Atmosphere of Trust Missing in Belarus

Atmosphere of Trust Missing in Belarus

Hon.
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
107th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Mr. Speaker, this fall, the Belarusian Government is planning to hold their second presidential elections since independence.  Judging by the continuing actions of the repressive regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka, free, fair, and transparent elections--consistent with Belarus' freely undertaken OSCE commitments--will be very difficult to achieve. Democratic elections require an all-encompassing atmosphere of trust and a respect for basic human rights. Unfortunately, recent actions in Belarus do nothing to encourage such trust.

Most recently, on March 25, Belarusian authorities cracked down on participants of the Independence Day march, arresting and beating several protestors, subsequently fining and jailing some, including Belarusian Popular Front Chairman Vintsuk Vyachorka, who received a 15-day sentence on March 29, Ales Byaletsky, head of the human rights center "Viasna", who received a 10-day sentence, and Yuri Belenky, acting chairman of the Conservative Christian Party, who also received a 10-day sentence. Also detained and beaten was 17-year-old Dmitri Yegorov, a photojournalist for a Grodno-based, non-state newspaper.

On the day of the march, Belarusian state television accused the opposition of “seeking to draw Belarus into some bloody turmoil", reflecting its increasingly shrill tone of late. Earlier this year, for instance, Belarusian television claimed the CIA was intensifying "subversive activity" as the presidential election draws nearer. On March 24, Belarus' KGB chief pledged on Belarusian television to intensify surveillance of foreigners in order to prevent them from interfering in the country's domestic matters.

On March 12, Lukashenka signed Decree #8, which essentially imposes restrictions from abroad offered to NGOs for democracy building and human rights, including election monitoring. Moreover, the Belarusian Government has claimed that the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group's (AMG) domestic election observation project does not conform with the Belarusian Constitution and

Mr. Speaker, I am also concerned about recent assaults on religious communities. Last month, the Council of Ministers restricted visits by foreign clergy for “non-religious" purposes--including contact with religious and other organizations, participation in conferences and other events, or charitable activities. Government officials are also refusing to register some Reform Jewish communities because they do not have “legal'' addresses. In February, state-controlled Belarusian television aired a documentary alleging Catholicism as a threat to the very existence of the Belarusian nation. And in January, leaders of Belarus' Protestant community alleged that state newspapers carried biased articles that present Pentecostals as “wild fanatics."

Religious freedom is not the only liberty in peril. Freedom of the press and of self-expression are also in jeopardy.

Editors of a variety of newspapers are being fined on fictitious and trumped-up charges for violating the Law on Press and Other Mass Media. Various periodicals are being confiscated and destroyed, and distributors of independent newspapers have been arrested. Youth organizations have been accused of engaging in activities that weaken the Belarusian statehood and undermining socioeconomic stability. Teenagers have been arrested for picketing and protesting, and others have been detained for distributing newspapers or pasting stickers advocating reform and calling on the authorities to solve the cases of political disappearances. Belarusian Television and Radio (BTR) has also canceled scheduled addresses to be made by potential presidential candidates or opposition leaders. The Deputy Minister of Education has ordered heads of the educational community to ban seminars conducted by the People's University.

Lukashenka has also undertaken repressive acts against the potential presidential candidates and their families in an attempt to thwart their campaign progress.

Family members of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir have become the target of persecution. Chigir's wife has been accused of interfering with the work of the police, and his son, Alexander, has been charged with large scale larceny. Chigir is not the only potential candidate whose actions have been thwarted by Lukashenka. Semyon Domash's meeting with potential voters at the Tourist Hotel was canceled on orders from the Mogilev authorities and a director of the clubhouse of the Brest Association of Hearing-Impaired People lost her job after hosting a February 3 voters' meeting with Domash. Vladimir Goncharik, a labor leader, has had to deal with newly state-created "unions" trying to muscle out unions supporting him. Two officials of a manufacturing plant were reprimanded by a Borisov city court for hosting a meeting between Chigir and employees at the plant.

When one looks at these and other recent actions of the Lukashenka regime, the inescapable conclusion is that the regime has created an unhealthy environment in advance of the elections. Mr. Speaker, the regime's behavior is obviously not conducive to the promotion of free and fair elections. A few weeks ago, President Lukashenka stressed the need to establish an atmosphere of trust in bilateral Belarusian-U.S. relations. I strongly encourage Mr. Lukashenka to translate his words into concrete deeds that will encourage this trust and lead to the emergence of Belarus from its self-imposed isolation from the Euro-Atlantic community of democracies.

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  • Criminal Defamation and "Insult" Laws in Romania: An Update

    This memorandum is part of a continuing series of human rights reports prepared by the staff of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. (Editor’s note: This is an update of the May 24, 2002 article concerning Romania’s criminal defamation laws.)   Numerous international documents, including those adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), establish freedom of expression as a fundamental right. The right to free speech, however, is not absolute. Consistent with international law, certain kinds of speech, such as obscenity, may be prohibited or regulated. When governments restrict speech, however, those restrictions must be consistent with their international obligations and commitments; for example, the restrictions must be necessary in a democratic country and proscribed by law. Criminal defamation and “insult” laws are often defended as necessary to prevent alleged abuses of freedom of expression. They are not, however, consistent with OSCE norms and their use constitutes an infringement on the fundamental right to free speech. Criminal Defamation Laws All individuals, including public officials, have a legitimate right to protect their reputations if untruthful statements have been made about them. Untrue statements which damage a person’s reputation constitute defamation. Oral defamation is known as slander; defamation in writing or other permanent forms such as film is libel. In some instances, criminal codes make defamation of public officials, the nation, or government organs a discrete offense, as distinct from defamation of a person. Truthful statements – as well as unverifiable statements of opinion – are not legally actionable as defamation. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has held that public officials must tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private individuals: “The limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance.” (Lingens v. Austria, Eur. Ct. H.R., 1986.) Criminal defamation laws are those which establish criminal sanctions for defamation. Those sanctions may include imprisonment, fines, and prohibitions on writing. Individuals convicted of defamation in a criminal proceeding and sentenced to suspended prison terms may be subjected to the threat of immediate imprisonment if, for example, they violate an order not to publish. The existence of a criminal record may also have other social and legal consequences. In a criminal defamation case, state law enforcement agents (police and prosecutors) act, using taxpayer money, to investigate the alleged defamation and to act on behalf of the alleged victim. It is sometimes argued that criminal defamation laws are necessary to achieve the legitimate goal of providing the victims of defamation with redress. But general laws against libel and slander, embodied in civil codes, provide private persons as well as public officials the opportunity to seek redress, including damages, for alleged defamation. In such cases, the plaintiff and defendant stand in court as equals. Accordingly, specific criminal laws prohibiting defamation are unnecessary. “Insult” Laws "Insult" laws make offending the "honor and dignity" of public officials (e.g., the President), government offices (e.g., the Constitutional Court), national institutions, and/or the “state” itself punishable. Unlike defamation laws, truth is not a defense to a charge of insult. Accordingly, insult laws are often used to punish the utterance of truthful statements, as well as opinions, satire, invective, and even humor. Although insult laws and criminal defamation laws both punish speech, significant differences exist between them. Defamation laws are intended to provide a remedy against false assertions of fact. Truthful statements, as well as opinion, are not actionable. The use of civil laws to punish defamation is permissible under international free speech norms. The use of criminal sanctions to punish defamation, however, chills free speech, is subject to abuse (through the use of state law enforcement agents), and is inconsistent with international norms. In contrast, recourse to any insult law, whether embodied in a civil or a criminal code, is inconsistent with international norms. Their Use Today At one time, almost all OSCE countries had criminal defamation and insult laws. Over time, these laws have been repealed, invalidated by courts, or fallen into disuse in many OSCE participating States. Unfortunately, many criminal codes contained multiple articles punishing defamation and insult. Thus, even when parliaments and courts have acted, they have sometimes failed to remove all legal prohibitions against insult or all criminal sanctions for defamation. In communist countries and other anti-democratic regimes, such laws are often used to target political opponents of the government. Today, when insult and criminal defamation laws are used, they are most often used to punish mere criticism of government policies or public officials, to stifle political discussion, and to squelch news and discussion that governments would rather avoid. It is relatively rare for a private individual (someone who is not a public official, elected representative, or person of means and influence) to persuade law enforcement representatives to use the tax dollars of the public to protect their reputations. In some OSCE countries, such laws are still used to systematically punish political opponents of the regime. Even in countries where these laws have fallen into a long period of disuse, it is not unheard of for an overzealous prosecutor to revive them for seemingly political purposes. The International Context Numerous non-governmental organizations have taken strong positions against criminal defamation and insult laws. These include Amnesty International; Article 19; the Committee to Protect Journalists; national Helsinki Committees such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Croatian Helsinki Committee, Greek Helsinki Committee, Romanian Helsinki Committee and Slovak Helsinki Committee; the International Helsinki Federation; The World Press Freedom Committee; Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression; national chapters of PEN; and Reporters Sans Frontières. Moreover, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression issued a joint statement in February 2000 which included the following conclusions, based on relevant international norms: “Expression should not be criminalized unless it poses a clear risk of serious harm. . . . Examples of this are laws prohibiting the publication of false news and sedition laws. . . . These laws should be repealed.” “Criminal defamation laws should be abolished.” “Civil defamation laws should respect the following principles: public bodies should not be able to bring defamation actions; truth should always be available as a defense; politicians and public officials should have to tolerate a greater degree of criticism. . . .” (See: “Statement Regarding Key Issues and Challenges in Freedom of Expression,” agreed by Santiago Canton, OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; Freimut Duve, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media; and Abid Hussain, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, February 2000, www.article19.org. See also “Insult Laws: An Insult to Press Freedom,” published by the World Press Freedom Committee, www.wpfc.org.) Finally, the United States Department of State regularly reports, in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, on cases where criminal defamation or insult laws have been used and, at OSCE meetings, regularly calls for the repeal of such laws. Free Speech Cases in Romania Since the end of the Ceausescu era, non-governmental human rights groups, free speech advocates, journalists’ associations and others have called for the repeal of Romania’s criminal defamation and insult laws. These laws have been widely criticized and their use documented, including by Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org), the non-governmental free speech watchdog Article 19 (www.article19.org), Freedom House (www.freedomhouse.org), the Romanian Helsinki Committee (www.apador.org), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Resolution 1123/1997), and the U.S. State Department (“Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” for calendar year 2001,www.state.gov). While similar reports on other countries in Central Europe often detail specific cases of individuals charged with criminal defamation or insult, cases in Romania are so numerous they are often described not by individual names but, collectively, by triple-digit figures. For example, according to a statement by Article 19 and the Center for Independent Journalism, Romania, delivered at the March 2001 OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Expression – convened during the Romanian Chairmanship of the OSCE – official statistics indicated that over 225 people were in prison at that moment for speech “offenses” against the authorities. More recently, the Associated Press reported: “Currently some 400 journalists are being sued for libel and insulting authorities” (“Romania pledges to abolish communist-era laws restricting free speech,” May 5, 2002). A Romanian Government paper published in April 2002 states that: During 2001, 483 persons were convicted with definitive sentences for calumny [defamation] (art. 206), out of which 33 were journalists. 13 journalists were required to pay a penal fine and in 20 cases the sentences were conditionally suspended. [ . . . ] Currently, a number of 562 charges of calumny are brought to the attention of the Courts and 84 cases are being contested in the Courts of Appeal. When individual cases are reported in detail, they illustrate the conflict between Romania’s criminal defamation/insult laws and basic free speech norms. For example, in December 2001, the General Prosecutor announced that he was investigating whether the singing of the Hungarian national anthem at aprivate meeting constituted a violation of article 236 (defamation of national symbols). That is, he used scarce taxpayer resources to consider whether people should actually be sent to prison, for up to three years, for singing. On March 7, 2002, the Romanian Government adopted Decision No. 223 regarding, i.a.., the intoning of national anthems. This decision provided that the playing of national anthems of states other than Romania may be played at certain ceremonies and that certain ethnic minorities may use their own symbols. Although the issuance of this decision appears to have been intended to preclude the General Prosecutor from interpreting article 236 as criminalizing the playing of the Hungarian anthem by members of the Hungarian minority at meetings of their organizations, it appears that the exception to the General Prosecutor’s interpretation is narrowly crafted and, therefore, he might continue to seek to imprison those who engage in the unauthorized singing, humming or playing on any musical instrument, including kazoos, of a national anthem. Renewed calls for Romania to repeal articles of the criminal code that restrict free speech have often followed controversies triggered by government actions perceived as hostile to free speech and an independent media. In May 2001, Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu called for increasing criminal penalties for defamation, exactly contrary to the recommendations of, i.a., the Council of Europe and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Although President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase subsequently stated they did not support jail terms for press offenses, they failed to call for the full repeal of the range of articles in the penal code that, at present, still permit journalists and others to face criminal charges for their speech. In January 2002, another controversy erupted when the General Prosecutor ordered the arrest of Ovidiu Cristian Iane and the search of Mugur Ciuvica’s home. The two men, a journalist and former government official respectively, were suspected of circulating email messages (under the title “Armageddon II”) accusing Prime Minister Nastase of corruption. These actions were portrayed by the General Prosecutor as damaging to national security and Romania’s international relations and a violation of article 168 of the criminal code (disseminating false information, a provision, in other penal codes, generally intended to cover acts that might create a threat to the public, such as making a false bomb threat). Although Prime Minister Nastase later acknowledged that he had overreacted, he failed to call for the full repeal of the range of relevant articles in the penal code. Another controversy unfolded after the Wall Street Journal published a report on May 3, 2002, entitled “Among NATO Applicants, Romania Draws Particular Scrutiny.” Romanian journalists then reported on the story, including the assertion that the continued presence of Securitate agents in Romania’s security services is a matter of concern in the context of Romania’s candidacy for NATO. On May 10, Minister of Defense Ion Mircea Pascu issued – in writing – a warning to journalists that “life is too short, and your health has too high a price to be endangered by debating highly emotional subjects.” In addition to heightening concern that old Securitate practices, if not actual agents, are alive and well in Romania’s security services, the written threat triggered yet another row between the government and journalists. On May 16, Minister Pascu issued another statement, saying he regretted that his May 10 statement had been misinterpreted and that it was only intended to be humorous. More recent developments have further undermined confidence in the government’s stated policy of supporting free speech and an independent media. First, the government was forced to concede that it was considering a “plan to counter attacks against Romania” – the “attacks” being any news reporting critical of the government. Non-governmental free speech groups, such as Reporters sans frontières, were quick to condemn the ill-conceived plan. At roughly the same time, a law that would require print media to publish rights of reply by anyone offended by an article cleared the Senate. The law was spearheaded by Defense Minister Pascu, although Defense Ministries do not normally have jurisdiction over media affairs. The measure had already been approved by the Chamber of Deputies, but international condemnation led President Iliescu to reverse his previous endorsement of the law. These events nearly overshadowed the government’s adoption of an emergency ordinance, adopted on May 23, 2002, that had the effect of amending the penal code. This ordinance (see below for the specific changes) makes some improvements to the Romanian penal code, in part by reducing the criminal penalties for some speech offenses and repealing one article altogether. The ordinance leaves in place, however, five articles which impose some kind of criminal liability for defamation or insult. Criminal convictions, even ones that merely result in fines or suspended sentences, still have other legal consequences. Indeed, in January 2002, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media reiterated his view, in the context of a criminal trial of a Belgrade editor, that “no journalist should go to prison or be sentenced to a prison term, even a suspended one, for performing his/her professional duties. The government is likely to send a draft bill to the parliament to make formal changes to the penal code. While the May 23 ordinance falls short of removing all of the elements which restrict free speech in violation of Romania’s international commitments, the government could expand the scope of its emergency ordinance before sending it to the parliament for action. In particular, defamation should be decriminalized and the offense of “insult” removed from Romanian law altogether. Relevant Romanian Laws The articles of the Romania criminal code which are not consistent with Romania’s freely undertaken commitments are: article 205 (insult; punishable by up to two years in prison)-- the May 23, 2002 emergency ordinance reduces the penalty for this crime to a fine; article 206 (defamation; punishable by up to three years in prison)-- the May 23, 2002 emergency ordinance reduces the maximum penalty for this crime to two year in prison ; article 236 (defamation of national symbols; punishable by up to three years in prison); article 236/1 (defamation of the country or nation; punishable by up to three years in prison); article 238 (insult or defamation of public officials; punishable by up to seven years)-- the May 23, 2002 emergency ordinance repeals this article ; article 239 (insult or defamation of civil servants; punishable by up to seven years in prison)-- the May 23, 2002 emergency reduces the maximum penalty for this crime to four years in prison . The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Criminal Defamation and "Insult" Laws: a Summary of Free Speech Developments in Romania

    Numerous international documents, including those adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), establish freedom of expression as a fundamental right. The right to free speech, however, is not absolute. Consistent with international law, certain kinds of speech, such as obscenity, may be prohibited or regulated. When governments restrict speech, however, those restrictions must be consistent with their international obligations and commitments; for example, the restrictions must be necessary in a democratic country and proscribed by law. Criminal defamation and “insult” laws are often defended as necessary to prevent alleged abuses of freedom of expression. They are not, however, consistent with OSCE norms and their use constitutes an infringement on the fundamental right to free speech. Criminal Defamation Laws All individuals, including public officials, have a legitimate right to protect their reputations if untruthful statements have been made about them. Untrue statements which damage a person’s reputation constitute defamation. Oral defamation is known as slander; defamation in writing or other permanent forms such as film is libel. In some instances, criminal codes make defamation of public officials, the nation, or government organs a discrete offense, as distinct from defamation of a person. Truthful statements – as well as unverifiable statements of opinion – are not legally actionable as defamation. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has held that public officials must tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private individuals: “The limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance.” (Lingens v. Austria, Eur. Ct. H.R., 1986.) Criminal defamation laws are those which establish criminal sanctions for defamation. Those sanctions may include imprisonment, fines, and prohibitions on writing. Individuals convicted of defamation in a criminal proceeding and sentenced to suspended prison terms may be subjected to the threat of immediate imprisonment if, for example, they violate an order not to publish. The existence of a criminal record may also have other social and legal consequences. In a criminal defamation case, state law enforcement agents (police and prosecutors) act, using taxpayer money, to investigate the alleged defamation and to act on behalf of the alleged victim. It is sometimes argued that criminal defamation laws are necessary to achieve the legitimate goal of providing the victims of defamation with redress. But general laws against libel and slander, embodied in civil codes, provide private persons as well as public officials the opportunity to seek redress, including damages, for alleged defamation. In such cases, the plaintiff and defendant stand in court as equals. Accordingly, specific criminal laws prohibiting defamation are unnecessary. “Insult” Laws "Insult" laws make offending the "honor and dignity" of public officials (e.g., the President), government offices (e.g., the Constitutional Court), national institutions, and/or the “state” itself punishable. Unlike defamation laws, truth is not a defense to a charge of insult. Accordingly, insult laws are often used to punish the utterance of truthful statements, as well as opinions, satire, invective, and even humor. Although insult laws and criminal defamation laws both punish speech, significant differences exist between them. Defamation laws are intended to provide a remedy against false assertions of fact. Truthful statements, as well as opinion, are not actionable. The use of civil laws to punish defamation is permissible under international free speech norms. The use of criminal sanctions to punish defamation, however, chills free speech, is subject to abuse (through the use of state law enforcement agents), and is inconsistent with international norms. In contrast, recourse to any insult law, whether embodied in a civil or a criminal code, is inconsistent with international norms. Their Use Today At one time, almost all OSCE countries had criminal defamation and insult laws. Over time, these laws have been repealed, invalidated by courts, or fallen into disuse in many OSCE participating States. Unfortunately, many criminal codes contained multiple articles punishing defamation and insult. Thus, even when parliaments and courts have acted, they have sometimes failed to remove all legal prohibitions against insult or all criminal sanctions for defamation. In communist countries and other anti-democratic regimes, such laws are often used to target political opponents of the government. Today, when insult and criminal defamation laws are used, they are most often used to punish mere criticism of government policies or public officials, to stifle political discussion, and to squelch news and discussion that governments would rather avoid. It is relatively rare for a private individual (someone who is not a public official, elected representative, or person of means and influence) to persuade law enforcement representatives to use the tax dollars of the public to protect their reputations. In some OSCE countries, such laws are still used to systematically punish political opponents of the regime. Even in countries where these laws have fallen into a long period of disuse, it is not unheard of for an overzealous prosecutor to revive them for seemingly political purposes. The International Context Numerous non-governmental organizations have taken strong positions against criminal defamation and insult laws. These include Amnesty International; Article 19; the Committee to Protect Journalists; national Helsinki Committees such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Croatian Helsinki Committee, Greek Helsinki Committee, Romanian Helsinki Committee and Slovak Helsinki Committee; the International Helsinki Federation; The World Press Freedom Committee; Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression; national chapters of PEN; and Reporters Sans Frontières. Moreover, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression issued a joint statement in February 2000 which included the following conclusions, based on relevant international norms: “Expression should not be criminalized unless it poses a clear risk of serious harm. . . . Examples of this are laws prohibiting the publication of false news and sedition laws. . . . These laws should be repealed.” “Criminal defamation laws should be abolished.” “Civil defamation laws should respect the following principles: public bodies should not be able to bring defamation actions; truth should always be available as a defense; politicians and public officials should have to tolerate a greater degree of criticism. . . .” (See: “Statement Regarding Key Issues and Challenges in Freedom of Expression,” agreed by Santiago Canton, OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression; Freimut Duve, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media; and Abid Hussain, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, February 2000, www.article19.org. See also “Insult Laws: An Insult to Press Freedom,” published by the World Press Freedom Committee.) Finally, the United States Department of State regularly reports, in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, on cases where criminal defamation or insult laws have been used and, at OSCE meetings, regularly calls for the repeal of such laws. Free Speech Cases in Romania Since the end of the Ceausescu era, non-governmental human rights groups, free speech advocates, journalists’ associations and others have called for the repeal of Romania’s criminal defamation and insult laws. These laws have been widely criticized and their use documented, including by Amnesty International (www.amnesty.org), the non-governmental free speech watchdog Article 19 (www.article19.org), Freedom House, the Romanian Helsinki Committee, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Resolution 1123/1997), and the U.S. State Department (“Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” for calendar year 2001). While similar reports on other countries in Central Europe often detail specific cases of individuals charged with criminal defamation or insult, cases in Romania are so numerous they are often described not by individual names but, collectively, by triple-digit figures. For example, according to a statement by Article 19 and the Center for Independent Journalism, Romania, delivered at the March 2001 OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of Expression – convened during the Romanian Chairmanship of the OSCE – official statistics indicated that over 225 people were in prison at that moment for speech “offenses” against the authorities. More recently, the Associated Press reported: “Currently some 400 journalists are being sued for libel and insulting authorities” (“Romania pledges to abolish communist-era laws restricting free speech,” May 5, 2002). When individual cases are reported in detail, they illustrate the conflict between Romania’s criminal defamation/insult laws and basic free speech norms. For example, in December 2001, the General Prosecutor announced that he was investigating whether the singing of the Hungarian national anthem at a private meeting constituted a violation of article 236 (defamation of national symbols). That is, he used scarce taxpayer resources to consider whether people should actually be sent to prison, for up to three years, for singing. Renewed calls for Romania to repeal articles of the criminal code that restrict free speech have often followed controversies triggered by government actions perceived as hostile to free speech and an independent media. In May 2001, Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu called for increasing criminal penalties for defamation, exactly contrary to the recommendations of, i.a., the Council of Europe and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Although President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase subsequently stated they did not support jail terms for press offenses, they failed to call for the full repeal of the range of articles in the penal code that, at present, still permit journalists and others to face criminal charges for their speech. In January 2002, another controversy erupted when the General Prosecutor ordered the arrest of Ovidiu Cristian Iane and the search of Mugur Ciuvica’s home. The two men, a journalist and former government official respectively, were suspected of circulating email messages (under the title “Armageddon II”) accusing Prime Minister Nastase of corruption. These actions were portrayed by the General Prosecutor as damaging to national security and Romania’s international relations and a violation of article 168 of the criminal code (disseminating false information, a provision, in other penal codes, generally intended to cover acts that might create a threat to the public, such as making a false bomb threat). Although Prime Minister Nastase later acknowledged that he had overreacted, he failed to call for the full repeal of the range of relevant articles in the penal code. The latest controversy unfolded after the Wall Street Journal published a report on May 3, 2002, entitled “Among NATO Applicants, Romania Draws Particular Scrutiny.” Romanian journalists then reported on the story, including the assertion that the continued presence of Securitate agents in Romania’s security services is a matter of concern in the context of Romania’s candidacy for NATO. On May 10, Minister of Defense Ion Mircea Pascu issued – in writing – a warning to journalists that “life is too short, and your health has too high a price to be endangered by debating highly emotional subjects.” In addition to heightening concern that old Securitate practices, if not actual agents, are alive and well in Romania’s security services, the written threat triggered yet another row between the government and journalists. On May 16, Minister Pascu issued another statement, saying he regretted that his May 10 statement had been misinterpreted and that it was only intended to be humorous. The event nearly overshadowed an announcement by Prime Minister Nastase that the government plans to amend the criminal code to bring it into conformity with Romania’s free speech commitments. The government’s proposal, however, which would reduce prison terms for some speech offences but not actually repeal them all from the criminal code, falls short of what is needed to achieve the Prime Minister’s stated goals. Relevant Romanian Laws The articles of the Romania criminal code which are not consistent with Romania’s freely undertaken commitments are: article 205 (insult; punishable by up to two years in prison); article 206 (defamation; punishable by up to three years in prison); article 236 (defamation of national symbols; punishable by up to three years in prison); article 236/1 (defamation of the country or nation; punishable by up to three years in prison); article 238 (insult or defamation of public officials; punishable by up to seven years); article 239 (insult or defamation of civil servants; punishable by up to seven years in prison). The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Escalating anti-Semitic Violence in Europe

    While the anti-Semitism scourge lurks in the United States, the sharp escalation of violence against Jews in the OSCE region deserves attention. The most brutal incidents in recent months have occurred in France, Belgium and Germany. Violence has also been directed toward the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, Greece and Ukraine. OSCE participating States have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence. Despite that commitment, attacks against Jews continue. Two Yeshiva students from New Jersey were assaulted in Germany. A mob attacked Jewish worshipers in a Ukraine synagogue. A gang attacked Jewish high school soccer players in France. Vandals vandalized several synagogues in Russia. A Marseille synagogue burned to the ground and synagogues elsewhere in the OSCE region have suffered firebomb attacks. Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi “skin head” activity, participating States throughout the OSCE region face the urgent challenge of stemming the tide of escalating anti-Semitic violence.

  • HEARING FOCUSES ON RUSSIAN-CHECHEN WAR

    By John J. Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a hearing on the latest developments in the conflict in Chechnya on May 9, 2002. Commissioner Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Ms. Aset Chadaeva, a pediatric nurse and former resident of Chechnya; Andrei Babitsky, Radio Liberty correspondent and author of Undesirable Witness; and Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The United States Government is committed to doing all that we can to bring about an end to this conflict and to relieve the suffering of the civilian population,” testified Secretary Pifer. He asserted that the issue of Chechnya has been raised frequently by U.S. government officials with their counterparts, and President George W. Bush discussed it with President Vladimir Putin last November. “We anticipate it will come up at the summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg in two weeks,” Pifer said. “We seek a political settlement that will end the fighting, promote reconciliation, and recognize the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation [as well as] accountability for human rights abuses committed by all sides, and unimpeded access to the displaced by humanitarian organizations,” Pifer elaborated. Referring to U.S. concern about links of some Chechen forces with international terrorist groups, Secretary Pifer stated that the United States Government has called on Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other moderate Chechens to disassociate themselves from terrorists. On this point, Pifer noted the United States Government’s efforts to train and equip Georgian military units to deal with terrorist elements in the Pankisi Gorge adjacent to Chechnya’s southern border. Pifer testified that the United States has been the largest single provider of humanitarian aid to the North Caucasus. Since 1999 the U.S. Government has contributed more than 30 million dollars to relieve war-related suffering in the region. Ms. Chadaeva presented gripping testimony based on her work as a nurse in the Chechen town of Aldi on February 5, 2000, when Russian contract soldiers conducted a “cleansing operation” that left sixty civilians dead. “They threw grenades into basements where people were hiding,” Chadaeva said. “They executed unarmed men, women, old people and children. The victims ranged in age from a one-year-old baby to an eighty-two-year-old woman. They killed a woman who was eight months pregnant and her one-year-old son. All my patients who had been wounded during the bombings, who were getting well, were killed and their bodies burned.” Asked if the soldiers intended to kill their victims or if the casualties were the result of random grenades, Chadaeva replied, “these people were killed by being shot in the head...the soldiers knew exactly whom they were killing.” Concluding her description of wanton killing of Chechen civilians by Russian forces, Ms. Chadaeva asked “Is it really necessary to have millions of victims to call such behavior genocide? Isn’t the death of 100,000 Chechens since 1994 in the two Russian-Chechen wars sufficient reason for effective international action to end the conflict and the agony of the Chechen people?” Andrei Babitsky briefly described the fate of people killed for unknown reasons in Chechnya their bodies found bearing signs of torture. They were killed, he said, “as part of the anarchy and arbitrary rule which is now the order of the day in Chechnya.” The Radio Liberty correspondent then described the efforts made by Russian authorities, to prevent information about the war, especially human rights violations and atrocities against non-combatants, from reaching the general public. Moscow had succeeded in creating a “ghetto” of the war zone, he asserted, “shut off from the sight and influence of the outside world.” The main issue, Babitsky contended, is not how individual Russian journalists view the war. Most reporters agree with the official position that Moscow is waging an “anti-terrorist” and “anti-separatist” operation. “The main issue is that the Russian military and the Kremlin have banned reports on killings, torture and kidnaping of civilians by the Russian military,” Babitsky said. “The lack of information about Chechnya is one of the most effective ways to create a situation in which killers and kidnappers in epaulets can operate without legal accountability.” Regarding assertions by Moscow of Chechen involvement with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Babitsky noted that during a recent visit to Afghanistan, neither he nor other Russian journalists found any Chechen fighters, despite a concerted search. Anatol Lieven observed that the United States now recognizes the presence of international Islamic militant forces in Chechnya and Georgia, whereas earlier, “this was downplayed or even ignored altogether by wide sections of U.S. officialdom, the media and public opinion.” The prevention or elimination of lawless areas and quasi-states in the Muslim world – of which Chechnya between 1996 and 1999 was one – is now recognized as a vital U.S. national interest, since such areas can all too easily become safe havens for Al Qaeda or allied groups,” Lieven continued. Nevertheless, Lieven stated, “while extremists and terrorists have established a strong presence in Chechnya, they have been able to do so because of the legitimate grievances and the great suffering of the Chechen people...The initial appearance of these forces – as in Afghanistan – was due to the brutal Russian military intervention of 1994-96; and the way in which they were able to carve out a powerful position for themselves in 1996-99 owed an enormous amount to the destruction, brutalization, and radicalization left behind by that war.” Summing up, Lieven suggested that U.S. goals should be the destruction or exclusion of the radicals followed by a sharp reduction of the Russian military presence, free elections for a Chechen administration, and the restoration of autonomy. However, he concluded, “before it can embark on any such path the U.S. needs to think very seriously about the correct balance between sympathy for Chechen suffering, respect for Russian security and sovereignty, and America’s own vital interests in this region, in the context of the wider war against terrorism.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Hearing Focuses on Russian-Chechen War

    The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a hearing on the latest developments in the conflict in Chechnya on May 9, 2002. Commissioner Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Ms. Aset Chadaeva, a pediatric nurse and former resident of Chechnya; Andrei Babitsky, Radio Liberty correspondent and author of Undesirable Witness; and Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The United States Government is committed to doing all that we can to bring about an end to this conflict and to relieve the suffering of the civilian population,” testified Secretary Pifer. He asserted that the issue of Chechnya has been raised frequently by U.S. government officials with their counterparts, and President George W. Bush discussed it with President Vladimir Putin last November. “We anticipate it will come up at the summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg in two weeks,” Pifer said. “We seek a political settlement that will end the fighting, promote reconciliation, and recognize the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation [as well as] accountability for human rights abuses committed by all sides, and unimpeded access to the displaced by humanitarian organizations,” Pifer elaborated. Referring to U.S. concern about links of some Chechen forces with international terrorist groups, Secretary Pifer stated that the United States Government has called on Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other moderate Chechens to disassociate themselves from terrorists. On this point, Pifer noted the United States Government’s efforts to train and equip Georgian military units to deal with terrorist elements in the Pankisi Gorge adjacent to Chechnya’s southern border. Pifer testified that the United States has been the largest single provider of humanitarian aid to the North Caucasus. Since 1999 the U.S. Government has contributed more than 30 million dollars to relieve war-related suffering in the region. Ms. Chadaeva presented gripping testimony based on her work as a nurse in the Chechen town of Aldi on February 5, 2000, when Russian contract soldiers conducted a “cleansing operation” that left sixty civilians dead. “They threw grenades into basements where people were hiding,” Chadaeva said. “They executed unarmed men, women, old people and children. The victims ranged in age from a one-year-old baby to an eighty-two-year-old woman. They killed a woman who was eight months pregnant and her one-year-old son. All my patients who had been wounded during the bombings, who were getting well, were killed and their bodies burned.” Asked if the soldiers intended to kill their victims or if the casualties were the result of random grenades, Chadaeva replied, “these people were killed by being shot in the head...the soldiers knew exactly whom they were killing.” Concluding her description of wanton killing of Chechen civilians by Russian forces, Ms. Chadaeva asked “Is it really necessary to have millions of victims to call such behavior genocide? Isn’t the death of 100,000 Chechens since 1994 in the two Russian-Chechen wars sufficient reason for effective international action to end the conflict and the agony of the Chechen people?” Andrei Babitsky briefly described the fate of people killed for unknown reasons in Chechnya their bodies found bearing signs of torture. They were killed, he said, “as part of the anarchy and arbitrary rule which is now the order of the day in Chechnya.” The Radio Liberty correspondent then described the efforts made by Russian authorities, to prevent information about the war, especially human rights violations and atrocities against non-combatants, from reaching the general public. Moscow had succeeded in creating a “ghetto” of the war zone, he asserted, “shut off from the sight and influence of the outside world.” The main issue, Babitsky contended, is not how individual Russian journalists view the war. Most reporters agree with the official position that Moscow is waging an “anti-terrorist” and “anti-separatist” operation. “The main issue is that the Russian military and the Kremlin have banned reports on killings, torture and kidnaping of civilians by the Russian military,” Babitsky said. “The lack of information about Chechnya is one of the most effective ways to create a situation in which killers and kidnappers in epaulets can operate without legal accountability.” Regarding assertions by Moscow of Chechen involvement with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Babitsky noted that during a recent visit to Afghanistan, neither he nor other Russian journalists found any Chechen fighters, despite a concerted search. Anatol Lieven observed that the United States now recognizes the presence of international Islamic militant forces in Chechnya and Georgia, whereas earlier, “this was downplayed or even ignored altogether by wide sections of U.S. officialdom, the media and public opinion.” The prevention or elimination of lawless areas and quasi-states in the Muslim world – of which Chechnya between 1996 and 1999 was one – is now recognized as a vital U.S. national interest, since such areas can all too easily become safe havens for Al Qaeda or allied groups,” Lieven continued. Nevertheless, Lieven stated, “while extremists and terrorists have established a strong presence in Chechnya, they have been able to do so because of the legitimate grievances and the great suffering of the Chechen people...The initial appearance of these forces – as in Afghanistan – was due to the brutal Russian military intervention of 1994-96; and the way in which they were able to carve out a powerful position for themselves in 1996-99 owed an enormous amount to the destruction, brutalization, and radicalization left behind by that war.” Summing up, Lieven suggested that U.S. goals should be the destruction or exclusion of the radicals followed by a sharp reduction of the Russian military presence, free elections for a Chechen administration, and the restoration of autonomy. However, he concluded, “before it can embark on any such path the U.S. needs to think very seriously about the correct balance between sympathy for Chechen suffering, respect for Russian security and sovereignty, and America’s own vital interests in this region, in the context of the wider war against terrorism.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Georgian Government Complicity in Mob Violence against Minority Religious Groups

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel Over the past two years, mob violence against minority religious groups has plagued the Republic of Georgia, a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since 1992. A country of five million people, Georgia has seen more than its share of sectarian violence, as individuals propagating religious chauvinism conduct a campaign of brutality against other religious communities. Adding to this, police units have reportedly participated in violence against minority religious groups, or have failed to respond to attacks in an adequate fashion. As a result, a number of minority religious communities remain at risk in Georgia today as depredations continue with impunity. As an OSCE participating State, Georgia pledged to uphold freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief for all individuals, without distinction. As stated in the 1983 Madrid Concluding Document, participating States “agree to take the action necessary to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Since 1999, organized mob brutality against minority religious groups has gradually escalated, with the Jehovah’s Witnesses being a repeated target. As stated by the Department of State’s 2001 International Religious Freedom Report, local “police and security officials at times harassed nontraditional religious minority groups and were complicit or failed to respond to attacks by Orthodox extremists against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other nontraditional religious minorities.” Despite the inability of Georgian authorities to incarcerate the perpetrators, the 1995 Georgian Constitution does guarantee protection. Despite constitutional protections, over the past two years, approximately 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, mostly led by Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, the director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. While victims have filed more than 700 criminal complaints, the authorities have not responded, leaving the perpetrators free to repeat their attacks. Reports give startling examples of individuals being dragged by their hair into a group, only to be pummeled with punches, kicks and clubs. Buses taking Jehovah’s Witnesses to various events have been stopped by police, and then attacked by Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob. In September 2001, Bluashvili led an attack during a Jehovah’s Witness religious service, with some of his militants brandishing firearms. In addition, Mkalavishvili, viewing himself as a pugilist defending Georgian Christianity, reportedly declared Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Soon thereafter, with the violence steadily increasing and the government declining to intervene, Jehovah’s Witnesses conducted their activities in private, and for four months no violence occurred. However, in April of this year, that calm was shattered when Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob attacked on two separate occasions private homes that were hosting meetings. Considering the brutality Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili have displayed, it is astonishing that to date no fatalities have occurred. While the Jehovah’s Witnesses have borne the brunt of these attacks, other minority religious communities have also suffered under this vigilantism. Last year, during choir practice of a Pentecostal church, Mkalavishvili’s militants raided the building, seriously injuring twelve church members. A mob exceeding 100 hooligans targeted an Evangelical church two days before Christmas 2001, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili’s mob tried to raze a warehouse owned by the Baptist Union, burning Bibles and religious materials. Mkalavishvili organized approximately 150 followers in three buses to accomplish this goal. In addition, Mkalavishvili has targeted the offices of government ombudswoman Nana Devdariani, the Tbilisi based NGO Liberty Institute, and the Rezonansi newspaper. The police have consistently refused to restrain the attackers, with only a few exceptions to note. Unfortunately, the judicial system has proven equally inept. On January 25th, prosecutors commenced legal proceedings against Mkalavishvili and one of his lieutenants for two mob attacks, although the minor charges brought do not reflect the gravity of their crimes. Yet, since the first hearing, the commitment of Georgian officials to vigorously prosecute Mkalavishvili has been evanescent. The case has been postponed five times, most recently due to the prosecutor failing to appear. These delays can be attributed to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, maintaining a menacing presence both outside and inside the Didube-Chugureti District Court. At several hearings, large numbers have crashed into the court while carrying wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Obviously feeling immune from government action, Mkalavishvili has used the courtroom itself as a platform, reportedly threatening lawyers and victims through a megaphone. Evidence of these events is readily available as local television stations are usually tipped in advance, airing footage of the attacks and interviews of Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili on the nightly news. Despite fervent appeals by victims and their lawyers, the police have refused to provide adequate courtroom security. Attorneys for the victims even petitioned the court for assistance, only for the judge to decide no more than 10 police officers would be permitted. Inexcusably, the judge put no limit on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers granted access to the courtroom. In a stark contradiction, more than 200 police and a SWAT team were ordered to protect officials from the Ministry of Interior when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges. In sum, the Georgian Government is proving ineffective in ameliorating the situation and protecting its citizens, regardless of their religious faith, from mob violence. Meanwhile, President Eduard Shevardnadze has held meetings with faith communities to demonstrate religious tolerance. He has also issued a presidential decree calling for the Ministry of Interior to take action, but by allowing lawless bands of militants to attack peaceful gatherings, his illusory actions are speaking louder than his words. By allowing the strength of the police and judicial systems to become a farce, it will only further encourage contravention of Georgian laws. However, despite actions demonstrated to date, the Georgian Government can end the attacks and bring to justice the perpetrators of this brutality.

  • Murder of Ukrainian Heorhiy Gongadze Still Unsolved

    Mr. Speaker, the murder of Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remains unsolved. On September 16, 2000, Gongadze, editor of an Internet news publication critical of official, high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared. Seven week later, his remains were found in Tarashcha in the Kyiv region.   Repeated expressions of concern to the Government of Ukraine have been met with stonewalling. Over the last 18 months, the Helsinki Commission, Members of the House and Senate, the Department of State, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other international institutions repeatedly have raised this case and urged President Kuchma and the Ukrainian Government to undertake a speedy, serious, open and transparent investigation into the Gongadze murder case.   Back in December of 2000, I urged Ukrainian authorities to resolve this grave matter in a timely and just manner before the case further tarnished their credibility in dealing with fundamental human rights. Last July, a number of us were present at the Paris OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting, where Gongadze’s widow Myroslava accepted the OSCE PA Prize for Journalism and Democracy on his behalf. A resolution adopted by the OSCE PA in Paris expressed dismay “that the criminal investigation into the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze has been obstructed by authorities and has not been carried out in accordance with the rule of law.”   Last month, Ukrainian authorities blocked FBI experts from examining evidence gathered during the initial investigation. The Bureau had been invited by Ukrainian authorities to advise and assist in the investigation of the case and earlier had participated in identifying Gongadze's remains. Over the last year, Ukrainian prosecutors routinely cited their request for assistance from the FBI as evidence that they were working diligently to solve the murder.   According to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, the four FBI experts were told that Ukrainian law prohibits prosecutors from releasing any information to them. They were "unable to discuss any aspects of the case, share evidence or conduct a joint site inspection. Because of this, the FBI team could not provide suggestions that might help Ukrainian law enforcement authorities advance the investigation of the murder of Mr. Gongadze.” This lack of cooperation – after promises to accept the U.S. technical assistance -- is an indication of bad faith on the part of the Ukrainian authorities.   This is only the latest example which seriously questions the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to resolving this case and has led many to conclude that the Procurator General’s office is hampering the investigation into Gongadze’s death. Particularly telling was the Procuracy’s initially casting doubt on the results of a DNA test reported in February 2001, which determined with a 99.6 percent probability that the body exhumed from a shallow grave in Tarashcha was, indeed, that of Gongadze. The Procurator General, Mykhaylo Potebenko, who recently announced he would resign to become a Member of Parliament from the Communist Party, has also been uncooperative with Gongadze’s widow and mother, even after the court gave them status that legally permitted them access to details of the investigation. An assessment of the case last year by Freimut Duve, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media, found that the investigation into Gongadze’s disappearance has been “extremely unprofessional.” It is high time for the Ukrainian authorities to mount a serious, transparent investigation into this case as well as the cases of other murdered journalists.   Since 1998, 11 journalists have been killed in Ukraine and 48 severely injured in unexplained attacks, according to Reporters Without Borders. Over the last year, several international bodies have called on Ukrainian authorities to launch a fresh investigation into the disappearance and death of Mr. Gongadze and other journalists and to allow for an independent investigation or to set up a new independent commission of inquiry comprising of international investigators. I also hope that the newly elected Ukrainian parliament will take aggressive action in encouraging governmental accountability for solving the murder and bringing the perpetrators to justice.   Mr. Speaker, on March 31, Ukraine held parliamentary elections. Despite governmental interference in the campaign and abuse of state resources, the Ukrainian electorate showed a strong independent streak with a strong pro-democratic, pro-European orientation. A substantial portion of the Ukrainian people clearly wants change – they want to live in a country where democracy and human rights are honored and where the rule of law prevails.   The United States remains committed to encouraging these yearnings. The U.S. Government is the largest bilateral donor in Ukraine, and American companies still are the largest investors in Ukraine. We are deeply engaged with Ukraine in military and security issues, educational exchanges, small business, agriculture, energy, and the development of civil society. American engagement with Ukraine is a testament to the importance that we attach to U.S.-Ukraine relations. However, the level of U.S. engagement is increasingly being questioned, in part because of the obstructionist actions of the authorities concerning the Gongadze case, the curtailing of media freedoms, the persistent debilitating problem of corruption and, most recently, troubling allegations that President Kuchma may have authorized the clandestine sale of the Kolchuga radar system to Iraq in violation of UN sanctions.   Mr. Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I once again urge in the strongest possible terms Ukrainian authorities to take seriously the concerns regarding the circumstances that led to the Gongadze murder and the subsequent investigation. His widow, young children, and mother deserve better. The Ukrainian people deserve better.

  • Unpunished Religious Persecution in the Republic of Georgia

    Mr. President, as a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed closely human rights developments in the participating States, especially as they have an impact on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. In many former communist countries, local religious establishments have reacted with concern and annoyance about perceived encroachment of religions considered “non-traditional.” But in the Republic of Georgia organized mob violence against those of nontraditional faiths has escalated, largely directed against Jehovah’s Witnesses. For over 2 years, a wave of mob attacks has been unleashed on members of this and other minority religious communities, and it is very disturbing that the police have consistently either refused to restrain the attackers or actually participated in the violence.   Since October 1999, nearly 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, most led by a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, Vasili Mkalavishvili. These violent acts have gone unpunished, despite the filing of over 600 criminal complaints. Reports cite people being dragged by their hair and then summarily punched, kicked and clubbed, as well as buses being stopped and attacked. The priest leading these barbaric actions has been quoted as saying Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Considering the well-documented frenzy of these depredations, it is only a matter of time before the assaults end in someone’s death.   Other minority religious communities have not escaped unscathed, but have also been targeted. Mkalavishvili coordinated an attack against a Pentecostal church last year during choir practice. His truncheon-wielding mob seriously injured 12 church members. Two days before Christmas 2001, over 100 of his militants raided an Evangelical church service, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili brought three buses of people, approximately 150 followers, to burn Bibles and religious materials owned by the Baptist Union.   Mkalavishvili brazenly holds impromptu press conferences with media outlets, often as the violence transpires in the background. With his hooligans perpetrating violent acts under the guise of religious piety, camera crews set up and document everything for the local news. The absence of a conviction and subsequent imprisonment of Mkalavishvili is not for lack of evidence.   After considerable delay, the Georgian Government did commence on January 25 legal proceedings for two mob attacks. However, considering the minor charges being brought and the poor handling of the case, I fear Mkalavishvili and other extremists will only be encouraged to continue their attacks, confident of impunity from prosecution.   Since the initial hearing in January of this year, postponement of the case has occurred four times due to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, overrunning the Didube-Chugureti District Court. Mkalavishvili’s marauding followers brought wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Mkalavishvili himself even threatened the lawyers and victims while they were in the courtroom. With police refusing to provide adequate security, lawyers filed a motion asking for court assistance, but the judge ruled the maximum security allowed would be 10 policemen, while no limit was placed on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers permitted in the courtroom. In contrast, the Ministry of Interior has reportedly provided more than 200 police and a SWAT team to protect officials of its office when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges.   Certainly, the Georgian Government could provide adequate security so that its judicial system is not overruled by vigilante justice. Unfortunately for all Georgians, the anemic government response is indicative of its inability or worse yet, its unwillingness to enforce the law to protect minority religious groups.   As is clearly evident, Georgian authorities are not taking effective steps to deter individuals and groups from employing violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths. With the ineptitude of the justice system now well known, Mkalavishvili has brazenly and publicly warned that the attacks will not cease.   Religious intolerance is one of the most pernicious human rights problems in Georgia today. Therefore, I call upon President Eduard Shevardnadze to take action to end the violence against religious believers, and prevent attacks on minority religious communities. Despite the meetings he held with the various faith communities intended to demonstrate tolerance, Georgian Government inaction is sending a very different message. Tbilisi’s pledge to uphold the rights of all believers and prosecute those who persecute the faithful must be followed by action.   As a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I urge President Shevardnadze to do whatever is necessary to stop these attacks, and to honor Georgia’s OSCE commitments to promote and ensure religious freedom without distinction. The Georgian Government should take concrete steps to punish the perpetrators through vigorous prosecution.

  • Commission Staff Observes Ukrainian Elections

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor United States Helsinki Commission staff observed the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections in Ukraine as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly contingent of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM). Half of the deputies to the 450-member parliament were elected from party lists and the other half from single-mandate districts. Six parties passed the 4 percent threshold necessary to be seated in the party list vote, with reformist former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc winning the most votes. In the single-mandate district voting, the pro-presidential For United Ukraine bloc obtained the largest number of seats. Both the OSCE and the U.S. State Department concluded that the March 31 elections indicated progress over the 1998 elections, but “important flaws persist.” In its April 1 press conference in Kyiv, the IEOM declined to prepare a final analysis before post-election procedures are concluded, and promised to return to Ukraine within a month to follow up, after watching how election authorities and the judiciary perform while tabulating and publishing results and adjudicating disputes. Positive elements cited included a new Election Law that took into account OSCE/ODIHR recommendations from previous elections; improvements in the mechanism to address election disputes, with clearer complaint and appeals procedures; multi-party commissions; the engagement of civil society in the electoral process; and greater access by candidates and parties to the media through TV debates, free air time and paid advertising. On the negative side, media coverage was biased and state-funded television gave disproportionate coverage to pro-presidential candidates. Other problem areas included abuses of state resources in the election campaign, interference by local authorities, and a campaign sullied by the murders of two candidates, and other isolated instances of violence, including one just a few days before the elections. Compared to previous elections, the level of pressure by government officials and workers to campaign in support of the main pro-presidential party, including direct pressure on individuals to vote for specific candidates, had significantly increased. The abuse of state resources created an uneven playing field and the main beneficiary of such violations was the pro-presidential bloc For a United Ukraine. Despite these advantages, pro-presidential parties did not do all that well in the party-list vote, and several did not even surpass the four percent threshold required for inclusion in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). Furthermore, the two opposition parties garnered more votes than expected, securing for themselves seats in the new parliament. According to the IEOM, there were also shortcomings in the implementation of the legal framework, including uneven enforcement of provisions on violations of electoral rights, the lack of deadlines, and clear definitions regarding candidate de-registration and campaigning. According to the OSCE experts, these weaknesses derived from the inability of the Rada and the President to agree on amendments to the Administrative Code, so, in effect some of the positive provisions of the Election Law could not be enforced. Another problem was the lack of reliable voter lists – outdated information, including voters who had moved to other districts, left the country, or are deceased – and the widespread practice of issuing absentee ballots to voters unrelated to their place of residence. Voter lists may be amended up until election day; however, voters cannot be included in the registers of their place of residence on election day without a judicial decision. Voters were added to registers and allowed to vote – without the required court order– in about one third of polling stations visited by international observers. Voting day During the polling on voting day, the most serious problems were violations of the secrecy of the vote and voters added to registers in apparent contravention of the law. OSCE staff observed the elections in Lviv oblast in western Ukraine. Most polling stations visited by Commission staff were run efficiently, in a calm atmosphere, and commission members seemed hard-working and dedicated. Furthermore, there were numerous party, candidate and domestic observers. In a minority of polling stations staff witnessed incompetence, chaos, overcrowding, inadequate facilities – usually premises that were much too small and had an inadequate number of voting booths. Overcrowding was responsible for the violation most frequently observed – voting outside of booths – but there appeared to be no element of intimidation here. Instead, voters simply did not feel like waiting in long lines. According to the non-partisan domestic observer group Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), 15 % of voters were unable to vote due to overcrowding or poor facilities. Also, CVU estimated that one third of precincts were not able to conduct the elections in an organized manner. Despite the uneven playing field and violations with respect to the vote tabulations in a number of single-mandate constituencies, generally, the elections reflected the will of the voters. The actual results did not differ significantly from the results of several exit polls. Results and What Next The results indicate a country divided into three broad political orientations. Our Ukraine, the center-right, pro-reform, pro-Western coalition headed by Yushchenko, took the most seats in the party-list vote. The Communists garnered 20 percent of the party-list vote, clearly indicating their continued downward trend with each passing election. For the first time since Ukraine became independent in 1991, they will not constitute the largest political grouping in the Rada. In third place in the party-list vote was the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine, which had benefitted the most from the authorities’ abuses of state resources in the campaign. This bloc, however, had a strong showing in the single-mandate district voting, and will almost certainly end up with the largest number of overall deputies, especially as their numbers will be expanded with those who ran as “independents.” No one political grouping will have a viable majority in parliament; hence, will need to make concessions with other groupings to act. The pro-presidential For a United Ukraine may be compelled to team up with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine to form a government and pass pro-reform legislative initiatives. With this kind of political configuration, shifting alliances may be more likely than any kind of solid coalition. As a result, cautious moves towards economic and political reform rather than sweeping changes are more likely. Nevertheless, judging by the results, the Ukrainian people are increasingly endorsing a pro-European, pro-market, pro-democratic orientation.

  • Cyprus Talks Focus of Commission Briefing

    By Chadwick R. Gore CSCE Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission held a briefing on March 26 regarding possible outcomes of ongoing direct talks between Republic of Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. The two leaders have been central figures in developments on the divided island nation for over a quarter century. Panelist Ian Lesser said the time is ripe for the two sides to settle this conflict. Lesser, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, attributed the resumption of talks last December to the force of European Union membership. “The issue about European membership for Cyprus, but also in the broader sense European prospects for Turkey and the Europeanization of Greek policy over the last decade…has proved a key context for this [round of talks] to move forward,” Lesser stated. Panelist Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at the CATO Institute, agreed with Lesser and laid out another catalyst for the talks. “I think what spurs the [talks] today certainly is the issue of the EU and whether or not Cyprus goes in; and in many ways, the Turkish threat, which they haven’t repeated recently but nevertheless hangs over the proceedings, of whether or not to annex the section of the island which the troops occupy,” Bandow said. Central issues which Clerides and Denktash will have to resolve during these talks come from both sides of the Green Line, the dividing line agreed to under the terms of the current United Nations-monitored cease fire. Turkish Cypriots are concerned for their safety on an island that is overwhelmingly Greek. The status of Turkish immigrants under a new form of government is an issue in which both sides take interest. According to Bandow, the citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, mainly of Greek ethnicity, are primarily concerned with “reimbursement for lost property, the right to travel throughout the island, the ability to go back to historic homelands, the notion of having a unified island again; where, in fact, Cyprus exists as a nation in which people are free within that island.” If indeed an agreement is reached between the two parties, the positive outcomes would extend beyond the island’s borders. Colonel Stephen R. Norton (U.S. Army, Ret.), a senior Policy Advisor at the Western Policy Center, expounded on the benefits of a solution. “First, it reduces the potential for conflict in the region. It strengthens NATO’s southern flank at a time when the alliance is deeply engaged in Balkan peacekeeping and the war on terrorism. It improves bilateral relations between NATO allies, Greece and Turkey. It enhances Turkey’s reputation with the European community and helps with its EU accession process – a very important item. It decreases long standing anti-Americanism in Greece. And, finally, it serves as an example where you have Christian and Muslim populations working out their problems together.” Asked how the United States, specifically, can deter another conflict on Cyprus, panelist Philip H. Gordon of the Brookings Institute and the Center on the United States and France, answered, “…every single party involved in this – Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, Greece, Turkey, EU and us – are worse off if this is not resolved by December and there’s a crisis.” If the solution is to be long lasting, the Cypriots must reach it themselves, Bandow concluded. Despite positive remarks about the situation, none of the four panelists were overly optimistic about the outcome of the current round of talks. Hesitant to set a deadline for an agreement, Gordon editorialized his thoughts, saying, “I think we need to be absolutely prepared for breakdowns in the talks, continued haggling between the two sides, literally up to the last minute, which is probably the EU’s Copenhagen Summit in December.” The Helsinki Commission also held a briefing on Tuesday, December 4, 2001 to explore the renewal of talks on Cyprus between Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. The briefing featured United States Special Coordinator for Cyprus Ambassador Thomas G. Weston.

  • Escalating Violence and Rights Violations in Central Asia

    This briefing was moderated by CSCE Commissioner Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), and witnesses included Vitaly Pononaryov, Director of the Central Asia Program; Abdusalom Ergashev at the Head Ferghana Branch of the Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan; Pulat Akhunov, Director of the Central Asian Association of Sweden; and Michael Ochs, Senior Staff Advisor at the Helsinki Commission. As a briefing that took place shortly after the events on September 11, 2001, it was noted that ties between the United States and Central Asian states had become a lot closer to strategically adapt to the changing circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, Presidents Karimov and Bush signed a declaration on strategic partnership and cooperation. Unfortunately, though, Central Asian republics, especially Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, do not have very good human rights records, which were discouraging for the case of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with these countries, something that the Bush Administration had intended to commit to.

  • Ukraine Elections Resolution

    Mr. President, today the Senate, with bipartisan support, moves to consider S. Res. 205, a resolution urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31 parliamentary elections. I appreciate Chairman Biden and Senator Helms’ support in committee and the leadership for ensuring timely consideration of this important resolution. In adopting S. Res. 205, the United States Senate expresses interest in, and concerns for, a genuinely free and fair parliamentary election process which enables all of the various election blocs and political parties to compete on a level playing field. While expressing support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to promote democracy, rule of law, and human rights, the resolution urges the Ukrainian government to enforce impartially the new election law and to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections. I want to underscore commitments undertaken by the 55 OSCE participating States, including Ukraine, to build consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only form of government for each of our nations. Mr. President, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair has monitored closely the situation in Ukraine and has a long record of support for the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for human rights and democratic freedoms. A recent Commission briefing on the parliamentary elections brought together experts to assess the conduct of the campaign. High level visits to Ukraine have underscored the importance the United States attaches to these elections in the run up to presidential elections scheduled for 2004. As of today, with less than two weeks left before the elections, it remains an open question as to whether the elections will be a step forward for Ukraine. Despite considerable international attention, there are credible reports of various abuses and violations of the election law, including candidates refused access to media, the unlawful use of public funds and facilities, and government pressure on certain political parties, candidates and media outlets, and a pro-government bias in the public media. Ukraine’s success as an independent, democratic, economically successful state is vital to stability and security and Europe, and Ukraine has, over the last decade, enjoyed a strong relationship with the United States. This positive relationship, however, has been increasingly tested in the last few years because of pervasive levels of corruption in Ukraine and the still-unresolved case of murdered investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze and other issues which call into question the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to the rule of law and respect of human rights. Mr. President, Ukraine enjoys goodwill in the United States Senate and remains one of our largest recipients of U.S. assistance in the world. These elections are an important indication of the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to consolidate democracy and to demonstrate a serious intent regarding integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Thank you, Mr. President.

  • Kyrgyzstan's Release of Azimbek Beknazarov

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday authorities in Kyrgyzstan released Azimbek Beknazarov, a parliamentarian who had been in jail since January 5. The decision was made after disturbances in the Ak-Su District of Jalal-Abad, Mr. Beknazarov’s native region in southern Kyrgyzstan. In an unprecedented outburst of violence on March 17, six people were killed and scores wounded when police opened fire on demonstrators. Mr. Beknazarov has pledged not to leave the area and his trial has been postponed indefinitely while the authorities and the public catch their breath and reassess the situation.   The incident and the events leading up to it are alarming--not only for Kyrgyzstan but for the United States, which is now basing troops in the country and expects to be in the region for the foreseeable future. Despite attempts by some Kyrgyz officials to pin the blame on a mob of demonstrators fired up by alcohol, the real cause of the bloody riot was popular discontent with an unresponsive government reaching the boiling point.   Kyrgyz authorities have accused Mr. Beknazarov of improperly handling a murder case when he was an investigator in a district prosecutor’s office years ago. In fact, it is widely believed that Beknazarov’s real transgression was to suggest that Kyrgyzstan’s parliament discuss the country’s border agreement with China, which would transfer some territory from the tiny Central Asian state to its giant neighbor.   This is reflective of Akaev’s intensified efforts to consolidate his power while cracking down on dissent and opposition. In February 2000, President Akaev rigged the parliamentary election to keep his main rival--Felix Kulov, who had served as Vice President and in other high-level positions--from winning a seat in the legislature. The observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) openly questioned the results in Kulov’s district, and said the election had fallen far short of international standards. Subsequently, Kulov was arrested and could not participate in the October 2000 presidential election, in which Akaev faced no serious contenders and was easily re-elected.   Kulov is serving a 7-year jail term and now faces new criminal charges. Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner. Last December I chaired a hearing of the Helsinki Commission which focused on the deterioration of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Mr. Kulov’s wife was able to attend the hearing and offered her perspective on the current political climate in her country.   The independent and opposition media in Kyrgyzstan have also been under severe pressure, usually in the form of libel cases which official authorities use to fine newspapers out of existence so they cannot report on corruption. In January 2002, the authorities issued Decree No. 20, which would introduce mandatory official inventory and government registration of all typographical and printing equipment, while imposing stricter controls on its imports. Decree No. 20 would also threaten U.S. Government plans to establish an independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, the decree will be used against religious groups, both Muslim and Christian, by blocking their ability to produce religious material and by calling for an “auditing” of all religious communities that create publications. While the pretext of the decree is to combat “religious extremists,” the decree has clear implications for religious communities out of favor with the government, as well as with opposition groups. The State Department has urged Kyrgyzstan to repeal Decree No. 20 but so far, Bishkek has stubbornly refused.   So when legislator Azimbek Beknazarov was arrested on January 5, his colleagues in parliament, members of opposition parties and human rights activists reacted strongly to the latest step in an ongoing campaign to clamp down on civil society. Since January, hundreds of people, including parliamentarians, have gone on hunger strikes to demand his release. Protests and demonstrations have continued throughout, which the police have either ignored or roughly dispersed. The U.S. Government, the OSCE and international human rights groups have called for Beknazarov’s release, but President Akaev, hiding behind the fig leaf of “executive non-interference in judicial deliberations,” contends that the case must be decided by the courts. His position is an absurd pretense in a country where the courts are under state influence, especially in sensitive political cases. More to the point, this stance is simply no longer credible, considering the widespread belief that Beknazarov’s imprisonment was politically motivated and the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s good faith.   Finally, pent-up tensions exploded two days ago, when demonstrators and police clashed, with tragic consequences. Kyrgyz officials have accused organizers of unauthorized pickets and rallies of responsibility for the violence. In an address to the nation, President Akaev described the events as “an apparent plot [in which] a group of people, including prominent politicians, staged unauthorized mass rallies simultaneously.” He said the events were “another move in the targeted activities of opposition forces to destabilize the situation in the country. They have been engaged in these activities for the last few years.”   Mr. Speaker, I would contend that the riots in Jalal-Abad Region were the predictable outcome of frustration and desperation. Askar Akaev, by falsifying elections and repressing freedom of expression, has made normal politics impossible in Kyrgyzstan. A long-suffering populace, which has seen its living standard plummet while corrupt officials grow rich, has signaled that enough is enough. The authorities have heard the message and now have to make a critical decision: either to try to find a common language with society or to crack down. If they choose the former, Kyrgyzstan may yet realize its promise of the early 1990s; if they choose the latter, more confrontations are likely, with unpredictable ramifications for Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors.   The United States has a real stake in the outcome. We are in Central Asia to make sure terrorists cannot use the region to plan attacks on us or recruit new members. But all the region’s states are led by men determined to stay in power indefinitely. This means they cannot allow society to challenge the state, which, in turn, insures that discontented, impoverished people with no other outlets could well be attracted by radical ideologies.   We must make it plain to President Akaev that we are serious when we declare that our war on terrorism has not put democracy and human rights on the back burner. And we must insist that he implement his OSCE commitments, as well as the pledge he made in last month’s bilateral Memorandum of Understanding with the United States. That document obligates Kyrgyzstan to “confirm its commitment to continue to take demonstrable measures to strengthen the development of democratic institutions and to respect basic human and civil rights, among which are freedom of speech and of the media, freedom of association and public assembly, and freedom of religion.”   The events earlier this week have given us a wake-up call. We had better understand properly all its implications.

  • Re-Registration Campaign Denying Religious Freedom in Azerbaijan

    Mr. Speaker, the ongoing re-registration campaign for religious organizations conducted by the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations, headed by Chairman Rafik Aliev potentially violates Azerbaijan’s commitments to religious freedom as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Azerbaijan must take steps commensurate with its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice their religion or belief, alone or in community with others. The State Committee, created last year to replace the Religious Affairs Directorate, has broad administrative powers, which Chairman Aliev seems willing to utilize in an attempt to ban minority religious communities through denial of legal registration. Recent reports indicate that of the 407 religious groups previously registered, only approximately 150 are currently under consideration for re-registration by the State Committee. An additional 200 organizations were unsuccessful in their initial application due to technical errors and were asked to resubmit these requests. While I am pleased that 80 groups have been approved, reportedly most are Muslim, I hope that the State Committee is not specifically discriminating against minority faiths or religious groups. Despite the extension of the re-registration deadline to the end of March, there is legitimate concern that groups will be arbitrarily denied registration, and thereby legal status, despite fulfilling all requirements. In addition, although this is the third registration campaign since 1991, reportedly about 2,000 more religious groups remain unregistered. Recently, a senior official at the State Committee declared unregistered groups will be closed down. The fear that the State Committee will refuse to register religious groups for arbitrary reasons is supported by several statements from Chairman Aliev himself. For instance, he declared the State Committee hoped to introduce more stringent regulations to govern both religious organizations and individuals. He also said the State Committee can request a court to suspend activities of any religious organization conducting activities deemed illegal or found to undermine national security. The State Committee has also limited the ability for religious communities to import religious material. Reportedly, Chairman Aliev also stated “religious organizations must be controlled” and that “religion is dangerous.” This flies in the face of President Heydar Aliyev’s November 1999 public statements supporting religious freedom in Azerbaijan. Also of concern are the heavy-handed actions against religious groups by Azeri Government officials and police officers. For example, on January 18, 2002, National Security Ministry officers raided an unregistered Protestant church, Living Stones, which was meeting in a private apartment. The police and security officers searched the residence and seized religious literature. Ten individuals who were attending the meeting were taken into custody, transferred to a police station and interrogated. While eight individuals were released, two church leaders, Yusuf Farkhadov and Kasym Kasymov, were given two-week prison sentences for violating Article 310 of the Administrative Code, which addresses “petty hooliganism.” The reported justification for the raid was that the church is not registered. However, Living Stones had attempted to register with the government, but only after one and a half years of waiting did the government decide their application contained errors and must be resubmitted. In addition, the church is listed as a branch of the Nehemiah Protestant Church, which is registered. Many other religious communities are also concerned. It is feared the Ashkenzai Jewish community will not be successful in registering, because the State Committee is favoring a separate Jewish group. The liquidation suit brought by Chairman Aliev against the Love Baptist Church in the Narimanov district court continues to drag on. Liquidating the church due to alleged statements by its pastor is a disproportionate penalty and contravenes OSCE commitments. Illegal closures of churches by local officials, as in the case of the Gyanja Adventist Church on February 24, 2002, have not been halted by the State Committee. The closure of mosques under the pretext of state security is also a concern, as the government could ban unpopular groups, despite no proof of illegal activity. The Helsinki Final Act commits that “the participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Mr. Speaker, I urge President Aliyev to ensure that the re-registration process is accomplished in accordance with Azerbaijan’s OSCE commitments. In light of statements by Chairman Aliev, it is apparent the State Committee is perverting the re-registration process to arbitrarily deny legal registration to selected religious communities. The government must take the necessary steps to protect the right of individuals to profess and practice their faith by registering religious organizations, in keeping with Azerbaijan’s commitments as a participating OSCE State. In closing, Mr. Speaker, I am greatly alarmed by the re-registration campaign in Azerbaijan. This being the third time in a decade the government has required registration, it would seem Azerbaijan will continually “sift” minority religious groups until all are made illegal. Therefore, it is my hope that the Azeri Government will choose to honor its OSCE commitments and allow religious communities to register without harassment or bureaucratic roadblocks. Members of Congress will be watching to see if groups highlighted in this statement are harassed because of their mention.

  • Resolution Urging Ukraine to Ensure a Democratic, Transparent and Fair Election Process

    Mr. Speaker, today the House moves to the timely consideration of H. Res. 339 which urges the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections. I’d like to thank Mr. Armey for his commitment to schedule consideration of this measure this week. I was pleased to be an original cosponsor of the resolution which acknowledges the strong relationship between the United States and Ukraine, urges the Ukrainian Government to enforce impartially its new election law, and urges the Ukrainian Government to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections. I strongly encourage my colleagues to support this measure. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has a longstanding record of support for human rights and democratic development in Ukraine. Commission staff will be going to observe and report on these elections, as they have for virtually every election in Ukraine since 1990. The stakes in the Ukrainian elections are high – both in terms of outcome and as an indication of the Ukrainian Government’s commitment towards democratic development and integration into Europe.   Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to underscore the reason for this congressional interest in Ukraine. The clear and simple reason: an independent, democratic, and economically stable Ukraine is vital to the stability and security of Europe, and we want to encourage Ukraine in realizing its own often-stated goal of integration into Europe. Despite the positive changes that have occurred in Ukraine since independence in1991, including the economic growth over the last two years, Ukraine is still undergoing the difficult challenge of transition. The pace of that transition has been distressing, slowed by insufficient progress in respect for the rule of law, especially by the presence of widespread corruption which continues to exact a considerable toll on the Ukrainian people.   Another source of frustration is the still-unresolved case of murdered investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The flawed investigations of this case and the case of another murdered Ukrainian journalist, Ihor Aleksandrov call into question Ukraine’s commitment to the rule of law. There have also been a number of disturbing cases of violence or threats of violence. For instance, 78-year-old Iryna Senyk a former political prisoner and poetess who was campaigning for the pro-reform Our Ukraine bloc, was badly beaten by “unknown assailants.” Such unchecked violence has created an uncertain atmosphere. Most of independent Ukraine’s elections have generally met international democratic standards for elections. The 1999 presidential elections, however, were more problematic, and the OSCE Election Mission Report on these elections asserted that they “failed to meet a significant number of the OSCE election related commitments.”   Mr. Speaker, it remains an open question as to whether the March 31 elections will be a step forward for Ukraine. With less than two weeks until election day, there are some discouraging indications – credible reports of various violations of the election law, including campaigning by officials or use of state resources to support certain political blocs or candidates; the denial of public facilities and services to candidates, blocs or parties; governmental pressure on certain parties, candidates and media outlets; and a pro-government bias in the public media, especially the government’s main television network, UT-1. These actions are inconsistent with Ukraine’s freely undertaken OSCE commitments and undermine its reputation with respect to human rights and democracy. A democratic election process is a must in solidifying Ukraine’s democratic credentials and the confidence of its citizens, and in its stated desire to integrate with the West.   During his visit to Ukraine last week, the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Adrian Severin, expressed concern over the mistrust in the electoral process among certain candidates as well as general skepticism as to whether the elections would be truly free and fair and encouraged Ukrainian officials to take measures to address these concerns so as to ensure public trust in the outcome of the election. Mr. Speaker, I ask that the summary of the most recent Long Term Observation Report on the Ukrainian elections prepared by the non-partisan Committee of Voters of Ukraine, be submitted for the Record. I urge unanimous support for this resolution.

  • Upcoming Ukraine Parliamentary Elections Focus of Briefing

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission held a public briefing on February 27 which examined the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections scheduled for March 31, 2002. Commission Chief of Staff Ron McNamara noted commitments undertaken by the 55 OSCE participating States, including Ukraine, to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only form of government for each of the nations. The reason for congressional interest in Ukraine which has been manifested by Senate and House resolutions introduced by a bipartisan group of Helsinki Commissioners, he observed, is “because an independent, secure, democratic, economically stable Ukraine is important, and we want to encourage Ukraine in realizing its own goal of integration into Europe.” The measures call for Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process. McNamara underscored the potential impact of the elections, “The parliamentary elections, along with local elections taking place on the same day, will chart Ukraine's course over the next four years, including on the presidential elections scheduled for 2004.” Three experts – former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Green Miller, Ambassador Nelson Ledsky of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Stephen Nix of the International Republican Institute (IRI) – addressed both positive and negative features of the election process and campaign. All three highlighted the importance of these elections being free and fair. Ambassador Miller stated: “This election is a crucial election. And it’s very important for Ukraine, for its government, for its system of governance, to have as free and fair an election as possible. It’s crucial to its international reputation and to the dignity of its own people.” Ambassador Miller described the roles of the various blocs running for the elections, observing that – based on what the polls indicate at this point – the probable outcome reflects the reality of Ukrainian politics in 2002. He did note problem areas, stating that the smaller parties of Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleksandr Moroz are the ones to watch, “...and that’s where much of the pressure on preventing their crossing the four percent threshold will be evident.” These two parties are in open opposition to President Leonid Kuchma. The issue in the next month, according to Miller, is “whether the shortcomings that have been identified by various people – Ukrainians and sympathetic foreigners – will be attended to. But, I would say, given the complexion of the polling now, there is very little that can be done to alter what seems to be the likely outcome.” Ambassador Ledsky pointed to pre-election violations documented by the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) over the last four months which fall into two broad categories – one relating to access to the media and coverage of the elections and the second to the misuse of administrative resources as part of the campaign process. Violations with respect to administrative resources include: government spaces being used for campaign purposes, which is contrary to Ukrainian law; public employees working on political campaigns and citizens pressured to join parties and blocs; the interference of government authorities in campaigning; and the denial by officials of public facilities and services to candidates, parties and blocs. (On election day, the CVU is aiming to field 20,000 observers which would complement the OSCE observation effort which will likely include over 250 international observers.) Ledsky also emphasized “two distinct contests” going on in Ukraine – the first is the contest for the 225 proportional representation seats in which the parties vying need to surpass the four percent threshold. The second contest is for the 225 single mandate seats. “And here,” said Ambassador Ledsky, “what we are seeing is that the battle is going on behind the scenes in each district, in each oblast, in each constituency. There, administrative resources are being used illegally and with subtlety to make sure that the single mandate seats move in one direction.” In response to a question about Russian involvement, Ambassador Ledsky noted the “more extensive, more prominent, more visible” level of Russian involvement in this campaign. He underscored the importance of the elections, stating, “We believe very fervently that a correction in the course of the last two or three elections is very badly needed to put Ukraine back on the democratic path.” Mr. Nix, focusing his remarks on procedural, administrative and legal issues surrounding the elections, praised the new elections law passed by the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) as being “very progressive and a huge improvement over previous law.” Current election law provides dual remedies, both administrative and legal; if a similar complaint is filed both with the administrative agency and with the courts, the court shall issue a stay. Focusing on how election-related disputes will be handled, Mr. Nix expressed concern – based on IRI’s recent pre-election assessment mission to Ukraine – that many judges did not appear to understand “... that they had the right, in fact the duty, to take jurisdiction of these cases and order the administrative actions to cease.” Mr. Nix observed that a key difference in this election is that political parties now largely staff constituency (district) election commissions and, to a lesser extent, polling station (precinct) commissions – this can be a deterrent to fraud – and noted IRI’s role in training members of these commissions. While parties for the most part have placed people on the polling station commissions, there is concern that some areas in rural villages are not covered, concluding that places in which parties are not represented have “to be a big focus of the monitoring effort.”

  • U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns

    This briefing addressed U.S. policy in Central Asia and human rights concerns in the region in advance of the President of Uzbekistan’s visit to Washington, which had drawn attention to the deepening engagement of the United States in the region. Questions about Washington’s leverage presently and in the foreseeable future as well as the prospects for improving the dismal human rights situation in the region were discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence Uzzell, Director of the Keston Institute; E. Wayne Merry, Senior Associate of the American Foreign Policy Council; and Nina Shea, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – presented numerous examples of the human rights violations that occur in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and pointed to the inheritance of imperial policies of commodity exploitation, ecological damage, and extremely bad demographics as several of the motivating factors of these violations.

  • Ukraine Parliamentary Elections

    This briefing examined the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections on March 31. Commission Chief of Staff Ron McNamara noted commitments undertaken by the 55 OSCE participating States, including Ukraine, to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only form of government for each of the nations. The potential impact of the elections was underscored, as the parliamentary elections, along with local elections taking place on the same day, would chart Ukraine's course over the next four years, including on the presidential elections scheduled for 2004. Three experts testifying at this briefing – former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Green Miller, Ambassador Nelson Ledsky of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Stephen Nix of the International Republican Institute (IRI) – addressed both positive and negative features of the election process and campaign. All three highlighted the importance of these elections being free and fair.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Delegation Visits Ukraine

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor A delegation of nine parliamentarians from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) representing eight countries, along with a Helsinki Commission staff member, traveled to Ukraine from January 30 – February 1, 2002 to learn about the progress which has been made in the development of democratic institutions on the basis of the rule of law, and how the cooperation with the OSCE Project Coordinator in Ukraine has facilitated related developments. The Office of the OSCE Project Coordinator has been functioning in Ukraine since 1999 and its projects aim at supporting Ukraine in the adaptation of its legislation, institutions and processes to the requirements of a modern democracy, based on the rule of law. The Delegation met with the OSCE Project Coordinator, representatives of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament), Members of the Ukrainian delegation to the OSCE PA, the Ombudsman of Ukraine, the Prosecutor General, and officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Justice. The representatives of these institutions commented favorably on the level of cooperation with the OSCE Project Coordinator and expressed thanks and strong support for the OSCE’s efforts in assisting their institutions with concrete projects. The delegation noted the expressed desire and practical efforts among the Ukrainian authorities to increase cooperation with European institutions. The Delegation has recommended that OSCE participating States continue their funding for OSCE projects in Ukraine and seek ways to increase the level of support. The delegation has also recommended that the OSCE Project Coordinator identify projects which would contribute to the protection of human and civil rights, the transition to civilian control over armed forces, the fight against terrorism, and the strengthening of the independent media. Subjects that touch upon human rights and rule of law in Ukraine also came up in the course of the meetings, including human trafficking, the upcoming March 31 parliamentary elections, and the unsolved case of murdered independent journalist Georgiy Gongadze. In response to a question by Commission staff about the possibility for the establishment of an independent commission of international experts into the Gongadze case, Prosecutor General Potebenko responded that he was interested in a full, open investigation and noted that foreign experts have been enlisted. He then questioned the motives of the United States in raising this case and called upon the U.S. Congress to assist in facilitating the extradition of Mykola Melnychenko, claiming that his extradition would speed up the investigation of the murder. Melnychenko was President Kuchma’s bodyguard whose secret recordings of conversations in the President’s office appear to link implicate him and top officials with the murder of Gongadze. Melnychenko was granted refugee status in the United States last April. Focusing on the upcoming elections and their potential in the consolidation of democracy in Ukraine, Helsinki Commission staff also met with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Carlos Pascual, and members of his staff, Agency for International Development (AID) officials, the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, representative of several Ukrainian political parties, and non-governmental organizations. On February 7, 2002, Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) introduced S. Res. 205, a resolution urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31 parliamentary elections. Senate Helsinki Commissioners Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have cosponsored this resolution. Earlier, on January 29, Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), joined by Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA), introduced a companion resolution – H. Res. 339 – in the House.

  • Anti-Terrorism Conference Held in Bishkek

    By Janice Helwig Policy Advisor The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – together with the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP) – organized the Bishkek International Conference on Enhancing Security and Stability in Central Asia from December 13-14, 2001 to discuss ways in which the Central Asian countries can contribute to the global fight against terrorism. The conference was a step in implementing the OSCE Action Plan for Combating Terrorism, adopted by the OSCE participating States at the Bucharest Ministerial Meeting earlier in December. The meeting culminated with the adoption of a political declaration and an action program outlining areas where international assistance is particularly needed. (All documents are available on the OSCE website at www.osce.org) The conference also gave State authorities a chance to share experiences and ideas with each other; Spain and the United Kingdom, in particular, discussed lessons they had learned in combating terrorism in their countries. OSCE States had the opportunity to exchange views with countries not normally included in OSCE meetings, such as Pakistan, Iran, India, and China. The goal of the conference was to progress from discussion to action by identifying concrete areas for international assistance to Central Asia in fighting terrorism. The success of the conference depends on whether OSCE States and international organizations follow up on the areas identified and come forward with projects and funding. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev opened the meeting, and Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Imanaliev also participated. In addition to OSCE participating States, then Chairman-in-Office Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana attended the conference, as did representatives from several OSCE Institutions – including High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, Director of ODIHR Gerard Stoudmann, OSCE Secretary General Jan Kubis, and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice-President Ahmet Tan. In addition to UNODCCP, several other international organizations participated, including the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). President Akaev stressed the importance of international support for a neutral Afghanistan that will no longer be a haven for extremism, drugs, or terrorism. Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian states had been pointing out the potential for violence, terrorism, and extremism to spill over from Afghanistan for several years, he noted, but the international community had taken no preventive steps. International efforts to combat terrorism now need to be more proactive. Poverty must be addressed throughout the region in order to minimize the possibility of its being exploited by terrorists to gain followers. All Central Asian states asked for technical and financial assistance, particularly to fight drug trafficking and organized crime, which are often sources of funding for terrorist organizations. The U.S. delegation was co-headed by Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, and Steven Monblatt, Deputy Coordinator in the State Department Office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism. Other members of the delegation included representatives from the State Department’s Bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and of International and Law Enforcement Affairs, as well as a representative of the CSCE. Ambassador Minikes summed up the U.S. position in his closing statement, “We must ensure that our societies are ones in which terrorists cannot thrive, that our societies are ones in which human rights are respected, and in which rule of law, freedom of expression, tolerance, and democracy strengthen stability. As so many noted in Bishkek, societies of inclusion, with economic opportunities for all, pluralistic debate, a political commitment to conflict resolution, and where integration does not mean losing one's identity, are those where extremists have the least chance of generating sympathy and support from the moderate majority.” Other OSCE States discussed the importance of a concerted international effort against terrorism that includes fostering human rights, the rule of law, and economic development. The delegations of the United Kingdom and Spain shared their experiences fighting terrorism. The UK underscored that, based on lessons learned in Northern Ireland, respect for rule of law and human rights must be the basis for any approach to fighting terrorism; otherwise, authorities lose the moral high ground and the support of moderates. In addition, free political debate is essential to provide a peaceful alternative for dissenting views and prevent terrorists from gaining the support of those who share their views but not their methods. ODIHR Director Stoudmann stressed the need for caution as new procedures and legislation are put in place to combat terrorism; government authorities should not, above all, use terrorism as an excuse to rid themselves of opposition or dissent, he suggested. He offered ODIHR’s services in reviewing draft anti-terrorism legislation to ensure that international standards are upheld. In the political declaration, states participating in the conference pledged to work together against terrorism in full conformity with their OSCE commitments and fully respect human rights and the rule of law. They rejected the identification of terrorism with any particular religion or culture. They also noted that, as a neighbor to Afghanistan, the Central Asian region has been exposed to specific challenges and threats to security and therefore needs particular assistance in combating terrorism. The program of action outlined the following priorities for concrete programs: Promoting ratification and implementation of international conventions related to combating terrorism; Enhancing cooperation between both national and international agencies involved in combating terrorism and in fighting crime; Adopting national anti-money laundering legislation and create corresponding structures; Increasing cooperation in the protection of human rights and in strengthening rule of law and democratic institutions; Assisting judicial systems through training and strengthening independence; Fostering political dialogue, including through political parties, civil society, and free media; Addressing economic problems, including through programs to attract investment; Assisting Central Asian states in controlling their borders, particularly with regard to drug trafficking; and Encouraging joint training and operational activities among the countries of Central Asia.

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