The Troubled Media Environment in Ukraine

The Troubled Media Environment in Ukraine

Hon.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
United States
Senate
108th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Mr. President, later this week individuals around the world will mark World Press Freedom Day. The functioning of free and independent media is tied closely to the exercise of many other fundamental freedoms as well as to the future of any democratic society. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I co-chair, is responsible for monitoring press freedom in the 55 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. Recently, I reported to the Senate on the deplorable conditions for independent media in the Republic of Belarus. Today, I will address the situation of journalists and media outlets in Ukraine.

 

Several discouraging reports have come out recently concerning the medic environment in Ukraine. These reports merit attention, especially within the context of critical presidential elections scheduled to take place in Ukraine next year. The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Ukraine for 2002 summarizes media freedoms as follows: "Authorities interfered with the news media by intimidating journalists, issuing written and oral instructions about events to cover and not to cover, and pressuring them into applying self-censorship. Nevertheless a wide range of opinion was available in newspapers, periodicals, and Internet news sources."

 

Current negative trends and restrictive practices with respect to media freedom in Ukraine are sources of concern, especially given that country's leadership claims concerning integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Lack of compliance with international human rights standards, including OSCE commitments, on freedom of expression undermines that process. Moreover, an independent media free from governmental pressure is an essential factor in ensuring a level playing field in the upcoming 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine.

 

In her April 18, 2003 annual report to the Ukrainian parliament, Ombudsman Nina Karpachova asserted that journalism remains among the most dangerous professions in Ukraine, with 36 media employees having been killed over the past ten years, while beatings, intimidation of media employees, freezing of bank accounts of media outlets, and confiscation of entire print runs of newspapers and other publications have become commonplace in Ukraine.

 

The murder of prominent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze--who disappeared in September 2000--remains unsolved. Ukrainian President Kuchma and a number of high-ranking officials have been implicated in his disappearance and the circumstances leading to his murder. The Ukrainian authorities' handling, or more accurately mishandling of this case, has been characterized by obfuscation and stonewalling. Not surprisingly, lack of transparency illustrated by the Gongadze case has fueled the debilitating problem of widespread corruption reaching the highest levels of the Government of Ukraine.

 

Audio recordings exist that contain conversations between Kuchma and other senior government officials discussing the desirability of Gongadze's elimination. Some of these have been passed to the U.S. Department of Justice as part of a larger set of recordings of Kuchma's conversations implicating him and his cronies in numerous scandals. Together with Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith, I recently wrote to the Department of Justice requesting technical assistance to determine whether the recordings in which the Gongadze matter is discussed are genuine. A credible and transparent investigation of this case by Ukrainian authorities is long overdue and the perpetrators--no matter who they may be--need to be brought to justice.

 

The case of Ihor Alexandrov, a director of a regional television station, who was beaten in July 2001 and subsequently died also remains unsolved. Serious questions remain about the way in which that case was handled by the authorities.

 

A Human Rights Watch report, “Negotiating the News: Informal State Censorship of Ukrainian Television,” issued in March, details the use of explicit directives or temnyky, lists of topics, which have been sent to editors from Kuchma's Presidential Administration on what subjects to cover and in what manner. The report correctly notes that these temnyky have eroded freedom of expression in Ukraine, as "editors and journalists feel obligated to comply with temnyky instructions due to economic and political pressures and fear repercussions for non-cooperation." To their credit, the independent media are struggling to counter attempts by the central authorities to control their reporting and coverage of issues and events.

 

Another troubling feature of the media environment has been the control exerted by various oligarchs with close links to the government who own major media outlets. There is growing evidence that backers of the current Prime Minister and other political figures have been buying out previously independent news sources, including websites, and either firing reporters or telling them to cease criticism of the government of find new jobs.

 

Last December, Ukraine's parliament held hearings on "Society, Mass Media, Authority: Freedom of Speech and Censorship in Ukraine." Journalists' testimony confirmed the existence of censorship, including temnyky, as well as various instruments of harassment and intimidation. Tax inspections, various legal actions or license withdrawals have all been used as mechanisms by the authorities to pressure media outlets that have not towed the line or have supported opposition parties.

 

As a result of these hearings, the parliament, on April 3rd, voted 252 to one to approve a law defining and banning state censorship in the Ukrainian media. This is a welcome step. However, given the power of the presidential administration, the law's implementation remains an open question at best, particularly in the lead up to the 2004 elections in Ukraine.

 

I urge our Ukrainian parliamentary colleagues to continue to actively press their government to comply with Ukraine's commitments to fundamental freedoms freely agreed to as a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act. I also urge the Ukrainian authorities, including the constitutional "guarantor", to end their campaign to stifle independent reporting and viewpoints in the media. Good news from Ukraine will come not from the spin doctors of the presidential administration, but when independent media and journalists can pursue their responsibilities free of harassment, intimidation, and fear.

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Such was the state of affairs before last December's presidential election, which was widely seen as a "make-or-break" moment for Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, the government failed to uphold its international commitments before, during and following the election. Despite repeated pledges from Nazarbaev to hold a free and fair contest, the OSCE observation mission stated the election "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments" due to "restrictions on campaigning, harassment of campaign staff and persistent and numerous cases of intimidation by the authorities" which "limited the possibility for a meaningful competition." The election was a serious blow to Kazakhstan's chances to chair the OSCE. The recent establishment of the State Commission on the Development and Realization of the Programme of Political Reforms comes after the major elections, too late to have any definitive liberalizing effects. In addition, a string of events has accentuated the disturbing gap between OSCE commitments and Kazakhstan's implementation. Last November, opposition politician and former Mayor of Almaty Zamanbek Nurkadilov was found dead in his home. According to Kazakh authorities, he shot himself three times, twice in the chest and once in the head. The official version of his death is, kindly put, implausible in the extreme. In February, opposition politician Altynbek Sarsenbaev, along with his driver and unarmed bodyguard, was shot in an apple orchard outside Almaty. The official investigation has placed the blame for this brazen crime on Erzhan Utembaev, head of the administration of the Senate, who allegedly engaged the services of some security officers. It is fair to say that this explanation for Sarsenbaev's death has failed to satisfy many observers. What is indisputable, however, is that anyone involved in opposition politics in Kazakhstan risks, in the worst case scenario, not merely electoral defeat but murder. Furthermore, Kazakh officials have backed Russian plans to eviscerate the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which, among other important democracy promoting activities, undertakes the OSCE's election observation missions. This would pose a grave threat to the OSCE as an institution and as the most credible election monitoring organization in the world. Recent statements and actions by local Kazakh authorities against a Hare Krishna community outside of Almaty and actions to penalize minority religious communities for unregistered religious practice run counter to OSCE norms and Kazakhstan's stated commitment to inter-religious tolerance. On March 20, President Nazarbaev praised Uzbek President Islam Karimov's handling of unrest in Andijon in May 2005. Praise for the Andijon massacre that left hundreds dead in Uzbekistan, and which moved the OSCE, the U.S. Government and international organizations to call for an independent, impartial investigation, are hardly the "reforms" one expects of a country that hopes to chair the OSCE. The forced repatriation of Uzbek refugees to Uzbekistan was equally alarming. Just today, Kazakhstan's upper house passed a highly restrictive media law that has been criticized by the OSCE's Representative on the Media and the U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan. It is hoped that President Nazarbaev will not sign this problematic bill into law. Mr. Speaker, in light of these circumstances, Kazakhstan's bid to chair the OSCE in 2009 cannot be supported. I strongly believe that backing Kazakhstan's candidacy would cause more difficulties than will result from Astana's disappointment over not winning this prize. None of this means that we should not strive to develop the best possible relations with Kazakhstan, on a mutually beneficial basis. There are many areas of current and potential cooperation between our countries, including Kazakhstan's entry into the WTO, energy, military security and anti-terrorism. Nor does my inability to support Kazakhstan's candidacy for the OSCE Chairmanship in 2009 mean that I do not hope to be able to back a future bid. Nothing would please me more than to report to this Chamber that Kazakhstan has met its commitments on democratization and human rights and richly deserves to lead the OSCE. A Kazakh chairmanship would also move the Organization eastward in the symbolic sense, bridging what has become an uncomfortable gap between the former Soviet republics and Europe. But that moment has not yet come, Mr. Speaker. I would encourage the Kazakh leaders to avail themselves of the opportunity of additional time to constructively engage the OSCE. Working to ensure that the Organization succeeds would aid Kazakhstan's bid for a future chairmanship, while expressing sour grapes over a denial can only add to the impression that Kazakhstan is not ready for a leadership role. The OSCE Chairmanship represents acknowledgement of progress already made, not a stimulus to future, unproven progress. Urging the Kazakhs to defer their bid would leave the door open for Astana, should demonstrable reforms on human rights and democratization be forthcoming. That progress was promised by President Nazarbaev, when he signed the Helsinki Accords as his country joined the OSCE in 1992.

  • Belgium’s Chairmanship of the OSCE

    The Belgian Government assumed Chairmanship of the OSCE in January 2006.  The first half of 2006 saw a number of developments within, and adjacent to, the OSCE region that formed the focus of the hearing.  Among the issues addressed were developments in Central Asia and neighboring Afghanistan, the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the political situation in the Caucasus, and human rights trends in the Russian Federation.  Commissioners also focused on OSCE democracy-promotion work, with a special emphasis on election monitoring, programs to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, and initiatives aimed at promoting greater international cooperation to curtail human trafficking and child pornography.

  • Human Rights, Democracy, and Integration in South Central Europe

    The hearing, led by the Hon. Christopher H. Smith,  the Hon. Sam Brownback , and the Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, focused primarily on the legal restrictions on religious activities and other attacks on religious freedom, lagging efforts to combat trafficking in persons, discrimination and violence against Roma, and the prevalence of official corruption and organized crime. The efforts to encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to move beyond the limitations imposed by the Dayton Peace Agreement will be discussed. Further, the plight of the displaced and minority communities of Kosovo, and the need for Serbia to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal will also be covered.   

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

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

  • Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group

    Mr. President, last Friday, May 12, marked the 30th anniversary of the oldest active Russian human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group. The creation of the Moscow Helsinki Group was announced on May 12, 1976, at a press conference called by Academician Andrei Sakharov, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his defense of human rights and his commitment to world peace. Formally named the “Public Group to Assist in the Implementation of the Helsinki Final Act in the USSR,” its members sought to monitor the Soviet Government’s implementation of the historic Helsinki Accords.  At the initiative of Professor Yuri Orlov, a physicist by profession and a veteran human rights activist, the group joined together 11 committed individuals to collect and publicize information on Soviet violations of the human rights provisions enshrined in the Helsinki Accords. The group monitored fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of movement and freedom of religion, as well as the basic rights of minorities. The group documented evidence of systemic human rights abuses and provided reports of Helsinki violations to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and the embassies of Helsinki signatory countries in Moscow. Additionally, these reports were widely distributed to Western correspondents. All together, the Moscow Helsinki Group published 195 numbered reports, along with numerous other documents, some of the cooperative initiatives with other human rights organizations. These reports played a critical role in documenting the Soviet Union’s failure to adhere to many of its Helsinki commitments. The example set by the Moscow Helsinki Group inspired human rights activists elsewhere in the USSR. Helsinki monitoring groups were founded in Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, and Armenia, and affiliated groups were also established to combat psychiatric abuse for political purposes and to defend religious liberty in Lithuania. As time went on, more brave individuals joined the Moscow Helsinki Group in its pursuit of truth and accountability. However, regrettably, the Soviet Government had no intention of tolerating the “assistance” provided by the Moscow Helsinki Group in monitoring the Soviet Union’s adherence to Helsinki commitments. The state-controlled Soviet press launched a campaign of slander against the group. By early 1977, the group’s founders, Dr. Yuri Orlov and Alexander Ginzburg, a longtime activist who had earlier produced the celebrated ‘‘White Book’’ on the trial of writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, had been arrested on political charges. Cyberneticist Anatoly “Natan” Sharansky and retired geologist Malva Landa were arrested shortly thereafter. Orlov was sentenced to 7 years in a labor camp and 5 years in internal exile. Ginzburg received 8 years labor camp and 3 years internal exile. Sharansky was sentenced to a total of 13 years in labor camp and prison, and Landa received 2 years internal exile.   Other members followed this path into the “Gulag” or were forced to emigrate. By 1981, KGB pressure had left only three members of the Moscow Helsinki Group at liberty in the Soviet Union, and they were forced to announce the “suspension” of their work. In 1984, one of those three, Dr. Elena Bonner, joined her husband, Dr. Sakharov, in forced internal exile in the closed city of Gorky.  Tragically, in December 1986, just as the Soviet political system was showing the signs of the exhaustion that would eventually lead to its collapse, Moscow Helsinki Group member Anatoly Marchenko died during a hunger strike at Chistopol Prison. Just over 2 months later, hundreds of known political and religious prisoners were freed from the Soviet prison system. With the advent of Glasnost, the Moscow Helsinki Group was formally reestablished in July 1989 by a handful of Helsinki veterans, and several new members joined their cause. Today, the Moscow Helsinki Group continues to work to defend human rights in post-Soviet Russia. And while there have been dramatic changes in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lure of authoritarianism still has a strong appeal for some in today’s Russia. Mr. President, on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, I congratulate the members and former members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, many of whom, sadly, are no longer with us, for their courage and fortitude in the struggle against tyranny. I wish the group continued success as they work to advance democracy, defend human rights, and promote a vigorous civil society.

  • Statement on Human Rights in Central Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

    First, let me thank the organizers of this conference for inviting me to speak.  I applaud the co-sponsors for putting together this timely and sober gathering to mark the one-year anniversary of the Andijon events. I won’t bother talking to this audience about the human rights situation in Central Asia.  The State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices routinely characterize the human rights observance in each country as “poor.”   Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) here today probably consider that too lenient, and I agree with them.   It’s not surprising that countries which emerged from 70 years of communism should have difficulties creating rule of law states.  But after 15 years of independence we should be seeing some separation of powers and a strong civil society.  Instead, we see “super-presidents,” who have overwhelmed legislatures and judicial systems.  Several have been in power for about 20 years, after rigged or canceled elections.  “Royal families” control the most lucrative sectors of the economy and the media. Of course, newspapers in Kazakhstan have more leeway than in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan.  But even in Kazakhstan, reports on presidential misdeeds are taboo.    Only in Kyrgyzstan do we see a freer media and hope of more in the future.  And only in Kyrgyzstan is the president’s relationship with the other branches of power not yet set in a pattern of executive branch dominance.  Yet a Tulip Revolution was necessary last year to bring about change in Kyrgyzstan, which raises serious questions about prospects for evolutionary development toward democracy in Central Asia.   This brings us to Uzbekistan.  No Central Asian country worked harder during the last 15 years to develop good strategic relations with Washington and to counterbalance residual Russian influence. But the country’s terrible human rights record complicated the development of a closer relationship.  President Islam Karimov allows no opposition, torture is pervasive, for years human rights groups were unregistered, and Tashkent has waged war against Muslims who wanted to practice their faith outside state-approved channels.    Now, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir is virulently anti-Western and anti-Semitic.  But Karimov’s exclusive reliance on repression only exacerbates matters and has probably supplied cadres for radical and terrorist organizations.   After September 11, 2001, we needed Uzbekistan’s cooperation and Karimov was delighted to help.  Uzbekistan gave us a military base and the March 2002 agreement on strategic cooperation was signed in Washington.  We agreed to support Uzbekistan, and Uzbekistan pledged to move towards democracy. But Karimov only implemented the democratization commitments just enough for Tashkent and Washington to point to “progress.” Gradually, frustration grew on both sides.  It was just a matter of time before the arrangement collapsed.   People often date the breakdown of U.S.-Uzbek relations to the events that happened in Andijon on May 12 and 13, 2005. We did not condone the violent takeover of government buildings in that city.  But we condemned the indiscriminate shootings in the square that followed and when we called for an independent, international investigation, Karimov balked.    As we all know, he began to move against U.S. NGOs.  Few remain in Uzbekistan today.  Then we were unceremoniously booted out of the K-2 base.  But ties had actually soured long before, because Karimov saw the Stars and Stripes behind the Georgian, Ukrainian and Kyrgyz revolutions. Most alarming for Tashkent was the Tulip Revolution which proved that “people power” was possible in Central Asia.    Like President Putin, Central Asian leaders insist that a sinister hand, based in Washington but using American NGOs working in the region, plotted the downfall of Eduard Shevardnadze, Leonid Kuchma and Askar Akaev -- and is now gunning for them.  So a split has developed in Central Asia.  Kyrgyzstan, though plagued by criminality and sometimes seemingly chaotic, is better off than with the previous corrupt regime and well disposed towards the U.S.    Uzbekistan’s Karimov sees us as his greatest strategic danger; he has cracked down even harder and state-run media accuse us of trying to enslave Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are suspicious of our allegedly revolutionary goals but still want to maintain good ties – as long as they are not threatened by civil society.  And Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan surely assume that we want their oil and gas too much to stir the pot. What can we do about this?  How can we try to make things better, especially keeping in mind that U.S. influence is limited?   This week I will be re-introducing my Central Asia bill, to help ensure that the United States is doing everything possible to encourage these governments to respect human rights and democratization.  The act will also bring greater consistency to U.S. policy, creating a framework to guide our bilateral relations in Central Asia.   The Central Asia Democracy and Human Rights Promotion Act supports the President’s freedom agenda by providing $118 million in assistance for human rights and democracy training and $15 million for increased Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America broadcasting.    The new Act will also establish a certification mechanism for the distribution of assistance to each government. The Secretary of State will determine whether each has made “significant improvements in the protection of human rights.”  This system will have a national security waiver and is modeled on the current system in Foreign Ops appropriations for Kazakhstan and expanded for all five countries.   In addition, considering the forced return of Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the new Act will require the Secretary of State to report on whether any government is “forcibly returning Uzbeks or other refugees who have fled violence and political persecution.” This is modeled on language regarding Kyrgyzstan in Foreign Ops appropriations and expanded for all five countries.    Notably, my new legislation will create a sanctions section for Uzbekistan.  First, the bill concretizes into law the limitations already in place in Foreign Ops appropriations. The limitation prevents funding to the Uzbek Government unless the Secretary of State determines the government is “making substantial and continuing progress” towards respect for human rights and that the Uzbek Government begins a “credible international investigation” of Andijon.   In addition, the new Act mirrors European Union sanctions by establishing a visa ban and an export ban on munitions.  The sanctions section also establishes an asset freeze for Uzbek officials, their family members, and their associates implicated in the Andijon massacre or involved in other gross violations of human rights.   Ladies and gentlemen, it is hard to promote democratization in strategically important countries whose leaders want to keep all real power in their own hands. Our task is especially complicated by the fact that Russia – which has re-emerged as a major international player, thanks to sky-high oil prices – is working hard to undermine our efforts.  But I think the measures which I’ve outlined here in brief offer a good chance of achieving our goals.   Thank you for your attention.  I look forward to hearing the other participants’ views and your comments.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Congratulating the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund

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

  • Promoting Religious Freedom in the Russian Federation

    Mr. Speaker, I rise as a co-sponsor and in support of H.Con.Res. 190, which urges the Russian Federation to “ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, and end the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies,” as well as to “ensure that law enforcement officials vigorously investigate acts of violence against unregistered religious communities, as well as make certain that authorities are not complicit in such attacks.”   As the Ranking House Member on the Helsinki Commission, I have seen how religious freedoms for minority religious communities throughout the Russian Federation have come under increasing pressure.  Throughout that vast country, local officials and government authorities continue to harass and limit the ability of these groups to practice their faith freely.  In addition, instances of violence, such as arson attacks, have been alarmingly common in recent years.  The Helsinki Commission heard disturbing testimony to this effect in April of last year. The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2005 reported that some federal agencies and many local authorities continued to restrict the rights of various religious minorities, and the internationally recognized expert on religious liberty in Russia, Larry Uzzell, has written that even in Moscow some 10 Baptist congregations have ceased to exist because local bureaucrats refused to allow rentals or property transfers for the use of worship services. Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that the religious liberty picture in Russia is deteriorating at a critical time for Russia.  Russia is an OSCE participating State and assumes the leadership of the Council of Europe in May of this year.  Russia also chairs the G-8 this year. A nation holding such positions should not be a country where members of minority religious groups need to constantly battle with bureaucrats in order to have a place to worship, or to get permission from the local clergy of another faith in order to hold a public gathering, or to wonder if their prayer house will be the target of vandalism.   Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues support H.Con.Res. 190, and I again thank my Helsinki Commission Chairman, Chris Smith, for introducing this resolution, and for his tireless efforts on behalf of religious freedom and liberty around the world.  I also join Chairman Smith in commending John Finerty of the Helsinki Commission staff for his decades of service to the Commission, and I especially thank him for assisting me in my interactions with members of the Russian Duma through our OSCE Parliamentary Assembly process.

  • Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election

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

  • Debate on "Present World Crisis Regarding Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Beliefs"

    In the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, the people’s right to freedom of speech, including freedom of the press, and the people’s right to peacefully assemble to protest both, are guaranteed. As political leaders, we have a special responsibility—words have consequences.  When words can lead to anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic or anti-Christian actions—we have a responsibility to speak out against such expression.   The recent political cartoons published in the European press which mock the Prophet Mohammed and equate Islam and practicing Muslims with terrorism are not only offensive but also irresponsible because they foster anti-Muslim sentiment. We should protect the right of the press, but we should condemn such expressions as wrong.   If we do not act, we risk leaving a terrible legacy to our children.    Such a legacy would condone hate speech and racial and religious incitement.  Such a legacy would lead to more tragic and unjustifiable violence, more discrimination against Muslims and more attempts by government to improperly control the media.   We should act effectively and peacefully.    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most profound civil rights leader in the United States in the 20th Century, cautioned all of us that the legacy of hate and violence must not be hate and violence.  The violent response to the cartoons must be condemned, but our response to the cartoons must be decisive.   The OSCE has acted against anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and all forms of religious discrimination.  We have an action plan reinforced by ODIHR and our special representatives.   We need to reinforce our efforts to educate respect and understanding among all religions.  We need to strengthen training on the right and responsibility of a free media.  We need to promote specific and appropriate activities in each of our States to facilitate these goals.    As leaders, let our legacy be for each of our States—freedom of the press and greater understanding and respect for religious diversity.

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