What's Next, Mr. Prime Minister? Democracy Hangs in the Balance in Slovakia on Constitution's Fifth Birthday

What's Next, Mr. Prime Minister? Democracy Hangs in the Balance in Slovakia on Constitution's Fifth Birthday

Hon.
Alfonse M. D’Amato
United States
Senate
105th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Monday, September 29, 1997

Mr. President, 5 years ago, the speaker of the Slovak Parliament, Ivan Gasparovic, described his country's new constitution as `an expression of centuries-old emancipation efforts of the Slovak people to have a sovereign state of their own.' He also spoke of its `supreme binding force.' Since then, the people who present themselves as the guardians of Slovakia's statehood have undermined Slovakia's constitution. This is what they have done.

This May, the Ministry of Interior ignored the Constitutional Court's ruling and altered an important referendum on NATO and on the direct election of the President, effectively denying the people of Slovakia their constitutionally guaranteed right to register their views through a referendum. Defending its actions, members of the Prime Minister's party insisted that they acted in conformity with the constitution--as they interpreted it--and that they were justified in placing their views ahead of the ruling of the highest court in the land. The actions of the ruling coalition in the case of Frantisek Gaulieder makes clear that the Meciar government has a profound and fundamental disregard for the constitution of Slovakia.

Then there is the case of Frantisek Gaulieder. Frantisek Gaulieder is a member of the Slovak Parliament who was removed from office because he renounced his membership in Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. On July 25, the Constitutional Court confirmed that the ruling coalition's action which deprived Gaulieder of his seat was unconstitutional and violated Gaulieder's rights. But members of the Prime Minister's coalition again claimed that they, and not the Constitutional Court, have the right to determine what the constitution means, and have declined to act to restore Gaulieder to his seat in Parliament. In short, the `supreme binding force' that Ivan Gasparovic spoke of 5 years ago no longer flows from the constitution, but from the will of Vladimir Meciar.

When there are differences of opinion as to what a constitution means, whether those differences arise between branches of government or between the government and its citizens, in a state operating under the rule of law, it is the job of a constitutional court to interpret what the constitution means, not the Prime Minister or Parliament. Although this principle is taken for granted in many parts of Europe, and was established early in American history by the famous Supreme Court case of Marbury versus Madison, it has apparently not yet been accepted in Slovakia.

Mr. President, the Slovak Democratic Coalition has moved, four times, to convene a special session of the Parliament in order to implement the decision of the Constitutional Court and restore Frantisek Gaulieder to his seat. Four times, however, Prime Minister Meciar's coalition has boycotted their own Parliament rather than face the following dilemma: restore Gaulieder to his seat--consistent with the Constitutional Court's decision--and risk the chance that others will follow Gaulieder's example and defect from the Prime Minister's party, or vote down the Slovak Democratic Coalition's proposal to restore Gaulieder to his seat and confirm that whatever form of government exists in Slovakia, it is not constitutional democracy, at least not as we understand it.

Sooner or later, the Slovak Parliament will reconvene. When it acts, or fails to act, on the Gaulieder question, we will know whether Slovakia is committed to becoming a functioning constitutional democracy. If it is not, what it will become is an isolated State under constant international pressure and scrutiny, cut off from a promising and prosperous future by the arrogance and greed of its own leaders. As Vladimir Meciar is asked in his weekly news show, what next, Mr. Prime Minister?

Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe: the State of Affairs for American Claimants

    This hearing examined property restitution and compensation efforts of the post-Communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe.  In particular, this hearing examined their efforts in regards to the property of refugees who fled to the United States during World War II.  Co-Chairman Smith reported on his efforts to personally raise concerns with officials of many countries regarding the need for nondiscriminatory laws that would be faithfully implemented. While Central and Eastern European governments have done much regarding restitution, the Helsinki Commission continued to receive a steady stream of letters from individuals and organized groups pleading for assistance in their struggles to recover stolen property.

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act

    Mr. Speaker, I am introducing today the Belarus Democracy Act of 2002, which is intended to help promote democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus’ sovereignty and independence. When measured against other European countries, the state of human rights in Belarus is abysmal – it has the worst record of any European state. Through an illegitimate 1996 referendum, Alexander Lukashenka usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has blatantly and repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The fledgling democratic opposition, non-governmental organizations and independent media have all faced harassment. There are credible allegations of Lukashenka regime involvement in the disappearances – in 1999 and 2000 – of opposition members and a journalist. There is growing evidence that Belarus is a leading supplier of lethal military equipment to rogue states. A draft bill is making its way in the Belarusian legislature that would restrict non-traditional religious groups. Several days ago, on June 24, two leading journalists were sentenced to two and 2 ½ years, respectively, of “restricted freedom” for allegedly slandering the Belarusian President. Despite efforts by Members of Congress, the Helsinki Commission which I co-chair, the State Department, various American NGOs, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, the regime of Alexander Lukashenka continues its hold onto power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people. One of the primary purposes of this bill is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes increases in assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media – including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards – in sharp contrast to recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Belarus which most assuredly did not meet democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country’s self-imposed isolation. In addition, this bill would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny high-ranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. The bill would require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states. Mr. Speaker, finally, it is my hope that this bill will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law prevails.

  • Senate Concurrent Resolution 124 - Condemning the Use of Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in the United States and Other Countries, and Expressing Support for Victims of those Practices

    Mr. CAMPBELL (for himself, Mr. DODD, Mr. FEINGOLD, Mrs. CLINTON, and Mr. WELLSTONE) submitted the following concurrent resolution; which was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary: S. Con. Res. 124 Whereas the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits ``cruel and unusual punishments'' and torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States without exception; Whereas the prohibition against torture in international agreements is absolute, unqualified, and non-derogable under any circumstance, even during a state of war or national emergency; Whereas an important component of the concept of comprehensive security in a free society is the fundamental service provided by law enforcement personnel to protect the basic human rights of individuals in society; Whereas individuals require and deserve protection by law enforcement personnel and need the confidence in knowing that such personnel are not themselves agents of torture or other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment, including extortion or other unlawful acts; Whereas individuals who are incarcerated should be treated with respect in accordance with the inherent dignity of the human person; Whereas there is a growing commitment by governments to eradicate torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment, to provide in law and practice procedural and substantive safeguards and remedies to combat such practices, to assist the victims of such practices, and to cooperate with relevant international organizations and nongovernmental organizations with the goal of eradicating such practices; Whereas torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment continues in many countries despite international commitments to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures to prevent and punish such practices; Whereas the rape of prisoners by prison officials or other prisoners, tolerated for the purpose of intimidation and abuse, is a particularly egregious form of torture; Whereas incommunicado detention facilitates the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment, and may constitute, in and of itself, a form of such practices; Whereas the use of racial profiling to stop, search, investigate, arrest, or convict an individual who is a minority severely erodes the confidence of a society in law enforcement personnel and may make minorities especially vulnerable to torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment; Whereas the use of confessions and other evidence obtained through torture or other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment in legal proceedings runs counter to efforts to eradicate such practices; Whereas more than 500,000 individuals who are survivors of torture live in the United States; Whereas the victims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment and their families often suffer devastating effects and therefore require extensive medical and psychological treatment; Whereas medical personnel and torture treatment centers play a critical role in the identification, treatment, and rehabilitation of victims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment; and Whereas each year the United Nations designates June 26 as an International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That Congress-- (1) condemns the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment in the United States and other countries; (2) recognizes the United Nations International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture and expresses support for all victims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment who are struggling to overcome the physical scars and psychological effects of such practices; (3) encourages the training of law enforcement personnel and others who are involved in the custody, interrogation, or treatment of any individual who is arrested, detained, or imprisoned, in the prevention of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment, in order to reduce and eradicate such practices; and (4) encourages the Secretary of State to seek, at relevant international fora, the adoption of a commitment-- (A) to treat confessions and other evidence obtained through torture or other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment, as inadmissible in any legal proceeding; and (B) to prohibit, in law and in practice, incommunicado detention. Mr. CAMPBELL. Mr. President, I am joined by Senators DODD, FEINGOLD, CLINTON, and WELLSTONE in introducing today a resolution condemning the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment in the United States and other countries, and expressing support for the victims of torture. An identical version is being introduced by Congressman CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, who co-chairs the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I am privileged to chair. Torture is prohibited by a raft of international agreements, including documents of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It remains, however, a serious problem in many countries. In the worst cases, torture occurs not merely from rogue elements in the police or a lack of appropriate training among law enforcement personnel, but is systematically used by the controlling regime to target political opposition members; racial, ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities; and others. In some countries, medical professionals who treat the victims of torture have become, themselves, victims of torture in government's efforts to document this abuse and to hold perpetrators accountable. The U.S. Congress can continue to play a leadership role by signaling our unwavering condemnation of such egregious practices. Torture is, in effect, prohibited by several articles of the U.S. Constitution. Nevertheless, some commentators have suggested that torture might be an acceptable tool in the war on terrorism. I believe we should answer that proposition with a resounding ``no''. To repeat: torture is unconstitutional. Moreover, as many trained law enforcement officials note, it is also a lousy way to get reliable information. People subjected to torture will often say anything to end the torture. Finally, it makes no sense to wage war to defend our great democracy and use methods that denigrate the very values we seek to protect. Torture is unacceptable, period. The resolution I am introducing today underscores that message. It recognizes the United Nations International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, marked each June 26th, and encourages the training of law enforcement personnel. Experts estimate that more than 500,000 individuals who are survivors of torture live in the United States. Victims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment and their families often suffer devastating effects and therefore require extensive medical and psychological treatment. I am pleased to note the contribution of the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, located in Denver, CO, in meeting the needs of torture survivors living in Colorado. The Rocky Mountain Center and similar torture treatment centers located elsewhere in the United States play a critical role in the identification, treatment, and rehabilitation of victims of torture and deserve our continued support. As we mark the United Nations International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, I urge my colleagues to declare their opposition to torture and solidarity with torture survivors by lending their support to this resolution.

  • Georgian Government Complicity in Mob Violence against Minority Religious Groups

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel Over the past two years, mob violence against minority religious groups has plagued the Republic of Georgia, a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since 1992. A country of five million people, Georgia has seen more than its share of sectarian violence, as individuals propagating religious chauvinism conduct a campaign of brutality against other religious communities. Adding to this, police units have reportedly participated in violence against minority religious groups, or have failed to respond to attacks in an adequate fashion. As a result, a number of minority religious communities remain at risk in Georgia today as depredations continue with impunity. As an OSCE participating State, Georgia pledged to uphold freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief for all individuals, without distinction. As stated in the 1983 Madrid Concluding Document, participating States “agree to take the action necessary to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Since 1999, organized mob brutality against minority religious groups has gradually escalated, with the Jehovah’s Witnesses being a repeated target. As stated by the Department of State’s 2001 International Religious Freedom Report, local “police and security officials at times harassed nontraditional religious minority groups and were complicit or failed to respond to attacks by Orthodox extremists against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other nontraditional religious minorities.” Despite the inability of Georgian authorities to incarcerate the perpetrators, the 1995 Georgian Constitution does guarantee protection. Despite constitutional protections, over the past two years, approximately 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, mostly led by Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, the director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. While victims have filed more than 700 criminal complaints, the authorities have not responded, leaving the perpetrators free to repeat their attacks. Reports give startling examples of individuals being dragged by their hair into a group, only to be pummeled with punches, kicks and clubs. Buses taking Jehovah’s Witnesses to various events have been stopped by police, and then attacked by Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob. In September 2001, Bluashvili led an attack during a Jehovah’s Witness religious service, with some of his militants brandishing firearms. In addition, Mkalavishvili, viewing himself as a pugilist defending Georgian Christianity, reportedly declared Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Soon thereafter, with the violence steadily increasing and the government declining to intervene, Jehovah’s Witnesses conducted their activities in private, and for four months no violence occurred. However, in April of this year, that calm was shattered when Mkalavishvili’s and Bluashvili’s mob attacked on two separate occasions private homes that were hosting meetings. Considering the brutality Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili have displayed, it is astonishing that to date no fatalities have occurred. While the Jehovah’s Witnesses have borne the brunt of these attacks, other minority religious communities have also suffered under this vigilantism. Last year, during choir practice of a Pentecostal church, Mkalavishvili’s militants raided the building, seriously injuring twelve church members. A mob exceeding 100 hooligans targeted an Evangelical church two days before Christmas 2001, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili’s mob tried to raze a warehouse owned by the Baptist Union, burning Bibles and religious materials. Mkalavishvili organized approximately 150 followers in three buses to accomplish this goal. In addition, Mkalavishvili has targeted the offices of government ombudswoman Nana Devdariani, the Tbilisi based NGO Liberty Institute, and the Rezonansi newspaper. The police have consistently refused to restrain the attackers, with only a few exceptions to note. Unfortunately, the judicial system has proven equally inept. On January 25th, prosecutors commenced legal proceedings against Mkalavishvili and one of his lieutenants for two mob attacks, although the minor charges brought do not reflect the gravity of their crimes. Yet, since the first hearing, the commitment of Georgian officials to vigorously prosecute Mkalavishvili has been evanescent. The case has been postponed five times, most recently due to the prosecutor failing to appear. These delays can be attributed to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, maintaining a menacing presence both outside and inside the Didube-Chugureti District Court. At several hearings, large numbers have crashed into the court while carrying wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Obviously feeling immune from government action, Mkalavishvili has used the courtroom itself as a platform, reportedly threatening lawyers and victims through a megaphone. Evidence of these events is readily available as local television stations are usually tipped in advance, airing footage of the attacks and interviews of Mkalavishvili and Bluashvili on the nightly news. Despite fervent appeals by victims and their lawyers, the police have refused to provide adequate courtroom security. Attorneys for the victims even petitioned the court for assistance, only for the judge to decide no more than 10 police officers would be permitted. Inexcusably, the judge put no limit on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers granted access to the courtroom. In a stark contradiction, more than 200 police and a SWAT team were ordered to protect officials from the Ministry of Interior when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges. In sum, the Georgian Government is proving ineffective in ameliorating the situation and protecting its citizens, regardless of their religious faith, from mob violence. Meanwhile, President Eduard Shevardnadze has held meetings with faith communities to demonstrate religious tolerance. He has also issued a presidential decree calling for the Ministry of Interior to take action, but by allowing lawless bands of militants to attack peaceful gatherings, his illusory actions are speaking louder than his words. By allowing the strength of the police and judicial systems to become a farce, it will only further encourage contravention of Georgian laws. However, despite actions demonstrated to date, the Georgian Government can end the attacks and bring to justice the perpetrators of this brutality.

  • Murder of Ukrainian Heorhiy Gongadze Still Unsolved

    Mr. Speaker, the murder of Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remains unsolved. On September 16, 2000, Gongadze, editor of an Internet news publication critical of official, high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared. Seven week later, his remains were found in Tarashcha in the Kyiv region.   Repeated expressions of concern to the Government of Ukraine have been met with stonewalling. Over the last 18 months, the Helsinki Commission, Members of the House and Senate, the Department of State, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other international institutions repeatedly have raised this case and urged President Kuchma and the Ukrainian Government to undertake a speedy, serious, open and transparent investigation into the Gongadze murder case.   Back in December of 2000, I urged Ukrainian authorities to resolve this grave matter in a timely and just manner before the case further tarnished their credibility in dealing with fundamental human rights. Last July, a number of us were present at the Paris OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting, where Gongadze’s widow Myroslava accepted the OSCE PA Prize for Journalism and Democracy on his behalf. A resolution adopted by the OSCE PA in Paris expressed dismay “that the criminal investigation into the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze has been obstructed by authorities and has not been carried out in accordance with the rule of law.”   Last month, Ukrainian authorities blocked FBI experts from examining evidence gathered during the initial investigation. The Bureau had been invited by Ukrainian authorities to advise and assist in the investigation of the case and earlier had participated in identifying Gongadze's remains. Over the last year, Ukrainian prosecutors routinely cited their request for assistance from the FBI as evidence that they were working diligently to solve the murder.   According to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, the four FBI experts were told that Ukrainian law prohibits prosecutors from releasing any information to them. They were "unable to discuss any aspects of the case, share evidence or conduct a joint site inspection. Because of this, the FBI team could not provide suggestions that might help Ukrainian law enforcement authorities advance the investigation of the murder of Mr. Gongadze.” This lack of cooperation – after promises to accept the U.S. technical assistance -- is an indication of bad faith on the part of the Ukrainian authorities.   This is only the latest example which seriously questions the Ukrainian authorities’ commitment to resolving this case and has led many to conclude that the Procurator General’s office is hampering the investigation into Gongadze’s death. Particularly telling was the Procuracy’s initially casting doubt on the results of a DNA test reported in February 2001, which determined with a 99.6 percent probability that the body exhumed from a shallow grave in Tarashcha was, indeed, that of Gongadze. The Procurator General, Mykhaylo Potebenko, who recently announced he would resign to become a Member of Parliament from the Communist Party, has also been uncooperative with Gongadze’s widow and mother, even after the court gave them status that legally permitted them access to details of the investigation. An assessment of the case last year by Freimut Duve, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media, found that the investigation into Gongadze’s disappearance has been “extremely unprofessional.” It is high time for the Ukrainian authorities to mount a serious, transparent investigation into this case as well as the cases of other murdered journalists.   Since 1998, 11 journalists have been killed in Ukraine and 48 severely injured in unexplained attacks, according to Reporters Without Borders. Over the last year, several international bodies have called on Ukrainian authorities to launch a fresh investigation into the disappearance and death of Mr. Gongadze and other journalists and to allow for an independent investigation or to set up a new independent commission of inquiry comprising of international investigators. I also hope that the newly elected Ukrainian parliament will take aggressive action in encouraging governmental accountability for solving the murder and bringing the perpetrators to justice.   Mr. Speaker, on March 31, Ukraine held parliamentary elections. Despite governmental interference in the campaign and abuse of state resources, the Ukrainian electorate showed a strong independent streak with a strong pro-democratic, pro-European orientation. A substantial portion of the Ukrainian people clearly wants change – they want to live in a country where democracy and human rights are honored and where the rule of law prevails.   The United States remains committed to encouraging these yearnings. The U.S. Government is the largest bilateral donor in Ukraine, and American companies still are the largest investors in Ukraine. We are deeply engaged with Ukraine in military and security issues, educational exchanges, small business, agriculture, energy, and the development of civil society. American engagement with Ukraine is a testament to the importance that we attach to U.S.-Ukraine relations. However, the level of U.S. engagement is increasingly being questioned, in part because of the obstructionist actions of the authorities concerning the Gongadze case, the curtailing of media freedoms, the persistent debilitating problem of corruption and, most recently, troubling allegations that President Kuchma may have authorized the clandestine sale of the Kolchuga radar system to Iraq in violation of UN sanctions.   Mr. Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I once again urge in the strongest possible terms Ukrainian authorities to take seriously the concerns regarding the circumstances that led to the Gongadze murder and the subsequent investigation. His widow, young children, and mother deserve better. The Ukrainian people deserve better.

  • Unpunished Religious Persecution in the Republic of Georgia

    Mr. President, as a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have followed closely human rights developments in the participating States, especially as they have an impact on freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. In many former communist countries, local religious establishments have reacted with concern and annoyance about perceived encroachment of religions considered “non-traditional.” But in the Republic of Georgia organized mob violence against those of nontraditional faiths has escalated, largely directed against Jehovah’s Witnesses. For over 2 years, a wave of mob attacks has been unleashed on members of this and other minority religious communities, and it is very disturbing that the police have consistently either refused to restrain the attackers or actually participated in the violence.   Since October 1999, nearly 80 attacks against Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken place, most led by a defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest, Vasili Mkalavishvili. These violent acts have gone unpunished, despite the filing of over 600 criminal complaints. Reports cite people being dragged by their hair and then summarily punched, kicked and clubbed, as well as buses being stopped and attacked. The priest leading these barbaric actions has been quoted as saying Jehovah’s Witnesses “should be shot, we must annihilate them.” Considering the well-documented frenzy of these depredations, it is only a matter of time before the assaults end in someone’s death.   Other minority religious communities have not escaped unscathed, but have also been targeted. Mkalavishvili coordinated an attack against a Pentecostal church last year during choir practice. His truncheon-wielding mob seriously injured 12 church members. Two days before Christmas 2001, over 100 of his militants raided an Evangelical church service, clubbing members and stealing property. In February of this year, Mkalavishvili brought three buses of people, approximately 150 followers, to burn Bibles and religious materials owned by the Baptist Union.   Mkalavishvili brazenly holds impromptu press conferences with media outlets, often as the violence transpires in the background. With his hooligans perpetrating violent acts under the guise of religious piety, camera crews set up and document everything for the local news. The absence of a conviction and subsequent imprisonment of Mkalavishvili is not for lack of evidence.   After considerable delay, the Georgian Government did commence on January 25 legal proceedings for two mob attacks. However, considering the minor charges being brought and the poor handling of the case, I fear Mkalavishvili and other extremists will only be encouraged to continue their attacks, confident of impunity from prosecution.   Since the initial hearing in January of this year, postponement of the case has occurred four times due to Mkalavishvili’s mob, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, overrunning the Didube-Chugureti District Court. Mkalavishvili’s marauding followers brought wooden and iron crosses, as well as banners with offensive slogans. Mkalavishvili himself even threatened the lawyers and victims while they were in the courtroom. With police refusing to provide adequate security, lawyers filed a motion asking for court assistance, but the judge ruled the maximum security allowed would be 10 policemen, while no limit was placed on the number of Mkalavishvili’s followers permitted in the courtroom. In contrast, the Ministry of Interior has reportedly provided more than 200 police and a SWAT team to protect officials of its office when Mkalavishvili was brought to trial under different charges.   Certainly, the Georgian Government could provide adequate security so that its judicial system is not overruled by vigilante justice. Unfortunately for all Georgians, the anemic government response is indicative of its inability or worse yet, its unwillingness to enforce the law to protect minority religious groups.   As is clearly evident, Georgian authorities are not taking effective steps to deter individuals and groups from employing violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths. With the ineptitude of the justice system now well known, Mkalavishvili has brazenly and publicly warned that the attacks will not cease.   Religious intolerance is one of the most pernicious human rights problems in Georgia today. Therefore, I call upon President Eduard Shevardnadze to take action to end the violence against religious believers, and prevent attacks on minority religious communities. Despite the meetings he held with the various faith communities intended to demonstrate tolerance, Georgian Government inaction is sending a very different message. Tbilisi’s pledge to uphold the rights of all believers and prosecute those who persecute the faithful must be followed by action.   As a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I urge President Shevardnadze to do whatever is necessary to stop these attacks, and to honor Georgia’s OSCE commitments to promote and ensure religious freedom without distinction. The Georgian Government should take concrete steps to punish the perpetrators through vigorous prosecution.

  • Romani Human Rights: Old Problems, New Possibilities

    This hearing discussed the mistreatment of the Romani, in particular the discrimination they face in Central and Eastern Europe. Witnesses commented on the exclusion of Romani from public facilities in several countries, which the governments justify as legal and legitimate public order measures. Witnesses also brought up articles in several European newspapers that explicitly described Roma children as less intelligent and more suited for “special” schools with limited academic resources. The hearing also discussed the use of a successful anti-discrimination program in Viden, Bulgaria as a model for other communities.

  • Re-Registration Campaign Denying Religious Freedom in Azerbaijan

    Mr. Speaker, the ongoing re-registration campaign for religious organizations conducted by the State Committee for Relations with Religious Organizations, headed by Chairman Rafik Aliev potentially violates Azerbaijan’s commitments to religious freedom as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Azerbaijan must take steps commensurate with its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice their religion or belief, alone or in community with others. The State Committee, created last year to replace the Religious Affairs Directorate, has broad administrative powers, which Chairman Aliev seems willing to utilize in an attempt to ban minority religious communities through denial of legal registration. Recent reports indicate that of the 407 religious groups previously registered, only approximately 150 are currently under consideration for re-registration by the State Committee. An additional 200 organizations were unsuccessful in their initial application due to technical errors and were asked to resubmit these requests. While I am pleased that 80 groups have been approved, reportedly most are Muslim, I hope that the State Committee is not specifically discriminating against minority faiths or religious groups. Despite the extension of the re-registration deadline to the end of March, there is legitimate concern that groups will be arbitrarily denied registration, and thereby legal status, despite fulfilling all requirements. In addition, although this is the third registration campaign since 1991, reportedly about 2,000 more religious groups remain unregistered. Recently, a senior official at the State Committee declared unregistered groups will be closed down. The fear that the State Committee will refuse to register religious groups for arbitrary reasons is supported by several statements from Chairman Aliev himself. For instance, he declared the State Committee hoped to introduce more stringent regulations to govern both religious organizations and individuals. He also said the State Committee can request a court to suspend activities of any religious organization conducting activities deemed illegal or found to undermine national security. The State Committee has also limited the ability for religious communities to import religious material. Reportedly, Chairman Aliev also stated “religious organizations must be controlled” and that “religion is dangerous.” This flies in the face of President Heydar Aliyev’s November 1999 public statements supporting religious freedom in Azerbaijan. Also of concern are the heavy-handed actions against religious groups by Azeri Government officials and police officers. For example, on January 18, 2002, National Security Ministry officers raided an unregistered Protestant church, Living Stones, which was meeting in a private apartment. The police and security officers searched the residence and seized religious literature. Ten individuals who were attending the meeting were taken into custody, transferred to a police station and interrogated. While eight individuals were released, two church leaders, Yusuf Farkhadov and Kasym Kasymov, were given two-week prison sentences for violating Article 310 of the Administrative Code, which addresses “petty hooliganism.” The reported justification for the raid was that the church is not registered. However, Living Stones had attempted to register with the government, but only after one and a half years of waiting did the government decide their application contained errors and must be resubmitted. In addition, the church is listed as a branch of the Nehemiah Protestant Church, which is registered. Many other religious communities are also concerned. It is feared the Ashkenzai Jewish community will not be successful in registering, because the State Committee is favoring a separate Jewish group. The liquidation suit brought by Chairman Aliev against the Love Baptist Church in the Narimanov district court continues to drag on. Liquidating the church due to alleged statements by its pastor is a disproportionate penalty and contravenes OSCE commitments. Illegal closures of churches by local officials, as in the case of the Gyanja Adventist Church on February 24, 2002, have not been halted by the State Committee. The closure of mosques under the pretext of state security is also a concern, as the government could ban unpopular groups, despite no proof of illegal activity. The Helsinki Final Act commits that “the participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Mr. Speaker, I urge President Aliyev to ensure that the re-registration process is accomplished in accordance with Azerbaijan’s OSCE commitments. In light of statements by Chairman Aliev, it is apparent the State Committee is perverting the re-registration process to arbitrarily deny legal registration to selected religious communities. The government must take the necessary steps to protect the right of individuals to profess and practice their faith by registering religious organizations, in keeping with Azerbaijan’s commitments as a participating OSCE State. In closing, Mr. Speaker, I am greatly alarmed by the re-registration campaign in Azerbaijan. This being the third time in a decade the government has required registration, it would seem Azerbaijan will continually “sift” minority religious groups until all are made illegal. Therefore, it is my hope that the Azeri Government will choose to honor its OSCE commitments and allow religious communities to register without harassment or bureaucratic roadblocks. Members of Congress will be watching to see if groups highlighted in this statement are harassed because of their mention.

  • Resolution Urging Ukraine to Ensure a Democratic, Transparent and Fair Election Process

    Mr. Speaker, today the House moves to the timely consideration of H. Res. 339 which urges the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections. I’d like to thank Mr. Armey for his commitment to schedule consideration of this measure this week. I was pleased to be an original cosponsor of the resolution which acknowledges the strong relationship between the United States and Ukraine, urges the Ukrainian Government to enforce impartially its new election law, and urges the Ukrainian Government to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections. I strongly encourage my colleagues to support this measure. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has a longstanding record of support for human rights and democratic development in Ukraine. Commission staff will be going to observe and report on these elections, as they have for virtually every election in Ukraine since 1990. The stakes in the Ukrainian elections are high – both in terms of outcome and as an indication of the Ukrainian Government’s commitment towards democratic development and integration into Europe.   Mr. Speaker, I think it is important to underscore the reason for this congressional interest in Ukraine. The clear and simple reason: an independent, democratic, and economically stable Ukraine is vital to the stability and security of Europe, and we want to encourage Ukraine in realizing its own often-stated goal of integration into Europe. Despite the positive changes that have occurred in Ukraine since independence in1991, including the economic growth over the last two years, Ukraine is still undergoing the difficult challenge of transition. The pace of that transition has been distressing, slowed by insufficient progress in respect for the rule of law, especially by the presence of widespread corruption which continues to exact a considerable toll on the Ukrainian people.   Another source of frustration is the still-unresolved case of murdered investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. The flawed investigations of this case and the case of another murdered Ukrainian journalist, Ihor Aleksandrov call into question Ukraine’s commitment to the rule of law. There have also been a number of disturbing cases of violence or threats of violence. For instance, 78-year-old Iryna Senyk a former political prisoner and poetess who was campaigning for the pro-reform Our Ukraine bloc, was badly beaten by “unknown assailants.” Such unchecked violence has created an uncertain atmosphere. Most of independent Ukraine’s elections have generally met international democratic standards for elections. The 1999 presidential elections, however, were more problematic, and the OSCE Election Mission Report on these elections asserted that they “failed to meet a significant number of the OSCE election related commitments.”   Mr. Speaker, it remains an open question as to whether the March 31 elections will be a step forward for Ukraine. With less than two weeks until election day, there are some discouraging indications – credible reports of various violations of the election law, including campaigning by officials or use of state resources to support certain political blocs or candidates; the denial of public facilities and services to candidates, blocs or parties; governmental pressure on certain parties, candidates and media outlets; and a pro-government bias in the public media, especially the government’s main television network, UT-1. These actions are inconsistent with Ukraine’s freely undertaken OSCE commitments and undermine its reputation with respect to human rights and democracy. A democratic election process is a must in solidifying Ukraine’s democratic credentials and the confidence of its citizens, and in its stated desire to integrate with the West.   During his visit to Ukraine last week, the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Adrian Severin, expressed concern over the mistrust in the electoral process among certain candidates as well as general skepticism as to whether the elections would be truly free and fair and encouraged Ukrainian officials to take measures to address these concerns so as to ensure public trust in the outcome of the election. Mr. Speaker, I ask that the summary of the most recent Long Term Observation Report on the Ukrainian elections prepared by the non-partisan Committee of Voters of Ukraine, be submitted for the Record. I urge unanimous support for this resolution.

  • U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns

    This briefing addressed U.S. policy in Central Asia and human rights concerns in the region in advance of the President of Uzbekistan’s visit to Washington, which had drawn attention to the deepening engagement of the United States in the region. Questions about Washington’s leverage presently and in the foreseeable future as well as the prospects for improving the dismal human rights situation in the region were discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence Uzzell, Director of the Keston Institute; E. Wayne Merry, Senior Associate of the American Foreign Policy Council; and Nina Shea, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – presented numerous examples of the human rights violations that occur in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and pointed to the inheritance of imperial policies of commodity exploitation, ecological damage, and extremely bad demographics as several of the motivating factors of these violations.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Delegation Visits Ukraine

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, CSCE Staff Advisor A delegation of nine parliamentarians from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) representing eight countries, along with a Helsinki Commission staff member, traveled to Ukraine from January 30 – February 1, 2002 to learn about the progress which has been made in the development of democratic institutions on the basis of the rule of law, and how the cooperation with the OSCE Project Coordinator in Ukraine has facilitated related developments. The Office of the OSCE Project Coordinator has been functioning in Ukraine since 1999 and its projects aim at supporting Ukraine in the adaptation of its legislation, institutions and processes to the requirements of a modern democracy, based on the rule of law. The Delegation met with the OSCE Project Coordinator, representatives of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament), Members of the Ukrainian delegation to the OSCE PA, the Ombudsman of Ukraine, the Prosecutor General, and officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Justice. The representatives of these institutions commented favorably on the level of cooperation with the OSCE Project Coordinator and expressed thanks and strong support for the OSCE’s efforts in assisting their institutions with concrete projects. The delegation noted the expressed desire and practical efforts among the Ukrainian authorities to increase cooperation with European institutions. The Delegation has recommended that OSCE participating States continue their funding for OSCE projects in Ukraine and seek ways to increase the level of support. The delegation has also recommended that the OSCE Project Coordinator identify projects which would contribute to the protection of human and civil rights, the transition to civilian control over armed forces, the fight against terrorism, and the strengthening of the independent media. Subjects that touch upon human rights and rule of law in Ukraine also came up in the course of the meetings, including human trafficking, the upcoming March 31 parliamentary elections, and the unsolved case of murdered independent journalist Georgiy Gongadze. In response to a question by Commission staff about the possibility for the establishment of an independent commission of international experts into the Gongadze case, Prosecutor General Potebenko responded that he was interested in a full, open investigation and noted that foreign experts have been enlisted. He then questioned the motives of the United States in raising this case and called upon the U.S. Congress to assist in facilitating the extradition of Mykola Melnychenko, claiming that his extradition would speed up the investigation of the murder. Melnychenko was President Kuchma’s bodyguard whose secret recordings of conversations in the President’s office appear to link implicate him and top officials with the murder of Gongadze. Melnychenko was granted refugee status in the United States last April. Focusing on the upcoming elections and their potential in the consolidation of democracy in Ukraine, Helsinki Commission staff also met with the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Carlos Pascual, and members of his staff, Agency for International Development (AID) officials, the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, representative of several Ukrainian political parties, and non-governmental organizations. On February 7, 2002, Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) introduced S. Res. 205, a resolution urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31 parliamentary elections. Senate Helsinki Commissioners Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have cosponsored this resolution. Earlier, on January 29, Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), joined by Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA), introduced a companion resolution – H. Res. 339 – in the House.

  • Anti-Terrorism Conference Held in Bishkek

    By Janice Helwig Policy Advisor The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – together with the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNODCCP) – organized the Bishkek International Conference on Enhancing Security and Stability in Central Asia from December 13-14, 2001 to discuss ways in which the Central Asian countries can contribute to the global fight against terrorism. The conference was a step in implementing the OSCE Action Plan for Combating Terrorism, adopted by the OSCE participating States at the Bucharest Ministerial Meeting earlier in December. The meeting culminated with the adoption of a political declaration and an action program outlining areas where international assistance is particularly needed. (All documents are available on the OSCE website at www.osce.org) The conference also gave State authorities a chance to share experiences and ideas with each other; Spain and the United Kingdom, in particular, discussed lessons they had learned in combating terrorism in their countries. OSCE States had the opportunity to exchange views with countries not normally included in OSCE meetings, such as Pakistan, Iran, India, and China. The goal of the conference was to progress from discussion to action by identifying concrete areas for international assistance to Central Asia in fighting terrorism. The success of the conference depends on whether OSCE States and international organizations follow up on the areas identified and come forward with projects and funding. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev opened the meeting, and Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Imanaliev also participated. In addition to OSCE participating States, then Chairman-in-Office Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana attended the conference, as did representatives from several OSCE Institutions – including High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, Director of ODIHR Gerard Stoudmann, OSCE Secretary General Jan Kubis, and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice-President Ahmet Tan. In addition to UNODCCP, several other international organizations participated, including the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). President Akaev stressed the importance of international support for a neutral Afghanistan that will no longer be a haven for extremism, drugs, or terrorism. Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian states had been pointing out the potential for violence, terrorism, and extremism to spill over from Afghanistan for several years, he noted, but the international community had taken no preventive steps. International efforts to combat terrorism now need to be more proactive. Poverty must be addressed throughout the region in order to minimize the possibility of its being exploited by terrorists to gain followers. All Central Asian states asked for technical and financial assistance, particularly to fight drug trafficking and organized crime, which are often sources of funding for terrorist organizations. The U.S. delegation was co-headed by Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, and Steven Monblatt, Deputy Coordinator in the State Department Office of the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism. Other members of the delegation included representatives from the State Department’s Bureaus of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and of International and Law Enforcement Affairs, as well as a representative of the CSCE. Ambassador Minikes summed up the U.S. position in his closing statement, “We must ensure that our societies are ones in which terrorists cannot thrive, that our societies are ones in which human rights are respected, and in which rule of law, freedom of expression, tolerance, and democracy strengthen stability. As so many noted in Bishkek, societies of inclusion, with economic opportunities for all, pluralistic debate, a political commitment to conflict resolution, and where integration does not mean losing one's identity, are those where extremists have the least chance of generating sympathy and support from the moderate majority.” Other OSCE States discussed the importance of a concerted international effort against terrorism that includes fostering human rights, the rule of law, and economic development. The delegations of the United Kingdom and Spain shared their experiences fighting terrorism. The UK underscored that, based on lessons learned in Northern Ireland, respect for rule of law and human rights must be the basis for any approach to fighting terrorism; otherwise, authorities lose the moral high ground and the support of moderates. In addition, free political debate is essential to provide a peaceful alternative for dissenting views and prevent terrorists from gaining the support of those who share their views but not their methods. ODIHR Director Stoudmann stressed the need for caution as new procedures and legislation are put in place to combat terrorism; government authorities should not, above all, use terrorism as an excuse to rid themselves of opposition or dissent, he suggested. He offered ODIHR’s services in reviewing draft anti-terrorism legislation to ensure that international standards are upheld. In the political declaration, states participating in the conference pledged to work together against terrorism in full conformity with their OSCE commitments and fully respect human rights and the rule of law. They rejected the identification of terrorism with any particular religion or culture. They also noted that, as a neighbor to Afghanistan, the Central Asian region has been exposed to specific challenges and threats to security and therefore needs particular assistance in combating terrorism. The program of action outlined the following priorities for concrete programs: Promoting ratification and implementation of international conventions related to combating terrorism; Enhancing cooperation between both national and international agencies involved in combating terrorism and in fighting crime; Adopting national anti-money laundering legislation and create corresponding structures; Increasing cooperation in the protection of human rights and in strengthening rule of law and democratic institutions; Assisting judicial systems through training and strengthening independence; Fostering political dialogue, including through political parties, civil society, and free media; Addressing economic problems, including through programs to attract investment; Assisting Central Asian states in controlling their borders, particularly with regard to drug trafficking; and Encouraging joint training and operational activities among the countries of Central Asia.

  • Introduction of S. Res. 205 on Parliamentary Elections in Ukraine

    Mr. President, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I today am introducing a resolution urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process leading up to the March 31, 2002 parliamentary elections. I am pleased to be joined by fellow Commissioners Dodd and Brownback. Several of our colleagues from the House have introduced a companion resolution. Ukraine's success as an independent, democratic state is vital to the stability and security in Europe, and that country has, over the last decade, enjoyed a strong relationship with the United States. The Helsinki Commission has monitored closely the situation in Ukraine and has a long record of support for the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for human rights and democratic freedoms. Ukraine enjoys goodwill in the Congress and remains one of our largest recipients of assistance in the world. Clearly, there is a genuine desire that Ukraine succeed as an independent, democratic, stable and economically successful state.   It is against this backdrop that I introduce this resolution, as a manifestation of our concern about Ukraine's direction at this critical juncture. These parliamentary elections will be an important indication of whether Ukraine moves forward rather than backslides on the path to democratic development. Indeed, there has been growing cause for concern about Ukraine's direction over the last few years. Last May, I chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing: “Ukraine at the Crossroads: Ten Years After Independence.'' Witnesses at that hearing testified about problems confronting Ukraine's democratic development, including high-level corruption, the controversial conduct of authorities in the investigation of murdered investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and other human rights problems. I had an opportunity to meet Mrs. Gongadze and her daughters who attended that hearing. While there has been progress over the last few months with respect to legislation designed to strengthen the rule of law, it is too early to assert that Ukraine is once again moving in a positive direction. With respect to the upcoming elections, on the positive side we have seen the passage of a new elections law which, while not perfect, has made definite improvements in providing safeguards to meet Ukraine's international commitments. However, there are already concerns about the elections, with increasing reports of violations of political rights and freedoms during the pre-campaign period, many of them documented in reports recently released by the non-partisan, non-government Committee on Voters of Ukraine, CVU.   It is important for Ukraine that there not be a repeat of the 1999 presidential elections which the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, stated were marred by violations of the Ukrainian election law and failed to meet a significant number of commitments on the conduct of elections set out in the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document. Therefore, this resolution urges the Ukrainian Government to enforce impartially the new election law and to meet its OSCE commitments on democratic elections and to address issues identified by the OSCE report on the 1999 presidential election such as state interference in the campaign and pressure on the media. The upcoming parliamentary elections clearly present Ukraine with an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to OSCE principles. The resolution we introduce today is an expression of the importance of these parliamentary elections, which could serve as an important stepping-stone in Ukraine's efforts to become a fully integrated member of the Europe-Atlantic community of nations.   SENATE RESOLUTION 205--URGING THE GOVERNMENT OF UKRAINE TO ENSURE A DEMOCRATIC, TRANSPARENT, AND FAIR ELECTION PROCESS LEADING UP TO THE MARCH 31, 2002, PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS   Mr. Campbell (for himself, Mr. Dodd, and Mr. Brownback) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations: S. Res. 205 Whereas Ukraine stands at a critical point in its development to a fully democratic society, and the parliamentary elections on March 31, 2002, its third parliamentary elections since becoming independent more than 10 years ago, will play a significant role in demonstrating whether Ukraine continues to proceed on the path to democracy or experiences further setbacks in its democratic development;   Whereas the Government of Ukraine can demonstrate its commitment to democracy by conducting a genuinely free and fair parliamentary election process, in which all candidates have access to news outlets in the print, radio, television, and Internet media, and nationally televised debates are held, thus enabling the various political parties and election blocs to compete on a level playing field and the voters to acquire objective information about the candidates;   Whereas a flawed election process, which contravenes commitments of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on democracy and the conduct of elections, could potentially slow Ukraine's efforts to integrate into western institutions;   Whereas in recent years, government corruption and harassment of the media have raised concerns about the commitment of the Government of Ukraine to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, while calling into question the ability of that government to conduct free and fair elections; Whereas Ukraine, since its independence in 1991, has been one of the largest recipients of United States foreign assistance;   Whereas $154,000,000 in technical assistance to Ukraine was provided under Public Law 107-115 (the Kenneth M. Ludden Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, Fiscal Year 2002), a $16,000,000 reduction in funding from the previous fiscal year due to concerns about continuing setbacks to needed reform and the unresolved deaths of prominent dissidents and journalists;   Whereas Public Law 107-115 requires a report by the Department of State on the progress by the Government of Ukraine in investigating and bringing to justice individuals responsible for the murders of Ukrainian journalists;   Whereas the disappearance and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze on September 16, 2000, remains unresolved;   Whereas the presidential election of 1999, according to the final report of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of OSCE on that election, was marred by violations of Ukrainian election law and failed to meet a significant number of commitments on democracy and the conduct of elections included in the OSCE 1990 Copenhagen Document;   Whereas during the 1999 presidential election campaign, a heavy pro-incumbent bias was prevalent among the state-owned media outlets, members of the media viewed as not in support of the president were subject to harassment by government authorities, and pro-incumbent campaigning by state administration and public officials was widespread and systematic;   Whereas the Law on Elections of People's Deputies of Ukraine, signed by President Leonid Kuchma on October 30, 2001, was cited in a report of the ODIHR dated November 26, 2001, as making improvements in Ukraine's electoral code and providing safeguards to meet Ukraine's commitments on democratic elections, although the Law on Elections remains flawed in a number of important respects, notably by not including a role for domestic nongovernmental organizations to monitor elections; Whereas according to international media experts, the Law on Elections defines the conduct of an election campaign in an ambiguous manner and could lead to arbitrary sanctions against media operating in Ukraine;   Whereas the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) on December 13, 2001, rejected a draft Law on Political Advertising and Agitation, which would have limited free speech in the campaign period by giving too many discretionary powers to government bodies, and posed a serious threat to the independent media;   Whereas the Department of State has dedicated $4,700,000 in support of monitoring and assistance programs for the 2002 parliamentary elections;   Whereas the process for the 2002 parliamentary elections has reportedly been affected by apparent violations during the period prior to the official start of the election campaign on January 1, 2002; and   Whereas monthly reports for November and December of 2001 released by the Committee on Voters of Ukraine (CVU), an indigenous, nonpartisan, nongovernment organization that was established in 1994 to monitor the conduct of national election campaigns and balloting in Ukraine , cited five major types of violations of political rights and freedoms during the pre-campaign phase of the parliamentary elections, including-- (1) use of government position to support particular political groups; (2) government pressure on the opposition and on the independent media; (3) free goods and services given in order to sway voters; (4) coercion to join political parties and pressure to contribute to election campaigns; and (5) distribution of anonymous and compromising information about political opponents:   Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate— (1) acknowledges the strong relationship between the United States and Ukraine since Ukraine's independence more than 10 years ago, while understanding that Ukraine can only become a full partner in western institutions when it fully embraces democratic principles; (2) expresses its support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to promote democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights in Ukraine; (3) urges the Government of Ukraine to enforce impartially the new election law, including provisions calling for— (A) the transparency of election procedures; (B) access for international election observers; (C) multiparty representation on election commissions; (D) equal access to the media for all election participants; (E) an appeals process for electoral commissions and within the court system; and (F) administrative penalties for election violations; (4) urges the Government of Ukraine to meet its commitments on democratic elections, as delineated in the 1990 Copenhagen Document of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with respect to the campaign period and election day, and to address issues identified by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of OSCE in its final report on the 1999 presidential election, such as state interference in the campaign and pressure on the media; and (5) calls upon the Government of Ukraine to allow election monitors from the ODIHR, other participating states of OSCE, and private institutions and organizations, both foreign and domestic, full access to all aspects of the parliamentary election process, including— (A) access to political events attended by the public during the campaign period; (B) access to voting and counting procedures at polling stations and electoral commission meetings on election day, including procedures to release election results on a precinct by precinct basis as they become available; and (C) access to postelection tabulation of results and processing of election challenges and complaints

  • Commission Holds Hearing on Human Rights in Kyrgyzstan

    By Michael Ochs, CSCE Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission, in its most recent of a series of hearings on Central Asia, examined the state of human rights and democracy in Kyrgyzstan. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), who chaired the hearing, voiced concern about the regression in democratic reforms, as well as disturbing trends involving election rigging, high-level corruption, and the crackdown on the opposition and independent media. Commission members Reps. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) also participated in the hearing on December 12. “In the last few years, almost all of the opposition and independent newspapers have been forced to close after losing lawsuits when officials accused of corruption launched slander cases against media outlets,” Smith said. Considering that Kyrgyzstan was once viewed as the most democratic state in Central Asia, the turnaround was particularly disheartening; in fact, Co-Chairman Smith observed, “I think it would be fair to say that Kyrgyzstan, under the leadership of Askar Akaev, is the most disappointing country in the former USSR.” Commissioner Pitts noted his disappointment with the tempo of democratization in Kyrgyzstan but called for continued engagement with the government to encourage reforms. “If we are to be an honest partner with Kyrgyzstan, we must not miss opportunities to encourage the good that has been done,” Pitts said. “We must look at Kyrgyzstan and other countries with promise in the region not only from OSCE standards, but also as a potential leader in building regional cooperation.” In prepared remarks, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) expressed particular concern over corruption: “The former Soviet republics, as is widely known, are notorious for corruption. Kyrgyzstan is no exception. On August 11, the Kyrgyz Prime Minister – not an opposition politician but the head of government – described efforts by law-enforcement bodies to counter corruption, smuggling and economic crime as ‘total disaster.’ He attributed that failure to the fact that most criminal groups have protectors within the law-enforcement bodies and estimated financial losses from smuggling to be in the millions of dollars annually.” Ranking Commission Member Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) similarly observed, “There is good reason to be concerned about terrorism. But Central Asian leaders have, up to now, contributed significantly to their own security problems by stifling political discourse, by rigging elections, and by not permitting the development of open societies that could provide an outlet for discontent and freedom of expression. It seems to me that if Washington lets these leaders shift the focus of relations primarily towards security issues, they will deflect attention from their determination to remain in power indefinitely, which is one of the greatest threats to democratization and stability in the region.” Hearing witnesses were Lynn Pascoe, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs; His Excellency Baktibek Abdrisaev, Kyrgyzstan’s Ambassador to the United States; Dr. Martha Olcott, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and Natalia Ablova, Director of the Kyrgyz-American Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law in Bishkek. Co-Chairman Smith focused specific attention on the plight of opposition figure Felix Kulov, leader of the Ar-Namys Party, who has been in jail since January 2001. As the leading rival of Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, Kulov has suffered the consequences of attempting to engage in normal electoral politics in an increasingly authoritarian environment. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations consider Felix Kulov a political prisoner. Kyrgyz authorities barred Kulov’s party from participating in the February 2000 parliamentary election. Kulov ran as an independent and made it into the second round but, according to official results, lost the runoff. The OSCE’s election report documented rampant vote fraud designed to keep Kulov from winning and, in an unusual move, openly questioned the results in his district. After the election, Kulov – a former vice-president, minister, governor and mayor – was arrested in March 2000. Remarkably, a military court acquitted him in August. Kulov then sought to run in the October 2000 presidential election, but he withdrew from the race rather than take a Kyrgyz-language test that many observers believed had been mandated specifically to complicate his campaign. Subsequently, prosecutors who had appealed his acquittal indicted him again, and this time secured a conviction. On January 22, 2001, a closed military court sentenced Kulov to a seven-year jail term. Kyrgyz authorities have pursued him further, opening yet another criminal case against him, in an obvious effort to remove Kulov from the political arena by any means necessary. Some of Kulov’s relatives now live in New York, and they came to Washington to attend the hearing. Co-Chairman Smith invited his wife, Nailya Kulova, to take the floor and make a brief intervention on human rights problems in Kyrgyzstan and the persecution of her husband. A consistent theme in Rep. Smith’s remarks was the hope that the U.S. war on terrorism, which has led Washington to deepen its ties with Central Asian governments, will not overshadow human rights concerns. Speaking for the State Department, Lynn Pascoe said that since September 11, the U.S. has received “an unprecedented level of support and cooperation from Kyrgyzstan and our other Central Asian partners.” But he pledged that Washington will not cease pressing Bishkek to address human rights concerns and promote democratic reform. Pascoe said that human rights, fair elections, religious freedom, open markets, and foreign investment were indispensable to long-term stability for Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia. He added that Secretary of State Colin Powell had planned to raise the case of Felix Kulov with President Akaev during a scheduled trip to Bishkek in December that had to be canceled due to blizzard conditions. For his part, Ambassador Abdrisaev acknowledged there were human rights problems in his country and that reforms may not be proceeding fast enough. But he maintained that Kyrgyzstan was nevertheless making progress and that expectations for a country in a very complex neighborhood after only a decade of independence should not be too high. “The road to building a democracy is a rocky one, and we have been on that road for a mere 10 years. We have from the beginning, however, been dedicated to the ideals of democracy and human rights. We respect and appreciate constructive criticism issuing from human rights and non-governmental organizations,” Abdrisaev concluded. Dr. Olcott took a regional-comparative approach in assessing Kyrgyzstan’s level of democracy. “To say that the situation in Kyrgyzstan is better than that in neighboring countries is damning with faint praise and no solace for those whose lives are currently being trampled on. But, in fact, it remains true,” Olcott said. She concluded that “it is not too late to influence developments...Kyrgyzstan must open up again politically and work toward greater economic transparency, both through the creation of a more independent judiciary and through a more directed and far-reaching campaign against corruption.” In this latter respect, Dr. Olcott urged Kyrgyzstan’s first family to withdraw from commercial activities and “quietly sell off” all their current assets. Discussing the slowness of democratic change, Ms. Ablova bemoaned the call for patience: “We are frequently told by our political elite that in our part of the world people are not ready for democracy.... The process takes time. Therefore, all criticisms, grounded or ungrounded, should be toned down to better times of democratic maturity.” In fact, she maintained, “Fifteen years of my experience in public activism prove that it is not the people, but the political leadership of the country that always waits for better times to implement basic rights and civil liberties.” Ending the hearing, Co-Chairman Smith promised that the Helsinki Commission would continue to keep a close eye on developments in Kyrgyzstan. The Commission’s series on hearings on Central Asia, which began in 1999, will conclude in 2002 with a hearing on Tajikistan.

  • Human Rights in Central Asia

    Mr. Speaker, on Friday, December 21, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev will be meeting with President Bush. Sometime in January, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov is likely to arrive for his visit. The invitations to these Heads of State obviously reflect the overriding U.S. priority of fighting international terrorism and the corresponding emphasis on the strategic importance of Central Asia, which until September 11 had been known largely as a resource-rich, repressive backwater.   As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have chaired a series of hearings in recent years focused on human rights and democratization in the Central Asian region.   Clearly, we need the cooperation of many countries, including Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors, in this undertaking. But we should not forget, as we conduct our multidimensional campaigns, two vitally important points: first, Central Asian leaders need the support of the West at least as much as we need them.   Unfortunately, Central Asian presidents seem to have concluded that they are indispensable and that we owe them for allowing us to use their territory and bases in this fight against the terrorists and those who harbor them. I hope Washington does not share this misapprehension. By striking against the radical Islamic threat to their respective security and that of the entire region, we have performed a huge service for Central Asian leaders.   Second, one of the main lessons of September 11 and its aftermath is that repression of political opposition and alternative viewpoints is a key cause of terrorism. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have declared that the war on terrorism will not keep the United States from supporting human rights. I am hopeful the administration means what they have said. But given the sudden warming of relations between Washington and Central Asian leaders, I share the concerns voiced in many editorials and op-eds that the United States will downplay human rights in favor of cultivating ties with those in power. More broadly, I fear we will fall into an old pattern of backing repressive regimes and then being linked with them in the minds and hearts of their long-suffering peoples.   In that connection, Mr. Speaker, on the eve of President Nazarbaev's meeting with President Bush and in anticipation of the expected visit by President Karimov, as well as possible visits by other Central Asian leaders, I want to highlight some of the most glaring human rights problems in these countries.   To begin with, corruption is rampant throughout the region, and we should keep this in mind as the administration requests more money for assistance to Central Asian regimes. Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev and some of his closest associates are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for massive corruption. Not surprisingly, to keep any information about high-level misdeeds from the public, most of which lives in dire poverty, the Nazarbaev regime has cracked down hard on the media. Family or business associates of President Nazarbaev control most media outlets in the country, including printing houses which often refuse to print opposition or independent newspapers. Newspapers or broadcasters that try to cover taboo subjects are harassed by the government and editorial offices have had their premises raided. The government also controls the two main Internet service providers and regularly blocks the web site of the Information Analytical Center Eurasia, which is sponsored by Kazakhstan's main opposition party.   In addition, libel remains a criminal offense in Kazakhstan. Despite a growing international consensus that people should not be jailed for what they say or write, President Nazarbaev on May 3 ratified an amendment to the Media Law that increases the legal liability of editors and publishers. Furthermore, a new draft religion law was presented to the Kazakh parliament at the end of November without public consultation. If passed, it would seriously curtail the ability of individuals and groups to practice their religious faith freely.   Uzbekistan is a wholesale violator of human rights. President Karimov allows no opposition parties, permits no independent media, and has refused even to register independent human rights monitoring groups. Elections in Uzbekistan have been a farce and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) rightly refused to observe the last presidential “contest,” in which Karimov's “rival” proclaimed that he was planning to vote for the incumbent.   In one respect, however, Karimov is not lacking, brazen gall. Last week, on the eve of Secretary Powell's arrival in Tashkent, Uzbek authorities announced plans to hold a referendum next month on extending Karimov's tenure in office from five years to seven. Some members of the tightly controlled parliament urged that he be made “president for life.” The timing of the announcement could have had only one purpose: to embarrass our Secretary of State and to show the United States that Islam Karimov will not be cowed by OSCE commitments on democracy and the need to hold free and fair elections.   I am also greatly alarmed by the Uzbek Government's imprisonment of thousands of Muslims, allegedly for participating in extremist Islamic groups, but who are probably “guilty” of the “crime” of attending non-government approved mosques. The number of people jailed on such dubious grounds is estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000, according to Uzbek and international human rights organizations. While I do not dismiss Uzbek government claims about the seriousness of the religion-based insurgency, I cannot condone imprisonment of people based on mere suspicion of religious piety. As U.S. Government officials have been arguing for years, this policy of the Uzbek Government also seems counterproductive to its stated goal of eliminating terrorists. Casting the net too broadly and jailing innocent people will only inflame individuals never affiliated with any terrorist cell.   In addition, Uzbekistan has not only violated individual rights, but has also implemented policies that affect religious groups. For example, the Uzbek Government has consistently used its religion law to frustrate the ability of religious groups to register, placing them in a “Catch-22". By inhibiting registration, the Uzbek Government can harass and imprison individuals for attending unregistered religious meetings, as well as deny property purchases and formal education opportunities. As you can see, Mr. Speaker, Uzbekistan's record on human rights, democratization and religious freedom is unacceptable.   I am not aware that Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev has been invited to Washington, but I would not be too surprised to learn of an impending visit. Once the most democratic state in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan has gone the way of its neighbors, with rigged elections, media crackdowns and repression of opposition parties. At a Helsinki Commission hearing I chaired last week on democratization and human rights in Kyrgyzstan, we heard from the wife of Felix Kulov, Kyrgyzstan's leading opposition figure, who has been behind bars since January 2001. Amnesty International and many other human rights groups consider him a political prisoner, jailed because he dared to try to run against President Akaev. Almost all opposition and independent newspapers which have sought to expose high-level corruption have been sued into bankruptcy.   With respect to the proposed religion law the Kyrgyz Parliament is drafting, which would repeal the current law, significant concerns exist. If the draft law were enacted in its current emanation, it would categorize and prohibit groups based on beliefs alone, as well as allow arbitrary decisions in registering religious groups due to the vague provisions of the draft law. I encourage President Akaev to support a law with strong protections for religious freedom. Implementing the modification suggested by the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom would ensure that the draft religion law meets Kyrgyzstan's OSCE commitments.   Mr. Speaker, this morning I had a meeting with Ambassador Meret Orazov of Turkmenistan and personally raised a number of specific human rights cases. Turkmenistan, the most repressive state in the OSCE space, resembles North Korea: while the people go hungry, megalomaniac President Saparmurat Niyazov builds himself palaces and monuments, and is the object of a Stalin-style cult of personality. No opposition of any kind is allowed, and anyone who dares to express a view counter to Niyazov is arrested. Turkmenistan is the only country in the OSCE region where places of worship have been destroyed on government orders; in November 1999 the authorities bulldozed a Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Since then, Niyazov has implemented his plans to provide a virtual bible for his benighted countrymen; apparently, he intends to become their spiritual as well as secular guide and president for life.   Turkmenistan has the worst record on religious freedom in the entire 55-nation OSCE. The systematic abuses that occur almost weekly are an abomination to the internationally recognized values which undergird the OSCE. Recent actions by Turkmen security agents against religious groups, including harassment, torture and detention, represent a catastrophic failure by Turkmenistan to uphold its human rights commitments as a participating OSCE State. In addition, last January, Mukhamed Aimuradov, who has been in prison since 1995, and Baptist pastor Shageldy Atakov, imprisoned since 1999, were not included in an amnesty which freed many prisoners. I hope that the Government of Turkmenistan will immediately and unconditionally release them, as well as all other prisoners of conscience.   Rounding out the Central Asian countries, Tajikistan also presents human rights concerns. A report has recently emerged concerning the government's religious affairs agency in the southern Khatlon region, which borders Afghanistan. According to reliable sources, a memorandum from the religious affairs agency expressed concern about “increased activity” by Christian churches in the region, calling for them to be placed under “the most stringent control.” Tajik Christians fear that this statement of intolerance could be a precursor to persecution. Keston News Service reported that law enforcement officials have already begun visiting registered churches and are trying to find formal grounds to close them down. Additionally, city authorities in the capital Dushanbe have cracked down on unregistered mosques.   Mr. Speaker, as the world focuses on Central Asia states with unprecedented energy, I wanted to bring these serious deficiencies in their commitment to human rights and democracy to the attention of my colleagues. All these countries joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe soon after their independence from the Soviet Union a decade ago. By becoming OSCE participating States, they agreed without reservation to comply with the Helsinki Final Act and all subsequent agreements. These documents cover a wide range of human dimension issues, including clear language on the human right of religious freedom and the right of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief. Unfortunately, as I have highlighted, these countries are failing in their commitment to promote and support human rights, and overall trends in the region are very disturbing.   The goals of fighting terrorism and steadfastly supporting human rights are not dichotomous. It is my hope that the U.S. Government will make issues of human rights and religious freedom paramount in bilateral discussions and public statements concerning the ongoing efforts against terrorism. In this context, the considerable body of OSCE commitments on democracy, human rights and the rule of law should serve as our common standard for our relations with these countries.

  • Criminal Defamation and “Insult” Laws: A Summary of Free Speech Developments in Slovakia

    Numerous international documents, including those adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), establish freedom of expression as a fundamental right. The right to free speech, however, is not absolute. Consistent with international law, certain kinds of speech, such as obscenity, may be prohibited or regulated. When governments restrict speech, however, those restrictions must be consistent with their international obligations and commitments; for example, the restrictions must be necessary in a democratic country and proscribed by law. Criminal defamation and “insult” laws are often defended as necessary to prevent alleged abuses of freedom of expression. They are not, however, consistent with OSCE norms and their use constitutes an infringement on the fundamental right to free speech. Criminal Defamation Laws All individuals, including public officials, have a legitimate right to protect their reputations if untruthful statements have been made about them. Untrue statements which damage a person’s reputation constitute defamation. Oral defamation is known as slander; defamation in writing or other permanent forms such as film is libel. In some instances, criminal codes make defamation of public officials, the nation, or government organs a discreet offense, as distinct from defamation of a person. Truthful statements – as well as unverifiable statements of opinion – are not legally actionable as defamation. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has held that public officials must tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private individuals: “The limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance.” (Lingens v. Austria, Eur. Ct. H.R., 1986.) Criminal defamation laws are those which establish criminal sanctions for defamation. Those sanctions may include imprisonment, fines, and prohibitions on writing. Individuals convicted of defamation in a criminal proceeding and sentenced to suspended prison terms may be subjected to the threat of immediate imprisonment if, for example, they violate an order not to publish. The existence of a criminal record may also have other social and legal consequences. In a criminal defamation case, state law enforcement agents (police and prosecutors) act, using taxpayer money, to investigate the alleged defamation and to act on behalf of the alleged victim. It is sometimes argued that criminal defamation laws are necessary to achieve the legitimate goal of providing the victims of defamation with redress. But general laws against libel and slander, embodied in civil codes, provide private persons as well as public officials the opportunity to seek redress, including damages, for alleged defamation. In such cases, the plaintiff and defendant stand in court as equals. Accordingly, specific criminal laws prohibiting defamation are unnecessary. “Insult” Laws "Insult" laws make offending the "honor and dignity" of public officials (e.g., the President), government offices (e.g., the Constitutional Court), national institutions, and/or the “state” itself punishable. Unlike defamation laws, truth is not a defense to a charge of insult. Accordingly, insult laws are often used to punish the utterance of truthful statements, as well as opinions, satire, invective, and even humor. Although insult laws and criminal defamation laws both punish speech, significant differences exist between them. Defamation laws are intended to provide a remedy against false assertions of fact. Truthful statements, as well as opinion, are not actionable. The use of civil laws to punish defamation is permissible under international free speech norms. The use of criminal sanctions to punish defamation, however, chills free speech, is subject to abuse (through the use of state law enforcement agents), and is inconsistent with international norms. In contrast, recourse to any insult law, whether embodied in a civil or a criminal code, is inconsistent with international norms. Their Use Today At one time, almost all OSCE countries had criminal defamation and insult laws. Over time, these laws have been repealed, invalidated by courts, or fallen into disuse in many OSCE participating States. Unfortunately, many criminal codes contained multiple articles punishing defamation and insult. Thus, even when parliaments and courts have acted, they have sometimes failed to remove all legal prohibitions against insult or all criminal sanctions for defamation. In communist countries and other anti-democratic regimes, such laws are often used to target political opponents of the government. Today, when insult and criminal defamation laws are used, they are most often used to punish mere criticism of government policies or public officials, to stifle political discussion, and to squelch news and discussion that governments would rather avoid. It is relatively rare for a private individual (someone who is not a public official, elected representative, or person of means and influence) to persuade law enforcement representatives to use the tax dollars of the public to protect their reputations. In some OSCE countries, such laws are still used to systematically punish political opponents of the regime. Even in countries where these laws have fallen into a long period of disuse, it is not unheard of for an overzealous prosecutor to revive them for seemingly political purposes. The International Context Numerous non-governmental organizations have taken strong positions against criminal defamation and insult laws. These include Amnesty International; Article 19; the Committee to Protect Journalists; national Helsinki Committees such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Croatian Helsinki Committee, Greek Helsinki Committee; Romanian Helsinki Committee; and Slovak Helsinki Committee; the International Helsinki Federation; The World Press Freedom Committee; Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression; national chapters of PEN; and Reporters Sans Frontières. Moreover, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression issued a joint statement in February 2000 which included the following conclusions, based on relevant international norms: “Expression should not be criminalized unless it poses a clear risk of serious harm. [. . . ] Examples of this are laws prohibiting the publication of false news and sedition laws. . . . These laws should be repealed.” “Criminal defamation laws should be abolished.” “Civil defamation laws should respect the following principles: public bodies should not be able to bring defamation actions; truth should always be available as a defense; politicians and public officials should have to tolerate a greater degree of criticism. . . .” Finally, the United States Department of State regularly reports on cases where criminal defamation or insult laws have been used in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and, at OSCE meetings, has frequently called for the repeal of such laws in recent years. Illustrative Slovak Cases Since the establishment of an independent Slovak state on January 1, 1993, there have been a steady trickle of people who have been charged with “insulting” or defaming public officials. At present, for example, journalist Ales Kratky is facing charges of criminal defamation in connection with his May 2001 criticism of a speech delivered by President Rudolf Schuster. If found guilty, Kratky faces a possible two-year prison term. In March 2000, journalist Vladimir Mohorita was sentenced to four months in prison for criticizing the government’s decision to allow NATO aircraft to use Slovak airspace during the Kosovo crisis. In a substantially larger number of instances, individuals (most often journalists and politicians) have been threatened with charges of defamation or insult. Indeed, it is a time-honored tradition in Slovakia to accuse one’s political enemies of defamation. In addition to free speech concerns presented by recourse to criminal defamation and insult laws, developments in Slovakia have raised other free speech concerns. For example, the charge of defamation of race, creed or nationality has become increasingly popular in recent years. Deputy Jan Slota, widely known for his inflammatory anti-Hungarian and anti-Roma rhetoric, survived an effort to strip him of his parliamentary immunity in 1999 as a prelude to charging him with defamation of race, creed or nationality. More recently, Romani activist Alexander Patkolo has been threatened with the charge of spreading alarming information and human rights lawyer Columbus Igboanusi has been threatened with charges of spreading alarming information and defaming the Republic of Slovakia. Sources include: Amnesty International (AI); Article XIX; the Committee to Protect Journalists; East European Constitutional Review; “Freedom in the World” reports (published by Freedom House); Index on Censorship; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; U.S. State Department annual Country Reports on Human Rights; the World Press Freedom Committee. Relevant Slovak Laws News reports about persons charged with criminal defamation or “insulting” public officials, government offices or national institutions often do not cite the specific legal basis for the charges. In Slovakia, the laws which appear to give rise to such charges include the following: Article 49 (1) (a) of the Simple Offenses Act provides that anyone who offends another person by insulting him or exposing him to ridicule may be punished by a fine. Article 102 of the Penal Code prohibits defamation of the Republic, National Council of the Slovak Republic, Government or the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic, punishable by up to two years in prison. Article 103 of the Penal Code prohibits defamation of the President of the Republic for the execution of his powers or for his activities in the political life, punishable by up to two years in prison. Article 154(2) of the Penal Code prohibits gross insults or defamation of an organ of state administration in the exercise of its function or in connection with its function, punishable by up to one year in prison. Article 206 of the Penal Code prohibits the dissemination of false and discrediting information about another person, punishable by up to two years in prison. If the defamation occurs in the broadcast or print media, the punishment may increase to five years. In addition, someone convicted under this article may be banned from working as a journalist.

  • Roadblock to Religious Liberty: Religious Registration

    The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a public briefing to explore the issue of religious registration, one of many roadblocks to religious liberties around the world, focusing on religious registration among the 55 nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The troubling trend followed by several OSCE participating states toward restricting the right to freedom of religion by using registration schemes, making it virtually impossible for citizens to practice their faith was addressed. Panelists at the event – including Dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld, Co-Chair of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Dr. Gerhard Robbers, Member of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Vassilios Tsirbas, Senior Counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice; and Col. Kenneth Baillie, Commanding Officer of the Salvation Army-Moscow – discussed the various ways governments are chipping away at religious liberty. New legislation concerning religious registration policies that could potentially stymie religious freedom within the OSCE region was also addressed.

  • Missed Opportunity in Belarus

    By Orest S. Deychakiwsky, Staff Advisor and Ron McNamara, Chief of Staff Commission staff observed the September 9 presidential election in Belarus, in which Belarusian strongman Aleksandr Lukashenka prevailed in a fundamentally unfair election marred by harassment of the opposition and independent media. Unprecedented obstacles erected by the authorities impeded normal long-term observation of the election while Lukashenka lashed out with vitriolic threats against OSCE mission head Ambassador Hans-Georg Wieck and U.S. Ambassador Mike Kozak in the closing days of the campaign. Hopes that the election would bring an end to the country’s self-imposed isolation were dashed by wide-scale rights violations by the regime in the weeks leading up to election day and serious irregularities in the balloting. The International Limited Election Observation Mission, which consisted of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the Parliamentary Troika composed of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE/PA), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, concluded that there were fundamental flaws in the election process and that the elections failed to meet OSCE standards for democratic elections. Commission staff participated in the OSCE/PA delegation, on election day observing the vote in Miensk and in towns and villages in the Miensk,Vitsyebsk and Mahilyow regions, including in the village in which Lukashenka was born. The problematic pre-election campaign period determined the election’s outcome. The election took place against a backdrop of recent credible revelations of involvement by close associates of Lukashenka in the disappearances and presumed murders of leading opposition members. Criteria established by the OSCE in 2000 as benchmarks for democratic elections – transparency of the elections process, access of opponents to the state-run media, and a climate free of fear – were not met. There was a profound lack of a level playing field for the candidates. The weeks leading up to the presidential contest were characterized by harassment of the opposition, raids on non-governmental organizations and independent newspapers, with the confiscation of campaign materials, newspapers, printing presses and computer equipment. The dominant state-owned media outlets were overwhelmingly biased in favor of Lukashenka. The Belarusian authorities did everything they could to thwart the opposition, including ruling by decree, failing to guarantee the independence of the election administration, and allowing abuses in “early voting.” The authorities’ treatment of the OSCE observation mission, including delays in issuing an invitation which forced the mission to limit its observation to a mere three weeks before the election and denials of visas, was described by one OSCE election official as “unprecedented” -- worse than in any other of the more than two dozen countries in which the OSCE has observed elections. The regime maintained firm control over virtually every aspect of the election process, from the makeup of the election commissions with their visible lack of representatives of the opposition, to keeping independent observers from scrutinizing the vote tabulation. One of the few positive outcomes of the Belarusian presidential race was the development of the democratic opposition and civil society, despite the intense pressures it faced from the Lukashenka regime. Regrettably, Lukashenka and his inner circle squandered the opportunity presented by the election to restore some degree of normalcy to relations between Belarus and most OSCE participating States, including the United States. Desperate for a modicum of international recognition, members of Belarus’ “National Assembly” were out in force making overtures to OSCE Parliamentary Assembly observers in hopes of ending their isolation following last year’s flawed parliamentary elections.

  • Torture and Police Abuse in the OSCE Region

    Mr. Speaker, over the July Fourth recess, I had the privilege of participating in the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's annual meeting held in Paris, where I introduced a resolution on the need for the OSCE participating States--all of our States--to intensify our efforts to combat torture , police abuse, and racial profiling. This resolution, adopted and included the Assembly's final Declaration, also calls for greater protection for non-governmental organizations, medical personnel, and others who treat the victims of torture and report on their human rights violations. The resolution also condemns the insidious practice of racial profiling, which has the effect of leaving minorities more vulnerable to police abuse. Finally, my resolution calls for the OSCE participating States to adopt, in law and in practice, a complete ban on incommunicado detention. Tragically, recent news reports only underscore how urgent the problem of police abuse is. I would like to survey a few of the reports received by the Helsinki Commission in recent weeks. First, on July 7 in Slovakia, the body of Karol Sendrei, a 51-year-old Romani father, was returned to his family. The convoluted account of his death has included mutual recriminations among police officers and, so far, has led to the resignation of the mayor of Magnezitovce and indictments against three police officers. While much remains to be sorted out, this much is clear: On July 5, Mr. Sendrei was taken into police custody. The next day, he died of injuries, including shock caused by a torn liver, cranial and pericardial bleeding, and broken jaw, sternum, and ribs. According to reports, Mr. Sendrei had been chained to a radiator and beaten over for the last twelve hours of his life. The deaths in police custody of Lubomir Sarissky in 1999 and now Mr. Sendrei, persistent reports of police abuse in villages like Hermanovce, and the reluctance of the police and judicial system to respond seriously to racially motivated crimes have all eroded trust in law enforcement in Slovakia. As Americans know from first-hand experience, when the public loses that trust, society as a whole pays dearly. I welcome the concern for the Sendrei case reflected in the statements of Prime Minister Dzurinda, whom I had the chance to meet at the end of May, and others in his cabinet. But statements alone will not restore confidence in the police among Slovakia's Romani community. Those who are responsible for this death must be held fully accountable before the law. Although it has received far less press attention, in Hungary, a Romani man was also shot and killed on June 30 by an off-duty police officer in Budapest; one other person was injured in that shooting. While the police officer in that case has been arrested, too often reports of police misconduct in Hungary are ignored or have been countered with a slap on the wrist. I remain particularly alarmed by the persistent reports of police brutality in Hajduhadhaz and police reprisals against those who have reported their abuse to the Helsinki Commission. In one case, a teenager in Hajduhadhaz who had reported being abused by the police was detained by the police again--after his case had been brought to the attention of the Helsinki Commission, and after Helsinki Commission staff had raised it with the Hungarian Ambassador. In an apparent attempt to intimidate this boy, the police claimed to have a “John Doe'' criminal indictment for “unknown persons'' for damaging the reputation of Hungary abroad. These are outrageous tactics from the communist-era that should be ended. I urge Hungarian Government officials to look more closely at this problem and take greater efforts to combat police abuse. I understand an investigation has begun into possible torture by a riverbank patrol in Tiszabura, following reports that police in that unit had forced a 14-year-old Romani boy into the ice-cold waters of the Tisza River. There are now reports that this unit may have victimized other people as well. I am hopeful this investigation will be transparent and credible and that those who have committed abuses will be held fully accountable. In the Czech Republic, lack of confidence in law enforcement agents has recently led some Roma to seek to form their own self-defense units. Frankly, this is not surprising. Roma in the Czech Republic continue to be the target of violent, racially motived crime: On April 25, a group of Roma was attacked by German and Czech skinheads in Novy Bor. On June 30, 4 skinheads attacked a group of Roma in Ostrava; one of the victims of that attack was repeatedly stabbed, leaving his life in jeopardy. On July 16, three men shouting Nazi slogans attacked a Romani family in their home in western Bohemia. On July 21, a Romani man was murdered in Svitavy by a man who had previously committed attacks against Roma, only to face a slap on the wrist in the courts. These cases follow a decade in which racially motivated attacks against Roma in the Czech Republic have largely been tolerated by the police. Indeed, in the case of the murder of Milan Lacko, a police officer was involved. More to the point, he ran over Milan Lacko's body with his police car, after skinheads beat him and left him in the road. I am not, however, without hope for the Czech Republic. Jan Jarab, the Czech Government's Human Rights Commissioner, has spoken openly and courageously of the human rights problems in his country. For example, the Czech News Agency recently reported that Jarob had said that “the Czech legal system deals `benevolently' with attacks committed by right-wing extremists, `[f]rom police investigators, who do not want to investigate such cases as racial crimes, to state attorneys and judges, who pass the lowest possible sentences.'”  I hope Czech political leaders--from every party and every walk of life--will support Jan Jarab's efforts to address the problems he so rightly identified. Clearly, problems of police abuse rarely if ever go away on their own. On the contrary, I believe that, unattended, those who engage in abusive practices only become more brazen and shameless. When two police officers in Romania were accused of beating to death a suspect in Cugir in early July, was it really a shock?  In that case, the two officers had a history of using violent methods to interrogate detainees--but there appears to have been no real effort to hold them accountable for their atrocities. I am especially concerned by reports from Amnesty International that children are among the possible victims of police abuse and torture in Romania. On March 14, 14-year-old Vasile Danut was detained by police in Vladesti and beaten severely by police. On April 5, 15-year-old loana Silaghi was reportedly attacked by a police officer in Oradea. Witnesses in the case have reportedly also been intimidated by the police. In both cases, the injuries of the children were documented by medical authorities. I urge the Romanian authorities to conduct impartial investigations into each of these cases and to hold fully accountable those who may be found guilty of violating the law. Mr. Speaker, as is well-known to many Members, torture and police abuse is a particularly widespread problem in the Republic of Turkey. I have been encouraged by the willingness of some public leaders, such as parliamentarian Emre Kocaoglu, to acknowledge the breadth and depth of the problem. Acknowledging the existence of torture must surely be part of any effort to eradicate this abuse in Turkey. I was therefore deeply disappointed by reports that 18 women, who at a conference last year publicly described the rape and other forms of torture meted out by police, are now facing charges Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw attention to the case of Abner Louima in New York, whose case has come to light again in recent weeks. In 1997, Abner Louima was brutally and horrifically tortured by police officials; he will suffer permanent injuries for the rest of his life because of the damage inflicted in a single evening. Eventually, New York City police officer Justin Volpe pleaded guilty of the crimes. Another officer was also found guilty of participating in the assault and four other officers were convicted of lying to authorities about what happened. On July 12, Abner Louima settled the civil suit he had brought against New York City and its police union. There has been no shortage of ink to describe the $7.125 million that New York City will pay to Mr. Louima and the unprecedented settlement by the police union, which agreed to pay an additional $1.625 million. What is perhaps most remarkable in this case is that Mr. Louima had reached agreement on the financial terms of this settlement months ago. He spent the last 8 months of his settlement negotiations seeking changes in the procedures followed when allegations of police abuse are made. As the Louima case illustrated, there is no OSCE participating State, even one with long democratic traditions and many safeguards in place, that is completely free from police abuse. Of course, I certainly don't want to leave the impression that the problems of all OSCE countries are more or less alike--they are not. The magnitude of the use of torture in Turkey and the use of torture as a means of political repression in Uzbekistan unfortunately distinguish those countries from others. But every OSCE participating State has an obligation to prevent and punish torture and other forms of police abuse and I believe every OSCE country should do more.

  • Twenty-Five Years of the Helsinki Commission

    Mr. Speaker, twenty-five years ago this month, on June 3, 1976, a law was enacted creating the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. We know it as “the Helsinki Commission.” One of the smallest and most unique bodies in the U.S. Government, it perhaps ranks among the most effective for its size. I have been proud to be a member of the Commission for the past 16 years. When President Gerald Ford signed, in Helsinki in 1975, the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, he said that “history will judge this Conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow--not only by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.” That piece of rhetoric has not only been repeated in various forms by every United States President since; it has continually served as a basis for U.S. policy toward Europe. Credit for this fact, and for the Commission's establishment, first goes to our late colleague here in the House, Millicent Fenwick, and the late-Senator Clifford Case, both of New Jersey. Observing the foundation of human rights groups in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to monitor and, it was hoped, to encourage their governments to keep the promises made in Helsinki, she and other Members of Congress felt it would be good to give them some signs of support.   Keep in mind, Mr. Speaker, that this was in the midst of detente with Moscow, a polite dance of otherwise antagonistic great powers. It was a time when the nuclear warhead was thought to be more powerful than the human spirit, and the pursuit of human rights in the communist world was not considered sufficiently realistic, except perhaps as a propaganda tool with which to woo a divided European continent and polarized world. The philosophy of the Commission was otherwise. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is, as the Helsinki Final Act indicates, a prerequisite for true peace and true security. As such, it is also a principle guiding relations between states, a legitimate matter for discussion among them. This philosophy, broadened today to include democratic norms such as free and fair elections and respect for the rule of law, remains the basis for the Commission's work.   Of course, the Commission was not meant to be a place for mere debate on approaches to foreign policy; it had actually to insert itself into the policy-making process. The Commission Chairman for the first decade, the late Dante Fascell of Florida, fought hard to do just that. It was, I would say, a bipartisan fight, with several different Congresses taking on several different Administrations. Moreover, it was not just a fight for influence in policy-making; it was a much tougher fight for better policies. The Commission staff, led during those early years by R. Spencer Oliver, was superb in this respect. It knew the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It worked with non-governmental organizations to increase public diplomacy and, subsequently, public support for In 15 years at the East-West divide, the Commission also championed policies, like the Jackson-Vanik amendment, linking human rights to trade and other aspects of U.S. bilateral relationships. The concept of linkage has often been chastised by the foreign policy establishment, but it comes from the passion of our own country's democratic heritage and nature. With persistence and care, it ultimately proved successful for the United States and the countries concerned.   The Helsinki Commission also became the champion of engagement. Commission members did not simply speak out on human rights abuses; they also traveled to the Soviet Union and the communist countries of East-Central Europe, meeting dissidents and ``refuseniks'' and seeking to gain access to those in the prisons and prison camps. At first, the Commission was viewed as such a threat to the communist system that its existence would not be officially acknowledged, but Commissioners went anyway, in other congressional capacities until such time that barriers to the Commission were broken down. The Commission focus was on helping those who had first inspired the Commission's creation, namely the Helsinki and human rights monitors, who had soon been severely persecuted for assuming in the mid-1970s that they could act upon their rights. Ethnic rights, religious rights, movement, association and expression rights, all were under attack, and the Commission refused to give up its dedication to their defense. Eventually, the hard work paid off, and the beginning of my tenure with the Commission coincided with the first signs under Gorbachev that East-West divisions were finally coming to an end. Sharing the chairmanship with my Senate counterparts--first Alfonse D'Amato of New York and then Dennis DeConcini of Arizona--the Commission argued against easing the pressure at the time it was beginning to produce results.   We argued for the human rights counterpart of President Reagan's “zero option'' for arms control, in which not only the thousands of dissenters and prospective emigrants saw benefits. They were joined by millions of everyday people--workers, farmers, students--suddenly feeling more openness, real freedom, and an opportunity with democracy. Dissidents on whose behalf the Commission fought--while so many others were labeling them insignificant fringe elements in society--were now being released and becoming government leaders, people like Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek and Czech President Vaclav Havel. The independence of the Baltic States, whose forced incorporation into the USSR was never officially recognized by the United States, was actually reestablished, followed by others wishing to act upon the Helsinki right to self-determination.   Of course, Mr. Speaker, those of us on the Commission knew that the fall of communism would give rise to new problems, namely the extreme nationalism which communism swept under the rug of repression rather than neutralized with democratic antiseptic. Still, none of us fully anticipated what was to come in the 1990s. It was a decade of democratic achievement, but it nevertheless witnessed the worst violations of Helsinki principles and provisions, including genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and brutal conflicts elsewhere in the Balkans as well as in Chechnya, the Caucuses and Central Asia, with hundreds of thousands innocent civilians killed and millions displaced. Again, it was the Commission which helped keep these tragedies on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, holding hearings, visiting war zones and advocating an appropriately active and decisive U.S. response. In the face of such serious matters, too many sought to blame history and even democracy, equated victim with aggressor and fecklessly abandoned the principles upon which Helsinki was based. Again the Commission, on a bipartisan basis in dialogue with different Administrations, took strong issue with such an approach. Moreover, with our distinguished colleague, Christopher Smith of New Jersey, taking his turn as Chairman during these tragic times, the Commission took on a new emphasis in seeking justice for victims, providing much needed humanitarian relief and supporting democratic movements in places like Serbia for the sake of long-term stability and the future of the people living there.   In this new decade, Mr. Speaker, the Commission has remained actively engaged on the issues of the time. Corruption and organized crime, trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery, new attacks on religious liberty and discrimination in society, particularly against Romani populations in Europe, present new challenges. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, the latest Commission Chairman, has kept the Commission current and relevant. In addition, there continue to be serious problem areas or widespread or systemic violations of OSCE standards in countries of the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucuses, or reversals of the democratization process as in Belarus. The Commission was born in the Cold War, but its true mission--the struggle for human rights, democratic government and the rule of law--remains as important now as it was then. It remains an essential element for true security and stability in the world, as well as, to paraphrase Helsinki, for the free and full development of the individual person, from whose inherent dignity human rights ultimately derive.   To conclude, Mr. Speaker, I wish to erase any illusion I have given in my praise for the Helsinki Commission on its first quarter of a century that it had single-handedly vanquished the Soviet empire or stopped the genocidal policies of Slobodan Milosevic. No, this did not occur, and our own efforts pale in comparison to the courage and risk-taking of human rights activists in the countries concerned. But I would assert, Mr. Speaker, that the wheels of progress turn through the interaction of numerous cogs, and the Commission has been one of those cogs, maybe with some extra grease. The Commission certainly was the vehicle through which the United States Government was able to bring the will of the American people for morality and human rights into European diplomacy. To those who were in the Soviet gulag, or in Ceausescu's Romania as a recent acquaintance there relayed to me with much emotion, the fact that some Americans and others were out there, speaking on their behalf, gave them the will to survive those dark days, and to continue the struggle for freedom. Many of those voices were emanating in the non-governmental community, groups like Amnesty International, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch. Through the Helsinki Commission, the voice of the United States Congress was heard as well, and I know that all of my colleagues who have been on the Commission or worked with it are enormously proud of that fact.

Pages