Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin's Personal PrisonerWednesday, September 20, 2023
Stream here: HEARING: Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin's Personal Prisoner - YouTube Vladimir Kara-Murza, a father, husband, and a freedom fighter, has been in detention for over five hundred days and is currently being transferred to a prison in Siberia. As he is being moved, his family has lost all contact with him and are faced with worry over his quickly deteriorating health. This Helsinki Commission examined why the Department of State has failed to designate Mr. Kara-Murza as a Wrongfully or Illegally Detained Person and the importance of securing his release from Putin’s prison. Mrs. Evgenia Kara-Murza, Advocacy Director at the Free Russia Foundation and wife of Vladimir Kara-Murza presented his life leading up to his arrest, his time in prison, and plea to the United States of America to save her husband. In Mrs. Kara-Murza’s testimony, she described his courage and internal fight to continue advocating against the Putin regime despite being poisoned twice. Mrs. Kara-Murza stated a quote from Senator John McCain that “Courage is not the absence of fear but the capacity to act despite our fears” which described Vladimir Kara-Murza’s yearning to return to Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Mrs. Kara-Murza then stated how her husband’s health continues to deteriorate and has lost contact with family while he is being transferred to a penal colony in Siberia. She ended her testimony by explaining that if the United States wants to see a different and democratic Russia that is at peace with its neighbors then her husband represents that vision and should be saved. Ms. Meghan McCain, in her testimony to this Helsinki Commission, spoke to support the freedom “of a warrior, a patriot, and … a friend” and to urge the Department of State to declare Mr. Kara-Murza a “Wrongfully Detained Person” under the Levinson Act. Ms. McCain began her speech by explaining the fall of Russia. A nation which once possessed a flourishing culture of great artists and writers has fallen into a “gray winter” from Communism to then the regime of Putin. She stated how Vladimir Kara-Murza is the spring who she described as a fearless man knowing all risk and will bring better days to Russia. Ms. McCain then finished up her testimony with a plea that the designation of Vladimir Kara-Murza as “Wrongfully Detained” is in American interest and the designation will also improve his moral condition. Another notable speaker who testified to this Helsinki Commission was Vladimir and Evgenia’s daughter Sonya Kara-Murza, who spoke on behalf of her siblings. Ms. Kara-Murza described the passion her father has for his work to achieve “his goal of a peaceful and hopeful future for Russia” as well as his lessons of bravery to his family. She stated to the Commissioners the necessity of a loving family to be together and eloquently finished with saying to the Commissioners “please bring my father back home”. Following the testimonies, the Commissioners proceeded to ask questions to both Mrs. Evgenia Kara-Murza and Ms. Meghan McCain on Vladimir Kara-Murza’s medical condition and the Department of States lack of clarity on the reason for not declaring Vladimir Kara-Murza a “Wrongfully Detained Person”. Chairman Wilson and Ranking Member Cohen introduced a bill requiring the Department of State to designate Vladimir Kara-Murza a Wrongfully Detained Person or failing that, explain to Congress why this is not possible. A takeaway quote from this hearing from Mrs. Evgenia Kara-Murza was as follows: “I do realize that behind bars Vladimir will not receive the medical attention that he needs. I do realize that he has already lost over 55 pounds over this year. I understand that his medical condition is only going to deteriorate and I understand that he’s being held by the same people who tried to kill him twice…So this is urgent and it is a matter of life and death”
Commissioners Call on Administration to Review Swiss Nationals for SanctionsFriday, July 28, 2023
WASHINGTON—Yesterday, U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen requesting that the United States consider sanctioning three Swiss nationals, Vinzenz Schnell, Patrick Lamon, and Michael Lauber, under the U.S. Magnitsky Act. The Magnitsky Act authorizes the U.S. government to sanction individuals who financially profited from the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed a fraudulent tax scheme perpetrated by Russian nationals. The Chairman and Ranking Member are requesting that these individuals are reviewed for Magnitsky sanctions for their involvement in abetting Russian nationals to regain funds originally frozen in connections with the fraudulent tax scheme, and accepting unauthorised gifts and trips paid for by Russian officials and oligarchs. The letter comes as the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office has decided to return about 80% of that frozen money to Russian individuals, including those sanctioned by the U.S. The letter reads: Dear Secretary Blinken and Secretary Yellen, We are writing you to request that the United States review for sanctions under the U.S. Magnitsky Act three Swiss nationals for their involvement in efforts to conceal the fraudulent tax scheme exposed by Sergei Magnitsky. These individuals have abetted Russian nationals sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act to regain access to funds, originally frozen in connection with the fraudulent tax scheme, and accepted unauthorised gifts and trips paid by Russian officials and oligarchs. These individuals are Vinzenz Schnell, Patrick Lamon, and Michael Lauber. The 2009 murder of Sergei Magnitsky was such a grave injustice that the United States passed the Magnitsky Act in 2012 to sanction the perpetrators, those who financially profited from his murder, and their agents. The Magnitsky Act was expanded to the Global Magnitsky Act in 2016 to cover all those involved in foreign corruption and human rights abuse. Since then, a number of individuals have been sanctioned by the U.S. government, including Olga Stepanova (the tax official who approved the illegal $230 million tax refund), her husband Vladlen Stepanov, and Dmitry Kluyev, the head of the Kluyev Organized Crime Group, that organized the fraudulent tax refund exposed by Sergei Magnitsky. These individuals were also sanctioned by our allies, including Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. From 2011-2013, Swiss prosecutors froze approximately $20 million in assets connected to that fraud, including accounts controlled by the sanctioned individuals Stepanov and Klyuev, as well as a son of Russian government official Denis Katsyv, who paid over $6 million in settlement of the Department of Justice civil forfeiture action. We were appalled to learn that the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office has decided to return approximately 80% of that frozen money to these Russian individuals, including those sanctioned by us. This decision was made by then Swiss Federal Prosecutor Kohler and authorized by current Federal Prosecutor Stefan Blättler. The decision to return the stolen money to the perpetrators was justified by the Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office by repeating the false narrative of Russian officials claiming that “no criminal group was identified” in this fraud and that the tax officials who authorized the refund were “tricked.” These findings are in direct contradiction to the findings of our government and many of our allies. The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office repeated verbatim the statements they received from the Russian government. More worrying is that the leading Swiss investigator on the case, Vinzenz Schnell, was found to have taken bribes in the form of hunting trips funded by Russian oligarchs. When the investigator was convicted, he revealed that he was asked to derail the Magnitsky investigation. Swiss Federal Prosecutor Lauber and senior prosecutor Lamon were also exposed to have gone on trips paid by the Russians. Members of the Helsinki Commission have approached the Swiss government about this case and been told the Swiss government “cannot interfere in a judicial process.” In this time of Putin’s brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine, the Swiss government is primed to return money to criminals in Russia who have been sanctioned by the U.S. government and justify it by making and repeating the false account of the fraud concocted by the Russian government. The Magnitsky Act has specific provisions to deal with situations like this, including in relation to sanctioning those involved in corruption, or as agents of sanctioned individuals and those involved in the concealment of the liability for the fate of Sergei Magnitsky, including through the making of false accounts about the fraudulent tax scheme he had uncovered. We request that you review the aforementioned three Swiss individuals for sanctions under the Magnitsky Act in relation to the corrupt gross misconduct and abetting persons sanctioned by the United States. Sincerely, ### Click the PDF icon above for the full letter.
Rescuing Ukrainian Children and Women from Russia's AggressionWednesday, July 26, 2023
Russia’s war has exposed the critical need for U.S. and international action to both save Ukraine’s children and to put in place measures for the future that will protect children, as well as vulnerable refugees around the world, from wartime atrocities and from other threats such as human trafficking. Ukraine’s children are suffering serious injury and trauma due to Russia’s genocidal war of aggression on Ukraine. Almost two-thirds of Ukraine’s children have been displaced, thousands have been injured and hundreds killed. The Ukrainian government has documented close to 20,000 cases of children forcibly taken to Russia or Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine for forced russification, a war crime under the Geneva Convention that could amount to genocide. In addition to the immediate dangers, the effects of war on children will have lasting negative consequences if not addressed. Many Ukrainian children have witnessed unimaginable violence, including the murders of their own parents or family members. At the same time, some Ukrainian women and children are facing increased vulnerability to human trafficking. Of the 8 million refugees that have fled Ukraine, 90% are women and children. There continue to be credible reports of traffickers trolling border areas, train stations, and refugee centers trying to lure refugees with promises of accommodation, onward transportation, or employment, sometimes even masquerading as volunteers providing assistance. Nevertheless, international responses, particularly along border areas, have not been sufficient. This hearing will provide testimony from top officials and experts on the ground to discuss the devastating impact of Russia’s war on Ukrainian children and women and what the United States and the international community can do to better protect these vulnerable women and children from the trauma of war and to prevent human trafficking. It will also detail a new bill taking action to address these challenges, Oleksandr’s Act, which is dedicated to the Ukrainian children who have suffered during this war.
HEARING: RESCUING UKRAINIAN CHILDREN AND WOMEN FROM RUSSIA’S AGGRESSIONWednesday, July 19, 2023
Wednesday, July 26, 2023 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Rayburn House Building room 2200 Streaming here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n-NyI5xjt8 Russia’s war has exposed the critical need for U.S. and international action to both save Ukraine’s children and to put in place measures for the future that will protect children, as well as vulnerable refugees around the world, from wartime atrocities and from other threats such as human trafficking. Ukraine’s children are suffering serious injury and trauma due to Russia’s genocidal war of aggression on Ukraine. Almost two-thirds of Ukraine’s children have been displaced, thousands have been injured and hundreds killed. The Ukrainian government has documented close to 20,000 cases of children forcibly taken to Russia or Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine for forced russification, a war crime under the Geneva Convention that could amount to genocide. In addition to the immediate dangers, the effects of war on children will have lasting negative consequences if not addressed. Many Ukrainian children have witnessed unimaginable violence, including the murders of their own parents or family members. At the same time, some Ukrainian women and children are facing increased vulnerability to human trafficking. Of the 8 million refugees that have fled Ukraine, 90% are women and children. There continue to be credible reports of traffickers trolling border areas, train stations, and refugee centers trying to lure refugees with promises of accommodation, onward transportation, or employment, sometimes even masquerading as volunteers providing assistance. Nevertheless, international responses, particularly along border areas, have not been sufficient. This hearing will provide testimony from top officials and experts on the ground to discuss the devastating impact of Russia’s war on Ukrainian children and women and what the United States and the international community can do to better protect these vulnerable women and children from the trauma of war and to prevent human trafficking. It will also detail a new bill taking action to address these challenges, Oleksandr’s Act, which is dedicated to the Ukrainian children who have suffered during this war. Panel 1: Beth Van Schaack, U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Cindy Dyer, U.S. Ambassador at Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Panel 2: Andriy Kostin, Prosecutor General of Ukraine Sebastian Stachowski, CEO of Lion Environmental, former Volunteer Coordinator for the Polish Red Cross, Subcarpathian Region Mykola Kuleba, Director, Save Ukraine and former Presidential Commissioner for Human Rights Dr. James S. Gordon, M.D., The Center for Mind-Body Medicine Other witnesses may be added.
Supporting A Democratic and Secure MoldovaWednesday, July 12, 2023
In recent years, Moldova has made notable steps to improve its democratic institutions and combat corruption. President Maia Sandu and her Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) have spearheaded wide-ranging reforms and backed a number of high-profile anti-corruption cases. Moldova has also made strides toward greater integration with the European Union (EU). In 2022, the country applied to join the EU and in June of that year was granted “Candidate” status, alongside Ukraine. The EU supplied Moldova with a list of nine recommendations for further improvements to democratic institutions and the rule of law in the country, which leaders in Chisinau have pledged to fulfill. At the same time as Moldova attempts to strengthen its democracy and bolster its ties with the West, it remains under persistent threat from Russia. Russia has attempted to stoke unrest in Moldova, interfere in its domestic politics, and leverage its supply of energy resources to the country. Russia further maintains a garrison of roughly 2,000 troops in the Russian-backed separatist region of Transnistria. Beyond the direct threat of Russian influence operations, Moldova also faces the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war has contributed to significant increases in prices for food and energy. Furthermore, more than 800,000 refugees have entered the country since February 2022, and roughly 100,000 remain in the country still. Against the backdrop of opportunities and challenges facing Moldova, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing featuring senior U.S. and Moldovan parliamentary leadership to explore how the United States can continue to support Moldova in its democratic reform agenda, continue its anti-corruption efforts, and achieve durable security for itself and the region. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Bischof testified about the state of U.S. support for Moldova. He emphasized that Moldova stood “on the frontline of our strategic priorities for Europe,” and praised the country’s recent efforts to implement reforms. Mr. Bischof highlighted that the Biden administration remains committed to supporting Moldova’s efforts to address the effects of the war, bolster its democratic and economic resilience, and achieve its goals of EU integration. To that effect, he noted that the administration has devoted $628 million to the country since February 2022. Mr. Bischof also detailed the risks that Russia poses to the country’s security. These come both from influence operations and from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen several Russian incursions into Moldovan airspace. He emphasized that the administration has increased its security assistance to Moldova nearly tenfold in recent years to assist the country in safeguarding itself against Russian aggression. The President of Moldova’s Parliament, Igor Grosu, then testified about the country’s resilience in the face of hybrid threats from Russia, its ongoing commitment to continue reforms, and its determination to achieve EU ascension. Mr. Grosu stressed that Moldova has worked tirelessly to ensure peace and stability in the country amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and under a broad spectrum of hybrid threats from Russia. Mr. Grosu thanked the United States for providing crucial support to help Moldova withstand threats from Russia and work toward fulfilling the country’s reform agenda. He also emphasized the need for continued support, including through legislation such as the “Euro-Atlantic Solidarity and Major Democratic Ally Act of 2022,” which would allow for greater U.S. Moldova defense cooperation. Mr. Grosu further stressed that, against the destabilizing backdrop of Russia’s war, continued support for Ukraine was also essential support for Moldova. Doina Gherman, the Chairwoman of the Moldovan Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee underscored this sentiment, imploring members “not to uncouple Moldova from Ukraine because a safe Ukraine is a safe Moldova, and a safe Ukraine is a safe Europe.” Amb. (ret.) William Hill, a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center gave the final testimony. He stressed that although Moldova’s reform agenda was moving the country in a positive direction, progress will take time. Amb. Hill also highlighted the numerous challenges and threats that Moldova currently faces but observed that the present moment also offers opportunities. In particular, he suggested that recent successes in negotiations surrounding Transnistria and changing dynamics of Russian influence in the region opened a window for a resolution of the conflict. Mr. Hill urged the Sandu government not to miss this opportunity. Members expressed their support for Moldova’s reforms and condemned Russia’s malign attempts to exert influence over the country. They also questioned the witnesses about the extent and impact of current U.S. support to Moldova and inquired into the most effective ways that the United States can continue to support a secure and democratic Moldova moving forward. Related Information
Hearing: Supporting a Democratic and Secure MoldovaThursday, July 06, 2023
Wednesday, July 12, 2023 2:00 pm Cannon House Office Building, Room 210 Live stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm-R6rfQbCo In recent years, Moldova has enacted numerous reforms under current Moldovan President Maia Sandu to strengthen its democratic institutions, combat corruption and kleptocracy, and integrate with the European Union. In 2022, the European Union granted Moldova “Candidate” status in its EU bid alongside Ukraine. Moldova’s many accomplishments are made all the more remarkable given the ongoing destabilizing effects of Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine and the Putin regime’s efforts to undermine Moldova’s security, economy, and political processes. Nonetheless, Moldova’s government and people have doggedly pursued a liberal democratic path, and have opened their country to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens who have transited or found refuge in the country in the wake of Russia’s brutal war. The hearing will feature a discussion with senior U.S. and Moldovan parliamentary leadership to explore how the United States can continue to support Moldova in its democratic reform agenda, continue its anti-corruption efforts, and achieve durable security for itself and the region. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1: Dan Bischof, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Panel 2: Igor Grosu, President of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova Doina Gherman, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova Ambassador (ret.) William Hill, Global Fellow at the Wilson Center Other witnesses may be added.
Helsinki Commission Leadership Celebrate Pardon of Nika GvaramiaFriday, June 23, 2023
Washington—Today, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09), applauded Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili’s decision to issue a presidential pardon for journalist Nikoloz “Nika” Gvaramia. Mr. Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and political activist, has been imprisoned since May 2022 on spurious charges. In April, the leadership of the U.S. Helsinki Commission sent a letter to President Zourabichvili asking for her help to break Georgia’s cycle of political prosecution, citing Mr. Gvaramia’s case as a violation of human rights on political grounds. Chairman Wilson and Ranking Member Cohen issued the follow statement: “We commend President Zourabichvili for extending a pardon to Nkoloz Gvaramia, who has been imprisoned for over a year on spurious charges related to his pro-democracy activism. However, this imprisonment never should have happened. We remain concerned about recent developments in Georgia, in particular the proposal of a Russian-style “foreign agents” law that, if passed, would have created an authoritarian regime in Georgia. It was only due to massive protests that the legislation was ultimately withdrawn. We recognize that the Georgian people support human rights, Euro-Atlantic integration, and democratic values and urge the government to return Georgia to this path. Although we join Mr. Gvaramia’s family and friends, Georgians, and pro-democracy advocates around the world in celebrating Mr. Gvaramia’s release, our work advocating for the freedom of political prisoners globally is far from complete. We stand with individuals around the world who are unjustly or wrongfully imprisoned and strive for a reality in which all people are free to express themselves and engage in civil discourse.”
Helsinki Commission Chairman and Ranking Member Introduce Bill to Confiscate Russian AssetsThursday, June 15, 2023
Today, Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced the bipartisan Rebuilding Economic Prosperity and Opportunity (REPO) for Ukrainians Act in the House of Representatives, alongside Rep. Michael McCaul (TX-10), Rep. Thomas Kean Jr. (NJ-21), Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-05), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (OH-09). The legislation has also been introduced in the Senate by Commissioner Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Senator Jim Risch (ID). The bill authorizes the administration to confiscate Russian assets in the United States for Ukrainian reconstruction and calls on international allies to create a confiscation mechanism for assets stored in other countries. “Russia will foot the bill for its brutal war in Ukraine. We will use war criminal Putin’s own money to rebuild what he has ripped away from the Ukrainian people. It is common sense that Putin be the one to rebuild what he has destroyed,” said Chairman Joe Wilson. “Russia must be held accountable for its brutal and unprovoked war. This legislation will ensure that every cent of Russian money in western systems is made available to the Ukrainian people to remedy the horrific acts that Russia has inflicted upon them. It is a matter of basic justice that the perpetrator pays for their crimes,” said Ranking Member Steve Cohen. [View the legislation text by clicking the PDF icon above]
COMMISSIONERS CALL ON WHITE HOUSE TO TRANSFER ATACMS TO UKRAINEFriday, May 26, 2023
WASHINGTON—Yesterday, members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Commissioner Representative Victoria Spartz (IN-05) sent a letter to President Biden, requesting he grants the transfer of MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to Ukraine. In the letter, Commissioners thank the Administration for its beginning steps on getting F-16s to Ukrainian defenders and emphasize the importance of ATACMS on targeting Russian frontlines in occupied Ukraine as well as pushing back Russian supply chain systems which fuel their genocidal war. During the Commissioners’ recent trip to Ukraine and meeting with President Zelensky, ATACMS were requested for an immediate battlefield advantage. These powerful weapons could provide the advantage Ukraine needs to secure its freedom, and the only remaining hurdle to their delivery is the President’s approval. The letter reads: Dear President Biden, We urge you to send the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to Ukraine. From the very beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine requested ATACMS to defend and reclaim their homes in the face of the Kremlin’s genocidal war of conquest. This powerful weapon system would go a long way to ensuring full Ukrainian victory now, while helping deter future Russian threats against Ukraine, the wider region, and Europe as a whole. We thank the administration for beginning the process of getting F-16s to Ukraine, as these jet fighters will make a huge difference toward achieving full Ukrainian victory. On our recent trip to Ukraine, we heard how the Ukrainian army is holding its own against Russia in all areas except the sky. But long-range missiles are also necessary for victory. ATACMS would make an immediate battlefield difference for Ukraine. With an effective range of nearly 200 miles, virtually all major Russian units, naval assets, and strategic infrastructure in occupied Ukrainian territory would be within reach of precision strikes. This would not only help Ukraine degrade or destroy Russian weapons of war used to murder Ukrainian defenders and civilians but would also push Russian units and supply chains further from the front, dramatically complicating sustainment and their ability to continue prosecuting this genocidal war. The fewer supplies and arms that reach Russian forces, the less capable they are of holding Ukrainian territory and killing its people. ATACMS will save Ukrainian lives. Unlike many other weapons which require extensive training and long logistical chains, ATACMS are fired from widely used and available M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System(HIMARS) platform and could be fielded immediately. This is critical in Ukraine where time is of the essence. Ukraine must win as quickly as possible to prevent the needless loss of anymore courageous Ukrainians and to end the war in the only sustainable way: Ukrainian victory. Now that the United Kingdom has delivered Storm Shadow cruise missiles, there is no reason to withhold ATACMS from Ukraine. We must trust the Ukrainians to use our long-range missiles responsibly, just as our British allies have. The Ukrainians have shown repeatedly that they will use every weapon system responsibly and to maximum effect. Ukraine can win the war this year if the United States and our democratic allies transfer all weapons necessary. A defeat or even a military stalemate against Russia’s genocidal invasion would be a catastrophe for our national security and guarantee renewed Russian attacks on Ukraine and broader aggression in Europe. Once Ukraine has achieved victory on its terms, ATACMS, along with other long-range and advanced weapons, will be a primary means of deterring and constraining future Russian aggression. Russian forces will not be able to stage for a future invasion, or threaten the Black Sea region at will, under the shadow of Ukrainian long-range capabilities. We understand that there are concerns the United States does not have enough ATACMS to send to Ukraine. However, many democratic allies also possess ATACMS and forming an international coalition for the transfer of ATACMS, much like has been done with jets and tanks, could help alleviate these concerns. Moreover, the point of these weapons is to protect U.S. national security and the security of our allies, which Ukraine is currently doing alone. The transfer of our ATACMS is logical and urgent under these circumstances. Now that the decision has been made to send F-16s, now is the time to commit to Ukraine’s full victory and deliver all the tools needed. Nearly every weapon system requested by Ukraine has been delivered after intense pressure. Let us not wait for another pressure campaign to deliver ATACMS. In the spirit of proactivity, deterrence, and mindful of the innocent Ukrainian lives lost the longer Russia is allowed to continue its war, we urge your administration to send these war-winning weapons to Ukraine immediately. [Click on the PDF icon above to view the full letter]
CHAIRMAN WILSON LEADS BIPARTISAN DELEGATION TO GERMANY, POLAND, AND UKRAINEFriday, May 12, 2023
WASHINGTON—From May 1st to May 7th, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) led a bipartisan U.S. delegation to Germany, Poland, and Ukraine to coordinate support for Ukraine and examine current wartime challenges. The delegation consulted with high-ranking government officials and civil society actors regarding ongoing military and humanitarian responses to the Russian invasion. Chairman Wilson was joined on the delegation by Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Commissioner Victoria Spartz (IN-05). “Friends of democracy are inspired by courageous Ukrainians capably supported by our appreciated western allies, like Germany and Poland, in the global competition between democracies with rule of law opposing authoritarians with rule of gun. “Ukraine must win this war against Russia’s brutal aggression — there is no alternative. Ukraine must be restored to its internationally recognized 1991 borders and integrated into NATO and other Euro-Atlantic institutions. The United States must work with its allies and partners to ensure that the leaders of the Russian Federation are held accountable. “Despite promises after World War II of ‘never again,’ today, in 2023, Russia is committing the very crimes that the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg was created to address: the crime of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. As in Nuremberg, we must bring to justice the perpetrators of the genocide being carried out in Ukraine – including war criminal Putin himself,” said Chairman Wilson and Ranking Member Cohen. In Germany, the delegation met with high-level defense and foreign affairs officials to discuss Germany’s partnership in ensuring Ukrainian victory. In Berlin, the Commissioners met with National Security Advisor Jens Ploetner, Ministry of Foreign Affairs State Secretary Andreas Michaelis, and Ministry of Justice State Secretary Dr. Angelika Schlunck who provided assurances of sustained support for Ukraine. In a visit to the Nuremburg Palace of Justice, site of the Nuremberg trials, the delegation drew obvious parallels to accountability for Russia’s criminal aggression against Ukraine. After visiting Nuremberg, Lieutenant General Andrew Rohling welcomed the delegation to the 7th Army Grafenwoehr Training Area where Ukrainian troops are being trained. In Ukraine, the delegation visited Bucha and Kyiv joined by U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation Michael Carpenter and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink. In Bucha, survivors testified to mass murder of civilians by Russian soldiers and the delegation paid homage to the victims. In Kyiv, the delegation met with Ukrainian children who had been taken to Russia and Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine as part of a Russian effort to erase their identity and forcibly assimilate them. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov highlighted Ukraine’s military needs and mechanisms of accountability for international assistance. The delegation met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who expressed the urgent need for F-16 fighter aircraft to defend his people and keep open sea-lanes for Ukrainian wheat vital to feeding Europe, Africa, and the world. President Zelenskyy expressed his deep gratitude to the United States for supporting Ukraine’s fight for freedom. In Poland, the delegation visited Rzeszów where Colonel Matt Braman and Colonel Kendall Clark briefed on the activities of the 10th Mountain Division. The delegation also met with the Polish border service and non-governmental organizations working near the border to prevent Ukrainian refugees from falling victim to human traffickers. Warsaw was the concluding stop for consultations with U.S. Ambassador Mark Brzezinski, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Arkadiusz Mularczyk and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Director Matteo Mecacci. The delegation thanked Poland for supporting Ukraine and welcoming millions of Ukrainians who have fled Russian terror.
HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SALOME ZOURABICHVILIFriday, April 28, 2023
WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break the cycle of political prosecution in the country. In the letter, the legislators cite the case of Mr. Nikoloz Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and political activist. His imprisonment, on spurious charges, is a violation of his human rights and an affront to Georgia’s democracy. Releasing political prisoners such as Mr. Gvaramia is an essential step towards EU candidacy for Georgia, and an important humanitarian gesture. President Zourabichvili has shown herself to be an outspoken and principled leader for Georgian democracy and has an opportunity to continue to cement this legacy, advance Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic dream, and perform a significant humanitarian service by using her pardon powers to address the ongoing cycle of political prosecution. Click the PDF icon above to view the letter.
CHURCH, STATE, AND RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINEThursday, April 27, 2023
The Putin regime has long used the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to consolidate its power at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has explicitly endorsed Russia’s war on Ukraine, even blessing weapons for the invasion. Churches under the mantle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had long been viewed as actual or potential surveillance and influence outposts for the Putin regime, directly contributing to the official establishment of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine in 2019. Additionally, the Putin regime has exported its widespread internal persecution of non-ROC-affiliated Christians to the territories it occupies in Ukraine. This hearing will assess Putin’s political control over ROC institutions and the implications for Ukraine’s religious and political culture. Relatedly, panelists will speak to harassment and denial of religious freedoms in territories occupied by Russia. Witnesses will also testify to how religious institutions, churches, and individual Christians have supported Ukraine in wartime and the future of church-state relations within Ukraine. His Beatitude Epiphaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, will give opening remarks. Related information: Witness Biographies
BIPARTISAN UKRAINE VICTORY RESOLUTION INTRODUCED IN HOUSE AND SENATEWednesday, April 26, 2023
WASHINGTON— Yesterday, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced the Ukraine Victory Resolution in the House of Representatives. Commissioners Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), introduced the resolution in the Senate. The resolution affirms that it is the policy of the United States to see Ukraine victorious against the Russian invasion, holds that the peace brought by victory must be secured by integrating Ukraine into NATO, and declares that the United States must work with its allies and partners to secure reparations, reconstruction, justice for Russian war crimes, and accountability for Russian leaders. “Ukrainian victory is the only path to peace. We must ensure that Ukraine is well-armed and outfitted so that the upcoming counteroffensive can meet expectations and Ukraine can win the war as quickly as possible. Ukrainian victory is good for U.S. national security and economic stability, denies Putin any reward for its invasion, and deters China and Iran. Ukraine’s existence depends on victory,” said Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson. “Ukrainian victory is also critical for the United States. Ukraine is preventing an incursion into NATO and demonstrating to autocrats that borders cannot be changed by force alone—a fundamental underpinning of the peaceful international system. The Ukrainian fight is our common fight. There is no alternative to victory,” said Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen. “Ukraine will win the war—and win the peace—if America continues its steadfast support as this resolution strongly states,” said Senator Blumenthal. “True victory means stopping Russia’s murderous assault, imposing accountability for crimes against humanity, and rebuilding Ukraine at Russia’s expense. To our NATO allies as well as Ukraine, our message must be that we’ll have your back in this fight for freedom and democracy—yours and ours together,” said Commissioner Sen. Richard Blumenthal. “This bipartisan, bicameral resolution says what we all know to be true – that Ukrainian victory is in the best interest of every democracy on earth,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Putin’s brutal war seeks to steal Ukraine’s land and its future. The United States and our allies have played, and should continue to play, a leading role in securing everything Ukraine needs to achieve victory and rebuild. I join my colleagues in sending a clear message to the people of Ukraine: we are with you to victory,” said Commissioner Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. “I enthusiastically support the concept of victory for Ukraine, which is possible with aggressive Western help, particularly in the area of weapons. The Russian army has been dealt a severe blow. It is now time to go all in for victory for Ukraine. That means continuing to provide them the weapons they need to repel the Russian invaders, labeling Putin’s Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and lending our voice to holding Putin and his cronies accountable for war crimes committed on an industrial scale. Victory for Ukraine is possible, but we have to be all in,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham. Ukraine regained its independence in 1991 after three centuries of Moscow’s imperial rule. In 1994, the United States encouraged Ukraine to abandon its arsenal of nuclear weapons, the third largest in the world at the time, in exchange for security assurances in the Budapest Memorandum. The Ukrainians have had two revolutions since independence, the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, demonstrating their commitment to shared ideals of democracy and freedom and their desire for Euro-Atlantic integration. In 2008, at the Bucharest NATO Summit, NATO states declared, “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agree today that these countries will become members of NATO.” Russia initially invaded Ukraine in 2014 and massively escalated its invasion in 2022. In 2022, the UN General Assembly called on member states to create a mechanism for reparations to be paid to Ukraine. In 2023, the United States issued a finding that Russian officials have committed crimes against humanity. Original cosponsors of the resolution in the House of Representatives also include: Mike Lawler (NY-17), Richard Hudson (NC-09), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Doug Lamborn (CO-05), Bill Pascrell (NJ-08), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Deborah Ross (NC-02), Jim Costa (CA-21), David Trone (MD-06), Joe Morelle (NY-25), Susan Wild (PA-07), and Marcy Kaptur (OH-09). Click on the PDF icon above to view the resolution.
Helsinki Commission Leadership Statement on Georgian foreign agent lawMonday, March 06, 2023
WASHINGTON—In response to news that the Georgian parliament is considering Russian-style foreign agent legislation, which would have a chilling effect on Georgia’s vibrant civil society, Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-2), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following joint statement: “Since regaining independence, the Georgian people have clearly and consistently chosen to be part of the democratic, Euro-Atlantic community. However, the antidemocratic, Russian-style foreign agent law would be, if enacted, a rebuke to the Georgian people’s EU and NATO aspirations and underscore the rapid decline of Georgian democracy. It would also demonstrate the present government’s increasing embrace of Russia—the same country that occupies 20 percent of Georgian territory, kidnaps its citizens, disregards its sovereignty, and wages a genocidal war against Ukraine. “This bill as well as the ongoing democratic decline, including the jailing of political opponents, is an attack on our strategic partnership and the Georgian people’s Western choice. Since 1991, the United States has been a firm and untiring friend to the Georgian people. This will not change, regardless of the government’s position. In the spirit of that friendship, we call on the Georgian government to reject the proposed legislation and renew its commitment to democracy.”
Helsinki Commissioners re-introduce Ukrainian Genocide Resolution in the House and SenateFriday, February 24, 2023
Today, Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioners Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (MO-05) along with Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Bill Keating (MA-09), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Bill Pascrell (NJ-09), André Carson (IN-07), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), introduced a resolution condemning Russian actions in Ukraine as a genocide under applicable international laws in the 118th Congress. The resolution was also re-introduced in the U.S. Senate on February 16th by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Senator Ben Cardin (MD) and Senator Jim Risch (ID). Commissioners Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) as well as Senators Lindsey Graham (SC), Michael Crapo (ID), Tim Kaine (VA), Rick Scott (FL), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Joe Manchin (WV), John Barrasso (WY), Patty Murray (WA), Marco Rubio (FL), and Todd Young (IN) joined Sens. Cardin and Risch as original co-sponsors. The resolution calls on the United States, along with NATO and EU allies, to support the government of Ukraine, support tribunals and investigations on Russian war crimes, use the Global Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible, and describes the substantial and significant evidence of Russia’s systemic actions to eliminate Ukrainians. The Commission applauds this vital resolution to hold Russia accountable for their atrocities. For more information click here. The resolution was first introduced in the 117th Congress in the House of Representatives by Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen and Chairman Joe Wilson, along with Commissioners Marc Veasey, Richard Hudson, and Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick and Marcy Kaptur, along with companion legislation in the Senate by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Cardin and Sen. Jim Risch.
U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA presents Joint Statement on Russia’s War in UkraineFriday, February 24, 2023
WASHINGTON— Today, the U.S. Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) endorsed the “Joint Statement of Action on the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s War Against Ukraine and the International Legal Order,” which was endorsed by the OSCE PA Bureau and published today at the conclusion of the 2023 OSCE PA Winter Meeting. Members of the U.S. Delegation include Head of Delegation and Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33). Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-37) also participated in the delegation. Following a dedicated debate marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Assembly issued the statement to condemn Russia’s years-long clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of its commitments under the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE commitments. Click here to read the Joint Statement
Steadfast Support for Ukraine: United States Delegation Hosts Ukrainian and Partner Country Parliamentarians on the Margins of the OSCE Parliamentary AssemblyThursday, February 23, 2023
WASHINGTON – Today, the United States Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), led by Senator Ben Cardin (MD), met with Mykyta Poturaiev, Ukraine’s Head of Delegation and additional representatives of the Ukrainian Rada in Vienna, Austria, along with the Heads of Delegation of Canada, Estonia, France, Latvia, Poland, and the United Kingdom. On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the parliamentary leaders in attendance pledged their sustained and steadfast support for Ukraine to counter Russian aggression: “We will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over its 1991 borders. A year after Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we recommit to combining our efforts to redress this injustice and hold Russia to account for its crimes, including by seeking its suspension from the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). We further urge the PA to host annual sessions and meetings in OSCE participating States prepared to block the participation of Russia’s representatives. We will not allow Russia’s reprehensible propaganda to go unchallenged at the OSCE PA or any other international forum. The world must hold Russia accountable for its aggression and for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide it is committing against the people of Ukraine. All of us are committed to the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine and seek restitution from Russia to this end. “To the people of Ukraine: as you suffer Russia’s attacks on your cities and fight the aggressor in the battlefield, know that you are never alone in your courageous struggle for a secure and democratic future. As missiles rain down and the lights go out, and as you mourn all those you have lost, we mourn with you and share your fight for Ukrainian victory. You have our admiration and above all, our gratitude, as we remain resolutely at your side in solidarity and partnership.” Joining U.S. Head of DelegationSenator Ben Cardin were delegation members Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), and Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Lloyd Doggett (TX-37). The Ukrainian delegation consisted of Mr. Mykyta Poturaiev, Head of Delegation; Mr. Artur Gerasymov, Deputy Head of Delegation, Mr. Pavlo Frolov, Ms. Irina Gerashchenko, Ms. Evgeniia Kravchuk, and Ms. Nataliia Pipa. Heads of delegations present included Dr. Hedy Fry (Canada), Mr. Sven Sester (Estonia), Mr. Didier Paris (France), Mr. Rihards Kols (Latvia), Ms. Barbara Bartuś (Poland), and Sir John Whittingdale (United Kingdom).
Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair: Statement on Bakhtiyar HajiyevMonday, February 20, 2023
WASHINGTON—Following reports of the sharp deterioration of Azerbaijani dissident Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-2) and Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following joint statement: “We are absolutely appalled at the continued unwarranted detention and mistreatment of Azerbaijani civil activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has been imprisoned on trumped up charges and is facing a precipitous decline in his health as he continues his hunger strike. His sentencing by the Azerbaijani regime is not only completely disproportionate to the allegations raised against him, but also not the first time he has been harassed, detained, and subjected to abuse as a result of his justifiable activism. “Azerbaijan has been an important U.S. partner and crucial for energy opportunities in the world, but our international relationships rely in no small part on the mutual recognition of basic principles of human rights. This is true for Mr. Hajiyev as well as numerous other political prisoners. “We join our colleagues in the Administration and in Europe in urging Azerbaijani authorities to ensure Mr. Hajiyev’s humane treatment and human rights, and return to its internal and external obligations under the Helsinki Principles."
Helsinki Commissioners Urge Austria to Deny Visas to Russian Delegation Ahead of OSCE PA Winter MeetingWednesday, February 15, 2023
WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission leadership, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, and Rep. Steve Cohen, on February 10, sent a letter to Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg to reconsider granting visas to the Russian delegation to the Winter Meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, taking place in Vienna next week. The Winter Meeting will coincide with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, February 24th, 2022, and is set to be the first in-person gathering of the Parliamentary Assembly with Russian and Belarusian participation since the start of the war. The United States and European Union have sanctioned every member of the Russian delegation for having explicitly endorsed Vladimir Putin's war of aggression on Ukraine and his claim to have annexed vast swathes of Ukrainian territory. Read the letter in PDF form above.
Helsinki Commissioners Announce Re-Introduction of HARM ActWednesday, January 25, 2023
Today, Helsinki Commissioners Steve Cohen, Joe Wilson, Marc Veasey, Richard Hudson, Ruben Gallego and Brian Fitzpatrick along with Representatives Ted Lieu, Maria Salazar and Marcy Kaptur, re-introduced the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act in the House of Representatives, bipartisan legislation that would require the Secretary of State to designate the Russian-based mercenary Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The Commission applauds this vital piece of legislation to hold Wagner accountable for the terror it inflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere. For more information click here. The HARM Act was first introduced in the last Congress by Helsinki Commission Chair Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Roger Wicker (MI), along with companion legislation in the House of Representatives led by Reps. Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson, Richard Hudson, and Marc Veasey.
Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I wish to draw the attention of colleagues to the timely and informative testimony of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, who testified earlier today at a Commission hearing on ``Threats to Free Media in the OSCE Region.'' She focused on various threats to journalists and independent media outlets, including physical attacks and adoption of repressive laws on the media as well as other forms of harassment. Most troubling is the murder of journalists because of their professional activities. According to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, 52 journalists have been killed in Russia alone since 1992, many reporting on corruption or human rights violations. Ms. Mijatovic also flagged particular concern over existing and emerging threats to freedom on the Internet and other communications technologies. She also voiced concern over the use of criminal statutes on defamation, libel and insult which are used by some OSCE countries to silence journalists or force the closure of media outlets. With respect to the situation in the United States, she urged adoption of a shield law at the federal level to create a journalists' privilege for federal proceedings. Such a provision was part of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2009, which passed the House early in the Congress and awaits consideration by the full Senate.
As one who has worked to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the 56 countries that comprise the OSCE, I share many of the concerns raised by Ms. Mijatovic in her testimony and commend them to colleagues.
ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION IN EUROPE REPRESENTATIVE ON FREEDOM OF THE MEDIA
(By Dunja Mijatovic) [From the Helsinki Commission Hearing on the Threats to Free Media in the OSCE Region, June 9, 2010]
Dear Chairmen, Distinguished Commissioners, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honored to be invited to this hearing before the Helsinki Commission at the very beginning of my mandate. I feel privileged to speak before you today. The Helsinki Commission's welcoming statement issued on the day of my appointment is a clear manifestation of the strong support you continuously show toward the work of this unique Office, and I assure you, distinguished Commissioners, that this fact is very much appreciated.
It will be three months tomorrow since I took office as the new Representative on Freedom of the Media to the OSCE. Even though three months may sound short, it has proved more than enough to gain a deep insight, and unfortunately also voice concerns, about the decline of media freedom in many of the 56 countries that today constitute the OSCE.
Although the challenges and dangers that journalists face in our countries may differ from region to region, one sad fact holds true everywhere: The freedom to express ourselves is questioned and challenged from many sides. Some of these challenges are blatant, others concealed; some of them follow traditional methods to silence free speech and critical voices, some use new technologies to suppress and restrict the free flow of information and media pluralism; and far too many result in physical harassment and deadly violence against journalists.
Today, I would like to draw your attention to the constant struggle of so many institutions and NGOs around the world, including your Commission and my Institution, to combat and ultimately stop violence against journalists. I would also like to address several other challenges that I want to place in the center of my professional activities, each of which I intend to improve by relentlessly using the public voice I am now given at the OSCE.
Let me first start with violence against journalists.
Ever since it was created in 1997, my Office has been raising attention to the alarming increase of violent attacks against journalists. Not only is the high number of violent attacks against journalists a cause for concern. Equally alarming is the authorities' far too-prevalent willingness to classify many of the murders as unrelated to the journalists' professional activities. We also see that more and more often critical speech is being punished with questionable charges brought against the journalists.
Impunity of perpetrators and the responsible authorities' passivity in investigating and failing to publicly condemn these murders breeds further violence. There are numerous cases that need to be raised over and over again. We need to continue to loudly repeat the names of these courageous individuals who lost their lives for the words they have written. I am sorry for all those whom I will not mention today; but the names that follow are on the list that I call ``the Hall of Shame'' of those governments that still have not brought to justice the perpetrators of the horrifying murders that happened in their countries.
The most recent murder of a journalist in the OSCE area is the one of the Kyrgyz opposition journalist Gennady Pavlyuk (Bely Parokhod), who was killed in Kazakhstan in December last year. It gives me hope that the new Interim Government of Kyrgyzstan has announced to save no efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice, as well as those involved in the 2007 murder of Alisher Saipov (Siyosat).
The Russian Federation remains the OSCE participating State where most members of the media are killed. Paul Klebnikov (Forbes, Russia), Anna Politkovskaya (Novaya Gazeta), Anastasia Baburova (Novaya Gazeta), are the most reported about, but let us also remember Magomed Yevloyev (Ingushetiya), Ivan Safronov (Kommersant), Yury Shchekochikhin (Novaya Gazeta), Igor Domnikov (Novaya Gazeta), Vladislav Listyev (ORT), Dmitry Kholodov (Moskovsky Komsomolets) and many others.
We also should not forget the brutal murders of the following journalists, some remain unresolved today:
Hrant Dink (Agos) Armenian Turkish journalist was shot in 2007 in Turkey.
Elmar Huseynov (Monitor) was murdered in 2005 in Azerbaijan.
Georgy Gongadze (Ukrainskaya Pravda) was killed in 2000 in Ukraine.
In Serbia, Slavko Curuvija (Dnevni Telegrat) was murdered in 1999, and Milan Pantic (Vecernje Novosti) was killed in 2001.
In Montenegro, Dusko Jovanovic (Dan), was shot dead in 2004.
In Croatia, Ivo Pukanic (Nacional) and his marketing director, Niko Franjic, were killed by a car bomb in 2008.
Violence against journalists equals violence against society and democracy, and it should be met with harsh condemnation and prosecution of the perpetrators. There can be no improvement without an overhaul of the very apparatus of prosecution and law enforcement, starting from the very top of the Government pyramid.
There is no true press freedom as long as journalists have to fear for their lives while performing their work. The OSCE commitments oblige all participating States to provide safety to these journalists, and I will do my best to pursue this goal with the mandate I am given and with all professional tools at my disposal.
We also observe another very worrying trend; more and more often the imprisonment of critical journalists based on political motivations including fabricated charges. Let me mention some cases:
In Azerbaijan, the prominent editor-in-chief of the now-closed independent Russian-language weekly, Realny Azerbaijan, and Azeri-language daily, Gundalik Azarbaycan, Eynulla Fatullayev was sentenced in 2007 to a cumulative eight-and-a-half years in prison on charges on defamation, incitement of ethnic hatred, terrorism and tax evasion. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Azerbaijan in violation of Article 10 and Article 6, paragraphs 1 and 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, so there is only one possible outcome--Fatullayev should be immediately released.
In Kazakhstan, Ramazan Yesergepov, the editor of Alma-Ata Info, is serving a three-year prison term on charges of disclosing state secrets.
Emin Milli and Adnan Hajizade, bloggers from Azerbaijan, are serving two and a half years and two years in prison respectively since July 2009 on charges of hooliganism and infliction of light bodily injuries.
In Uzbekistan, two independent journalists, Dilmurod Saiid (a freelancer) and Solijon Abdurahmanov (Uznews), are currently serving long jail sentences (twelve-and-a-half-years and ten years) on charges of extortion and drug possession.
I will continue to raise my voice and demand the immediate release of media workers imprisoned for their critical work.
I join Chairman Cardin for commending independent journalists in the Helsinki Commission's recent statement on World Press Freedom Day. These professionals pursue truth wherever it may lead them, often at great personal risk. They indeed play a crucial and indispensable role in advancing democracy and human rights. By highlighting these murder and imprisonment cases, by no means do I intend to neglect other forms of harassment or intimidation that also have a threatening effect on journalists. Let me just recall that, with the heightened security concerns in the last decade, police and prosecutors have increasingly raided editorial offices, journalists' homes, or seized their equipment to find leaks that were perceived as security threats. Suppression and restriction of Internet Freedom
Turning to the problems facing Internet freedom, we can see that new media have changed the communications and education landscape in an even more dramatic manner than did the broadcast media in the last half century. Under my mandate, the challenge has remained the same: how to safeguard or enhance pluralism and the free flow of information, both classical Helsinki obligations within the OSCE.
It was in 1998 that I read the words of Vinton G. Cerf in his article called ``Truth and the Internet''. It perfectly summarizes the nature of the Internet and the ways it can create freedom.
Dr. Cerf calls the Internet one of the most powerful agents of freedom: It exposes truth to those who wish to see it. But he also warns us that the power of the Internet is like a two-edged sword: it can also deliver misinformation and uncorroborated opinion with equal ease. The thoughtful and the thoughtless co-exist side by side in the Internet's electronic universe. What is to be done, asks Cerf.
His answer is to apply critical thinking. Consider the Internet as an opportunity to educate us all. We truly must think about what we see and hear, and we must evaluate and select. We must choose our guides. Furthermore, we must also teach our children to think more deeply about what they see and hear. That, more than any electronic filter, he says, will build a foundation upon which truth can stand.
Today, this foundation upon which truth could indeed so firmly stand is under continuous pressure by governments. As soon as governments realized that the Internet challenges secrecy and censorship, corruption, inefficiency and bad governing, they started imposing controls on it. In many countries and in many ways the effects are visible and they indeed threaten the potential for information to circulate freely.
The digital age offers the promise of a truly democratic culture of participation and interactivity. Realizing that promise is the challenge of our times. In the age of the borderless Internet, the protection of the right to freedom of expression ``regardless of frontiers'' takes on a new and more powerful meaning.
In an age of rapid technological change and convergence, archaic governmental controls over the media are increasingly unjust, indefensible and ultimately unsustainable. Despite progress, many challenges remain, including the lack of or poor quality of national legislation relating to freedom of information, a low level of implementation in many OSCE member states and existing political resistance.
The importance of providing free access for all people anywhere in the world cannot be raised often enough in the public arena, and cannot be discussed often enough among stakeholders: civil society, media, as well as local and international authorities.
Freedom of speech is more than a choice about which media products to consume.
Media freedom and freedom of speech in the digital age also mean giving everyone--not just a small number of people who own the dominant modes of mass communication, but ordinary people, too--an opportunity to use these new technologies to participate, interact, build, route around and talk about whatever they wish--be it politics, public issues or popular culture. The Internet fundamentally affects how we live. It offers extraordinary opportunities for us to learn, trade, connect, create and also to safeguard human rights and strengthen democratic values. It allows us to hear each other, see each other and speak to each other. It can connect isolated people and help them through their personal problems.
These rights, possibilities and ideals are at the heart of the Helsinki Process and the OSCE principles and commitments that we share. We must find the best ways to spread access to the Internet, so that the whole world can benefit from what it can offer, rather than increasing the existing gaps between those who have access to information and those who do not. And to those governments who fear and distrust the openness brought along by the Internet, let me emphasize over and over again:
The way a society uses the new communications technologies and how it responds to economic, political and cultural globalization will determine the very future of that society. Restrict access to information, and your chances to develop will become restricted. Open up the channels of free communication, and your society will find ways to prosper.
I was delighted to hear Secretary of State Clinton speak about a basic freedom in her January speech on Internet freedom in the ``Newseum''. This freedom is the freedom to connect. Secretary Clinton rightly calls this freedom the freedom of assembly in cyber space. It allows us to come together online, and shape our society in fundamental ways. Fame or money is no longer a requisite to immensely affect our world.
My office is rapidly developing a comprehensive strategy to identify the main problems related to Internet regulation in the 56 countries of the OSCE, and ways to address these issues. I will count on the support of the Helsinki Commission to advance the universal values that this strategy will attempt to extend to those countries where these values are still being questioned.
Let me also mention the importance to protect the freedom of other new technologies.
Only two weeks ago, my Office organized the 12th Central Asia Media Conference in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where media professionals from all five Central Asian countries adopted a declaration on access to information and new technologies. This document calls on OSCE governments to facilitate the freer and wider dissemination of information, including through modern information and communication technologies, so as to ensure wide access of the public to governmental information.
It also reiterates that new technologies strengthen democracy by ensuring easy access to information, and calls upon state institutions with legislative competencies to refrain from adopting new legislation that would restrict the free flow of information. And only this spring my Office published a guide to the digital switchover, to assist the many OSCE countries where the switch from analogue to digital will take place in the next five years. The aim of the guide is to help plan the digitalization process, and help ensure that it positively affects media freedom, as well as the choice and quality available to the audience.
Besides advocating the importance of good digitalization strategies, I will also use all available fora to raise attention to the alarming lack of broadcast pluralism, especially television broadcast pluralism, in many OSCE countries. As television is the main source of information in many OSCE regions, we must ensure that the laws allow for diverse, high-quality programs and objective news to easily reach every one of us. Only well-informed citizens can make good choices and further democratic values. Whether we talk about Internet regulation, inventive ways to switch to digital while preserving the dominance of a few selected broadcasters, attempts to limit access to information or broadcast pluralism, we must keep one thing in mind: No matter what governments do, in the long run, their attempts to regulate is a lost battle.
People always find ways to obtain the rights that are denied to them. History has shown this over and over again. In the short run, however, it is very clear that I will intervene with governments which try to restrict the free flow of information. Defamation
Similar to fighting violence against journalists, my Office has been campaigning since its establishment in 1997 to decriminalize defamation and libel in the entire OSCE region.
Unfortunately, in most countries, defamation is still punishable by imprisonment, which threatens the existence of critical speech in the media. This is so despite the consistent rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, stating that imprisonment for speech offences, especially when committed by criticizing public figures, is a disproportionate punishment.
Let us again remind ourselves of the journalists and bloggers I have mentioned above when discussing violence against journalists. They are currently in prison because their writing was considered defamatory. Their fate reminds us all of the importance of the right to freely speak our mind.
This problem needs urgent reform not only in the new, but also in the old democracies of the OSCE. Although the obsolete criminal provisions have not been used in Western Europe for decades, their ``chilling effect'' remained.
Furthermore, the mere existence of these provisions has served as a justification for other states that are unwilling to stop the criminalization of journalistic errors, and instead leave these offenses solely to the civil-law domain.
Currently, defamation is a criminal offence in all but ten OSCE countries--my home country Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Ireland, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Last year, three OSCE countries decriminalized defamation, which I consider to be an enormous success: Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom; the last being the first among the Western European participating States to officially decriminalize defamation.
Some other countries, such as Armenia, are currently reforming their defamation provisions, and I hope that I can soon welcome the next country that carries out this important and very long overdue reform.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The above problematic areas--violence against journalists, restrictions of new media including the Internet, lack of pluralism and resistance to decriminalize defamation--are among the most urgent media freedom problems that need our attention and concentrated efforts today. However, we will also not forget about the many other fields where there is plenty of room to improve. Of course, I will not miss the excellent opportunity that we are here together today to raise your attention to the topic that my distinguished predecessor, Miklos Haraszti, has already raised with you: the establishment and the adoption of a federal shield law in the United States.
As you know, my Office has been a dedicated promoter of the federal shield law for many years. If passed, the Free Flow of Information Act would provide a stronger protection to journalists; it could ensure that imprisonments such as that of Judith Miller in 2005, and Josh Wolf in 2006, could never again take place and hinder investigative journalism. But the passage of such legislation would resonate far further than within the borders of the United States of America. It could send a very much needed signal and set a precedent to all the countries where protection of sources is still opposed by the government and is still not more than a dream for journalists.
I respectfully ask all of you, distinguished Commissioners, to continue and even increase your efforts to enable that the Free Flow of Information Act soon becomes the latest protector of media freedom in the United States.
And of course I cannot close my speech without mentioning my home country, Bosnia and Herzegovina. As you know, not only Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also most of the emerging democracies in the Balkans enjoy modern and forward-looking media legislation. We can openly say that they almost have it all when it comes to an advanced legal and regulatory framework enabling free expression to thrive. But it is not that simple. I use this moment to pose several questions: if there are good laws, then why do we still face severe problems in relation to media freedom, why do we stagnate and sometimes even move backward? Where does the problem lie? And, more importantly, how can we solve it and move ahead?
What Bosnia and Herzegovina shows us is that good laws in themselves are not enough. Without their good implementation, they are only documents filled with unrealized potential. In countries that struggle with similar problems, we must stress over and over again: without the full implementation of valid legislation, without genuine political will, without a comprehensive understanding of the media's role in a functioning democracy, without the creation of a safe environment for journalists to do their work, and without true commitment by all actors, these countries risk falling far behind international standards.
Apart from unmet expectations and disillusioned citizens, we all know that the consequences of politicized and misused media could be very serious. In conclusion, let me assure you, dear Commissioners, that I will not hesitate to openly and vigorously remind any country of their responsibilities toward implementing the OSCE commitments to the freedom of the media.
I am also asking you to use this opportunity today and send a clear message to the governments of all OSCE countries to do their utmost to fully implement their media legislation safeguarding freedom of expression. The governments have the power to create an environment in which media can perform their unique role free of pressures and threats. Without this, no democracy can flourish.
Thank you for your attention.