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

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  • Commission releases Chairman's statement on the assassination of Slavko Curuvija

    WASHINGTON — Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe released the statement of the Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) on the assassination yesterday of Serbian journalist Slavko Curuvija. Full attribution follows: Mr. Speaker, yesterday Serbia lost a courageous citizen – one committed to an open society, to a free press, to reporting the truth. Slavko Curuvija was gunned down in front of his Belgrade apartment on Sunday by two men, dressed in black with black face masks. Branka Prpa, who was with him at the time, said that the murderers were certainly professionals. I extend my deepest condolences to her and to all of Slavko’s family and friends. Slavko Curuvija was editor of the independent Serbian newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, as well as the news magazine The European. Though he had ties with Serbia’s establishment, this last year he sought his own independent course, and became a leading critic of the Milosevic regime. Mr. Speaker, last December Slavko Curuvija testified before the Helsinki Commission which I chair. In his testimony, he said: "I come from a country where there is no rule of law... By making an example out of me, the regime sends a message to all who would oppose it, intimidating and bullying all the independent media in the process... The crackdown on my publications and other media organizations has jeopardized the right to free speech in Serbia. The crackdown on the universities jeopardizes another basic human right, freedom of thought. Belgrade University has been deprived of autonomy, its professors have been sacked for failing to sign loyalty oaths, its students jailed for protesting... After all his other wars, Slobodan Milosevic appears to be preparing to wage war against his own people in Serbia and Montenegro." More recently, on March 8, Slavko Curuvija, was sentenced along with two of his journalists to five months in prison by a Belgrade court for “spreading false reports with an intention to endanger public order, ” dictator-speak for telling the truth. The three remained free on appeal. When Milosevic used NATO’s action against his forces as an excuse to eliminate any remaining independent media, Curuvija chose to shut down operations rather than succumb to state censorship. A week ago, according to today’s issue of The Washington Post, a pro-regime newspaper accused Curuvija of supporting NATO bombing and said that “people like him” will neither be “forgiven nor forgotten.” People like Slavko Curuvija, who act upon their rights and freedoms and promote the protection of those rights, have fought for what is best for their country. Their patriotism is expressed in their opposition to a regime which does not want any independent voice, nor criticism. They see that Serbia only has a future if it becomes a democracy. I ask the people of Serbia, and Serbs in this country and around the world, to think hard about what has just happened. If this Milosevic regime is willing to do this to an independent thinker in Belgrade, a Serb, why is it not possible that this same regime can be responsible for the genocides in Bosnia and now in Kosovo? Is it worth rallying around Milosevic, who is President of Yugoslavia only through ruthlessly undemocratic means and who brought this upon Serbia? Can’t you see that Milosevic, not Curuvija, wants Serbia to be bombed, because he believes this will enhance his power and somehow justify getting rid of those who advocate freedom? I ask the people of Serbia to take a close look around you. Who has isolated you from a Europe more free and united than ever before? Who has caused your living conditions to be so much less than they had been, or could be? The answer should be clear – Slobodan Milosevic. You must no longer allow his propaganda to succeed in convincing you otherwise. Mr. Speaker, while we may have differences regarding what the U.S. role should be in stopping the genocide in Kosovo, we should be able to agree on one central point: Slobodan Milosevic is the problem, and he must account for his crimes. In my view, the cold-blooded murder of an independent journalist, Slavko Curuvija, is the latest crime to add to the list.

  • "What should NATO do now?" asks Helsinki Chairman

    WASHINGTON — “NATO’s military action has not accomplished the stated objectives to protect helpless Kosovars from Belgrade’s brutal offensive and to cripple Milosevic’s military capability. The humanitarian needs are ballooning and we must respond to that crisis. I do not, however, believe that NATO’s manhood is sufficient reason to put lives at risk,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today in a Commission hearing on the “Atrocities and the Humanitarian Crisis in Kosovo.” Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said in his opening remarks, “I have talked about the necessity of confronting Slobodan Milosevic—not the Serbian people, but the leader of the Serbian and now Yugoslav Government—confronting him is a way that he clearly understood the West was serious; that the West would not tolerate genocide in Europe. Though we are now doing that, the delay has cost us. … Having made the commitment to stop this madness, the United States and our NATO allies must see this action through.” The lead-off witness, Ambassador William G. Walker, Head of the Kosovo Verification Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, detailed the process by which the West has come to where it is in Kosovo, beginning with the October 1998 agreements and leading up to the break-down of the cease-fire agreement and the Rambouillet talks in March. He concluded that unarmed peacekeeping with no enforcement mechanism doesn’t work, nor does attempting to be balanced, where one side is consistently far worse. Nancy Lindborg of Mercy Corps International described the deteriorating situation in Kosovo over the years, and how the provision of humanitarian aid to the Kosovars had become increasingly inefficient. She agreed with Chairman Smith and Mr. Hoyer that several opportunities to resolve the conflict were missed. Dr. Jennifer Leaning of the Physicians for Human Rights detailed, through statistics and anecdotal evidence, the terrible situation in and around Kosovo, including a deterioration of the situation prior to the NATO air strikes; the terrible medical conditions, lack of food and the difficulty of gaining access to the refugees. She recommended that the Macedonian Government open its borders and open multiple sites for the refugees, and for NATO to use troops in Macedonia to assist the refugees. Mark S. Ellis of the Coalition for International Justice described legal methods that could be used to indict and arraign Slobodan Milosovic. He pointed out that the War Crimes Tribunal must aggressively investigated Kosovo atrocities committed by the Yugoslav authorities. He also emphasized that deportation and depopulation are to be considered acts of genocide under the Genocide Convention, and that Milosovic’s activities in Kosovo would appear to fall within that Convention. The conclusion of the hearing was that NATO bombing has failed to stop genocide and that the international community needs not only to care for the displaced but to consider other options to restore peace in Kosovo.

  • Russian Legislator Addresses Helsinki Commission

    Washington — Russian Duma Deputy Alexandr Shishlov, a member of the Yabloko Party from St. Petersburg, addressed a Helsinki Commission briefing on March 24 providing his assessment of the political and human rights situation in Russia. Attending the briefing were Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NY), Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Michael Forbes (R-NY), Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI). In a prepared statement, Shishlov noted that political developments in Russia have been hampered over the past few years by a lack of political infrastructure, undeveloped civil society, and problems in relations between the central government and the regions. With regard to human rights and the rise in anti-Semitism and extremism, Shishlov stated that Russia’s poor economy has served as a breeding ground for such attitudes: “Poverty is the best soil for communism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism...we may say that anti-Semitism had been the state policy in Soviet times, when communists ruled the country, and now it is once again the voice of communists.” More dangerous, in Shishlov’s opinion, however, has been the lack of strong reaction from governmental bodies. Attempts in the Duma to condemn anti-Semitic statements made by General Makashov, for instance, have been blocked by the communists in the Duma. [Note: On March 23, 1999 the House of Representatives passed unanimously a resolution condemning anti-Semitic statements made by members of the Russian Duma. The House resolution was introduced by Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and all House Commissioners. A similar resolution sponsored by Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Ranking Minority Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and eight other Senators, is pending in the Senate.] Deputy Shishlov noted the scheduled parliamentary elections in December 1999, and sees them as indicators of “Whether we continue with oligarch rule, or travel the road to democracy.” Joining Mr. Shishlov at the briefing were several other speakers involved in human rights issues in Russia: Thomas Jandl of the Bellona Foundation, Judah Schroeder of the Watch Tower Society of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Leonid Stonov of the Moscow Human Rights Monitors, Steve Mills of the Sierra Club, and Micah Naftalin of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry. They briefed Members and the public on such issues as the case of environmental “whistle blower” Alexandr Nikitin and Russia’s environmental situation overall; anti-Semitism, political extremism, and the criminalization of Russian society; and continuing difficulties for Jehovah’s Witnesses and other religious minorities in Russia. In this connection, Deputy Shishlov noted that NGOs have become a significant segment of the political landscape in Russia and expressed appreciation for the efforts of NGOs from abroad who assist Russia in human rights efforts. He cautioned, however, that ignorance of Russia has undermined some efforts at assistance. Chairman Smith noted that several Members of the Commission are interested in attending the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting scheduled to take place in St. Petersburg in July. Deputy Shishlov expressed the hope that Members would attend and invited them to visit the Yabloko headquarters in St. Petersburg.

  • "Anti-American discrimination must cease," says Helsinki Commission Chairman

    WASHINGTON — “Anti-American discrimination must cease in the area of property restitution,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today following a hearing “The Long Road Home: Struggling for Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe.” Chairman Smith also commented “ill treatment afforded some religious communities suggests that religious inequality and discrimination are often at the heart of a government’s restitution policies rather than economic constraints or other legitimate issues that need to be worked through.” Testifying at the hearing, attended by Smith, fellow Commissioners Reps. James C. Greenwood (R-PA) and Michael P. Forbes (R-NY), and Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-CA), were: Stuart E. Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs and U.S. Special Envoy for Property Claims in Central and Eastern Europe; Michael Lewan, Chairman, United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad; Bishop John Michael Botean, Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio; Vladislav Bevc, Ph.D., Executive Officer, American Owners of Property in Slovenia; Jan Sammer, The Czech Coordinating Office (non-governmental organization), Toronto, Canada; and, Vytautas Sliupas, Lithuanian “Class Action Complaint Group.” Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, commented, “property restitution and compensation are not favors these newly free countries do for those who fled for their lives. They are essential steps forward in their own economic and political development.” Eizenstat testified, “Restitution claims should be honored before privatization takes place. Governments should be very cautious about privatizing property, confiscated by the Nazis or Communists, whose ownership is in dispute. If this is not done, original owners should have a right to fair compensation,” and “We [the U.S.] encourage governments to establish equitable, transparent and non-discriminatory procedures to evaluate specific claims. In most countries this requires national legislation.” Lewan, Bishop Botean, Bevc, Sammer and Sliupas detailed the lack of willingness on the part of most central- and east-European governments to meet appropriate restitution standards and procedures. Copies of their testimonies are available from the Commission.

  • U.S. House condemns anti-Semitism in Russian Duma

    WASHINGTON - Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed unanimously a resolution (H.Con.Res. 37) condemning anti-Semitic remarks made by members of the Russian Duma, commending actions taken by fair-minded members of the Duma to censure the purveyors of anti-Semitism within their ranks and commending Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other members of the Russian Government for rejecting such statements. Introduced by Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), the resolution was co-sponsored by all Representatives on the Commission. A companion resolution , S.Con.Res. 19, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and nine co-sponsors. “The Congress must adamantly condemn these anti-Semitic statements made by members of the Duma—and any other anti-Semitic statements or activities that arise in Russia,” said Chairman Smith. “We understand that the Vice President intends to raise the issue of anti-Semitism with Mr. Primakov when they ultimately meet. Passage of this resolution demonstrates the solidarity of Congress with the Administration on this issue, as well as fair-minded members of the Russian Duma in the constant struggle against bigotry and racism.” “To remain silent is to condone,” said Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “We owe it to the many Russians—Jewish and non-Jewish—who are distressed and disgusted by such intolerant statements emanating from their national legislature, to add our voices of protest to theirs.” Since the fall of the ruble last August and associated economic problems in Russia, there has been a rise in anti-Semitic statements made by Russian political figures. In December of 1998, Chairman of the Duma Security Committee Viktor Ilyukhin stated that President Yeltsin’s “Jewish entourage” was responsible for alleged genocide against the Russian people. At public rallies, retired Army General and Duma Member General Albert Makashov has blamed “the Yids” and other “reformers and democrats” for Russia’s problems and threatened to “send them to the other world.” On March 2, The New York Times quoted General Makashov as saying, among other things, “We will remain anti-Semites, and we must triumph.”

  • "Stop the torture in Turkey - or move this year's Summit," says Commission Chairman

    WASHINGTON - “Systematic State-sponsored torture in The Republic of Turkey should be brought to a halt before the Summit that is planned for Istanbul this Fall,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today at a Commission hearing entitled “The Road to the OSCE Istanbul Summit and Human Rights in the Republic of Turkey.” “Testimony today has confirmed our worst fears,” said Smith. “For over a year-and-a-half, Commissioners and other Members of Congress tried to make clear that siting the Summit in Istanbul was an inappropriate reward for a participating State that practices thirty-seven different types of torture, as documented by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. And today’s depiction by Amnesty International of the electric shock torture of a twelve-year-old girl for stealing bread—in the Ankara Police Headquarters, in the capital of Turkey—confirms our worst fears that there is little guarantee of the basic human right of physical safety and due process guaranteed by one’s government.” “Additionally,” said Smith, “it has become increasingly necessary for the international community to monitor and defend the defenders, those non-governmental organizations and people who speak out in defense of human rights despite constant threats and harassment from the Government of Turkey. Thus, sadly, the human rights situation in this most important U.S. ally has deteriorated.” The hearing provided a timely review of U.S. policy regarding both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as preparations get underway for the OSCE Summit Meeting scheduled to convene in Istanbul later this year and the status of human rights in Turkey in light of Ankara’s OSCE human dimension commitments. Unfortunately, all of the witnesses were less than sanguine regarding Turkey’s human rights progress. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Marc Grossman, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Harold H. Koh, Amnesty International USA’s Stephen Rickard, The Center for Victims of Torture’s Executive Director Douglas A. Johnson, and Lawyers Committee for Human Rights’ Neil Hicks all presented testimony and answered questions from Commissioners.

  • Commission Hearing Announced The Long Road Home: Struggling for Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe

    WASHINGTON —The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announces a forthcoming hearing:   The Long Road Home: Struggling for Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe Thursday, March 25 10:00 a.m.—12:30 p.m. Room 2255 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff, Press and the Public Scheduled to testify are: Panel 1: Stuart E. Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs and U.S. Special Envoy for Property Claims in Central and Eastern Europe Michael Lewan, Chairman, United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Panel 2: Bishop John Michael Botean, Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio. Vladislav Bevc, Ph.D., Executive Officer, American Owners of Property in Slovenia. Jan Sammer, The Czech Coordinating Office (non-governmental organization), Toronto, Canada Vytautas Sliupas, Lithuanian “Class Action Complaint Group” Background A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The end of communist tyranny after 1990 sparked hope that governments in this region would redress these wrongful seizures of private property and communal property, such as churches, synagogues, schools and hospitals. This hearing will further address issues initially raised in a 1996 Commission hearing concerning the return of property confiscated by fascist and communist regimes to their rightful owners in post-communist Europe. The hearing occurs several months after a U.S. Government-sponsored international conference addressed the issue of restituting Holocaust-era assets, including communal property, and several months before a conference in Warsaw to focus exclusively on communal property restitution issues. Witnesses will discuss the progress made and the remaining obstacles to restitution and compensation in Central and Eastern Europe. Special attention will be given to recent restitutions in Poland, the controversy over restitution to the Romanian Greek Catholic Church, and the bureaucratic and legal obstacles faced by individuals seeking restitution of family homes, businesses and land in the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Lithuania.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing on The State of Democratization and Human Rights in Turkmenistan Announced

    WASHINGTON — The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe announced today a forthcoming hearing:   The State of Democratization and Human Rights in Turkmenistan Tuesday, March 21 2:00-4:00 p.m. 334 Cannon House Office Building Capitol Hill Washington, DC Open to Members, Staff, the Public and Press Testifying before the Commission will be: 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 Pyotr Iwaszkiewicz, formerly of the OSCE Office in Ashgabat Firuz Kazemzadeh, Member, International Commission of Religious Freedom Cassandra Cavanaugh, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki E. Wayne Merry, Atlantic Council of the United States Turkmenistan's Ambassador Halil Ugur has been also been invited. Background On Tuesday the Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on Turkmenistan, the most repressive of the New Independent States. President Niyazov is the subject of a pervasive cult of personality, there is only one registered party, all media are tightly censored, and there are no independent human rights monitoring organizations. Christian denominations have faced official harassment and Turkmen authorities demolished a Seventh-Day Adventist Church in November. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe 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. The hearing is 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 Road to the OSCE Istanbul Summit and Human Rights in the Republic of Turkey

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming public hearing:   The Road to the OSCE Istanbul Summit and Human Rights in the Republic of Turkey Thursday, March 18 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Room SR-485, Russell Senate Office Building Open to Members, Staff the Public and the Press The hearing will provide a timely opportunity to review U.S. policy and strategy for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as preparations get underway for the OSCE Summit Meeting scheduled to convene in Istanbul later this year. Key decisions are expected to be announced at the summit, including the adoption of a Charter on European Security. The hearing will also focus on human rights in Turkey in light of Ankara’s OSCE human dimension commitments. Witnesses: The Honorable Marc Grossman, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs The Honorable Harold H. Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Mr. Stephen Rickard, Director, Washington Office, Amnesty International USA Mr. Douglas A. Johnson, Executive Director, The Center for Victims of Torture Mr. Neil Hicks, Senior Program Coordinator, Middle East and North Africa Program, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Additional experts have been invited to testify.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Again Calls Upon Russian Officials to Prevent Murder in St. Petersburg

    WASHINGTON - This is an update to Commission release of February 19: On February 19, Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) called upon the authorities of the Russian city of St. Petersburg to act immediately to prevent the murder of Inga Ivanova, director of the Prins Maurits school of Open Christianity. Since then the situation at the school has deteriorated. Police sent to the school have entered the building and gathered the parents, children and teachers in the chapel. The parties are at a stand-off but the environment is very tense. The school is asking for international intervention to prevent any violence, and for the international community to seek city Governor Vladimir Jakovlev’s intervention to resolve this dispute peacefully. Reprise of the February 19 release: “Local officials must intervene immediately to prevent another murder similar to that of human rights activist and Duma member Galina Starovoitova,” said Smith. “Great issues are at stake here for the Russian people. Are they to be at the mercy of thugs and brigands, or live in a nation of law and justice? It is up to the current officials to insure that it is the latter.” Smith was referring to recent alarming reports that on the night of February 17 Inga Ivanova was seized by three men, pulled into a car and threatened with death if she continued to fight for the legal right to keep the building where the school is located. Fearing for her life, Ivanova fled to the Netherlands. Earlier, on the evening of February 17, St. Petersburg television had aired a program depicting the school with its 150 children and the 40 students of the pedagogical academy as being run by “sects” and representing a threat to Russian society. “Who runs St. Petersburg, the law or the criminals?” asked Smith. “The armed threats on the life of Inga Ivanova over a piece of property are another indication that the civil authorities have abdicated their responsibilities to protect life and have turned the streets over to criminal elements. One would think that with the still unsolved murder of Galina Starovoitova last year, and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly scheduled to meet this July in St. Petersburg, city authorities would struggle to prevent letting thugs run rampant in the city. I urge Governor Yakovlev to stop these threats against Inga Ivanova, find the purveyors of this assault and bring the parties guilty of this latest outrage to justice.” The Open Christianity school was established in the early 1990s as an ecumenical private school. According to records provided by Ivanova, the building that houses the school was given “in perpetuity” to the Open Christianity organization by city officials under the condition that the building be restored. Volunteers from the Netherlands, United States and Russia have assisted in the restoration. Nevertheless, city officials are now trying to seize the building for alleged breach of contract, sending police to forcibly seize the premises.

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Calls Upon Russian Officials to Prevent Murder in St. Petersburg

    WASHINGTON - Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today called upon the authorities of the Russian city of St. Petersburg to act immediately to prevent the murder of Inga Ivanova, director of the Prins Maurits school of Open Christianity. “Local officials must intervene immediately to prevent another murder similar to that of human rights activist and Duma member Galina Starovoitova,” said Smith. “Great issues are at stake here for the Russian people. Are they to be at the mercy of thugs and brigands, or live in a nation of law and justice? It is up to the current officials to insure that it is the latter.” Smith was referring to recent alarming reports that on the night of February 17 Inga Ivanova was seized by three men, pulled into a car and threatened with death if she continued to fight for the legal right to keep the building where the school is located. Fearing for her life, Ivanova fled to the Netherlands. Earlier, on the evening of February 17, St. Petersburg television had aired a program depicting the school with its 150 children and the 40 students of the pedagogical academy as being run by “sects” and representing a threat to Russian society. “Who runs St. Petersburg, the law or the criminals?” asked Smith. “The armed threats on the life of Inga Ivanova over a piece of property are another indication that the civil authorities have abdicated their responsibilities to protect life and have turned the streets over to criminal elements. One would think that with the still unsolved murder of Galina Starovoitova last year, and with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly scheduled to meet this July in St. Petersburg, city authorities would struggle to prevent letting thugs run rampant in the city. I urge Governor Yakovlev to stop these threats against Inga Ivanova, find the purveyors of this assault and bring the parties guilty of this latest outrage to justice.” The Open Christianity school was established in the early 1990s as an ecumenical private school. According to records provided by Ivanova, the building that houses the school was given “in perpetuity” to the Open Christianity organization by city officials under the condition that the building be restored. Volunteers from the Netherlands, United States and Russia have assisted in the restoration. Nevertheless, city officials are now trying to seize the building for alleged breach of contract, sending police to forcibly seize the premises.

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Expresses Regret Over Czech Parliament's Actions

    WASHINGTON — Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) today released the following joint statement: “The Parliament of the Czech Republic yesterday debated and rejected a proposed amendment to their law on extrajudicial rehabilitation that would have eliminated Czech citizenship as a condition for property restitution claims. We commend Parliamentarians Jiri Karas and Pavel Tollner for raising this complex issue. We profoundly regret that, in rejecting the amendment, the Czech Parliament has missed an excellent opportunity to resolve a long-standing and contentious issue between the Czech Republic and the United States. Enactment of the amendment also would have brought the Czech restitution law into conformity with decisions of the United Nations’ Human Rights Committee that these citizenship restrictions violate the anti-discrimination clause (article 26) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “We hope that the Czech Government will move forward swiftly with alternative mechanisms to restore property to those victims of fascism and communism who have thus far been excluded from restitution solely due to their lack of current Czech citizenship. In a meeting two weeks ago, Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous assured members of this Commission that his government would soon propose a new citizenship law which will permit dual citizenship. We urge the Czech Government to promptly put forth this new law as a first step towards resolving the discrimination Czech Americans have faced in making claims for restitution or compensation for property that was wrongly taken from them by the previous Communist regime. “In addition, we are alarmed by recent statements from Prime Minister Zeman and Deputy Prime Minister Rychetsky that question the legitimacy of returning seven hundred properties to the Catholic Church in 1996. The re-nationalization of these properties would send a troubling signal regarding the Czech government’s commitment to private property rights and respect for religious liberties. We will be monitoring these developments closely and hope the government’s position will soon be constructively clarified.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Reps. Smith and Hoyer Discuss Key Issues with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Palous

    WASHINGTON - Meeting with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous in the U.S. Capitol last night, Commissioners Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Minority Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) complemented the Government of the Czech Republic for allowing the Radio Farsi/Radio Free Iraq station to be placed in its country, for standing firm against municipal plans to wall off Roma and President Havel’s new “Holocaust Phenomenon” initiative. At the same time, they urged the Czech leader to condemn the wave of anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-foreign violence that plagues the Czech Republic. “We welcome this opportunity to discuss with Mr. Palous several matters of mutual concern and to express our appreciation for the support his government recently provided Radio Free Europe in agreeing to host the Radio Farsi/Radio Free Iraq station. I believe that the experience of Radio Free Europe demonstrates the value of such a medium and am gratified that the Czech Republic shares that perception,” said Smith. Smith also commented that he was “…gratified to learn that your government announced on January 11 that it would block the construction of a wall in the village of Usti that, if built, would effectively create a Roam ghetto. Such walls have no place in modern Europe. In fact, Mr. Minister, it is regrettable that it took as long as it did for your government to reach this conclusion—or at least to publicly announce its decision.” Mr. Hoyer pointed out that he was, “deeply concerned by the general failure of high-level Czech officials to condemn anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner acts. Xenophobia is out of place in contemporary Europe, and must not be tolerated nor ignored. President Havel has made such statements, but he stands virtually alone. There does not appear to be a serious willingness to ensure that such acts are vigorously prosecuted. We are not asking more of you than of any other countries, nor than what Americans ask from us when our own country experiences acts of intolerance.” The Commissioners and Mr. Palous discussed the case of Bob Joyce, the American teacher beaten in November for defending a Rom against skinhead harassment. (Note: At last July’s Commission hearing on Romani human rights the Czech Republic was cited as one of the worst countries on this issue.) In a similar vein, they discussed the ongoing problems with the citizenship law of the Czech Republic, specifically those provisions which deny citizenship to thousands of Czech Roma who previously had Czechoslovak citizenship. “I hope that a new law will be adopted quickly,” said Smith. “In particular I hope that the new law will provide citizenship ex lege; if Roma and others are required to go through a cumbersome application process, that will inevitably be subject to abuse at the local level and financially burdensome to implement.” The Commissioners expressed encouragement over President Havel’s new initiative, called the “Holocaust Phenomenon,” which is designed to provide greater insight into what happened to Jews and Roma during the war. They expressed hope that a full and complete copy of the archives from the Lety camp—the only archives from a Roma concentration camp known to exist—would be given to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) fulfilling a four-year-old pledge. In addition, they urged the USHMM be given rapid access to Czech-held Waffen-SS and related archives. Mr. Palous was urged to have the Czech Republic repeal its criminal defamation law, which violates international norms protecting free speech and a free press. “Although President Havel has pardoned everyone who has been convicted under this law, what will happen when someone else becomes President?” asked Smith. “This is an unnecessary legacy of the communist past.” The Czech Republic was urged to follow Hungary’s example, which repealed its criminal defamation law in 1994.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders: Milosevic Responsible for "Barbaric" Kosovo Massacre

    WASHINGTON — Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) released today the following statement on the situation in Kosovo: “The massacre committed in the Kosovo village of Racak is nothing short of barbaric. The mutilation and killing of 45 villagers, including three women and at least one child, constitutes a crime against humanity, and units which participated in this gruesome act must be identified, as well as the chain of command. Ultimately, Slobodan Milosevic must himself be held accountable for the crimes committed in Kosovo and in Bosnia. The U.S. Congress has already stated its belief that Milosevic should be tried as a war criminal, and the recurrence of events like this massacre should remove all doubt as to the urgency of such a step. “The arrogant response of the Yugoslav and Serbian authorities to the incident—denying access to the site by the International Tribunal prosecutor and declaring the head of the OSCE Mission as persona non grata—cannot be tolerated. In fact, Serbia may well have lost Kosovo once and for all. No state has the right to exercise its authority in this manner, and we consider Serbian authority in Kosovo to be illegitimate. The international community should begin to treat it as such. “Trying to coax Belgrade for an agreement on Kosovo has proven fruitless. NATO must respond to these atrocities. Unfortunately, the hesitance of the Alliance to take firm and definitive action in the face of Serbian atrocities continues to cost innocent lives. While we had hoped that the OSCE Verification Mission ably led by Ambassador Walker could make a difference, the Mission’s success hinges on Belgrade’s understanding that each atrocity will face a swift and severe international response. This latest brutality shows Belgrade’s real intentions. An unarmed “verification mission” is not the answer to the current human crisis.”

  • Helsinki Commissioners Reps. Smith and Hoyer Urge Czech Leaders to Condemn Xenophobic Attacks

    WASHINGTON - Meeting with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous in Washington last evening, Commissioners Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) praised the Government of the Czech Republic for standing firm against municipal plans in the village of Usti nad Labem to wall off Roma, for plans to resolve long-standing problems of statelessness for Roma and discrimination against Czech Americans in the Czech property restitution/compensation law, and for allowing the Radio Farsi/Radio Free Iraq station to be placed in the Czech Republic. They also discussed regional security issues, including the crisis in Kosovo. At the same time, they underscored the need for Czech leaders to condemn the wave of anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner violence that plagues the Czech Republic. Following the meeting, Smith welcomed the many positive messages brought to Washington by the Deputy Minister. Smith noted “I was deeply gratified to learn that the Czech government has announced that it would block the construction of a wall in the village of Usti nad Labem that, if built, would effectively create a Roma ghetto. Such walls have no place in modern Europe. I hope this decision reflects a new and deeper political will on the part of the Czech Government to combat manifestations of xenophobia.” Hoyer emphasized that “the key to this effort is a strong government reaction” when xenophobic attacks occur. “President Havel has, for too long, carried the burden of reacting to such acts. It is time for other Czech leaders, including Prime Minister Zeman, to be equally assertive in condemning hate crimes.” The Commissioners provided Deputy Prime Minister Palous with a list of recent xenophobic attacks, including one against Bob Joyce, a 61-year-old American teacher who was beaten unconscious in November for defending a Rom against skinhead harassment. In a similar vein, they discussed the citizenship law of the Czech Republic which has left stateless thousands of Czech Roma who previously had Czechoslovak citizenship. “I was deeply heartened by my discussion with Mr. Palous on this issue,” said Smith. “Not only does there appear to be a fast-track timetable for moving legislation forward, but Mr. Palous has assured us of his government’s commitment to ensure that new citizenship procedures will not entail a lot of bureaucratic red tape.” Hoyer added, “the adoption of the new citizenship law, which Minister Palous said will permit dual citizenship, will also be a first step towards resolving the discrimination Czech Americans have faced in making claims for restitution or compensation for property that was wrongly taken from them by the previous Communist regime.” The Commissioners and Mr. Palous also discussed the status of the Lety archives—the only known archives from a Roma concentration camp—and welcomed news that Mr. Palous had brought copies of one-third of the archives with him to deliver to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “I am gratified that this moves towards fulfilling a pledge made to me over four years ago, and I hope that the remaining two-thirds of the archive copies will be delivered soon,” said Hoyer. The Commissioners also urged Mr. Palous to seek the repeal of the Czech Republic’s Communist-era criminal defamation law. “Criminalizing people because of their criticism of the government, its offices or its personalities is simply contrary to international norms and contrary to the Helsinki Final Act,” said Hoyer. “Although President Havel pardons everyone who gets convicted under this law, what will happen when someone else becomes President?” asked Smith. “This is an unnecessary legacy of the Communist past.”

  • “Human Rights in Russia Are Headed Down the Wrong Road” Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Chris Smith says

    WASHINGTON - “Human rights in Russia are no longer at a crossroads but have been headed down the wrong road for several years,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today at a Commission hearing “Whither Human Rights in Russia?” Against the backdrop of the National Security hearing room and its symbols of U.S. military might, the Commission heard from witnesses about the deteriorating human rights situation that is affecting the average citizen due to increased corruption at every level of government, corrupt journalists who are in the pocket of the mafia-styled oligarches and political czars, pointed “ethnic cleansing” aimed at “blacks” (which in Russia means peoples from the Caucasus), religious repression from the Federal Security Bureau aimed at minority faiths, and ever-increasing anti-Semitism. Witnesses included: Dr. Elena Bonner, chair of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation; Ludmilla Alexeyeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Larry Uzzell, Moscow-based director of the Keston Institute; Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews; David Satter, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute; and Mark B. Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. “The decline in Russia’s recent economic fortunes has been accompanied by disturbing developments in the area of human rights and civil liberties,” said Smith. “Anti-Semitism in Russia—thought to have been exiled since the Soviet period to the pages of rabidly nationalistic newspapers—has moved into the more comfortable seats of the Russian Duma. Last October, at two public rallies, a Communist Party Member of the Duma, Albert Makasho, blamed ‘the Yids’ for Russia’s current problems. In December, at Duma hearings, the chairman of the Defense Committee blamed President Yeltsin’s ‘Jewish entourage’ for alleged ‘genocide against the Russian people.’ In response to the public outcry, both in Russia and abroad, Communist Party chairman Zyuganov explained that the Party had nothing against ‘Jews,’ just ‘Zionism.’ Smith pointed out that “Russia has laws on the books, but they seem to work only when bureaucrats see legal justice in their own interest. The average citizen appears helpless before the arrogant bureaucracy, coupled with brutal crime and economic chaos.” Dr. Bonner pointed out that the anti-Semitism may be virulent right now, but that it is not “in-bred.” Regarding U.S. financial support, Bonner recognized the allocation of the funds to various domestic projects, but pointed out that no one knows how the monies have actually been spent. “I cannot state whether the funds were stolen or not, that must be decided by the courts,” she said. Bonner also expressed support for linking human rights and civil liberties improvement to any future U.S. support for the Russian Government. Ms. Alexeyeva believed that the comments from the leaders of the Communist Party were actually true reflections of the Party, not of the Russian people. She also felt that other self-respecting parliamentarians from other countries should not deal with the Duma until the anti-Semitic remarks are rebuked and the purveyors of anti-Semitism denounced by the government and the Duma. She felt it would be helpful if distinguished Members of Congress would lead the way by telling Yeltsin they would oppose support for Russia until appropriate steps are taken to quell anti-Semitism. “Russian human rights activists perceive that the contemporary major problem is not in the domain of political persecutions the way it used to be in the USSR, but instead in the phenomenon of legal nihilism of all the state officials, from the most powerful ones to the most insignificant ones,” she said. David Satter’s conclusion was, “The new face of human rights abuses in Russia, in which the individual is deprived utterly of the protection of the law in the face of criminal business mafias, should be of deep concern to the United States. Fear for one’s physical security and the conviction that one is helpless to assure the safety of one’s family can only have a corrosive effect both morally and spiritually. When this condition is generalized to an entire population, it instills a distaste for democracy and a desire for authoritarian solutions which, in Russia, could have extremely violent consequences.” Larry Uzzell described in some detail the plight of religious believers in the new Russia, and felt that “Russians don’t have significantly less religious freedom than they did one-and-a-half years ago, but less than they did five years ago.” He did feel that the ongoing transfer of power to the provinces “is a good thing” and that different provinces apply laws very differently, resulting in varying degrees of freedom throughout the country. He optimistically felt that while “in the short term Russia will have less freedom, in the long term it will be free.” Naftalin and Levin discussed the current trends of anti-Semitism and how it manifests itself across Russia. They pointed out that there are both extremes, areas where there is little or no religious bigotry and other areas where there is extreme anti-Semitism—to the point of cemetery defacement and synagogue burning. But they both felt that the actions of a radical few were having a tremendous impact overall, that the public anti-Semitism was not shared by most common people. Background: The Commission decided to hold this hearing because 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.

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