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Congressional Visit to Stockholm, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Moscow
Tuesday, February 19, 1991

The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe decided to visit Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in mid-February 1991 and to meet with their freely­ elected leaders and government officials for one paramount purpose: in the context of a fact-finding mission, to express U.S. Congressional support for Baltic aspirations in the wake of the bloodshed in Lithuania and Latvia in January, when Soviet Internal Affairs Ministry troops killed 18 unarmed civilians.

The delegation was the first group of Members of the U.S. Congress to visit the Baltics since those events. The unusually large size of the delegation -- it comprised 13 Members and was the largest Congressional delegation ever to visit the Baltic States in the fifty years since their forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union --and the broad geographic range of the Members' home districts testified to widespread backing for the Baltic cause in the U.S. Congress and among the American people, despite preoccupation in the United States with the military campaign in the Persian Gulf.

The delegation's other objective was to meet with Boris Yeltsin, chairman of the parliament of the Russian Federation, and was directly connected to the primary objective of voicing support for the Baltic cause. Yeltsin had publicly condemned the use of force in Lithuania and Latvia, even calling on Russian soldiers to disobey orders to fire on Lithuanians. Members wanted to hear his position on the situation in the Baltic States, the status of their negotiations with Russia, and prospects for democratization in the USSR.

The Members also hoped to arrange a meeting with Soviet President Gorbachev to convey the sense of concern in the U.S. Congress at the resort to violence in January and to express support for continued political and economic liberalization in the Soviet Union. Although President Gorbachev did not meet with the delegation, Soviet authorities did set up a formal meeting in Moscow with Rafik Nishanov, Chairman of the Council of Nationalities of the USSR Supreme Soviet, and his colleagues. The discussion allowed delegation members to familiarize themselves with the current official Soviet position on the Baltic States' desire to regain their political independence.

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

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

  • Floor Statement in Support of H.Con.Res. 190

    H. Con. Res. 190 expresses the sense of the Congress that the Russian Federation should fully protect the right of its people to worship and practice their faith as they see fit. This freedom is the right of all religious communities without distinct, whether registered or unregistered, and that is stipulated by the Russian Constitution and by international standards. Yet I am sorry to report religious freedom for minority religious communities throughout the Russian Federation have been under growing pressure as local officials and government authorities continue to harass and limit the abilities of these groups to practice their faith freely.  As we learned at a recent Helsinki Commission hearing, instances of violence have become alarmingly common. Arson attacks against churches in Russia have occurred in several towns and cities with little or no police response. In its 2005 International Religious Freedom Report, the State Department Office on International Religious Freedom notes: “Some Federal agencies and many local authorities continue to restrict the rights of various religious minorities. Moreover, contradictions between Federal and local laws and varying interpretations of the law provide regional officials with opportunities to restrict the activities of religious minorities. Many observers attribute discriminatory practices at the local level to the greater susceptibility of local governments than the Federal Government to discriminatory attitudes in lobbying by local majority religious groups. The government only occasionally intervenes to prevent or reverse discrimination at the local level.” Mr. Speaker, the internationally recognized expert on religious liberty in Russia, Larry Uzzell, has written: “Russia has now come to use as standard practice methods of religious repression that were applied only occasionally in the 1990s. Secular bureaucrats now typically refuse to authorize land transfers to Baptist churches and also forbid movie theaters or other public halls to sign rental contracts with them.” As a result, as an example: “In Moscow City alone some 10 Baptist congregations have ceased to exist simply because they could not find places within which to worship.” I would just note parenthetically, Mr. Speaker, I want to thank Larry for his extraordinary work in bringing this matter to the attention of the Congress. Larry is a tireless advocate for oppressed believers throughout Russia and Central Asia. He is facing some serious health issues now, and I would like to wish him a very speedy recovery. Mr. Speaker, in response to this growing and very negative trend in Russia, this resolution urges the Russian Federation to “ensure full protections of freedoms for all religious communities without distinction, whether registered or unregistered, and to end the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies, as well as to ensure that law enforcement officials rigorously investigate acts of violence against unregistered religious communities, and to make certain that authorities are not complicit in such attacks.” I point out that in March 2004 a district court banned the religious activity of Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow. For 2 years now the authorities have used the Moscow decision to harass the Jehovah's Witnesses Administration Center in St. Petersburg, with threats to “liquidate” the administrative center which could threaten local congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout all of Russia. Members of the Russia's Muslim community and respected human rights activists have expressed concern regarding what they contend are large-scale fabrications of terrorism against Russian Muslims. One of Russia's Supreme Muftis has stated that random police checks and arrests are becoming commonplace throughout Russia for Russian Muslims. Let me reiterate that Russia has every right to defend itself against terrorism and to investigate and prosecute terrorists. Of course it does. Here in the United States we face the problem of combating terrorism while safeguarding civil liberties. I would urge the government, however, to strive for the proper balance in defending both its citizens as well as their civil liberties. Mr. Speaker, the religious liberty picture in Russia is not entirely dark, and it would be disingenuous to make that assertion. There are Nations that have worse records. They can be found on the list of “countries of particular concern” that is issued by the U.S. Department of State in its annual report on religious freedom around the world, so-called CPC countries like Vietnam.  However, Russia is a member of the U.N. Security Council, an OSCE-participating State, and will soon chair the Council of Europe. In addition, this year, it is the chair of the G-8 and the host of the G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg in July. Considering all of these positions, they should be expected to uphold basic, internationally recognized and accepted standards to protect peaceful religious practice. That is what this resolution is all about.

  • Promoting Religious Freedom in the Russian Federation

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

  • Statement in Support of H.Con.Res. 190

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H. Con. Res. 190, urging the Russian Federation to protect and ensure religious freedom for all people in Russia. Last year witnesses at a Helsinki Commission hearing on unregistered religious groups in Russia, provided alarming reports about the actions of local authorities towards unregistered or minority religious communities. Recurring reports of police harassment and criminal violence (that is rarely vigorously investigated) against these groups is jeopardizing the status of religious liberties in Russia. Adding to the concerns are recent reports that the Duma is preparing legislation to regulate the activities of missionaries. Reportedly, the bill would create administrative and criminal penalties for “unlawful missionary work connected with provoking religious extremism.” There was also speculation in the Russian media that the Justice Ministry was looking to tighten the rules for granting visas to foreign missionaries. Furthermore, there are also reports that the Duma is considering an amendment to existing legislation that would require re-registration of registered religious organizations. Mr. Speaker, these initiatives make evident that some people in the Russian government believe the role of the state is to control religious freedom rather than to facilitate and protect free expression. Officials know that it is very difficult for unregistered religious organizations to function effectively and freely—they know that limiting the actions of missionaries and restricting the distribution of visas would be the best option to control the growth of religious organizations. The Congress must send a clear signal to President Putin and other Russian officials that religious freedom is a critically important issue and that we expect Russia to uphold its own constitution and its international commitments and protect the fundamental right of freedom of conscience. This resolution specifically urges Russia to fully protect religious freedoms for all religious communities, whether registered or unregistered, and to prevent the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies. I strongly urge my colleagues to support H. Con. Res. 190.

  • Statement in Support of H.Con.Res. 190

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the House is considering H.Con.Res. 190 today, that urges the Russian Federation to protect fully the freedoms of all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, as stipulated by the Russian Constitution and international standards. As stated in the resolution, the United States throughout its history has sought to protect the fundamental and inalienable human right to seek, know, and serve God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience.  I completely agree.  The “first right” of religious freedom must be respected, and so this resolution is of critical importance.   The Russian Federation is an OSCE participating State and has freely committed to protect this right, so that all may freely profess and practice the religion or belief, either alone or in community with others.  Russia has promised to do this through numerous OSCE documents, but also in its own constitution. Article 28 of the Russian constitution declares “everyone shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of conscience, to freedom of religious worship, including the right to profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion.” Unfortunately, this fundamental right is not always observed, especially for groups that are not registered with the government.  For groups denied registration, who have had their registration stripped, or refuse registration on religious grounds, the lack of registration means they experience significant difficulties in enjoying their religious liberties.  Registration is critical for religious groups to enjoy fully their religious freedoms, as many rights and privileges afforded to religious communities are contingent on obtaining registration.  In addition to discrimination by local authorities, in the last two years there have been more than ten arson attacks estimated on unregistered Protestant churches.  At a Helsinki Commission hearing that I attended last year on problems facing unregistered religious groups in Russia, I was troubled to learn of the lack of effective action by law enforcement to bring the criminals to justice. The perpetrators of these hateful acts have gone unpunished, with police and other officials turning a blind eye.  In the worst cases, law enforcement personnel have actually been the persecutors, carrying out violent actions against individuals from unregistered communities who are only wishing to practice peacefully their faith.   In closing, the Russian Federation is urged to do more, to ensure that all may fully enjoy their religious liberties.  I therefore urge my colleagues to support H.Con.Res. 190. 

  • Statement in Support of H.Con.Res.190 (McIntyre)

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that the House is considering H.Con.Res. 190 today, that urges the Russian Federation to protect fully the freedoms of all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, as stipulated by the Russian Constitution and international standards. As stated in the resolution, the United States throughout its history has sought to protect the fundamental and inalienable human right to seek, know, and serve God according to the dictates of one’s own conscience.  I completely agree.  The “first right” of religious freedom must be respected, and so this resolution is of critical importance.  The Russian Federation is an OSCE participating State and has freely committed to protect this right, so that all may freely profess and practice the religion or belief, either alone or in community with others.  Russia has promised to do this through numerous OSCE documents, but also in its own constitution. Article 28 of the Russian constitution declares “everyone shall be guaranteed the right to freedom of conscience, to freedom of religious worship, including the right to profess, individually or jointly with others, any religion.” Unfortunately, this fundamental right is not always observed, especially for groups that are not registered with the government.  For groups denied registration, who have had their registration stripped, or refuse registration on religious grounds, the lack of registration means they experience significant difficulties in enjoying their religious liberties.  Registration is critical for religious groups to enjoy fully their religious freedoms, as many rights and privileges afforded to religious communities are contingent on obtaining registration.  In addition to discrimination by local authorities, in the last two years there have been more than ten arson attacks estimated on unregistered Protestant churches.  At a Helsinki Commission hearing that I attended last year on problems facing unregistered religious groups in Russia, I was troubled to learn of the lack of effective action by law enforcement to bring the criminals to justice. The perpetrators of these hateful acts have gone unpunished, with police and other officials turning a blind eye.  In the worst cases, law enforcement personnel have actually been the persecutors, carrying out violent actions against individuals from unregistered communities who are only wishing to practice peacefully their faith.  In closing, the Russian Federation is urged to do more, to ensure that all may fully enjoy their religious liberties.  I therefore urge my colleagues to support H.Con.Res. 190.   

  • Statement in Support of H.Con.Res.190 (Pitts)

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H. Con. Res. 190, urging the Russian Federation to protect and ensure religious freedom for all people in Russia.   Last year witnesses at a Helsinki Commission hearing on unregistered religious groups in Russia, provided alarming reports about the actions of local authorities towards unregistered or minority religious communities. Recurring reports of police harassment and criminal violence (that is rarely vigorously investigated) against these groups is jeopardizing the status of religious liberties in Russia.   Adding to the concerns are recent reports that the Duma is preparing legislation to regulate the activities of missionaries. Reportedly, the bill would create administrative and criminal penalties for “unlawful missionary work connected with provoking religious extremism.” There was also speculation in the Russian media that the Justice Ministry was looking to tighten the rules for granting visas to foreign missionaries. Furthermore, there are also reports that the Duma is considering an amendment to existing legislation that would require re-registration of registered religious organizations.   Mr. Speaker, these initiatives make evident that some people in the Russian government believe the role of the state is to control religious freedom rather than to facilitate and protect free expression. Officials know that it is very difficult for unregistered religious organizations to function effectively and freely—they know that limiting the actions of missionaries and restricting the distribution of visas would be the best option to control the growth of religious organizations.   The Congress must send a clear signal to President Putin and other Russian officials that religious freedom is a critically important issue and that we expect Russia to uphold its own constitution and its international commitments and protect the fundamental right of freedom of conscience. This resolution specifically urges Russia to fully protect religious freedoms for all religious communities, whether registered or unregistered, and to prevent the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies. I strongly urge my colleagues to support H. Con. Res. 190.

  • Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election

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

  • Attack on Chasidic Synagogue in Moscow

    Mr. President, on January 11 of this year, at the Moscow Headquarters and Synagogue of Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the Former Soviet Union, a so-called "skinhead" attacked worshippers with a knife and wounded eight persons. I know that all Members of this body deplore this terrible crime and send our prayers and best wishes to all those injured during the assault. The victims of this senseless violence include Rabbi Isaac Kogan, who testified before an April 6 Helsinki Commission hearing I convened last year concerning Chabad's ongoing efforts to retrieve the Schneerson Collection of sacred Jewish texts from Moscow. The Rabbi is a noted refusenik who was appointed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, to be part of Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the Former Soviet Union. In addition to nurturing Judaism throughout the former USSR, that organization has fought tirelessly to win the return of the Schneerson Collection to its rightful owners in the United States. The entire U.S. Senate has twice petitioned the Russian leadership to release those holy texts.  As chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have followed closely the issue of anti-Semitism and extremism around the world. Unfortunately, the brutal attack at the Agudas Chasidei Chabad synagogue fits what appears to be a rising trend of attacks on ethnic and religious minorities in Russia.  Let me present one disturbing statistic. According to an article in the Moscow News last year, the Moscow Human Rights Center reports that Russia has up to 50,000 skinheads with active groups in 85 cities. This is opposed to an estimated 70,000 skinhead activists throughout the rest of the world.  To make matters worse, there are indications that the police themselves are sometimes involved in racist attacks. Earlier this month, a Russian newspaper carried a story about the Moscow police assault of a passerby who happened to be from the North Caucasus. According to persons from the North Caucasus, such beatings are a common occurrence.  What was uncommon was the fact that the gentleman in question is a colonel in the Russian Army and an internationally known cosmonaut. Let me be clear, anti-Semitism, bigotry, extremist attacks and police brutality are not found only in Russia. Our own country has not been immune to these challenges to rule of law and human dignity.  Nevertheless, as Russia accedes to the chairmanship of the G-8 and the Council of Europe, there will be increased scrutiny of its commitment to internationally recognized standards of human rights practices. I urge the authorities in Russia to do everything in their power to combat ethnic and religious intolerance and safeguard the religious freedom and physical safety of all it citizens.

  • Remembering the Holocaust While Fighting Anti-Semitism

    Mr. Speaker, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps is often selected as the day to honor those murdered at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. More than one million people were killed at Auschwitz before the survivors were liberated on January 27, 1945. Appropriately, each January 27, individuals and governments around the world pause to remember those individuals murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Also known as the Sho'ah, Hebrew for "calamity," the Holocaust witnessed the death of six million Jews by the Nazi killing machine, many of them in concentration camps or elsewhere in a web that stretched throughout the heart of Europe. Millions of individuals, political dissidents, Jehovah's Witnesses, those with disabilities, and others including entire Romani families, also perished at the hands of the Nazis. Mr. Speaker, the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps is often selected as the day to honor those murdered at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. More than one million people were killed at Auschwitz before the survivors were liberated on January 27, 1945. Appropriately, each January 27, individuals and governments around the world pause to remember those individuals murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Also known as the Sho'ah, Hebrew for "calamity," the Holocaust witnessed the death of six million Jews by the Nazi killing machine, many of them in concentration camps or elsewhere in a web that stretched throughout the heart of Europe. Millions of individuals, political dissidents, Jehovah's Witnesses, those with disabilities, and others including entire Romani families, also perished at the hands of the Nazis. Holocaust Remembrance Day also celebrates those brave souls who faced unimaginable horrors and lived to tell of their experiences. In a historic first, late last year the United Nations designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Initial drafters of the resolution, Australia, Canada, Israel, Russia and the United States, were joined by 100 nations in sponsoring the resolution in the General Assembly. Other international organizations, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have done much to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are taught in schools across Europe, including the former Soviet Union. In addition, the Belgian Chair-in-Office of the OSCE held a commemorative event for Holocaust victims on January 27 in Brussels. Unfortunately, while the Holocaust is rightly remembered, its lessons have yet to be fully learned. Early on, the world said "Never Again" to genocide, only to allow genocide to happen again in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the 1990s, and in Darfur today. The establishment of international tribunals to seek justice in response to these crimes may indicate some progress, but the best way to honor the lives of those who died during the Holocaust or in subsequent genocides would be to have the resolve to take decisive action to try to stop the crime in the first place.  Some heads of state refuse to recognize even the existence of the Holocaust. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, made the outrageous claim on December 14 that Europeans had "created a myth in the name of Holocaust." Showing his virulent anti-Semitic nature, two months earlier in October, he said Israel is "a disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map." While Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic hate is shocking, other hate mongers have physically attacked Jews. In early January, a knife-wielding skinhead shouting "I will kill Jews" and "Heil Hitler" burst into a Moscow synagogue and stabbed at least eight worshippers. A copycat attack followed in Rostov-on-Don, with the attacker thankfully being stopped inside the synagogue before anyone was hurt. As Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I have worked over the past four years with other Members of Congress and parliamentarians from around the world to fight anti-Semitism. I was pleased to have either authored or cosponsored three resolutions at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which condemned anti-Semitism, while also being a principal sponsor to the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act that passed the Congress and was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. Internationally, the OSCE has held three international meetings focusing on anti-Semitism and has pledged to hold another major conference in Romania in 2007.  Mr. Speaker, while our struggle continues, we have made progress, moving governments and international organizations to begin to act. To reverse Edmund Burke's truism, what is necessary for the triumph of good over evil is for good men and women to take action. ls who faced unimaginable horrors and lived to tell of their experiences. In a historic first, late last year the United Nations designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Initial drafters of the resolution, Australia, Canada, Israel, Russia and the United States, were joined by 100 nations in sponsoring the resolution in the General Assembly. Other international organizations, like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have done much to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are taught in schools across Europe, including the former Soviet Union. In addition, the Belgian Chair-in-Office of the OSCE held a commemorative event for Holocaust victims on January 27 in Brussels. Unfortunately, while the Holocaust is rightly remembered, its lessons have yet to be fully learned. Early on, the world said "Never Again" to genocide, only to allow genocide to happen again in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda in the 1990s, and in Darfur today. The establishment of international tribunals to seek justice in response to these crimes may indicate some progress, but the best way to honor the lives of those who died during the Holocaust or in subsequent genocides would be to have the resolve to take decisive action to try to stop the crime in the first place.  Some heads of state refuse to recognize even the existence of the Holocaust. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the President of Iran, made the outrageous claim on December 14 that Europeans had "created a myth in the name of Holocaust." Showing his virulent anti-Semitic nature, two months earlier in October, he said Israel is "a disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map." While Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic hate is shocking, other hate mongers have physically attacked Jews. In early January, a knife-wielding skinhead shouting "I will kill Jews" and "Heil Hitler" burst into a Moscow synagogue and stabbed at least eight worshippers. A copycat attack followed in Rostov-on-Don, with the attacker thankfully being stopped inside the synagogue before anyone was hurt. As Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I have worked over the past four years with other Members of Congress and parliamentarians from around the world to fight anti-Semitism. I was pleased to have either authored or cosponsored three resolutions at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, which condemned anti-Semitism, while also being a principal sponsor to the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act that passed the Congress and was signed into law by President Bush in 2004. Internationally, the OSCE has held three international meetings focusing on anti-Semitism and has pledged to hold another major conference in Romania in 2007.  Mr. Speaker, while our struggle continues, we have made progress, moving governments and international organizations to begin to act. To reverse Edmund Burke's truism, what is necessary for the triumph of good over evil is for good men and women to take action.

  • Remarks by Benjamin L. Cardin Urging the Russian Federation to Withdraw Legislation Restricting the Establishment of Nongovernmental Organizations

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in support and as a cosponsor of H. Con. Res. 312, to urge the Russian Government to alter or withdraw the proposed legislation affecting nongovernmental organizations, NGO's, operating in Russia. The Russian legislation would severely restrict foreign assistance to NGO's in Russia and would also force existing Russian NGO's to reregister with the government.   The draft Russian bill raises a number of serious concerns, and may violate Russia's commitments to the OSCE. Several hundred thousand nongovernmental organizations currently operate in Russia, representing all sections of society. By forcing all NGO's to reregister, the Russian Government will have the power to subjectively deny registration to some organizations and limit the activities of others. This legislation strikes at the heart of basic democratic freedoms: the right of individuals to freely associate and participate in society. Some of the provisions in this bill would also increase the oversight of financial auditing of NGO's, which the government could use to place restrictions on opposition groups.   Just months ago, the Russian President Vladimir Putin outlawed any foreign funding of political parties in Russia. This legislation goes further and affects human rights groups and other NGO's who are only seeking to improve the nature of Russia's civil society. Foreign organizations would be required to register as legal Russian entities, seriously hindering their attempts to promote democracy and accountability in Russia. Many organizations which have conducted prominent and important human rights work in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union would see their activities curtailed under the Russian bill, which may lead to the partial or complete closure of critical offices inside of Russia.   Last month, the State Duma in Russia approved the first reading of the bill by 370 to 18 votes, despite more than 1,000 NGO's appealing for the Duma to reject it. This Friday, December 16, the Duma has scheduled a second reading of the bill. As the ranking member of the Helsinki Commission, I have worked closely with Commission Cochairman Chris Smith in opposition to this bill. The Helsinki Commission sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter in November--which I cosigned--to the Chairman of the Russian State Duma urging the rejection of this legislation. In particular, the letter emphasized the importance that nongovernmental organizations play in civil society and in fulfilling Russia's obligations as a democratic state and member of the international community.   Russia has made great strides since the end of the Cold War. There were serious concerns that Russia would not have a smooth transition to a fully functioning democracy. I am gravely concerned about recent developments in Russia. President Putin himself has said that “modern Russia's greatest achievement is the democratic process (and) the achievements of civil society." I therefore call on President Putin and the State Duma to be true to their word and reject this bill, to reaffirm their commitment to the democratic process and civil society.

  • Remarks by Christopher H. Smith Urging Russian Federation to Withdraw Legislation Restricting Establishment of Nongovernmental Organizations

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in very strong support of H. Con. Res. 312, introduced by the very distinguished chairman of our full committee, Chairman Henry Hyde, urging the Government of the Russian Federation to withdraw or modify proposed legislation that would have a chilling effect on civil society in that country.   Amazingly, as Russia prepares to assume leadership of the G-8 and the Council of Europe next month, Russian lawmakers have been working feverishly to subordinate pockets of independent thought and action to state control. The focus of recent days has been on nongovernmental organizations, especially those working in the fields of human rights and democracy. In essence, the provisions would require all nongovernmental organizations to re-register with a government commission empowered with invasive powers to monitor NGO activities.   The Duma has passed amendments to the Law on Public Associations by a vote of 370-18, but the measure must go through further readings scheduled for next week and signed then by Vladimir Putin before it becomes law. In mid-November, members of the Helsinki Commission, which I am co-chair of, sent a letter which I will make a part of the RECORD to the Speaker of the Russian Duma, Boris Gryzlov, urging the Duma to reject the pending proposed amendments, purportedly crafted with input from Putin's advisers.   The move against NGOs, Mr. Speaker, is not occurring in a vacuum, but is calculated to move in a lead-up to the critical parliamentary elections that are scheduled for 2007 and a presidential contest the following year to replace Putin, who is prevented from seeking another term.   In response to expressions of concern from the United States and others, some modifications to the draft are apparently being considered, though it is still unclear the extent to which the amendments will be revamped. We will not have a full picture until next week. By then, it may be too late to change before landing on President Putin's desk. Thus, consideration of Chairman Hyde's measure comes at a critical time for the House to be on record opposing the burdensome compulsory registration requirements being proposed.   As originally drafted, the proposed amendments will require Russia's approximately 450,000 NGOs to re-register with a government commission under a complicated registration procedure and would expand the ability of the government to deny registration permission.   Financial auditing, a tactic currently used to harass opposition NGOs, would also become more intrusive under the bill's provisions. No doubt there would be negative impact on foreign-based organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and the Carnegie Foundation, while increasing controls over NGOs of Russian origin.   Mr. Speaker, whatever package of amendments to the legal framework for NGOs in Russia finally emerges, they must be evaluated in light of that country's commitments as a member of the Council of Europe and participating state in the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe. Do the proposals under consideration in the Russian Duma fully respect the right of individuals to freedom of association, or do they undermine that fundamental freedom under the guise of fighting corruption and terrorism? That is the key question. This resolution gets us on record, and hopefully it will have some sway with the Duma and with President Putin.   Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record the letter I referred to earlier to the Chairman of the Russian State Duma, Boris Gryzlov.

  • Riding Roughshod Over Rights in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act, I remain deeply concerned about the violations of human rights occurring every day in Lukashenka's Belarus.   During a recent news conference, the autocratic Belarusian leader expressed confidence in his victory in the presidential election scheduled for next year, rhetorically asking why should he be rigging this election. Given his intensified assault on civil society, his dismal human rights record, and penchant for rigged elections, Mr. Lukashenka's statements ring hollow. Yet, Lukashenka's actions against democratic forces, non-governmental organizations and the independent media belie his stated confidence regarding electoral victory.   Last week, the lower chamber of Lukashenka's pocket parliament passed a law endorsing tougher new penalties for activities “directed against people and public security,” a proposal submitted to the parliament only days before passage. These changes to the Criminal Code increase penalties for participation in organizations that were liquidated or warned to stop their pro-democratic activities, or for the training and other preparations for unauthorized demonstrations or other civic actions.   Mr. Speaker, to cite just one of the draconian provisions, the Code now gives authorities the leeway to jail an individual for up to 2 years for “providing a foreign country, a foreign or international organization with patently false information about the political, economic, social, military, and international situation of the Republic of Belarus.” Putting aside the matter of such a provision violating free speech norms, if the past is any guide, it is clear who would be the arbiter of what constitutes “false information.” There can be no doubt that the law aims to stifle the democratic opposition, and the head of the KGB (yes, in Belarus it is still called the KGB) himself recently admitted that the reasons for the law is to discourage street protests during the upcoming presidential race.   This law, while particularly blatant, is part and parcel of other actions designed to strengthen the regime's control and deny the Belarusian people any alternative voices as the presidential election campaign unfolds. Last month, a new law further controlling political parties came into force. A recent Council of Ministers decree clamps down on organizations that conduct public opinion polls. A Lukashenka decree further discriminates against independent trade unions, stipulating that only trade unions belonging to the pro-governmental federation are granted the right to premises at no cost. Yet another decree considerably limits students' opportunities to travel abroad.   Meanwhile, opposition activists are routinely beaten up or detained. Just last week, for instance, Ales Kalita was detained and at the hands of the police suffered a dislocated arm for merely distributing the independent newspaper “Narodna Volya.” Viktor Syritsya, a lecturer at Baranavichi College was fired for organizing a meeting of students with presidential opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich. Belarusian State Economic University in Minsk expelled fourth-year student Tatsyana Khoma because she took a brief trip to France, where she was elected to the executive committee of the Brussels-based National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB), an umbrella organization of 44 national student unions from 34 countries. The police beat activist Mikita Sasim. They detained youth activists Yauhen Afnagel and others. Other repressive actions include frequent arrests of activists of democratic youth movements such as ZUBR, a ban on worship by some religious congregations and other repressive actions against selected religious minorities, and continued harassment of members of the Union of Poles in Belarus.   Moreover, there is an emerging pattern of the regime putting obstacles in the way of Mr. Milinkevich. Recently, a public meeting he held in Borbuisk was disrupted by the authorities, with participants being told by the authorities to go home and threatened with tax inspections. During a press conference, the electricity in the room was cut off, as well as a “hot-line” phone with town residents.   Especially egregious has been the regime's intensification of the war against the already repressed and struggling independent media. Newspaper closures, suspensions, threats, and exorbitant and absurd libel fines, pressures on advertisers and other forms of harassment have become routine. Outright police confiscations of independent newspapers are also not uncommon. A seemingly more subtle tactic, implemented just a few weeks ago, involved the decision by Belarus' monopoly state postal service to stop delivery to subscribers of a dozen private periodicals. Meanwhile, the suspicious murder in 2004 of journalist Veronika Charkasova has not been resolved. Authorities have refused to open a criminal investigation into journalist Vasil Hrodnikau's death. Lukashenka himself recently admitted to Russian journalists that his regime applies very serious pressure on the media, somewhat incongruously adding that ``this does not mean I am crushing them.''   Mr. Speaker, what I have cited is by no means an exhaustive list of abuses perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime, merely a sampling of the types of repressive actions employed on a daily basis by Europe's last dictator. As Helsinki Commission Co-Chair, I will continue to monitor closely and speak out forcefully regarding these and other violations of Belarus' freely undertaken OSCE commitments. I urge the Bush Administration to step up efforts to break the Lukashenka regime's near monopoly over the country's information space and provide timely assistance to pro-democracy forces in Belarus.   It is clear that Mr. Lukashenka and his minions are laying the groundwork for yet another un-free and unfair election--similar to the 2001 presidential elections and the 2000 and 2004 parliamentary elections--that will fall far short of OSCE standards. Lukashenka is once again showing that, despite his confident rhetoric, he fears his own people and profoundly fails to respect their dignity as citizens and as human beings.

  • Religious Speech Limitations in Sweden

    Mr. Speaker, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is a fundamental element of international human rights norms. It is inextricably intertwined with other fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. Considering this, I am increasingly concerned by European trends to place limitations on religious speech under the guise of preventing offense or limiting hate speech. One such case concerns Ake Green, the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Kalmar, Sweden, who was sentenced to 1 month in prison for “inciting hatred” against homosexuals.   Pastor Green’s troubles began on July 20, 2003, when he expressed his disapproval of homosexuality in a sermon, founded upon his understanding of the Bible. He did not incite nor encourage his congregation on the small southeastern island of Oland to violence. He did, however, express his personal opinion on homosexuality and made a personal moral judgment that the lifestyle was sinful. He later circulated the sermon text to media outlets in an attempt to insert an alternative view into Sweden’s “marketplace of ideas.”   When prosecutors saw the sermon printed, they brought charges against Pastor Green for “inciting hate” toward homosexuals. A district court agreed in June 2004, finding his sermon to be criminal. One particularly alarming quote from the district court’s decision stated, “It is forbidden to use the Bible or similar material to threaten or express disrespect for homosexuals as a group.” Mr. Speaker, should pastors really be sent to jail for sermons that a court deems “disrespectful” or “offensive”? Should the state really dictate how a religious leader interprets the Bible, the Torah, or other religious texts? The district court’s ruling raises the question of whether ministers and priests in Sweden are really free to preach their beliefs.   I recognize that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and not all speech is protected. After 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings, we have all seen how criminals abuse religion to preach violence and lead others in criminal deeds. Authorities are within their rights to take legal action to curtail the speech when it rises to the level of posing an imminent threat of actual criminal action. The international community and the European Court of Human Rights have recognized this high threshold for limiting speech activity. Yet we must be careful to not limit religious liberties and speech rights.   Thankfully, Pastor Green has not spent a night in jail while his case is on appeal. Also encouraging was the February decision by an appellate court to overturn the conviction, saying it is not illegal to preach a personal interpretation of the Bible. However, Sweden’s chief prosecutor, Fredrik Wersaell, appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that Green violated Sweden’s 2003 hate crimes law. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on November 9th.   Undoubtedly, Swedes enjoy tremendous religious freedoms and generally Sweden is a staunch defender of human rights. However, in this case, the government has sought to limit basic religious teachings. I believe the criminalization of the use of the Bible to express beliefs, if not overturned, will have frighteningly broad ramifications for the free practice of religion in Sweden and beyond.

  • American Agenda Moves Forward at the 14th Annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    The 14th Annual Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly convened in Washington, DC, July 1-5, 2005. Speaker of the House, J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), the host for this year’s Assembly, welcomed more than 260 parliamentarians from 51 OSCE participating States as they gathered to discuss various political, economic, and humanitarian issues under the theme, “30 Years since Helsinki: Challenges Ahead.”  Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) served as head of the U.S. Delegation, Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) was delegation vice-chairman.  Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice gave the inaugural address at the assembly’s opening session, thanking the members of the OSCE PA for their work toward “human rights, the rule of law, free and fair elections, and the development of transparent, accountable institutions of government across the OSCE community and around the globe. “As the Chairman-in-Office and Parliamentary Assembly take a fresh look at the OSCE agenda and consider these and other items, preserving the integrity of Helsinki principles and ensuring that the OSCE continues to be an agent of peaceful, democratic transformation should be paramount objectives,” Secretary Rice said. Chairman Brownback in plenary remarks underscored the rich history of the Helsinki Process, unwavering U.S. commitment to human rights and the dignity of the individual, and the dramatic advances made in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.  At the same time, he pointed to the remaining work to be done in the OSCE region and beyond to meet the promises made with the signing of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act.      Offering guidance to the body, OSCE PA President and Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) reiterated the gathering’s theme:  “In this new Europe, and in this new world, the OSCE and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly must stand ready to respond to new threats and challenges, and this means evolving and adapting to new realities.” Agenda and Issues Among the issues considered by the Assembly were recommendations for changes in the OSCE Code of Conduct for Mission Members, efforts to combat human trafficking, and calls for greater transparency and accountability in election procedures in keeping with OSCE commitments made by each of the 55 participating States. The First Committee on Political Affairs and Security met to discuss matters of terrorism and conflict resolution, including resolutions on the following topics: terrorism by suicide bombers the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia terrorism and human rights Moldova and the status of Transdniestria Under the chairmanship of Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), the Second Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment moved on a number of issues, including resolutions and amendments on: small arms and light weapons maritime security and piracy the OSCE Mediterranean dimension money laundering the fight against corruption The Third Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions tackled a number of resolutions, as well as two supplementary items brought by members of the U.S. Delegation.  Other topics addressed by the Committee included:         the need to strengthen the Code of Conduct for OSCE Mission Members combating trafficking in human beings improving the effectiveness of OSCE election observation activities The Assembly plenary met in consideration of the resolutions passed by the general committees as well as the following supplementary items: improving gender equality in the OSCE combating anti-Semitism Special side events were held in conjunction with the 5-day meeting, including a briefing on the status of detainees at the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, held by senior U.S. officials from the Departments of Defense and State.  Members of the U.S. Delegation also participated in the following organized events: Parliamentary responses to anti-Semitism Working breakfast on gender issues Mediterranean side meeting Panel discussion on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict Human rights in Uzbekistan Meeting of the parliamentary team on Moldova In addition, while participating in the Assembly, members of the U.S. Delegation held bilateral meetings with fellow parliamentarians from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.  They also had formal discussions with the newly appointed OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut. Key U.S. Initiatives The successful adoption of a number of supplementary items and amendments to the Assembly’s Washington Declaration illustrated the extent of the activity of the members of the U.S. Delegation in the three Assembly committees.  The delegation met success in advancing its initiatives in human trafficking, election observation activities, and religious freedom. As a result, the Washington Declaration reflects significant input based on U.S. initiatives. In the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, Senator Voinovich (R-OH) sponsored, and successfully passed, a supplementary item on funding for the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to allow it to continue its missions and responsibilities. Speaking on the passage of his resolution on combating trafficking at the hands of international peacekeepers, Co-Chairman Smith said, “In the past, the lack of appropriate codes of conduct for international personnel, including military service members, contractors, and international organization’s employees, limited the ability to counter sexual exploitation and trafficking.  That is finally changing.” The U.S. Delegation also overwhelmingly defeated text offered by the Russian Delegation that would have weakened the ability of ODIHR to effectively perform election observations.  Co-Chairman Smith, principal sponsor of the amendments that served to frustrate the Russian resolution, praised the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly saying, “The Parliamentary Assembly has reaffirmed the central and historic leadership role of the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in monitoring elections….Parliamentarians from the participating States have soundly rejected the ploy to weaken OSCE election standards, holding participating States accountable when they fail to fulfill their OSCE election commitments.” On the issue of religious freedom, the U.S. Delegation carried through two amendments to the final Assembly declaration. “I am very pleased that these amendments passed,” said Co-Chairman Smith, who offered the amendments to the draft resolution.  “However, the fact that the first amendment passed by only 10 votes underscores the continuing challenge in the fight for religious liberties in the OSCE region.  The fact that parliamentarians are willing to discriminate against minority religious communities is sobering.” In addition, an amendment brought by Del. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC) that calls on the U.S. Congress to grant voting rights for residents of the District of Columbia secured passage. Leadership Positions Commissioner Hastings was re-elected unanimously to another one-year term as the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  Joining the U.S. leadership on the Parliamentary Assembly, Commissioner Benjamin L. Cardin was also re-elected Chairman of the General on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment by unanimous decision.  Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith continues in his role as Special Representative on Human Trafficking to the OSCE PA.  Additionally, Rep. Hoyer chaired the Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency and Accountability, which works to foster greater response from the governments of participating States to Assembly initiatives. The close of the Assembly was marked with the adoption of the Washington Declaration and concluding remarks by OSCE PA President Hastings. The Parliamentary Assembly will meet again next year, July 3-7, in Brussels, Belgium. U.S. Delegation to 14th Annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly: Commission Chairman Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)

  • Helsinki Commission Examines Current State of Human Rights and Democracy in Russia

    By John Finerty Staff Advisor With the situation in Russia continuing to be uncertain, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also called the U.S. Helsinki Commission, convened a briefing on June 23, 2005 to update Members of Congress, press and staff on ongoing developments in the area of human rights.  The focus of the briefing was on analysis by Mr. Valentin Gefter, General Director of the Moscow-based Human Rights Institute and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the Kennan Institute in Washington, D.C. Mr. Gefter presented balanced but critical testimony on the current state of human rights and politics in Russia, stressing that Russia was moving, albeit “slowly and controversially,” toward political normality and stability.  He described in detail what he termed a “new rise of authoritarian trends” in Russia, citing the increasing role of political institutions and security institutions in the country.  Mr. Gefter noted that there has been increased state persecution against “socially active” groups and individuals, noting that the scope and methods employed by Russian authorities were “not fair, obviously selective…and directed against those who are not liked by the authorities or just individual officials.” Specifically, Gefter focused on the resurgent trend of imprisoning citizens for political reasons, which he deemed the “most dangerous manifestations of the overall atmosphere” in Russia. “The authorities call them enemies of the state,” he remarked, “but we call them victims of the regime.” In his comments, Gefter focused on four individuals whom he considers political prisoners: Valentin Danilov and Igor Sutyagin, academics who were accused of espionage, and; Platon Lebedev and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, two businessmen convicted of various charges. Gefter argued that Lebedev and Khodorkovsky were had being made scapegoats by the Russian government for everyone who was involved in the development of capitalism in Russia. Against this backdrop, Gefter suggested that foreign officials seeking to influence human rights developments in Russia should place an emphasis on the resolution of these and other individual cases rather than trying to push sweeping systemic reforms. One ray of light on the relatively dark political landscape, Gefter noted, is the fact that there has not been mass criminal prosecutions reminiscent of the Red Terror at the height of the Soviet era. However, while significant changes to the social, political and legal situation in the post-Soviet era have taken place, Gefter said, the methods and mentality of Russian law enforcement agencies have remained generally the same. The result of this lack of change within Russian security agencies, Gefter asserted, has led to many instances of political, corporate, and even personal influence prevailing over the rule of law. With respect to the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, Gefter, who works closely with the Memorial Human Rights Center in Moscow, suggested that regions neighboring the war torn republic are most directly affected by the war, and that the consequences of the war for the rest of Russia is comparatively limited.  In this connection, Gefter also mentioned a rise in discrimination faced by Chechens and other ethnic minorities from the Caucasus.  Gefter expressed particular concern over what he termed “state violence” perpetrated by the police and security services. In a broader context, Gefter expressed doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin had the necessary time and public support to accomplish whatever economic and social reforms he had originally planned. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. PARTICIPATING COMMISSIONERS Moderator: Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-NC) Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) WITNESSES Mr. Valentin Gefter, General Director of the Mocow-based Human Rights Institute, co-editor of the Russian Human Rights Bulletin and editor of the human rights journal Russian Messenger and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Kennan Institute

  • The “Yukos Affair” and Its Implications for Politics and Business in Russia

    Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation, Hon. Chris Smith, addressed the subject of the rule of law in Russia and its relationship to business and politics in the context of Russia’s approaching chairmanship of the G-8 at the end of the year. An argument was made that the Yukos case was characterized by selective prosecution and blatant legal arbitrariness. The potential outcomes of Russia indifference or hostility to the rule of law were also addressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Leoni Nevzlin, Former Executive of Yukos Oil, and Peter Roudik, Senior Foreign Law Specialist for the Law Library of Congress – examined the deficiencies of Russia’s legal system and the shortcomings of the criminal justice reform that was supposedly implemented and completed successfully.

  • Russia: Human Rights and Political Prospects

    Mike McIntyre and other lawmakers evaluated the degree to which human rights were being respected in Russia in light of increasing authoritarian trends via so-called power institutions. The effect of the war in Chechnya on Russian society as a whole was also a topic of discussion. Valentin Gefter, General Director of the Human Rights Institute in Moscow spoke to several factors that had led to issues regarding human rights, including the situation of military conflict in Chechnya, protests initiated by individuals displeased with social and economic policies, and preventative action taken by the state.

  • Helsinki Commission Examines Russian-Syrian Connection

    By Chadwick R. Gore, Staff Advisor On March 9, the Helsinki Commission convened a hearing, “The Russian-Syrian connection and threats to democracy in the Middle East and the greater OSCE Region” to examine burgeoning relations between Russia and Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism. Additionally, the hearing explored the scope of Syria’s dominant role in Lebanon, implications for a transition to an independent, sovereign and democratic Lebanon, and the prospects for the broader Middle East region. Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia are OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Lebanon and Syria were originally included in the Mediterranean dimension of the Helsinki process dating back to the early 1970s. Russia’s involvement with Syria is of particular concern to the Commission as the OSCE participating States have agreed to the Charter on Preventing and Combating Terrorism which commits all states “to refrain from harboring terrorists, organizing, instigating, providing active or passive support or assistance to, or otherwise sponsoring terrorist acts in another State.” The U.S. State Department has included Syria on the list of states sponsoring terrorism since December 29, 1979. Syria for years has served as a base of operations and training for the terrorist organizations HAMAS, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command, al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and has supported the activities of Lebanese Hizbollah. Since the liberation of Iraq, Syria has served as a safe zone for the remnants of the regime of Saddam Hussein and allowed, if not encouraged, them and other terrorists to attack the military of the United States and her allies. Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Ranking House Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) heard from a panel of five witnesses: Dr. Walid Phares, Professor, Florida Atlantic University and senior fellow, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Farid N. Ghadry, President, Reform Party of Syria; Entifadh K. Qanbar, Special Envoy and Spokesperson, United Iraqi Alliance; Ilan Berman, Vice President for Policy, American Foreign Policy Council; and Steven Emerson, Executive Director, The Investigative Project. Chairman Brownback opened the hearing by voicing concerns that warming relations between Moscow and Damascus are expected to lead to a series of arms deals for Syria and further transfers to Hizbollah and to others. He cited the fact that Russian-supplied SA-18s missiles, according to experts, can easily be dismantled into single man portable air defense systems (MANPADS), posing a potential threat to airliners. “The sale appears on track despite objections from the U.S., and Russia's commitments as a participating State of the OSCE not to support terrorist regimes,” Brownback noted. Commenting on the positive pro-democracy developments taking place in Lebanon, Chairman Brownback acknowledged the pressure on the people of Lebanon as they seek to restore control over their country. “The pro-democracy ‘Cedar Revolution’ is a call for freedom, sovereignty and independence. By contrast, what does Syria have to offer: authoritarianism, subjugation and dependence,” remarked Brownback. Commissioner Cardin stressed, “Syria represents a major challenge for all of us. They support terrorism. They are certainly counterproductive in the peace process in the Middle East. They certainly present a problem for the freedom of Iraq. And they clearly are interfering with Lebanon's opportunity to control its own country.” The Rule and Oppression of the Ba’ath Party in Syria Dr. Phares examined the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the support the Syrian-backed regime received from the Russian Federation in the form of weapons and intelligence. The Syrian occupation of Lebanon started officially in 1976. At that time, Syrian forces were supported by the Soviet Union. “With the collapse of the Soviet Union, one would have imagined that the Russian Federation, the inheritor of the Soviet Union, would basically cease its strategic relationship with Syria. In fact, it did not cease,” said Phares. Russia continued to provide weapons and strategic intelligence support to the Syrian Ba’athist regime in a variety of ways. Dr. Phares concluded that if the Russian Federation continues to arm and supply the Assad regime, and Damascus in turn continues to provide support for terrorists operating in Iraq, Israel, occupied-Lebanon and Hizbollah, then Congress and the Administration must act. Phares stressed that the Russian Federation needs to support stability in Lebanon and Syria by ceasing to supply weapons to Assad. He reiterated that Syria must comply with UN Resolution 1559. UN Resolution 1559 (2004): reaffirms strict respect for Lebanon’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout the country; calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and for the immediate removal of all foreign military and non-military personnel; calls upon all parties concerned to cooperate fully and urgently with the UN Security Council for the full implementation of all its resolutions concerning the restoration in Lebanon of territorial integrity, full sovereignty and political independence. Farid N. Ghadry provided insight into both the Assad regime and Ba’athist Party and how they control Syria. He appealed to the Commission to work to give democracy a chance in Syria. After explaining the evolution of the Assad regime going back to 1963, Ghadry discussed Syria today. He mentioned the killing of 30,000 innocent Syrians under the order of the regime in 1982, and Damascus’ involvement with a massive drug and counterfeiting operation located in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon. Most recently, the Assad regime reportedly struck a deal with the Russian Federation to purchase shoulder-held SA-18 missiles. “The SA-18 is capable of downing an aircraft flying at up to 900 miles per hour, so one can only imagine the possibilities if these weapons fell into the wrong hands,” Ghardry said. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his Syrian counterpart in a state visit to Moscow in late January. Ghadry said that, given the chance to choose democracy freely, Syrians would appreciate the aid of the United States. He appealed for the Commission to understand the desires of the Syrian people -- “Only freedom and democracy can restore their rights and celebrate their contribution to the Syrian society.” Entifadh K. Qanbar, Special Envoy for the United Iraqi Alliance, noted that recent televised reports have proven that terrorist operations in Iraq were coordinated by Syrian intelligence, which is indirectly supported by the Russian Federation. He named Syria as the logistical, financial and training base for the terrorists in Iraq, stating: The leaders of the Iraqi terror campaign are high-ranking Ba’athist officials from Saddam Hussein’s regime, and all of them take refuge in Syria. The only way to win the war on terror in Iraq is to cut off Ba’athist support from Syria and expel them from the Iraqi government and specifically from the security police and army. Qanbar said the Ba’ath Party is the leading terrorist organization in Iraq, not Al Qaida, having modeled its ideology after the “genocidal” inspirations of 1930s Europe Russia’s Connection to Syria Chairman Brownback asked about the origins and development of the Ba’ath Party. The party goes back to the late ‘20s, with its founders being Michel Aflak and Salah a-Din. Aflak frequently visited Germany while studying in France during the early ‘30s. As he saw how the Germans were able to get people behind one cause and one dictator, the roots of most of the Ba’ath Party came from the “enlightenment” that Aflak obtained during these visits. Chairman Brownback sought an explanation for why Russia -- a country that has been the target of terrorism -- would maintain a relationship with a regime born out of fascism, especially with a history of links to terrorist organizations. Russia’s desire to develop a foothold in the Middle East, coupled with Cold War competition with the United States, were sufficient motives, said Qanbar. Plus, there are many common denominators between Russian ideology and the Ba’ath Party, he maintained. Dr. Phares recapped Syria’s instigation of Lebanon’s civil war in the 1970s, describing how pro-Ba’athist Siikas and other organizations moved inside Lebanon before 1975 in order to create civil war conditions. He reminded participants that Syria has never accepted the existence of a truly independent Lebanon. Listing a number of assassinations that have been carried out by Syrian Ba’athists, Phares showed how each assassination was of those who sought an independent Lebanon. Just days prior to the hearing, massive back-to-back anti-Syrian and pro-Syrian rallies had taken place in Beirut. The hearing helped reveal the connection between key actors in the region and how the United States can best support the courageous individuals in Lebanon. With regard to the pro-Syrian demonstration, Phares said, “One has to understand who is demonstrating and in which condition.” He explained that anti-Syrian demonstrators rally under threat from Hizbollah and other terrorist organizations and that if the Lebanese had the freedom to demonstrate against Syria without such threats, you would see a much larger anti-Syrian turn-out. In response to a question from Chairman Brownback on whether the Ba’athist regime should be identified has a terrorist regime, Ghadry stated it warranted such designation and his belief that Syria has sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq. “Public statements made by the entire apparatus of the Syrian Ba’athist regime have encouraged martyrdom operations,” Phares said. “Public knowledge would define by itself the Ba’athist regime in Syria as terrorists.” Qanbar volunteered that Syrian intelligence is the best he has ever seen, they are the most skilled in making car bombs, and the Ba’ath Party is not only the oldest organization that sponsors terrorism but the richest. Implications for Lebanon and the Middle East Steven Emerson explained the “dangerous” role Russia is playing in empowering and strengthening the Syrian regime, especially Russia’s agreement to upgrade Syria’s weapons systems with the sale of SA-18 Igla anti-aircraft missiles. “Syria has received extensive financial, political, military and technological support from Russia recently…while continuing to harbor, support and actively collaborate in the active commission of terrorism,” Emerson said. Emerson called for the United States to “disrupt” its trade, economic and technological relationships with Russia because of this sale of SA-18s. “As for Syria, the United States has to put on the table a whole range of new punitive actions,” he said. Emerson warned that the Russian Federation is arming Arab regimes as a resumption of Cold War strategies, saying “Russia has sought increasingly to play a countervailing weight to the United States in almost a replication of the Cold War strategy.” Ilan Berman detailed the relationship between Russia and Syria, explaining the “tangible outcomes” of the January Moscow meeting between Russian President Putin and Syrian President Assad. Bilateral ties were strengthened and long-term support was committed. Berman characterized the Russian-Syrian connection as “…a lifeline that will provide the Syrian Government with greater resources and greater capabilities to resist pro-independence stirrings in Lebanon or in its own country.” Asked about the nascent democratic movement developing in Syria, Berman replied, “I think what we are seeing are the last gasps of a desperate regime trying to provide the veneer of a new order while trying to preserve an old order.” United States Helsinki Commission Intern Jason D. Mann contributed to this article.

  • Unregistered Religious Groups in Russia

    This hearing focused the disfranchisement of religious minorities Russia.  In several cases, authorities unfairly targeted religious groups with excessive force and threatened their right to worship. The hearing examined these cases and what the OSCE and U.S. have done in response. The witness John V. Hanford, III, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, gave testimony about specific measures the State Department has in place in Moscow for addressing this issue and what the administration of President Bush has done to respond directly to these violations.

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