Concern about Treatment of U.S. Citizen in Belarusian Detention

Concern about Treatment of U.S. Citizen in Belarusian Detention

Hon.
Alcee L. Hastings
United States
House of Representatives
110th Congress Congress
Second Session Session
Thursday, May 15, 2008

Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I would like to draw attention and concern to the case of Mr. Emanuel Zeltser, a U.S. citizen who was detained March 12th upon his arrival in Minsk, Belarus, charged with "use of forged documents.'' In the entire time that Mr. Zeltser has been detained, he has only been allowed visitation by the U.S. Embassy twice, on March 21st and April 25th. Upon the latter visit it was noted by the U.S. consul that Mr. Zeltser had been beaten several times and appeared in greatly weakened health. Mr. Zeltser suffers from Type 2 diabetes and a severe form of arthritis. Though his condition causes him severe pain and has further deteriorated during his incarceration, the authorities in the detention facility where he is held have reportedly denied him necessary medications. Without proper medications, Mr. Zeltser may not be able to survive the harsh conditions of his detention. Furthermore, according to his lawyer, Belarusian authorities have recently extended the period of Mr. Zeltser's term of detention.

It is incumbent upon the Belarusian government to provide Mr. Zeltser full consular access, proper medical care, and ensure that he is not subjected to further physical abuse and degrading treatment--consistent with its international legal obligations and basic human rights standards.

Time is of the essence in Mr. Zeltser's case, as further delays could lead to further deterioration of his health to the point of endangering his life.

Madam Speaker, I call upon the Belarusian authorities to ensure that Mr. Zeltser immediately receives the medication his doctor has prescribed, and is protected from further ill-treatment, given access to U.S. consular representatives and any medical attention he may need. On April 25, the State Department requested the Government of Belarus to release Emanuel Zeltser on humanitarian grounds. I urge the Belarusian Government to favorably consider that request.

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    Madam President, Russia's invasion of Ukraine is one of the most serious breaches of the OSCE principles since the signing of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. These principles are at the foundation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Russia, as a participating state, agreed to hold these principles, including territorial integrity of states, inviolability of frontiers, refraining from the threat of use of force, peaceful settlements of disputes, and others. With this invasion, which is based, as Secretary Kerry has stated, on a completely trumped-up set of pretexts, Russia has shown its utter contempt for these core principles, indeed, for the entire OSCE process--not only the OSCE but the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, and Ukraine that provides security assurances for Ukraine, and the 1997 Ukraine -Russia bilateral treaty, and the U.N. charter, and other international agreements. Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine is also a gross violation of the Vienna Document's confidence and security building mechanisms which govern military relations and arms control. So let's examine Vladimir Putin's justification for this unprovoked invasion. He claims there is a need to protect Russian interests and the rights of Russian-speaking minorities. They characterize it as a human rights protection mission that it clearly is not. Russian officials fail to show any real evidence that the rights of ethnic Russians in Crimea--where they actually constitute a majority and have the most clout politically--and Ukraine at large have been violated. In fact, there is overwhelming evidence that the protests in some Ukrainian cities are being stoked by the Russians. Putin and other Russian officials make all sorts of unfounded accusations, including that masked militia are roaming the streets of Kyiv, although the Ukrainian capital and most of Ukraine has been calm for the last few weeks. Mr. Putin claims there is a “rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine.'' Yet Kyiv's chief rabbi and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress on Monday accused Russia of staging anti-Semitic provocations in Crimea.  Mr. Putin accuses Ukraine's new legitimate transition government--not yet 2 weeks old--of threatening ethnic Russians. Yet there is a myriad of credible reports to the contrary. Indeed, although there has been unrest in some cities, there has been no serious movement in the mostly Russian-speaking eastern and southern regions to join with Russia. The clear majority of Ukrainians wants to see their country remain unified and do not welcome Russian intervention. All Ukrainian religious groups have come out against the Russian intervention and stand in support of Ukraine's territorial integrity and inviolability of its borders, as have minority groups such as the Crimean Tatars and the Roma. I submit that the real threat posed by the new government is that it wants to assertively move Ukraine in the direction of political and economic reforms and in the direction of democracy, respect for how human rights, the rule of law--away from the unbridled corruption of the previous regime and the kind of autocratic rule found in today's Russia. As for protecting Russian interests in Crimea, the Russians have not produced one iota of evidence that the Russian Black Sea Fleet, based in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, is under any kind of threat. Indeed, when the Ukrainians reached out to the Russians to try to engage them peacefully, they have been rebuffed. Russian authorities need to send their troops back to the barracks and instead engage through diplomacy, not the threat or use of force. The Russian actions pose a threat beyond Ukraine and threaten to destabilize neighboring states. I pointed out at a hearing we had this week in the subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and in a hearing of the Helsinki Commission, that if Russia can use force to try to change territories, what message does that send to the South China Sea, what message does that send to the Western Balkans? Just as Poland has already invoked article 4 NATO consultations, the Baltic States and others in the region are wary of Russian goals. As chairman of the Helsinki Commission and a former vice president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I am encouraged to see active and wide-ranging engagement of the OSCE to deescalate tensions and to foster peace and security in Ukraine. The OSCE has the tools to address concerns with regard to security on the ground in Crimea, minority rights, and with regard to preparations for this democratic transition to lead to free and fair elections. In response to a request by the Ukrainian Government, 18 OSCE participating states, including the United States, are sending 35 unarmed military personnel to Ukraine. This is taking place under the Vienna Document, which allows for voluntary hosting of visits to dispel concerns about unusual military activities. Various OSCE institutions are activating, at the request of the Ukrainian Government, including the OSCE's human rights office, known as the ODIHR, to provide human rights monitoring as well as election observation for the May 25 Presidential elections. The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the head of the Strategic Police Matters Unit, among others, are all in Kyiv this week conducting fact-finding missions. A full-scale, long-term OSCE Monitoring Mission is being proposed, and this mission needs to go forward. All of these OSCE efforts are aimed at deescalating tensions, fostering peace and stability, ensuring the observance of OSCE principles, including the human dimension, helping Ukraine in its transition, especially in the run-up to the May elections. These OSCE on-the-ground efforts are being thwarted by the Russian-controlled newly installed Crimean authorities. The OSCE Unusual Military Activities observers have been stopped from entering Crimea by unidentified men in military fatigues. Also, the OSCE Media Freedom Representative and her staff were temporarily blocked from leaving a hotel in Crimea where she was meeting with journalists and civil society activists. The U.N. special envoy was accosted by unidentified gunmen after visiting a naval headquarters in the Sevastopol. The blocking of international monitors--who were invited by the Ukrainian Government and who clearly are trying to seek peaceful resolutions to the conflict--is completely unacceptable and we should hold Russia responsible for their safety. Russia is a member of the OSCE--one of the founding members--and they are openly violating the core principles of the Helsinki Final Act. Russia signed on to the institutions that are available under OSCE for this exact type of circumstance--to give independent observation as to what is happening on the ground. Sending this mission, at the request of the host country, into Crimea is exactly the commitments made to reduce tensions in OSCE states, and Russia is blocking the use of that mechanism. The United States and the international community are deploying wide-ranging resources to contain and roll back Russia's aggression and to assist Ukraine's transition to a democratic, secure, and prosperous country. Both the Executive and the Congress are working around the clock on this. President Obama has taken concrete action and made concrete recommendations.  As the author of the Magnitsky Act, I welcome the White House sanctions announced today, including visa restrictions on officials and individuals threatening Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and financial sanctions against those "responsible for activities undermining democratic processes or institutions in Ukraine .'' It was just a little while ago that we passed the Magnitsky Act. We did that in response to gross human rights violations within Russia against an individual named Sergei Magnitsky. What we did is say that those who were responsible for these gross violations of internationally recognized rules should be held accountable, and if they are not held accountable, the least we can do in the United States is not give them safe haven in our country, not allow the corrupt dollars they have earned to be housed in America--no visas, no use of our banking system. The President is taking a similar action against those responsible for the invasion and military use against international rules in Ukraine. These steps are in addition to many other actions, including the suspension of bilateral discussions with Russia on trade and investment, stopping United States-Russia military-to-military engagement, and suspending preparations for the June G8 summit in Sochi. Both Chambers are working expeditiously on legislation to help Ukraine in this delicate period of transition. We also need to work expeditiously with our European friends and allies, and I am encouraged by the news that the EU is preparing a $15 billion aid package. Ukraine has exercised amazing restraint in not escalating the conflict, particularly in Crimea. I applaud their restraint and their action. The people of Ukraine have suffered an incredibly difficult history, and over the last century they have been subjected to two World Wars, 70 years of Soviet domination, including Stalin's genocidal famine. They certainly do not need another senseless war. Nothing justifies Russia's aggression--nothing. Our political and economic assistance at this time would be a testament to those who died at the Maidan just 2 weeks ago and a concrete manifestation that our words mean something and that we do indeed stand by the people of Ukraine as they make their historic choice for freedom, democracy, and a better life. I yield the floor.

  • THE OSCE OFFICE FOR DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS: ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND CHALLENGES

    Ambassador Janez Lenarcic testified in in front of the Commission on the human rights dimension of OSCE member countries. The hearing focused on the member countries that have not met OSCE agreed standards on defense of human rights. The discussion focused on the OSCE’s plan to establish guidelines for member countries to uphold and defend human rights. The witness and commissioners highlighted recent situations in Russia in regards to respect of human rights amidst an election. In addition, the discussion focused on the role of the United States in providing leadership on the issue.

  • Justice In The International Extradition System, The Case Of George Wright And Beyond

    This briefing discussed the case of George Wright.  In 1963, Wright was implicated in the robbery of a gas station, during which he fatally beat and shot a man named Walter Patterson (a veteran of World War II and a Bronze Star recipient). Wright was sentenced to prison, but escaped to Algeria in the middle of his stay at Leesburg State Prison. 41 years later, Wright was discovered in Portugal. In spite of the U.S.’s and Portugal’s firm commitment regarding extradition, a court in Portugal inexplicably refused to extradite Wright. This hearing’s goal was to scrutinize what transpired in this case and what could be achieved in order to bring Wright to justice, raising the broader question about the international extradition system.

  • Commemorating Belarusian Independence by Fighting for Human Rights in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, on Sunday, March 25, Belarusian-Americans commemorated Belarusian Independence Day. On that date in 1918, during World War I, the Belarusian National Republic was declared. Although independence was short-lived and Belarus forcibly subjected to Soviet rule, it did mark an historically significant milestone in the aspirations of the Belarusian people for freedom and their own unique identity. While Belarus became independent in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this independence today is under threat thanks to the dictatorial rule of Alexander Lukashenka, who has relentlessly squelched dissent, strangled democratic institutions and the rule of law, stifled human rights and political liberties, and refused to reform the Soviet-type state-dominated economy. This has made Belarus dangerously vulnerable to Russian influence and has greatly weakened its prospects for integration into the European family of nations. The brutal crackdown that began 15 months ago with the fraudulent December 19, 2010 election persists. Its most recent manifestation is the barring of numerous opposition leaders, human rights activists and independent journalists from traveling abroad--yet another in a litany of violations of Belarus' OSCE commitments. Especially egregious is the continued imprisonment of democratic opposition leaders and activists, and human rights defenders Andrei Sannikau, Mikalai Statekevich, Zmitser Bandarenka, Ales Byalyatski, Syarhei Kavalenka, Zmitser Dashkevich, Pavel Seviarynets, and others, many of whom face inhumane conditions in detention. I'd like to add my voice to those of countless Belarusians and Belarusian-Americans calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus. Mr. Speaker, in January the President signed into law the Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011, which I authored. This law strengthens, in view of Lukashenka's crackdown, two earlier laws I wrote promoting democracy and supporting the Belarusian people in their struggle to replace the Lukashenka dictatorship with a representative government that will respect human rights and democratic values. But Congress's efforts on behalf of the Belarusian people can't end there--I'd like to ask my colleagues to continue to raise Belarusian human rights issues with the administration, with foreign parliamentarians, and, whenever we encounter them, with officials of the Lukashenka dictatorship.

  • Healing the Wounds of Conflict and Disaster: Clarifying the Fate of Missing Persons in the OSCE Area

    The hearing examined efforts by governments and their partners in clarifying the fate of persons missing within a number of OSCE participating States and partner countries, especially in the western Balkans and northern Caucasus. The hearing also appraised the adequacy of assistance to governments and other entities engaged in locating missing persons, the obstacles that impede progress in some areas, as well as how rule of law mechanisms help governments fulfill their obligations to the affected families and society in clarifying the fate of missing persons. Currently, over a million persons are reported missing from wars and violations of human rights. In addition, there are thousands of reported cases a year of persons missing from trafficking, drug-related violence, and other causes. Locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, trafficking in humans and human rights violations and other causes remains a global challenge, with significant impact within the OSCE area.

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