Politically Motivated Arrests in Belarus

Politically Motivated Arrests in Belarus

Hon
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
106th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, March 09, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to decry the growing litany of repressive measures undertaken by the Government of Belarus against the opposition, especially against members of the opposition's Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Earlier this year, the legitimate Belarusian parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, disbanded by president Alexander Lukashenka after the illegal constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16 and set up a Central Election Commission to conduct these elections.

 

According to the 1994 constitution, which most of the international community recognizes as legitimate, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Lukashenka has rejected calls for a presidential election and is clearly attempting to neutralize democratic opposition to his authoritarian rule. The most egregious crackdown in recent weeks was the sentencing of CEC chairman Viktor Hanchar, to 10 days “administrative detention.” Hanchar suffered some injuries when he was detained and treated roughly by police. He was not given access to his lawyer, Hari Pahanyayla, and his wife was not permitted to see him. A few days earlier, on February 25, fifteen members of the CEC were arrested by police in a café where they were meeting and discussing reports from local election commissions. Special police did not have a warrant and prevented the videotaping of the arrest by Russian television. Five-day detentions or heavy fines were meted out to several CEC members, including Boris Gyunter, Anatoly Gurinovich, Sergei Obodovsky, Iosif Naumchik, Algimantas Dzyarginchus, Alexander Koktysh, Nikolay Pohabov, Valery Sidorenko and Leonid Zakurdayev. Additionally, warnings have been issued to several members of regional opposition elections committees, such as Iosif Naumchik in Vitebsk and Sergei Abadowski in Mogilev. According to Radio Liberty, in Zhodzina, Miensk region, local authorities have begun intimidating people who joined or elected opposition regional election commissions. In Gomel, several opposition activists have been summoned and questioned about their role in the organization of the May presidential elections scheduled by the opposition. Police had seized leaflets about these elections at the office of the Gomel branch of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.

 

The repression of the opposition's elections committees is part of a longstanding pattern of Lukashenka's assault on democratic institutions and his campaign to stifle dissent in Belarus. On February 14, 20 students were arrested by police in Miensk for violating street demonstration laws. Among them, Yevgeny Skochko was sentenced to 10 days in jail, Victor Antonov to 5 days in jail, and Kazimir Kuchun and Ilya Banel were fined. Other opposition activists in Gomel and Borisov have been tried for unsanctioned demonstrations over the last few months. Two young workers in Gomel, for instance, were sentenced to 3 days administrative detention for holding an unsanctioned march. According to Reuters, the men were returning from a disco late in the evening and waving banners, which they were bringing home to wash. Earlier in the month, on February 5, members of the human rights movement Charter '97 were attacked and beaten in Miensk by members of the fascist Russian National Unity party. Andrei Sannikov, the Charter's international coordinator and former deputy foreign minister of Belarus was beaten unconscious. According to the International League for Human Rights a few days later, President Lukashenka trivialized the incident on Belarusian television, saying: “They say that some fascists have appeared in Miensk and have beaten somebody up. Do you know who they have beaten? Other fascists.” On February 27, several thousand marchers participated in a peaceful anti-fascist demonstration in Miensk. Organizers of the demonstration, Ales Bilyatsky who was sentenced to 10 days administrative detention and Oleg Volchek who was given a stiff fine, were cited for committing administrative offenses.

 

In late January, Lukashenka signed a decree ordering political parties, public organizations and trade unions to re-register during the period February 1 and July 1. The re-registration process includes a variety of onerous stipulations which would have the effect of weakening the NGOs and political parties. On February 17, the Lukashenka-controlled State Press Committee threatened six independent newspapers with closure if they continued to publish information about the opposition's presidential election plans in May, charging them with “calling for the seizure of power in Belarus.” On March 2, police searched the offices of one of the six independent newspapers, “Pahonya” in Hrodno, confiscating political cartoons and letters from readers.

 

Clearly, political tensions are increasing in Belarus, and the divide between the authoritarian president and the democratic opposition is widening. Mr. Lukashenka and his minions should cease and desist their campaign to harass journalists, to drain and demoralize individuals and organizations in the opposition through administrative fines and detentions, and to forcefully squelch the right to the freedoms of expression and of assembly. Continued harassment of the opposition will only aggravate the current constitutional crisis in Belarus and most certainly will not serve to promote reconciliation between the government and opposition. Mr. Speaker, it is imperative that the international community continue to speak out on behalf of those whose rights are violated, and that we continue to support the restoration of democracy and rule of law in Belarus.

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  • Continuous Religious Freedom Concerns in Armenia

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in my capacity as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission to voice concern over Armenia's refusal to register select religious groups and the continuing harassment of certain religious communities, actions which violate Armenia's commitments to religious freedom as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Honoring the commitments enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents would ensure Armenia upholds the freedom of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief, alone or in community with others.   With respect to registration, Armenian law requires all religious communities and organizations, other than the Armenian Apostolic Church, to register with the government. 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  • Floor Statement in Support of H.R. 1950, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005 - Rep. Smith

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  • Repression Spreading in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, Europe's last dictator, Belarus' Alyaksandr Lukashenka, appears determined to ignore the voices of the people of Belarus calling for basic respect for human rights and democratic principles a decade after that country gained its independence and joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).   As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am disturbed by recent developments which demonstrate the growing repression in Belarus. There have been further restrictions imposed on the independent media, with the recent suspension of independent newspapers Navinki and Ekho. Just a few days ago, the publication Predprinimatelskaya Gazeta was suspended for three months. The offices of the trade union paper Solidarnost have been sealed by the authorities. Still other publications have received warnings that could lead to their closure. These actions were preceded by the three-month suspension of two prominent independent newspapers--Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta and BDG--For Internal Use Only.   The Lukashenka regime is also targeting schools. The National Humanities Lyceum, a highly respected high school promoting study of the Belarusian language and culture, is under fire, with its acting head to be replaced by a reportedly non-Belarusian-speaking official. Why? Because professors at the school support democracy and the Belarusian language and culture which ironically is anathema to the Belarusian strongman. Mr. Speaker, what kind of leader actively suppresses his nation's language and culture?   Moreover, a new crackdown on Pentecostal home meetings in western Belarus is underway, with fines being handed down on church members who permit their homes to be used for prayer meetings--a result of last year's restrictive religion law.   Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also facing increasing scrutiny, often for truly spurious reasons such as minor mistakes in registration documents. Several, including Ratusha, Varuta and the Youth Christian Social Union, are under threat of liquidation. Just a few days ago, the Homel regional court ordered the closure of the area's largest NGO, Civic Initiatives. The intensified campaign against NGOs and the independent media are widely regarded among domestic and international observers as a concerted attack on active and independent civil society structures.   Repressive actions against individuals continue as well. Recently, 18-year-old ZUBR activist Tatiana Elovaya was sentenced to 10 days imprisonment for manifesting her support in an April 3 demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy for the campaign to liberate Iraq. Several others, including 19-year-old Lyubov Kuchinskaya had served 10-day sentences earlier. Unfortunately, these are just some recent examples of a longstanding pattern of the Lukashenka regime's flouting of its OSCE commitments and continued disregard for the four OSCE criteria set forth three years ago by the Parliamentary Troika for Belarus.   Despite steps by the OSCE community, including the re-opening of the OSCE Office in Miensk (albeit under a more limited mandate), the seating of the National Assembly and the lifting of a visa ban, not only have reciprocal steps not been taken by the Belarusian authorities but the situation has indeed deteriorated further.   Earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 854, the Belarus Democracy Act, designed to assist the people of Belarus in regaining their freedom and enable them to join the European community of democracies. Key provisions of this Act also have been incorporated into the Foreign Relations Reauthorization bill. Mr. Speaker, the Lukashenka regime's continuing suppression of the longsuffering Belarusian people underscores the need for the Belarus Democracy Act and other efforts--including within the OSCE--to restore respect for human rights and institutions of democratic governance.

  • Arming Rogue Regimes: The Role of OSCE Participating States

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  • Human Rights in Chechnya Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    By John Finerty, CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing April 24, 2003 on the critical human rights and humanitarian situation in war-torn Chechnya, Russian Federation. The panelists of the briefing were Eliza Moussaeva, Director of the Ingushetia office of the Memorial Human Rights Center, and Bela Tsugaeva, Information Manager of World Vision, Ingushetia. The Commission guests were accompanied by Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for Europe and Eurasia, Amnesty International, USA. Helsinki Commission Deputy Chief of Staff Ron McNamara opened the briefing. “Despite concerted efforts by the Russian leadership to portray the situation in Chechnya as approaching normal, the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by Russian forces continues,” McNamara said. “From reports of credible and courageous human rights activists such as our panelists, it is clear that the most egregious violations of international humanitarian law anywhere in the OSCE region are occurring in Chechnya today.” Ms. Moussaeva said that, as of late, Russian forces no longer conduct sweep operations (“zachistki”) in search of rebels, but now rely on night raids by masked personnel. In the three months from January to March, there were 119 abductions by federal forces engaged in such operations, according to Moussaeva, who added that during the same period last year, there were 82 abductions marking an increase in such activity by Federation forces. This shift in tactics has made it more difficult for families to trace their abducted relatives, whereas previously relatives generally knew which units had conducted the sweeps. Now, units and identities of the raiders are unknown, as well as the location of detainees. Officially, 2,800 persons are missing. Memorial believes the actual number to be significantly higher. Mass graves are a common find. In January, one mass grave was found in which the exact number of corpses could not be ascertained, because the bodies had been blown up by grenades to hide traces of torture and abuse. Authorities claim these individuals were abducted by Chechen rebel forces; yet some family members, who were able to identify their relatives by the clothing on the bodies, say that these individuals were actually taken by federal forces. According to Moussaeva, Moscow’s highly-touted March 23rd constitutional referendum has not marked an improvement in Chechen life on the ground. On one single day after the referendum, Memorial received reports of several cases of individuals abducted by federal forces. On the same day, a bus exploded, killing nine. Ms. Moussaeva asked, “So we have the question, why did we need that referendum if it didn’t change the situation for the better, if it didn’t bring us stability?” Regarding an OSCE presence in Chechnya, Moussaeva said, “We hope that they would have the opportunity to open in Chechnya again, and it will be a great help for us. The OSCE had a very positive experience and a good image after the first war.” Ms. Tsugaeva spoke about the situation for internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to information compiled by the Danish Refugee Council, there are some 92,000 IDPs in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, which has a population of only 350,000. Fifteen thousand of the IDPs live in five large tent camps, 27,000 in other structures such as industrial plants or farms, and 50,000 in private accommodations, for which most have to pay rent. Most individuals lack basic necessities and have been asked by Ingushetia to leave, yet they have nowhere to go. Refugees in this region have also been subjected to efforts by federal officials to drive them away. Seventy percent of aid comes mainly from international NGOs, and the remainder from the UN. Bread distribution to these people is vital but irregular. Most international NGOs have been unable to open offices in Chechnya due to the security situation, meaning only the most needy, such as children and the elderly, can be provided for. Many land mines scattered throughout parts of the country formerly occupied by military forces are an additional cause for concern. According to official statistics, there were over 5,000 victims of landmine explosions in 2002. Despite the work of international NGOs such as the Handicap International Organization, most of these victims do not have access to adequate medical care and are in one way or another incapacitated for life. Ms. Moussaeva stated that an office established by the Putin government to monitor the human rights situation in Chechnya was ineffectual and merely for show. Of more than 29,000 complaints of harassment by federal forces filed by individuals, only 550 had been investigated. Ms. Greenwood commended the Helsinki Commission for its letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell urging the U.S. delegation at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to push for a strong resolution to the conflict in Geneva. The recently concluded 58th Meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights failed by a vote of 15-21 to adopt a U.S.-supported resolution expressing “deep concern” about reported human rights violations in Chechnya. “Amnesty would like to thank co-signers Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Representative Christopher Smith, Senator Gordon Smith, Representative Steny Hoyer, Representative Robert Aderholt and Representative Ben Cardin,” Greenwood said. Furthermore, Greenwood expressed Amnesty International’s concern regarding the targeting of civilians on both sides of the conflict. Chechen rebel forces have engaged in abductions, hostage taking, and assassinations. Russians have used tactics such as extra-judicial executions, rape, and torture. Amnesty International profiles a few prominent cases, but these represent hundreds of other cases of human rights abuses. Ms. Greenwood presented Amnesty International’s recommendations for the United States Government, including: pressuring the Russian Government not to close tent camps for IDPs; encouraging the US Government to maintain funding levels of the Freedom Support Act for pro-human rights and democracy NGOs in the Russian Federation; demanding access to Chechnya for international journalists and observers; and, supporting the establishment of a human rights tribunal in the Council of Europe. Amnesty International’s recommendations for the Russian Government included providing accountability for previous abuses and ending violations of human rights law. Finally, Amnesty International called upon Chechen rebels to abide by international law, and stop the kidnaping and killings. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission intern Sean Callagy contributed to this article.

  • The Continuing Plight of Roma in Greece

    Mr. Speaker, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) have just published a report on the human rights situation of Roma in Greece. “Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece” documents the plight of the inhabitants of the Romani settlement of Aspropyrgos, outside Athens, and details the problems of Roma across the country. Illustrated with stark scenes of bulldozed homes and marginalized and neglected Romani communities, a picture disturbing in more ways than one has been painted.   In particular, the report supports the accusation that the Government of Greece has used preparations for the 2004 Olympics as justification for the campaign to uproot Roma. Ironically, Greece currently holds the presidency of the European Union.   The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, held hearings in 1998, 2000, and in 2002 focused on the human rights problems faced by Roma with the intent of raising the awareness of these problems amongst the governments of the OSCE participating States. The plight of the Roma has also been addressed in specific hearings or briefings covering Greece, Russia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Romania, as well as the OSCE process.   Members of the Commission have also sent several letters to Greek leaders in recent years addressing longstanding human rights concerns in the Hellenic Republic, including those affecting the Romani community. These expressions of concern have specifically addressed forced evacuations of Roma from numerous villages, the abusive application of the use of national identity cards issued to Roma, the inability of Roma children to have access to schools on a non-discriminatory basis and other matters of blatant racial discrimination.   This newly released report on Roma clearly indicates that the Greek Government has failed to properly address many of these ongoing concerns. At a June 2002 Commission hearing on Greece, in fact, I raised the specter of an intensified campaign targeting Roma to obtain land for use as venues for the 2004 Olympics. This campaign is well documented in this report.   Notwithstanding the assertions of Greek officials at the Commission hearing that “everything is done (concerning the relocation) in consultation with, and with the consent of, the Roma involved,” numerous non-governmental organizations have raised such issues with Athens. Greek human rights activists have stepped forward.   As an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, Greece has accepted numerous commitments pertaining to the treatment of Roma and joined in condemning discrimination against Roma, a provision found in the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit Document. Regrettably, the Greek Government has failed to fulfill these commitments, as documented in the new ERRC/GHM report on Roma in Greece.   The ERRC and GHM conducted intensive field missions that revealed several patterns of human rights abuse against Roma in Greece: cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment of Roma in housing; police violence against Roma; exclusion of Roma from the educational system; and, barriers to access to health care and other social support services for Roma.   Based on the facts in this report and the discussions I have had over the years in my leadership capacity with the Helsinki Commission, I urge the Government of Greece to take corrective measures, without delay, along the lines recommended by the ERRC and the GHM:   1. Facilitate access to Greek citizenship for those Roma residing in Greece who are stateless and provide the necessary legal documents (such as identity cards) to all Roma.   2. Use all appropriate means to guarantee protection against forced evictions outside the rule of law and without due process.   3. Bring to justice public officials and private individuals responsible for forced evictions of Roma in breach of Greek law.   4. Carry out thorough and timely investigations into all alleged instances of police abuse.   5. Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons factually residing in a given municipality, without regard to ethnicity.   6. Ensure that Romani schoolchildren have equal access to education in a desegregated school environment.   7. Without delay, adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, as called for in the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Document.   8. Conduct public information campaigns on human rights and remedies available to victims of human rights abuse, and distribute in both the Greek and Romani languages.   9. Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for national and local administrators, members of the police force, and the judiciary.   10. At the highest levels, speak out against racial discrimination against Roma and others, and make clear that racism will not be tolerated.   The Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor the situation of Roma in the Hellenic Republic with the aim of encouraging the Government of Greece to implement commitments it has agreed to within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Commission will also work to ensure that the plight of Roma in Greece is raised at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to be held this fall in Warsaw.

  • Human Rights in Belarus and Russia

    Mr. Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed with particular concern both the deadly climate in Chechnya and the deterioration of human rights in Belarus. Such violations of basic human rights deserve focused criticism, and it is appropriate that the agenda of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights included resolutions on each situation.   On April 17, the U.N. Commission voted 23-14 with 16 abstentions to approve a U.S.-cosponsored resolution urging the Belarusian authorities to investigate "fully and impartially" credible reports that senior government officials were involved in the disappearances in 1999 and 2000 of leading opposition figures and a journalist. I have followed these cases closely and have become increasingly frustrated at the Belarusian regime's intransigence in meaningfully investigating these disappearances. Here in Washington and at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meetings in Paris and Berlin, I have had occasion to meet with the wives of the disappeared. These meetings have been heart-wrenching. The cases of their husbands--who disappeared in 1999 and 2000 and are presumed to have been murdered--offer a chilling glimpse into the nature of the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka, a regime that has the worst human rights record in Europe today. In February, I introduced H.R. 854, the Belarus Democracy Act, designed to bolster democratic development in that beleaguered country, and I am pleased that the State Department authorization bill approved yesterday by the House International Relations Committee includes key provisions of the Belarus Democracy Act. This bill encourages sanctions against the Belarusian regime until certain conditions are met, including a full accounting of these tragic disappearances.   The Belarusian people deserve to live in a society where democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount, and I believe that the passage of the U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution is an important step towards that end.   Mr. Speaker, I wish I could report that the U.N. Commission on Human Rights had acted with equal conscience on the issue of Chechnya. We all know the desperate human rights situation in that war-torn region of the Russian Federation. Since the Chechen war reignited in 1999, international and domestic Russian human rights organizations have documented the disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force by elements of the Russian military, as well as extrajudicial killings, abuse of prisoners, kidnaping, rape, and extortion of civilians. According to official statistics, 2,800 persons are missing in Chechnya; mutilated bodies of young Chechen males turn up almost daily. A representative of the respected human rights organization Memorial reported at a recent Helsinki Commission briefing that "one of the recent tendencies is to explode the corpses" in order to prevent identification. Needless to say, all of this is in clear violation of the Geneva Convention and the OSCE Code of Conduct during internal conflicts.   What's left of the Chechen capital of Grozny after Russian artillery shelling has been compared to the ruins of Stalingrad in 1943. According to the U.N., there are 92,000 internally displaced persons forced to flee from the fighting, with around 17,000 living in tent camps in neighboring Ingushetia.   Chechen forces are not entirely blameless. There are credible reports of their executing prisoners and using non-combatants as human shields. They have also assassinated pro-Moscow Chechen officials. The U.S. Government has placed three militant groups involved in the Chechen resistance on its list of terrorist groups.   Still, is this an excuse for Russia's savage war against the civilian population?   Despite all the documentation and eyewitness testimony on egregious human rights violations committed in Chechnya, the Commission on Human Rights rejected by a vote of 15-21 an even-handed European Union resolution expressing deep concern at the reported ongoing violations of international law in Chechnya. I note that the U.S. delegation did not cosponsor the resolution, though it did support it when the measure came to a vote. We should not be surprised that China, Sudan and Zimbabwe voted against the resolution. I do find it disconcerting, though, that the delegations of Armenia and Ukraine are in that less than distinguished company.   Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the U.N. Commission noted: "The United States believes it important that the Commission address the serious human rights abuses that have occurred in Chechnya. We recognize Russia's right to defend its territorial integrity and itself against terrorism. The broader conflict in Chechnya cannot be resolved militarily and requires a political solution. Human rights violations by Russian forces in Chechnya need to be curtailed, and abusers held accountable."   So the people of Chechnya continue to suffer, and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights looks the other way.

  • Taking Stock in Romania

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the consolidation of democracy in Romania. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe--the Helsinki Commission--I have followed events in Romania for many years. The Romanian people have survived the repression of a brutal communist dictatorship and, in the years since the fall of that regime, have made great strides in building democratic institutions and the rule of law. However, much remains to be done to overcome the legacy of the past.   Romania is a good friend and strong ally of the United States. I appreciate and thank the Government of Romania for its steadfast support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where a battalion serves on the ground, and for its support of the U.S.-led military action in Iraq. Romania has been offered the much sought after admission to NATO, and today the Senate began debate on the Protocols of Accession. Romania is also an accession candidate to the EU.   It is in the spirit of friendship that I continue to follow the human rights issues there, based on a belief that Romania will be a stronger democracy, and therefore a stronger partner, when respect for human rights is strengthened. Frankly, I am concerned that, following Romania’s invitation to join NATO, the reform momentum in Bucharest may have dissipated.   Mr. Speaker, I believe that there is no greater barometer of democracy than free speech and freedom of the press. While there is no doubt that the Romanian people have access to a broad range of print and electronic media, 13 years after the fall of Ceausescu, Romanian law still includes communist-era criminal defamation provisions which impose prison terms for offenses such "insult" or "offense against authority." These laws cause a chilling effect on independent and investigative journalism and should be repealed.   Today, I received a letter from Foreign Minister Geoana, informing me that a new draft Penal Code would do exactly that. This is encouraging news, and I will follow this process closely with the hope that articles 205, 206, 236, 236 (1), 238, and 239 of the Romanian Penal Code will actually be repealed and not just modified.   Mr. Speaker, there is no international requirement that countries must make property restitution or provide compensation for confiscated properties. However, if a legal process for property restitution or compensation is established, international law requires that it be nondiscriminatory and be implemented under the rule of law. Property restitution in Romania since the fall of communism has been slow and ineffective, and the laws--which the government has enacted to address the problem--lack transparency, are complex, and have not been effectively implemented.   Restitution of communal property--for example, churches or synagogues--is especially difficult. In 1948, Romania’s communist government banned the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church and ordered the incorporation of the Greek Catholic Church into the Orthodox Church. More than 2,500 churches and other buildings seized from the Uniates were given to Orthodox parishes. The government decree that dismantled the Greek Catholic Church was abrogated in 1989, however, of the thousands of properties confiscated from Greek Catholics, fewer than 200 have been returned nearly 15 years later. The status of thousands of properties belonging to the historic Hungarian faiths (Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran and Unitarian), and the Jewish community, as well as other non-traditional religions has not been resolved, despite the enactment of a communal property restitution law in July of 2002.   The restitution of private property in Romania is equally as murky. In February 2001, the Romanian Parliament enacted Law 10/2001, the express purpose of which, according to Article 1 (1) of the Law, is to make restitution in-kind of nationalized real property and, whenever such in-kind restitution is not possible, to make restitution in an equivalent consisting of cash for residential properties and vouchers to be used in exchange for shares of state-owned companies or services. This clearly stated principle has been undermined by so many exceptions that it becomes virtually meaningless. Those claimants who have overcome the numerous exceptions contained in the law have then been stymied by government recalcitrance when they have attempted to obtain the necessary documentation to support their claims. Many title deeds were purposely destroyed by the former communist regime. State archives, having been deluged with a significant volume of requests, complicate the process with chronic bureaucratic delays in processing property records, and seeming indifference to the urgency of those requests. The Government of Romania cannot expect claimants to file within prescribed deadlines, and then not provide them with the means to obtain the proof of their clams from the government’s own records.   Further, I am disappointed by the ineffective and inadequate attempts of the Romanian Government to register the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion. The inability of the government to make this happen is a serious concern, as it is more than an issue of legal personality, but also of rule of law, religious freedom and discrimination. In October 2001, I received personal assurances from Foreign Minister Geoana that this longstanding matter would be resolved; it has not despite a ruling by Romania’s highest court dating back to 2000. The Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs seemed to provide a fix in October of last year, but it proved faulty and failed to bring closure to this matter. Mr. Speaker, I urge the competent Romanian authorities to remove this issue from the agenda by facilitating the recognition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion without further delay.   Another matter which I hope the Government of Romania will bring to closure is the rehabilitation and honoring of World War II dictator, Marshall Ion Antonescu, Hitler ally and war criminal condemned for the mass murder of Jews. Last year government officials publicly condemned efforts to honor Antonescu and removed from public land three statues that had been erected in his honor. One statue remains on public land in Jilava, the site of Antonescu’s execution, and important streets in the cities of Timisoara and Oradea continue to be named after him. I urge the Government of Romania to remove these remaining vestiges honoring the former dictator.   Finally, Mr. Speaker, I want to express my continuing concern about the Romani minority in Romania. I appreciate that Romania was the first country in Central Europe to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. This was an extremely important and positive step. But there appears to be a rising tide of intolerance against Roma, manifested by scapegoating of Roma in the media and in the statements of some public officials. In all likelihood, this climate contributed to the tragic events in Buhusi last December, when a number of Roma were shot during a police raid, including a 14-year-old boy who was reportedly shot in the back. I hope the Romanian Government will play a leadership role in countering prejudice against Roma and will continue to implement programs to address discrimination against them.   Protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights, as well as commitment to the Helsinki Final Act and respect for Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe norms and principles, are requirements for NATO membership. As a participating State of the OSCE, and as a candidate for admission to NATO, Romania has made that commitment. It is my hope, Mr. Speaker, that the Government of Romania will use this opportunity to strengthen its democracy, not retreat from it.

  • The Troubled Media Environment in Ukraine

    Mr. President, later this week individuals around the world will mark World Press Freedom Day. The functioning of free and independent media is tied closely to the exercise of many other fundamental freedoms as well as to the future of any democratic society. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I co-chair, is responsible for monitoring press freedom in the 55 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. Recently, I reported to the Senate on the deplorable conditions for independent media in the Republic of Belarus. Today, I will address the situation of journalists and media outlets in Ukraine.   Several discouraging reports have come out recently concerning the medic environment in Ukraine. These reports merit attention, especially within the context of critical presidential elections scheduled to take place in Ukraine next year. The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Ukraine for 2002 summarizes media freedoms as follows: "Authorities interfered with the news media by intimidating journalists, issuing written and oral instructions about events to cover and not to cover, and pressuring them into applying self-censorship. Nevertheless a wide range of opinion was available in newspapers, periodicals, and Internet news sources."   Current negative trends and restrictive practices with respect to media freedom in Ukraine are sources of concern, especially given that country's leadership claims concerning integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Lack of compliance with international human rights standards, including OSCE commitments, on freedom of expression undermines that process. Moreover, an independent media free from governmental pressure is an essential factor in ensuring a level playing field in the upcoming 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine.   In her April 18, 2003 annual report to the Ukrainian parliament, Ombudsman Nina Karpachova asserted that journalism remains among the most dangerous professions in Ukraine, with 36 media employees having been killed over the past ten years, while beatings, intimidation of media employees, freezing of bank accounts of media outlets, and confiscation of entire print runs of newspapers and other publications have become commonplace in Ukraine.   The murder of prominent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze--who disappeared in September 2000--remains unsolved. Ukrainian President Kuchma and a number of high-ranking officials have been implicated in his disappearance and the circumstances leading to his murder. The Ukrainian authorities' handling, or more accurately mishandling of this case, has been characterized by obfuscation and stonewalling. Not surprisingly, lack of transparency illustrated by the Gongadze case has fueled the debilitating problem of widespread corruption reaching the highest levels of the Government of Ukraine.   Audio recordings exist that contain conversations between Kuchma and other senior government officials discussing the desirability of Gongadze's elimination. Some of these have been passed to the U.S. Department of Justice as part of a larger set of recordings of Kuchma's conversations implicating him and his cronies in numerous scandals. Together with Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith, I recently wrote to the Department of Justice requesting technical assistance to determine whether the recordings in which the Gongadze matter is discussed are genuine. A credible and transparent investigation of this case by Ukrainian authorities is long overdue and the perpetrators--no matter who they may be--need to be brought to justice.   The case of Ihor Alexandrov, a director of a regional television station, who was beaten in July 2001 and subsequently died also remains unsolved. Serious questions remain about the way in which that case was handled by the authorities.   A Human Rights Watch report, “Negotiating the News: Informal State Censorship of Ukrainian Television,” issued in March, details the use of explicit directives or temnyky, lists of topics, which have been sent to editors from Kuchma's Presidential Administration on what subjects to cover and in what manner. The report correctly notes that these temnyky have eroded freedom of expression in Ukraine, as "editors and journalists feel obligated to comply with temnyky instructions due to economic and political pressures and fear repercussions for non-cooperation." To their credit, the independent media are struggling to counter attempts by the central authorities to control their reporting and coverage of issues and events.   Another troubling feature of the media environment has been the control exerted by various oligarchs with close links to the government who own major media outlets. There is growing evidence that backers of the current Prime Minister and other political figures have been buying out previously independent news sources, including websites, and either firing reporters or telling them to cease criticism of the government of find new jobs.   Last December, Ukraine's parliament held hearings on "Society, Mass Media, Authority: Freedom of Speech and Censorship in Ukraine." Journalists' testimony confirmed the existence of censorship, including temnyky, as well as various instruments of harassment and intimidation. Tax inspections, various legal actions or license withdrawals have all been used as mechanisms by the authorities to pressure media outlets that have not towed the line or have supported opposition parties.   As a result of these hearings, the parliament, on April 3rd, voted 252 to one to approve a law defining and banning state censorship in the Ukrainian media. This is a welcome step. However, given the power of the presidential administration, the law's implementation remains an open question at best, particularly in the lead up to the 2004 elections in Ukraine.   I urge our Ukrainian parliamentary colleagues to continue to actively press their government to comply with Ukraine's commitments to fundamental freedoms freely agreed to as a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act. I also urge the Ukrainian authorities, including the constitutional "guarantor", to end their campaign to stifle independent reporting and viewpoints in the media. Good news from Ukraine will come not from the spin doctors of the presidential administration, but when independent media and journalists can pursue their responsibilities free of harassment, intimidation, and fear.

  • Regime Targets Independent Media in Belarus

    Madam President, recently I introduced S. 700, the Belarus Democracy Act, a bipartisan initiative aimed at supporting democratic forces in the Republic of Belarus. As co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I want to report to my colleagues on the pressures faced by independent media in that country. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has just released their annual report documenting the dangers journalists face around the world, including Belarus.   In May of 2002, CPJ named Belarus one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist due to the worsening repression under Europe's most authoritarian regime. Throughout the year the situation of the country's independent media deteriorated as Belarusian leader Aleksander Lukashenka mounted a comprehensive assault on all independent and opposition press.   While criminal libel laws had been on the books since 1999, they were not used by the Government until 2002. The law stipulates that public insults or libel against the President may be punished by up to 4 years in prison, 2 years in a labor camp, or by large fine. Articles in the criminal code which prohibit slandering and insulting the President or government officials are also used to stifle press freedom. The criminal code provides for a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment for such offenses.   Journalists critical of the fall 2001 presidential elections were targeted. Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka of Pahonya and Viktar Ivashkevich of of Rabochy were sentenced to corrective labor for "libeling" the President in pre-election articles. On March 4, a district court in Belarus commuted Mikola Markevich's sentence from time in a corrective labor facility to "corrective labor at home." On March 21, a district court released Pavel Mazheyka on parole. Under Belarus law, prisoners may be released on parole after serving half term there.   Other charges were leveled later in the year against a woman who distributed anti-Lukashenka flyers, an opposition politician for libeling the President in a published statement, and a Belarusskaya Delovaya Gazeta reporter for criticizing the Prosecutor General of Belarus. A former lawyer for the mother of disappeared cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky received a one-and-a-half year prison sentence suspended for 2 years for libeling the Prosecutor General.   Last August the independent newspaper Nasha Svaboda was fined 100 million Belarusian rubles for civil libel of the chairman of the State Control Committee. The paper closed when it could not pay the fine. There are other forms of pressure and harassment as well.   The CPJ report notes the financial discrimination faced by non-state media, including pressure from government officials on potential advertisers not to buy space in publications that criticize Lukashenka and his regime. Government officials also regularly encourage companies to pull advertising and threaten them with audits should they fail to do so, according to CPJ.   When the Belasrusian Government increased newspaper delivery rates, only nongovernmental papers had to pay. When the Minsk City Council of Deputies levied 5 percent tax on newspapers, government papers were again exempt. Such tactics caused such independents as the Belaruskaya Maladzyozhnaya, Rabochy, Den and Tydnyovik Mahilyouski to go under.   According to the State Department's recently released County Reports on Human Rights Practices "the regime continued to use its near-monopolies on newsprint production, newspaper printing and distribution, and national television and radio broadcasts to restrict dissemination of opposition viewpoints."   Madam President, I urge my colleagues to support S. 700, the Belarus Democracy Act, in support of those brave individuals in Belarus, including representatives of independent media, who speak out in defense of human rights and democracy in a nation which enjoys neither.

  • President Shevardnadze’s Statement Welcomed, but Action also Needed

    Today I want to acknowledge and welcome the March 14th statement of the President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, pledging his commitment to religious freedom for all Georgians and promising the punishment of individuals complicit in mob attacks on religious minorities. (I am submitting the statement for the RECORD below.) President Shevardnadze made this pledge during an ecumenical service in Tbilisi’s Evangelist-Baptist Cathedral Church, attended by leaders of the Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist churches and many individuals from the diplomatic community. The U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, also attended and addressed the gathering. Reportedly, so many people came that hundreds had to listen via loudspeakers in the churchyard.   The service was initially planned for late January, but defrocked priest Basil Mkalavishvili and his crowd of thugs assaulted worshipers and clergy an hour before it was scheduled to begin -- as they have been doing with impunity since 1999. Individuals were beaten as they tried to leave, with rocks and stones being reportedly thrown. While President Shevardnadze quickly condemned that attack, ordering the Interior Minister, the Prosecutor General, State Chancellery Head, and the Security Council Secretary to investigate and punish the perpetrators, no arrests or prosecutions followed.   Despite Georgia’s appalling record on religious tolerance for the last few years, I hope President Shevardnadze’s speech at the Baptist church signals a new determination to arrest and aggressively prosecute the mob leaders and their henchmen. He promised that “as the President of Georgia and a believer, I shall not restrict myself only to a mere expression of resentment. I do promise that the President and the Authorities of Georgia will do their utmost to grant every person freedom of expression of faith.” Driving home the point further, Mr. Shevardnadze declared, “the state will exert its pressure on whoever comes in defiance of this principle. You may stand assured that the aggressors will be brought to justice.”   As Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, over the past three years I have watched with increasing alarm the escalation of mob violence. On September 24th I chaired a Commission hearing focused on this disturbing pattern. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have borne the brunt of attacks, along with Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists and Catholics. Most disheartening has been the government's indifference; victims throughout the country have filed approximately 800 criminal complaints, without one criminal conviction.   Despite a series of statements by President Shevardnadze, Georgia's Minister of Interior and Prosecutor General appear unwilling to effectively enforce the rule of law, refusing to arrest mob leaders like Mkalavishvili and Paata Bluashvili and not attempting serious prosecutions. For example, the trial of Mkalavishvili has dragged on for more than a year, without a single piece of evidence considered yet. I would hope the provision of adequate and visible security, which took months to organize, will continue and that the prosecutor will begin his case shortly. Also, the inauguration of trial proceedings against Bluashvili in Rustavi is positive; I trust the delays and shenanigans seen in Mkalavishvili’s trial will not be repeated there. I also urge the Government of Georgia to arrest and detain Mkalavishvili, Bluashvili and other indicted persons who continue to perpetrate violent criminal acts against religious minorities.   Undoubtedly, President Shevardnadze’s presence at the March 14th service and his statement illustrate his personal commitment to religious tolerance and basic law and order. Yet, while I appreciate his gesture, it is time for real action. If the attacks are allowed to continue, it will only become more difficult to rein in this mob violence. If presidential orders are repeatedly ignored, it will only further weaken the government’s ability to enforce the rule of law. And, of course, we must not forget the plight of minority religious communities that continue to live in a state of siege, without any real protection from their government. Ironically, it appears that minorities’ religious communities are freer to profess and practice their faith in regions of Georgia not under the control of President Shevardnadze’s government.   In closing, I urge President Shevardnadze to fulfill his most recent commitment to punish the aggressors, thereby restoring Georgia’s international reputation and upholding its international commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. I and other Members of Congress are acutely interested in seeing whether the Government of Georgia will actually arrest the perpetrators of violence and vigorously prosecute them.   Speech of the President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, at the Evangelist-Baptist Cathedral Church   “Representatives of all Religions and Nations have to Raise Prayers for Peace Together” Tbilisi, Georgia March 14, 2003   My dear friends, Christians, Dear Ambassadors!   I am here to give utterance to my contentment and admiration, which derives from seeing you, all Christians, or, to be more precise, representatives of all Christian folds, assembled here, under the same roof of this temple, in the capital of Georgia famed as the Virgin’s lot.   I am happy to be a witness to this occurrence. I am happy because you are together, because we are together. But all of us have our own faith.   I am an Orthodox believer, but we are all Christians. It is what we should always bear in mind and keep intact this wholeness and unity.   Georgia is one of those countries on the planet whose roots go back the farthest in history. Tolerance has become particularly entrenched in its history and nature since the days we embraced Christianity.   Christ granted that we be together. And more than this: Georgia is a multinational country, where Muslims and followers of other confessions have dwelt along with Christians in the course of centuries.   We live presently in a world of stark contradictions. It remains anybody’s guess when a bomb may blast. You probably understand what I mean. Therefore, we should pray for peace, and these prayers should be raised by all of us: Christians, Muslims, representatives of every religion, confession and nation.   But prayers alone will not keep us together. We have also to struggle, in order that, through our benevolence, faith, love and respect to one another, we may put up resistance to the eradicating processes of which I already made a mention.   As was customary with my great ancestors, I go to an Orthodox church. But nor do I keep distance from synagogues, mosques or churches of different Christian confessions.   I feel respect for all who have confident belief in kindness and its victory.   I am happy to see, along with Georgian citizens, the attendance of the distinguished ambassadors and diplomats accredited in Georgia, who have come this evening to share our happiness.   I cannot but express a deep sense of regret, even resentment at the gross infringement of our unity, mutual respect and freedom of faith by some of the aggressors.   As the President of Georgia and a believer, I shall not restrict myself only to a mere expression of resentment. I do promise that the President and the Authorities of Georgia will do their utmost to grant every person freedom of expression of faith.   The state will exert its pressure on whoever comes in defiance of this principle. You may stand assured that the aggressors will be brought to justice.   I would like to greet you once more and wish you happiness and advancement of goals. So as with Georgia, a multinational country of various religious confessions, my wishes are for joy, happiness and prosperity.

  • Belarus Democracy Act 2003

    Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have closely monitored developments in the Republic of Belarus and informed my Senate colleagues of disturbing trends in that nation. I have met with members of the fledgling democratic opposition who, at great personal risk, dare to speak out against the repressive regime led by Alexander Lukashenka. I have met with the courageous wives whose husbands disappeared because they stood up to the regime and would not be silent. Against the backdrop of this climate of fear, the powers of the state have been brought to bear against independent journalists, trade unionists, and other voices of dissent. Increasingly, Belarus has been driven into self-imposed isolation under Lukashenka devoid of legitimate leadership or accountability. A little over a year ago I addressed the Senate to voice concern over reported arms deals between the regime and rouge states, including Iraq. It appears that such sales have taken on greater importance as the Belarusian economy spirals downward. Mr. President, while some might be tempted to dismiss Belarus as an anomaly, the stakes are too high and the costs too great to ignore. Accordingly, today, I am introducing the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, which is designed to help put an end to repression and human rights violations in Belarus and to promote Belarus’ entry into a democratic Euro-Atlantic community of nations. As a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Belarus has accepted a series of norms in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As Europe’s last dictator, Lukashenka continues to brashly trample the fundamental rights of his own people and their culture. As I alluded to earlier, independent media, non-governmental organizations, trade unions and the democratic opposition have had to operate under extremely difficult conditions, often facing serious mistreatment and an orchestrated campaign of harassment. Despite the repressions there are courageous individuals who support democracy have not been silenced. Two weeks ago, for example, Alexander Yarashuk, the leader of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, called on Lukashenka to immediately cease backing Saddam. Moreover, just last week, on March 12, thousands gathered peacefully in a central Minsk square to protest deteriorating economic and social conditions in Belarus. Four of the rally’s organizers – Andrei Sannikov, Ludmila Gryaznova, Dmitry Bondarenko and Leonid Malakhov – were given 15 day jail sentences for “participation in unauthorized mass actions.” Despite calls for change within Belarus, and considerable prodding from the international community, Lukashenka has shown no desire to deviate from his path of authoritarianism and personal profit at the expense of his own people. A few months ago, Lukashenka, who effectively controls the Belarusian parliament, signed into laws a new, repressive religion law. Local elections held earlier this month followed the pattern of Belarus’ 2000 parliamentary and 2001 presidential elections – they were a joke. Control of election commissions, denials of registration for opposition candidates, “early voting” and outright falsifications were the norm. Mr. President, the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003 would authorize additional assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for NGOs, independent media, including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. It also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, which have been notably absent in Belarus. This bill would also deny high-ranking officials of the Lukashenka regime entry into the United States. Additionally, strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. executive directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance for humanitarian needs. The bill would also require reports from the President concerning the sale of delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states, including Iraq and North Korea. I am very pleased that the Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Biden, is an original cosponsor of this measure. His support will ensure that we proceed on a bipartisan basis as we work to ensure the timely adoption and implementation of this legislation. Mr. President, the goal of the Belarus Democracy Act is to assist Belarus in becoming a genuine European state, in which respect for human rights and democracy is the norm and in which the long-suffering Belarusian people are able to overcome the legacy of dictatorship – past and present. Adoption and implementation of the Belarus Democracy Act will offer a ray of hope that the current period of political, economic and social stagnation will indeed end. The people of Belarus deserve a chance for a brighter future free of repression and fear. I ask unanimous consent that the text of the Belarus Democracy Act be printed in the Record. There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: S. 700 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. This Act may be cited as the "Belarus Democracy Act of 2003''. SEC. 2. FINDINGS. Congress makes the following findings: (1) The United States supports the promotion of democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus consistent with its commitments as a participating state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). (2) The United States has a vital interest in the independence and sovereignty of the Republic of Belarus and its integration into the European community of democracies. (3) The last parliamentary election in Belarus deemed to be free and fair by the international community was conducted in 1995 from which emerged the 13th Supreme Soviet whose democratically and constitutionally derived authorities and powers have been usurped by the authoritarian regime of Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenka. (4) In November 1996, Lukashenka orchestrated an illegal and unconstitutional referendum that enabled him to impose a new constitution, abolish the duly-elected parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, install a largely powerless National Assembly, and extend his term of office to 2001. (5) In May 1999, democratic forces in Belarus challenged Lukashenka's unconstitutional extension of his presidential term by staging alternative presidential elections which were met with repression. (6) Democratic forces in Belarus have organized peaceful demonstrations against the Lukashenka regime in cities and towns throughout Belarus which led to beatings, mass arrests, and extended incarcerations. (7) Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, and Yuri Zakharenka, who have been leaders and supporters of the democratic forces in Belarus, and Dmitry Zavadsky, a journalist known for his critical reporting in Belarus, have disappeared and are presumed dead. (8) Former Belarus Government officials have come forward with credible allegations and evidence that top officials of the Lukashenka regime were involved in the disappearances. (9) The Lukashenka regime systematically harasses and represses the independent media and independent trade unions, imprisons independent journalists, and actively suppresses freedom of speech and expression. (10) The Lukashenka regime harasses the autocephalic Belarusian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Jewish community, the Hindu Lights of Kalyasa community, evangelical Protestant churches (such as Baptist and Pentecostal groups), and other minority religious groups. (11) The Law on Religious Freedom and Religious Organizations, passed by the National Assembly and signed by Lukashenka on October 31, 2002, establishes one of the most repressive legal regimes in the OSCE region, severely limiting religious freedom and placing excessively burdensome government controls on religious practice. (12) The United States, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Parliamentary Assembly, and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly have not recognized the National Assembly. (13) The parliamentary elections of October 15, 2000, conducted in the absence of a democratic election law, were illegitimate, unconstitutional, and plagued by violent human rights abuses committed by the Lukashenka regime, and have been determined by the OSCE to be nondemocratic. (14) The presidential election of September 9, 2001, was determined by the OSCE and other observers to be fundamentally unfair, to have failed to meet OSCE commitments for democratic elections formulated in the 1990 Copenhagen Document, and to have featured significant and abusive misconduct by the Lukashenka regime, including-- (A) the harassment, arrest, and imprisonment of opposition members; (B) the denial of equal and fair access by opposition candidates to state-controlled media; (C) the seizure of equipment and property of independent nongovernmental organizations and press organizations, and the harassment of their staff and management; (D) voting and vote counting procedures that were not transparent; and (E) a campaign of intimidation directed against opposition activists, domestic election observation organizations, and opposition and independent media, and a libelous media campaign against international observers. SEC. 3. ASSISTANCE TO PROMOTE DEMOCRACY AND CIVIL SOCIETY IN BELARUS. (a) PURPOSES OF ASSISTANCE.--Assistance under this section shall be available for the following purposes: (1) To assist the people of the Republic of Belarus in regaining their freedom and to enable them to join the European community of democracies. (2) To encourage free and fair presidential, parliamentary, and local elections in Belarus, conducted in a manner consistent with internationally accepted standards and under the supervision of internationally recognized observers. (3) To assist in restoring and strengthening institutions of democratic governance in Belarus. (b) AUTHORIZATION FOR ASSISTANCE.--To carry out the purposes set forth in subsection (a), the President is authorized to furnish assistance and other support for the activities described in subsection (c), to be provided primarily for indigenous groups in Belarus that are committed to the support of democratic processes in Belarus. (c) ACTIVITIES SUPPORTED.--Activities that may be supported by assistance under subsection (b) include-- (1) the observation of elections and the promotion of free and fair electoral processes; (2) the development of democratic political parties; (3) radio and television broadcasting to and within Belarus; (4) the development of nongovernmental organizations promoting democracy and supporting human rights; (5) the development of independent media working within Belarus and from locations outside Belarus, and supported by non-state-controlled printing facilities; (6) international exchanges and advanced professional training programs for leaders and members of the democratic forces in matters central to the development of civil society; and (7) other activities consistent with the purposes of this Act. (d) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.-- (1) IN GENERAL.--There is authorized to be appropriated to the President to carry out this section $40,000,000 for fiscal years 2004 and 2005. (2) AVAILABILITY OF FUNDS.--Amounts appropriated pursuant to the authorization of appropriations under paragraph (1) are authorized to remain available until expended. SEC. 4. RADIO BROADCASTING TO BELARUS. (a) PURPOSE.--It is the purpose of this section to authorize increased support for United States Government and surrogate radio broadcasting to the Republic of Belarus that will facilitate the unhindered dissemination of information in Belarus. (b) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.--In addition to such sums as are otherwise authorized to be appropriated, there is authorized to be appropriated $5,000,000 for each fiscal year for Voice of America and RFE/RL, Incorporated for radio broadcasting to the people of Belarus in languages spoken in Belarus. (c) REPORT ON RADIO BROADCASTING TO AND IN BELARUS.--Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit to the appropriate congressional committees a report on how funds appropriated and allocated pursuant to the authorizations of appropriations under subsection (b) and section 3(d) will be used to provide AM and FM broadcasting that covers the territory of Belarus and delivers independent and uncensored programming. SEC. 5. SANCTIONS AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT OF BELARUS. (a) APPLICATION OF SANCTIONS.--The sanctions described in subsections (c) and (d), and any sanction imposed under subsection (e) or (f), shall apply with respect to the Republic of Belarus until the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that the Government of Belarus has made significant progress in meeting the conditions described in subsection (b). (b) CONDITIONS.--The conditions referred to in subsection (a) are the following: (1) The release of individuals in Belarus who have been jailed based on political or religious beliefs. (2) The withdrawal of politically motivated legal charges against all opposition figures and independent journalists in Belarus. (3) A full accounting of the disappearances of opposition leaders and journalists in Belarus, including Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yuri Zakharenka, and Dmitry Zavadsky, and the prosecution of the individuals who are responsible for their disappearances. (4) The cessation of all forms of harassment and repression against the independent media, independent trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, religious organizations (including their leadership and members), and the political opposition in Belarus. (5) The implementation of free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections in Belarus consistent with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) standards on democratic elections and in cooperation with relevant OSCE institutions. (c) PROHIBITION ON STRATEGIC EXPORTS TO BELARUS.-- (1) PROHIBITION.--No computers, computer software, goods, or technology intended to manufacture or service computers, or any other related goods or technology, may be exported to Belarus for use by the Government of Belarus, or by its military, police, prison system, or national security agencies. The prohibition in the preceding sentence shall not apply with respect to the export of goods or technology for democracy-building or humanitarian purposes. (2) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.--Nothing in this subsection shall prevent the issuance of licenses to ensure the safety of civil aviation and safe operation of commercial passenger aircraft of United States origin or to ensure the safety of ocean-going maritime traffic in international waters. (d) PROHIBITION ON LOANS AND INVESTMENT.-- (1) UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT FINANCING.--No loan, credit guarantee, insurance, financing, or other similar financial assistance may be extended by any agency of the United States Government (including the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation) to the Government of Belarus, except with respect to the provision of humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. (2) TRADE AND DEVELOPMENT AGENCY.--No funds available to the Trade and Development Agency may be available for activities of the Agency in or for Belarus. (e) DENIAL OF ENTRY INTO UNITED STATES OF CERTAIN BELARUS OFFICIALS.-- (1) DENIAL OF ENTRY.--It is the sense of Congress that, in addition to the sanctions provided for in subsections (c) and (d), the President should use the authority under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(f)) to deny the entry into the United States of any alien who-- (A) holds a position in the senior leadership of the Government of Belarus; or (B) is a spouse, minor child, or agent of a person described in subparagraph (A). (2) SENIOR LEADERSHIP OF THE GOVERNMENT OF BELARUS DEFINED.--In this subsection, the term ``senior leadership of the Government of Belarus'' includes-- (A) the President, Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Ministers, government ministers, Chairmen of State Committees, and members of the Presidential Administration of Belarus; (B) any official of the Government of Belarus who is personally and substantially involved in the suppression of freedom in Belarus, including judges and prosecutors; and (C) any other individual determined by the Secretary of State (or the Secretary's designee) to be personally and substantially involved in the formulation or execution of the policies of the Lukashenka regime in Belarus that are in contradiction of internationally recognized human rights standards. (f) MULTILATERAL FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE.--It is the sense of Congress that, in addition to the sanctions provided for in subsections (c) and (d), the Secretary of the Treasury should instruct the United States Executive Director of each international financial institution to which the United States is a member to use the voice and vote of the United States to oppose any extension by those institutions of any financial assistance (including any technical assistance or grant) of any kind to the Government of Belarus, except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. (g) WAIVER.--The President may waive the application of any sanction described in this section with respect to Belarus if the President determines and certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that it is important to the national interests of the United States to do so. SEC. 6. MULTILATERAL COOPERATION. It is the sense of Congress that the President should continue to seek to coordinate with other countries, particularly European countries, a comprehensive, multilateral strategy to further the purposes of this Act, including, as appropriate, encouraging other countries to take measures with respect to the Republic of Belarus that are similar to measures provided for in this Act. SEC. 7. ANNUAL REPORTS. (a) REPORTS.--Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, and every year thereafter, the President shall transmit to the appropriate congressional committees a report that describes, with respect to the preceding 12-month period, the following: (1) The sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from the Republic of Belarus to any country, the government of which the Secretary of State has determined, for purposes of section 6(j)(1) of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. App. 2405(j)(1)), has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. (2) An identification of each country described in paragraph (1) and a detailed description of the weapons or weapons-related technologies involved in the sale. (3) An identification of the goods, services, credits, or other consideration received by Belarus in exchange for the weapons or weapons-related technologies. (4) The personal assets and wealth of Aleksandr Lukashenka and other senior leadership of the Government of Belarus. (b) FORM.--A report transmitted pursuant to subsection (a) shall be in unclassified form but may contain a classified annex. SEC. 8. DECLARATION OF POLICY. Congress hereby-- (1) expresses its support to those in the Republic of Belarus seeking-- (A) to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law and to consolidate the independence and sovereignty of Belarus; and (B) to promote the integration of Belarus into the European community of democracies; (2) expresses its grave concern about the disappearances of Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yuri Zakharenka, and Dmitry Zavadsky; (3) calls upon the Lukashenka regime in Belarus to cease its persecution of political opponents or independent journalists and to release those individuals who have been imprisoned for opposing his regime or for exercising their right to freedom of speech; (4) calls upon the Lukashenka regime to end the pattern of clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of relevant human dimension commitments of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and to respect the basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association, language, culture, and religion or belief; (5) calls upon the Government of the Russian Federation to use its influence to encourage democratic development in Belarus so that Belarus can become a democratic, prosperous, sovereign, and independent state that is integrated into Europe; (6) calls upon the Government of Belarus to resolve the continuing constitutional and political crisis in Belarus through-- (A) free, fair, and transparent presidential and parliamentary elections in Belarus, as called for by the OSCE; (B) respect for human rights in Belarus; (C) an end to the current climate of fear in Belarus; (D) meaningful access by the opposition to state media in Belarus; (E) modification of the electoral code of Belarus in keeping with OSCE commitments; (F) engagement in genuine talks with the opposition in Belarus; and (G) modifications of the constitution of Belarus to allow for genuine authority for the parliament; and (7) commends the democratic opposition in Belarus for their commitment to freedom, their courage in the face of the repression of the Lukashenka regime, and the emergence of a pluralist civil society in Belarus--the foundation for the development of democratic political structures. SEC. 9. DEFINITION. In this Act, the term "appropriate congressional committees'' means-- (1) the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives; and (2) the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate. 

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act 2003

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, which is intended to help promote democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus , as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. I am joined by Congressmen HOYER, HOEFFEL and Congresswoman Slaughter, as original cosponsors.   When measured against other European countries, the state of human rights in Belarus is abysmal--it has the worst record of any European state.   Through an illegitimate 1996 referendum, Alexander Lukashenka usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The democratic opposition, nongovernmental organizations and independent media have all faced harassment. Just within the last few months, we have seen a number of events reflecting the negative trend line: the passage of a repressive law on religion which bans religious activity by groups not registered with the government and forbids most religious meetings on private property; the bulldozing of a newly-built church; the incarceration of leading independent journalists; and the continued harassment, as well as physical attacks on the political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations--in short, anyone who, through their promotion of democracy , would stand in the way of the Belarusian dictator. Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents--perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders. Furthermore, growing evidence also indicates Belarus has been supplying military training and weapons to Iraq, in violation of UN sanctions.   Despite efforts by the U.S. Government, non-govermental organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, the regime of Alexander Lukashenka continues its hold onto power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people.   One of the primary purposes of this bill is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes increases in assistance for democracy building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus , and international exchanges. The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards--in sharp contrast to recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Belarus which flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential [Page: E242] GPO's PDF and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation.   In addition, this bill would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny highranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs.   The bill would require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states.   Mr. Speaker, finally, it is my hope that this bill would help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belaras' integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount. The Belarusian people deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country based on the rule of law and democratic institutions.

  • Hearing Surveys Human Rights in Republic of Georgia

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The Helsinki Commission held a hearing September 24, 2002 on developments in the Republic of Georgia, with particular focus on the recent violent attacks against selected minority religious communities, as well as the threat of Russian aggression against that Caucasus nation. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing that examined Georgia’s prospects for democratization, its security situation, and how Washington can best promote the complementary goals of advancing democracy, human rights and economic liberty while leading the battle against international terrorism. The hearing opened with a gripping video documenting mob violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and the failure of Georgian police to quell such attacks. Georgia, which became an OSCE participating State in 1992, was seemingly headed toward domestic stability and democratic governance in the mid-1990s, but recent trends have been disappointing. The official results of elections have not inspired confidence, undermining the public’s faith in democracy and the right of the people to choose their government. While civil society has grown substantially, independent media and non-governmental organizations remain at risk. The savage attack on the human rights organization, Liberty Institute, like the campaign of violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths, as well as efforts to silence Rustavi-2 Television, testify to the lingering influence of forces bent on preventing Georgia from consolidating democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Meanwhile, Georgia has been under intensifying pressure from Russia, with Moscow accusing Georgia of failing to cooperate in the war on terrorism. Russian planes have invaded Georgian airspace and bombed the territory, killing Georgian citizens. Russian officials increasingly threaten to launch unilateral military actions within Georgia against Chechen rebels. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently asked the United Nations to support his country’s threats to launch military strikes inside Georgia. Moscow’s threats place at risk Georgia’s sovereignty and stability, moving Washington to consider how best to help Georgia defend itself and maintain control of its territory, while moving decisively against criminal elements and terrorists. This is a very complicated situation because much of the assistance from the United States is contingent upon Georgia’s compliance to stop religious violence within its borders. Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing by acknowledging Georgia’s progress since the last hearing in 1995, but was quick to point out salient shortcomings. Mr. Smith voiced several concerns pertaining to Georgia’s internal problems. Special attention was paid to the inaction of the Georgian Government in regard to the mob attacks on minority faiths. “I am especially concerned and appalled by the ongoing religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there has been a campaign of assaults against members of minority faiths – especially Jehovah’s Witnesses – which Georgian authorities has tolerated,” Smith commented, “there can be no excuse for state toleration of such barbarity. It must end, and it must end now.” Not only was Mr. Smith concerned about the violence, but he also was concerned with the future of Georgia - U.S. relations because of the “rampant corruption,” unsatisfactory rate of democratization, and lack of compliance with OSCE standards. Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, voiced concern about the violence in the Pankisi Gorge and the Russian pressure on Georgia to eradicate the Chechen terrorist threat. Turning to trends in the areas of democracy and human rights, Pascoe noted, “We have stressed to President Shevardnadze and his government again and again that poor records on human rights and freedom of religion not only undermine Georgia's efforts at economic and democratic reform, but will also negatively affect our assistance if such problems are not addressed.” He further explained efforts in the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) to help Georgia in the war on terrorism, but suggested that U.S. assistance would diminish if Georgia does not act on the concerns voiced in the hearing. Georgian Ambassador Levan Mikeladze expressed his remorse for the mob attacks. He reassured the Commission that Georgia fully recognizes the problems in religious persecution and legal and practical actions are being taken to ensure there will be no more violent attacks: “We are hopeful that after all these assignments are executed, we will be in a position to say religion-based intolerance in Georgia has no future and manifestations of religiously motivated violence no longer occur.” Georgia’s security was a pressing issue for Ambassador Mikeladze given intrusions and aggression by the Russian Federation. He encouraged the United States to continue the GTEP and continue the strong rapport between the two nations. Co-Chairman Smith and Commissioner Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) were not satisfied with Ambassador Mikeladze’s explanation and expressed concern regarding the lack of action on the part of the Georgian Government to bring the perpetrators of attacks against minority faiths to justice. Smith issued a strong call to action, explaining the injurious nature to Georgia-U.S. relations of Georgia’s failure to actively stop the mob attacks. Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Baptist Union of Georgia set forth a long list of why and how such violence and hatred could be permitted in a democratic state. In attempting to give an explanation as to why such events have occurred in Georgia, the Bishop observed, “We gained independence but we still have not reached freedom. Old values have gone. New values have not come yet.” Songulashvili remarked, “It is not an absence of religious legislation which causes religious violence and persecution but rather absence of culture, justice and general law.” Despite all the grievances noted, Bishop Songulasvili remained hopeful that there would be progress. He offered four “targets” as a solution for the current religious violence: “Family, Mass Media, School and Teaching Institutions, and Religious Congregations.” He concluded, “Our optimism for the better future should not be overshadowed by the turmoil of the present time.” Mr. Gennadi Gudadze, a Jehovah’s Witness from Tbilisi, testified to the brutality experienced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia, including himself. He noted that “since then [October 1999], there have been 133 separate incidents involving either mob attacks, individual attacks or destruction of property.” Gudadze also pointed out that minimal action has been taken by the authorities against the criminals. He called for a three-pronged solution: apply the law, arrest the perpetrators, and remove the corrupt officials. Dr. Gia Nodia, Director of the Institute for Peace, Development, and Democracy, discussed the interrelationship between security on human rights. Dr. Nodia was very concerned with the possibility that the religious violence might evolve into political violence, hence impinging on the democratic process, causing much more turmoil within Georgia. Professor Stephen Jones of Mount Holyoke College gave a dismal summary of the current state of affairs in Georgia. He asserted that the government is failing its citizens and its current stability is based on the “thinnest of ice.” Professor Jones highlighted three main reasons for these failures: lack of economic security in Georgia; lack of proper institutions to carry out governmental and economic functions (i.e. Georgia’s current economy has shrunk 67% and industry is working at 20% of its capacity. Between 1997-2000, expenditure on defense decreased from $51.9 million to $13.6 million, education from $35.6 to $13.9 million, agriculture forestry and fishing from $13.4 to $7.2 million); and lack of political and public support for reform. Jones’ recommendation called for increased western aid, but the burden of progress lays heaviest on Georgia itself. The hearing concluded with a strong statement from Co-Chairman Smith urging the Government of Georgia to work quickly and effectively to eradicate its corruption and religious violence. He concluded his statement with these words, “Our only hope here is to try to promote human rights, democracy, and to protect the sovereignty of Georgia . . . from any forays by Russia.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE - 2003

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission hearing focused on how the Administration has been using the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the expansive OSCE region, particularly as a tool for advancing democracy. In addition the hearing touched on the anticipated OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review. In light of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the hearing discussed the link between state repression and violence and the role of building democracy  in U.S. national security interest. The witnesses and Commissioners discussed how the Helsinki Accords is based on mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems and how this concept can be effective tool for the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. In particular, the hearing covered situations in Central Asia and in authoritarian countries within the OSCE that are not putting forth meaningful reform.

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noted: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. This report conducts a review of Eastern European and Eurasian countries' records on these commitments over the course of the decade following the Soviet Union's collapse.

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noticed: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)*, which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the now 55-nation organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. Each of the OSCE participating States, including those examined in this report, has committed to “build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.” Similarly, the participating States have declared that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of government. Respect for them is an essential safeguard against an over-mighty State.” In a step designed to preserve the unity of the Helsinki process, each new participating State submitted a letter accepting in their entirety all commitments and responsibilities contained in the Helsinki Final Act, and all subsequent documents adopted prior to their membership (see Appendix I). To underscore this continuity, the leaders of each of the countries signed the actual original Final Act document (see Appendix II).

  • Commission Staff Meet with Georgian Officials While Religious Persecution Persists

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel   United States Helsinki Commission staff held consultations in Tbilisi, Georgia from October 14-16, 2002, with senior government officials, religious groups and NGOs to assess religious freedom and other human rights developments in that country. The discussions specifically focused on the ongoing mob violence against non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups, the prospects for ending the attacks, and what actions the Georgian Government should take to stop the depredations. The trip occurred on the heals of a Commission hearing on democracy, human rights and security in Georgia. During that hearing, Members of Congress raised their concerns regarding the ongoing violence against members of minority religious communities, Georgian authorities’ unwillingness to take action against the perpetrators of violence, and Georgia’s relationship with Russia concerning the Panksi Gorge. Commission Members have also written three letters in as many years to President Eduard Shevardnadze urging him to take concrete steps to quell the violence. The violence against minority religious communities began roughly three years ago, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals all being victimized. Over that period, the frequency and intensity of the attacks have increased. Police have been implicated in the attacks, but as of late, their transgressions consist of omissions, such as reportedly refusing to intervene when notified of assaults in-progress. More recently, the main instigators of mob violence are Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. In addition, demagogic parliamentarians, like Guram Sharadze, have led rallies and made inflammatory statements about the so-called “dangers” of non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups to Georgian society and nationhood. The victimization of minority religious groups is often justified through the language of Georgian nationalism. The small former Soviet Republic is squeezed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Once a desired Soviet vacation destination, Georgia’s economy and infrastructure are crumbling, with the government struggling to provide the most basic of services. For example, there is much debate on whether sufficient gas and electricity will be available to avoid outages during the upcoming winter. Some Georgian public figures and religious leaders apparently see political profit from fighting religious pluralism behind the flag of Georgian nationalism, and non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups and their adherents have been characterized as unpatriotic and dangerous to Georgian society. On October 14, President Shevardnadze and the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II, signed a concordat concretizing the church’s relationship with the state. The Georgian Parliament, by a vote of 203 to one, ratified the concordat, bringing the measure into force. In addition to the questionable legal status of a concordat between a government and an entity lacking both sovereignty and any international legal personality, other problems arise. Foremost, the concordat creates an unbalanced playing field against other religious groups. The agreement grants the Catholicos-Patriarch immunity, excludes Georgian Orthodox clergy from military service and limits the creation of chaplain institutions in both prisons and the military to this one religious group. Also troubling is the provision granting the Georgian Orthodox Church the power to approve licenses for “official symbols and terminology of the Church.” As the concordat appendix enumerates a broad and vague list of items and terms falling under the church’s purview, which includes, inter alia, church buildings, liturgical items, crosses, and theological literature, other religious groups, like the schismatic True Orthodox Church, fear this will limit their ability to operate freely. The concordat is not the only legal issue of concern to minority religious communities, as a draft law on religion is circulating in the Georgian Parliament. The draft law, in its current form, contains several problematic articles. The term “improper proselytism” makes impermissible offers of “material or social benefits” or use of “psycho-ideological influence.” Charges of “improper proselytism” could have criminal repercussions, as Article 155 of the criminal code punishes the “offering of material or social care to attract new members to a religious organization or confession” by a fine or two-years imprisonment. Other troubling portions of the legislation include the creation of a registration scheme for religious groups. The draft law mandates the submission of the names of 50 members, as well as information on the group’s doctrines and activities, “attitude towards the family and marriage issues” and “the peculiarities of the attitude of the adherents towards health.” The draft also restricts the use of “Georgia” or “of Georgia” to groups “operating on the territory of Georgia for not less than 50 years.” Denial of registration can occur if, “as a result of the state religious expertise it is established that the entity is not religious.” Lastly, the draft law would allow the termination of religious activities, if the group is found to violate “state security and public order” or for refusing to “administer medical assistance on religious grounds.” If passed in its current form, the law would violate Georgia’s OSCE commitments, as these provisions appear tailored to ensure the curtailing, if not outright banning, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious communities. While there is a legitimate need to provide religious groups juridical personality, the draft law is too invasive and burdensome. The question is will it ever become law. Several officials and NGOs have indicated their general unhappiness with the current draft, saying it is too liberal for some and too limiting for others, but neither viewpoint has the numbers in the fractious parliament to amend the text. Others opined that with the Georgian Orthodox Church secured through the concordat as the preeminent Georgian faith and considering their dissatisfaction with the draft text, the church will no longer push for the religion law. As an alternative, the Supreme Court Chairman has proposed allowing religious groups to access the simple civil code registration process currently provided for non-profit organizations. The Ministry of Justice is reportedly reviewing this option. In discussions with Commission staff, minority religious community leaders expressed greater concern about the unchecked violence, rather than the future implications under the concordat or law on religion. Their concerns are warranted, as several assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the days immediately following the Commission’s September 24 hearing. Additionally, during the first week of October, villagers in Shemokmedi destroyed a church built by the in independent True Orthodox Church. Georgian officials and NGO representatives offered conflicting opinions on the phenomenon of violence inflicted by Vasili Mkalavishvili. Some view Mkalavishvili as an agent of the Russian Government, whose mission is to further destabilize Georgia. Others believe the Georgian Government and the Georgian Orthodox Church purposefully allow Mkalavishvili and his mobs to run wild. The government may benefit from the mob attacks distracting the Georgian polity from numerous government failures. For the Georgian Orthodox Church, the mobs intimidate and harass religious groups considered competition, and elevates the church as the protector of Georgian heritage and nationhood. However, while it is difficult to establish a direct link between the defrocked Mkalavishvili and the government or the Georgian Orthodox Church, the government appears hesitant to stop the cycle of violence. Commission staff also met with officials of the State Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Security Council and the Ombudsman for Human Rights, as well as members of the Supreme Court and several parliamentarians. Each admitted the mob violence was a serious problem, but some were quick to raise what they believe to be contributing factors, such as lack of education, poor economic situation, weak government, or Russian aggression. Government officials and religious groups agreed that if authorities had immediately arrested Mkalavishvili and his thugs three years ago, the problem would not exist today. Georgian officials, for the most part, seem fearful of repercussions which may result from any conviction against mob leaders. Nevertheless, most officials admitted that if authorities arrested, tried and jailed the top perpetrators, even for only six months, the violence would end. Commission staff expressed to Georgian officials the danger of allowing the brutality to continue and escalate, which could have repercussions for the government and the future of Georgia. Staff also made clear the great concern Commissioners maintain about the unwillingness of Georgian authorities to prosecute and jail the perpetrators of violence against members of minority faiths. Commission staff pushed Georgian officials for the provision of proper security for the ongoing trial of Mkalavishvili. In response, each of the Georgian officials repeated their resolution to thwart the violence, with both Georgia’s Ministry of Interior and National Security Council promising adequate police protection. Mkalavishvili’s trial, which started in January of this year, has been postponed five times, with Mkalavishvili’s mob crashing the courtroom and assaulting those in attendance. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) wrote President Eduard Shevardnadze in late October 2002, seeking to reaffirmation of these guarantees. To the credit of the Georgian Government, they have provided adequate security personnel at the subsequent court proceedings of Mkalavishvili’s case. However, during a November 16th hearing, Mkalavishvili’s followers verbally assaulted and forcibly removed a reporter from Radio Free Europe. Security personnel did not intervene. In addition, one of the accused perpetrators reportedly was carrying a concealed firearm inside the courtroom. In closing, there is little hope for religious freedom if the Georgian Government remains unwilling to arrest, prosecute and jail the perpetrators of the mob attacks. While the providing of proper security at the Mkalavishvili trial is a welcomed step, it is long overdue. Considering the hundreds of criminal complaints against Mkalavishvili and other perpetrators of mob violence, the government must bring more prosecutions on serious criminal charges. It is the Georgian Government’s duty to ensure that all its citizens, regardless of their faith, can enjoy religious freedom, as well as personal and communal security. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

  • Turkey: What Can We Expect After the November 3 Election?

    This briefing addressed the November 3 elections, which were held during a rather turbulent time in Turkey. Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, won an unprecedented 34.27 percent of the votes in Turkey’s legislative election while the Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Deniz Baykal, received 19.39 percent of the votes and won 178 seats in the next Parliament. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Abdullah Akyuz, President of the Turkish Industrialist’s and Businessmen’s Association, U.S. Representative Office; Sanar Yurdatapan, Musician and Freedom of Expression Advocate; and Jonathan Sugden, Researcher for Turkey with Human Rights Watch – addressed the massive recession face by Turkey and the concern of another war with Iraq. The effect, if any, on the rise of Islamist parties in Turkish politics is yet another concern. All of this following the recent snub by the European Union regarding Turkish accession, and increasingly bleak prospects for a resolution of the Cyprus impasse.

  • Prospects for Change in Turkey

    Mr. Speaker, I wish to extend my congratulations to the people of Turkey for their elections held on November 3. Witnessing the peaceful change of government is a change that is significant for both Turkey's citizens and for their neighborhood. Many of Turkey's neighbors need to see that such a transfer of power is possible, for the people of these countries have for too long suffered under the illusion that they must live with their repressive regimes that maintain power through undemocratic means.   It is also important to keep in mind that the Turks, seen by some as a model for the countries of Central Asia, are not new kids on the block--former President Demirel was an original signer of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), I have followed closely the developments in Turkey . With a particularly keen interest in the protection of human rights which has such an impact on the lives of individual men, women and children, I continue to be concerned about the ongoing use of torture, violations of religious freedom and threats to civil society.   Through the ballot box, the Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, received 34.3 percent of the vote, giving them a clear majority of 363 seats in the 550-seat Turkish Grand National Assembly. This entitles the AKP, led by former Istanbul Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to govern without sharing political power. He will not be without challenges to his authority though.   On November 8, the anniversary of the death of the Turkish reformer Kemal Ataturk, General Hilmi, Ozkok issued a statement vowing "to protect the republic against all types of threats, especially fundamentalism and separatist activities,'' reiterating strongly the military's view of itself as the historical guarantor of Turkey's secular system. Mr. Speaker, while the transition appears peaceful, it is not without its strains and stresses, even with the potential of the military stepping in like it has done repeatedly in the past. We can only hope that is not the outcome of this transition.   As an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Turkey has accepted a broad range of human rights obligations. As head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I have worked with my parliamentary colleagues from Turkey to encourage protection for these commitments. With a new government not obligated to continue the ways of the old, there is a welcome opportunity for such initiatives to be undertaken.   There are a few specific matters that I urge the incoming government to address without delay. Four Kurdish members of the Grand National Assembly have been in prison since March 1994. I call upon the new government to free Layla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak and remove the trumped-up charges from their records. They were convicted for, among other things, speaking their mother tongue in and out of the parliament building. As Mr. Erdogan himself has said, such convictions should not stand.   Also, past efforts to return the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Kurds to their homes in southeastern Turkey have proven ineffectual. The government should take concrete steps to ensure that refugees are allowed to return to their own homes in safety and dignity, which may well require the clearing of land mines and repairing of villages.   Mr. Speaker, without reciting the lengthy list of Turkey's human rights violations, including the use of torture, it is fair to say that Turkey's record of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments remains poor. While progress has been made, the authority of police officials must be checked by the rule of law. All claims of torture must be seriously investigated, no matter where the investigation leads. It is important that anyone who commits torture--especially police, the security forces or other agents of the state--must be taken to court and tried for high crimes. The Forensic Medical Association should be allowed to carry out its professional responsibilities and act without fear in its attempts to document torture. Victims of torture should be paid due recompense by the state.   I am very concerned about the continuing difficulty no-governmental organizations face throughout Turkey, particularly the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. The Human Rights Foundation exists in an uncertain environment, with arbitrary shutdowns and having its officials harassed, intimidated or arrested. Property has been seized and not returned.   Religious freedom in Turkey, whether for Muslims or other religious communities, had suffered from heavy-handed government involvement and control. The government allows Turkish Muslims to only attend state-approved mosques, listen to state-funded Imams, and receive religious education from state-funded schools. The Directorate of Religious Affairs, which regulates all of Turkey's 75,000 mosques and employs Imams, has been criticized for only promoting Sunni branch of Islam. I would encourage the new government to bring to a close its regulation of all religious institutions.   The wearing of headscarves has also been regarded as quite controversial since it is seen as a religious totem in a secular state. Women who choose this expression of religious conviction are denied the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public building, including schools and hospitals. The public sharing of religious belief in Turkey with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view is severely curbed for both Muslims and Christians. A number of evangelical Protestant groups throughout Turkey have reported being targeted because of their religious free speech, which contradicts OSCE commitments on religious liberty and freedom of expression.   Turkey's Office of Foundations has contributed its own difficulties for faith communities, as it has closed and seized properties of "official'' minority religious groups and unrecognized faith communities. Several religious groups, most notably the Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches report difficulties, particularly on the local level, in repairing and maintaining existing buildings or purchasing new buildings. The continued closure of the Orthodox seminary on Halki Island remains a concern.   Furthermore, religious groups not considered "official minorities'' under the Lausanne Treaty are provided no legal route to purchase or rent buildings to meet, and are thereby forced to hold meetings in private apartments. In response, provincial governorships, after receiving a letter from the Ministry of Internal Affairs last year, have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant communities without any options. The lack of official recognition is an insurmountable hurdle for minority religious groups wishing to practice their faith as a community.   Turkey is at a critical crossroads. I am hopeful that the new government will take this opportunity to move forward, and craft policies which are consistent with OSCE commitments and protective of all peoples living in Turkey.

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