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

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  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Expresses Disappointment on Nikitin Delay

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) responded today to the most recent development in the case of Alexandr Nikitin, a former Russian Navy Captain and environmental activist whose legal ordeal has been prolonged indefinitely. "We respect and observe the principle of an independent judiciary and impartial operation of the judicial system, as stipulated by the Copenhagen Document of the OSCE,” Chairman Smith said. “The Russian Supreme Court has the right to set its schedule. However, it remains true that justice delayed is justice denied.” “The prosecution and the defense have had their day in court. We are disappointed that Mr. Nikitin's wait for justice continues, and we urge a final, just and timely resolution of this case," Chairman Smith added. Nikitin had been accused of obtaining and divulging “state secrets” in connection with his work with the Norwegian environmental organization “Bellona” in exposing harmful nuclear waste disposal practices by the Russian Navy in the White Sea region. Arrested in February 1996, he was held in pre-trial detention for ten months, and then released under the condition that he not leave St. Petersburg. In 1998, after several attempts by the St. Petersburg Procuracy and the Russian security services to produce a viable indictment, Nikitin’s first trial ended inconclusively, with the judge sending the case back for further investigation. He was finally acquitted in December 1999, a decision upheld by the Russian Supreme Court panel in April 2000. Alexandr Nikitin had been cleared of espionage charges by a three-judge panel of the Russian Supreme Court after four years of investigation and two trials. But such good news was short lived when prosecutors on July 19, 2000 filed an appeal to take the case to the full Supreme Court, one day before Mr. Nikitin testified at a Helsinki Commission briefing.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Remembers Romani Holocaust

    Washington - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today urged governments to do more to address the continuing human rights violations against Roma. Chairman Smith said that August 2nd and 3rd should be a special time to remember the Romani Holocaust. “From New York to Berlin to Auschwitz, August 2nd and 3rd are the days during which Roma gather to remember the tragedy that befell their people during World War II,” Chairman Smith said. “On that night, in 1944, the order was given to liquidate the Romani camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. In a single evening, 2,897 Romani men, women and children were killed in gas chambers.” “Much has changed for Roma over the last half century, of course, but not enough. The fact is, Roma still live in a world where walls built under police guard are euphemistically called ‘social hygiene measures,’ where pogroms are called ‘police actions,’ where public officials speak openly of a ‘Chinese solution’ to the birth of Romani children, and where Romani asylum seekers are, as an entire class, dismissed out of hand,” Smith continued. “Since the fall of communism, the countries where the greatest number of Roma live have allowed this situation to get progressively worse. From Nea Kios in Greece to Csor in Hungary, local authorities have sent the message that their Romani minorities are not welcome -- and national officials have stood by in shameful silence.” “I join with others in remembering the Roma who fell before the Swastika, the Iron Guard, the Arrow Cross, or other symbols of fascism. I hope that this day, however, will encourage governments to act as well as to reflect.” “As part of the Helsinki Commission’s ongoing effort to examine the plight of Roma more fully, we held a hearing on Romani human rights issues on June 8. Based on the testimony of our witnesses, there are two steps governments should take to turn around this state of affairs,” Chairman Smith said. “First, consistent with recommendations from the OSCE and the European Union, European countries that lack them should adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination laws to protect Roma from the discrimination they now face in public places, education, employment housing, and access to health care,” Chairman Smith added. “Second, governments must do far more to shoulder the responsibilities of leadership and, accordingly, unequivocally and publicly condemn anti-Roma manifestations, from acts of violence to statements of intolerance.” Statements from the Helsinki Commission’s June 8 hearing are available at the Helsinki Commission website. Background: Although the Roma were among those targeted for complete annihilation by the Nazis, 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, and policies similar to those instituted against Germany’s Jews were also implemented against Roma: race-based denial of the right to vote, selection for forced sterilization, loss of citizenship, incarceration in work or concentration camps, and, ultimately, deportation to, and annihilation at death camps. During the war itself, at least 23,000 Roma were brought to Auschwitz, and almost all of them perished in the gas chambers or from starvation, exhaustion, or disease. Some Roma also died at the hands of sadistic SS doctors, like Joseph Mengele. Elsewhere in German-occupied territory, Roma were frequently killed by special SS squads or even regular army units or police, often simply shot at the village’s edge and dumped into mass graves. Approximately 25,000 Roma from Romania were deported en masse to Transnistria in 1942; some 19,000 of them perished there. Although it has been very difficult to estimate both the size of the pre-war European Romani population and war-time losses, some scholars put the size of the Romani population in Germany and German-occupied territories at 942,000 and the number of Roma killed during the Holocaust at half a million. After World War II, the post-Nazi German Government strongly resisted redressing past wrongs committed against Roma, seeking to limit its accountability. In addition, Roma have been discriminated against in court proceedings and their testimony has often been viewed as, a priori, unreliable. The first German trial decision to recognize that Roma as well as Jews were the victims of genocide during the Third Reich was not held until 1991. Understanding of the nature and extent of Romani losses continues to expand, as new archival material becomes available and as a new generation of researchers begins to examine this part of the Holocaust. Earlier this year, the Czech Government completed the transfer to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum of copies of the Lety archives; these archives may be the only surviving complete records from a WWII concentration camp specifically established for Roma. Other chapters from the war-time period continue to open: • On Oct . 4, 1999, Dinko Sakic was sentenced to twenty years in prison by a Croatian court for his role in commanding a camp where 85,000 inmates, mostly Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croats, perished. • In March 2000, the Dutch Government agreed to pay $14 million in compensation to Dutch Roma for their treatment by the Dutch Government after World War II. (Jews and others also received compensation.) • Latvia is currently seeking the extradition of Konrads Kalejs from Australia for his alleged role in commanding a team responsible for the deaths of 30,000 Jews, Roma and communists.

  • Milosevic Reign of Terror in Yugoslavia Hindering Human Rights and Democracy, Witnesses Testify

    WASHINGTON – Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic continues his crackdown on the Serbian people while becoming an increasing threat to neighboring Montenegro, according to witnesses testifying before a Helsinki Commission hearing today. Witnesses testified of Milosevic’s repressive tactics just as news surfaced that a Serbian journalist was convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison for “espionage” after he wrote about Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. “Slobodan Milosevic is an obstacle to the freedom and liberty so rightfully deserving of the Serbian people,” Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) said. “This man continues destroying the lives of innocent citizens and the United States should consider ways to end his reign of terror.” “At the start of a new century, Milosevic continues to squelch the rights of the people of Serbia, and I would note that this includes but is not limited to Serbs,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “As we approach the end of the year, the situation appears particularly perilous as Milosevic intensifies his crackdown at home and threatens to destabilize neighboring Montenegro.” The Helsinki Commission hearing examined Milosevic’s recent efforts to perpetuate his power by forcing changes to the Yugoslav constitution and cracking down on opposition and independent forces in Serbia. The Milosevic regime is also threatening to usurp authority in Montenegro, with which Serbia comprises the Yugoslav Federation. Human Rights Watch researcher Bogdan Ivanisevic testified that “human rights violations in Serbia have been on the rise since autumn 1998, when the threat of war with NATO hung over the country. The repression intensified during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, and has risen still after the war ended.” Ivanisevic cited two reasons for the escalation. Milosevic has responded to a “decisive decline in public support” by stepping up harassment of his critics, Ivanisevic said. “Second, since relations between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Western countries have deteriorated in the wake of the NATO war, Yugoslav authorities are now indifferent to Western criticism, including criticism for human rights abuses.” Stojan Cerovic, a journalist with the Serbian weekly Vreme (Time) currently at the U.S. Institute of Peace, focused more specifically on the plight of the media, noting that the authorities seek to limit the media by cutting off supplies, including newsprint, making it difficult to publish. He predicted that as elections, just announced for September 24, approach, more violence, more pressure and more bans on independent activity can be expected. Cerovic eluded to the likelihood that Milosevic may feel the need to retain his personal power or otherwise stand trial on charges war crimes and crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. Branislav Canak, president of the independent trade union Nezavisnost (Independence), documented the violation of one human right after another -- from freedom of speech and travel to the right to work and live in peace. He noted that civic initiatives at the local level have failed because Milosevic’s regime and its supporters threaten to close down restaurants or other public facilities where such initiatives are scheduled to take place. David Dasic, head of the Washington-based Montenegrin Trade Mission to the United States, acknowledged that the rift between Montenegro and Belgrade was real but that Montenegrin authorities want a democratic and prosperous Yugoslavia. As a result, a favorable but delicate balance is being pursued, but Belgrade has passed constitutional amendments detrimental to the federation rather than respond to Montenegrin proposals made one year ago. The witnesses reported that the opposition could win elections if they are truly united, but the inability to have any control over the election process encourages them to boycott. If they do boycott, however, they will lose control of the many city governments in which they achieved majorities in 1996. Given the current situation, Montenegro sees no way it can participate in federal elections. Just as witnesses were testifying before the Helsinki Commission, reports were surfacing of two developments in Yugoslavia which could deeply impact human rights in the region - the conviction of a journalist and Milosevic’s announcement of Yugoslavia’s September 24 elections. Serbian journalist Miroslav Filipovic was sentenced by a Yugoslav military court to seven years in prison for “espionage” and “spreading false information,” according to one report. Filipovic was charged after reporting news about Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. “Filipovic faces years of prison for exercising his right to freedom of expression,” Chairman Smith said. “The truth about what has happened in and to Serbia in the last 12 years is Milosevic's worst enemy, and telling the truth has become very dangerous in Serbia as a result. This is a sad reality which Filipovic and the people of Serbia do not deserve.” “I call for Miroslav Filipovic's immediate and unconditional release, with all charges dropped, and for those in power in Belgrade to allow Serbia's tradition of intellectual dialogue and debate to be restored, in the schools and at the universities, in the press and on the air," Chairman Smith added.

  • Freedom of Religion Remains in Peril

    WASHINGTON – Governments are still imposing restrictions on individual religious liberties, despite a prior agreement to curtail anti-religious laws and governmental practices designed to prevent people from practicing or expressing their religious beliefs, according to panelists at today’s Helsinki Commission briefing on religious liberty. At a Capitol Hill briefing today, the Helsinki Commission formally released an in-depth study examining the religious liberties laws and constitutional provisions of twelve countries: Austria, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, the United States, and Uzbekistan. The report documents a “frightening” trend in France to limit an individual’s right to freely express religious views or participate in religious activities according to one Library of Congress researcher who, as part of a team of legal experts, has spent nearly two years compiling information for the report. The lower house of the French parliament last month passed a law creating the new crime of “mental manipulation” and established civil and criminal penalties for activities by religious or philosophical groups that government officials have deemed unacceptable. “This is the latest French parliamentary action to threaten the religious liberty of French citizens,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “I have urged the French Parliament to abandon this course of action.” France is not alone in its zeal to curtail citizens’ religious activities. Greece had implemented a policy requiring one’s religious affiliation to be listed on government-issued identification cards. But in a welcomed development, that policy was recently rescinded. Such a scheme to identify members of groups left minority religious groups in Greece vulnerable, not only in their homeland, but wherever else they may have traveled, Smith said. “I commend the Greek Government’s decision to abandon that policy,” Smith added. Chairman Smith added that religious liberty conditions in Turkey remain in question, along with those of other OSCE countries included in the report. “In Turkey, various raids on Protestant groups over the last year and the continuing conflict over the closure of the Greek Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki indicate serious issues of religious discrimination in that country,” Smith noted. The Helsinki Commission requested the Law Library of Congress to prepare a comparative study of legal systems in selected participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the effect of those laws on religious liberty. The countries were selected for their diverse geography, history and religious communities. The study is the culmination of research by legal experts from the Law Library of Congress, and the Congressional Research Service. The project was inspired by the agreement of OSCE participating States to “ensure that their laws, regulations, practices and policies conform with their obligation under international law and are brought into harmony with the provisions of the Declaration on Principles and other OSCE commitments.” The study is available to the public in order to further understanding of various legal approaches to religious liberty issues and encourage compliance with relevant OSCE commitments. Copies of the report can be obtained by calling the Helsinki Commission office or by downloading the document from www.house.gov/csce. The presentations, made by several Library researchers, which summarize the study’s reports on France, the Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine, the United States and Uzbekistan may also be downloaded from the Commission’s web site.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Urges Clinton to Raise Nikitin Persecution in G-8 Summit with Putin

    WASHINGTON - Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today urged President Bill Clinton to raise with Russian President Vladimir Putin the persecution of a former Russian Navy officer accused of obtaining and divulging “state secrets” in connection with his work exposing harmful nuclear waste disposal practices by the Russian Navy. Alexandr Nikitin, the former Russian Navy Captain and environmental activist, had been cleared of espionage charges by a three-judge panel of the Russian Supreme Court after four years of investigation and two trials. But such good news was short lived when prosecutors on Wednesday filed an appeal to take the case to the full Supreme Court. “This is persecution, not prosecution,” Chairman Smith said today at a congressional briefing where Nikitin detailed his legal ordeal. “President Clinton will have the perfect opportunity to raise Mr. Nikitin’s case tomorrow with President Putin when the two are together in Okinawa, Japan for the G-8 summit meeting.” Nikitin had been accused of obtaining and divulging “state secrets” in connection with his work with the Norwegian environmental organization “Bellona” in exposing harmful nuclear waste disposal practices by the Russian Navy in the White Sea region. Arrested in February 1996, he was held in pre-trial detention for ten months, and then released under the condition that he not leave St. Petersburg. In 1998, after several attempts by the St. Petersburg Procuracy and the Russian security services to produce a viable indictment, Nikitin’s first trial ended inconclusively, with the judge sending the case back for further investigation. He was finally acquitted in December 1999, a decision upheld by the Russian Supreme Court panel in April 2000. While in detention in 1996, Nikitin was awarded the Goldman Prize for Environmental heroism. Chairman Smith met with Nikitin in St. Petersburg in 1999 during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. Chairman Smith also discussed Nikitin’s case with Russian parliamentarians during the Assembly. Nikitin is currently director of the Environmental Rights Center in St. Petersburg.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Succeeds with Passage of OSCE Resolution Honoring 25th Anniversary of Helsinki Final Act

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) on Monday won passage of a resolution marking the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act during the annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. The resolution recalled the importance of the Helsinki process in promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law within the 54 countries that participate in the OSCE. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was held July 6 - 10, 2000 in Bucharest, Romania and included 249 parliamentarians from throughout the OSCE region. The resolution also highlights the critical role of human rights advocates, both historically and today, in pushing governments to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. The resolution specifically recognized that some human rights defenders have been the target of retribution for their efforts to expose human rights abuses throughout Europe, while others have died as a result of their efforts to promote human rights. "It is an honor to recognize the human rights defenders who serve to defend victims of human rights abuses only to become victims themselves, thanks to the willingness of some political leaders to look the other way in the face of blatant injustice," Smith said. According to Smith, examples can be found in several OSCE countries of human rights advocates and attorneys, who are facing, or have faced, the problems described in the resolution. To illustrate this point, Smith described cases in Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan where human rights attorneys or members of non-governmental organizations have faced harassment, intimidation or violence as a result of their human rights activities and related criticism of their respective governments. Smith cited two cases in Northern Ireland in which prominent defense attorneys were murdered because of their efforts to ensure respect for their clients' due process rights and other human rights. In one case, Northern Ireland defense attorney Rosemary Nelson – a wife and mother of three young children – was murdered by a loyalist paramilitary group in a car bomb explosion on March 15, 1999. Ten years earlier, defense attorney Patrick Finucane was also murdered in his home by loyalist paramilitaries. Both attorneys were widely known in Belfast due to their legal representation of Catholic clients in politically sensitive cases. Both attorneys reported that members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)-the Northern Ireland police force-made death threats against them while interviewing the attorneys' clients without their attorneys present. Several human rights groups have alleged, and documented, that the circumstances surrounding the Nelson and Finucane murders strongly suggest collusion between members of the RUC, other British Government agents, and Loyalist paramilitaries in the murders. The British Government's efforts to investigate the murders and the allegations of collusion have been riddled with problems and questions. To date, no one has been successfully prosecuted for either Finucane or Nelson's murder. "Rosemary Nelson's murder was a cowardly act by those who are the enemies of peace and justice in Northern Ireland," Smith said. "Her death is a loss felt not just by her family and friends, but by all of us who advocate fundamental human rights." After a fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers found that "the RUC has engaged in activities which constitute intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference" with defense attorneys. The Special Rapporteur described these activities as "consistent and systematic." On March 15, 2000, the first anniversary of Rosemary Nelson's death, Nelson's family presented to the British Government a petition signed by 100,000 people calling for an independent judicial inquiry into the circumstances surrounding her death. The British Government has rejected this and numerous other calls – including legislation (H.Res. 128) passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in April, 1999 – for independent inquiries into the circumstances surrounding the murders. The resolution expresses the Parliamentary Assembly's concern "that human rights defenders, including human rights attorneys, who are engaged in promoting and defending human rights and fundamental freedoms in the OSCE region today have been the targets of detention, harassment, intimidation, specious legal obstacles and criminal prosecution and, in some instances, violence directed against them, and that human rights attorneys have been stripped of their licenses or threatened with disbarment." The resolution also suggests that "OSCE participating States must take steps to ensure the safety of human rights defenders and to hold accountable persons who are responsible for threatening, harassing or otherwise harming human rights defenders on account of their efforts to promote and defend human rights and fundamental freedoms."

  • Bi-partisan Congressional Letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin

    June 30, 2000 The Honorable Vladimir Putin President Kremlin Russian Federation Moscow Dear Mr. President: We call on you to use your good offices to allow Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent Andrey Babitsky to attend the ninth annual session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly which will be held on July 6-10th, 2000 in Bucharest, Romania. Mr. Babitsky has been awarded the OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy and has been asked by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to come to Bucharest to receive the prize on July 6th. But we understand that at present he cannot travel outside of Moscow because of an order from the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation. You have frequently spoken out in favor of the OSCE as the core instrument for the development of confidence and security in Europe. It would be most unfortunate if during the OSCE award ceremony, the parliamentary delegations from 54 countries attending these meetings had to be told that Mr. Babitsky could not be present because the Russian government is restricting his right to travel. We very much hope that the issue of Mr. Babitsky's travel to Bucharest will be resolved promptly and positively. Sincerely, Rep. Sam Gejedenson Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman Rep. Tom Lantos Rep. William D. Delahunt Rep. Howard L. Berman Rep. Robert Wexler Rep. Gary L. Ackerman Rep. Robert Menendez Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney Rep. Henry A. Waxman Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney Rep. Christopher H. Smith Rep. Steny H. Hoyer Rep. Alcee L. Hastings Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg cc: Gennady Seleznyov, Speaker of the Duma Head of Russian Federation delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

  • Russian Government Denounced for Babitsky Travel Restraints

    WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today denounced the Russian Government for refusing to allow a Russian journalist to attend a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) in Bucharest, Romania to accept an award for his journalistic heroism. “This is just another indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin is committed to punishing Andrei Babitsky for his courageous reports from Chechnya when Moscow wanted to silence him,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Smith, referring to the travel restrictions imposed on Radio Free Europe reporter Andrei Babitsky. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said, “This is yet another attempt to keep Mr. Babitsky from speaking freely about his experiences in Chechnya. It is clear that Russian officials are fearful their constituents could actually learn more about how their government operates.” As a result of his reporting from besieged Grozny last year, Babitsky was arrested for allegedly “participating in an armed formation.” He remains under investigation in Moscow where officials have prohibited him from leaving the country. Babitsky was recently awarded the OSCE PA prize for journalism, but due to restrictions placed on his travel, he will not attend the ceremony in Bucharest, scheduled for July 6. Chairman Smith and Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) nominated Babitsky for the OSCE PA Prize for Journalism and Democracy. There is growing concern among American lawmakers that Babitsky’s treatment and the arrest of media executive Vladimir Gusinsky are indicators that freedom of the press in Russia is deteriorating under Putin’s leadership. On Friday, Smith and Hoyer joined 17 of their congressional colleagues in a letter to Putin urging that Babitsky be allowed to travel to Bucharest to receive a journalism prize awarded during the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The letter was spearheaded by Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-CT), Ranking Member on the House International Relations Committee. “The treatment of Babitsky is only one of the many brazen and prominent examples of government pressure on media freedom and the Gusinsky case is another obvious example,” Chairman Smith said. “Further from the international spotlight, local authorities in Russia’s regions have been harassing and intimidating journalists who print what displeases the powers-that-be.” OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Helle Degn also recently appealed to the Russian Government to allow Babitsky to travel to Bucharest. The United States Senate and House of Representatives have passed resolutions citing the Russian Government’s mistreatment of Babitsky. Helsinki Commission Chairman Smith and other Delegates to the OSCE PA plan to raise the Babitsky case with Gennady Seleznyov, Speaker of the Duma during meetings in Bucharest this week.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Decries Torture of Uzbek Writer

    WASHINGTON - Helsinki Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) called on Uzbek authorities today to permit international observers to meet with an Uzbek writer jailed and tortured for allegedly trying to overturn the state’s constitutional order and insulting the country’s President. Mamadali Makhmudov, a renowned writer who has received international awards for his work, was convicted in August 1999 in a trial marred by violations of due process. Charged with trying to overthrow the constitutional order, membership in illegal organizations, and insulting President Islam Karimov, Makhmudov was sentenced to fourteen years in jail. Chairman Smith said, “Mamadali Makhmudov is languishing in an Uzbek prison known as ‘the place from which no one returns.’ According to credible reports, he has been repeatedly tortured: his fingernails and toenails have been torn out, he has been beaten in the kidneys, he has lost weight and is dangerously ill. There is now serious reason to fear that Mr. Makhmudov will not survive his mistreatment.” During his trial, Makhmudov managed to convey information about his torture in detention: “In the basement, they regularly beat me … they burned my legs and arms. They put a mask on me and cut off the air and hung me up by my hands. They told me they were holding my wife and daughters and threatened to rape them,” the PEN Writers in Prison Committee quotes Makhmudov as saying. “Uzbek authorities have denied that Mr. Makhmudov is being tortured,” Smith said. “But, thus far, they have also denied independent international observers, including independent doctors, the chance to meet with him and validate the Uzbek Government’s assertions.” “The Uzbek authorities are responsible for what happens to Mr. Makhmudov,” continued Smith. “If they want to convince the international community that he is not being tortured, then they should immediately permit him to meet with independent observers.” Smith suggested that Amnesty International, Doctors without Borders, Human Rights Watch, or Physicians for Human Rights should be given access to Makhmudov. Smith added that the U.S. and other embassies in Tashkent, as well as representatives of international organizations such as the OSCE officials, should also be allowed to meet with Makhmudov. Background: Uzbekistan’s Government tolerates no opposition parties, represses all forms of dissent and has refused to register any independent human rights organizations. At a March 2000 OSCE meeting on torture, Uzbekistan was condemned by non-governmental representatives for systematic torture, often targeted at critics of the regime or members of religious minorities. Stephen R. Sestanovich, Ambassador at Large and Special Adviser to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States, is expected to travel to Uzbekistan in July. In October 1999, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on the situation in Uzbekistan.

  • Helsinki Commission Panel Reports on Torture in Chechnya and Turkey

    WASHINGTON - Torture, including sawing off teeth, remains a widespread abuse in some countries according to panelists at a briefing today of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission). In advance of the U.N. International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture (June 26), the Helsinki Commission heard reports on the use of torture in Turkey and Chechnya. At an OSCE Summit of Heads of State and Government held last November in Istanbul, Turkey and Russia and the other OSCE Participating States committed themselves to “eradicating torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.” Despite the countries’ commitments, however, panelists said torture remains a widespread human rights problem. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) said the issue of torture is one of long-standing concern to the Commission. “We have addressed it at numerous Commission hearings and briefings. We have raised it at OSCE implementation meetings. We urged inclusion of language on torture adopted by the OSCE Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Istanbul last November,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, in spite of these efforts, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every single OSCE country, including the United States,” Smith added. “There is no OSCE country that does not have some instances of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” Chairman Smith was the principal sponsor of the Torture Victims Relief Act and subsequent re-authorization bills authorizing $106 million over 5 years and signed into law by President Clinton. Helsinki Commission member Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) said, “It is vital that we as a nation, as a government, and as Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe do all we can to stop torture throughout the world. I give my pledge to help end these human rights violations as soon as possible.” According to the Denmark-based International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims’ Dr. Inge Genefke, the Turkish Government has ignored many complaints by torture victims. Genefke cited a report by the Turkish Parliament’s human rights commission which documented widespread use of torture. “The victims stated they did not complain to the government or to the courts since very few complaints are acted upon,” Genefke said, adding that “this is the first time an official [Turkish] government body has admitted to the widespread practice of torture.” “When a party is out of power, it opposes the use of torture. But when it is in power it tends to deny or condone the practice,” Genefke said. Amnesty International’s Maureen Greenwood noted that there is a problem with torture and ill-treatment in Russia in general, but described the situation in Chechnya as “out of control” and “indicates a new level of the problem of torture in Russia, including new types of torture that Amnesty has not previously recorded such as the filing of teeth with a metal saw.” “Despite recent Russian Government assurances that all crimes against civilians will be investigated, the perpetrators remain unpunished,” Greenwood said. “Responding to the current level of torture and ill-treatment is a test of the professionalism and the military competence of the Russian armed forces and security forces. They are failing miserably,” she concluded. Douglas A. Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for Victims of Torture, said the remedy to government sanctioned torture lies in the willingness of leaders world-wide to combat the issue up-front. “Torture exists in highly complex systems, and is reinforced by police training and impunity, prosecutorial zeal, political revenge and fears, corrupt or inefficient judiciaries, public attitudes and apathy, even apathy caused by fear,” Johnson said. “The use of torture will not yield to individual tactics, no matter how well conceived or pushed by governments, by non-government organizations, or by international agencies.” Johnson also underscored the role of treatment centers for torture survivors as tools to help “restore the dignity of the human spirit.” Although OSCE countries committed, in the November 1999 summit agreement, to assist torture victims, Johnson noted that there are no rehabilitation centers in Central Asia or the Caucusas. Moreover, he said that some existing centers may be in danger of losing their funding, such as the center in Romania. “Thus, the need is more urgent to find a resource for financial and political support from the West to develop and sustain new treatment centers if we are to meet the recommendations of numerous OSCE meetings on the subject.”

  • Senators Urge Albright Meeting with Belarus Opposition Party Leaders

    WASHINGTON - Two leading United States Senators have written to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, asking her to meet with Anatol Lebedka, head of Belarus’ United Civic Party and other opposition leaders, as a sign of support for those seeking to overcome the legacy of communism and authoritarianism. Albright is scheduled to participate in the June 25 - 27, 2000 Community of Democracies meeting in Warsaw, Poland where Solidarity figures faced similar political struggles in the early 1980s. “Given the deterioration of human rights in Belarus and in particular repressive measures against the opposition, support for democratic forces in Belarus is more pressing than ever,” the Senators wrote. In a letter last week to the Secretary of State, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Baltic Caucus Co-Chair Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL) urged Albright to meet with Lebedka and his colleagues during the upcoming Community of Democracies meeting in Warsaw, Poland. “The Belarus opposition deserves both our moral and material support as they seek to overcome the legacy of communism and authoritarianism and build a democratic society firmly rooted in the rule of law,” the letter reads. “Your meeting with these courageous individuals would send a clear signal of U.S. commitment to the beleaguered democratic forces in Belarus.” The Community of Democracies meeting, a joint effort of the Governments of Poland, the Czech Republic, Chile, the Republic of Korea, India, Mali and the United States, will bring together representatives of many countries to discuss ways of expanding international cooperation to strengthen democratic governance. Campbell and Durbin believe that a meeting between Albright and opposition leaders, including Lebedka, would be “particularly timely given ominous threats recently issued by Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenka against the democratic opposition.” “We remain very concerned about the personal safety of Mr. Lebedka and other Belarusian opposition leaders,” the letter reads. “Belarus, under Lukashenka, has abandoned the democratic path and slipped toward dictatorship.”

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Decries Russian Media Figure's Arrest

    WASHINGTON – The Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) characterized today’s arrest of Russian independent media magnate Vladimir Gusinsky as an alarming step by Russian authorities that will have a further chilling effect on media freedom in Russia. Smith cited the arrest as the latest in a series of incidents documenting the downward trend in Russia’s human rights picture under President Putin’s watch. Putin has repeatedly stated his intentions to establish a “dictatorship of law” in Russia. “I find it difficult to believe that Mr. Gusinsky would have been arrested if his media outlets had not been critical of government policies and some of the figures within the Putin administration,” Smith said. “This act is part of an all-out assault against the most prominent remaining independent media organizations in Russia. This is a very disturbing development.” Gusinsky, whose electronic and print media outlets have criticized various government policies and leveled charges of corruption within the Putin administration, was arrested today on charges of stealing government property. He is being held at Butyrka Prison in Moscow. On May 11 of this year, government officials raided the NTV office and the headquarters of Gusinsky’s holding company, Media-Most. On May 23, 2000, the Helsinki Commission held congressional hearings on the human rights picture under the Putin administration. Among the witnesses was Igor Malashenko, first deputy chairman of Media-Most. In his testimony, Malashenko called the raid on Media-Most and NTV “vengeance for material already published or aired” and “an act of intimidation to prevent further investigative reporting by the media not only in Moscow [but] all over the country.” Other witnesses at the hearing noted similar moves by national and regional authorities to intimidate independent media and non-governmental organizations. Testimony documenting human rights abuses under Putin’s watch are available on the Helsinki Commission’s web site: www.csce.gov.

  • Members Call for Arrest of Indicted War Criminals

    WASHINGTON - There has been insufficient progress in implementing the Dayton Agreement, according to members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) in a hearing Tuesday reviewing Bosnia’s future under the agreement which, in late 1995, ended almost four years of conflict in that country, marked by aggression and ethnic cleansing. Helsinki Commission hearing participants called for the arrest and prosecution of those indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, including Bosnian Serb extremist leader Radovan Karadzic, his military sidekick Ratko Mladic and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the mastermind of the conflict. Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Army General Wesley K. Clark, told Helsinki Commissioners that the risks of apprehending individuals has been overestimated. Clark also called for further action as well as democratization in Serbia itself. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) said Dayton “was certainly a reason for relief, but there was no sense of triumph. Dayton involved compromises, including the division of the country into two entities and negotiating with Slobodan Milosevic, the person most responsible for instigating the conflict.” “Most of all, Dayton was late,” Smith said. “The world watched people lose their homes, lose their friends and relatives, and lose their lives. The international community can rightfully point to successes, albeit incremental steps. In my view, these successes are reason for hope, not for satisfaction.” In a prepared statement, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) expressed concern about the billions of dollars the United States has invested and the thousands of American troops stationed in Bosnia. Campbell, a former law enforcement officer, said corruption in the region is the single greatest obstacle to Dayton implementation. “The status quo is neither in the interest of the United States nor the Bosnian people,” Campbell added. “The leaders of Bosnia must take ownership for the future of their country.” “All the money and all the people we devote to Bosnia become meaningless if our policy falls short of doing the right thing,” added Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). Hoyer called for a “zero-option” for Bosnia. Such a plan would involve “zero displaced persons, zero barriers to safe internal movement for each citizen throughout the country, zero indicted persons at large, zero tolerance to discrimination based on ethnicity.” Representing the Clinton Administration, Ambassador James Pardew admitted that Dayton is a “cease-fire agreement” and “the basic framework for participatory democracy.” According to Pardew, the agreement left the war-time power structure in place and contains “negotiated compromises, which decentralize political, economic and military institutions below the state level to the entities,” namely the Bosnian Federation and Republika Srpska. Pardew added, however, that renegotiating the Dayton Agreement would only set back existing achievements and that is not in the United States’ best interest. Ambassador Robert Barry, head of the OSCE Mission in Bosnia, agreed. Some revisions to Dayton are desirable, Barry said. “But to change Dayton you have to implement it first, and through consistent implementation create the kind of consensus needed to make a constitutional amendment possible.” Barry said politicians need to be willing to build a consensus “patiently and persistently.” Barry said he is not satisfied with achievements so far, but felt that “the ice is breaking in Bosnia and Herzegovina” as a result of regular elections. Former Bosnian Prime Minister Dr. Haris Silajdzic took issue with continuing with Dayton as is. “The Agreement contains both integrative and disintegrative elements, and is not internally consistent,” Silajdzic said, adding that the agreement was the result of compromises made at the time of signature to bring an end to the war. Silajdzic also said the international community has shown “excessive tolerance towards the obstructive tactics of nationalist parties and individuals at all levels, consistently following the line of least resistance.” He called upon the international community to introduce “shock therapy” to ensure country-wide laws are passed and enforced ending corruption and ensuring respect for the rule of law and the rights of citizens, regardless of nationality. Tuzla Mayor Selim Beslagic concurred while calling Dayton a “wonderful means to stop the war.” “In the intervening years, much has happened,” Beslagic said. “As much as the Dayton Accords were effective against war, they have been problematic for the further development and reintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Beslagic said the Dayton Accords respected the results of ethnic cleansing. “We must revise Dayton. Bosnia and Herzegovina needs strong central organs.” Milan Trbojevic, an advisor to Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, called instead for more time to adjust to the new relationships which Dayton has afforded rather than revising the existing agreement. “We will require the presence of international military and police forces,” Trbojevic said. “We need international experts for the education of our human resources. We need financial support.” Helsinki Commissioners Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) both pressed strongly for war crimes prosecution. Rep. Wolf said that efforts at reconciliation across the board also need enhancement while Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), joined by Smith and Hoyer, pressed for the rebuilding of mosques destroyed by Bosnian Serb militants during the war which would have “tremendous spiritual and symbolic value.” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who is not a Commission member, nevertheless participated in the hearing to express concern over what he saw as an “open wound” in Bosnia-Herzegovina today. Many questions were raised regarding the return of displaced persons, especially in areas where there are minorities. Despite a recent upswing, the number of returns was universally considered to be way too low. Ambassador Barry added, however, that returns are not just a political question but an economic question as well. Displaced persons need a home and an income to survive, Barry said. Opening statements from the Commissioners and those submitted by the witnesses are available on the Helsinki Commission web site: www.csce.gov.

  • Anti-Discrimination Laws Needed, Witnesses Testify at Helsinki Commission Hearing on Roma

    Washington – Witnesses testified Thursday before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) that laws are needed to prevent discrimination against Roma, an ethnic minority present in almost every country in Europe. “Every single witness who has appeared before us today gave compelling arguments for anti-discrimination legislation, describing the refusal to serve Roma in public places, de facto segregated schooling, and job advertisements that openly solicit only non-Roma applicants,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “One witness described laws in Romania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria that are racially blind on their face, but which have heartbreaking effects on Romani families,” Smith added. “The fiction that comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation is not needed in Europe was dealt a mortal blow by our witnesses today.” Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), who also serves as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee Chairman drew parallels between the historic plight of Roma and Native Americans, which has included forced assimilation, forced migration and slaughter. He serves as the first American Indian elected to the United States Congress in more than 60 years. “Many Roma find themselves in societies where violence and other manifestations of racism run rampant and discrimination is something to be confronted daily,” Campbell said. “Such treatment - or more correctly, mistreatment - is easy as long as this segment of society remains a ‘silent majority’.” “But we Czech Roma will not remain passive in this process,” said Karolina Banomova, a Romani Czech who fled her native country to seek asylum in Canada in 1997. “Europe has become a continent of complicated and painful struggles by all Roma for their rights. This is similar to the situation of African-Americans in the 1950s and ‘60s, under the leadership of Martin Luther King,” she explained. Diane Orentlicher, a professor of law at American University who assisted in the research for a recently released report of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities’ report on Roma, emphasized the report’s central conclusion: “Discrimination and exclusion are fundamental features of the Roma experience.” Chairman Smith added, “A year ago, the Bulgarian Government took a courageous step forward and adopted a ‘Framework Program for Equal Integration for Roma in Bulgarian Society’ – a program that included a plan for the adoption of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law. Unfortunately, the government has failed to even draft such a law, let alone pass it. I hope the Bulgarian Government will not only fulfill the pledge it has made in that program, but in doing so, stand as a positive example for others.” Other witnesses testifying before the Helsinki Commission included Monika Horakova, a Member of Czech Republic Parliament; Open Society Institute consultant Celia-Dorina Zoon and Roma Participation Project Director Rumyan Russinov. European Roma Rights Center’s Angela Kocze also testified before the Commission. Opening statements submitted to the Commission from other witnesses are available on the Helsinki Commission web site.

  • Albright Urged to Ensure Personal Safety of Belarus Opposition Leaders

    WASHINGTON - Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) has written Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright voicing “grave concern about the personal safety of leading Belarusian opposition members” with whom he met recently in Washington. Campbell wrote the letter in light of news reports indicating that the Belarusian leader Aleksander Lukashenka threatened members of the opposition party after their meetings with Washington lawmakers in late May. “Similar threats were issued by President Lukashenka prior to the disappearance of a leading opposition figure last year,” Campbell wrote. Campbell was joined in the letter by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Baltic Caucus Co-Chair Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL). “The democratic opposition in Belarus deserves both our moral and material support as they seek to overcome the legacy of communism and authoritarianism and build a democratic society firmly rooted in the rule of law,” Campbell’s letter read. “Given the deterioration of human rights in Belarus and in particular repressive measures against the opposition, support for democratic forces in Belarus is more pressing than ever.” In their letter, the Senators called on Albright to release existing State Department program funds “to enhance assistance to the democratic forces in Belarus at this critical juncture.” The four Senators recently met in Washington with leading Belarusian opposition figures including Pavel Zhuk, chief editor of the independent newspaper "Nasha Svoboda"; Anatoly Lebedka, head of the United Civic Party; Dmitry Bondarenko, a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group; and Vintsuk Viachorka, head of the Belarusian Popular Front. “We therefore urge you to take all available steps to help ensure the personal safety of these Belarusian opposition leaders and to ensure that adequate resources are made available on an urgent basis to support those programs aimed at strengthening independent media, human rights, civil society, independent trade unions and the democratic opposition in Belarus,” Campbell added. The Commission has been active in promoting human rights and democracy in Belarus, and most recently held a hearing in March which featured Belarusian opposition leaders, including Mr. Lebedka. Campbell has met with Mr. Lebedka on several occasions and has actively supported him and other opposition leaders in their efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Belarus.

  • Congressmen Urge Albright to Rescind Kyrgyzstan Invitation to Democracy Meeting

    WASHINGTON - Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer have written a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, urging her to rescind the invitation to Kyrgyzstan to attend a Community of Democracies Ministerial Meeting in Warsaw June 25 - 27, 2000. The event, a joint effort of the governments of Poland, the Czech Republic, Chile, the Republic of Korea, India, Mali and the United States, will bring together representatives of many countries to discuss ways of expanding international cooperation to strengthen democratic governance. “In light of a series of anti-democratic actions by the government of Kyrgyzstan, it would be highly inappropriate for Bishkek to be invited to such a forum,” said Smith. The OSCE’s Warsaw-based Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights assessment of Kyrgyzstan’s February-March parliamentary election was extremely negative, specifically questioning the results of the election in the district where Felix Kulov, a leading opposition figure ran and -- according to the Central Election Commission -- lost to a government-backed candidate. The ODIHR election observation mission concluded that Kyrgyzstan’s authorities had deliberately manipulated the process to keep opposition activists, especially Kulov, from winning. After the election, Kulov was arrested and Kyrgyz officials plan to try him in a closed court. “The conduct of the election would have been reason enough to disinvite Kyrgyzstan,” said Smith. “But the arrest of Kulov, along with the subsequent sentence handed down to another opposition leader, Danyar Usenov, demonstrates clearly that president Askar Akaev is determined to remain in power indefinitely by excluding credible opposition contenders from October’s presidential election.” Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Steny H. Hoyer concurred: “Though Kyrgyzstan has been the most liberal and open of the Central Asian states, the February-March election marked a serious step towards authoritarianism. In aligning himself with the dictatorial practices of his neighbors, President Akaev is stifling hopes for democracy not only in Kyrgyzstan but in the entire region.” Smith and Hoyer concluded: “it is our strong conviction that allowing Kyrgyzstan to attend the Community of Democracies Ministerial while Felix Kulov is in jail and Danyar Usenov has been convicted and barred from participating in the election would be a serious mistake. If Bishkek is not disinvited, President Akaev will conclude that he can engage in such dictatorial behavior without losing his standing -- no longer appropriate, in any case -- as a leader committed to democracy. Opposition groups in Kyrgyzstan will despair of receiving help from the international community if Akaev's flagrant campaign to remain in power at all costs continues without repercussions. Finally, the credibility of the Community of Democracies Ministerial will be tainted by the inclusion of a leader whose own democratic credentials have steadily deteriorated.” Smith and Hoyer have sent simultaneous letters to President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic and Bronislaw Geremek, Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, urging them to rescind Kyrgyzstan’s invitation to attend the meeting in Warsaw.

  • Commissioners Outraged Over Lukashenka Threats Against Belarusian Opposition Leaders

    WASHINGTON – Commission on Security and Cooperation Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) today condemned remarks by Belarusian dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka threatening to punish the Belarusian opposition for “seeking money overseas” to overthrow his government and viewing them as security threats. His remarks come on the heels of last week’s visit to the U.S. by leading members of Belarus’ democratic opposition. The Belarusian opposition delegation, which met with Members of Congress, including Helsinki Commissioners, government officials and non-governmental organizations, consisted of Vintsuk Vyachorka, head of the Belarusian Popular Front; Anatol Lebedka, head of the United Civic Party; Pavel Zhuk, chief editor of "Nasha Svaboda," an independent newspaper; and Dmitry Bondarenko, a leader of the Charter-97 human rights group. Mr. Lebedka, who is also a member of Belarus’ legitimate parliament illegally disbanded by Lukashenka in 1996, recently testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing on the deterioration of human rights and democracy in Belarus. “Lukashenka’s latest outburst is yet another in a long list of threats or worse – including detentions or beatings – against those who dare to question his democratic legitimacy and criticize his suppression of human rights in their long-suffering country,” said Chairman Smith. “Opposition leaders have disappeared or been imprisoned, and the independent media has been harassed. If Mr. Lukashenka wants to create a climate of trust for the Fall parliamentary elections, as he apparently pledged to do yesterday, treating opposition members as security threats because of their meetings in Washington is outrageous.” Co-Chairman Campbell expressed grave concern about the personal safety of opposition members, noting the detention and beating of Mr. Lebedka following a March 25 pro-democracy demonstration in the Belarusian capital of Miensk, which was harshly suppressed by the authorities. “Instead of making threats against democratic activists, Mr. Lukashenka should be seeking to resolve the political and constitutional crisis in Belarus by respecting human rights and putting an end to the current climate of fear,” Campbell said. “This includes ceasing repressions of those who seek to bring democracy to Belarus. The democratic opposition in Belarus deserves both our moral and material support as they seek to overcome the legacy of communism and authoritarianism and build a democratic society firmly rooted in the rule of law.” Campbell stressed the ominous nature of the threats, given similar statements issued by Lukashenka prior to the disappearance of a leading opposition figure last year.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Condemns Russian Confiscation of Amnesty International Documents

    WASHINGTON - Russian customs officials seized documents concerning Chechnya owned by Amnesty International sparking criticism by the Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (known as the Helsinki Commission). The latest incident comes on the eve of President Bill Clinton’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today condemned the abuse of power by Russian customs officials and called on President Vladimir Putin’s customs authorities to return the documents seized from Amnesty International’s Russia researcher Mariana Katzarova. Ironically, Katzarova was en route to a seminar on “Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights in the North Caucasus” at the invitation of the Russian Government, according to Amnesty International. “By seizing these documents, without any likelihood of probable cause, Russian customs officials have added weight to speculation that the country’s leadership may indeed be returning to the old tactics of the Soviet Communist regime,” Chairman Smith said. “This is not an isolated incident, but part of a pattern of abuse, particularly surrounding the conduct of Russian forces in Chechnya.” “I call on Russian officials to immediately release the Amnesty International documents in order to prove to the Helsinki Commission, Amnesty International and the global community at large that President Vladimir Putin is truly committed to bringing an end to the most basic human rights abuses which are so prevalent in the country today,” Chairman Smith said. “Additionally, customs officials should implement procedures to ensure that such a blatant abuse of power is not repeated and make those procedures known to the public.” The seizure of Amnesty International documents came within days of the Russian police raid Thursday, May 11 on the Media-Most headquarters during which armed agents carted off boxes of tapes and documents. The news agency had criticized some members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration, as well as the government’s conduct in the continuing war in Chechnya. The raid sparked questions about Putin’s commitment to protecting human rights, in particular the right of free speech in a country struggling to build a democratic system. In an effort to determine the extent of human rights abuses under Putin’s new regime, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing last week during which witnesses testified that human rights in Russia are definitely in retreat under his leadership. Chairman Smith and other members of the Helsinki Commission heard testimony from Igor Malashenko, First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Media-Most and President of NTV in Moscow.

  • Azerbaijani Government Shifts Toward Opposition on Election Commission Issue

    WASHINGTON - Azerbaijani Government officials announced Thursday that Azerbaijan’s government has accepted in principle proposals to agree with the opposition about independent members of the Central Election Commission in advance of the November parliamentary election. The announcement was made during a hearing of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (better known as the Helsinki Commission). Azerbaijan’s Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev, accompanied by several experts who arrived from Baku for the hearing, said that negotiations between the sides, with the active mediation of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), would continue about the Central Election Commission and the election law. An ODIHR press release issued before the hearing noted that progress has been made on various contentious points but that more is needed for Azerbaijan’s election law to meet OSCE standards. In essence, the agreement allows either side to veto candidates put forward by the other side. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed appreciation for the government’s conciliatory gesture. “We welcome the announcement that government and opposition will both have to agree on independent members of the Central Elections Commission,” Chairman Smith said. “This step will promote the holding of an election that all sides in Azerbaijan see as fair.” Previous elections in Azerbaijan, which the OSCE has characterized as falling short of OSCE standards, have left a legacy of deep distrust between the government and the opposition. The upcoming election offers an opportunity to overcome that legacy. Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA) said, “It is essential for both sides to be involved in the election’s administration for the election to be considered fair. I support the ODIHR’s efforts to craft a compromise between the government and the opposition.” In addition to Ambassador Pashayev, former President and current Popular Front Chairman Abulfaz Elchibey also testified at the Helsinki Commission hearing, on “Elections, Democracy and Human Rights in Azerbaijan.” National Independence Party member Nazim Imanov, Mussavat Party Chairman and former Parliament Speaker Isa Gambar and Rasul Guliev, former Parliament Speaker and currently Co-Chairman of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party testified as well. During their testimony, recorded by a freelance camera man hired by the Azerbaijani Embassy, opposition leaders voiced concern that the video would be used to report only the comments reflecting positively on the government while excluding testimony unfavorable to the government. Chairman Smith replied that television reports should contain a full accounting of issues discussed before the Helsinki Commission. “I would hope the broadcast in Azerbaijan will show that this hearing was about our concerns about political prisoners and the lack of human rights,” Smith said. U.S. State Department officials Clifford Bond and Ambassador Daniel Fried also testified before the Helsinki Commission hearing.

  • Russian Human Rights in Retreat Under Putin's Watch, Witnesses Testify

    WASHINGTON – Human rights in Russia are definitely in retreat under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, according to witnesses who testified Tuesday in a hearing before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. CSCE Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and other members of the Commission heard testimony from Igor Malashenko, First Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of Media-Most and President of NTV in Moscow. Malashenko’s offices were the subject of the Russian Government raid, following an attack by armed government security agents on the Media-Most headquarters in Moscow. The raid sparked questions about Putin’s commitment to protecting human rights, in particular the right of free speech in a country struggling to build a democratic system. “They carted away documents, tapes, computer discs and equipment. Russian officials issued contradictory and unsatisfactory justifications for this raid. Whatever the rationale, however, it is clear that the forces involved in the operation were clearly disproportionate to any declared purpose,” according to Malashenko’s testimony. Chairman Smith expressed alarm over the Media-Most raid, suggesting the move is an indication that human rights in Russia are in retreat under Putin’s leadership. “There is growing concern, however, that Russia’s development in the area of human rights is taking a turn for the worse under recently-elected President Vladimir Putin,” Smith said. CSCE Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) expressed grave concern with recent actions taken by the authorities against independent media as well as the conduct of Russian forces in the ongoing war in Chechnya. Turning to the economic dimension, Campbell noted that remedy of Russia’s ailing economy will require President Putin to quickly get a handle on rampant corruption and continuing capital flight. “Following such a path, however, would put the Russian President on a collision course with Russia’s modern day robber barons, including some of the individuals instrumental in his rise to power,” said Campbell. “When I was in Russia last year as the Co-Chairman of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I met with American companies and heard first hand about the problems they were facing with corruption, crime and bureaucracy,” Campbell added. “Russia’s new leadership needs to address these problems to foster a more conducive climate for foreign investment.” Ranking Member Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) expressed outrage that the Russian defense minster had hosted the Serbian Defense Minister, recently indicted for war crimes by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. Helsinki Commission Member Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR) also participated in the hearing expressing interest in the alleged human rights abuses under Putin’s watch. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) called the raid against Media-Most, Corporation “a step in the wrong direction and seriously jeopardize the hope of democracy in Russia.” Former National Security Agency Director Lt. General (Ret.) William E. Odom also testified before the Commission in Tuesday’s hearing. Odom said the United States should not treat Russia as a major power, nor should the U.S. try to solve Russia’s problems through “ventriloquism.” Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) also was on hand to deliver a statement before the Commission, stressing the critical role of a free press in a truly democratic society. On Thursday, May 11, armed government security agents attacked the headquarters of Media-Most corporation and it’s subsidiary, the NTV television station, seizing what a security service spokesman claimed were illegally acquired tapes and transcripts of private conversations. NTV had criticized some members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s administration, as well as the government’s conduct in the continuing war in Chechnya. As a result of his reporting from besieged Grozny last year, Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky remains in Moscow under investigation for allegedly “participating in an armed formation.” Babitsky was recently awarded the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s journalism prize for journalism. Tufts University Assistant Professor of International Politics Dr. Sarah Mendelson also testified before the Commission. Mendelson said the treatment of Andrei Babitsky and the FSB raid on Media-Most should be seen as “part of a larger pattern of harassment that has grown steadily worse over the last year and a half.” Northwestern University Sociology Professor Georgi Derluguian testified that Putin faces an “uphill battle” to refurbish Russia’s status as a world power. “The political change in Russia since Putin’s appointment last August amounts to a successful coup carried out by formally constitutional means,” Derluguian said. “In the spirit of KGB culture, Putin gives every signal of being pragmatic and professionally loyal to the idea of the Russian state rather than any ideology. He now faces the uphill battle to consolidate the new regime and use its levers to restore Russia as a respectable world power.” Human Rights Watch Deputy Director Rachel Denber testified that in Grozny, “the graffiti on the walls reads ‘Welcome to Hell: Part Two.’ The bombing campaign has turned many parts of Chechnya to a wasteland even the most experienced war reporters we have spoken to told us they have never seen anything in their careers like the destruction of the capital Grozny.” Denber also described summary executions of civilians, including the death of three generations of one family shot to death in the yard of their own home. In written testimony submitted to the Commission, Babitsky said Chechens are often refused their civil rights because of their ethnicity. “On the entire territory of Russia, the Chechens today are deprived of their civil rights simply because of their ethnic membership,” Babitsky said. “No serious positive changes in this situation can take place as long as the authorities and public opinion conceive the Chechen nation as a threat to the existence of Russia.”

  • Azerbaijani Government is Committed to Hold Democratic Elections, Ambassador Assures Helsinki Commissioners

    WASHINGTON – Azerbaijani Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev has assured leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) that President Heydar Aliev is determined to hold democratic elections this year after scores of citizens were arrested and injured for speaking out against the incumbent government. In a series of meetings over the past week with Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Ambassador Pashayev discussed preparations for November's parliamentary election and the growing tensions in Azerbaijan between the government and the opposition. The discussions were arranged at the initiative of the Azerbaijani side. In fact, the Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on Elections, Democratization and Human Rights in Azerbaijan on Thursday, May 25. "The Helsinki Commission, which has carefully followed elections in Azerbaijan for the last decade, welcomed the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Pashayev," said Chairman Smith. "After several elections which did not meet OSCE standards, the November parliamentary election is critical to the further development of democratization in Azerbaijan, as well as the country's stability." On April 29, opposition parties demanding changes in the election law and the composition of the Central Election Commission organized unsanctioned rallies in Baku, in which scores were arrested and injured. Rep. Hoyer said, "The Commission is extremely concerned about the violent confrontations on April 29. Future rallies are planned, with the next one scheduled for May 20. It is imperative that freedom of assembly be safeguarded while Azerbaijan's authorities and opposition parties work out an arrangement that will avert potential clashes." Ambassador Pashayev assured Commission members that President Heydar Aliev is determined to hold democratic elections in November. He said that the authorities are willing to take opposition concerns into account and meet the opposition half way. Ambassador Pashayev expressed confidence that agreement would be reached on holding demonstrations and, with the intercession of the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a compromise will be found on the election law and the Central Election Commission. Rep. Pitts welcomed Ambassador Pashayev's assurances: "The experience of the past elections has resulted in deep distrust between opposition parties and the government. This election offers a chance to overcome that legacy and consolidate Azerbaijani society," he said. This week, ODIHR representatives will be in Baku for meetings with the authorities and opposition parties, and will offer suggestions about reforming the Central Election Commission. Chairman Smith said, "The Helsinki Commission will follow with keen interest the progress of the negotiations. We hope to see a parliamentary election in November that is free and fair, in which all sides can accept the official results."

  • Helsinki Commissioners Hail Passage of Legislation to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings

    WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives today adopted the “Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act”, a bill sponsored by Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), aimed at combating the buying and selling of human beings into the commercial sex industry, slavery, or slavery-like conditions. The bill had 37 cosponsors, including Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-CT) and Commissioner Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), and Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY). Last July, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the OSCE participating States to adopt or strengthen legislation and enforcement mechanisms which would punish those who forcibly or fraudulently recruit and transport individuals within or across borders in order to force them into the commercial sex industry. At a November 1999 Summit meeting, the OSCE participating States also pledged in the Charter for European Security to “undertake measures to…[end] all forms of trafficking in human beings” including “the adoption or strengthening of legislation to hold accountable persons responsible for these acts and strengthen[ing] the protection of victims.” "Trafficking in human beings is a form of modern day slavery," said Smith. "The international community has made it clear that lawmakers must declare war on those that commit these crimes. The House of Representatives today recognized that U.S. prosecutors need greater tools to convict and imprison criminals who traffic in human beings. The central principle behind this legislation is that anyone who knowingly profits from the most severe forms of trafficking should receive punishment commensurate with that given to those who commit other serious crimes, such as kidnaping or rape." "The Trafficking Victims Protection Act will strengthen U.S. laws and penalties against trafficking so that the United States will become the last place that traffickers want to commit their crimes. Enactment of the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act into law will represent a direct fulfillment of the OSCE human rights commitment made last November in Istanbul,” said Smith. “This legislation…will be helpful for those who are seeking a way out of situations that seem bleak, dark and hopeless,” said Rep. Wolf. “Developing this initiative has been a long and arduous process, ” said Rep. Slaughter, a member of the Helsinki Commission who has worked on the trafficking problem for six years. “But this is an issue that is important enough to cross both partisan and personality divides. It is also an issue that is not limited to one particular region of the world. In fact, in the wake of the discovery of a prostitution ring of trafficked women in Florida and the Carolinas, as well as a group of Thai garment workers held captive in California, we now know this is a problem that must also be dealt with in our own back yard. This legislation does that and more.” “It is time we stopped punishing the victims and wrist-slapping the real criminals,” said Rep. Pitts. “Sex traffickers destroy lives and it’s time we punished them accordingly.” The Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act allocates $95 million over two years to combat trafficking. In addition to authorizing severe punishment for persons convicted of operating trafficking enterprises in the United States, the legislation provides the possibility of severe economic penalties against traffickers located in other countries. The legislation also addresses the need to assist and protect victims of trafficking. Specifically, it authorizes initiatives to create economic opportunities for potential victims abroad—thereby decreasing their need to migrate in search of employment—and to increase public awareness of trafficking schemes. The legislation provides for the creation of shelters and rehabilitation programs for victims and limited provision of relief from deportation for victims who expose their traffickers to law enforcement officials and who would face retribution or other hardship if removed from the United States. The legislation authorizes foreign aid to assist other countries in legal reform related to trafficking, but prohibits non-humanitarian U.S. assistance to foreign governments that tolerate or condone severe forms of trafficking, unless the prohibition is waived by the President. According to Smith, "The Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act will make important and necessary changes to U.S. law designed to help end this brutal, inhumane, and horrific exploitation of human beings, especially women and children. Every year, millions of women and children are forced, coerced, or fraudulently trafficked into modern day slavery around the world with no way out. This legislation will put human traffickers behind bars while protecting their victims.”

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Welcomes OSCE Report on Roma

    WASHINGTON — “Last September, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel described the deplorable problems the Romani minority faces: intolerance, mutual distrust, poor housing, exclusion, unemployment, low levels of education and—an underlying cause of many of these—systemic discrimination,” said Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “Today, the High Commissioner made public his long-awaited report, ‘The Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area,’ which should give further impetus to the OSCE’s efforts to improve respect for the human rights of one of Europe’s most abused minorities.” “Czech President Vaclav Havel once said that the treatment of the Roma is a litmus test for civil society; New York Times reporter Steven Erlanger wrote this week that post-communist Europe is failing that test – and, in my opinion, most countries are failing badly,” continued Smith. “But it is not enough to describe the problem. Governments can and should takes immediate steps to address human rights violations that have grown worse, not better, over the course of Europe’s first, post-communist decade. “While government officials often argue that it will take years to solve or address the complex problems Roma face, one particular step can be taken now—this year, this month, this week, today. Governments should begin to draft and implement comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that will establish a coherent statutory framework for Roma to seek legal redress through the civil courts when confronted with discrimination in the workplace, housing, education, public places and the military. As it now stands, most post-communist countries have no anti-discrimination provisions in their civil codes at all; the thread-bare patchwork of constitutional references to non-discrimination and criminal code references to race relations have proven completely inadequate for the task at hand. “I welcome the High Commissioner’s report and am confident that it will prove extraordinarily useful for those governments which have the political will to address the problems of the Romani minority. The High Commissioner’s insightful report will serve as an indispensable tool in fulling the goals established by the OSCE Heads of State and Government at their most recent summit in Istanbul.” Background: The OSCE Heads of State and Government adopted the following agreements at the Istanbul Summit on November 17, 1999: “We recognize the particular difficulties faced by Roma and Sinti and the need to undertake effective measures in order to achieve full equality of opportunity, consistent with OSCE commitments, for persons belonging to Roma and Sinti. We will reinforce our efforts to ensure that Roma and Sinti are able to play a full and equal part in our societies, and to eradicate discrimination against them.” (Para. 20, Charter for European Security) “We deplore violence and other manifestations of racism and discrimination against minorities, including the Roma and Sinti. We commit ourselves to ensure that laws and policies fully respect the rights of Roma and Sinti and, where necessary, to promote anti-discrimination legislation to this effect. We underline the importance of careful attention to the problems of the social exclusion of Roma and Sinti. These issues are primarily a responsibility of the participating States concerned. We emphasize the important role that the ODIHR Contact Point for Roma and Sinti issues can play in providing support. A further helpful step might be the elaboration by the Contact Point of an action plan of targeted activities, drawn up in co-operation with the High Commissioner on National Minorities and others active in this field, notably the Council of Europe.” (Para. 31, Istanbul Summit Declaration)

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Welcomes Transfer of Unique Holocaust Archives to Washington

    WASHINGTON — “Six years ago, in 1994, the Helsinki Commission was first made aware of the existence of a unique archive in the Czech Republic, original documents from the World War II Romani concentration camp in Lety,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) following the delivery last week of the final tranche of archive copies to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The long process of transferring these documents has ended; a new chapter of understanding the Romani Holocaust—known in Romani as Porrajmos, ‘the Devouring’—has begun.” The Lety concentration camp for Roma was established during the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic. Opened in 1940, the camp was closed in 1943. Many Roma died there; many others died after deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Camps specifically for Roma were established in several countries during World War II. The Lety archives may be the only complete records from such a camp to still exist. “Last January, when Congressman Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and I met with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous, we were encouraged to learn that he had brought with him to Washington the first part of the microfilm copies of the Lety archive. These archives are unique and add a critical dimension to the understanding of the Romani experience during the Holocaust. The availability here in Washington of a complete microfilm copy of the Lety archives means that a larger community of scholars will be able to study these documents, adding to the public’s understanding of the tragedies Roma have faced. I commend the Czech Government for making these documents available to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I also hope the Czech Government and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will be able to further develop their cooperation to ensure that other Holocaust-related archives will be open to the widest community of scholars, researchers, journalists, and members of the public,” Smith concluded.

  • Helsinki Commission Documents Deterioration of Freedom of the Media in OSCE Countries; Legislative Initiative, Albright Letter Planned

    WASHINGTON — “The trend toward state-controlled media and the erosion of the most fundamental right of citizens in a democracy—freedom of speech—in a number of countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is perilous for our neighbors in Europe,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe’s hearing “The Deteriorating Freedom of Media and Speech in OSCE Countries.” “While we have condemned recent events—the arrest of Andrei Babitsky, journalists arrested in Turkey, and the assassination of Slavko Curuvija in Serbia—the totality of threats to the media and private speech was brought into full view today,” Smith said. “Members of the Commission will join me in asking Secretary Albright to address freedom of expression issues with governments in Central Asia when she visits next week. We want her to express our shared concerns in the most public and expressive way possible, so that the people of each country in the region know the American people stand behind them in their struggle for freedom and against tyranny. In July, the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Bucharest, Romania, will also raise these concerns with our parliamentary colleagues. OSCE States have each committed themselves to democracy as the best form of government, a form that fails without free press and speech,” said Smith. “When raising concerns about violations of freedom of speech, it is vital that we not only address the effect on the media,” said Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts. “As we know from numerous other Commission hearings, religious believers in Eastern and Western Europe and Central Asia have been imprisoned for publicly stating their religious beliefs. In Uzbekistan we have seen reports that on March 8, Uzbek police confiscated reports published by Human Rights Watch that were carried by one of their representatives who was monitoring the trial of twelve men charged with membership in Hizb-ut-Takhrir, a peaceful Muslim organization banned in Uzbekistan. The problems for religious individuals or groups are limited not only to speaking about their views person-to-person, but also speaking through the media.” Testifying before the Commission were: David W. Yang, Senior Coordinator for Democracy Promotion, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. State Department; Freimut Duve, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media; Thomas A. Dine, President, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; Linda K. Foley, President, Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America and Vice-President, International Federation of Journalists; Emma E.D. Gray, Europe Program Director, Committee to Protect Journalists; and Marilyn Greene, Executive Director, World Press Freedom Committee. Mr. Yang, discussing the U.S. commitment to media freedom, pointed out “The strength of our commitment is, first and foremost, demonstrated in our bilateral diplomacy. Every day, the State Department speaks out—both in public and private—against any and all violations of freedom of speech and the media.” Mr. Duve explained, “My Office has been involved in freedom of expression issues in many OSCE participating States, including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Georgia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey, Ukraine and in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.…and it is a bleak picture.” Mr. Dine warned, “The possibility of the emergence of a free media in the post-communist countries is threatened by a combination of three factors: government efforts to restrict or even suppress media freedom; survivals of communist era attitudes about the press among officials; the population, and even journalists; and some unintended and unexpected consequences of the transition period itself. Both the extent of each and the mix of all three of these factors, of course, vary widely across the countries of the region. But almost all of them are found to one degree or another in most places, and consequently I believe it is most useful here to consider them as a syndrome affecting almost all of them rather than to examine each of the many countries of this region individually.” Ms. Foley was somewhat critical of the role of the OSCE Representative, saying in part, “We have been following the work of the OSCE Representative for Media Freedom, Mr. Friemut Duve, and the annual report for 1998/1999. Although it includes a long list of interventions and visits, our view is that it does not provide clear and comprehensive strategies in support of independent journalism." “Because the OSCE Representative often develops strategies on his own without coordinating with journalists’ organizations in the affected countries, the OSCE’s efforts have not been as effective as they could have been. Instead of operating independently, we believe the OSCE Representative should support programs and activities developed jointly by all journalists’ organizations and professional groups that are striving for change within the new democracies.” Mr. Duve rejected the criticism, citing his selective approach to media issues, and explaining his involvement with all groups in a given country. Ms. Gray put this in perspective: “In the course of the past ten years, we have documented a total of 153 journalists killed in the line of duty in OSCE countries. That is just over a third of the total of 458 journalists killed, and is a figure we see reflected again in the latest statistics we have: in 1999 almost a third of the 34 journalists killed died in OSCE countries. “The number of journalists killed is the most dramatic barometer of press freedom. Less headline-grabbing forms of attack which the CPJ records are: legal action, including fines and imprisonment; threats or physical attacks on journalists or news facilities; censorship; and harassment, which includes denying journalists access to information, denying them visas to travel for their work, or confiscating or damaging their materials. We also document cases of journalists missing, kidnaped, or expelled from a country. “We do believe that one of the most effective methods of improving the conditions in which journalists work in OSCE countries is to shine a very public light on attacks on the press.” Ms. Greene commented, “Our primary focus is on the ways in which international institutions -- such as the OSCE, the United Nations, UNESCO, Council of Europe and the European Union—influence press freedom in the world.…These institutions wield great power, often merely through the moral authority of their resolutions or statements. These words can be forces for freedom and democracy—or they can provide cover for authoritarians seeking justification for restrictions on the free flow of information. I wish I could say that freedom of expression and of the press is thriving in the 55 nations participating in the OSCE. Sadly, I cannot.” Chairman Smith closed the hearing explaining that this was the first in a series of hearings on this issue. The full text of the testimonies may be accessed at www.csce.gov.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Condemn Arrest of Kyrgyz Opposition Leader

    WASHINGTON - “Secretary Albright should insist that Kyrgyzstan’s President Akaev release opposition leader Felix Kulov before her mid-April visit to Kyrgyzstan,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today following the March 22 arrest of Kulov by Kyrgyz authorities who took him from a hospital bed where he was being treated for cardiac problems and exhaustion to a cell in the Ministry of National Security. “With the faulty parliamentary election and the subsequent arrest of Kulov, President Askar Akaev has discredited himself entirely,” said Smith. “Like his counterparts in other Central Asian authoritarian states, he talks about his commitment to democracy but manipulates the law enforcement apparatus and judicial system to remain in power indefinitely.” Since March 12, Kulov’s supporters have been demonstrating to protest his highly suspicious defeat in the second round of Kyrgyzstan’s parliamentary election. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) Election Observation Mission strongly criticized the February 20 first round for preventing parties and candidates from competing on an equal basis. The Mission has said that the March 12 runoff “failed to comply with OSCE commitments,” and openly questioned the official results in the Kara-Bura district where Kulov was running. Though he had won a plurality in the first round, he lost to a government-favored candidate in the second round. Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) responded: “It appears one of President Akaev’s key goals in this deeply flawed parliamentary election was to neutralize two influential challengers: Daniar Usenov and Feliks Kulov. With the arrest of Kulov, Akaev has now taken the extra step of imprisoning a political rival. And the violent dispersion of pro-Kulov demonstrators by police signals a campaign to intimidate the public and a general crackdown before the upcoming presidential election.” The election, in which Communists won the largest number of seats in party-list voting, has produced a legislature from which Akaev’s two leading rivals will be absent: Daniar Usenov and Felix Kulov. Both Usenov and Kulov had hoped to use the parliamentary seats as springboards to run for president in elections slated for later this year. Before the second round though, the Central Election Commission disqualified Usenov, leader of the El Bei Bechara Party, for allegedly not reporting all his assets. Kulov’s Ar-Namys opposition party was barred from fielding a party list in the election because the controversial election law carefully required parties to have been registered for one year. Though Kulov ran in a district, officials exerted sustained pressure to ensure his defeat. Felix Kulov is a former Vice President, Minister of National Security, Governor of Chui Oblast, Mayor of Bishkek and KGB General. According to Kyrgyz officials, he has been charged with sanctioning an illegal purchase of listening devices while he was Minister of National Security, and his trial will be held in a closed military court. Kulov, who has been denied contact with his family or treatment by his own doctor, and whose lawyer has been intimidated by officials, has begun a hunger strike. Both Chairman Smith and Rep. Hoyer call on President Akaev for “the unconditional and immediate release of Kulov.” Smith pointed out, “The highly politicized nature of these charges is obvious and protestations to the contrary by Kyrgyz officials are unconvincing. As [OSCE Secretary General] Jan Kubis said in Bishkek, these elections have been a ‘blemish on the president’s reputation.’ President Akaev should reconsider his tactics before his image at home and abroad is hopelessly ruined, with all the attendant consequences.”

  • "Concern About Possible Iliescu Presidency's Impact on Crime and Corruption in Romania Valid," Commission Chairman Reiterates

    WASHINGTON - “In the Commission’s hearing last week about widespread corruption in the countries of the OSCE, I asked the witnesses about the possible effect of the potential return of Ion Iliescu to the Presidency of Romania. The testimony of Freedom House President Adrian Karatnycky raised concerns which deserve our immediate and ongoing consideration. We had the instance in the last presidential campaign in Romania wherein Mr. Iliescu broke his word to me and other U.S. Members of Congress regarding the injection of the congressional vote on Most Favored Nation status into Romania's November 1996 campaign, leaving us with strong doubts as to his honesty.” Last Thursday’s remarks were prompted by testimony provided by Adrian Karatnycky, President of Freedom House, “I am concerned that the limited progress [in combating corruption] seen in recent years in Romania can be reversed if the forces of former President Iliescu recapture power through the ballot box.” Mr. Karatnycky today reiterated, “Freedom House stands by its testimony based on the clear record of indifference to corruption by the Iliescu regime. There is legitimate concern that a return of the Iliescu regime would again bring that indifference to corruption.” “It is incumbent upon those of us in the public arena to express our concern about trends that may threaten the ability of fellow OSCE participating States to provide strong independent regimes, based on the rule of law, and market-based economies. Corruption is stymying economic reforms in many countries. While many in Europe and here in the United States were concerned enough about the rise of the Freedom Party in Austria to make public comment, I am concerned about a potential political step backward in Romania. The return of Iliescu could have grave negative effects both in Romania and within the OSCE as Romania assumes the role of Chair-in-Office,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). Romania is slated to assume the Chairmanship of the 54 nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in January 2001. In addition, the Romanian Parliament will be hosting the annual meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly July 6-10, 2000 which will focus on “OSCE Challenges in the 21st Century—Good Governance: Regional Cooperation, Strengthening Democratic Institutions, Promoting Transparency, Enforcing the Rule of Law and Combating Corruption.” “My remarks are in no way to be taken as intending to influence the Romanian electoral process. I am a firm believer in the democratic system and in the right of the people’s voice through the ballot box. However, the idiosyncracies of Romanian politics do not remove our concerns nor our right of free expression in public debate regarding U.S. interests,” said Smith. In July 1996, then-President Iliescu had given his assurance that the U.S. congressional debate and favorable vote regarding permanent MFN for Romania would not become “a part of our [Romanian] domestic political debate.” When Mr. Iliescu immediately used the occasion to criticize his opponent, Chairman Smith expressed then his concern about Iliescu “going back on his word.” [July 24, 1996 CSCE News Release]

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Focuses on Rampant Organized Crime and Corruption in the OSCE Region

    WASHINGTON — “Widespread corruption in countries of the OSCE threatens their ability to provide strong independent legal regimes, market-based economies and social well-being for their citizens. Corruption is stymying economic reforms in these countries and impeding efforts to improve the status of disadvantaged groups. In the absence of effective civil rule of law, mafia have flourished through their corrupt connections, gained power over whole sectors of economies, and derailed legislative reform agendas inimical to their interest,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “This Commission has pushed for a greater recognition of the threat of organized crime and corruption in the OSCE and supported efforts to develop an OSCE strategy to combat them," Smith said. The U.S. Delegation to the Annual Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly last year in St. Petersburg, Russia, co-led by myself and Senator Campbell, called for the convening of an OSCE Ministerial meeting to develop strategies to combat these threats. I particularly appreciate the leadership of the Co-Chairman on this initiative. At the OSCE PA,we also introduced a resolution condemning the cross-border trafficking in women and children which, along with drugs and weapons, is a major industry for organized crime entities. Our Commission worked closely with the State Department to ensure that combating crime and corruption was on the agenda of our Heads of State during the OSCE Istanbul Summit last November.” Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) said, “Organized crime and corruption directly bear upon U.S. security, economic and political interests at home and abroad.…Twenty-five years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, there is perhaps no single greater threat to the core OSCE principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law than organized crime and corruption. The United States and the OSCE have vested interests in effectively combating organized crime and corruption. I intend to continue to play an active role in developing concrete recommendations to advance within the framework of the OSCE.” Witnesses included Rob Boone, Assistant Secretary for Narcotics and International Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State; James K. Weber, Deputy Assistant Director, Investigative Services Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation; John Tennant, Deputy Assistant Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development; Adrian Karatnycky, President, Freedom House; and, Nancy Lubin, President, JNA Associates, Inc. “This is a matter in which the initiative of the Commission under your leadership, as well as that of your parliamentary colleagues from other OSCE nations has been of decisive significance,” said Boone. “Corruption was, as we all know, a staple of the Communist regimes in the former Soviet bloc. So it should not surprise us to learn that ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, corruption is still very much a part of everyday life in this region,” said Tennant. “But let me emphasize that corruption is in no way limited to Europe and Eurasia. This is at root a development issue, borne mostly of inadequate or weak democratic institutions. Therefore, we cannot treat the symptom of corruption without also addressing the illness of, among other things, an overly centralized, bureaucratic, and ineffective system of governance.” “The fight against corruption is popular in the West and with the publics of the region. As a result, all sorts of regimes—including some of the most corrupt—undertake highly publicized efforts to 'root out' corruption and graft. Yet in a context in which the rule of law is absent and the judiciary is under the control of an authoritarian ruler, justice frequently is perverted,” said Karatnycky. “We must be careful not to view the struggle against corruption as somehow divorced from economic and political reform. In particular, we should refrain from collaboration in government anticorruption activities in those post-Soviet regimes in which opposition is suppressed, the media are censored and controlled, and the executive authority is subsequent to the judiciary. In many of these countries, the struggle against corruption is frequently a means of settling score with political opponents. Thus, U.S. cooperation in the anti-corruption efforts of such regimes, effectively corrupts our own standards of respect for the rule of law.” Lubin pointed out, “The general system of crime and corruption in Central Asia is so complete one can not tell what is official and what is not. There is little appreciation in Washington of the real environment. Thus, there is trouble in implementing well-conceived programs from Washington in the area.” When asked whether the U.S. should deal with corrupt governments and engage them programmatically, both Lubin and Karatnycky felt the U.S. must deal with these countries at all levels—but does not have to embrace them and give a stamp of approval. “It’s not if, but how we engage them,” said Lubin. The full text of the testimony is available at www.house.gov/csce. Background: Organized crime and corruption threaten not only economic development but also the expansion of democracy, the promotion of civil society and security in the OSCE region, particularly in the countries of southeast Europe and Central Asia. Ambassador Robert Barry, Head of the OSCE’s Mission in Bosnia has called political leaders working with organized crime a “significant threat” to the region’s security. Wolfgang Petritsch, the High Representative for Dayton Implementation says that corruption is the “biggest obstacle” to successful implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. In a recent report, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) singled out bribe demands in the former communist bloc as a main cause of economic failures. According to the report, “Companies spend considerable resources in lobbying state officials, paying bribes and adjusting to state interference …A key challenge remains the effective ‘depoliticization’ of firms through further market reforms and measures to constrain state ‘capture’ by private interests.” This hearing, the second in a series, examined the impact of organized crime and corruption in southeast Europe and Central Asia and both regional and international efforts to address this threat. The United States has a strategic interest in promoting democratic reform and stability in southeast Europe and the former Soviet Union. The Helsinki Commission has pressed for greater OSCE involvement in efforts to combat corruption. The 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Charter recognized the multidimensional threat posed by corruption. The OSCE Permanent Council is currently examining ways of contributing to efforts to combat corruption and is expected to report to OSCE Foreign Ministers later this year. In addition, the Eighth Annual Meeting of the OSCE Economic Forum, scheduled for Prague, April 11 -14, 2000 will examine the impact of corruption on institution building and the rule of law in the context of post-conflict rehabilitation. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will focus on “OSCE Challenges in the 21st Century—Good Governance: Regional Cooperation, Strengthening Democratic Institutions, Promoting Transparency, Enforcing the Rule of Law and Combating Corruption” during its annual meeting in Bucharest, July 6-10, 2000.

  • Helsinki Commission Documents Deplorable State of Human Rights in Turkmenistan

    WASHINGTON - “Under the leadership—or should I say misrule—of Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan has become the worst-case scenario of post-Soviet development,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) yesterday at a hearing, The State of Democratization and Human Rights in Turkmenistan. “Alone of the post-Soviet bloc countries, Turkmenistan remains a one-party state. But even that party is a mere shadow of the former ruling Communist Party—all the real power resides in the country’s dictator, who savagely crushes any opposition or criticism,” said Smith. Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) reminded the hearing, “When Turkmenistan was admitted to the OSCE in 1992, it accepted all existing Helsinki commitments and declared its determination to act in accordance with these provisions.” Citing the arrest of leading opposition figure Nurberdy Nurmamedov, Campbell called upon the State Department to press this case and those of other political prisoners. Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) commented, “When the USSR signed the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, Moscow had no intention of observing the commitments. In time, these commitments and the principles behind them played a key role in undermining Soviet totalitarianism. Perhaps, therefore, it would be wiser to remain engaged, keep pressing and wait for circumstances to change. We must continue our engagement with dissidents as well. The public and repeated criticism within the OSCE process had effect, in part, because of the courageous stand of dissidents from within. If dictators can deal with dissidents anonymously, then the dissidents have no means of defense.” Commissioner Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) offered, “Given the troubling litany of violations of religious liberty, now is the time for the Government of Turkmenistan to enter into a new era of tolerance for religious minorities. In this era of dramatic change throughout the former Soviet Union, now Turkmenistan has the opportunity to embrace religious freedom, which is one of the litmus tests for a truly civil society.” Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) said, “By every measure Turkmenistan is violating its OSCE commitments.…In bulldozing the Hari Krishna temple last August and the Seventh Day Adventist church last November in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan became the only OSCE country to actually destroy places of worship.” The hearing witnesses included John Beyrle, Principal Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for New Independent States; Avdy Kuliev, Turkmen opposition leader in exile; Polish diplomat Pyotr Iwaszkiewicz, formerly of the OSCE Office in Ashgabat; Firuz Kazemzadeh, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Cassandra Cavanaugh of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki; and E. Wayne Merry, of the Atlantic Council of the United States. The hearing was part of an ongoing series convened by the Commission to assess the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the countries of Central Asia. The text of the formal testimony may be accessed at the Commission website, www.csce.gov. Beyrle commented, “We have seen only minimal success in advancing our policies. Rule of Law is respected little by this government. The treatment of believers will have a significant impact on our determination made under the International Religious Freedom Act. It would be difficult for us to certify Turkmenistan for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program considering their human rights situation.” Iwaszkiewicz described how the Turkmen authorities tried to control the outreach and reporting activity of the OSCE center in Ashgabat by warning the local population not to contact the center. Merry recommended, “We must face facts, the ability of the United States to influence such a regime toward genuine democracy, civil liberties, and accountable government is nil.…This Commission should seriously consider whether Turkmenistan has any business in the OSCE. Niyazov’s regime flagrantly violates its Helsinki commitments. Unlike some participating States in the region where one can at least hope that an OSCE presence may slowly change things for the better, Turkmenistan is barren ground so long as its current power system exists,” he concluded. Kazemzadeh suggested the United Nations Human Rights Committee discuss Turkmenistan’s human rights violations in Geneva. Ms. Cavanaugh said Human Rights Watch, “strongly urges that conditionality for any form of non-humanitarian assistance to Turkmenistan, particularly new Ex-Im credits for any purpose, must be strict. Currently, they are weak, and even minimal human rights considerations required by Ex-Im Bank policy, for example, are seemingly ignored.” Background: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) declined to observe Turkmenistan’s December 1999 parliamentary election, and delegates to the meeting of the People’s Assembly later that month essentially approved making Saparmurat Niyazov “president-for-life.” In sum, Turkmenistan has become the worst-case scenario of post-Soviet development. With the U.S. Government seeking Ashgabat’s cooperation in constructing a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, this hearing provides a timely opportunity to discuss the country’s prospects for democratization, fair elections and observance of human rights, and how the United States can promote Turkmenistan’s observance of OSCE commitments.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing on The Impact of Organized Crime and Corruption on Democratic and Economic Reform Announced

    WASHINGTON — Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe announced a forthcoming hearing: The Impact of Organized Crime and Corruption on Democratic and Economic Reform Thursday, March 23 2:30—4:30 p.m. Room 485 Russell Senate Office Building Capitol Hill Washington, D.C. Open to Members, Staff, Public and Press Scheduled witnesses include: Panel I: Rob Boone, Assistant Secretary for Narcotics and International Law Enforcement Affairs, U.S. Department of State James K. Weber, Deputy Assistant Director, Investigative Services Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation John Tennant, Deputy Assistant Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development Panel II: Adrian Karatnycky, President, Freedom House Nancy Lubin, President, JNA Associates, Inc. Other witnesses have been invited. Background: Organized crime and corruption threaten not only economic development but also the expansion of democracy, the promotion of civil society and security in the OSCE region, particularly in the countries of southeast Europe and Central Asia. Ambassador Robert Barry, Head of the OSCE’s Mission in Bosnia has called political leaders working with organized crime a “significant threat” to the region’s security. Wolfgang Petritsch, the High Representative for Dayton Implementation says that corruption is the “biggest obstacle” to successful implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. In a recent report, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) singled out bribe demands in the former communist bloc as a main cause of economic failures. According to the report, “Companies spend considerable resources in lobbying state officials, paying bribes and adjusting to state interference …A key challenge remains the effective ‘depoliticization’ of firms through further market reforms and measures to constrain state ‘capture’ by private interests.” This hearing, the second in a series, will examine the impact of organized crime and corruption in southeast Europe and Central Asia and both regional and international efforts to address this threat. The United States has a strategic interest in promoting democratic reform and stability in southeast Europe and the former Soviet Union, provides a substantial amount of bilateral assistance to the countries in the region and assists U.S. businesses exploring market opportunities. The Helsinki Commission has pressed for greater OSCE involvement in efforts to combat corruption. The 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Charter recognized the multidimensional threat posed by corruption. The OSCE Permanent Council is currently examining ways of contributing to efforts to combat corruption and is expected to report to OSCE Foreign Ministers later this year. In addition, the Eighth Annual Meeting of the OSCE Economic Forum, scheduled for Prague, April 11 -14, 2000 will examine the impact of corruption on institution building and the rule of law in the context of post-conflict rehabilitation. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will focus on “OSCE Challenges in the 21st Century—Good Governance: Regional Cooperation, Strengthening Democratic Institutions, Promoting Transparency, Enforcing the Rule of Law and Combating Corruption” during its annual meeting in Bucharest, July 6-10, 2000.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Call on United Kingdom to Promote Rule of Law through Independent Judicial Inquiries into Murders of Human Rights Defenders in Northern Ireland

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today examined allegations of security forces’ involvement in the ongoing intimidation and harassment of human rights advocates in Northern Ireland. The hearing focused on the still-unsolved murders of two Belfast defense attorneys, human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson who was killed on March 15, 1999 by a car bomb outside her home in Belfast, Northern Ireland following her harassment and intimidation by the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)—the Northern Ireland police force, and defense attorney Patrick Finucane who was murdered in his home under circumstances suggesting the involvement of police and other government agents ten years earlier. “Ensuring a defendant’s right to unfettered access to counsel is crucial if Northern Ireland is to achieve a lasting peace.,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “Defense attorneys are the ‘Helsinki Monitors’ of Northern Ireland. The OSCE can be a valuable forum in which to provide cover for these human rights advocates. The United States and United Kingdom are quick to criticize emerging democracies that fail to abide by the rule of law and due process. The best way to lead in these matters is by example.” Commissioner Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, expressed the State Department’s concern with the protection of lawyers, the rule of law, and human rights in Northern Ireland. House International Relations Committee Chairman, Rep. Ben Gilman (R-NY), called for police reform in Northern Ireland and a police force that “reflects the population of Northern Ireland.” Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) called “upon the British Government to create a new police force more reflective of the people and their needs than the current RUC.” Geraldine Finucane, whose husband Patrick was gunned down in 1989 by a loyalist paramilitary group, testified: “It is clear that the British Government is responsible for the deaths of my husband and Rosemary Nelson. This is not just because they failed to protect them. Pat and Rosemary were the victims of British Government policy—that of selective targeting and directed assassinations.” Finucane continued, “Rosemary Nelson testified [before the U.S. Congress in 1998] about threats that she had received time and again as she carried out her work as a defense lawyer. One year ago, Rosemary was murdered. Those who said it could not happen again were wrong.” Eunan Magee, the brother of slain defense attorney Rosemary Nelson, testified: “My sister was a good lawyer. She represented her clients, from both sides of the community in Northern Ireland, to the best of her ability. That is why she was subject to harassment and threats made by police officers and others. That is also why she was killed.…That is why our family is supporting the call for the establishment of an independent inquiry into the murder of Rosemary.” Jane Winter, Director of British Irish Rights Watch, which, in 1999 provided the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom with a confidential report on security forces collusion in the murders of Patrick Finucane and others, commented, “when we presented our report to the British Government, we were promised a swift response. Thirteen months later we are still waiting.” Winter continued, “British Irish Rights Watch has made serious allegations of security force collusion in a large number of deaths and other illegal acts, of which the murder of Patrick Finucane is but the tip of the iceberg.…There is only one honorable response to the allegations we have made, and substantiated to the best of our ability. The government, which already has under its control all the answers to the questions we have raised, must establish an independent judicial inquiry without further prevarication.” According to Paul Mageean, a legal officer at the Committee for the Administration of Justice, a non-sectarian human rights organization in Northern Ireland, “The [ongoing] criminal investigation even if successfully concluded will not result in a full examination of the circumstances surrounding the murder of Rosemary Nelson.” Mageean stated, “For these reasons we are committed to a full public inquiry into the murder along with a number of other domestic and international NGOs.” Michael Posner, Executive Director of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, which recently completed a fact finding mission to Northern Ireland, stated “the threats against defense attorneys in Northern Ireland continue to go on today.…The situation in Northern Ireland is very isolated—the attention given to it by Congress, the OSCE and the UN, are much needed to address this isolation.” In response to the testimony, Chairman Smith suggested that the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Bucharest this summer should advance a resolution calling on the British Government to establish an independent judicial inquiry into the murders of Finucane and Nelson. “The central responsibility for assuring the right to counsel and maintaining the rule of law belongs to the government, in this case the British Government. By supporting continued restrictions on due process rights—the so-called Emergency Provisions—and by refusing to take decisive action to protect defense attorneys, the government has failed miserably in this regard,” he concluded.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Announced: "Protection of Human Rights Advocates in Northern Ireland"

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announces a forthcoming hearing:   Protection of Human Rights Advocates in Northern Ireland Tuesday, March 14 10:00 a.m.—1:00 p.m. Room 2255 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff, Press and the Public Scheduled to testify are: Eunan Magee, brother of slain defense attorney Rosemary Nelson Geraldine Finucane, widow of slain defense attorney Patrick Finucane Paul Mageean, Legal Officer, Committee on the Administration of Justice, Belfast Jane Winter, Director, British Irish Rights Watch Representative from Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Other witnesses have been invited. Background: Since the early 1990s, human rights groups have documented a pattern of abuse by Northern Ireland’s police force—the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC)—against defense lawyers representing those charged with political offenses in Northern Ireland. On March 15, 1999, human rights lawyer Rosemary Nelson was killed by a car bomb outside her home in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Before her death, Nelson reported being harassed and intimidated by the RUC. At a congressional hearing in September 1998, she reported that this harassment, at its worst, included death threats against her. The Commission’s hearing—which will occur one day before the first anniversary of Rosemary Nelson’s brutal murder—will focus on the continued harassment of human rights advocates in Northern Ireland and the efforts, if any, of the British Government to prevent such acts or to hold accountable those who employ intimidation or violence to silence Northern Ireland’s human rights advocates and attorneys. Ten years before Nelson’s slaying, defense attorney Patrick Finucane was also murdered in his home under circumstances suggesting the involvement of police and other government agents. After a fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers found that “the RUC has engaged in activities which constitute intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” with defense attorneys. The Special Rapporteur described these activities as “consistent and systematic.” Numerous calls for independent judicial inquiries into the circumstances surrounding Finucane and Nelson’s murders—including legislation (H.Res. 128) passed by the House of Representatives—have gone unheeded by the British Government. OSCE commitments affirm that, where violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms are alleged to have occurred, individuals have a right to seek and receive adequate legal assistance, to seek and receive assistance from others in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to assist others in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms. Notwithstanding these commitments, human rights advocates, including attorneys, in Northern Ireland endure harassment, intimidation, and violence as a result of their efforts to protect human rights and fulfill their professional obligations to defend their clients’ rights. There are particularly troubling indications of official collusion in acts of violence against Northern Ireland’s human rights advocates.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Announced: Belarus: Stalled at a Crossroads

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming hearing: Belarus: Stalled at a Crossroads Thursday, March 9 10:00 a.m.—1:00 p.m. Room 334 Cannon House Office Building Capitol Hill Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff, Public and Press Scheduled to testify: Commissioner Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Ross Wilson, Principal Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States; Anatoly Lebedka, chair of the Commission for International Affairs of the 13th Supreme Soviet and deputy chair of the United Civic Party who has played a leading role in the OSCE-led discussions between the opposition and government. Semyon Sharetsky, Speaker of the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Belarus illegally disbanded by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in 1996; Stanislav Shushkevych, past Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, independent Belarus’ first Head of State. Currently a member of the Supreme Soviet and corresponding member of Belarus’ National Academy of Sciences; Adrian Severin, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Working Group on Belarus and a Romanian Parliamentarian; former Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs (1996-97). Following a controversial 1996 referendum, after which he disbanded the legitimate Supreme Soviet, Belarusian president Alyaksandr Lukashenka has continued to suppress human rights and hinder democratic development. Meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition has yet to materialize, due to governmental intransigence, complicated by a recently approved electoral code that decreases the likelihood of free and fair parliamentary elections planned for this Fall. The economic situation in Belarus continues to deteriorate, disaffection with the Lukashenka regime is growing, and the renewed Russia-Belarusian union has serious implications for Belarus’ existence as an independent state.

  • The Plight's of Kosovo's Displaced and Imprisoned Detailed by Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

    WASHINGTON - “We know all too well that few efforts to build democratic and tolerant societies in Kosovo or anywhere in the region can succeed without addressing the role of Slobodan Milosevic and the need for democratic change in Serbia itself. Until that occurs, the international community will continue to be challenged in the region,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) at today’s hearing “Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned” held by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Commissioner Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) also attended. Testifying before the Commission were: Ambassador John Menzies, Deputy Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Kosovo Implementation, U.S. Department of State; Bill Frelick, Director of Policy, U.S. Committee for Refugees; His Grace Artemije, Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Prizren and Raska; Andrzej Mirga, Chairman, Project on Ethnic Relations Romani Advisory Council, and Co-Chair, Specialists Group on the Roma of the Council of Europe; Susan Blaustein, Senior Consultant, International Crisis Group; and Ylber Bajraktari, a political analyst from Kosovo. Smith emphasized that during this time of attempted reconciliation, “it is particularly important that we are alert around the time of important anniversaries, such as the anniversary of the NATO bombing that is forthcoming.” He also said that “we must keep our focus on potential Hot Spots that might devolve into another Kosovo, areas such as southern Serbia or Montenegro. And we must make every effort to remember the forgotten and vulnerable in Kosovo—the Roma, Conscientious Objectors, Muslim Slavs and those Albanians accused by extremists to have been collaborators with the Serbian regime.” Smith called upon the Clinton Administration to raise the public level of attention to the status of Albanian prisoners of conscience in Serbia and to call upon the Serbian regime to comply with international law and release them. Menzies, speaking for the Clinton Administration, said that “gradually, peace is taking hold, and the resolution of the questions posed by the displaced and imprisoned are important factors in building that peace. The key to the return of all citizens of Kosovo is security.” However, Menzies said, “The continued detention of Albanians in Serbia remains a tragic and acutely vexing issue for the international community. Given our lack of diplomatic relations with Belgrade, it is difficult for the U.S. Government to directly pressure the Milosevic regime on this issue.” Bishop Artemije recommended, “KFOR should be more robust in suppressing violence, organized crime and should more effectively protect the non-Albanian population from extremists. This is required by the U.N. resolution [1244]. More international police should be brought to Kosovo. Finally, the international community, especially the U.S., should make clear to Kosovo Albanian leaders, that they cannot create an ethnically cleansed state under the protectorate of western democratic governments.” Andrzej Mirga commented, “The most devastating effect on minds and feelings of those belonging to minorities is the fact that the same atrocities which were associated with Serbs during the conflict are taking place now in the presence of international forces.…Until civil society, rule of law, and moderation are achieved it is hard to believe that these minorities will feel secure.” Susan Blaustein noted, “It was U.S. officials in Washington who allowed the issue of the Albanian prisoners to be dropped from the negotiating table.…Nevertheless,…the pragmatic omission of the prisoner issue from the military-technical agreement that brought the conflict to a much-desired close does not in any way relieve the parties to that conflict of the obligation to release, immediately upon the cessation of hostilities, all prisoners of war (POWs) and civilians detained in the course of armed conflict. This obligation is incumbent upon all signatories to the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the accompanying Protocol II of 1978…” Ylber Bajraktari humanized the numbers by citing cases, such as: 24-year-old Albin Kurti, a former leader of the non-violent student movement; Flora Brovina, a prominent pediatrician and human rights activist; Ukshin Hoti, a Harvard graduate considered by some to be a possible future leader of Kosovo; and, Bardhyl Caushi, Dean of the School of Law, University of Pristina. Frelick recommended, “The U.S. Government and other donors should direct bilateral funding to international nongovernmental organizations to develop alternative networks to deliver humanitarian assistance in Serbia. This will not only establish alternative networks for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, thus breaking the Yugoslav Red Cross’ monopoly and introducing healthy competition that will hopefully make the YRC more accountable as well, but will also encourage the development of an active and vibrant local NGO sector in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).” egarding resettlement, Frelick said, “The United States should institute refugee processing out of Podgorica, Montenegro; President Clinton should issue a presidential determination permitting the United States to consider admitting certain categories of internally displaced persons in the FRY as refugees for purposes of the U.S. resettlement program; and, the following vulnerable groups such as: a) Roma and Hashkalija (gypsies) who fled from Kosovo to Serbia proper, Montenegro, or Macedonia would have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to Kosovo. b) Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo who fled from Kosovo to Serbia proper or Montenegro because of threats or persecution at the hands of ethnic Albanian nationalists who accuse them of collaborating with the Serbian regime ruling Kosovo until June 1999 and who have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned to Kosovo. A relatively small number of ethnic Albanians fled Kosovo. c) Serbian conscientious objectors. d) Gorani, Slavic Muslims who fled Kosovo into Serbia proper or Montenegro. e) The refugees who continue to live in collective centers in Kosovo. f) Members of Albanian-Serbian mixed marriages. g) Ethnic Albanians from Serbia proper (mostly Presevo) who have fled into Macedonia. h) Other ethnic and religious minorities from Kosovo.” Approximately two years ago, a decade of severe repression and lingering ethnic tensions in Kosovo erupted into full-scale violence, leading eventually to NATO intervention in early 1999 and UN administration immediately thereafter. The conflict in Kosovo was ostensibly between the Serbian and Yugoslav forces controlled by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic—since indicted for war crimes—on the one hand, and the Kosovo Liberation Army which arose from more militant segments of Kosovo’s Albanian majority on the other. As with previous phases of the Yugoslav conflict, however, the primary victims have largely been innocent civilians. Over one million ethnic Albanians were displaced during the conflict, as well as over 100,000 Serbs and tens of thousands of Roma in the aftermath of the international community’s intervention. Senseless atrocities were frequently committed throughout this process of forced migration. Many remain unable to return, and the recent violence in the northern city of Mitrovica demonstrates the continued volatility of the current situation. Meanwhile, a large number of Kosovar Albanians, removed from the region while it was still under Serbian control, languish in Serbian prisons to this day.

  • "Russian Commitment to Freedom of Religion is Tenuous," says CSCE Chairman

    WASHINGTON — “This is a crucial year in Russia in the post-Yeltsin era, and we must be vigilant in assuring that Russia adheres to its commitments to human rights and freedoms. Today’s testimony indicates that Russia’s commitment to Freedom of Religion is tenuous at best—an illusion at worst,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) at a Commission hearing. Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Bob Clement (D-TN) also were in attendence. Testifying were: His Excellency Ambassador Robert Seiple, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, U.S. Department of State; Anatoly Krasikov, Chairman, Russian Chapter, International Religious Liberty Association, Moscow, Russia; Pastor Igor Nikitin, Chairman, Union of Christians, St. Petersburg, Russia; and, Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Director of the Washington Office, American Friends of Lubavitch, speaking for Rabbi Berel Lazar of the Marina Roshcha Synagogue, Moscow, Russia. “While the central government appears committed—on paper—to religious freedom through the country, some local officials have clearly interpreted the 1997 law as a license to harass minority religious groups,” said Smith. “At least one American missionary has been evicted from Russia—on what certainly appear to be very flimsy grounds. Charismatic groups have been accused by authorities of ‘hypnotizing’ congregation members. Churches that formerly rented public buildings are now finding these premises closed to them by local officials. The leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchy seems more interested in criticizing so-called ‘non-traditional’ faiths than in actually engaging in the witness of their faith—a right protected by a commitment the freedom of speech. Even in supposedly more liberal Moscow, a court case against the Jehovah’s Witnesses for allegedly ‘inciting religious discord’ and ‘destroying families’ has dragged on for more than two years.” “In some instances, religious communities have been able to secure their legal rights through court decisions at both the national and local level, only to face attempts by local officials to ‘liquidate’ their formal status on flimsy legal grounds. In many cases, local officials claim to be ‘protecting’ citizens from the alleged dangers of ‘sects’ when they act against religious communities. It seems to me that their time might be better spent working on economic and social betterment for all of their constituents,” said Hoyer. Clement commented, “We’re not trying to dictate Christianity around the world, we want tolerance for all religions around the world.” Robert Seiple, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, said, “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.” REVISED PARAGRAPH FOLLOWS Seiple cited Russia’s Constitutional Court ruling on a challenge to the 1997 “restrictive religion law,” felt by many to have been a step in the right direction. He also cited the Duma’s failure to enact legislation that would have extended the deadline for re-registration of religious groups and organizations, and instances of some local officials using the 1997 law to harass “so-called ‘non-traditional’ religious groups” in his discussion. REVISION ENDS In a more positive light, Seiple noted that there have been “some positive steps taken against anti-Semitism.” He also cited examples where U.S. diplomacy had played a constructive role, particularly regarding Roman Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. He concluded, “Many observers today believe that the situation with respect to religious freedom in Russia has stabilized. I believe the country remains on the cusp.…I am an optimist by nature. I believe the Russian people and their government will choose to respect religious freedom and democracy, but not without the active support of the international community. We will continue to work with our European partners to promote a climate in Russia which respects diversity in religious practice.” Rabbi Shemtov commented that “…in recent years the incidents of anti-Semitism in Russia have reached alarming levels…but there was also an undeniable trend towards lawlessness.…It must be noted that since August of 1999, when a savage attack at the Choral Synagogue in Moscow and the attempted bombing of the Bolshaya Boronya Synagogue followed a few days later, the situation has improved dramatically.” Pastor Nikitin noted the fact that, “Following the visit of American Members of Congress to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in St. Petersburg [in July 1999], city officials were much more amenable to my church’s community services. The visit by the U.S. Congress had a tremendous positive impact.” Dr. Krasikov recalled James Madison’s warning, “When there is a union of state and church, this has often resulted in using religion to uphold political tyranny” as he discussed efforts by some to merge the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian Government. When asked what the U.S. should do to preempt such deterioration, Seiple responded that, whenever an anti-religious act occurs, “the United States, and this Commission, should shout early, loudly and often. We must be vigilant on this issue.”

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