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

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  • Helsinki Commission Members Urge Chechnya Dialogue in Bush-Putin Meeting

    September 12, 2003 The President The White House Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President: As you prepare to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Camp David later this month, we urge you to raise several issues regarding the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Chechnya. Today, the most egregious violations of international humanitarian law in the OSCE region are occurring in that region of Russia. We wholeheartedly support the U.S. efforts to work with the Government of the Russian Federation on the host of important issues facing our two nations, and we welcome the increased cooperation with Russia to confront the challenges of terrorism. Nevertheless, the charge of terrorism must never be used as a blanket rationalization for flagrant and massive abuse of Chechnya's civilian population. Indeed, a fundamental tenet of humanitarian law is that the means of warfare are not unlimited. In their drive to suppress Chechen separatism, elements of the Russian military, security organs and police forces have employed brutal means and virtually guaranteed to drive a despairing civilian population into the arms of a radicalized resistance. The Moscow-supported authorities in Chechnya have themselves confirmed that there are 49 known mass graves in Chechnya containing about three thousand bodies. According to the respected human rights organization "Memorial," in the first three months of this year representatives of Russian federal forces abducted 119 persons; last year in the same time period this figure amounted to 82 persons. We urge you to encourage President Putin to invite the International Commission on Missing Persons to assist in resolving the thousands of missing persons cases. Numerous military and paramilitary units have been particularly distinguished by brutality toward the civilian population. Such units should be withdrawn from Chechnya and those responsible for egregious human rights violations should face criminal charges. To date, the Russian military and judicial system has yet to demonstrate its commitment to seriously address this problem. Despite the precarious security environment in Chechnya, the Russian Government is implementing a policy of forced repatriation of thousands of internally displaced persons who have fled to neighboring Ingushetia. This summer displaced Chechens, including those in the Askanovskie Garazhi temporary settlement and the Bella Camp, have reportedly been subjected to intense pressure by government officials to immediately return to Chechnya or face a loss of humanitarian aid, or worse. UNHCR reports that more than 1,500 people have left under questionable circumstances since January. In keeping with the 1999 OSCE Charter for European Security, under which the Russian Federation agreed to "facilitate the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons in dignity and safety," we urge you to seek President Putin's assurance that coercive repatriation will cease, IDPs will be permitted to remain in the relative secure environs of the Ingush IDP camps, and humanitarian relief groups will be allowed to provide aid to IDPs in the region. One of the characteristics of Russia's policy in Chechnya has been to cut off the region from outside observers such as press, human rights organizations and representatives of many international organizations. Visits that are allowed to occur are infrequent and heavily monitored by government officials. To paraphrase President Reagan, Mr. Putin should "tear down the wall" and allow reasonable access to Chechnya by interested observers. Finally, we would call attention to the continued disappearance of Arjan Erkel, a Dutch national and employee of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders. Mr. Erkel was kidnaped over a year ago in Dagestan, and there is reliable evidence that he is still alive. We hope you will join the many voices of the international community calling upon President Putin to see that every appropriate measure is taken by Russian authorities to locate and free Mr. Erkel. Mr. President, we have no illusions about certain elements of the Chechen resistance who have murdered hostages, kidnaped civilians for ransom and used them as shields during combat operations, and embarked on a campaign of assassination against innocent citizens of Russia as well as fellow Chechens who work for the Russian civil government in Chechnya. We know that some individuals or factions of the resistance have been linked to international terrorist organizations. They should be brought to justice, wherever they are and whomever they serve. In conclusion, Mr. President, we strongly urge you to raise these important issues in your upcoming talks with President Putin given the gravity of the situation in Chechnya. Sincerely, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S. Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith M.C. Chairman Russell D. Feingold, U.S.S. Commissioner Benjamin L. Cardin, M.C. Ranking Member

  • Situation in Chechnya Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on the situation and future prospects in Russia's war-torn region of Chechnya, in anticipation of upcoming talks this month between President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Chechnya: Current Situation and Prospects for the Future Tuesday, September 16, 2003 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM 334 Cannon House Office Building Witnesses: Ambassador Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Lord Frank Judd, Member, British House of Lords; former Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Rapporteur on Chechnya Anna Politkovskaya, Moscow journalist; recipient of 2002 OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy for reporting from Chechnya Dr. Robert Bruce Ware, Associate Professor, Southern Illinois University The Russian Government has declared the "counterterrorism operation" in Chechnya over. But the conflict in the secessionist region continues to take its toll in combatant and non-combatant deaths and disappearances. According to the State Department's Country Reports Human Rights Practices for 2002, "the indiscriminate use of force by government troops in the Chechen conflict has resulted in widespread civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of persons, the majority of whom sought refuge in the neighboring republic of Ingushetiya." The Russian Government continues to coerce many internally displaced persons to return to the war zone. Hundreds of Chechens have disappeared. According to the Moscow-based human rights organization, Memorial, in the first three months of this year, Russian federal forces abducted 119 people. The United States Government has determined that some elements of the Chechen resistance are linked with international terrorism, while at the same time calling for accountability for human rights abuses committed by both sides. Elections for President of Chechnya as part of the Russian Federation are scheduled for October 5, 2003.

  • CANCELLED: Hearing: Missing Persons in Southeast Europe, Part 2

    The Story from the Families Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing with individuals representing families with lost relatives from the periods of conflict in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999. Missing Persons in Southeast Europe, Part 2 Thursday, September 18, 2003 10:00 AM to 12:00 Noon 334 Cannon House Office Building Testifying: Sheremet Ademi, Chairman, Mitrovica-based NGO "Memory" and Kosovar Association of Families of the Missing. He also advises the United Nations Mission in Kosovo on issues relating to missing persons. Three members of his family were missing, but they recently have been identified. Nesrete Kumnova, President, Gjakova-based NGO "Mothers Appeal." Eight members of her family are missing, including one son. Agron Limani, President, "26 Marsi 1999," an association of families based in Krusha e Vogel where 70 percent of the men over age 16 were abducted. Limani has 11 missing family members, including his father and brother. Mehmetali Perolli, Head, Gjakova-based Office of the Imprisoned and Missing People, where 667 persons are still missing. According to the International Commission on Missing Persons, as many as 40,000 persons are unaccounted for a result of the decade of deadly conflict in the former Yugoslavia beginning in 1991. Mass graves continue to be uncovered, while people still seek information from government offices on lost relatives. In some cases, efforts to find the truth about the unknown fate of loved ones have brought together individuals representing different ethnic groups. The Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on one aspect of this issue, with testimony by Albanians who themselves have missing family members in Kosovo. The panelists also represent organizations consisting of other families sharing the same tragedy and grief. A similar panel of Serbs who lost family in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo testified before the Commission on August 1, 2003.

  • U.S. Policy Under Review by Helsinki Commission

    In Advance of OSCE Human Rights Meeting and Ministerial Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to examine U.S. policy toward the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE Tuesday, September 9, 2003 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM 334 Cannon House Office Building Testifying: The Honorable A. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs The Honorable Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor This hearing will examine U.S. policy in a critical region of the world and Washington's relations with the OSCE--the largest regional organization encompassing all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. At the heart of OSCE is the explicit and implicit connection between security, democratic values and human rights. The hearing will address specific human rights concerns, including the ongoing conflicts in Chechnya and the Caucasus, the deteriorating situation in Belarus, and the dismal human rights climate in Central Asia, as well as initiatives to fight human trafficking, combat anti-Semitism and related violence, and stem international crime and terrorism. The hearing takes place as the United States prepares for the main OSCE human rights meeting to take place in Warsaw, Poland beginning in early October. Since the end of the Cold War, the OSCE has evolved into a singular instrument for advancing U.S. foreign policy goals in Eurasia, including the promotion of the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It remains the only pan-European forum for military-security negotiations.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Reviews Dutch Leadership of the OSCE

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on the Dutch leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) featuring the testimony of His Excellency Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Foreign Minister of The Netherlands and Chair-in-Office of the OSCE. The Dutch Leadership of the OSCE Wednesday, September 3, 2003 3:15 PM - 4:15 PM 562 Dirksen Senate Office Building Witness: His Excellency Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Foreign Minister of The Netherlands The Netherlands assumed its one-year chairmanship of the OSCE in January 2003. The hearing will review the work of the OSCE under the Dutch Chairmanship. Specific issues expected to be discussed are the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, the deteriorating situation in Belarus, OSCE efforts to combat anti-Semitism and human trafficking, as well as promoting respect for human rights and democratic values in the participating States. Following the adoption of the Charter on Terrorism at the 2002 Porto meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council, the Dutch Chairmanship has focused its efforts on enhancing security and stability by bringing attention to developments in Central Asia and promoting concrete efforts to confront terrorism, organized crime and trafficking in human beings, drugs and arms, and renewed efforts to resolve the so-called "frozen conflicts" in the Caucasus and the ongoing conflict in Chechnya. The hearing will be held in advance of the OSCE Ministerial Council scheduled for Maastricht, December 1-2, 2003. The Ministerial will be an opportunity to assess efforts in the war on terrorism, as well as combating organized crime and trafficking and developing strategies for continued action by the OSCE participating States in the face of new threats to security and stability. The OSCE is the largest regional security organization in the world with 55 participating States from Europe, Central Asia and North America. The OSCE approach to security deals with 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 55 OSCE participating States have equal status and decisions are based on consensus. The OSCE has deployed more than twenty missions and field activities located in Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It works on the ground to facilitate political processes, prevent or settle conflicts, and promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

  • Helsinki Commission Report: New Religion Law Conflicts with Bulgaria's Human Rights Commitments

    Washington - Bulgaria's Law on Religions is "out of step" with the country's human rights agreements to respect religious freedom, according to a report released today by the United States Helsinki Commission. The report highlights sections of the Law on Religions which need further evaluation and legislative refinement, and suggests ways to bring the law into conformity with Bulgaria's human rights commitments since becoming a party to the Helsinki Accords. "As Bulgaria prepares to assume the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in January, it is troubling that the religion law fails to fulfill all OSCE commitments on religious freedom," said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). "I sincerely urge my Bulgarian counterparts to seriously consider the recommendations in this report." Complications with administering the registration process under the new law have reportedly led to the denial of visas for two Catholic religious orders. Concerns also exist about the preferential treatment given the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and how that will impact other religious communities. For instance, the law automatically registers the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, thereby forcing the other religious communities to complete the registration process. Registration is critical, as the law ties property ownership rights to legal personality. The Law on Religions passed the Bulgarian National Assembly on December 20, 2002. In an apparent rush to approve the legislation, certain religious communities were reportedly overlooked for consultations during the hurried drafting process. The Bulgarian Constitutional Court reviewed the law on July 15, 2003. Six of the court's twelve judges ruled against the Law on Religions and five in favor. Under Bulgarian law, seven judges must rule against a law for it to be overturned.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Recalls Romani Holocaust Tragedy

    Calls on Governments to Respect the Human Rights of Roma Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) observed the annual remembrance of the Porrajmos ("the Devouring" in Romani) and called on governments to ensure that the fundamental rights of Roma are respected. During the night of August 2-3, 1944, the Romani camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liquidated. Nearly three thousand Romani men, women and children were killed in the gas chambers in a single night. Roma have come to remember their Holocaust experiences on these days. "Each year, Roma from around the globe--from Lety, Sibiu and Nagykanisza, to New York, London and Berlin--remember their experiences during the Holocaust," said Smith. "I join them as they mourn their dead and seek to protect the living." "I welcome the progress that has been made in recent years in improving respect for the basic human rights of Roma," continued Smith. "But the fact is, throughout the OSCE region, Roma face bigotry and discrimination of pandemic proportions. "In the time that has passed since last year's remembrance event, Roma have been brutally attacked in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and murdered in Bulgaria. Ukraine has yet to undertake any credible investigation into the arson murder of a family of five Roma in October 2001. Roma and other minorities still struggle to survive in enclaves in Kosovo or as displaced communities unable to return home. "Contrary to the hand-wringing pessimists who only talk about what can't be done to improve the situation of Roma, there are concrete and specific actions that public leaders can and should take today: adopt anti-discrimination legislation; implement desegregation of schools; investigate and punish racially motivated attacks; and open the door for Roma to participate in mainstream political parties. "At a time when we remember the tragedy that befell so many innocent men, women and children, I hope the participating States of the OSCE will re-double their efforts to address the ongoing human rights violations of Roma." Background The Romani camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liquidated on the night of August 2-3, 1944. Nearly three thousand Romani men, women and children were killed in the gas chambers in a single night. Over the years, August 2-3 have become days of remembrance of the Porrajmos. Porrajmos [pronounced paw-rye-MAWSS] is the Romani word for "devouring" and is used to describe the Romani experiences during the Holocaust. Roma were among those targeted for annihilation by the Nazis; however, their suffering before and during World War II is not well known. Discriminatory policies similar in many ways to those instituted against German Jews were implemented against the Roma under Nazi rule, taking progressively more virulent form: race-based denial of citizenship; forced sterilization; incarceration in work or concentration camps; deportation to and mass murder in the killing centers. In addition to the murder of between 16,000 and 20,000 Roma at Auschwitz, Roma were killed elsewhere in German-occupied territory by SS and police units, and by regular Army units. Many Romani victims were shot at the edge of villages and dumped into mass graves. Approximately 25,000 Roma from Romania were deported to Transnistria in 1942; some 19,000 of them perished there. It is difficult to estimate the size of the pre-war European Romani population and wartime losses, based on currently available documents. These subjects continue to be a focus of scholarly research and debate. Currently available records and analyses suggest that the fate of Roma could vary considerably, depending on their location. In Croatia, for example, it is believed that virtually all Roma were murdered. In neighboring Bosnia, however, where Muslim leaders intervened on behalf of their Romani co-religionists, Romani survival was much greater. After World War II, the post-Nazi West German Government strongly resisted redressing past wrongs committed against Roma, seeking to limit its accountability. The first German trial decision to recognize that Roma as well as Jews were genocide victims during the Third Reich was not handed down until 1991. Public awareness of the nature and extent of Romani losses continues to expand as new archival material becomes available and new generations of researchers examine the Holocaust experiences of Roma. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has collected and continues to seek additional photographs, artifacts, and documents relating to Romani experiences during the Holocaust.

  • Chairman Smith Welcomes Romania's Proposed Improvements to Free Speech Protections

    WASHINGTON – United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today welcomed the proposed increased protections for free speech in the Romanian Government’s draft penal code. Smith called on Romania’s parliament to pass the bill into law and urged other countries to take similar steps to protect freedom of speech. “I have been heartened by the many positive changes that have taken place in Romania since the fall of Ceausescu and disappointed by the many squandered opportunities to implement more meaningful reforms,” said Smith. “In particular, I have long urged all post-communist governments to repeal insult and criminal defamation laws.” On May 21, 2003, the Romanian Government proposed a new penal code that would do just that – repeal insult and criminal defamation laws. “Romanian parliamentarians now stand at an important crossroads, and I hope they will expeditiously pass these proposed changes into law,” Smith said. “Doing so will likely lead to significant improvements for Romanians and will serve as a positive example that I hope other countries, such as Armenia, will follow.” The proposed penal code would make the following changes: Article 205 of the existing criminal code, which punishes insult by up to two years in prison, would be repealed. Article 206, which makes defamation punishable by up to three years in prison, would become Article 217; however it would only be punishable by a fine. Article 236, which makes defamation of national symbols, the country or the nation punishable by up to three years in prison, would be repealed. Article 238, which makes insult or defamation of public officials punishable by up to seven years in prison, would be repealed. Article 239, which makes "outrage" by insult or defamation of public authority punishable by up to seven years in prison, would be renumbered Article 314 and the scope of the offense narrowed to threats or violence.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Missing Persons in Southeast Europe

    The Story from the Families WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing with individuals who lost relatives in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia during the decade of conflicts associated with the former Yugoslavia’s disintegration. Missing Persons in Southeast Europe Friday, August 1, 2003 9:15 AM to 10:30 AM 334 Cannon House Office Building   Testifying: Olgica Bozanic, Member of the Presidency, Association of Family Members of Missing and Kidnaped Individuals, Belgrade, Serbia Verica Tomanovic, Member of the Presidency, Association of Family Members of Missing and Kidnaped Individuals, Belgrade, Serbia Cedomir Maric, President of the Association of Families of Missing Persons from Krajina, Belgrade, Serbia Gordana Jaksic, Member of the Board of Directors, Association of Parents and Families of the Arrested, Captured and Missing, Novi Sad, Serbia According to the International Commission on Missing Persons, as many as 40,000 persons are missing as a result of a decade of deadly conflict in the former Yugoslavia beginning in 1991. Mass graves continue to be uncovered, while people still seek information from government offices on lost relatives. In some cases, efforts to find the truth about the unknown fate of loved ones have brought together individuals representing different ethnic groups. On this, the 28th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, the Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on one aspect of this issue, the views of Serbs who themselves lost relatives in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. The panelists also represent organizations consisting of hundreds of families sharing the same tragedy and grief.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairmen Observe International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

    WASHINGTON - In observance of the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) called for intensified efforts to prevent and punish torture as well as meaningful support for the survivors of torture. “The recent deaths of Orif Ershanov and Otamaza Gafaro at the hands of Uzbekistan officials are the latest cases to underscore that preventing torture is truly a matter of life and death,” said Chairman Smith. “But while we work to eradicate torture, we must not forget those who have already become its victims.” “While the United States has consistently spoken out forcefully against the use of torture around the world, serious questions have been raised suggesting U.S. complicity in torture as part of the war against terrorism,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). In February, Smith, Campbell and four other Helsinki Commission Members wrote to the White House urging an investigation of “serious allegations that the United States is using torture, both directly and indirectly, during interrogations of those suspected of terrorism.” Against this backdrop, Co-Chairman Campbell urged the Administration to “issue a forthright statement on torture.” “Amnesty International has issued a number of recommendations to help end torture,” continued Smith. “They are remarkably straightforward and easy to grasp: officials at the highest level should condemn torture; governments should ensure access to prisoners; secret detentions should be prohibited; and confessions obtained through torture should be excluded from evidence in the courtroom. . . . At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Annual Session two years ago, I introduced a resolution, passed by the Assembly, that built on these basic concepts.” Smith also drew attention to the Torture Victims Reauthorization Act, H.R. 1813, which would reauthorize funding for torture victims’ treatments centers domestically and abroad. “The lives of torture survivors can never be the same,” Smith added. “But with treatment, victims have the hope of becoming stable and productive members of their communities.” In the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Charter, the OSCE participating States committed themselves to “eradicating torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment throughout the OSCE area. To this end, we will promote legislation to provide procedural and substantive safeguards and remedies to combat these practices. We will assist victims and cooperate with relevant international organizations and non-governmental organizations, as appropriate.”

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Welcome Senate, House Passage of Resolutions against Anti-Semitism

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Chairmen Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) expressed their gratification that both chambers of Congress have approved resolutions condemning anti-Semitism as the House today passed H.Con.Res. 49. The Senate passed S.Con.Res. 7 on May 22. “Now both the House and Senate have made strong statements concerning the growing problem of anti-Semitism and related violence. Together with colleagues on the Helsinki Commission, we have diligently urged the leaders of OSCE participating States to confront and combat the plague of anti-Semitism,” said Chairman Smith. “The anti-Semitic violence we witnessed in 2002, which stretched the breadth of the OSCE region, was a wake-up call that this evil still lives today. I am pleased that the Congress has sent an unequivocal message that anti-Semitism must be confronted, and it must be confronted now,” declared Co-Chairman Campbell. “The Helsinki Commission has continued to put a spotlight on this issue,” said Ranking Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). “We reaffirmed these commitments at our February 2003 Winter Session in Vienna. Next week, I will join Mr. Smith at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Rotterdam, where we will also debate and pass a resolution which condemns anti-Semitism and sets forth a framework for specific action to be taken by participating States in Europe and Asia.” “Today’s resolution is, at the very least, a symbolic statement of the House that the United States will not stand idly by while many European governments neglect a rise in anti-Semitism,” said Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). “We must work with our allies – and not hesitate to apply pressure when needed – to ensure that governments properly address increases in anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination.” The resolutions express the sense of the Congress that last year’s sharp escalation of anti-Semitic violence “is of profound concern and efforts should be undertaken to prevent future occurrences.” The resolutions were introduced in response to a disturbing rise last summer in anti-Semitism and related violence in many participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including the United States. The bipartisan resolutions were introduced in the Senate and House by Campbell and Smith respectively. The resolutions call for all OSCE participating States to ensure effective law enforcement and prosecution of individuals perpetrating anti-Semitic violence and urge the respective parliaments to take concrete legislative action. The resolutions also urge the creation of “educational efforts” to “counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people,” as well as “increase Holocaust awareness programs.” The resolutions call for an OSCE meeting specifically focusing on anti-Semitism. The OSCE convened such a meeting last week in Vienna, Austria highlighting regional concerns with the rise in anti-Semitic attitudes and related violence throughout Europe. Commission Chairman Smith and Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) participated in the Vienna meeting as members of the U.S. delegation headed by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

  • Helsinki Commission Leader Outraged as Montenegro Prosecutor Drops Charges in Human Trafficking Case

    Prosecutor’s Action a “Tremendous Setback for Counter-Trafficking Efforts” NOTE TO EDITORS: Human trafficking – sometimes called trafficking in persons – involves buying, selling, and transporting human beings into the commercial sex industry, forced labor or other slavery-like conditions. WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today expressed outrage that criminal charges were dropped against four men in Montenegro, including a deputy state prosecutor, in a human trafficking case in which a Moldovan woman was raped, tortured and severely beaten for more than three years while enslaved in prostitution. The prosecutor dropped the charges in a case many believe could have exposed corrupt, high-level government officials’ involvement in human trafficking. Co-Chairman Smith indicated that an attempted cover-up may negatively affect Montenegro’s standing if the Government’s respect for the rule of law is deficient. “A woman was physically brutalized and emotionally traumatized for the profit and gain of criminal thugs,” said Smith. “She will suffer for the rest of her life. That no one will be held accountable for this barbarity is outrageous. The municipal court prosecutor’s decision to drop all charges in this case is a clear denial of justice.” The trafficking victim, known publicly as S.C., was allegedly held against her will for more than three years in various locations throughout Serbia and Montenegro. She was forced to perform sexual and other services for a multitude of clients, including her traffickers. While captive, S.C. was beaten, burned, drugged, raped and sexually abused. After attempting several times to escape from her traffickers, S.C. managed to obtain refuge in a safe house in October 2002. The prosecutor claims a lack of evidence, conflicting statements and other problems necessitated dropping the charges. Prosecuting human trafficking cases is difficult anywhere, given the level to which criminals will stoop to cover their crimes. But, instead of allowing this case to go to trial where the evidence could be examined by a court of law, Montenegrin officials contributed to verbal attacks against the victim through the press and suggested the case was fabricated for political purposes. Now these same officials appear content to see the case disappear. “The manner in which this was handled makes me highly suspicious that the authorities ever intended for the case to see the light of day,” Smith said. “Montenegro’s image abroad suffers if the handling of this case reveals a lack of respect for the rule of law among government officials.” Despite poor physical health and the emotional trauma of being trafficked, the victim cooperated with police and investigators, placing herself and her family at risk. “The failure of the judiciary to conduct an open, transparent, and fair trial is a tremendous setback for counter-trafficking efforts in Montenegro and beyond,” Smith said. “This decision could discourage other trafficking victims from coming forward with information leading to the prosecution and conviction of other human traffickers,” stated Smith.

  • Death by Torture in Uzbekistan Continues

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today reacted with outrage after learning of the latest torture victims who died while in custody in Uzbekistan. "I am appalled to learn of not one, but two more deaths-in-custody in Uzbekistan," said Smith. "Orif Ershanov and Otamaza Gafaro are the most recent individuals to join a long and growing list of those who have died after reportedly being tortured at the hands of Uzbek authorities." Otamaza Gafaro was convicted in 1996 of stealing state property, a charge his family believes was trumped up. In April 2003, he was transferred to the Chrchik prison and was scheduled to be released in September. Gafaro's family received notice of his death on May 5. Uzbekistan's National Security Service detained Orif Ershanov in Karshi, located in southern Uzbekistan, on suspicion of belonging to the banned Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation). Ershanov died in custody on May 15. "Tragically, this has become a simple pattern. People are taken into police custody alive, and they emerge dead," Smith continued. "Political opponents and those who deviate from the government's sanctioned view of Islam are especially likely to be imprisoned and tortured." Last month, when the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development held its annual meeting in Tashkent, President Islam Karimov rebuffed the Bank's effort to secure an unequivocal condemnation of torture during the meeting. "Attempts by Uzbek authorities to explain away the mutilated bodies they return to grieving families as the victims of 'high blood pressure' or other natural causes have failed to mask an unrelenting pattern of torture and abuse," said Smith. "Actions speak louder than words, and Karimov's victims--silenced as they may appear--have spoken volumes about his regime's lack of commitment to bring real progress to Uzbekistan." "These most recent deaths should be a reality check for anyone still laboring under the mistaken impression that Uzbekistan is making 'substantial and continuing progress' in meeting its human rights commitments. I hope EBRD and U.S. officials understand this message, and send a clear message to Tashkent that assistance to Uzbekistan will not continue as long as torture continues." Four Helsinki Commission Members wrote to Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs John B. Taylor in April urging him to press Uzbek authorities for resolution of a number of longstanding human rights matters prior to the EBRD meeting. "Frankly, we regret the decision to schedule the meeting in Tashkent, which allows the Uzbek authorities to host such a prestigious event despite the oppressive nature of the regime," the Commissioners wrote. Time Line March 12, 2002: U.S. and Uzbek officials sign "Declaration on the Strategic Partnership and Cooperation Framework between the United States of America and Uzbekistan" August 2, 2002: Congressional mandate goes into effect that assistance to Uzbekistan be contingent on a determination by the Secretary of State that Uzbekistan is making "substantial and continuing progress" in meeting commitments of the March 12 Declaration, including in the field of human rights August 26, 2002: Secretary Powell determines that Uzbekistan is making "substantial and continuing progress" October 2002: Musurmon Kulmuratov dies in the custody of Uzbek authorities November 2002: Izzatullo Mumino dies in the custody of Uzbek authorities December 2002: UN Special Rapporteur on Torture finds torture in Uzbekistan is "systematic" May 14, 2003: Secretary Powell again determines that Uzbekistan is making "substantial and continuing progress" in meeting its commitments Death-by-Torture Victims Since December 2000 Musurmon Kulmuratov, November 2002 Izzatullo Muminov, October 2002 Muzafar Avazov, August 2002 Husnidin Alimov, August 2002 Khusniddin Khikmatov, May 2002 Ikrom Aliev, February 2002 Mirakhmed Mirzakhmedov, February 2002 Mirkamol Solikhojoev, February 2002 Dilmurod Juraev, February 2002 Alimukhammad Mamadaliyev, December 2001 Ravshan Haidov, October 2001 Shovriq Rusimorodov, July 2001 Emin Usmon, February 2001 Hazrat Kadirov, December 2000 Habibullah Nosirov, December 2000

  • No Place Like Home: Plight of Internally Displaced Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to highlight the plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the north Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Georgia and southeastern Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of individuals are displaced in refugee-like situations and remain unable to safely return home. Internally Displaced Persons in the Caucasus Region and Southeastern Anatolia Tuesday, June 10, 2003 2:00 PM – 4:30 PM 334 Cannon House Office Building Witnesses: Dr. Francis Deng, Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons Roberta Cohen, Co-Director, Brookings-SAIS Project on Internal Displacement Gabriel Trujillo, Head of Mission, Doctors Without Borders - Russian Federation Maureen Lynch, Director of Research, Refugees International Jonathan Sugden, Researcher, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch   The north Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey represents the greatest concentration of IDPs anywhere in the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As the current prospects for significant numbers of individuals returning home in safety and dignity seem remote, the hearing will bring additional attention to these protracted situations. The hearing will address the conditions faced by IDPs in the Caucasus region and southeastern Anatolia (Turkey), with experts assessing the situation on the ground as well as steps that relevant governments need to take to create safe conditions for IDPs to return. Particular attention will be given to recommendations on how U.S., OSCE and UN policy can encourage and assist these governments in finding just, realistic and durable solutions to the plight of IDPs.

  • Arming Rogue Regimes & Terrorists Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to determine which participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have supplied arms to rogue regimes, including violations of non-proliferation obligations. Arming Rogue Regimes: the Role of OSCE Participating States 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon Thursday, June 5, 2003 334 Cannon House Office Building Testifying: John Robert Bolton, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Roman Kupchinsky, Editor, Crime and Corruption Watch, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Terrence Taylor, President and Executive Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-US This hearing will examine to what extent OSCE participating States have complied with international non-proliferation commitments or otherwise been involved in the transfer of arms or military materiels and training to rogue regimes, including Iraq, North Korea and Iran. Particular focus will be given to those countries where there is cause to believe that the government may actually be actively involved in the proliferation of weapons and related equipment. The hearing will focus on media reports on illicit arms proliferation from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria and the Balkans. The nature and extent of the problem differs in each country, as has the response to revelations of illicit deals by OSCE participating States.

  • Helsinki Commission Initiative Urges Bush to Use G-8 Summit as Platform to Combat Anti-Semitism

    WASHINGTON- Following the lead of the United States Helsinki Commission, 35 Members of the United States Congress have written President George W. Bush, urging him to use the upcoming Group of 8 (G-8) summit in France to draw attention to a resurgence of anti-Semitism and related violence throughout Europe and the United States. “As the G-8 summit provides a timely opportunity to address political as well as economic issues facing societies represented and the wider international community, we respectfully urge you to raise this matter of mutual, international concern, and seek a joint commitment to work closely together to counter this disturbing trend,” the Members wrote. “The G-8 summit provides an important and extraordinary occasion for leaders to discuss international issues of the day, and we hope you will take the opportunity to set anti-Semitism as an international priority,” the Members added. Signing the letter to President Bush were Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Members Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Other Members signing were Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), Senator Larry E. Craig (R-ID), Senator Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND), Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA), Rep. Gary L. Ackerman (D-NY), Rep. Timothy J. Ryan (D-OH), Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Brad Carson (D-OK), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Martin Frost (D-TX), Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel (D-PA), Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), Rep. Jim Saxton (R-NJ), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA). A joint, public commitment from the political leaders, reflected in the summit communique, will bolster further efforts to eradicate anti-Semitism and deliver an unmistakable message to those who would promote bigotry and hatred, according to the letter. The full text of the letter may be accessed through the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site, www.csce.gov. “We fully understand the problem, as the United States is not immune from sporadic acts of vandalism and violence against members of the Jewish community and their institutions,” the Commissioners wrote. “With your leadership we are confident that a strong and vigorous coalition will be formed to fight anti-Semitism.”

  • War Crimes Prosecution, Human Rights in Serbia Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON- The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on Serbia’s cooperation with the international community in prosecuting war crimes and the prospects for human rights and democratic development in Serbia since the lifting of a state of emergency imposed after the March assassination of reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Democracy, Human Rights and Justice in Serbia Today Wednesday, June 4, 2003 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon 334 Cannon House Office Building Panelists: Ivan Vujacic, Ambassador of Serbia and Montenegro to the United States Nina Bang-Jensen, Executive Director and General Counsel, Coalition for International Justice Elizabeth Anderson, Executive Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch The briefing will examine the human rights situation in Serbia today, the prospects for democratic development and the degree of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), located in The Hague, Netherlands. This cooperation is key to a June 15 deadline for a U.S. Government certification necessary for bilateral assistance to Serbia to continue. Improved cooperation with The Hague is also a prerequisite for the union of Serbia and Montenegro to participate in NATO's Partnership for Peace. The electoral ouster of Slobodan Milosevic and his regime in late 2000 ushered in a long-awaited period of reform, recovery and reconciliation in Serbia after a decade of conflict with neighbors, isolation from the rest of Europe and repression at home. Progress, however, has been stalled by vestiges of nationalism in Serbian politics and the entrenchment of organized crime in the economy. The tragic March 12 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, an advocate of reform, revealed the severity of the problem and the linkages between those involved in war crimes in the 1990s and criminal activity today. A subsequent state of emergency, which was lifted on April 22, marked the beginning of a more concerted effort to defeat criminal elements in Serbian society and work with the international community to that end, including improved ICTY cooperation. This task, however, remains daunting, and several persons indicted by the Tribunal are known or believed to remain at large in Serbia.

  • Full Text of Congressional Letter to President Bush Concerning anti-Semitism

    May 23, 2003 The President The White House Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President: We write today in light of the upcoming Group of 8 (G-8) summit in Evian-les-Bains, France, to express our concern about a significant resurgence of anti-Semitism and related violence in many European countries, as well as the United States. Seven of the countries represented at the summit are participating States in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with Japan included as a Partner for Cooperation. As the G-8 summit provides a timely opportunity to address political as well as economic issues facing societies represented and the wider international community, we respectfully urge you to raise this matter of mutual, international concern, and seek a joint commitment to work closely together to counter this disturbing trend. Mr. President, last summer, Europe experienced an alarming spike in anti-Semitic violence. Members of Congress have been actively engaged, working with our European counterparts through the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to respond to this problem at the parliamentary level. We have seen some positive reactions as a number of governments have taken meaningful steps such as the enactment of new laws, more vigorous law enforcement, and the introduction of educational programs aimed at combating anti-Semitism. Many government officials and parliaments, including our own, have spoken out to denounce these anti-Semitic acts. We fully understand the problem, as the United States is not immune from sporadic acts of vandalism and violence against members of the Jewish community and their institutions. The G-8 summit provides an important and extraordinary occasion for leaders to discuss international issues of the day, and we hope you will take the opportunity to set anti-Semitism as an international priority. We believe that a joint, public commitment from the political leaders, reflected in the summit communique, will bolster further efforts to eradicate the disease of anti-Semitism, deliver an unmistakable message to those who would promote bigotry and hatred, and encourage other leaders to speak out on this problem. With your leadership we are confident that a strong and vigorous coalition will be formed to fight anti-Semitism. Sincerely, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S. Christopher H. Smith, M.C. Christopher J. Dodd, U.S.S. Steny H. Hoyer, M.C. Gordon Smith, U.S.S. Zach Wamp, M.C. Saxby Chambliss, U.S.S. Robert B. Aderholt, M.C. Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S.S. Benjamin L. Cardin, M.C. Barbara A. Mikulski, U.S.S. Alcee L. Hastings, M.C. Jim Bunning, U.S.S. Barbara Lee, M.C. Bill Nelson, U.S.S. Joseph Crowley, M.C. Evan Bayh, U.S.S. Jo Ann Davis, M.C. Larry E. Craig, U.S.S. Gary L. Ackerman, M.C. Byron L. Dorgan, U.S.S. Timothy J. Ryan, M.C. Mitch McConnell, U.S.S. Carolyn B. Maloney, M.C. Frank R. Lautenberg, U.S.S. Brad Carson, M.C. Eliot Engel, M.C. Martin Frost, M.C. Joseph M. Hoeffel, M.C. Henry A. Waxman, M.C. Jim Saxton, M.C. Betty McCollum, M.C. Nita Lowey, M.C. Edward J. Markey, M.C. Dianne Feinstein, U.S.S.

  • Helsinki Commission Members Seek Broad Human Rights Dialogue for Bush Meetings with European Leaders

    WASHINGTON - Eight Members of the United States Helsinki Commission have written President George W. Bush, urging him to raise specific human rights issues with his counterparts during an upcoming trip through Russia and Poland. The issues include compensation for stolen property in Poland, continuing human rights violations in Chechnya, and Russia’s position regarding the abject human rights situation in the Republic of Belarus. During a visit to Washington last July, Polish President Kwasniewski assured Members of Congress that a law providing compensation for private property stolen by the Nazi or communist regimes would be ready by the beginning of this year. As there has been no apparent progress in the adoption of such a law, the Commissioners urged President Bush to press Polish officials to move quickly on this longstanding issue. While recognizing that some terrorist elements continue to operate in Chechnya, the Commissioners also urged the President to raise with President Putin the continuing violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in Chechnya. “Russia’s legitimate struggle against terrorism must not be a pretext for assaults on the civilian population or the indiscriminate use of force,” they wrote. In addition, they ask President Bush to urge President Putin to cease liquidating camps for internally displaced persons in neighboring Ingushetia. This could save thousands of internally displaced persons from being forcibly returned to an unstable and insecure Chechnya. Signing the letter to President Bush were Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Members Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD),Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) and Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN).

  • Full Text of Helsinki Commission Letter to President Bush

    May 22, 2003 The President The White House Washington, DC 20500 Dear Mr. President: As Members of Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, we write in advance of your upcoming visit to Poland and the Russian Federation, respectfully urging you to raise specific issues with the respective leaders. These questions include property restitution in Poland, continuing human rights violations in Chechnya, Russia’s denial or revocation of visas for foreign religious workers, and Russia’s influence regarding the situation in the Republic of Belarus. Both before and after September 11, the people and Government of Poland have demonstrated a solidarity with the United States for which we are deeply grateful. We are also keenly aware of the pivotal role Poles played in bringing an end to communist domination. However, despite repeated promises, Poland has still failed to adopt a restitution or compensation law for private property wrongfully confiscated by the Nazi or communist regimes. More than five decades after the end of World War II and 14 years since the end of communism in Poland, the survivors of totalitarianism still await a small measure of justice for the theft of their property. Although President Kwasniewski assured Members of Congress during his visit to Washington last July that a compensation law would be prepared by early this year, no draft law has materialized. Mr. President, restitution of or compensation for stolen property in Poland is an important matter for thousands of people who fled to the United States because of religious, ethnic or political persecution during or after the Second World War. We urge you, on behalf of these individuals, to press Polish officials to move quickly on this longstanding issue. For elderly survivors, every day counts. Mr. President, as we have in the past, we again urge you to raise with President Putin the continuing serious violations of international humanitarian law and basic human rights taking place in Chechnya. While we recognize that some terrorist elements continue to operate in Chechnya, as demonstrated by the recent suicide bombings, Russia’s legitimate struggle against terrorism must not be a pretext for assaults on the civilian population or the indiscriminate use of force. The State Department’s most recent human rights report on Russia notes credible reports of continued extrajudicial killings in Chechnya by Russian forces and the use of excessive force in areas with significant civilian populations. While a political settlement to the conflict may not be realized in the near term, other immediate opportunities to alleviate suffering exist. Foremost, we respectfully ask you to urge President Putin to cease liquidating camps for internally displaced persons in neighboring Ingushetia. This could save thousands of internally displaced persons from being forcibly returned to an unstable and insecure Chechnya. In addition, we firmly believe that any “road map” to peace in Chechnya must include the observance of rule of law and protection of human rights for the longsuffering people of that region. In this regard, President Putin should be encouraged to utilize the good offices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to seek a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya, as envisioned in the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Declaration. We are also concerned about the pattern of denial or revocation of visas for foreign religious workers from select minority faiths, adversely affecting Roman Catholic and Protestant communities throughout the Russian Federation. Knowing of the importance you place on religious freedom, we urge you to raise this matter with President Putin. The outstanding cases need to be resolved, and a policy should be established which would ensure full respect for the right of these communities to select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their requirements and standards. Finally, we remain deeply concerned about the poor situation with respect to human rights, democracy and rule of law in the Republic of Belarus under the regime of Europe’s remaining dictator, Alexander Lukashenka. We encourage you to call upon the Russian Federation to use its influence to encourage democratic development in Belarus, while reiterating U.S. support for Belarusian sovereignty and independence. Mr. President, we wish you well in your travels, and trust that you will take these vital matters into consideration. Sincerely, BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S. Co-Chairman CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C. Co-Chairman CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, U.S.S. Ranking Member STENY H. HOYER, M.C. Ranking Member JOSEPH R. PITTS, M.C. Commissioner BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, M.C. Commissioner ROBERT B. ADERHOLT, M.C. Commissioner ZACH WAMP, M.C. Commissioner

  • Del Ponte to Survey Yugoslav Tribunal Status During Helsinki Commission Briefing

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a public briefing with Carla del Ponte, Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), concerning the status of efforts to serve justice on those accused of war crimes under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic. Bringing Justice to Southeast Europe Thursday, May 15, 2003 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM 2261 Rayburn House Office Building The worst atrocities committed in Europe since the Holocaust took place in the region of former Yugoslavia during the 1990s, eventually compelling international intervention which continues to this day. Among the responses was the establishment in May 1993 of a tribunal - the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia – located in The Hague, The Netherlands, to prosecute those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Leading this effort since September 1999 has been Swiss Prosecutor Carla del Ponte. The prosecutor will discuss the latest developments in the Milosevic and other trials and concerns regarding at-large indicted individuals in the region, including those linked to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, as well as access to witnesses and information needed to prosecute cases. Ms. del Ponte may also address the prospects for completing the Tribunal’s work by 2008 and issues relating to the transfer of some existing and future cases to domestic courts in the region for trial.

  • Commissioners Inquire of Administration Efforts to Combat Prostitution, Human Trafficking in Post-Conflict Iraq

    WASHINGTON - Eight Members of the United States Helsinki Commission have written to Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage requesting information about State Department efforts to ensure that U.S. contractors do not participate in prostitution or human trafficking-related activities in Iraq or elsewhere, citing similar problems in the OSCE region. The letter inquires about the Administration’s efforts to fight the emergence of prostitution and human trafficking industries in post-conflict Iraq spurred by an influx of international personnel from the United States and other countries. Signing the May 2 letter were Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL). “The need for a strategy to prevent the emergence of prostitution and human trafficking in post-conflict Iraq is manifested by the experiences in post-conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo,” the Commissioners wrote. “In both areas, prostitution and human trafficking were allowed to develop and thrive due to the arrival of large numbers of multi-national personnel involved in post-conflict reconstruction and peacekeeping.” “The United States and the international community failed to address these issues at the outset in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo and, as a result, today continues to struggle against the organized crime elements that control these industries,” the Commissioners added. “Such a scenario must not be allowed to develop in Iraq. Please provide us with information regarding the steps being taken to ensure that prostitution and sex trafficking industries will not develop in Iraq in response to an influx of international civilian and military personnel from the United States and other countries.”

  • Violence Again Overrules Order in Georgian Court; Helsinki Commission Members React

    Violence Escalates Against Religious Minorities, Government Fails to Quell Attacks Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Members today expressed outrage over the latest round of courtroom violence in the Republic of Georgia where mob leaders are on trial for violent attacks against members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Over the past three years, mob violence against non-Orthodox religious minorities has escalated, while the Georgian Government has proven ineffective in ending the attacks and prosecute the perpetrators. Excommunicated Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili and his lieutenant Petre (Gia) Ivanidze are on trial for one of their mob attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Similar attacks have also been directed against Baptists, Catholics and Pentecostals. Last week, while the judge and courtroom police watched, a large number of protesters entered the Tbilisi courtroom, then physically and verbally assaulted international observers, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their attorneys. The assailants are believed to be Mkalavishvili’s followers. "Considering the uncontrolled violence, Georgian authorities should protect innocent citizens and take into custody Mkalavishvili and Ivanidze until the conclusion of the criminal trial. I am appalled that authorities would yet again allow the victims of violence to suffer at the hands of their persecutors, in a courtroom no less," said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). "It appears that the Georgian Government has reneged on its commitment to enforce the law, despite President Eduard Shevardnadze's pleas for tolerance and pledges to prosecute criminals." Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), added that repeated government pledges have become difficult to believe, considering the disconnect between the statements of Georgian leaders and the ongoing violence. "To reestablish credibility, the courtroom must be run with decorum, the accused must remain under state custody, the judge must stop frivolous delays, and the prosecutor must vigorously prosecute those accused of inciting mob violence." During an ecumenical service at Tbilisi’s Central Baptist Church in March, President Shevardnadze promised that "the aggressors will be brought to justice." However, excessive delays, courtroom violence, and allegations of prosecutorial misconduct have marred the criminal proceedings which began more than 12 months ago. "The United States Congress remains a great friend of Georgia," said Commissioner Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN). "But, the Georgian Government is pushing this friend away by allowing such rampant violence. As a Member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am obligated to take into consideration the progress Georgia has made on protecting religious freedom." Commissioner Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) agreed, suggesting that authorities must provide adequate security at the next court hearing on May 12th. "The victims must be assured that authorities will limit the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers and that police will arrest anyone making intimidating or threatening gestures in the courtroom." "Unlike the presiding judge, courtroom police and the Georgian Government, Members of Congress will not sit idly by while criminals perpetrate more violence against members of religious groups," Smith concluded. "If one cannot expect safety in a courtroom, these hateful thugs have derailed the justice system." Despite overwhelming evidence documenting numerous attacks against minority religious groups, neither Mkalavishvili nor any of his followers have been convicted of a criminal offense relating to their acts of violence. When forced to go into recess, the most recent hearing on Tuesday, April 29th, represented the 19th delay. Mkalavishvili’s trial stands in contrast to that of another alleged mob leader, Paata Bluashvili, head of the extremist Jvari organization. Bluashvili’s trial has moved forward, with courtroom conduct described by some observers as "better controlled." However, on May 4th, a mob prevented Jehovah’s Witnesses from meeting in the village of Ortasheni, since local police refused to protect the gathering. In addition, customs officials have seized on spurious grounds roughly 20 tons of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ literature. As a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Republic of Georgia is committed to ensuring religious freedom and protecting all persons from violence.

  • Co-Chairman Smith Hails Incorporation of Key Provisions of Belarus Democracy Act into Foreign Relations Act

    Broad Bipartisan Support for Measure to Promote Democratic Change in Europe’s Last Dictatorship Washington - The House International Relations Committee of the United States Congress today incorporated key elements of the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003 as part of H.R. 1950, the State Department reauthorization bill. The Belarus Democracy Act was sponsored by United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) who hailed today’s move as another step toward bolstering desperately needed democratic assistance in Belarus, a former Soviet Republic held hostage by the dictatorial regime of Alexander Lukashenka. "I am pleased the Committee has recognized the importance of the bipartisan initiative and the critical need for U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus, despite the personal risks and formidable pressures they face at the hands of Lukashenka’s anti-democratic regime," said Co-Chairman Smith. Key provisions of the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003 have now become Title XV of H.R. 1950, the Foreign Relations Reauthorization bill. While the sections were amended in the process, the essence of the Democracy Act will now move faster through Congress. The full Committee is expected to vote on the larger reauthorization bill on Thursday, May 8, paving the way for consideration by the full House. Reports continue to circulate of arms deals between the Belarusian regime and rogue states, including Iraq and North Korea. Lukashenka and his regime openly supported former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The Belarus Democracy Act, incorporated as Title XV, includes language requiring reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states. "The Belarusian people have suffered so much under dictators--both past and present. They deserve our support as they strive to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country," Smith continued. There are credible allegations of the Lukashenka regime’s involvement in the disappearances of leading opposition figures and a journalist. "Here in Washington and at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meetings in Paris and Berlin," Mr. Smith noted, "I’ve had occasion to meet with the wives of the disappeared. These meetings have been heart-wrenching. The cases of their husbands--who disappeared in 1999 and 2000 and are presumed to have been murdered--are a stark illustration of the climate of fear in Belarus." Belarus has the worst human rights record in Europe, thanks to Alexander Lukashenka, whose regime has blatantly and repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. Independent media, non-governmental organizations and democratic opposition have all faced harassment. Independent journalists have been sentenced to "corrective labor" for their writings. In October, Lukashenka signed into law the most restrictive religion law in Europe. "Belarusians deserve a society where democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount," Smith added. "We will keep faith with courageous and determined advocates of democracy and civil society in Belarus, who need our support to help wage the battle for democracy in Belarus." A companion to the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, S. 700, introduced by Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, is pending in the United States Senate.

  • United States Helsinki Commission Recognizes World Press Freedom Day

    Washington - In recognition of today’s observance of World Press Freedom Day, the United States Helsinki Commission this week issued the following releases encapsulating the negative trends and growing list of restrictions against media freedom throughout many parts of Europe. Helsinki Commission Decries Central Asia’s Imprisoned Press Freedoms Co-Chairman Urges Romania, Other Countries to Repeal Criminal Defamation & Insult Laws Murdered & Imprisoned Journalists Remembered on World Press Freedom Day Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s (R-CO) statements on media freedoms in Belarus and Ukraine: The Troubled Media Environment in Ukraine Regime Targets Independent Media in Belarus Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith’s (R-NJ) statement on criminal defamation and insult laws: Repeal Romanian Criminal Defamation Laws

  • Helsinki Commission Decries Central Asia’s Imprisoned Press Freedoms

    Washington - As World Press Freedom Day approaches this Saturday, May 3, the United States Helsinki Commission is highlighting the extraordinary intimidation tactics and restrictions on freedom of the press throughout the Central Asian region. There is no freedom of the press at all in some Central Asian countries. In others, journalists who try to expose government officials’ misdeeds and corruption have been singled out for intimidation. Some have been arrested, in cases most objective observers consider politically motivated; others have been silenced by lawsuits brought by officials who claim their honor has been offended. In recent years freedom of the press has deteriorated most noticeably in Kazakhstan. A dead dog was placed outside the office of an opposition newspaper. Attached to a screwdriver in the dog’s body was a note that read “there won’t be a next time.” The daughter of an editor who wrote about international investigations into President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s alleged corruption died in police custody. This week, Nazarbaev's political adviser Ermuhamet Ertysbaev said media freedom will soon be reduced further. The fate of Sergei Duvanov illustrates the risks faced by journalists who focus on high-level corruption. Last August, three men beat and mutilated Duvanov, warning that if he did not cease his activity, “We will cripple you.” In November, he was arrested on charges of raping a minor. Though he denied the accusation and the judge acknowledged procedural flaws in the trial, he has been sentenced to three and a half years in jail. A report by a Dutch diplomat argues that the charges were fabricated by Kazakhstan’s authoritarian leadership to silence Duvanov. Under President Askar Akaev, freedom of the press has diminished in Kyrgyzstan. Freedom of speech and the press are severely restricted. One year ago, the Committee to Protect Journalists included Kyrgyzstan among the world’s ten worst places to be a journalist. Independent and opposition newspapers have been heavily fined by courts ruling in favor of government officials who sued for libel. Newspapers such as Asaba, Vechernii Bishkek, Res Publica and Moya Stolitsahave all been targeted; some have had to close temporarily or have been taken over by pro-government management. Journalists in Kyrgyzstan are subjected to harassment, intimidation, and violence, although an opposition newspaper launched in 1998 continues to publish, some small NGO-run television stations are functioning, and the Asia Plus radio station has received a license. Under the megalomaniacal misrule of Saparmurat Niyazov, there is no freedom of the media in Turkmenistan, the only one-party state left in all of Eurasia. Despite President Islam Karimov’s formal lifting of censorship, there is no freedom of the press in Uzbekistan. Journalists practice self-censorship and the possession or distribution of banned material – of a religious nature or opposition publications – can bring long prison terms.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Urges Romania, Other Countries to Repeal Criminal Defamation & Insult Laws

    Change in Slovak Penal Code Welcomed Washington - In advance of the May 3 observance of World Press Freedom Day, United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today expressed optimism over the abolition of criminal defamation and insult laws. “This week, as the Helsinki Commission examines the state of press freedom in the OSCE region, it is heartening to see progress in an otherwise bleak landscape,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “The Helsinki Commission has long tracked the use and abuse of criminal defamation and insult laws – laws that were a favorite tool of political oppression by communist regimes in the past and of repressive regimes today. I have consistently and strongly urged leaders in post-communist countries to repeal these laws and thereby give concrete substance to their rhetorical commitment to free speech and a free press.” “Last week, Slovakia took another step forward in implementing the reform mandate Slovak voters have given to the Dzurinda government. I commend the Slovak Parliament for voting to repeal Article 156(3) of the Penal Code, a provision which, if enforced, would have resulted in people being prosecuted merely for expressing their opinions.” In June 2002, the Slovak Parliament repealed Articles 102 and 103 of the Penal Code. Two other criminal defamation/insult provisions, Articles 154 and 206 of the Penal Code, remain on the books in Slovakia. In the Czech Republic, which inherited the same criminal statutes upon the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Articles 154, 156, and 206 are still in force and individuals continue to face charges under those Articles. The United States Senate is expected to begin debate shortly on the Protocols of Accession to enlarge NATO – a proposal to include Slovakia, Romania and five other OSCE participating States in the trans-Atlantic alliance. “I hope the momentum in the Romanian Parliament to genuinely reform the Penal Code would continue unabated. Repealing – and not just tinkering with – Romania’s plethora of criminal defamation and insult laws would be a great manifestation of Romania’s commitment to real reform.” Criminal defamation and insult laws are actively used against those who criticize their governments in a number of other OSCE participating States, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Greece, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

  • Full Text of Commission Letter to Deputy Secretary Armitage

    May 2, 2003 The Honorable Richard L. Armitage Deputy Secretary of State Department of State 2201 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20520 Dear Mr. Armitage: We write to inquire about the Administration’s efforts to fight against the emergence of prostitution and human trafficking industries in post-conflict Iraq spurred by an influx of international personnel from the United States and other countries. Additionally, we seek information about how the State Department is working to ensure that U.S. contractors do not participate in prostitution or trafficking-related activities in Iraq or elsewhere. The need for a strategy to prevent the emergence of prostitution and human trafficking in post-conflict Iraq is manifested by the experiences in post-conflict Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. In both areas, prostitution and human trafficking were allowed to develop and thrive due to the arrival of large numbers of multi-national personnel involved in post-conflict reconstruction and peacekeeping. The United States and the international community failed to address these issues at the outset in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo and, as a result, today continues to struggle against the organized crime elements that control these industries. Such a scenario must not be allowed to develop in Iraq. Please provide us with information regarding the steps being taken to ensure that prostitution and sex trafficking industries will not develop in Iraq in response to an influx of international civilian and military personnel from the United States and other countries. Our concern about U.S. contractors participating in prostitution or trafficking-related activities was recently heightened by the State Department’s award to DynCorp International of a contract providing up to 1,000 civilian advisors to help the Government of Iraq organize civilian law enforcement, judicial and correctional agencies. We are familiar with DynCorp’s role in recruiting and training American police officers to serve on the International Police Task Force (IPTF) in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We are also aware of the documented involvement by some DynCorp employees or agents in prostitution, human trafficking, and sexual misconduct and of DynCorp’s retaliation against those who endeavored to bring such misconduct to light. At an April 2002 hearing of the House International Relations Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights, David Lamb, a former United Nations Human Rights Investigator in Bosnia-Herzegovina testified that “the Department of State purposefully distances itself from U.S. IPTF members by hiring DynCorp as the middleman and makes no attempt to know anything about the activities of its IPTF officers who are serving as representatives and Ambassadors of the United States.” In order to dispel such concern and legitimate criticism, it is essential that DynCorp, as well as other such contractors, and their employees or agents, be held accountable to a code of conduct with associated consequences for unethical or improper personal conduct while under U.S. Government contracts. This need is made all the more essential when such contractors are operating in areas where they are unlikely to be held accountable under local laws. Accordingly, we would appreciate receiving detailed information regarding the following: 1. Please provide detailed information regarding the vetting procedures being used to screen out potential DynCorp contractors who have been disciplined in the past for, inter alia, corruption or offenses of moral turpitude? 2. What is the time frame for deploying DynCorp contractors? According to published reports, DynCorp plans to have contractors deployed within a matter of weeks. How can a large number of contractors properly be screened in the short amount of time that DynCorp envisions? 3. What is the type and extent of training that DynCorp contractors will receive regarding trafficking in persons prior to deployment to Iraq? 4. How will DynCorp and other contract recipients ensure that their personnel do not participate in trafficking in persons, do not solicit or use the services of trafficked persons, and do not engage in other misconduct while abroad which would bring discredit to the U.S. Government? Will U.S. contractors be subject to a code of conduct that explicitly addresses these issues, and what penalties will result for individuals who violate such code? What supervisory mechanisms will be created in Iraq to ensure appropriate conduct by U.S. contractors? 5. If DynCorp personnel engage in such misconduct, or if DynCorp fails to properly supervise its personnel or fails to take appropriate disciplinary action when such misconduct comes to light, what ability will the Department of State have to hold DynCorp accountable for such actions? 6. In the past, DynCorp was awarded contracts from both the Department of State and the Department of Defense, among others, to provide personnel in the same location for different functions. Have the two Departments coordinated their efforts to ensure that DynCorp and other such contractors will be subject to the same requirements with respect to these issues regardless of the specific source of its U.S. Government contract? If so, please provide details regarding the manner of this coordination. Following the war in Iraq, the United States has an important leadership responsibility. If members of the international community in Iraq are permitted to engage in illicit activities without facing strong consequences, while the U.S. and allied governments espouse a commitment to the rule of law, our efforts will be perceived as hypocritical. Furthermore, when U.S. Government representatives, including military personnel or recipients of U.S. Government contracts, engage with impunity in actions that allow prostitution and human trafficking industries to prosper, the efforts of Congress, the State Department, and other U.S. Government agencies are severely undermined in working to combat human trafficking internationally.

  • Murdered and Imprisoned Journalists Remembered on World Press Freedom Day

    Murder, Torture, Assault & Censorship Now the Price for the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How Washington - As the May 3 observance of World Press Freedom Day approaches, the United States Helsinki Commission recalls negative trends and a growing list of restrictions against media freedom throughout many parts of Europe. As all OSCE participating States have freely entered into commitments protecting freedom of speech and the media, these abuses are even more significant indicators of the fragility of these freedoms, even in established democracies. Murder, torture, assault and censorship have been perpetrated by governments that have freely and openly committed to advocate and defend freedom of the press. The following examples should serve to remind us how precious a free press really is, and that we ought not take this freedom for granted. Four journalists have been killed in Russia and one in Belarus in 2002. Dozens have been imprisoned and numerous others beaten and harassed throughout the region, according to a recent report from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Subsequent reports allege that Spanish officials have imprisoned and tortured some ten journalists. Journalists Sergei Kalinovsky (Moskovsy Komsomolets-Smolensk), Natalya Skryl (Nashe Vremya), Valery Ivanov (Tolyatinskoye Obrzreniye) and Roddy Scott (Frontline) were killed in Russia in the last year, while another dozen or so have been attacked and many more harassed. Some of these incidents were directly due to war coverage in Chechnya, while others were linked to corruption and organized crime reportage. In Russia on March 11, Novaya Gazeta correspondent Sergi Zolvkin, who had received death threats for his reporting on organized crime and official corruption in the Krasnodar Region, was the target of an assassination attempt in the southwest city of Sochi. Russian military journalist Grigory Pasko was sentenced to four years in prison in connection with his coverage of the environmental damage caused by the Russian Navy. The murder of prominent Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remains unsolved. Gongadze disappeared in September 2000. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and a number of high-ranking officials have been implicated in his disappearance and the circumstances leading to his murder. There are audio tapes clearly implicating Kuchma in the scandal. The case of Ihor Alexandrov also remains unsolved. Alexandrov, director of a regional television station, was beaten in July 2001 and subsequently died. Serious questions remain about how authorities handled the case. Armenian Public Television reporter Tirgran Nagdalian was killed for motives as yet undetermined. Ukrainian Mykhailo Kolomyets (Ukrainski Novyny) was found dead in Belarus on October 30 under unclear circumstances. As examples of the continuing use of criminal libel statutes, Belarusians Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka of Pahonya and Viktar Ivashkevych of Rabochy were sentenced last summer to corrective labor for “libeling” the President in pre-election articles. Last August, the independent newspaper Nasha Svaboda was fined 100 million Belarusian rubles for civil libel of the chairman of the State Control Committee. At year’s end, thirteen journalists were jailed in Turkey, some imprisoned since 1993. In Kazakhstan, legal action was taken against Sergei Duvanov on July 9 for “infringing the honor and dignity of the president,” a charge that carries a maximum three-year prison sentence. Duvanov was severely beaten on August 28 as he returned home that evening and was imprisoned on October 27. Several other Kazakh journalists have been attacked and harassed over the past two years. On February 20, the Spanish Government reportedly shut down the only newspaper published in the ancient Basque language, Euskera. Ten members of the small newspaper’s staff, including the editor, were arrested and accused of aiding ETA, included on the U.S. list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The ten were allegedly sent to Madrid where they were held for days and tortured. Some of the staff were released on bail, according to The Los Angeles Times, which also reported the ten were warned that they might be rearrested when they described their treatment to the public.

  • Human Rights in Chechnya Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on the critical human rights and humanitarian situation in war-torn Chechnya, Russian Federation. The Critical Human Rights and Humanitarian Situation in Chechnya Thursday, April 24, 2003 10:30 AM – 12:00 Noon 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Panelists: Eliza Moussaeva, Director of the Ingushetia office, Memorial Human Rights Center. Memorial provides legal consultations to Chechen refugees and is involved in cases before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Bela Tsugaeva, Information Manager, World Vision, Nazran, Ingushetia. Ms. Tsugaeva previously worked with internally displaced persons for the International Rescue Committee and the Danish Refugee Council. Ms. Moussaeva and Ms. Tsugaeva will be accompanied by Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for Europe and Eurasia, Amnesty International, USA. The U.S. State Department’s 2002 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices notes, “The indiscriminate use of force by government troops in the Chechen conflict has resulted in widespread civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of persons, the majority of whom sought refuge in the neighboring republic of Ingushetiya.” According to the report, “Command and control among military and special police units often appeared to be weak, and a climate of lawlessness, corruption, and impunity flourished.” The report also cites Chechen fighters for “serious human rights abuses.” This briefing follows yesterday’s defeat, by a vote of 15-21 at the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, of a U.S.–supported resolution expressing “deep concern” about reported human rights violation in Chechnya. In a recent letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Members of the Helsinki Commission had urged U.S. support for a strong resolution on human rights violations in Chechnya.

  • Helsinki Commission Members Urge Powell to Maintain Leadership on Chechen Resolution

    Disappearances, Summary Executions and Torture of “Particular Concern Washington - Six members of the United States Helsinki Commission have written Secretary of State Colin L. Powell urging the U.S. delegation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to push for a strong resolution on the conflict in Chechnya. “We urge strong U.S. leadership in Geneva to accomplish this important objective,” the Helsinki Commission Members wrote. “We respectfully urge the United States to press for the adoption of a strong resolution on the conflict in Chechnya at the current session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva,” the Helsinki Commission Members wrote. “This conflict has resulted in egregious violations of international humanitarian law. Despite concerted efforts by the Russian leadership to portray the situation in Chechnya as approaching normal, the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by Russian forces continues.” “Of particular concern are so-called ‘special operations’ undertaken by these forces often resulting in disappearances, summary executions, and torture,” the letter continues. Signing the letter to Powell were Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) along with Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). In 2000 and 2001, the United States co-sponsored successful resolutions on Chechnya at the UNCHR. Last year, as a non-member of that UN body, the United States co-sponsored a Chechnya resolution that lost by one vote. The 59th Session of the UNCHR began on March 17 and continues through April 25. Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations The Honorable Jeane J. Kirkpatrick is Head of the U.S. Delegation to the UNCHR.

  • Full Text of Helsinki Commission Letter to Powell on UNCHR, Chechnya

    April 11, 2003 The Honorable Colin L. Powell Secretary of State Department of State Washington, DC 20520 Dear Mr. Secretary: We respectfully urge the United States to press for the adoption of a strong resolution on the conflict in Chechnya at the current session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. This conflict has resulted in egregious violations of international humanitarian law. Despite concerted efforts by the Russian leadership to portray the situation in Chechnya as approaching normal, the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by Russian forces continues. Of particular concern are so-called “special operations” undertaken by these forces often resulting in disappearances, torture and reported summary executions. Any resolution in Geneva must take account of these egregious human rights violations while recognizing the sovereign right of the Russian Federation to combat terrorism on its territory. The latter, however, does not justify the kinds of human rights violations detailed in the State Department’s recently released Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002. Measures such as the recent referendum on Chechnya’s political future will prove meaningless unless there is a serious initiative by Moscow to end the pattern of abuse in that region. It is essential that the Russian leadership undertake meaningful efforts to uphold the rule of law and protect human rights in Chechnya if it ever hopes to return life in that war-torn region of Russia to normal. Mr. Secretary, a strong resolution addressing these concerns would be fully in keeping with the principles declared by the President in his National Security Strategy to champion aspirations for human dignity while strengthening alliances to defeat global terrorism. We urge strong U.S. leadership in Geneva to accomplish this important objective. Sincerely, BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S. Co-Chairman CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C. Co-Chairman GORDON SMITH, U.S.S. Commission Member STENY H. HOYER, M.C. Ranking Member BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, M.C. Commission Member ROBERT B. ADERHOLT, M.C. Commission Member

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on the state of property restitution and compensation in post-communist Europe. Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: A Status Update Wednesday, September 10, 2003 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM 334 Cannon House Office Building Scheduled to participate: Ambassador Randolph Bell, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Department of State A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The end of communist tyranny after 1990 sparked hope that governments in the region would redress the wrongful seizures of private and communal property, such as churches, synagogues, schools and hospitals. The Helsinki Commission has held three hearings on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during World War II and the communist-era in Central and Eastern Europe. This briefing will survey developments since the Commission's July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region. Particular attention will be given to the progress, or lack thereof, in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania in removing the bureaucratic and legal obstacles faced by individuals--including U.S. citizen claimants--and religious communities seeking restitution of communal property, family homes, and/or land.

  • Belarus Democracy Act of 2003 Moves Closer to Passage

    Washington - The Belarus Democracy Act of 2003 moved one step closer to reality today when it passed a subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee. The bipartisan resolution, H.R. 854, is a measure designed to bolster democratic development in a country held hostage by the dictatorial regime of Alexander Lukashenka. The Europe Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee approved the measure today, referring it to the full Committee for consideration. “The United States Congress is one step closer to putting words into action in support of the oppressed citizens of Belarus,” said United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), prime sponsor of the House bill. “I am more optimistic today that we will soon be able to say to the Belarusian people that we are with you in word and in deed.” “The Belarusian people deserve to live in a society where democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount,” Smith added. “I hope that this bill will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected human rights violations by the Lukashenka regime and serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe.” “The Belarusian people have suffered so much both under past and current dictatorships. They deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country,” Smith continued. One of the primary purposes of the Belarus Democracy Act is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from Lukashenka’s anti-democratic regime. A similar version of the Belarus Democracy Act, S. 700, is pending in the United States Senate. The Belarus Democracy Act authorizes an increase in assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media, including broadcasting into Belarus, and international exchanges. The bill would expand sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, denying high-ranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. U.S. executive directors of international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance for humanitarian needs. The bill would also require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Introduce “Belarus Democracy Act of 2003”

    Lack of Accountability Cited in Links to North Korea and Iraq  Washington – United States Helsinki Commission leaders have introduced the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, a measure designed to bolster democratic development in a country held hostage by the dictatorial regime of Alexander Lukashenka. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) have introduced virtually similar resolutions targeting democracy- building efforts in the former Soviet Republic of Belarus. “The goal of the Belarus Democracy Act is to assist Belarus in becoming a genuine European state, in which respect for human rights and democracy is the norm and in which the long-suffering Belarusian people are able to overcome the legacy of dictatorship – past and present,” said Campbell. “Against the backdrop of this climate of fear, the powers of the state have been brought to bear against independent journalists, trade unionists, and other voices of dissent.” Campbell underscored that “a lack of accountability enables the Lukashenka regime to pursue arms deals with the likes of North Korea and Iraq.” “I hope this bill will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected human rights violations by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe where democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount,” Smith said. “The Belarusian people deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country based on the rule of law and democratic institutions.” “While some might be tempted to dismiss Belarus as an anomaly, the stakes are too high and the costs too great to ignore,” Campbell added. “I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act in the Senate in an effort to help put an end to repression and human rights violations in Belarus and to promote Belarus’ entry into a democratic Euro-Atlantic community of nations.” The Senate version of the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, S. 700, is cosponsored by Senators Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and John McCain (R-AZ). The House version, H.R. 854, is cosponsored by Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Commissioner Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA) and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA).

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