Helsinki Commission Leaders Welcome Savchenko Release; Urge Russia To Comply With Minsk AgreementsWednesday, May 25, 2016
WASHINGTON – Following today’s release of Ukrainian fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko from prison in Russia, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and Senator Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman of the Commission, issued the following statement: “We welcome Nadiya’s long-overdue release, but we must not forget about other Ukrainian citizens unjustly imprisoned in Russia. We must also remember that Russia still occupies Crimea and continues its aggression in eastern Ukraine, bringing misery and suffering to millions of Ukrainians.” “Russia should honor the Minsk agreements – which it violates with impunity – if there is to be peaceful resolution to the conflict. Above all, Russia needs to get out of Ukraine.” Last September, the House passed a resolution calling for Savchenko’s release, which was strengthened by Chairman Smith’s amendment calling for the imposition of personal sanctions against individuals responsible for the imprisonment of Savchenko and other Ukrainian citizens illegally incarcerated in Russia. A resolution sponsored by Co-Chairman Wicker and Helsinki Commission Ranking Senate Commissioner Ben Cardin (MD) calling for her release passed the Senate in February 2015.
On World Press Freedom Day, Helsinki Commission Chair Urges Azerbaijan: Free Khadija!Tuesday, May 03, 2016
WASHINGTON—On May 3, Chairman Rep. Chris Smith of the Helsinki Commission Issued the following statement: “Today marks World Press Freedom Day. Freedom of the media is an essential foundation for democracy and human rights every day of the year. Journalists play a critical role in ensuring free and fair elections, combating corruption, and holding governments accountable. In some OSCE countries, they do so at extraordinary personal risk. Let’s not forget Anna Politkovskaya or the many other Russian journalists murdered in the past fifteen years – whose killers have still not been brought to justice. Press freedom remains unknown in Russia. But today we remember above all Khadija Ismayilova, a fearless investigative journalist harassed and currently imprisoned by the government of Azerbaijan.” Anna Politkovskaya testified on human rights abuses in the Chechnya war before a hearing Rep. Smith chaired in 2003 – and was murdered in Moscow in 2006. In 2007 Chairman Smith authored H. Con. Res. 151 on Politkovskaya and other independent journalists killed in Russia since 2000, which passed the House by a vote of 388-1. Beginning in 2010 Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist in Azerbaijan, published hard-hitting investigative reports on corruption at the highest levels of the Azerbaijani government. In response, the Azerbaijani state security services tried to intimidate her. When that failed, in 2014, the government arrested her on trumped-up charges. “If the Government of Azerbaijan thought it could deflect attention from its abuses by locking up Khadija, they were sorely mistaken. In fact, Khadija’s continued imprisonment only serves as a constant reminder of the corruption she sought to expose. Her imprisonment is wrong and she should be released immediately." In December 2014 the Government of Azerbaijan arrested investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova on spurious charges and subsequently raided the offices of her employer, U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). After a lengthy trial that was widely condemned by the international community for numerous irregularities, in September Ms. Ismayilova was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. Her appeal was denied on November 25, 2015, and the RFE/RL Baku Bureau has remained shuttered by the Government of Azerbaijan. The Helsinki Commission’s hearing on Azerbaijan’s Persecution of RFE/RL Reporter Khadijah Ismayilova can be found here. Her recent editorial in the Washington Post can be found here. Chairman Smith is the sponsor of the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015 (H.R. 4264), a bill he introduced on December 16, 2015, to draw attention to the systematic efforts of the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society groups. In addition to denying U.S. visas to senior leaders of the Government of Azerbaijan, those who derive significant financial benefit from business dealings with senior leadership, and members of the security or judicial branches, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act also expresses the sense of Congress that financial penalties should be considered. Sanctions could be lifted when the Azerbaijani government shows substantial progress toward releasing political prisoners, ending its harassment of civil society, and holding free and fair elections.
Internet Freedom in the Age of Dictators and TerroristsThursday, March 03, 2016
This briefing- focused on internet freedom- was set in the context of increasing online censorship and surveillance in authoritarian nations and privacy infringement and terrorism threats in free societies. Lisl Brunner of the Global Network Initiative, Rebecca MacKinnon from Ranking Digital Rights, and Tim Maurer of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, discussed how internet companies are evolving to handle increased government requests from law enforcement and the role of export controls in ensuring that U.S. and European technologies do not contribute to human rights abuses. Policy advisor Shelly Han opened the briefing by explaining that when the internet began spreading across the globe, it was seen as a “game changer for spreading democratic ideals to places that traditional media could not reach” – a new method of positive influence, accountability and transparency. However, she noted, precisely because it was so powerful, autocrats (including those in China and Russia) have been able to use it to increase their own power, and democracies have come to fear its use by terrorists. Citizens in free societies also wonder where the line between security and privacy should be drawn. The panelists discussed the immense increase in awareness of this issue in the past decade, the commitments that can be set for the future and where leadership must come from in order to create policy solutions.
German Foreign Minister to Testify at Helsinki Commission HearingThursday, February 25, 2016
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Germany’s Chairmanship of the OSCE: Priorities and Challenges” March 1, 2016 2: 00 PM Cannon House Office Building Room 334 Live Webcast:www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Germany’s 2016 Chairmanship-in-Office of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – the world’s largest regional security body – comes at a turbulent time. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine continues to have serious ramifications on pan-European security; the refugee crisis has exposed cracks in the European approach to migration; and some question the OSCE’s relevance and role in twenty-first century Europe. Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, will discuss Germany’s plans to “renew dialogue, rebuild trust, and restore security” as it assumes the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office, including resolving the conflict in Ukraine; supporting negotiations in Nagorno-Karabakh, Transdniestra, and Georgia; renewing discussions on key European security agreements; counterterrorism and cybersecurity; and strengthening OSCE capacities.
Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Internet Freedom in the Age of Dictators and TerroristsWednesday, February 24, 2016
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Internet Freedom in the Age of Dictators and Terrorists” March 3, 2016 10:00AM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2255 The original promise of the internet as a mechanism for free exchange of information and greater democratization seems a dream from a distant past. Authoritarian leaders in China, Russia and around the world seek to build walls around their country’s internet and censor incoming information and online discourse, while in free societies we are grappling with the right balance between security and privacy of online information in the face of terrorist threats. The briefing will focus on internet freedom broadly, including censorship and surveillance; and trends in how internet companies are evolving to handle increased government requests from law enforcement. In addition, panelists will discuss the role of export controls in ensuring that U.S. and European technologies do not contribute to human rights abuses. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Lisl Brunner, Director of Policy and Learning, Global Network Initiative Rebecca MacKinnon, Director, Ranking Digital Rights Tim Maurer, Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Religious Freedom, Anti-Semitism, and Rule of Law in Europe and EurasiaThursday, February 11, 2016
In this hearing ODIHR Director Michael Link discussed the importance of the OSCE's work on human rights through ODIHR. He focused on the fight against anti-Semitism and the human rights situation in Ukraine. He spoke about ODIHR's newest project to combat anti-Semitism, called "Turning Words into Action," which will give leaders the knowledge and tools to address anti-Semitism in their communities. Director Link also noted that in Ukraine he was particularly concerned about the human rights violations in Crimea and expressed his support for a cease-fire as a pre-condition of the implementation of the Minsk package.
OSCE Foreign Ministers Meet in BelgradeFriday, January 15, 2016
Serbia’s year-long chairmanship of the OSCE culminated in Belgrade in the annual meeting of the OSCE Ministerial Council on December 3 and 4, 2015. Key issues addressed in the context of Ministerial discussions included: Ongoing efforts to de-escalate the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the need for Russia to fully implement the Minsk Agreements. Reaffirmation of the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent commitments and the comprehensive nature of security (i.e., respect for fundamental freedoms within a state has an impact on the security between states). The assault on human dignity and human rights, including through terrorist attacks, the continued rollback on rights and freedoms in the OSCE area, and the refugee and migration crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry led the U.S. delegation, which also included Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Robert Berschinski; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Asia Daniel N. Rosenblum; and Helsinki Commission Senior Senate Staff Representative Ambassador David T. Killion. The atmosphere was strained, as tensions between Ukraine and Russia, Russia and Turkey, and Armenia and Azerbaijan spilled over into the negotiations. As Russia blocked virtually all decisions on human rights, as well as on the migration crisis and on gender issues, only a handful of documents were adopted. Successful declarations addressed recent terrorist attacks in the OSCE region, combating violent extremism that leads to terrorism, and addressing the illicit drug trade.
OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2015Friday, January 15, 2016
“The Human Dimension” is OSCE-speak for human rights, democracy, and humanitarian concerns. When the Helsinki Final Act (HFA) was signed in Helsinki, Finland in 1975, it enshrined among its ten Principles Guiding Relations between participating States (the Decalogue) a commitment to "respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion" (Principle VII). In addition, the HFA included a section on cooperation regarding humanitarian issues that provided an umbrella for addressing (among other things) family reunification and working conditions for journalists. "The Human Dimension" was a term coined during the drafting of the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document to serve as shorthand to describe the human rights and humanitarian provisions of the agreements concluded within the framework of the Helsinki process. Today, it has come to include the OSCE’s watershed commitments on democracy, the rule of law, and free and fair elections. In any given year, the OSCE participating States address human dimension issues in multiple fora. The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting – HDIM – attracts the largest number of participants, covers the greatest range of issues, and is open to participation by civil society. That work includes formal sessions on the full range of human rights issues as well as rule of law, free elections, and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, and tolerance and nondiscrimination are also on the agenda. U.S. Delegation Led by David Kramer The 2015 HDIM was held September 21 to October 2 and drew 1,386 participants. The U.S. delegation was led by David J. Kramer, Senior Director for Human Rights and Human Freedoms at the McCain Institute and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. It also included U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Robert Berschinksi; Department of State Special Advisor for International Rights Judith Heumann; and Helsinki Commission Senior Senate Staff Representative Ambassador David T. Killion. Helsinki Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work. In addition to active engagement in the formal sessions, the United States participated in side events focused on specific countries or issues organized by civil society, OSCE participating States, or international organizations, and held numerous bilateral meetings with other delegations to raise and discuss human rights. Special Advisor Heumann led a panel highlighting the importance of disability rights for OSCE countries as part of a U.S. side event cosponsored with Finland. Russia: External Aggression and Internal Repression During the HDIM, Russia’s aggression in and against Ukraine was raised in connection with almost every agenda item for the meeting. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) also issued a joint report prepared with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities detailing widespread human rights violations in Russian-occupied Crimea. Increasing levels of repression within Russia also were raised throughout the HDIM and served to highlight the relationship between external aggression and internal repression. In early 2015, Boris Nemtsov, an advocate for the rule of law and accountability in Russia and an outspoken Russian critic of the Russian government’s war against Ukraine, was gunned down just outside the Kremlin. Russia’s increasingly repressive government has eroded the democratic institutions that ensure a government’s accountability to its people. A free and independent media is virtually nonexistent and the remaining state-controlled media is used to propagandize disinformation, fear, bigotry, and aggression. Azerbaijan’s Record Draws Sharp Criticism In 2015 Azerbaijan unilaterally shuttered the OSCE Mission in Baku, effectively blocked the OSCE’s independent election observation in October, and sentenced journalist-heroine Khadija Ismayilova to 7 ½ years in prison for reporting on government corruption. The government of Azerbaijan has also escalated pressure against the family members of its critics, in a further effort to stifle dissent. As a consequence, throughout the HDIM, Azerbaijan was the subject of singular attention and criticism. In one particularly sharp exchange with the moderator during the discussion of fundamental freedoms in the digital age, Azerbaijan challenged its critics to name at least 25 of an estimated 100 political prisoners. A partial list – 25 names – is below. Abilov, Abdul Aliyev, Intigam Aliyev, Nijat Akhundov, Rashadat Guliyev, Araz Hasanov, Nasimi Hashimli, Parviz Hazi, Seymur Ismayilova, Khadija Jabrayilova, Valida Jafarov, Rasul Karimov, Fara Mammadli, Anar Mammadov, Hilal Mammadov, Igar Mammadov, Omar Mirkadirov, Rauf Ramazanov, Rashad Rustamov, Aliabbas Rustamzada, Ilkin Seyidov, Elnur Yagublu, Tofig Yunusov, Arif** Yunus, Leyla** Zakharchenko, Irina **Leyla and Arif Yunus have been released from prison since the HDIM but remain under house arrest.
Serbia Concludes Year-Long OSCE ChairmanshipFriday, January 15, 2016
Four decades after the signature of the Helsinki Final Act, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic presided over a Serbian chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that kicked off with high expectations. As a successor to the only participating State ever suspended from OSCE decision-making for egregious violation of Helsinki standards (1992 to 2000), the ability of Serbia to chair the organization was a credit not only to the country, but also to the OSCE which provided significant guidance and engagement through the transition. Throughout Serbia’s chairmanship, the situation in Ukraine dominated the work of the OSCE participating States, including at the annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting. This overshadowed efforts to commemorate the Helsinki Final Act’s 40th anniversary, as the OSCE’s future was considered to hinge on the Minsk agreements and its response to the crisis in and around Ukraine. Ukraine Russia’s egregious violations of the Minsk agreement led to its collapse in January 2015. Minsk II, adopted in February 2015, represents a further attempt to de-escalate the war in the Donbas. After six months of non-implementation, a September 1 cease-fire has largely held, with considerably fewer casualties than earlier, although there has been an uptick in recent weeks. Heavy weapons are slowly being withdrawn from the line of contact. Nevertheless, the agreement remains extremely tentative as Russia and its separatist proxies continue to disregard the majority of its provisions: Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) access remains blocked in large portions of the Russian-led separatist-controlled territory; Russian forces and equipment remain on Ukrainian territory; Ukrainian control over its borders with Russia has not been restored. Furthermore, restrictions continue on humanitarian aid and Ukrainian hostages remain in Russian custody. Terrorism 2015 was also scarred by numerous terrorist attacks in the OSCE region, including incidents targeting Jewish institutions and free speech in Paris and Copenhagen in January and February; the bombing of a Russian civilian airliner over the Sinai Peninsula in October; an attack in Turkey just three weeks before November 1 snap elections; and multiple, simultaneous attacks again in Paris in November. On November 17, the Permanent Council adopted a declaration on the need to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and international law–including applicable international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law–threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts. Refugee Crisis Issues relating to the refugee crisis became more acute over the course of the year. In early June, the Serbian Chairmanship held a special human dimension event on refugees and internally displaced persons. On October 6, following significant increases of migrant flows into Europe, the Serbian Chairmanship convened an unprecedented joint meeting of the Permanent Council’s three committees (on military-security, economic and environmental cooperation, and the human dimension) to focus on the refugee-migrant crisis. Finally, many hoped that Serbia’s positive experience hosting a field mission would serve as an example to other participating States cooperating with OSCE field activity. Unfortunately, turned out not to be the case, as illustrated by the abrupt closure of the mission in Baku. In addition, Serbia – missed an opportunity in 2015 to more strongly exemplify OSCE norms by providing justice for the 1999 execution-style murders of the three Kosovar-American Bytyqi brothers, a key issue in U.S.-Serbian relations.
What is the OSCE Doing in Ukraine?Friday, January 15, 2016
In Ukraine, the OSCE monitors the cease-fire, weapons withdrawal, and overall security situation in eastern Ukraine. In addition, the OSCE has observed local elections and reports on widespread human rights violations in Russian-occupied Crimea. Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) Mandate adopted by consensus on March 21, 2014 and extended until March 31, 2016 634 international monitors as of November 18, 2015 Posts daily updates at OSCE.org Has encountered episodes of hostage-taking and been fired upon OSCE Observer Mission at the Russian Checkpoints Gukovo and Donetsk Mandate adopted by consensus on July 24, 2014 Gathers information and reports on the security situation at the two checkpoints Minsk Agreement Adopted September 5, 2014, by Russia, Ukraine, and Russian-backed separatists under OSCE auspices OSCE tasked with monitoring its implementation, including the cease-fire and weapons withdrawal Minsk II Adopted February 11, 2015 Continues work of Minsk agreement OSCE Election Observation Observed local elections in 2015 Joint report by ODIHR & HCNM on Russian-occupied Crimea ODIHR and HCNM report released September 17, 2015, identifies widespread human rights violations
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I Was Locked Up and Tortured by Putin’s SpooksSunday, January 10, 2016
Yuriy Yatsenko is an activist of the Euromaidan who was illegally imprisoned in Russia on political grounds and recently released. This is a shortened version of his testimony before the US Helsinki Commission in Washington on December 11, 2015. I am a Ukrainian citizen who was illegally arrested and detained by the Russian Federation for over a year for political reasons. Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov and others who are less known have suffered and continue to suffer the same fate. In May 2014, I was in Russia's Kursk region with a friend on a business trip. During a routine document check that Russian police officers often practice, I was detained. At the police department, an FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) agent showed me a photograph of myself taken during the Euromaidan protests, which I suspect he had found on social media. The agent demanded that my friend and I provide false testimony; he wanted us to admit that we had been recruited by Right Sector or by the head of the Security Service of Ukraine to commit acts of terrorism in Russia. At the time, I was an ordinary student from western Ukraine and could not believe that such absurd accusations were being made against me. My western Ukrainian origin became an additional reason for Russian law enforcement personnel to harass me. After we refused to incriminate ourselves, they began beating us at regular intervals. We were also offered an option of going on Russian TV and giving a predetermined speech about being sent to Russia from Ukraine to commit subversive acts, but instead we turned to the FSB for protection to save us from the Ukrainian authorities and their persecution. We refused, so the harassment continued and turned into physical and psychological abuse. One FSB official threatened to hand me over to the president of Chechnya. At first, the abuse and the beatings were constant. I was regularly placed in punishment cells and solitary confinement. I remember one particularly brutal instance. Some special forces soldiers, wearing masks and uniforms bearing no insignia other than the colors of the Russian flag, put a bag over my head, took me into the woods and tortured me. They hanged me by my handcuffs for hours and beat me in the head, groin and other parts of the body. They strangled me. They also simulated an execution, firing a gun next to my head. The next morning, which was two weeks after my arrest, I used a shaving blade to cut my abdomen and the veins on my arms to stop this abuse. Only then was I taken to the hospital; there, I finally managed to inform my family about my whereabouts. Despite a court decision ordering our deportation, my friend and I were illegally kept at a special detention center for illegal immigrants for three months. During this period, beatings and torture were constant. Three months later, my friend was released and taken to the Ukrainian border, while I was suddenly charged with possessing explosives. The court found me guilty in spite of the absurdity of these accusations and the absence of any evidence. At first, I was sentenced to two years in prison, but an appeals court reduced the sentence to nine months. By that time, I had already spent a year in detention, so I was released. The fact that I'm free now is a testament to the publicity campaigns, international pressure and coordinated work of human rights advocates and lawyers. When I was in detention, guards informed me from time to time that another article about my case appeared in the press, or that another press conference dedicated to my case was held. They seemed to be alarmed by this activism, and kept saying that it should be stopped, that everything should be "done quietly." That is why public events in support of prisoners are extremely important; they signal to the repressive regime that it is being watched closely and that none of the prisoners are forgotten. At least 13 Ukrainians are detained illegally somewhere in the Russian Federation, and at least eight prisoners are being held in occupied Crimea, both Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. The criminal cases against them are fabricated, most have been brutally tortured and some have been deprived of their right to meet with an attorney or a Ukrainian consul for over a year. These are people of various ages, professions and politics, but they share one thing—their lives have become an instrument of Russian state-sponsored propaganda that has created the image of Ukraine as a mortal enemy. Kremlin officials constantly look for ways to justify their hybrid war in Ukraine, which is why innocent Ukrainian citizens are proclaimed to be terrorists, spies and fascists. I appeal to you on behalf of the #LetMyPeopleGo campaign. There are no independent courts in Russia; this is why politically motivated cases have no chance of being decided fairly. Only international pressure can help achieve the release of those detained. We are waiting for the return of Savchenko, Olexandr Kolchenko, Sentsov, Gennadiy Afanasiev, Olexii Chirnii, Sergiy Lytvynov, Mykola Karpiuk, Stanislav Klyh, Olexandr Kostenko, Haiser Dzhemilev, Yurii Soloshenko, Valentyn Vyhyvskii and Viktor Shur. We also demand that Russia stop occupying Crimea and that Akhtem Chyihoz, Ali Asanov, Mustafa Dehermendzhy, Yuriy Ilchenko, Ruslan Zaytullaev, Nuri Primov, Rustam Vaytov and Ferat Sayfullaev be freed. It is likely that this list is incomplete. Nevertheless, we demand that Russia release all of its prisoners who have been subject to politically motivated persecution.
Human Rights Violations in Russian-Occupied CrimeaFriday, December 11, 2015
The briefing reviewed the current condition of life in Crimea under Russian rule. Panelists highlighted the illegal nature of Russian rule over the peninsula and described the human rights abuses commited by the new authorities. Several of the panelists described the propaganda campaign and censorship that the Russian government has been carrying out to tighten its grip on the peninsula. Participants also outlined possible responses by the international community -- particularly sanctions -- to address the situation in Crimea.
Helsinki Commission Briefing to Probe Human Rights Violations in Occupied CrimeaFriday, December 04, 2015
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Human Rights Violations in Russian-Occupied Crimea” Friday, December 11 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room B-318 Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory of Crimea in March 2014 – which flagrantly violated numerous international agreements, including core OSCE principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act – resulted in a deplorable human rights situation that continues today. Changes in government and the legal framework in Crimea following Russia’s annexation have had a toxic impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Violations of civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights are widespread, especially against those who openly oppose the Russian occupation, including Crimean Tatars and other ethnic, political, and religious groups. The Helsinki Commission briefing will present key findings of the recent report, “Human Rights on Occupied Territory: Case of Crimea,” prepared by an international team of lawyers led by Ivanna Bilych. Panelists from Ukraine will provide valuable insights about the situation on the ground. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Ivanna Bilych, Co-founder and President of VOLYA Institute, board member of the Ukrainian American Bar Association Andriy Klymenko, Chief Editor of Black Sea News; prominent economist, originally from Crimea Bohdan Yaremenko, Chairman of the board of the Ukrainian non-governmental organization, Maidan of Foreign Affairs, former Ukrainian diplomat Yuriy Yatsenko, Activist of the Maidan Revolution of Dignity who was illegally imprisoned in Russia on political grounds and recently released after a year of imprisonment
Russian Violations of the Rule of Law: How Should the U.S. Respond? 3 Case StudiesWednesday, October 21, 2015
This hearing, held on October 20, 2015, discussed Russia's compliance with the rule of law across the three dimensions of the OSCE: military security, commercial, and human rights committments. The witnesses focused their testimonies on three particularly relevant case studies: arms control agreements, the Yukos litigation, and instances of abduction, unjust imprisonment and abuse of prisoners.
Helsinki Commission Chair Chris Smith Shines Light on Egregious Rule-of-Law Abuses by Russian GovernmentWednesday, October 21, 2015
WASHINGTON—At a Congressional hearing today, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, spotlighted the many recent violations of the rule of law committed by the Russian government. “Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, we face a set of challenges with Russia, a founding member of the organization, that mirror the concerns that gave rise to the Helsinki Final Act,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who called the hearing. “At stake is the hard-won trust between members, now eroded to the point that armed conflict rages in the OSCE region. The question is open whether the principles continue to bind the Russian government with other states in a common understanding of what the rule of law entails.” “Russia’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent intervention in the Donbas region not only clearly violate this commitment, but also every guiding principle of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. It appears these are not isolated instances. In recent years, Russia appears to have violated, undermined, disregarded, or even disavowed fundamental and binding arms control commitments,” Smith continued. “[I also] question Russia’s OSCE commitment to develop free, competitive markets that respect international dispute arbitration mechanisms...[and recent government actions] demonstrate Russia’s readiness to abuse its laws and judicial system to limit individual freedoms both within and beyond its borders.” Witness testimony highlighted case studies corresponding to each of the three dimensions of comprehensive security established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE): politico-military security; economic and environmental security; and human rights and fundamental freedoms. Tim Osborne, executive director of GML Ltd., the majority owner of the now-liquidated Yukos Oil Company, said, “It is clear that the Russian Federation is not honoring its obligations and commitments under the rule of law or in a manner consistent with the Helsinki process. Russia’s tendency, more often than not, has been to ignore, delay, obstruct or retaliate when faced with its international law responsibilities…Russia cannot be trusted in international matters and that even when it has signed up to international obligations, it will ignore them if that is what it thinks serves it best.” “Russia had engaged in the uncompensated expropriation of billions of dollars of U.S. investments in Yukos Oil Company,” observed former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Ambassador Alan Larson. “American investors—who owned about 12 percent of Yukos at the time of the expropriation—have claims worth over $14 billion, and they are entitled to compensation under international law even though they have no option for bringing claims directly against the Russian Federation.” Vladimir Kara-Murza, a well-known Russian activist and the coordinator of the Open Russia Movement, said, “Today, the Kremlin fully controls the national airwaves, which it has turned into transmitters for its propaganda…the last Russian election recognized by the OSCE as conforming to basic democratic standards was held more than 15 years ago.” “There are currently 50 political prisoners in the Russian Federation,” Kara-Murza continued. “These prisoners include opposition activists jailed under the infamous ‘Bolotnaya case’ for protesting against Mr. Putin’s inauguration in May 2012; the brother of anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny; and Alexei Pichugin, the remaining hostage of the Yukos case.” “A clear pattern emerges when one looks at Russia’s implementation of its arms control obligations overall,” observed Stephen Rademaker, former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Nonproliferation. “Should Moscow conclude such agreements have ceased to serve its interest, it will ignore them, effectively terminate them, violate them while continuing to pay them lip service, or selectively implement them…Russia believes that this is how great powers are entitled to act, and today Moscow insists on acting and being respected as a great power.” Chairman Smith was joined at the hearing by a panel of lawmakers including Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger Wicker (MS) and Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-04).
Russian Rule-of-Law Abuses to Be Examined at Upcoming Helsinki Commission HearingWednesday, October 14, 2015
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: “Russian Violations of the Rule of Law: How Should the U.S. Respond? 3 Case Studies” Wednesday, October 21 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2255 Live Webcast: http://bit.ly/1VRaf3G The actions of the Russian government have raised questions about Russia’s failure to respect its commitment to the rule of law in the areas of military security, commerce, and laws bearing on human rights – each corresponding to one of the three dimensions of security established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Using the Helsinki Final Act as a basis for discussion, the hearing will focus on security violations of the Budapest Memorandum; the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), Open Skies, Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaties, and the Vienna Document. Regarding international legal and commercial agreements such as the Energy Charter Treaty, the New York Convention and bilateral investment treaties the hearing will review developments in the Yukos Oil case. On human rights, it will inquire into cases of abduction/unjust imprisonment, torture, and abuse, including those of Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov, and Eston Kover. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Vladimir Kara-Murza, Coordinator, Open Russia Movement Alan Larson, Senior International Policy Advisor with Covington & Burlington LLP, former Under Secretary of State for Economics and Career Ambassador, U.S. State Department Tim Osborne, Executive Director of GML Ltd. - the majority owner of the now liquidated Yukos Oil Company Stephen Rademaker, Principal with the Podesta Group, Former Assistant Secretary of State for the U.S. State Department Bureau of Arms Control and the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation
Bipartisan Congressional Delegation Represents US at OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; Also Visits Ukraine, Czech RepublicMonday, August 17, 2015
Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act established the precursor to today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), five members of the Helsinki Commission and four other members of Congress traveled to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Helsinki to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to confronting Russian aggression in Ukraine and elsewhere. Led by Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger F. Wicker (MS), the bicameral, bipartisan delegation organized by the Helsinki Commission included Commission Chairman Representative Chris Smith (NJ- 04); House Commissioners Robert B. Aderholt (AL-04), Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Alan Grayson (FL-09); and Representatives Gwen Moore (WI-04), Michael Fitzpatrick (PA-08), Richard Hudson (NC-08) and Ruben Gallego (AZ-07). Before attending the Annual Session from July 5 to 7, several members of the delegation also visited Ukraine and the Czech Republic. A central concern to the delegation throughout the trip was Russia’s restrictions on democracy at home and aggression in Ukraine, along with Russia’s threat to European security.
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Central Asia Becomes New Target for ISIS RecruitersThursday, June 11, 2015
Thousands of fighters have fled their home countries to join the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, including the chief of the counter-terrorism program in a Central Asian country. Col. Gulmurod Khalimov, who was highly trained by the U.S., left his post in Tajikistan, posting a video online last week as proof. While perhaps the most notable example, Khalimov is only one of an estimated 4,000 people who have left nations in central Asia to join ISIS, according to the International Crisis Group. “What does this say about the current effort to stop terror-minded men and women from volunteering and traveling to the Middle East?” Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., asked at a hearing about the recruitment of foreign fighters from Central Asia. The hearing took place on the anniversary of ISIS’ capture of Mosul, Iraq. “Clearly, our government – working with others … must take stronger action to combat radicalization beyond our borders.” In a step toward this goal, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Smith is a co-chairman, held a hearing to discuss recruitment of foreign fighters from Central Asia countries. The commission, also known as the Helsinki Commission, focused on the five countries in the region: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
in the news
Putin Opponent Near Death in Suspected PoisoningFriday, May 29, 2015
An outspoken opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin was near death Friday from an apparent poisoning just three months after his close political ally was gunned down near the Kremlin, and supporters want him evacuated to Europe or Israel to determine what sickened him. Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr., who has long been based in Washington, was in a hotel in Moscow when he suddenly lost consciousness May 26 and was hospitalized with what his wife called "symptoms of poisoning." The 33-year-old is a coordinator for Open Russia, a nongovernmental organization which on the previous day released a documentary film accusing close Putin crony and Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov of human rights abuses including torture and murder. "I am deeply concerned about the mysterious illness of Vladimir Kara-Murza, especially given the recent murder of Boris Nemtsov and the number of Putin's opponents who have been poisoned," [Helsinki Commission Chair] Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said in a statement.
Chairman Smith Deeply Concerned about Illness of Vladimir Kara-MurzaThursday, May 28, 2015
WASHINGTON—Following the sudden and debilitating illness of Russian political activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) issued the following statement: “I am deeply concerned about the mysterious illness of Vladimir Kara-Murza, especially given the recent murder of Boris Nemtsov and the number of Putin’s opponents who have been poisoned. I strongly urge the Russian government to guarantee Mr. Kara-Murza’s safety and facilitate his transfer to a hospital outside of the Russian Federation for further evaluation and care.” In 2011, Mr. Kara-Murza spoke at a Helsinki Commission briefing, “Russia’s Upcoming Elections and the Struggle for Public and Competitive Politics.”
I remember the Orange Revolution that took place in Ukraine, starting in November 2004, ending in January 2005. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to that protest to protest the corrupt election. They did it in a peaceful way.
They not only got the attention of the people of Ukraine but the attention of the world. As a result of that peaceful revolution, the government stood for new elections, free and fair elections. Democratic leadership was elected, and all of us thought the future for Ukraine was very positive.
I was in Kiev not long after that Orange Revolution. I had a chance to talk to people who were involved, and I talked to the new leaders. I saw that sense of hope that Ukraine at long last would be an independent country without the domination of any other country and that the proud people would have a country that would respect their rights, that would transition into full membership in Europe and provide the greatest hope for future generations.
They started moving in that direction. As the Presiding Officer knows, there were agreements with Europe on immigration. They have been involved in military operations in close conjunction with NATO. Ukraine was and is an important partner of the United States and for Europe.
Then Victor Yanukovych came into power for a second time. Mr. Yanukovych took the country in a different direction. He was a corrupt leader. He had a close involvement with Russia.
Today there is some hope. The Parliament has brought in a new interim government. Presidential elections are now scheduled for May 25. But there are certain matters that are still very much in doubt. In the Crimea, which is a part of the Ukraine which has a large Russian population, it is unclear as to what is happening there. Pro-Russian sympathizers have taken over government buildings. It is not clear of Russia’s involvement.
It is critically important that the international community have access to what is happening in the Crimea and make it clear that Russia must allow the Ukraine to control its own destiny. It is time for the international community to mobilize its resources to assist Ukraine’s transition to a democratic, secure, and prosperous country.
The people of Ukraine have had an incredibly difficult history and over the last century have been subjected to two World Wars, 70 years of Soviet domination, including Stalin’s genocidal famine.
Our assistance at this time will be a concrete manifestation that we do indeed stand by the people of Ukraine as they manifest their historic choice for freedom and democracy. Moreover, we need to help Ukraine succeed to realize the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
That is our desire and that is the desire of the people of Ukraine. They are moving on the right path. They critically need our help and that of the international community to make sure Russia does not try to dominate this country; that its desire to become part of Europe is realized; that free and fair elections can take place, and the rights of their people can be respected by their government.
Yesterday I heard from Swiss President and OSCE Chair-in-Office Burkhalter and welcomed his engagement and the important role the OSCE can play in Ukraine.
As a member of the Commission, I had the honor of chairing the Helsinki Commission, which is our implementing arm to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. A Foreign Minister from one of the member states usually acts as our Chair-in-Office, and this year Mr. Burkhalter is not only the Foreign Minister of Switzerland, he is also the President of Switzerland. He is the person responsible for the direction of the organization. We had a hearing with him and Ukraine took a good part of our discussions.
The guiding principles of the OSCE is if they are going to have a prosperous country, if they are going to have a secure country, they have to have a country that respects the rights of its citizens. Respecting the rights of its citizens means they are entitled to good governance. They are entitled to a country that does not depend upon corruption in order to finance its way of life. Those are the principles of the OSCE. A country with good governance, respect for human rights, that takes on corruption, is a country in which there will be economic prosperity and a country which will enjoy security. That has been our chief function, to try to help other countries.
The meeting yesterday underscored the importance OSCE can play in the future of Ukraine, and we hope they will utilize those resources so Ukraine can come out of this crisis as a strong, democratic, and independent country.
There has to be accountability. There has to be accountability for those who are responsible for the deaths in Kiev. I mention that because, yes, there is a moral reason for that. Those who commit amoral atrocities should be held accountable. That is just a matter of basic rights. But there is also the situation when they don’t bring closure here, it offers little hope that these circumstances will not be repeated in the future. If future government leaders believe they could do whatever they want and there will be no consequences for their actions, they are more likely to take the irresponsible actions we saw on Ukraine.
So, yes, it is important we restore a democratic government in Ukraine. It is important that government be independent and able to become a full member of Europe. It is important that government respect the human rights of its citizens, but it is also important they hold those responsible for these atrocities accountable for their actions.
The Obama administration took some action this past week. They did deny visas to certain members who were responsible for the Government of Ukraine, and they did freeze bank accounts of those who were involved in the corrupt practices in Ukraine. That was a good first step and I applaud their actions.
I remind my colleagues we passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act as part of the Russia PNTR legislation. I was proud to be the sponsor of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. What it does—and it says it was amended to apply only to Russia—those who are involved in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights will be denied the privilege of being able to come to America, to get a visa and we will deny them the opportunity to use our banking system.
Why is that important? Because we found those corrupt officials want to keep their properties outside of their host country. They want to visit America. They want to use our banking system. They want their corrupt ways to be in dollars, not in rubles. Denying them that opportunity is an effective remedy for making sure they can’t profit from all of their corruption.
That legislation was limited to Russia not by our design. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee approved the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act as a global act applying beyond Russia.
Sergei Magnitsky was a young lawyer who discovered corruption in Russia. He did what he should have done— told the authorities about it. As a result, he was arrested, tortured, and killed because he did the right thing. We took action to make sure those responsible could not benefit from that corruption. That was the Sergei Magnitsky bill. We felt, though, it should be a tool available universally. We had to compromise on that, and it was limited to Russia.
It is time to change that. Along with Senator MCCAIN, I have introduced the Global Human Rights Accountability Act, S. 1933. It has several bipartisan sponsors. It would apply globally. So, yes, it would apply to Ukraine. It would have congressional sanctions to the use of tools for denying visa applications and our banking privileges to those who are responsible for these atrocities. I believe our colleagues understand how important that is for us to do.
It is interesting that today the State Department issued its Human Rights Practices for 2013. This is a required report that we request. It gives the status of human rights records throughout the world, talking about problems.
I am sure my colleagues recognize that human rights problems are not limited to solely Russia or Ukraine, from Bahrain to China, to Bangladesh, from Belarus to Ethiopia, to Venezuela, from the Sudan to South Sudan, Syria, the list goes on and on and on.
The report lists all of the gross violations of human rights that have occurred. Unfortunately, this list is too long. I can name another dozen countries that are spelled out in this report. Human rights are universal, and it is our responsibility to act and show international leadership.
It takes time to pass good laws, as it should, which is why we must act with urgency now. The measures contemplated in my legislation have great corrective power, but they are strongest when deployed in a timely manner, preferably before the outbreak of violence.
The year 2013 was a particularly challenging year for human rights and we cannot afford to be silent. The Global Human Rights Accountability Act serves as an encouragement for champions of democracy, promoters of civil rights, and advocates of free speech across the globe.
As the great human rights defender Nelson Mandela once said: ‘‘There are times when a leader must move ahead of the flock, go off in a new direction, confident that he is leading his people the right way.’’
In this great body, the Senate, we have a responsibility to lead the way in accountability for human rights. We have done that in the past. We have shown through our own example and we have shown through our interest in all corners of the world that this country will stand for the protection of basic human rights for all the people. We now have a chance to act by the passage of the global Magnitsky law. I hope my colleagues will join me in helping enact this new chapter and the next chapter in America’s commitment to international human rights.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.