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

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  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Smith Reacts to Djindjic Assassination

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) issued the following statement after today’s assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic: This is a true tragedy, not only for family and friends of Mr. Djindjic but for all the people of Serbia and, indeed, for all who struggle for human rights and democratic development. Zoran Djindjic became a leader during difficult times in his country. He chose to stand in opposition to Slobodan Milosevic and his regime. That certainly was not the easiest course, and it took courage. Zoran Djindjic also had determination and, after repeated setbacks and obstacles, he played a key role in ousting Milosevic from power in 2000. He subsequently became, as Prime Minister of Serbia, a force for reform, recognizing that Serbia needed to cast off not only the yoke of Milosevic’s rule but also Milosevic’s legacy of nationalist hatred, organized crime, corruption and greed. Transferring Milosevic to The Hague in 2001 to face charges for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide perhaps best symbolized Djindjic’s continued courage and determination to conquer the sinister forces which seized his country. Zoran Djindjic was still battling resistance to reform in Serbia when his life was taken by the vicious act of cold-blooded assassins. These will undoubtedly be turbulent times for Belgrade, for Serbia, and for Montenegro which is just embarking on a new relationship with Serbia. This tragedy may have reverberations throughout the region, particularly in Bosnia and in Kosovo. It is my hope and prayer that the people of Serbia will respond to this crime with a loud and united cry: “Enough is enough.” In the past, they have seen the lives of journalist Slavko Curuvija and politician Ivan Stambolic snuffed out for their advocacy of a civilized Serbia, in which human rights and the rule of law are respected. Similarly Djindjic, too, was advocating such noble objectives. The very decent people of Serbia deserve a society which respects human rights and upholds the rule of law. That is what the leaders of Serbia must now provide without further hesitation or delay. I take heart in knowing that Djindjic had many colleagues who shared his vision of a reformed Serbia. My deepest condolences go to the family of Zoran Djindjic. I hope that the incredible grief they must now feel will be tempered by the pride they should feel in his accomplishments and service to his country. (END)

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Smith Meets with Slovak Deputy Foreign Minister

    Praises Slovak Leadership in International Affairs; Delivers Letter to Slovak Prime Minister on Coerced Sterilization Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) praised Slovakia’s leadership in international affairs in a meeting Tuesday with Slovak Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok. Their discussion touched on issues of international security, trans-Atlantic cooperation, and U.S. business investment in Slovakia. Smith reiterated his strong support for Slovakia’s admission to NATO. “I am deeply grateful for the tremendous support Slovakia has given to the United States, and to the world, in the war against terrorism,” said Smith. “Slovakia has really played a leadership role in meeting the common challenges our countries face today.” At the meeting, Smith handed over a letter signed by nine Members of the Helsinki Commission concerning coerced sterilization of Romani women in Slovakia. Addressed to Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, the letter was signed by Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Commissioners Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). “I hope the Slovak Government will aggressively pursue this issue and take every possible step to stop coerced sterilization,” said Smith. “It is also imperative that the government ensure that there is no retaliation against those who report or otherwise exercise their right to free speech on coerced sterilization.” Slovakia has about 750 personnel deployed worldwide on NATO- and UN-led peace support operations, including in Kosovo, as well as an engineering unit in Afghanistan. In late February, Slovakia deployed a nuclear, biological and chemical unit to Kuwait.

  • Full Text of Letter to Slovak Prime Minister on Coerced Sterilization of Romani Women

    March 7, 2003 H.E. Mikulas Dzurinda Prime Minister Republic of Slovakia Bratislava, Slovakia Dear Prime Minister Dzurinda:   We write regarding recent reports alleging that Romani women in Slovakia have been coerced to undergo sterilization procedures. We urge you to publicly condemn this practice, ensure its cessation, and take concrete steps to meaningfully improve the situation of the Romani minority. As you may know, Charter ‘77 first reported on the practice of coerced sterilization in Czechoslovakia in 1978. Unfortunately, it is now clear that this practice in Slovakia did not end with the fall of communism. Tragically, forced sterilization is among the horrific manifestations of the eugenics movement that gained currency in so many countries during the last century. As recently as 1995, then-Slovak Minister of Health, Lumomir Javorsky, made this chilling pledge at a public rally: “The government will do everything to ensure that more white children than Romani children are born.” In recent years, Norway and Sweden have acknowledged that they carried out forced sterilizations until the 1970s; more than 30 states in my own country had such programs, and they were in place for the better part of the 20th century. While the practice of coerced sterilization of Roma in Slovakia does not appear to have been directed by any arm of the current government, we believe your government has a responsibility to ensure its cessation. Just as you have played a leadership role in addressing many other human rights violations of the communist era and the Meciar regime, we hope you will play a strong role in ending human rights violations of the Romani minority. In particular, we recommend the following: – Implement reforms of the health care system, including training for social and medical professionals and the improvement of legal protections against coerced or involuntary sterilization. – Government officials at the highest level should speak out against calls to limit the birthrate of Roma. – Government officials at the highest level should condemn racially motivated act of violence against Roma -- such as the attack against Milan Daniel that has left him permanently disfigured or the six skinhead attacks against Roma in Poprad last year. Such acts must be aggressively prosecuted and the perpetrators punished. – Adopt and implement comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, consistent with Slovakia’s commitment in the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit Document and its requirements under the European Union’s race directive. Mr. Prime Minister, we have great respect for the progress Slovakia has made in improving respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms since 1998. We welcome Slovakia’s partnership with the United States on a broad range of issues and believe Slovakia can play a leadership role in the region. We bring these issues to your attention and urge you to address them with a goal of building our trans-Atlantic dialogue and contributing to the breadth and depth of U.S.-Slovak relations. We believe that Slovakia will be a stronger democracy, and therefore a stronger partner, when respect for the human rights of its most vulnerable minority is improved. Sincerely, Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Co-Chairman Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts, Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, Commissioner Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter, Commissioner Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Commissioner Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Commissioner

  • Anti-Semitism Target of Helsinki Commission Leaders’ Resolutions

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission leaders have introduced resolutions regarding the sharp escalation of anti-Semitism and related violence throughout the region of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). “I am eager for the House of Representatives to go on the record in support of this measure, making sure both the Congress and the administration are doing everything possible to see an end to the scourge of anti-Semitism,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “I am especially pleased that this resolution calls for all OSCE participating States to ensure effective law enforcement and prosecution of individuals perpetrating anti-Semitic violence.” “It is incumbent upon us to send a clear message that these malicious acts are a serious concern to the United States Senate and American people and that we will not be silent in the face of this disturbing trend,” said Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “The anti-Semitic violence we witnessed in 2002, which stretched the width and breadth of the OSCE region, is a wake-up call that this old evil still lives today.” Original cosponsors of the Senate and House Resolutions are Commissioners Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) is also an original co-sponsor. The measures (Senate Concurrent Resolution 7 and House Concurrent Resolution 49) maintain that elected and appointed leaders should meet the challenge of anti-Semitic violence through public condemnation, making clear their societies have no room for attacks against members of the Jewish community or their institutions. “We should make a concerted effort in our respective countries to end this disturbing trend,” said Smith. “Anti-Semitism has bedeviled generations of Jews throughout the centuries and formed a black spot on human history.” “Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi ‘skin head’ activity, I and other Commissioners have diligently urged the leaders of OSCE participating States to confront and combat the evil of anti-Semitism,” Campbell added.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Call for “Accurate Assessment” of Chechnya Situation

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission leaders today called for an “accurate assessment” of the situation in Chechnya following the decision by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to send a Technical Needs Assessment mission to the war-torn region. The mission is being prepared in cooperation with the Council of Europe “to assess the possibility of an international observer presence” during the constitutional referendum scheduled for March 23. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) said, “I am very concerned that the OSCE could be used as political cover for what appears to be a dubious and premature exercise. Are we supposed to believe that this referendum will stabilize Chechnya while armed conflict between the Russian military and Chechen fighters continues to produce death and destruction?” Smith asked. “The mission should prepare to give an accurate assessment of its findings especially given credible reports by non-governmental organizations that displaced persons are being forcibly returned to the war zone.” Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) asked, “ What kind of signal does it send when Russia closes the doors on the OSCE mission in Chechnya, but now wants to have the OSCE involved in the election process? There needs to be a viable process of monitoring the humanitarian situation in a region of such great challenge to the OSCE,” Hoyer added. “Ignoring reality is not an option.” The agreement to send an OSCE assessment team to Chechnya was worked out in early February by OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and Igor S. Ivanov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. The OSCE Assistance Mission to Chechnya had been deployed since early 1995, but the Russian Government ousted the mission in December 2002. Eleven Members of the Helsinki Commission wrote to President Vladimir Putin in September concerning the forcible return of refugees to the war zone. The conflict in Chechnya has also been the subject of numerous Commission hearings.

  • Commissioners Urge Kwasniewski on Prompt Passage of Polish Property Compensation Law

    “Every single day matters.” (Washington) - Four Members of the United States Helsinki Commission have urged Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski to ensure prompt passage of a non-discriminatory property restitution law. In a meeting last year with congressional leaders, Kwasniewski assured Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) that a draft law on confiscated property would be ready at the beginning of 2003 and that it would not discriminate on the basis of citizenship. “Having a fair and just property restitution law passed expeditiously would be enthusiastically welcomed,” the Commissioners wrote in a January 13 letter to Kwasniewski. “We are concerned, however, by reports suggesting that consideration of the draft may be delayed until after a referendum on European Union accession is held sometime later this summer.” Signing the letter with Co-Chairman Smith were Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). “Bearing in mind that more than a decade has already passed since the restoration of democracy in Poland, that numerous laws on confiscated private property have been drafted but never adopted, and that Holocaust survivors are passing away each year, we urge you to ensure that passage of this law does not face any further delays,” the letter reads. “Every single day matters.” “We also hope that, as your government proceeds with the drafting process, officials will consult actively and widely with those most affected by property confiscations,” the Commissioners continue. “We believe that a successful outcome of this process requires strong public outreach and that, conversely, a process of limited consultations is likely to foster the frustration and anger of those who have already waited decades for some measure of justice.” 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 United States advocates the return or compensation of such properties.

  • Helsinki Commission Hosts Forum on Confronting and Combating anti-Semitism

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will host an inter-parliamentary forum on combating anti-Semitism in participating States in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and other members of the Commission will join with a German Bundestag delegation led by OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice President Dr. Gert Weisskirchen to develop a response by parliamentarians to increased anti-Semitism in the OSCE region. Co-Chairman Smith served as Head of the United States delegation to the OSCE PA in Berlin. Confronting and Combating anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region 10:00 AM – 12:30 PM Tuesday, December 10, 2002 334 Cannon House Office Building This event is a follow-up to a session on anti-Semitism by American and German parliamentarians held in Berlin in July 2002 which coincided with the annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. December 10 is recognized around the world as International Human Rights Day. The forum is an opportunity to further develop an ongoing process involving other OSCE parliamentarians to deal with the increase of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the OSCE region. It is hoped to expand the process in 2003 utilizing the meetings of the Parliamentary Assembly. A number of American and European experts will participate and offer recommendations for further action. A “letter of intent” suggesting specific areas for attention and further cooperation will be signed by the leaders of both delegations following the Forum. OSCE participating States have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence. Despite that commitment, attacks against Jews continue. Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi “skin head” activity, participating States throughout the 55-nation OSCE region face the urgent challenge of stemming the tide of escalating anti-Semitic violence.  

  • Co-Chairman Smith's Submitted Statement to New Atlantic Initiative Conference on Belarus

    Conference Hosted by the American Enterprise Institute Washington, DC November 14, 2002 First, I would like to congratulate the New Atlantic Initiative here at AEI, and the many cosponsors, for organizing this important conference which will help to focus attention on the dire situation in Belarus and ways to encourage change there. When measured against other European countries, the state of human rights and democracy in Belarus is abysmal, bearing closer resemblance to some of the states of Central Asia. Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka – Europe’s remaining dictator – persistently flouts OSCE commitments that Belarus freely undertook when it became an OSCE participating State a decade ago. Belarus stands out from many post-Soviet states in that its record in the immediate post-independence period indicated some progress, but suffered a dramatic reversal with the 1994 election of Lukashenka. I believe we are all aware of the long list of human rights assaults by the Lukashenka regime over the course of the past eight years. Many of us, including members of the Helsinki Commission, have repeatedly spoken out against human rights abuses in Belarus and urged compliance with OSCE obligations. Nevertheless, just within the last few months, we have seen the passage of a repressive law on religion which bans religious activity by groups not registered with the government and forbids most religious meetings on private property, the bulldozing of a newly-built church, the incarceration of leading independent journalists, and the continued harassment, as well as physical attacks on the political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations – in short, anyone who, through their promotion of democracy, would stand in the way of the Belarusian dictator. (And as we all know, just last week, Anatoly Lebedka, who is present here today, was detained and interrogated by the Belarusian KGB after leaving the US Embassy in Minsk to pick up an invitation for this conference.) Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents – perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the regime in their murders. Furthermore, growing evidence also indicates Belarus has been supplying military training and weapons to Iraq, in violation of UN sanctions. Most recently, Lukashenka’s expulsion of the OSCE presence in Belarus has further isolated Belarus from the international community and right now, the OSCE is grappling with how to handle this issue following the OSCE Secretary General’s visit there last week, where he received some pronouncements of good will. What we need now is concrete progress by Belarus towards cooperation with the OSCE, and not more pronouncements, which we’ve been hearing for years without any followup action. As a leader of our U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) at our sessions over the last few years I’ve confronted the question of the seating of Members of the National Assembly, the legitimacy of which has been a subject of considerable debate. My colleagues and I on the Helsinki Commission, in a letter to OSCE PA President Bruce George, have proposed a roadmap by which Belarus can begin to overcome the impasse – not only with respect to the seating of the National Assembly at the PA – but more importantly, with respect to ending its self-imposed isolation. The roadmap, simply put, involves the Belarusian authorities, including parliamentarians, to undertake concrete steps toward meeting the four criteria for democratic elections established by the OSCE Troika back in April 2000. These longstanding criteria include an end of the climate of fear, access to the state media for all candidates, respect for freedom of assembly, and transparency and fairness in the registration of candidates and functioning of electoral commissions. An essential step in the right direction for the National Assembly would be to bring the electoral code up to democratic standards, the proper implementation of which would contribute to the democratization process in Belarus. Another step would be the creation of a commission that would investigate the still unresolved disappearances of Lukashenka’s political opponents in 1999-2000. I recognize and commend the recent attempts in the National Assembly to question high-ranking officials in the Belarusian Government about the disappearances, and deplore the executive’s lack of cooperation with these efforts to get at the truth. I encourage the Assembly to probe further and have the courage to continue its stand until the truth is discovered. As many of you know, I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act earlier this year, which is intended to demonstrate support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus. Among other things, the bill authorizes an increase in assistance for democracy-building activities, encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, and imposes sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, including denying its high-ranking officials entry into the United States and the prohibition of strategic exports to Belarus. I am proud to have sponsored this bill and look forward to moving it quickly through the legislative process in the 108th Congress. The Belarusian people, who suffered profoundly over the course of the last century owing to Soviet domination, Nazi invasion and Chornobyl, deserve better than the heavy hand of Alexander Lukashenka. Together, we must work to help bring democracy to Belarus and make respect for human rights an integral part of the Belarusian experience. 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. Many thanks to each of you for your interest in fostering genuine freedom for the Belarusian people.

  • Turkey’s Post-Election Future Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on Turkey’s future following the country’s precedent-setting November 3rd election. Turkey: What Can We Expect After the November 3rd Election? Thursday, November 14, 2002 2200 Rayburn House Office Building 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon Panelists: • Abdullah Akyüz, President, Turkish Industrialist and Businessmen’s Association - US, Inc (TUSIAD) • Sanar Yurdatapan, Musician and Freedom of Expression activist • Jonathan Sugden, Turkey Researcher, Human Rights Watch On Sunday, November 3, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, won an unprecedented 34.27 percent of the votes in Turkey’s legislative election. The party won 363 of the 550 seats in the Turkish Grand National Assembly and will form Turkey’s next government. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Deniz Baykal, received 19.39 percent of the votes and won 178 seats in the next Parliament. Independent candidates won the remaining nine seats. None of Turkey’s other 16 political parties met the ten percent minimum threshold necessary to be represented in the Parliament. Most significantly among them are the three parties of the outgoing tripartite coalition led by Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit:      • the Democratic Left Party (DSP, nationalist left),      • the Nationalist Action Party (MHP, ultra nationalist),      • the Motherland Party (ANAP, center-right). The AKP’s predecessor, the Democratic People’s Party (DEHAP), also failed to cross the ten percent threshold, receiving just 6.22 percent of the votes at the national level – more than 40 percent in several Kurdish provinces in the East. The election was held during a rather turbulent time in Turkey. While facing a massive recession, Turks worried about another war with Iraq and its worsening affect on their economy. The continuance of their close relationship with the United States is also a concern of many Turks living in a neighborhood of states increasingly hostile to the United States’ anti-terrorism campaign. The effect, if any, on the rise of Islamist parties in Turkish politics is yet another concern. All of this following the recent snub by the European Union regarding Turkish accession, and increasingly bleak prospects for a resolution of the Cyprus impasse. At its December 16-19 Copenhagen summit, the European Union is expected to decide whether to give Turkey a date for negotiations.

  • Putin Urged to Correct Pattern of Religious Discrimination

    Authorities Cancel Visas of Foreign Religious Workers Washington - Eleven Members of the United States Helsinki Commission and six other Members of Congress have urged Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to correct a pattern of religious discrimination against foreign religious workers from targeted minority faiths. “Mr. President, we are confident your government will not permit the denial of visas for foreign religious workers without due cause,” the Members wrote to Putin. “Therefore, we urge you to take corrective measures to ensure the rights of all believers, including those from minority faiths, to practice their religion without distinction, and see the end to discriminatory denials of visas to religious workers from select minority religious communities.” In their letter, the Members expressed “growing concern over the pattern of denial or cancellation of visas for foreign religious workers of minority faiths, adversely affecting Catholic and Protestant communities throughout the Russian Federation.” “We seek your assistance in resolving the outstanding cases and urge the establishment of a policy which will ensure full respect for the right of these religious communities to select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their requirements and standards,” the letter reads. “Artificial impediments imposed by federal authorities that prevent foreign religious workers from taking up their clerical responsibilities in the Russian Federation ultimately undermine the rights of individuals from these faiths to practice their religion,” the Members wrote. The Keston Institute, which monitors religious freedom in communist and post-communist countries, documented 19 cases in 2002 where foreign religious workers were affected by government action. Keston recently issued a list of 33 individuals either barred from entering Russia or forced to leave under various circumstances since 1998. According to Keston, the only documented visa denial in 1998 was the case of U.S.-based Baptist missionary Dan Pollard in March. The pattern begins to grow, however, in 1999 when two missionary visas were denied and a third was revoked. Russian officials revoked one visa and denied four others in 2000. The escalation continued in 2001 when authorities revoked two visas, denied three others and deported Evangelical missionary Craig Rucin of the United States. In 2002 alone, Keston indicates, the Russian Government’s action against foreign religious workers soared to at least 19: 7 revoked, 8 denied and 4 deported. Despite the workers’ valid visas, Russian officials purportedly invented fictitious charges against the workers, ignoring their church-related employment history in Russia extending several years in some cases. The Members note that past Soviet practices left many minority religious communities without the capacity to produce trained clergy domestically. As a result, many churches throughout Russia now rely on clergy and religious workers from abroad to meet their spiritual needs. United States Helsinki Commission leaders signing the letter were Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). Also signing the letter were Commissioners Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR), Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). Additional Members of Congress signing the letter include Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Rep. Jim Turner (D-TX), Rep. Marcy Kaptur, (D-OH), Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel (D-PA). As a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia has pledged to promote tolerance and non-discrimination and counter threats to security such as intolerance, aggressive nationalism, racist chauvinism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.

  • Co-Chairman Smith Suspicious of Charge Against Journalist in Kazakhstan

    Nazarbaev Regime’s Human Rights Abuse Record Pitted Against Criminal Accusation Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today expressed deep suspicion of the charge brought against one of Kazakhstan’s best known opposition journalists, Sergei Duvanov, whom Kazakh authorities on Monday accused of rape. “Sergei Duvanov has gained a reputation as Kazakhstan’s journalistic conscience, who reports on human rights abuses and misdeeds by President Nursultan Nazarbaev's authoritarian regime at personal risk,” Smith said. “There are good reasons to suspect this charge is politically motivated. I fear this latest accusation represents the Nazarbaev regime’s desire to silence one of its leading critics.” “On the very day Sergei Duvanov was detained, he was preparing to leave for Washington to deliver public addresses on the deteriorating situation in Kazakhstan,” Smith added. “He may be paying the price again for his candor. The Helsinki Commission and the international community will be following this case closely.” Duvanov is the editor-in-chief of The Bulletin published by the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law. Kazakh authorities accuse him of raping a 14-year-old girl who visited his dacha along with two neighbors. Duvanov told his lawyers that he was drugged by an unknown substance in tea he drank, lost consciousness and remembers only being awakened by the police. Duvanov was charged in July with “insulting the honor and dignity of the president” after publishing an article about the ongoing international investigation into corruption on the highest level in Kazakhstan. In August, he was attacked by three men in his apartment building who warned him not to continue writing muckraking articles or he would be “crippled.” Kazakhstan’s record of media freedom began tumbling downhill in the mid-1990s, as President Nazarbaev consolidated his power, eliminated rivals and tightened his grip on all branches of power. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists included Nazarbaev on its list of “Ten Worst Enemies of the Press” in May 2000. In the last year, the situation has deteriorated drastically. Opposition journalists have been assaulted and their newspapers attacked and fined. The daughter of opposition editor Lira Baseitova died in police custody in May. Another editor found a decapitated dog on her doorstep, with a warning to desist from writing articles critical of the regime. “Considering how Nazarbaev’s regime has brazenly flouted its OSCE commitments on democratization and crushed freedom of the press, any criminal charges against Kazakhstan’s independent and opposition journalists should be treated with the greatest skepticism,” Smith said. “It is not enough for Kazakhstan’s law enforcement agencies – which are controlled by President Nazarbaev – to assert Duvanov’s guilt. Independent experts, preferably foreign specialists experienced in handling DNA evidence, should be involved in this investigation.” Co-Chairman Smith is the author of House Concurrent Resolution 422 expressing the sense of Congress over Kazakhstan’s deteriorating human rights conditions.

  • Full Text of Letter to Powell on Kuchma's Iraqi Arms Deal

    October 24, 2002 The Honorable Colin Powell Secretary of State U.S. Department of State Washington, DC 20520 Dear Mr. Secretary: We are deeply troubled by recently published information making it clear that Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma gave his personal approval for the sale of sophisticated military equipment to Iraq. His action makes a mockery of international efforts to isolate Saddam Hussein’s outlaw regime while, of course, significantly increasing the risk to U.S. and U.K. military personnel who are currently policing the “no-fly” zones and may be called upon to conduct additional operations against Iraq. It is difficult to see Mr. Kuchma’s approval of this sale as anything other than a hostile and reckless act presumably undertaken for personal financial gain. Such criminal conduct by the leader of a country that has been a major beneficiary of U.S. political support and financial assistance is outrageous and demands a clear and firm response from the Administration. In her testimony to the Commission on October 10, Assistant Secretary Elizabeth Jones informed us that, in Kyiv, she recently conveyed to President Kuchma the Administration’s great unhappiness with his behavior. Apparently he did not dispute the authenticity of the evidence, as he has done previously, but insisted that the equipment in question had never been delivered. Ms. Jones told us that a team of U.S. and British experts would soon visit Ukraine in an attempt to ascertain whether Mr. Kuchma’s assertions are true. While we support sending this team of investigators, particularly given the threat to our military personnel, we feel that stronger action is warranted to demonstrate to Mr. Kuchma, as well as to other foreign officials, that such reckless and criminal behavior will have the most serious consequences. As an initial step, we urge that the Department of State establish an inter-agency group to develop concrete measures focused on the Ukrainian leader, members of the presidential administration, and other state officials. Among other things, such a group should closely examine any financial benefit Mr. Kuchma or his associates might have derived from this sale, money laundering schemes, as well as any other possible illegal activities. We further urge that the United States initiate contacts with foreign governments in an attempt to identify the money trail from sales to Iraq or possible sales to other rogue regimes. In addition, we believe official contacts with Mr. Kuchma should be kept to an absolute minimum and be conducted at the lowest possible levels. Mr. Secretary, while we continue to endorse strong U.S. support for Ukraine and its people, given the evidence at hand it is hard to see how we might resume a normal relationship with Mr. Kuchma or place our faith in any assurances he might offer us. We believe that U.S. policy toward Ukraine must be crafted with these goals in mind. Sincerely,

  • Kuchma’s Iraqi Arms Deal Approval Draws Fire from Helsinki Commission Leaders

    Bi-Partisan Letter to Powell Urges Close Scrutiny of Kuchma’s Money Washington - Leaders of the United States Helsinki Commission have urged Secretary of State Colin Powell to keep a close eye on President Leonid Kuchma’s financial dealings after recent revelations that the Ukrainian personally approved an arms deal with Iraq. In their letter to Powell, the bipartisan Commission leadership said Kuchma’s “action makes a mockery of international efforts to isolate Saddam Hussein’s outlaw regime while. . .significantly increasing the risk to U.S. and U.K. military personnel who are currently policing the ‘no-fly’ zones and may be called upon to conduct additional operations against Iraq.” Helsinki Commission leaders signing the letter were Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “We are deeply troubled by recently published information making it clear that Ukrainian President Leonid D. Kuchma gave his personal approval for the sale of sophisticated military equipment to Iraq,” the leaders wrote in a letter to Powell. “It is difficult to see Mr. Kuchma’s approval of this sale as anything other than a hostile and reckless act,” the leaders wrote. “Such criminal conduct by the leader of a country that has been a major beneficiary of U.S. political support and financial assistance is outrageous and demands a clear and firm response from the Administration.” Strong action is warranted to demonstrate to Mr. Kuchma, as well as to other foreign officials, that reckless and criminal behavior will have the most serious consequences, according to the leaders. “As an initial step, we urge that the Department of State establish an inter-agency group to develop concrete measures focused on the Ukrainian leader, members of the presidential administration, and other state officials,” the letter reads. Among other things, the purpose of such an inter-agency group would be to closely examine any financial benefit Kuchma or his associates might have derived from this sale, as well as any other possible illegal activities, including money laundering. “We further urge that the United States initiate contacts with foreign governments in an attempt to identify the money trail from sales to Iraq or possible sales to other rogue regimes,” the letter reads. “In addition, we believe official contacts with Mr. Kuchma should be kept to an absolute minimum and be conducted at the lowest possible levels.” “While we continue to endorse strong U.S. support for Ukraine and its people, given the evidence at hand it is hard to see how we might resume a normal relationship with Mr. Kuchma or place our faith in any assurances he might offer us,” Commission leaders wrote. “We believe that U.S. policy toward Ukraine must be crafted with these goals in mind.” The United States Helsinki Commission has actively monitored Ukraine’s military security and human rights conditions. A compilation of Ukraine-related material is available on the Commission’s Internet Web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Text of Helsinki Commission Letter to President Putin

    October 24, 2002 His Excellency Vladimir V. Putin President of the Russian Federation The Kremlin Moscow, Russian Federation Dear Mr. President: “We write today to respectfully convey our growing concern over the pattern of denial or cancellation of visas for foreign religious workers from select minority faiths, adversely affecting Catholic and Protestant communities throughout the Russian Federation. We seek your assistance in resolving the outstanding cases and urge the establishment of policy which will ensure full respect of the right of these religious communities to select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their requirements and standards. “Over the past year, authorities have barred certain religious workers from re-entering the Russian Federation on spurious charges, despite that the individuals have worked in Russia for several years at the invitation of local coreligionists and hold valid visas. Reasons for the denials range from suspicion of criminal activity to the alleged dissolution of the inviting religious community. The effect of the visa nullification is serious, as many minority religious communities lack the capacity to produce trained clergy domestically. “These developments cannot be divorced from the historical legacy of the Soviet period which witnessed brutal persecution of believers of these faiths and liquidation of their leadership. Against this backdrop, Mr. President, these communities must out of necessity rely upon foreign clergy to meet their needs. Artificial impediments imposed by federal authorities that prevent foreign religious workers from taking up their clerical responsibilities in the Russian Federation ultimately undermine the rights of individuals from these faiths to practice their religion. “It appears that larger religious communities have influenced these government policies, at both federal and local levels. Harassment of clergy of the Catholic Church appears to have intensified following the formal establishment of dioceses in the Russian Federation. Similarly, recent government action against Swedish Protestant Leo Martensson was reportedly due to pressure from Muslim clergy in Krasnodar krai. Accordingly, in view of Russia’s commitment as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), it is important to recall the right of religious communities “to organize themselves according to their own hierarchical and institutional structure.” “Mr. President, we are confident your government will not permit the denial of visas for foreign religious workers without due cause. Therefore, we urge you to take corrective measures to ensure the rights of all believers, including those from minority faiths, to practice their religion without distinction, and see the end to discriminatory denials of visas to religious workers from select minority religious communities. Sincerely,

  • Shevardnadze Urged to Act on Violence Against Congregations

    Eyewitness: One Beaten Unconscious as Armed, Masked Men Invade Home, Assault Members of Religious Meeting Washington - Continued violence against religious minorities in the Republic of Georgia has prompted United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) to urge Georgia’s President Eduard Shevardnadze to uphold human rights and respect the rule of law. Religious freedom and the rule of law in Georgia have been jeopardized by a constant barrage of violent attacks on church congregations and the government’s unwillingness to enforce the law by holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes. Violence against minority religious groups, especially Jehovah's Witnesses, has escalated over the past three years. The Helsinki Commission held a hearing September 24 to examine democracy, human rights and security developments in the former Soviet Republic. Georgian Ambassador Levan Mikeladze testified at the hearing that legal and practical actions were being taken to ensure an end to future violence. “Unfortunately, since the...hearing, several more violent attacks occurred,” Smith said. “Alarmingly, on September 26, in the village of Napareuli, masked men with firearms burst into a private home where religious meetings were being held, reportedly beating those in attendance and ransacking the house. Most striking, eyewitnesses claim the attack was led by the village administrator, Mr. Nodar Paradashvili, who beat one of the victims into unconsciousness.” Defrocked Orthodox priest Vasili Mkalavishvili has led many attacks against non-Orthodox groups, disrupting worship services and other religious activities among members of minority faiths. Mkalavishvili will go on trial October 25 in the Didube-Chugureti District Court. His criminal trial began January 25th, but the charges against him are minor. Authorities postponed the case five times, due to Mkalavishvili’s mob entering the courtroom and assailing victims, lawyers and international observers. Only ten police were permitted to guard victims and their lawyers during Mkalavishvili’s previous trial. Ministry of Interior officials, however, were afforded the protection of more than 200 officers and a SWAT team when Mkalavishvili was previously tried on different charges. Officials from Georgia’s National Security Council and Ministry of Interior assured Helsinki Commission staff in meetings last week that police would provide enough personnel in the Didube-Chugureti District Court to conduct a proper trial. “Considering the numerous trial delays in this case due to Mkalavishvili's mob crashing into the courtroom, I welcome this commitment,” Smith said. Increasingly concerned about the Georgian Government’s unwillingness to squelch the violence and jail the perpetrators, Smith said Mkalavishvili’s trial will be a prime opportunity for Georgia to uphold human rights and the rule of law. He urged Shevardnadze to ensure proper decorum during the trial by assigning a respectable number of law enforcement agents to the court proceedings. Providing a significant police presence at the trial “would convey clearly that the violence will not be tolerated and your government’s commitment to have the judicial process proceed.” “Mr. President, as a Representative in the United States Congress for over 20 years, I deeply value the friendship of the Georgian Government and people,” Smith continued. “I respectfully urge that everything possible be done to ensure proper conduct of the upcoming trial and that future prosecutions of violent criminals be conducted under rule of law norms.” Spearheaded by Helsinki Commission leaders, 15 Members of Congress wrote to Shevardnadze in May urging him to ensure an end to the increasing violence against minority religious groups. The Members pressed Shevardnadze to “take concrete steps to provide for the security of all Georgians without distinction as to religion.” For more than two years, violent mobs have attacked members of various non-Orthodox religious communities while police allegedly participate in the attacks or simply refuse to intervene. Organized mobs have brutally attacked minority religious groups with increasing frequency since 1999. The mobs often targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mkalavishvili’s followers have allegedly targeted other religious groups, including a Pentecostal church, an Evangelical Church, and a warehouse owned by the Baptist Union. Victims have filed more than 700 criminal complaints, but authorities have not responded, leaving the perpetrators free to repeat their attacks. Individuals have reportedly been dragged by their hair into a group, then pummeled with punches, kicks and clubs. Police have stopped buses of Jehovah’s Witnesses, allowing Mkalavishvili’s mobsters to attack passengers participating in church activities. A mob attacked a Pentecostal Church during choir practice, injuring 12 people during the raid. Local television stations often receive advanced notice of the attacks, then broadcast the episodes on the evening news. While civil society has grown substantially, the media and non-governmental organizations remain at risk. The savage attack on the human rights organization, Liberty Institute, like the campaign of violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths, as well as efforts to silence Rustavi-2 Television, testify to the lingering influence of forces bent on preventing Georgia from consolidating democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Preview Reports on Anti-Semitism, Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Today’s Russia

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing to hear two reports on ethnic and religious intolerance in today’s Russia. Intolerance in Contemporary Russia 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon Tuesday, October 15, 2002 Experts will discuss current trends as well as prospects for fostering a climate of tolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities in the Russian Federation. Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, will present the group’s recent report entitled “Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Contemporary Russia.” Micah Naftalin, Executive Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union will present its compilation on “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions.” As a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Russian Federation has pledged to promote tolerance and non-discrimination and counter threats to security such as intolerance, aggressive nationalism, racist chauvinism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, numerous manifestations of bigotry and anti-Semitism have emerged. Indeed, in the open environment that now prevails in Russia, proponents of bigotry are more at ease to propagate their unwelcome messages. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently hailed the courage of Tatiana Sapunova, who was seriously injured earlier this year when tearing down anti-Semitic posters that had been booby-trapped with an explosive device. An un-official transcript will be available on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet Web site within 24 hours of the briefing.

  • Belarus Religion Law Prompts Reaction from Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today said Belarus’ upper chamber of parliament struck another blow against religious freedom with a burdensome and restrictive religion law. Passage of the law comes two months after Belarus authorities plowed through a newly built church with a bulldozer. “This repressive legislation, targeting minority religions, clearly violates internationally accepted human rights standards,” Smith said. “Lukashenka and his regime of hand-picked legislators are obviously intent on stamping out minority religious communities, leaving only the state-recognized Orthodox Church to decide how individuals practice their faith.” The religion law passed the upper chamber on Wednesday after the lower chamber approved it earlier this year. President Alexander Lukashenko has ten days to sign it into law. “Lukashenka’s regime has inflicted Belarus with the worst human rights record in Europe,” Smith said. “It has flagrantly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion.” The new law bans religious activity by groups not registered with the government and forbids most religious meetings on private property. Religious literature is subject to government censorship and religious organizations existing fewer than 20 years are prohibited. Under the legislation, the Orthodox Church has a “determining role” in Belarus. Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism and Islam, however, are noted as “traditional” faiths. In August, Belarus officials bulldozed a newly built Autocephalous Orthodox Church in the village of Pahranichny. Authorities ordered the building destroyed, citing "illegal" construction since plans did not include a basement. A journalist was jailed 15 days for attempting to write about the bulldozing. Lukashenka has reportedly launched a media smear campaign targeting Protestant communities. Lukashenka’s political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations endure constant harassment. Three journalists were jailed for allegedly defaming him. Lukashenka refused last month to renew the entry visa of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group’s acting head, effectively shutting down the operation. Recent presidential and parliamentary elections, infested with democratic standards violations, were neither free nor fair. Credible evidence links Lukashenka’s regime to the disappearances of his political opponents. Evidence also indicates Belarus is a supplier of military equipment to rogue states.

  • U.S. Policy toward OSCE Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    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 Thursday, October 10, 2002 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon 334 Cannon House Office Building Testifying: A. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State, European and Eurasian Affairs Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, CIS Program Director, International League for Human Rights Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director (DC), Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch Robert Templer, Asia Program Director, International Crisis Group This hearing will examine U.S. priorities and long-standing human rights concerns in the OSCE region and how the OSCE can serve as a forum to advance those goals and address human rights violations; the role of the nearly 20 OSCE field activities including in Belarus, Chechnya, Georgia, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, and Uzbekistan; and expectations for the OSCE Ministerial Council in December. 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 advancement of the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It remains the only pan-European forum for military-security negotiations. An un-official transcript will be available on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site at http://www.csce.gov within 24 hours of the hearing.

  • Smith, Hoyer Send Letter to Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akaev

    WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today released the text of a letter to President Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan addressing concerns over the state of democracy in Kyrgyzstan. Full text of the letter follows: September 24, 2002 His Excellency Askar Akaev President Republic of Kyrgyzstan Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Dear Mr. President: On the occasion of your visit to Washington, we are pleased to have the opportunity to identify several matters of mutual interest and concern in this year that marks ten years of Kyrgyzstan’s participation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Considering the significance of the continuing war on terrorism, in which your country has cooperated with the United States, and the related issue of stability in Kyrgyzstan, we believe it is imperative to address some fundamental questions of democracy and state-society relations in Kyrgyzstan. This year has been one of turmoil in Kyrgyzstan, beginning with the arrest of parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov in January, followed by the shooting of demonstrators in Aksy demanding his release in March and then months of large-scale demonstrations. The protest movement has quieted down in anticipation of your proclaimed intention to take some decisive measures by November 15, and yet the level of societal discontent – caused, as you said yourself at Yale this past weekend, by poverty and a widespread sense of “disempowerment” – remains high. Some activists seek your resignation and the holding of pre-term elections, and there is no doubt that many citizens of your country are deeply disappointed by the turn away from democracy in the last few years and are prepared to express their discontent in the streets. The emergence of “street politics” in Kyrgyzstan reflects the sad reality that “normal” politics have become virtually impossible. Deprived of other effective outlets for expressing discontent or influencing their government, people have exercised their right to assembly and association in an effort to send a serious message to their government. Their message should not be ignored nor their voices squelched. We had an opportunity to meet with representatives of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition in July, at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Berlin. On the basis of our conversation, as well as the Helsinki Commission’s constant monitoring of the situation in Kyrgyzstan, we would respectfully offer several suggestions intended to address the current crisis: Appoint an independent commission to investigate the Aksy events. The perceived partiality of the current investigation has undermined its credibility among those, especially in Aksy, who seek a just apportionment of responsibility for the shootings. As you know, the shootings have caused the most serious political crisis in Kyrgyzstan in ten years. Honor the commitment to permit freedom of speech, assembly and association. On September 9, your government announced plans to ban demonstrations for three months. The order was subsequently revoked, but it indicated a very short-sighted approach to state-society relations and crowd control. Too much has occurred in Kyrgyzstan this year for the authorities simply to forbid rallies with any hope of success. Release Felix Kulov. Along with Amnesty International and other human rights groups, we consider General Kulov a political prisoner, punished for his attempt to run for office. His release would not only rectify an injustice, it would help stabilize the political environment and create good will for your government inside and outside the country. Take seriously the opportunity afforded by the convening of the constitutional commission. Throughout Central Asia, “super-presidencies” have emerged, which make irrelevant the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. We believe the commission you have established, which is examining the redistribution of prerogatives between the executive and legislative branches, offers not only Kyrgyzstan’s best hope of avoiding further instability but may serve as a model for neighboring countries, which sooner or later will confront their own political crises. A creative, successful effort, taking account of the perspectives of the opposition and civil society, could have an historic impact. Kyrgyzstan stands at a turning point. We are convinced that “business as usual” will not be able to salvage the situation and urge you and your government to take the daring and necessary steps to implement democratic reforms and protect fundamental human rights without further delay. We stand ready to be of assistance in your efforts to make such needed reforms. Sincerely, Steny H. Hoyer, M.C.                               Ranking Member, U.S. Helsinki Commission                  Christopher H. Smith, M.C.                     Co-Chairman, U.S. Helsinki Commission                

  • Kyrgyzstan President Urged to Make Progress on Human Rights

    “Business as Usual” Will Not Salvage Situation – Daring Steps Urgently Needed Washington - Kyrgyzstan President Askar Akaev today was urged to take concrete steps toward improving his country’s human rights record and return to the path of democratic reform. United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), participating in a meeting organized by Speaker of the House of Representatives J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), discussed with Akaev a number of pressing human rights concerns in Kyrgyzstan which remain unresolved. Co-Chairman Smith hand-delivered a letter from himself and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) addressing “some fundamental questions of democracy and state-society relations in Kyrgyzstan.” “This year has been one of turmoil in Kyrgyzstan, beginning with the arrest of parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov in January, followed by the shooting of demonstrators in Aksy demanding his release in March and then months of large-scale demonstrations,” the Commission leaders wrote. “The protest movement has quieted down in anticipation of your proclaimed intention to take some decisive measures by November 15, and yet the level of societal discontent – caused, as you said yourself at Yale this past weekend, by poverty and a widespread sense of ‘disempowerment’ – remains high. Some activists seek your resignation and the holding of pre-term elections, and there is no doubt that many citizens of your country are deeply disappointed by the turn away from democracy in the last few years and are prepared to express their discontent in the streets.” “The emergence of ‘street politics’ in Kyrgyzstan reflects the sad reality that ‘normal’ politics have become virtually impossible,” the letter reads. “Deprived of other effective outlets for expressing discontent or influencing their government, people have exercised their right to assembly and association in an effort to send a serious message to their government. Their message should not be ignored nor their voices squelched.” In keeping with their discussions in July with representatives of Kyrgyzstan’s opposition, at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Berlin, Smith and Hoyer offered several concrete suggestions: • “Appoint an independent commission to investigate the Aksy events. The perceived partiality of the current investigation has undermined its credibility among those, especially in Aksy, who seek a just apportionment of responsibility for the shootings. As you know, the shootings have caused the most serious political crisis in Kyrgyzstan in ten years. • “Honor the commitment to permit freedom of speech, assembly and association. On September 9, your government announced plans to ban demonstrations for three months. The order was subsequently revoked, but it indicated a very short-sighted approach to state-society relations and crowd control. Too much has occurred in Kyrgyzstan this year for the authorities simply to forbid rallies with any hope of success. • “Release Felix Kulov. Along with Amnesty International and other human rights groups, we consider General Kulov a political prisoner, punished for his attempt to run for office. His release would not only rectify an injustice, it would help stabilize the political environment and create good will for your government inside and outside the country. • “Take seriously the opportunity afforded by the convening of the constitutional commission. Throughout Central Asia, “super-presidencies” have emerged, which make irrelevant the constitutionally mandated separation of powers. We believe the commission you have established, which is examining the redistribution of prerogatives between the executive and legislative branches, offers not only Kyrgyzstan’s best hope of avoiding further instability but may serve as a model for neighboring countries, which sooner or later will confront their own political crises. A creative, successful effort, taking account of the perspectives of the opposition and civil society, could have an historic impact.” “Kyrgyzstan stands at a turning point,” Smith and Hoyer wrote. “We are convinced that ‘business as usual’ will not be able to salvage the situation and urge you and your government to take the daring and necessary steps to implement democratic reforms and protect fundamental human rights without further delay. We stand ready to be of assistance in your efforts to make such needed reforms.”

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statements from Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Washington – The United States Helsinki Commission, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, has released U.S. statements delivered at the 2002 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The human rights assessment meeting was held September 9 - 19 in Warsaw, Poland. Ambassador Melissa F. Wells served as Head of the U.S. Delegation. During her career in the Foreign Service, she served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Zaire, and Estonia. During the meeting, Amb. Wells and other members of the U.S. delegation delivered statements regarding the current status of human rights in various participating States of the OSCE. Among the specific topics raised in Warsaw by the United States were political prisoners, anti-Semitism, human rights and the war against terrorism, trafficking in humans, democratic elections, violence against women and the rights of Roma. As a courtesy to interested individuals, the Helsinki Commission has made those statements available on its Internet Web site http://www.csce.gov. The meeting focuses annually on a wide range of human rights issues including the prevention of torture, minority rights, the rule of law and freedom of the media among many others. More than 150 non-governmental organizations participated in the review process in addition to officials representing the participating States. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Freedom of Expression, Free Media and Information at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Warsaw, Poland - The following statement on Freedom of Expression, Free Media and Information was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland: Freedom of Expression, Free Media and Information Statement of Ambassador M. Wells U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Implementation Meeting Mr. Moderator, of all the attributes of a law-governed state, a free press is perhaps the bedrock of democracy. Thomas Jefferson, in fact, observed in 1787 that if he had to decide between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, he would choose the latter. He understood that with all its imperfections, the fourth estate is the best guarantee of popular sovereignty. Ultimately, the people’s right to know ensures their ability to govern themselves. Conversely, where the press is under assault, so is democracy. In the OSCE space, we have witnessed in the past year some small steps forward and some very large steps back. Generally speaking, there is no freedom of expression in Turkmenistan; most recently, even delivery of foreign newspapers and many foreign periodicals has ceased, including publications sent to embassies, international organizations and even the OSCE Center. President Niyazov has also demanded that private distribution by cable of satellite programming be restricted, thus cutting off Turkmenistan’s already deprived citizens even further from independent sources of information. Media in Uzbekistan, which have essentially functioned under Soviet-era rules for the last ten years, received good news in May: the formal lifting of censorship. Of course, journalists are still practicing self-censorship, and it remains to be seen whether any actual progress towards freedom of speech has been made. We look forward to signs that would confirm optimistic prognoses, such as the appearance of news articles that describe openly the country’s problems and express candid views of government policy. In Kyrgyzstan, the independent press has been under severe pressure. Newspapers like Res Publica have been fined large sums in court, and other papers have been fined out of existence. But President Akaev’s rescinding in May of Decree No. 20, which established state control over printing materials, was a step in the right direction, and we congratulate the President for taking this significant step. We encourage the Kyrgyz authorities to continue to take such steps to ensure that the government does not control the media. Perhaps no country in the OSCE region has seen greater threats to a free media in recent months than Kazakhstan, where the independent and opposition media have come under savage attack. The most prominent pro-opposition television station has been forced off the air. Two independent newspapers have been firebombed. Yet another well-known opposition journalist, Sergei Duvanov, has been charged with “insulting the honor and dignity of the president” for publishing an article about the official acknowledgment of a foreign bank account under the President's name. Unfortunately, as the situation in Kazakhstan shows, criminal defamation and insult laws continue to be used in a number of countries to silence criticism of the government or public officials. In Belarus, for example, Mikola Markevych and Pavel Mazheyka are serving sentences of 1½ and 1 years, respectively, for allegedly libeling President Alexander Lukashenko during the 2001 presidential election campaign in their weekly Pahonya. Viktor Ivashkevych, editor of Rabochy, is charged with slandering Lukashenko and is scheduled to go to trial on September 11. Another independent newspaper, Nasha Svoboda, recently lost a politically motivated libel lawsuit and is being forced to pay a prohibitively high fine, which may lead to its closure. Since the OSCE’s last human dimension implementation meeting, a succession of journalists have been threatened with libel suits designed to intimidate them into silence. In August 2002, the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote to Azerbaijani President Aliev, again, to protest the harassment of the independent media, in this case, the magazine Monitor. We urge those OSCE participating States, which have not already done so to repeal any criminal defamation or insult laws on their books. Journalists in Kosovo are also at risk. According to an OSCE survey, 35 percent of Kosovo Serb and 40 percent of Kosovo Albanian journalists said they had been threatened while investigating sensitive stories. In October 2001, Bekim Kastrati, a journalist in Kosovo was murdered. Investigative journalism is also a dangerous profession in Albania. Coverage of official corruption and other government abuses can lead to retaliation, often taking the form of harassment, intimidation and even arbitrary arrest at the hands of the police. The attacks on journalist Fatmir Terziu in Elbasan were so relentless and physically brutal that he eventually left the country secretly in April 2001. Although the Elbasan Police Chief was dismissed in December 2001, and then arrested, for numerous human rights violations, violence and harassment suffered by journalists, particularly at the hands of the police, as well as the threat of defamation suits, remain serious concerns. In Serbia, many of us can recall the front-page reports in our own newspapers of the 1999 murder of Dnevni Telgraf editor Slavko Curuvija, likely at the hands of some of Milosevic’s henchmen. We are concerned that those responsible for the murder have not been charged and arrested and urge the Government of Yugoslavia to reinvigorate the investigation of this case, as well as that of murdered Vecernije Novosti reported Milan Pantic in central Serbia just over one year ago. In Ukraine, the case of murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remains unresolved two years after his disappearance, due to government stonewalling and obstructionism. Especially given allegations of involvement by top Ukrainian officials in the circumstances leading to his murder, we hope that Ukraine's new Procurator General will follow up at long last on his promises to resolve this case. We also call on Ukraine to make progress on other cases involving violence against and murder of journalists Finally, we must remember that free speech is not only a right of journalists. Greece’s prohibition of proselytizing restricts free speech just as much as any other content-based restriction. And notwithstanding Turkey’s recent and welcome reforms, four Kurdish former Members of Parliament are still imprisoned for expressing their views. To conclude on a positive note. We are pleased that the government of Tajikistan has finally granted a broadcast license to Asia- plus, the first independent radio station in Dushambe, and that criminal proceedings against journalist Dodojon Atovullo have been dropped.

  • White House Reiterates Commitment Against Anti-Semitism

    Bush’s National Security Advisor Welcomes Helsinki Commission Efforts Washington - United States National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice, on behalf of President George W. Bush, has written to Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) reiterating the Administration’s concern about the rise in anti-Semitic violence in Europe. Dr. Rice articulated Bush’s position on the escalation of anti-Semitic violence in a letter responding to Co-Chairman Smith’s invitation for the Administration to join congressional efforts to confront the escalation of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe. “The President condemns all forms of anti-Semitism, whether in the form of physical attacks or hateful rhetoric, and is troubled by the evidence that it may be on the rise,” Rice wrote. Dr. Rice expressed appreciation for the Commission’s activities aimed at combating anti-Semitism. “We welcome and support the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s continued efforts to make this a priority issue for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE],” Rice noted. The Bush Administration will persist in its efforts to raise anti-Semitic issues with foreign leaders and multilateral organizations, according to Rice. “We will continue to urge foreign leaders and international organizations, such as the United Nations, to take appropriate steps to address this problem.” The White House remarks were made in response to a letter signed by ten Members of Congress who participated on the U.S. Delegation to the 2002 Berlin Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The letter to the President stressed, “With violence against Jews and other minorities on the rise, we invite the Administration to partner with our efforts in confronting this alarming trend.” Co-Chairman Smith, who led the U.S. Delegation, said, “We have seen a disturbing increase of attacks against Jews, synagogues and other Jewish cultural sites, most alarmingly in Western Europe. The Helsinki Commission and Congress have been deeply involved in the issue and we encourage continued engagement by the Administration.” “Anti-Semitism is an age-old evil that governments and elected leaders must continually confront and denounce,” said Commissioner Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) who served as Vice Chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA. “There is no place for anti-Semitism in the 21st century and the United States must help lead the way to fight it.” “In the face of such events, we cannot stand by in silence,” said Ranking Commissioner Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “National, local and community leaders must condemn anti-Semitism in the strongest terms and act swiftly to bring to justice those who commit violent crimes.” Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) said, “I hope all participating States will honor their OSCE commitments, where they pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to both prosecute those who commit such hate crimes and to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence.” Signing the letter with Smith, Voinovich, Hoyer and Cardin were Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Commissioner Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA), Rep. Joseph M. Hoeffel (D-PA) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). “Mr. President, as you know, anti-Semitism is a plague not unique to Europe, but also lurks here in the United States and elsewhere,” the letter read. “Therefore, we must ensure that the perpetrators of these heinous acts understand that neither the United States Government nor other OSCE participating States will tolerate violence against Jews and Jewish institutions.” In this year alone, the Helsinki Commission has engaged in numerous efforts to highlight the anti-Semitism trend. In May, the Commission held a hearing on the wave of anti-Semitic violence plaguing many nations among the OSCE. For more information go to http://www.csce.gov. In July, the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA in Berlin sponsored a free-standing resolution condemning anti-Semitism and calling upon all participating States to take concrete steps to quell the violence. The resolution received unanimous approval. During the Berlin meeting, the U.S. Delegation organized a special forum together with the German Delegation to address the troubling anti-Semitism phenomenon throughout the OSCE region. The Helsinki Commission has also played an active role in having the issue of anti-Semitism raised in sessions of the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting taking place in Warsaw through September 19th.

  • Helsinki Commission Members Urge Putin’s Action on Chechnya, Refugee Crisis

    Situation One of Decade’s “Greatest Tragedies” in OSCE Region Washington - Eleven Members of the United States Helsinki Commission have written to Russian President Vladimir Putin, expressing their “deep concerns about the terrible conflict in Chechnya” and urging that the “Russian Government take all possible actions to alleviate the situation for the many innocent victims of the brutal violence” in the region. “We urge you to make a renewed effort to find a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya, as was called for in the final communique of the OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul summit. We ask that all possible steps be taken to reduce the terrible toll of suffering in Chechnya and in surrounding areas. Reports of a high number of civilian casualties suffered during clean up operations (‘zachistki’) are particularly disturbing.” In the September 16 letter, Helsinki Commission Members call attention to the conflict in Chechnya as “one of the greatest tragedies that has taken place within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) during the past decade.” The Commissioners called upon the Russian Government not to forcibly return thousands of internally displaced Chechen refugees from their safe-haven in a neighboring province. Signing the letter were Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Commissioner Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). Also signing the letter were Commissioners Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR), Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Warsaw, Poland - The following statement on Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland: Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion or Belief Statement of Ambassador Melissa Wells U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Implementation Meeting Mr. Moderator, the United States is deeply concerned about the proliferation of regulatory schemes promulgated in an increasing number of participating States throughout the OSCE region, schemes that place religious freedom at risk. The protection of religious freedom is critical in the overall panoply of human rights, and is a cornerstone of democratic development. Accordingly, the creation of legal barriers is a matter of substantial concern to my country. Several states have utilized these provisions to stamp out religious-based movements deemed hostile to government interests. By creating registration requirements that are in effect impossible to fulfill, or by placing excessive bureaucratic hurdles to ensure that only favored groups achieve state recognition, some governments manipulate the law to justify raids, fines and imprisonments. We, therefore, urge all participating States to ensure that, as declared in the Vienna Concluding Document, "their laws, regulations, practices and policies conform with their OSCE obligations" and ensure that those laws are enforced. I want also to give particular emphasis to the surge of anti-Semitic activity in the OSCE region. The United States is alarmed at this development and calls upon all participating States to ensure that such activities are rapidly and severely condemned and effectively countered according to law and the OSCE obligations of States. While Uzbek authorities may have started down the road to reform, by registering non-governmental organizations, prosecuting seven corrupt police officers who were guilty of torture, and amnestying approximately 900 prisoners, the government falls short of fulfilling its OSCE commitments. Roughly 6,500 individuals reportedly remain incarcerated for allegedly being members of Hizb ut- Tahrir, an extremist group that seeks to replace the Government of Uzbekistan (and other governments) with a worldwide Muslim Caliphate. Individuals seeking to worship at many independent mosques, and conservative observant Muslims attempting to spread their beliefs, are often accused of being members of the outlawed Hizb ut-Tahrir. These individuals are often arrested, tortured, tried and convicted for terms of 15 to 20 years, typically based on falsified criminal evidence. Continued government efforts in Uzbekistan to jail activists and individuals worshiping in many non-state-controlled mosques, including their relatives, will only serve to disaffect many in the country’’s largely Muslim population. For example, at the end of May 2002, police arrested Yuldash Rasulov, a well-known human rights defender and devout Muslim, for "religious extremism." Rasulov’’s work through the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan focused on government actions against Muslims choosing to worship outside the government-approved religious system. This type of excessive and unfounded prosecution is common, and is a clear violation of Uzbekistan’’s commitments as an OSCE participating State. We urge the Government of Uzbekistan to prosecute people on the basis of their actions, not beliefs. In addition, authorities continue to deny government registration to many independent mosques and churches throughout the country, especially for churches in the Karakalpakstan region. Turkmenistan also has a burdensome religious registration law, requiring a religious group to have 500 individual members in any given locale, a restriction that only Sunni Muslims and the Russian Orthodox Church are able to avoid. Frankly, religious freedom does not exist, as the law criminalizes unregistered individuals meeting with coreligionists, whether Muslim or Christian, in violation of international norms. Harassment of non-registered religious congregations continue and include arrest and seizure of property. Keston News Service reported that in May 2002, police forced Turkmen Christians in the village of Deinau to renounce their faith. There were credible reports that the government closed all Baha’’i Sunday schools which had been allowed to operate since the country’’s independence and that certain congregations of Russian Orthodox Christians were prevented from practicing their faith, despite being registered. There were some positive developments, however. In December of 2001, several members of Jehovah’’s Witnesses who had been imprisoned for conscientious objection were released, leaving six in detention. Prisoner of conscience, Shageldy Atakov, was released, although he has not been completely cleared by the criminal justice system. In addition, the exit-visa requirement was quietly dropped in spring of 2002. In Kazakhstan, while we welcome the decision of President Nazarbaev to uphold a ruling of the Constitutional Court that found a draft law on religion unconstitutional, there are continuing concerns about the use of legal provisions. By penalizing leaders of religious communities refusing to register with Kazakh authorities, amendments to the criminal code are being abused and are not in harmony with OSCE commitments. Authorities have arrested and fined Baptists throughout Kazakhstan, with some instances of police beatings. The Government of Georgia has not adequately enforced its laws in order to protect members of religious minorities as for over three years mobs have attacked peaceful religious communities with impunity, sometimes with the facilitation or participation of some in the local law enforcement community. Authorities have made few arrests; the trials have proceeded slowly, and no one has been convicted. The government’’s inability or unwillingness to end the violent attacks is deeply troubling, despite repeated statements by President Shevardnadze. Georgian authorities can do much more to end the violence and protect all citizens. In addition, a new draft religion law regulating religious groups is problematic in its potential for abuse. In Belarus, harassment and intrusive government involvement in the life of religious communities is also a concern. We have observed little respect for religious freedom, with non-Russian Orthodox religious groups bearing the brunt of government harassment. The activities of the Lukashenko regime are deeply troubling, especially the August bulldozing of a church in the village of Pahranichny by Belarusian authorities. In addition, the draft law on religion would impose serious restrictions on non-Russian Orthodox religious communities. Turkey’’s system of regulating religious groups remains problematic. While the Lausanne Treaty does dictate certain actions, the government’’s overall conduct often serves as an impediment to religious freedom. The Government of Turkey’’s control, among other things, of Islamic teaching, its ban on head scarves in government institutions, including universities, its closure of the Halki Seminary, and its efforts to seize church land under the pretext of maintaining cultural sites all contravene Turkey’’s OSCE commitments. In addition, the inability for Protestant Christian groups to achieve government recognition and to register officially as religious groups leaves these small communities in a precarious position. In Azerbaijan, the creation of the State Committee for Religious Affairs (SCRA) has served to restrict religious freedom. In only a few instances has it assumed an advocacy roll for religious groups against local harassment. The most recent re-registration campaign seems designed to exclude some religious communities from needed government recognition. Other issues of concern are the ban on head scarves for Muslim women at certain state-run universities, the apparently state-sanctioned media campaign against minority Christian groups, the liquidation of the Love Baptist Church for alleged statements made by the pastor, and the internal deportation from the town of Nakhichevan of Adventist pastor Vahid Nagiev. These acts are clearly not in keeping with Azerbaijan’’s OSCE commitments. We note, however, that the SCRA has acted as an advocate for religious freedom in at least three instances for groups being harassed by local authorities. Some democratic states in Western Europe have undertaken policies resulting in the stigmatization of minority religions, the result of identifying them indiscriminately and often inaccurately with dangerous "sects" or "cults." These practices are troubling in that other nations struggling toward democracy, as well as certain non-democratic states, are adopting "anti-cult" laws and policies that are based in part on those of Western Europe. In non-democratic nations, lacking a tradition of commitment to human rights and rule of law, "anti-cult" laws could easily be implemented in ways that result in the persecution of people of faith. Also of concern are laws and registration requirements targeting or limiting religious communities, or that establish hierarchies of preferred religious groups. Certain legal schemes such as the French "anti-cult" law, and the Austrian, Czech, and Hungarian laws that discriminate against minority religious communities all violate OSCE commitments. Accordingly, the United States welcomes the initiative last summer of the Government of the Netherlands in convening a seminar highlighting religious registration laws, an area ripe for further discussion under the Dutch chairmanship. Finally, the United States is concerned about the Russian Federation’’s repeated decision to deny entry to religious workers representing out-of-favor religious communities, including Catholics, Protestants and the Dalai Lama. The decision to deny the return to Russia of one of four Catholic Bishops in the country, as well as several Catholic priests, has had a decidedly negative impact on religious freedom. Moreover, the draft religion law under consideration would create a discriminatory structure that favors so-called "traditional religions", placing religious communities in three separate tiers, each with different benefits and rights. Furthermore, many local authorities consistently harass minority religious groups, denying registration and sometimes suing in court for liquidation. For example, the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army, despite having its court-ordered liquidation overturned and its legal status affirmed, still faces another lower court hearing to consider the Moscow Justice Department’s appeal that it be liquidated. Despite applying almost four years ago, the branch has yet to obtain re- registration.

  • Helsinki Commission Letter to President Vladimir Putin

    His Excellency Vladimir V. Putin President of the Russian Federation The Kremlin Moscow, Russian Federation Dear Mr. President: We wish to express our deep concerns about the terrible conflict in Chechnya and respectfully ask that the Russian Government take all possible actions to alleviate the situation for the many innocent victims of the brutal violence that continues in that unfortunate region. In our view, Chechnya has been one of the greatest tragedies that has taken place within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) during the past decade. In addition to the thousands of combatants who have lost their lives, countless more civilians have been killed, seriously injured or driven from their homes. Sadly, many attempts to bring peace to the region have failed to bear fruit. We fully recognize and respect the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and greatly appreciate Russia’s and your personal contribution to the war against terrorism. At the same time, we urge you to make a renewed effort to find a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya, as was called for in the final communique of the OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul summit. We ask that all possible steps be taken to reduce the terrible toll of suffering in Chechnya and in surrounding areas. Reports of a high number of civilian casualties suffered during clean up operations (“zachistki”) are particularly disturbing. In addition, information received from the OSCE’s Assistance Group to Chechnya, as well as other non-governmental organizations, indicate that Russian authorities plan to forcibly return internally displaced persons to Chechnya, and Grozny, in particular. We urge you to ensure that the internally displaced persons seeking refuge in Ingushetia, and elsewhere in the Russian Federation, are not forcibly returned to any location, particularly where the security situation is unstable and proper housing unavailable. The unstable security situation in Chechnya is widely recognized. In addition, descriptions regarding the physical condition of the Temporary Accommodation Centers in Grozny, where authorities recently relocated individuals from the Znamenskoye camp, are indicative of substandard structures. According to the OSCE Assistance Group, the situation in the Centers is characterized by “overcrowding, not enough beds, no sewers working, no medicine and inadequate medical services.” While individuals from the Znamenskoye camp were not technically forced to leave, the deconstruction of facilities left them with no viable alternative. We would hope that the unhappy fate of the former inhabitants of the Znamenskoye facility not be experienced by the much larger population of internally displaced persons in Ingushetia. In keeping with the OSCE 1999 Charter for European Security, the Russian Federation agreed to “facilitate the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons in dignity and safety.” We respectfully ask that you and the Government of Russia take the difficult but needed steps to attain this humanitarian goal.

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Closing Plenary Statement at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Warsaw, Poland - The following Closing Plenary Statement delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland: Closing Plenary Statement Statement of Ambassador Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Carpenter U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Implementation Meeting Mr. Chairman, Ms. Jilani, Ladies and Gentlemen: As Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, I take great pleasure in being able to address you. While I regret that a Permanent Council meeting in Vienna prevented many from the Permanent Missions to the OSCE from attending this meeting last week, I am glad to see you here today. Before I begin my official remarks, I would like to thank ODIHR for its organization of this meeting and to thank our Polish hosts. I would also like to thank Ambassador Stoudmann for his energetic leadership, tireless professionalism, and excellent stewardship in advancing ODIHR values throughout the OSCE area. You will be missed. For almost two weeks now, we have gathered here in one of the world’s most important meetings dedicated to the human condition. We have heard candid descriptions of problems, as well as far-reaching recommendations for their solution. Our responsibility now is to carry this work forward: first and foremost, to our capitals; second, to the OSCE’s decision-making process in Vienna; and, of course, to the Ministerial Meeting in December. Developing Civil Society and the Rule of Law One of the high points of our meeting has been the very active participation of non-governmental organizations, particularly from the countries of the former Soviet Union. The HDIM has provided a superb opportunity for them, many of whom have come from great distances and at considerable personal risk, to contribute to our discussions and provide fertile ideas for future partnerships with the OSCE and its participating States. We have been particularly impressed with their emphasis on the fundamental need to create independent judicial systems, establish public confidence in electoral systems, and support the freedom of the media as key elements in creating solid democratic foundations for vulnerable countries in transition. These must be key priorities for our future work. Without this very active participation of the NGOs--in formal meetings, in side events and in numerous corridor sessions--this meeting would have been immeasurably diminished. Anti-Semitism One of the concerns my delegation raised in our opening statement is the surge of anti-Semitism in the OSCE region. Such manifestations of intolerance require immediate and clear responses. Public officials have a responsibility to condemn such acts using clear and unmistakable language. We are deeply concerned that many countries persist in denying the true character of such acts, labeling them, instead, for example, as “hooliganism” or expressions of frustration by unemployed young people. Sometimes, political leaders even try to exploit religious differences for personal advantage, often creating sectarian violence as a means to gain political advantage. Violent acts against individuals and property should be investigated and prosecuted fully. We welcome the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s attention to this issue at its most recent meeting. Roma Once again, Roma have come to Warsaw to underscore the diverse human rights problems they face, such as the skinhead attacks in Poprad, Slovakia, just this week. One area where governments can, and must, do much more is in the field of education. We welcome the initiatives announced by the Government of Bulgaria last week to foster the integration of Roma in Bulgaria’s school system. Desegregation will not only provide the next generation of Roma with access to the quality of education they need to take their rightful place in European society, it will also teach lessons of tolerance and diversity to all school children. Desegregation programs deserve the full support of every participating State. Human Rights Defenders It is particularly appropriate that we are joined here today by the UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders. The systematic denial of rights to those who seek to defend human rights is, unfortunately, another theme that has appeared and reappeared throughout this meeting – perhaps because governments have found so many ways to try to limit their work. One of the most effective ways that human rights defenders pursue their goals is to join together with others; this requires, of course, that they be allowed to assemble without fear of reprisal. But in this year alone demonstrators have been shot and killed in both Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan. While the government in Kyrgyzstan resigned as a result of a State Commission report investigating the causes of the tragic events in March 2002, we hope that additional recommendations made by that Commission as well as by ODIHR, including increasing transparency and enacting necessary political reforms, will be implemented under the President's leadership. In Azerbaijan, official claims that the demonstrators in Nardaran had firearms have not been confirmed, and the persistent refusals by the authorities to sanction peaceful demonstrations in Azerbaijan casts doubts on the government’s explanations. In Belarus, the government has repeatedly restricted the right of NGOs to assemble and demonstrate. Hundreds of peaceful demonstrators were arrested by riot police on April 19 while protesting against living conditions in Belarus. And just this week the journalist Viktar Ivashkevich was sentenced to two years forced labor for attempted slander of the president, once again demonstrating the Belarusian regime’s hostility to the independent media. These actions are inconsistent with Belarus' OSCE commitment to freedom of assembly and free speech. The increasing self-isolation of Belarus has not deterred those who, courageously, continue to hold up a mirror from which the authorities would prefer to turn away. Belarus should move quickly to live up to its OSCE commitments and allow the return of OSCE AMG personnel. In Uzbekistan, it is not only human rights defenders but also those of disfavored religious faiths who face severe government reprisals. In the worst cases, the victims are not only tortured, they are tortured to death. Most recently, Muzafar Avazov and Khusnuddin Olimov joined the list of many others who have been taken into the custody of Uzbek officials alive, only to be returned to their families dead. In hundreds of cases, convictions in Uzbekistan have been obtained through forced confessions. We urge all OSCE participating States to treat confessions and other evidence obtained through the use of torture as inadmissible in legal proceedings. Like others, my delegation was heartened to learn that in January four Uzbek police officers had been sentenced to 20 years for their role in torturing a man to death while in detention and more recently that three National Security Service (NSS) officers also received long prison sentences for beating to death suspects in detention. However, those who have been targeted for arrest because of their religious or political views continue to face risks of being tortured and in danger of not surviving their imprisonment. We, therefore, urge the Uzbek Government to investigate the many other cases of those who have died at the hands of state authorities and immediately release those who are in jail for their religious or political views, including Rahima Ahmedalieva, Imam Abduvahid Yuldashev, and Mamadali Makhmudov. Finally, we regret that Turkmenistan, although a member of the OSCE, has once again declined to take part in our meeting. We remain deeply concerned about the almost total absence of fundamental freedoms and the widespread abuses of human rights that take place in that country. Human Rights and Terrorism I welcome the vigorous discussion among many participants regarding the challenge of respecting human rights while engaging in a war against terrorism. Many non-governmental representatives, in particular, expressed concern that participating States, including my own, are either ignoring human rights in exchange for cooperation on security issues, or even using the fight against terrorism as an excuse to crack down on opposition or religious groups. This is simply not true. As President Bush and Secretary Colin Powell have often reiterated, the war against terrorism is fundamentally a war for democracy and human rights. The war against terrorism is not and cannot be used as an excuse to crackdown on internal dissent or to quash legitimate political opposition. We reiterate our rejection of the notion that terrorism is associated with any particular religion or culture. We believe the OSCE should redouble its efforts to implement the Bucharest Ministerial Plan of Action, as well as the Declaration from the Bishkek International Conference on Security and Stability in Central Asia, both of which include support for freedom of the media and association. Many of our countries face challenges today from groups or organizations whose stated goals stand contrary to the most fundamental principles of the Helsinki Final Act. But we must be sure that participating States distinguish between the propagation of ideas, however extremist, and the actual action of groups. If they fail to do so, they risk inadvertently increasing support for these groups through undemocratic and heavy-handed responses, as appears to be the case in Chechnya. At the same time, we recognize the need to offer more assistance to our Central Asian partners, for example, by increasing training for professional police and border guards who must be able to provide security without violating human rights. Countries that use repressive measures against extremists obviously see that as necessary for survival, as necessary for security. Security is, indeed, one of government’s highest responsibilities. But security gained through oppression and other action that tramples on the rule of law and democractic principles is a counterproductive illusion that is very short lived. The only type of security that will endure is one that is achieved by democratically elected governments which are absolutely committed to human rights and the rule of law. All OSCE member states have agreed, in writing, to adhere to these precepts. We must all help each other to do so and we, the United States, are committed to providing such assistance through OSCE institutions. On election standards, I would like to reiterate the point my delegation made yesterday: there is no more important work for the ODIHR than the monitoring of elections and the assistance it offers participating States in developing their own unique election procedures. These procedures are and should be unique, drawn from the history and democratic traditions of each country. We welcome yesterday’s discussion and look forward to a continued exchange of ideas and experiences with OSCE participating States, missions, and experts on the best way forward. In closing, we thank all of you for your active involvement in making this meeting so successful. We ask each of you to work actively with the OSCE to ensure that progress is made and that we have a sense of accomplishment when we meet again next year. The well-being of millions depend on the work that all of us are doing. We must not fail.

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Opening Statement Delivered at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Warsaw, Poland - The following opening statement was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland: Opening Plenary Session U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting Delivered by Ambassador Stephan M. Minikes Foreign Minister, Mr. President, Mr. Moderator, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, the United States is proud to be in Warsaw for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting. The United States believes that this, the largest European human rights meeting, is one of the most important meetings held by OSCE. This year we have new modalities, negotiated under the Portuguese Chairmanship, that we hope will bring renewed attention to this meeting and will directly link our work here to the OSCE’s decision- making process, most importantly the upcoming Porto ministerial in December. The last Human Dimension Implementation Meeting began immediately following the tragic September 11 terrorist attacks. This year we meet in the midst of the war against terrorism. These are difficult times. American has reacted with courage but there is much work yet to be done. Throughout these most difficult times, the United States remains fully committed to human rights. Our presence here is one important sign of that commitment at the very highest levels of our government. President Bush sent Ambassador Wells and me, and our quite large delegation here as a clear and unmistakable sign of America’s commitment. We are members of the President’s Administration, government officials, members of civil society, and officials of the legislative branch of our government. One of the President’s key appointees, Will Taft, the most senior legal advisor to the Department of State, and former Ambassador to NATO and general counsel to the Department of State, will also be joining us on Tuesday afternoon by telephone conference call to discuss with you, and answer questions on, the war against terrorism and other issues on this meeting's agenda. We strongly believe that a nation’s commitment to human rights and protection of fundamental freedoms is the best defense against the rise of extremism and terrorism. As U.S. Secretary of State Powell stated on August 1, and let me quote here “if we are to defeat the terrorists, then we have to attack them from the highest plane, that human rights must be protected, the universal human rights that we all believe in, or should believe in, have to be observed.” We, as Americans, are very mindful of the need to protect human rights even as we pursue those who seek to destroy us. You will understand that it is not easy when it is sometimes a major task even to identify our enemies. Yet, we are steadfast in our principles. This comprehensive approach to security, one in which respect for human rights is an integral part, was enshrined in the very beginnings of this organization’s existence and our commitments to protecting fundamental rights and freedoms and democratic structures will not waver. As Secretary Powell said in August, we will not use “the campaign against terrorism as a way to suppress legitimate dissent or as a way to suppress people presenting their views to the government.” The dialogue we established when these meetings first took place and that we will have over the next two weeks provides a foundation for our cooperation on the broad range of OSCE commitments. But more needs to be done; we must not stop here, but strive further to more fully implement our OSCE human dimension commitments. This year we have much to discuss here. We have seen reason for concern this past year as problems such as anti-Semitism have escalated in a number of our countries. Even as we face the new, violent challenge of terrorism, old conflicts, unhealed, continue to trouble the OSCE world of 55 member countries. Problems extend over all of our human dimension commitments. We can only successfully address them with fundamental respect for democratic institutions and the rule of law as the underpinning framework. We are prepared to discuss these issues with you, particularly over the next two weeks in this historic city whose people have also suffered so much. What a significant place to hold this meeting here, today. Unfortunately, the development of democracy is very slow in some regions. Here, the benefit of experience through the assistance others share, can help overcome repressive habits limiting human rights, the press, and public expression. Reporters in the OSCE region continue to face harassment and even death, and, unfortunately, those responsible often are not held accountable. We are still waiting for Ukrainian officials to resolve several outstanding cases; in Belarus we urge an independent investigation and accountability for those who gave the order for Zavadsky’s disappearance, as well as the investigation of the disappearance of three others. The Rule of Law and an independent judiciary are critical, if those responsible are to be brought to account. Where there is no apparent process of accountability for abuses, armed forces can contribute to the very atmosphere of danger they have been sent to combat. In Chechnya, for example, abuses by combatants combined with a lack of movement toward a political solution, contribute to an environment for instability in the region. In one region, unfortunately, we have seen negative progress—a retrenchment--in respect for OSCE commitments. In Turkmenistan, democracy took a step backward when the President declared himself President for Life. In Turkmenistan, neither freedom of association nor freedom of assembly is observed. In Kazakhstan, those involved in opposition are often targeted for harassment or for politically motivated court proceedings, such as is apparent in the case of two former high ranking officials who were active in a new opposition movement. We welcome the Kazakh Foreign Minister’s appearance in Vienna this Wednesday, hopefully to discuss these issues with the OSCE at the Permanent Council. A state and its security forces must come to terms with, and value, peoples’ right to freedom of expression. The violence just this past March, six months ago, in Kyrgyzstan, where police shot and killed six demonstrators, is indicative of the need for state and society to come to terms with self-expression. The U.S. condemns unequivocally the abhorrent practice of torture. It is unacceptable and we must do all that we can to stop it. We are concerned that just this past month, new cases of torture were found in Uzbekistan. We hope perpetrators of such acts will be held responsible, regardless of their position. No other single act plays more into the hands of extremists than the abuse of power evident when officials carry out, or cover up, torture. While we understand the need to be sure that extremism does not cross the line into terrorism, arrests and prosecutions must be based on criminal actions, not religious beliefs. Uzbek authorities, while starting down the road to reform by registering non-governmental organizations, continue to prosecute and jail members of the religious organizations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist group that purports to eschew violence and which seeks to replace the Government of Uzbekistan and install Shariat law. Unfortunately, conservative observant Muslims attempting to spread their beliefs continue to face harassment, as do Jehovah witnesses, other Christian religions, and new religious groups. I want to again reiterate our rejection of the notion that terrorism is associated with any particular religion or culture, while pointing out that terrorists who claim to be acting on behalf of their religion are distorting the principles of that religion. We are also concerned about recent anti-foreigner violence in too many countries in the OSCE region, from East to West, without geographical boundaries, even in the strongest democracies of France, Germany and Belgium, for instance. My government says loud and clear, this must end, and we applaud the strong measures taken by those governments against the perpetrators of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner violence. In our own country, in the wake of September 11, our security forces had to deal with unfortunate incidents of anti-foreigner violence. We investigated the crimes and brought the guilty parties to justice. In Russia, there has been a spate of violent incidents reflecting ethnic intolerance and anti-Semitism. We commend President Putin for condemning such acts. Our governments play a critical in speaking out against such acts or even expressions of hatred. Roma, face discrimination in all walks of life, and are still subjected to racially motivated violence, sometimes at the hands of the police. We must do more to promote tolerance; we must promote equal opportunities in education and employment, as well as legal protection from discrimination. Mr. Moderator, as we note a number of areas for concern, we have also seen reason for hope, as democratic reforms take root in nations eager to make a break with their totalitarian past. Or as more seasoned democracies deal with the constant challenge presented by threats to the freedoms we value. In September 2001, The Turkish Parliament passed a significant, 34-article reform package intended to bring Turkey’s 1982 constitution in line with the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria and international human rights standards. This was the third such reform and designed to be the final step towards Turkey’s accession goals. We also have reason to be optimistic as we see governments' work to address trafficking in persons, despite serous economic and social constraints. Regional European leadership to combat trafficking in persons continues to take root. Anti-corruption efforts are also underway in many countries and governments are working more closely with their non-governmental partners and neighboring governments to combat transnational criminal syndicates, including those which traffic in persons. As we closely examine our past implementation of commitments, it is important that we look to the future. How can we more fully implement these reforms and create an environment in which all OSCE participating States can achieve the benefits of our shared commitments? We need to take advantage of the tools the OSCE has at its disposal. Our OSCE institutions, such as ODIHR, the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Representative of the Freedom of the Media, can all provide expertise in human dimension issues and our election monitoring is one of the most valuable tools of the OSCE and can help States strengthen their democratic foundations. Our field missions are also an invaluable resource that participating States can draw on to make progress towards meeting OSCE commitments and preparing for entry into other European institutions. Already we have seen much progress in the Balkans where OSCE has been intensively engaged and has made significant contributions to stabilization and democratization. But ultimately it is up to participating States’ to have the political will to make progress. So let us use this important gathering; one of the world’s foremost gatherings of those who have some stewardship, which is of course shared by all humanity, of human rights, to discuss these issues, applaud progress and shed light on problems, and prepare for ourselves and for the ministers who will be meeting in Porto in December, a plan of action and recommendations. I am told that this meeting has a larger and more diverse attendance that last year’s meeting so this is a precious opportunity to instill new vigor, wherever it may be needed, to the cause of human rights—a true and inalienable right we hold to be self-evident for all humanity. Mr. Moderator before I close, As I mentioned earlier, our Legal Adviser Mr. William Taft will be addressing this meeting through a telephone, audio link during Tuesday afternoon’s session. I would like to take just take a minute to propose the technical procedure for his participation. Due to his schedule, Mr. Taft will join us through a two-way telephone conference call. Because of this, we would ask that he be able to first deliver the U.S. statement, then listen to questions, and then answer them during the first half an hour or so of the session. Mr. Taft will be discussing the following topics: detainees, military commissions, the ICC, and capital punishment. Not all of these topics were scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but we feel that they can be well addressed by Mr. Taft’s for the principal reason that they fall within the perview of the Department of State’s most senior legal adviser. We have discussed the technical limitations with ODIHR and believe the best procedure would be to ask any participants who would like to direct a question to Mr. Taft to submit it in writing to the Chairman by noon Tuesday. Of course, if questions arise during Mr. Taft’s presentation, they can still be given to the moderator, who will read all the questions. The questions will be read aloud by the moderator in the order received. This is done so there is clarity in the transmission and so that no time is lost through lack of clarity or, hopefully, the need to repeat the question. If you have any questions on these procedures, please ask and we will gladly repeat what I have just said. We appreciate your understanding in allowing Mr. Taft to participate in this manner. Thank you.

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Independence of the Judiciary at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Warsaw, Poland - The following statement on Independence of the Judiciary and the Right to a Fair Trial was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland: Independence of the Judiciary and the Right to a Fair Trial Statement of Mr. Patrick Wujcik U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Implementation Meeting Mr. Moderator, the 1990 Copenhagen Document reflected the OSCE commitment to a sound legal framework: “. . . .[T]he rule of law does not mean formal legality which assures regularity and consistency in the achievement and enforcement of democratic order, but justice . . . guaranteed by institutions providing a framework for its fullest expression.” While constitutional guarantees and well-defined legal codes are vital, the democratic character of the judiciary is determined not by principles alone, but first and foremost in police stations, law schools and courtrooms – by how judges are trained and how they reach their decisions, by whether detainees’ rights are respected, and whether lawyers’ recruitment and practice can occur independently without political interference. In various OSCE participating States, judicial systems not independent of the executive feed corruption and discrimination and stunt democratic growth. A number of specific concerns are worth noting. In practice, the judiciary in Belarus is reminiscent of Soviet times – there are many credible reports that authorities dictate to courts the outcome of trials. Former government officials have supplied credible evidence that senior Belarusian officials colluded in the disappearances and presumed murders of prominent opposition figures Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky and Yuri Zakharenka, and journalist Dmitry Zavadsky. To date, there has been no satisfactory resolution of the 1999 disappearances of the first three cases. While two men were sentenced to life imprisonment after being charged with Zavadsky's abduction and murder, observers believe the court failed to prove the guilt of the accused as there were violations of basic rules of judicial procedure and contradictory and confusing testimonies. The United States calls upon the Belarusian authorities to mount an independent, impartial, full and transparent investigation into the disappearances and probable deaths of these men. In Kazakhstan, two former high ranking officials, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov and Mukhtar Ablyazov, received six and seven year sentences on charges of corruption. It appears that neither was a target for investigation until he became active in a new opposition movement. It appears their indictments were politically motivated, and the court proceedings, in which defense attorneys were at a disadvantage in various ways, did not inspire confidence in the verdict. In Uzbekistan, individuals accused of belonging to banned organizations or distributing forbidden literature continue to be sentenced to long terms in trials that do not meet OSCE standards. These cases indicate that the courts in Uzbekistan lack the independence necessary to guarantee fair trials. In practice, judges whose rulings are disfavored by the government may find themselves removed from office. The ODIHR Seminar on Judicial Systems and Human Rights made numerous recommendations on how to respond to such problems, for instance, by establishing life terms for judges, or in situations where the executive branch appoints judges, by ensuring that the executive can not terminate a judicial appointment. We encourage Uzbekistan to review these recommendations and work with ODIHR to find appropriate solutions. Of course, the impact of an unfair trial does not simply end when the trial does. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, Felix Kulov remains wrongly imprisoned, two years after he was sentenced in a closed proceeding by a military court. We urge the Government of Kyrgyzstan to release him without condition or delay. We also urge Kyrgyzstan to come into line with its Copenhagen commitment to only hold in camera proceedings in circumstances prescribed by law and consistent with obligations under international law and international commitments. While executive control of the judiciary is a chronic problem in many former communist countries, one of the most disturbing developments in recent years has been the deterioration of the judicial system in Georgia. Since January 2002, when the first attempt was made, it has proved impossible to conduct a trial for Basil Mkalavishvili, a defrocked priest, and his henchman Petre Ivanidze, who have led or been involved in an ongoing series of assaults on Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious believers. This delegation criticizes Georgian Government’s failure to create the necessary environment for a fair and impartial trial and notes with deepening concern the incidences of intimidation of Georgia judges in cases involving religious freedom. These incidences, if unchecked, could lead to the phenomenon of mob intimidation of the court system in Georgia. Ensuring an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial, is an ongoing endeavor, a challenge for all societies. Lack of judicial independence has a unique corrosive effect on the public’s trust in a country’s legal system, and more broadly, the entire government. The deeply troubling cases and conditions cited herein only further cement the public’s distrust of the legal system and the government’s ability to ensure the right to a fair trial. These cases and conditions also diminish the standing of the responsible governments in the eyes of the international community. If the governments referenced herein are committed to the rule of law—and not rule by man—the remedial actions outlined above will be taken immediately.

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Democratic Institutions and Elections at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Warsaw, Poland - The following statement on Democratic Institutions and Democratic Elections was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland: Democratic Institutions and Democratic Elections Statement of Ambassador M. Wells U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Implementation Meeting Mr. Moderator, democracy is more than holding elections. Nevertheless, the polling process remains a cornerstone of democracy – a necessary, if insufficient by itself, condition for a functioning democracy. The OSCE has taken an increasingly dynamic role in promoting free elections, and the OSCE’s efforts have led to progress in helping a number of participating States to develop democratic political systems. There is still a palpable need for OSCE attention to electoral processes, including international observation, in many of our participating States. And, while there is often a need for improvement in election processes even in advanced democracies, elections in some States fail to meet the basic criteria for “free” and “fair.” Change is an essential element for democratic political systems. One of the primary reasons that authoritarian systems collapse is that they are unable to evolve both politically and economically. It is therefore with profound disappointment that we have learned of the creation, this year, of a system based on the concept of "presidency for life" in Turkmenistan. In the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the OSCE participating States committed themselves to “build, consolidate, and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.” Sadly, with this latest development in Turkmenistan, the principle embodied in Paris – democratic systems which allow for the peaceful and orderly transfer of power from one government to the next and essential safeguards against an over-mighty State – is clearly not being respected in Turkmenistan. On January 27, Uzbekistan held a referendum that created a bicameral parliament and extended President Karimov’s term in office from five to seven years. Uzbekistan’s parliament on April 5 confirmed the extension of his term to 2007 and opened the door to a subsequent seven-year term. The referendum extending President Karimov’s tenure violates the Copenhagen Document. Unfortunately, the Belarusian authorities have failed to move toward meeting the four criteria established in 2000 by the OSCE as benchmarks for democratic elections in that country. The OSCE-led International Limited Election Observation Mission report on the flawed legislative and presidential elections cited problematic aspects of the legislative framework including: rule by presidential decree; insufficient provisions to ensure the integrity of the voting and no transparency during the tabulation of the results; restrictive provisions for observers; restrictions on free and fair campaigning; limited opportunities to challenge Central Election Commission decisions; and the lack of assurance of the independence of electoral commissions. In light of local elections scheduled for early 2003, it is particularly important that Belarus bring its electoral code up to democratic standards and that the inadequacies enumerated by the OSCE be addressed. In other OSCE participating States, elections have yielded a mixed picture – with improvements in some areas and shortcomings in others. In Ukraine, for instance, a new election law adopted last October did take into account ODIHR’s recommendations from previous elections. This and other positive factors such as multi-party election commissions and more streamlined electoral dispute resolution mechanisms provided for an improved environment for the March 31 parliamentary elections in Ukraine. At the same time, these elections witnessed problems, including abuse of administrative resources, illegal interference by local authorities, shortcomings in the implementation of the new election law, and a campaign marred by some intimidation and harassment against opposition contestants, activists and voters. Moreover, in the July 14 by-elections held in the district of Oleksander Zhyr, a member of parliament who had taken the lead in investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, observers witnessed serious problems, including the highly questionable annulment of Zhyr’s candidacy the day before the elections. We urge the Ukrainian Government to act upon the recommendations of the May 27 ODIHR Final Report on the Ukrainian elections. Beginning with the Macedonian parliamentary elections less than one week away, there will be several elections in Southeastern Europe in the coming months. These elections will provide citizens an opportunity to move forward and overcome the legacy of a decade of conflict. We urge all parties to refrain from fomenting ethnic tensions or instigating violence as means of gaining electoral advantages. This has been a special concern in Macedonia and Kosovo. In Montenegro, we also call upon all parties to work with the OSCE Mission to Yugoslavia and others in overcoming problems which could threaten the degree to which the parliamentary elections in that republic will be free and fair. We wish the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina well as they take the responsibility for implementing the upcoming general elections from the OSCE. We have every expectation that the Serbian presidential elections will show further progress in the democratic transition of that republic. Mr. Moderator, it is worth recalling the unique role of the ODIHR in providing assistance to participating States in developing and implementing electoral legislation. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is likewise a valuable resource in promoting free and fair elections. Reports made by the OSCE offer a constructive guide for participating States that wish to uphold commitments with respect to free and fair elections that each of our nations freely accepted. As our leaders recognized in Istanbul, prompt follow up to ODIHR's election assessments and recommendations is of particular importance.

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Warsaw, Poland - The following statement on Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland: Equality of Opportunity for Women and Men Statement of Nancy Murphy U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Implementation Meeting Governments of OSCE participating States freely committed in the Charter for European Security and the Moscow Document "to undertake measures . . . to end violence against women," including domestic violence. Sadly, few countries are acting on these OSCE commitments with any measure of urgency, perhaps because they labor under false assumptions regarding domestic violence. I submit that when governments discard these false assumptions --- three of which I will address today --- the political resolve to combat the violence will emerge. A principal false assumption is that violence between spouses or other intimate partners is a private family matter with no effect on the world outside. This is simply untrue. The societal costs from domestic violence are staggering to educational systems, legal systems, health systems, criminal justice systems, neighborhoods, and workplaces. The World Health Organization, for example, estimates that the economic consequences of domestic violence cost the United States billions of dollars annually based on the costs of medical treatment, lost worker productivity, and quality of life. Domestic violence also affects future generations. It is the leading cause of birth defects in newborn children in the United States. Children who witness abuse – meaning they are not physically abused, but have heard or seen a loved one being abused – are 1,000 percent more likely to be our next abusers or victims. They are also six times more likely to commit suicide, twenty-four times more likely to commit a sexual assault, fifty percent more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and seventy-four percent more likely to commit crimes against others. Another false assumption is that battered women provoke their abuse. In the United States, the first domestic violence interventions, based on this premise, were aimed at making the battered woman more submissive or compliant assuming her husband would then stop beating her. The victim was identified as the problem, and therefore, if she would do something different, he would change. Evidence of this thinking can be seen in OSCE countries where, for example, forensic medical doctors have been known to downgrade their report on the severity of a woman’’s injuries if the doctor believes that the woman provoked the assault. Ironically, women living with abusers often find that becoming more submissive or compliant has the opposite effect. The violence towards them actually escalates. Giving women assertiveness training doesn't help either. Basically, no matter what the victim does, the abuse continues and usually escalates over time. The third assumption is that alcohol or drugs cause domestic violence. Many studies have proven this assumption false. Clearly violent incidents may be increased and the level of injury to women and children more severe, but neither alcohol nor drugs cause the violence as not all batterers drink or abuse drugs nor do all those who drink or abuse drugs batter. The use of violence or abuse is a problem that resides in the abuser. Only when domestic violence is treated as a violent crime, abusers are held accountable, and services are provided to keep women and children safe, will the violence end. This message that domestic violence is intolerable must be reinforced through the criminal justice system, media, religious institutions, educational systems, economic and business settings, and in families. National and local authorities must provide a comprehensive legal response to domestic violence involving support for victims, treatment for abusers, legal remedies and judicial reforms. OSCE participating States can and must immediately take steps to eliminate barriers that prevent effective criminal prosecutions of domestic abuse. Physical and sexual assault are crimes, regardless of the sex or marital status of the victim. Domestic legal codes should treat them as such. Laws and procedures must be designed to take the burden for reporting and prosecuting the crime off the victim by giving the police a more active role in the process. Laws should be written requiring police to arrest anyone who physically assaults or makes violent threats against an intimate partner. While the abuser is taken to jail, the victim is provided with referrals to shelters and services designed to help her and her children. When the law and its enforcers take domestic violence seriously, many abusers’’ beliefs of entitlement begin to be challenged. They begin to rethink their roles, rights and responsibilities within the relationship. Many experts believe that an arrest and incarceration for domestic violence is the most successful technique for getting violent men to stop abuse. In the United States, police officers report that domestic violence calls are the most dangerous calls to respond to and have necessitated specialized training. In many developing democracies in the OSCE region, law enforcement authorities refuse to intervene in situations of ongoing violence in the home. More often than not, police are not trained how to properly intervene in cases of domestic violence. Police may not be taught about the unique issues victims face or the human rights implications of failing to respond adequately to a call for help. Police and judges must come to understand that physical abuse is never a private affair, it is not an inevitable part of family life, and it can never be justified. I would like to reiterate and support an idea previously made by Canada to engage the OSCE Police Advisor to provide police training "tool kits" for OSCE States to utilize. Likewise, criminal proceedings cannot be made dependent on obtaining the consent of the abused person, nor can the State abandon victims of so-called "minor" domestic violence incidents to prosecute their own cases without assistance from a state prosecutor. Courts must be willing to accept medical evidence other than forensic medical certificates that can be obtained only from a limited number of inaccessible or costly facilities. Moreover, courts must impose proper penalties. In many countries, batterers are more often fined than jailed. If the perpetrator is married to his victim, she then becomes legally responsible for ensuring that the fine is paid. Therefore, a financial burden falls on her as the only result of her having complained to the police about being abused. Battered women and the children who watch the abuse are amongst the most fragile members of our society. I encourage all OSCE participating States to redouble their efforts to end domestic violence for the sake of us all.

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on the Prevention of Torture at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Warsaw, Poland - The following statement on the Prevention of Torture was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland: Prevention of Torture Statement of M. Wells U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Implementation Meeting In the wake of the September 11 attacks on my country, there has been a vigorous public debate about the methods and means that should be used to fight terrorism. Virtually every day since, major American newspapers have reported on this issue. Some commentators have gone so far as to suggest that torture might be a necessary evil in the struggle for a larger good; they imagine a situation, for example, where torture might be used to extract information critical to thwarting a terrorist attack. Please let me be clear regarding the United States position. Torture is antithetical to the rule of law that is the basis of the open, democratic societies that the OSCE seeks to foster. Consequently, it makes no sense to wage war to defend our democratic principles with methods that would denigrate the very values we seek to protect and promote. Cruel and unusual punishment is unconstitutional, barred by the laws of the United States OSCE participating States must work tirelessly to eradicate torture, to provide procedural and substantive safeguards and remedies to combat these practices, to foster the treatment of torture victims and their families, and to ensure the punishment of those who perpetrate torture. Unfortunately, torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment remain a serious problem in many countries. Moreover, the insidious practice of racial profiling, whereby law enforcement personnel unfairly single out racial or ethnic minorities, leaves minorities more vulnerable to police abuse. Such practices severely erode community confidence in police and other law enforcement bodies. Torture or other abuse is often symptomatic of poor and inefficient law enforcement. When police lack the skills, training and resources to investigate crime properly, they may resort to extracting forced confessions to make their cases, rather than relying on real evidence. As a result, innocent people may go to jail for crimes they haven't committed, while the real criminal walks free. My delegation is particularly concerned by this pattern in the Republic of Georgia, where torture and other forms of abuse by law enforcement personnel remains widespread, accompanied by a climate of impunity and fostered by corruption. There have been several signs in the past that the Government of Georgia was about to undertake serious measures to address this persistent problem. Regrettably, each prospect of reform seems to have dissolved into disappointment and, in fact, the problem of torture may actually be growing more acute. We urge the Government of Georgia to transform its promises of related reform into real change. It is not easy, of course, to second-guess the very people who are tasked with protecting the public, protecting us. But, when law enforcement personnel turn from protectors into tormentors, confidence in the very system of justice suffers, and the long-term costs to society can be enormous. It is not a coincidence that, in recent years, race riots in the United States have typically been triggered by a loss of confidence in law enforcement. In Tajikistan, where the use of torture is prevalent, several senior law enforcement officials were convicted in July 2002 on charges of securing confessions under physical pressure. This is a welcome effort to hold perpetrators accountable. We urge the Slovak Government to press ahead with its efforts to hold fully accountable those responsible for the death of Karol Sendrei, a Romani man who died last year after being chained to a radiator for 12 hours while in custody and beaten by police. In certain insidious cases, torture is employed not merely by rogue elements among law enforcement or security personnel or due to a lack of appropriate training among law enforcement personnel, but is systematically used to silence political opposition, punish religious minorities, and target those who are ethnically or racially different from those in power. This is clearly the case in Uzbekistan where, in the worst cases, the victims are not merely tortured; they are tortured to death. Most recently, Muzafar Avazov and Khusnuddin Olimov joined the list of others who have gone into the custody of Uzbek officials alive, but who have been returned to their families dead. In hundreds of cases, convictions in Uzbekistan have been obtained through forced confessions. We urge all OSCE participating States to treat confessions and other evidence obtained through the use of torture as inadmissible in legal proceedings. Like others, my delegation was heartened to learn in February that four Uzbek police officers had been sentenced to 20 years for their role in torturing a man to death in detention. If that case were intended to demonstrate that torture in Uzbekistan would not be tolerated, it failed to have that effect. Those who have been targeted for arrest because of their religious or political views continue to face particular risks of being tortured and are at risk of not surviving their imprisonment. We urge the Uzbek Government to investigate the many other cases of those who have died at the hands of state authorities and immediately release those who are in jail for their religious or political views, including Rahima Ahmedalieva, Imam Abduvahid Yuldashev, Yusup Jumaev, Mamadali Makhmudov, and Elena Urlaeva.

  • Helsinki Commission Releases U.S. Statement on National Minorities and Roma at OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Warsaw, Poland - The following statement on National Minorities and Roma was delivered by the United States at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation currently being held in Warsaw, Poland: National Minorities and Roma Statement of Erika Schlager U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Implementation Meeting The United States delegation offers its thanks to the High Commissioner on National Minorities, Rolf Ekeus, for the many productive efforts he has undertaken during his first year in that position. There has been progress in the respect shown for the rights of members of national minorities in several countries since our meeting a year ago, and the High Commissioner deserves considerable credit for providing the leadership, expertise and perseverance that contributed to this progress. Ten years after the genesis of the Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities, my delegation also wishes to commend this OSCE institution for its result-oriented, practical approach to what are sometimes very complex and difficult minority issues, especially in the Baltic States, Southeast Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. We consider the Office of the High Commissioner to be among the highlights of the OSCE’s post-Cold War evolution. Unfortunately, despite the ongoing efforts of the High Commissioner, OSCE field missions and others, members of national minorities continue to face difficulties. In some instances, the difficulties arise from intolerance in society, such as the escalation of anti-Semitic acts across Europe in recent months. Even in some of the strongest democracies – France, Germany and Belgium, for instance – there have been reports of increasing anti-Semitic violence. Following the tragic events one year ago today, Muslims and Muslim communities have also faced heightened intolerance throughout the OSCE region, including in the United States. My delegation continues to believe firmly that government leaders – on the local and national level – have a definite role to play and a responsibility in the face of this intolerance. First, they have an obligation to speak out loudly and clearly in condemning acts or even expressions of hatred. Second, they have a responsibility to ensure that the law is enforced when intolerance manifests itself in criminal acts, particularly violence against minority members or communities. In Russia, there has been a spate of violent incidents reflecting ethnic intolerance and anti-Semitism. President Putin has admirably condemned such acts. Unfortunately, in too many cases, we have seen a lack of enthusiasm at the local level for the investigation and prosecution of perpetrators. Moreover, some law enforcement authorities have openly targeted Roma for investigation and arrest, themselves becoming agents of bigotry. Respecting the rights of members of national minorities involves more than combating intolerance in society. It is also about providing equal opportunities in education and employment, as well as legal protection from discrimination. We hope that Croatia will renew its efforts to adopt a law on minorities in the near future. While a minority law can be an important tool for the protection of the languages and cultures of ethnic minorities, it is imperative that anti-discrimination laws be adopted and implemented to protect minorities, including Roma, from acts of discrimination in public places, education, housing and labor. The U.S. delegation welcomes Romania’s adoption of such a law and the establishment, more recently, of the National Council against Discrimination. These concrete steps, if implemented and utilized, can make a real difference for minority communities in Romania. My delegation urges all OSCE countries to fulfill the Istanbul Summit commitment through the adoption and implementation of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws. Unfortunately, progress is lacking in other areas: Roma, along with others not in the majority, are still subjected to racially motivated violence, sometimes at the hands of the police. Such abuses demand an effective response. We urge the Government of Ukraine to investigate fully the murder of a Romani family of five, including three young children, in the Poltava Province on October 28 of last year and hold those responsible accountable. We continue to be concerned about the treatment of minorities in Greece, especially since the national policy continues to be that there are no minorities in Greece other than those referred to in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. Roma, in particular, faced discrimination in all walks of life. We urge the Government of Greece to ensure that Roma have the identity documents necessary to have full access to education. In past years, we have voiced concern over the plight of the Kurdish minority in Turkey, whose human rights violations have been recognized by numerous judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. We congratulate Turkey for taking the first steps toward righting these wrongs with the recent passage of new laws that allow the Kurdish language to be tutored and broadcast. At the same time, the new laws do not allow teaching in Kurdish in the public schools and pro-Kurdish political parties are still banned. We look forward to the removal of the these vestiges of discrimination against the Kurdish people. Before concluding, Mr. Moderator, I would like to raise two places where ethnic minorities are particularly threatened, and where their treatment is particularly horrendous. First, in Kosovo, the Serb, Romani and other minority communities may have seen some improvement in security this past year, but their situation remains far from acceptable. This is well documented in the OSCE/UNHCR joint report on the minority situation in Kosovo, which was released last May. Violent attacks continue, especially against Serb homes and churches. Those Kosovar Albanians who suffered at the repressive hands of the Milosevic regime should have the personal commitment never to engage in the persecution of any other minority. The minority communities and their leaders in Kosovo deserve credit for their willingness to participate in the elections and in Kosovo institutions despite such treatment. Second, in Chechnya, the inter-ethnic conflict and widespread violence in recent years have been devastating for the local civilian population. While Chechen fighters have committed their share of atrocities, which my government has condemned, it is also wrong and counterproductive for the Chechens to have their rights so flagrantly violated. We urge the Russian Government to investigate reported human rights abuses, prosecute those who have committed such violations, and undertake every possible effort to prevent their recurrence.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Examines Democracy, Human Rights & Security in Georgia

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to examine democracy, human rights and security developments in the Republic of Georgia. The Republic of Georgia: Democracy, Human Rights and Security 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM Tuesday, September 24, 2002 334 Cannon House Office Building Testifying: B. Lynn Pascoe, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Levan Mikeladze, Georgian Ambassador to the United States Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili, Baptist Union, Georgia Genadi Gudadze, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Tbilisi Dr. Ghia Nodia, Director, Caucasus Institute for Peace, Development and Democracy, Tbilisi Professor Stephen Jones, Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts This hearing will examine Georgia’s prospects for democratization, its security situation and how Washington can best promote the complementary goals of advancing democracy, human rights and economic liberty while leading the battle against international terrorism. Georgia was seemingly headed toward domestic stability and democratic governance in the mid-1990s, but recent trends have been disappointing. The official results of elections have not inspired confidence, undermining the public’s faith in democracy and the right of the people to choose their government. While civil society has grown substantially, the media and non-governmental organizations remain at risk. The savage attack on the human rights organization, Liberty Institute, like the campaign of violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths, as well as efforts to silence Rustavi-2 Television, testify to the lingering influence of forces bent on preventing Georgia from consolidating democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Meanwhile, Georgia has been under intensifying pressure from Russia, with Moscow accusing Georgia of failing to cooperate in the war on terrorism. Russian planes have invaded Georgian airspace and bombed Georgian territory, killing Georgian citizens. Russian officials frequently threaten to launch unilateral military actions within Georgia against Chechens. Most recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin asked the United Nations to support Russia’s threat to launch military strikes inside Georgia. Moscow’s threats place at risk Georgia’s sovereignty and stability, moving Washington to consider how best to help Georgia defend itself and maintain control of its territory, while moving decisively against criminal elements and terrorists.

  • Statement by Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith on the Second Anniversary of the Disappearance of Georgiy Gongadze

    Requiem 2002: Face the Truth On this, the second anniversary of the disappearance and murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, we pay tribute to this brave journalist and to all of the other Ukrainian journalists and political activists who have perished. In the last five years 11 journalists are known to have been killed in Ukraine for their professional activities, and a number of political activists and opposition figures have died under questionable circumstances. We should never lose sight of the fact that each of these deaths is not just a political matter, but a human and personal tragedy, as each of these people left behind family, friends and others whose lives they touched. Unfortunately, investigations into most of these cases have gone nowhere, and this has only served to fuel speculation about official involvement. Repeated expressions of concern and efforts about the Gongadze murder case directed at Ukrainian authorities over the last two years by the Helsinki Commission, Members of Congress, the State Department, the OSCE, Council of Europe and other international bodies have been met with stonewalling and obfuscation. The lack of a resolution of this case has tarnished the credibility of the Ukrainian authorities’ in dealing with fundamental human rights. I look forward to the new Prosecutor General conducting a full investigation into the deaths of journalists and politicians such as Heorhiy Gongadze, Ihor Alexandrov, Vadym Hetman and others and bringing to justice those responsible -- no matter who they are. In paying tribute to those courageous individuals who perished because of their commitment to the truth, we also pay tribute to all people in Ukraine committed to achieving greater democracy and freedom. Those of us who have been staunch supporters of independent Ukraine for many years have become increasingly troubled by developments over the last few years, including the curtailing of media and other freedoms, the debilitating problem of high-level, pervasive corruption, and the lack of rule of law. Recently, former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko publicized an open letter to President Kuchma calling upon him to make a choice between “democracy and dictatorship.” President Kuchma, make the clear choice for democracy! I am encouraged that the Ukrainian people are increasingly demanding change – calling to live in a country where intimidation and violence against journalists and opposition politicians is a receding memory; a country where democracy and human rights are respected and the rule of law becomes triumphant. The people of Ukraine should be able to realize their dream to live in an economically vibrant, independent country in which respect for democratic values is the guiding principle.

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