Belarus Democracy Act of 2004

Belarus Democracy Act of 2004

Hon.
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
108th Congress Congress
Second Session Session
Monday, October 04, 2004

Mr. Speaker, I rise to urge passage of H.R. 854, the Belarus Democracy Act. With important parliamentary elections in Belarus scheduled for October 17, it is essential that we pass the Belarus Democracy Act. This Congress must demonstrate its strong support for pro-democracy forces in Belarus and advance U.S. interests in the region. Now is the time to send a strong signal.

Since his election in 1995, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka has steadily undermined democratic institutions through a series of unfair elections and a seriously flawed constitutional referendum. The U.S. State Department, Helsinki Commission which I Chair, as well as the OSCE, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Union and other international entities have all chronicled the appalling state of human rights and democracy there. Located in the heart of Europe, Belarus is juxtaposed to our NATO allies and will soon border the European Union.

The Lukashenka regime has repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. Since I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act last year, the situation in Belarus has only become more difficult.

Just within the last few months, the independent media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), independent trade unions, religious groups, and democratic opposition leaders have faced increased harassment, arrest, detentions, and even violence. Opposition leaders have been imprisoned and beaten. NGOs have been closed down with increasing frequency. Independent media outlets continue to feel the wrath of the powers-that-be, including closures, defamation lawsuits, exorbitant fines, confiscations of newspapers or the suspension of their distribution, censorship and the deportation of an independent journalist from Ukraine who had lived in Belarus since 1990. Independent trade unions are subject to a pattern of obstruction, harassment and intimidation by the authorities.

In short, the situation in Belarus continues its downward spiral with daily reports of growing repression and human rights violations.

Here in Washington and at various OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meetings, I've had occasion to meet with the wives of the disappeared. The cases of their husbands, Yuri Zakharenka, Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, and journalist Dmitri Zavadsky who disappeared in 1999 and 2000 and are presumed to have been murdered, are a stark illustration of the climate of fear that pervades in Belarus. I am pleased that just last week the United States, together with the European Union, has decided to restrict admission to four top Belarusian officials implicated in these politically motivated disappearances. Reports of arms and weapons deals between the Belarusian regime and rogue states continue to circulate. Lukashenka and his regime were open in their support of Saddam Hussein. On August 24, the Treasury Department charged that Infobank of Belarus has been involved with money laundering involving fraudulent transactions pertaining to Iraq, where funds laundered by Saddam Hussein's regime were derived from schemes to circumvent the UN Oil-for-Food program.

PROVISIONS OF BDA

Mr. Speaker, the main purpose of the BDA is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the onerous pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. This bill authorizes necessary assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for NGOs, independent media, including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges.

The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards, in sharp contrast to the 2000 parliamentary and 2001 presidential elections in Belarus which flaunted democratic standards. As a result of those elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to its self-imposed isolation. Parliamentary elections now have an added dimension, with Lukashenka's September 7 announcement of a referendum to take place on the same day, that would pave the way to extend his rule beyond 2006, when his tenure is due to expire, to potentially join the ranks of "presidents for life" like President Niyazov in Turkmenistan and others in Central Asia.

As matters stand now, the deck appears to be stacked in Lukashenka's favor, as the Belarusian Government has almost total control of the electoral process. Opposition parties have been allocated a negligible percentage of seats on district and precinct election commissions, and many candidates proposed by Belarusian democratic opposition parties have been denied registration. To their credit, the embattled opposition and non-governmental organizations have not given up. I have met with the leaders of the Belarusian opposition and have been impressed with their determination to participate in the coming elections and their courageous work to advance democracy, human rights and the rule of law, despite all of the obstacles placed in their way by the Lukashenka regime.

In addition, this bill includes “sense of Congress” language that would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime. U.S. Government financing would be prohibited, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. This bill also requires reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states and on the personal assets and wealth of Lukashenka and other senior leadership in Belarus.

I hope that the Belarus Democracy Act will help support those who desire a genuinely independent, democratic Belarus and serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus' integration into democratic Europe. The measure is designed to be a counterweight to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected human rights violations by the Lukashenka regime. The Belarusian people, who have suffered so much both under past and present dictatorships, deserve to live in a society where democratic principles and human rights are respected. We must stand firmly on the side of those who long for freedom.

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    By Ronald McNamara, International Policy Director Nearly a hundred human rights advocates representing dozens of NGOs and national human rights institutions gathered in Vienna, July 12-13, 2007, for the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Protection and Promotion of Human Rights convened by the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Discussions were organized around three main topics: the role of national courts in promoting and protecting human rights; the role of civil society in addressing human rights violations; and, the role of national human rights institutions in promoting and protecting human rights. Rooted in the fundamental right of individuals to know and act upon their rights, much of the discussion focused on the legal framework, access to effective remedies when violations occur, and the role of civil society and non-governmental organizations in fostering the protection and promotion of human rights. A recurring critical question throughout the meeting was whether courts, the judiciary, and national human rights institutions are truly independent. Keynote remarks by Professor Vojin Dimitrijevic, Director of the Belgrade Center for Human Rights, revolved around institutional concerns, including the limited development of structures to address human rights violations, significant backlogs in the processing of human rights cases, and inadequate training of jurists and others. He suggested that universities could do much to address the current shortcomings of existing mechanisms. The Director of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Ambassador Christian Strohal, referred to a related resolution adopted by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at its Annual Session held the prior week in Kyiv. A long-time rights advocate, he stressed the importance of prevention of violations, while underscoring the need for effective remedies when rights are violated. Professor Emmanuel Decaux opened the session of national courts by underscoring the fundamental importance of effective remedies and transparency in judicial proceedings. He pointed to the critical need for independent judges as well as protection and preservation of rights amid a heightened focus on counterterrorism. Legal advocates from Georgia and Azerbaijan addressed practical concerns such as transparency in judicial appointments, disciplinary actions against judges, public confidence in the courts, limits on televised coverage of courtroom proceedings, financial independence of the judiciary and combating corruption. Karinna Moskalenko, a leading human rights lawyer from the Russian Federation subjected to intense pressure because of her advocacy, including cases relating to Chechnya, noted the large number of cases from Russia being taken up in Strasbourg at the European Court of Human Rights. Nearly 30,000 complaints from individuals in Russia were submitted to the court between 1998 and 2006. Concern was also raised over the situation in Uzbekistan, where authorities frequently resort to use of Article 165 of the criminal code on extortion to imprison human rights defenders, including 10 members of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. An activist from Kazakhstan said that it simply made no sense to speak of judicial independence in his country. Similarly, an NGO representative from Belarus asserted that whatever independence the judiciary had previously has evaporated under the regime. Others from Ukraine and Georgia bemoaned the slow pace of judicial reforms in their countries. Several speakers noted the failure of governments to change their laws or procedures following repeated judgments against them by the European Court of Human Rights. According to one, the budget of the Russian Federation now includes a line item specifically to cover fines stemming from rulings of the court, while the underlying deficiencies go unchanged. Liubov Vinogradova of the Russian Research Center for Human Rights opened the session devoted to human rights defenders, underscoring the difficult and often dangerous environment for activists in the post-Soviet space. She also pointed to attempts by government to manipulate NGOs, create GONGOs (government non-governmental organizations), and erect potemkin umbrella organizations or councils. Vinogradova cited the urgent need for meaningful judicial reform in her country. She decried efforts by some in Moscow to impede access by plaintiffs from Russia to the court in Strasbourg. She read off a lengthy list of areas where Russia’s 2,000 registered human rights NGOs are making a difference. Among the challenges are limited resources, harassment by the authorities and an often hostile media with close ties to the government. Vinogradova was skeptical about the intent of President Putin’s decree offering funds to NGOs in Russia, suggesting that it could represent an attempt at “managed NGOs.” Several subsequent speakers noted the particular difficulty encountered by those active in the defense of political rights, especially the tendency of the authorities to construe such work as party politics. A number referred to various forms of harassment by the authorities. Activists from Belarus talked about the deteriorating situation they face in a country where human rights defenders are viewed with deep suspicion by the authorities and most are forced to work underground due to a refusal by officials to issue formal registration. Some observed that obstructive methods employed in one country of the Commonwealth of Independent States often are adopted elsewhere, in what one speaker termed the “Putinization” of the former Soviet space. The case of Russian advocate Mikhail Trepashkin was cited as an illustration of what can happen when a lawyer gets involved in a case viewed as sensitive to the authorities. Trepashkin was arrested in 2003, days before a trial was to open relating to an apartment bombing in Moscow in 1999 that then became the basis for the Kremlin’s renewed military campaign in Chechnya. The lawyer was initially detained and charged with illegal possession of weapons, then convicted by a closed military court to four years imprisonment for disclosing state secrets. Other speakers urged the participating States to strengthen OSCE commitments on human rights defenders. The Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation echoed this call, noting the precarious position of activities in many OSCE countries. The IHF recommended focusing on the safety of human rights defenders in the face of harassment and threats and called for the November Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council to approve related language. Irish Human Rights Commission President Dr. Maurice Manning introduced the final session devoted to national human rights institutions. He provided an overview, stressing the importance of the independence of such bodies and adherence to the “Paris Principles.” Manning urged that these institutions be focused and avoid interference from government and non-governmental organizations alike. He suggested that they could play a number of useful purposes such as reviewing pending laws and regulations, assess compliance with standards in individual cases, and help identify systemic areas of concern. He concluded by suggesting that national institutions were ideally situated to serve as a bridge between civil society and the state. The UN Economic and Social Council, beginning in 1960, encouraged the establishment of institutions as a means of encouraging and assisting states with implementation of international human rights commitments. In 1978, the UN issued a series of guidelines on the function and structure of institutions, falling into two main categories: human rights commissions and ombudsman offices. In the early 1990s work was completed on the Paris Principles, addressing the competence and responsibilities of national institutions as well as composition and guarantees of independence and pluralism, and methods of operation. The International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights oversees accreditation of such bodies based on compliance with the Paris Principles. As of March 2007, 17 national institutions in the OSCE region were deemed fully compliant, five were not fully compliant, and two were non-compliant. Accredited institutions are found in Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Several representatives of ombudsman offices described their activities, including establishment of national hotlines to receive human rights complaints, as well as working relations with courts and prosecutors. The discussions became more animated with exchanges between NGO participants and regime surrogates, notably regarding human rights in Belarus and Kazakhstan. The International Helsinki Federation expressed concern over a number of troubling trends faced by institutions, particularly targeted harassment stemming from their advocacy as well as legal and fiscal barriers to their work. The IHF representative made several concrete recommendations for OSCE, including strengthening relevant commitments, considering establishment of a special representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office on human rights defenders, and enhancing networks between civil society, national institutions and OSCE. The delegation of the Russian Federation used the closing session of the SHDM to renew its objections to allowing the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society to register for the meeting, notwithstanding the fact that the group did not actually attend. While the SHDM was informative and perhaps useful in terms of networking among those attending, the meeting underscored the clear divide between civil society representatives who advocate for human rights and the governments which perceive such work as a threat and thus try to thwart it. Though several heads of delegation from the Permanent Council made cameo appearances at the opening of the meeting, attendance by government delegates was sparse, particularly from countries which limit NGO activities. On the other hand, the theme of the meeting was particularly relevant in light of moves by several participating States, especially Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and other CIS countries to control civil society. Not surprisingly, these delegations are working actively behind the scenes to limit OSCE focus on human rights, particularly questions relating to freedom of association and assembly, bedrock commitments for civil society. A disturbing trend is the increasing tendency of several of these participating States to assert “interference in internal affairs” -- a standard ploy during Soviet times – when their rights violations are raised. While in Vienna, it became apparent that efforts are underway to limit NGO participation in OSCE meetings and to find an alternative to the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the singularly most important opportunity for civil society to engage the participating States and the OSCE. The failure of the Ljubljana and Brussels OSCE Ministerials to adopt proposed texts acknowledging the contribution of civil society and human rights defenders to the Helsinki process – drawn from existing OSCE commitments – clearly illustrates the backsliding of those States that refused to join consensus. Ironically, some participants in the SHDM proposed strengthening commitments on human rights defenders, when the reality is that a number of countries – Russia, Turkmenistan and Belarus among them – would be hard-pressed to agree today to provisions of the Copenhagen Document dating back to 1990! It is incumbent upon those OSCE countries that value the human dimension to resist the push to water down existing commitments or move the discussion of their implementation behind closed doors.

  • The 2007 Turkish Elections

    Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, presented an analysis of the parliamentary election in Turkey and what the results would mean for the future of U.S.-Turkey relations. The elections were deemed to be largely successful, and were decreed as free, fair, and transparent with an 80% voter turnout. This briefing also noted the difficulties of finding a balance between the Islamic and secular establishment and the rising tensions between Turkey and the Kurds in Northern Iraq. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Soner Cagaptay, Director of the Turkish Research Council, Washington Institute; and Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy of the American Foreign Policy Council – focused on Turkish domestic politics and Turkish electoral relations after the elections. An optimistic view of government stability in light of the election results was presented. The activities of the PKK inside Turkey was identified as one of the main factors in shaping the U.S.-Turkish relationship.

  • Introduction of Ukraine Elections Resolution

    Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I rise to introduce a concurrent resolution which addresses the current political uncertainty in Ukraine, a country of strategic importance to the United States. My resolution urges all sides to abide by the agreement signed by Ukraine's leadership on May 27th, providing for a new round of parliamentary elections to be held on September 30th, and encouraging the holding of these elections in a free, fair and transparent manner in keeping with Ukraine's commitments as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  I have just returned from Ukraine which hosted the 16th annual Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. While in Kyiv, I met with President Yushchenko and other prominent Ukrainian officials. My colleagues and I received assurances from Kyiv that Ukraine would not backtrack on the path to political reform and good governance.  Ukraine's current political conflict is the result of the ongoing power struggle that President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich have been engaged in since Yanukovich became Prime Minister last August. Rooted in hastily conceived constitutional reforms, the ongoing power struggle threatens to undermine Ukraine's hard-fought and substantial democratic gains, especially those won since the 2004 Orange Revolution.  On April 2nd, President Yushchenko issued a decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, asserting that the Prime Minister was attempting to monopolize power by forming a veto-proof parliamentary majority through illegal means, and called for new parliamentary elections. The parliament refused to disband and questioned the legality of the presidential decree. After several weeks of tension and standoff, violence was averted and an agreement was reached: President Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yanukovich and Parliamentary Speaker Moroz came together in support of holding pre- term parliamentary elections at the end of September.  Madam Speaker, it is important to recognize that Ukraine has made genuine democratic gains since the Orange Revolution. The December 2004 presidential vote was hailed as a stirring example of the triumph of peaceful protest and democratic ideals. Just over a year ago, as head of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission to Ukraine, I was pleased to declare that country's parliamentary elections were also free and fair. I am pleased that Ukraine has once again invited  the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to observe the September 30 elections. Moreover, Ukraine for the last two years has been designated by Freedom House as a ``free'' country, in contrast to the ``partly free'' assessment it held during its first 13 years of independence.  Nevertheless, democratic institutions and the rule of law in Ukraine are still emerging and lacking in their ability to safeguard democratic gains. It is this fragility, especially the lack of constitutional  clarity in delineating the separation of powers that made it possible for the power struggle to ripen into a full-blown political crisis in recent months. However, it is heartening to see that more serious  turmoil was averted through careful and constructive dialogue and capped by an agreement involving the country's leading political figures.  First and foremost, my resolution calls for the leadership and political parties of Ukraine to abide by the May 27th agreement and conduct elections as scheduled for September 30th. The dispute between the president and prime minister must be resolved in a manner consistent with Ukraine's democratic values and national interest, and in keeping with its OSCE commitments.  Madam Speaker, prolonged political uncertainties regarding the government's delineation of powers is clearly not in Ukraine's interest, and that nation's political leaders need to stand together in support of free, fair and transparent elections as a way out of the current impasse. While democratic elections will not, in and of themselves, resolve all of the challenges facing Ukraine in strengthening the rule of law and delineating power among the branches of government, they are a critical stepping-stone in Ukraine's democratic consolidation and should serve as a further testament of Ukraine's commitment to a democratic future.  As this resolution underscores, Congress has been a staunch supporter of the development of democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Ukraine since the restoration of that nation's independence in 1991. The consolidation of democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine will further strengthen that country's independence and sovereignty, enhancing Ukraine's aspirations for full integration with the West and serving as a positive model for other former Soviet countries. I urge my colleagues to support this timely resolution as a demonstration of Congress's interest, concern, and support for the Ukrainian people.

  • Hastings and Cardin Wish Turkey Succesful Elections

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) issued the following statement in the lead up to the Turkish parliamentary elections, which will take place on Sunday, July 22: “Given the myriad of difficult challenges facing Turkey, it is our most sincere hope that Sunday’s elections will be free, fair, and conducted without any intrusion. The world has continued to watch this crisis unfold and it is critical that the issues, which could potentially affect security and stability in the region, are settled. We wish the people of Turkey successful elections and look forward to continuing to strengthen this historic partnership that we have shared over the past fifty years,” Hastings and Cardin said. The U.S. Helsinki Commission will hold a briefing on Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 10:00 a.m. in room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The briefing entitled, “The 2007 Turkish Elections: Globalization and Ataturk’s Legacy,” will focus on Turkey’s July 22 parliamentary elections and the future of U.S.-Turkish Relations. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.  

  • Hastings to Hold Briefing on Turkish Elections and the Future of U.S.-Turkish Relations

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will hold a briefing on Thursday, July 26, 2007 at 10:00 a.m. in room 2226 of the Rayburn House Office Building. The briefing entitled, “The 2007 Turkish Elections: Globalization and Ataturk’s Legacy,” will focus on Turkey’s July 22 parliamentary elections and the future of U.S.-Turkish Relations. Congressman Hastings will also be joined by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe Chairman Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL). The tensions between Turkey’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the military have continued to escalate. Public protests broke out in response to the AKP’s nomination of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as its presidential candidate, where many in Turkey believe that his nomination is a threat to secularism. The continued deadlock over Foreign Minister Gul’s nomination led to the announcement of early parliamentary elections to be held on July 22. These intensified clashes between secularists and Islamists as well as the Turkish government’s tension with the Kurds in northern Iraq, will have the world watching to see if Turkey can emerge from this crisis. Invited Speakers include: His Excellency Nabi Sensoy, Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey Dr. Soner Cagaptay, Director, Turkish Research Program, The Washington Institute Mr. Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy, American Foreign Policy Council The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Remarks by the Hon. Alcee L. Hastings at the Conference on 21st Century Threats to Media Freedom

    Ladies and Gentlemen, As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I appreciate this opportunity to address threats to media freedom in the expansive OSCE region stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok. While the now 56 signatories to the Helsinki Final Act have accepted a series of specific commitments on media and working conditions for journalists, the difficulty remains translating words on paper into deeds in practice. Before turning to concerns of the 21st century, let me recall Thomas Jefferson’s observation from 1787: “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” In a subsequent elaboration, he explained why: “The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed.” You don’t have to be one of our own Founding Fathers to grasp the idea. Leaders the world over who are determined to remain in office by any means necessary understand perfectly the power of the press. That is precisely why they and their associates strive so vigorously to control the media. In Aleksandr Lukashenka's Belarus, for example, media freedoms are systematically stifled and have deteriorated over the past few years. Investigations of suspicious deaths of two journalists in 2004 and 2005 have gone nowhere. And just a month ago opposition activist Andrei Klimau was arrested under a vague article of the Criminal Code. Meanwhile, the Lukashenka regime maintains a virtual monopoly on television and radio broadcasting. Last November, Lukashenka himself unabashedly admitted to reporters that his government uses “serious pressure” to control the media and that he is in charge of this process. In another context, that acknowledgment might be described as admirable candor – and certainly more than could be had in Russia. I’m sure all of you have read the obituaries for the late Boris Yeltsin. Russia’s first freely elected president made many mistakes. But all commentators have stressed that throughout his two terms, he protected the media. You may recall a TV show in Russia called Kukly which satirized politicians with hand-puppets. The show’s writers savaged their targets, including the head of state, and this in a country where the Tsar or the General Secretary could never be criticized. Yet Boris Yeltsin, who must have been chagrined, did not order Kukly off the air. That was left to his successor, whose minions made sure that Kukly never again darkened the airwaves. In fact, contrast the era of Kukly to the situation in Russia today: According to a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report last year, 79 percent of the population gets its news from the three national TV networks, which are either directly or indirectly controlled by the government. And it shows. You have to look long and hard for criticism of President Putin. You all saw, I suspect, the press report that employees of Russia’s largest independent radio news network have been told that at least 50 percent of the reports about Russia must be “positive,” that opposition political leaders may not be mentioned on the air and that “the United States was to be portrayed as an enemy.” The first impulse is to laugh at this absurdity of such policies. But journalism in Russia is a very serious business. Even before the assassination of prominent investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya last October and the mysterious death of reporter Ivan Safronov earlier this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists cited Russia as the third-deadliest country in the world for journalists over the past 15 years, with 42 journalists killed since 1992. The vast majority of these crimes remain “unsolved.” Only last week we learned that a former Kremlin reporter has felt it necessary to seek political asylum in the United Kingdom. Russia tends to be a trendsetter for its neighbors. But there are various degrees of media freedom in the former USSR. In Ukraine, since the 2004 Orange Revolution, media freedom has opened up and the egregious government instructions to the media are a thing of the past. Yet even in Ukraine, anonymous threats and attacks against journalists, especially those in the regions who expose corruption, still occur too frequently, and the 2000 murder of prominent journalist Georgiy Gongadze remains “unresolved.” Elsewhere, freedom of the press is only a cherished dream of human rights activists. Soviet-era censorship survives in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which, not coincidentally, ban all political opposition. The death of a Radio Free Europe journalist while in custody in Turkmenistan demonstrates starkly how dangerous the journalist’s profession can be. In Kazakhstan and Tajikistan, electronic media are tightly controlled. Print media enjoy more latitude but their grounds for maneuver are also limited. A reporter in Kazakhstan who wrote articles implicating local officials and businessmen in the recent clashes between Kazakhs and Chechens has been missing for about a month. Kyrgyzstan is more difficult to characterize, because the state has been weaker than elsewhere in Central Asia and less capable of asserting its control of the media. But since the Tulip Revolution, restrictions on the free flow of information have loosened and I would say that free media have developed farther in Kyrgyzstan than anywhere else in Central Asia. Still, it is very disturbing that Kyrgyz authorities raided publishing houses last week, as the confrontation between the government and protesters heated up. In Armenia and Azerbaijan, according to reports by the State Department and OSCE’s Representative on the Media, the government seeks to control free media, especially television. In Armenia, for example, independent TV station A1+ has never been allowed back on the air since it was closed down. As for Azerbaijan, just last week, the State Department criticized Baku for the jailing of a journalist on libel charges and expressed concern about the deteriorating media situation. The use of criminal defamation and insult laws has long been used against those who criticize the government or officials, and I commend the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media for his consistent, principled focus on this area of abuse. Georgia is a particularly interesting case. Throughout the 1990s, leaders of most former Soviet states reined in the media that had blossomed under glasnost. A historic turning point came in fall 2003, when the Rose Revolution was gathering force in Georgia. Opposition leaders who refused to accept another rigged election led throngs of protesters against Eduard Shevardnadze’s government. You will recall that at a crucial moment, the Rustavi-2 TV station aligned itself with the opposition Troika and played a critical role in galvanizing the public to reject the official election results. In short order, this resistance movement mushroomed into peaceful regime change that sparked similar events in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. The lesson was not lost on leaders of other post-Soviet states. Shevardnadze’s counterparts in other CIS capitals were determined to avoid his fate and they resolved that no analogue to Rustavi-2 would arise on their turf. For the most part, I must say, they have pulled it off: outside Ukraine and to some degree Kyrgyzstan, nothing of the sort is permitted. In Georgia today, opposition figures maintain that Rustavi-2 has become a pro-government station. But other TV stations air broadcasts critical of President Saakashvili. Today, Russian and Uzbek media excoriate the United States for allegedly plotting more “color revolutions.” To stem the tide, a broad panoply of tactics has been deployed. Prominent among them have been the expulsion of democracy-promoting NGOs, including many U.S.-based organizations, and the throttling of media outlets. What lessons should we draw from this state of affairs? The first is that most governments of the post-Soviet states understand Thomas Jefferson quite well. They see freedom of the media as a threat which they are determined to neutralize. Second, they have been rather too successful in this endeavor. Even outside the extreme cases of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, certain topics remain taboo in most countries, specifically criticism of the head of state or revelations about high-level corruption. This is particularly true of electronic media, and first and foremost TV. However, there is some reason for hope. I believe that pressure exerted by outside forces, including foreign capitals and international organizations, including the OSCE, can have an impact. For example, last week, Kazakhstan’s Culture and Information Minister announced that in response to OSCE criticism, the government has withdrawn a bill that would have imposed licensing requirements on publishing houses. Proposed legislation to regulate the Internet has been withdrawn and he said the authorities are ready to introduce a moratorium for “distorting the truth,” to free journalists from criminal persecution. At least under certain circumstances, then, and over the longer term, outside pressure and suasion can have a positive impact – even if gradually. But this also strengthens my conviction that now is not the time cut back on U.S. broadcasting to the post-Soviet republics. Freedom of the media is in real danger there, and those seeking alternative sources of information need our help. I am determined to make sure they get it. Let me conclude by quoting a heroic Russian journalist who understood the real meaning of Thomas Jefferson’s words over two centuries ago: Anna Politkovskaya. “My job is simple: to look around and write what I see.” That is how she described her task in accepting the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly 2003 Prize for Journalism and Democracy for her investigative reporting on developments in war-torn Chechnya. Last October, an assassin’s bullet brought her brilliant career and life to a sudden end. Anna knew the risks, given the death threats against her, but this courageous professional would not be deterred. Her murder is a reminder of the tremendous risks journalists take for daring to look and report on events that others prefer remain hidden.

  • Parliamentary Elections in Serbia Reveal Progress in Democratic Development but also Support for Nationalist Causes

    By Clifford Bond and Robert Hand On January 21, Serbia held elections for the 250-seat parliament, the National Assembly. Monitored by more than 300 international observers under OSCE auspices, including two members of the Helsinki Commission staff, the elections were overwhelmingly viewed as being conducted in a free and fair manner. The outcome and related institutional questions, on the other hand, indicate that Serbia’s political development remains burdened by the legacy of the Milosevic regime that ruled for over a decade before being ousted in 2000, even as the country moves in an increasingly democratic direction. These elections were held in the aftermath of the dissolution of the state-union between Serbia and Montenegro following the latter’s declaration of independence in June 2006. Serbia subsequently adopted a new constitution in October 2006. Looming over these formal developments and new elections, however, is the larger question of Kosovo’s future status. The actual timing of the elections was used as a pretext for delaying a UN recommendation on Kosovo, which is expected shortly. Based on the conduct of previous elections in Serbia, there was little concern that these elections would fall short of international standards. However, some concerns were raised regarding the conduct of the earlier constitutional referendum, which witnessed a strong, last-minute push of voting in some regions with the apparent purpose of ensuring a positive outcome. The constitution itself is controversial, particularly in its numerous references to Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia, which may have led some segments of Serbian society to boycott the referendum. Undoubtedly, more important international concerns include the uncertain direction of Serbia’s political development and a desire to strengthen Serbia’s democratic institutions. OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Goran Lennmarker, a Swedish parliamentarian, was designated by the OSCE Chair-in-Office to lead the short-term election observation mission as Special Coordinator. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) conducted a long-term observation effort headed by retired German Ambassador Geert Ahrens. Perhaps the chief criticism of the election process was the obvious gap between the voter’s choice and the actual selection of the person who ultimately takes a parliamentary seat. The Serbian voter chooses a political party or coalition on the election list, but, once it is determined how many seats a particular party/coalition gets, the party leadership then has ten days in which to select which of the 250 persons on its submitted party list actually take a seat. This method of selecting parliamentarians has been criticized for lacking transparency and effectively concentrating attention not on specific candidates and their views or abilities but on the political party leaders who retain control over their members. This leadership control may be further strengthened by requiring deputies to sign undated letters of resignation which can be used to remove them if they fail to observe party discipline. On the other hand, efforts were undertaken – albeit not without some opposition -- to modify existing law and encourage minority representation, including lowering the number of signatures for parties representing ethnic minorities from the normal 10,000 to only 3,000 and dropping the threshold needed to enter the parliament from 5 percent of the votes case to 0.4 percent (1/250) of those cast. Two Hungarian and two Romani political parties joined a Bosniak coalition from the Sandzak region and an Albanian coalition from southern Serbia on the election ballot. Albanian participation was the first since 1997, although two Albanian-based political parties which originally joined the coalition subsequently withdrew and supported a boycott of the elections. The election campaign was long by Serbian standards and quite intense. In contrast to the constitutional referendum campaign, the issue of Kosovo’s status did not dominate campaign rhetoric. Instead, there was considerable and perhaps refreshing discussion of economic issues, for example, reflecting the fact that despite significant economic growth, unemployment remains high. EU enlargement may also increasingly isolate Serbia and its people within the region. Some parties focused more heavily on corruption, property restitution and other economic issues. The democratic and nationalistic range of the dominant Serbian political parties differed on integration mostly in their degree of enthusiasm and differentiation between support for joining the European Union on the one hand and joining NATO on the other. They likewise differed on Kosovo mostly to the degree to which its loss to Serbia was an acknowledged inevitability. Comments by politicians and diplomats from other countries supporting reformist parties late in the campaign prompted cries of interference from more nationalist parties. Observers monitoring media coverage of the campaign reported a very balanced approach, particularly among the broadcast media, as well as a positive tone indicating almost too much official instruction about how to remain neutral. The print media’s performance was more uneven in its campaign coverage, but low reliance on print media in Serbia made such differentiation of questionable significance. Election day was largely dry and unseasonably mild, and this contributed to high voter turnout of above 60 percent. This reversed trends toward voter apathy in previous elections. Out-of-country voting also took place for Serbian citizens in 34 other countries. Upon visiting their designated polling station, over 8,500 in all, voters typically encountered a polling board enlarged by political party representation to often as many as 20 to 30 or more members. Nevertheless, with few exceptions the polling was conducted in a professional manner that respected the secrecy of the ballot and made election-day manipulation, if any was intended, difficult to accomplish. The ballot presented the same list of 20 political parties or coalitions to voters across the country, albeit in different languages depending on concentrations of ethnic minorities residing in the area. Unlike the referendum in which the constitution would either pass or fail, polling board members represented political parties that had no real expectation of an outright victory and merely hoped to achieve or maybe exceed the high end of predictions based on public opinion polls. This likely reduced tension on election day, including during the critical counting of ballots once polls closed, despite significant political differences within polling boards. The Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID), a civic non-governmental organization, helped reduce tension by peppering Serbia with close to 4,000 domestic observers to discourage irregularities. The day after the election, before final results were announced, the International Election Observation Mission held a press conference to announce its preliminary conclusions. As Special Coordinator, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Goran Lennmarker released the joint statement which began with the clear statement that the “parliamentary elections in Serbia were free and fair. They provided a genuine opportunity for the citizens of Serbia to freely choose from a range of political platforms. The 20 lists of political parties and coalitions vigorously competed in an open campaign environment. The election campaign was calm, and checks and balances ensured that the election reflects the will of the people, in line with the OSCE’s Commitments as well as with the Council of Europe standards.” The OSCE’s ODIHR released an additional report of its preliminary findings based on the month-long observation of its 28-member team. Despite the overwhelmingly positive assessment, the Republican Election Commission did cancel results in 14 polling stations due to irregularities. World reaction to the results focused heavily on the continued support among the Serbian electorate for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) led by indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj, which garnered 28.7 percent of the vote, up from 27.6 percent in the last elections in 2003. That, of course, rightly leads to concern about Serbia’s inability to reject the extreme nationalism fostered by the Milosevic regime throughout the 1990s. On the other hand, the Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic came in second with 22.9 percent of the vote, an increase from 12.6 percent in 2003 and an indication that entrenched nationalist sentiments have not negated strong support for democratic development and integration. The coalition led by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of the current Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, gained only 16.7 percent of the vote, compared to 17.7 percent in 2003. The DSS, which bridges the nationalist/democratic divide in Serbian politics, appears to be replaced by the DS as the leading reform-oriented party in Serbia. G17-Plus, which has focused heavily on economic reform, saw its percentage of support drop but retained enough for parliamentary representation, as did the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), once led by Slobodan Milosevic. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a newer party led by Cedomir Jovanovic which more completely than any other rejects the Milosevic legacy, crossed the 5 percent threshold by leading a coalitions of like-minded parties. The Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) of Vuk Draskovic, which traditionally featured prominently in Serbia’s multi-party political history, did not. One Hungarian and two Romani parties, along with the Bosniak and the Albanian coalition, won one or more seats in the National Assembly. The odds that the SRS will be part of a coalition government appear to be slimmer than one year ago, when that was a major concern. Instead, the hope is for the DS and the DSS to overcome differences to form a new government with the support of other democratic forces, such as the G-17 Plus. Such a coalition could advance Serbia’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Prime Minister Kostunica’s past government relied on SPS support to stay in power, and he has indicated an unwillingness to enter a coalition with the Radicals. Personality conflicts, as well as differences over important issues such as cooperation with the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the appropriate response to an expected UN proposal on the status of Kosovo could complicate coalition formation. Most leading Serbian parties have counted on international concern over Serbia’s political direction to delay an expected UN recommendation, but that appears increasingly unlikely. A proposal on a new status for Kosovo will jolt the Serbian political scene. Many in Serbia feel victimized by the Milosevic regime. They fail to fully appreciate, however, the tremendous damage and suffering inflicted on the neighboring peoples of the former Yugoslavia during the Milosevic era through the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and a deep distrust resulting from Serbia’s inability to acknowledge that reality. Serbia will not fulfill its democratic promise until it fully comes to terms with this recent history. For that reason full cooperation with The Hague Tribunal remains essential. Over the longer term, democratic forces inside the country should prevail and advance Serbia’s reconciliation with its neighbors and its full integration into Europe, but without a mental break with its past this task will take longer and be more difficult to accomplish.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Convenes Winter Session

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

  • Tajikistan's Presidential Election Falls Short

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

  • Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006

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

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