Title

Helsinki Commission Chairman Delivers Remarks on Belarus, Ukraine Elections

Chair, U.S. Helsinki Commission
Rep. Christopher H. Smith
Washington, DC
United States
Tuesday, September 28, 2004

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Conference on the Implications of the East European Elections:
Ukraine and Belarus

The Heritage Foundation

Thank you for inviting me to participate in your important and timely session.

Both Ukraine and Belarus face important elections in the coming month.  Both are societies burdened by the Soviet communist legacy of the past.  Both were “Captive Nations” and both, albeit to varying degrees,  are vulnerable to Russia’s political and economic influence, especially  as all too many among the Russian political elite have not yet reconciled themselves to the loss of empire.  Both now border on NATO and the EU.   Both face serious challenges to democracy and Euro-Atlantic integration. There are many other similarities.  There are also important distinctions.

Belarus is ruled by a dictator who controls the levers of power and increasingly all facets ofBelarusian society.  Given the level of control and repression, there are few counterweights to Lukashenka’s rule.  The parliament, the National Assembly lacks real powers and Members have little power to be independent of Lukashenka’s strong-arm tactics.  Civil society, including NGOs and independent media, is under a tight lid.  Fundamentally flawed elections have left that country lacking a legitimate president and legislature.

Ukraine, for all of the backsliding, scandals, and problems with respect to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, has institutions that act at least somewhat as a check on the powers-that-be, despite the ruling regime’s attempts to control and, in some instances, stifle genuine democratic development and civil society.  Civil society is tolerated to a greater extent than in Belarus, and independent media, while under severe pressure, is more widespread.  There are competing centers of power and many diverse economic, political and social interests in Ukraine. 

In the case of Ukraine, despite the progress in many areas since independence, there have been significant problems with respect to implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, including in the areas of media freedoms, freedom of association and assembly, corruption, the rule of law and elections.  The largest faction in the Rada is that of democratic opposition and presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine.  The pro-presidential parliamentary majority has disintegrated, with the defection earlier this month of the party led by Rada Speaker Lytvyn.  Genuine political competition exists, and, of course, there is competition among the oligarchs. 

In Belarus, there is only one oligarch.  Although the Kuchma regime might be tempted, thus far, they have not been able to act with the same degree of impunity that Lukashenka exhibits.

International attention is rightly now focused on ensuring free, fair, open and transparent presidential elections on October 31 with a second round likely in late November.  These elections are critically important to the future of Ukraine, yet we see on a daily basis an election campaign that calls into question Ukraine’s commitment to OSCE principles.  Without exaggeration, Ukraine is facing a critical presidential election – a choice not only between Euro-Atlantic integration versus reintegration into the former Soviet Eurasian space, but a choice between further development toward a European-style democracy, such as in Poland or Hungary,  versus the increasingly authoritarian system that prevails in Russia today.

Many analysts and organizations, including the Helsinki Commission, have chronicled the numerous election campaign violations taking place inUkraine.  We continue to maintain our strong interest and concern.  Along with Chairman Henry Hyde, I joined him in introducing H.Con.Res. 415, calling on the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for the presidential campaign.  We make clear the expectation that Ukrainian authorities should – consistent with their own laws and international agreements – ensure an election process that enables all of the candidates to compete on a level playing field.   We urge the Ukrainian Government to guarantee freedom of association and assembly, ensure full transparency of the election process, free access for Ukrainian and international election observers, and unimpeded access by all candidates to the media on a non-discriminatory basis.

Unfortunately, the pre-election environment in Ukraine gives great cause for concern.  Ukrainian voters clearly are not receiving balanced and objective information about all the candidates in the race, independent media providing Ukrainians with objective information about the campaign – including channel 5 – is being shut down in the regions, and journalists who don’t follow the infamous secret instructions from the presidential administration, or temnyky, are harassed and even fired.  Ukraine’s state-owned television channels are blatantly anti-Yushchenko. 

Given the stakes in these elections, we should not be surprised that the ruling regime has launched an all-out campaign against the free media and against the opposition, the most recent of numerous examples being the highly suspicious poisoning of Victor Yushchenko.  To its credit, the Rada last week overwhelmingly approved a resolution creating a special commission to investigate this alleged assassination attempt.  We will be eager to see if the investigation will get underway.  Four years have passed since the killing of independent journalist Georgi Gongadze, and the case remains unresolved.  As you know, Gongadze was bravely exposing high-level corruption in Ukraine.

The Rada has also created an ad-hoc committee to monitor the upcoming election.  Prime Minister Yanukovych, the presidential candidate of the ruling regime, instead of welcoming this move, called the Rada move “disloyal”.  This speaks volumes.  

The independence exhibited by the Rada in Ukraine would be unthinkable in Belarus.  There, serious and persistent violations have been committed in most human dimension areas, including freedom of speech, association and assembly, media freedoms, religious liberties, elections and the rule of law.  Thanks to Lukashenka’s iron rule, Belarus has the worst human rights record in Europe today, although Russia under the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Putin appears to be catching up, and, perhaps, even emulating Mr. Lukashenka. 

Regrettably, the Belarusian authorities have disregarded the four democratic benchmarks established by the OSCE in 2000 – ending repressions and the climate of fear, permitting a functioning independent media, ensuring transparency of the elections process, and strengthening the functions of parliament. Lukashenka has flaunted shamelessly his 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit declaration commitments for a political dialogue, with OSCE participation which stressed the necessity of removing "all remaining obstacles in Belarus to this dialogue by respecting the principles of the rule of law and the freedom of the media.” Lukashenka has pointedly ignored this commitment and the situation with respect to the rule of law and media freedoms has only continued its steady deterioration. 

At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Bucharest in 2000, I offered language to continue to deny the seating of the illegitimate Lukashenka parliament.  We won.  I continued to fight this battle until 2003, when the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly abandoned this position and seated the Members of the National Assembly.  Since that time, I’ve continued to be an outspoken critic of the dismal human rights record of the Lukashenka regime.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled in Belarus for October 17, and they now have an added dimension, with Lukashenka’s September 7 announcement of a referendum that would pave the way to extend his rule beyond 2006, when his ten-year tenure is due to expire, to potentially join the ranks of “presidents for life,” like President Niyazov in Turkmenistan and others in Central Asia.   The fact that, according to the Belarusian electoral code, a referendum cannot contain any questions related to presidential elections will certainly not deter him.  Interestingly, opinion polls suggest that most Belarusians are against extending Lukashenka’s rule, and the threshold for passage of the referendum is high, as at least 50 percent of all eligible voters – and not merely those casting ballots – have to vote “yes” for the referendum to pass.  We will see how they manipulate that one.

Nevertheless, to say that the deck is stacked in favor of Lukashenka is an understatement.   The Belarusian Government has almost total control over the electoral process and considerable experience in conducting elections that, to put it mildly, do not meet international democratic standards.  For example, opposition parties have been allocated a mere two percent of seats on the district election commissions, and an appalling 0.2 percent of the 7,000 precinct commissions.  One-third of the candidates proposed by Belarusian opposition parties were reportedly denied registration.

Ladies and gentlemen, to their credit, Belarus’ repressed and embattled opposition and NGOs have not yet given up.  We need to continue to support these brave men and women and all those struggling for democracy and human rights in Belarus.  I am the sponsor of the BelarusDemocracy Act, which is waiting for consideration by the full House.  The BDA is intended to promote democracy, human rights and rule of law inBelarus, including assistance for democracy building activities such as support for NGOs, independent media, international exchanges and international broadcasting. 

We want to stand firmly on the side of those who long for freedom.  As President Bush noted at Madison Square Garden earlier this month [on September 2], “The story of America is the story of expanding liberty:  an ever-widening circle, constantly growing to reach further and include more. Our nation’s founding commitment is still our deepest commitment:  In our world, and here at home, we will extend the frontiers of freedom.”

We are eager to have governments and parliaments in both countries with whom we can join forces to combat the scourges of our day, such as human trafficking, HIV/AIDS which has reportedly infected one percent of Ukraine’s population, or corruption and cooperation on movement towards common security and Euro-Atlantic integration.  We know that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian and Belarusian women and children have been trafficked mostly to Europe and the Middle East over the course of the last decade.  The problem is especially acute in Ukraine – one of the largest source countries in Europe.  Ukraine is also a major transit country.  Both Ukraine and Belarus have been designated in the most recent State Department report as Tier II countries (there are three tiers), meaning that these governments do not yet fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. 

As the lead author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and its reauthorization which became law in 2003, I am pleased that our government, the OSCE and other international organizations and NGOs are devoting resources to combat this modern day slavery, but much more remains to be done.

For both Ukraine and Belarus, the best guarantee for their survival as independent countries is the full establishment of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, including, very importantly, democratic elections.  In short, the best guarantee is their implementation of commitments both nations freely undertook when they joined the OSCE.  Standing in solidarity with the courageous pro-democracy in both countries and with the people of Belarusand Ukraine, we must continue to encourage compliance with these commitments.

END REMARKS

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World reaction to the results focused heavily on the continued support among the Serbian electorate for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) led by indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj, which garnered 28.7 percent of the vote, up from 27.6 percent in the last elections in 2003. That, of course, rightly leads to concern about Serbia’s inability to reject the extreme nationalism fostered by the Milosevic regime throughout the 1990s. On the other hand, the Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic came in second with 22.9 percent of the vote, an increase from 12.6 percent in 2003 and an indication that entrenched nationalist sentiments have not negated strong support for democratic development and integration. The coalition led by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of the current Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, gained only 16.7 percent of the vote, compared to 17.7 percent in 2003. 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Over the longer term, democratic forces inside the country should prevail and advance Serbia’s reconciliation with its neighbors and its full integration into Europe, but without a mental break with its past this task will take longer and be more difficult to accomplish.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Convenes Winter Session

    By Robert Hand, Staff Advisor The Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) met in Vienna, Austria, on February 22 and 23 for its sixth annual winter meeting. The U.S. Delegation to the meeting was led by Helsinki Commission Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who is also serving as President Emeritus of the OSCE PA. The delegation included Representatives Mike McIntyre (D-NC), a Helsinki Commissioner, and Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). Setting an Agenda for Future Activity Created in 1991, the OSCE PA holds an annual session every July as its principal forum to debate issues and adopt a declaration. In 2002, however, the Assembly added a short winter session to prepare for the July session. Rapporteurs from each of the three general committees that parallel the OSCE security, economic and human dimensions discussed their preparations for the annual session to be held from July 5 to 9 in Kyiv, Ukraine, while the standing committee, chaired by Assembly President Goran Lennmarker of Sweden, formally approved Kazakhstan to be the host of the 2008 annual session. The committees heard from a variety of OSCE officials, including the OSCE Secretary General, the Representative on Freedom of the Media, the High Commissioner for National Minorities, the Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo and the Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. In an unprecedented step for an OSCE Chair-in-Office, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos decided not to attend the Winter Meeting, sending his special envoy instead. The first committee focused primarily on implementation of the OSCE PA’s Brussels Declaration adopted in 2006, noting ongoing discussion of OSCE reform issues including the role of the Parliamentary Assembly and support for OSCE field missions. Developments in the Balkans, especially Kosovo, as well as in Moldova and Afghanistan were also discussed. Rep. McIntyre inquired about the ability of the OSCE field mission in Kosovo to adapt to changing circumstances, and expressed hope that OSCE norms, particularly regarding human rights, would be respected there no matter what decisions are made regarding Kosovo’s status. The second committee looked forward to the Kyiv annual session where it intends to focus on immigration and its effect on a country’s development, immigration policy responses and the potential for OSCE activity on immigration issues. The third committee raised a wide range of items to be considered in Kyiv, including gender equality, media freedom, combating organized crime through the rule of law and transparency, poverty, and the political and social rights of immigrants. The U.S. delegation expressed interest in focusing on the rights of immigrants, an issue that is expected to be addressed in both the second and third committees. Additional discussion during the PA meeting focused on OSCE election observation, an area in which the OSCE has traditionally taken a leading role among other international institutions. Recent election observation missions have brought to light institutional friction between the PA and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The PA provides parliamentarians to lead short-term observing with their strong political instincts, considerable observation experience and high-profile presence, while ODIHR provides many additional short-term observers to enhance election day coverage as well as technical experts and a long-term observation effort. Both are needed, but differing perspectives and interests are beginning to threaten the success of the entire observation effort. Parliamentarians lamented the degree to which implementation of a 1997 agreement providing the basis for cooperation in the field has deteriorated, and many hoped the Spanish Chair-in Office would help the two OSCE bodies resolve their differences and ensure that future observation missions are conducted in accordance with the agreement. Debating “Energy Security”, a Vital Issue of Today The three committees convened together for a special debate on energy security in the OSCE area. Speaking for the U.S. Delegation, Rep. Solis argued that to truly achieve energy security, there needs to be increased transparency and predictability in energy supply on the one hand, and aggressive action to cut energy use and reduce emissions on the other. Adding that energy security and climate change ultimately must be addressed together, she highlighted initiatives taken in her home state of California as well as recent initiatives in the U.S. Congress. Rep. Solis concluded her remarks by calling for a global approach that “not only promotes energy security, but environmental security as well.” Other delegates similarly focused on the need for increased transparency in the energy sector and expressed concern about use of energy as a political instrument. Addressing Mediterranean Issues Chairman Hastings, in his role as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, hosted a dinner during the winter session in Vienna to find ways to enhance security in the Mediterranean region through the partnership between countries in the region and the OSCE and its Parliamentary Assembly. Representatives from the parliaments and foreign ministries of Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia joined the U.S. Delegation in discussing how their countries could benefit from OSCE and PA work to promote political dialogue, democracy, rule of law, and economic stability. Secretary General of the OSCE PA Spencer Oliver, PA Treasurer Jerry Grafstein, representatives of the OSCE Spanish Chairmanship, as well as the Finnish Chairmanship of the OSCE Partners Group also participated. Mr. Hastings proposed using the OSCE and the PA as a framework for increased informal dialogue among the countries in the region, and also discussed greater involvement in OSCE work to combat anti-Semitism and discrimination against Muslims.

  • Tajikistan's Presidential Election Falls Short

    By Kyle Parker and Knox Thames On November 6, 2006, Tajikistan held its fourth presidential election, in which incumbent President Emomali Rahmonov easily won over four other competitors. The conduct of the campaign and the Election Day itself provided the international community with an opportunity to gauge Tajikistan’s commitment to democratization – the result was a mixed picture that displayed fundamental problems that must be addressed before Tajikistan can meet OSCE standards of free and fair elections. The final results released by the Central Commission for Election and Referenda (CCER) of Tajikistan showed that President Rahmonov defeated four other candidates with 79 percent of the vote, based on approximately 3 million ballots representing 91 percent of the electorate. The nearest competitor garnered just over five percent. The OSCE’s Election Observation Mission (EOM) reported in its preliminary findings that the elections “did not fully test democratic electoral practices… due to a lack of genuine choice and meaningful pluralism,” and concluded that “the election process also revealed substantial shortcomings.” Tajikistan in Context Tajikistan is located at the heart of the ancient Silk Road traversing the Eurasian landmass, bordering Afghanistan, China, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. With about seven million people, Tajikistan has a young, growing population that is largely Sunni Muslim and speaks Tajik, a language closely related to Farsi. Tajikistan has one of the lowest GDP’s of the former Soviet republics; up to one million Tajik citizens are migrant workers abroad, mostly in the Russian Federation. Landlocked and home to the tallest mountains in the post-Soviet space, Tajikistan possesses abundant fresh water resources from glacial runoff. However, only six percent of Tajikistan is arable. Tajikistan also hosts one of the largest and most polluting aluminum smelters in the world. Additionally, since the fall of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan in 2001, the cross-border drug trade has dramatically increased, fueling corruption, drug addiction, and HIV/AIDS among the local population. Following the dissolution of the USSR, Tajikistan was the only former Soviet republic to experience a protracted civil war that claimed the lives of at least 40,000 people and displaced nearly a million. Despite extreme poverty, the country has made notable gains since the peace agreement signed almost 10 years ago that ended the civil war. The accord created a power-sharing agreement among the warring parties, including the only legal Islamic party in post-Soviet Central Asia. President Rahmonov was first elected in 1994 and re-elected in 1999. The Constitution of Tajikistan sets a presidential term of office at seven years. In 2003, a referendum amended the constitution to limit the number of consecutive terms an individual could be elected president to two, but allowed him to run again. As a result, President Rahmonov may seek another term in 2013, potentially serving until 2020. Pre-Election Climate As elsewhere in Central Asia, Tajikistan’s political system features top-down rule by the president, whose control of the state apparatus and state-run media greatly enhance his privileged position in any election. Pre-election decrees by the CCER did address some inequities in the election system, and the government provided opposition parties free air time on state television. However, the ability of independent media outlets to operate freely was restricted. And while multiple candidates did participate, the major opposition leaders experienced significant harassment from authorities and did not or could not run. For instance, Muhammadruzi Iskandarov, the former head of the Democratic Party, was sentenced to 23 years in prison in October 2005 under questionable circumstances. This year, authorities repeatedly threatened criminal penalties against the Chairman of the Socialist Democratic Party, Rahmatullo Zoyirov, for statements made regarding the number of alleged political prisoners in Tajikistan. Before his death in August, charges of slander were brought against the late Said Abdullo Nuri, Chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Party, who was arguably the only opposition presidential candidate with a national following. Of these three parties, only the anti-Iskandarov “Vatan” faction of the Democratic Party entered a candidate. Their bid was unsuccessful, as they could not obtain the necessary petition signatures in time to qualify for ballot inclusion. The CCER registered five candidates out of six nominees who submitted signatures for the election: Olimjon Boboev (Party of Economic Reform of Tajikistan); Abdukhalim Gaffarov (Socialist Party); Amir Karakulov (Agrarian Party); Emomali Rahmonov (Peoples’ Democratic Party of Tajikistan); and Ismoil Talbakov (Communist Party of Tajikistan). To run, candidates had to collect signatures representing five percent of registered voters, or approximately 160,000 names. Individuals could not sign more than one petition, and yet remarkably, the six applicants reportedly collected over 1.5 million signatures, equaling roughly half of the electorate in just 20 days. Considering that the pro-government Agrarian and the Economic Reform Parties were both established this year, their ability to set up a network to collect the required signatures was remarkable and implausible. Although roughly one of every two voters signed a petition (based on the claims of the parties), Commission staff did not meet any individual voter who had signed a petition nor did staff hear of any other OSCE observer that met a voter who also signed a petition. Each candidate had up to 30 minutes of free air time on state television and radio. Nevertheless, the OSCE EOM described the campaign period as “largely invisible,” with party platforms that were “similar,” and concluded that “none of the four candidates running against the incumbent offered a credible political alternative.” Furthermore, there was “little media coverage of the election campaign and a high media profile of the incumbent, raising doubts whether voters received sufficient information to make an informed choice.” Violations on Election Day The November 6 election was the first presidential election in Tajikistan observed by the OSCE, as minimum conditions for democratic elections were not in place for previous presidential contests. The EOM deployed 12 experts and 13 long-term observers to the capital city of Dushanbe and five other cities. The Mission was headed by Mr. Onno van der Wind of the Netherlands. Mr. Kimmo Kiljunen, a parliamentarian from Finland, led the observation delegation from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which was integrated into the EOM. On Election Day, the EOM deployed 123 short-term observers representing 31 OSCE participating States. OSCE observers visited approximately 500 of 3,042 polling stations throughout Tajikistan and observed the closing procedures and tabulations in 47 District Election Commissions. Helsinki Commission staff members were accredited as OSCE observers and visited 15 polling stations in the Dushanbe area, ranging from large urban stations to smaller semi-suburban stations and two military precincts. They witnessed the opening and closing of a polling station, as well as tabulation at the District Electoral Commission level. Commission staff witnessed some type of violation in approximately three quarters of the polling stations visited. The most common problem was the appearance of identical signatures on the voter registry, possibly indicating proxy voting. However, proxy voting was only witnessed in one station. Family voting was widespread. In the vast majority of precincts, ballot boxes were not adequately sealed, but there was no visible evidence of tampering. There were no observed instances of voters being denied the opportunity to cast a ballot, nor were any such complaints raised with Commission staff. Commission staff did encounter teams of observers accredited by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China. None of these teams appeared to operate under any kind of election observation methodology, in clear contrast to OSCE observers. As in past elections, the CIS observers drew starkly different conclusions about the electoral conditions than the conclusions of the OSCE EOM. Of the irregularities observed throughout the day, none appeared to be deliberate attempts to skew the final tally in favor of, or against any particular candidate. The infractions appeared to stem from a lack of proper training, old Soviet habits, and/or a general lackadaisical attitude to what was largely seen as an exercise with a foregone conclusion. Still, the vote count monitored by Commission staff at polling station 10 in Dushanbe’s Second District raised questions about the motives of the precinct workers, who appeared determined not to allow a credible observation. Initially, Commission staff were not permitted to enter the station. Once inside, they were not allowed to come within 15 feet of the table where election officials were counting the ballots. In addition, election officials stood in such a way as to block observers from having any view of the tabulations. Precinct staff did not follow closing procedures – counting the blank ballots last rather than first; results were not entered into the protocol as they were established, but rather at the end of the entire count. Staff questions about these concerns directed to the Precinct Election Commission head were unsatisfactorily answered. The EOM preliminary report echoed these findings. Of the polling stations visited by OSCE observers, proxy voting was cited in 19 percent of the stations and identical signatures were observed in 49 percent of the stations. The report cited incidents of security officials interfering in the work of the observers. In addition, the report found that “counting procedures necessary to ensure integrity and transparency of the process were generally not followed.” The report did note some areas of progress, such as the peaceful nature of the voting; CCER training for electoral commissions; provision of free air time for candidates; voter education efforts; ballots in multiple languages; and the availability of polling stations abroad. However, the EOM report concluded that overall the election “did not fully test democratic electoral practices” because of a “lack of genuine choice and meaningful pluralism.” The findings went on to state that “the election was characterized by a marked absence of real competition. Parties that determined themselves as political opposition to the incumbent chose not to contest the election. Thus, voters were presented with a choice that was only nominal.” Other issues of concern were: significant shortcomings in the election legislation; lack of transparency by the CCER; a government-controlled media environment; and an unusually high signature threshold for candidate participation. Post-Election Tajikistan The outcome of Tajikistan’s presidential contest was never in doubt – the only question was whether President Rahmonov’s final tally would be in the 80th percentile (as in Kyrgyzstan last July) or the 90th percentile (typical for Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and recently equaled in Kazakhstan). By that standard, the 79 percent that Rahmonov received could be considered modest for Central Asia. Nevertheless, the international community was able to assess Tajikistan’s commitment to democratization through its conduct before and during the election. Overall, the campaign and election presented a mixed, but generally frustrating, picture – while the electoral code reform, the lack of Election Day violence, and the participation of multiple candidates was positive, the prevalence of irregularities and the intimidation or arrest of major opposition leaders call into question President Rahmonov’s commitment to democratic reform. Although there was little question he would win a fair contest, the deck was carefully stacked anyway. Problems with Tajikistan’s electoral conduct are not new, as the OSCE observed their 2000 and 2005 parliamentary elections and found significant violations in both. The conclusions of the 2000 observation mission stated that Tajikistan must do more to “meet the minimum democratic standards for equal, fair, free, secret, transparent and accountable elections.” Despite OSCE engagement in the pre-election period last year, the 2005 parliamentary elections remained problematic, with the OSCE mission stating they “failed to meet many key OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections.” Against that background, the 2006 presidential election was disappointing for not having achieved more and deeper systemic reforms. President Rahmonov, now safely reelected, has consolidated his position. The next real test of his commitment to electoral reform will be the 2010 parliamentary election, specifically, whether independent opposition parties can operate and organize freely. Many observers believe that the electorate’s vivid memory of the civil war has created an appreciation for the stability he represents, despite the country’s democratic shortcomings. However, 60 percent of the population is reportedly under 35 years old and if serious democratic reforms are not entrenched, and the 2010 parliamentary election again falls short of international standards, the political gains achieved since the end of the war may be jeopardized. As Rakhmonov begins a new seven-year term of office, it is critical that reform efforts move forward. A good sense of his government’s direction could come early in his new administration, if problematic draft NGO or religion laws, are reintroduced, since previous versions fell short of OSCE commitments. In addition, continued governmental efforts to close or harass independent media outlets will also indicate whether old policies will hold sway during the new term of office. Conclusion The United States should continue to find ways to help this impoverished nation develop economically and democratically, lending assistance when appropriate, while continuing to hold Tajikistani authorities to the OSCE commitments they freely undertook. The United States would do well to continue to actively encourage those laboring for a stable and open society in this country that has the potential to be a key partner in battling regional threats to U.S. interests. In addition, the growth of democracy and respect for human rights would enable Washington and Dushanbe to deepen their engagement, while cementing the stability and progress achieved in Tajikistan.

  • Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006

    Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge passage of H.R. 5948, the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006, to provide sustained support for the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. Mr. Speaker, I especially thank you for your commitment to bring this legislation before this Congress. Your deep personal interest in the cause of freedom in Belarus, as demonstrated by your recent meetings in Vilnius with the leaders of the democratic opposition, has been particularly appreciated by those struggling for the rule of law and basic human freedoms. This legislation enjoys bipartisan support, and I want to recognize and thank the tremendous collaboration of Rep. Tom Lantos, an original cosponsor of this bill.  As one who has followed developments in Belarus over many years through my work on the Helsinki Commission, I remain deeply concerned that the Belarusian people continue to be subjected to the arbitrary and self-serving whims of a corrupt and anti-democratic regime headed by Aleksandr Lukashenka. Since the blatantly fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, which the OSCE condemned as having failed to meet international democratic standards, the pattern of repression and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. While those who would dare oppose the regime are especially targeted, the reality is that all in Belarus outside Lukashenka’s inner circle pay a price. Recent news regarding Lukashenka’s regime Last week in Riga, President Bush pledged to help the people of Belarus in the face of the "cruel regime" led by President Lukashenka. "The existence of such oppression in our midst offends the conscience of Europe and the conscience of America," Bush said, adding that "we have a message for the people of Belarus: the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace includes you, and we stand with you in your struggle for freedom." Mr. Speaker, this legislation would be a concrete expression of Congress’ commitment to the Belarusian people and would show that we stand as one in supporting freedom for Belarus. Just within the last few months, we have witnessed a series of patently political trials designed to further stifle peaceful, democratic opposition. In October, 60-year-old human rights activist Katerina Sadouskaya was sentenced to two years in a penal colony. Her “crime”? “Insulting the honor and dignity of the Belarusian leader.” Mr. Speaker, if this isn’t reminiscent of the Soviet Union, I don’t know what is. And just a few weeks ago, in a closed trial, Belarusian youth activist Zmitser Dashkevich received a one-and-a-half year sentence for “activities on behalf of an unregistered organization.”  A report mandated by the Belarus Democracy Act and finally issued this past March reveals Lukashenka’s links with rogue regimes such as Iran, Sudan and Syria, and his cronies’ corrupt activities. According to an October 9, 2006, International Herald Tribune op-ed: “Alarmingly, over the last six years, Belarus has intensified its illegal arms shipment activities to the point of becoming the leading supplier of lethal military equipment to Islamic state sponsors of terrorism.” I guess we shouldn’t be all that surprised that in July, Lukashenka warmly welcomed to Minsk Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. In keeping with their bent, both pledged cooperation and denounced the West. More recently, Belarusian Foreign Minister Martynov traveled to Iran where President Ahmadinejad pledged further cooperation in the energy and defense industries. Not long ago, a member of Belarus’ bogus parliament asserted on state-controlled radio that Belarus has the right to develop its own nuclear weapons. Mr. Speaker and Colleagues, Belarus is truly an anomaly in Europe, swimming against the rising tide of greater freedom, democracy and economic prosperity.  The Legislation  Three years ago, I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act which passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Bush in October 2004. At that time, the situation in Belarus with respect to democracy and human rights was already abysmal. The need for a sustained U.S. commitment to foster democracy and respect for human rights and to sanction Aleksandr Lukashenka and his cronies is clear from the intensified anti-democratic policies pursued by the current leadership in Minsk. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that countries throughout Europe have joined in a truly trans-Atlantic effort to bring the promise of freedom to the beleaguered people of Belarus. Prompt passage of the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help maintain this momentum aimed at upholding the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people. With the continuing decline on the ground in Belarus since the fraudulent March elections, this bill is needed now more than ever.  This reauthorization bill demonstrates the sustained U.S. support for Belarus’ independence. We seek to encourage those struggling for democracy and respect for human rights in the face of the formidable pressures and personal risks from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes such sums as may be necessary in assistance for each of fiscal years 2007 and 2008 for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, including youth groups, independent trade unions and entrepreneurs, human rights defenders, independent media, democratic political parties, and international exchanges.  The bill further authorizes monies for both radio and television broadcasting to the people of Belarus. While I am encouraged by the recent U.S. and EU initiatives with respect to radio broadcasting, much more needs to be done to penetrate Lukashenka’s stifling information blockade. Mr. Speaker, I hope that the Administration will make this a priority.  In addition, H.R. 5948 calls for selective sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and the denial of entry into the United States for senior officials of the regime – as well as those engaged in human rights and electoral abuses. In this context, I welcome the punitive sanctions imposed by both the Administration and the EU which are targeted against officials – including judges and prosecutors – involved in electoral fraud and other human rights abuses.  The bill expresses the sense of the Congress that strategic exports to the Government of Belarus should be prohibited, except for those intended for democracy building or humanitarian purposes, as well as U.S. Government financing and other foreign assistance. Of course, we would not want the exports to affect humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions are encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. Furthermore, we would encourage the blocking of the assets (in the United States) of members of the Belarus Government as well as the senior leadership and their surrogates. To this end, I welcome the Treasury Department’s April 10 advisory to U.S. financial institutions to guard against potential money laundering by Lukashenka and his cronies and strongly applaud President Bush’s June 19 “Executive Order Blocking Property of Certain Persons Undermining Democratic Processes or Institutions in Belarus.”  Mr. Speaker, I want to make it crystal clear that these sanctions are aimed not at the people of Belarus, but at a regime that displays contempt for the dignity and rights of its citizens even as the corrupt leadership moves to further enrich itself at the expense of all Belarusians.  Ongoing Anti-Democratic Behavior To chronicle the full litany of repression over the course of Lukashenka’s 12-year misrule would go well beyond the bounds of time available here. Let me cite several more recent illustrations of anti-democratic behavior which testify to the true nature of the regime.  Belarus’ March 19 presidential elections can only be described as a farce, and were met with condemnation by the United States, the OSCE, the European Union and others. The Lukashenka regime’s wholesale arrests of more than one thousand opposition activists and dozens of Belarusian and foreign journalists, before and after the elections, and violent suppression of peaceful post-election protests underscore the contempt of the Belarusian authorities toward their countrymen.  Illegitimate parliamentary elections in 2004 and the recently held presidential “elections” in Belarus brazenly flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation. Albeit safely ensconced in power, Lukashenka has not let up on the democratic opposition. Almost daily repressions constitute a profound abuse of power by a regime that has blatantly manipulated the system to remain in power.  In the last few months, the regime continues to show its true colors, punishing those who would dare to challenge the tin-pot dictator. Former presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin was sentenced to a politically-motivated five-and-one-half-years’ term of imprisonment for alleged “hooliganism” and disturbing the peace. His health is precarious as he is now well into his second month of a hunger strike.  In early August, authorities sentenced four activists of the non-partisan domestic election monitoring initiative “Partnerstva”. In a patent attempt to discourage domestic observation of the fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, the four had been kept in custody since February 21. Two were released, having served their six month sentences. Two others, Tsimafei Dranchuk and Mikalay Astreyka, received stiffer sentences, although Astreyka has been released from a medium security colony and is now in “correctional labor”. Other political prisoners, including Artur Finkevich, Mikalay Autukhovich, Andrey Klimau, Ivan Kruk, Yury Lyavonau, Mikalay Razumau, Pavel Sevyarynets, Mikalay Statkevich also continue to have their freedom denied, languishing in prison or in so-called correctional labor camps.  Administrative detentions of ten or fifteen days against democratic opposition activists are almost a daily occurrence. Moreover, the Lukashenka regime continued to stifle religious expression. It refuses to register churches, temporarily detains pastors, threatens to expel foreign clergy, and refuses religious groups the use of premises to hold services. Despite the repressions, Protestant and Catholic congregations have increasingly become more active in their pursuit of religious freedom. I am also concerned about the recent explosion at a Holocaust memorial in western Belarus, the sixth act of vandalism against the monument in 14 years. Unfortunately, the local authorities have reportedly refused to open a criminal investigation. Lukashenka’s minions have closed down independent think tanks, further tightened the noose around what remains of the independent media, suspended the activities of a political party, shut down the prominent literary journal Arche, and evicted the Union of Belarusian Writers from its headquarters. Of course, Lukashenka’s pattern of contempt for human rights is nothing new – it has merely intensified with the passage of time.  Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents – perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders.  Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help end to the pattern of violations of OSCE human rights and democracy commitments by the Lukashenka regime and loosen its unhealthy monopoly on political and economic power. I hope our efforts here today will facilitate independent Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe in which the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are respected. The beleaguered Belarusian people have suffered so much over the course of the last century and deserve better than to live under a regime frighteningly reminiscent of the Soviet Union. The struggle of the people of Belarus for dignity and freedom deserves our unyielding and consistent support.  This legislation is important and timely because Belarus, which now borders on NATO and the EU, continues to have the worst human rights and democracy record of any European state – bar none.

  • Democracy in Tajikistan: Preview of the Presidential Election

    The briefing addressed the then upcoming presidential election, scheduled for November 6, which was predicted to demonstrate prospects for systemic democratization in Tajikistan. President Imomali Rakhmonov, running for re-election, has been in power since 1994 and could remain in office until 2020 if re-elected.  International policy advisor Ronald J. McNamara was joined by Eric M. McGlinchey, Khamrokhon Zaripov, Dennis de Tray, and Anthony C. Bowyer in analyzing the extent of the Tajikistan government’s allowance for an opposition. While there were multiple candidates, the major opposition leaders experienced significant harassment from authorities and most decided not to run. 

  • 15th Anniversary of Ukraine's Independence

    Mr. Speaker, August 24th marked the fifteenth anniversary of Ukraine’s rebirth as an independent state, finally being freed from the shackles of Soviet misrule that included a reign of terror, cultural suppression and a genocidal famine. The last fifteen years have witnessed peaks and valleys as the Ukrainian people have struggled to overcome the legacy of communism and Moscow’s imperialism. While the process of Ukraine’s restoration is still a work in progress, great strides have been made to consolidate that nation as an independent, free and democratic state. The December 1,1991 referendum on independence, the 1996 Constitution and especially the 2004 Orange Revolution stand as highlights, demonstrating Ukrainian resolve for independence, rule of law, democracy and freedom, and the continuing promise of a better life. In contrast to the first 13 years of independence, Ukraine is now “free”, and not merely “partly free.” The March 26 parliamentary election was one of the freest and fairest ever held among post-Soviet states. The Ukrainian economy is on the road to recovery and development after the initial post-Soviet decline of the 1990s. Ukraine is a responsible neighbor and has shown its mettle as a partner for peace and security in the world. Of course, challenges remain despite the real progress that has been made. There have been missed opportunities. Many of the promises of the Orange Revolution are only partially fulfilled. The rule of law, including a truly independent judiciary, remains to be consolidated. Corruption, although not as egregious as before the Orange Revolution, still rears its ugly head. Many Ukrainians believe all too many among the political elites look first toward their personal interests rather than to the good of the people and of the nation they are supposed to serve. As the last months have demonstrated, political stability can be elusive, and it remains to be seen what direction the new government will take. Nevertheless, Ukraine continues to show tremendous potential, and I am firmly convinced that this still relatively young 15-year-old independent state will fulfill its potential. Mr. Speaker, in looking over the last fifteen years, we must not forget the sacrifices of millions who fought for Ukraine’s liberty over the course of the last century, often against great odds and at great personal risk. Whether in the struggle for Ukraine’s short-lived independence in 1918–21, or the insurgent armies that fought against both Nazi and Soviet rule during and after World War II, many Ukrainians made the ultimate sacrifice. More recently, in the final decades of Soviet domination, Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors and other human rights activists challenged the system, calling upon the Kremlin to live up to commitments voluntarily undertaken when Leonid Brezhnev signed the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. One such renowned activist, Ukrainian Helsinki Monitor Nadia Svitlychna, who served three years in a Soviet labor camp for her tireless defense of human rights and freedom, died last month. We honor the memory of Mrs. Svitlychna, recalling that it was courageous and dedicated individuals like her who, as much as anyone, paved the way for an independent, democratic Ukraine. Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the role that the Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has played throughout its 30-year existence in firmly supporting human rights and freedom for Ukraine. I am pleased that the Congress has stood firm in support of Ukraine and am confident that the United States will continue to extend the hand of friendship as Ukraine moves toward its rightful place as a fully integrated member of the Euro-Atlantic community of nations.

  • Commission Commemorates Anniversary of ODIHR with Wide-Ranging Hearing

    By Chadwick R. Gore, Staff Advisor U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback convened a hearing focused on the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and its promotion of democracy and human rights in the OSCE region over the past 15 years, work that has come under pressure, in part, from those seeking to divert attention away from their own poor records of implementation. The hearing “Advancing the Human Dimension in the OSCE: The Role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights” was held on May 17, 2006. In his opening statement, Chairman Brownback highlighted the international role of ODIHR and its importance in sponsoring democratic institutions and monitoring the conduct of elections and assessing their freeness and fairness. He remarked that ODIHR’s work encompasses a wide range of human rights activities aimed at closing the gap between the commitments of the participating States on paper and their reality in practice. Chairman Brownback noted, however, that the Warsaw-based ODIHR faces serious challenges, especially from the Russian Federation, Belarus, and a small minority of the OSCE participating States that neither desire democratic reform nor recognize the universality of human rights. On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, Kurt Volker, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, voiced strong support for ODIHR. He particularly highlighted its leadership as the flagship of the OSCE’s democracy-promotion efforts. Volker emphasized ODIHR’s success in promoting democracy, defending human rights, and building civil society, and stressed the State Department’s support for the current regional and international programs undertaken by ODIHR. Mr. Volker summed up the criticisms of ODIHR election monitoring as focused on two main aspects: alleged undue pressure on states of the former Soviet Union and alleged lack of transparency in election observation procedures. Describing ODIHR’s election monitoring as the “gold standard,” Volker rejected these assertions and affirmed that ODIHR is doing “a first-class job in election monitoring and all of the areas of democracy promotion that it takes part in.” He opined that ODIHR has been instrumental in advancing democracy in Russia. ODIHR’s mandate to monitor elections is set forth in the 1990 Copenhagen document and subsequent documents. Accordingly ODIHR Director Ambassador Christian Strohal focused much of his testimony on elections and discussed the many challenges faced by ODIHR as various OSCE States endeavor to prevent free and fair elections by limiting competition and marginalizing voters. He stated that this is accomplished through, “…refusal of registration or deregistration; issues of state administrative resources; pressure on groups of the electorate to vote in a specific manner; media bias; electoral administrations with insufficiently inclusive composition; no clear voter registration guidelines; no clear complaints and appeal procedures; and most importantly of all, no sufficient political will to rectify identified shortcomings.” To confront these challenges, Ambassador Strohal emphasized the need for greater political commitment by all OSCE States, highlighting the necessity of accountability, transparency, and public confidence combined with strong leadership by example as demonstrated by the United States in its election transparency. Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment for Democracy, focused his remarks on what he described as a backlash against democracy development in various OSCE nations. He identified the problem as stemming from governments attempting to further consolidate power by weakening civic participation and democratic institutions, as evidenced in Russia with the recent passage of a strict NGO law. Yet, Gershman pointed out, the people of Russia are not losing hope and are indeed gaining some international support. Gershman conveyed the hope of indigenous NGOs that the international community would offer a “long-term coherent policy of support” to civil society. A former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, as well as a former Helsinki Commissioner, affirmed at the hearing the critical role of the OSCE and ODIHR to advance democracy in the region. Lorne Craner, President of the International Republican Institute, focused on ODIHR’s unique multilateral structure and superior work on human rights and democracy, as well as its contributions to the recent global democratic movement. He noted with concern, however, that while democratic advances have occurred throughout the OSCE they are currently under attack by Russia and a few other countries. That the attacks focus on election standards, democratic development and the ODIHR make them “particularly insidious and particularly important.” According to Patrick Merloe, Senior Associate and Director of the Programs on Election Processes at the National Democratic Institute, several OSCE States are specifically critical of the election monitoring process, in an effort to deflect attention from their own electoral shortcomings. Merloe recommended five obligations that the OSCE should address in order to increase the effectiveness of the ODIHR: universal and equal suffrage, accountability, transparency, public confidence, and follow up to election-related recommendations. Jeff Fischer, Senior Director of the Center for Transitional and Post-Conflict Governance at IFES, stressed the historical significance of the OSCE’s election supervision practice in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo and the lessons learned from those experiences. Two lessons exemplified from these OCSE administrative practices were the necessity for a flexible election timeline and a separate organizational election monitoring mission. Chairman Brownback voiced particular concern about Russia’s ongoing challenges to democratic institutions and civic organizations. Gershman identified Georgia’s Rose Revolution and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine as the origin of the current Russian mindset committed to preventing similar democratic movements from arising in other countries of the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Gershman suggested that the Putin administration could not transform Russia into a Soviet-like dictatorship, citing the rapid growth of Russian human rights NGOs. He cited statistics showing that the number has grown from just two dozen in the mid-1990s to over 3,000 in 2003. Gershman stressed that the function of ODIHR and similar institutions is not regime change, but to support indigenous democratic groups, to strengthen democratic processes and to strengthen the protection of human rights. Craner agreed with Gershman’s assessment that Russia was not capable of completely reversing its democratic development, stating, “You cannot turn the clock back all the way. You can try and turn it back some of the way, but people, once they get a taste of these things, as we have seen in many countries for the last 30 years, want more.”

  • Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006, a bipartisan measure to provide support for the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. I am pleased to be joined by my colleagues, Representatives Lantos and McCotter, as original cosponsors.  Three years ago, I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act which passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support and was signed into law by President Bush in October 2004. At that time, the situation in Belarus with respect to democracy and human rights was already abysmal. Belarus continues to have the worst rights record of any European state, rightly earning the country the designation as Europe's last dictatorship. Bordering on the EU and NATO, Belarus is truly an anomaly in a democratic, free Europe.  The need for a sustained U.S. commitment to foster democracy and respect for human rights and to sanction the regime of Belarus' tyrant, Alexander Lukashenka, is clear from the intensified anti-democratic policies pursued by the current leadership in Minsk. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to note that the United States is not alone in this noble cause. Countries throughout Europe have joined in a truly trans-Atlantic effort to bring hope of freedom to the beleaguered people of Belarus. Prompt passage of the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help maintain the momentum sparked by adoption of the 2004 law and the further deterioration of the situation on the ground in Belarus. Indeed, with the further deterioration in Belarus with the massive arrests of recent weeks, this bill is needed now more than ever.  One of the primary purposes of the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 is to demonstrate sustained U.S. support for Belarus' independence and for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures and personal risks they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes $20 million in assistance for each of fiscal years 2007 and 2008 for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, including youth groups, independent trade unions and entrepreneurs, human rights defenders, independent media, democratic political parties, and international exchanges.  The bill also authorizes $7.5 million for each fiscal year for surrogate radio and television broadcasting to the people of Belarus. While I am encouraged by the recent U.S. and EU initiatives with respect to radio broadcasting, much more needs to be done to break through Lukashenka's stifling information blockade.  In addition, this legislation would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny senior officials of the regime, as well as those engaged in human rights and electoral abuses, including lower-level officials, entry into the United States. In this context, I welcome the targeted punitive sanctions by both the Administration and the EU against officials, including judges and prosecutors, involved in electoral fraud and other human rights abuses.  Strategic exports to the Government of Belarus would be prohibited, except for those intended for democracy building or humanitarian purposes, as well as U.S. Government financing and other foreign assistance, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. Furthermore, the bill would block Belarus Government and senior leadership and their surrogates' assets in property and interests in property in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons. To this end, I welcome the Treasury Department's April 10 advisory to U.S. financial institutions to guard against potential money laundering by Lukashenka and his cronies and strongly applaud President Bush's June 19 “Executive Order Blocking Property of Certain Persons Undermining Democratic Processes or Institutions in Belarus.”  Mr. Speaker, I want to make it absolutely clear that these sanctions are aimed not at the people of Belarus, whose desire to be free we unequivocally support, but at a regime that displays contempt for the dignity and rights of its citizens even as the corrupt leadership moves to further enrich itself at the expense of the people.  Mr. Speaker, Belarus stands out as an even greater anomaly following Ukraine's historic Orange Revolution and that country's March 26th free and fair parliamentary elections which stand in glaring contrast to Belarus' presidential elections held just one week earlier. The Belarusian elections can only be described as a farce. The Lukashenka regime's wholesale arrests of more than one thousand opposition activists, before and after the elections, and violent suppression of post-election protests underscore the utter contempt of the Belarusian authorities toward the people of Belarus.  Illegitimate parliamentary elections in 2004 and the recently held presidential ``elections'' in Belarus brazenly flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation.  Lukashenka, the Bully of Belarus, has repeatedly unleashed his security thugs to trample on the rights of their fellow citizens. Indeed, they demonstrated what Lukashenka truly thinks about his own people. Nevertheless, courageous peaceful protesters on Minsk's central October Square stood up to the regime with dignity and determination. Almost daily repressions constitute a profound abuse of power by a regime that has blatantly manipulated the system to remain in power.  Albeit safely ensconced in power, Lukashenka has not let up on the democratic opposition. On July 17, in a particularly punitive display against those who dare oppose Lukashenka, former presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin was sentenced to an obviously politically motivated 5 1/2 years' term of imprisonment for alleged "hooliganism" and disturbing the peace. Democratic opposition leaders such as Anatoly Lebedka and Vincuk Viachorka have been arbitrarily detained and sentenced to jail terms which have been as much as 15 days. Last month, opposition activists Artur Finkevich received a two-year corrective labor sentence and Mikalay Rozumau was sentenced to three years of corrective labor for allegedly libeling Lukashenka. Other opposition activists, including Syarhey Lyashkevich and Ivan Kruk have received jail sentences of up to six months.  In a patent attempt to discourage domestic observation of the fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, authorities arrested activists of the nonpartisan domestic election monitoring initiative “Partnerstva”, Tsimafei Dranchuk, Enira Branitskaya, Mikalay Astreyka and Alyaksandr Shalayka. They have been in pre-trial detention since February 21, charged with participation in an unregistered organization.  Lukashenka's pattern of anti-democratic behavior began a decade ago, and this pattern has only intensified. Through an unconstitutional 1996 referendum, he usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. In its May 3 annual report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom included Belarus on its watch list, as Belarus appears to be adopting tougher sanctions against those who take part in unregistered religious activity. The democratic opposition, nongovernmental organizations and independent media have been subject to intimidation and a variety of punitive measures, including closure. Political activists and journalists have been beaten, detained and imprisoned. Independent voices are unwelcome in Lukashenka's Belarus and anyone who, through their promotion of democracy, would stand in the way of the Belarusian dictator puts their personal and professional security on the line. Their courage deserves our admiration, and, more importantly, our support. Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents--perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders. I welcome President Bush's decision to personally meet with two of the widows in the Oval Office to discuss the situation on Belarus. An Administration report mandated by the Belarus Democracy Act and finally issued on March 17 of this year reveals Lukashenka's links with rogue regimes such as Iran, Sudan and Syria, and his cronies' corruption. Despite efforts by the U.S. Government, working closely with the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, and non-governmental organizations, the regime of Lukashenka continues its grip on power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people.  Colleagues, it is my hope that the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 and efforts by allies in Europe will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate independent Belarus' integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount. The Belarusian people deserve better than to live under an autocratic regime reminiscent of the Soviet Union, and they deserve our support in their struggle for democracy and freedom.

  • Kazakhstan's Candidacy for OSCE Chairmanship

    Mr. Speaker, next week, Kassymzhomart Tokaev, the Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan, will be visiting Washington. Given Kazakhstan's growing strategic and economic significance, his agenda with U.S. Government officials and Congress is likely to be broad-ranging. But a key focus of Minister Tokaev's discussions will certainly be Kazakhstan's bid to serve in 2009 as Chair-in-Office of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Kazakhstan has been avidly pursuing this prestigious leadership post since 2003. The consensus decision must be made by this fall, in time for the December OSCE Ministerial Meeting. While I support the idea of Central Asian leadership of the OSCE, my purpose today is to point out the very serious problems with Kazakhstan's candidacy. As many of my colleagues on the Helsinki Commission have concluded, awarding Kazakhstan the political leadership of OSCE in 2009 would be unwarranted and potentially dangerous for the Organization. President Nursultan Nazarbaev, in his opening statement at a recent OSCE meeting in Almaty, even admitted: "We do not...have established democratic principles." Therefore, allowing Kazakhstan to assume the chairmanship by default is not acceptable. Kazakhstan's chairmanship bid must be deferred until the country substantially implements its OSCE commitments, especially those on human rights and democratization. Defenders of Kazakhstan's candidacy have pointed to the country's economic reforms and relative freedom, compared to the rest of Central Asia. I concur that Kazakhstan is far ahead of the police states of Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. But that is no great achievement. Surpassing the worst of the worst does not confer an automatic right to hold the chairmanship of the OSCE which is dedicated to upholding human rights and promoting democracy. It has long been the State Department's position "that any Chair of the OSCE must be in substantial compliance with all OSCE commitments." Over several years now, high-level U.S. Government officials have provided Nazarbaev and other Kazakh officials clear, concrete indicators of the progress necessary before serious consideration could be given to U.S. support for Kazakhstan's Chair-in-Office bid. Yet long-promised political reforms in Kazakhstan have not materialized and the human rights climate remains poor, as documented in the State Department's annual reports. Kazakhstan's oil riches, strategic location and cooperation with the United States in antiterrorism programs cannot conceal the fact that the country remains an authoritarian state. President Nazarbaev has manipulated constitutional referendums and falsified elections to stay in power, while his relatives and friends have gained monopoly positions in the most profitable sectors of the economy. Independent and opposition media have been consistently harassed and pressured, and opposition politicians have been excluded from elections, or worse. Such was the state of affairs before last December's presidential election, which was widely seen as a "make-or-break" moment for Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, the government failed to uphold its international commitments before, during and following the election. Despite repeated pledges from Nazarbaev to hold a free and fair contest, the OSCE observation mission stated the election "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments" due to "restrictions on campaigning, harassment of campaign staff and persistent and numerous cases of intimidation by the authorities" which "limited the possibility for a meaningful competition." The election was a serious blow to Kazakhstan's chances to chair the OSCE. The recent establishment of the State Commission on the Development and Realization of the Programme of Political Reforms comes after the major elections, too late to have any definitive liberalizing effects. In addition, a string of events has accentuated the disturbing gap between OSCE commitments and Kazakhstan's implementation. Last November, opposition politician and former Mayor of Almaty Zamanbek Nurkadilov was found dead in his home. According to Kazakh authorities, he shot himself three times, twice in the chest and once in the head. The official version of his death is, kindly put, implausible in the extreme. In February, opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaev, along with his driver and unarmed bodyguard, was shot in an apple orchard outside Almaty. The official investigation has placed the blame for this brazen crime on Erzhan Utembaev, head of the administration of the Senate, who allegedly engaged the services of some security officers. It is fair to say that this explanation for Sarsenbaev's death has failed to satisfy many observers. What is indisputable, however, is that anyone involved in opposition politics in Kazakhstan risks, in the worst case scenario, not merely electoral defeat but murder. Furthermore, Kazakh officials have backed Russian plans to eviscerate the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which, among other important democracy promoting activities, undertakes the OSCE's election observation missions. This would pose a grave threat to the OSCE as an institution and as the most credible election monitoring organization in the world. Recent statements and actions by local Kazakh authorities against a Hare Krishna community outside of Almaty and actions to penalize minority religious communities for unregistered religious practice run counter to OSCE norms and Kazakhstan's stated commitment to inter-religious tolerance. On March 20, President Nazarbaev praised Uzbek President Islam Karimov's handling of unrest in Andijon in May 2005. Praise for the Andijon massacre that left hundreds dead in Uzbekistan, and which moved the OSCE, the U.S. Government and international organizations to call for an independent, impartial investigation, are hardly the "reforms" one expects of a country that hopes to chair the OSCE. The forced repatriation of Uzbek refugees to Uzbekistan was equally alarming. Just today, Kazakhstan's upper house passed a highly restrictive media law that has been criticized by the OSCE's Representative on the Media and the U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan. It is hoped that President Nazarbaev will not sign this problematic bill into law. Mr. Speaker, in light of these circumstances, Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 cannot be supported. I strongly believe that backing Kazakhstan's candidacy would cause more difficulties than will result from Astana's disappointment over not winning this prize. None of this means that we should not strive to develop the best possible relations with Kazakhstan, on a mutually beneficial basis. There are many areas of current and potential cooperation between our countries, including Kazakhstan's entry into the WTO, energy, military security and anti-terrorism. Nor does my inability to support Kazakhstan's candidacy for the OSCE Chairmanship in 2009 mean that I do not hope to be able to back a future bid. Nothing would please me more than to report to this Chamber that Kazakhstan has met its commitments on democratization and human rights and richly deserves to lead the OSCE. A Kazakh chairmanship would also move the Organization eastward in the symbolic sense, bridging what has become an uncomfortable gap between the former Soviet republics and Europe. But that moment has not yet come, Mr. Speaker. I would encourage the Kazakh leaders to avail themselves of the opportunity of additional time to constructively engage the OSCE. Working to ensure that the Organization succeeds would aid Kazakhstan's bid for a future chairmanship, while expressing sour grapes over a denial can only add to the impression that Kazakhstan is not ready for a leadership role. The OSCE Chairmanship represents acknowledgement of progress already made, not a stimulus to future, unproven progress. Urging the Kazakhs to defer their bid would leave the door open for Astana, should demonstrable reforms on human rights and democratization be forthcoming. That progress was promised by President Nazarbaev, when he signed the Helsinki Accords as his country joined the OSCE in 1992.

  • Belgium’s Chairmanship of the OSCE

    The Belgian Government assumed Chairmanship of the OSCE in January 2006.  The first half of 2006 saw a number of developments within, and adjacent to, the OSCE region that formed the focus of the hearing.  Among the issues addressed were developments in Central Asia and neighboring Afghanistan, the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the political situation in the Caucasus, and human rights trends in the Russian Federation.  Commissioners also focused on OSCE democracy-promotion work, with a special emphasis on election monitoring, programs to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, and initiatives aimed at promoting greater international cooperation to curtail human trafficking and child pornography.

  • Human Rights, Democracy, and Integration in South Central Europe

    The hearing, led by the Hon. Christopher H. Smith,  the Hon. Sam Brownback , and the Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, focused primarily on the legal restrictions on religious activities and other attacks on religious freedom, lagging efforts to combat trafficking in persons, discrimination and violence against Roma, and the prevalence of official corruption and organized crime. The efforts to encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to move beyond the limitations imposed by the Dayton Peace Agreement will be discussed. Further, the plight of the displaced and minority communities of Kosovo, and the need for Serbia to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal will also be covered.   

  • Advancing the Human Dimension in the OSCE: The Role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

    This hearing, led by the Helsinki Chairman the Hon. the Hon. Sam Brownback, Co-Chairman the Hon. Christopher H. Smith Office, and ranking member the Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, examined the role that Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has played over the last fifteen years. ODIHR’s role in advancing human rights and the development of democracy in the OSCE participating States was noted and agreed to be particularly important. ODIHR is engaged throughout Western Europe and the former Soviet Union in the fields of democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and promotion of the rule of law and has set the international standard for election observation. Within the hearing, the challenges that ODIHR faces were examined, specifically those instigated by the Russian Federation, Belarus and a small minority of the OSCE participating states seeking to undermine the organization under the guise of reform.  ODIHR has earned an international reputation for its leadership, professionalism, and excellence in the area of election observation.  That being said, ODIHR’s mission is much broader, encompassing a wide range of human rights activities aimed at closing the gap between commitments on paper and the reality on the ground in signatory countries.    

  • Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education

    The Helsinki Commission held a briefing on Holocaust education tools and law enforcement training programs undertaken by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Co-Chairman Smith cited the vicious murder of Ilan Halimi as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to speak out when manifestations of related hatred occur.  The briefing highlighted specific programs which promote awareness of the Holocaust and provide law enforcement professionals with the tools to investigate and prosecute hate-inspired crimes.   Paul Goldenberg, a Special Advisor to ODIHR who designed the law enforcement training program which assists police to recognize and respond to hate crimes, stressed that law enforcement professionals must be recognized as an integral part of the solution.  Dr. Kathrin Meyer addressed the challenges presented by contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and highlights ways to address the subject in the classroom. Other witnesses – including Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League; and Liebe Geft, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance also presented testimony at this briefing.

  • The Legacy of Chornobyl: Health and Safety 20 Years Later

    This hearing, chaired by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith marked the 20th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chornobyl, Ukraine. This is not only significant because of the long-term effects that the catastrophe had in the area, but also because of the circumstances under which it took place. More specifically, as Smith did not fail to point out at the hearing’s start, the explosion took place under the veil of secrecy brought to the world by the Soviet Union. The nuclear reactor at the Chornobyl site was part and parcel of U.S.S.R. property, so the Soviet Union was able to conceal what transpired from the outside world. This hearing emphasized much needed work to be done for the residents of Chornobyl, including aid by the United States.  

  • From the Maidan to Main Street: Ukraine's Landmark Democratic Parliamentary Elections

    By Commission Staff While pundits attempt to sort out the political meaning of Ukraine’s March 26th parliamentary elections to fill the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the significance of the conduct of the elections should not be missed.  “Free and fair” was the resounding assessment of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) that also included observers from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the OSCE Office of Democratic Elections and Human Rights (ODIHR).  This unqualified positive appraisal – a first among the 12 former Soviet republics outside the Baltics that have conducted scores of elections since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union – underscores the consolidation of democratic gains made in Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution following years of political stagnation. These clean March 26th elections stood in stark contrast to the fatally flawed first rounds of the Ukrainian presidential elections that ushered in popular revolt sixteen months earlier.  Coming on the heels of the blatantly undemocratic presidential “elections” in neighboring Belarus a week earlier, comparisons were inevitable.  The Rada elections also followed a series of recent electoral contests elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which to varying degrees fell short of international standards.  The OSCE assessment in Ukraine returns the “free and fair” formulation to the lexicon of international election observations, departing from the heavily nuanced appraisals that have become common in recent years.  This development has potentially significant implications for future OSCE observations, especially with parliamentary and presidential elections expected in Russia in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, current President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was appointed by the OSCE Chair-in-Office to serve as Special Coordinator for short-term observers.  Commission staff observed on Election Day, as part of the IEOM deployment of 914 observers coming from 45 OSCE countries including Russia.  In all, the group examined voting and the vote count in nearly 3,000 polling stations.  The Commission contingent observed balloting throughout the Kiev and Cherkasy regions. The Ukrainian Government declined to invite observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an entity discredited in the eyes of many for its effusive praise of fundamentally flawed elections elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including Belarus’ undemocratic March 19 presidential contest.  The CIS stood out for its sharply critical evaluation of Ukraine’s December 26, 2004 presidential elections that resulted in Victor Yushchenko’s victory in elections widely considered to have met democratic standards.  Ukraine has refused to participate further in CIS monitoring missions.  The two dozen Russian Duma observers present offered tempered, mixed opinions about the conduct of Rada elections.   Whatever shortcomings there were in these elections – and no undertaking of this scale is perfect – they appear to have resulted from late or otherwise poor planning.  Among these were delays in the formation of some district and precinct election commissions, the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court, long lines and crowding at some polling stations, and lingering inaccuracies in voter lists.  On the positive side of the balance sheet were the significantly freer media and decidedly more balanced media coverage; no systematic use of administrative resources; the transparent, consensual and professional administration of the elections at all levels; inclusion of domestic, non-partisan observers; and an overhaul of voter lists.        Election day began early with polling stations opening at 7:00 a.m.  There were over 34,000 polling stations.  Adding to the vibrancy of the elections was the large number of domestic observers, an indication of buy-in on the part of Ukrainians young and old alike with many affiliated with particular parties or candidates and others representing NGOs.  Upon entering the polling stations, one was struck by walls plastered with informational bulletins on candidates and parties.  Forty-five parties and blocs vied for seats in parliament.  While the international community was mainly focused on the parliamentary balloting, voting was also underway for regional and local government.  Voters were thus presented with four lengthy ballots: national and regional as well as local councils and mayoral races.  While some older voters were befuddled by this collection of papers, most voters seemed to take it in stride.  Election commission poll workers seemed attentive to their duties.  This was put to the test in the complicated tabulation process that began, once polling stations closed at 10:00 p.m., typically involving the sorting and counting of thousands of papers.  Processing the Rada results alone went into the wee hours of morning, with the three remaining stacks of ballots from other contests proceeding well past daybreak. The undeniable success of the domestic observation in these elections, buttressed by years of investment in training and support by the United States and others, raises obvious questions about the need for future international observations in Ukraine.  Has the time come to “graduate” Ukraine from such scrutiny and leave that necessary task to Ukrainian stakeholders themselves?  Many believe the March 26th elections confirm that that time has come, especially if Ukraine continues on its increasingly democratic trajectory.  The greater and more prominent role of domestic observers, also reinforces the notion that the time for Ukraine’s “graduation” has come.  Indeed, the OSCE should continue to encourage domestic stakeholders to prove themselves to their own people. The Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square that featured so prominently in the massive demonstrations by orange-clad protesters in November 2004 and the jubilant crowds following Yushchenko’s victory a few weeks later, was calm on the Monday following the Rada elections.  Strolling past this bustling area, Ukrainians were going about their routines, perhaps an indicator that the politics of democracy has moved from the Maidan to the Main Streets of cities and towns throughout the country. Whatever the pundits may declaim regarding the election results or the continuing strength of the Orange Revolution, what seemed palpable was a keen appreciation for the business of governing.  Neither a democratic revolution nor a single “free and fair” election are guarantees that the resulting government will be in a position to immediately deal with the basic needs of its people.  Overcoming these obstacles will have a profound impact on how the next government meets the political and economic challenges Ukraine faces at home and abroad.                   What we can say with confidence is that the March 26th elections were a further essential step in the process of overcoming the legacy of the past – a history marred by foreign domination, genocidal famine, denial of political and cultural freedom, and more recently political stagnation.  Today, the people of Ukraine are removing the overgrowth of thorns – an image alluded to by the great poet Taras Shevchenko – that prevented them for so long from pursuing their own pathway to a brighter and more prosperous future.

  • Regarding H.R. 1053, Authorizing the Extension of Permanent Normal Trade Relations Treatment to Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, one year ago, in my capacity as Ranking Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I traveled to Ukraine with my colleague and Chairman, Congressman Chris Smith. We made our trip shortly after the historic Orange Revolution, and I was impressed by the commitment of Ukraine’s new leaders to consolidate democracy, promote respect for human rights, and modernize the country’s economy.  I also was impressed by the leaders’ commitment to further integrate Ukraine into the European and Euro-Atlantic community. I am not the only one to have been impressed by Ukraine’s efforts.  International organizations, such as Freedom House, have acknowledged Ukraine’s progress in recent years in protecting the political rights and civil liberties of its citizens. Mr. Speaker, I believe Congress should demonstrate its support for Ukraine’s reforms by approving legislation today that would grant Ukraine Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, and thereby take it one step closer to becoming a member of the WTO. The passage of PNTR for Ukraine also will show Congress’ support for the efforts of the Yushchenko government to ensure that the upcoming March 26 parliamentary elections will be free and fair.  I am pleased that my Helsinki Commission colleague from Florida, Congressman Alcee Hastings, has been appointed as the OSCE PA Special Coordinator for our election observation mission there, and I look forward to reviewing the mission’s findings and report. So far, the pre-election process, while not completely problem-free, has been dramatically different from the period leading up to the fraudulent elections of November 2004, which ignited the Orange Revolution. In the 2004 election, the Ukrainian government instructed the media about how to cover the elections and systematically abused government resources.  In contrast, the upcoming elections are expected to be free and fair.  Mr. Speaker, I also would like to take a few moments to comment on the issue that underlies the legislation we are considering today. The issue Congress is formally considering today is whether to withdraw the application of the “Jackson-Vanik” amendment to Ukraine and thereby grant Ukraine permanent normal trade relations status. The Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was adopted in 1975, was intended to provide a way for the United States to deny trade benefits to countries that are denying the rights of its citizens, particularly religious minorities. Mr. Speaker, in light of the commitment that Ukraine has demonstrated to protecting the rights of religious minorities, I think it is appropriate that we withdraw the application of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to Ukraine today. Since independence, each successive government of Ukraine has demonstrated a consistent commitment to defending the religious and ethnic rights of all the people of Ukraine.   Current President Victor Yushchenko has continued this unambiguous commitment by pledging to bring minority groups together and reconciling historic conflicts. The International Religious Freedom Report for 2005, published by the U.S. State Department, recognizes that “President Yushchenko has, since taking office, spoken publicly about his vision of a Ukraine in which religious freedom flourishes and people are genuinely free to worship as they please.” It must be understood, however, that there remain issues of concern – most notably the return of communal, religious property that was confiscated during the Soviet era, and the anti-Semitic activities of Ukraine’s largest private university – the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP). Mr. Speaker, I have raised both these issues in recent days with the Ambassador from Ukraine and other Ukrainian officials, and I have been impressed by their commitment to addressing these issues. Ukrainian officials have assured me that the government is committed to continuing its efforts to return communal property as required under current law, and that the Government of Ukraine will continue to condemn, at the highest levels, the anti-Semitic activities of the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management. Mr. Speaker, given these concerns, I am pleased that the legislation we are considering today highlights the importance Government of Ukraine’s continuing commitment to ensuring freedom of religion, respect for minorities, and eliminating intolerance. Mr. Speaker, shortly I will yield time to the gentleman from California, Mr. Lantos, the ranking member of the International Relations Committee, and our leader in Congress on issues of human rights, democracy, and religious freedom.  Mr. Lantos is the leader in Congress of our Task Force to Combat Anti-Semitism, and I want to thank him for working with me, the Helsinki Commission, and the OSCE as we have also battled against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. Ukraine has agreed to certain commitments to fight anti-Semitism – as have all 55 Participating States in the OSCE – and let me make it crystal clear today that we intend to hold Ukraine to those commitments, including their responsibility to denounce anti-Semitic statements, vigorously enforce hate crimes laws, and promote diversity and tolerance in school curricula.  I am pleased that Section 1, paragraph 4 of the resolution before us today references these OSCE commitments. Let me make a personal reflection here.  During my visit to Ukraine last year, I also visited two monuments – the Ukraine Famine memorial, honoring the millions of victims of Stalin’s genocidal 1932-1933 famine, and Babi Yar, where hundreds of thousands of Jews and others were massacred by the Nazis during World War II. Mr. Speaker, it was a very moving experience for me to lay wreaths at the sites of these two memorials. These horrific events were a testament to the cruelty and intolerance of dictatorships.  I do believe that today’s independent Ukraine now understands that respect for human rights and a commitment to democracy and tolerance are the best inoculation against horrors like the Famine and Babi Yar.  The U.S. Government, the Helsinki Commission, and the OSCE look forward to working with a democratic Ukraine as they continue to build their institutions of democracy, establish the rule of law, protect human rights and religious freedom, and combat corruption. In closing, I commend Ukraine for its progress in promoting political and economic freedom for its citizens, and its integration into the global, rules-based economy.  I urge my colleagues to join me in demonstrating support for Ukraine’s efforts by voting today to grant the country permanent normal trade relations status.

  • Congratulating the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I congratulate the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund on the launch of the Chornobyl 20 Commemorative airlift.  This feat builds upon the Fund’s impressive record of having sent 31 airlifts and 16 sea shipments to Ukraine, delivering humanitarian aid valued at over $53 million.  The airlifts are just one aspect of CCRDF’s vital and far-reaching work over the last 15 years in helping the most vulnerable in Ukraine – her children.  And, as a Congressman from New Jersey, I’m proud of the work of CCRDF and its supporters in the Cherry Hill-Marlton, Trenton area.   Ten years ago, I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing on the 10th anniversary of Chornobyl, at which CCRDF Executive Director Alex Kuzma and other witnesses, including then Ukrainian Ambassador Yuri Shcherbak offered compelling testimony addressing the health and demographic consequences of the word’s worst nuclear disaster.  I’m pleased that Ambassador Shamshur has accepted the Helsinki Commission’s invitation to testify at our Chornobyl 20th anniversary hearing which will be held on April 25th.   As a strong advocate of the health of all children, including the unborn, Chornobyl is of special concern.  In Ukraine and Belarus, there is growing evidence of a steep increase in birth defects, especially an alarming 4-fold increase in spina bifida that has been documented by the Ukrainian-American Association for the Prevention of Birth Defects.  Many other forms of birth defects have doubled since Chornobyl, including cataracts, deformed limbs and fingers and cleft palates.  Recent Israeli-Ukrainian studies have shown that children born to Chornobyl liquidators have a seven-fold increase in chromosome damage as compared to their siblings born prior to the Chornobyl disaster.   Last year, I authored language that was included in the State Department Authorization Act authorizing funding for assistance to improve maternal and prenatal care, especially for the purpose of helping prevent birth defects and pregnancy complications.  The monies would be for individuals in Belarus and Ukraine involved in the cleanup of the region affected by the Chornobyl disaster.  We need to make sure that Chornobyl health studies and efforts to prevent birth defects through the distribution of folic acid and better prenatal care receive sufficient funding.  These are funding priorities that I will continue to pursue.   The public health research community was caught off guard by the massive 80-fold increase in thyroid cancer among Chornobyl children in Belarus in 1993, and the world community needs to remain vigilant for other forms of cancer that may begin to emerge now that the 20-year latency period has ended.   We need to remember that the half-life of radioactive cesium is 30 years.  Thousands of children are still being exposed to dangerously high levels of radionuclides in contaminated areas of southern Belarus and northern Ukraine, as well as far-flung areas in Scandinavia and Central and Eastern Europe that also suffered from radioactive fallout.  There is still much that remains to be done to overcome the devastating effects of Chornobyl, and it is important for the international community – both governments and non-governmental organizations – to remember that Chornobyl is not just a Ukrainian, Belarusian or Russian problem.  The fallout will require continued international attention and commitment.   We also need ongoing support for organizations like CCRDF that have worked for 16 years to provide state-of-the-art medical technology, physician training and humanitarian aid to give Ukrainian children a fighting chance to overcome cancer and leukemia. Clearly, there is much work that remains to be done.  Again, I commend the devoted leadership, staff, volunteers and supporters of CCRDF for your tireless work and deep commitment to a most noble cause.   

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