15th Anniversary of the Bytyqi Brother Murders in Serbia

15th Anniversary of the Bytyqi Brother Murders in Serbia

Hon.
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States
Senate
113th Congress Congress
Second Session Session
Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Madam President, 15 years ago this week three American citizens--the brothers Ylli, Agron and Mehmet Bytyqi --were transferred from a prison to an Interior Ministry camp in Eastern Serbia. At that camp, they were executed and buried in a mass grave with dozens of Albanians from Kosovo.

Today, I again call upon the Serbian authorities to bring those responsible for these murders to justice. Belgrade has given us assurances in recent years that action will be taken, but no clear steps have actually been taken to apprehend and prosecute those known to have been in command of the camp or the forces operating there.

The three Bytyqi brothers went to Kosovo in 1999, a time of conflict and NATO intervention. Well after an agreed cessation of hostilities in early June, the brothers escorted an ethnic Romani family from Kosovo to territory still under Serbian control, where that family would be safer. Serbian authorities apprehended the brothers as they were undertaking this humanitarian task and held them in jail for 15 days for illegal entry. When time came for their release, they were instead turned over to a special operations unit of the Serbian Interior Ministry, transported to the camp and brutally executed. There was no due process, no trial, and no opportunity for the brothers to defend themselves. There was nothing but the cold-blooded murder of three American citizen brothers.

Serbia today is not the Serbia of 15 years ago. The people of Serbia ousted the undemocratic and extreme nationalist regime of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, and the country has since made a steady, if at times difficult, transition to democracy and the rule of law. In 2014, Serbia began accession talks to join the European Union, and in 2015 it will chair the OSCE, a European organization which promotes democratic norms and human rights.

I applaud Serbia on its progress and I support its integration into Europe, but I cannot overlook the continued and contrasting absence of justice in the Bytyqi case. The new government of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has pledged to act. It must now generate the political will to act. The protection of those responsible for this crime can no longer be tolerated.

The surviving Bytyqi family deserves to see justice. Serbia itself will put a dark past behind it by providing this justice. Serbian-American relations and Serbia's OSCE chairmanship will be enhanced by providing justice. It is time for those responsible for the Bytyqi brother murders to lose their protection and to answer for the crimes they committed 15 years ago.

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And this is why we need to empower civil society and media to hold their governments accountable. These are all areas where the OSCE has expertise and where the Asian Partners can provide assistance and experience. Thank you.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing: The Security, Economic and Human Rights Dimensions of US-Azerbaijan Relations Wednesday, June 11, 2014 10:00 am Russell Senate Office Building Room 432 The Republic of Azerbaijan has been an ally of the United States since its independence in 1991. It is a supplier of energy to Europe and has played an important role in assisting the U.S. and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan through the contribution of troops and as a conduit for the Northern Distribution Network. Azerbaijan is a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and in May it assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe (COE). Despite membership in both of Europe’s leading human rights institutions, Azerbaijan has been consistently criticized for its undemocratic elections and its use of the judicial system to punish political opponents. As the U.S. Helsinki Commission prepares to attend the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Baku at the end of June, this hearing will examine the U.S.-Azerbaijan relationship and the impact of regional and domestic issues in Azerbaijan on that relationship. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Tom Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State Eric Rubin, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Department of State Miriam Lanskoy, Director for Russia and Eurasia, National Endowment for Democracy Brenda Shaffer, Visiting Researcher, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Criticizes Attack on Civil Society in Azerbaijan

    WASHINGTON—In response to today’s sentencing of eight youth activists associated with NIDA in Azerbaijan, and the detention of leading journalists and human rights advocates, the leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today called on the Government of Azerbaijan to respect the rule of law and its human rights commitments. Regarding the trial of the NIDA activists, Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, stated: “The entirety of the legal proceedings against these young men is troubling not only for the lack of coherence in the government’s case, but also because there are credible allegations that the arrests and the subsequent charges are politically motivated and aimed at silencing criticism of the government. I am extremely concerned at the imposition of these lengthy sentences and am anxious for the health and well-being of these young men who are on hunger strike. I call on the Government of Azerbaijan to review the cases for prosecutorial misconduct and ensure that the rule of law and justice is carried out in these cases.” The Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), expressed his concern about the arrest of journalist Rauf Mirqadirov on charges of spying for Armenia, as well as the detention and investigation of Leyla Yunus and her husband, Arif Yunus. “These detentions follow a string of guilty verdicts in similar cases against critics of the government. This is a troubling pattern. I urge the government of Azerbaijan, a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to review these proceedings with a view toward releasing the eight activists – and to recommit itself to the rule of law. The OSCE has many times demonstrated the validity of its founding idea – that respect for human rights fosters stability and security.” The young men, Shahin Novruzlu, Mammad Azizov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev, Rashad Hasanov, Uzeyir Mammadli, Rashadat Akhundov, Zaur Gurbanlı and Ilkin Rustamzada were sentenced today to prison terms ranging from six to 8 years on charges related to weapons and drug possession, charges that are widely believed to be fabricated as a means to intimidate and silence them. All eight activists have been in pre-trial detention for over one year and started a hunger strike in protest of their detention and the charges brought against them. Rauf Mirqadirov is a well-respected journalist who writes critically of many governments, including Azerbaijan. He was arrested after being deported from Turkey to Azerbaijan, and has since been charged by the Government of Azerbaijan with espionage. Leyla Yunus is the founder and director of the Peace and Democracy Institute and long-time human rights advocate who has been vocal about promoting people-to-people ties with Armenia.

  • Cardin, Wicker Lead Colleagues in Urging Action to Free OSCE Observers Held in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Chairman and Senate Ranking Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, along with Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), and Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.), have written to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to take action to secure the release of observers being held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The senators also seek action to stem the tide of “other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants” in the region. “In addition to the OSCE observers, several dozen people — journalists, activists, police officers, politicians — are reportedly being held captive in makeshift jails in Slovyansk … we continue to be deeply dismayed at the other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in eastern and southern Ukraine,” the senators wrote. “These attacks and threats underscore the importance of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE institutions in Ukraine in assessing the situation on the ground and helping to de-escalate tensions. … “To be sure, the actions against pro-Ukrainian activists and minorities are the direct result of Russia’s unfounded and illegal aggression towards Ukraine – first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine. … we commit to working with you so that the United States and its international partners can significantly increase the diplomatic pressure on Russia, especially through economic sanctions … Violations of human rights, particularly the rights of minorities, as well as gross violations of another nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must not be tolerated.” The text of the letter follows. April 30, 2014 The Honorable John Kerry Secretary of State United States Department of State 2201 C Street Northwest Washington, D.C.  20520 Dear Secretary Kerry: We write to you to express our alarm at the detention of members of a military observer mission operating under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  They are being held hostage by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk. We urge you to do everything in your power to help secure their release. In addition to the OSCE observers, several dozen people — journalists, activists, police officers, politicians — are reportedly being held captive in makeshift jails in Slovyansk. Furthermore, we continue to be deeply dismayed at the other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in eastern and southern Ukraine.  These include attacks and threats against minority groups, particularly Jews and Roma as well as Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea.  Supporters of a united Ukraine have been targeted as well, including a local politician and a university student whose tortured bodies were found dumped in a river near Slovyansk. The Joint Statement on Ukraine signed on April 17 by the EU, the United States, Russia and Ukraine calls on all sides to refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions and condemns and rejects all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism. We fear both the spirit and the letter of this agreement have been breached. In recent days, we have seen troubling manifestations against ethnic and religious minority communities.  The distribution of flyers in Donetsk calling for Jews to register their religion and property is a chilling reminder of an especially dark period in European history and we welcome your unequivocal remarks of condemnation. While the perpetrators of this onerous action have not been determined, one thing is clear:  Moscow, which controls the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, is using anti-Semitism as an ingredient in its anti-Ukrainian campaign, utilizing its media as a vehicle.  Perhaps more insidiously, among the various Russian special forces, operatives and agitators in Ukraine are members of neo-Nazi groups and the Black Hundreds, a reincarnation of the notorious Russian anti-Semitic organization that existed more than a century ago. Jewish communities in parts of eastern Ukraine are not the only ones with reasons to be worried.  In Slovyansk, armed separatists have invaded Romani houses, beating and robbing men, women and children. Even Ukrainian-speakers, including Ukrainian-speaking journalists, have reportedly experienced intimidation in the largely Russian-speaking Donetsk oblast. At the same time, in the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula, Crimean Tatars continue to be threatened with deportation and attacked for speaking their own language in their ancestral homeland. Moreover, the most visible long-time leader of the Crimean Tatar community and former Soviet political prisoner Mustafa Dzhemilev, has reportedly been banned from returning to Crimea.  Additionally, the separatist Crimean authorities announced that Ukrainian literature and history will no longer be offered in Crimean schools. We commend the Ukrainian government for its denunciation of attacks and threats against minorities and its pledge to find those responsible and bring them to justice. It is imperative that the Russian-controlled separatist groups cease their de-stabilizing, violent activity, which has left all minorities vulnerable. These attacks and threats underscore the importance of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE institutions in Ukraine in assessing the situation on the ground and helping to de-escalate tensions. They need to be permitted to operate unhindered in eastern Ukraine and to be allowed access into Crimea, which Russia has thus far blocked.  We urge you to continue to do everything possible to facilitate their unimpeded access to all parts of Ukraine, including the provision of adequate resources. To be sure, the actions against pro-Ukrainian activists and minorities are the direct result of Russia’s unfounded and illegal aggression towards Ukraine – first in Crimea and now in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin needs to keep the Geneva promises and immediately rein in the militants and get Russian soldiers and other assorted operatives out of Ukraine.  If not, we commit to working with you so that the United States and its international partners can significantly increase the diplomatic pressure on Russia, especially through economic sanctions. Violations of human rights, particularly the rights of minorities, as well as gross violations of another nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty must not be tolerated. Sincerely, Benjamin L. Cardin, U.S.S. Roger F. Wicker, U.S.S. Jeanne Shaheen, U.S.S. Richard Blumenthal, U.S.S. Barbara A. Mikulski, U.S.S. Brian Schatz, U.S.S. Michael F. Bennet, U.S.S. Christopher Murphy, U.S.S.

  • Statement on Russian NGO ADC Memorial

    WASHINGTON—In response to this week’s Russian court decision against Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial’s (ADC Memorial) challenge to the requirement to register as a foreign agent, Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) made the following statement: “Often an organization closes its doors because they've accomplished a goal or outlived their usefulness to society or the market. But Russia's decision to force ADC Memorial in St. Petersburg to close if it does not register as a foreign agent is proof-positive that this NGO’s work is needed and their message is powerful. The affiliated Memorial in Moscow was founded during the Soviet period of perestroika to address a totalitarian past. Now, as the darkness of lies and propaganda appear again on the Russian horizon, we will not waiver in our support for groups like Memorial that are dedicated to telling the truth about the past and the present no matter the cost.” ADC Memorial is one of many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia forced to fight for their right to operate in the wake of tremendous government pressure against them. Russian president Vladimir Putin has conducted a systematic campaign to shrink the space for independent voices in Russia. The “foreign agents law” enacted by Russia in 2012 requires all NGOs that accept foreign funds to register as foreign agents. Many groups such as ADC Memorial have decided to cease operations rather than submit to the onerous labeling and reporting requirements that are clearly meant to smear them as traitors and force them to close.

  • Confronting Internal Challenges and External Threats

    The hearing focused on the current situation in Ukraine and discussed how the United States, along with the including EU and the OSCE, could best assist Ukraine and deters further Russian aggression. Since November of 2014, Ukraine has been in turmoil, with a deteriorating economy, public unrest by millions of protesters against human rights abuses and corruption. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland discussed the geopolitical complications from Russia’s illegal referendum and annexation of Crimea, and stated that Russia's actions in Ukraine are an affront to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. The United States' approach to the situation includes four pillars: bilateral and multilateral support for Ukraine's democratic future, the costs imposed on Russia for its aggressive actions, efforts to de-escalate the crisis diplomatically, and unwavering commitment to the security of NATO allies. The hearing also highlighted the work of the Commission’s delegation sent to monitor Ukraine’s May 25th elections.

  • Cardin Praises Bipartisan Unity in Support of Ukraine, Sanctions Against Russia

    WASHINGTON–U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE), praised the full Senate passage of a package of loan guarantees for the new Ukraine government and economic sanctions on those responsible for the invasion of Crimea. “With today’s vote the Senate sent a clear message of solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and indignation for those responsible for the invasion of the Crimea. Russia must be held accountable for its blatant violations of international agreements. The sanctions leveled by Congress are intended to show that Mr. Putin’s inability to conform to international norms, and honor Russia’s agreements, will come at a heavy price. The government in Kyiv has the full support of United States and we will use all available diplomatic and economic tools to return stability to Ukraine,” said Senator Cardin. “I am disappointed that H.R 4152 does not include essential reforms that would strengthen the International Monetary Fund. Despite the omission this bill is a firm and confident step towards returning the region to normalcy. ”

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