms and Human Rights in Northern Ireland Tuesday, March 16, 2004 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM 2172 Rayburn House Office Building   Witnesses: Dr. Mitchell Reiss, Director of Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State Nuala O'Loan, Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Jane Winter, Director, British Irish Rights Watch Paul Mageean, Legal Officer, Committee on the Administration of Justice Brendan McAllister, Director of Mediation Northern Ireland Elisa Massimino, Director of the Washington, D.C. Office, Human Rights First As a follow-up to Helsinki Commission hearings on the peace process in Northern Ireland held in 2000, this hearing will focus specifically on the status of policing reforms.  U.S. policy regarding this aspect of the peace process will be reviewed.  U.S. policy regarding this aspect of the peace process will be reviewed. The hearing will also examine the work of institutions tasked with monitoring and encouraging progress in the peace process through police reform, including the investigation of complaints against the police and holding police officers accountable for human rights violations and other improper conduct. The impact of progress to date on the communities in Northern Ireland will also be assessed.

  • Chairman Smith Appointed as OSCE PA Special Representative on Human Trafficking

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) was recently appointed as “Special Representative on Human Trafficking” for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA).  Chairman Smith was appointed to the position by OSCE PA President Bruce George, Member of the British House of Commons.  Chairman Smith will make his first report when the OSCE PA meets for its annual session this July in Edinburgh, Scotland.  “I am grateful for the Parliamentary Assembly’s recognition of my work domestically and internationally on behalf of victims of human trafficking,” Chairman Smith said.  “As the OSCE PA’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking, I look forward to encouraging reform where victims of this heinous crime are abducted, transported or bought and sold into slavery.” “I hope that you will advise the Assembly both in the implementation of its already agreed policies on combating trafficking as well as in the development of new policies,” said OSCE PA President George.  “In our work we need to take a broad approach by looking at countries of origin, transit and destination. We need to consider both how to protect the victims and also how to combat the criminal elements involved. As you have yourself pointed out, co-operation on various levels is essential.” The OSCE PA is made up of 317 parliamentarians from the 55 OSCE participating States, appointed by their national parliaments, often including senior parliamentary leaders and those with foreign policy oversight.  The Assembly issues declarations and concrete recommendations aimed at promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law, with a particular emphasis on implementation by participating States of their OSCE commitments. Chairman Smith sponsored the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which dedicated substantial resources to combat trafficking of people and help the victims of this crime recover.  This law also has an extensive domestic component that helps to prevent violence against women in the United States. According to a recently released U.S. Government estimate, 800,000 to 900,000 women, children and men fall victim to international trafficking each year and end up prisoners of slavery-like practices in the commercial sex industry, domestic servitude, sweatshops, and agricultural farms, among other destinations. As a result of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, U.S. federal prosecutors have initiated prosecutions of at least 79 traffickers -- three times as many as in the two previous years. Nearly 400 survivors of trafficking in the United States have received assistance, facilitated by the Department of Health and Human Services, to begin recovering from their trauma and to rebuild their shattered lives.  Due to the efforts of the State Department, USAID, and the spotlight put on the issue through the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, governments worldwide are taking significant actions against human trafficking. Despite substantive inroads, people continue to be bought and sold into modern day slavery.  Victims continue to face obstacles in the process of securing needed assistance.  The international community is not yet addressing human trafficking as an organized crime activity and has yet to aggressively target sex tourism as a factor contributing to the criminal demand.

  • Independent Mosque in Azerbaijan Ordered Closed Under Dubious Circumstances

    Washington – On Monday, March 1, an Azerbaijani court reportedly ordered the closure of the Juma Mosque in Baku, effectively ousting the community that has worshiped at the historic mosque for over a decade.  Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ)  and House Ranking Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) urged the authorities to intervene to ensure that the ousted community be reinstated and allowed to worship there freely. “The government’s attempt to close down this mosque and evict its religious community appears to be a page out of Azerbaijan’s communist past,” said Chairman Smith.  “I urge the Azerbaijani Government to cease efforts to close the Juma Mosque and return full control to its religious community. Any use of force by authorities against the Juma Mosque community would be most troubling.” Earlier this year, Baku city authorities sued in the Sabail District Court 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 a 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.  Registered in 1992 and 1993, the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations, a frequent and vocal critique of the independent mosque, has reportedly refused to re-register the mosque. “I am concerned that this is nothing more than a land grab dressed up as a legal proceeding,” said Rep. Cardin.  “Azerbaijan committed to allow the full and free enjoyment of religious freedom, and this case appears to constitute a breach of those obligations.” The court reportedly gave the community no timetable to vacate the property, although they have one month to appeal, and it is not clear who will gain control of the mosque.  The facility is one of the few mosques operating independently of the Muslim Board of the Caucasus, a Soviet-era Muftiate close to the government that appoints Muslim clerics and monitors Friday sermons.  Chairman Smith spoke out against government actions to close the mosque, and the imprisonment of its cleric, Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, on February 5. There are additional troubling signs for religious freedom in Azerbaijan.  Also on March 1, reports indicated that Adventist pastor Khalid Babaev and his family fled the Azerbaijani province of Nakhichevan due to the refusal of police to offer any assistance or protection from death threats they received because of their religious work.  The State Department reports that of the estimated 2000 religious groups operating in Azerbaijan, only 199 have re-registered successfully.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Reviews Bulgaria’s Leadership of the OSCE

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on Bulgaria’s leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) featuring the testimony of His Excellency Solomon Passy, Foreign Minister of Bulgaria and Chair-in-Office of the OSCE.   The Bulgarian Leadership of the OSCE 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM Thursday, February 26, 2004 334 Cannon House Office Building   Witness:             His Excellency Solomon Passy, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria and Chair-in-Office, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Bulgaria assumed its one-year chairmanship of the OSCE in January 2004.  This Helsinki Commission hearing will review the OSCE's program for 2004 under Bulgaria’s leadership.  Chair-in-Office Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy has said that implementation of OSCE commitments would top the agenda for Bulgaria’s Chairmanship of the OSCE.  Specific issues expected to be discussed are the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, OSCE efforts to resolve the Transdniestrian conflict, work to resolve the “frozen conflicts” in the Caucasus, OSCE efforts to combat anti-Semitism and human trafficking, the situation in Central Asia, as well as promoting respect for human rights and democratic values throughout the OSCE region.  The hearing will also highlight Bulgaria's experience in its own transition to democracy and ongoing human rights efforts. The OSCE is the largest regional security organization in the world with 55 participating States from Europe, Eurasia and North America.  Its approach to security encompasses a wide range of security-related issues including arms control, preventive diplomacy, confidence- and security-building measures, human rights, democratization, election monitoring and economic and environmental security. All OSCE participating States have equal status and decisions are based on consensus. The OSCE has deployed numerous missions and field activities throughout Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It works to facilitate political processes, prevent or settle conflicts, and promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

  • Commission Leaders Urge Release of Imprisoned 62 Year-Old Uzbekistan Woman

    Son Died in Uzbek Prison, Submerged in Boiling Water Washington- United States Helsinki Commission leaders today expressed outrage over Uzbekistan’s recent conviction of a 62 year-old woman sentenced to prison for exposing the torturous death of her son at the hands of Uzbek prison officials. Fatima Mukhadirova was sentenced to six years of hard labor for publicizing the circumstances of the August 2002 death of her son, who died in the notorious Jaslyk prison after reportedly being submerged in boiling water. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and House Ranking Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) condemned the February 12 conviction of Mukhadirova by an Uzbek court. “Fatima Mukhadirova’s conviction is truly shocking,” Chairman Smith said. “I urge Uzbekistan to release her immediately and unconditionally. Considering the lack of any real progress toward respect for human rights, the State Department must make an honest determination to this effect, ending the availability of U.S. assistance to the Uzbek Government, as provided for by U.S. law.” “Uzbek officials have only compounded one deplorable travesty of justice with another by sentencing a 62 year-old grandmother to six years in a hard labor camp after her son was brutally tortured to death in prison,” Commissioner Cardin said. “Perhaps Uzbek officials are under the false impression that they can silence Mukhadirova’s campaign to achieve some small measure of justice for her son’s murder. They will not.” Her son, Muzafar Avazov was held at the Jaslyk prison, known as the “prison of no return.” He was one of approximately 6,000 Muslims jailed because of their religious affiliation or belief. Avazov’s body showed evidence of numerous tortures, including being boiled and having his fingernails removed. Since then, Fatima Mukhadirova has waged a public campaign to bring those responsible for her son’s mistreatment to justice. The charges brought against her include possession of “illegal” religious literature and attempting to overthrow the constitutional order. Section 568 of the Foreign Operations Appropriations Act [Public Law 108-199] requires the Secretary of State to certify that Uzbekistan is making “substantial and continued progress” implementing a strategic framework, including in the field of human rights, signed between the United States and Uzbekistan in March 2002. Certification is necessary for the release of U.S. assistance to the Uzbek Government. A decision on recertification is expected this spring, and no waiver is available. “Uzbekistan is currently working with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to develop an ‘action plan to combat torture.’ But a so-called action plan is no substitute for actually combating torture,” Smith declared. “By sending Mukhadirova to a labor camp, the Uzbek Government is mocking its own commitment to protect human rights and is undermining its relationship with the United States.” “At a time when Uzbekistan is under pressure to demonstrate ‘substantial and continuing progress’ in meeting its bilateral commitments – a requirement for continued U.S. assistance – the United States should make clear Uzbekistan’s abject failure to do so,” said Cardin. In a welcome move, in December 2003 the State Department determined that Uzbekistan failed to demonstrate respect for international human rights standards as required by the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. That program, however, allows for a waiver if there is a need to safeguard weapons or materiel. As Uzbekistan possesses large amounts of uranium, the administration issued a waiver allowing continued assistance for threat reduction and non-proliferation efforts. Helsinki Commission members have repeatedly urged the State Department to take stronger action against Uzbekistan, including designating the former Soviet Republic as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act. If this designation is made, the administration has a flexible menu of consequences that may be imposed.

  • Chairman Addresses All-Russian National Assembly on Combating Human Trafficking

    STATEMENT BY REP. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH (USA) Addressed to the All-Russian National Assembly of Non-Governmental Organizations to Combat Human Trafficking Moscow, Russia January 27, 2004 Dear Elena Borisovna, Colleagues in the War Against Trafficking, Honored Guests, I deeply regret that I am not able to join you for this first “All-Russian National Assembly of Non-Government Organizations to Combat Human Trafficking.” The Honorable Elena Mizulina extended an invitation to me when we were together in Rome last fall. The U.S. House of Representatives is in Session today and votes will be cast. The work that you have done in Russia – in law, in word, and in deed through the tireless efforts of NGOs – is an inspiration to all of us. Because of your noble efforts and the recent response by your government, significant strides have been made toward ending the plague of human trafficking in Russia and in countries where Russian citizens are being exploited. In this connection, allow me to convey my appreciation to the official sponsor of today's event, Mr. Grigory Poltavchenko, the Russian Federation Presidential Representative to the Central Federal District. Last year, both President Bush and President Putin strongly denounced the practice of human trafficking. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, President Bush called upon Member States to do their part to fight this modern-day slavery. He said, and I know we all agree, that “the trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time.” Introducing his anti-trafficking measures in the Duma, President Putin called trafficking “a modern form of slavery, which is accompanied by the most flagrant and cruel violations of human rights.” President Putin’s condemnation of human trafficking helped fuel the successful effort to amend Russia’s criminal code and, hopefully, will next lead to legislative measures to protect the victims of trafficking. On December 19, President Bush signed into U.S. law an update of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act which I authored in the Congress. Despite having enacted landmark anti-trafficking legislation just a few years ago, this new law reflects the need to be constantly vigilant about providing more and better tools to law enforcement and victims service providers. Last October, at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review meeting in Warsaw, the Russian delegation made a strong statement against trafficking and called for increased international contacts between government officials involved in interdicting trafficking. Such contacts have proven beneficial to both our nations, and I would emphasize that contacts between government officials and colleagues in the Russian NGO community are also vital. Dedicated NGOs in Russia worked for several years to bring the issue of trafficking to the attention of the Russian Government. These NGOs simultaneously sought out any avenue to provide compassionate responses for the trafficking victims they encountered and to prevent the victimization of further Russian citizens. I applaud the tenacity of each and every one of you who has toiled in the trenches these past years and I encourage you to remain committed to our common cause for the long road ahead. Russia is the most populous and influential nation in Eurasia, and one of the world's major powers. If her actions to combat trafficking are successful, it will not only have a beneficial effect on the people of Russia but will strike a heavy blow against the pernicious web of human trafficking worldwide, and deprive organized crime of a major source of revenue. As we have in the past, the American people and American government stand ready to assist. The task before us is formidable. While we are making progress in the campaign against human trafficking, the number of victims worldwide underscores the immensity of the problem. Behind the trafficking business stand huge economic interests that resist any efforts to thwart their vicious, but profitable, enterprise. But let the traffickers beware. We have begun the fight to save millions of women and children, as well as men who are forced every day to submit to the most atrocious offenses against their persons and against their dignity as human beings. We will not quit. Working together with enlightened individuals in the executive branch and “legislators of conscience,” the Russian NGO community has demonstrated its deep commitment to combating human trafficking. You have my best wishes for a productive and successful conference and for future victories in the war against trafficking.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Eager to Work with Georgian President to Uphold Rights

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission today released the text of a letter signed by seven House and Senate Commissioners addressed to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in conjunction with his first official visit to Washington since his election.   February 13, 2004 His Excellency Mikheil Saakashvili President Republic of Georgia Tbilisi, Georgia   Dear Mr. President: We are delighted to welcome you on your first official visit to Washington as the newly elected President of Georgia.  Needless to say, we followed with fascination and admiration your leadership of last November=s ARevolution of the Roses,@ the only popular movement in the former USSR to succeed in peacefully overturning the results of a fraudulent election. We also congratulate you on your landslide victory on January 4.  Ordinarily, election tallies such as yours would evoke suspicion, but in the case of Georgia , the results demonstrate the longing of Georgians for change and their confidence in your leadership.  Secretary of State Powell=s attendance at your inauguration was indicative of Washington =s commitment to help your country stand on its own feet and defend its sovereignty.  We pledge to continue to press for implementation of commitments made at the Istanbul OSCE Summit concerning Georgia ’s territorial integrity and security. As you have said publicly, your country=s failure to pursue structural reforms has tarnished Georgia =s reputation.  The pervasiveness of corruption and the former leadership=s lax attitude toward this problem have been particularly damaging to U.S.-Georgian relations.  We applaud your initiatives to bring to justice officials who misused their positions to enrich themselves. In that connection, we want to raise an issue which you, as Minister of Justice, have discussed with the Helsinki Commission -- the longstanding campaign of organized violence against members of minority faiths, especially the Jehovah=s Witnesses.  Representatives of these confessions have indicated they have great hopes that you will not tolerate such violence.  We share their expectations and look to you for justice against criminals whom Georgia =s law enforcement has refused to prosecute seriously.  As you know, the court case against Basil Mkalavishvili has been delayed and postponed many times since January 2003.  He is currently reported to be in hiding, yet media outlets never seem to have any difficulty finding him. Violence against minority faiths has diminished somewhat recently.  But legal proceedings against those who defied Georgian law and international norms, not to mention the basics of civilized behavior, would show Georgians, their neighbors and distant partners that Tbilisi is committed to fulfilling its OSCE commitments.  A leader with your level of popular support can easily explain the importance of such a step to the people of Georgia . We look forward to the establishment of the rule of law in Georgia and are eager to assist in this endeavor.     Sincerely, BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL , U.S.S.                             CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, U.S.S.                                         BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, M.C. ROBERT B. ADERHOLT, M.C. FRANK R. WOLF, M.C.                                                      ALCEE L. HASTINGS, M.C.  

  • Moscow Should Engage the OSCE in Resolving the Chechen Problem

    The following op-ed by Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) was published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta February 10, 2004. Having been propelled from relative obscurity to the presidency of the Russian Federation four years ago, Vladimir Putin is the undisputed leader of his country. His power further consolidated by recent, albeit flawed parliamentary elections, Putin is poised to secure a second mandate in presidential elections scheduled for mid-March. However, with his position secure, the question remains as to how President Putin will wield his considerable power to shape Russia domestically and internationally. The role Russia chooses to play in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will also be an important indicator of the degree to which President Putin is interested in pursuing productive partnership with the West. Federation Council International Relations Chairman Margelov recently suggested that the OSCE no longer served Russia's interests. He suggests that the raison d'etre for the OSCE -- which consisted originally in Soviet willingness to discuss democratization and human rights in return for Western agreement to arms control talks -- became invalid with the end of the Cold War. Furthermore, he argues that NATO's preponderance in political-military issues, combined with the EU's weight on economic issues, has turned the OSCE's previous multidimensional approach to a geographically and functionally discriminating emphasis on democracy in the former Soviet space. But this is a false argument, since it is also in Russia's interest that its neighbors become stable and prosperous democracies. Rather than being viewed as a challenge to Russia’s interests, OSCE principles and standards – which Moscow helped shape over the years – should be seen as essential tools in strengthening security at home and abroad. As such, the OSCE provides an important and useful framework for building a stronger Russia and enhancing its leadership. Russia should use the organization to its own advantage, and our common democratic agenda, rather than seeing it as a threat to Russian interests. Indeed, we have many times seen that when Russia chooses to play a positive role it can be the best of partners, actively cooperating with OSCE efforts to combat international terrorism and human trafficking, and promoting a strong role for the organization in economic and environmental affairs. From the first, Russian military forces have played a valuable role in post-Dayton peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. Recent steps by President Putin and the Duma to strengthen legislation against the plague of human trafficking is a timely example of positive leadership Russia can exert on a pressing human rights issue. Such steps are not only in the best interest of the Russian people, but enhance Russia’s standing and prestige throughout the world. The same can be said for President Putin’s strong statements condemning anti-Semitism. At home, President Putin’s stated objective is to build a “united Russia.” If this is to be more than a mere slogan, he will have to choose between pursuing this goal by either fostering freedom or resorting to force –i.e. embracing elements of pluralistic civil society or marginalizing, if not eliminating, them. A rapidly disappearing independent national broadcast media, actions against human rights and pro-democracy NGOs, and manipulations of elections must be reversed in keeping with Russia’s OSCE commitments if the country is to play the leadership role that it could and should play. Those commitments offer a far better blueprint for progress and prosperity than does the misguided notion of so-called “managed democracy” popular among some political circles close to Putin. The OSCE can also be an important resource for resolving issues of concern to the international community. Moscow should seriously engage the OSCE in efforts to bring about a political solution to the current Chechen conflict now entering its fifth year. Although Russia pledged to withdraw its forces from the Transdniestria region of Moldova at the 1999 OSCE Summit, those troops have not been withdrawn and efforts to reach a settlement have been complicated by Russian “free-lance” negotiating outside the agreed international framework. Russian forces also remain deployed on the ground in Georgia, a policy which has tended to exacerbate the situation in that country rent by conflict and division. Blatant assistance to separatists in Georgia makes Russia look like a bully and a troublemaker and lowers her prestige internationally. Russian status was further undermined by the contretemps with Ukraine over Tuzla Island in late October. Russia has considerable assets at its disposal – including a seasoned diplomatic corps – to advance the aims of the OSCE in overcoming the legacy of the past and enhancing security through the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. But through steps like those recounted above, Moscow has raised questions about her intentions and created concern, lowering her ability to persuade OSCE partners of her positive political motivations in the region. The comprehensive nature and membership of the OSCE offer Russia a unique framework within which to enhance security while advancing cooperation. When Russia has been a creative, energetic partner in the organization, the Russian people have gained respect and strength. Our common goal in 2004 should be to seek ways to strengthen cooperation. Everyone will gain.

  • Chairman Alarmed by Azerbaijani Government Actions

    Washington - Helsinki Commission Chairman, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), today expressed his concern about efforts by Azerbaijani authorities to close the Juma Mosque in Baku.  Members reportedly fear that the government will soon seize control of the mosque, either by force or through illegitimate judicial proceedings.   “I am seriously concerned about reported actions of the General Prosecutor’s Office to close the Juma Mosque in Baku’s old town, while attempting to expropriate full control from mosque leaders to the Muslim Board of the Caucasus,” said Chairman Smith.  “I urge President Ilham Aliev and government authorities to allow the Juma Mosque to operate independently and freely.” The Juma Mosque, converted into a carpet museum during the Soviet period, was returned to the Islamic community by the authorities in 1992 and registered in 1992 and 1993.  The facility is reportedly the only mosque operating independently from the Muslim Board, a Soviet-era Muftiate that appoints Muslim clerics and monitors Friday sermons.   In addition, authorities jailed the Juma Mosque’s imam, Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, on December 3, 2003 in the Bayil investigation prison, pending the outcome of a trial for his alleged connection to demonstrations following last October’s flawed presidential elections.  Mr. Ibrahimoglu also serves as chairman of the Azerbaijani chapter of the International Religious Liberty Association, a well respected, non-sectarian organization based in the Washington, DC area.  “The imprisonment of Mr. Ibrahimoglu, coupled with government efforts to close his mosque, represents a serious breach of OSCE commitments on religious freedom,” added Smith.  “I urge the government to unconditionally release Mr. Ibrahimoglu and allow him to resume his religious duties.” Other religious groups are increasingly experiencing problems in Azerbaijan.  Reportedly, authorities have denied registration under questionable circumstances to the Baptist community in Neftchala, the Greater Grace Protestant church in Ismaili, and Protestant churches in Sumgait.  In addition, reports of police raids on religious communities and their members continue to arise.  On August 31, 2003, for example, the Nasimi district police office in Baku broke up a meeting of Greater Grace Protestant Church because it was allegedly “illegal.”  In July of 2003, police raided a Baptist church in Gyanja and two members received heavy fines.  

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