Title

Commissioner Camuñez's Remarks on Good Governance

Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce, and U.S. Helsinki Commissioner
Michael Camuñez
Washington, DC
United States
Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Economic and Environmental Dimension
Implementation Meeting
Session 3: Good Governance

Before I begin, I’d like to thank the panelists today for their excellent and informative presentations.

The United States has viewed with keen interest the evolving discussions in recent years on what the OSCE’s priorities should be in the Economic and Environmental Dimension.  As our friend and colleague Mr. Svilanovic pointed out during last year’s Vienna Review Conference, we appear to have come to an appreciation that good governance is the key linking theme across the entire second dimension.  The Maastricht Strategy is very clear on this point: “Good public and corporate governance and strong institutions are essential foundations for a sound economy, which can attract investments, and thereby enable States to reduce poverty and inequality, to increase social integration and opportunities for all, and to protect the environment.  Good governance at all levels contributes to prosperity, stability and security.”  As we consider the implementation of our second dimension commitments, however, we should keep in mind why it is important to implement those commitments.

The global economic downturn continues to put extreme pressure on people and governments across the OSCE region.  To be sure, some countries have weathered the storm better than others.  Still, no country can be forever immune to market forces, and even within those that have done well, there are always citizens left behind.  This is certainly the case in the United States, and for this reason President Obama is focused intently on how best to put those Americans without a job back to work.  We all know that trade and investment are critical drivers of economic growth.  Indeed, recognizing this important reality, the Obama Administration has launched the National Export Initiative, which seeks to deepen our strategic trade relationships around the world, recognizing that 85 percent of world GDP growth will occur outside the United States in the coming few years.  As we encourage more American businesses – large and small – to embrace international trade, seek opportunities in new markets, and make strategic investments that will lead to increased global trade flows, we are keenly aware of the challenges and costs posed by official corruption, weak institutions, and lack of respect for property rights, including intellectual property.

Weak governance and lack of transparency constitute non-tariff barriers to trade, which we have committed ourselves to eliminating.  Furthermore, the same issues that deter trade and investment also work against comprehensive security: a lack of transparency in governance leads to diminished confidence that problems and disputes will be addressed in a fair and impartial manner.  Without trust and confidence in public institutions, there is little incentive for investors and companies to pursue trade deals or direct investment in those economies. 

The effect is stagnating economic performance, which, as we have seen in the past several months and years, can lead to political upheaval.   

The United States Government is deeply committed to fostering good governance and transparency in its political and economic institutions.  President Obama has made the global fight against corruption a top priority.  As he has noted, “In too many places, the culture of the bribe is a brake on development and prosperity.  It discourages entrepreneurship, destroys public trust, and undermines the rule of law while stifling economic growth.”   

The real world costs of corruption and weak institutions should not be underestimated.  The World Bank estimates that more than one trillion dollars in bribes are paid each year out of a global economy of approximately 30 trillion dollars.  That's an incredible three percent of the world’s economy.   In 2009, companies lost nearly $25 billion to companies willing to pay bribes in deals for which the outcome is known.  And bribery is especially costly for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs): a separate study has shown that up to 25 percent of SME operating capital in companies operating internationally is diverted to corruption.  That is a staggering figure that illustrates how corruption diverts scarce resources to thoroughly unproductive ends.

Corruption is a global problem that knows no borders.  And that’s why corruption demands a truly global response – one that knows no limits on collaboration.  The Obama Administration is doing its part to implement its obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention by enforcing the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) strictly and fairly.  We are determined to ensure that U.S. businesses do not contribute to corruption in foreign markets.  At the same time, we are determined to do what we can to assist them in the fight against foreign corruption, and against the high risk and significant costs of corruption in such markets.  

Regrettably, at this stage, the lack of enforcement of domestic bribery laws, and of foreign bribery laws by many nations that are Parties to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is extremely troubling and raises concerns about a lack of political will.  Governments can and should prosecute both those who give bribes and those who receive them, both at home and abroad.  And the OSCE should continue to encourage participating States to adopt and enforce rigorous anti-bribery regimes.

Of course, the fight against corruption is not simply a law enforcement matter; rather it can also be a significant – if not the most significant – non-tariff barrier all companies face.  Accordingly, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Administration (or ITA) are committed to working with our trading partners to level the playing field and to promote transparent and corruption-free markets globally.  Our work to promote clean and ethical business environments occurs at both the multilateral and bilateral level.  At the multilateral level, the ITA is pressing its counterparts to lead by example and to implement comprehensive anti-corruption measures.  

In addition to our work through the OECD, the United States has been working diligently to persuade the G20 countries to adopt a comprehensive anti-corruption action plan, which includes a commitment focused on adoption and robust enforcement of anti-bribery laws, implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption, greater engagement with the private sector, and support for transparency mechanisms, to name a few.  Many of these commitments require our G20 partners to enact and implement new laws and preventive measures.  

The United States, at ITA’s initiative, in particular, took the lead on proposals relating to the private sector and also on whistleblower protection, within the G20.  In the United States, whistleblowers play a crucial role in helping to enforce anti-corruption law.  This principle is also embodied in international conventions.  Articles 12 and 13 of the UN Convention require States Parties to prevent corruption in the private sector and promote the fight against corruption with the business community and civil society.  Unless governments can protect whistleblowers, it is unlikely that they can identify or address systemic causes of corruption.  The United States believes robust whistleblower protection should be an essential part of any good governance initiative in the OSCE, and I was encouraged to hear Ambassador O’Leary indicate that this will be an area of focus under the Irish Chairmanship.  

The U.S. Department of Commerce has also been committed to fostering strong private sector integrity as an integral part of promoting good governance in markets worldwide.  Companies are global corporate citizens, and as such, can work collectively and with governments to foster trust, and promote transparency.  I hope that some our work may provide a useful model for the OSCE to consider as it looks to embrace good governance and anti-corruption as a priority for the second dimension, a goal we fully support, and which I am personally committed to supporting.

For example, the ITA has championed business ethics and corporate governance reform since the early 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Our Business Ethics Manual has been translated into Chinese, Spanish and Russian and is still one of the most widely used resources on this important topic.  We have partnered with business associations and chambers of commerce to develop collective action and business ethics program in many markets.  

Our work on business ethics has grown.  This past year, the ITA has focused on trying to heighten awareness of good governance, transparency and business ethics in sectors of vital importance to many economies – by taking a “sectoral” approach to combating corruption and promoting good business practice, the challenge of dealing with corruption becomes less daunting.  The ethical issues specific to different industries vary greatly – and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the problem.  Within the G20, for example, the United States, at the initiative of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has taken the lead in calling for the G20 to endorse additional sectoral approaches to fighting corruption, beyond the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  We have asked G20 governments, for example, to consider supporting the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (COST) – a new multistakeholder initiative, developed by the World Bank.  COST uses similar approaches to EITI to promote greater transparency in public infrastructure projects and government procurement.  I hope that the OSCE might similarly consider COST and other multistakeholder approaches to promoting transparency under the Irish chairmanship.    

Within APEC, the ITA has focused on developing new ethical principles for key sectors within the APEC region.  I am pleased to report that under the APEC SME working group, we have coordinated a project with APEC countries and businesses to develop principles of business ethics in the construction, medical devices and biopharmaceutical sectors.  These voluntary principles are meant to be used by businesses and trade associations – large and small – to guide their ethical interactions with public officials and institutions.   I hope that within the OSCE framework and the EEDIM, we might also consider focusing on business ethics in specific sectors of interest to all of our economies. 

I want to close by suggesting some activities to take the theme of good governance and transparency forward.  In addition to encouraging the OSCE to formally endorse the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative—a move that would send an important signal about this body’s commitment to the principles of good governance and transparency—the U.S. encourages us to explore whether there are additional sectoral initiatives that merit support from the OSCE, including the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative.  The United States Government also strongly supports the Irish Chair’s goal to develop a Statement or Declaration of Transparency Principles to help guide our governments in their future activities.

I want to encourage us to consider new models of bilateral cooperation to promote good governance such as the model Mr. Murray just discussed, leading to a public-private initiative in the Russian power generation sector.  

We at the U.S. Department of Commerce are working closely with the Center for Black Sea/Caspian Studies at American University to potentially convene a conference in May of next year that would seek to address the challenge of developing mechanisms to ensure good governance and transparency, while also balancing the goals of protecting national security and accelerating economic development faced by the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, as they seek to assert their role as a gateway between Europe and Asia.  In addition, the conference will also focus on specific market access challenges to regional integration and economic development in the Caucasus and Central Asia such as transparency in Government procurement and privatization, and trade facilitation challenges, including customs and lack of regional harmonization.  It is our hope that the OSCE will join us for this event – focused on critical areas such as transport and infrastructure – to work on tangible ideas for projects and collaborations in the OSCE region.

We look forward with great interest to the 20th Economic and Environmental Forum, where we will delve deeper into all the facets of good governance.  We also thank the Lithuanian Chairman-in-Office for ensuring that their draft Ministerial Council decision on Energy Security incorporates transparency in the energy sector – in our view, considering the vital role that energy plays in modern economic life, there can be no confidence, and thus no security, without energy transparency.  In the year ahead, we envision an even broader focus on transparency principles across the entire spectrum of economic and environmental activities, and will work with all of our colleagues in the OSCE to make that vision a reality.

Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

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    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: COMBATING KLEPTOCRACY WITH INCORPORATION TRANSPARENCY Tuesday, October 3, 2017 2:30 PM Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Live Webcast: http://www.senate.gov/isvp/?type=live&comm=csce&filename=csce100317 The world is locked in a struggle between the rule of law and corruption. On the one side are democratic governments that respect the rule of law; on the other, authoritarian regimes that steal with impunity and view the rule of law with disdain. Sadly, the former enables the latter by providing a safe haven for stolen assets. Once laundered, this ill-gotten money is used to finance crime and terrorism, corrupt public institutions, and fund criminals’ luxurious lifestyles. The OSCE, NGOs, and national governments have emphasized incorporation transparency as an effective way to combat global corruption. The EU has been at the forefront of this effort, enacting rules that require Member States to maintain registers of the beneficial owners of companies and other structures associated with laundering the proceeds of crime. This hearing will examine the development of the EU’s beneficial ownership transparency provisions as well as the success of their implementation as relates to corruption as a vector for authoritarian influence in Europe. Witnesses will also address transparency and anti-money laundering policies in the United States as they relate to U.S. foreign policy. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Charles Davidson, Executive Director, Kleptocracy Initiative, Hudson Institute Pat O’Carroll, Executive Director, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Caroline Vicini, Deputy Head of Delegation, Delegation of the European Union to the United States Gary Kalman, Executive Director, FACT Coalition

  • Helsinki Commission, House Freedom of the Press Caucus to Hold Briefing on Attacks on Journalists in Russia, Post-Soviet States

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the House Freedom of the Press Caucus today announced the following joint briefing: “SYSTEMATIC ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS IN RUSSIA AND OTHER POST-SOVIET STATES” Wednesday, October 4, 2017 3:00 PM Senate Visitors Center SVC-208 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission A free press is an essential pillar of democracy, keeping governments accountable and citizens informed. Autocratic regimes seek to intimidate and silence the press by systematically targeting journalists. A muzzled independent media is powerless to prevent the domination of the state-driven news narrative and public misinformation. Today, journalists in Russia and post-Soviet states risk intimidation, harassment, arrest, and even murder for their work. Those who criticize the government or investigate sensitive issues like corruption do so at their own peril. More often than not, cases remain unresolved and victims and families do not see justice. This briefing will address key questions regarding journalists in Russia and other post-Soviet states: their important role and impact; concerns over their rights, safety, and protection; and future support and promotion of media freedom in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region. Opening remarks will be provided by the Co-Chairs of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) The following panelists are scheduled to speak: Thomas Kent, President and CEO, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Amanda Bennett, Director, Voice of America Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists Karina Orlova, Washington DC Correspondent, Echo of Moscow

  • OSCE Debates Environmental Policy and Economic Development in Prague

    By Paul Massaro, Policy Advisor From September 6 to September 8, 2017, the OSCE convened the 25th Concluding Meeting of the Economic and Environmental Forum. This annual conference brings together participating States for a wide-ranging discussion on policy as relates to the Second Dimension of the OSCE, or economic and environmental issues. The theme of the 2017 conference was “Greening the Economy and Building Partnerships for Security in the OSCE Region,” a topic selected by Austria, the current OSCE Chair-in-Office. At a time when natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are devastating U.S. communities, such a discussion could not be more relevant. Add to that the joblessness and low growth rates that continue to plague many parts of the region and you have a broad debate on the issues that most impact the everyday life of citizens of the OSCE region. The Forum took the form of a series of thematic panels featuring experts drawn from the UN, the NGO community, and academia, as well as from the relevant ministries of OSCE participating States. Forum participants were particularly concerned with the effect that climate change is having on the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters, as illustrated by the extreme weather in the Caribbean and the United States. Much of the conference was devoted to discussing energy efficiency measures and renewable energy as a means to counteract the effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment. Experts agreed that energy efficiency and renewable energy are not separable concepts: the latter must be pursued to achieve the former. Participants were also deeply concerned about youth unemployment, especially in relation to violent extremism. Many participating States struggle with unemployment or underemployment, which exacerbates the factors that lead youth to radicalize. Experts discussed countering violent extremism through more flexible labor market policies as well as addressing the exploitation of unemployment or underemployment by extremist recruiters. Connectivity—transport, trade facilitation, and economic cooperation—was also discussed extensively. (Connectivity is distinct from economic integration, which envisions a deeper level of policy harmonization.) Experts and representatives from participating States generally agreed that two regions in particular could profit mightily from expanded connectivity: Southeastern Europe, or the Balkans region, where important steps toward greater connectivity are being made, and Central Asia, which remains among the regions with the lowest interregional trade in the world. The economic and environmental situation in the Eastern Donbas was also an important part of the discussion. Experts expressed severe concern that the shelling in the industrial region could lead to ecological disaster should, for example, the chemical plants that dot the area be hit and their chemicals seep into drinking water. Participants also discussed how to reestablish connectivity in this region, which once was a cohesive economic sphere. However, representatives from participating States argued that any discussion of regional connectivity would be for naught until Russia ceases its backing of militants in the region and enables a ceasefire to take effect. Generally speaking, the mood of the conference was one of consensus. Despite disagreements on certain issues, participating States tend to be of one mind when it comes to the need to prevent and prepare for natural disasters, increase energy efficiency, and encourage job and business creation, all topics that made up the majority of the discussions at the 25th Concluding Meeting of the Economic and Environmental Forum. Although minor disagreements cropped up in all of these topics, they were ephemeral and did not lead to prolonged debate. This general consensus may be a result of the fact that the arguably most controversial aspect of the OSCE’s Second Dimension, anti-corruption, was absent from all discussions. This is because this topic was addressed at the 2nd Preparatory Meeting of the 25th OSCE Economic & Environmental Forum in Astana and likely also because it was not a critical aspect of the theme of the Chair-in-Office. Nonetheless, at least a single panel on the topic would have been a welcome addition given its central importance to good governance. All in all, the Forum was a smooth and useful exercise that provided participating States with many worthwhile insights. Paul Massaro attended the conference as a representative of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

  • Kyrgyzstan: Prospects for Democratic Change and the Upcoming Presidential Election

    Two weeks before the upcoming presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan—potentially the first peaceful transfer of power under regular circumstances in the region—campaigning is in full swing. On October 15, Kyrgyz citizens will participate in democratic elections, though serious concerns remain.   This briefing was moderated by Helsinki Commission Policy Advisor Everett Price. In his remarks, he positively noted the current president’s decision to respect his constitutionally-determined term limit and hold regularly-scheduled elections for his successor. He cautioned, however, that the country’s weak political institutions and the ruling party’s abuse of administrative resources could undermine the fairness of the vote. He also observed that the disqualification of certain opposition candidates and restrictions on journalists have adversely affected the election climate. Dr. Erica Marat from the National Defense University discussed the political situation on the ground in Kyrgyzstan and reviewed the political background of the two main candidates, Atambayev loyalist Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Kyrgyz billionaire, Ömürbek Babanov. Anthony Bowyer, Senior Program Manager for Europe and Eurasia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), reviewed ongoing electoral monitoring efforts in Kyrgyzstan, underscoring the importance of these elections for the region and U.S. interests therein. Finally, Freedom House representative Marc Behrendt offered his insight on Kyrgyzstan’s enduring interethnic tensions and poor human rights record, offering a sobering reminder of the work that remains to be done in order for the Kyrgyz Republic to become a full-fledged democracy. During the briefing, questions pertaining to Russian influence over the country and its politics, as well as other regional, geo-political considerations were also highlighted as part of a general discussion of Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development and the trajectory of Central Asian politics.

  • Cardin Asks Nominee Mitchell to Engage with Helsinki Commission if Confirmed

    Helsinki Commission Ranking Senator Ben Cardin (MD), also the Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week asked A. Wess Mitchell, the U.S. Administration’s nominee to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasia Affairs, to engage the U.S. Helsinki Commission on issues of common concern if confirmed by the Senate. Mitchell’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took place on Tuesday, September 19.  Mitchell told the Senator to expect his full engagement. The hearing focused heavily on U.S. policy toward the Russian Federation and included Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., as nominee for U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation. Senator Cardin spoke of building the resiliency of democratic institutions throughout Europe, including through the OSCE, and referred to the wide array of issues confronting Europe at this time.

  • Batyr Berdiev: Poems from Prison

    And when we leave our house, where all is so familiar – The flower vase and the worn out carpet – The shadow of our quiet hope will stay at home, Reflected in the eyes of those who remember us. And life will continue, as our life was once lived, And, of course, other songs will be sung, But human hearts, like soldiers of hope Will again and again both suffer and dream.                                                             —Batyr Berdiev On September 15, the NGO campaign “Prove They Are Alive!” published a book of poems written by Turkmenistan’s former Foreign Minister and former Ambassador to the OSCE Batyr Berdiev, one of more than a hundred people who have disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons. The poems appear to have been written between December 2002 and March 2003 and were smuggled out of prison, most likely in 2003. Most are dedicated to Berdiev’s wife and son; they speak of his love for them, of freedom, and of their life while he was serving as Ambassador to the OSCE in Vienna. The book was unveiled at a side event at the 2017 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw, Poland, with the participation of Helsinki Commission staff. Berdiev was arrested in December 2002 in connection with an alleged coup attempt against then-President Niyazov in November 2002. His “confession” was broadcast on Turkmen television later that month, and he was convicted in January 2003 in a closed trial and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment. There are credible reports that he was tortured following his arrest. His relatives have had no information about his fate or whereabouts since, although there have been several conflicting reports of his death in Turkmenistan’s notoriously inhumane high-security Ovadan Depe prison.  The Helsinki Commission has continued to raise his case – along with others who have disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons – over the fifteen years since Berdiev’s arrest, in meetings with Turkmen officials, letters, and public briefings. The “Prove They Are Alive” campaign has also published an updated list of persons who have disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons, which has now grown to 112. Some of the new additions include persons who were arrested only this year. Following the arrests of Berdiev and hundreds of others in the wake of the alleged 2002 coup attempt, the United States and nine other countries invoked the OSCE Moscow Mechanism, which triggered an international investigation and report on the situation and treatment of those accused of being involved. Every year at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the United States makes a special statement urging the government of Turkmenistan to provide information on and access to those who have disappeared in the country’s prison. Read the book of poems by Batyr Berdiev.

  • Human Rights and Democracy in Russia

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. The Russian Federation has adopted, by consensus, OSCE commitments relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, free and fair elections, the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary. However, in many areas the Russian government is failing to live up to its commitments. Download the full report to learn more.

  • Democratic Change in Kyrgyzstan Topic of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: KYRGYZSTAN: PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRATIC CHANGE AND THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION Tuesday, September 26, 2017 10:30 AM Senate Visitors Center (SVC) Room 202 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission The Kyrgyz people will go to the polls in October in a pivotal election that will determine the country’s next president and the next chapter in its fragile democracy. In contrast to some other leaders in the region who have manipulated term limits to remain in power, current President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev is abiding by his constitutional term limit. However, the vote takes place amid mounting concerns of democratic backsliding, particularly regarding the government’s treatment of political opposition, civil society, and human rights defenders. Additionally, the election marks only the second peaceful transition of power through elections following two revolutions – in 2005 and in 2010. This turbulent history serves as a reminder of the importance of building the popular legitimacy of Kyrgyzstan’s political institutions. The briefing will examine the political dynamics surrounding the vote, the conduct of the election campaign thus far, and broader human rights issues in Kyrgyzstan. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Marc Behrendt, Director for Europe and Eurasia Programs, Freedom House Anthony Bowyer, Caucasus and Central Asia Senior Program Manager, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Dr. Erica Marat, Associate Professor, College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University

  • The Rule of Law: Justice for the Bytyqi Brothers

    By Robert Hand, Policy Advisor From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. OSCE commitments recognize that adherence to the rule of law is essential to democratic governance and to ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They also emphasize the importance of providing justice in cases of criminal acts which egregiously violate human rights and fundamental freedoms. Justice not only punishes the perpetrator of the crime; it also brings closure to the victim or surviving family and friends, and it allows the society in which it took place to move forward. The Murder of the Bytyqi Brothers Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi were all United States citizens, born near Chicago, Illinois, to ethnic Albanian parents from Kosovo.  (Previously an autonomous province of Serbia within the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo has been an independent state since 2008.) The three brothers, all in their 20s, responded to the brutality of the 1999 Kosovo conflict by joining the so-called “Atlantic Brigade” of the Kosovo Liberation Army.  Hostilities ceased in June of that year, following a NATO air campaign designed to stop Serbian forces from repressing the local population and committing atrocities.  About two weeks later, the Bytyqi brothers agreed to escort an ethnic Romani family, who had been neighbors of the Bytyqi family in Kosovo, to a place of greater safety.  Dressed in plain clothes and unarmed, the brothers accidently strayed across an unmarked administrative border and were arrested by the Serbian police.  They were jailed for two weeks for illegally entering the country.  Rather than being released, Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi were instead placed in the custody of a special operations unit of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs and taken to a training facility where all three were murdered.  Two years later, their bodies were found with hands bound and gunshot wounds to the back of their heads, buried atop an earlier mass grave of approximately 70 murdered Kosovo civilians. Justice Denied While an investigation reportedly continues, no individual has been found guilty – or even charged – for the murder of the Bytyqi brothers.  Senior U.S. officials and Members of Congress, including several serving on the Helsinki Commission, repeatedly have urged that action be taken by Serbian authorities, including war crimes prosecutors in regard to this case; a resolution to that effect is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.  While serving as Prime Minister from 2014 to 2017, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic promised quick action on several occasions, both in public gatherings and in private meetings with the Bytyqi family.  Recently, however, he has reportedly criticized those who remind him of his promises or who express concern about the close connections the leading suspect in the case, former Interior Ministry official Goran “Guri” Radosavljevic, has with the ruling Serbian Progressive Party. The execution-style murder of Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi was clearly an extrajudicial act committed by government forces, a horrific crime like so many committed by the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic throughout the 1990s.  The surviving Bytyqi family, currently residing in New York state, has asked for nothing more than bringing those responsible to justice. U.S. Government officials have also called for justice in a case of the three murdered U.S. citizens, even as they otherwise express support for Serbia and its European aspirations. Human rights groups in Serbia have joined the call for justice, including as a way to distance their country from a period in its recent past marked by aggressive nationalism and egregious human rights violations on a massive scale. All that remains if for Serbian authorities to take the action promised by their political leaders.            

  • American Scientist Suffers Under Turkey’s Faltering Rule of Law

    By Everett Price, Policy Advisor From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. This feature article on Turkey coincides with the September 19 session of HDIM 2017, which focuses on whether OSCE participating States are implementing their commitments related to rule of law. On September 11, the first day of the meeting, the Turkish delegation walked out to protest that an NGO it alleged has ties with the Gulen movement was allowed to register for HDIM. A NASA scientist based in Houston, Texas has spent the last 14 months in a Turkish prison, caught in the same dragnet that has ensnared tens of thousands of Turkish nationals since the failed coup attempt that played out in Turkey during the night of July 15, 2016. The scale of the Turkish government’s crackdown since that chaotic night is difficult to comprehend, but this scientist’s story illustrates the kind of ordinary lives that the sweeping purges upended with only the slimmest of justifications. A 37-year old dual citizen of the United States and Turkey, Serkan Golge is married to Kubra, also a dual US-Turkish national. The couple has two young sons, aged eight and one.  They have lived in a two-story home in a quiet suburb of Houston since 2013, when Serkan landed a contract as a senior research scientist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, focusing on the effects of solar radiation on the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Serkan’s mind, once immersed in scientific observation and the boundless expanse of outer space, is now mostly trapped in the contemplation of his small prison cell and the national political drama that landed him there. For the past 14 months, he has been detained in Iskenderun prison on the Mediterranean coast of southeastern Turkey, 25 miles from the Syrian border—he has spent the last 12 months in solitary confinement, allowed outside his cell just one hour every day. *** On the morning of July 23, eight days after the failed coup, Serkan and his family were wrapping up a month-long stay with his parents in Antakya, Turkey. The surreal night of the coup attempt, including pitched street battles between rebel military units and civilians in Istanbul and Ankara, had seemed a world away to the Golges on vacation in Turkey’s southern Hatay province. But as Serkan and his family were loading up a car to go to the airport to begin their return trip to Houston, the coup’s aftermath arrived at their doorstep. Plainclothes state security officials approached Serkan as he emerged from the house and detained him on suspicion of membership in the so-called “Fethullah Terrorist Organization” (FETO) that the Turkish government has accused of plotting the overthrow attempt. “FETO” is the pejorative term coined by the Turkish government for a major social and religious movement in Turkey led by the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999. Once a political ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Gulen movement fell out with AKP officials in recent years as the movement asserted its independence in various state organs, particularly the courts. President Erdoğan perceived the Gulen movement as a threat and started to purge its allies in state ministries, followed by the private sector. It was no surprise to most observers when Erdoğan declared “FETO” responsible for the coup and moved to eviscerate every last remnant of the group in Turkish institutions, whether in the public sector, business, media, civil society, or education.  Serkan is currently on trial and faces up to 15 years in jail if convicted of belonging to “FETO.” Yet the evidence that ostensibly links him to the organization, establishing his complicity in the coup and justifying his prolonged detention, is astonishingly thin. A distant disgruntled relative appears to have denounced Serkan to authorities to settle an old score relating to an inheritance dispute. Based on the relative’s statements, authorities arrested Serkan and raided his parents’ home where they seized upon a single one-dollar bill as evidence. Turkish authorities claim that Fethullah Gulen gave blessed American dollar bills to his followers; thus, national security trials around the country have scrutinized countless dollar bills in their deliberations. His relative further testified to his suspicion that Serkan worked for the CIA. When questioned about this at trial, the relative acknowledged that his claim was based solely on the fact that Serkan lived in the United States. Authorities have also questioned Serkan about his college degree from a major Gulen-affiliated university that the government closed in 2016. He reminded authorities that he attended the university on a government-funded scholarship—a reminder of the ruling party’s formerly cozy relationship with the organization it now denounces as public enemy number one. A dollar bill, a U.S. passport, and a college degree: this is the evidence that has landed an American citizen in solitary confinement for a year in Turkey. *** Serkan’s experience reflects the plight of the tens of thousands of people arrested, imprisoned, or fired from their jobs for suspicion of involvement in the attempted coup. The state of emergency decrees that paved the way for these massive purges did not specify the criteria for detention and dismissal. As a result, baseless assertions about an individual’s suspected links to “FETO” have caused people to lose their jobs, be stripped of their professional licenses, or thrown in jail without even the most minimal due process. In all, the government has detained more than 110,000 people, of whom 50,000 are under arrest. These detentions have swelled Turkey’s prison population and prompted the government last year to release 38,000 inmates just to make room for the influx. Reliable information is not available for the number of ongoing trials or convictions but last month the government issued a decree extending the maximum pre-trial detention period from five to seven years, underscoring how prolonged detention without conviction can serve as punishment itself. Of the 140,000 people who lost their jobs, so far 30,000 have been allowed to return to work. Meanwhile, 80,000 people who lost jobs have appealed their cases to a temporary State of Emergency Procedures Investigation Commission established by Ankara in July 2017. The case load created by the purges would strain the judicial system under normal circumstances, but the situation faced by the Turkish judiciary today is anything but normal.  Prior to the coup attempt, President Erdogan had already embarked on a campaign to extend his influence over the judicial branch and promote party loyalists within its ranks. In the coup’s aftermath, this campaign kicked into high gear. Since July 2016, President Erdogan dismissed more than 4,200 judges and prosecutors—approximately a quarter of the total—on suspicion of subversive loyalties.  Of the 900 new judges recruited as replacements in April, opposition leaders claim 800 have ties to the ruling party.  The independence of the Turkish judiciary further eroded in April 2017 when a controversial nationwide referendum narrowly approved constitutional changes that increased the President’s influence over the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (CJP). The powerful CJP “oversees the appointment, promotion, transfer, disciplining, and dismissal” of judges. Under the newly enacted constitutional amendments, the President now appoints nearly half of the CJP and the Turkish parliament appoints the rest, easily giving the ruling party a majority on the council.  Straining under the weight of an overwhelming case load and immense political pressure, Turkey’s judiciary appears to lack the capacity and capability to deliver timely and credible justice for Serkan Golge and thousands like him. *** Back in Houston, the Golges’ house is now on the market. Kubra has opted to remain in Turkey, living with her in-laws in Antakya; she fears that even if the government let her and her sons out of the country it might not let them back in.  She covered the mortgage from abroad for the past year, but the mounting financial pressure was unsustainable. Her eldest son should have begun second grade this month at his local public school in Houston. He says he misses his old room, his books and toys. She is able to visit Serkan once a week where she and the children can speak to him by phone through a glass pane. Once every two months, they can meet in person and embrace, always under the watchful gaze of prison guards. Serkan’s next trial date is set for October 13th. For now, the Golge’s homecoming in Houston is postponed indefinitely: every new hearing brings with it the hope of acquittal and the dread of an unjustified conviction.  In May, the Helsinki Commission’s leadership, joined by the co-chairmen of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, sent a letter to President Trump urging him to raise Serkan’s case, among others, with President Erdogan during the latter’s official visit to Washington. The letter highlighted the cases of other American prisoners and a detained veteran Turkish employee of the U.S. Consulate in Adana accused of supporting a Kurdish terrorist organization. The letter further encouraged the President to seek consular access for U.S. diplomats to detained Americans in Turkey—a courtesy the government has so far denied them. The Commission will continue to highlight these and other cases in Turkey and urge Ankara to uphold its commitments as a participating State of the OSCE to human rights, democratic principles, and the rule of law.

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