In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Chairman Alcee Hastings

In Honor of Vaclav Havel and the 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Statement by Chairman Alcee Hastings

Hon.
Alcee L. Hastings
United States
House of Representatives
110th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Thursday, March 01, 2007

As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am privileged to add my voice today to those honoring Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovakia’s first post-communist President, and the Charter 77 movement which, 30 years ago, he helped to found. 

Three decades ago, the Charter 77 movement was established and its founding manifesto was formally delivered to the Communist regime in Prague. The goals of the Chartists – as signatories came to be known – were fairly straightforward: “Charter 77 [they stated] is a loose, informal and open association of people of various shades of opinion, faiths and professions united by the will to strive individually and collectively for the respect of civic and human rights in our own country and throughout the world – rights accorded to all men by the two mentioned international covenants, by the Final Act of the Helsinki conference and by numerous other international documents opposing war, violence and social or spiritual oppression, and which are comprehensively laid down in the U.N. Universal Charter of Human Rights.” 

The phrase “people of various shades of opinion” was, in fact, a charming understatement regarding the diversity of the signatories. Founding members of this movement included Vaclav Maly, a Catholic priest banned by the regime; Vacla Benda, a Christian philosopher; former Trotskyite Peter Uhl; former Communists like Zdenek Mlynar and Jiri Hajek, both of whom were ousted from their leadership positions in the wake of the 1968 Soviet attack that crushed the Prague Spring reforms; and, of course, Vaclav Havel, a playwright and dramatist. Notwithstanding the many differences these people surely had, they were united common purpose: to compel the Communist regime to respect the international human rights agreements it had freely adopted. 

Interestingly, the Charter 77 movement was never a mass dissident movement – fewer than two thousand people ever formally signed this document. But, to use a boxing analogy, Charter 77 punched above its weight. Its influence could be felt far beyond the number of those who openly signed on and, ultimately, in the battle of wits with the Communist regime, Charter 77 clearly won. 

And most importantly, Charter 77 – like other human rights groups founded at roughly the same time in Moscow, Vilnius, Warsaw and elsewhere – looked to the Helsinki process as a vehicle for calling their own governments to account. Although it is sometimes said that the Helsinki process helped to bring down communism, it is really these grass roots movements that gave the Helsinki process its real meaning and its true legitimacy. 

Thirty years ago, a small, courageous band of people came together and said, “We believe that Charter 77 will help to enable all citizens of Czechoslovakia to work and live as free human beings.” Today, we remember their struggle and praise their enduring contributions to democracy and human rights.

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  • Mayor Giuliani, Chairman Smith Lead U.S. Delegation to OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held an historic international conference in Vienna, Austria on June 19-20 to discuss anti-Semitism within the 55 participating States. While the OSCE states have addressed anti-Semitism in the past, the Vienna Conference represented the first OSCE event specifically devoted to anti-Semitism. Former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (N-04J) led the United States delegation. Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who currently serves as a Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was also part of the U.S. delegation. Public members of the delegation were: Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee; Abraham Foxman, Anti-Defamation League; Cheryl Halpern, National Republican Jewish Coalition; Malcolm Hoenlein, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Mark Levin, NCSJ; and, Daniel Mariaschin, B’nai B’rith. U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Stephan M. Minikes, and the U.S. Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Ambassador Randolph Bell, also participated. The personal representative of the Dutch OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ambassador Daan Everts, opened the meeting expressing dismay that in the year 2003 it was necessary to hold such a conference, but "we would be amiss not to recognize that indeed the necessity still exists." Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy declared "anti-Semitism is not a part of [Europe’s] future. This is why this Conference is so important, and I believe it will have a strong follow-up." 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Mayor Giuliani noted the fact that the conference was being held in the same building where Hitler announced the annexation of Austria in 1938. "It’s hard to believe that we’re discussing this topic so many years later and after so many lessons of history have not been learned; and I am very hopeful that rather than just discussing anti-Semitism, we are actually going to do something about it, and take action." Giuliani, drawing on his law enforcement background and municipal leadership, enumerated eight steps to fight anti-Semitism: 1) compile hate crime statistics in a uniform fashion; 2) encourage all participating States to pass hate crime legislation; 3) establish regular meetings to analyze the data and an annual meeting to examine the implementation of measures to combat anti-Semitism; 4) set up educational programs in all the participating States about anti-Semitism; 5) discipline political debate so that disagreements over Israel and Palestine do not slip into a demonizing attack on the Jewish people; 6) refute hate-filled lies at an early stage; 7) remember the Holocaust accurately and resist any revisionist attempt to downplay its significance; and 8) set up groups to respond to anti-Semitic acts that include members of Islamic communities and other communities. Commissioner Hastings identified a "three-fold role" governments can play in "combating anti-Semitic bigotry, as well as in nurturing tolerance." First, elected leaders must "forthrightly denounce acts of anti-Semitism, so as to avoid the perception of silent support." He identified law enforcement as the second crucial factor in fighting intolerance. Finally, Hastings noted that while "public denunciations and spirited law enforcement" are essential components to any strategy to combat anti-Semitism, they "must work in tandem with education." He concluded, "if we are to see the growth of tolerance in our societies, all governments should promote the creation of educational efforts to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people and to increase Holocaust awareness programs." Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith, who served as Vice Chair of the U.S. delegation to the Vienna Conference, highlighted how a "comprehensive statistical database for tracking and comparing the frequency of incidents in the OSCE region does not exist, [and] the fragmentary information we do have is indicative of the serious challenge we have." In addition to denouncing anti-Semitic acts, "we must educate a new generation about the perils of anti-Semitism and racism so that the terrible experiences of the 20th century are not repeated," said Smith. "This is clearly a major task that requires a substantial and sustained commitment. The resources of institutions with special expertise such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum must be fully utilized." In his closing statement Giuliani stressed that anti-Semitism "has its own history, it has a pernicious and distinct history from many prejudicial forms of bias that we deal with, and therefore singular focus on that problem and reversing it can be a way in which both Europe and America can really enter the modern world." He enthusiastically welcomed the offer by the German delegation to hold a follow-up conference on anti-Semitism, in Berlin in June 2004. Upon their return to Washington, Giuliani and Smith briefed Secretary Powell on the efforts of the U.S. delegation in Vienna and the importance of building upon the work of the Conference at the parliamentary and governmental levels. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Coerced Sterilization Investigated in Slovakia

    Mr. Speaker, on May 8, the Senate gave its consent to protocols providing for the accession of seven new members to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I have supported Slovakia's admission to NATO and am heartened that the post-1998 democratic and human rights progress in Slovakia made the Senate vote possible. Slovak leaders continue to demonstrate in many concrete ways their commitment to the oftcited but not always visible "shared values" that are central to the trans-Atlantic community. I was moved to read that several Slovak leaders, including Speaker of the Parliament, Pavol Hrusovsky, with whom I met last year, Laszlo Nagy, Chairman of the Parliament's human rights committee, and the Foreign Ministry have spoken out so clearly and strongly on behalf of the Cuban dissidents victimized by Castro's recent sweeping crackdown on human rights activists. At the same time, I have continuing concerns about the Slovak Government's ongoing investigation into allegations that Romani women were sterilized without proper informed consent. Mr. Speaker, I know these allegations are of concern to many members of the Helsinki Commission, one of whom recently sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing concerning the sterilizations. I also discussed the issue with Slovak Ambassador Martin Butora and Deputy Minister Ivan Korcok in March. Eight Helsinki Commissioners joined me in writing to Prime Minister Dzurinda to express our concern, and U.S. Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor, Lome Craner, commented on this abhorrent practice at his hearing on the State Department's annual human rights report. I was encouraged by the Prime Minister's substantive and sympathetic response, and I commend his commitment to improve respect for the human rights of Slovakia's Romani minority. At the same time, I am deeply troubled by one particular aspect of the government's response to the reports documenting that sterilizations occurred without proper informed consent. Shortly after the release in January of a lengthy report on sterilization of Romani women, a spokesperson for the ministry responsible for human rights was quoted in The New York Times as saying: "If we confirm this information, we will expand our charges to the report's authors, that they knew about a crime for a year and did not report it to a prosecutor. And if we prove it is not true, they will be charged with spreading false information and damaging the good name of Slovakia." In other words, if the government's investigation does not find evidence of coerced sterilization, they intend to make those who dared make the allegation pay a price. And if the government's investigation does confirm the allegation, they will still make those who made the allegation pay a price. I believe this is what is meant by the old expression, "Damned if you do, and damned if you don't." This is really an outrageous threat, and it's hard to believe that an official responsible for human rights would have made it. Mr. Speaker, I had hoped that this was an unfortunate misstatement and not really reflective of the Slovak Government's policies. I had hoped that the fact that almost every newspaper article, from Los Angeles to Moscow, about coerced sterilization in Slovakia has mentioned this threat would lead the Slovak Government to issue some kind of clarification or retraction. Unfortunately, not only has there been no such clarification or retraction, but the threat has now been repeated--not once, but at least twice. First, in mid-March, the Ministry of Health issued a report based on its own investigation into the allegations. (A separate government investigation continues.) Naming a particular Slovak human rights advocate by name, the ministry complained that she had refused to cooperate with police investigators and this could be considered covering up a crime. Essentially the same point was made by Slovakia's Ambassador to the OSCE in early April, ironically during a meeting on Romani human rights issues. Mr. Speaker, these threats raise serious doubts about the breadth and depth of the Slovak Government's commitment to get at the truth in this disturbing matter. Can the Slovak Government really expect women who may have been sterilized without consent to come forward and cooperate with an investigation with a threat like this hanging over them? A few brave souls may, but I believe these threats have had a substantial chilling effect on the investigative process. In fact, it is not unusual for those whose rights have been violated to confide their stories only upon condition of anonymity. And while I realize there has been a very serious effort in Slovakia to improve the professionalism of the police and to address past police abuses against Roma, I certainly can't blame Romani women if they are unwilling to pour their hearts out to their local constables. Simply put, the police have not yet earned that trust. I hope the Slovak Government will set the record straight on this and remove any doubt that the days when human rights activists could be sent to jail for their reports is over. Doing so is critical for the credibility of the government's ongoing investigation.

  • Honoring Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel

    Mr. Speaker, Vaclav Havel is sometimes called the “conscience of the Czech Republic.” In fact, he could be called the conscience of the world. As both playwright and president, he has set an example for his country men and women and inspired others around the globe.   As a Member serving on the Helsinki Commission, I first became aware of Vaclav Havel and his stance as a leader of the Charter '77 human rights movement. At a time when most Czechoslovaks preferred to keep their heads low, he held his up. When others dared not speak out, he raised his voice. While others hid from communism in their apartments and weekend cottages, he faced it down in prison. In recognition of his extraordinary leadership and courage, the Commission leadership recommended him for the Nobel Peace Prize in February 1989.   Vaclav Havel once wrote of the “power of the powerless” and, on November 17, 1989, when the Velvet Revolution began, the world saw that power manifested in reality.   Mr. Speaker, Vaclav Havel is a man who has always been guided by the courage of his convictions. Remarkably, his courage did not fade upon his assumption of the presidency. Indeed, he is all the more heroic for his remaining steadfast to his commitment to human rights even from the comforts of the Prague Castle.   From the beginning of his tenure, as he addressed his country's communist and totalitarian past, he was a voice of reason, not revenge. In 1993, he rightly identified the situation of Roma as “a litmus test for civil society.” Throughout his presidency, he has pardoned those facing criminal charges under communist-era laws that restrict free speech and have yet to be repealed. In 2001, he spoke out against the parliament's regressive religion law, which turned the clock back on religious freedom. He has raised human rights issues from Cuba to China. And, he has reminded other world leaders of our shared responsibility for the poor and less fortunate.   H. Con. Res. 22 pays tribute to Vaclav Havel's singular compassion, integrity, and vision. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting a man who has given so much to his country and the world.

  • Human Rights and Inhuman Treatment

    As part of an effort to enhance its review of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, the OSCE Permanent Council decided on July 9, 1998 (PC DEC/241) to restructure the Human Dimension Implementation Meetings periodically held in Warsaw. In connection with this decision - which cut Human Dimension Implementation Meetings from three to two weeks - it was decided to convene annually three informal supplementary Human Dimension Meetings (SHDMs) in the framework of the Permanent Council. On March 27, 2000, 27 of the 57 participating States met in Vienna for the OSCE's fourth SHDM, which focused on human rights and inhuman treatment. They were joined by representatives of OSCE institutions or field presence; the Council of Europe; the United Nations Development Program;  the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees;  the International Committee of the Red Cross; and representatives from approximately 50 non-governmental organizations.

  • Helsinki Commission on Property Restitution Issues

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law On September 10, 2003, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) held a briefing to assess the status of governmental efforts to provide restitution of, or compensation for, property wrongfully seized in Europe under communist and Nazi rule. Ambassador Randolph M. Bell, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, provided an update on developments since his participation in the Commission's July 2002 hearing on this subject. Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) chaired the September 10 briefing, noting that "this issue will continue to be on our agenda until we accomplish the objectives of transparent laws in all of the states [and] fair and just compensation for the properties that were unlawfully taken during the Nazi and communist years." The Helsinki Commission has previously held three hearings specifically on these issues. In a related development, on October 13, Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Mr. Cardin, Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), and Representative Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) met with Polish officials in Warsaw to raise directly their concerns regarding Poland's failure to adopt any private property restitution or compensation law at all. Members met with Piotr Ogrodzinski, Director of the Americas Department at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Andrzej Szarawarski, Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Treasury, and Under-Secretary of State Barbara Misterska-Dragan. The Members reminded their interlocutors that President Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz gave their personal assurances to congressional leaders (including Chairman Smith) in a meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert in July 2002 that a private property law would be ready by the beginning of 2003. Notwithstanding this pledge, the Government of Poland has failed to submit such a law to parliament. In Warsaw, Members voiced acute frustration at continuing delays and urged the Polish Government to move quickly on this time-sensitive issue. Briefing Reviews Mixed Record In his introductory remarks, Ambassador Bell stressed that a number of measures must be in place for effective restitution: open access to archival records, uniform enforcement of laws, clear procedures, and provisions for current occupants of property subject to restitution. Uniform, fair, and complete restitution is necessary to establish the rule of law and to safeguard rights and freedoms in many countries, he noted. Ambassador Bell also suggested that restitution can facilitate reform and thereby help countries gain entry into multilateral institutions. Most OSCE countries working toward restitution are making slow but steady progress on the return of communal property, such as educational, church, and hospital buildings. According to Bell, some countries have nearly completed the return of such property, including Slovakia, Slovenia, and Bulgaria. In other instances, returning property to its owners, or reimbursing them, is fraught with political obstacles. "While leaders may achieve our praise for facing these issues, they often gain little or nothing in the way of parliamentary support at home for doing so," Bell said. Speaking from the audience, one observer suggested that restitution often stalls when it becomes a political issue that leaders can manipulate and that economic challenges in restitution create further challenges. He added that politicians should speak more frequently and positively about their experiences restoring property to the rightful owners. "This is a part of the process of becoming an open democratic society, part of the family of Western nations," he said. Progress has been frustratingly slow, acknowledged Commissioner Cardin. The Commission has frequently encountered barriers to restitution, such as residency or citizenship requirements and management of funds under different domestic laws. "We have found that we have gotten commitments from the leaders of countries, only to find that those commitments are not really carried out," Cardin said. Another audience member expressed concern that the Slovenian Government has discriminated against American property owners, arguing that as foreigners, they were less likely to have property returned in Slovenia. Ambassador Bell noted that even when a court does rule in favor of a claimant, the Slovenian Government has the ability to appeal for a reversal. He said the State Department would continue to press for fair property returns in Slovenia. A few countries came in for particular criticism during the briefing. "I am following the advice of our chairman, Chairman Smith, when he says that we have to start naming countries and naming practices, because we cannot let this continue," Mr. Cardin said. "The current situation is not acceptable in Poland or in Romania or in the Czech Republic." Poland Poland has failed to adopt any law providing for private property restitution or compensation. In meetings with congressional leaders last July, visiting President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz gave assurances that a draft private property law would be ready by early 2003. The government has yet to submit a draft to the parliament. Ambassador Bell urged Poland to make good on its promises to return private property to its rightful owners. "To delay action will only make it more difficult to address this issue down the road," he said. Romania Property restitution in Romania since the fall of communism has been slow and ineffective. The laws enacted by the government to address the problem lack transparency, are complex, and have not been properly implemented. The law governing the restitution of private property was enacted in February 2001 and provided a one-year deadline for filing claims. Documentary proof of those claims was required to be submitted by August 2002. This deadline was revised several times and finally set for May 14, 2003, due to the fact that claimants were experiencing great difficulty in obtaining from state archives the necessary documents to support their claims. More than two and a half years after enactment of the restitution law, the government finally promulgated regulations governing the documentation necessary to support property claims--on May 14, 2003, the same day as the deadline for filing those claims. Of 210,000 claims registered, only 6,300 properties have been returned. Commissioner Cardin described one Romanian case that suggests the kinds of struggles involved with restitution. The claimant in that case had clear title to the property and had won multiple cases in court--but was still unable to regain the property because the government would not relinquish it. Ultimately, the property was returned because of the international publicity it generated. Czech Republic The Czech Republic's restitution laws limit redress for confiscated properties to people who are currently citizens of the Czech Republic. Prior to 1999, Czech law prohibited naturalized U.S. citizens from having dual Czech and American citizenship. In order to participate in the property restitution program, therefore, Czech-Americans had to renounce their U.S. citizenship and few, if any, Czech-Americans exercised this option. In other words, at the same time the Czech Republic was being welcomed into NATO, Czech Americans were uniquely excluded by virtue of their U.S. citizenship from the possibility of regaining properties stolen from them by Nazi or communist regimes. (Czechoslovak citizens who sought refuge in other countries--e.g., Canada, France, or Australia--were not automatically stripped of their Czechoslovak citizenship and were therefore eligible to make restitution claims.) Some Czech parliamentarians have sponsored legislation to remedy this injustice, but the Czech Government has consistently opposed it. Serbia Since the fall of the Milosevic regime, civil society has sought to advance a number of initiatives to address past wrongs, including property reform. While privatization is an important component of economic reform, there is concern that insufficient consideration is given to individuals seeking restitution of property they or their families owned prior to World War II. One observer from the audience noted that the International Crisis Group and others have reported that corruption may make the privatization effort in Serbia all the more difficult for those with property claims. Addressing this issue, Ambassador Bell asserted that corruption inevitably slows down privatization. In addition, he noted that, although the Serbia-Montenegro Government has said it will restitute property seized during communist rule, no law has yet been put in place to do so. "There is a gap between what the new democratic Government of Serbia said when it took office, and what has happened," he said. There are people in the government of Serbia and Montenegro who are serious about reform, but it is a difficult struggle, he added. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Lauren Smith contributed to this article.

  • Property Restitution Efforts Examined

    By Maureen T. Walsh, CSCE General Counsel On July 16, 2002, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe held a public hearing titled “Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe: The State of Affairs for American Claimants” on the status of property restitution, with a particular focus on claims in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Romania. This was the Commission’s third hearing on the issue of property restitution; previous hearings were held in 1996 and 1999. In his opening statement, Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) acknowledged that “Central and East European governments have done much regarding property restitution that is commendable.” Smith noted that “governments seeking membership in Western institutions want to be perceived as reform governments by passing a private property restitution law. . Upon closer examination, however, one finds lackluster the implementation of the laws” as well as serious rule of law problems and discriminatory citizenship requirements that continue to impede restitution and compensation efforts. Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) expressed the need for countries addressing problems created by the legacies of fascism and communism to “address all pertinent issues and cases, including claims of those individuals or families who may fall between the cracks of current laws.” According to Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), barriers to restitution and compensation dealt the survivors of the Holocaust a second tragedy. In response, he made clear that “we will not stop until all the OSCE states treat property restitution in a serious way by having effective laws to compensate for illegally confiscated property.” Commissioner Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) expressed a need “to constantly be creating an atmosphere in which these claims are viewed as appropriate, legitimate, and justiciable.” She stressed “the rapid restitution of assets that were stolen during that horrible period is a critical step towards achieving some measure of fairness.” “As the countries of Eastern and Central Europe consider reforming their property restitution laws, they can look to the United States as a leader in considering the restitution of World War II era property,” Senator Clinton concluded. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), a member of the House International Relations Committee, urged the Bush Administration to ensure that progress on property restitution claims be considered as a component for European Union membership. Rep. Crowley’s remarks focused on the lack of a private property restitution law in Poland where he stated “as many as 170,000 property owners and their heirs still wait for legislation that will restore their rights.” He also noted that “the protection of property rights is a basic requirement for all democratic governments that operate under the rule of law.” Witnesses reiterated two themes throughout the hearing: the protection of property rights as a requirement of democratic governments and the need for states to recognize their responsibilities to resolve outstanding restitution claims. The first witness, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues at the U.S. State Department, Randolph Bell, said the U.S., in its diplomatic relations, emphasizes that restitution processes must be clear, straightforward and non-discriminatory. Countries are encouraged to adopt broad legislation that provides restitution for the variety of claims which are being made. Mr. Bell remarked, “in joining the Euro-Atlantic mainstream and applying for membership in organizations, [Central and East European states] are seeking to join a community of values.” He outlined the following principles that these states should bear in mind when addressing property restitution: Restitution laws should govern both communal property owned by religious and community organizations, and private property owned by individuals and corporate entities. To document claims, access to archival records frequently requiring government facilitation is necessary. Reasonable alternative evidence must be permitted if archives have been destroyed. Uniform enforcement of laws is necessary throughout a country. The restitution process must be non-discriminatory, there should be no residence or citizenship requirement. Legal procedures should be clear and simple. Privatization programs should include protections for claimants. Governments need to make provisions for current occupants of restituted property. When restitution of property is not possible, adequate compensation should be paid. Restitution should result in a clear title to the property, not merely the right to use the property. Communal property should be eligible for restitution or compensation without regard to whether it had a religious or secular use. Some limits on large forest or agricultural holdings may be needed. Foundations managed jointly by local communities and international groups may be appropriate to aid in preparation of claims and to administer restituted property. Cemeteries and other religious sites should be protected from desecration or misuse before and during the restitution process. Mr. Bell emphasized the common goals of the legislative and executive branches in pursuing these issues. He recommended Congress and the Administration continue to encourage Central and East European states to enact addition legislation to allow greater property restitution and to hold the governments of those states accountable to the public declarations they have previously made. The second panel of witnesses was comprised of Israel Singer, President of the Conference on Jewish-American Claims against Germany and Co-Chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization; Yehuda Evron, U.S. President of the Holocaust Restitution Committee; Mark Meyer, attorney and Chairman of the Romanian-American Chamber of Commerce; and Olga Jonas, economist and member of several non-governmental organizations addressing issues in the Czech Republic. These witnesses’ statements revealed broad dissatisfaction with the current status of restitution efforts. Israel Singer reported that many East European states had “enacted restitution legislation with cut-off dates with the effect, whether intended or not, of restricting the rights of Jewish communities and others with legitimate claims to reclaim their property.” He emphasized the critical importance of timeliness in resolving restitution claims by stating that Holocaust survivors are dying at a rate of 15 percent per year. Singer urged the Commission to pursue three goals: first, to follow his “report card” on countries’ efforts toward restitution and to insist on greater accountability for any shortcomings. Second, to question why NATO allies allow property restitution to be used as an excuse for anti-Semitism within their borders. And third, to reiterate to these allies that resolution of property restitution issues is not only a material obligation, but also a moral obligation. Yehuda Evron’s testimony focused on restitution in Poland where, Evron said, “Efforts to return property to former owners have been uneven, and often unsuccessful or worse, discriminatory.” Like Mr. Singer, he reiterated the dire need for resolution of these claims and declared the efforts thus far to resolve American claims in Poland a failure. Evron noted the law on restitution which the Polish Government is currently crafting will reportedly offer a symbolic monetary compensation to the rightful owners rather than actual return of confiscated property. Describing why Holocaust survivors will not be satisfied with symbolic compensation, Mr. Evron explained, “We survivors lost all of our families. The homes that are left are the only thing left from our family. There is no money in the world that can compensate for this house, and we don't want any money.” Mark Meyer described the property restitution situation in Romania. Mr. Meyer, an attorney with extensive experience representing property claimants, acknowledged Romania’s efforts in passing a restitution law, but criticized the law for having “so many exceptions to the overall principle of in-kind restitution that in fact it is not providing very much in the way of in-kind restitution at all. Instead it offers restitution in the equivalent.” Meyer described the claims process as a “procedural morass” and a “bureaucratic meltdown” because of the multiplicity of obstacles facing claimants. Meyer recommended that Romania broaden in-kind restitution. When in-kind restitution is not feasible, he suggested that long-term bonds be issued rather than cash compensation. He also argued for the inclusion of personal property restitution in any amendments to the Romanian restitution law. Meyer noted the importance of Romania rescinding Law 112 of 1995 which currently allows tenants of seized property to purchase that property, thus further complicating return of the property to the original owner. Olga Jonas testified concerning property restitution in the Czech Republic. Ms. Jonas criticized Czech policy on the return of confiscated properties as being intended “to directly benefit communist and former communist functionaries who have acquired these properties or who hope to acquire them in privatization.” Ms. Jonas enumerated several particularly egregious restrictions on property restitution including the disallowance of restitution to “all persons who are not considered Czech citizens by the Czech Government, to legal persons, and to those victims whose Nazi-confiscated assets were to be returned by the 1945 restitution laws but [which were not actually returned] before the communist takeover.” She noted the U.N. Human Rights Committee’s multiple rulings that by denying U.S. citizens the right to restitution of confiscated property the Czech Government has violated the non-discrimination requirement of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Two days after the hearing, Co-Chairman Smith hand-delivered a letter to Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski during a meeting with congressional leaders in Washington, stressing the urgent need for a non-discriminatory law governing restitution or compensation of private property confiscated from individuals by the Nazi or communist regimes in Poland. In response, President Kwasniewski underscored Poland's good will in tackling this problem, which he characterized as more difficult in Poland that some other countries because of post-World War II border changes. He said he expected to have a draft law ready by the beginning of next year — one that would not include any citizenship restrictions. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission intern Georgianna Gaines contributed to this article.

  • Recommending the Integration of the Republic of Slovakia Into NATO

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H. Res. 253, recommending the integration of Slovakia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.   In my years of service with the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have observed the sometimes difficult transition to democracy of this Central European country. It has been very difficult for them. It was because of Slovakia's own authoritarian leaders, most notably Vladimir Meciar, that Slovakia was rightly excluded from the accession process in 1997. Today, it is thanks to a new generation of bright and enlightened Slovak leaders that that situation has dramatically been reversed.   To the credit of the Dzurinda government, many important changes have already been undertaken. The support of the U.S. Congress for Slovakia's admission to NATO reflects the deep respect my colleagues and all of us have for these remarkable achievements.   Let me just say to my colleagues that the reform process in Slovakia should not end with the Prague-NATO summit. On the contrary, the long-term well-being of Slovakia requires that this process continue and indeed intensify after November.   In this regard, there are three areas that I believe deserve particular attention.   First, the most recent elections clearly demonstrate Slovakia's ability to elect pro-democracy, pro-western governments that respect the sacredness and sanctity of human life. The results of the 1998 elections were not a fluke but an illustration of real and meaningful democratic transition that first found its voice in civil society and then in the government itself. The question now is whether that maturity will also be found in a loyal opposition in the parliament, one that by definition has policy differences from time to time from the ruling coalition, but whose ultimate interest is in serving the Slovak people.   Second, the Slovakia government must make headway in fighting corruption. Unless and until that happens, the rule of law will remain weak, economic development will go to other countries, and justice will be elusive.   Finally, Slovak leaders must address in earnest the scourge of racism against the Roma. This problem, as we all know, is not unique to Slovakia. While other countries in the region have moved to counter the most alarming manifestations of hatred and intolerance, violent attacks, Slovakia has failed to bring these attacks under control. The NATO Participation Act of 1994, I would remind my colleagues, which all of us supported, made clear that “participants in the Partnership for Peace should be invited to become full NATO Members if they remain committed to protecting the rights of all of their citizens.'' So we make a strong appeal to the Slovak leadership, please, undertake aggressive efforts to protect the Roma.   Mr. Speaker, I want to thank again my good friend for his leadership on this issue.

  • Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe: the State of Affairs for American Claimants

    This hearing examined property restitution and compensation efforts of the post-Communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe.  In particular, this hearing examined their efforts in regards to the property of refugees who fled to the United States during World War II.  Co-Chairman Smith reported on his efforts to personally raise concerns with officials of many countries regarding the need for nondiscriminatory laws that would be faithfully implemented. While Central and Eastern European governments have done much regarding restitution, the Helsinki Commission continued to receive a steady stream of letters from individuals and organized groups pleading for assistance in their struggles to recover stolen property.

  • Romani Human Rights: Old Problems, New Possibilities

    This hearing discussed the mistreatment of the Romani, in particular the discrimination they face in Central and Eastern Europe. Witnesses commented on the exclusion of Romani from public facilities in several countries, which the governments justify as legal and legitimate public order measures. Witnesses also brought up articles in several European newspapers that explicitly described Roma children as less intelligent and more suited for “special” schools with limited academic resources. The hearing also discussed the use of a successful anti-discrimination program in Viden, Bulgaria as a model for other communities.

  • Criminal Defamation and “Insult” Laws: A Summary of Free Speech Developments in the Czech Republic

    Numerous international documents, including those adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), establish freedom of expression as a fundamental right. The right to free speech, however, is not absolute. Consistent with international law, certain kinds of speech, such as obscenity, may be prohibited or regulated. When governments restrict speech, however, those restrictions must be consistent with their international obligations and commitments; for example, the restrictions must be necessary in a democratic country and proscribed by law. Criminal defamation and “insult” laws are often defended as necessary to prevent alleged abuses of freedom of expression. They are not, however, consistent with OSCE norms and their use constitutes an infringement on the fundamental right to free speech. Criminal Defamation Laws All individuals, including public officials, have a legitimate right to protect their reputations if untruthful statements have been made about them. Untrue statements which damage a person’s reputation constitute defamation. Oral defamation is known as slander; defamation in writing or other permanent forms such as film is libel. In some instances, criminal codes make defamation of public officials, the nation, or government organs a discrete offense, as distinct from defamation of a person. Truthful statements – as well as unverifiable statements of opinion – are not legally actionable as defamation. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has held that public officials must tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private individuals: “The limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance.” (Lingens v. Austria, Eur. Ct. H.R., 1986.) Criminal defamation laws are those which establish criminal sanctions for defamation. Those sanctions may include imprisonment, fines, and prohibitions on writing. Individuals convicted of defamation in a criminal proceeding and sentenced to suspended prison terms may be subjected to the threat of immediate imprisonment if, for example, they violate an order not to publish. The existence of a criminal record may also have other social and legal consequences. In a criminal defamation case, state law enforcement agents (police and prosecutors) act, using taxpayer money, to investigate the alleged defamation and to act on behalf of the alleged victim. It is sometimes argued that criminal defamation laws are necessary to achieve the legitimate goal of providing the victims of defamation with redress. But general laws against libel and slander, embodied in civil codes, provide private persons as well as public officials the opportunity to seek redress, including damages, for alleged defamation. In such cases, the plaintiff and defendant stand in court as equals. Accordingly, specific criminal laws prohibiting defamation are unnecessary. “Insult” Laws "Insult" laws make offending the "honor and dignity" of public officials (e.g., the President), government offices (e.g., the Constitutional Court), national institutions, and/or the “state” itself punishable. Unlike defamation laws, truth is not a defense to a charge of insult. Accordingly, insult laws are often used to punish the utterance of truthful statements, as well as opinions, satire, invective, and even humor. Although insult laws and criminal defamation laws both punish speech, significant differences exist between them. Defamation laws are intended to provide a remedy against false assertions of fact. Truthful statements, as well as opinion, are not actionable. The use of civil laws to punish defamation is permissible under international free speech norms. The use of criminal sanctions to punish defamation, however, chills free speech, is subject to abuse (through the use of state law enforcement agents), and is inconsistent with international norms. In contrast, recourse to any insult law, whether embodied in a civil or a criminal code, is inconsistent with international norms. Their Use Today At one time, almost all OSCE countries had criminal defamation and insult laws. Over time, these laws have been repealed, invalidated by courts, or fallen into disuse in many OSCE participating States. Unfortunately, many criminal codes contained multiple articles punishing defamation and insult. Thus, even when parliaments and courts have acted, they have sometimes failed to remove all legal prohibitions against insult or all criminal sanctions for defamation. In communist countries and other anti-democratic regimes, such laws are often used to target political opponents of the government. Today, when insult and criminal defamation laws are used, they are most often used to punish mere criticism of government policies or public officials, to stifle political discussion, and to squelch news and discussion that governments would rather avoid. It is relatively rare for a private individual (someone who is not a public official, elected representative, or person of means and influence) to persuade law enforcement representatives to use the tax money of the public to protect their reputations. In some OSCE countries, such laws are still used to systematically punish political opponents of the regime. Even in countries where these laws have fallen into a long period of disuse, it is not unheard of for an overzealous prosecutor to revive them for seemingly political purposes. The International Context Numerous non-governmental organizations have taken strong positions against criminal defamation and insult laws. These include Amnesty International; Article 19; the Committee to Protect Journalists; national Helsinki Committees such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Croatian Helsinki Committee, Greek Helsinki Committee, Romanian Helsinki Committee and Slovak Helsinki Committee; the International Helsinki Federation; The World Press Freedom Committee; Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression; national chapters of PEN; and Reporters Sans Frontières. Moreover, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression issued a joint statement in February 2000 which included the following conclusions, based on relevant international norms: “Expression should not be criminalized unless it poses a clear risk of serious harm. . . . Examples of this are laws prohibiting the publication of false news and sedition laws. . . . These laws should be repealed.” “Criminal defamation laws should be abolished.” “Civil defamation laws should respect the following principles: public bodies should not be able to bring defamation actions; truth should always be available as a defense; politicians and public officials should have to tolerate a greater degree of criticism. . . .” Finally, the United States Department of State regularly reports, in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, on cases where criminal defamation or insult laws have been used and, at OSCE meetings, regularly calls for the repeal of such laws. Recent Free Speech Cases in the Czech Republic Although the Czech Constitutional Court and the Parliament acted (in 1994 and 1997, respectively) to reduce the number of articles in the penal code under which one may be convicted for speech offenses, there has been no discernable decrease over the past decade in the volume of cases threatened or actually brought under the remaining provisions of law which permit criminal prosecution for one’s speech. The following summary, based on available reports, describes cases that were at some stage of investigation or legal proceeding during 2001: In December 2001, police asked that the parliamentary immunity of MP Ivan Langer be lifted in order to permit them to bring a charge against him of defaming businessman Peter Kovarcik. Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman threatened in October 2001 to have criminal defamation charges brought against Peter Holub, editor of the political weekly Respekt, in an explicit effort to bankrupt the paper and force its closure. Zeman’s threats followed the paper’s reporting on corruption in the Czech Republic. Holub, in turn, accused Zeman of incitement to hatred of a group of people. This case has generated broad international condemnation. On October 23, 2001, Frantisek Zamencnik, former editor-in-chief of Nove Bruntalsko, was sentenced to sixteen months in prison for criminal defamation in connection with his remarks regarding Bruntal Mayor Petr Krejci, Social Democrat Deputy Jaroslav Palas, and Ludmila Navarova, editor of a rival newspaper. Zamencnik had been convicted of criminal defamation twice before, but in those cases he was sentenced to suspended prison terms. The World Association of Newspapers has protested his most recent conviction and sentence. On September 27, 2000, police charged Vratislav Sima, formerly an advisor to Prime Minister Milos Zeman, with criminal defamation in connection with his alleged role in an effort to discredit Social Democrat Chairwoman Petra Buzkova. Subsequently, Jiri Kubik and Sabina Slonkova, two journalists from Mlada fronta dnes, were charged with abetting a crime, a violation of article 166 of the penal code. (The underlying “crime” in this instance was Sima’s alleged defamation of Buzkova, a charge that in and of itself violated international norms.) In October 2000, President Havel pardoned the two journalists, although the journalists subsequently called for the case to go to trial in order to establish a legal precedent regarding the right of journalists to protect their sources. The investigation of the journalists therefore continued until March 2001, at which time investigators concluded that Kubik and Slonkova had not committed any crime. The criminal investigation of Sima was not dropped until June 2001. In September 2001, Minister of Interior Stanslav Gross announced that he would seek to prosecute Jan Kopal for anti-American statements. Kopal, a far right-wing political figure, reportedly said on September 15, “[a] country like the United States – which committed so much evil in the past, which essentially has been supporting international terrorism and participated in missions like Yugoslavia where innocent civilians were being murdered – does not deserve anything else but such an attack.” Kopal was charged with violating article 165 of the penal code (approving a criminal offense), punishable by one year in prison. (Interestingly, Gross had previously made remarks associating Kopal’s party with neo-Nazis and fascists, prompting Kopal to seek to have criminal charges brought against Gross in December 2000 for 1) defamation, 2) spreading false alarm, and 3) defamation of a nation, its language or a race or a group of inhabitants in the Republic because of their political conviction, religion or lack of religious faith.) Journalist Tomas Pecina, while stating that he disapproved of Kopal’s remarks, then asserted that he had to associate himself with Kopal’s remarks for the sake of defending Kopal’s right to free speech. On December 6, Pecina was arrested and also charged with approving a criminal offense. (Ironically, an opinion poll conducted in September suggested that a majority of those questioned believe that U.S. foreign policy was one of the causes of the September 11 terrorist attacks.2) At present, the charges against Kopal have reportedly been dropped, but the status of the charges against Pecina is unclear. In September 2001, David Pecha, editor of the far left-wing paper Nove Bruntalsko, was indicted for criminal defamation (as well as supporting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights or which promotes national, racial, class or religious hatred, and spreading false alarm). In August 2001, Ministry of Justice Spokesperson Iva Chaloupkova reported that, during the first six months of 2001, seven people were convicted of criminal defamation. Three were given suspended sentences, three were fined, and one received no punishment. In July 2001, two reporters from state-owned Czech Television reportedly sought to have criminal defamation charges brought against Vladimir Zelezny, Director of private television NOVA, in connection with Zelezny’s critical remarks about alleged Czech Television practices. In May 2001, police reported that they were investigating the possible defamation of former Foreign Minister Josef Zielenic by current Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and Prime Minister Milos Zeman. In the same month, journalist Tomas Pecina was fined for failing to respond to police summonses for interrogation in connection with his articles criticizing police behavior. Miroslav Stejskal, Deputy Director of the Municipal Police force in Prague district 1, has reportedly begun an investigation of Pecina for the same writings. On May 20 and August 24, 2001, Vilem Barak was interrogated on suspicion of having committed the crime of incitement not to fulfill, en masse, an important duty imposed by law (in this case, not to participate in the national census), in violation of article 164 of the penal code. Barak had disseminated leaflets warning that personal information gathered by the 2001 census would be insufficiently safeguarded and urging a boycott of the census. In January 1998, police in Olomouc arrested and handcuffed television NOVA journalist Zdenek Zukal in connection with his 1997 reporting on alleged corruption in that locality. Zukal was originally charged with criminal defamation under article 206 of the penal code. One day before a presidential amnesty – which would have covered this offense – the charges were reclassified under article 174 and Zukal was charged with falsely accusing another person of a crime with the intent to bring about criminal prosecution of another, an offense that carries a maximum three-year prison sentence or eight years if the court determines the offender has caused substantial damage. No further prosecutorial action was taken until December 1999, when the case was revived. The case was still at trial as of June 2001 and, at the close of 2001, still appears to be before the courts. Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists have both protested this case. In the decade since the Velvet Revolution, official censorship has completely ceased and the Czech Republic has witnessed tremendous improvements with respect to freedom of expression. At the same time, some problem areas remain. Leading political figures, such as current Prime Minister Milos Zeman and Speaker of the Parliament Vaclav Klaus (a former Prime Minister) are often openly hostile toward the media. Some politicians resort to criminal defamation charges as a means of silencing their critics; at a minimum, cries of “libel!” and “slander!” are popular substitutes for policy debate. Finally, there are struggles in Czech society with the issue of “extremist” speech (emanating from both the far-right and the far-left) and the question of what are the acceptable parameters of public discourse. With respect to criminal defamation cases, President Vaclav Havel has pardoned many of those convicted. In other instances, those convicted have been given suspended jail sentences. Because such cases do not result in people actually going to prison for their words, they do not generate as much international scrutiny as, for example, the case of Zamencnik. Nevertheless, the threat of imprisonment, the cost associated with defending oneself in a criminal trial, and restrictions associated with a suspended sentence (e.g., having to report to a parole officer, the possibility of being prohibited to write or publish, the possibility of being sent to jail without a new trial in the event that conditions of the suspended sentence are not met) all serve to chill free speech and the public debate necessary for a vibrant democracy. Criminal defamation charges, however, are not the only laws used to restrict speech in the Czech Republic. There are also a number of laws that are not, per se, contrary to international norms but which may be used in ways that are inconsistent with the Czech Republic’s international commitments to free speech. One such law is the prohibition against spreading false alarm (article 199). Laws which prohibit “spreading false alarm” are justified as necessary to punish, for example, someone who falsely yells “fire” in a crowded theater or makes false bomb threats over the phone, acts which potentially or actually create a danger to the public and/or public panic. Such laws, however, are not intended to gag journalists, quash political debate, or silence those who question the safety of the Temelin nuclear power plant. (Article 199 was used as a basis to deport Greenpeace demonstrators in July 2000 and a German environmentalist in March 2001.) Other criminal laws subject to abuse are the prohibition of defamation of a nation, race or group of people (article 197), the prohibition of incitement to hatred of another nation or race (article 198) and the prohibition against supporting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights or promoting national, racial, class or religious hatred (article 260). Such laws are generally justified as necessary to protect the most vulnerable minorities, and those who support them often point to the Czech Republic’s unhappy experiences with fascism and communism. In addition, those who support such laws sometimes argue they are useful if not necessary tools to address the criticism that the Czech Republic has failed to do enough to combat racially motivated violence against Roma and others. In some cases, however, it appears that these laws are being used in ways that are not compatible with international free speech norms. In November 2001, a prosecutor in the Breclav region charged Roman Catholic Priest Vojtech Protivinsky with defamation of a nation, race, or group of people. In this case, the “group of people” were members of the unreconstructed, hardline Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia who were offended when Protivinsky actively called on people not to vote for them in upcoming elections. The case was cut short when President Havel pardoned Protivinsky. In September 2001, David Pecha (case noted above) was charged with supporting a movement aimed at suppressing human rights, defamation and spreading false alarm. In June 2000, Michal Zitko, now 29, was charged with supporting a movement aimed at suppressing the rights and freedoms of citizens. His Prague-based publishing house, Otakar II, had issued a Czech-language edition of Mein Kampf. (Zitko had previously published the U.S. Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution.) He was convicted later that year but, in February 2001, a higher court sent the case back to a district court for reconsideration in light of several errors identified by the higher court. In November 2001, Zitko’s conviction was upheld, and he was sentenced to three years in prison, suspended for five years, fined two million crowns, and ordered to report to a probation officer twice a year to prove that he is leading an orderly life. Zitko, who has portrayed himself as an easy scapegoat for the government’s failure to prevent embarrassments such as the erection of the ghetto wall in Usti nad Labem, is appealing the decision. Sources include: Amnesty International; Article 19; Britske listy; the Committee to Protect Journalists; Czech News Agency; East European Constitutional Review; Freedom in the World (reports published by Freedom House); Index on Censorship; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; and U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices; World Press Freedom Committee. Relevant Czech Laws News reports about persons charged with criminal defamation or “insulting” public officials, government offices or national institutions often do not cite the specific legal basis for the charges. In Czech Republic, the laws which appear to give rise to such charges include the following: Article 49 (1) (a) of the Simple Offenses Act provides that anyone who offends another person by insulting or exposing him or her to ridicule may be punished by a fine. Article 154(2) of the Penal Code prohibits gross insults or defamation of an organ of state administration in the exercise of its function or in connection with its function, punishable by up to one year in prison. Article 206 of the Penal Code prohibits the dissemination of false and discrediting information about another person, punishable by up to two years in prison. If the defamation occurs in the broadcast or print media, the punishment may increase to five years. In addition, someone convicted under this article may be banned from working as a journalist. Other Laws of Concern The laws listed above are, on their face, inconsistent with international free speech norms. In contrast, the laws below are not, per se, in violation of international norms. Rather, they may be applied in a manner that unduly restricts free speech. Article 164 of the Penal Code prohibits incitement to commit a criminal act or not to fulfill, en masse, an important duty imposed by law, punishable by up to two years in prison. Article 165 of the Penal Code prohibits publicly approving of a crime or praising the perpetrator of a crime, punishable by up to one year in prison. Article 166 of the Penal Code prohibits assisting an offender with the intent of enabling the offender to escape prosecution or punishment, punishable by up to three years in prison. Article 174 of the Penal Code prohibits falsely accusing another person of a crime with the intent to bring about the criminal prosecution of that person. This crime is punishable by up to three years in prison or up to eight years of a court determines that the offender caused substantial damage. Article 197 of the Penal Code prohibits defamation of a nation, its language or a race or a group of inhabitants in the Republic because of their political conviction, religion or lack of religious faith, punishable by up to two years in prison or three years if committed with at least two other people. Article 198 of the Penal Code prohibits incitement to hatred of another nation or race or calls for the restriction of the rights and freedoms of other nationals or members of a particular race, punishable by up to two years in prison. Article 199 of the Penal Code prohibits intentionally causing the danger of serious agitation among a part of the population by spreading false, alarming information (sometimes translated as “scaremongering”), punishable by up to one year in prison. If the information is transmitted to the mass media, to the police or other state organ, the crime is punishable by up to three years in prison. Article 260 of the Penal Code prohibits supporting or propagating a movement aimed at suppressing human rights or which promotes national, racial, class or religious hatred, punishable by up to five years in prison. Punishment may be up to eight years in prison if the offender commits this act using the media, as a member of an organized group, or during a state defense emergency. Article 261 of the Penal Code prohibits publicly expressing support for a movement aimed at the suppressing human rights or which promotes national, racial, class or religious hatred, punishable by up to five years in prison. Article 261 (a) of the Penal Code prohibits publicly denying or approving or trying to justify Nazi genocide or other communist or Nazi crimes against humanity, punishable by up to three years in prison. Note: After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia both inherited the former federation’s penal code. In the case of the Czech Republic, a new criminal law was adopted in 1993, retaining all the communist-era prohibitions on defamation. In 1994, the Czech Constitutional Court struck down those provisions of Article 102 which prohibited defamation of the parliament, the government, the constitutional court, and public officials. In 1997, Articles 102 (prohibiting defamation of the Republic) and 103 (prohibiting public defamation of the President) were repealed. (1) In addition to the cases outlined here, news reports describe many other cases where prominent individuals are either the alleged victim or perpetrator of defamation, but the reports do not make clear whether the legal action was based on the civil code or criminal code. (2) “Poll shows majority of Czechs blame US foreign policy for terror attacks,” Prague CT1 Television in Czech (September 22, 2001). Translation by Foreign Broadcast Information Service, September 23, 2001.

  • Criminal Defamation and “Insult” Laws: A Summary of Free Speech Developments in Slovakia

    Numerous international documents, including those adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), establish freedom of expression as a fundamental right. The right to free speech, however, is not absolute. Consistent with international law, certain kinds of speech, such as obscenity, may be prohibited or regulated. When governments restrict speech, however, those restrictions must be consistent with their international obligations and commitments; for example, the restrictions must be necessary in a democratic country and proscribed by law. Criminal defamation and “insult” laws are often defended as necessary to prevent alleged abuses of freedom of expression. They are not, however, consistent with OSCE norms and their use constitutes an infringement on the fundamental right to free speech. Criminal Defamation Laws All individuals, including public officials, have a legitimate right to protect their reputations if untruthful statements have been made about them. Untrue statements which damage a person’s reputation constitute defamation. Oral defamation is known as slander; defamation in writing or other permanent forms such as film is libel. In some instances, criminal codes make defamation of public officials, the nation, or government organs a discreet offense, as distinct from defamation of a person. Truthful statements – as well as unverifiable statements of opinion – are not legally actionable as defamation. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has held that public officials must tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private individuals: “The limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance.” (Lingens v. Austria, Eur. Ct. H.R., 1986.) Criminal defamation laws are those which establish criminal sanctions for defamation. Those sanctions may include imprisonment, fines, and prohibitions on writing. Individuals convicted of defamation in a criminal proceeding and sentenced to suspended prison terms may be subjected to the threat of immediate imprisonment if, for example, they violate an order not to publish. The existence of a criminal record may also have other social and legal consequences. In a criminal defamation case, state law enforcement agents (police and prosecutors) act, using taxpayer money, to investigate the alleged defamation and to act on behalf of the alleged victim. It is sometimes argued that criminal defamation laws are necessary to achieve the legitimate goal of providing the victims of defamation with redress. But general laws against libel and slander, embodied in civil codes, provide private persons as well as public officials the opportunity to seek redress, including damages, for alleged defamation. In such cases, the plaintiff and defendant stand in court as equals. Accordingly, specific criminal laws prohibiting defamation are unnecessary. “Insult” Laws "Insult" laws make offending the "honor and dignity" of public officials (e.g., the President), government offices (e.g., the Constitutional Court), national institutions, and/or the “state” itself punishable. Unlike defamation laws, truth is not a defense to a charge of insult. Accordingly, insult laws are often used to punish the utterance of truthful statements, as well as opinions, satire, invective, and even humor. Although insult laws and criminal defamation laws both punish speech, significant differences exist between them. Defamation laws are intended to provide a remedy against false assertions of fact. Truthful statements, as well as opinion, are not actionable. The use of civil laws to punish defamation is permissible under international free speech norms. The use of criminal sanctions to punish defamation, however, chills free speech, is subject to abuse (through the use of state law enforcement agents), and is inconsistent with international norms. In contrast, recourse to any insult law, whether embodied in a civil or a criminal code, is inconsistent with international norms. Their Use Today At one time, almost all OSCE countries had criminal defamation and insult laws. Over time, these laws have been repealed, invalidated by courts, or fallen into disuse in many OSCE participating States. Unfortunately, many criminal codes contained multiple articles punishing defamation and insult. Thus, even when parliaments and courts have acted, they have sometimes failed to remove all legal prohibitions against insult or all criminal sanctions for defamation. In communist countries and other anti-democratic regimes, such laws are often used to target political opponents of the government. Today, when insult and criminal defamation laws are used, they are most often used to punish mere criticism of government policies or public officials, to stifle political discussion, and to squelch news and discussion that governments would rather avoid. It is relatively rare for a private individual (someone who is not a public official, elected representative, or person of means and influence) to persuade law enforcement representatives to use the tax dollars of the public to protect their reputations. In some OSCE countries, such laws are still used to systematically punish political opponents of the regime. Even in countries where these laws have fallen into a long period of disuse, it is not unheard of for an overzealous prosecutor to revive them for seemingly political purposes. The International Context Numerous non-governmental organizations have taken strong positions against criminal defamation and insult laws. These include Amnesty International; Article 19; the Committee to Protect Journalists; national Helsinki Committees such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Croatian Helsinki Committee, Greek Helsinki Committee; Romanian Helsinki Committee; and Slovak Helsinki Committee; the International Helsinki Federation; The World Press Freedom Committee; Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression; national chapters of PEN; and Reporters Sans Frontières. Moreover, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression issued a joint statement in February 2000 which included the following conclusions, based on relevant international norms: “Expression should not be criminalized unless it poses a clear risk of serious harm. [. . . ] Examples of this are laws prohibiting the publication of false news and sedition laws. . . . These laws should be repealed.” “Criminal defamation laws should be abolished.” “Civil defamation laws should respect the following principles: public bodies should not be able to bring defamation actions; truth should always be available as a defense; politicians and public officials should have to tolerate a greater degree of criticism. . . .” Finally, the United States Department of State regularly reports on cases where criminal defamation or insult laws have been used in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and, at OSCE meetings, has frequently called for the repeal of such laws in recent years. Illustrative Slovak Cases Since the establishment of an independent Slovak state on January 1, 1993, there have been a steady trickle of people who have been charged with “insulting” or defaming public officials. At present, for example, journalist Ales Kratky is facing charges of criminal defamation in connection with his May 2001 criticism of a speech delivered by President Rudolf Schuster. If found guilty, Kratky faces a possible two-year prison term. In March 2000, journalist Vladimir Mohorita was sentenced to four months in prison for criticizing the government’s decision to allow NATO aircraft to use Slovak airspace during the Kosovo crisis. In a substantially larger number of instances, individuals (most often journalists and politicians) have been threatened with charges of defamation or insult. Indeed, it is a time-honored tradition in Slovakia to accuse one’s political enemies of defamation. In addition to free speech concerns presented by recourse to criminal defamation and insult laws, developments in Slovakia have raised other free speech concerns. For example, the charge of defamation of race, creed or nationality has become increasingly popular in recent years. Deputy Jan Slota, widely known for his inflammatory anti-Hungarian and anti-Roma rhetoric, survived an effort to strip him of his parliamentary immunity in 1999 as a prelude to charging him with defamation of race, creed or nationality. More recently, Romani activist Alexander Patkolo has been threatened with the charge of spreading alarming information and human rights lawyer Columbus Igboanusi has been threatened with charges of spreading alarming information and defaming the Republic of Slovakia. Sources include: Amnesty International (AI); Article XIX; the Committee to Protect Journalists; East European Constitutional Review; “Freedom in the World” reports (published by Freedom House); Index on Censorship; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; U.S. State Department annual Country Reports on Human Rights; the World Press Freedom Committee. Relevant Slovak Laws News reports about persons charged with criminal defamation or “insulting” public officials, government offices or national institutions often do not cite the specific legal basis for the charges. In Slovakia, the laws which appear to give rise to such charges include the following: Article 49 (1) (a) of the Simple Offenses Act provides that anyone who offends another person by insulting him or exposing him to ridicule may be punished by a fine. Article 102 of the Penal Code prohibits defamation of the Republic, National Council of the Slovak Republic, Government or the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic, punishable by up to two years in prison. Article 103 of the Penal Code prohibits defamation of the President of the Republic for the execution of his powers or for his activities in the political life, punishable by up to two years in prison. Article 154(2) of the Penal Code prohibits gross insults or defamation of an organ of state administration in the exercise of its function or in connection with its function, punishable by up to one year in prison. Article 206 of the Penal Code prohibits the dissemination of false and discrediting information about another person, punishable by up to two years in prison. If the defamation occurs in the broadcast or print media, the punishment may increase to five years. In addition, someone convicted under this article may be banned from working as a journalist.

  • Roadblock to Religious Liberty: Religious Registration

    The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a public briefing to explore the issue of religious registration, one of many roadblocks to religious liberties around the world, focusing on religious registration among the 55 nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The troubling trend followed by several OSCE participating states toward restricting the right to freedom of religion by using registration schemes, making it virtually impossible for citizens to practice their faith was addressed. Panelists at the event – including Dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld, Co-Chair of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Dr. Gerhard Robbers, Member of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Vassilios Tsirbas, Senior Counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice; and Col. Kenneth Baillie, Commanding Officer of the Salvation Army-Moscow – discussed the various ways governments are chipping away at religious liberty. New legislation concerning religious registration policies that could potentially stymie religious freedom within the OSCE region was also addressed.

  • Torture and Police Abuse in the OSCE Region

    Mr. Speaker, over the July Fourth recess, I had the privilege of participating in the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's annual meeting held in Paris, where I introduced a resolution on the need for the OSCE participating States--all of our States--to intensify our efforts to combat torture , police abuse, and racial profiling. This resolution, adopted and included the Assembly's final Declaration, also calls for greater protection for non-governmental organizations, medical personnel, and others who treat the victims of torture and report on their human rights violations. The resolution also condemns the insidious practice of racial profiling, which has the effect of leaving minorities more vulnerable to police abuse. Finally, my resolution calls for the OSCE participating States to adopt, in law and in practice, a complete ban on incommunicado detention. Tragically, recent news reports only underscore how urgent the problem of police abuse is. I would like to survey a few of the reports received by the Helsinki Commission in recent weeks. First, on July 7 in Slovakia, the body of Karol Sendrei, a 51-year-old Romani father, was returned to his family. The convoluted account of his death has included mutual recriminations among police officers and, so far, has led to the resignation of the mayor of Magnezitovce and indictments against three police officers. While much remains to be sorted out, this much is clear: On July 5, Mr. Sendrei was taken into police custody. The next day, he died of injuries, including shock caused by a torn liver, cranial and pericardial bleeding, and broken jaw, sternum, and ribs. According to reports, Mr. Sendrei had been chained to a radiator and beaten over for the last twelve hours of his life. The deaths in police custody of Lubomir Sarissky in 1999 and now Mr. Sendrei, persistent reports of police abuse in villages like Hermanovce, and the reluctance of the police and judicial system to respond seriously to racially motivated crimes have all eroded trust in law enforcement in Slovakia. As Americans know from first-hand experience, when the public loses that trust, society as a whole pays dearly. I welcome the concern for the Sendrei case reflected in the statements of Prime Minister Dzurinda, whom I had the chance to meet at the end of May, and others in his cabinet. But statements alone will not restore confidence in the police among Slovakia's Romani community. Those who are responsible for this death must be held fully accountable before the law. Although it has received far less press attention, in Hungary, a Romani man was also shot and killed on June 30 by an off-duty police officer in Budapest; one other person was injured in that shooting. While the police officer in that case has been arrested, too often reports of police misconduct in Hungary are ignored or have been countered with a slap on the wrist. I remain particularly alarmed by the persistent reports of police brutality in Hajduhadhaz and police reprisals against those who have reported their abuse to the Helsinki Commission. In one case, a teenager in Hajduhadhaz who had reported being abused by the police was detained by the police again--after his case had been brought to the attention of the Helsinki Commission, and after Helsinki Commission staff had raised it with the Hungarian Ambassador. In an apparent attempt to intimidate this boy, the police claimed to have a “John Doe'' criminal indictment for “unknown persons'' for damaging the reputation of Hungary abroad. These are outrageous tactics from the communist-era that should be ended. I urge Hungarian Government officials to look more closely at this problem and take greater efforts to combat police abuse. I understand an investigation has begun into possible torture by a riverbank patrol in Tiszabura, following reports that police in that unit had forced a 14-year-old Romani boy into the ice-cold waters of the Tisza River. There are now reports that this unit may have victimized other people as well. I am hopeful this investigation will be transparent and credible and that those who have committed abuses will be held fully accountable. In the Czech Republic, lack of confidence in law enforcement agents has recently led some Roma to seek to form their own self-defense units. Frankly, this is not surprising. Roma in the Czech Republic continue to be the target of violent, racially motived crime: On April 25, a group of Roma was attacked by German and Czech skinheads in Novy Bor. On June 30, 4 skinheads attacked a group of Roma in Ostrava; one of the victims of that attack was repeatedly stabbed, leaving his life in jeopardy. On July 16, three men shouting Nazi slogans attacked a Romani family in their home in western Bohemia. On July 21, a Romani man was murdered in Svitavy by a man who had previously committed attacks against Roma, only to face a slap on the wrist in the courts. These cases follow a decade in which racially motivated attacks against Roma in the Czech Republic have largely been tolerated by the police. Indeed, in the case of the murder of Milan Lacko, a police officer was involved. More to the point, he ran over Milan Lacko's body with his police car, after skinheads beat him and left him in the road. I am not, however, without hope for the Czech Republic. Jan Jarab, the Czech Government's Human Rights Commissioner, has spoken openly and courageously of the human rights problems in his country. For example, the Czech News Agency recently reported that Jarob had said that “the Czech legal system deals `benevolently' with attacks committed by right-wing extremists, `[f]rom police investigators, who do not want to investigate such cases as racial crimes, to state attorneys and judges, who pass the lowest possible sentences.'”  I hope Czech political leaders--from every party and every walk of life--will support Jan Jarab's efforts to address the problems he so rightly identified. Clearly, problems of police abuse rarely if ever go away on their own. On the contrary, I believe that, unattended, those who engage in abusive practices only become more brazen and shameless. When two police officers in Romania were accused of beating to death a suspect in Cugir in early July, was it really a shock?  In that case, the two officers had a history of using violent methods to interrogate detainees--but there appears to have been no real effort to hold them accountable for their atrocities. I am especially concerned by reports from Amnesty International that children are among the possible victims of police abuse and torture in Romania. On March 14, 14-year-old Vasile Danut was detained by police in Vladesti and beaten severely by police. On April 5, 15-year-old loana Silaghi was reportedly attacked by a police officer in Oradea. Witnesses in the case have reportedly also been intimidated by the police. In both cases, the injuries of the children were documented by medical authorities. I urge the Romanian authorities to conduct impartial investigations into each of these cases and to hold fully accountable those who may be found guilty of violating the law. Mr. Speaker, as is well-known to many Members, torture and police abuse is a particularly widespread problem in the Republic of Turkey. I have been encouraged by the willingness of some public leaders, such as parliamentarian Emre Kocaoglu, to acknowledge the breadth and depth of the problem. Acknowledging the existence of torture must surely be part of any effort to eradicate this abuse in Turkey. I was therefore deeply disappointed by reports that 18 women, who at a conference last year publicly described the rape and other forms of torture meted out by police, are now facing charges Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw attention to the case of Abner Louima in New York, whose case has come to light again in recent weeks. In 1997, Abner Louima was brutally and horrifically tortured by police officials; he will suffer permanent injuries for the rest of his life because of the damage inflicted in a single evening. Eventually, New York City police officer Justin Volpe pleaded guilty of the crimes. Another officer was also found guilty of participating in the assault and four other officers were convicted of lying to authorities about what happened. On July 12, Abner Louima settled the civil suit he had brought against New York City and its police union. There has been no shortage of ink to describe the $7.125 million that New York City will pay to Mr. Louima and the unprecedented settlement by the police union, which agreed to pay an additional $1.625 million. What is perhaps most remarkable in this case is that Mr. Louima had reached agreement on the financial terms of this settlement months ago. He spent the last 8 months of his settlement negotiations seeking changes in the procedures followed when allegations of police abuse are made. As the Louima case illustrated, there is no OSCE participating State, even one with long democratic traditions and many safeguards in place, that is completely free from police abuse. Of course, I certainly don't want to leave the impression that the problems of all OSCE countries are more or less alike--they are not. The magnitude of the use of torture in Turkey and the use of torture as a means of political repression in Uzbekistan unfortunately distinguish those countries from others. But every OSCE participating State has an obligation to prevent and punish torture and other forms of police abuse and I believe every OSCE country should do more.

  • International Roma Day Revisited

    Mr. Speaker, on International Roma Day last year, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities released a detailed report on the situation of Roma in the OSCE region. Unfortunately, in the intervening months, relatively little progress has been made by government authorities in addressing the problems he described. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, receives so many reports on an almost daily basis which demonstrate the magnitude of the problems Roma face. We receive reports of Roma who are denied access to public places, like the three Roma who were turned away from a Warsaw restaurant last September 29, just before the OSCE convened its annual human rights meeting in that city. We receive reports of discrimination in housing, like the January 27 Hungarian television report that local authorities in Rabakoez, Hungary, have called for prohibiting the sale of real estate to Roma. We receive reports of police abuse, such as the repeated cases of unlawful police raids in Hermanovce, Slovakia. We receive reports of violent attacks, such as the assault on a Romani church in Leskovac, Serbia, at the beginning of this year. Too often, courts are part of the problem, not the solution. Rather than providing a remedy for victims, they compound the abuse. Take a recent case from the Czech Republic. The Czech Supreme Court issued a ruling that a violent attack on a Romani man in 1999 was premeditated and organized, and then remanded the case back to the district court in Jesenik for sentencing in accordance with that finding. But the district court simply ignored the Supreme Court's finding and ordered four of the defendants released. I am hopeful that Slovak courts, which are currently weighing the fate of three of the defendants charged in last year’s brutal murder of Anastazia Balazova, will do a better job of bringing her murderers to justice. In a few places, there are some glimmers of hope. In Viden, Bulgaria, for example, the Romani organization Drom has led a successful effort to bring 400 Romani children, who previously attended segregated schools, into the mainstream school system. In that instance, the cooperation of local and national authorities, governmental and non-governmental bodies, is paying off. Unfortunately, too few government leaders demonstrate the courage necessary to address these issues. Some pass the buck, looking to the European Union or the Council of Europe to fix problems that must be tackled, first and foremost, through political leadership at home. Moreover, a number of EU countries have little to teach the applicant countries about tolerance towards Roma. Many OSCE countries, not just the former Communist states, are in need of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, a priority recognized in the 1999 OSCE summit agreement and by the European Commission in the adoption of its “race directive” in June of last year. Regrettably, nearly two years after Bulgaria received praise from many quarters for agreeing to adopt such legislation; the government is not one step closer to fulfilling its commitment. The Slovak Government's human rights office, in contrast, has undertaken a serious study of legislative options and may soon have a draft ready for a vote. In addition, it is imperative that political and civic leaders condemn anti-Roma manifestations in clear and unequivocal terms. Mr. Speaker, when the Mayor of Csor, Hungary, a publicly elected official, said “the Roma of Zamoly have no place among human beings; just as in the animal world, parasites must be expelled,” I believe it is the responsibility of Hungary's political leadership to condemn these outrageous slurs. If more leadership was demonstrated, perhaps confidence would have been strengthened and maybe 5,772 Hungarian Roma would not have applied for asylum in Canada over the past three years. When the Mayor of Usti nad Labem built a wall to segregate Roma from non-Roma, all members of the Czech parliament, not just a paper slim majority of 101 out of 200 MPs, should have voted to condemn it. And when Mayor Sechelariu of Bacau, Romania, announced plans to build a statue of Marshall Antonescu, the World War II dictator who deported 25,000 Roma to Transniestra, where some 19,000 of them perished, Romanian officials, who have pledged to the OSCE community to fight intolerance, should begin at home by ridding their country of every Antonescu statue built on public land.

  • U.S. Statements at the 1999 OSCE Review Conference

    In February 1999, officials from 90 governments, including representatives from many OSCE participating States, visited Washington for the First Global Forum on Fighting Corruption among justice and security officials. Participants concluded that their governments must cooperate more closely if they were to succeed in promoting public integrity and controlling corruption among their officials. OSCE efforts served as an example to others when the international community gathered in the Netherlands in 2001 for the Second Global Forum on Fighting Corruption.

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

    In advance of the 2000 commemoration of the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing to focus on the continuing problem of torture in the OSCE region. In spite of these efforts and the efforts of our Commission, including introducing and working for passage of two bills, the Torture Victims Relief Act and the Reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every OSCE country including the United States. This briefing considered two specific problem areas, Chechnya and Turkey, as well as efforts to prevent torture and to treat torture survivors. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Inge Genefke, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims; Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for  Europe and the Middle East, Amnesty International; and Douglas Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for the Victims of Torture – highlighted statistics about the number of torture victims in Turkey and Chechnya and related violations of individual rights.

  • Tear Down the Usti Wall, Drop the Charges against Ondrej Gina

    Mr. Speaker, in recent weeks, we have seen a number of historic dates come and go, with appropriate commemoration. November 9, for example, marked the tenth anniversary since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yesterday, November 17, is recognized as the commencement of the Velvet Revolution which unleashed the forces of democracy against the totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia. To mark that occasion, George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and other former leaders from the day met with President Vaclav Havel in Prague. Beyond the symbolism of those dates, they have had other meaning. Many of us had hoped that the wall in Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic, a symbol of racism, would be brought down on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Regrettably, November 9, came and went, and the Usti Wall still stood. We had hoped that the Usti Wall would come down on November 17. Some Czech officials even hinted this would be the case. Regrettably, November 17 has come and gone, and the Usti Wall still stands. Now, I understand some say the Usti Wall should come down before the European Union summit in Helsinki, scheduled for December 6. Mr. Speaker, the Usti Wall should never have been built, and it should come down now, today. As President Reagan exhorted Mr. Gorbachev more than ten years ago, so I will call on Czech leaders today: Tear down the Usti Wall. Last fall, a delegation from the Council of Europe visited Usti nad Labem. Afterwards, the Chairwoman of the Council's Specialist Group on Roma, Josephine Verspaget, held a press conference in Prague when she called the plans to build the Usti Wall “:a step towards apartheid.” Subsequently, the United States delegation to the OSCE's annual human rights meeting in Warsaw publicly echoed those views. Since the construction of the Usti Wall, this sentiment has been voiced, in even stronger terms, by Ondrej Gina, a well-known Romani activist in the Czech Republic. He is now being prosecuted by officials in his home town of Rokycany, who object to Gina's criticisms. The criminal charges against Mr. Gina include slander, assault on a public official, and incitement to racial hatred. In short, Mr. Gina is being persecuted because public officials in Rokycany do not like his controversial opinions. They object to Mr. Gina's also using the word “apartheid.” I can certainly understand that the word “apartheid” makes people feel uncomfortable. It is an ugly word describing an ugly practice. At the same time, if the offended officials want to increase their comfort level, it seems to me that tearing down the Usti Wall, not prosecuting Ondrej Gina, would be a more sensible way to achieve that goal. As it stands, Mr. Gina faces criminal charges because he exercised his freedom of expression. If he is convicted, he will become an international cause célebre. If he goes to jail under these charges, he will be a prisoner of conscience. Mr. Speaker, it is not unusual for discussions of racial issues in the United States to become heated. These are important, complex, difficult issues, and people often feel passionate about them. But prosecuting people for their views on race relations cannot advance the dialogue we seek to have. With a view to that dialogue, as difficult as it may be, I hope officials in Rokycany will drop their efforts to prosecute Mr. Gina.

  • Expressing United States Policy toward the Slovak Republic

    Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I watched for several years as the human rights situation in Slovakia deteriorated under the leadership of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. I saw how the fledgling democratic institutions of that new country were undermined, how parliamentary and constitutional processes were threatened, and how the rule of law was slowly but surely choked. I, joined by colleagues from the Commission, raised these issues time and again with Slovak officials, as did other officials of the U.S. Government. Unfortunately, Mr. Meciar was not very receptive to our arguments.   As it happened, however, the fate of the democratic process in Slovakia was not left to the tender mercies of Vladimir Meciar. A year ago, the people of Slovakia took matters into their own hands. In an election carefully monitored by the OSCE, voters returned to office a coalition government that ended Meciar's increasingly authoritarian rule.   Initially, this broadly based, some might even say weak, coalition seemed to stand only for one thing: it was against Meciar. But in the year that has passed, we cannot say that this government is not simply united in its opposition against the former regime, it is united in its commitment for democracy, for the rule of law, for a free market economy, for a transparent privatization process that is accountable to the people, and for a community of democracies dedicated to the protection of their common security.   Mr. Speaker, the process of transition that Slovakia struggles with today is not an easy one. In fact, many of the commemorations held this month to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism have focused on just how difficult this transition has been, including for Slovakia's closest neighbors. In spite of this, the Slovak Government has proceeded to make some very tough decisions this year. I am particularly impressed by the willingness of Prime Minister Dzurinda to make decisions that, while necessary for the long term, economic well-being of his country, may be very politically unpopular in the short term. That takes courage.   I know, of course, that Slovakia still has a lot of work ahead. As in most other European countries, there is much that should be done in Slovakia to improve respect for the human rights of the Romani minority. But there is much that Slovakia has accomplished in the past year and, especially as someone who has been critical of Slovakia in the past, I want to acknowledge and commend those achievements. Mr. Speaker, I hope others will join me in sending this message and will support H. Con. Res. 165.

  • The Long Road Home – Struggling For Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe

    In this hearing, presided over by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), the focus was on property restitution. Discussed by Smith, Campbell, other legislators, and witnesses – Stuart E. Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs and U.S. Special Envoy for Property Claims in Central and Eastern Europe; Michael Lewan, Chairman, United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad; Bishop John Michael Botean, Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio; Vladislav Bevc, Ph.D., Executive Officer, American Owners of Property in Slovenia; Jan Sammer, The Czech Coordinating Office (non-governmental organization), Toronto, Canada; and, Vytautas Sliupas, Lithuanian “Class Action Complaint Group” – at issue was ill treatment and discrimination of religious communities. Smith stated, “Ill treatment afforded some religious communities suggests that religious inequality and discrimination are often at the heart of a government’s restitution policies rather than economic constraints or other legitimate issues that need to be worked through.” Likewise, Campbell stated, “Property restitution and compensation are not favors these newly free countries do for those who fled for their lives. They are essential steps forward in their own economic and political development.”

  • Property Restitution in the Czech Republic

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my concern over recent setbacks in the return of expropriated properties to rightful owners in the Czech Republic. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed property restitution issues in Central and Eastern Europe over the past several years with an eye toward determining whether the restitution and compensation laws adopted in this region are being implemented according to the rule of law and whether American citizens' interests are protected under the laws. While restitution and compensation programs in several East-Central European countries have aspects of concern, today I want to bring attention to the status of restitution in the Czech Republic because of recent troubling developments there.   Since the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic has adopted laws that provide for the return of private property confiscated by Nazi or communist regimes. When the actual return of property is not possible, these laws offer former owners the right to receive alternate compensation. Regrettably, Czech laws limit these rights to those who had Czechoslovak citizenship when the restitution law was adopted or who acquired citizenship before the deadline for filing restitution claims. As a result, former Czechoslovak citizens who fled to the United States seeking refuge from fascism or communism earlier this century, and are now American citizens, have been precluded from making restitution claims unless they renounce their American citizenship.   Ironically, had these same individuals fled to Canada, Israel, or any country other than the United States, they would not have lost their Czech citizenship and would today be eligible to receive restitution or compensation. This result stems from a treaty signed in 1928 by the United States and Czechoslovakia that automatically terminated a person's citizenship in the United States or Czechoslovakia if that person became a citizen of the other country. That treaty was terminated in 1997, but its impact remains: under Czech law, Czech Americans are not eligible for dual citizenship in the Czech Republic. Therefore, without abandoning the citizenship of the country that took them in during their time of need, the law denies them the right to receive restitution or compensation as others have. In other words, the citizenship requirement in the Czech property restitution laws discriminates against American citizens. Moreover, it is difficult for me to think that this discrimination was simply an unintended consequence.   In the 105th Congress, the House adopted my resolution, H. Res. 562, which urges the formerly totalitarian countries in Central and Eastern Europe to restore wrongfully confiscated properties, and specifically calls on the Czech Republic to eliminate this discriminatory citizenship restriction. In this regard, the resolution echoes the view of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) which has concluded in two cases that these citizenship restrictions violate the anti-discrimination clause (Art. 26) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I recently learned that the UNHRC has agreed to hear at least four more cases that challenge these restrictions. The persuasiveness of the UNHRC's reasoning, when it determined that the citizenship restriction in the restitution law is discriminatory, was compelling. Unfortunately, the Czech Parliament last month debated and rejected a proposed amendment to the law that would have eliminated Czech citizenship as a condition for property restitution claims. This approach was widely considered the most effective remedy to a serious problem. In rejecting the amendment, the parliament missed an excellent opportunity to resolve this long-standing and contentious issue between the Czech Republic and the United States. While I deeply regret the parliament's decision, I hope that the Czech Government will now seek alternative means to end the discrimination against Czech Americans.   In January, several weeks before the parliament voted down the restitution amendment, Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous assured me that his government planned to propose a new citizenship law that would permit dual citizenship for Czech Americans. I was heartened to learn that last month the Czech Government introduced this amendment and it is my hope that its early passage will be followed by a reopening of the claims filing period for those individuals who, by virtue of acquiring dual citizenship, will become eligible for property restitution or compensation.   Another disturbing situation involves the case of restitution to the “double victims” in the Czech Republic: those individuals, primarily Jews, whose properties were confiscated during World War II by Nazis and then again by the communists that swept the region in the postwar era. One case, for example, is that of Susan Benda who is seeking compensation for an expropriated house in the town of Liberec where her father and his brother grew up. Susan's grandparents were killed by the Nazis and her father and uncle fled their homeland in 1939. The family home was “sold” in 1940 to a German company in a transaction subsequently invalidated by a 1945 Czech presidential decree. In 1994, the Czech Parliament expanded its earlier restitution law to allow individuals whose property was originally confiscated by Nazis between the years 1938-45 to join those whose property was taken by communists in claiming restitution. Under the amended laws, Susan Benda is theoretically eligible to receive restitution of, or compensation for, the home in Liberec. Notwithstanding the Czech Government's purported intention to restore Jewish property seized by the Nazis, However, the Czech Ministry of Finance has arbitrarily imposed additional onerous and burdensome conditions for restitution that do not appear in the law and which, in fact, appear designed to defeat the intent of the law. Beyond the citizenship requirement in the law, the Ministry of Finance has declared that claimants must prove that they were entitled to file a claim under a postwar 1946 restitution law, that they did file a claim, and that the claim was not satisfied. Remarkably, Susan Benda found a record in the Liberec town hall which establishes that her uncle returned to Czechoslovakia and filed a restitution claim in 1947. Next, the Finance Ministry requires claimants to prove that a court expressly rejected the postwar claim. In a country that has endured the political and social turmoil of the Czech Republic over the past half-century, the notion that claimants in the 1990s must prove, not only that a court considered a certain case more than fifty years ago, but also must produce a record of the court's decision in the case, is outrageous. Susan Benda was able to produce a claim of title showing that the house was stolen by the Nazis in 1940, confiscated by the communist Czech Government in 1953 and purchased from the Czech Government in 1992 by its current owner-occupant. While Susan cannot produce a document showing that the court actually considered, and then rejected, her uncle's postwar claim, the chain of title and the witness testimony confirm that the Benda family never got the house back, in itself simple, dramatic proof that the postwar claim was not satisfied. Apparently, however, this proof was not sufficient for the Czech authorities and Susan Benda was forced to sue the Ministry of Finance. Last September, more than three years after filing the claim, Susan Benda was vindicated when a Czech court agreed with her assertion that the Finance Ministry should not have attached the extralegal requirements for restitution. The court ordered the Finance Ministry to pay the Benda family compensation for the value of the expropriated house.   I wish Susan Benda's story could end here but it does not, the Czech Government has appealed the court decision apparently fearful that a precedent would be set for other claims, that is, out of a fear that property might actually be returned under this law. Thus, while the Czech Government proclaims its desire to address the wrongs of the past, those who, like Susan Benda, seek the return of wrongfully confiscated property are painfully aware that the reality is much different.   Another case that has come to my attention involves Peter Glaser's claim for a house in the town of Zatec. After the 1948 communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, Peter Glaser sought to immigrate to the United States. To obtain a passport, Mr. Glaser was forced to sign a statement renouncing any future claims to his home. In 1954, Mr. Glaser became an American citizen; in 1962, the communist Czech Government officially recorded the expropriation of Mr. Glaser's home in the land records. In 1982, the United States and Czechoslovakia signed an agreement that settled the property loss claims of all American citizens against Czechoslovakia. The U.S. Government agency charged with carrying out the settlement advised Mr. Glaser that, because he was a Czechoslovak citizen when his property was taken, according to the U.S. Government, this occurred in 1948 when Mr. Glaser was forced under duress to relinquish the rights to his house, he was not eligible to participate in the claims settlement program but must rather seek redress for his property loss under Czech laws. When the post-communist Czech Republic passed a property restitution law in 1991, Peter Glaser filed his claim. In a cruel irony, despite presenting documentation from the U.S. Government attesting to the fact that Mr. Glaser was not eligible to participate in the U.S.-Czechoslovakia claims settlement program, the Czech Courts have repeatedly rejected his claim on the grounds that he was an American citizen at the time his property was taken, which, according to the Czech Government, occurred in 1962. The Czech Government asserts that Mr. Glaser's claims were settled and should have been compensated under the 1982 agreement. In other words, the current Czech Government and courts have adopted the communist fiction that although Mr. Glaser's property was expropriated in 1948, somehow the confiscation did not count until 1962, when the communists got around to the nicety of recording the deed. This rationalization by Czech authorities looks like a back door attempt to avoid restitution. The reality of what happened to the property in Zatec is clear: Peter Glaser lost his home in 1948 when a totalitarian regime claimed the rights to his house in exchange for allowing him to leave the oppression and persecution of communist Czechoslovakia. As the Czech Government knows, communist expropriations, whether effectuated by sweeping land reform laws, as a condition or punishment for emigration, or under other circumstances, frequently went unrecorded in land registries, but that did not make the loss any less real for the victims. For the Czech Government today to cling to technicalities, such as the date the communists officially recorded their confiscation in the land registry, as a means to avoid returning Peter Glaser's home is a sobering indication of the Czech Government's true commitment to rectifying the wrongs of its communist past.   Mr. Speaker, the issue of property restitution is complex. No easy solutions exist to the many questions that restitution policies raise. Nonetheless, when a country chooses to institute a restitution or compensation program, international norms mandate that the process be just, fair and nondiscriminatory. The Czech Government has failed to live up to these standards in the cases I cited. The Czech Government must end the discrimination against Czech Americans in the restitution of private property. Moreover, the rule of law must be respected. I call on the Czech Government to reconsider its disposition in the Benda and Glaser cases. Czech officials often say that aggrieved property claimants can seek redress in the courts for unfavorable decisions. However, when claimants do just that, as did Peter Glaser and Susan Benda, the Czech Government asserts outrageous or technical defenses to thwart the rightful owner's claim or simply refuses to accept a decision in favor of the claimant. Fortunately, Mr. Glaser, Ms. Benda, and others like them, have pledged to fight on despite mounting costs and legal fees that they will never recoup. The passion and determination of Peter Glaser and Susan Benda, as of all victims of fascism and communism in Central and Eastern Europe, reveal that what may look to some as a battle for real estate is ultimately a search for justice and for peace with the past.

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