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Report on Azerbaijan's Presidential Election
Tuesday, December 01, 1998

On October 11, 1998, Azerbaijan held presidential elections. The contest pitted incumbent President Heydar Aliev, the former Communist Party leader who returned to power in 1993, against moderate opposition leader Etibar Mamedov, political maverick Nizami Suleimanov, and three other candidates with little recognition or following. While no one seriously expected Aliev to lose, the opposition candidates were hoping for a second round.

Five leading opposition politicians—Abulfaz Elchibey, Isa Gambar, Rasul Guliev, Ilyas Ismailov and Lala Shovket—boycotted the vote, unwilling to legitimize by their participation an election they believed would be unfair. Negotiations that took place in August between the government and the boycotting opposition over the most controversial aspect of the election—the composition of the Central Election Commission—proved unsuccessful, with the authorities rejecting the opposition’s demand for equal representation on the CEC. The five leaders, joined by numerous other parties and groups in the Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections, urged voters not to go to the polls. The authorities minimized the boycott’s significance, arguing that the opposition leaders knew they had no chance in a fair election and therefore preferred to claim fraud and not participate.

Beginning August 15, the boycotting parties organized a series of rallies and demonstrations to pressure the government and call for fair elections. These were the first mass street actions in Azerbaijan in years. The authorities refused to let the opposition hold a demonstration in Freedom Square, in the center of Baku, offering alternative venues instead. On September 12, protesters clashed with police, resulting in arrests and injuries. Afterwards, authorities and opposition tried to reach agreement on the demonstrators’ route, and most pre-election rallies, some of which drew big crowds, were largely peaceful.

The increasingly tense relations between the government and boycotting opposition parties were one factor in the OSCE/ODIHR’s appraisal of the election.  In ODIHR’s view, these failings outweighed the positive aspects of the election, such as the election law, which all sides acknowledged as acceptable, the freedom for candidates to speak openly on television, the abolition of censorship and provisions for domestic observers. The OSCE/ODIHR assessment was that the election fell short of meeting international norms. With the OSCE assessment placing in question the official results, the CEC’s failure to publish election protocols until long after the stipulated time period heightens doubts about President Aliev’s standing. The election was largely a referendum on his five-year presidency. Since his return to power in 1993, he has not solved the major problems besetting the country. The NagornoKarabakh conflict remains unsettled; Azerbaijani territory is still under Armenian occupation and no refugees have returned to their homes. Living standards for the great majority of the population have declined precipitously, though it is widely known that a tiny stratum of corrupt officials and businessmen have become rich. Moreover, the predominance of people from Nakhichevan - Aliev’s home region - in positions of power exacerbates general discontent.

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    After amending the constitution to extend the length of a presidential term and abolish term limits altogether, Azerbaijan’s ruler since 2003, Ilham Aliyev, recently prevailed in elections that secured his position until 2025. International election observers described this vote as “lack[ing] genuine competition” given the country’s “restrictive political environment and…legal framework that curtails fundamental rights and freedoms.” The presidential election took place after a year of growing concern over the state of fundamental freedoms in Azerbaijan. In March 2017, the government blocked nearly all remaining major sources of independent news; it continues to harass and detain independent journalists. That same month, the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative suspended Azerbaijan’s membership over the government’s onerous regulation of civil society organizations. In December 2017, the Council of Europe began exploring unprecedented punitive measures against Azerbaijan for flouting a European Court of Human Rights ruling ordering the release of former presidential candidate Ilgar Mammadov, jailed since 2013.  As Azerbaijan approaches 100 years of independence in May, the Helsinki Commission examined these recent developments and the country’s implementation of its freely undertaken human rights and democracy commitments.  In September 2017, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced H.Res.537 calling on the U.S. Government to prioritize democracy and human rights in its engagement with Baku and examine the applicability of targeted sanctions against the most egregious violators of basic rights.

  • Ending the War in Ukraine

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  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Review State of Fundamental Freedoms in Azerbaijan

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  • Kurt Volker to Discuss War in Ukraine at Helsinki Commission Briefing

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  • Chairman Wicker, Ranking Member Cardin on Anniversary of Death of Joseph Stone in Ukraine

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  • A Crisis in Guatemala, Abetted by the U.N.

    In the struggle to defeat transnational crime in Central America, the U.S. is financing a United Nations prosecutorial body in Guatemala. Yet these U.N. prosecutors are thumbing their noses at the rule of law and seem to be using their power to politicize the Guatemalan judiciary. This is dividing and destabilizing a pivotal democracy in the region. The fragile Guatemalan state is in the crosshairs of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s Gen. Raúl Castro. If their allies seize control of Mexico’s southern neighbor via its institutions, as Daniel Ortega has done in Nicaragua, it will have implications for Mexican and American security. The U.N. body, known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG by its Spanish initials), has been in the country since 2007. It has busted some criminals. But its unchecked power has led to abuse, and this should concern U.S. backers. Some of CICIG’s most vociferous defenders hail from Guatemala’s extreme left, which eschews equality under the law and representative democracy. CICIG’s rogue justice has come to the attention of Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission. He has scheduled a hearing April 27 to review CICIG’s role in the Guatemalan prosecution and extralegal conviction of a Russian family on the run from Vladimir Putin’s mafia. As I detailed in March 26 and April 19 Americas columns, Igor and Irina Bitkov, and their daughter Anastasia, fled persecution in Russia and became victims of a crime syndicate in Guatemala that was selling false identity documents. Yet Guatemala and CICIG tried the family alongside members of the crime ring that tricked them. They were convicted and given unusually harsh sentences. Guatemalan law and the U.N.’s Palermo Convention say that such migrants are victims, and a Guatemalan constitutional appeals court ruled that the Bitkovs committed no crime. CICIG and Guatemalan prosecutors ignored that ruling, went to a lower court and got a conviction. CICIG will not say why, or why it didn’t prosecute the law firm that solicited the fake documents given to the Bitkovs. Matías Ponce is “head of communications” for CICIG but there is no contact information for him or his office on the CICIG website. I managed to get his cellphone number from a third party and, after repeated tries, made contact with him. I requested his email and wrote to him so I could share with readers CICIG’s explanation of what appears to be abuse of power. He sent me a boilerplate response about CICIG’s work against criminal networks but no answers to my questions. It is unlikely CICIG will answer questions before the Helsinki Commission. Its co-chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), invited CICIG to appear at a similar hearing he proposed for April 24 in the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee monitoring human rights and U.N. entities. CICIG declined the invitation. That hearing was not scheduled, though the office of Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R., Calif.) told me it’s not dead. If CICIG refuses to cooperate with the Helsinki Commission, it will fuel the feeling among rule-of-law advocates that it has something to hide. CICIG says it is in Guatemala merely to “support” the attorney general in her work “identifying and dismantling” criminal networks and is not involved in politics. But an academic analysis of CICIG by Jonatán Lemus, a Francisco Marroquín University political science professor, suggests otherwise. Mr. Lemus observes that “CICIG has also been criticized for the very same reasons others have praised it: becoming a player in judicial appointments, proposing some controversial reforms to the Guatemalan constitution, and the use of televised conferences to shift the public in its favor. From this perspective, instead of strengthening Guatemalan institutions, the Commission is making national institutions dependent on its assistance.” This dependence drives CICIG deeper into politics. As Mr. Lemus notes, “once immersed in a polarized political system,” an international body designed like CICIG naturally “will face incentives to behave as any domestic bureaucracy trying to maximize its power and resources to ensure its survival.” Without an explanation for the bizarre Bitkov convictions, Guatemalans are left to speculate about CICIG’s motives. Incompetence is one possibility. But once the injustice was publicized and not corrected, that reasoning collapsed. A foreign businessman also makes an easy target for a politically correct prosecutor seeking approval from anticapitalist nongovernmental organizations. Kremlin “influence” cannot be ruled out. Nailing the Bitkovs was a priority for Russia because the family had refused to “donate” large sums to the Putin kitty in Kaliningrad. It would hardly be surprising to learn that Moscow leaned on prosecutors and judges to put the family behind bars. There’s no doubt that something fishy went on, and CICIG prosecutor Iván Velásquez’s unwillingness to address it is troubling. The truth matters for the family, for Guatemala and for the U.S.

  • The Good Friday Agreement at 20

    From 1969-1999, political violence shook Northern Ireland in a time known as “The Troubles,” and by its end, nearly 3,500 people died. Through negotiations between the Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as with political parties from Northern Ireland, an agreement was reached, bringing an end to hostilities. On April 10, 1998, their settlement was signed, and is remembered as the Good Friday Agreement. As the United States celebrates twenty years of compliance of this landmark agreement, the anniversary also brings a moment of honest reflection. Full implementation of this agreement has been challenging and certain aspects remain unfulfilled. There are still concerns regarding devolved government, police reforms and accountability for past abuses. The hearing, held on March 22, 2018, was convened in order to commend the achievements of the Agreement and to bring to light aspects of the Agreement that have not been fully implemented, including state collusion in the crimes of paramilitaries. It featured testimony from Brian Gormally, Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice; Judge James F. McKay III, President of Ancient Order of Hibernians; and Mark Thompson, Director of Relatives for Justice. Congressman Chris Smith opened by informing the witnesses and guests of the Hearing of a resolution he introduced in the House, H. Res. 777, calling for a recommittal of the United States, the British, and all parties—including the Republic of Ireland—to the peace process Ranking Member Senator Ben Cardin expressed his ongoing support of the spirit embodied by the Agreement, saying that, it represented “the best of the Helsinki principles” and urged the maintenance of its terms through Brexit negotiations. Representative Brenan Boyle, condemned remarks from London that suggested the Good Friday Agreement wasn’t meant to be permanent. Boyle reaffirmed American support and claimed, “That there is absolutely zero support in Washington, D.C. for going back to the days of pre-Good Friday Agreement.” Brian Gormally, the first witness to testify, outlined what he and his organization consider the main area of ongoing human rights violations, though it is not addressed fully by the Agreement. Impunity for past crimes, Gormally said, has left victims dying “without seeing justice, or even serious attempts to achieve it.” Such nonchalance by the British government and security forces have undermined society, threatened the peace process and erode faith in the rule of law. The second witness to testify, Judge James McKay, reminded the Commissioners of the close relationship between the United States and Ireland, and thus, why the United States is such a strong and vocal stakeholder in the Agreement’s continuance. He stated that the AOH understands the importance that the issue of identity weighs on individuals, and that understanding leads them to believe the best way of mitigating identity and legacy issues is through a special, third party envoy. The final speaker, Mark Thompson, was then yielded the floor. He emphasized how much international forums such as this one resonated with the families and communities affected by this conflict, as well as non-government organizations seeking the promotion and protection of human rights. Congressman Smith then returned to the issue of developing a special envoy. Judge McKay and Mr. Thompson were in agreement that such an envoy would be a much-needed impetus to “move things forward,” as Mr. Thompson said. The hearing gave considerations regarding the case of Pat Finucane. Judge McKay remarked upon the two standards held by London and Belfast. “I’m sure if Pat Finucane were murdered on the streets of London in the same manner,” he said, “this would have been headlines and inquiries going on within three or four months.” In closing, Judge McKay offered his thanks to Congressman Smith for the drafting and introduction of House Resolution 777, and offered the assistance of his organization to back its passing. Mr. Thompson concluded that with Brexit on the horizon, “it would be timely to have a U.S. intervention.” Mr. Gormally emphasized that “the guiding principle before and since the Good Friday Agreement is to implement human rights standards.”

  • Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Smith Introduces Resolution Marking 20th Anniversary of Good Friday Agreement

    WASHINGTON—Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10, Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and a bipartisan group of members from the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs have introduced a resolution to reaffirm U.S. Congressional support for the agreement and expressed concern about the failure to adequately implement certain aspects of it. “The Good Friday Agreement brought peace to Northern Ireland, a tremendous achievement,” said Rep. Smith. “Yet aspects of the agreement that require accountability for past abuses have been only partially implemented. The British government admits to collusion in paramilitary murders, but in many case has refused to bring to justice state agents guilty of grave crimes—a violation of the agreement and basic international human rights law.” Smith’s resolution, H.Res.777, commends the Good Friday Agreement, calling it “a blueprint for sustainable peace in Northern Ireland.” The resolution also notes that certain aspects of the agreement remain unfulfilled, including those related to devolved government, police reforms, and accountability for past abuses. It also calls on the British Government to establish a full, independent, and public judicial inquiry into the 1989 murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, and urges the U.S. Secretary of State to appoint a Special Envoy for Northern Ireland. Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16), the lead Democrat cosponsor of the resolution, said, “For 20 years, the Good Friday Agreement has been the backbone of the northern Irish political process. It provided a path forward for the two communities to live together and govern this long-disputed land in peace. It also helped clear the way for dealing with the challenges that remain: reconciliation, an honest reckoning of what took place, and justice for those who have yet to see it. This resolution rightfully recommits us to the values and principles underlying the Good Friday Agreement and commemorates the Agreement’s first 20 years.” Rep. Richard Neal (MA-01), Chair of the Friends of Ireland, said: “As we recognize the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement this year, the United States must continue to play a meaningful role on the island of Ireland in order to ensure that all aspects of that landmark peace accord are implemented in full. I believe this timely resolution expresses those concerns clearly and in great detail.” “It’s important that we mark this anniversary,” said Smith. “The Good Friday Agreement is as relevant now as ever, given the uncertainties that Brexit has created. And many Americans played key roles in facilitating the Good Friday Agreement, and in promoting its implementation. We still have a role to play in urging reconciliation through truth and justice.” H. Res. 777 was introduced with Reps. Eliot Engel, Joe Crowley (NY-14), Richard Neal, and James McGovern (MA-02) as original cosponsors. Reps. Smith, Engel, and Crowley are Co-Chairs of the Ad Hoc Committee on Irish Affairs, and Rep. Neal is Chair of the Friends of Ireland—both are Congressional caucuses concerned with supporting justice and human rights in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Between 1969 and 1999, during a period known as “The Troubles,” almost 3,500 people died as a result of political violence in Northern Ireland. On April 10, 1998, the two Governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom—along with Northern Ireland political parties participating in peace talks, reached a political settlement and signed the Good Friday Agreement. However, full implementation of the agreement has been challenging. Rep. Smith has chaired 16 congressional hearings on the Northern Ireland justice and peace process, many of them focusing on issues of police reform and government collusion in the crimes of paramilitary organizations. Four of Rep. Smith’s bills and resolutions have been passed addressing the British government’s role in the murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, most recently H. Con. Res. 20 (110th Congress, 2007).

  • How to Get Human Rights Abusers and Kleptocrats Sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act

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  • Helsinki Commission Workshop to Explain Global Magnitsky Sanctions Process

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced a workshop to provide human rights organizations, transparency advocates, and congressional staff with the tools they need to effectively petition the U.S. government to review and potentially designate individuals and organizations for sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. HOW TO GET HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSERS AND KLEPTOCRATS SANCTIONED UNDER THE GLOBAL MAGNITSKY ACT Tuesday, March 13, 2018 3:00 p.m. Capitol Visitor Center Room SVC 212-10 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Sanctions experts will describe, from an operational perspective, how the U.S. government identifies, vets, and ultimately sanctions individuals. They also will discuss the evidentiary standards for sanctioning human rights violators vs. those engaged in serious acts of corruption. Finally, panelists will share investigative techniques, communications strategies, and responses to aggressive tactics used to intimidate human rights and transparency advocates. Panelists include: Rob Berschinski, Senior Vice President, Human Rights First; former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brad Brooks-Rubin, Managing Director, The Sentry; formerly with the Departments of State and Treasury Bill Browder, Founder and Director, Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign Mark Dubowitz, CEO, Foundation for Defense of Democracies Adam Smith, Partner, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; formerly with the National Security Council and Department of Treasury Josh White, Director of Policy and Analysis, The Sentry; formerly with the Department of Treasury The Global Magnitsky Act is a powerful new tool for deterring human rights violations and fighting corruption. Presence on this list freezes any U.S. assets an individual may hold, blocks future transactions within the U.S. financial system, and bans any travel to the United States. By sanctioning individuals who engage in the worst abuses of power, the United States hardens its own system to external abuse while extending moral support and solidarity to those whose fundamental freedoms are curtailed or denied.

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  • Boris Nemtsov: 1959-2015

    On February 27, 2015, former Deputy Prime Minister and Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was brutally murdered on the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky Bridge directly in front of the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Three years after Nemtsov’s assassination, the Helsinki Commission examined the investigation into Nemtsov’s murder to shed light on the circumstances of the most high-profile political assassination in modern Russia. The Helsinki Commission probed reasons why the plaintiffs were denied the opportunity to a fair trial, the effects Russian propaganda has had on Russian citizens in the suppression of information about the case, and the impact of sanctions resulting from the 2016 Global Magnitsky Act. The Commissioners heard testimony from Zhanna Nemtsova, daughter of Boris Nemtsov; Vladimir Kara-Murza, Chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom; and Vadim Phrokhorov, Lawyer for the family of Boris Nemtsov. Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), chairman of the Helsinki Commission, introduced the witnesses and commended Ms. Nemtsova for her courageous activism against gross human rights violations in Russia. Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), the Helsinki Commission’s ranking senator, highlighted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to suppress democracy in Russia, as well as the Kremlin’s use of military force in Ukraine, interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and involvement in the deaths of political opponents like Mr. Nemtsov. Sen. Cardin also praised Russian citizens who side with democracy and emphasized that “[members of the Helsinki Commission] are on the side of the Russian people.” Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, discussed how the Magnitsky Act is a breakthrough and a “very useful tool against repressive regimes.” He also asked the panelists for recommendations on actions the United States can and should take to further transparency on the investigation, and expressed interest in initiating a procedure to establish a special representative for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in July of 2018. “And, so, for Boris himself, we need [...] all parties responsible to be held to account — total transparency,” Rep. Smith said.   Ms. Nemtsova, the first to testify, criticized Russian authorities for failing to classify the murder as politically motivated. She also explained how the Russians want to end public debate on sensitive political issues. “You probably are aware of what [the Russians] are afraid of most,” she said. “They’re afraid of the sunshine. My father’s case is one of the sensitive issues, and that’s why it’s important to bring it to the sunshine.” Ms. Nemtsova also criticized the investigative committee for not identifying the individual that orchestrated the murder. In closing, she noted that the Government of Russia has tried—but failed— to erase her father’s memory, and urged the Commissioners to appoint a special representative to oversee the investigation at the July 2018 Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in Berlin, Germany. During his testimony, Mr. Kara-Murza reiterated the importance of the Boris Nemtsov plaza-naming ceremony that took place on February 27, 2018, exactly three years after his murder. The District of Columbia renamed a section of Wisconsin Avenue, in front of the Russian Embassy, to honor Boris Nemtsov’s legacy. “It is important for those who continue to hold remembrance marches [...] for people who continue Boris Nemtsov’s work by exposing government corruption. You can kill a human being, but you cannot kill what he stood for,” he said. Mr. Kara-Murza noted that experts frequently blur the line between a country and a regime and urged political leaders in Western democracies to “not equate Russia with the regime that is ruling it.” He concluded by urging the Commissioners to initiate a process, similar to the appointment of a special rapporteur, under the auspices of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session being held in July 2018.   Mr. Prokhorov reiterated how Russian authorities refused to recognize Boris Nemtsov’s murder as politically motivated and that the evidence led to the inner circle of Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya. “The problem is not that the investigation of the suspects is difficult or impossible. Our principal concern is that the investigative authorities are not willing to make any effort to do so,” Mr. Prokhorov said. Mr. Prokhorov stated that the Russian authorities breached the family of Boris Nemtsov’s right to a fair trial and how “none of the organizers or masterminds have been identified or persecuted to date.” He concluded by urging western political leaders, diplomats, and public figures to engage Russian counterparts in dialogue regarding Boris Nemtsov’s murder when given the opportunity to do so.

  • Nemtsov Murder Investigation Under Scrutiny at Upcoming Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: BORIS NEMTSOV, 1959-2015: SEEKING JUSTICE, SECURING HIS LEGACY Wednesday, February 28, 2018 3:30 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 138 Live Webcast: http://www.senate.gov/isvp/?type=live&comm=csce&filename=csce022818 Three years after Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down on a bridge in front of the Kremlin, and one day after the unveiling of Boris Nemtsov Plaza in front of the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., the Helsinki Commission will examine the outcome of the official investigation and trial into his assassination. An officer of the Russian Interior Ministry with links to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov was convicted of pulling the trigger; four others were sentenced as perpetrators. Gen. Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee has declared the case “solved.” Yet, three years on, the organizers and masterminds of the Nemtsov assassination remain unidentified and at large. The United States has sanctioned both Kadyrov and Bastrykin for gross human rights violations under the Magnitsky Act. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has appointed a Special Rapporteur to assess the status of the case and report on its shortcomings. At this hearing, the Commission will consider whether similar oversight is needed within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This hearing will also examine the particular importance of Boris Nemtsov’s legacy of public and competitive politics as Russia looks to Vladimir Putin’s fourth official term in office. Witnesses scheduled to testify include: Zhanna Nemtsova, Daughter of Boris Nemtsov Vadim Prokhorov, Lawyer for the Nemtsov family Vladimir Kara-Murza, Chairman, Boris Nemtsov Foundation for Freedom

  • Screening and Discussion: "And We Were Germans"

    To celebrate Black History Month, the Helsinki Commission screened “And We Were Germans: The Life of Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi and Ralph Giordano.” The 30-minute film chronicles the journey of Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi, an Afro-German survivor of the Holocaust who emigrated to the United States and became the editor of Ebony magazine, one of the first monthly publications for African-Americans.  The film connects the experience of Afro-German and Jewish-German survivors of the Holocaust by recounting Massaquoi’s experience in Germany, including his relationship with Ralph Giordano, a lifelong Jewish friend. To introduce the film, Dr. Mischa Thompson of the Helsinki Commission spoke about the Commission’s focus on diverse and vulnerable populations from Roma and Jewish populations to national minorities and migrants in Europe and the United States since its inception. She also discussed Commissioner’s work on the situation of People of African Descent in Europe or Black Europeans, including hearings and legislation in the U.S. Congress and resolutions and events in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and OSCE.  The film was followed by a conversation with director John A. Kantara about the film and current situation of people of African descent in Germany and across Europe. Kantara discussed his motivation for making the film and what he considered to be the most moving parts of the process. He found inspiration after traveling with young Afro-Germans to Chicago and attending a cultural exchange with African-Americans where he met Hans Massaquoi. He was concerned that Black German history was not widely taught in schools, nor was there a strong awareness of the Afro-German population’s history from Germany's colonization of Namibia, Burundi, and Tanzania to the children of African-American soldiers stationed in Germany. Kantara made the film with the hope that he could change the lack of education regarding black history in Germany. Kantara also elaborated on what moved him during the filmmaking process, noting the importance of African-American struggles during the U.S. civil rights movement to Afro-Germans. He indicated that trying to organize people who have been affected by discrimination and racism is an important task, and was his primary aim throughout the filmmaking process. Kantara also offered his thoughts on the new release Black Panther, noting the large turnout in Berlin and special initiatives to screen the film for Afro-German youth. Kantara revealed that it was remarkable to see young black Germans relate to the movie, and identifying with the people and plot of the film.

  • European Security in 2018

    From the Kremlin-engineered conflict in Ukraine, which has killed over 10,000 people, wounded tens of thousands, and displaced over a million, to military exercises designed to intimidate Russia’s neighbors, Moscow’s actions have severely undermined security and stability throughout Europe – including that of U.S. allies and partners. From November 2014 until his retirement in December 2017, Lieutenant General (Ret.) Frederick Benjamin “Ben” Hodges helped lead the U.S. response to Russia’s military aggression as Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe. Hodges was credited by Gen. Curtis M. Scapparrotti, commander of European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, with leading American land forces during one of the most volatile periods in recent European history and driving an increased U.S. force presence to deter further aggression and reassure allies. During the briefing, General Hodges offered his perspective on the importance of Europe to the United States, NATO’s success in maintaining stability in Europe, and the significance of the United States’ relationship with Germany. The economic relationship between Europe and the United States and the reliability of European partners underlined the continued strategic relevance of Europe to the U.S., Hodges argued. General Hodges also emphasized the importance of the strategic relationship between Germany and the United States. He noted the importance of Germany to our own economic prosperity, as well as access to military bases throughout the country, asserting, “We’ll always have a special relationship with the UK, for historical, cultural reasons. But in terms of what’s most important, it’s Germany.” In response to questions from Helsinki Commission Senior Policy Advisor Alex Tiersky, General Hodges outlined the U.S. Army’s support to Ukraine in the wake of ongoing Russian aggression, noting the utility of the training mission in Yavoriv to both sides, with American soldiers gaining critical insights on Russian tactics and technology. General Hodges also addressed the provision of lethal military assistance to Ukraine in the context of supporting Ukrainian sovereignty and, ultimately, a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Tiersky also asked about ZAPAD 2017, a Russian military exercise which took place across Russian and Belarus, as well as broader trends in Russian military exercises. Hodges underlined the lack of Russian transparency regarding ZAPAD, and described its broad scale and ambition.  The exercise had the positive effect of forcing impressive intelligence sharing among Allies, Hodges revealed, a dynamic he hoped would endure. Hodges also commented on Turkey’s strategic direction; NATO reform and defense spending commitments; cyber conflict; and the role of multilateral institutions.

  • Next Steps for Refugee and Migrant Youth in Europe

    "The reality is these children are not only Europe’s future, North Africa’s future, the Middle East’s future, we’re in a global world.  It’s also our future." - Dr. Mischa Thompson, Senior Policy Advisor, Helsinki Commission Although refugee and migrant arrivals to Europe have been declining since the beginning of the refugee crisis in 2015, thousands continue to arrive each year from countries throughout the Middle East and Africa, including Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. Of those, the number of youth whom arrive unaccompanied is increasing.  An estimated 15 to 20 percent of refugee and migrants are minors, and 5 percent unaccompanied.  The situations that cause children to arrive in Europe alone are very complex, but experts agree that more must be done to see that they are protected, supported, and integrated.  During the briefing, which highlighted the current situation of refugee and migrant youth in Europe, Sofia Kouvelaki, Executive Director of the Home Project in Athens, Greece, shared the story of two Syrian boys forced to leave their family and home in Syria.  “Two Syrian brothers, Adnan and Ayaz, age 10 and 11 years old […] reported witnessing firsthand bombings, killings, decapitations, and all forms of violence,” she recounted. “In 2015, the father managed to send enough money to finance their move to Europe via smuggling networks.  Adnan and Ayaz had to walk all the way to the Turkish coast through very dangerous routes.  They report being physically and sexually abused by the trafficker along the way, as well as being held at a house for a month where we suspect they were repeatedly raped.”  “They tried to reach to Greece three times,” she continued. “The first two failed and the kids were arrested and returned and detained in a Turkish refugee camp, where they experienced even more violence.  The third time, they managed to reach the Greek island of Chios [and] were detained for more than three months in a closed reception facility, co-existing with adults in horrible living conditions.”  “The youngest of the two brothers attempted to hang himself using his own t-shirt.  His attempt failed because the t-shirt was torn.  The child was hospitalized with his brother for five hours at the local hospital and then returned to the detention center due to a lack of appropriate accommodation on the island.  We were notified by a volunteer regarding this case.  And in collaboration with the public prosecutor for minors and the local authorities, we went to Chios and escorted the kids to one of our shelters.  The kids are now safe, and they’re receiving a holistic network of services [at a Home Project shelter],” she concluded. The story exemplifies the vulnerability of refugee and migrant youth traveling to Europe and the need for an increased focus on what expert Kathleen Newland, Co-Founder of the Migration Policy Institute, cited as some of the biggest problems: trafficking, detention, a lack of appropriate reception centers and shelters for children – circumstances that allow children to easily go missing.  “16-, 17-year-old boys form the bulk of this population,” she said.  “Unfortunately they are not seen as the most sympathetic group. People don’t necessarily think of almost adult males as being the most vulnerable.  But in fact, in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, they are the most vulnerable to forcible recruitment, to being killed in the context of these conflicts.”  The Home Project offers a promising model for providing the basic needs of refugee and migrant youth- food, shelter, medical support, psychological support, psychiatric supervision, and tools for integration (language training, education, and employment).  It includes the Youth to Youth Program in collaboration with the American Community Schools of Athens with the goal being through education to connect the youth with employers.  According to Kouvelaki, “the ultimate goal is integration.” Newland cited a number of measures that countries are supposed to be implementing in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other policies to protect and integrate refugee and migrant youth.  However, a lack of capacity in some cases combined with a xenophobic political climate in the EU, including anti-migrant policies in Hungary and Poland, has resulted in less than expected progress since the height of refugees coming to Europe in 2015.  This is particularly concerning given Europe’s traditional leadership role on human rights, and assertions that well-integrated refugees and migrants might be the key to Europe’s economic future in the face of declining population growth in many countries.

  • LTG Ben Hodges (Ret.) to Discuss European Security in 2018 at Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: EUROPEAN SECURITY IN 2018: A CONVERSATION WITH LTG BEN HODGES (RET.), FORMER COMMANDER, U.S. ARMY EUROPE Wednesday, January 24, 2018 10:00 AM Capitol Visitor Center Room SVC 210 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission From the Kremlin-engineered conflict in Ukraine, which has killed over 10,000 people, wounded tens of thousands, and displaced over a million, to military exercises designed to intimidate Russia’s neighbors, Moscow’s actions have severely undermined security and stability throughout Europe – including that of U.S. allies and partners. From November 2014 until his retirement in December 2017, Lieutenant General (Ret.) Frederick Benjamin “Ben” Hodges helped lead the U.S. response to Russia’s military aggression as Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe. Hodges was credited by Gen. Curtis M. Scapparrotti, commander of European Command and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, with leading American land forces during one of the most volatile periods in recent European history and driving an increased U.S. force presence to deter further aggression and reassure allies. At this Helsinki Commission briefing, General Hodges will offer his perspective on Russia’s military actions and intentions in Europe, Moscow’s breach of arms control and transparency commitments, and the Allied response thus far.

  • Presidential Elections in Kyrgyzstan

    Kyrgyzstan’s presidential elections on October 15, 2017, provided for an orderly transfer of power despite curbs on political opposition and media freedom in the run-up to the election, as well as allegations of administrative pressure on voters, vote-buying, and other irregularities during the electoral process. The OSCE Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions stated that the elections “contributed to the strengthening of democratic in-stitutions by providing for an orderly transfer of power from one elected president to another. The election was competitive, as voters had a wide choice and candidates could, in general, campaign freely, although cases of misuse of public resources, pressure on voters, and vote-buying remain a concern….While televised debates contributed to greater pluralism, self-censorship and limited editorial coverage of the campaign signaled deficiencies in media freedom.” Download the full report to learn more. Contributor: U.S. Helsinki Staff

  • Refugee and Migrant Youth in Europe Focus of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: NEXT STEPS FOR REFUGEE AND MIGRANT YOUTH IN EUROPE Tuesday, January 23, 2018 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM Capitol Visitor Center Room SVC 203 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission As Europe continues to experience an influx of refugees and migrants, the numbers of youth (persons under the age of 18) have increased. This Helsinki Commission briefing will highlight the current situation of refugee and migrant youth in Europe with a focus on support, protection, and integration services being put in place for accompanied and unaccompanied arrivals.  The briefing will include case studies from Greece, where there has been a recent surge in refugee and migrant arrivals, and where unaccompanied youth are estimated to account for approximately 15 percent of the total number of arrivals.  The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Sofia Kouvelaki, Executive Director, The HOME Project, Athens, Greece Kathleen Newland, Senior Fellow and Co-Founder, Migration Policy Institute, Washington, DC

  • The International Tribunal and Beyond: Pursuing Justice for Atrocities in the Western Balkans

    Between 1991 and 2001 the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up of six republics, was broken apart by a series of brutal armed conflicts. The conflicts were characterized by widespread and flagrant violations of international humanitarian law, among them mass killings of civilians, the massive, organized and systematic detention and rape of women, torture, and practices of ethnic cleansing, including forced displacement. In 1992 the U.N. established a Commission of Experts that documented the horrific crimes on the ground and led to the 1993 creation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). This month, after more than two decades of persistent, ground-breaking efforts to prosecute the individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the ICTY is concluding its work. As it prepares to close its doors, this briefing will assess the tribunal’s achievements and limitations, and most importantly, what still needs to be done by the countries of the region to seek justice in outstanding cases, bring greater closure to victims, and foster greater reconciliation among peoples. Panelists discussed these questions and suggested ways that the United States, Europe, and the international community as a whole can encourage the further pursuit of justice in the Western Balkans.

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