Serbia-Otpor Organization

Serbia-Otpor Organization

Hon.
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
107th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Thursday, March 08, 2001

Mr. Speaker, a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet five representatives from the independent, non-governmental organization Otpor. “Otpor,” in Serbian, means ``resistance,'' and the organization was founded in the mid-1990s by students from Belgrade University and elsewhere in Serbia, who had enough of Slobodan Milosevic's choke-hold on the neck of Serbian society. Their efforts have forged a strong bond between idealism and realism. Otpor members engaged in passive resistance, never advocating violence nor returning the blows they received from the police and other thugs under Milosevic's control. Instead, they had a stronger determination and persistence. Fear would not keep them from putting up their posters, from wearing their black-and-white emblem of a clenched fist. Moreover, they kept their eye on the goal of a democratic and tolerant Serbia at peace with its neighbors and with itself. The organization appointed no specific leader, in a strategy to thwart any attempt to compromise the individual--they had learned the lesson from observing the many opposition politicians in Serbia who had been compromised. During the past two years, more than 1,500 Otpor activists, of about 50,000 based in over 10 Serbian cities, were arrested and interrogated by security forces under Milosevic's control. One of the five who visited my office had himself been arrested on 17 occasions.

 

Prior to the September 2000 elections, Otpor worked closely with the democratic political opposition, independent trade unions, NGOs and other youth groups to mobilize voters. Otpor's activists played a crucial role in the street demonstrations that began immediately following the elections and led to Milosevic's downfall. The impressive delegation of five Otpor activists visiting Washington included Slobodan Homen, Nenad Konstantinovic, Jovan Ratkovic, Jelena Urosevic and Robertino Knjur, all in their mid- to late-20s and very good English speakers. It is amazing to realize that they all grew up in the cruel, hateful and impoverished world Slobodan Milosevic had created for them in the 1990s. In the meeting, they provided one piece of very good news. One Otpor activist, Boris Karajcic, had testified in 1998 before the Helsinki Commission which I co-chair and was beaten up on the streets of Belgrade a few weeks later. Today, Boris is a member of the Serbian parliament. He is an active part of Serbia's future. Otpor itself will also be part of Serbia's future. While Milosevic is out of power, there is much to be done to recover from the nightmare he created.

 

First, they are investigating and compiling complaints about the police officers who brutalized them and other citizens of Serbia who opposed the regime, and they will seek to ensure that officers who seemed to take a particular delight in beating people for exercising their rights are held accountable. They want to see Milosevic himself arrested, both for his crimes in Serbia and the war crimes for which he faces an international indictment. The Otpor group also advocates the founding of a school of public administration, which does not exist in Serbia and is desperately needed as the government bureaucracies are swollen with Milosevic cronies who have no idea how to implement public policy. Along similar lines, they hope to begin an anti-corruption campaign. Finally, they pointed out that, with the fall of Milosevic, the united opposition now in power has no credible, democratic political opposition to it. Until Serbian politics develop further, they intend to serve some of that role, being a watchdog of the new leaders.

 

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, the Otpor group with which I met has a track record of accomplishment, ideas for the future, and a good sense of how to bring those ideas into reality. While they have had the heart and the courage, they also have had the assistance of the United States through the National Endowment of Democracy and other organizations which promote democratic development abroad. I hope my colleagues will continue to support this kind of assistance, for Serbia and other countries where it is needed, which serves not only the interests of the United States but the cause of humanity.

Leadership: 
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However, Professor Sarah Mendelson of the Fletcher School of Diplomacy and Law at Tufts University noted that there is in Russia today “an atmosphere that is hostile to civil rights activists, and in fact, anyone with opinions that differ from the Kremlin's.” While “the treatment of Andrei Babitsky in January and February was shocking and disturbing, and the FSB raid on MediaMost in May was brazen,” she testified, this is “part of a larger pattern of harassment that has grown steadily worse over the last year and a half.” In this connection, I would like to point out another proposal made by Professor Mendelson in her testimony. She suggested that President Clinton, while in Moscow next month at the Summit with President Putin, should meet with activists who are promoting human rights and democracy in Russia today. 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I am pleased to join as an original cosponsor of this resolution, which among other provisions, calls upon the President, the Secretary of State, and other officials and agencies of the United States Government to emphasize to Russian government officials our concern and preoccupation that official pressures against the independent media are incompatible with democratic norms. I am pleased to co-sponsor this resolution, I hope my colleagues will join us, and I hope that President Clinton will heed this call when he meets with President Putin in Moscow next month.  

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  • The Impact of Organized Crime and Corruption On Democratic and Economic Reform

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  • HEARING: THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN TURKMENISTAN

    This hearing reviewed the democratization process, human rights, and religious liberty in Turkmenistan. This was one in a series that the Helsinki Commission has held on Central Asia. Turkmenistan has become a worse-case scenario of post-Soviet development. Human Rights Watch Helsinki did not yield from calling Turkmenistan one of the most repressive countries in the world. As a post-Soviet bloc country, Turkmenistan remains a one-party state, but even that party is only a mere shadow of the former ruling Communist Party. All the real power resides in the country’s dictator, who savagely crushes any opposition or criticism. The witnesses gave testimony surrounding the legal obstacles in the constitution of Turkmenistan and other obstacles that the authoritarian voices in the government use to suppress opposition.

  • Protection of Human Rights Advocates in Northern Ireland

    This hearing examined allegations of the involvement of security forces in intimidation and harassment of human rights advocates in Northern Ireland. The hearing focused on the unsolved murders of two Belfast defense attorneys, Rosemary Nelson, and Patrick Finucane, killed in 1999 and 1989. Commissioner Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, expressed the State Department’s concern with that there was not sufficient protection of lawyers, the rule of law, and human rights in Northern Ireland.  Commissioner Smith noted that “Defense attorneys are the ‘Helsinki Commissioners’ of Northern Ireland. The OSCE can be a valuable forum in which to provide cover for these human rights advocates. The United States and United Kingdom are quick to criticize emerging democracies that fail to abide by the rule of law and due process. The best way to lead in these matters is by example.”

  • The Ordeal of Andrei Babitsky

    Mr. Speaker, a small bit of good news has emerged from the tortured region of Chechnya, where the Russian military is killing, looting, and terrorizing the population under the guise of an “anti-terrorism operation.” Andrei Babitsky, the Radio Liberty correspondent who had disappeared in Chechnya in early February after Russian authorities had “exchanged” him to unknown persons in return for some Russian prisoners of war, has emerged in Dagestan and is now in Moscow recuperating from his ordeal. Mr. Babitsky's courageous reporting from the besieged city of Grozny had infuriated Russian military authorities, and he was arrested in mid-January and charged with “participating in an unlawful armed formation.” Prior to his release, Mr. Babitsky had spent time in the notorious Chernokozovo “filtration” camp where the Russian military has been detaining and torturing Chechens suspected of aiding the resistance. Following his arrival in Moscow, Mr. Babitsky provided a harrowing account of his incarceration at the Chernokozovo prison, and especially the savage treatment of his fellow prisoners. It is another graphic reminder that for all the fine words and denials coming out of Moscow, the Russian military has been conducting a brutal business that makes a mockery of the Geneva Conventions and the code of military conduct stipulated in the 1994 Budapest Document of the OSCE. Mr. Speaker, last month President Clinton stated that Russia's Acting President Putin is a man the United States “can do business with.” With this in mind, I would suggest for the Record excerpts from Mr. Babitsky's interview with an NTV reporter in Russia. If Mr. Putin is aware of the state of affairs at Chernokozovo and condoning it, I would submit that our business with Mr. Putin should be extremely limited. If he is not aware of the truth, then his authority over Russia is a chimera, and we might better deal with the real rulers of Russia. Babitsky's statement follows: [From Hero of the Day NTV Program, 7:40 p.m., Feb. 29, 2000] INTERVIEW WITH RADIO LIBERTY CORRESPONDENT ANDREI BABITSKY Babitsky: On the 16th I tried to leave the city of Grozny through the settlement of Staraya Sunzha, a suburb of Grozny which at the time was divided into two parts. One part was controlled by federal troops and the other by the Chechen home guard. I entered the territory controlled by the federals and it was there that I was recognized. I was identified as a journalist, I immediately presented my documents. All the subsequent claims that I was detained as a person who had to be identified are not quite clear to me. I had my passports with me, my accreditation card of a foreign correspondent. Then I was taken to Khankala. Not what journalists who had covered the first war regarded as Khankala, but to an open field. There was an encampment there consisting of trucks used as their office by army intelligence officers. Two of my cassettes that I had filmed in Grozny were taken from me. They contained unique frames. I think those were the last video pictures ever taken by anyone before Grozny was stormed. Those, again, were pictures of thousands of peaceful civilians many of whom, as we now know, were killed by federal artillery shells. I spent two nights in Khankala, in the so-called Avtozak, a truck converted into a prison cell. On the third day I was taken to what the Chechens call a filtration center, the preliminary detention center in Chernokozovo. I believe I am the only journalist of those who covered the first and the second Chechen wars who has seen a filtration center from the inside. I must say that all these horrors that we have heard from Chechens who had been there have been confirmed. Everything that we read about concentration camps of the Stalin period, all that we know about the German camps, all this is present there. The first three days that I spent there, that was the 18th, 19th and the 20th, beatings continued round the clock. I never thought that I would hear such a diversity of expressions of human pain. These were not just screams, these were screams of every possible tonality and depth, these were screams of most diverse pain. Different types of beatings cause a different reaction. Q. Are you saying that you got this treatment? A. No, that was the treatment meted out to others. I was fortunate, it was established at once that I am a journalist, true, nobody knew what type of journalist I was. Everybody there were surprised that a journalist happened to be there. In principle, the people there cannot be described as intellectuals. They decided that there was nothing special about this, that such things do happen in a war. As a journalist I was “registered”, as they say, only once. They have this procedure there. When a new detainee is being taken from his cell to the investigator he is made to crawl all the way under a rain of blows with rubber sticks. It hurts but one can survive it. This is a light treatment as compared with the tortures to which Chechens are subjected day and night, those who are suspected of collaborating with the illegal armed formations. There are also cases when some testimony is beaten out of detainees. Q. What is the prison population there? A. In my opinion ..... I was in cell No. 17 during the first three days. In that cell there were 13 inhabitants of the village Aberdykel (sp.--FNS). Most of them were young. Judging by their stories, I am not an investigator and I could not collect a sufficiently full database, but in such an atmosphere one very rarely doubts the veracity of what you are told. Mostly these were young men who had nothing to do with the war. They were really common folk. They were treating everything happening around them as a calamity but they were not taking any sides. They were simply waiting for this calamity to pass either in this direction or that direction. Beatings as a method of getting testimony. This is something that, unfortunately, is very well known in Russian and not only Russian history and tradition. But I must say that apart from everything, in my opinion, in all this torture, as it seemed to me, a large part is due to sheer sadism. In other words, an absolutely unwarranted torturing of people. For instance, I heard ..... You know, you really can't see this because all this happens outside of your cell. But the type of screams leaves no doubt about what is happening. You know this painful reaction. For two hours a woman was tortured on the 20th or the 19th. She was tortured; I have no other word to explain what was happening. That was not hysteria. I am not a medic but I believe that we all know what hysteria is. There were screams indicting that a person was experiencing unbearable pain, and for a long period of time.

  • Belarus at the Crossroads

    The hearing will examine Belarus’ track record with respect to human rights and democracy. Recent elections have severely damaged the democratic development of Belarus as Alyaksandr Lukashenka remains in power, well beyond the legal term limit. The hearing will look at the processes the United States and the OSCE set in place to enable Belarus towards a more democratic regime.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing on Kosovo's Displaced and Imprisoned

    Mr. Speaker, this week the Helsinki Commission held a hearing to review the current situation in Kosovo and the prospects for addressing outstanding human rights issues there. More specifically, the hearing focused on the more than 200,000 displaced of Kosovo, mostly Serb and Roma, as well as those Albanians, numbering at least 1,600 and perhaps much more, imprisoned in Serbia. Witnesses included Ambassador John Menzies, Deputy Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Kosovo Implementation; Bill Frelick, Director for Policy at the U.S. Committee for Refugees; His Grace, Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church; Andrzej Mirga, an expert on Roma issues for the Project on Ethnic Relations and the Council of Europe; Susan Blaustein, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group; and, finally, Ylber Bajraktari, a student from Kosovo. The situation for the displaced, Mr. Speaker, is truly horrible. In Serbia, most collective centers are grim, lacking privacy and adequate facilities. While most displaced Serbs have found private accommodations, they still confront a horrible economic situation worsened by the high degree of corruption, courtesy of the Milosevic regime. The squalor in which the Roma population from Kosovo lives is much worse, and they face the added burdens of discrimination, not only in Serbia but in Montenegro and Macedonia as well. There is little chance right now for any of them to go back to Kosovo, given the strength of Albanian extremists there. Indeed, since KFOR entered Kosovo eight months ago, it was asserted, more than 80 Orthodox Churches have been damaged or destroyed in Kosovo, more than 600 Serbs have been abducted and more than 400 Serbs have been killed. The situation for those Serbs and Roma remaining in Kosovo is precarious. Other groups, including Muslim Slavs, those who refused to serve in the Yugoslav military, and ethnic Albanians outside Kosovo, face severe problems as well, but their plights are too often overlooked. Meanwhile, the Milosevic regime continues to hold Albanians from Kosovo in Serbian prisons, in many cases without charges. While an agreement to release these individuals was left out of the agreement ending NATO's military campaign against Yugoslav and Serbian forces, with the Clinton Administration's acquiescence, by international law these people should have been released. At a minimum, the prisoners are mistreated; more accurately, many are tortured. Some prominent cases were highlighted: 24-year-old Albin Kurti, a former leader of the non-violent student movement; Flora Brovina, a prominent pediatrician and human rights activist; Ukshin Hoti, a Harvard graduate considered by some to be a possible future leader of Kosovo; and, Bardhyl Caushi, Dean of the School of Law, University of Pristina. Clearly, the resolution of these cases is critical to any real effort at reconciliation in Kosovo. This human suffering, Mr. Speaker, must not be allowed to continue. Action must be taken by the United States and the international community as a whole. Among the suggestions made, which I would like to share with my colleagues, are the following: First, get rid of Milosevic. Little if anything can be done in Kosovo or in the Balkans as a whole until there is democratic change in Serbia; Second, bring greater attention to the imprisoned Albanians in Serbia, and keep the pressure on the Milosevic regime to release them immediately and without condition; Third, rein in extremists on both sides, Albanian and Serb, in Kosovo with a more robust international presence, including the deployment of the additional international police as requested by the UN Administrator; Fourth, find alternative networks for improved distribution of assistance to the displaced in Serbia; Fifth, consider additional third-country settlement in the United States and elsewhere for those groups most vulnerable and unable to return to their homes, like the Roma and those who evaded military service as urged by NATO. Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I intend to pursue some of these suggestions with specific legislative initiatives, or through contacts with the Department of State. I hope to find support from my fellow Commissioners and other colleagues. Having heard of the suffering of so many people, we cannot neglect to take appropriate action to help, especially in a place like Kosovo where the United States has invested so much and holds considerable influence as a result.

  • Hearing Announced on Kosovo's Displaced and Imprisoned

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today announced a forthcoming hearing: Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned Monday, February 28 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Room B-318, Rayburn House Office Building   Open to Members, Staff, Public and Press Scheduled to testify: Bill Frelick, Director of Policy, U.S. Committee for Refugees His Grace Artemije, Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Prizren and Raska Andrzej Mirga, Co-Chair of the Council of Europe Specialists Group on Roma and Chairman of the Project on Ethnic Relations Romani Advisory Board Susan Blaustein, Senior Consultant, International Crisis Group Approximately two years ago, a decade of severe repression and lingering ethnic tensions in Kosovo erupted into full-scale violence, leading eventually to NATO intervention in early 1999 and UN administration immediately thereafter. The conflict in Kosovo was ostensibly between the Serbian and Yugoslav forces controlled by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic—since indicted for war crimes—on the one hand, and the Kosovo Liberation Army which arose from more militant segments of Kosovo’s Albanian majority on the other. As with previous phases of the Yugoslav conflict, however, the primary victims have largely been innocent civilians. Over one million ethnic Albanians were displaced during the conflict, as well as over one hundred thousand Serbs and tens of thousands of Roma in the aftermath of the international community’s intervention. Senseless atrocities were frequently committed throughout this process of forced migration. Many remain unable to return, and the recent violence in the northern city of Mitrovica demonstrates the continued volatility of the current situation. Meanwhile, a large number of Kosovar Albanians, removed from the region while it was still under Serbian control, languish in Serbian prisons to this day. The February 28 hearing intends to focus on the plight of these displaced and imprisoned people from Kosovo, as well as the prospects for addressing quickly and effectively their dire circumstances.

  • Promoting and Protecting Democracy in Montenegro

    At this hearing, witnesses warned of the potential for conflict in the Balkans if democracy failed to take hold in Montenegro.  As Chairman Christopher Smith noted, Montenegro had been moving towards democratic reform since 1997 and its leaders distanced themselves from the ethnic violence in neighboring Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. However, in Serbia, Milosevic’s regime was becoming more entrenched. Witness Srdjan Darmanovic, the director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Podgorica, was concerned that without as a serious strategy for preserving peace and stability in the region provided by the West, Milosevic’s regime would start a conflict with Montenegro.

  • Expressing United States Policy toward the Slovak Republic

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

  • Democratization and Human Rights in Central Asia

    Mr. Speaker, I am disappointed that the House schedule did not permit consideration of my resolution, H. Con. Res. 204, which has been co-sponsored by Representative Hoyer, Representative Forbes and Representative McKinney. The resolution voices concern about serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in most states of Central Asia, in particular, substantial noncompliance with OSCE commitments on democratization and the holding of free and fair elections. Among the countries of the former Soviet Union, only in Ukraine and Moldova have sitting presidents lost an election and peacefully left office. We will yet see what happens in Russia, where President Yeltsin has launched another war in Chechnya. It may be too much, given the historical differences between our respective societies, to hope the post-Soviet states could find among their political leaders a George Washington, who could have been king but chose not to be, and who chose to leave office after two terms. But it is not too much to hope that other post-Soviet leaders might emulate Ukraine's former President Leonid Kravchuk or Moldova's former President Mircea Snegur, not to mention Lithuania's Algirdas Brazauskas, who all allowed a peaceful transfer of power. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, Central Asian leaders give every indication of intending to remain in office for life. Their desire for unlimited and permanent power means that they cannot implement all OSCE commitments on democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as doing so would create a level playing field for challengers and allow the media to shine the light on presidential misdeeds and high-level corruption. The result has been an entire region in the OSCE space where fundamental OSCE freedoms are ignored while leaders entrench themselves and their families in power and wealth. To give credit where it is due, the situation is least bad in Kyrgyzstan. President Akaev, a physicist, is the only Central Asian leader who was not previously the head of his republic's Communist Party. One can actually meet members of parliament who strongly criticize President Akaev and the legislature itself is not a rubber stamp body. Moreover, print media, though under serious pressure from the executive branch, exhibit diversity of views and opposition parties function. Still, in 1995, two contenders in the presidential election were disqualified before the vote. Parliamentary and presidential elections are approaching in 2000. Kyrgyzstan's OSCE partners will be watching carefully to see whether they are free and fair. Until the mid-1990s, Kazakstan seemed a relatively reformist country, where various political parties could function and the media enjoyed some freedom. But President Nazarbaev dissolved two parliaments and single-mindedly sought to accumulate sole power. In the last few years, the regime has become ever more authoritarian. President Nazarbaev has concentrated all power in his hands, subordinating to himself all other branches and institutions of government. A constitutional amendment passed in October 1999 conveniently removed the age limit of 65 to be president. The OSCE judged last January's presidential elections, from which a leading opposition contender was barred as far short of OSCE standards. Last month's parliamentary election, according to the OSCE, was “severely marred by widespread, pervasive and illegal interference by executive authorities in the electoral process.” In response, President Nazarbaev has attacked the OSCE, comparing it to the Soviet Communist Party's Politburo for trying to “tell Kazakstan what to do.” Tajikistan has suffered the saddest fate of all the Central Asian countries; a civil war that killed scores of thousands. In 1997, the warring sides finally ceased hostilities and reached agreement about power-sharing, which permitted a bit of hopefulness about prospects for normal development and democratization. It seems, however, that the accord will not ensure stability. Tajikistan's Central Election Commission refused to register two opposition candidates for the November 6 presidential election. The sole alternative candidate registered has refused to accept the results of the election, which, according to official figures, current President Emomaly Rakhmonov won with 97 percent of the vote, in a 98 percent turnout. Those numbers, Mr. Speaker, say it all. The OSCE properly declined to send observers. Benighted Turkmenistan practically beggars description. This country, which has been blessed with large quantities of natural gas, has a political system that combines the worst traits of Soviet communism with a personality cult seen today in countries like Iraq or North Korea. No dissidence of any kind is permitted and the population enjoys no human rights. While his impoverished people barely manage to get by, President Niyazov builds garish presidential palaces and monuments to himself. The only registered political party in Turkmenistan is the Democratic Party, headed by President Niyazov. In late October he said the people of his country would not be ready for the stresses and choices of a democratic society until 2010, adding that independent media are “disruptive.” On December 12, Turkmenistan is holding parliamentary “elections,” which the OSCE will not bother to observe. Finally, we come to Uzbekistan. The Helsinki Commission, which I chair, held hearings on democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan on October 18. Despite the best efforts of Uzbekistan's Ambassador Safaev to convince us that democratization is proceeding apace in his country, the testimony of all the other witnesses confirmed the widely held view that after Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan is the most repressive country in Central Asia. No opposition political activity is allowed and media present only the government's point of view. Christian denominations have faced official harassment. Since 1997, a massive government campaign has been underway against independent Muslim believers. In February of this year, explosions rocked Tashkent, which the government described as an assassination attempt by Islamic radicals allied with an exiled opposition leader. Apart from elections, a key indicator of progress towards democratization is the state of media freedom. On October 25-27, an International Conference on Mass Media in Central Asia took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Not surprisingly, Turkmenistan did not allow anyone to attend. The other participants adopted a declaration noting that democratization has slowed in almost all Central Asian states, while authoritarian regimes have grown stronger, limiting the scope for genuine media freedom as governments influence the media through economic means. I strongly agree with these sentiments. The concentration of media outlets in pro-regime hands, the ongoing assault on independent and opposition media and the circumscription of the media's legally-sanctioned subject matter pose a great danger to the development of democracy in Central Asia. Official statistics about how many media outlets have been privatized cover up an alarming tendency towards government monopolization of information sources. This effectively makes it impossible for citizens to receive unbiased information, which is vital if people are to hold their governments accountable. Mr. Speaker, it is clear that in Central Asia, the overall level of democratization and human rights observance is poor. Central Asian leaders make decisions in a region far from Western Europe, close to China, Iran and Afghanistan, and they often assert that “human rights are only for the West” or the building democracy “takes time.” But delaying steps towards democracy is very risky in the multi-ethnic, multi-religious region of Central Asia, where many people are highly educated and have expectations of faster change. If it does not come, tensions and conflicts could emerge that could endanger security for everyone. To lessen these risks, continuous pressure will be needed on these countries to move faster on democracy. Even as the United States pursues other interests, we should give top priority to democracy and respect for human rights, or we may live to regret not doing so.

  • Torture in Turkey

    Mr. Speaker, in a matter of days President Clinton and the leaders of the OSCE participating States will gather in Istanbul, Turkey for the final summit of the century. Among the important issues to be discussed will be a charter on European security. As the leaders of our countries assemble on the banks of the Bosphorus, few are likely to realize that the torturers continue to ply their trade, crushing the lives of countless men, women, and even children. In recent days I have received disturbing reports that highlight the fact that torture continues in Turkey despite Ankara's stated zero tolerance policy. Once again, we see that those who attempt to heal the physical and emotion scars of victims of torture are themselves often victimized by the so-called “Anti-Terror Police.” A case in point involves Dr. Zeki Uzun, a medical professional volunteering his services to the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey's Izmir Treatment and Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Uzun was reportedly forced from his clinic by Anti-Terror Police and held for interrogation about past patients he had treated. During the interrogation, he was apparently subjected to various kinds of torture, including having a plastic bag placed over his head to stop his breathing. Dr. Uzun was held by the police for a period of six days during which time he was repeatedly abused. In March I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing on human rights in Turkey in anticipation of the OSCE Summit that will be held in Istanbul, November 17-18. Experts testified to the continued widespread use of torture in Turkey, including the increasing use of electric shock. The gripping testimony included the case of torture against a two-year-old child. Mr. Speaker, I urge President Clinton to place the issue of prevention of torture at the top of his agenda when he meets with Prime Minister Ecevit and include these longstanding concerns in his address before the Turkish Grand National Assembly. If the Government of Turkey is serious about ending the practice of torture, it must publicly condemn such gross violations of human rights, adopt and implement effective procedural safeguards against torture, and vigorously prosecute those who practice torture. Instead of treating individuals like Dr. Uzun as enemies, Ankara should direct its resources to rooting out those elements of the security apparatus responsible for torture.

  • Crackdown in Belarus

    Mr. President, just a few weeks ago, many of my Senate colleagues met a young, dynamic parliamentarian from Belarus, Mr. Anatoly Lebedko, right here on the Senate floor. He impressed us with his dedication and commitment as he advocates for democracy and the rule of law in his home country currently being rule by a repressive regime. You can imagine how shocked and concerned I was to receive a call from the State Department this week informing me Mr. Lebedko had been picked up by the authorities as part of the latest crackdown in Belarus. I am sure my colleagues who met Mr. Lebedko share my concern for his well-being and for the safety of all of those struggling for democracy and freedom of speech.   Eight years after the break-up of the Soviet Union, Belarus finds itself increasingly isolated from the rest of Europe as a direct consequence of the authoritarian policies pursued by its present government which have stifled that country's fledgling democracy and market economy. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, held a hearing a few months ago to assess democracy and human rights in Belarus. In July, a number of Commission members and I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Lebedko address the annual Parliamentary Assembly meeting of the Organization of Security and Corporation in Europe (OSCE ) in St. Petersburg, where he outlined developments in Belarus and the prospects for genuine political and economic reforms. Clearly, the cycle of political and economic stagnation in Belarus will only come to an end through genuine dialogue based on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.   The Helsinki Commission has called on Belarus to adopt meaningful political and economic reforms in keeping with that country's obligations as a participating State of the OSCE. On September 3, the government and opposition in Belarus began consultations at the office of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk. These talks, long urged by the international community and the Helsinki Commission could represent an important step in beginning the process of reversing the bleak human rights and democratization picture in Belarus.   Until recently I had been encouraged by what appeared to be the start of a dialog between the Belarusian Government and opposition. However, there have been a number of disturbing developments, including continued harassment of opposition members, a renewed crackdown on the independent media in recent weeks, and now the detainment of Mr. Lebedko.   We recently wrote to Secretary of State Albright voicing concern about the situation in Belarus and called on the State Department to intensify its work in this area. This most recent development underscores our concerns. I ask unanimous consent that copies of our letter to the Secretary of State, a letter we sent to the President of Belarus, along with recent news clips be printed in the Record. There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Washington, DC, October 15, 1999. Hon. Madeleine Korbel Albright, Secretary of State, Department of State, Washington, DC.   Dear Madam Secretary: We are writing to voice our growing concern over violations of the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Belarus under the authoritarian leadership of Aleksandr Lukashenka, who remains in power despite the expiration of his legal presidential mandate last July. The fledgling opposition in Belarus deserves both our moral and material support as they seek to overcome the legacy of Communism and authoritarianism and build a democratic society firmly rooted in the rule of law. Many of us recently had an opportunity to meet with Anatoly Lebedko of the United Civic Party of Belarus, a young political leader who, despite personal risk, continues to openly criticize the Lukashenka regime. His personal safety is of particular concern as he returns to Belarus following an intense crackdown against the opposition. In recent weeks, Lukashenka has reportedly authorized a series of measures designed to further suppress Belarus' already beleaguered opposition. Border controls have apparently been tightened and officials in Minsk and other large cities have been instructed to ban public protests and demonstrations. The few remaining independent opposition newspapers, including Naviny and Kuryer, have likewise come under increased pressure from the authorities. Lukashenka's campaign of harassment and intimidation of the political opposition has intensified. Former Premier Mikhail Chigir, arrested in March on politically-motivated charges, remains imprisoned. A number of other former government officials and political opposition figures continue to be subjected to lengthy pre-trial detention on similar changes. In a particularly disturbing development, several prominent opposition leaders, including Viktor Gonchar, Tamara Vinnikova, and Yuri Zakharenka, have simply disappeared. Madam Secretary, we urge you to intensify pressure on the Lukashenka regime for the immediate release of all political detainees in Belarus and a full accounting of those who have disappeared. We further urge you to ensure that adequate resources are made available on an urgent basis to support those programs aimed at strengthening independent media, human rights, civil society, independent trade unions and the democratic opposition in Belarus. Sincerely, Christopher H. Smith, M.C., Chairman. Steny H. Hoyer, M.C., Ranking Member, House. William V. Roth, Jr., U.S.S. Benjamin L. Cardin, M.C. Alcee L. Hastings, M.C. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S., Co-Chairman. Trent Lott, U.S.S. Kay Bailey Hutchison, U.S.S. Frank R. Wolf, M.C. Jesse Helms, U.S.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Washington, DC, October 19, 1999.   His Excellency Alyaksandr Lukashenka, President, Republic of Belarus, Minsk, Belarus. Dear President Lukashenka: We are writing to express our serious and growing concerns about recent developments in Belarus. Until recently, we were becoming more hopeful that meaningful dialogue between the Belarusian Government and opposition would take place. Within the last month, however, violations of the principles of human rights, democracy and rule of law have come to our attention that, frankly, lead us to question your government's seriousness in finding a solution to the problems of democracy in Belarus. We were disturbed to learn of the arrest earlier today of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in “an unsanctioned march.” Our concerns include the following: The continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir, who was supposed to be released from investigative detention where he has been held for six months. The disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar, his colleague Yuri Krasovsky, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenka, and former National Bank Chair Tamara Vinnikova. Increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals, and especially the harassment of Naviny through the use of high libel fees clearly designed to silence this independent newspaper. The denial of registration of non-governmental organizations, including the Belarusian Independent Industrial Trade Union Association. The police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96, and confiscation of computers which stored data on human rights violations. Criminal charges against opposition activist Mykola Statkevich and lawyer Oleg Volchek and continued interrogation of lawyer Vera Stremkovskaya. The initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday's Freedom March. Your efforts to address these concerns would reduce the climate of suspicion and fear that currently exists and enhance confidence in the negotiation process which we believe is so vital to Belarus' development as a democratic country in which human rights and the rule of law are respected. Sincerely, Christopher H. Smith, M.C., Chairman. Steny H. Hoyer, M.C., Ranking Member.   From the Washington Post, Sept. 30, 1999: Belarus Opposition Paper to Close. Minsk, Belarus. A leading opposition newspaper in Belarus said it was shutting down following a court order to pay an exorbitant fine, to the minister of security over an article he said injured his reputation. The Naviny newspaper, which has come under frequent pressure from Belarus's authoritarian government, said in its last issue that “both the suit and the trial were a cover-up for a carefully planned campaign by the authorities seeking to close down our newspaper.”   From the Washington Post, Oct. 19, 1999 Belarusan Officials Blame West for Riots. Minsk, Belarus. Belarusan authorities accused the West of being behind street clashes between some 5,000 opposition demonstrators and police in which at least 92 people were arrested. But Dmitri Bondarenko of the opposition Khartiya-97 movement said police started the fighting and another opposition member said authorities have long provoked violence by repression. The fighting broke out Sunday in Minsk following an authorized rally by about 20,000 people. The demonstrators were protesting the disappearance of several leading opposition figures and President Alexander Lukashenka's drive to reunite Belarus, a former Soviet republic, with Russia.

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