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

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  • 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.”

  • Hearing Announced on Kosovo's Displaced and Imprisoned

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming hearing: Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned Monday, February 28 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Room B-318, Rayburn House Office Building   Open to Members, Staff, Public and Press Scheduled to testify: Bill Frelick, Director of Policy, U.S. Committee for Refugees His Grace Artemije, Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Prizren and Raska Andrzej Mirga, Co-Chair of the Council of Europe Specialists Group on Roma and Chairman of the Project on Ethnic Relations Romani Advisory Board Susan Blaustein, Senior Consultant, International Crisis Group 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 one hundred thousand 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. The February 28 hearing intends to focus on the plight of these displaced and imprisoned people from Kosovo, as well as the prospects for addressing quickly and effectively their dire circumstances.

  • Commission Releases Letter to President Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan on Questionable Electoral Practices

    WASHINGTON – Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today released the text of a letter to President Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan addressing concerns over restrictions on political party activities in the upcoming elections and the prosecution of the president of the Kyrgyz Committee on Human Rights. The letter was signed by Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). Full text follows: February 11, 2000 His Excellency Askar Akaev President Republic of Kyrgyzstan Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan Dear Mr. President: We are writing to express our deep concern about what has been happening in Kyrgyzstan in connection with the upcoming February 20 parliamentary election. The Central Election Commission has excluded from participation a number of political parties on grounds that, if technically in accordance with the law, nevertheless raise strong suspicion of being politically motivated. In April 1999, the Kyrgyz parliament passed a law which required parties wishing to participate in the election to be registered for one year—even though it was clear the likely date for the election would be February 2000, considering that the 1995 parliamentary election was held in February. Indeed, the February 2000 date of the election was set in November. Yet the Ministry of Justice still insisted all parties meet the year-long registration period, even though that would have been impossible for parties not registered before February 1999. The conclusion is inescapable that the requirements for registration and participation have been carefully timed so as to exclude inconvenient political parties and candidates. These developments have not gone unnoticed. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs issued a report last Friday documenting in detail its concerns. Vice-President Gore has also written to you to voice his dismay and to urge that Kyrgyzstan’s elections meet OSCE standards. Unfortunately, that will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, considering that the ODIHR’s election observation mission released a statement on February 8 emphasizing its extreme concern at the exclusion of parties and candidates and the initiation of legal proceedings against some individuals who wanted to run. To quote from that statement, “These decisions restrict the right of political parties to stand in the election on an equal basis and put into question their right to freely choose their candidates. As a consequence, the choice available to the electorate will be narrowed.” As you undoubtedly know, it is unusual for ODIHR to issue such a statement before an election. The decision to do so clearly reflects the mission's level of concern and indicates that ODIHR has already concluded the election can no longer be considered fair. Another source of concern is the news that criminal proceedings have been launched against Ramazan Dyryldaev, the Chairman of the Kyrgyz Committee on Human Rights. Charges are also being brought against several other members of the Committee, which the authorities have targeted for years and have actually de-registered in the past. The Committee has defended independent media, such as Res Publica, and publicized arbitrary treatment of candidates by officials, as well as pressure by the authorities on the judicial system. For over a decade, Kyrgyzstan has been the most open and liberal of the Central Asian states, despite problems with the 1995 parliamentary and presidential elections and ongoing pressure on the independent media. However, it appears that Kyrgyzstan is increasingly adopting regional patterns of rigged elections. Your country’s most valuable asset is its reputation. We tell you in all seriousness that reputation has changed for the worse, and that the U.S. Congress—which has consistently supported assistance to Kyrgyzstan—is very disturbed by these trends. We urge you to reconsider the direction Kyrgyzstan is taking and to take seriously Kyrgyzstan’s OSCE commitments with respect to free and fair elections and democratization.

  • Hearing Announced on Religious Liberty in Russia

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming hearing: The Status of Religious Liberty in Russia Today Thursday, February 17 2:30 p.m.—4:30 p.m. Room B-318, Rayburn House Office Building Capitol Hill Washington, D.C. Open to Members, Staff, Public and Press Scheduled witnesses include: His Excellency Ambassador Robert Seiple, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, U.S. Department of State Anatoly Krasikov, Chairman, Russian Chapter, International Association for Religious Liberty, Moscow, Russia Pastor Igor Nikitin, Chairman, Union of Christians, St. Petersburg, Russia Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Director of the Washington Office, American Friends of Lubavitch, speaking for Rabbi Beryl Lazar of the Marina Roshcha Synagogue, Moscow, Russia Other witnesses have been invited. Background: Since passage of Russia’s “Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” in 1997, there has been concern that Russia is retreating from its previous post-Soviet commitment to, and legal protection of, freedom of religious practice. The U.S. State Department’s 1999 Report on Religious Freedom called the 1997 law “restrictive and potentially discriminatory,” noting that “[the law] has led to curbs on religious groups in some regions.” At least one missionary from the United States has been denied permission to re-enter Russia to continue his work with a Baptist church in the Russian Far East. A November 1999 ruling by the Russian Constitutional Court eased restrictions imposed on religious organizations that had been established prior to the passage of the 1997 law.

  • Russian Bombing of Nuclear Waste Dumps Charged by Chechen Parliamentarians

    WASHINGTON — “The charge that Russian forces have allegedly bombed known Russian nuclear waste sites in Chechnya—one in Grozny and four others outside the city—by Seilam Bechaev and Tourpal-Ali Kaimov of the Chechen Parliament has greatly increased my concern and anxiety over developments in the region,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) at a Commission briefing today. Mr. Seilam Bechaev, Vice President of the Chechen Parliament and Mr. Tourpal-Ali Kaimov, Chairman of the Budget Committee of the Chechen Parliament, were providing a comprehensive overview of the current situation in Chechnya to the Commission. “As we meet here today, a devastating war is taking place in Chechnya,” said Smith. “What the Russian Government describes as an ‘anti-terrorist operation,’ has degenerated—if it wasn’t already planned—into a war of destruction against the people of Chechnya. In response to concern from the international community, the Russian government and military simply claim that the conflict is an ‘internal matter’ despite a 1991 OSCE commitment that human rights issues ‘are of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States’ and are not exclusively any country’s ‘internal affair.’ Nothing justifies the shelling of peaceful villages, strafing of buses and killing refugees fleeing from the fighting, setting up ‘filtration camps’ for males between the ages of 10 and 60 under ‘suspicion’ of being guerrillas, and the entire litany of brutal acts by the Russian military that bears no relation to combating terrorism.” Also participating in the briefing was Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA). In a written statement submitted to the briefing, House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-NY suggested that “it may be appropriate at this time for the United States to bring a resolution before the United Nations Security Council regarding this brutal operation.” Bechaev and Kaimov claimed that Arab “emissaries” had conspired with Russia’s Special Services to promote this latest conflict, in which there are over 200,000 refugees and 10,000 dead. After Mr. Smith pointed out the near-unanimous passage of House Resolution 206 condemning the Russian acts in Chechnya (which Smith acknowledged were “mere words”), he asked what steps the U.S. should take to end this conflict. Bechaev responded that: - The World Bank should refuse and withhold funds for Russia; - An international committee should be arranged with the authority to investigate and negotiate an end to the conflict. (At the November 1999 OSCE Summit, the OSCE participating States, including the Russian Federation, reaffirmed the existing mandate of the OSCE Assistance Group in Chechnya and stated that the assistance of the OSCE would contribute to achieving a political solution to the crisis.); - Sanctions should be placed upon the Russian Federation; - Chechen and Russian representatives should meet with a U.S. mediator; - Humanitarian aid and NGO access to the Chechens should be allowed; and, - The U.S. should provide support to build an independent democratic government in Chechnya.

  • Montenegrins Warn of More Conflict in the Balkans

    WASHINGTON - Witnesses appearing today before The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe warned of the potential for conflict in the Balkans—similar to that which occurred in Kosovo in 1999—if democracy fails to take hold in Montenegro, a province that in federation with Serbia comprises contemporary Yugoslavia. “Since 1997, Montenegro has moved toward democratic reform, and its leaders have distanced themselves from earlier involvement in the ethnic intolerance and violence which devastated neighboring Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo,” said Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “In contrast, the Belgrade regime of Slobodan Milosevic has become more entrenched in power and more determined to bring ruin to Serbia, if necessary to maintain this power. The divergence of paths has made the existing federation almost untenable, especially in the aftermath of last year's conflict in Kosovo. We now hear reports of a confrontation with Milosevic and possible conflict in Montenegro as a result.” Srdjan Darmanovic, Director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Podgorica, said, “Without the active role of main Western countries and without a serious peace and stability preserving strategy in the whole region, including Montenegro, the Belgrade regime will sooner or later decide to act in order to topple the Djukanovic government or to instigate conflict in Montenegro. It is in the very logic of that regime. The real questions is, will Milosevic act, whether a referendum on independence is held or not?” Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) commented, “Common sense makes clear that timely efforts to prevent the outbreak of conflict are worth pursuing. We are fortunate today that we can focus on developments in Montenegro where the prospects for democracy offer one of the few glimmers of hope in a region torn by conflict and ethnic hatreds. I admire the courage of those pursuing the path of democracy in Montenegro and doing so at some risk.” Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) pointed out, “We need to send as strong a signal as we can that another Milosevic-made conflict will not be tolerated. We can hope that democratic forces in Serbia can change the environment in which Serbian-Montenegrin relations are determined, by challenging Milosevic’s rule. Until they do, we must be sure that instigating new violence is not an option for Milosevic, not a solution to his political problems at home.” Veselin Vukotic, Managing Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in Podgorica, said, “We in Montenegro believe that the most efficient way to avoid new conflict and to develop permanent democracy is through complete reform and reconstruction of our political and economic system. However, reconstruction is needed not just of our economy, administration and state, but also of our mentality. Our principal problem lies in how our society thinks—how we understand and solve problems.…Our key problem is overcoming our fear of open society, open economy—overcoming our fear of globalization. On this point, we are more irrational than rational at the moment.” “In order for Montenegro to begin changing our mentality, we must build a new economic system based on private property, economic freedom, and the development of entrepreneurship. We have already started this process, and we are getting closer to an American-style free market system, rather than the so-called “social market” system of Europe or the state-controlled system in Russia. We are very grateful for the assistance we have received from the United States in helping us begin our reform efforts. “Our viewpoint is that everything must be privatized. There must be no area in which the state controls property. “We Montenegrins don’t have time to wait for Mr. Milosevic to resign. The question of his resignation is not Montenegro’s problem. It is Serbia’s problem. If the citizens of Serbia choose Milosevic as their president, then good luck to them. Serbia’s votes are not Montenegro’s concern.” Janusz Bugajski, Director of the Eastern Europe Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC stated: “Other than surrendering Montenegro altogether, Belgrade has three options: a military coup and occupation; the promotion of regional and ethnic conflicts; or the provocation of civil war. More likely, Milosevic will engage in various provocations, intimidations, and even assassinations to unbalance the Montenegrin leadership. He will endeavor to sow conflict between the parties in the governing coalition, heat up tensions in the Sandjak region of Montenegro by pitting Muslims against Christian Orthodox, and threaten to partition northern Montenegro if Podgorica pushes toward statehood. The political environment will continue to heat up before the planned referendum. “I fear the worst from Mr. Milosevic at this point,” Bugajski concluded. In closing, Mr. Smith said, “As democracy is strengthened in Montenegro, the international community can also give those in Serbia struggling to bring democracy to their republic a chance to succeed.”

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing with Chechen Parliamentarians Announced

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming briefing: Chechen Parliamentarians: The Situation in Chechnya 10:00 a.m.—12:00 noon Wednesday, February 2 Room 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff, Public and Press Questions will be allowed after presentations Presenters will be: Seilam Bechaev, Vice President, Chechen Parliament. Prior to his election in 1997, Mr. Bechaev was an attorney and investigator in the administration of the Government of Chechnya. He is a graduate of the Law Faculty of the Rostov University, Russian Federation. Mr. Tourpal-Ali Kaimov, Chairman, Budget Committee, Chechen Parliament. In 1996-97, Mr. Kaimov was chairman of the Freedom Party. He is a 1991 graduate of the Food Institute in Moscow and a 1978 graduate of the Grozny Pedagogical Institute, Chechnya. Both Mr. Bechaev and Mr. Kaimov were born in Kazakstan, as a result of Stalin’s exile of the Chechen people during World War II. In February 1998, President Maskhadov announced the “full implementation of the Shariah rule in Chechnya” and suspended the work of the Parliament. Mr. Bechaev and Mr. Kaimov were elected 1997 in elections that were held with the support of the Grozny-based Assistance Group of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe in February 1997. In December 1998, the Assistance Group was evacuated to Moscow due to the poor security conditions in Grozny. At the November 1999 OSCE Summit, the OSCE participating States, including the Russian Federation, reaffirmed the existing mandate of the OSCE Assistance Group in Chechnya, and stated that the assistance of the OSCE would contribute to achieving a political solution to the crisis.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing on Montenegro Announced

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming hearing: Promoting and Protecting Democracy in Montenegro 10:00 a.m.-12:00 noon Tuesday, February 1 Room B-318 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. Scheduled to testify are: Srdjan Darmanovic, Director, Center for Democracy and Human Rights (Montenegro) Veselin Vukotic, Managing Director, Center for Entrepreneurship (Montenegro) Janusz Bugajski, Director, Eastern Europe Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies (Washington, D.C.)   Montenegro is the smallest of the six former Yugoslav republics and the only to remain tied to Serbia, in a new Yugoslav federation established in 1992. In 1997, a split in the ruling, formerly Communist Party led to the ascendancy of current President Milo Djukanovic and his reformist followers, including those from Montenegro’s large Albanian and other minority populations, over that of the former Montenegrin President and current Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic and his following, which has aligned itself with the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Relations between Serbia and Montenegro have been tenuous since that time. In light of the worsening situation in Serbia since the Kosovo conflict in early 1999, the prospects for confrontation which could actually lead to conflict have increased. Montenegro’s political leaders view the federation controlled by Milosevic as limiting the prospects for their republic’s democratic development and economic recovery through European integration, and are considering whether to move toward independence. Their opposition to Belgrade’s control has incurred the wrath of the Milosevic regime and its Serbian nationalist supporters The issue is divisive for Montenegro internally, with reports of a build-up in paramilitary activity, and of confrontations between Montenegrin authorities and the Yugoslav military based in Montenegro. On January 14, U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe said that it would be a “serious mistake” for Belgrade to interfere in Montenegro’s internal affairs.

  • Chairman Slams Russian Policy in Chechnya as "Hippocratic Oath in Reverse"

    WASHINGTON –The Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), today condemned the announcement by the Russian military that it would keep in custody all Chechen males, ages 10 to 60 years old, to check their alleged associations with guerrilla groups. Russian guards have sealed off the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia and are preventing men and boys from joining their families in returning to their homes. “This policy is simply inhumane and underscores the brutal strategy that Russia has followed toward the non-combatant population all along," said Chairman Smith. "This inhumane and shortsighted response promises to fuel the mistrust Chechens have towards Moscow and may well contribute to hardening further the resolve of the Chechen population. I urge Moscow to countermand this decision, heed the advice of the international community, and enter into good-faith negotiations with the legitimate political representatives of the region before it's too late." The second Chechen war of the decade has created more than 200,000 internally displaced persons who have fled from northern Chechnya primarily to the region of Ingushetia west of Chechnya. The Ingushetia government has criticized this latest policy of detaining Chechen males. Smith continued, "We know even from the scant reporting on the situation that the Russian military has inflicted major abuses against the civilian population in Chechnya. The Russian Government seems to have instituted the reverse of the Hippocratic Oath: ‘Do all the harm you can.’" On November 16 of last year the House of Representatives passed a resolution expressing concern for the situation in Chechnya and urging all sides to negotiate. Two weeks earlier, on November 3, the Commission held a hearing during which a panel of experts testified on the growing threat to the civilian population of Chechnya. At the Istanbul Summit of the OSCE, Russia tentatively opened the door for OSCE involvement in resolving the conflict.

  • Helsinki Commissioner Releases Letter to Polish Ambassador on Property Restitution

    WASHINGTON - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today released the text of a letter to the Polish Ambassador to the United States concerning reports that a commission of the Sejm, Poland's lower house of Parliament, has proposed discriminatory amendments to a draft law on property reprivatization. The letter was signed by Ranking Members Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). Full text follows: January 11, 2000 The Honorable Jerzy Kozminski Ambassador Republic of Poland 2640 16th Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20009 Dear Mr. Ambassador: Over the past several months, we have followed with interest the Sejm's work on a government-proposed law that would provide for the return of private property confiscated by the Nazi or communist regimes in Poland or, when the actual return of property is not possible, to provide original owners the right to receive alternate compensation. We were pleased to learn that Polish Government officials had stated that the proposed law would settle the property claims of both current and former Polish citizens. Regrettably, the parliamentary commission overseeing this legislation reportedly wants to limit the right to receive restitution or compensation for wrongfully confiscated property to those individuals who are Polish citizens on the date the proposed law is enacted and who have been residents of Poland for at least five years before that date. The Helsinki Commission has heard from dozens of people with unresolved property claims in Poland. This issue matters to hundreds, if not thousands, of people who fled to the United States and other countries because they faced religious, ethnic or political persecution in Poland. In the 105th Congress, Commissioners from the House of Representatives sponsored a resolution, H. Res. 562--which was unanimously adopted by the House of Representatives--that commended post-communist countries, such as Poland, for addressing the complex and difficult question of the status of wrongfully expropriated properties. As that resolution expressed, however, when a country enacts laws providing for restitution or compensation for properties taken by previous regimes, restrictions that require claimants to reside in, or be a citizen of, the country from which they seek restitution or compensation are arbitrary and discriminatory. The U.N. Human Rights Committee, established by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has already considered several cases in which claimants have been excluded from post-communist property restitution/compensation policies on the basis of their current citizenship or residence. In two cases brought by American citizens and others with property claims in the Czech Republic, the Committee determined that, while there is no right to property per se enumerated in the ICCPR, there is a right to non-discrimination pursuant to article 26 of the Covenant. The U.N. Human Rights Committee concluded that preconditioning restitution or compensation on current citizenship or residence violates the Covenant's non-discrimination clause. The Human Rights Committee's reasoning in these cases is compelling: The [Czech Republic] acknowledges that the confiscations were discriminatory and this is the reason why specific legislation was enacted to provide for a form of restitution. The Committee observes that such legislation must not discriminate among the victims of prior confiscations, since all victims are entitled to redress without arbitrary distinctions. Bearing in mind that the [property claimants'] original entitlement to their respective properties was not predicated either on citizenship or residence, the Committee finds that the conditions of citizenship and residency in [the Czech law] are unreasonable. . . . Moreover, it has been submitted that the [property claimants] left Czechoslovakia because of their political opinions and that their property was confiscated either because of their political opinions or because of their emigration from the country. These victims of political persecution sought residence and citizenship in other countries. Taking into account that the State party itself is responsible for the departure of the [property claimants], it would be incompatible with the Covenant to require them permanently to return to the country as a prerequisite for the restitution of their property or for the payment of appropriate compensation. Simunek v. Czech Republic, (1995) (emphasis added). While the Human Rights Committee's decisions in these cases are not directly binding on Poland, we hope nonetheless that the Sejm Commission which recommended using citizenship and residency restrictions in the Polish law will bear in mind the Committee's persuasive reasoning and will recall Poland's obligation, as a party to the ICCPR, to respect the treaty's non-discrimination clause. A few months ago, at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United States raised concerns with several countries, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Lithuania, for using citizenship or residency restrictions in their property restitution laws. At that time, the Polish draft law did not contain such restrictions and the United States held Poland up before those other countries as a positive example of a country pursuing nondiscriminatory restitution and compensation policies. While the parliamentary commission's recommendations are extremely troubling, we hope that the Polish Government and the full parliament will work to ensure that the legislation ultimately adopted will be a model of democratic values. We would appreciate any further information that you can provide on these issues. Sincerely, cc: Deputy Secretary Stuart E. Eizenstat The Honorable Maciej Plazynski, Speaker of the Sejm The Honorable Daniel Fried, U.S. Ambassador, Warsaw

  • "Whither Human Rights in Russia?" Helsinki Commission Hearing Announced

    WASHINGTON —Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe announced a forthcoming hearing: Whither Human Rights in Russia? Friday, January 15 10:00 am— 12:00 noon Washington, DC Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Presiding Open to Members, Staff, the Public and the Press Witnesses will include: Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chair, Moscow Helsinki Group Larry Uzzell, Moscow-based Director of the Keston Institute, Oxford, England Micah Naftalin, National Director, Union of Councils for Soviet Jews David Satter, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, author of Age of Delirium: the Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union A Representative of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry The decline in Russia’s economic fortunes in 1998 has been accompanied by disturbing developments in the areas of human rights and civil liberties. A religion law adopted in 1997 has led to legal difficulties with local authorities for some religious organizations. After seven indictments, environmental activist Alexandr Nikitin is still being confined to St. Petersburg having been neither acquitted nor convicted at an October 1998 trial for allegedly revealing state secrets. Nikitin has been listed by Amnesty International as Russia’s first political prisoner. Communist Party members of the Russian Duma have blamed “Yids” for Russia’s economic travails and Jewish members of Yeltsin’s entourage for “genocide” against the Russian people. In November, one of the most prominent liberal Duma members, Galina Staravoitova, was murdered in St. Petersburg. Ironically, Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared 1998 “The Year of Human Rights” in Russia in honor of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  • Helsinki Commission Releases Letter to Secretary Albright on Romania

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today released as a public courtesy the full text of a letter with attachment that was sent to Secretary of State Albright on November 10 that allegedly has been quoted in the Romanian media. The letter is being released so an accurate and complete copy is available. The letter was signed by Commissioners Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), and Reps. James C. Greenwood (R-PA), Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Michael P. Forbes (D-NY). Full text follows: November 10, 1999 The Honorable Madeleine Korbel Albright Secretary of State U.S. Department of State Washington, DC 20520 Dear Madam Secretary: We write to bring to your attention several matters of concern regarding Romania. We understand that you have stated your support for Romania’s assumption of the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2001. If Romania is selected at the upcoming summit in Istanbul to Chair the OSCE in 2001, the Government of Romania will become part of the OSCE Troika this January. We urge you to take Romania’s desire to play a leadership role in OSCE as a unique opportunity to raise a number of human rights matters with Bucharest. Romania has made great strides toward democracy since the fall of the repressive Ceausescu regime. In particular, the conduct of the elections and peaceful transition of power which gave the Democratic Coalition and President Constantinescu control of the government, the inclusion of minority parties in that government, President Constantinescu’s efforts to combat corruption, the expansion of a free media, efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and the struggle to privatize and develop a free market economy in Romania are all commendable. Nevertheless, several human rights issues remain of concern to the Commission which, if not adequately addressed, would hinder a successful OSCE Chairmanship by the Government of Romania. As you know, Romania is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in November 2000. If selected as CIO for 2001, Romania will be assuming the Chairmanship approximately six weeks after those elections. Even if the same government is re-elected, there will likely be major cabinet reshuffling and some disarray within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Recent statements by the spokesperson for that Ministry indicate that it currently has a $10 million deficit in its budget and may be forced to cut diplomatic representation by 25-30 percent, leaving only “skeleton staff” at some of its embassies and consulates abroad, causing concern about Romania’s ability to marshal the resources necessary to lead the OSCE. Additionally, and of greater concern, is the potential composition of the government following the 2000 elections. Current polls indicate that former President Iliescu leads President Constantinescu by a substantial margin. You will recall that during his presidency, Iliescu’s Party of Social Democracy (PDSR) created a ruling coalition with two ultra nationalistic and extremist parties, the Greater Romania Party and the Party of Romanian National Unity. Should Iliescu and the PDSR resume power and form a similar coalition government, we believe the consequences for the Romanian chairmanship of the OSCE would be disastrous. The attached addendum details our concerns regarding anti-Semitism, freedom of the media, religious liberty, the plight of the Roma minority and property restitution. These are issues about which the Commission has engaged the Government of Romania for many years. Members of the Commission staff discussed these matters at length with Sever Voinescu, Secretary General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in March, as well as with Ambassador Mircea Geoana and Mrs. Zoe Petre, Special Advisor to President Constantinescu, during her recent visit to Washington. Madam Secretary, we would greatly appreciate your further review of these issues and your raising them with our friends in Romania as they pursue the Chairmanship of the OSCE. Our fervent hope is for a successful OSCE Chairmanship, should Romania be selected, and for its continued pursuit of integration into the West. We thank you for your attention to these matters and look forward to your response. Sincerely, cc: His Excellency Mircea Geoana Ambassador of Romania The Honorable James C. Rosapepe Ambassador of the United States to Romania

  • Helsinki Commission Efforts Reflected in Istanbul Charter

    WASHINGTON - “As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am particularly pleased that the Istanbul Charter and Declaration approved by the 54 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) today, includes a number of specific initiatives advanced by the Commission. They address trafficking in human beings, particularly women and children; corruption; eradication of torture; and protection of Roma. Members of the Commission had been fighting for advancements on these pressing issues for several years,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). A 17-member U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in July in St. Petersburg, Russia, paved the way for these advances by building a wider and stronger consensus for them. The Istanbul Declaration suggests some progress on Chechnya, another issue to which the Commission has given priority. But questions remain whether Russia is really interested in finding a political solution. With regard to Chechnya, Chairman Smith calls on Russia to “cease immediately and without precondition its use of massive and indiscriminate force against civilians. The use of such force has led to an enormous humanitarian tragedy, one that every day looks more comparable in humanitarian destruction to the terror that Serbian leader Milosevic unleashed on the civilians of Kosovo. Those in Chechnya responsible for the scores who have been kidnaped or unaccounted for should immediately release the victims and provide an accounting for all who are missing.” “Although Russia made promises in Istanbul about seeking a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya and allowing the OSCE to play a role in this,” Smith continued. “Early post-Summit reports from Moscow suggest the sincerity of these pledges is already in doubt. According to press reports, senior figures in Moscow refer to President Yeltsin’s ‘rigid’ position in Istanbul and say ‘no new orders’ have been given. Russia should make a good faith effort to find a political solution, with assistance from the OSCE. Not to do so and to continue Moscow’s brutal attacks would condemn many thousands more innocent people to tragic consequences.” “I was disappointed that the documents do not build on OSCE commitments in the field of religious liberty at a time when there is increasing intolerance toward minority faith communities in much of the OSCE region, including Western Europe,” Smith continued, “Similarly, I am disheartened at the failure of efforts to set a standard for the removal of criminal defamation from the law books of OSCE States. Such an effort was seen as unacceptable by several countries. But we will not retreat.” Members of the Commission have been particularly active in supporting concrete steps to combat trafficking of human beings, the subject of a June 28 hearing. The U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July introduced an anti-trafficking initiative that was unanimously approved by the Assembly. The introduction of this issue into the Istanbul Charter and Declaration also has been received with broad approval, which will help spur serious efforts in the OSCE States to stop this modern form of slavery. Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) especially welcomed the high-level recognition of the problems posed by corruption in the OSCE region. “Corruption has implications well beyond the economic dimension, undermining the core OSCE values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Rampant corruption in many of the economies in transition pose a great threat to their ability to develop as democracies and create prosperous private market economies. These problems likewise afflict the United States and other advanced countries. Thus this issue is ripe for a much higher level of international attention. I would add that corruption has cost U.S. business firms billions of dollars in lost contracts abroad with direct implications for our economy here at home. The comprehensive nature and membership of the OSCE make it ideally suited to play a leading role in combating corruption in a region of vital interest to the United States," Campbell concluded. Campbell served as Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the St. Petersburg Assembly and spearheaded calls for the OSCE to play an active role in combating corruption and organized crime. A Commission hearing in July on “Corruption and Bribery in the OSCE Region” highlighted the multidimensional aspects of the problem. The Commission has conducted hearings this year on the use of torture in countries of the OSCE, especially in Turkey, a NATO ally. Efforts by several Members of the Commission to stop the export of torture equipment by U.S. companies to Turkey's Government followed a 1998 congressional fact-finding mission to Turkey which included interaction with families of torture victims, and a March hearing. In many OSCE participating States, safeguards—such as due process of law and independent judicial oversight of police and security forces—to prevent torture and prosecute and punish those responsible are weak or non-existent. Abuses of prisoners and detainees occur with alarming frequency throughout the NIS; arrest of those responsible is rare. Last year, Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman reported that torture was widespread. In Uzbekistan, political activists and religious believers have been tortured in custody, to extract confessions. In Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, oppositionists have been targets for similar abuse. In Central Europe and the former Yugoslavia, there have been many incidents of police brutality against Roma. Torture is widespread in Turkey, but Ankara's recently stated policy of zero tolerance and their plans for additional legal reforms and human rights education are welcomed. Some 400,000 victims of torture worldwide have made their way to the United States, recognized as a global leader in supporting the rehabilitation of victims of torture. The November 19 Charter for European Security includes a clear commitment of OSCE states to eradicate torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The Heads of State have further pledged to promote legislation to provide safeguards and legal remedies to combat torture and assist victims. Members of the Commission hoped to expand the language to further protect minority religious believers, many of whom are currently under legal attack in a number of the OSCE States. Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestants, for example, are having a difficult time in much of the former Soviet Union and in countries like France and Austria in obtaining legal standing in the courts, and in buying property. The bulldozing of the only Seventh Day Adventist church in Turkmenistan last weekend is a shocking reminder of the frightening threats to religious freedom in some areas of the OSCE region. Summit leaders acknowledged that Roma are subjected to violence and discrimination, as well as other manifestations of racism. There is no clearer manifestation of the racism Roma face than the wall recently erected in the Czech city of Usti nad Labem. The United States has commended the Czech Government and Parliament for opposing the wall, which is incompatible with a democratic society. This wall deserves the same fate as the Berlin wall, and now. A number of countries have no comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, and Roma have often faced unremedied discrimination in the workplace, housing, education, the military, and public places. Therefore, in addition to acknowledging the violence and discrimination Roma face, the November 19 Declaration calls for the adoption of anti-discrimination legislation to promote respect for the rights of Roma. The Commission will actively work to build on the progress at the Summit to add impulse and content to the work of the OSCE on the issues of on trafficking, corruption, torture, and Roma. The Commission will also make stronger efforts to develop more support among OSCE states for expanding protections to minority religions and faiths, and bringing an end to the infamous criminal defamation laws that, in some countries, are used to squelch voices of freedom. Members of the Commission do not underestimate the exertions required to achieve these goals. In this regard it especially looks forward to close cooperation with NGOs and other OSCE states that shared the Commission’s priorities.

  • Commissioners: "Mrs. Clinton, Support the 'Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 1999' as an Example in Istanbul!"

    WASHINGTON - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Commissioners Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) today called on First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to express her support for the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 1999—a bi-partisan bill HR 3244, under consideration in Congress—in her speech at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, tomorrow. The provisions of the legislation complement language expected in the Istanbul Charter which President Clinton and leaders of the fifty-four OSCE participating States will sign tomorrow. Last July, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) unanimously adopted a resolution calling for the governments of 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 prostitution or slavery-like labor conditions. It is expected that the Summit document will also specify that States should promote the adoption or strengthening of legislation to hold accountable persons responsible for trafficking in human beings and to strengthen the protection of victims. Immediately following the Charter signing tomorrow, the First Lady will speak publicly to the OSCE Summit gathering about this issue. “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 U.S. Congress recognizes the need for improved legislation to combat trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 1999 gained strong bipartisan support last week in the House International Relations Committee. When enacted, this law 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. The bill would represent a direct fulfillment of this latest OSCE human rights commitment.” H.R. 3244 would severely punish persons in the United States convicted of trafficking, including recruitment, harboring, transporting, purchasing or selling the trafficking victim. The bill would authorize $94.5 million for programs in the United States and abroad to assist and protect victims of trafficking, such as the provision of shelters and rehabilitation programs for victims and limited provision of relief from deportation for victims who expose their traffickers. Foreign aid would be authorized to help other countries improve their laws against trafficking and to establish protections for victims, but, for those countries that still do not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, non-humanitarian U.S. assistance would be withheld. According to Smith, “H.R. 3244 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. The First Lady should use her speech tomorrow as an opportunity to support this bi-partisan effort against trafficking. H.R. 3244 is a model for the many other countries that are just beginning to address this affront to the human rights of millions of people, particularly women and children.”

  • Helsinki Commission Alleges Horrific Humanitarian Disaster Unfolding in Chechnya

    WASHINGTON - “The Clinton Administration has, for the past few years, refrained from any criticism or challenge of the policies of President Yeltsin in the fragile hope that this will enhance the prospect that democracy and civil society will prevail. Unfortunately, strains of democracy and civil society have been drowned out by the sound of tank treads moving over the countryside of Chechnya,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith today at the Commission hearing “The Chechen Crisis and Its Implications for Russian Democracy.” “The Russian Government is applying indiscriminate force far out of proportion to its stated objectives in Chechnya,“said Smith. “As was the case four years ago, thousands of innocent persons are being killed or displaced by the Russian offensive.” Smith commented, “Any country, including the Russian Federation, is justified in using appropriate methods to combat terrorism. However, launching a war against innocent civilians is another matter. Russia is a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and has agreed to certain standards regarding the protection of citizens when addressing internal security matters.” “Ironically, the leaders of the 54 OSCE countries are preparing to assemble shortly in Istanbul for the final major summit of the century,” said Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “The horrific humanitarian disaster unfolding in Chechnya will loom large over that important meeting. While none should discount that threats posed by terrorism in the North Caucasus, neither should that serve as a pretext to use force against non-combatants and civilian populations.” Ranking Commissioner Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) lamented, “The policy is not only murderous, but incredibly short-sighted. However it may have been planned, the war in Chechnya has not only become an attack on innocent non-combatants, but it will strain the fabric of Russia’s democratic development, to say nothing of the financial resources that could be used to build up a society, rather than destroy it.” “There is a major humanitarian disaster underway in the Caucasus,” said Lyoma Usmanov, the Representative of Chechen Republic to the United States. “Hundreds of civilians have already been killed in Russian air and artillery attacks, mostly women and children, and thousands have fled to neighboring regions. As these regions are completely unequipped to cope with this influx of refugees, the scale of the disaster will grow exponentially as colder weather sets in. Neither the Chechen nor the Russian Ingush governments are capable of preventing this unfolding tragedy, affecting those most vulnerable in our society; the elderly, women and children.” Professor John Dunlop, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution said, “It is my conclusion that this campaign of terror against Chechen civilians has been fully intentional on the part of the Russian military, Prime Minister Putin and President Yeltsin. Its principal aim appears to have been ethnically to cleanse hundreds of thousands of Chechens from their home republic, in what resembles a repeat performance of the Stalinist deportation of 1944, which eventually resulted in the Chechens losing 20-25% of their populace.” Journalist Yo’av Karny noted, “The Chechens do not deserve capital punishment on the account of [their] flaws. Their quest for independence is no less legitimate, no less warranted by a history of struggle, than that of any people I know of. “Chechnya’s fate has been ignored too often by the outside world. Their own holocaust, which coincided with that of the Jews in Europe, is still awaiting world recognition and Russian repentance. It is our moral duty to make sure that this tiny and stubborn nation does not perish.” Fiona Hill of the Eurasia Foundation commented, “The peace the Khasavyurt Accord brought proved to be as unpopular as the war it ended, and the Accord is now nothing more than a glorified cease-fire document.” She said, “Sympathy for the Chechens rapidly dissipated both in Moscow and in the surrounding region of the North Caucasus [following the 1994-96 war] in the face of widespread and blatant kidnapings, assassinations, murders, and attacks on economic targets in neighboring areas.” Most importantly, Hill said, “This Second War is all about politics in Moscow in the run up to the December 1999 Russian parliamentary and the June 2000 presidential elections, and all about defeat in the first war. In October 1995, in the face of persistent Russian military reversals and an increasing public backlash against the war, Boris Yeltsin described Chechnya as the biggest mistake of his Presidency. This is now a chance for the Yeltsin regime and the Russian military to fight the war again––and this time to do it right and correct that mistake. It is also an opportunity for a victorious little war to propel the regime’s designated successor to Yeltsin––Prime Minister Vladimir Putin––up the popularity polls and into the presidency in June 2000.” Ms. Hill offered the following recommendations: “We must continue to condemn attacks on the civilian population of Chechnya, and highlight the humanitarian tragedy and the threats to democracy in Russia posed by the press blackout. We must engage those Russian politicians who are beginning to speak out against the civilian casualties and the conduct of the War and stress the importance of negotiations. We should encourage the renewed engagement of the OSCE in the region given the positive role that this organization played in the first war, and should offer humanitarian assistance for the refugees and the neighboring republics that are hosting them.”

  • Czech Prime Minister Commended by Helsinki Commission for Condemning Roma Ghetto in Usti nad Labem

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe released the text of a letter to His Excellency Milos Zeman, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, commending him for his leadership in passing a resolution which overrules the Usti nad Labem city council’s decision to build a wall separating Roma from non-Roma residents and urging him to continue his efforts to remove this barrier which divides the citizens of his country, effectively creating a ghetto reminiscent of 1930s Europe. The letter was signed by Commissioners Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Ranking Members Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Michael P. Forbes (D-NY). The full text of the letter follows: Dear Mr. Prime Minister: We write to commend you for your leadership in the passage of a resolution on October 13 which overrules the Usti nad Labem city council’s decision to build a wall separating Roma from non-Roma residents. We urge you to continue your efforts to remove this barrier which divides the citizens of your country. In May 1998, the international community was shocked when local officials in Usti nad Labem announced plans to build a wall that would separate ethnic Czechs, whom Mayor Ladislav Hruska reportedly deemed “decent” citizens, from the Roma whom he derided as “indecent.” Foreign journalists immediately converged in Usti to report on the proposed wall, often comparing it to the Berlin wall or to Nazi ghettos. A member of the Commission staff also visited Maticni Street in Usti, as an observer on a Council of Europe delegation. In the seventeen months since this controversy erupted, human rights organizations from Skopje to Berlin to New York have criticized the wall. Dozens of representatives from the diplomatic community in Prague and from international organizations, including the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Council of Europe, and the European Union have visited Usti and condemned the proposed wall. At a September 6 OSCE meeting in Vienna—a meeting devoted exclusively to Romani human rights issues—Usti was repeatedly held up as the symbol for every injustice faced by Roma. We understand that some local officials have defended the wall as a “noise barrier”; others view it as “just a wall.” But in Usti, this wall was specifically designed to divide a community along racial lines. Accordingly, no matter what euphemism local officials may use for this structure, it will simply be known internationally as a monument to racism. These developments have already inflicted considerable damage to the good name and reputation of your country. We regret that, notwithstanding the Cabinet’s May 26 resolution opposing the wall, local officials in Usti proceeded with construction of the wall at 4:00 a.m. on October 13— behind a police cordon to keep away the dozens of demonstrators who blocked construction last week. Regrettably, local officials in Usti have also stated their intent to disregard the Parliament’s resolution. Mr. Prime Minister, a Czech official from the Foreign Ministry complained at an OSCE-Council of Europe meeting on October 5 that international observers have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past seventeen months talking about a wall that has not even been built yet. Well, now the wall has been built. As long as this controversy persists, the Usti wall will erode the Czech Republic’s international standing and cast a shadow over U.S.-Czech relations. Dialogue on many other issues of mutual interest will inevitably share the agenda with the wall in Usti. Under these circumstances, it is critical that Czech political leaders act decisively and quickly to end this crisis. Sincerely, BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S Co-Chairman FRANK LAUTENBERG, U.S.S. Ranking Member JOSEPH R. PITTS, M.C. Commissioner CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C. Chairman STENY H. HOYER, M.C. Ranking Member MICHAEL P. FORBES, M.C. Commissioner 

  • Belarus' President Lukashenka Called on the Carpet by Helsinki Commission for Human Rights Violations

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe released the text of a letter to His Excellency Alyaksandr Lukashenka, President of the Republic of Belarus, expressing growing concern about violations of human rights, democracy and rule of law, specifically: the arrest yesterday of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in an "unsanctioned" march; the continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir; the disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar and others; increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals; the denial of registration of non-governmental organizations; the police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96; criminal charges against opposition activists; and, the initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday's Freedom March. The Commission has been concerned about this deterioration in Belarus for quite some time and has raised such issues with the Government of Belarus to little avail. The letter was signed by Commissioners Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), and Ranking Members Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). The full text of the letter follows: Dear President Lukashenka: We are writing to express our serious and growing concerns about recent developments in Belarus. Until recently, we were becoming more hopeful that meaningful dialogue between the Belarusian Government and opposition would take place. Within the last month, however, violations of the principles of human rights, democracy and rule of law have come to our attention that, frankly, lead us to question your government's seriousness in finding a solution to the problems of democracy in Belarus. We were disturbed to learn of the arrest earlier today of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in "an unsanctioned march." Our concerns include the following: • the continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir, who was supposed to be released from investigative detention where he has been held for six months. • the disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar, his colleague Yuri Krasovsky, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenka, and former National Bank Chair Tamara Vinnikova. • increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals, and especially the harassment of Naviny through the use of high libel fees clearly designed to silence this independent newspaper. • the denial of registration of non-governmental organizations, including the Belarusian Independent Industrial Trade Union Association. • the police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96, and confiscation of computers which stored data on human rights violations. • criminal charges against opposition activist Mykola Statkevich and lawyer Oleg Volchek and continued interrogation of lawyer Vera Stremkovskaya. • the initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday's Freedom March. Your efforts to address these concerns would reduce the climate of suspicion and fear that currently exists and enhance confidence in the negotiation process which we believe is so vital to Belarus' development as a democratic country in which human rights and the rule of law are respected. Sincerely, BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S Co-Chairman FRANK LAUTENBERG, U.S.S. Ranking Member CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C. Chairman STENY H. HOYER, M.C. Ranking Member

  • "Uzbekistan is One of the Most Repressive New Independent States," says Helsinki Commission Chairman Smith

    WASHINGTON - “Since mid-1992, Uzbekistan has been one of the most repressive New Independent States under President Islam Karimov,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today at a Commission hearing, “The State of Democratization and Human Rights in Uzbekistan.” “There are no registered opposition parties, all media are tightly censored and there are no independent human rights monitoring organizations,” said Smith. “Religious liberty has also been challenged. While for the most part the Jewish community has not encountered difficulties from government bodies, and President Karimov has pursued good relations with Israel, Evangelical Christian denominations have faced official harassment. Moreover, since 1997, an ongoing crackdown on Islamic believers has been underway. That has been documented in the State Department’s Human Rights Report and many reports by non-governmental human rights groups. Uzbekistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in December and a presidential election in January 2000 against this general background.” Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) commented, “From my travels, I saw that the fear of Islamic extremism is one of the main motivating factors behind the Uzbek Government's crackdown on all religious groups…However, fear does not absolve governments of their responsibilities to protect the rights of citizens to religious liberty…By prohibiting unregistered religious gatherings and criminalizing free religious speech, Uzbekistan violates its OSCE commitments to religious liberty and free expression.” “No democratic state can ever justify what reliable reports tell us about continuing torture, extorted confessions, or the planting of false evidence. Even in circumstances where a genuine threat exists to the well-being of the state, rule of law and due process norms must be followed in order to insure that human rights are protected,” he said. Pitts concluded, “The current government policy of violating human rights of Uzbek citizens is an obstacle that must be overcome. Uzbekistan's full potential cannot be realized until these human rights issues are dealt with in a constructive and just way.” John Beyrle, Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States, testified, “Uzbekistan has shown little progress in democratization. The U.S. will likely discourage other governments and the OSCE field missions from monitoring the upcoming December and January elections.” “Free and open media are vital to the growth of true democracy, [yet] soviet-style press censorship remains pervasive; the rule of law remains weak; and, the exercise of religion is hindered by the 1998 restrictive law on religion,” he said. His Excellency Sodyq Safaev, Ambassador of the Republic of Uzbekistan commented, “Uzbeks today face the numerous challenges of building a secular democracy and opposing the threats of religious fundamentalism and political extremism. … The main achievement of Uzbekistan during the short period of its independence was that it has managed to avoid altogether the disintegration of society, economic collapse and chaos. …76% of the population of Uzbekistan is satisfied with the government’s job. … They see that all institutions of statehood and government are functioning and providing them whatever the state should provide to its citizens. …The people also see that they have been freed from the shackles of the state economy. …The people also see that now, at last, for the first time this century, they are genuinely free to travel abroad. …Both individuals and ethnic groups are free to leave the country, should they so desire. Although Uzbekistan is not fully democratic in the sense that the West understands it, although mistakes have been done, although plenty of shortcomings still exist, it is certainly the freest system under which Uzbeks have ever lived. And [the] nation is firmly committed to the further strengthening of secular democracy and [the] free market,” he concluded. Cassandra Cavanaugh, Researcher, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, presented a very different perspective: “By the Fall of 1998, …some have estimated that over 80% of all working mosques were closed.” “We see the following pattern of human rights violations: Arrests are clearly discriminatory, based on evidence of piety such as beard-wearing (now extremely uncommon), regular attendance at suspect mosques or individual prayer or Koranic study alone or in groups; Police often plant evidence which forms the basis for initial charges: small amounts of narcotics, ammunition, or increasingly, banned religious literature, or a combination; The authorities act as hostage-takers, arresting family members or occupying family homes to coerce the appearance of a wanted person. Family members have also been sentenced to prison terms solely on the basis of their affiliation with suspected religious figures; From beginning to end, the right to a fair hearing is violated, with accused persons most often deprived of the right to counsel, held in incommunicado detention, and tortured. There are increasing reports of deaths in detention. Being accused is usually tantamount to being convicted, as the presumption of evidence is entirely lacking,” she said. Alarmingly, she noted, “The government is building what can only be described as a concentration camp reportedly exclusively for Muslim prisoners at Jaslyk, in the ecological disaster zone of the Ust-Yurt plateau. According to the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan there have been at least 38 deaths in custody in this facility.” “The U.S. should move beyond talking about the threat of terrorism not justifying repression.…Recent experience shows that the threat of sanctions can bring about change.…Therefore, we urge you to make Uzbekistan subject to all measures provided for under the Religious Freedom Act,” she concluded. Paul Goble, Communications Director, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, noted that “Tashkent is converting Islam from a religion to a political force of enormous and potentially destabilizing force.” Noting the building of two prison camps for political opponents, he noted, “These camps will resemble the GULAG of the Soviet past, and even if no one is ever confined to them, their existence will cast a chilling shadow over the population.” “Uzbekistan’s most open question is “after Karimov, what?” said Goble. Lawrence Uzzell, Director, Keston Institute, commented, “It cannot be stressed too often that Uzbekistan’s 1998 law on religion is the most repressive in all of the former Soviet Union. Only in Uzbekistan has the state formally criminalized religious dissent, by formally amending its criminal code to impose prison terms of up to five years for unauthorized religious activity. Unlike Russia, which allows even unregistered groups to gather in the homes of their own members, Uzbekistan explicitly prohibits any kind of communal activity by such a group—even a Bible study in one of its member’s apartments. By law Uzbekistan explicitly bans all forms of missionary activity, bans religious education at the elementary or secondary level, and subjects all imported religious literature to state censorship.” Abdurahim Polat, Chairman of the Birlik Party and exiled opposition leader, noted, “Preparations for elections in Uzbekistan are going ahead with full speed, which are going on totally against democratic principles. The opposition is banned from participating in these campaigns. Exiled leaders of democratic opposition decided to delay their return to Uzbekistan. These elections will not have any positive effect on the state of the nation. On the contrary, it may have a negative effect and destabilize the situation. It seems like civil war is unavoidable.” “With the assistance of the international community, mainly from the member countries of the OSCE, it is still possible to stop the bloodshed and find the solution in the best interests of the Uzbek nation,” he concluded.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Voice Outrage Over Wall

    WASHINGTON - “The wall in Usti nad Labem is a symbol of intolerance and racism against Roma that cannot be allowed to stand in today’s Europe,” said Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), following the construction of a wall between Roma and non-Roma residents in the Czech city of Usti nad Labem on Wednesday (October 13). “The human rights situation in the Czech Republic has taken an alarming turn for the worse.” Plans to build the wall between Roma and non-Roma residents on Maticni Street were announced in May 1998 by Usti Mayor Ladislav Hruska, a member of Vaclav Klaus’ Civic Democratic Party. Since then, the wall has been the subject of intense criticism by non-governmental human rights organizations and representatives of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union, and the Council of Europe. In May 1999, the Czech Cabinet adopted a resolution opposing the wall, but took no decisive action to prevent it from being built. Last week, efforts by municipal authorities to begin construction of the wall resulted in a temporary stalemate, as approximately 50 Romani demonstrators occupied the construction site. At 4:00 a.m. on October 13, police cordoned off the site and construction of the wall was hastily completed. On the evening of October 13, the Czech Chamber of Deputies adopted a resolution by a vote 100 to 58 opposing the wall, but local officials in Usti have remained defiant and say they will not remove it. Chairman Smith continued, “I have been heartened by some of the improvements this year in the human rights situation for Czech Republic’s Romani minority, especially the change in the Czech citizenship law. I regret that Czech officials have allowed this controversy to escalate to these proportions. As long as this crisis persists, the Usti wall will erode the Czech Republic’s international standing and cast a shadow over U.S.-Czech relations. Dialogue on many other issues of mutual interest will inevitably share the agenda with the wall in Usti. These developments certainly undermine the credibility of those who have argued that Romani asylum seekers from the Czech Republic do not have a well-founded fear of persecution.” Ranking Commission Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) added: “Last year, during the debate on NATO expansion, I supported the admission of the Czech Republic. I noted there were issues of concern there, including discrimination against the Romani minority. At the same time, I stated my belief that Czech leaders were committed to resolving these problems. I certainly expected to see an improvement with respect to those problems -- not their escalation. Today, I want to voice my profound concern about the wall in Usti nad Labem. I urge every leader of every Czech political party to voice his unequivocal opposition to this symbol of racism.” “It reportedly took an 80-member police cordon to enable this wall to be built,” observed Ranking Commissioner Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “But human rights activists have long vowed to take sledge hammers to any wall there. Is there going to be a permanent police presence in Usti to maintain this wall? This is just not normal.”

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Ukraine Elections Briefing

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Congressional Ukrainian Caucus announce a cosponsored public briefing: High Stakes: Upcoming Presidential Elections in Ukraine Friday, October 15 2:00 p.m. Room 2200 Rayburn House Office Building Capitol Hill Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff the Press and Public Questions and answers to follow presentations   Participating in the briefing will be: John Tedstrom, Director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs at the National Security Council Nadia Diuk, Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the New Independent States at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) Michael Conway, Program Officer for Europe and Asia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Moderator: Amb. William Courtney, Senior Advisor, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • Helsinki Commission Urges Restraint in North Causasus

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today urged the Russian Government to cease its bombing campaign in Chechnya and address the social and economic problems that have caused discontent. “Moscow is undoubtedly entitled to defend its territorial integrity and resist terrorism. Our government is justified in assisting legitimate anti-terrorism efforts by the Russian Government,” said Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “But bombing Grozny, taking more innocent lives, and creating hordes of refugees in Chechnya is not likely to end the conflict in Dagestan. Such a policy is more likely to widen the conflict and sow enmity that will last for generations. President Yeltsin’s refusal to meet with President Maskhadov says volumes about Moscow’s willingness to settle the issue peacefully.” “Instead of leaving the Caucasus region on ‘auto-pilot,’ Moscow might better have done its part to live up to the Khasavurt Agreement and help Chechnya recover from the devastation of the war,” said Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, (R-CO). “Now it is reaping the harvest of neglect. Military overreaction in Chechnya does nothing to address the social and economic problems that have plagued Dagestan and made it ripe for the militants’ incursion. I hope wiser heads will prevail and work to remove the causes of discontent.” For the past four days, Russian planes have pounded strategic targets near the Chechen capital of Grozny, ostensibly to reduce the combat capabilities of Islamic militants who invaded western Dagestan from Chechnya in mid-August. The government of President Aslan Maskhadov has disavowed any connection with the militant forces, but appears unable to control them. Since the end of the Chechen War in 1996, the region has been plagued by violence, kidnapings, and a failing economy. According to many observers, the dismal economic prospects are responsible for the popularity of the Islamic militants, especially the Wahhabi sect, under whose banner many of the insurgents in Dagestan claim to be fighting.

  • Commission Chairman Welcomes Vote on Czech Citizenship

    WASHINGTON - “Friday's vote by the Czech Chamber of Deputies to amend the Czech citizenship law represents an important victory in the Romani civil rights movement,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today. “It is another concrete manifestation of the current Czech Government’s efforts to address the human rights concerns of the Czech Republic’s largest minority, the Roma. I commend those parliamentarians who supported this legislation and those in the government, especially Human Rights Commissioner Petr Uhl and Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky, for their leadership. The previous government policy—saying that the Romani minority need not seek asylum in Canada or elsewhere, while simultaneously denying many Czech Roma citizenship—simply made no sense. Friday’s vote restores common sense to the government’s citizenship policy. I hope the Czech Senate will quickly approve this measure and that President Havel will sign this into law at the earliest opportunity, ” said Smith. After the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation on January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic implemented a citizenship law that was one of the most restrictive of any of the 21 newly independent states of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Tens of thousands of former Czechoslovak citizens who were permanent residents of the Czech Republic were rendered de facto or de jure stateless; all of them were members of the Romani minority. In 1996, the law was amended in an effort to placate international critics of the law, but the 1996 amendment failed to make substantive changes or to address the law's fundamental shortcomings. On Friday, July 9, the Czech Chamber of Deputies adopted an amendment by 114 to 58 which will enable Roma who are permanent residents in the Czech Republic and who had been previously been excluded from citizenship to regularize their status. Chairman Smith also stated, “Many non-governmental organizations share the credit for this success: the Tolerance Foundation, the Czech Helsinki Committee, the Gremium of Roma Regional Representatives, the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, the European Roma Rights Center and others have played a critical role in monitoring and documenting the problems faced by Roma in the Czech Republic. Finally, I commend the Romani men and women who had the courage to stand up for their inalienable rights. The non-governmental community has once again demonstrated the critical role they play in any civil society—a role that should never be underestimated.”

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