Voicing Concern About Serious Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Most States of Central Asia

Voicing Concern About Serious Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Most States of Central Asia

Representative
Christopher H. Smith
Washington, DC
United States
House of Representatives
106th Congress
Second Session
Congressional Record, Vol. 146
No. 140
Monday, October 30, 2000

Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to the concurrent resolution (H. Con. Res. 397) voicing concern about serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in most states of Central Asia, including substantial noncompliance with their Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments on democratization and the holding of free and fair elections, as amended.

The Clerk read as follows:

H. Con. Res. 397

Whereas the states of Central Asia--Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan--have been participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since 1992 and have freely accepted all OSCE commitments, including those concerning human rights, democracy, and the rule of law;

Whereas the Central Asian states, as OSCE participating states, have affirmed that every individual has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, expression, association, peaceful assembly and movement, freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and if charged with an offense the right to a fair and public trial;

Whereas the Central Asian states, as OSCE participating states, have committed themselves to build, consolidate, and strengthen democracy as the only system of government, and are obligated to hold free elections at reasonable intervals, to respect the right of citizens to seek political or public office without discrimination, to respect the right of individuals and groups to establish in full freedom their own political parties, and to allow parties and individuals wishing to participate in the electoral process access to the media on a nondiscriminatory basis;

Whereas the general trend of political development in Central Asia has been the emergence of presidents far more powerful than other branches of government, all of whom have refused to allow genuine electoral challenges, postponed or canceled elections, excluded serious rivals from participating in elections, or otherwise contrived to control the outcome of elections;

Whereas several leaders and governments in Central Asia have crushed nascent political parties, or refused to register opposition parties, and have imprisoned and used violence against, or exiled, opposition figures;

Whereas in recent weeks fighting has erupted between government troops of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan;

Whereas Central Asian governments have the right to defend themselves from internal and external threats posed by insurgents, radical religious groups, and other anti-democratic elements which employ violence as a means of political struggle;

Whereas the actions of the Central Asian governments have tended to exacerbate these internal and external threats by domestic repression, which has left few outlets for individuals and groups to vent grievances or otherwise participate legally in the political process;

Whereas in Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbaev dissolved parliament in 1993 and again in 1995, when he also annulled scheduled Presidential elections, and extended his tenure in office until 2000 by a deeply flawed referendum;

Whereas on January 10, 1999, President Nazarbaev was reelected in snap Presidential elections from which a leading challenger was excluded for having addressed an unregistered organization, `For Free Elections,' and the OSCE assessed the election as falling far short of international standards;

Whereas Kazakhstan's October 1999 parliamentary election, which featured widespread interference in the process by the authorities, fell short of OSCE standards, according to the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR);

Whereas Kazakhstan's parliament on June 22, 2000, approved draft legislation designed to give President Nazarbaev various powers and privileges for the rest of his life;

Whereas independent media in Kazakhstan, which used to be fairly free, have been pressured, co-opted, or crushed, leaving few outlets for the expression of independent or opposition views, thus limiting the press's ability to criticize or comment on the President's campaign to remain in office indefinitely or on high-level corruption;

Whereas the Government of Kazakhstan has initiated, under OSCE auspices, roundtable discussions with representatives of some opposition parties and public organizations designed to remedy the defects of electoral legislation and now should increase the input in those discussions from opposition parties and public organizations that favor a more comprehensive national dialogue;

Whereas opposition parties can function in Kyrgyzstan and parliament has in the past demonstrated some independence from President Askar Akaev and his government;

Whereas 3 opposition parties in Kyrgyzstan were excluded from fielding party lists and serious opposition candidates were not allowed to contest the second round of the February-March 2000 parliamentary election, or were prevented from winning their races by official interference, as cited by the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR);

Whereas a series of flagrantly politicized criminal cases after the election against opposition leaders and the recent exclusion on questionable linguistic grounds of other would-be candidates have raised grave concerns about the fairness of the election process and the prospects for holding a fair Presidential election on October 29, 2000;

Whereas independent and opposition-oriented media in Kyrgyzstan have faced serious constraints, including criminal lawsuits by government officials for alleged defamation;

Whereas in Tajikistan, a civil war in the early 1900s caused an estimated 50,000 people to perish, and a military stalemate forced President Imomaly Rakhmonov in 1997 to come to terms with Islamic and democratic opposition groups and agree to a coalition government;

Whereas free and fair elections and other democratic steps in Tajikistan offer the best hope of reconciling government and opposition forces, overcoming the legacy of the civil war, and establishing the basis for civil society;

Whereas President Rakhmonov was reelected in November 1999 with 96 percent of the vote in an election the OSCE did not observe because of the absence of conditions that would permit a fair contest; Whereas the first multiparty election in the history of Tajikistan was held in February-March 2000, with the participation of former warring parties, but the election fell short of OSCE commitments and 11 people, including a prominent candidate, were killed;

Whereas in Turkmenistan under the rule of President Saparmurat Niyazov, no internationally recognized human rights are observed, including freedom of speech, assembly, association, religion, and movement, and attempts to exercise these rights are brutally suppressed;

Whereas Turkmenistan has committed political dissidents to psychiatric institutions;

Whereas in Turkmenistan President Niyazov is the object of a cult of personality, all political opposition is banned, all media are tightly censored, and only one political party, the Democratic Party, headed by President Niyazov, has been registered;

Whereas the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), citing the absence of conditions for a free and fair election, refused to send any representatives to the December 1999 parliamentary elections;

Whereas President Niyazov subsequently orchestrated a vote of the People's Council in December 1999 that essentially makes him President for life;

Whereas in Uzbekistan under President Islam Karimov, no opposition parties are registered, and only pro-government parties are represented in parliament;

Whereas in Uzbekistan all opposition political parties and leaders have been forced underground or into exile, all media are censored, and attempts to disseminate opposition newspapers can lead to jail terms;

Whereas Uzbekistan's authorities have laid the primary blame for explosions that took place in Tashkent in February 1999 on an opposition leader and have tried and convicted some of his relatives and others deemed his supporters in court proceedings that did not correspond to OSCE standards and in other trials closed to the public and the international community;

Whereas in Uzbekistan police and security forces routinely plant narcotics and other evidence on political opposition figures as well as religious activists, according to Uzbek and international human rights organizations;

and Whereas the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), citing the absence of conditions for a free and fair election, sent no observers except a small group of experts to the December 1999 parliamentary election and refused any involvement in the January 2000 Presidential election:

Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That the Congress--

(1) expresses deep concern about the tendency of Central Asian leaders to seek to remain in power indefinitely and their willingness to manipulate constitutions, elections, and legislative and judicial systems, to do so;

(2) urges the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and other United States officials to raise with Central Asian leaders, at every opportunity, the concern about serious violations of human rights, including noncompliance with Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments on democracy and rule of law;

(3) urges Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan to come into compliance with OSCE commitments on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, specifically the holding of free and fair elections that do not exclude genuine challengers, to permit independent and opposition parties and candidates to participate on an equal basis with representation in election commissions at all levels, and to allow domestic nongovernmental and political party observers, as well as international observers;

(4) calls on Central Asian leaders to establish conditions for independent and opposition media to function without constraint, limitation, or fear of harassment, to repeal criminal laws which impose prison sentences for alleged defamation of the state or public officials, and to provide access to state media on an equal basis during election campaigns to independent and opposition parties and candidates;

(5) reminds the leaders of Central Asian states that elections cannot be free and fair unless all citizens can take part in the political process on an equal basis, without intimidation or fear of reprisal, and with confidence that their human rights and fundamental freedoms will be fully respected;

(6) calls on Central Asian governments that have begun roundtable discussions with opposition and independent forces to engage in a serious and comprehensive national dialogue, on an equal footing, on institutionalizing measures to hold free and fair elections, and urges those governments which have not launched such roundtables to do so;

(7) calls on the leaders of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to condemn and take effective steps to cease the systematic use of torture and other inhuman treatment by authorities against political opponents and others, to permit the registration of independent and opposition parties and candidates, and to register independent human rights monitoring organizations;

(8) urges the governments of Central Asia which are engaged in military campaigns against violent insurgents to observe international law regulating such actions, to keep civilians and other noncombatants from harm, and not to use such campaigns to justify further crackdowns on political opposition or violations of human rights commitments under OSCE;

(9) encourages the Administration to raise with the governments of other OSCE participating states the possible implications for OSCE participation of any participating state in the region that engages in clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of its OSCE commitments on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law;

and (10) urges the Voice of America and Radio Liberty to expand broadcasting to Central Asia, as needed, with a focus on assuring that the peoples of the region have access to unbiased news and programs that support respect for human rights and the establishment of democracy and the rule of law.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Bereuter) and the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Lee) each will control 20 minutes. The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Bereuter).

Mr. BEREUTER. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their remarks on this measure.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Nebraska? There was no objection.

Mr. BEREUTER. Mr. Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), the author of this resolution with whom I have worked. I appreciate his great effort.

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Nebraska (Mr. Bereuter) for yielding me this time, and I want to thank him for his work in shepherding this resolution through his Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, and for all of those Members who have co-signed and cosponsored this resolution.

Mr. Speaker, this resolution expresses the sense of Congress that the state of democratization and human rights in the countries of Central Asia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, is a source of very, very serious concern.

In 1992, these States freely pledged to observe the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents. The provisions contained in the 1990 Copenhagen Document commit the participating states to foster democratization through, among other things, the holding of free and fair elections, to promote freedom of the media, and to observe the human rights of their citizens.

Mr. Speaker, 8 years have passed since then, but in much of Central Asia the commitments they promised to observe remain a dead letter. In fact, in some countries the situation has deteriorated substantially. For instance, opposition political activity was permitted in Uzbekistan in the late 1980s. An opposition leader even ran for president in the December 1991 election.

In mid-1992, however, President Karimov decided to ban any manifestation of dissidence. Since then, no opposition movements have been allowed to function openly and the state controls the society as tightly as during the Soviet era.

An even more disappointing example is Kyrgyzstan. Once one of the most democratic Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan has gone the way of neighboring dictatorships. President Akaev has followed his regional counterparts in manipulating the legal, judicial, and law enforcement apparatus in a way to stay in office, despite domestic protest and international censure. On October 29, he will run for a third term; and he will win it, in a pseudo-election from which all serious candidates have been excluded.

Throughout the region, authoritarian leaders have contrived to remain in office by whatever means necessary and give every sign of intending to remain in office as long as they live. Indeed, Turkmenistan's President Niyazov has made himself President for Life last December, and Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev, who has extended his tenure in office through referenda, canceling elections, and staging deeply flawed elections, this summer arranged to have lifelong privileges and perks go his way. It may sound bizarre, but it may not be out of the realm of possibility that some of these leaders who already head what are, for all intents and purposes, royal families, are planning to establish what can only be described as family dynasties.

Certainly the worst offender is Turkmenistan. Under the tyrannical misrule of Niyazov, President Niyazov, his country is the only one-party state in the entire OSCE region. Niyazov's cult of personality has reached such proportions that state media refer to him as a sort of divine being, while anyone who whispers a word of opposition or protest is dragged off to jail and tortured.

Corruption is also rampant in Central Asia. Rulers enrich themselves and their families and a favored few, while the rest of the population struggles to eke out a miserable existence and drifts towards desperation. We are, indeed, already witnessing the consequences. For the second consecutive year, armed insurgents of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan invaded Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. While they have been less successful than last year in seizing territory, they will not go away. Impoverishment of the populace fills their ranks with people, threatening to create a chronic problem.

While the most radical groups in Central Asia might have sought to create theocracies regardless of the domestic policies pursued by Central Asian leaders, the latter's marriage of corruption and repression has created an explosive brew. Mr. Speaker, finally let me say the leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan seem to believe that U.S. strategic interest in the region, and the fear of Islamic fundamentalism, will keep the West and Washington from pressing them too hard on human rights while they consolidate power. Let us show them that they are wrong. America's long-term and short-term interests lie with democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. So I hope that my friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join in backing this important resolution.

Mr. BEREUTER. Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Ms. LEE. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this resolution. The post-Soviet independence of the Central Asian states has not panned out in the way that benefited the population of these countries. Instead, it created wealthy and often corrupt elites and impoverished the population. Although all of these newly-independent states have joined the OSCE and appear, at least on paper, to be committed to OSCE principles, in reality the leaders of these countries have consistently fallen back on their OSCE commitments.

The political development reinforced the Office of the President at the expense other branches of government. Parliaments are weak and the courts are not free. Presidents of some countries, such as Turkmenistan, have pushed laws through their rubber-stamp legislatures that extend their presidential powers for life. Other governments, like the government of Uzbekistan, have been using the justification of fighting terrorism and insurgency as a means to imprison and/or exile the opposition, censor the press, and control civic and religious activities.

On the other hand, some countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan have demonstrated varying degrees of progress. Until recently, opposition parties could function freely in Kyrgyzstan, while the OSCE agreed to Kazakhstan's 1999 parliamentary election, which they found falling short of international standards but, nevertheless, an improvement over the past. The stability of Central Asia is key to the stability of this region which borders on Afghanistan, Iran, China, and Pakistan. The governments of Central Asia cite the destabilizing influence of drugs and arms-trafficking from outside of their borders and the need to fight Islamic fundamentalism as justifications for their authoritarian regimes. 

Leadership: 
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    Mr. HASTINGS. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission—a congressional watchdog for human rights and democracy in Europe and Eurasia—I am frequently reminded of the new opportunities that technology and globalization present for human rights defenders around the globe. For those struggling to defend their liberty and human dignity, our interconnected world brings with it the possibility of sharing information, coordinating action, and demonstrating solidarity across thousands of miles in fractions of a second. It means that truth is more capable of piercing the veil of enforced ignorance erected by the world’s most repressive states Technology also further empowers dissidents in exile to connect with, and influence the foot soldiers of freedom who march on in their homelands. But with these new openings for liberty come novel approaches to repression. Authoritarian and autocratic regimes are appropriating agile, 21st century technology to prop up sclerotic systems of brutality and corruption. Technological developments have provoked greater feelings of insecurity in these brittle regimes and propelled them to extend their repression far beyond their borders, sometimes reaching into the refuge of democratic societies where political opponents, independent journalists, and civil society activists operate in safety. Madam Speaker, I recently introduced bipartisan legislation to tackle these emerging challenges with my friend and Helsinki Commission Ranking Member, Representative JOE WILSON of South Carolina We are confident that this legislation, supported by the bicameral leadership of the Helsinki Commission and other leaders on human rights, will place the United States on course to lead the free world in holding the line against these modern manifestations of political persecution, or what some have called ‘‘transnational repression.’’ The Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention Act—or TRAP Act—is designed to counter one key instrument in the autocrat’s 21st century toolkit politically-motivated abuse of the International Criminal Police Organization, more commonly known as INTERPOL. INTERPOL is a legitimate and potent tool for international law enforcement cooperation—one that the United States relies on heavily to bring criminals to justice and thwart threats to security around the globe. Sadly, autocrats have recognized the potential for repression in INTERPOL’s worldwide communications system that ties into the law enforcement agencies of its 194 member countries. The Helsinki Commission regularly receives credible reports from human rights defenders, journalists, political activists, and businesspeople who have fallen victim to the efforts of corrupt regimes to ensnare them using INTERPOL’s system of international requests for arrest and extradition, known as Red Notices and Diffusions. These are the modern-day ‘‘traps’’ addressed by the TRAP Act. Because of these notices, innocent individuals live in fear of traveling mternationally and have been detained, had their bank accounts closed, and, sometimes, been returned into the hands of the very regimes from which they escaped. Madam Speaker, our legislation opens three new fronts agamst the threat of INTERPOL abuse. First, it clearly states that it is the policy of the United States to use our influence in INTERPOL to advance specific reforms that increase transparency and accountability for those that abuse the system while helping the organization to live up to its stated obligations to uphold international human rights standards and resist politicization It further establishes that the United States will use its diplomatic clout to confront countries that abuse INTERPOL and work to ensure the freedom of movement and ability to engage in lawful commerce of victims of this abuse the world over. Second, the TRAP Act exerts oversight over the United States’ internal mechanisms to identify, challenge, and respond to instances of INTERPOL abuse. The bill requires the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and State—in coordination with other relevant agencies—to submit to Congress an assessment of the scope and seriousness of autocratic abuse of INTERPOL, an evaluation of the adequacy of the processes in place domestically and at INTERPOL to resist this abuse, and a plan for improving interagency coordination to confront this phenomenon. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the TRAP Act places strict limitations on how the United States Government can use INTERPOL notices in legal or administrative proceedings that could interfere with the freedom or immigration status of individuals in our country. We have been deeply concerned by reports that some authorities in this country have improperly cited INTERPOL notices from autocratic countries to detain individuals and place them in danger of being returned to the very countries from which they fled. The TRAP Act will make crystal clear that autocratic regimes cannot use INTERPOL notices to weaponize the U.S. judicial system against their political targets. Madam Speaker, these measures are critical to restricting the freedom that some autocratic regimes have enjoyed to harass, persecute, and detain their political opponents around the world. Authoritarian and autocratic states like China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Venezuela must be called out by name and held to account for their repeated manipulation of legitimate law enforcement tools for petty political ends. Madam Speaker, I would also like to place the TRAP Act in the context of the other work that the U.S. Helsinki Commission has done to address the grave threat of transnational repression and malign influence by authoritarian regimes. The Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy—or ‘‘CROOK’’ Act, the Kleptocrat Exposure Act, and the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act have all been the result of a focus by Commissioners and Commission staff on developing a bipartisan congressional response to the existential threat of global authoritarianism. We can no longer sit idly by, content that those who wish to do us harm are on the other side of the world. In this new age of autocracy, the threat is here—now—and it comes in the form of abusive Red Notices, dirty money, and bought-and-paid-for lawfare tactics The purpose of these tactics is to silence journalists and activists, hollow out the rule of law, and ensure that no one ever dare pursue this new class of transnational kleptocrats whose sole goal is the wholesale looting of the countries they claim to serve and the seamless transfer of those ill-gotten gains to our shores and those of our allies. 

  • 2019 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

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

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Introduce Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) Act

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) today introduced the Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention (TRAP) Act (H.R. 4330) in the House of Representatives. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) introduced the TRAP Act (S. 2483) in the Senate on Tuesday. The legislation addresses politically-motivated abuse of the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) by autocracies. “Today’s autocrats don’t simply try to silence journalists, activists, and other independent voices at home. They also hunt them down in their places of refuge abroad,” said Chairman Hastings. “Such repressive regimes even manipulate INTERPOL—a legitimate and potent tool for international law enforcement cooperation—to trap their targets using trumped-up requests for detention and extradition. The United States must act to prevent this flagrant abuse and protect those who fight for freedom, human rights, and the rule of law." “Instead of facing consequences for their serial abuse of INTERPOL, autocratic states like Russia and China have instead jockeyed for senior positions in the organization,” said Co-Chairman Wicker. “The United States and other democracies should impose real costs for this global assault on the rule of law. This legislation would ensure that the United States remains at the forefront of defending the vulnerable against the long arm of state repression.” “The Transnational Repression Accountability and Prevention Act continues the tradition of U.S. leadership in combating INTERPOL abuse, holding perpetrators accountable, and advancing necessary reforms within the U.S. Government and INTERPOL to respond to this threat,” said Rep. Wilson. “This legislation makes it clear that the United States stands on the side of freedom for those who defy repression, resist corruption, and defend human rights wherever they seek refuge and a voice.” “Autocratic regimes are increasingly exporting their repression overseas, including to our own country. The United States must respond more forcefully to these attacks against the rule of law and deter the serial abuse of INTERPOL by repressive governments,” said Sen. Cardin. “This legislation is critical to establishing stronger protections for dissidents and other independent voices whom these regimes wish to apprehend in the United States on politically motivated charges.” The Helsinki Commission regularly receives credible reports from political dissidents, human rights defenders, and members of the business community who are the subject of politically-motivated INTERPOL Notices and Diffusions requested by autocratic regimes. These mechanisms, which function effectively as extradition requests, can be based on trumped-up criminal charges and used to detain, harass, or otherwise persecute individuals for their activism or refusal to acquiesce to corrupt schemes. Following reports that U.S. immigration authorities have cited such politically-motivated INTERPOL requests to detain some individuals and consider removing them from the United States, the TRAP Act formally codifies strict limitations on how INTERPOL requests can be used by U.S. authorities. The TRAP Act further declares that it is the policy of the United States to pursue specific reforms within INTERPOL and use its diplomatic clout internationally to protect the rights of victims and denounce abusers. The bill requires the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and State, in consultation with other relevant agencies, to provide Congress with an assessment of autocratic abuse of INTERPOL, what the United States is doing to counteract it, and how to adapt United States policy to this evolving autocratic practice. The State Department would also be required to publicly report on the abuse of INTERPOL in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights to create a transparent, public record of these violations of the rule of law. Russia is among the world’s most prolific abusers of INTERPOL’s Notice and Diffusion mechanisms. Other participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—principally Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Turkey—and other authoritarian states, such as China, also reportedly target political opponents with INTERPOL requests that violate key provisions of INTERPOL’s Constitution, which obligate the organization to uphold international human rights standards and strictly avoid involvement in politically-motivated charges. Original co-sponsors of the legislation include Helsinki Commission members Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Sen. Cory Gardner (CO), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33). Rep. John Curtis (UT-03), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Rep. Tom Malinowski (NJ-07) are also original co-sponsors.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing to Probe Autocratic Abuse of Interpol

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: TOOLS OF TRANSNATIONAL REPRESSION How Autocrats Punish Dissent Overseas Thursday, September 12, 2019 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Cannon House Office Building Room 210 Live Webcast: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission As modern technology has allowed political dissidents and human rights defenders to operate from almost anywhere on the planet, repressive regimes have searched for opportunities to reach those who threaten their rule from afar.  To silence dissent from abroad, autocrats often turn to the International Criminal Police Organization, known as INTERPOL, to file bogus criminal claims seeking the arrest and extradition of their political targets. This abuse of INTERPOL Red Notices and Diffusions enables autocratic governments to harass and intimidate their opponents thousands of miles away, even within free and democratic societies. The U.S. Helsinki Commission will convene an expert panel to highlight how autocrats today use INTERPOL and other means such as surveillance, abduction, and assassination to punish dissent overseas. Witnesses will suggest how the United States and other democratic nations can defend against these threats to the rule of law domestically and internationally. The following witnesses are scheduled to participate: Alexander Cooley, Director, Columbia University's Harriman Institute for the Study of Russia, Eurasia and Eastern Europe; Claire Tow Professor of Political Science, Barnard College Sandra A. Grossman, Partner, Grossman Young & Hammond, Immigration Law, LLC Bruno Min, Senior Legal and Policy Advisor, Fair Trials Nate Schenkkan, Director for Special Research, Freedom House Additional witnesses may be added.

  • House Majority Leader, Helsinki Commissioners Decry Efforts to Shutter Community Center in Hungary

    WASHINGTON—Following renewed efforts by authorities in Hungary to shutter the Aurora Community Center in Budapest, House Majority Leader Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05), Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), and Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) issued the following statements: “During my visit to Budapest earlier this summer, I saw firsthand the important resources Aurora provides to the community,” said Majority Leader Hoyer. “The latest attempt by Hungarian authorities to shut down Aurora speaks volumes about the country’s shrinking space for civil society. On the thinnest of pretexts, the rule of law in Hungary is being hijacked to serve one party's political interests.” “Aurora nurtures a vibrant community of civil society groups and has become a symbol of independent organizations in Hungary,” said Sen. Cardin, who also serves as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance. “Unfortunately, such activism is viewed as a threat by those in power, who—through constant legal harassment—are attempting to permanently close Aurora’s doors. Aurora and organizations like it should be protected, not targeted.” “In a time when those who spew hate and divisiveness seem to be ascendant, initiatives like Aurora that build inclusive societies and strengthen democracy are needed more than ever,” said Rep. Moore. “I was honored to visit the center and meet with its president, Adam Schonberger, with my colleagues earlier this year.” Majority Leader Hoyer, Sen. Cardin, and Rep. Moore visited the Aurora Community Center in Budapest in July, en route to the 2019 OSCE PA Annual Session in Luxembourg. Marom, a Hungarian Jewish association, established and runs Aurora Community Center, an umbrella organization that provides office space to other small civil society groups in Budapest, including the Roma Press Center, migrant aid, and Pride Parade organizers. Over the past two years, Hungarian authorities repeatedly have accused Marom of administrative violations ranging from mismatched dates on official documents to, most recently, lacking an appropriate agreement with the center’s landlord. Under the Orbán government, the conditions for independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Hungary have deteriorated. In 2014, armed police carried out raids on 13 civil society organizations, seizing computers and documents for alleged financial misconduct. No charges were ever brought against the NGOs.  In 2017, Hungary adopted a Russian-style "foreign agent" law which, according to the U.S. Department of State, “unfairly burdens a targeted group of Hungarian civil society organizations, many of which focus on fighting corruption and protecting human rights and civil liberties.” In 2018, Hungary passed a law establishing a 25 percent tax on organizations which engage in “propaganda activity that portrays immigration in a positive light.” It is a tax on government-disfavored speech.  Hungary also adopted amendments to its "law on aiding illegal migration" that makes handing out know-your-rights leaflets punishable by up to one year in prison.  Hungary will hold municipal elections on October 13.

  • A Push to Let the U.S. Charge Foreign Officials With Bribery

    One of the hallmarks of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act has been that it cannot be used against a foreign official who demands or takes a bribe for helping a company win a contract or retain business. A bill introduced in Congress this month seeks to change that. Called the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act, the legislation would expand the prohibition on bribery to foreign officials who demanded or solicited bribes. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act’s prohibition on paying bribes abroad is limited to companies in the United States and those acting in this country. It has always excluded the foreign official who takes the bribe, and courts over the years have reaffirmed that. In United States v. Castle, a 1991 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that two Canadian officials could not be prosecuted for a conspiracy to violate the F.C.P.A. because Congress exempted foreign officials. In United States v. Hoskins, a 2018 ruling, the federal appeals court in Manhattan held that a foreign national who was never in the United States could not be prosecuted under the foreign bribery law because “Congress did not intend for persons outside of the statute’s carefully delimited categories to be subject to conspiracy or complicity liability.” The bill, which has both Democrats and Republicans as sponsors, would put the prohibition on a foreign official’s accepting a bribe under the federal anti-bribery statute, 18 U.S.C. § 201, rather than the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The proposal would also make it a crime for a foreign official “otherwise than as provided by law for the proper discharge of official duty” to demand or accept anything of value for being influenced in the performance of official responsibilities. But putting the prohibition under the federal anti-bribery statute would subject it to the limitations the Supreme Court placed on the law in its 2016 ruling in McDonnell v. United States. That case overturned the conviction of a former governor of Virginia by rejecting a broad reading of what is an “official act.” The justices explained that it must involve “a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit, administrative determination or hearing.” They found that “merely setting up a meeting, hosting an event or contacting an official — without more — does not count as an ‘official act.’” Favoring a business by arranging meetings or contacting other foreign officials to help it win a contract may not rise to the level of an “official act,” especially if the foreign official who received the bribe did not have the direct authority to decide who should be awarded a contract. So the potential limitations on the federal bribery statute could be read into prosecutions of foreign officials for accepting bribes that violated the F.C.P.A. The F.C.P.A. also contains two defenses that were added in 1988. One is the “local law” defense, which allows a defendant to show that under the written laws and regulations of the place where the bribe occurred that it was not illegal. Another defense permits small “facilitation payments” to obtain routine government action in the country. In both situations, a foreign official could argue that these defenses should preclude liability for accepting a payment. A greater potential issue for the Justice Department if the legislation becomes law is whether a foreign official will be brought to the United States to face a criminal charge. If the person is still in office, a foreign government may be reluctant to send the person to America. But a criminal indictment would most likely limit where the foreign official could travel. The person would need to avoid countries that have an extradition treaty with the United States. The Department of Justice has not been without tools to punish foreign officials who engage in bribery. The money-laundering statute allows a foreign official receiving money through bribery, misappropriation or theft of public funds to be charged with a crime. Federal prosecutors could also use the Travel Act, which prohibits traveling into the United States to engage in bribery. Both statutes, though, require either travel to the United States or a financial transaction using the United States financial system. The new legislation would make it much easier to pursue a foreign official. The Justice Department would not have to show a connection to the United States beyond a payment by an American company. Whether it would result in an increase in prosecutions is a different question. Still, simply charging the official could have the effect of identifying who was responsible in a country for accepting illegal bribes. That should make it easier for American companies and their employees to demand fairness from foreign officials rather than being extorted for payments.

  • Representatives Jackson Lee, Curtis, Malinowski, and Hudson Introduce Foreign Extortion Prevention Act

    WASHINGTON—Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. John Curtis (UT-03), Rep. Tom Malinowski (NJ-07) and Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) today introduced the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act. The legislation, developed with the support of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, will criminalize extortion by foreign officials, enabling the Department of Justice to indict such officials for demanding bribes to fulfill, neglect, or violate their official duties. Currently, only paying or offering a bribe abroad is illegal under U.S. law. “Transnational kleptocrats pose a serious national security threat to the United States. They act as agents of U.S. adversaries, undermining the rule of law internationally and in their own countries, and accessing elite circles and levers of power in democracies through strategic graft and corruption. U.S. prosecutors have been able to indict such individuals under criminal statutes such as wire fraud, mail fraud, and the Travel Act; however, these laws were not designed to tackle the problem of transnational kleptocracy, and each contain deficiencies which make it less than ideal for prosecuting foreign extortion. We cannot leave our prosecutors without the legal tools they need to protect the rule of law,” said Rep. Jackson Lee. “U.S. businesses abroad are regularly targeted by foreign extortionists. Transnational kleptocrats hide under the veneer of officialdom and abuse their power to warp the regulatory environment, attempting to co-opt or eliminate legitimate job-creators and entrepreneurs who follow the rules. The Foreign Extortion Prevention Act would protect U.S. businesses from these individuals by punishing the demand side of bribery. Currently, a business being extorted for a bribe can only say ‘I can’t pay you a bribe because it is illegal and I might get arrested.’ This long-overdue bill would enable them to add, ‘and so will you,’” said Rep. Curtis. “Americans who pay bribes overseas can be prosecuted—with this bill, our prosecutors will be able to go after the foreign officials who demand those bribes. We’re giving the Justice Department a powerful new tool to fight the kleptocracy that impoverishes people and empowers dictators around the world,” said Rep. Malinowski. “Pursuing the extortionists is crucial to ending the entire system of international bribery. Even if a kleptocrat cannot be immediately extradited, a U.S. indictment serves as a play-by-play of the crime committed that can be used to support additional measures—such as sanctions—and can force transnational criminals to think twice before traveling abroad to spend their ill-gotten gains. Moreover, a U.S. indictment can help the forces of the rule of law in other countries to root out corruption by pressuring the domestic government in question to charge the individual,” said Rep. Hudson. The Foreign Extortion Prevention Act will bring U.S. laws in line with international best practices. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which maintains the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention—a key international mechanism for fighting foreign bribery—has recognized the importance of criminalizing transnational extortion in a recent report. In addition, countries including the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have already criminalized foreign extortion. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, endeavors to counter corruption and malign influence in all its forms. Current and former Helsinki Commissioners have sponsored and cosponsored other anti-corruption legislation such as the Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy (CROOK) Act (H.R. 3843), the Kleptocrat Exposure Act (H.R. 3441), and the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (H.R. 835/S.259).

  • Hastings and Wicker Condemn Police Crackdown on Russian Pro-Democracy Protesters and Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny

    WASHINGTON—Following violent police crackdowns on protesters during a weekend of pro-democratic demonstrations in Moscow, as well as the arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny days before the protest and his subsequent hospitalization, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) and Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement: “We condemn the extraordinary use of force by riot police against peaceful protesters in Moscow seeking a free and fair electoral process. Ahead of the upcoming September 8 municipal elections, we hope that the citizens of Russia will be able to exercise their rights to participate freely in the democratic process, including voicing their opinion about the transparency of the system of voting and nomination of candidates. “We also are concerned about the health of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was arrested on Wednesday, July 24, and subsequently hospitalized following an unknown ‘allergic reaction.’ We will be monitoring the situation closely.” Last weekend, thousands of Russian people took to the streets of Moscow to protest the exclusion of several opposition candidates from the ballot for upcoming City Duma municipal elections on September 8. On July 24, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested, reportedly for his plans to lead the protests. On Sunday, July 28, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh announced that Navalny suddenly had been hospitalized while in government custody.

  • FIRST PERSON: UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

    By Alex Tiersky, Senior Policy Advisor, Global Security and Political-Military Affairs   “Why aren’t you doing your job?!” An unexpectedly tense early morning on July 21, 2019—Election Day in Ukraine: the polling station was more than 30 minutes late in opening. The shouted reprimand came from a voter, an older man who was one of several Kyiv residents who had been present and seeking to vote at this school in the center of the Ukrainian capital since well before 8:00 a.m., when the polls for the national parliamentary elections were supposed to open. His indignation was directed at the beleaguered leadership of the local polling station, who struggled to organize their work and follow the extensive procedures required to meet Ukrainian law and international best practices. *** As an official election observer representing the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I was at the polling station to observe the extent to which those best practices were followed. With my capable interpreter Natalya beside me, and in partnership with my experienced observation team partner Latvian MP Aleksandrs Kiršteins, I had arrived days earlier on the invitation of the Ukrainian government for a series of preparatory briefings. On Election Day, we would follow a prescribed plan of observation as part of a larger team of more than 800 international observers spread across Ukraine (with the exception of illegally occupied Crimea, and the Donbas region under the occupation of Russian-controlled forces, where holding a free and fair election would be impossible). *** The disorganized polling station was the first stop of the day for our team. While this was my first time serving as an election observer, I didn’t need the extensive and detailed procedural checklist and questionnaire provided by the OSCE to know that something was seriously amiss. My Latvian colleague confirmed, based on his extensive observation experience, that the situation was extremely unusual. The key problem seemed to be that the leadership of the team responsible for proper running of the polling station (the chair and the secretary, among others), recently had been replaced and the newcomers had little experience with their assigned duties. It was clear that they had done precious little preparation to be able to effectively direct the work of their team on Election Day. We had been warned during the extensive pre-election briefings provided by the OSCE that many local election officials across Ukraine had been replaced. The experts were concerned that this loss of institutional memory had the potential to hamper the operations of local electoral bodies—a warning that, in our case, proved prescient. At 8:45 a.m., a full 45 minutes after its scheduled opening time and to the relief of several increasingly agitated voters and local observers, the polling station finally began to process votes. Judging that tensions at the school building had de-escalated and the situation had achieved some normalcy, we dutifully finalized our observation—promptly reporting our findings to the OSCE election experts compiling statistics from other teams deployed across the country—and moved on to observe voting procedures at several other polling stations. Before leaving, given the challenges at the polling station, we resolved to return in the evening to observe closing procedures and the counting of the vote. *** We spent much of the rest of the day visiting several polling stations in the west of Kyiv. Contrary to our first observation, all the other polling stations we visited were extremely well-organized, with experienced and well-functioning teams of officials ensuring an orderly and transparent voting process. The civic pride demonstrated by the election officials and voters in properly exercising their democratic choice was evident in each location we visited. We witnessed voters of all ages casting their ballots in serene conditions, which we learned from other observation teams was largely the norm across Ukraine that day. *** As the afternoon turned to evening, it was time to return to our initial polling station to assess closing procedures and the start of the counting of ballots. With the station closing as planned at 8 p.m. on the dot, we were quietly hopeful that the morning’s problems had been resolved. Our optimism quickly proved misguided. The election officials were even more poorly directed by their leadership than they had been in the early hours of the day. After two hours of inconclusive progress toward beginning a count of actual ballots, the procedures ground to a halt in a cloud of remonstrations among several hard-working poll workers and local observers on one hand, and the polling station’s leadership on the other. In what I understood to be an extremely unusual development, the majority of the poll workers essentially sidelined their grievously underperforming leadership on the spot in order to better organize themselves. At this point, we needed to return to our home base to report on our observation, leaving behind several other international and local observers to witness what surely would be a long and challenging night of tabulation of ballots. *** As we returned to the hotel, I reflected on the day’s remarkable events. It struck me how counterintuitive some might find it that we had been allowed to witness the poor performance by the leadership of this particular polling station. After all, who wants to air their dirty laundry in front of international observers taking careful note of every discrepancy? It was then, for the first time, that I truly understood the key purpose of our election observation mission. OSCE participating States like Ukraine make the choice to invite international observation missions to their elections precisely because only in providing full transparency can a fair judgment on the electoral process be made. In other words, our observation and reporting of the procedural imperfections we witnessed only underlined the relatively excellent performance witnessed by observation teams in the vast majority of other polling stations across Ukraine. Only through the full transparency provided by impartial external observers using a standardized methodology can the people of Ukraine be sure that their electoral process, to the maximum extent possible, allows for the full and fair expression of their democratic choice. I feel honored to have been able to play even a very small part in this extremely consequential democratic process, and to help an OSCE participating State hold itself accountable to its commitment to the rule of law. I am already looking forward to the next opportunity to serve as an election observer.

  • Representatives Keating and Fitzpatrick Introduce Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy (CROOK) Act

    WASHINGTON—Rep. Bill Keating (MA-10) and Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) today introduced the Countering Russian and Other Overseas Kleptocracy (CROOK) Act. The CROOK Act will establish an anti-corruption action fund to provide extra funding during historic windows of opportunity for reform in foreign countries as well as streamline the U.S. Government’s work building the rule of law abroad. “Russia and other authoritarian states have weaponized corruption, and exposing and countering that malign influence needs to be a priority. For too long, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Russian politicians and oligarchs have acted with impunity, manipulating U.S. and European financial systems to move and disguise their ill-gotten gains. Their illicit funds are being used to control key economic sectors, fund political parties and organizations that advance Russian interests, and manipulate political processes and policies. The CROOK Act will help prevent Russian and other forms of kleptocracy from eroding democracy, security, and rule of law,” said Rep. Keating. “To counter the weaponization of corruption, the United States must double down on its work to promote the rule of law abroad. However, opportunities for the establishment of the rule of law are rare and success requires that the United States act quickly when reformers come to power and seek to root out corruption. The United States also must take a whole-of-government approach to ensuring that resources are being used effectively and that different U.S. Government agencies are not acting at cross-purposes,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. The anti-corruption action fund established in the legislation will be funded by 5 percent of fines and penalties imposed pursuant to actions brought under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). This way, a portion of the monies obtained under the enforcement of the FCPA will be recycled back into further international anti-corruption work. The legislation also establishes several complementary mechanisms to generate a whole-of-government approach to U.S. efforts to strengthen the rule of law abroad. These include an interagency taskforce, the designation of embassy anti-corruption points of contact, and a consolidated online platform for easy access to anti-corruption reports and materials. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, endeavors to counter corruption and malign influence in all its forms. Helsinki Commissioners have sponsored and cosponsored other anti-corruption legislation such as the Kleptocrat Exposure Act (H.R. 3441) and the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (H.R. 835). All House Helsinki Commissioners are original cosponsors of the bill. This includes Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), and Helsinki Commissioners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), and Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04). Rep. John Curtis (UT-03), Rep. Tom Suozzi (NY-03), and Rep. Tom Malinowski (NJ-07) are also original cosponsors  of the legislation.

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

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

  • The Helsinki Process: A Four Decade Overview

    In August 1975, the heads of state or government of 35 countries – the Soviet Union and all of Europe except Albania, plus the United States and Canada – held a historic summit in Helsinki, Finland, where they signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. This document is known as the Helsinki Final Act or the Helsinki Accords. The Conference, known as the CSCE, continued with follow-up meetings and is today institutionalized as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, based in Vienna, Austria. Learn more about the signature of the Helsinki Final Act; the role that the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe played during the Cold War; how the Helsinki Process successfully adapted to the post-Cold War environment of the 1990s; and how today's OSCE can and does contribute to regional security, now and in the future.

  • Co-Chairman Wicker on Release of 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom

    WASHINGTON—Following the release of the 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, a former chairman of the Helsinki Commission, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement: “This report shows that some of the worst government violators of religious freedom in the world continue to be in Eurasia, including Russia, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. I am concerned that these OSCE participating States have not made any progress in implementing their commitments to ensure freedom of religion. “One exception where the situation has improved is Uzbekistan. I hope the final version of the country’s new religion law will demonstrate the commitment of President Mirziyoyev and his government to advancing religious freedom reforms. I would not want a situation in which the new law retains the most problematic elements of current law. That would put Uzbekistan at risk of remaining on the Special Watch List or even once again being designated as a Country of Particular Concern. “The Government of Uzbekistan must also keep its promise to formally work with international experts, including the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, to ensure its religion law complies with Uzbekistan’s international commitments.” In October 2018, Co-Chairman Wicker urged the Government of Uzbekistan to formally request that the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights conduct a legal review of Uzbekistan’s draft religion law. He repeated the call during a December 2018 Helsinki Commission hearing with Ambassador Brownback. Following last year’s International Religious Freedom Report, Secretary of State Pompeo designated OSCE participating States Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as Countries of Particular Concern. Turkmenistan has been designated as a CPC since 2014 and Tajikistan since 2016. Pompeo further designated Uzbekistan and Russia for the Special Watch List, for continuing religious freedom violations. For Uzbekistan, the designation upgrades the country’s ranking in recognition of progress made under the regime of President Mirzoyoyev. Uzbekistan was a CPC from 2006 to 2017. Russia was designated for the Special Watch List for the first time. As OSCE participating States, these countries repeatedly have committed themselves to respecting religious freedom. The annual State Department International Religious Freedom Report details religious freedom in every country. The report includes government policies violating religious belief and practices of individuals and religious groups, and U.S. policies to promote religious freedom around the world. Following the release of the annual report, the Secretary of State has 90 days to submit updated designations for the Countries of Particular Concern and the Special Watch List.

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