Disturbing Developments in the Republic of Georgia

Disturbing Developments in the Republic of Georgia

Hon.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
United States
Senate
108th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Mr. President, as cochairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am concerned by a myriad of problems that plague the nation of Georgia a decade after restoration of its independence and nearly eleven years after it joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. Among these pressing concerns that I would like to bring to the attention of my colleagues is the ongoing violence against non-Orthodox religious groups, as well as allegations of torture perpetrated by Georgian security officials.

 

Concerning religious freedom, the situation in Georgia is one of the worst in the entire 55-nation region constituting the OSCE. Georgia is the only OSCE country where mobs are allowed to attack, violently and repeatedly, minority religious groups with complete impunity. Most recently, on January 24th, worshipers and clergy were assaulted and beaten in a mob attack on the Central Baptist Church in Tbilisi, where an ecumenical service was to have taken place. While police did eventually intervene, no arrests were made, and the planned ecumenical service between Baptists, Armenian Apostolic Church, Catholics and Lutherans was canceled. While I am pleased President Shevardnadze did issue a decree calling for a full investigation, to date no action by police or the Prosecutor General has taken place.

 

During the past three years of escalating mob violence, the Jehovah's Witnesses have experienced the majority of attacks, along with Baptists, Pentecostals, and Catholics. Sadly, victims from throughout the country have filed approximately 800 criminal complaints, and not one of these has resulted in a criminal conviction. The mob attacks are usually led by either Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, or Paata Bluashvili, the leader of the Orthodox ``Jvari'' Union. Often the police and media are tipped off in advance of an attack--probably so that the media can arrive early and the police can show up late. The brazen leaders of these attacks have even given television interviews while mob brutality continues in the background.

 

In response to this ongoing campaign of violence against members of minority faiths, the leadership of the Helsinki Commission and other members of the Senate and House have been in correspondence with President Shevardnadze on numerous occasions. Congressional dismay over this ongoing issue was also reflected in language included in the omnibus appropriations bill underscoring concern over the Georgian Government's apparent resistance to prosecuting and jailing the perpetrators of these mob attacks. Despite assurances, Georgian officials have neither quelled this violence nor taken effective measures against the perpetrators of these assaults. Ironically, it appears that minority religious communities may be freer in parts of Georgia outside of Tbilisi's control than those under the central authorities.

 

The conference report language should send a strong message to President Shevardnadze and other Georgian leaders. They must understand the Congress's deep and abiding interest in this matter and our desire to see those responsible for the violence put in jail.

 

I also must express my concern regarding the widespread, indeed routine, use of torture in the Republic of Georgia. While law enforcement remains virtually nonexistent when it comes to protecting religious minorities from violent attacks, the use of torture by police remains a commonplace tool for extracting confessions and obtaining convictions in other areas. A government commission has also acknowledged that the scale of corruption in law enforcement has seriously eroded public confidence in Georgia's system of justice and the rule of law.

 

At one point, a few years ago, there appeared to be real political will to address this problem. Sadly, increased protections for detainees, adopted to facilitate Georgia's accession to the Council of Europe, were quickly reversed by the parliament once Georgia's admission was complete. Moreover, I am particularly concerned by remarks made by Minister of Interior Koba Narchemashvili in November. In a move calculated to look tough on crime following a notorious murder, he called for seizing control of pre-trial detention facilities from the authority of the Ministry of Justice. This would move Georgia in exactly the wrong direction. Reform must continue on two levels; continuing to move Georgia's legal standards into compliance with international norms, and improving actual implementation by law enforcement officers.

 

I want to see a prosperous, democratic, and independent Georgia, but these facts are deeply disturbing and disappointing. The Government of Georgia's failure to effectively address these concerns through decisive action will only further erode confidence here in Washington as well as with the people of Georgia.

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    Remarks to the 2014 OSCE Japan Conference on Sharing Experiences and Lessons Learned between the OSCE and Asian Partners for Cooperation in Order to Create a Safer, More Interconnected and Fairer World in the Face of Emerging Challenges Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for your kind introduction. It’s a pleasure to be here today. I’d also like to thank our Japanese hosts for their very gracious arrangements for this important conference. I am here on behalf of U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, the Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The Helsinki Commission is unique in that the U.S. is the only OSCE participating State to create a distinct governmental agency to monitor member state compliance with OSCE commitments. One of the key priorities for our Commission is promoting good governance and combatting corruption, and we were pleased to see the tremendous progress achieved in this area in 2012 with the adoption of the Declaration on Strengthening Good Governance and Combatting Corruption, Money-Laundering and the Financing of Terrorism at the Dublin Ministerial. The Good Governance Declaration is comprehensive, laying out a strategy for the OSCE to combat corruption, strengthen civil society development and enforce accountability measures in the public and private sectors.  The declaration has given some new tools to the Economic and Environmental Coordinator’s office, which plays a critical role in strengthening stability and security in the OSCE region. And last year, the OSCE worked to promote sustainable energy solutions, advocate transparency and accountability, and to build capacity at all levels of society – government, private sector, and its citizens.  These achievements represent a foundation for further enhancing the 2nd Dimension. The U.S. and the EU have recently enacted laws that address the problem of transparency and accountability in the resource sector. In the United States, these laws were authored by the Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Senator Ben Cardin. The laws require companies to publicly report payments they make to governments for oil, gas and mining extraction. The concept is that by injecting transparency into a traditionally opaque business environment, the ability of citizens to better understand the money flows allows them to then hold their governments accountable. The laws are meant to innovate the way business is done in this extremely important sector by breaking the cycle of instability and poverty in countries suffering from what is often called the “resource curse”. This innovation can help ensure that energy supplies are not disrupted, it gives citizens a tool to fight corruption, and it levels the playing field for companies. Now that the U.S. and the European Union are implementing these transparency rules, other markets with large resource extraction companies such as Australia and Canada are exploring similar requirements. And we expect that as these rules come online we will see other stock exchanges around the world follow suit. Corruption and lack of transparency in the extractive industries can fuel instability and even conflict, so it’s not hard to see why this type of transparency is catching on. The news is full of headlines on instability created by resource competition or corruption. And resource rich countries are consistently rated as some of the most difficult places to do business. In almost every case you can trace the root cause to the intractable corruption in that country. These transparency laws are the game changers that will help tilt the balance of power away from corrupt leaders. Transparency and accountability are going to make the job of extractive companies easier. They will work on a level playing field, they will work with more stable governments, and they will operate in more stable communities. And the OSCE has a role to play here as well. With the acknowledgment of the importance of combatting corruption in the Good Governance Declaration, the OSCE’s Economic and Environmental Dimension can serve as a valuable platform for increasing stability and security on energy related issues and, in particular, highlighting the link between security, energy, and the environment. As we look toward the Basel Ministerial and the Helsinki+40 process, we must build upon this work and examine how the 2nd Dimension can be further strengthened to advance solutions that build good governance. One of the ways that we can do this is to more actively engage civil society in the 2nd Dimension. We need to welcome multi-stakeholder groups, business groups and civil society leaders to the Economic and Environmental Forum and the Economic and Environmental Implementation meeting in order to generate greater awareness of good governance initiatives, develop new projects, and assess the effectiveness of participating States in implementing these commitments.    Let me close with a comment on Ukraine. I was there two weeks ago to observe the election. Despite the daily reports of violence, what we saw in the conduct of the election makes me hopeful that the newly elected government will be able to move the country forward. But what is painfully clear is that the corruption surrounding Ukraine’s energy sector was a key factor in fueling the protests that eventually led to the downfall of the government. Ukraine is not a big oil and gas producer itself, but it plays a major role as a transit country between Russia and Western Europe. Ukraine has started work on its candidacy for EITI but still has a long way to go so we are encouraging the new government to place a priority on getting that in place. The broader lesson from Ukraine is that secret deals lead to corruption. Corruption leads to economic stagnation.  Economic stagnation leads to political instability.  Political instability leads to violence and human rights abuses, and even opportunistic violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is why we need to innovate the way we do business. This is why we need to focus on transparency and good governance. And this is why we need to empower civil society and media to hold their governments accountable. These are all areas where the OSCE has expertise and where the Asian Partners can provide assistance and experience. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

  • Georgia 2008, Ukraine 2014: Is Moldova Next?

    David Killion addressed the timely issue of another situation in a list of attacks on sovereignty by Russia.  Russia’s annexation of Crimea raised concerns that a scenario whereby Russia annexes Transnistria, Moldova’s secessionist region, is a very realistic possibility. Similar to Russia’s de facto annexation of Georgia’s two secessionist regions and Ukraine’s Crimea, Russia’s aggression against Moldova would be occurring as citizens of Moldova are considering accession to the major Euro-Atlantic institutions. Witnesses Eugen Carpov, Paul Goble, and Stephen Blank examined Russia’s intentions with regard to Transnistria and Moldova. The commented on Transnistria residents’ participation in the violence in Odessa and highlighted the Transnistria “Parliament’s” call for Russia to annex. They also drew attention to President Putin’s assertion to that Transnistria remain under an economic blockade and that the residents of the region suffer severe hardships as a result. This lively discussion focused on what the ongoing insecurity and conflict in the region foreshadows in the Southern Caucasus and beyond. 

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