Property Restitution in the Czech Republic

Property Restitution in the Czech Republic

Hon.
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
106th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Monday, March 15, 1999

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to express my concern over recent setbacks in the return of expropriated properties to rightful owners in the Czech Republic. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed property restitution issues in Central and Eastern Europe over the past several years with an eye toward determining whether the restitution and compensation laws adopted in this region are being implemented according to the rule of law and whether American citizens' interests are protected under the laws. While restitution and compensation programs in several East-Central European countries have aspects of concern, today I want to bring attention to the status of restitution in the Czech Republic because of recent troubling developments there.

 

Since the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic has adopted laws that provide for the return of private property confiscated by Nazi or communist regimes. When the actual return of property is not possible, these laws offer former owners the right to receive alternate compensation. Regrettably, Czech laws limit these rights to those who had Czechoslovak citizenship when the restitution law was adopted or who acquired citizenship before the deadline for filing restitution claims. As a result, former Czechoslovak citizens who fled to the United States seeking refuge from fascism or communism earlier this century, and are now American citizens, have been precluded from making restitution claims unless they renounce their American citizenship.

 

Ironically, had these same individuals fled to Canada, Israel, or any country other than the United States, they would not have lost their Czech citizenship and would today be eligible to receive restitution or compensation. This result stems from a treaty signed in 1928 by the United States and Czechoslovakia that automatically terminated a person's citizenship in the United States or Czechoslovakia if that person became a citizen of the other country. That treaty was terminated in 1997, but its impact remains: under Czech law, Czech Americans are not eligible for dual citizenship in the Czech Republic. Therefore, without abandoning the citizenship of the country that took them in during their time of need, the law denies them the right to receive restitution or compensation as others have. In other words, the citizenship requirement in the Czech property restitution laws discriminates against American citizens. Moreover, it is difficult for me to think that this discrimination was simply an unintended consequence.

 

In the 105th Congress, the House adopted my resolution, H. Res. 562, which urges the formerly totalitarian countries in Central and Eastern Europe to restore wrongfully confiscated properties, and specifically calls on the Czech Republic to eliminate this discriminatory citizenship restriction. In this regard, the resolution echoes the view of the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) which has concluded in two cases that these citizenship restrictions violate the anti-discrimination clause (Art. 26) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I recently learned that the UNHRC has agreed to hear at least four more cases that challenge these restrictions. The persuasiveness of the UNHRC's reasoning, when it determined that the citizenship restriction in the restitution law is discriminatory, was compelling. Unfortunately, the Czech Parliament last month debated and rejected a proposed amendment to the law that would have eliminated Czech citizenship as a condition for property restitution claims. This approach was widely considered the most effective remedy to a serious problem. In rejecting the amendment, the parliament missed an excellent opportunity to resolve this long-standing and contentious issue between the Czech Republic and the United States. While I deeply regret the parliament's decision, I hope that the Czech Government will now seek alternative means to end the discrimination against Czech Americans.

 

In January, several weeks before the parliament voted down the restitution amendment, Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous assured me that his government planned to propose a new citizenship law that would permit dual citizenship for Czech Americans. I was heartened to learn that last month the Czech Government introduced this amendment and it is my hope that its early passage will be followed by a reopening of the claims filing period for those individuals who, by virtue of acquiring dual citizenship, will become eligible for property restitution or compensation.

 

Another disturbing situation involves the case of restitution to the “double victims” in the Czech Republic: those individuals, primarily Jews, whose properties were confiscated during World War II by Nazis and then again by the communists that swept the region in the postwar era. One case, for example, is that of Susan Benda who is seeking compensation for an expropriated house in the town of Liberec where her father and his brother grew up. Susan's grandparents were killed by the Nazis and her father and uncle fled their homeland in 1939. The family home was “sold” in 1940 to a German company in a transaction subsequently invalidated by a 1945 Czech presidential decree. In 1994, the Czech Parliament expanded its earlier restitution law to allow individuals whose property was originally confiscated by Nazis between the years 1938-45 to join those whose property was taken by communists in claiming restitution. Under the amended laws, Susan Benda is theoretically eligible to receive restitution of, or compensation for, the home in Liberec. Notwithstanding the Czech Government's purported intention to restore Jewish property seized by the Nazis, However, the Czech Ministry of Finance has arbitrarily imposed additional onerous and burdensome conditions for restitution that do not appear in the law and which, in fact, appear designed to defeat the intent of the law. Beyond the citizenship requirement in the law, the Ministry of Finance has declared that claimants must prove that they were entitled to file a claim under a postwar 1946 restitution law, that they did file a claim, and that the claim was not satisfied. Remarkably, Susan Benda found a record in the Liberec town hall which establishes that her uncle returned to Czechoslovakia and filed a restitution claim in 1947. Next, the Finance Ministry requires claimants to prove that a court expressly rejected the postwar claim. In a country that has endured the political and social turmoil of the Czech Republic over the past half-century, the notion that claimants in the 1990s must prove, not only that a court considered a certain case more than fifty years ago, but also must produce a record of the court's decision in the case, is outrageous. Susan Benda was able to produce a claim of title showing that the house was stolen by the Nazis in 1940, confiscated by the communist Czech Government in 1953 and purchased from the Czech Government in 1992 by its current owner-occupant. While Susan cannot produce a document showing that the court actually considered, and then rejected, her uncle's postwar claim, the chain of title and the witness testimony confirm that the Benda family never got the house back, in itself simple, dramatic proof that the postwar claim was not satisfied. Apparently, however, this proof was not sufficient for the Czech authorities and Susan Benda was forced to sue the Ministry of Finance. Last September, more than three years after filing the claim, Susan Benda was vindicated when a Czech court agreed with her assertion that the Finance Ministry should not have attached the extralegal requirements for restitution. The court ordered the Finance Ministry to pay the Benda family compensation for the value of the expropriated house.

 

I wish Susan Benda's story could end here but it does not, the Czech Government has appealed the court decision apparently fearful that a precedent would be set for other claims, that is, out of a fear that property might actually be returned under this law. Thus, while the Czech Government proclaims its desire to address the wrongs of the past, those who, like Susan Benda, seek the return of wrongfully confiscated property are painfully aware that the reality is much different.

 

Another case that has come to my attention involves Peter Glaser's claim for a house in the town of Zatec. After the 1948 communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, Peter Glaser sought to immigrate to the United States. To obtain a passport, Mr. Glaser was forced to sign a statement renouncing any future claims to his home. In 1954, Mr. Glaser became an American citizen; in 1962, the communist Czech Government officially recorded the expropriation of Mr. Glaser's home in the land records. In 1982, the United States and Czechoslovakia signed an agreement that settled the property loss claims of all American citizens against Czechoslovakia. The U.S. Government agency charged with carrying out the settlement advised Mr. Glaser that, because he was a Czechoslovak citizen when his property was taken, according to the U.S. Government, this occurred in 1948 when Mr. Glaser was forced under duress to relinquish the rights to his house, he was not eligible to participate in the claims settlement program but must rather seek redress for his property loss under Czech laws. When the post-communist Czech Republic passed a property restitution law in 1991, Peter Glaser filed his claim. In a cruel irony, despite presenting documentation from the U.S. Government attesting to the fact that Mr. Glaser was not eligible to participate in the U.S.-Czechoslovakia claims settlement program, the Czech Courts have repeatedly rejected his claim on the grounds that he was an American citizen at the time his property was taken, which, according to the Czech Government, occurred in 1962. The Czech Government asserts that Mr. Glaser's claims were settled and should have been compensated under the 1982 agreement. In other words, the current Czech Government and courts have adopted the communist fiction that although Mr. Glaser's property was expropriated in 1948, somehow the confiscation did not count until 1962, when the communists got around to the nicety of recording the deed. This rationalization by Czech authorities looks like a back door attempt to avoid restitution. The reality of what happened to the property in Zatec is clear: Peter Glaser lost his home in 1948 when a totalitarian regime claimed the rights to his house in exchange for allowing him to leave the oppression and persecution of communist Czechoslovakia. As the Czech Government knows, communist expropriations, whether effectuated by sweeping land reform laws, as a condition or punishment for emigration, or under other circumstances, frequently went unrecorded in land registries, but that did not make the loss any less real for the victims. For the Czech Government today to cling to technicalities, such as the date the communists officially recorded their confiscation in the land registry, as a means to avoid returning Peter Glaser's home is a sobering indication of the Czech Government's true commitment to rectifying the wrongs of its communist past.

 

Mr. Speaker, the issue of property restitution is complex. No easy solutions exist to the many questions that restitution policies raise. Nonetheless, when a country chooses to institute a restitution or compensation program, international norms mandate that the process be just, fair and nondiscriminatory. The Czech Government has failed to live up to these standards in the cases I cited. The Czech Government must end the discrimination against Czech Americans in the restitution of private property. Moreover, the rule of law must be respected. I call on the Czech Government to reconsider its disposition in the Benda and Glaser cases. Czech officials often say that aggrieved property claimants can seek redress in the courts for unfavorable decisions. However, when claimants do just that, as did Peter Glaser and Susan Benda, the Czech Government asserts outrageous or technical defenses to thwart the rightful owner's claim or simply refuses to accept a decision in favor of the claimant. Fortunately, Mr. Glaser, Ms. Benda, and others like them, have pledged to fight on despite mounting costs and legal fees that they will never recoup. The passion and determination of Peter Glaser and Susan Benda, as of all victims of fascism and communism in Central and Eastern Europe, reveal that what may look to some as a battle for real estate is ultimately a search for justice and for peace with the past.

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    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: PUBLIC DIPLOMACY, DEMOCRACY, AND GLOBAL LEADERSHIP An Approach for the 21st Century Thursday, December 5, 2019 10:00 a.m. Longworth House Office Building Room 1334 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission For more than a century, the United States has advanced human rights, economic, and security policy goals in Europe by cultivating people-to-people ties across the Atlantic. More than 500 heads of state, 100 Members of Congress, and thousands of professionals have participated in U.S. Government-sponsored exchanges, including the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program, while public and private organizations have hosted similar programs to bring leaders together.    Witnesses at the hearing will explore the origins and role of professional exchanges and other public diplomacy programs that strengthen relationships with U.S. allies in the face of shared challenges including eroding trust in democratic institutions, demographic shifts, technological advancements, and evolving security threats. In particular, the hearing will focus on international exchange initiatives that strengthen democratic institutions by targeting young and diverse leaders, encouraging civic engagement, and fostering social inclusion and cohesion in the OSCE region.  The following witnesses are scheduled to participate: Lora Berg, Senior Fellow, Leadership Programs, German Marshall Fund of the United States Cordell Carter, II, Executive Director, Socrates Program, The Aspen Institute   Stacie Walters Fujii, Chair, American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL)   Photo credit: German Marshall Fund of the United States

  • 2019 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    From September 16 to September 27, OSCE participating States will meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the 2019 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).  As Europe’s largest annual human rights conference, the HDIM brings together hundreds of government and nongovernmental representatives, international experts, and human rights activists for two weeks to review OSCE human rights commitments and progress. During the 2019 meeting, three specifically selected topics will each be the focus of a full-day discussion: “safety of journalists,” “hate crimes,” and “Roma and Sinti.” These special topics are chosen to highlight key areas for improvement in the OSCE region and promote discussion of pressing issues. Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2019 Since the HDIM was established in 1998, the OSCE participating States have a standing agreement to hold an annual two-week meeting to review the participating States’ compliance with the human dimension commitments they have previously adopted by consensus. The phrase “human dimension” was coined to describe the OSCE norms and activities related to fundamental freedoms, democracy (such as free elections, the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary), humanitarian concerns (such as refugee migration and human trafficking), and concerns relating to tolerance and nondiscrimination (such as countering anti-Semitism and racism). Each year, the HDIM allows participating States to assess one another’s implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, identify challenges, and make recommendations for improvement. The HDIM agenda covers all human dimension commitments, including freedoms of expression and the media, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief; democratic elections; the rule of law; tolerance and non-discrimination; combating trafficking in persons; women’s rights; and national minorities, including Roma and Sinti. Unique about the HDIM is the inclusion and strong participation of non-governmental organizations. The United States has been a stout advocate for the involvement of NGOs in the HDIM, recognizing the vital role that civil society plays in human rights and democracy-building initiatives. OSCE structures allow NGO representatives to raise issues of concern directly with government representatives, both by speaking during the formal working sessions of the HDIM and by organizing side events that examine specific issues in greater detail. Members of the U.S. delegation to the 2019 HDIM include: Ambassador James S. Gilmore, U.S. Permanent Representative to the OSCE and Head of Delegation Christopher Robinson, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Roger D. Carstens, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Elan S. Carr, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Alex T. Johnson, Chief of Staff, U.S. Helsinki Commission

  • OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir to Appear at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: STATE OF MEDIA FREEDOM IN THE OSCE REGION Thursday, July 25, 2019 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Capitol Visitor Center Room HVC-210 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Journalists working in the 57 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) are facing increased risks to their lives and safety. According to a new report released the Office of the Representative for Freedom of the Media, in the first six months of 2019, two journalists have been killed and an additional 92 attacks and threats—including one bombing, three shootings, and seven arson attacks—have targeted members of the media. In his first appearance before Congress, OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Harlem Desir will assess the fragile state of media freedom within the OSCE region. Mr. Desir also will address the number of imprisoned media professionals as well as the violence, threats, and intimidation directed toward female journalists. The hearing will explore the threat posed by disinformation and online content designed to provoke violence and hate.  Following the hearing, at 5:00 p.m. in Room HVC-200, the Helsinki Commission will host a viewing of the documentary, “A Dark Place,” which details the online harassment of female journalists working in the OSCE region.

  • Partially Protected?

    The U.S. Helsinki Commission convened an expert briefing on the background, implementation, and legal and political implications of temporary protection for people in the United States and Europe who come from countries of conflict or natural disaster but not qualify for asylum. The discussion explored whether some European Union countries are choosing temporary protection even when asylum claims are credible. Alex T. Johnson, Chief of Staff for the Helsinki Commission, said in his opening remarks, “Chairman Hastings sees [protected status] as a priority, particularly in the United States and in the OSCE region because of the erosion of human rights and democratic institutions that we are seeing now. It’s particularly urgent as we look at our own domestic compliance with commitments in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and how we partner with countries who are also exploring issues related to granted protected status for vulnerable communities in their midst.” Johnson also noted Chairman Hasting’s introduction of H.Con.Res. 5, which expresses support for Haitians residing in the United States with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). In the discussion that followed, Jill Wilson of the Congressional Research Service provided context on TPS and its implementation in the U.S. Wilson reported, “Ten countries are currently covered by TPS, benefitting some 400,000 individuals in the United States. The Trump administration has announced terminations for six of these ten countries on the grounds that the conditions on which the original designations were based no longer exist. These terminations are currently on hold pending court action.”  Recent efforts by members of the 115th and 116th Congress saw a greater number and variety of TPS-related bills that seek either to expand or restrict TPS and shift the decision-making power from the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to the U.S. Congress. Currently, the Secretary of the DHS, in consultation with other key government offices namely the U.S. State Department, has the power to designate a country for temporary protection in periods of six, twelve, or eighteen months based on three categories: armed conflict, natural disaster, or extraordinary circumstances that prevent the safe return of a country’s nationals. Marleine Bastien of the Family Action Network Movement shared her expertise on the current political and economic situation in Haiti, following the catastrophic earthquake in 2010 and subsequent natural disasters that resulted in major public health emergencies, about 300,000 displaced people, and severely damaged infrastructure. Despite these continuing poor conditions, Haiti’s TPS status is subject to termination. Bastien remarked, “We hope that Congress will take a close look at what’s going on in Haiti today…The conditions in Haiti continue to deteriorate. Haiti still qualifies for temporary protected status… TPS is still applicable, not only for the countries that qualify now, but for the countries in the future which may experience natural and political disasters.” Without its TPS re-instated, she said, Haiti does not have the capacity to resettle and support the 58,000 Haitians currently living in the U.S. Sui Chung, an attorney with the Immigration Law and Litigation Group in Miami, Florida, and Chair of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Committee of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) stated that unless legislation like the American Dream and Promise Act, H.R. 6 is passed, TPS recipients remain at risk of being detained or deported. Chung remarked, “Although the federal courts have enjoined the termination of TPS for some countries, these court orders are temporary. If a higher court rules unfavorably, those with TPS would be vulnerable to losing authorization to work and reside in the U.S., and they would be subject to deportation.” Chung stated that 94 percent of individuals under TPS are employed, generating about $5.5 billion in federal, state, and local taxes, with roughly $25 billion spending power. According to Chung, losing this population could cripple the U.S. economy and harm communities.  Catherine Woollard, Secretary General of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, described Europe’s decision-making process for protection status as an inconsistent and unfair “asylum lottery” She argued that the lack of fairness and uniformity in granting TPS originates from the selection process, where the decision to grant protection status is left solely to the discretion of the twenty-eight European Union Member States rather than a universal eligibility process. Woollard noted, “Our analysis shows that these different protection statuses have a wide variation when it comes to the rights attached. Key rights that are of interest and necessity for people who are seeking protection vary. If you have refugee status, your residence rights are for a longer duration. For subsidiary protection, less time is granted for residential rights. In some cases, there are very stark differences.”

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Explore Non-Asylum Protections in United States And Europe

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: PARTIALLY PROTECTED? Non-Asylum Protection in the United States and the European Union Friday, June 14, 2019 2:00 p.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2237 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission The United States and the European Union give legal protection to some people who flee armed conflict or natural disaster, but do not qualify as refugees. In the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security designates countries of origin for “Temporary Protected Status” (TPS), enabling their nationals to legally remain in the United States and work until and unless the Secretary terminates the designation. Approximately 417,000 individuals from 10 countries currently have TPS, living in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. commonwealths and territories. In 2018, more than 100,300 people were granted similar non-asylum protection, on an individual basis, across the 28 countries of the European Union. Since 2017, the United States has extended TPS for Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, and announced terminations for El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Sudan. Lawsuits have challenged the terminations. To date, Members of Congress have introduced at least 10 TPS-focused bills in the 116th Congress. This briefing will explore the background and implementation of non-asylum protection in the United States and Europe—including whether some European Union Member States are according this protection even when asylum claims are credible—legislative and legal responses, and implications for policy, law, and protection. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Marleine Bastien, Executive Director, Family Action Network Movement Sui Chung, Attorney at Law, Immigration Law and Litigation Group, and Chair, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Committee, American Immigration Lawyers Association Jill H. Wilson, Analyst in Immigration Policy, Congressional Research Service Catherine Woollard, Secretary General, European Council on Refugees and Exiles Additional panelists may be added.

  • Helsinki Commission Chairman Condemns Mob Attacks on Roma in Europe

    WASHINGTON—Following reports of a mob attack against the Roma community and a police station in Gabrovo, Bulgaria, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) today issued the following statement: “I am very disturbed by the increasing frequency of mob attacks on Roma in Europe—most recently in Bulgaria, but also in Italy, France, and the Czech Republic. Governments must do more to counter the corrosive effects of hate-mongering and protect their most vulnerable communities from bias-motivated crimes. “The violence in Bulgaria is particularly concerning. As they say in the horror movies, ‘the call is coming from inside your house.’ An attack on a government institution like a police station is an attack on democracy itself.” Reports indicate that earlier this week, an anti-Roma group attacked the police station in Gabrovo when officers refused to turn over three Roma to the mob following an altercation at a local shop. Some Romaní homes were subsequently destroyed. The attack comes on the heels of recent anti-Roma rhetoric at the highest levels of the Government of Bulgaria. In February, Bulgarian Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Krasimir Karakachanov proposed offering free abortions to limit the Roma birthrate. In early April, a mob attacked 70 Roma, including children, in a suburb of Rome, Italy. Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the attack.  Similar attacks on Roma in the town of Dvorec in the Czech Republic forced a Romani family to leave the area. Three Romani children were subsequently attacked in the Czech village of Lipník nad Bečvou. In France in late March, false kidnapping accusations against Roma circulated on social media were associated with gang attacks on Roma in France. Local police issued statements to quell the disinformation. 

  • Lies, Bots, and Social Media

    From the latest revelations about Facebook to ongoing concerns over the integrity of online information, the U.S. public has never been more vulnerable or exposed to computational propaganda: the threat posed by sophisticated botnets able to post, comment on, and influence social media and other web outlets to generate a desired outcome or simply sow distrust and disorder.  What can be done to confront and defeat these malevolent actors before they dominate civil discourse on the Internet? One possibility is the use of algorithmic signal reading which displays for users the geographic origin of a given post. Another answer may lie in improving how websites like Facebook curate their content, so the user can make more informed choices.  At this Helsinki Commission briefing, distinguished experts examined the implications of computational propaganda on national and international politics and explored options available to Congress and the private sector to confront and negate its pernicious influence.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Computational Propaganda

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing:   LIES, BOTS, AND SOCIAL MEDIA What is Computational Propaganda and How Do We Defeat It? Thursday, November 29, 2018 10:30 a.m. Senate Dirksen Office Building Room 562 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission From the latest revelations about Facebook to ongoing concerns over the integrity of online information, the U.S. public has never been more vulnerable or exposed to computational propaganda: the threat posed by sophisticated botnets able to post, comment on, and influence social media and other web outlets to generate a desired outcome or simply sow distrust and disorder.  What can be done to confront and defeat these malevolent actors before they dominate civil discourse on the Internet? One possibility is the use of algorithmic signal reading which displays for users the geographic origin of a given post. Another answer may lie in improving how websites like Facebook curate their content, so the user can make more informed choices.  At this Helsinki Commission briefing, distinguished experts will examine the implications of computational propaganda on national and international politics and explore options available to Congress and the private sector to confront and negate its pernicious influence. Expert panelists scheduled to participate include: Matt Chessen, Acting Deputy Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State Karen Kornbluh, Senior Fellow and Director, Technology Policy Program, The German Marshall Fund of the United States Nina Jankowicz, Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Kennan Institute

  • Interview with Georgia Holmer, Senior Adviser for Anti-Terrorism Issues, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

    By Yena Seo, Communications Fellow Georgia Holmer, an expert on counterterrorism policy, recently visited the Helsinki Commission offices to discuss her portfolio at the Anti-Terrorism Issues Unit in the Transnational Threat Department at the OSCE Secretariat. At the OSCE, she oversees policy support and capacity building work on preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism (VERLT). Ms. Holmer gave a short interview on her position at the OSCE and explained why she sees a human-rights based approach to counterterrorism to be critical. Holmer, who has worked on counterterrorism issues for over 20 years, observed that she “lived through an evolution in the U.S. government’s approach to terrorism that was quite extraordinary.” After spending 10 years as a terrorism analyst for the FBI, Holmer helped build analytic capacity at the Department of Homeland Security and taught classes on understanding radicalization. Later she directed the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program at the United States Institute of Peace, where she helped develop a strategic approach to violent extremism that harnessed peacebuilding tools. “We went from approaching terrorism as a security threat in which operations needed to be disrupted to realizing that there also had to be something done to prevent people from joining these groups and movements in the first place,” Holmer explained. “Not only did we begin to understand and address the root causes of terrorism but increasingly there was a realization that repressive measures in counterterrorism could actually exacerbate the problem. Upholding human rights as part of the effort to counter terrorism is necessary and can contribute to preventing violence in the long term.” Holmer acknowledged some of the pitfalls and counterproductive measures to be avoided in counterterrorism: a lack of due process and clear legislation, abusive treatment in detention facilities, and stigma and censorship against certain religious and ethnic groups can also fuel terrorist agendas and draw more people to violent extremism. These ideas led Holmer to pursue a degree mid-career in international human rights law at Oxford University. In 2017, Holmer was offered a position at the OSCE, and was drawn to its comprehensive approach to security. “I thought, here is a chance to work for an organization that had both a counterterrorism mandate and a human rights mandate. I think it’s a necessary marriage.” She sees the work she does in the prevention of VERLT to be directly relevant to human rights. “Programs to prevent radicalization that leads to terrorism not only ensure security, but they also help build more inclusive, resilient and engaged communities. This can also be understood inversely – upholding human rights is a pathway to preventing terrorism.” Holmer was further drawn to the OSCE because of its operational focus, pointing to the organization’s robust field operations presence. She stressed that the organization’s “on-the-ground presence” – particularly in the Western Balkans and Central Asia – allows it to develop close working relationships with governments and policymakers, giving it “a different level of reach.” For example, OSCE field missions in Dushanbe and Skopje have helped to convene stakeholders for important discussions, coordinate funders, and organize external partners for project implementation. Holmer considers the OSCE’s structure a strength when it comes to countering violent extremism. Holmer explained that because the OSCE is a political organization, its structure and activities invite states and other stakeholders to exchange ideas frankly. The OSCE’s annual counterterrorism conferences allow participating States to share opinions in a productive and meaningful manner. The OSCE frequently convenes policy makers and practitioners from its participating States to discuss measures to prevent radicalization leading to terrorism. Various seminars, workshops, and conferences have introduced concepts of prevention and helped advance the role of civil society in countering violent extremism. Holmer observed that while there is no “one-size-fits-all solution,” the organization regularly emphasizes the sharing and implementation of good practices. She also added that sharing good practices is only effective when efforts are made to tailor responses and approaches to a specific context. Measures to prevent need to incorporate an understanding of the nature of the threat in any given environment. She said the ways that individuals radicalize and the dynamics that influence people to become engaged in violent extremism differ. “What works in a rural village in Bosnia-Herzegovina versus what might work in Tajikistan might be completely different.” Holmer believes that through her role as Senior Adviser, she can continue working with member states to pursue “good practices” in the prevention of VERLT and support anti-terrorism within a human rights framework. “The aim of our work at the OSCE is to support participating states with the tools, the policy and legal frameworks they need to address these complicated challenges.” For more information, contact Alex Tiersky, Senior Policy Advisor for Global Security and Political-Military Affairs.

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