Political Imprisonment in Ukraine

Political Imprisonment in Ukraine

Hon.
Benjamin L. Cardin
United States
Senate
113th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Madam President. I would like to address the current situation in Ukraine, an important country in the heart of Europe, a bellwether for democratic development in the region, and the current Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. 

Let me first welcome the release from prison Sunday of former Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs and leading opposition figure Yuri Lutsenko. Mr. Lutsenko had been convicted on politically motivated charges and incarcerated since December 2010. President Yanukovych's pardon of Mr. Lutsenko is an encouraging step in the right direction. I also welcome the pardon of former Environment Minister Heorhiy Filipchuk, who also served as a member of Ms. Tymoshenko's Cabinet and had been released last year after his sentence was suspended. By pardoning Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Filipchuk, President Yanukovych is indicating not only a willingness to resolve what has been a major irritant in Ukraine's relations with the United States and the EU, but also a stain on Ukraine's democratic credentials. 

At the same time, I remain deeply concerned about the politically motivated imprisonment of Ukrainian opposition figure and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been incarcerated since August 2011. 

Mrs. Tymoshenko's case stands out as a significant illustration of Ukraine's backsliding with respect to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law since she was defeated by President Yanukovych in February 2010. The United States, EU, and Canada have repeatedly expressed concerns about the application of selective justice against political opponents, their flawed trials, conditions of detention, and the denial of their ability to participate in last October's parliamentary elections. 

As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, which has long been committed to Ukraine's independence and democratic development, I am especially mindful of Ukraine's 2013 OSCE chairmanship. Like any Chair-in-Office, Ukraine faces formidable tasks in leading a multilateral organization that operates on the basis of consensus, which includes 57 countries ranging from mature democracies to oppressive dictatorships. The United States wants Ukraine to succeed, but the reality is that the politically motivated imprisonment of Ms. Tymoshenko casts a cloud over its chairmanship. A Chair-in-Office must itself have strong democratic credentials if it is to succeed in encouraging reform in other countries. 

Furthermore, democratic regression in Ukraine has harmed U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations, preventing a traditionally strong partnership from realizing its full potential. It has also slowed down the process of Ukraine's drawing closer to the EU, which is that country's stated foreign policy priority, manifested in the still-delayed signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. More than half a year has gone by since the unanimous adoption of S. Res. 466, calling for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko. 

The Ukrainian authorities now need to follow up on the important step they have taken in freeing Yuri Lutsenko. They need to free Ms. Tymoshenko and restore her civil and political rights. By demonstrating commitment to the rule of law and human rights principles embodied by the OSCE, Ukraine will strengthen the credibility of its chairmanship and show it is serious about being a full-fledged member of the democratic community of nations. 

I strongly urge the Ukrainian government to resolve the case of Ms. Tymoshenko. 

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  • Hastings and Cardin Link U.S. Energy Security to Need for Democracy in Oil-Rich Countries

    Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), made the following statements at a U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing entitled “Energy and Democracy: Oil and Water?” The hearing examined whether the development of democracy is incompatible with the development of a country’s energy resources. The hearing further addressed the issue of how energy kleptocracy impacts U.S. energy security. Six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are ranked by Transparency International as some of the world’s most corrupt countries. Corruption and kleptocracy often lead to political instability and subsequently higher oil prices, which have the potential to impact the economic and national security interests of the United States. Congressman Alcee L. Hastings Statement: “Today’s hearing is the second of three hearings the Commission is holding on the topic of energy security, an issue that spans the security, economic and environmental, and human dimensions of the Helsinki process. This hearing series is designed to give the Commission a comprehensive picture of this complex issue and highlight areas where the Commission, the U.S. Government and the OSCE can take effective action. “At today’s hearing we are going to hear from our distinguished panelists about the development of democracy and civil society in countries with abundant energy resources—and why that matters to U.S. energy security. I mentioned at the last hearing the remarkable fact that only two of the world’s top 10 oil exporters are established democracies—Norway and Mexico. What is wrong with this picture? Top World Oil Net Exporters 2006 1 Saudi Arabia 2 Russia 3 Norway 4 Iran 5 United Arab Emirates 6 Venezuela 7 Kuwait 8 Nigeria 9 Algeria 10 Mexico Source: EIA: International Energy Annual (2000-2004), International Petroleum Monthly (2005-2006). “When we look at countries that are situated on oil and natural gas reserves, we think these countries have won the global version of the economic lottery. They have a built-in revenue stream that can fuel not only their own economy but also be an export commodity. But what economists have found by studying these resource-rich countries is that they often do worse than their resource-poor neighbors, both economically and politically. This problem is often referred to as the “resource curse.” “Each of the countries we are focusing on today—Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan—face some aspect of this resource curse. And while the situation in each country is unique, we can generalize and say that the lack of transparency in politics, and in oil and gas deals, is at the root of the problem. “It’s a well-known, and well-bemoaned, fact that the United States is becoming more and more reliant on imported energy to fuel our economy. We are the world’s largest consumer of oil—we account for an astounding 25 percent of global daily oil demand—despite having less than 3 percent of the world’s proven reserves. And we source that oil from some unstable and unfriendly places in the world such as Nigeria and Venezuela. “In the context of today’s hearing some of you may wonder why the United States should care what is happening in Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan, when we actually don’t rely on these countries for a significant portion of our energy supplies. Russia is only number nine on our list of oil suppliers and Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan don’t event make it into the top twenty. “The answer is that unlike natural gas, oil is a commodity, so regardless of where we source our oil, what happens in other oil-rich countries impacts the stability of our price and our supply as well. As the National Petroleum Council reported last week, “There can be no U.S. energy security without global energy security.” “Oil is the tie that binds us all and threatens to choke us at the same time. “So take a minute to think about how drastically different our interactions with these countries would be if we did not rely so heavily on these countries’ resources. I think it goes without saying that we would have more leverage to promote democracy and civil society. Clearly oil constrains, if not drives, our foreign policy. “So while it is imperative that we work to limit our dependence on foreign oil and change the dynamic of supply and demand, it is just as important to create more stable and reliable sources of energy. One of the key ways the international community has sought to counteract the political and economic instability inherent in the resource curse is through programs that seek to instill transparency and accountability into the resource payment system,” said Hastings. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin’s Statement: “I am pleased that the Commission is now turning its focus to the nexus of energy and democracy. As the States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pursue energy security, we must address why it is that so many of the resource-rich countries in the world are not democratic and whether development of both democracy and energy resources is an incompatible goal. “In the search for energy security in the OSCE region and beyond, democracy is an important contributing factor. Endemic corruption is an impediment to democracy. Last year the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution I authored on limiting immunity for parliamentarians in order to strengthen good governance, public integrity and the rule of law in the OSCE region. Just recently Chairman Hastings and I met with the President of Ukraine who told us that this was one of the first things he would like to see accomplished once a new parliament is elected this September. This is an important step forward for Ukraine. “Broad immunity for parliamentarians can serve as a cover for corruption. I believe that good governance is the key to a properly functioning democracy. In many of the oil-exporting states, corruption and kleptocracy have become the norm and prevent democratic ideals from flourishing. The United States must consider the impact of its dependence on these types of states for energy security. “Countries that are mired in corruption are not reliable sources of energy. According to Transparency International, six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are among the most corrupt countries in the world. A lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector poses both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. These governments are not accountable to their citizens and have taken advantage of the resources of the nation in pursuit of the self-interest of a few corrupt leaders. The result has been increasing political instability, and in some cases violent attacks on pipelines and refineries. “Not only does political instability threaten the physical ability to export oil and gas, but it also has created a poor investment climate. If we are to support development of energy resources, U.S. policy should certainly take into account the investment incentives in these countries. Corruption not only weakens those incentives, but also prevents those investments from producing real results in terms of security of supply. There is clearly a positive link between development of democracy and development of energy resources, which can be seen in some of the recent improvements to both in countries such as Azerbaijan. Additional steps are absolutely necessary to increase transparency in oil-exporting governments, but initiatives such as the “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative,” and “Publish What You Pay,” are moves in the right direction and need U.S. support. “In order to achieve energy security, not only must we work towards our own energy independence, for which I have introduced legislation, but we must also ensure that the countries from which we import oil and gas are reliable sources. Combating corruption and increasing transparency are part of the process of democratic development and must be supported by U.S. policy if we are to attain long term energy security,” said Cardin. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

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  • Energy and Democracy: Oil and Water?

    As the States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pursue energy security, the Commission will address why it is that so many of the resource-rich countries in the world are not democratic and whether development of both democracy and energy resources is an incompatible goal. Countries that are mired in corruption are not reliable sources of energy. According to Transparency International, six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are among the most corrupt countries in the world. A lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector poses both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. These governments are not accountable to their citizens and have taken advantage of the resources of the nation in pursuit of the self-interest of a few corrupt leaders. The result has been increasing political instability.

  • Pipeline Politics: Achieving Energy Security in the OSCE Region

    This hearing focused on the security of supply and transit of oil and gas and its role in conflict prevention.  Those testifying identified important factors for ensuring the reliable and predictable supply and transit of oil and natural gas. This hearing also discussed the United States’ role in its own energy security, and in Eurasian energy security.

  • Russia: In Transition or Intransigent?

    This hearing, which Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings chaired, focused, on Russia, a country whose role had become larger and larger, with a more assertive take on Georgia, Russia’s neighbor to the south, as well as concurrent positions in the United Nations, the Group of 8, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE. In spite of an initially positive looking trajectory of representative government after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., since 2001, the Russian government had begun to recentralize power again. This has been perhaps best exemplified by the government’s curtailing of civil liberties. While the Russian Federation has made progress in certain arenas as far as human rights are concerned (i.e. having heat in the winter, getting paid on time, and access to the judicial process), there has been a vocal and growing minority that is deeply concerned about Russia’s trajectory, and the Russian government has met these individuals’ concerns with heavy-handedness and brutality. To address this situation, Commissioner Hastings expressed the need to find new ways to have more frequent interaction and with all governmental branches, as well as a substantial and sustainable bilateral dialogue at the level of civil society.

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

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

  • Introduction of Resolution on Ukraine Political Crisis

    Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, I rise to introduce a concurrent resolution which addresses the current political crisis in Ukraine, a country of strategic importance to the United States. My resolution urges all sides to the ongoing impasse to act responsibly and use dialogue to resolve the crisis and ensure a free and democratic system in Ukraine based on the rule of law. I am pleased that Rep. KAPTUR, a co-chair of the Ukrainian American Caucus, has joined me as original cosponsor. Ukraine's current political conflict is the result of the ongoing power struggle that President Victor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Victor Yanukovich have now been engaged in since Yanukovich became Prime Minister last August. This power struggle, rooted in hastily conceived constitutional reforms, threatens to undermine Ukraine's hard-fought and substantial democratic gains, especially those won since the 2004 Orange Revolution. Exactly 2 weeks ago today, President Yushchenko issued a decree dissolving parliament, asserting that the Prime Minister was attempting to monopolize power, and called for new parliamentary elections for May 27. Parliament has refused to disband and questions the legality of the presidential decree. Ukraine's Constitutional Court is to rule on the legality of the decree and both sides have agreed to abide by the Court's decision. Unfortunately, some of the Court's judges have already complained of threats and pressure, especially from Yanukovich's supporters. Clearly, this is unacceptable and steps have been taken to protect the judges. Madam Speaker, it is important to note that Ukraine has made real democratic gains since the Orange Revolution. A year ago, as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I had the privilege of leading the OSCE-Ied International Election Observation Mission to Ukraine's parliamentary elections and the pleasure and profound satisfaction of pronouncing them free and fair. Also, in contrast to the first 13 years of its independence, Ukraine in now designated by Freedom House as a ``free'' country, and not merely ``partly free.'' Nevertheless, despite the progress, there have been missed opportunities and some of the promises of that historic revolution have gone unfulfilled. Democratic institutions and the rule of law in Ukraine are still emerging and fragile and lacking in their ability to safeguard democratic gains, and it is this weakness that has made it possible for this power struggle to ripen into a full-blown political crisis. First and foremost, my resolution calls for the crisis to be resolved in a manner that adheres to the rule of law consistent with Ukraine's democratic values and national security, in keeping with its OSCE commitments. It is also essential that the dispute is resolved in a peaceful manner. I am encouraged that demonstrations in Kyiv have been peaceful and that all sides to the dispute appear to recognize that any kind of violent conflict would have very negative consequences for Ukraine. Madam Speaker, prolonged instability is clearly not in Ukraine's interests and that nation's political leaders need to find a transparent way out of the current impasse that all parties will abide by. I hope that responsible dialogue consistent with the rule of law leads to a positive outcome for the Ukrainian people and the democratic path they have chosen. As this resolution underscores, Congress has been a staunch supporter of the development of democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law in Ukraine since the restoration of that nation's independence in 1991. The consolidation of democracy and the rule of law in Ukraine will further strengthen that country's independence and sovereignty, enhancing Ukraine's aspirations for full integration with the West. I urge my colleagues to support this timely resolution as a demonstration of Congress' interest, concern, and support for the Ukrainian people. By Mr. HASTINGS of Florida (for himself, Ms. KAPTUR, and Mr. LEVIN):  H. Con. Res. 115. Concurrent resolution urging all sides to the current political crisis in Ukraine to act responsibly and use dialogue to resolve the crisis and ensure a free and transparent democratic system in Ukraine based on the rule of law; to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

  • 15th Anniversary of Ukraine's Independence

    Mr. Speaker, August 24th marked the fifteenth anniversary of Ukraine’s rebirth as an independent state, finally being freed from the shackles of Soviet misrule that included a reign of terror, cultural suppression and a genocidal famine. The last fifteen years have witnessed peaks and valleys as the Ukrainian people have struggled to overcome the legacy of communism and Moscow’s imperialism. While the process of Ukraine’s restoration is still a work in progress, great strides have been made to consolidate that nation as an independent, free and democratic state. The December 1,1991 referendum on independence, the 1996 Constitution and especially the 2004 Orange Revolution stand as highlights, demonstrating Ukrainian resolve for independence, rule of law, democracy and freedom, and the continuing promise of a better life. In contrast to the first 13 years of independence, Ukraine is now “free”, and not merely “partly free.” The March 26 parliamentary election was one of the freest and fairest ever held among post-Soviet states. The Ukrainian economy is on the road to recovery and development after the initial post-Soviet decline of the 1990s. Ukraine is a responsible neighbor and has shown its mettle as a partner for peace and security in the world. Of course, challenges remain despite the real progress that has been made. There have been missed opportunities. Many of the promises of the Orange Revolution are only partially fulfilled. The rule of law, including a truly independent judiciary, remains to be consolidated. Corruption, although not as egregious as before the Orange Revolution, still rears its ugly head. Many Ukrainians believe all too many among the political elites look first toward their personal interests rather than to the good of the people and of the nation they are supposed to serve. As the last months have demonstrated, political stability can be elusive, and it remains to be seen what direction the new government will take. Nevertheless, Ukraine continues to show tremendous potential, and I am firmly convinced that this still relatively young 15-year-old independent state will fulfill its potential. Mr. Speaker, in looking over the last fifteen years, we must not forget the sacrifices of millions who fought for Ukraine’s liberty over the course of the last century, often against great odds and at great personal risk. Whether in the struggle for Ukraine’s short-lived independence in 1918–21, or the insurgent armies that fought against both Nazi and Soviet rule during and after World War II, many Ukrainians made the ultimate sacrifice. More recently, in the final decades of Soviet domination, Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors and other human rights activists challenged the system, calling upon the Kremlin to live up to commitments voluntarily undertaken when Leonid Brezhnev signed the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. One such renowned activist, Ukrainian Helsinki Monitor Nadia Svitlychna, who served three years in a Soviet labor camp for her tireless defense of human rights and freedom, died last month. We honor the memory of Mrs. Svitlychna, recalling that it was courageous and dedicated individuals like her who, as much as anyone, paved the way for an independent, democratic Ukraine. Mr. Speaker, I am proud of the role that the Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has played throughout its 30-year existence in firmly supporting human rights and freedom for Ukraine. I am pleased that the Congress has stood firm in support of Ukraine and am confident that the United States will continue to extend the hand of friendship as Ukraine moves toward its rightful place as a fully integrated member of the Euro-Atlantic community of nations.

  • Advancing the Human Dimension in the OSCE: The Role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

    This hearing, led by the Helsinki Chairman the Hon. the Hon. Sam Brownback, Co-Chairman the Hon. Christopher H. Smith Office, and ranking member the Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, examined the role that Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has played over the last fifteen years. ODIHR’s role in advancing human rights and the development of democracy in the OSCE participating States was noted and agreed to be particularly important. ODIHR is engaged throughout Western Europe and the former Soviet Union in the fields of democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and promotion of the rule of law and has set the international standard for election observation. Within the hearing, the challenges that ODIHR faces were examined, specifically those instigated by the Russian Federation, Belarus and a small minority of the OSCE participating states seeking to undermine the organization under the guise of reform.  ODIHR has earned an international reputation for its leadership, professionalism, and excellence in the area of election observation.  That being said, ODIHR’s mission is much broader, encompassing a wide range of human rights activities aimed at closing the gap between commitments on paper and the reality on the ground in signatory countries.    

  • Tools for Combating Anti-Semitism: Police Training and Holocaust Education

    The Helsinki Commission held a briefing on Holocaust education tools and law enforcement training programs undertaken by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Co-Chairman Smith cited the vicious murder of Ilan Halimi as a reminder of the need to redouble efforts to combat anti-Semitism and to speak out when manifestations of related hatred occur.  The briefing highlighted specific programs which promote awareness of the Holocaust and provide law enforcement professionals with the tools to investigate and prosecute hate-inspired crimes.   Paul Goldenberg, a Special Advisor to ODIHR who designed the law enforcement training program which assists police to recognize and respond to hate crimes, stressed that law enforcement professionals must be recognized as an integral part of the solution.  Dr. Kathrin Meyer addressed the challenges presented by contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and highlights ways to address the subject in the classroom. Other witnesses – including Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; Stacy Burdett, Associate Director of Government and National Affairs, Anti-Defamation League; and Liebe Geft, Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance also presented testimony at this briefing.

  • The Legacy of Chornobyl: Health and Safety 20 Years Later

    This hearing, chaired by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith marked the 20th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chornobyl, Ukraine. This is not only significant because of the long-term effects that the catastrophe had in the area, but also because of the circumstances under which it took place. More specifically, as Smith did not fail to point out at the hearing’s start, the explosion took place under the veil of secrecy brought to the world by the Soviet Union. The nuclear reactor at the Chornobyl site was part and parcel of U.S.S.R. property, so the Soviet Union was able to conceal what transpired from the outside world. This hearing emphasized much needed work to be done for the residents of Chornobyl, including aid by the United States.  

  • From the Maidan to Main Street: Ukraine's Landmark Democratic Parliamentary Elections

    By Commission Staff While pundits attempt to sort out the political meaning of Ukraine’s March 26th parliamentary elections to fill the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the significance of the conduct of the elections should not be missed.  “Free and fair” was the resounding assessment of the OSCE-led International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) that also included observers from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the OSCE Office of Democratic Elections and Human Rights (ODIHR).  This unqualified positive appraisal – a first among the 12 former Soviet republics outside the Baltics that have conducted scores of elections since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union – underscores the consolidation of democratic gains made in Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution following years of political stagnation. These clean March 26th elections stood in stark contrast to the fatally flawed first rounds of the Ukrainian presidential elections that ushered in popular revolt sixteen months earlier.  Coming on the heels of the blatantly undemocratic presidential “elections” in neighboring Belarus a week earlier, comparisons were inevitable.  The Rada elections also followed a series of recent electoral contests elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including in Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which to varying degrees fell short of international standards.  The OSCE assessment in Ukraine returns the “free and fair” formulation to the lexicon of international election observations, departing from the heavily nuanced appraisals that have become common in recent years.  This development has potentially significant implications for future OSCE observations, especially with parliamentary and presidential elections expected in Russia in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, current President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, was appointed by the OSCE Chair-in-Office to serve as Special Coordinator for short-term observers.  Commission staff observed on Election Day, as part of the IEOM deployment of 914 observers coming from 45 OSCE countries including Russia.  In all, the group examined voting and the vote count in nearly 3,000 polling stations.  The Commission contingent observed balloting throughout the Kiev and Cherkasy regions. The Ukrainian Government declined to invite observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), an entity discredited in the eyes of many for its effusive praise of fundamentally flawed elections elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, including Belarus’ undemocratic March 19 presidential contest.  The CIS stood out for its sharply critical evaluation of Ukraine’s December 26, 2004 presidential elections that resulted in Victor Yushchenko’s victory in elections widely considered to have met democratic standards.  Ukraine has refused to participate further in CIS monitoring missions.  The two dozen Russian Duma observers present offered tempered, mixed opinions about the conduct of Rada elections.   Whatever shortcomings there were in these elections – and no undertaking of this scale is perfect – they appear to have resulted from late or otherwise poor planning.  Among these were delays in the formation of some district and precinct election commissions, the absence of a functioning Constitutional Court, long lines and crowding at some polling stations, and lingering inaccuracies in voter lists.  On the positive side of the balance sheet were the significantly freer media and decidedly more balanced media coverage; no systematic use of administrative resources; the transparent, consensual and professional administration of the elections at all levels; inclusion of domestic, non-partisan observers; and an overhaul of voter lists.        Election day began early with polling stations opening at 7:00 a.m.  There were over 34,000 polling stations.  Adding to the vibrancy of the elections was the large number of domestic observers, an indication of buy-in on the part of Ukrainians young and old alike with many affiliated with particular parties or candidates and others representing NGOs.  Upon entering the polling stations, one was struck by walls plastered with informational bulletins on candidates and parties.  Forty-five parties and blocs vied for seats in parliament.  While the international community was mainly focused on the parliamentary balloting, voting was also underway for regional and local government.  Voters were thus presented with four lengthy ballots: national and regional as well as local councils and mayoral races.  While some older voters were befuddled by this collection of papers, most voters seemed to take it in stride.  Election commission poll workers seemed attentive to their duties.  This was put to the test in the complicated tabulation process that began, once polling stations closed at 10:00 p.m., typically involving the sorting and counting of thousands of papers.  Processing the Rada results alone went into the wee hours of morning, with the three remaining stacks of ballots from other contests proceeding well past daybreak. The undeniable success of the domestic observation in these elections, buttressed by years of investment in training and support by the United States and others, raises obvious questions about the need for future international observations in Ukraine.  Has the time come to “graduate” Ukraine from such scrutiny and leave that necessary task to Ukrainian stakeholders themselves?  Many believe the March 26th elections confirm that that time has come, especially if Ukraine continues on its increasingly democratic trajectory.  The greater and more prominent role of domestic observers, also reinforces the notion that the time for Ukraine’s “graduation” has come.  Indeed, the OSCE should continue to encourage domestic stakeholders to prove themselves to their own people. The Maidan, Kiev’s Independence Square that featured so prominently in the massive demonstrations by orange-clad protesters in November 2004 and the jubilant crowds following Yushchenko’s victory a few weeks later, was calm on the Monday following the Rada elections.  Strolling past this bustling area, Ukrainians were going about their routines, perhaps an indicator that the politics of democracy has moved from the Maidan to the Main Streets of cities and towns throughout the country. Whatever the pundits may declaim regarding the election results or the continuing strength of the Orange Revolution, what seemed palpable was a keen appreciation for the business of governing.  Neither a democratic revolution nor a single “free and fair” election are guarantees that the resulting government will be in a position to immediately deal with the basic needs of its people.  Overcoming these obstacles will have a profound impact on how the next government meets the political and economic challenges Ukraine faces at home and abroad.                   What we can say with confidence is that the March 26th elections were a further essential step in the process of overcoming the legacy of the past – a history marred by foreign domination, genocidal famine, denial of political and cultural freedom, and more recently political stagnation.  Today, the people of Ukraine are removing the overgrowth of thorns – an image alluded to by the great poet Taras Shevchenko – that prevented them for so long from pursuing their own pathway to a brighter and more prosperous future.

  • Regarding H.R. 1053, Authorizing the Extension of Permanent Normal Trade Relations Treatment to Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, one year ago, in my capacity as Ranking Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I traveled to Ukraine with my colleague and Chairman, Congressman Chris Smith. We made our trip shortly after the historic Orange Revolution, and I was impressed by the commitment of Ukraine’s new leaders to consolidate democracy, promote respect for human rights, and modernize the country’s economy.  I also was impressed by the leaders’ commitment to further integrate Ukraine into the European and Euro-Atlantic community. I am not the only one to have been impressed by Ukraine’s efforts.  International organizations, such as Freedom House, have acknowledged Ukraine’s progress in recent years in protecting the political rights and civil liberties of its citizens. Mr. Speaker, I believe Congress should demonstrate its support for Ukraine’s reforms by approving legislation today that would grant Ukraine Permanent Normal Trade Relations status, and thereby take it one step closer to becoming a member of the WTO. The passage of PNTR for Ukraine also will show Congress’ support for the efforts of the Yushchenko government to ensure that the upcoming March 26 parliamentary elections will be free and fair.  I am pleased that my Helsinki Commission colleague from Florida, Congressman Alcee Hastings, has been appointed as the OSCE PA Special Coordinator for our election observation mission there, and I look forward to reviewing the mission’s findings and report. So far, the pre-election process, while not completely problem-free, has been dramatically different from the period leading up to the fraudulent elections of November 2004, which ignited the Orange Revolution. In the 2004 election, the Ukrainian government instructed the media about how to cover the elections and systematically abused government resources.  In contrast, the upcoming elections are expected to be free and fair.  Mr. Speaker, I also would like to take a few moments to comment on the issue that underlies the legislation we are considering today. The issue Congress is formally considering today is whether to withdraw the application of the “Jackson-Vanik” amendment to Ukraine and thereby grant Ukraine permanent normal trade relations status. The Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was adopted in 1975, was intended to provide a way for the United States to deny trade benefits to countries that are denying the rights of its citizens, particularly religious minorities. Mr. Speaker, in light of the commitment that Ukraine has demonstrated to protecting the rights of religious minorities, I think it is appropriate that we withdraw the application of the Jackson-Vanik amendment to Ukraine today. Since independence, each successive government of Ukraine has demonstrated a consistent commitment to defending the religious and ethnic rights of all the people of Ukraine.   Current President Victor Yushchenko has continued this unambiguous commitment by pledging to bring minority groups together and reconciling historic conflicts. The International Religious Freedom Report for 2005, published by the U.S. State Department, recognizes that “President Yushchenko has, since taking office, spoken publicly about his vision of a Ukraine in which religious freedom flourishes and people are genuinely free to worship as they please.” It must be understood, however, that there remain issues of concern – most notably the return of communal, religious property that was confiscated during the Soviet era, and the anti-Semitic activities of Ukraine’s largest private university – the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management (MAUP). Mr. Speaker, I have raised both these issues in recent days with the Ambassador from Ukraine and other Ukrainian officials, and I have been impressed by their commitment to addressing these issues. Ukrainian officials have assured me that the government is committed to continuing its efforts to return communal property as required under current law, and that the Government of Ukraine will continue to condemn, at the highest levels, the anti-Semitic activities of the Interregional Academy of Personnel Management. Mr. Speaker, given these concerns, I am pleased that the legislation we are considering today highlights the importance Government of Ukraine’s continuing commitment to ensuring freedom of religion, respect for minorities, and eliminating intolerance. Mr. Speaker, shortly I will yield time to the gentleman from California, Mr. Lantos, the ranking member of the International Relations Committee, and our leader in Congress on issues of human rights, democracy, and religious freedom.  Mr. Lantos is the leader in Congress of our Task Force to Combat Anti-Semitism, and I want to thank him for working with me, the Helsinki Commission, and the OSCE as we have also battled against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe. Ukraine has agreed to certain commitments to fight anti-Semitism – as have all 55 Participating States in the OSCE – and let me make it crystal clear today that we intend to hold Ukraine to those commitments, including their responsibility to denounce anti-Semitic statements, vigorously enforce hate crimes laws, and promote diversity and tolerance in school curricula.  I am pleased that Section 1, paragraph 4 of the resolution before us today references these OSCE commitments. Let me make a personal reflection here.  During my visit to Ukraine last year, I also visited two monuments – the Ukraine Famine memorial, honoring the millions of victims of Stalin’s genocidal 1932-1933 famine, and Babi Yar, where hundreds of thousands of Jews and others were massacred by the Nazis during World War II. Mr. Speaker, it was a very moving experience for me to lay wreaths at the sites of these two memorials. These horrific events were a testament to the cruelty and intolerance of dictatorships.  I do believe that today’s independent Ukraine now understands that respect for human rights and a commitment to democracy and tolerance are the best inoculation against horrors like the Famine and Babi Yar.  The U.S. Government, the Helsinki Commission, and the OSCE look forward to working with a democratic Ukraine as they continue to build their institutions of democracy, establish the rule of law, protect human rights and religious freedom, and combat corruption. In closing, I commend Ukraine for its progress in promoting political and economic freedom for its citizens, and its integration into the global, rules-based economy.  I urge my colleagues to join me in demonstrating support for Ukraine’s efforts by voting today to grant the country permanent normal trade relations status.

  • Congratulating the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I congratulate the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund on the launch of the Chornobyl 20 Commemorative airlift.  This feat builds upon the Fund’s impressive record of having sent 31 airlifts and 16 sea shipments to Ukraine, delivering humanitarian aid valued at over $53 million.  The airlifts are just one aspect of CCRDF’s vital and far-reaching work over the last 15 years in helping the most vulnerable in Ukraine – her children.  And, as a Congressman from New Jersey, I’m proud of the work of CCRDF and its supporters in the Cherry Hill-Marlton, Trenton area.   Ten years ago, I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing on the 10th anniversary of Chornobyl, at which CCRDF Executive Director Alex Kuzma and other witnesses, including then Ukrainian Ambassador Yuri Shcherbak offered compelling testimony addressing the health and demographic consequences of the word’s worst nuclear disaster.  I’m pleased that Ambassador Shamshur has accepted the Helsinki Commission’s invitation to testify at our Chornobyl 20th anniversary hearing which will be held on April 25th.   As a strong advocate of the health of all children, including the unborn, Chornobyl is of special concern.  In Ukraine and Belarus, there is growing evidence of a steep increase in birth defects, especially an alarming 4-fold increase in spina bifida that has been documented by the Ukrainian-American Association for the Prevention of Birth Defects.  Many other forms of birth defects have doubled since Chornobyl, including cataracts, deformed limbs and fingers and cleft palates.  Recent Israeli-Ukrainian studies have shown that children born to Chornobyl liquidators have a seven-fold increase in chromosome damage as compared to their siblings born prior to the Chornobyl disaster.   Last year, I authored language that was included in the State Department Authorization Act authorizing funding for assistance to improve maternal and prenatal care, especially for the purpose of helping prevent birth defects and pregnancy complications.  The monies would be for individuals in Belarus and Ukraine involved in the cleanup of the region affected by the Chornobyl disaster.  We need to make sure that Chornobyl health studies and efforts to prevent birth defects through the distribution of folic acid and better prenatal care receive sufficient funding.  These are funding priorities that I will continue to pursue.   The public health research community was caught off guard by the massive 80-fold increase in thyroid cancer among Chornobyl children in Belarus in 1993, and the world community needs to remain vigilant for other forms of cancer that may begin to emerge now that the 20-year latency period has ended.   We need to remember that the half-life of radioactive cesium is 30 years.  Thousands of children are still being exposed to dangerously high levels of radionuclides in contaminated areas of southern Belarus and northern Ukraine, as well as far-flung areas in Scandinavia and Central and Eastern Europe that also suffered from radioactive fallout.  There is still much that remains to be done to overcome the devastating effects of Chornobyl, and it is important for the international community – both governments and non-governmental organizations – to remember that Chornobyl is not just a Ukrainian, Belarusian or Russian problem.  The fallout will require continued international attention and commitment.   We also need ongoing support for organizations like CCRDF that have worked for 16 years to provide state-of-the-art medical technology, physician training and humanitarian aid to give Ukrainian children a fighting chance to overcome cancer and leukemia. Clearly, there is much work that remains to be done.  Again, I commend the devoted leadership, staff, volunteers and supporters of CCRDF for your tireless work and deep commitment to a most noble cause.   

  • Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election

    Presidential elections in Belarus are scheduled to be held March 19, against the backdrop of stepped up repression by the regime of Alexander Lukashenka. The Belarusian strongman's power grab, begun a decade ago, has included liquidation of the democratically elected parliament, a string of fundamentally flawed elections and manipulation of the country's constitution to maintain power. A climate of fear following the disappearance of leading opposition figures in 1999 has continued with the harassment and arrests of opposition activists and the forced closure of independent newspapers. Rights violations in Belarus have intensified in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, as the regime seeks to squelch dissent. The repressive environment has made it difficult for opposition candidates to engage in normal campaign activities. Meanwhile, administration of the elections at all levels remains firmly in the hands of Lukashenka loyalists.

  • Riding Roughshod Over Rights in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act, I remain deeply concerned about the violations of human rights occurring every day in Lukashenka's Belarus.   During a recent news conference, the autocratic Belarusian leader expressed confidence in his victory in the presidential election scheduled for next year, rhetorically asking why should he be rigging this election. Given his intensified assault on civil society, his dismal human rights record, and penchant for rigged elections, Mr. Lukashenka's statements ring hollow. Yet, Lukashenka's actions against democratic forces, non-governmental organizations and the independent media belie his stated confidence regarding electoral victory.   Last week, the lower chamber of Lukashenka's pocket parliament passed a law endorsing tougher new penalties for activities “directed against people and public security,” a proposal submitted to the parliament only days before passage. These changes to the Criminal Code increase penalties for participation in organizations that were liquidated or warned to stop their pro-democratic activities, or for the training and other preparations for unauthorized demonstrations or other civic actions.   Mr. Speaker, to cite just one of the draconian provisions, the Code now gives authorities the leeway to jail an individual for up to 2 years for “providing a foreign country, a foreign or international organization with patently false information about the political, economic, social, military, and international situation of the Republic of Belarus.” Putting aside the matter of such a provision violating free speech norms, if the past is any guide, it is clear who would be the arbiter of what constitutes “false information.” There can be no doubt that the law aims to stifle the democratic opposition, and the head of the KGB (yes, in Belarus it is still called the KGB) himself recently admitted that the reasons for the law is to discourage street protests during the upcoming presidential race.   This law, while particularly blatant, is part and parcel of other actions designed to strengthen the regime's control and deny the Belarusian people any alternative voices as the presidential election campaign unfolds. Last month, a new law further controlling political parties came into force. A recent Council of Ministers decree clamps down on organizations that conduct public opinion polls. A Lukashenka decree further discriminates against independent trade unions, stipulating that only trade unions belonging to the pro-governmental federation are granted the right to premises at no cost. Yet another decree considerably limits students' opportunities to travel abroad.   Meanwhile, opposition activists are routinely beaten up or detained. Just last week, for instance, Ales Kalita was detained and at the hands of the police suffered a dislocated arm for merely distributing the independent newspaper “Narodna Volya.” Viktor Syritsya, a lecturer at Baranavichi College was fired for organizing a meeting of students with presidential opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich. Belarusian State Economic University in Minsk expelled fourth-year student Tatsyana Khoma because she took a brief trip to France, where she was elected to the executive committee of the Brussels-based National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB), an umbrella organization of 44 national student unions from 34 countries. The police beat activist Mikita Sasim. They detained youth activists Yauhen Afnagel and others. Other repressive actions include frequent arrests of activists of democratic youth movements such as ZUBR, a ban on worship by some religious congregations and other repressive actions against selected religious minorities, and continued harassment of members of the Union of Poles in Belarus.   Moreover, there is an emerging pattern of the regime putting obstacles in the way of Mr. Milinkevich. Recently, a public meeting he held in Borbuisk was disrupted by the authorities, with participants being told by the authorities to go home and threatened with tax inspections. During a press conference, the electricity in the room was cut off, as well as a “hot-line” phone with town residents.   Especially egregious has been the regime's intensification of the war against the already repressed and struggling independent media. Newspaper closures, suspensions, threats, and exorbitant and absurd libel fines, pressures on advertisers and other forms of harassment have become routine. Outright police confiscations of independent newspapers are also not uncommon. A seemingly more subtle tactic, implemented just a few weeks ago, involved the decision by Belarus' monopoly state postal service to stop delivery to subscribers of a dozen private periodicals. Meanwhile, the suspicious murder in 2004 of journalist Veronika Charkasova has not been resolved. Authorities have refused to open a criminal investigation into journalist Vasil Hrodnikau's death. Lukashenka himself recently admitted to Russian journalists that his regime applies very serious pressure on the media, somewhat incongruously adding that ``this does not mean I am crushing them.''   Mr. Speaker, what I have cited is by no means an exhaustive list of abuses perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime, merely a sampling of the types of repressive actions employed on a daily basis by Europe's last dictator. As Helsinki Commission Co-Chair, I will continue to monitor closely and speak out forcefully regarding these and other violations of Belarus' freely undertaken OSCE commitments. I urge the Bush Administration to step up efforts to break the Lukashenka regime's near monopoly over the country's information space and provide timely assistance to pro-democracy forces in Belarus.   It is clear that Mr. Lukashenka and his minions are laying the groundwork for yet another un-free and unfair election--similar to the 2001 presidential elections and the 2000 and 2004 parliamentary elections--that will fall far short of OSCE standards. Lukashenka is once again showing that, despite his confident rhetoric, he fears his own people and profoundly fails to respect their dignity as citizens and as human beings.

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