Statement on H. Res. 447

Statement on H. Res. 447

Hon.
Christopher H. Smith
United States
House of Representatives
113th Congress Congress
Second Session Session
Monday, February 10, 2014

I’d like to thank my good friend Rep. Engel for introducing this bipartisan resolution supporting the democratic aspirations of the Ukrainian people. 

It is a timely appeal to the government of Ukraine to stand down – to avoid all further violence, to exercise the utmost restraint and avoid confrontation. It calls on the government to bring to justice those responsible for violence against peaceful protesters, and to release and drop any criminal charges against those detained for peacefully exercising their democratic rights.

At this point, the government’s crackdown has led to the deaths of at least 4 protestors, and throughout Ukraine to numerous beatings, arrests, detentions, abductions – including some from hospitals – the harassment of activists, journalists, medics, lawyers and pro-democracy NGOs. On the Kyiv Maidan alone, more than 1,800 individuals, mostly protestors but also some riot police, have been injured. 36 persons are confirmed missing. 49 people remain in detention with 26 under house arrest. At least 30 medics, working to aid the injured on the Maidan, have been attacked. 136 journalists have been attacked on the Maidan, including investigative journalist Tatyana Chornovol brutally beaten on Christmas Day and who investigators now rather incredibly claim was a victim of road rage. One of the most outrageous examples has been the case of activist Dmitry Bulatov who was abducted for 8 days before being left in a forest outside of Kyiv, during which time he was tortured by his captors who tried to force him to say he was an American spy. 

The heroism of the Ukrainian people, persistently demonstrating, struggling, risking themselves for justice and dignity, is deeply inspiring. The witness of so many clergy on the Maidan is a powerful reminder of the spiritual values at stake. Just last Thursday, I met in my office with Patriarch Filaret of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Sviatoslav of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church. They are deeply concerned for the faithful, and for the whole Ukrainian nation, and alarmed about the potential for even worse violence, perhaps even civil conflict. Patriarch Filaret said recently, “I appeal to both the power and opposition to stop violence and come to the table of negotiations. All of you are responsible before the God for your earthly doings.” 

And at the Vatican, Pope Francis called for an end to the violence and said: "I am close to Ukraine in prayer, in particular to those who have lost their lives in recent days and to their families. I hope that a constructive dialogue between the institutions and civil society can take place, that any resort to violence is avoided and that the spirit of peace and a search for the common good is in the hearts of all.”

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York expressed strong support for anti-government protestors in Ukraine. Writing on his blog he summarized the conflict as “government thugs relishing the chance to bludgeon and harass the hundreds of thousands of patriotic Ukrainians,” and described the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as “a Church that had been starved, jackbooted, imprisoned, tortured, persecuted and martyred by Hitler, Stalin, and company.”

That said, Mr. Speaker, there is a paradox here. I know there are many outstanding people working in and for the Ukrainian government – people who love their country and have its best interests at heart. Last year I met many times with Ukrainian ministers, high-level officials and the ambassador, including meetings in Kyiv. This was because in 2013 Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kozhara chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and made the fight against trafficking a top priority for the whole organization. In June it held a high level conference in Kyiv to investigate best practices and ways that the 57 OSCE countries can better coordinate anti-trafficking efforts—including through training transportation and hospitality industry employees in victim identification. The Kyiv call to action was serious and successful—I know, I was there. And what came out of the Ukrainian government’s efforts was a new OSCE Action Plan to fight human trafficking. 

I want to point out that this resolution does not take any position on whether Ukraine should sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. That is a decision for Ukrainians to make. At committee markup, we decided to make that point clear, and the message should be clear: this is not about politics, but human rights. Congress is supporting the Ukrainian people in their defense of universal human values, and not inserting itself in the question of how Ukraine shapes its policy toward the EU and Russia.

Mr. Speaker, the Ukrainian people have endured horrific suffering over the course of the last century – and this is what gives their peaceful resistance on the Maidan such power. Two world wars were fought on their soil, in the 1930s Stalin inflicted a genocidal famine on them, which resulted in the deaths of millions of men, women and children, to say nothing of 70 years as a captive nation in the Soviet Union. In the 1980s many of us in this chamber and on the Helsinki Commission spoke out on behalf of Ukrainian human rights activists imprisoned in the Gulag, called for the legalization of the then-banned and repressed Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church, and held hearings on the Chornobyl disaster. 

With Ukraine’s long-awaited independence,  in 1991came new-found freedoms. But since 2010, with the election of Viktor Yanukovych, human rights, rule of law and democracy have been under attack – symbolized by the continued unjust imprisonment of former Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, whose daughter, Yevhenia, testified at a Helsinki Commission hearing I chaired in May of 2012 and on whose behalf I introduced a resolution in the previous Congress. 

It is the Ukrainian people’s dissatisfaction with Yanukovych’s roll-back of democracy that drives the protest movement. The long-suffering Ukrainian people deserve a government that treats them with dignity and respect. I’m confident they will prevail in their struggle for this. I strongly support this resolution. 

Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
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    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: UKRAINE’S FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION Wednesday, November 29, 2017 1:00PM Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Today, Ukraine has an historic opportunity to overcome its long struggle with pervasive corruption. Never before in its past has the country experienced such meaningful reforms, with the most significant being the establishment of a robust and independent anticorruption architecture. However, much remains to be done. An anticorruption court is urgently needed, as is an end to the escalating harassment of civil society. This briefing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission will introduce the Commission’s recently published report, “The Internal Enemy: A Helsinki Commission Staff Report on Corruption in Ukraine.” Briefers will discuss the conclusions of this report as well as the fight against corruption in Ukraine more broadly. Copies of the report will be available for distribution. The following panelists will offer brief remarks, followed by questions: Oksana Shulyar, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Ukraine in the United States Orest Deychakiwsky, Former U.S. Helsinki Commission Policy Advisor for Ukraine Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council Brian Dooley, Senior Advisor, Human Rights First

  • Senior OSCE Monitor to Discuss Conflict in Eastern Ukraine at Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: UKRAINE: REPORT FROM THE FRONT LINES Thursday, November 30, 2017 2:00PM Senate Visitors Center (SVC) Room 215 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission For more than three years, civilians in eastern Ukraine have suffered the effects of a needless conflict manufactured and managed by Russia; an estimated 10,000 people have been killed and more than 23,500 injured. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate amidst almost daily ceasefire violations and threats to critical infrastructure. Joseph Stone, an American paramedic, was killed on April 23, 2017 while monitoring the conflict as an unarmed, civilian member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine.   SMM reports remain the only source of verifiable, public information on this ongoing conflict and the grave, daily impact it has on the local civilian population.  Mission personnel face regular and sometimes violent harassment by combined Russian-separatist forces seeking to limit the SMM’s access to the areas they control.  At this U.S. Helsinki Commission briefing, Alexander Hug, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, will detail the humanitarian consequences of the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine; provide an overview of the role of OSCE monitors and the threats they face in carrying out their duties; and offer thoughts on prospects going forward.  Alexander Hug has served in several roles at the OSCE, including as a Section Head and a Senior Adviser to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities as well as at the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. His career in conflict resolution includes work with the Swiss Headquarters Support Unit for the OSCE in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, and the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo.     

  • The Internal Enemy

    Ukraine’s struggle with corruption has prevented it from becoming a full, prosperous democracy and hinders its ability to respond effectively to Russian violations of its sovereignty. This Helsinki Commission staff report examines why corruption has been so persistent in Ukraine. It provides a historical analysis of corruption in Ukraine from its break with the Soviet system to today, reviewing the current state of reforms and providing recommendations in context. The resilience and influence of Ukraine’s oligarchs are at the heart of the country’s persistent corruption. Oligarchs have captured the Ukrainian state, crowding out non-corrupt political parties and competing with one another to steal Ukraine’s wealth. They are not so much businesspeople as courtiers, who transform political and personal connections into monopolies supported by the state. Two phenomena in particular have given rise to this system of oligarchic competition: (1) the lack of reforms in the early years of independent Ukraine, which resulted in incomplete economic liberalization, and (2) gas arbitrage, which has been uniquely devastating to reform attempts due to building so many oligarchic fortunes and providing a backdoor for Russia to influence Ukrainian politics for decades. Today’s Ukraine has implemented many important reforms that have helped to counter corruption, specifically in energy, finance, and economics. However, judicial reforms continue to lag behind. Commentators have observed that progress has slowed and frustration among civil society and the international community has increased. This report recommends that Ukraine move forward with remaining reforms, supported by both civil society and the international community. Most important is that Ukraine not allow backsliding to occur.  Ultimately, the oligarchs must be transformed from courtiers into entrepreneurs and businesspeople so as to finally end the pervasive institutionalized corruption. An empowered Ukrainian civil society—including independent media—will be paramount to such reforms, and has proven time and again that it is world class in its engagement. Key here is to condemn any attempt to hinder or harm civil society. The report makes numerous recommendations by sector, with an emphasis on the importance of reforming the judiciary. In particular, Ukraine should establish an anticorruption court as soon as possible, so as to provide the final necessary piece of Ukraine’s anticorruption architecture. Additional reform areas discussed include the safeguarding and further empowering of the anticorruption architecture; implementing privatization and additional regulatory and corporate governance reform as the next step for energy sector reform; pursuing consolidation and transparency as ideas for banking sector reform; and limiting parliamentary immunity. This report also discusses greater e-government and press freedom as mechanisms to empower Ukrainian civil society, including independent media, to monitor the reform process and prevent backsliding. Finally, it encourages the international community to continue its support for Ukraine and dig in for the long haul. Download the full report. This report was drafted by Helsinki Commission staff. Paul Massaro, Policy Advisor, served as lead author.  

  • Systematic Attacks on Journalists in Russia and Other Post-Soviet States

    Representative Steve Chabot, Co-Chair of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus, opened the briefing with a statement highlighting the importance of a free and independent press in Russia and Eastern Europe, saying that it was more important now than ever to counter an increasingly bold Vladimir Putin and the spread of Kremlin-backed media. The Congressman affirmed support for the Broadcasting Board of Governors and how their work helps foster a greater independent press in the region. Jordan Warlick, U.S. Helsinki Commission staffer responsible for freedom of the media, introduced the panelists: Thomas Kent, President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Amanda Bennett, Director of Voice of America (VOA); Nina Ognianova, Coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at the Committee to Protect Journalists; and Karina Orlova, Washington correspondent for Echo of Moscow. Thomas Kent summarized the work and reach of RFE/RL in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He outlined the pressures that RFE/RL journalists face in the region covering the issues that matter to local people. Kent described the plight of several RFE/RL journalists who have been either attacked or detained due to their work, including Mykola Semena in Russian-occupied Crimea and Mykhailo Tkach in Ukraine. He added that reporting on corruption is often the most likely cause for attacks on journalists and that social media has expanded the reach of journalists work in the region. Amanda Bennett discussed the work of Voice of America in the region and its efforts to expand freedom of speech in the region. She outlined the vast audience of VOA broadcasting and emphasized that the Russian government has directly attacked VOA reporters. Bennett stated that VOA’s mission in Russia and the former Soviet Union, as with other regions around the world, was not only to provide high quality content to the audience and journalists alike, but also help foster an independent media, free from harassment. Representative Adam Schiff, Co-Chair of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus, gave remarks about the importance of an independent media in the former Soviet Union. He noted that journalists are often the first to suffer a backlash from authorities, as they investigate and report on issues that regimes do not want to draw attention to. Representative Schiff told the panel that he, along with then-Congressman Mike Pence, reestablished the House Freedom of the Press Caucus not long before the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. He thanked the panelists for the work to not only highlight attacks and harassment against journalists in the region, but also their efforts to protect and assist them and to further press freedom. Nina Ognianova highlighted numerous cases that the Committee to Protect Journalists had worked on in recent months with specific discussion of the situations in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan. Ognianova detailed the case of the harassment and temporary flight of Russian reporter Elena Milashina following her work on the torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya. Also listed were the cases of Belarus-born journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed in a car bombing in Kyiv in July 2016, the abduction and detention of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli for his investigation of President Ilham Aliyev’s assets in Georgia, and the concerning claims of slander against journalists by the Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Providing the audience with a firsthand perspective, Karina Orlova described her decision to flee Russia due to her work as a journalist. Karina spoke of how her Radio Echo of Moscow talk show garnered unfavorable attention from Chechens, following discussion of the Charlie Hebdo attacks on 7 January, 2015, and the magazine’s depiction of the prophet Muhammad. Ramzan Kadyrov directly threatened her station and her editor, Alexey Venediktov, right after the show. She detailed threatening phone calls from self-described Chechens her that labeled her as an enemy of the state. Karina raised other incidents of violence and intimidation against journalists, such as the attack on Oleg Kashin, which was directly ordered by the Governor of Pskov, and a lack of action to bring the perpetrators to justice. She also spoke of censorship by the Russian authorities, particularly towards any journalists that refer to the annexation of Crimea. Karina emphasized that sanctions against the Russian state and elite are working, despite claims to the contrary. Although some journalists are unfortunately forced to self-censor due to safety concerns, Karina refuses to do so herself.

  • Helsinki Commission, House Freedom of the Press Caucus to Hold Briefing on Attacks on Journalists in Russia, Post-Soviet States

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the House Freedom of the Press Caucus today announced the following joint briefing: “SYSTEMATIC ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS IN RUSSIA AND OTHER POST-SOVIET STATES” Wednesday, October 4, 2017 3:00 PM Senate Visitors Center SVC-208 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission A free press is an essential pillar of democracy, keeping governments accountable and citizens informed. Autocratic regimes seek to intimidate and silence the press by systematically targeting journalists. A muzzled independent media is powerless to prevent the domination of the state-driven news narrative and public misinformation. Today, journalists in Russia and post-Soviet states risk intimidation, harassment, arrest, and even murder for their work. Those who criticize the government or investigate sensitive issues like corruption do so at their own peril. More often than not, cases remain unresolved and victims and families do not see justice. This briefing will address key questions regarding journalists in Russia and other post-Soviet states: their important role and impact; concerns over their rights, safety, and protection; and future support and promotion of media freedom in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region. Opening remarks will be provided by the Co-Chairs of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) The following panelists are scheduled to speak: Thomas Kent, President and CEO, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Amanda Bennett, Director, Voice of America Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists Karina Orlova, Washington DC Correspondent, Echo of Moscow

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