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U.S. Holds Historic Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom
Wednesday, August 22, 2018

By Nathaniel Hurd,
Senior Policy Advisor

From July 24-26, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and former Helsinki Commission Chairman Sam Brownback coordinated the event, which brought together governments, religious leaders, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to “to discuss challenges, identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.”

The United States invited 81 governmental delegations from “countries that have a demonstrated record for advancing religious freedom and are committed to promoting Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or that recently have taken meaningful steps to begin to do so.” Participating countries included four from North America; seven from South America; nine from Africa; 36 from Europe; nine from the Middle East; 14 from Asia; one from Oceana; and Australia. Foreign ministers led 13 delegations. Forty of the countries represented are participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE, European Union, and United Nations also took part, along with more than 400 leaders from religious groups and non-governmental organizations.

Uzbekistan was the only governmental participant that had been designated by the United States as a Country of Particular Concern because of particularly severe religious freedom violations like torture, prolonged detention without charges, or clandestine detention. In remarks on the final day of the ministerial, Secretary Pompeo stated, “We applaud the steps that Uzbekistan is taking towards a more free society. We have great confidence that a degree of religious freedom greater than before will have a positive ripple effect on their country, their society, and the region as well.”

Ministerial Activities

During the event, survivors of religious persecution or their representatives—including Jacqueline Brunson Furnari, daughter of imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson—spoke to the full assembly. Furnari testified at a November 2017 Helsinki Commission hearing, “Prisoners of the Purge: The Victims of Turkey's Failing Rule of Law,” where she pleaded for her father’s release. When Ambassador Brownback reported that Turkish authorities had transferred Pastor Brunson—who had been jailed since October 2016 on false charges of terrorism, espionage, and attempting to overthrow the state—from prison to house arrest, attendees applauded.

Other speakers included representatives from Burma, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, and Sudan.   

Plenary sessions focused on religious persecution around the world and opportunities to work together to advance religious freedom. The ministerial also featured panel discussions on private sector engagement, religious freedom grant opportunities at the State Department, effective advocacy on behalf of religious minorities, preventing genocide and mass atrocities, the relationship between religious freedom and economic prosperity; religious freedom in the context of countering violent extremism; legal limitations on religious freedom; religious freedom and women’s rights; the needs of displaced minorities during humanitarian emergencies; and cultural heritage.

During the ministerial, the United States also presented “Statements of Concern” to the delegations regarding repression in Burma, China, and Iran; “Counterterrorism as a False Pretext for Religious Freedom Repression;” and “Religious Freedom Repression by Non-State Actors, including Terrorist Groups.” Twenty-four participating governments joined the United States as signatories on at least one statement of concern. The governments of Armenia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Israel, Kosovo, Oman, Poland, Sri Lanka, and United Kingdom signed all three thematic statements of concern. The governments of Canada and Kosovo signed all three country-specific statements of concern.

Speaking at the event, former U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf, author of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, said, “Religious freedom is deeply imbedded in our own legal tradition reaching all the way back to the Magna Carta, but is also understood as a necessity for human dignity by the international community ... I stand before you today with a grave and growing sense of urgency regarding the erosion of religious freedom around the globe. All over this world, people are denied the fundamental and inalienable human right to confess and express their beliefs according to the dictates of their conscience.”

Senior U.S. government officials who addressed non-governmental representatives over the ministerial included Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan; Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback; Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney; Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Mark Green; Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce; Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs Michelle Giuda; Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff Brian Hook; Senior Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Pam Pryor; and Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia Knox Thames.

There were more than 15 side events during the ministerial, organized by members of Congress, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the Religious Freedom Roundtable and its members. Topics included Christians in the Middle East, parliamentarian engagement on religious freedom, Southeast Asia, India, politicization of religious freedom and human rights, Baha’is in Iran and Yemen, China, securing U.S. government grants, Russia, parental rights, technology, security and religious freedom, violent conflict, and fragile states.

Follow-Up Actions

During the ministerial, Secretary Pompeo unveiled the Boldline Religious Freedom plan, the State Department’s “partnership accelerator aimed to support and scale innovative public-private partnerships…to promote and defend religious freedom around the world.” In October 2018, the first Boldline workshop will convene civil society organizations, public institutions, corporations, innovation companies, entrepreneurship support organizations, and financial institutions.

On the final day of the ministerial, Vice President Mike Pence announced two new initiatives. The International Religious Freedom Fund is designed to help governments and entities that already promote freedom of religion and belief extend financial support to initiatives that address the barriers to freedom of religion or belief, or provide assistance to those facing discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. The Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program will facilitate partnerships with local faith and community leaders to rapidly deliver aid to persecuted communities, beginning with Iraq.

Following the ministerial, the United States also issued the Potomac Declaration, which reaffirmed the U.S commitment to freedom of religion or belief, and proposed the Potomac Plan of Action to defend the freedom of religion or belief, confront legal limitations, advocate for equal rights and protections for all (including members of religious minorities), respond to genocide and other mass atrocities, and preserve cultural heritage.

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UNITED STATES POLICY TOWARD THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION.   (a) SENSE OF CONGRESS.--It is the sense of Congress that the United States Government should--   (1) recognize that a democratic and economically stable Russian Federation is inherently less confrontational and destabilizing in its foreign policy and therefore that the promotion of democracy in Russia is in the national security interests of the United States; and   (2) continue and increase assistance to the democratic forces in the Russian Federation, including the independent media, regional administrations, democratic political parties, and nongovernmental organizations.   (b) STATEMENT OF POLICY.--It shall be the policy of the United States--   (1) to facilitate Russia's integration into the Western community of nations, including supporting the establishment of a stable democracy and a market economy within the framework of the rule of law and respect for individual rights, including Russia's membership in the appropriate international institutions;   (2) to engage the Government of the Russian Federation and Russian society in order to strengthen democratic reform and institutions, and to promote transparency and good governance in all aspects of society, including fair and honest business practices, accessible and open legal systems, freedom of religion, and respect for human rights;   (3) to advance a dialogue among United States Government officials, private sector individuals, and representatives of the Government of the Russian Federation regarding Russia's integration into the Western community of nations;   (4) to encourage United States Government officials and private sector individuals to meet regularly with democratic activists, human rights activists, representatives of the independent media, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, civic organizers, church officials, and reform-minded politicians from Moscow and all other regions of the Russian Federation;   (5) to incorporate democratic reforms, the promotion of independent media, and economic reforms in a broader United States dialogue with the Government of the Russian Federation;   (6) to encourage the Government of the Russian Federation to address, in a cooperative and transparent manner consistent with internationally recognized and accepted principles, cross-border issues, including the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, crime, trafficking, and corruption;   (7) to consult with the Government of the Russian Federation and the Russian Parliament on the adoption of economic and social reforms necessary to sustain Russian economic growth and to ensure Russia's transition to a fully functioning market economy and membership in the World Trade Organization;   (8) to persuade the Government of the Russian Federation to honor its commitments made to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the November 1999 Istanbul Conference, and to conduct a genuine good neighbor policy toward the other independent states of the former Soviet Union in the spirit of internationally accepted principles of regional cooperation; and   (9) to encourage the G-8 partners and international financial institutions, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to develop financial safeguards and transparency practices in lending to the Russian Federation.   SEC. 4. AMENDMENTS TO THE FOREIGN ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1961.   (a) IN GENERAL.--   (1) DEMOCRACY AND RULE OF LAW.--Section 498(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295(2)) is amended--   (A) in the paragraph heading, by striking ``DEMOCRACY'' and inserting ``DEMOCRACY AND RULE OF LAW'';   (B) by striking subparagraphs (E) and (G);   (C) by redesignating subparagraph (F) as subparagraph (I);   (D) by inserting after subparagraph (D) the following:   ``(E) development and support of grass-roots and nongovernmental organizations promoting democracy, the rule of law, transparency, and accountability in the political process, including grants in small amounts to such organizations;   '`(F) international exchanges and other forms of public diplomacy to promote greater understanding on how democracy, the public policy process, market institutions, and an independent judiciary function in Western societies;   ``(G) political parties and coalitions committed to promoting democracy, human rights, and economic reforms;   ``(H) support for civic organizations committed to promoting human rights;''; and   (E) by adding at the end the following:   ``(J) strengthened administration of justice through programs and activities carried out in accordance with section 498B(e), including-- ``(i) support for nongovernmental organizations, civic organizations, and political parties that favor a strong and independent judiciary; ``(ii) support for local organizations that work with judges and law enforcement officials in efforts to achieve a reduction in the number of pretrial detainees; and ``(iii) support for the creation of legal associations or groups that provide training in human rights and advocacy, public education with respect to human rights-related laws and proposed legislation, and legal assistance to persons subject to improper government interference.''.   (2) INDEPENDENT MEDIA.--Section 498 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295) is amended--   (A) by redesignating paragraphs (3) through (13) as paragraphs (4) through (14), respectively; and   (B) by inserting after paragraph (2) the following:   ``(3) INDEPENDENT MEDIA.--Developing free and independent media, including--   ``(A) supporting all forms of independent media reporting, including print, radio, and television;   ``(B) providing special support for, and unrestricted public access to, nongovernmental Internet-based sources of information, dissemination and reporting, including providing technical and other support for web radio services, providing computers and other necessary resources for Internet connectivity and training new Internet users in nongovernmental civic organizations on methods and uses of Internet-based media; and   ``(C) training in journalism, including investigative journalism techniques that educate the public on the costs of corruption and act as a deterrent against corrupt officials.''.   (b) CONFORMING AMENDMENT.--Section 498B(e) of such Act is amended by striking ``paragraph (2)(G)'' and inserting ``paragraph (2)(J)''.   SEC. 5. ACTIVITIES TO SUPPORT THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION.   (a) ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS.--In providing assistance to the Russian Federation under chapter 11 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295 et seq.), the President is authorized to-- (1) work with the Government of the Russian Federation, the Duma, and representatives of the Russian Federation judiciary to help implement a revised and improved code of criminal procedure and other laws; (2) establish civic education programs relating to democracy, public policy, the rule of law, and the importance of independent media, including the establishment of ``American Centers'' and public policy schools at Russian universities and encourage cooperative programs with universities in the United States to offer courses through Internet-based off-site learning centers at Russian universities; and (3) support the Regional Initiatives (RI) program, which provides targeted assistance in those regions of the Russian Federation that have demonstrated a commitment to reform, democracy, and the rule of law, and which promotes the concept of such programs as a model for all regions of the Russian Federation.   (b) RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY AND VOICE OF AMERICA.--RFE/RL, Incorporated, and the Voice of America should use new and innovative techniques, in cooperation with local independent media sources and using local languages as appropriate and as possible, to disseminate throughout the Russian Federation information relating to democracy, free-market economics, the rule of law, and human rights.   SEC. 6. AUTHORIZATION OF ASSISTANCE FOR DEMOCRACY, INDEPENDENT MEDIA, AND THE RULE OF LAW.   Of the amounts made available to carry out the provision of chapter 11 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295 et seq.) and the FREEDOM Support Act for fiscal year 2003, $50,000,000 is authorized to be available for the activities authorized by paragraphs (2) and (3) of section 498 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended by section 4(a) of this Act.   SEC. 7. PRESERVING THE ARCHIVES OF HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER ANDREI SAKHAROV. (a) AUTHORIZATION.--The President is authorized, on such terms and conditions as the President determines to be appropriate, to make a grant to Brandeis University for an endowment for the Andrei Sakharov Archives and Human Rights Center for the purpose of collecting and preserving documents related to the life of Andrei Sakharov and the administration of such Center. (b) FUNDING.--There is authorized to be appropriated to the President to carry out subsection (a) not more than $1,500,000.   SEC. 8. EXTENSION OF LAW.   The provisions of section 108(c) of H.R. 3427, as enacted by section 1000(a)(7) of Public Law 106-113, shall apply to United States contributions for fiscal year 2003 to the organization described in section 108(c) of H.R. 3427.   Amend the title so as to read: ``An Act to make available funds under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to expand democracy, good governance, and anti-corruption programs in the Russian Federation in order to promote and strengthen democratic government and civil society and independent media in that country.''.   The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) and the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Watson) each will control 20 minutes.   The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith).   GENERAL LEAVE   Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks on the bill under consideration.   The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New Jersey?   There was no objection.   Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.   This bill, the Russian Democracy Act, ensures that American assistance will continue to be available to help strengthen and consolidate democracy in the Russian Federation. While this seems to be a routine measure, we should take a few minutes to note what this bill represents. The mere fact that we can talk of democracy in Russia as a reality in the present and not some dim prospect in the hazy future is one of the many wonders of the past decade that have grown familiar and now is largely taken for granted. Its existence, however, is a testament to the deep commitment to fundamental values shared by peoples all over the world.   Mr. Speaker, this bill before us represents an important part of the effort to continue that democratization. It focuses our attention and assistance on many of the prerequisites of a free and a prosperous society, including the creation of a resilient civil society, the strengthening of an independent press, and the establishment of the rule of law.

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He cited a joint report from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on continuing areas of concern. Quoting from the report, Voinovich said, "I could not agree more with a statement made in that report: ‘Only when Kosovo's minorities feel confident in their long-term future and when all of Kosovo's displaced persons are able to exercise the choice to return to their homes, feeling assured of their safety and confident in their ability to assess institutions and participate in social, economic and political life in Kosovo on a nondiscriminatory basis will it be possible to say that the situation of minorities in Kosovo is successful.'" Based on his observations during a trip to Kosovo earlier this year, Voinovich underscored the continuing need for U.S. engagement. He concluded that the situation in the divided city of Mitrovica, where ethnically-motivated attacks persist, and along the Kosovo-Macedonian border need to be resolved through cooperation and discussion. Testifying before the Commission were Dr. Alush Gashi, representing President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova in the Kosovo Parliament; Rada Trajkovic, leader of the Kosovo Serb "Return" Coalition within the Parliament; Valerie Percival, the Kosovo Field Representative for the International Crisis Group (ICG); and Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia Nebojsa Covic. Dr. Gashi expressed gratitude for the United States' leadership and promised to work with the international community to ensure that all Kosovars have equal national and human rights. He noted that Serbs currently participate in all levels of government and institutions. Further integration, however, is hindered by a Serb population that has so far refused to distance itself from Belgrade's brutal assault on Kosovar Albanians, which included numerous atrocities and 650 mass graves not yet exhumed. "The reality is that Kosovar-Albanians cannot get from Belgrade even the dead bodies of their members of families, and at this same time we are asking them to welcome live Serbs," Dr. Gashi testified in an emotional plea. Dr. Gashi acknowledged the right of Serbs to return to their homes in Kosovo. He also voiced strong opposition to "Belgrade's interference in [the] United Nations mission administration [UNMIK] in Kosovo." Dr. Trajkovic addressed a primary concern of the Kosovo Serb population, describing the fundamental unresolved issue as "the wish of the Albanians that Kosovo be exclusively their state and the wish of the Serbs that Kosovo remains part of their state." Dr. Trajkovic detailed a situation whereby the Albanian majority seeks the "Albanization and not multi-nationalization" of Kosovo. In this way, Kosovar Albanians dominate the hospitals, the universities, the media, and even the transportation sector, creating a highly segregated and polarized society. Islamic extremists, who go unpunished, are attempting to "wipe out the foundations of a civilization" by destroying churches, headstones, and cultural monuments, Trajkovic added. Ms. Percival discussed the ICG's recently released report on Kosovo, noting that Mitrovica is a "frequent flashpoint for confrontation and a source of instability." Attacks and reprisals are commonplace. Offering a multi-track plan of action, Percival recommended that the international community take four specific steps: pressure Belgrade to end its policy of incitement and continued support for parallel institutions; encourage the rule of law; establish a specially administered area in the north where Kosovar Serbs live; and promote UNMIK's transparency. Deputy Prime Minister Covic defended the right of Serbs in Kosovo to be free from "inexcusable persecution". "In Kosovo and Metohija, whatever the final solution might be, our desire is to have a strong and successful multi-ethnic society," Covic asserted. Covic said ethnic Serbs continue to flee Kosovo, in response to worrisome figures on the number of killings of Serbs, attacks, and missing persons. Kosovar leaders have shunned a bi-lingual society, inter-ethnic tolerance, unbiased police and an independent judiciary in favor of extremism, Covic maintained. Co-Chairman Smith, concerned about reports of pervasive criminality in Kosovo, raised the issues of missing persons, human trafficking, and perpetuation of parallel institutions. Ms. Percival said that UNMIK, in cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), continues to exhume bodies from mass graves and is making efforts to account for missing persons. Though UNMIK established a trafficking and prostitution unit, the witness protection program is very weak. Mr. Covic responded that Yugoslav authorities are working hard to identify remains and find missing persons, noting the wide disparity between estimates of missing Albanians and Serbs. He added that Yugoslavia takes the issue of human trafficking very seriously and that anti-trafficking legislation is pending in Belgrade. Dr. Gashi labeled Yugoslav support for parallel institutions as an attempt to sabotage UNMIK's institutions. To calm the psychological insecurity, the Serbs have to demonstrate the will to work with us, Gashi testified. Mr. Covic stressed that parallel institutions were not created by the current Yugoslav authorities and once the Serbs' basic human rights in Kosovo are met, there will be no need for parallel institutions. Dr. Gashi reiterated his commitment to equal rights, an open civil society, and cooperation. In response to concerns raised, he indicated that a strong consensus exists among Kosovars opposing the destruction of Serb property and violence against Orthodox nuns and lay people in Kosovo. In light of the OSCE/UNCHR report, all witnesses agreed to its generally accurate portrayal of the situation and reasonable recommendations. Urging all parties to move forward, Senator Voinovich pressed for more information on allegations that Belgrade is "meddling" in the governance of Kosovo. Commissioners Smith and Voinovich pledged to continue their support for U.S. and international engagement to help resolve pressing issues in Kosovo. Any perpetrator of a human rights violation in Kosovo needs to be held accountable, Smith concluded. The hearing came to a close after Co-Chairman Smith recognized Daniel Serwer of the United States Institute for Peace (USIP) for a few closing remarks. Serwer stressed the need to support the creation of an infrastructure in which the next Kosovo parliament can effectively operate. USIP had recently hosted in Virginia a session on inter-ethnic cooperation among Kosovo parliamentarians. Thirty of the participants attended the hearing. An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission's Web site, http://www.csce.gov. 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, Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission intern Derek Politzer contributed to this article.

  • Concerning Rise in Anti-Semitism in Europe

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend for yielding me time, and I rise in very strong support of H. Res. 393. I want to commend its sponsor and all of the Members who are taking part in this very important debate.   Mr. Speaker, yesterday, along with the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin), who is on the floor and will be speaking momentarily, we returned back from the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Parliamentary Assembly.   Every year, parliamentarians from the 55 nations that comprise the OSCE meet to discuss issues of importance. This year the focus was on terrorism, but we made sure that a number of other issues, because certainly anti -Semitism is inextricably linked to terrorism, were raised in a very profound way.   Yesterday, two very historic and I think very vital things happened in this debate. I had the privilege of co-chairing a historic meeting on anti -Semitism with a counterpart, a member of the German Bundestag, Professor Gert Weisskirchen, who is a member of the Parliament there, also a professor of applied sciences at the University of Heidelberg, and we heard from four very serious, very credible and very profound voices in this battle to wage against anti-Semitism.   We heard from Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti -Defamation League, who gave a very impassioned but also very empirical speech, that is to say he backed it up with statistics, with information about this rising tide of anti-Semitism, not just in Europe, but in the United States and Canada as well.   He pointed out, for example, according to their data, 17 percent of Americans are showing real anti -Semitic beliefs, and the ugliness of it. Sadly, among Latinos and African Americans, it is about 35 percent. He pointed out in Europe, in the aggregate, the anti -Semitism was about 30 percent of the population.   Dr. Shimon Samuels also spoke, who is the Director of the Wiesenthal Center in Paris. He too gave a very impassioned and very documented talk. He made the point that the slippery slope from hate speech to hate crime is clear. Seventy-two hours after the close of the Durban hate-fest, its virulence struck at the strategic and financial centers of the United States. He pointed out, “If Durban was Mein Kampf, than 9/11 was Kristalnacht, a warning.”   “What starts with the Jews is a measure, an alarm signaling impending danger for global stability. The new anti -Semitic alliance is bound up with anti -Americanism under the cover of so-called anti –globalization.”   He also testified and said, ``The Holocaust for 30 years acted as a protective Teflon against blatant anti -Semitic expression. That Teflon has eroded, and what was considered distasteful and politically incorrect is becoming simply an opinion. But cocktail chatter at fine English dinners,'' he said, ``can end as Molotov cocktails against synagogues.   ``Political correctness is also eroding for others, as tolerance for multi-culturism gives way to populous voices in France, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Portugal, and in the Netherlands. These countries' Jewish communities can be caught between the rock of radical Islamic violence and the hard place of a revitalized Holocaust-denying extreme right.   “Common cause”, he concluded, “must be sought between the victimized minorities against extremism and fascism.”   I would point out to my colleagues one of those who spoke pointed out, it was Professor Julius Schoeps, that he has found that people do not say “I am anti -Semitic;” they just say ”I do not like Jews”, a distinction without a difference, and, unfortunately, it is rearing itself in one ugly attack after another.   I would point out in that Berlin very recently, two New Jersey yeshiva students, after they left synagogue, they left prayer, there was an anti -American, anti -Israeli demonstration going on, and they were asked repeatedly, are you Jews? Are you Jews? And then the fists started coming their way and they were beaten right there in Berlin.   Let me finally say, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday we also passed a supplementary item at our OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I was proud to be the principal sponsor. The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin) offered a couple of strengthening amendments during the course of that debate, and we presented a united force, a U.S. force against anti-Semitism.   I would just point out this resolution now hopefully will act in concert with other expressions to wake up Europe. We cannot sit idly by. If we do not say anything, if we do not speak out, we allow the forces of hate to gain a further foothold. Again, that passed yesterday as well.   Mr. Speaker, I urge Members to become much more aware that this ugliness is rearing its ugly face, not just in the United States, but Canada, in Europe, and we have to put to an end to it. Hate speech and hate crimes go hand in hand.   Mr. Speaker, I urge support of the resolution.   United States Helsinki Commission--Anti -Semitism in the OSCE Region   The Delegations of Germany and the United States will hold a side event to highlight the alarming escalation of anti -Semitic violence occurring throughout the OSCE region.   All Heads of Delegations have been invited to attend, as well as media and NGOs.   The United States delegation has introduced a supplementary item condemning anti -Semitic violence. The Resolution urges Parliamentary Assembly participants to speak out against anti-Semitism.

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act

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

  • New Lows for Religious Freedom in Uzbekistan

    Mr. Speaker, over the past several weeks, Uzbek authorities have increased the harassment and suppression of religious groups viewed as a threat to the government’s control of society. Uzbek authorities have systematically sought to stifle all aspects of religious life, including Muslim and Christian. It is currently believed that nearly 7,000 individuals are jailed for alleged crimes related to their religious affiliation or beliefs. Human rights organizations estimate that during the past year Uzbek courts convicted roughly 30 people a week under trumped-up charges.   Unfortunately, the list keeps growing. At the end of May, police arrested Yuldash Rasulov, a well-known human rights defender and devout Muslim. Rasulov’s work through the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan focused on government actions against Muslims choosing to worship outside the government-approved religious system. According to Human Rights Watch, officials charged Rasulov with “religious extremism,” claiming he recruited Islamic militants to work toward overthrowing the state. Notably, a search of his home reportedly found nothing of an incriminating nature. Since being arrested, Rasulov has been held in incommunicado detention.   Authorities also targeted Musharaf Usamnova, the widow of a prominent Muslim activist Farhod Usmanov. Her husband was reportedly murdered in an isolation cell while in government custody in 1999. Uzbek officials arrested Musharaf in April, bringing over 50 men to ensure her capture, and her situation is unknown at this time. Soon thereafter, the government arrested several other women who were protesting the long prison sentences given to relatives and Muslim activists. The court sentenced these women to jail terms, some up to four years.   Adding to the concern about the treatment of these individuals is the rampant torture throughout the Uzbek “justice” system. Once in custody, many are savagely tortured and beaten in hopes of securing self-incriminating statements or evidence against other suspects. To ensure convictions, police authorities plant evidence on innocent individuals, such as weapons, drugs or banned religious propaganda. Judges hand out harsh prison sentences, despite claims of pervasive torture. Furthermore, prison conditions are abominable, infested with disease and pestilence. Individuals imprisoned on religious offenses are reportedly treated extraordinarily harsh; persons wishing to pray are subjected to further beatings and harassment. Incommunicado detention and disappearances of individuals also occur.   Also of serious concern are the extrajudicial executions that transpired over the past year. Human rights organizations reported on the deaths of five individuals while in police custody. Despite some Uzbek Government reports listing the cause of death as “heart attack” or “brain tumor,” the open wounds, broken bones and multiple bruises on the corpses tell a very different story. Clearly, there is much cause to worry about the safety of all individuals in prison.   Besides physical arrests, the legal regime governing religious groups is designed to repress religious activity. Through these laws and regulations, the government places religious groups in an untenable situation. The government seems to allow approved mosques to operate and permits Christian communities to exist in relative peace (if they do not attempt to proselytize indigenous groups not traditionally Christian). Otherwise, for other religious groups, obtaining official recognition is nearly impossible, and the real threat of government repression looms large.   The 1998 Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations law instituted registration requirements designed to make achieving official recognition next to impossible. The 1999 amendments to the criminal code increased the importance of registration, as individuals attending an unregistered group are potentially subject to three to five years imprisonment for belonging to an “illegal” group. Individuals caught attending meetings of “banned” religious communities risk up to 20 years imprisonment. Uzbek courts frequently hand down lengthy prison sentences for alleged participation in illegal or banned groups. In addition, the religion law bans religious free speech and private religious instruction, and only permits government approved clerics to wear religious dress.   In recent weeks, Uzbek authorities appear more willing to use these provisions to repress unwanted groups and silence dissent.   Most recently, on May 25th, Uzbek officials raided the Mir Protestant Church in the Karakalpakstan region in western Uzbekistan. The raid, justified because the church is unregistered, interrupted a service and recorded the names of individuals representing local nationalities, such as Kazakhs and Uzbeks. Authorities ordered individuals of those ethnic groups to appear in court to explain their participation. While the court did not impose a fine, in a similar case in the same region, a court did fine four members of the New Life Church for violating the law on religious organizations.   Similarly, due to an inability to register, the small Christian community in Muinak has been denied permission to meet. According to Keston News Service, church members are now forced to meet in secret. Furthermore, the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the town of Bukhara could be sentenced to five years in jail for leading an “illegal” religious service, as their community is unregistered. In addition, in May a Tashkent court found a Jehovah’s Witness guilty and fined him for illegal religious teaching when he was caught praying at a friend’s funeral.   Even more alarming was the request by the Uzbek Committee for Religious Affairs that Protestant groups stop preaching the Uzbek language, the country’s official language.   Mr. Speaker, the overall situation for religious freedom, and human rights generally, in Uzbekistan is bleak. Despite US involvement in the region, the recent increase of government efforts to suppress unrecognized religious groups is deeply troubling. Consequently, I urge the Uzbek Government to honor its commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • Hearing Addresses Dramatic Increase in Anti-Semitic Attacks Across Europe

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing May 22, 2002 on the continuing wave of anti-Semitic attacks that has swept across Europe this year. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH), and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Shimon Samuels, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris; Mark B. Levin, Executive Director of NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia; Alexandra Arriaga, Director of Government Relations for Amnesty International USA; Rabbi Andrew Baker, Director of International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee; and Kenneth Jacobson, Director of International Affairs Division for the Anti-Defamation League. Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing with an urgent appeal to combat increasingly frequent acts of anti-Semitism – including synagogue fire bombings, mob assaults, desecration of cultural property and armed attacks. He detailed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s strong position on anti-Semitism, but voiced dismay that some participating States have not taken appropriate measures to combat acts of violence and incitement. “Anti-Semitism is not necessarily based on the hatred of the Judaic faith, but on the Jewish people themselves,” Smith said. “Consequently, the resurfacing of these . . . acts of violence is something that cannot be ignored by our European friends or the United States.” In a submitted statement, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell stated, “The anti-Semitic violence spreading throughout the OSCE region gives cause for deep concern for its scope and viciousness.” Senator Campbell insisted “no longer can these acts of intolerance and violence be viewed as separate occurrences.... [Such] manifestations of anti-Semitism must not be tolerated, period, regardless of the source.” Senator Voinovich expressed consternation over the increasing number of attacks in Europe. He stated he was “saddened and deeply disturbed by reports of anti-Semitism that have taken place recently in some of the world’s strongest democracies: France, Germany, Belgium.” Senator Voinovich added, “Many of Europe’s synagogues have become targets of arson and Molotov cocktails.” Senator Clinton added, anti-Semitism “is something for which all of us have to not only be vigilant but prepared to take action.” She urged President Bush to raise the issue during his planned trip to Europe, and expressed hope that the OSCE commitments undertaken by European governments, in reference to anti-Semitism, would be “followed up by action.” Rep. Cardin, in his opening statement, hoped the hearing would “remind OSCE participating States that they have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to both prosecute those committing such hate crimes and to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence.” Rep. Cardin also expressed his disappointment that European governments had not taken a more aggressive stand. Dr. Samuels presented chilling testimony on the extent of anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and the failure of European governments and the international community to respond effectively. “Every Jewish building in Paris requires protection,” Samuels testified, reading from a January 16, 2002 Le Monde article. “Any child leaving school may be beaten because he is Jewish, only because he is a Jew.” Among the hundreds of attacks in France just this year, Samuels cited several compelling stories: An eight-year-old girl was wounded by a bullet when a Jewish school bus came under fire in suburban Paris. A rabbi’s car was defaced by graffiti that read “Death to the Jews.” Rather than documenting these incidents as anti-Semitic violence, the French Government identified them as a broken windshield and an act of vandalism, respectively. In effect, there exists what Dr. Samuels called a “black box of denial.” The perpetrators often go unpunished. Mr. Levin addressed anti-Semitism in the former Soviet states, urging appropriate criticism of countries’ shortcomings and recognition of their successes when it comes to combating anti-Semitism. Enforcing existing laws, using the bully pulpit, outreach to the general public, furthering understanding through education, and encouraging a role for religious leaders are all important steps, Levin testified. He concluded, “It is our hope and it is our expectation that when President Bush meets with President Putin in Moscow. . . he will carry this message.” Ms. Arriaga testified that Amnesty International strongly condemns the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks. “These acts are violations of the most fundamental human rights committed on the basis of an individual’s religion or identity,” she said. Ms. Arriaga made two recommendations. One, President Bush should raise issues of law enforcement accountability and other steps toward combating racist and anti-Semitic attitudes with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the late-May U.S.-Russia summit. Two, Congress should consider lifting the Jackson-Vanik amendment as a means of leveraging discussions. Rabbi Baker made a compelling statement that further highlighted the severity of anti-Semitism. Like Samuels, Baker outlined three sources of hatred that have converged to create the situation in which Europe now finds itself. They include radicalized Muslims, incited by the scathing coverage of Israel in the Arabic press; the surge in popularity of Europe’s far right wing; and a growing hatred of Israel on Europe’s left wing. “The image of an Israeli who is frequently portrayed as an aggressive violator of human rights is quickly conflated with the Jew,” Baker testified. Taking this one step further, Baker continued, cartoonists have depicted Israeli leaders with gross physical exaggerations just as the Nazis depicted the Jewish “villain.” Baker observed the need for U.S. political leaders to approach European leaders “in measured and sober tones.” Concluding his testimony, Baker acknowledged that the U.S. has been European Jewry’s strongest ally in the fight against anti-Semitism. Mr. Jacobson’s testimony framed the issue of anti-Semitism as a national security matter for the United States. Anti-American and anti-Jewish sentiments often go hand-in-hand, he said. Typically, this sort of hatred spreads from one region in the Middle East to another in Europe, in large part, because of anti-Jewish invective spewed by Al Jazeera television, anti-Israel media coverage in France, and trans-ideological Internet propaganda. Appealing for action, Jacobson recommended that Congress and the OSCE work to place this issue on the international diplomatic agenda. He also suggested the international community convene a conference on anti-Semitism. Finally, anti-bias education can help combat anti-Semitism, Jacobson said. Commissioners pledged to raise the issue of anti-Semitism at the upcoming OSCE Berlin Parliamentary Assembly meeting in early July. Among the initiatives discussed was the introduction of a free-standing resolution on anti-Semitic violence in the OSCE region for consideration in Berlin. An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses can be found on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site. 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. Helsinki Commission intern Derek N. Politzer contributed to this article.

  • Commission Hearing Examines Cooperation in the War on Terrorism in the OSCE Region

    United States and European officials testified before a May 8, 2002 hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the degree of cooperation among OSCE participating States in the war against terrorism. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing with participation by Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL). Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz testified in his capacity as OSCE Chairman-in-Office, while Spain’s Ambassador to the United States, Javier Ruperez, spoke on behalf of the European Union. The State Department’s Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, Mark Wong, and the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Enforcement, Jimmy Gurulé, represented the Administration. OSCE to Focus on Policing, Border Control, Trafficking and Money Laundering While the OSCE participating States have undertaken anti-terrorism commitments dating as far back as the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States have given new urgency to cooperation in combating the threats posed by terrorism. Last December, the 55 participating States adopted a Decision on Combating Terrorism at the Bucharest OSCE Ministerial Meeting and subsequently agreed to a Plan of Action at an OSCE and UN-sponsored international conference on strengthening efforts to counter terrorism held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. At the hearing, Foreign Minister Martins da Cruz outlined related measures taken under Portugal’s chairmanship, including the appointment of former Danish Defense Minister Jan Troejborg to serve as the Chairman’s personal representative in coordinating OSCE activities relating to terrorism. Martins da Cruz highlighted policing, border control, trafficking and money laundering as four strategic areas for OSCE focus and noted the establishment of an anti-terrorism unit within the OSCE Secretariat to develop concrete projects in these areas. The Minister described a meeting of secretaries general and other high representatives of international and regional organizations to be held in Lisbon, on June 12, with the aim of enhancing collaboration and coordination on anti-terrorism initiatives. Finally, the Foreign Minister suggested that new measures to fight terrorism, and the financing of it, could be elaborated in an OSCE charter on terrorism. Skeptics have questioned the need for such a charter given the extensive body of existing OSCE anti-terrorism commitments and action plans. Several Helsinki Commissioners emphasized the responsibility first and foremost of the participating States themselves to implement such commitments whether through unilateral or bilateral action as well as multilateral initiatives undertaken by the OSCE. Co-Chairman Smith noted that “terrorists survive and thrive thanks to organized criminal activity, official corruption, inadequate law enforcement and state repression. The OSCE has developed an ability unique among international organizations to highlight these problems and encourage solutions, through multilateral cooperation and the implementation of commitments made by each participating State.” Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) echoed this theme in prepared remarks, “The OSCE participating States can make a meaningful contribution to the antiterrorism campaign by focusing on the OSCE principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law while promoting practical cooperation in combating corruption and international crime – issues closely linked to terrorism.” “It would be a mistake if the OSCE were to be a mere talk shop on terrorism,” commented Ranking Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “The organization needs to engage: coordinating activities, reporting from the field, encouraging action to be taken as necessary by the participating States.” Commissioner Pitts, noting how many OSCE countries disregard their commitments, particularly in human rights, asked if there was really much value to negotiating an OSCE charter on terrorism instead of encouraging States to implement existing commitments. The Foreign Minister defended the proposal, arguing that a charter would serve as a useful guideline, especially for countries making the transition to a democracy. Contribution of the European Union Ambassador Javier Ruperez assured the Commission that the European Union “stands firmly with the people of this country, of the United States of America, and with its government in its common struggle against terrorism.” Ruperez then highlighted steps taken by the EU, leading up to the May 2nd Washington summit between President George W. Bush and EU President José María Aznar, with the fight against terrorism as its top priority. The EU Member States have agreed to a common definition of terrorism, adopted a Europe-wide arrest warrant (which the EU would like to extend bilaterally with the United States), and developed law enforcement and judicial cooperation through EUROPOL and EUROJUST. At the U.S.-EU summit, parties negotiated mandates for treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance. Ruperez stressed the importance of ongoing efforts aimed at developing a consolidated list of individuals and organizations considered to be terrorist by both the EU and the United States. He expressed Spain’s pride in presiding over the EU while these developments were accomplished, especially given Spain’s own struggle against terrorism. Co-Chairman Smith stressed the need to cooperate not only in preventing terrorist acts, but in dealing with them once they occur. Noting the attack on the World Trade Center and the subsequent spread of anthrax in the mail in his own congressional district, Smith expressed shock at how unprepared the authorities were to deal with such catastrophic events. “It’s a matter of when and not if,” Smith said. “I hate to say it, but I think there are enough people who are so radical, so extreme and so full of hate with access to potential weapons of mass destruction that we’ve got to prepare for the worst and pray it never happens.” Views from State and Treasury Mark Wong of the State Department’s Office for Counter-Terrorism stressed President Bush’s definition of the campaign against terrorism as multi-dimensional, entailing not just bilateral but multilateral cooperation in a variety of areas. “All partners in this battle have something to contribute and we all need that contribution,” Mr. Wong said. “No nation, even one as powerful as the United States, can succeed in this long-term battle going it alone.” Mr. Wong praised the EU for its support of the United States, especially in regard to the military response and the efforts to cut terrorist financing. He also called the OSCE one of the “most energetic and cooperative organizations” not only in rallying its participating States to respond to terrorism but also in promoting human rights and democracy building, which, along with the rule of law are “fundamental elements of our broad-based counter-terrorism strategy.” Mr. Wong also said that OSCE police training activities, focused on the Balkans, are very useful in the long-range fight against terrorism. The Coordinator also noted OSCE comprehensive membership as an asset, and pointed to U.S.-Russian cooperation in the OSCE response to terrorism. In his testimony, Secretary Gurulé detailed accomplishments to date in cutting the finances of terrorists. “Treasury has named 210 individuals and entities as financiers of terrorism,” Gurulé said, “and has blocked over $34.3 million in assets. Our coalition partners have blocked an additional $81.3 million. One hundred ninety-six nations have expressed support to disrupt terrorist financing, and 161 nations have blocking orders in place. It would do little good if the Treasury Department issued blocking orders on the bank accounts of terrorist financiers but the terrorists were, nonetheless, able to move their money globally through foreign bank accounts. It was imperative to work closely with our international partners to develop an international coalition to go after terrorist funds.” Secretary Gurulé saw potential for the OSCE as a clearinghouse for linking particular needs of participating States regarding a range of issues from anti-terrorist financing initiatives to expertise of terrorist networks. He noted that there is the will to cooperate but sometimes not the technical ability, legislation or law enforcement mechanisms to conduct complex money laundering and terrorist financing investigations. Country Critiques Particular concerns regarding countries or geographic areas within the OSCE region were raised either during the hearing or in subsequent questions submitted to the State and Treasury Departments which, along with official responses, will become part of the hearing record. Belarus was highlighted for allegedly selling weapons to rogue state sponsors of terrorism. Recent reports that Ukraine and the Czech Republic had also sold or allowed the delivery of weapons to countries like Iraq were raised as well. Commission Members expressed fear that the United States was working with governments in countering terrorism threats that also used such threats as a pretext to deny basic human rights, silence opposition or thwart religious freedoms. Concerns were also voiced with respect to developments in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Inquiries were made regarding the extent to which the Russian Federation is cooperating on the financial front and in isolating terrorist-supporting states around the globe. Finally, southeastern Europe was noted for being vulnerable to organized crime and corruption, especially in smuggling and trafficking, which could be used to help finance terrorist organizations. With the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Berlin Annual Session slated to focus on terrorism, several Commissioners asked the Administration witnesses for suggestions on issues relating to the war on terrorism which could be pursued during the course of the meeting in early July. 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.

  • Commission Hearing Examines Cooperation in the War on Terrorism in the OSCE Region

      United States and European officials testified before a May 8, 2002 hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe on the degree of cooperation among OSCE participating States in the war against terrorism. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing with participation by Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA),Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL). Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz testified in his capacity as OSCE Chairman-in-Office, while Spain’s Ambassador to the United States, Javier Ruperez, spoke on behalf of the European Union. The State Department’s Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, Mark Wong, and the Treasury Department’s Under Secretary for Enforcement, Jimmy Gurulé, represented the Administration. OSCE to Focus on Policing, Border Control, Trafficking and Money Laundering While the OSCE participating States have undertaken anti-terrorism commitments dating as far back as the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States have given new urgency to cooperation in combating the threats posed by terrorism. Last December, the 55 participating States adopted a Decision on Combating Terrorism at the Bucharest OSCE Ministerial Meeting and subsequently agreed to a Plan of Action at an OSCE and UN-sponsored international conference on strengthening efforts to counter terrorism held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. At the hearing, Foreign Minister Martins da Cruz outlined related measures taken under Portugal’s chairmanship, including the appointment of former Danish Defense Minister Jan Troejborg to serve as the Chairman’s personal representative in coordinating OSCE activities relating to terrorism. Martins da Cruz highlighted policing, border control, trafficking and money laundering as four strategic areas for OSCE focus and noted the establishment of an anti-terrorism unit within the OSCE Secretariat to develop concrete projects in these areas. The Minister described a meeting of secretaries general and other high representatives of international and regional organizations to be held in Lisbon, on June 12, with the aim of enhancing collaboration and coordination on anti-terrorism initiatives. Finally, the Foreign Minister suggested that new measures to fight terrorism, and the financing of it, could be elaborated in an OSCE charter on terrorism. Skeptics have questioned the need for such a charter given the extensive body of existing OSCE anti-terrorism commitments and action plans. Several Helsinki Commissioners emphasized the responsibility first and foremost of the participating States themselves to implement such commitments whether through unilateral or bilateral action as well as multilateral initiatives undertaken by the OSCE. Co-Chairman Smith noted that “terrorists survive and thrive thanks to organized criminal activity, official corruption, inadequate law enforcement and state repression. The OSCE has developed an ability unique among international organizations to highlight these problems and encourage solutions, through multilateral cooperation and the implementation of commitments made by each participating State.” Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) echoed this theme in prepared remarks, “The OSCE participating States can make a meaningful contribution to the antiterrorism campaign by focusing on the OSCE principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law while promoting practical cooperation in combating corruption and international crime – issues closely linked to terrorism.” “It would be a mistake if the OSCE were to be a mere talk shop on terrorism, ” commented Ranking Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). “The organization needs to engage: coordinating activities, reporting from the field, encouraging action to be taken as necessary by the participating States.” Commissioner Pitts, noting how many OSCE countries disregard their commitments, particularly in human rights, asked if there was really much value to negotiating an OSCE charter on terrorism instead of encouraging States to implement existing commitments. The Foreign Minister defended the proposal, arguing that a charter would serve as a useful guideline, especially for countries making the transition to a democracy. Contribution of the European Union Ambassador Javier Ruperez assured the Commission that the European Union “stands firmly with the people of this country, of the United States of America, and with its government in its common struggle against terrorism.” Ruperez then highlighted steps taken by the EU, leading up to the May 2nd Washington summit between President George W. Bush and EU President José María Aznar, with the fight against terrorism as its top priority. The EU Member States have agreed to a common definition of terrorism, adopted a Europe-wide arrest warrant (which the EU would like to extend bilaterally with the United States), and developed law enforcement and judicial cooperation through EUROPOL and EUROJUST. At the U.S.-EU summit, parties negotiated mandates for treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance. Ruperez stressed the importance of ongoing efforts aimed at developing a consolidated list of individuals and organizations considered to be terrorist by both the EU and the United States. He expressed Spain’s pride in presiding over the EU while these developments were accomplished, especially given Spain’s own struggle against terrorism. Co-Chairman Smith stressed the need to cooperate not only in preventing terrorist acts, but in dealing with them once they occur. Noting the attack on the World Trade Center and the subsequent spread of anthrax in the mail in his own congressional district, Smith expressed shock at how unprepared the authorities were to deal with such catastrophic events. “It’s a matter of when and not if,” Smith said. “I hate to say it, but I think there are enough people who are so radical, so extreme and so full of hate with access to potential weapons of mass destruction that we’ve got to prepare for the worst and pray it never happens.”Views from State and Treasury Mark Wong of the State Department’s Office for Counter-Terrorism stressed President Bush’s definition of the campaign against terrorism as multi-dimensional, entailing not just bilateral but multilateral cooperation in a variety of areas. “All partners in this battle have something to contribute and we all need that contribution,” Mr. Wong said. “No nation, even one as powerful as the United States, can succeed in this long-term battle going it alone.” Mr. Wong praised the EU for its support of the United States, especially in regard to the military response and the efforts to cut terrorist financing. He also called the OSCE one of the “most energetic and cooperative organizations” not only in rallying its participating States to respond to terrorism but also in promoting human rights and democracy building, which, along with the rule of law are “fundamental elements of our broad-based counter-terrorism strategy.” Mr. Wong also said that OSCE police training activities, focused on the Balkans, are very useful in the long-range fight against terrorism. The Coordinator also noted OSCE comprehensive membership as an asset, and pointed to U.S.-Russian cooperation in the OSCE response to terrorism. In his testimony, Secretary Gurulé detailed accomplishments to date in cutting the finances of terrorists. “Treasury has named 210 individuals and entities as financiers of terrorism,” Gurulé said, “and has blocked over $34.3 million in assets. Our coalition partners have blocked an additional $81.3 million. One hundred ninety-six nations have expressed support to disrupt terrorist financing, and 161 nations have blocking orders in place. It would do little good if the Treasury Department issued blocking orders on the bank accounts of terrorist financiers but the terrorists were, nonetheless, able to move their money globally through foreign bank accounts. It was imperative to work closely with our international partners to develop an international coalition to go after terrorist funds.” Secretary Gurulé saw potential for the OSCE as a clearinghouse for linking particular needs of participating States regarding a range of issues from anti-terrorist financing initiatives to expertise of terrorist networks. He noted that there is the will to cooperate but sometimes not the technical ability, legislation or law enforcement mechanisms to conduct complex money laundering and terrorist financing investigations. Country Critiques Particular concerns regarding countries or geographic areas within the OSCE region were raised either during the hearing or in subsequent questions submitted to the State and Treasury Departments which, along with official responses, will become part of the hearing record. Belarus was highlighted for allegedly selling weapons to rogue state sponsors of terrorism. Recent reports that Ukraine and the Czech Republic had also sold or allowed the delivery of weapons to countries like Iraq were raised as well. Commission Members expressed fear that the United States was working with governments in countering terrorism threats that also used such threats as a pretext to deny basic human rights, silence opposition or thwart religious freedoms. Concerns were also voiced with respect to developments in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Georgia. Inquiries were made regarding the extent to which the Russian Federation is cooperating on the financial front and in isolating terrorist-supporting states around the globe. Finally, southeastern Europe was noted for being vulnerable to organized crime and corruption, especially in smuggling and trafficking, which could be used to help finance terrorist organizations. With the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Berlin Annual Session slated to focus on terrorism, several Commissioners asked the Administration witnesses for suggestions on issues relating to the war on terrorism which could be pursued during the course of the meeting in early July. An un-official transcript of the hearing is accessible through the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site at http://www.csce.gov. 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.

  • Escalating anti-Semitic Violence in Europe

    While the anti-Semitism scourge lurks in the United States, the sharp escalation of violence against Jews in the OSCE region deserves attention. The most brutal incidents in recent months have occurred in France, Belgium and Germany. Violence has also been directed toward the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, Greece and Ukraine. OSCE participating States have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence. Despite that commitment, attacks against Jews continue. Two Yeshiva students from New Jersey were assaulted in Germany. A mob attacked Jewish worshipers in a Ukraine synagogue. A gang attacked Jewish high school soccer players in France. Vandals vandalized several synagogues in Russia. A Marseille synagogue burned to the ground and synagogues elsewhere in the OSCE region have suffered firebomb attacks. Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi “skin head” activity, participating States throughout the OSCE region face the urgent challenge of stemming the tide of escalating anti-Semitic violence.

  • Joseph Limprecht, U.S. Ambassador to Albania

    Mr. Speaker, we have received the news that United States Ambassador to Albania, Joseph Limprecht, died suddenly of a heart attack on Sunday, May 19, 2002, while hiking with his wife and colleagues in northern Albania.   Although I did not have the opportunity to meet Ambassador Limprecht, I did correspond with him on an issue of mutual concern--the trafficking of Albanian women and children into sexual slavery in Europe.   With porous borders and more than its share of criminals, Albania is used by traffickers as a key transit point to Italy. As a source country, young Albanian women are lured into the hands of traffickers and even kidnaped from their home towns or villages. The Ambassador was well aware of this tragedy and pressed for greater law enforcement to stop trafficking networks as well as greater assistance to the victims. Indeed, in keeping with the point of my correspondence with him, the Ambassador made sure U.S. assistance would go to a shelter for repatriated Albanian trafficking victims similar to one created for women found in Albania and waiting to be repatriated to their country of origin.   Beyond that, the Ambassador worked hard in the three years he spent in Albania in helping the country recover from its many ills, in particular the civil strife which tore the country apart in 1997. Given Albania's vulnerability to militant Islamic infiltration, I am sure that the war on terrorism was in the forefront of his duties in recent months.   Ambassador Limprecht was a member of the Senior Foreign Service, having served with the U.S. Foreign Service since 1975, with postings in Germany, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as well as in Washington. In the 1980s, he served in the office which handled what was then the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and now the OSCE, and worked with the staff of the Helsinki Commission which I had just joined and now serve as Co-Chairman.   My deepest condolences go to the Ambassador's wife, Nancy, their daughters Alma and Eleanor, friends and colleagues.

  • Georgian Government Complicity in Mob Violence against Minority Religious Groups

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

  • Unpunished Religious Persecution in the Republic of Georgia

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

  • Escalating Violence and Rights Violations in Central Asia

    This briefing was moderated by CSCE Commissioner Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), and witnesses included Vitaly Pononaryov, Director of the Central Asia Program; Abdusalom Ergashev at the Head Ferghana Branch of the Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan; Pulat Akhunov, Director of the Central Asian Association of Sweden; and Michael Ochs, Senior Staff Advisor at the Helsinki Commission. As a briefing that took place shortly after the events on September 11, 2001, it was noted that ties between the United States and Central Asian states had become a lot closer to strategically adapt to the changing circumstances in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, Presidents Karimov and Bush signed a declaration on strategic partnership and cooperation. Unfortunately, though, Central Asian republics, especially Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, do not have very good human rights records, which were discouraging for the case of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with these countries, something that the Bush Administration had intended to commit to.

  • Kyrgyzstan's Release of Azimbek Beknazarov

    Mr. Speaker, yesterday authorities in Kyrgyzstan released Azimbek Beknazarov, a parliamentarian who had been in jail since January 5. The decision was made after disturbances in the Ak-Su District of Jalal-Abad, Mr. Beknazarov’s native region in southern Kyrgyzstan. In an unprecedented outburst of violence on March 17, six people were killed and scores wounded when police opened fire on demonstrators. Mr. Beknazarov has pledged not to leave the area and his trial has been postponed indefinitely while the authorities and the public catch their breath and reassess the situation.   The incident and the events leading up to it are alarming--not only for Kyrgyzstan but for the United States, which is now basing troops in the country and expects to be in the region for the foreseeable future. Despite attempts by some Kyrgyz officials to pin the blame on a mob of demonstrators fired up by alcohol, the real cause of the bloody riot was popular discontent with an unresponsive government reaching the boiling point.   Kyrgyz authorities have accused Mr. Beknazarov of improperly handling a murder case when he was an investigator in a district prosecutor’s office years ago. In fact, it is widely believed that Beknazarov’s real transgression was to suggest that Kyrgyzstan’s parliament discuss the country’s border agreement with China, which would transfer some territory from the tiny Central Asian state to its giant neighbor.   This is reflective of Akaev’s intensified efforts to consolidate his power while cracking down on dissent and opposition. In February 2000, President Akaev rigged the parliamentary election to keep his main rival--Felix Kulov, who had served as Vice President and in other high-level positions--from winning a seat in the legislature. The observation mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) openly questioned the results in Kulov’s district, and said the election had fallen far short of international standards. Subsequently, Kulov was arrested and could not participate in the October 2000 presidential election, in which Akaev faced no serious contenders and was easily re-elected.   Kulov is serving a 7-year jail term and now faces new criminal charges. Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner. Last December I chaired a hearing of the Helsinki Commission which focused on the deterioration of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. Mr. Kulov’s wife was able to attend the hearing and offered her perspective on the current political climate in her country.   The independent and opposition media in Kyrgyzstan have also been under severe pressure, usually in the form of libel cases which official authorities use to fine newspapers out of existence so they cannot report on corruption. In January 2002, the authorities issued Decree No. 20, which would introduce mandatory official inventory and government registration of all typographical and printing equipment, while imposing stricter controls on its imports. Decree No. 20 would also threaten U.S. Government plans to establish an independent printing press in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, the decree will be used against religious groups, both Muslim and Christian, by blocking their ability to produce religious material and by calling for an “auditing” of all religious communities that create publications. While the pretext of the decree is to combat “religious extremists,” the decree has clear implications for religious communities out of favor with the government, as well as with opposition groups. The State Department has urged Kyrgyzstan to repeal Decree No. 20 but so far, Bishkek has stubbornly refused.   So when legislator Azimbek Beknazarov was arrested on January 5, his colleagues in parliament, members of opposition parties and human rights activists reacted strongly to the latest step in an ongoing campaign to clamp down on civil society. Since January, hundreds of people, including parliamentarians, have gone on hunger strikes to demand his release. Protests and demonstrations have continued throughout, which the police have either ignored or roughly dispersed. The U.S. Government, the OSCE and international human rights groups have called for Beknazarov’s release, but President Akaev, hiding behind the fig leaf of “executive non-interference in judicial deliberations,” contends that the case must be decided by the courts. His position is an absurd pretense in a country where the courts are under state influence, especially in sensitive political cases. More to the point, this stance is simply no longer credible, considering the widespread belief that Beknazarov’s imprisonment was politically motivated and the public’s lack of confidence in the government’s good faith.   Finally, pent-up tensions exploded two days ago, when demonstrators and police clashed, with tragic consequences. Kyrgyz officials have accused organizers of unauthorized pickets and rallies of responsibility for the violence. In an address to the nation, President Akaev described the events as “an apparent plot [in which] a group of people, including prominent politicians, staged unauthorized mass rallies simultaneously.” He said the events were “another move in the targeted activities of opposition forces to destabilize the situation in the country. They have been engaged in these activities for the last few years.”   Mr. Speaker, I would contend that the riots in Jalal-Abad Region were the predictable outcome of frustration and desperation. Askar Akaev, by falsifying elections and repressing freedom of expression, has made normal politics impossible in Kyrgyzstan. A long-suffering populace, which has seen its living standard plummet while corrupt officials grow rich, has signaled that enough is enough. The authorities have heard the message and now have to make a critical decision: either to try to find a common language with society or to crack down. If they choose the former, Kyrgyzstan may yet realize its promise of the early 1990s; if they choose the latter, more confrontations are likely, with unpredictable ramifications for Kyrgyzstan and its neighbors.   The United States has a real stake in the outcome. We are in Central Asia to make sure terrorists cannot use the region to plan attacks on us or recruit new members. But all the region’s states are led by men determined to stay in power indefinitely. This means they cannot allow society to challenge the state, which, in turn, insures that discontented, impoverished people with no other outlets could well be attracted by radical ideologies.   We must make it plain to President Akaev that we are serious when we declare that our war on terrorism has not put democracy and human rights on the back burner. And we must insist that he implement his OSCE commitments, as well as the pledge he made in last month’s bilateral Memorandum of Understanding with the United States. That document obligates Kyrgyzstan to “confirm its commitment to continue to take demonstrable measures to strengthen the development of democratic institutions and to respect basic human and civil rights, among which are freedom of speech and of the media, freedom of association and public assembly, and freedom of religion.”   The events earlier this week have given us a wake-up call. We had better understand properly all its implications.

  • Re-Registration Campaign Denying Religious Freedom in Azerbaijan

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

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