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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    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring to the attention of my colleagues concerns about the general prospects for democratization in Kazakstan, considering the disturbing news about the presidential elections in that country earlier this year. On January 10, 1999, Kazakstan held presidential elections, almost two years ahead of schedule. Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev ran against three contenders, in the country's first nominally contested election. According to official results, Nazarbaev retained his office, garnering 81.7 percent of the vote. Communist Party leader Serokbolsyn Abdildin won 12 percent, Gani Kasymov 4.7 percent and Engels Gabbasov 0.7 percent. The Central Election Commission reported over 86 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast ballots. Behind these facts, and, by the way, none of the officially announced figures should be taken at face value, is a sobering story. 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Another reason to hold elections now was anxiety about uncertainties in Russia, where a new president, with whom Nazarbaev does not have long-established relations, will be elected in 2000 and may adopt a more aggressive attitude towards Kazakhstan than has Boris Yeltsin. The exclusion of would-be candidates, along with the snap nature of the election, intimidation of voters, the ongoing attack on independent media and restrictions on freedom of assembly, moved the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to urge the election's postponement, as conditions for holding free and fair elections did not exist. Ultimately, ODIHR refused to send a full-fledged observer delegation, as it generally does, to monitor an election. Instead, ODIHR dispatched to Kazakhstan a small mission to follow and report on the process. 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His determination to remain in office indefinitely, which could have been inferred by his actions, became explicit during the campaign, when he told a crowd, “I would like to remain your president for the rest of my life.'' Not coincidentally, a constitutional amendment passed in early October conveniently removed the age limit of 65. Moreover, since 1996, Kazakhstan's authorities have co-opted, bought or crushed any independent media, effectively restoring censorship in the country. A crackdown on political parties and movements has accompanied the assault on the media, bringing Kazakhstan's overall level of repression closer to that of Uzbekistan and severely damaging Nazarbaev's reputation. Despite significant U.S. strategic and economic interests in Kazakhstan, especially oil and pipeline issues, the State Department issued a series of critical statements after the announcement last October of pre-term elections. In fact, on November 23, Vice President Gore called President Nazarbaev to voice U.S. concerns about the election. The next day, the Supreme Court, which Nazarbaev controls completely, finally excluded Kazhegeldin. On January 12, the State Department echoed the ODIHR's harsh assessment of the election, adding that it had “cast a shadow on bilateral relations.” What's ahead? Probably more of the same. Parliamentary elections are expected in late 1999, although they may be held before schedule or put off another year. A new political party has been created as a vehicle for President Nazarbaev to tighten his grip on the legislature. Surprisingly, the Ministry of Justice on March 1 registered the Republican People's Party, headed by Akezhan Kazhegeldin, as well as another opposition party, probably in response to Western and especially American pressure. But even if they are allowed to compete for seats on an equal basis and even win some representation, parliament is sure to remain a very junior partner to the all-powerful executive. Mr. Speaker, Kazakhstan's relative liberalism in the early 1990s had induced Central Asia watchers to hope that Uzbek and Turkmen-style repression was not inevitable for all countries in the region. Alas, the trends in Kazakhstan point the other way: Nursultan Nazarbaev is heading in the direction of his dictatorial counterparts in Tashkent and Ashgabat. He is clearly resolved to be president for life, to prevent any institutions or individuals from challenging his grip on power and to make sure that the trappings of democracy he has permitted remain just that. The Helsinki Commission, which I chair, plans to hold hearings on the situation in Kazakhstan and Central Asia to discuss what options the United States has to convey the Congress' disappointment and to encourage developments in Kazakhstan and the region toward genuine democratization.

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    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my concern over recent setbacks in the return of expropriated properties to rightful owners in the Czech Republic. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed property restitution issues in Central and Eastern Europe over the past several years with an eye toward determining whether the restitution and compensation laws adopted in this region are being implemented according to the rule of law and whether American citizens' interests are protected under the laws. While restitution and compensation programs in several East-Central European countries have aspects of concern, today I want to bring attention to the status of restitution in the Czech Republic because of recent troubling developments there.   Since the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic has adopted laws that provide for the return of private property confiscated by Nazi or communist regimes. When the actual return of property is not possible, these laws offer former owners the right to receive alternate compensation. Regrettably, Czech laws limit these rights to those who had Czechoslovak citizenship when the restitution law was adopted or who acquired citizenship before the deadline for filing restitution claims. As a result, former Czechoslovak citizens who fled to the United States seeking refuge from fascism or communism earlier this century, and are now American citizens, have been precluded from making restitution claims unless they renounce their American citizenship.   Ironically, had these same individuals fled to Canada, Israel, or any country other than the United States, they would not have lost their Czech citizenship and would today be eligible to receive restitution or compensation. This result stems from a treaty signed in 1928 by the United States and Czechoslovakia that automatically terminated a person's citizenship in the United States or Czechoslovakia if that person became a citizen of the other country. That treaty was terminated in 1997, but its impact remains: under Czech law, Czech Americans are not eligible for dual citizenship in the Czech Republic. Therefore, without abandoning the citizenship of the country that took them in during their time of need, the law denies them the right to receive restitution or compensation as others have. In other words, the citizenship requirement in the Czech property restitution laws discriminates against American citizens. Moreover, it is difficult for me to think that this discrimination was simply an unintended consequence.   In the 105th Congress, the House adopted my resolution, H. Res. 562, which urges the formerly totalitarian countries in Central and Eastern Europe to restore wrongfully confiscated properties, and specifically calls on the Czech Republic to eliminate this discriminatory citizenship restriction. In this regard, the resolution echoes the view of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) which has concluded in two cases that these citizenship restrictions violate the anti-discrimination clause (Art. 26) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I recently learned that the UNHRC has agreed to hear at least four more cases that challenge these restrictions. The persuasiveness of the UNHRC's reasoning, when it determined that the citizenship restriction in the restitution law is discriminatory, was compelling. Unfortunately, the Czech Parliament last month debated and rejected a proposed amendment to the law that would have eliminated Czech citizenship as a condition for property restitution claims. This approach was widely considered the most effective remedy to a serious problem. In rejecting the amendment, the parliament missed an excellent opportunity to resolve this long-standing and contentious issue between the Czech Republic and the United States. While I deeply regret the parliament's decision, I hope that the Czech Government will now seek alternative means to end the discrimination against Czech Americans.   In January, several weeks before the parliament voted down the restitution amendment, Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous assured me that his government planned to propose a new citizenship law that would permit dual citizenship for Czech Americans. I was heartened to learn that last month the Czech Government introduced this amendment and it is my hope that its early passage will be followed by a reopening of the claims filing period for those individuals who, by virtue of acquiring dual citizenship, will become eligible for property restitution or compensation.   Another disturbing situation involves the case of restitution to the “double victims” in the Czech Republic: those individuals, primarily Jews, whose properties were confiscated during World War II by Nazis and then again by the communists that swept the region in the postwar era. One case, for example, is that of Susan Benda who is seeking compensation for an expropriated house in the town of Liberec where her father and his brother grew up. Susan's grandparents were killed by the Nazis and her father and uncle fled their homeland in 1939. The family home was “sold” in 1940 to a German company in a transaction subsequently invalidated by a 1945 Czech presidential decree. In 1994, the Czech Parliament expanded its earlier restitution law to allow individuals whose property was originally confiscated by Nazis between the years 1938-45 to join those whose property was taken by communists in claiming restitution. Under the amended laws, Susan Benda is theoretically eligible to receive restitution of, or compensation for, the home in Liberec. Notwithstanding the Czech Government's purported intention to restore Jewish property seized by the Nazis, However, the Czech Ministry of Finance has arbitrarily imposed additional onerous and burdensome conditions for restitution that do not appear in the law and which, in fact, appear designed to defeat the intent of the law. Beyond the citizenship requirement in the law, the Ministry of Finance has declared that claimants must prove that they were entitled to file a claim under a postwar 1946 restitution law, that they did file a claim, and that the claim was not satisfied. Remarkably, Susan Benda found a record in the Liberec town hall which establishes that her uncle returned to Czechoslovakia and filed a restitution claim in 1947. Next, the Finance Ministry requires claimants to prove that a court expressly rejected the postwar claim. In a country that has endured the political and social turmoil of the Czech Republic over the past half-century, the notion that claimants in the 1990s must prove, not only that a court considered a certain case more than fifty years ago, but also must produce a record of the court's decision in the case, is outrageous. Susan Benda was able to produce a claim of title showing that the house was stolen by the Nazis in 1940, confiscated by the communist Czech Government in 1953 and purchased from the Czech Government in 1992 by its current owner-occupant. While Susan cannot produce a document showing that the court actually considered, and then rejected, her uncle's postwar claim, the chain of title and the witness testimony confirm that the Benda family never got the house back, in itself simple, dramatic proof that the postwar claim was not satisfied. Apparently, however, this proof was not sufficient for the Czech authorities and Susan Benda was forced to sue the Ministry of Finance. Last September, more than three years after filing the claim, Susan Benda was vindicated when a Czech court agreed with her assertion that the Finance Ministry should not have attached the extralegal requirements for restitution. The court ordered the Finance Ministry to pay the Benda family compensation for the value of the expropriated house.   I wish Susan Benda's story could end here but it does not, the Czech Government has appealed the court decision apparently fearful that a precedent would be set for other claims, that is, out of a fear that property might actually be returned under this law. Thus, while the Czech Government proclaims its desire to address the wrongs of the past, those who, like Susan Benda, seek the return of wrongfully confiscated property are painfully aware that the reality is much different.   Another case that has come to my attention involves Peter Glaser's claim for a house in the town of Zatec. After the 1948 communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, Peter Glaser sought to immigrate to the United States. To obtain a passport, Mr. Glaser was forced to sign a statement renouncing any future claims to his home. In 1954, Mr. Glaser became an American citizen; in 1962, the communist Czech Government officially recorded the expropriation of Mr. Glaser's home in the land records. In 1982, the United States and Czechoslovakia signed an agreement that settled the property loss claims of all American citizens against Czechoslovakia. The U.S. Government agency charged with carrying out the settlement advised Mr. Glaser that, because he was a Czechoslovak citizen when his property was taken, according to the U.S. Government, this occurred in 1948 when Mr. Glaser was forced under duress to relinquish the rights to his house, he was not eligible to participate in the claims settlement program but must rather seek redress for his property loss under Czech laws. When the post-communist Czech Republic passed a property restitution law in 1991, Peter Glaser filed his claim. In a cruel irony, despite presenting documentation from the U.S. Government attesting to the fact that Mr. Glaser was not eligible to participate in the U.S.-Czechoslovakia claims settlement program, the Czech Courts have repeatedly rejected his claim on the grounds that he was an American citizen at the time his property was taken, which, according to the Czech Government, occurred in 1962. The Czech Government asserts that Mr. Glaser's claims were settled and should have been compensated under the 1982 agreement. In other words, the current Czech Government and courts have adopted the communist fiction that although Mr. Glaser's property was expropriated in 1948, somehow the confiscation did not count until 1962, when the communists got around to the nicety of recording the deed. This rationalization by Czech authorities looks like a back door attempt to avoid restitution. The reality of what happened to the property in Zatec is clear: Peter Glaser lost his home in 1948 when a totalitarian regime claimed the rights to his house in exchange for allowing him to leave the oppression and persecution of communist Czechoslovakia. As the Czech Government knows, communist expropriations, whether effectuated by sweeping land reform laws, as a condition or punishment for emigration, or under other circumstances, frequently went unrecorded in land registries, but that did not make the loss any less real for the victims. For the Czech Government today to cling to technicalities, such as the date the communists officially recorded their confiscation in the land registry, as a means to avoid returning Peter Glaser's home is a sobering indication of the Czech Government's true commitment to rectifying the wrongs of its communist past.   Mr. Speaker, the issue of property restitution is complex. No easy solutions exist to the many questions that restitution policies raise. Nonetheless, when a country chooses to institute a restitution or compensation program, international norms mandate that the process be just, fair and nondiscriminatory. The Czech Government has failed to live up to these standards in the cases I cited. The Czech Government must end the discrimination against Czech Americans in the restitution of private property. Moreover, the rule of law must be respected. I call on the Czech Government to reconsider its disposition in the Benda and Glaser cases. Czech officials often say that aggrieved property claimants can seek redress in the courts for unfavorable decisions. However, when claimants do just that, as did Peter Glaser and Susan Benda, the Czech Government asserts outrageous or technical defenses to thwart the rightful owner's claim or simply refuses to accept a decision in favor of the claimant. Fortunately, Mr. Glaser, Ms. Benda, and others like them, have pledged to fight on despite mounting costs and legal fees that they will never recoup. The passion and determination of Peter Glaser and Susan Benda, as of all victims of fascism and communism in Central and Eastern Europe, reveal that what may look to some as a battle for real estate is ultimately a search for justice and for peace with the past.

  • Democratic Processes in Slovakia

    Mr. Speaker, this week a distinguished delegation from the Slovak parliament visited Washington to meet with congressional leaders and other officials. I regret that, because of a hearing on urgent developments in Kosovo, I was unable to meet with them. Nevertheless, the occasion of their visit prompts me to reflect on some of the developments in Slovakia since the elections there on September 25 and 26, 1998. Since a new government was installed on October 30, there has been a sea change in Slovak political life. The very fact that a peaceful transition of power occurred is something we could not have taken for granted, given the increasingly authoritarian rule of Vladimir Meciar manifested by, for example, the refusal of the parliament he controlled to seat two duly elected members. Today, the situation is very different. The formation of a new government has included key changes that were much needed and will foster greater confidence in Slovakia's renewed process of democratization. In particular, the appointment of a new head of the intelligence service, the resolution of competing claims to the position of chief of the armed forces, and the selection of a new general prosecutor help address many of the concerns that arose during Meciar's tenure. The new government's efforts to hold previous officials accountable for their violations of the rule of law and manipulation of parliamentary and constitutional democracy is also a positive sign. During local elections in the fall, non-governmental monitors were permitted to observe the counting of the vote, further fostering public and international confidence in Slovakia's democratic structures. Direct presidential elections are scheduled to be held in May, which will fill a constitutional lacuna. The decision to permit, once again, the issuance of bi-lingual report cards restores common sense to the discussion of issues of concern to the Hungarian minority. The government's stated intent to address the concerns of the Romani minority, concerns which have led many Slovak Roma to seek asylum in other countries, is a welcome step in the right direction. In short, Mr. Speaker, the new government is Slovakia has already undertaken important steps towards fulfilling the promises made when communism collapsed. Slovakia is now at a critical juncture, having succeeded by a slim electoral margin in peacefully removing Vladimir Meciar after 4 years of increasing authoritarian rule. The new government must struggle to restore Slovakia's good name, repair the economy, and get Slovakia back on track for NATO and EU membership. If Slovakia is to succeed in this effort, it is critical that the current coalition hold together long enough to implement real reforms. As it seeks to do so, the new government will be aided by a wellspring of credibility with the internationally community and certainly in Washington, where as the Meciar government, in the end, had none. That wellspring of credibility, however, is not bottomless and time is truly of the essence in Slovakia's reform process. I hope all of the parties participating in the ruling coalition will quickly address some of the issues that have been of special concern to the international community, including the adoption in the first half of this year of a minority language law. Such a step would be a concrete demonstration of the differences between this government and the last. Mr. Speaker, I wish this new coalition government of Slovakia every success in their resolve to make lasting reforms.

  • The Serbia and Montenegro Democracy Act of 1999

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Serbia and Montenegro Democracy Act of 1999, a bill which will target much needed assistance to democratic groups in Serbia and Montenegro. I am joined by Representatives Ben Gilman, Steny Hoyer, John Porter, Dan Burton, Eliot Engel, Dana Rohrabacher, Louise Slaughter and Jim Moran, all strong promoters of human rights worldwide and the original cosponsors of this Act. It is fitting that this important piece of legislation be introduced today, as a high-level envoy for the United States is in Belgrade to seek the blessing of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for a political settlement which hopefully will restore peace to the troubled region of Kosovo. We are dealing directly with the man most responsible for the conflict in Kosovo, not to mention Bosnia and Croatia. Milosevic has maintained his power from within Serbia throughout the 1990s at the cost of 300,000 lives and the displacement of 3 million people. He has relied on virulent Serbian nationalism to instigate conflict which will divide the people of the region for decades. The most fundamental flaw in U.S. policy toward the region is that it relies on getting Milosevic's agreement, when Milosevic simply should be forced to stop his assaults on innocent civilians. It relies on Milosevic's dictatorial powers to implement an agreement, undermining support for democratic alternatives. In short, U.S. policy perpetuates Milosevic's rule and ensures that more trouble will come to the Balkans. There can be no long-term stability in the Balkans without a democratic Serbia. Moreover, we need to be clear that the people of Serbia deserve the same rights and freedoms which other people in Europe enjoy today. They also deserve greater prosperity. Milosevic and his criminal thugs deny the same Serbian people they claim to defend these very rights, freedoms and economic opportunities. Independent media is repeatedly harassed, fined and sometimes just closed down. University professors are forced to take a ridiculous loyalty oath or are replaced by know-nothing party hacks. The regime goes after the political leadership of Montenegro, which is federated with Serbia in a new Yugoslav state but is undergoing democratic change itself. The regime goes after the successful Serb-American pharmaceutical executive Milan Panic, seizing his company's assets in Serbia to intimidate a potentially serious political rival and get its hands on the hard currency it desperately needs to sustain itself. The regime also goes after young students, like Boris Karajcic, who was beaten on the streets of Belgrade for his public advocacy of academic freedom and social tolerance. Building a democracy in Serbia will be difficult, and it is largely in the hands of those democratic forces within Serbia to do the job. However, given how the regime has stacked the situation against them, through endless propaganda, harassment and violence, they need help. This Act intends to do just that. It would allocate $41 million in various sectors of Serbian society where democratic forces can be strengthened, and to encourage further strengthening of these forces in neighboring Montenegro. It would ensure that this funding will, in fact, go to these areas, in contrast to the Administration's budget request which indicates that much of this funding could be siphoned off to implement a peace agreement in Kosovo. Another $350,000 would go to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly, which could provide assistance on a multilateral basis and demonstrate that Serbia can rejoin Europe, through the OSCE, once it moves in a democratic direction and ends its instigation of conflict. This Act also states what policy toward Serbia and Montenegro must be: to promote the development of democracy and to support those who are committed to the building of democratic institutions, defending human rights, promoting rule of law and fostering tolerance in society. This funding, authorized by the Support for East European Democracy Act of 1989, represents a tremendous increase for building democratic institutions in Serbia and Montenegro. This fiscal year, an anticipated $25 million will be spent, but most of that is going to Kosovo. The President's budget request for the next fiscal year is a welcome $55 million, but, with international attention focused on Kosovo, too much of that will likely go toward implementing a peace agreement. Make no mistake, I support strongly assistance for Kosovo. I simply view it as a mistake to get that assistance by diverting it from Serbia and Montenegro. We have spent billions of dollars in Bosnia and will likely spend at least hundreds of millions more in Kosovo, cleaning up the messes Milosevic has made. The least we can do is invest in democracy in Serbia, which can stop Milosevic from making more problems in the future. Building democracy in Serbia will be difficult, given all of the harm Milosevic has done to Serbian society. The opposition has traditionally been weak and divided, and sometimes compromised by Milosevic's political maneuvering. There are signs, however, the new Alliance for Change could make a difference, and there certainly is substantial social unrest in Serbia from which opposition can gain support. In addition, there are very good people working in human rights organizations, and very capable independent journalists and editors. The independent labor movement has serious potential to gain support, and the student and academic communities are organized to defend the integrity of the universities. Simply demonstrating our real support for the democratic movement in Serbia could convince more people to become involved. Finally, Montenegro's democratic changes in the last year place that republic in a difficult position. A federation in which one republic is becoming more free and open while the other, much larger republic remains repressive and controls federal institutions cannot last for long, yet Montenegrins know they could be the next victims of Milosevic. It would be a mistake to leave those building a democracy in Montenegro out on that limb. They need our support as well. In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I am today introducing the Serbia and Democracy Act of 1999 because I feel our country's policy in the Balkans has all too long been based on false assumptions about the region. Granted, social tensions, primarily based on ethnic issues, were bound to have plagued the former Yugoslavia, but it is an absolute fact that violence could have been avoided if Slobodan Milosevic did not play on those tensions to enhance his power. As we prepare to debate the sending of American forces to Kosovo to keep a peace which does not yet exist, we must address the root cause of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia from 1991 to today. This Act, Mr. Speaker, does just that, and I urge my colleagues to support its swift and overwhelming passage by the House. The Senate is working on similar legislation, and hopefully the Congress can help put U.S. policy back on the right track.

  • Politically Motivated Arrests in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to decry the growing litany of repressive measures undertaken by the Government of Belarus against the opposition, especially against members of the opposition's Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Earlier this year, the legitimate Belarusian parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, disbanded by president Alexander Lukashenka after the illegal constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16 and set up a Central Election Commission to conduct these elections.   According to the 1994 constitution, which most of the international community recognizes as legitimate, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Lukashenka has rejected calls for a presidential election and is clearly attempting to neutralize democratic opposition to his authoritarian rule. The most egregious crackdown in recent weeks was the sentencing of CEC chairman Viktor Hanchar, to 10 days “administrative detention.” Hanchar suffered some injuries when he was detained and treated roughly by police. He was not given access to his lawyer, Hari Pahanyayla, and his wife was not permitted to see him. A few days earlier, on February 25, fifteen members of the CEC were arrested by police in a café where they were meeting and discussing reports from local election commissions. Special police did not have a warrant and prevented the videotaping of the arrest by Russian television. Five-day detentions or heavy fines were meted out to several CEC members, including Boris Gyunter, Anatoly Gurinovich, Sergei Obodovsky, Iosif Naumchik, Algimantas Dzyarginchus, Alexander Koktysh, Nikolay Pohabov, Valery Sidorenko and Leonid Zakurdayev. Additionally, warnings have been issued to several members of regional opposition elections committees, such as Iosif Naumchik in Vitebsk and Sergei Abadowski in Mogilev. According to Radio Liberty, in Zhodzina, Miensk region, local authorities have begun intimidating people who joined or elected opposition regional election commissions. In Gomel, several opposition activists have been summoned and questioned about their role in the organization of the May presidential elections scheduled by the opposition. Police had seized leaflets about these elections at the office of the Gomel branch of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.   The repression of the opposition's elections committees is part of a longstanding pattern of Lukashenka's assault on democratic institutions and his campaign to stifle dissent in Belarus. On February 14, 20 students were arrested by police in Miensk for violating street demonstration laws. Among them, Yevgeny Skochko was sentenced to 10 days in jail, Victor Antonov to 5 days in jail, and Kazimir Kuchun and Ilya Banel were fined. Other opposition activists in Gomel and Borisov have been tried for unsanctioned demonstrations over the last few months. Two young workers in Gomel, for instance, were sentenced to 3 days administrative detention for holding an unsanctioned march. According to Reuters, the men were returning from a disco late in the evening and waving banners, which they were bringing home to wash. Earlier in the month, on February 5, members of the human rights movement Charter '97 were attacked and beaten in Miensk by members of the fascist Russian National Unity party. Andrei Sannikov, the Charter's international coordinator and former deputy foreign minister of Belarus was beaten unconscious. According to the International League for Human Rights a few days later, President Lukashenka trivialized the incident on Belarusian television, saying: “They say that some fascists have appeared in Miensk and have beaten somebody up. Do you know who they have beaten? Other fascists.” On February 27, several thousand marchers participated in a peaceful anti-fascist demonstration in Miensk. Organizers of the demonstration, Ales Bilyatsky who was sentenced to 10 days administrative detention and Oleg Volchek who was given a stiff fine, were cited for committing administrative offenses.   In late January, Lukashenka signed a decree ordering political parties, public organizations and trade unions to re-register during the period February 1 and July 1. The re-registration process includes a variety of onerous stipulations which would have the effect of weakening the NGOs and political parties. On February 17, the Lukashenka-controlled State Press Committee threatened six independent newspapers with closure if they continued to publish information about the opposition's presidential election plans in May, charging them with “calling for the seizure of power in Belarus.” On March 2, police searched the offices of one of the six independent newspapers, “Pahonya” in Hrodno, confiscating political cartoons and letters from readers.   Clearly, political tensions are increasing in Belarus, and the divide between the authoritarian president and the democratic opposition is widening. Mr. Lukashenka and his minions should cease and desist their campaign to harass journalists, to drain and demoralize individuals and organizations in the opposition through administrative fines and detentions, and to forcefully squelch the right to the freedoms of expression and of assembly. Continued harassment of the opposition will only aggravate the current constitutional crisis in Belarus and most certainly will not serve to promote reconciliation between the government and opposition. Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that the international community continue to speak out on behalf of those whose rights are violated, and that we continue to support the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Belarus.

  • Politically Motivated Arrests in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to decry the growing litany of repressive measures undertaken by the Government of Belarus against the opposition, especially against members of the opposition's Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Earlier this year, the legitimate Belarusian parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, disbanded by president Alexander Lukashenka after the illegal constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16 and set up a Central Election Commission to conduct these elections.   According to the 1994 constitution, which most of the international community recognizes as legitimate, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Lukashenka has rejected calls for a presidential election and is clearly attempting to neutralize democratic opposition to his authoritarian rule. The most egregious crackdown in recent weeks was the sentencing of CEC chairman Viktor Hanchar, to 10 days “administrative detention.” Hanchar suffered some injuries when he was detained and treated roughly by police. He was not given access to his lawyer, Hari Pahanyayla, and his wife was not permitted to see him. A few days earlier, on February 25, fifteen members of the CEC were arrested by police in a café where they were meeting and discussing reports from local election commissions. Special police did not have a warrant and prevented the videotaping of the arrest by Russian television. Five-day detentions or heavy fines were meted out to several CEC members, including Boris Gyunter, Anatoly Gurinovich, Sergei Obodovsky, Iosif Naumchik, Algimantas Dzyarginchus, Alexander Koktysh, Nikolay Pohabov, Valery Sidorenko and Leonid Zakurdayev. Additionally, warnings have been issued to several members of regional opposition elections committees, such as Iosif Naumchik in Vitebsk and Sergei Abadowski in Mogilev. According to Radio Liberty, in Zhodzina, Miensk region, local authorities have begun intimidating people who joined or elected opposition regional election commissions. In Gomel, several opposition activists have been summoned and questioned about their role in the organization of the May presidential elections scheduled by the opposition. Police had seized leaflets about these elections at the office of the Gomel branch of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.   The repression of the opposition's elections committees is part of a longstanding pattern of Lukashenka's assault on democratic institutions and his campaign to stifle dissent in Belarus. On February 14, 20 students were arrested by police in Miensk for violating street demonstration laws. Among them, Yevgeny Skochko was sentenced to 10 days in jail, Victor Antonov to 5 days in jail, and Kazimir Kuchun and Ilya Banel were fined. Other opposition activists in Gomel and Borisov have been tried for unsanctioned demonstrations over the last few months. Two young workers in Gomel, for instance, were sentenced to 3 days administrative detention for holding an unsanctioned march. According to Reuters, the men were returning from a disco late in the evening and waving banners, which they were bringing home to wash. Earlier in the month, on February 5, members of the human rights movement Charter '97 were attacked and beaten in Miensk by members of the fascist Russian National Unity party. Andrei Sannikov, the Charter's international coordinator and former deputy foreign minister of Belarus was beaten unconscious. According to the International League for Human Rights a few days later, President Lukashenka trivialized the incident on Belarusian television, saying: “They say that some fascists have appeared in Miensk and have beaten somebody up. Do you know who they have beaten? Other fascists.” On February 27, several thousand marchers participated in a peaceful anti-fascist demonstration in Miensk. Organizers of the demonstration, Ales Bilyatsky who was sentenced to 10 days administrative detention and Oleg Volchek who was given a stiff fine, were cited for committing administrative offenses.   In late January, Lukashenka signed a decree ordering political parties, public organizations and trade unions to re-register during the period February 1 and July 1. The re-registration process includes a variety of onerous stipulations which would have the effect of weakening the NGOs and political parties. On February 17, the Lukashenka-controlled State Press Committee threatened six independent newspapers with closure if they continued to publish information about the opposition's presidential election plans in May, charging them with “calling for the seizure of power in Belarus.” On March 2, police searched the offices of one of the six independent newspapers, “Pahonya” in Hrodno, confiscating political cartoons and letters from readers.   Clearly, political tensions are increasing in Belarus, and the divide between the authoritarian president and the democratic opposition is widening. Mr. Lukashenka and his minions should cease and desist their campaign to harass journalists, to drain and demoralize individuals and organizations in the opposition through administrative fines and detentions, and to forcefully squelch the right to the freedoms of expression and of assembly. Continued harassment of the opposition will only aggravate the current constitutional crisis in Belarus and most certainly will not serve to promote reconciliation between the government and opposition. Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that the international community continue to speak out on behalf of those whose rights are violated, and that we continue to support the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Belarus.

  • Kazakhstan's Presidential Election

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to bring to the attention of my colleagues disturbing news about the presidential elections in Kazakhstan last month, and the general prospects for democratization in that country. On January 10, 1999, Kazakhstan held presidential elections, almost two years ahead of schedule. Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev ran against three contenders, in the country's first nominally contested election. According to official results, Nazarbaev retained his office, garnering 81.7 percent of the vote. Communist Party leader Serokbolsyn Abdildin won 12 percent, Gani Kasymov 4.7 percent and Engels Gabbasov 0.7 percent. The Central Election Commission reported that over 86 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast ballots. Behind these facts, and by the way, none of the officially announced figures should be taken at face value, is a sobering story. Nazarbaev's victory was no surprise: the entire election was carefully orchestrated and the only real issue was whether his official vote tally would be in the 90s, typical for post-Soviet Central Asian dictatorships, or the 80s, which would have signaled a bit of sensitivity to Western and OSCE sensibilities. Any suspense the election might have offered vanished when the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling barring the candidacy of Nazarbaev's sole plausible challenger, former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, on whom many opposition activists have focused their hopes. The formal reason for his exclusion was both trivial and symptomatic: in October, Kazhegeldin had spoken at a meeting of an unregistered organization called “For Free Elections.” Addressing an unregistered organization is illegal in Kazakhstan, and a presidential decree of May 1998 stipulated that individuals convicted of any crime or fined for administrative transgressions could not run for office for a year. Of course, the snap election and the presidential decree deprived any real or potential challengers of the opportunity to organize a campaign. More important, most observers saw the decision as an indication of Nazarbaev's concerns about Kazakhstan’s economic decline and fears of running for reelection in 2000, when the situation will presumably be even much worse. Another reason to hold elections now was anxiety about the uncertainties in Russia, where a new president, with whom Nazarbaev does not have long-established relations, will be elected in 2000 and may adopt a more aggressive attitude towards Kazakhstan than Boris Yeltsin has. The exclusion of would-be candidates, along with the snap nature of the election, intimidation of voters, the ongoing attack on independent media and restrictions on freedom of assembly, moved the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to call in December for the election's postponement, as conditions for holding free and fair elections did not exist. Ultimately, ODIHR refused to send a full-fledged observer delegation, as it generally does, to monitor an election. Instead, ODIHR dispatched to Kazakhstan a small mission to follow and report on the process. The mission's assessment concluded that Kazakhstan’s “election process fell far short of the standards to which the Republic of Kazakhstan has committed itself as an OSCE participating State.” That is an unusually strong statement for ODIHR. Until the mid-1990s, even though President Nazarbaev dissolved two parliaments, tailored constitutions to his liking and was single-mindedly accumulating power, Kazakhstan still seemed a relatively reformist country, where various political parties could function and the media enjoyed some freedom. Moreover, considering the even more authoritarian regimes of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the war and chaos in Tajikistan, Kazakhstan benefited by comparison. In the last few years, however, the nature of Nazarbaev's regime has become ever more apparent. He has over the last decade concentrated all power in his hands, subordinating to himself all other branches and institutions of government. His apparent determination to remain in office indefinitely, which could have been inferred by his actions, became explicit during the campaign, when he told a crowd, “I would like to remain your president for the rest of my life.” Not coincidentally, a constitutional amendment passed in early October conveniently removed the age limit of 65 years. Moreover, since 1996-97, Kazakhstan’s authorities have co-opted, bought or crushed any independent media, effectively restoring censorship in the country. A crackdown on political parties and movements has accompanied the assault on the media, bringing Kazakhstan’s overall level of repression closer to that of Uzbekistan and severely damaging Nazarbaev's reputation. Despite significant U.S. strategic and economic interests in Kazakhstan, especially oil and pipeline issues, the State Department has issued a series of critical statements since the announcement last October of pre-term elections. These statements have not had any apparent effect. In fact, on November 23, Vice President Gore called President Nazarbaev to voice U.S. concerns about the election. Nazarbaev responded the next day, when the Supreme Court, which he controls completely, finally excluded Kazhegeldin. On January 12, the State Department echoed the ODIHR's harsh assessment of the election, adding that it had “cast a shadow on bilateral relations.” What's ahead? Probably more of the same. Parliamentary elections are slated for October 1999, although there are indications that they, too, may be held before schedule or put off another year. A new political party is emerging, which presumably will be President Nazarbaev's vehicle for controlling the legislature and monopolizing the political process. The Ministry of Justice on February 3 effectively turned down the request for registration by the Republican People's Party, headed by Akezhan Kazhegeldin, signaling Nazarbaev's resolve to bar his rival from legal political activity in Kazakhstan. Other opposition parties which have applied for registration have not received any response from the Ministry. Mr. Speaker, the relative liberalism in Kazakhstan had induced Central Asia watchers to hope that Uzbek- and Turkmen-style repression was not inevitable for all countries in the region. Alas, all the trends in Kazakhstan point the other way: Nursultan Nazarbaev is heading in the direction of his dictatorial counterparts in Tashkent and Ashgabat. He is clearly resolved to be president for life, to prevent any institutions or individuals from challenging his grip on power and to make sure that the trappings of democracy he has permitted remain just that. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, plans to hold hearings on the situation in Kazakhstan and Central Asia to discuss what options the United States has to convey the Congress's disappointment and to encourage developments in Kazakhstan and the region towards genuine democratization.

  • Report on Macedonia's Parliamentary Elections of October and November 1998

    When, on October 18, the citizens of Macedonia voted for a new parliament, they not only had choices between extremes but also among several moderate candidates. The more open environment reflected growing political maturity in a country beset by instability—both internal and external—since becoming an independent state in 1991. Approximately 1,200 people representing political parties, electoral coalitions and independent candidates competed for the 120 seats in the Macedonian Assembly. Eighty-five of those seats were contested on a majority basis in districts, while the remaining 35 seats were determined by proportional voting for party, coalition and independent lists across the country. The mixed system represents an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties to abandon a solely majority-based system viewed as favoring those in power. The newly established electoral districts were more consistent demographically, although ethnic Albanians continued to allege that they were still left somewhat under-represented. The ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), the successor to the former League of Communists, ran essentially on its own in the elections. The main challenge to the SDSM came from an unlikely coalition of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), named after the 19th century extremist Macedonian liberation group, and the newly formed and politically liberal Democratic Alliance (DA). A secondary challenger was the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the product of a recent merger of two moderate political parties. The election picture was complicated by the continued existence of a practically separate polity in Macedonia, the Albanian community which constitutes at least 23 percent of the country's population and has its own political parties. For these elections, however, moderates in the Macedonian Government formed a coalition with more nationalistic Albanian parties. The campaign environment was open and competitive, with fewer government controls on access to information than before. In addition, election administration was more transparent, with opposition parties able to participate more fully. Given the close results of the first round, campaigning in districts with second-round voting was notably more negative and tense. In addition, there were some problems with the timely release of results, raising suspicions about the ruling parties willingness to fully respect the outcome. Problems like family- or group-voting were evident, but there were few signs of intentional manipulation during the voting. In the second round, however, there were some reports of party representatives checking voter registration cards outside polling stations, as well as more ominous proxy voting practices. The VMRO-DPMNE/DA coalition emerged victorious, and the ruling SDSM conceded defeat. President Kiro Gligorov, whose office will be contested in 1999, selected VMRO-DPMNE head Ljupco Georgievski to form a new government. Georgievski has continued the SDSM's practice of inviting Albanian parties to join the government, despite not needing these parties to form a government. Neither a calm change of government nor an effort to be inclusive are characteristic of politics in former Yugoslav republics, and these signs of political stability will hopefully enable Macedonia to steer clear of ethnic conflict on its own territory at a time when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is deploying an extraction force to assist unarmed civilian monitors in conflict-ridden Kosovo to the north.

  • Civil Society, Democracy, and Markets in East Central Europe and the NIS: Problems and Perspectives

    This briefing, led by Chief of Staff Dorothy Douglas Taft, was prompted by the book Nations in Transit 1998, a study and analysis of 25 post-Communist countries which supported the monitoring of the region’s adherence to the Helsinki Accords. Questions included in the report were organized in the categories of political processes, civil society, independent media, the rule of law, governance and pubic administration, macro-economic policy, micro-economic policy, and privatization. The witnesses - Adrian Karatnycky, Professor Alexander Motyl, and E. Wayne Merry - discussed the document and interpreted some of the political and economic trends in the region. They expanded upon some of the insights provided in the book and analyzed the region’s progress, reflecting on their own experiences working with the Soviet Union.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia: Electoral and Political Outlook for 1999

    Robert Hand, policy advisor at the Commission, led a discussion regarding Bosnia and its different regions. He spoke of the situation in Bosnia in 1998 and the power of ethnically-based political parties, retained through nationalism, corruption, and control of the media. Reconstruction in Bosnia is poor due to poor economic conditions and the continued displacement of certain populations.  The witnesses - Luke Zahner, Candace Lekic, Jessica White, Roland de Rosier, Kathryn Bomberger, Brian Marshall – have served in regions all over Bosnia and gave valuable input on the differences between regions and their rehabilitations processes after the Dayton Accords. They also spoke of the influence of Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Federation on said regions.  Paying attention to these differences, the state, is important in that the United States wants to support only those that successfully implement the Dayton Accords. 

  • Legal Status of Religious Groups in the US (1999)

    The United States does not require religious groups to register with the government in order to organize, meet, collect funds, or claim federal tax-exempt status. Such a registration requirement would violate a core freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution. This overview identifies the underpinnings of this freedom, including a discussion of the United States Constitution's religion and speech clauses. Following this discussion, the issues of association, legal status and tax exemption are addressed. Foundational to civil liberties inthe United States is the principle that government was created by and exists at the will of the people. Governmental power is a limited power conferred to the government by the people. In the United States, the fundamental rights of the individual are paramount and they may only be abrogated by the government under very limited and defined circumstances. Freedom of religion is a fundamental,  natural, and absolute right, deeply rooted in the American constitutional system. Available to all, citizen and non-citizen, the free exercise of religion includes the tight to believe and profess whatever religious belief one desires. Government officials may not compel any person to affirm a religious belief or punish the expression of religious doctrine deemed by officials to be false. The individual's freedom of conscience embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. This fundamental right was established by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the first of the original Bill of Rights. Specifically, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States forbids the government to make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. While originally an inhibition to action by the United States Congress only, the First Amendment has been made applicable to the individual state governments, as well, through the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.The First Amendment guarantees that the government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion, or otherwise act in a way which establishes a state religion. This constitutional constraint on the government's ability to enact legislation regarding religion has two primary aspects. First, the government is prevented fromenacting a law that requires citizens to accept a particular religious belief. Second, this constitutional provision safeguards the free exercise of each person.'s chosen for of religion. These two interrelated concepts are known, respectively, as the "establishment" and "free exercise" clauses. A Russian translation of the text is available here.

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