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  • 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.

  • "Shock”in United States Congress as Belarus Authorities Bulldoze New Church

    Armed & Camouflaged Lukashenka Agents Mount Latest Attack Against Religion   Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) is "shocked, but not surprised" that Alexander Lukashenka's government demolished a newly constructed church building on August 1st while parishioners were preparing for its solemn consecration. Belarusian agents, camouflaged and armed with automatic weapons, reportedly surrounded the western village of Pahranichny. They cleared the way for a bus-load of demolition crews, cranes and bulldozers in an orchestrated effort to destroy the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church building, just hours before its parishioners planned to dedicate the new building. "This outrageous crime further demonstrates how ruthless, corrupt and immoral Lukashenka's rule has become," Smith said. "Is nothing sacred in Belarus today, that the regime has to stoop so low as to level a parish church? Since Lukashenka has led Belarus to become a pariah state in the heart of Europe, nothing he does surprises me any more," Smith observed. Government authorities have consistently refused state registration for the Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church, describing the church, with about 70 parishes throughout Belarus, as a "non-existent religious group." The Belarusian Autocephalous Orthodox Church is separate from the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate. Lukashenka has pursued a policy of favoring the Russian Orthodox Church, while harassing other religious groups, including Catholics, Protestants and Hindus. Tensions in Pahranichny between the Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox parish and the Belarusian Authocephalous Orthodox parish have also been high. "I condemn Mr. Lukashenka and the Belarusian Government for the wanton destruction of this house of worship. Regardless of ecclesiastical differences between the two village parishes, government intervention is uncalled for and demolishing a church building is unacceptable," Mr. Smith declared. "This further demonstrates the true nature of the Lukashenka regime and strengthens my resolve to pass the Belarus Democracy Act." The Belarus Democracy Act of 2002, H.R. 5056, would promote democratic development, human rights, and rule of law in Belarus. The bipartisan measure authorizes an increase in assistance for democracy-building activities, encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, and would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, including denying his high-ranking officials entry into the United States. Authorities on Tuesday, July 23rd ordered the building destroyed, citing its "illegal" construction. According to news reports, plans filed by the church did not include designs for a basement. Demolition workers on July 26 tried to wreck the building with bulldozers. They encountered parishioners and other church supporters surrounding the building, some chained to its pillars, preventing authorities from destroying the church. No injuries were reported, but journalist and human rights activist Valery Shchukin was jailed for 15 days for attempting to write about the attack for the Narodna Volya newspaper. Six other individuals were fined. The bulldozing is the most recent occurrence illustrating a deterioration of religious freedom and human rights in Belarus. Earlier this year, the Belarusian parliament considered a highly restrictive law on religion, deciding to postpone a vote until the autumn session. The government has furthermore escalated its harassment of non-Russian Orthodox religious communities.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Recall Romani Holocaust Tragedy

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission leaders today remembered the anniversary of the Romani Holocaust observed annually on August 2nd and 3rd. During the night of August 2-3, 1944, the Romani camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liquidated. Nearly three thousand Romani men, women and children were killed in the gas chambers in a single night. Roma around the globe have come to remember their Holocaust experiences on these days. "The single most defining experience for Roma in the 20th century was the Holocaust, known in Romani as the Porrajmos, the Devouring," said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). "During World War II, Roma were targeted for death by the Nazis based on their ethnicity. At least 23,000 Roma were delivered to Auschwitz. Almost all of them perished in the gas chambers or from starvation, exhaustion or disease." "The Helsinki Commission held our third hearing on Roma in April of this year," said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). "Testimony at these hearings reflected the magnitude of the discrimination and violence still confronting Roma in many countries. Violent attacks against Roma, including murders, often go unpunished, such as the arson murder of a family of five in Ukraine last October." "At the 1999 Istanbul Summit, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe participating States agreed to adopt anti-discrimination legislation to protect Roma," said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). "The adoption in 2000 of the European Union's ‘race directive,' which requires all EU member states and applicant countries to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, should spur this effort." In certain countries, political leaders use Nazi-era rhetoric, describing Roma as "asocial," or defending repressive measures against Roma as "social hygiene measures," implying that they are inherently unfit for European society. More than half a century after Roma suffered forced sterilization at the hands of Joseph Mengele and others, some public officials openly speak of limiting Romani birth rates. Roma were among those targeted for complete annihilation by the Nazis; however, their suffering before and during World War II is not well known. During the 1920s and 1930s, institutionalized racism against Roma took on an increasingly virulent form. Policies similar to those instituted against Germany's Jews were also implemented against Roma: race-based denial of the right to vote; forced sterilization; loss of citizenship, incarceration in work or concentration camps; deportation and subsequent annihilation at death camps. In addition to their systematic destruction at Auschwitz, Roma were killed elsewhere in German-occupied territory by special SS squads, regular army units or police, often shot at the village's edge and dumped into mass graves. It is difficult to estimate the size of the pre-war European Romani population and war-time losses. Some scholars, however, suggest the size of the Romani population in Germany and German-occupied territories was around 942,000 and that 500,000 Roma were killed during the Holocaust. Approximately 25,000 Roma from Romania were deported en masse to Transnistria in Romanian-occupied Ukraine in 1942; some 19,000 of them perished there. After World War II, the post-Nazi German Government strongly resisted redressing past wrongs committed against Roma, seeking to limit its accountability. The first German trial decision to recognize that Roma as well as Jews were genocide victims during the Third Reich was not handed down until 1991. Public awareness of the nature and extent of Romani losses continues to expand as new archival material becomes available and new generations of researchers examine the Holocaust experiences of Roma. The Helsinki Commission maintains on its Internet Web site an archive of hearing and briefing publications, Congressional Record Statements, reports, press releases and CSCE Digest articles; each organized by issue and country. Commission materials relating to Roma are located on the Commission's Roma Web page. Additional information about the Romani Holocaust experience is available through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

  • Helsinki Commission Members Press Polish President on Property Restitution

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) recently hand-delivered a letter to Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski during a meeting with congressional leaders in Washington, urging him to address the issue of property restitution in Poland. The Commission letter to President Kwasniewski stressed the urgent need for a non-discriminatory law governing restitution or compensation of private property confiscated from individuals by the Nazi or communist regimes in Poland. President Kwasniewski received the letter, signed by ten Commissioners and one other Member of Congress, during the meeting organized by Speaker of the House Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) on July 18. Property in Poland was seized by the Nazis during World War II and was later taken over by Poland's communist regimes. Poland's situation is particularly complex due to its substantial shift in borders, territory and population after World War II. Since 1989, Polish and American citizens have urged the Polish Government to address the return of expropriated property to rightful owners. Assurances from Polish officials that a draft property restitution law will be considered by the Polish Parliament in early 2003 have failed to comfort aging Holocaust survivors as seven previous attempts to pass such legislation have failed. During a Helsinki Commission hearing on July 16, entitled "Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe: The State of Affairs for American Claimants," one witness testified that "the Polish effort to provide property restitution has so far failed. Every single year brings with it news reports that Poland is preparing comprehensive legislation to deal with the property restitution issue. However, no legislation has been passed to date." The letter was signed by Co-Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), and Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN). Representative Joseph Crowley (D-NY) also signed the letter.

  • Helsinki Commission Letter to President Kwasniewski

    July 18, 2002 H.E. Aleksandr Kwasniewski President Republic of Poland Warsaw, Poland Dear Mr. President: As Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, we are honored by your visit to our nation's Capitol. We are deeply grateful for the solidarity you and your countrymen and women have shown the United States since the September 11 attacks on our country. We understand that, in the decade since Poland has emerged from the yoke of communism, your country has successfully met many challenges. We urge you to tackle one more, a matter of great importance and urgency: the need for a non-discriminatory law governing restitution or compensation of private property confiscated from individuals by the Nazi or communist regimes in Poland. The Commission has held a series of hearings on the issue of property restitution in Central and Eastern Europe. Property restitution in Poland is an important matter for thousands of people who fled to the United States because of religious, ethnic or political persecution in Poland during or after the Second World War. On behalf of these individuals, we urge your government to carry through with its previously stated commitment to enact a fair, non-discriminatory property restitution law. Such a law is necessary to enable the return of private property confiscated or, when the actual return of property is not possible, to provide alternative compensation to rightful owners. In particular, any law which excludes from restitution or compensation persons who no longer have Polish citizenship or residence is discriminatory. We appreciate that a small number of property claimants have pursued restitution claims in Polish courts, but this is simply not an adequate alternative. First, the legal basis by which property can currently be reclaimed is so limited as to exclude the vast majority of rightful owners. Second, while some Polish officials have urged claimants to rely on the judiciary, governmental entities which stand to lose possession of claimed properties in a legal proceeding have unreasonably delayed such proceedings and challenged decisions made in favor of claimants, many of whom are elderly and hampered by limited resources with which to battle government bureaucracies. Finally, as in many other countries in the region, Polish courts have often allowed proceedings to drag on for years and ultimately failed to resolve cases in a manner that results in the restitution. Under such circumstances, the need for a property restitution law is both clear and compelling. Since 1989, the Republic of Poland has established itself as a model for free and democratic societies in Eastern Europe. While we are disappointed that Poland has delayed so long in addressing property restitution, we hope that, when a law is passed, it will not be marred by the problems seen in other countries - problems such as discriminatory citizenship or residency requirements and the failure to faithfully implement the laws according to their terms and in a timely fashion. For individuals with ties to Central and Eastern Europe, the restitution of property is not ultimately about land or money, but about obtaining a measure of justice for the oppression and persecution they and their families suffered under previous regimes and an acknowledgment of the wrong done to them through the expropriation of property. We urge you to support the non-discriminatory restitution or compensation of property to individuals, as well as ethnic and religious groups. Sincerely, Sincerely, Benjamin L. Cardin, M.C. Commissioner Christopher H. Smith, M.C. Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer, M.C. Ranking Member Frank R. Wolf, M.C. CommissionerHillary Rodham Clinton, U.S.S. Commissioner Sam Brownback, U.S.S. CommissionerLouise McIntosh Slaughter, M.C. Commissioner Joseph R. Pitts, M.C. Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings, M.C. Commissioner Zach Wamp, M.C. CommissionerJoseph Crowley, M.C.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Examines State of Property Restitution for American Claimants

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will conduct a hearing on the state of property restitution in Central and Eastern Europe for American claimants. Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe: The State of Affairs for American Claimants Tuesday, July 16, 2002 2:00 PM – 4:30 PM 334 Cannon House Office Building Scheduled to testify: Randolph Bell, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Department of State Yehuda Evron, U.S. President, Holocaust Restitution Committee Olga Jonas, Secretary, Free Czechoslovakia Fund Mark Meyer, Attorney and Chairman, Romanian-American Chamber of Commerce Israel Singer, President, Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and Co-Chairman, World Jewish Restitution Organization A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The end of communist tyranny after 1990 sparked hope that governments in the region would redress the wrongful seizures of private and communal property, such as churches, synagogues, schools and hospitals. This hearing will be the Commission’s third hearing on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during World War II and the communist-era in Central and Eastern Europe. This hearing will examine the key issues which remain in the process of returning wrongfully confiscated properties to individuals and religious communities in the region. Witnesses will discuss the status of property restitution efforts in Europe, prospects for further advancements, and the U.S. Government’s policy and efforts with regard to property restitution and compensation issues. Particular attention will be given to the bureaucratic and legal obstacles faced by individuals and religious communities – with a primary focus on the treatment of U.S. citizen claimants – in seeking restitution of communal property, family homes, and/or land in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania.

  • Commission Leaders Introduce Anti-Torture Resolutions

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) will introduce tomorrow resolutions condemning the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment. “The use of torture is an egregious human rights abuse,” Chairman Campbell said. “As a former deputy sheriff, I am well aware of the role integrity plays in any criminal justice system. Torture and other cruelties not only injure people, the practice undermines any criminal justice system which tolerates it. The United States Congress can continue to play a leadership role by signaling our unwavering condemnation of this outrageous practice.” “Torture is a dangerous problem in many countries,” Co-Chairman Smith said. “In the worst cases, torture occurs not merely from rogue elements among police departments or a lack of appropriate training among law enforcement personnel. Torture is systematically used by controlling regimes to target political opposition members, ethnic or religious minorities, and others. ” The identical resolutions are being introduced in the Senate and House of Representatives in conjunction with the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, observed each year on June 26. The resolutions express support for all victims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment who are struggling to overcome the physical scars and psychological effects of such practices. The resolutions encourage the training of law enforcement personnel who are involved in the custody, interrogation, or treatment of individuals arrested, detained, or imprisoned. The Secretary of State is encouraged to seek, at relevant international fora, the adoption of a commitment to treat as inadmissible in any legal proceeding confessions and other evidence obtained through torture and to prohibit, in law and in practice, incommunicado detention. Original co-sponsors of the resolutions are Ranking Member Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), Commissioners Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Senator Paul Wellstone (D-MN) is also a co-sponsor.

  • Smith: Repeal Romanian Criminal Defamation Laws

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today commended Romania for adopting an emergency ordinance reducing the amount of prison time individuals may serve for certain speech violations under Romania’s penal code. “Romania’s May 23 ordinance is clearly a step in the right direction,” said Smith. “But even with reduced criminal penalties for insult and defamation, the possibility remains that individuals could be sent to prison in Romania today simply for expressing their views.” The May 23 ordinance reduces the penalty for insult under article 205 of the penal code from a maximum of two years in prison to a fine; the penalty for defamation under article 206 is reduced from a maximum of three years in prison to two years imprisonment; and the penalty for insult or defamation of civil servants under article 239 is reduced from a maximum of seven years (under special circumstances) to four years. The Helsinki Commission on May 24th issued an analysis of free speech issues in Romania. “More than 12 years after the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu, it is unthinkable that Romanians could be sentenced to prison for expressing their opinions about government officials,” Smith said. “The May 23 ordinance falls short of bringing Romania's penal code into compliance with freely undertaken international commitments. These changes are not enough. Defamation charges, adequately covered by civil codes, do not belong as part of a penal code. Similarly, prohibitions against ‘insults’ should not be in a civil or penal code at all.” “The Romanian Government has the opportunity to further improve the May 23 ordinance before asking the parliament to pass legislation codifying these reforms. I hope they would seek an across-the-board repeal of criminal penalties for free speech, consistent with OSCE norms.” Recent events have seriously undermined confidence in the Romanian Government's commitment to free speech. Recent remarks by Defense Minister Ion Mircea Pascu were widely perceived as threats to journalists. Romania’s Government acknowledged the existence of a plan to counter criticisms of Romania in the free press. Both houses of Romania’s parliament passed a bill to require that print media give rights of reply to anyone “offended” by a news article.

  • Human Rights in Greece Subject of Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will conduct a hearing to highlight the human rights developments and the prospects for further improvement in Greece, an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. Human Rights in Greece: A Snapshot of the Cradle of Democracy 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM Thursday, June 20, 2002 334 Cannon House Office Building Witnesses: Mania Telalian, Legal Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dimitrios Moschopoulos, Counselor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vassilios Tsirbas, Senior Counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice Adamantia Pollis, PhD, Professor Emerita, New School University Panayote Dimitras, founding member and spokesperson, Greek Helsinki Monitor & Minority Rights Group – Greece. Director, Center for Documentation and Information on Minorities in Europe-Southeast Europe Topics of the hearing will include minority rights; religious liberty; freedom of the media; human trafficking; and domestic terrorism. As Athens prepares to host the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, Roma have been uprooted from villages and areas around Athens in a “beautification” effort. Other ethnic and religious minorities face discrimination and harassment in Greece, the most homogeneous country in the Balkans. There are an estimated 40,000 women and girls trafficked into Greece each year, many of them underage and living in virtual servitude after being forced or tricked into leaving their home countries. The government has recently introduced legislation to combat trafficking in persons, but the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report released on June 5 has ranked Greece as a Tier 3 country indicating that there have not been significant efforts to meet minimum anti-trafficking standards. Freedom House recently ranked Greece last in media freedom among free countries, citing a pattern of criminal defamation lawsuits against journalists, some being sentenced to prison for their reporting.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Praises Slovak Reforms, Urges Passage of Anti-Discrimination Law

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today in a meeting with political leaders from Slovakia praised their country’s democratic reform process which has occurred over the past four years. “The Slovak Government has jump-started Slovakia’s economic and democratic transition, and I am hopeful that Slovakia will stay the course and build on these achievements,” Smith said. Co-Chairman Smith met Tuesday morning with Pavol Hrusovsky, Deputy Speaker of the Slovak Parliament and Chair of the Christian Democratic Movement; Bela Bugar, Deputy Speaker of the Slovak Parliament and Chair of the Hungarian Coalition Party; and Jan Figel, Deputy Foreign Minister and Deputy Chair of Christian Democratic Movement. “I commend the government for preparing draft anti-discrimination legislation that, if adopted and implemented, would provide remedies for Roma who experience race discrimination,” continued Mr. Smith. “This legislation is an extremely important step forward that illustrates Slovakia’s potential leadership on anti-discrimination issues. Most importantly, it will be a concrete sign of the government’s commitment to ensure equality of opportunity for Roma. I urged the Deputy Speakers to give this draft expeditious consideration before the summer recess.” Mr. Smith and the Slovak delegation also discussed Slovakia’s contribution to international peacekeeping efforts in the Balkans and anticipated contributions in Afghanistan. “We are increasingly looking to countries from Central and Eastern Europe to play a leadership role on human rights issues at international fora,” said Smith. “Because these countries have experienced repression in recent years, they bring an important perspective on how to deal with it. I hope Slovakia will continue to be an active partner with the United States as we seek to advance our common values.”

  • Kosovo’s Human Rights Atmosphere Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing to examine the current human rights atmosphere in Kosovo, with a particular focus on the rights of ethnic minorities to return home, human trafficking, and the rising tensions between the region’s ethnic minorities. The hearing will also focus on the continued division along ethnic lines of the northern Kosovo city of Mitrovica, where tensions remain high. Serbs, Roma and individuals among Kosovo’s other minority populations remain either isolated in enclaves within Kosovo or displaced outside region. Prospects for Ethnic Harmony in Kosovo 9:30 AM – 11:30 AM Wednesday, June 19, 2002 124 Dirksen Senate Office Building Witnesses: Rada Trajkovic, Kosovo parliamentarian and Leader of the Kosovo Serb “Povratak” (“Return”) coalition Alush Gashi, Kosovo parliamentarian representing President Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) Nebojsa Covic, Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, responsible for Belgrade’s policy regarding Kosovo Valerie Percival, Kosovo Field Representative for the International Crisis Group and author of recently released report: “UNMiK’s Kosovo Albatross: Tackling Division in Mitrovica”

  • Smith Holds Press Conference on Second Annual Human Trafficking Report

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) will hold a press conference with other Members in reaction to the State Department’s second annual report on human trafficking released today by Secretary Colin Powell. Co-Chairman Smith was the author of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Law which mandates that the State Department assess the conditions of human trafficking. WHO:         Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) Commissioner Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) WHEN:        3:00 PM, Wednesday, June 5, 2002 WHERE:      House Triangle (Rain Location: 340 Cannon House Office Building) CONTACT:  Nick Manetto (Rep. Christopher H. Smith), 202-225-3765 Ben Anderson (Helsinki Commission), 202-225-1901

  • Rise of Anti-Semitic Violence Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON- The United States Helsinki Commission will conduct a hearing on anti-Semitism, focusing on Western Europe and Russia, given the rise in anti-Semitic violence throughout Europe. Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe Wednesday, May 22, 2002 10:00 AM - 12:00 Noon 628 Dirksen Senate Office Building Witnesses: Dr. Shimon Samuels, Director, Simon Weisenthal Center-Paris Mark B. Levin, Executive Director, NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia Alexandra Arriaga, Director of Government Relations, Amnesty International, USA Kenneth Jacobson, Associate National Director, Anti-Defamation League Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs, American Jewish Committee While the anti-Semitism scourge lurks in the United States, the sharp escalation of violence against Jews in the OSCE region deserves attention. The most brutal incidents in recent months have occurred in France, Belgium and Germany. Violence has also been directed toward the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, Greece and Ukraine. 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. Two Yeshiva students from New Jersey were assaulted in Germany. A mob attacked Jewish worshipers in a Ukraine synagogue. A gang attacked Jewish high school soccer players in France. Vandals denigrated several synagogues in Russia. A Marseille synagogue burned to the ground and synagogues elsewhere in the OSCE region have suffered firebomb attacks. Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi “skin head” activity, participating States throughout the OSCE region face the urgent challenge of stemming the tide of escalating anti-Semitic violence.

  • Full Text of Letter to Georgia's President Eduard Shevardnadze

    May 15, 2002 His Excellency Eduard Shevardnadze President Republic of Georgia Tbilisi, Georgia Dear President Shevardnadze: Alarmed by reports of continued organized mob violence against minority religious groups, we want to express our concern about the apparent inability of your government to end the attacks and provide adequate redress. Permitting these ongoing and egregious violations eviscerates Georgia’s commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). We urge you to take concrete steps to provide for the security of all Georgians without distinction as to religion. For more than two years, mob attacks against members of minority religious communities have repeatedly occurred, often with police refusing to restrain the attackers or actually participating in the violence. Since October 1999, nearly 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, most led by a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, Vasili Mkalavishvili. Other minority religious communities have also been targeted by Mkalavishvili, including a Pentecostal church, an Evangelical church, and a warehouse owned by the Baptist Union. Reports cite religious services being raided, people being dragged by their hair and then summarily punched, kicked and clubbed, as well as buses carrying Jehovah’s Witnesses being stopped and attacked. To date, these transgressions have gone unpunished, despite the reported filing of over 700 criminal complaints. While the commencement on January 25, 2002 of criminal proceedings against Mkalavishvili and one of his top lieutenants for two mob attacks gave pause for hope, that hope quickly faded. The charges brought in the Didube-Chugureti District Court are for minor offenses, and, since the initial hearing, postponement of the case has occurred five times due to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, overrunning the court. With police refusing to provide adequate security, lawyers filed a motion asking for court assistance, but the judge ruled the maximum security allowed would be 10 policemen, while no limit was placed on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers permitted to enter. In contrast, the Ministry of Interior has protected its own officials by reportedly providing more than 200 police when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges. Certainly the Georgian Government could provide adequate security in such a setting, but your government is not taking effective steps to deter individuals and groups from employing violence against minority faith communities. Failure to confront these transgressions will only lead Mkalavishvili, as well as other criminals, to continually flout Georgian laws. Accordingly, we call upon you, Mr. President, to put an end to these attacks, and to honor Georgia’s OSCE commitments to promote and protect religious freedom. We ask you to ensure concrete steps are taken to punish the perpetrators through vigorous prosecution, thereby demonstrating that such violence will not be tolerated. Sincerely,   Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S. Chairman Christopher H. Smith, M.C. Co-Chairman Christopher J. Dodd, U.S.S. Ranking Member Steny H. Hoyer, M.C. Ranking Member Gordon Smith, U.S.S. Commissioner Joseph R. Pitts, M.C. Commissioner Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S.S. Commissioner Benjamin L. Cardin, M.C. Commissioner Joseph Lieberman, U.S.S. Zach Wamp, M.C. Commissioner Robert B. Aderholt, M.C. Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings, M.C. Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter, M.C. Commissioner Anthony Weiner, M.C. J.C. Watts, M.C.

  • 15 Members of Congress Urge Shevardnadze to Quell Violence Against Religious Groups

    WASHINGTON - Fifteen Members of Congress sent a letter to Republic of Georgia President Eduard Shevardnadze today urging him to ensure an end to the increasing violence against minority religious groups in the former Soviet Republic. Over the past two years, violent mobs have attacked members of various non-Orthodox religious communities while police allegedly refuse to intervene or take an active role in the attacks. The letter, spearheaded by Members of the United States Helsinki Commission, urges Shevardnadze to “take concrete steps to provide for the security of all Georgians without distinction as to religion.” “President Shevardnadze and Georgian authorities appear to have turned a blind eye to the ongoing violence against certain church groups,” said Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “Hopefully, this letter will send a clear message that the United States is greatly alarmed by these attacks and expects Georgian authorities to do everything possible to protect individuals, regardless of their religious faith.” “The inability or unwillingness of Georgian authorities to protect minority religious groups is very disturbing,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “President Shevardnadze must take concrete steps to ensure that all people can practice their faith without fear of attacks or violence.” Helsinki Commission Members 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), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Other Members of Congress signing the letter were Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT), Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) and Rep. Anthony D. Weiner (D-NY). Organized mobs have brutally attacked minority religious groups with increasing frequency since 1999. The mobs have targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses approximately 80 times. Many of the attacks were reportedly led by defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest Vasili Mkalavishvili. Victims have filed more than 700 criminal complaints, but authorities have not responded, leaving the perpetrators free to repeat their attacks. Mkalavishvili’s followers have allegedly targeted other religious groups, including a Pentecostal church, an Evangelical Church, and a warehouse owned by the Baptist Union. Individuals have reportedly been dragged by their hair into a group, then pummeled with punches, kicks and clubs. Buses of Jehovah’s Witnesses have been stopped by police, and attacked by Mkalavishvili’s vigilantes. A mob attacked a Pentecostal Church during choir practice, injuring 12 people during the raid. Local television stations are often notified in advance of the attacks, allowing the nightly news to broadcast the violence. A criminal trial against Mkalavishvili began January 25th of this year, but the charges in the case are minor. Authorities have postponed the case five times, mainly due to Mkalavishvili’s mob being allowed to enter the courtroom and assail victims, lawyers and international observers. Only ten police are permitted to guard victims and their lawyers during Mkalavishvili’s current trial. But authorities used more than 200 police and a SWAT team to protect Ministry of Interior officials when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges. “Accordingly, we call upon you, Mr. President, to put an end to these attacks, and to honor Georgia’s OSCE commitments to promote and protect religious freedom,” the Members urged Shevardnadze. “We ask you to ensure concrete steps are taken to punish the perpetrators through vigorous prosecution, thereby demonstrating that such violence will not be tolerated.”

  • International Cooperation in the War on Terrorism Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will conduct a hearing to examine the level of cooperation in the war on terrorism among the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Cooperation in the War on Terrorism: The OSCE Region Wednesday, May 8, 2002 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon 334 Cannon House Office Building The hearing will focus on efforts of the OSCE to coordinate counter-terrorism activities among its 55 participating States and the level to which these States are fulfilling their commitments to cooperate in this endeavor. Diplomatic and financial dimensions of the war on terrorism will be examined as well as the critical role which the European Union (EU) plays in efforts to combat terrorism in the OSCE region and worldwide. Witnesses: His Excellency Antonio Martins da Cruz, Portuguese Foreign Minister and Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE His Excellency Javier Ruperez, Ambassador of Spain to the United States (Spain currently serves as President of the European Union.) The Honorable Jimmy Gurule, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement Mark F. Wong, Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism,U.S. Department of State This hearing on international cooperative efforts to combat terrorism will take place on the heels of the recent U.S.-EU summit on counter terrorism cooperation held in Washington.

  • Russian-Chechen War Focus of Hearing

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will conduct a hearing on the latest developments in the conflict in Chechnya as President George W. Bush prepares for his first summit meeting in Russia later this month. Developments in the Chechen Conflict Thursday, May 9, 2002 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM 340 Cannon House Office Building Witnesses: Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs,U.S. Department of State Aset Chadaeva, nurse and former resident of Chechnya Andrei Babitsky, Radio Liberty correspondent, author of Nezhelatelny Svidetel (Undesirable Witness) Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace The Embassy of the Russian Federation has been invited to provide testimony at the hearing. Since renewal of the Chechen war in late 1999, the conflict has been characterized by brutality and violations of human rights on both sides, especially on the part of the Russian military with its greater firepower. Hundreds of Chechens, especially males of military age, have been killed or have disappeared as a result of Russian military “sweeps.” An estimated 150,0000 – 200,000 civilians have been forced to relocate to neighboring refugee camps. Moscow contends that the war in Chechnya is an integral part of the war against international terrorism, and the U.S. Government has confirmed links between some insurgents in Chechnya and “various terrorist organizations and mujahidin.” The U.S. Government has called upon Chechnya’s leadership to “immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups,” while calling for “accountability for [human rights] violations on all sides” and a political solution to the conflict.

  • Pattern of Harassment Emerging by Russian Government Toward Catholics

    WASHINGTON - Russian authorities recently denied entry to two Roman Catholic clergy after cancelling their visas moments following their arrival, declaring one to be on a “black list” of individuals barred from entering the Russian Federation. United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today reacted with dismay over the Russian Government’s most recent actions regarding the treatment of religious workers. “I urge the Russian Government to quickly permit the Catholic priests to obtain visas and re-enter Russia,” said Rep. Smith. “As a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russia has pledged not to discriminate against individuals or communities on the grounds of their beliefs, as well as allow communities to select and replace religious personnel.” Rep. Smith added, “the inability of its priests to enter Russia presents a special difficulty for the Catholic Church, since the vast majority of its clergy are foreigners. Consequently, the appearance of Russian authorities targeting Catholic clergy is of great concern. The Kremlin should take steps to counter these fears and ensure that these practices cease.” Last Friday, April 19, Russian authorities summarily cancelled the visa of Bishop Jerzy Mazur, a Polish citizen and one of Russia’s four Catholic bishops, forcing him to return immediately to Warsaw. Bishop Mazur heads the Diocese of Saint Joseph in Irkutsk, the largest, in terms of territory, Catholic diocese in the world. Bishop Mazur was reportedly informed by Russian officials that he was on a “black list” of individuals barred from entering the Russian Federation. In an earlier incident, Russian officials at the same airport seized the visa of Father Stefano Caprio, an Italian priest who has worked in Russia for more than a decade. When Father Caprio attempted to apply for a new visa, the Russian Embassy in Italy reportedly said he was banned from traveling to Russia, and would have to wait an entire year before submitting a new visa application. Wednesday’s edition of The Moscow Times reports that two police officers on Monday stopped Damian Stepien, a Franciscan friar from Poland, after leaving the city’s Catholic cathedral. The officers reportedly seized his passport, destroyed his photo then discarded the passport. Russian authorities also denied entry last spring to Friar Stanislaw Opiela, head of the Jesuit order in Russia. In March, Russian officials detained Pentecostal pastor Aleksei Ledyayev upon his arrival in Moscow from the Latvian capital Riga and held him for ten hours before putting him on a flight to Vilnius, Lithuania. The low number of Russian citizens qualified to serve as Catholic priests is the result of decades of Communist-era repression, often focusing specifically on Catholic Churches. Further, relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow have deteriorated since the Vatican’s decision in February to establish formal Russian dioceses in place of previous apostolic administrations. The Moscow Times also reported that “Pro-Kremlin lawmakers and nationalist activists” came together Tuesday to protest “an encroaching Western expansion led by the United States and the Vatican.” The coalition will organize a “nationwide day of protest” this Sunday. The group labeled the Roman Catholic Church’s decision to strengthen its dioceses as a threat to Russia’s statehood. The recent visa confiscations and expulsions of Catholic clergy are the latest moves in a series of actions by the Russian Government concerning religious freedom, which the Helsinki Commission has followed closely. In 1998, Moscow city prosecutors closed the Salvation Army’s presence there, asserting it was a paramilitary organization because of the word “army” in its name, and uniforms and military titles for members. Ironically, city officials used provisions of Russia’s 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations to order the “liquidation.” Overturning lower court decisions, however, Russia’s Constitutional Court later ruled the case against the Salvation Army was based on a misinterpretation of current law. In a February 2000 Helsinki Commission hearing on religious liberty in Russia, witnesses offered almost prophetic testimony of today’s human rights conditions in Russia. Robert Seiple, then Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, testified, “In Russia there is the potential for events to bring about a decline of religious freedom. There is also the potential for us and like-minded advocates of religious freedom to take steps to prevent this from happening.” Seiple cited instances of local officials using the 1997 law to harass “so-called ‘non-traditional’ religious groups.” Rabbi Lev Shemtov, Director of American Friends of Lubavitch, testified that incidents of anti-Semitism in Russia had reached alarming levels, and there was an undeniable trend toward lawlessness.

  • Journalist's Attempted Hand-Shake Leads to Criminal Indictment

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) voiced alarm today over the criminal charges brought this week against Slovak journalist Denisa Havrl’ová. She is reportedly being charged under article 156 of the Slovak penal code and faces up to one year in prison for “insulting” a public official. In February, Havrl’ová was visiting Jarnovice, a village in eastern Slovakia. Upon meeting a police officer, she offered her hand. He refused to shake her hand and, instead, demanded a “certificate of hygiene.” She then asked if he had refused to shake her hand because she is Romani. Havrl’ová subsequently filed a complaint with the Ministry of Interior regarding the police officer’s behavior. Although the complaint was dismissed, the Minister of Interior described the investigation as a “whitewash” and apologized to Havrl’ová. This week, charges were brought against Havrl’ová on the theory that when she questioned whether the police officer’s refusal to shake her hand was racially motivated, she “insulted” a public servant. “It is always disturbing when a journalist faces criminal charges for his or her speech,” Co-Chairman Smith said. “It is even worse when the speech in question is the alleged ‘insult’ of a public official. The particular circumstances of this case illustrate why the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, joined by his UN and OAS counterparts, have so clearly condemned 'insult' laws as contrary to international free speech norms.” Smith has repeatedly raised concerns regarding the criminal defamation and insult laws which remain in Slovakia’s penal code. In November 2001, the Slovak Parliament failed by one vote to repeal two of the articles in the Slovak penal code which allow criminal charges to be brought against individuals exercising their right of free speech. “If merely asking whether a government official’s action was tainted by racism can result in criminal charges,” Smith observed, “the Slovak Government's generally laudable efforts to improve respect for Romani human rights will be severely undermined.” “One of the ironies of this case is that Slovakia’s record in the area of free speech is, overall, excellent,” Smith concluded. “But as long as these archaic criminal defamation and ‘insult’ laws remain on the books, it’s only a matter of time before someone finds a way to use them.” “It's a pity that one thin-skinned public official is using his taxpayers' money to pursue his personal grudge. I hope this case will spur Slovak legislators to repeal those archaic laws before they wind up costing Slovakia even more money. Hard-working Slovak citizens deserve better." Last year, Slovakia lost a free speech case before the European Court of Human Rights stemming from a 1992 incident and was ordered to pay 565,000 Slovak crowns (approximately $12,000) to the plaintiff.

  • Racism at the Heart of Romani Human Rights Abuses, Witnesses Tell Helsinki Commission

    WASHINGTON - Roma throughout Europe still encounter human rights conditions which lack the basic elements of human dignity, according to testimony delivered today before a hearing of the Untied States Helsinki Commission. The hearing focused on the age-old human rights struggle of Roma, insidious barriers to education opportunities for Romani children, activities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and recent initiatives undertaken in Bulgaria to curb such abuses. “A few years ago, a Hungarian Romani activist said to our Commission, ‘We don’t want the fish, we want the net’,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “Those words were echoed in the messages we heard here today. Education is clearly the net.” “Our own experience with de-segregation has not been easy, but it has always been necessary,” Smith added. “If American experiences have any relevance for others, perhaps it is because of what can be learned from our failures, as well as our successes. Communities around this country continually strive to ensure that our schools are places that teach tolerance, not bigotry, and are places that bring people together, not places that drive them apart.” “The more I learn about the plight of Roma, the more I am struck by certain parallels with the experience of American Indians here in our own country,” Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) said in prepared remarks. Chairman Campbell is currently the only American Indian serving in the U.S. Senate. “Increasingly, Roma have begun to raise their voices not in search of special treatment, but for an opportunity to freely exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination.” “Unfortunately, as clearly documented by various organizations, ethnic persecution and discrimination persist against the Roma in most nations in Europe,” said Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA). “Stereotypes of the Roma abound throughout Eastern and Western Europe. Unfortunately, there is not overwhelming evidence that the majority ethnic groups in Europe desire to help end these stereotypes and the racism that does exist.” The hearing featured the testimony of Her Excellency Elena Borislavova Poptodorova, Ambassador of Bulgaria to the United States of America; Nicolae Gheorghe, Section Head, Contact Point on Roma and Sinti Issues, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights; Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center; and Rumyan Russinov, Director, Roma Participation Project. The hearing highlighted the fact that a wide range of barriers currently exist that limit Romani access to education in a number of OSCE countries, from racist abuse inflicted on Roma by peers and teachers, to channeling Roma into separate, unequal schools. Human rights advocates stressed the need for political will and urged government leaders to acknowledge that barriers exist and should foster popular support for demolishing them. The OSCE remains an important forum for addressing Romani human rights issues, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The ODIHR continues to support initiatives to enhance voter education among Roma, work with interested governments on ways to legalize Romani settlements, and bring Roma and non-Roma policy makers together.

  • Romani Human Rights Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on Romani human rights issues. Romani Human Rights: Old Problems, New Possibilities OSCE Activities; Barriers to Romani Education; Recent Experiences in Bulgaria Tuesday, April 9, 2002 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Witnesses: Nicolae Gheorghe, Section Head, Contact Point on Roma and Sinti Issues, OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights H.E. Elena Borislavova Poptodorova, Ambassador of Bulgaria to the United States of America Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center Rumyan Russinov, Director, Roma Participation Project There are an estimated 10 million Roma around the world, with most concentrated in Central and Southern Europe. In 1999, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) appointed Nicolae Gheorghe to head its section dealing with Romani human rights issues. In 2000, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities issued a “Report on the Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area.” Government representatives and human rights activists alike argue that increasing Romani access to and participation in education is key to cutting the Gordian knot of problems they face. Mr. Gheorghe will discuss the on-going work of the OSCE with respect to Romani human rights issues. Ms. Petrova will discuss the barriers to Romani education in the region in general. Mr. Russinov will discuss the particular experience of Bulgaria. Ambassador Poptodorova will discuss her country’s approach to these issues.

  • Escalating Violence and Rights Violations in Central Asia Subject of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will conduct a briefing on human rights in Central Asia with a particular focus on Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The expert participants will also comment on the recent violence in Kyrgyzstan. Escalating Violence and Rights Violations in Central Asia Thursday, March 28, 2002 2:15 PM – 3:30 PM 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Panelists: Vitaly Ponomaryov, Director, Central Asia Program, Memorial Human Rights Center Atanzar Arifov, General Secretary of Uzbekistan’s Erk party and former political prisoner Pulat Akhunov, Director, Central Asian Association of Sweden and former political prisoner Abdusalom Ergashev, Head, Ferghana Branch, Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan The people of Kyrgyzstan, suppressed by their Government, signaled this week that tensions are coming to a head when protests escalated into violent clashes with police. In an unprecedented outburst of violence on March 17, six people were killed and scores wounded when police opened fire on demonstrators. The United States is in Central Asia to make sure terrorists cannot use the region to plan attacks on us or recruit new members. But all the region’s states are led by men determined to stay in power indefinitely. This means they cannot allow society to challenge the state, which, in turn, insures that discontented, impoverished people with no other outlets could well be attracted by radical ideologies.

  • Commissioners Spearhead Passage of Resolution on Ukraine

    WASHINGTON- The United States Senate and House of Representatives passed resolutions this week urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31, 2002, parliamentary elections. The resolutions stress that Ukraine stands at a critical point in its development to a fully democratic society, and the March 31 parliamentary elections will play a significant role in demonstrating whether the nation continues to proceed on the path to democracy or experiences setbacks in its democratic development. “Ukraine's success as an independent, democratic state is vital to the stability and security in Europe, and that country has, over the last decade, enjoyed a strong relationship with the United States,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) who sponsored the measure in the United States Senate. “The Helsinki Commission has monitored closely the situation in Ukraine and has a long record of support for the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for human rights and democratic freedoms,” noted Campbell. “It is important to underscore the reason for this congressional interest in Ukraine,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), an original cosponsor of the House version. “The clear and simple reason: an independent, democratic, and economically stable Ukraine is vital to the stability and security of Europe, and we want to encourage Ukraine in realizing its own often-stated goal of integration into Europe.” “It is my hope that this resolution will send a clear message to the Government of Ukraine that the U.S. Congress will not simply rubber stamp funding requests for Ukraine without also considering the serious issues involved in Ukraine’s democratic development,” said Commissioner Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) who sponsored H.Res. 339 in the House. The House and Senate resolutions also state that the Government of Ukraine can demonstrate its commitment to democracy by conducting a genuinely free and fair parliamentary election process, in which all candidates have access to news outlets. The resolutions note that in recent years, incidents of government corruption and harassment of the media have raised concerns about the commitment of the Government of Ukraine to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. The case of murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze is also addressed in the resolutions. Helsinki Commission Members co-sponsoring the Senate resolution, S.Res. 205, include Senators Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). Commissioners co-sponsoring the resolution in the House were Reps. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).

  • Karimov Receives Helsinki Commission Letter on Uzbekistan's Human Rights Violations

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) on Wednesday personally delivered a letter to Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov during a meeting with congressional leaders in Washington, urging him to confront human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. President Karimov received the letter, signed by eight Members of the Helsinki Commission, during Karimov’s meeting with Speaker of the House Rep. J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other Members of Congress. During the meeting, Co-Chairman Smith pressed Karimov to examine the cases mentioned in the letter, and take steps to ensure that his government end the use of torture. Smith said that relatives in the U.S. have contacted the Helsinki Commission asking for intercession with President Karimov on behalf of their imprisoned and tortured family members. Smith also noted that the State Department, in its most recent Country Report on Human Rights Practices, concluded that torture is widespread in Uzbekistan. Smith also urged Karimov to work with the U.S., in a spirit of cooperation, to eradicate the use of torture. Almost ten years after Uzbekistan joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, thousands of individuals there have been arrested and subjected to torture for allegations related to their religious beliefs. Others have been singled out for their writings, while individuals affiliated with the political opposition have faced torture and imprisonment. Co-Chairman Smith highlighted for President Karimov the cases of Mamadali Makhmudov and the Bekjanov brothers. In August 1999, Makhmudov, a writer and poet, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for insulting the President, his membership in an illegal organization and allegations of trying to overthrow the constitutional order. There have been many credible reports that Makhmudov has been tortured while in detention, before and after his sentencing. Three brothers of Mohammad Solih, leader-in-exile of the opposition Erk party, were convicted and jailed for alleged involvement in terrorism and other crimes. But there is reason to believe that Solih’s brothers, Kamil, Rashid and Muhammad, have been in prison because they are brothers of the political opposition leader. Family members indicate that the three brothers have been tortured in prison. Rashid Bekjanov has had an eye knocked out, Kamil Bekjanov’s nails have been torn out, and Muhammad’s teeth and one leg have been broken. President Karimov said he would look into the cases raised by Co-Chairman Smith and the human rights concerns mentioned in the letter. Karimov admitted that torture does take place in Uzbekistan and that he will work on correcting the matter. The President then invited Co-Chairman Smith to visit Uzbekistan. Signing the letter to Karimov were Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) and Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY). “The ongoing and systematic abuses by Uzbek authorities against Muslims, which has been well documented by non-governmental organizations and the U.S. Department of State, are especially troubling,” the Commissioners wrote. “It is currently estimated that over 7,000 individuals are jailed for alleged crimes related to their religious affiliation or beliefs. Once in custody, many held in incommunicado detention are reportedly tortured and beaten in hopes of securing self-incriminating statements or evidence against other suspects or simply disappear.” “Also of serious concern are the extrajudicial executions that occurred over the past year. Human rights organizations have reported on the deaths of at least five individuals while in police custody,” the letter continues. “Despite some Uzbek Government reports listing the cause of death as ‘heart attack’ or ‘brain tumor,’ the open wounds, broken bones and multiple bruises on the corpses tell a very different story. We urge you to give priority attention to ending such practices and bringing those responsible to justice.”  

  • Karimov Urged to Confront Uzbekistan’s Human Rights Record

    WASHINGTON - Eight Members of the United States Helsinki Commission have written a letter to the President of Uzbekistan on the eve of his visit with President George W. Bush in Washington urging him to confront the human rights abuses in his own country. “We write in anticipation of your upcoming visit to the United States, to convey our deep concern over ongoing human rights violations in the Republic of Uzbekistan,” the Commissioners wrote to President Islam Karimov. Signing the letter to Karimov were Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Senator Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN) and Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY). “The ongoing and systematic abuses by Uzbek authorities against Muslims, which has been well documented by non-governmental organizations and the U.S. Department of State, are especially troubling,” the Commissioners wrote. “It is currently estimated that over 7,000 individuals are jailed for alleged crimes related to their religious affiliation or beliefs. Once in custody, many held in incommunicado detention are reportedly tortured and beaten in hopes of securing self-incriminating statements or evidence against other suspects or simply disappear.” “Also of serious concern are the extrajudicial executions that occurred over the past year. Human rights organizations have reported on the deaths of at least five individuals while in police custody,” the letter continues. “Despite some Uzbek Government reports listing the cause of death as ‘heart attack’ or ‘brain tumor,’ the open wounds, broken bones and multiple bruises on the corpses tell a very different story. We urge you to give priority attention to ending such practices and bringing those responsible to justice.” The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on U.S. policy in Central Asia and human rights concerns in the region in advance of next week’s visit to Washington by the President of Uzbekistan. U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns Thursday, March 7, 2002 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM 2325 Rayburn House Office Building Panelists: Lawrence Uzzell, Director of the Oxford-based Keston Institute, former Washington correspondent for Scripps Howard newspapers Wayne Merry, Senior Associate at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington and Senior Fellow of the Pearson Peacekeeping Center in Nova Scotia, former State Department and Pentagon official Nina Shea, Commissioner, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom The impending arrival in Washington of Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov has focused even more attention on deepening U.S. engagement in Central Asia. U.S. Government officials have pledged to press Central Asian leaders for progress on human rights and democratization, as security-related assistance to the region increases significantly. Questions about Washington’s leverage now and in the foreseeable future as well as the prospects for improving the dismal human rights situation in the region will be discussed.  

  • Text of Letter from United States Helsinki Commission Members to President Karimov

    March 7, 2002 His Excellency Islam Karimov President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Tashkent, Uzbekistan Dear President Karimov: We write in anticipation of your upcoming visit to the United States, to convey our deep concern over ongoing human rights violations in the Republic of Uzbekistan. While the recent convictions against four police officers in Tashkent are welcome, systematic abuses by law enforcement authorities persist. The ongoing and systematic abuses by Uzbek authorities against Muslims, which has been well documented by non-governmental organizations and the U.S. Department of State, are especially troubling. It is currently estimated that over 7,000 individuals are jailed for alleged crimes related to their religious affiliation or beliefs. Once in custody, many held in incommunicado detention are reportedly tortured and beaten in hopes of securing self-incriminating statements or evidence against other suspects or simply disappear. Also of serious concern are the extrajudicial executions that occurred over the past year. Human rights organizations have reported on the deaths of at least five individuals while in police custody. Despite some Uzbek Government reports listing the cause of death as “heart attack” or “brain tumor,” the open wounds, broken bones and multiple bruises on the corpses tell a very different story. We urge you to give priority attention to ending such practices and bringing those responsible to justice. While the harassment, imprisonment and mistreatment of religious believers constitute the most urgent human rights concern in Uzbekistan, there are numerous others. Uzbek registration laws severely frustrate the ability of non-government organizations, including human rights and religious groups as well as media outlets to operate legally. The 1999 amendments to the Criminal Code, allowing for up to 20 years imprisonment for merely attending an “illegal” or “prohibited” religious group, are especially extreme. Overall, these laws and regulations have a chilling effect on Uzbek society, and we urge you to act to facilitate the registration of groups, including the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, in a manner consistent with OSCE commitments. Nearly a decade after Uzbekistan joined the OSCE, a pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of fundamental OSCE principles on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law continues. Against this backdrop, recent pronouncements out of Tashkent about a renewed commitment to address longstanding issues of democratization and human rights will continue to ring hollow unless they are matched by concrete deeds. Mr. President, we urge you to provide the necessary leadership to fulfill such promises.

  • Ukraine Parliamentary Elections Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    Washington - The United States Helsinki Commission will host a briefing on the upcoming parliamentary elections in Ukraine. Ukraine Parliamentary Elections Wednesday, February 27, 2002 10:00 AM – 12:00 Noon 340 Cannon House Office Building Ukraine will hold parliamentary elections on March 31, 2002. This election, which has generated considerable interest in the United States and Europe, will be an important indication as to whether Ukraine moves forward rather than backslides on the path of democratic development. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Commissioner Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) recently introduced identical resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the elections. Panelists: Ambassador William Green Miller, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Ambassador Nelson Ledsky, Regional Director, Eurasia, National Democratic Institute (NDI) Stephen B. Nix, Esq., Regional Program Director, Eurasia, International Republican Institute (IRI) Ambassador Miller and Mr. Nix have recently returned from Ukraine where they participated in delegations to assess the pre-election atmosphere. 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.

  • Court Decision on Moscow Salvation Army Welcomed

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) today welcomed the recent decision of the Russian Constitutional Court that upholds the right of the Salvation Army’s Moscow branch to function in the Russian Capital. According to the Moscow-based Slavic Center for Law and Justice, the Constitutional Court ruled February 7, 2002 that a previous court decision permitting city authorities to dissolve the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army was based on a misinterpretation of current law. “This is excellent news,” Smith said, “not only for rule of law in Russia, but for the Russian people themselves. Now the Salvation Army of Moscow will be able to continue with its mission – caring for the poor and underprivileged of the city.” "I welcome and commend this important step towards upholding and protecting rule of law and human rights in Russia,” said Commissioner Pitts. “The Salvation Army is an internationally-recognized organization that effectively serves those in need in a number of countries around the world." An earlier appeals court decision had ruled that Moscow authorities had acted appropriately in ordering the "liquidation” of the Moscow branch after the city government refused to register the Salvation Army as a religious organization under provisions of Russia’s 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, allegedly due to a minor technicality in the application for registration. During an October 2001 Helsinki Commission briefing devoted to registration of religious organizations in OSCE member states, the head of the Moscow branch of the Salvation Army, Col. Kenneth Baillie, commended the cooperative relation that the Salvation Army enjoyed with federal authorities, but regretted “the embarrassment and ill will the Moscow situation has brought upon Russia,” and expressed his desire to have good relationships in Moscow. The Salvation Army currently operates in 80 countries and numerous other cities in the Russian Federation.

  • Jailed Pastor Released in Turkmenistan, But Systematic Abuses Persist

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission members today expressed gratitude for the release of imprisoned Baptist Shagildy Atakov, but remained cautious about Turkmenistan’s progress toward meeting its human rights commitments to the Helsinki Final Act. Baptist pastor Shagildy Atakov was reportedly freed on January 8, 2002, after three years in prison under fabricated charges of “fraud.” Last year, three members of the Helsinki Commission twice met with Turkmenistan’s ambassador and called for Atakov’s release. In their December meeting with Ambassador Meret Orazov, the three Commissioners reiterated their call for Atakov’s unconditional release. Commissioners meeting with Ambassador Orazov were Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL). “With the Commission having first raised this issue since early in 2000, I am very pleased the Government of Turkmenistan made this decision,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “However, this doesn’t signify the end of Turkmenistan’s work to promote human rights and religious freedom, but merely the beginning.” Mr. Smith added, “The fact that Atakov was imprisoned for three years demonstrates Turkmenistan’s profound contempt for its human rights commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).” Mr. Pitts stated, “While I certainly believe Atakov’s release is a good thing, he is clearly someone who should not have been imprisoned in the first place.” He continued, “Until the Turkmen Government decides to honor all of its OSCE commitments and makes upholding human rights for all individuals a priority, I’m afraid other innocent people will continue to suffer.” Added Mr. Aderholt, “In our meeting with the ambassador, we also raised other cases of people unjustly imprisoned, and yet they continue to languish in jail. Despite Atakov’s apparent release, the situation for human rights and religious freedom remains poor.” In addition, numerous Jehovah’s Witnesses have been jailed for conscientious objection or for refusing to pledge allegiance to President Niyazov. Also, Mukhamed Aimuradov, sentenced to 15 years in a maximum security labor camp in 1995, remains imprisoned. He was originally charged with plotting to overthrow the government and kill President Niyazov. In 1998, the government initiated new charges against him for allegedly attempting to escape, and he was sentenced to an additional 18-year term. Imprisoned since 1999, Atakov was arrested on December 18, 1998 at his home in Turkmenbashi on trumped-up charges of “fraud.” On March 19, 1999, Atakov was fined $12,000 - the average monthly wage in Turkmenistan is about $30 - and sentenced to two years in prison. During his time in prison, Atakov was subjected to brutal beatings and torture by prison officials, placed in “punishment” cells, and sent to labor camps, according to credible sources. In addition, both he and his family have been pressured to renounce their religious faith. Notably, Atakov’s situation is not completely resolved. According to reports, he has yet to receive his release certificate and all his identity papers, making the full terms of his release unknown. It is therefore unclear whether he received full clemency, a conditional release or merely parole. Turkmen authorities offered to release Atakov in May 2001, but only if he emigrated with his family to another country. He refused and remained jailed. “With the full details still unclear, I want to reiterate our call for his unconditional release,” declared Rep. Smith. “As I told Ambassador Orazov in our December meeting, human rights are the only barrier between the United States and Turkmenistan for Permanent Normal Trade Relations.” Overall, under President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov, serious human rights violations persist in Turkmenistan, a country that joined the OSCE in 1992. Government security forces have recently raided several Protestant churches, due to their lack of registration. Yet registration requirements are too burdensome for small faith communities to fulfill, placing them in a “catch-22.” Consequently, only Sunni Islam and the Russian Orthodox Church are allowed to legally operate, albeit under heavy state control. In the past two months, security forces have raided several Protestant churches meeting in private apartments, interrogating and fining individuals present. Most recently, in December 2001, the government made good on its threat, evicting an individual from her flat for hosting a Seventh-Day Adventist meeting. The government has threatened others with similar treatment. In March 2000, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing entitled “The State of Democracy and Human Rights in Turkmenistan.” This and other related information can be found at the Commission’s website. 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.  

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