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World Press Freedom Day 2017
Wednesday, May 03, 2017

By Jordan Warlick,
Staff Associate

Although freedom of the press is recognized by democracies around the world as an essential and basic human right, emerging reports show that it is globally in decline, even in countries considered strong democracies. The recently published Freedom House 2017 Freedom of the Press Report and Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index both indicate grim trends – Freedom House declares press freedom at its lowest point in 13 years, and Reporters Without Borders describes the “ever darker world map” it has published this year.

The OSCE region is not uniform when it comes to freedom of the press. OSCE participating States include some of the freest nations in the world, like Norway and the Netherlands, alongside some of the least free nations, like Azerbaijan and Turkey. The worst-performing region in the aforementioned Freedom House report is Eurasia, while the best-performing is Europe, both of which are largely encompassed in the OSCE region. The central problems of media freedom are also varied between countries, from violence, intimidation, and incarceration of journalists; to emerging contempt for the media among politicians; to media outlet ownership and transparency issues. While some countries require more attention and monitoring than others, any conditions that impede on press freedom or that are considered harmful for journalists deserve attention.

The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media was an office created in 1997 to do just that: monitor and assist participating States with compliance commitments on freedom of expression and free media. The most recent OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, was a fierce advocate for the rights of journalists across the OSCE. The OSCE participating States currently are in the process of selecting her successor, an appointment that requires consensus among the 57 OSCE participating States.  This office’s function as a watchdog for violations and deteriorating conditions for media has been critical to bringing attention to issues and cases that may otherwise go unnoticed. Still, undemocratic regimes, changing political tides in the region, and the evolving landscape of journalism present ongoing challenges.

Over the last week alone, the Helsinki Commission has held three different events where media freedom has been an important topic of discussion: a hearing on human rights abuses in Russia; a briefing on Russian human rights violations of Ukrainian citizens; and a briefing on human rights in Turkey after its referendum on changes to the constitution.  At the hearing on human rights in Russia, each witness brought attention to the Kremlin’s control of the media and persecution of independent journalists. The briefing on Russian human rights violations against Ukrainian citizens focused on the incarceration of filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, but highlighted other cases of imprisoned journalists such as Roman Sushchenko of Ukrinform News and Mykola Semena, a contributor to Radio Free Europe. On Turkey, Freedom House panelist Nate Schenkkan described the severe restrictions on access to information and underscored Turkey’s status as the number one jailer of journalists in the world.

If there is any hope for the future of press freedom in these countries where media is especially unfree, it is in the passion and talent of journalists who are committed to holding their governments accountable despite the risks. It is vital that the United States continue to be an exemplar of and advocate for freedom of the press, enshrined by our founders in the First Amendment in recognition of its importance for democracy, for other countries around the world.

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  • COMMISSIONERS CALL ON WHITE HOUSE TO TRANSFER ATACMS TO UKRAINE

    WASHINGTON—Yesterday, members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Commissioner Representative Victoria Spartz (IN-05) sent a letter to President Biden, requesting he grants the transfer of MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to Ukraine.  In the letter, Commissioners thank the Administration for its beginning steps on getting F-16s to Ukrainian defenders and emphasize the importance of ATACMS on targeting Russian frontlines in occupied Ukraine as well as pushing back Russian supply chain systems which fuel their genocidal war. During the Commissioners’ recent trip to Ukraine and meeting with President Zelensky, ATACMS were requested for an immediate battlefield advantage. These powerful weapons could provide the advantage Ukraine needs to secure its freedom, and the only remaining hurdle to their delivery is the President’s approval.      The letter reads:    Dear President Biden,    We urge you to send the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) to Ukraine. From the very beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Ukraine requested ATACMS to defend and reclaim their homes in the face of the Kremlin’s genocidal war of conquest. This powerful weapon system would go a long way to ensuring full Ukrainian victory now, while helping deter future Russian threats against Ukraine, the wider region, and Europe as a whole.  We thank the administration for beginning the process of getting F-16s to Ukraine, as these jet fighters will make a huge difference toward achieving full Ukrainian victory. On our recent trip to Ukraine, we heard how the Ukrainian army is holding its own against Russia in all areas except the sky. But long-range missiles are also necessary for victory. ATACMS would make an immediate battlefield difference for Ukraine. With an effective range of nearly 200 miles, virtually all major Russian units, naval assets, and strategic infrastructure in occupied Ukrainian territory would be within reach of precision strikes. This would not only help Ukraine degrade or destroy Russian weapons of war used to murder Ukrainian defenders and civilians but would also push Russian units and supply chains further from the front, dramatically complicating sustainment and their ability to continue prosecuting this genocidal war. The fewer supplies and arms that reach Russian forces, the less capable they are of holding Ukrainian territory and killing its people. ATACMS will save Ukrainian lives.  Unlike many other weapons which require extensive training and long logistical chains, ATACMS are fired from widely used and available M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System(HIMARS) platform and could be fielded immediately. This is critical in Ukraine where time is of the essence. Ukraine must win as quickly as possible to prevent the needless loss of anymore courageous Ukrainians and to end the war in the only sustainable way: Ukrainian victory.  Now that the United Kingdom has delivered Storm Shadow cruise missiles, there is no reason to withhold ATACMS from Ukraine. We must trust the Ukrainians to use our long-range missiles responsibly, just as our British allies have. The Ukrainians have shown repeatedly that they will use every weapon system responsibly and to maximum effect.  Ukraine can win the war this year if the United States and our democratic allies transfer all weapons necessary. A defeat or even a military stalemate against Russia’s genocidal invasion would be a catastrophe for our national security and guarantee renewed Russian attacks on Ukraine and broader aggression in Europe. Once Ukraine has achieved victory on its terms, ATACMS, along with other long-range and advanced weapons, will be a primary means of deterring and constraining future Russian aggression. Russian forces will not be able to stage for a future invasion, or threaten the Black Sea region at will, under the shadow of Ukrainian long-range capabilities.  We understand that there are concerns the United States does not have enough ATACMS to send to Ukraine. However, many democratic allies also possess ATACMS and forming an international coalition for the transfer of ATACMS, much like has been done with jets and tanks, could help alleviate these concerns. Moreover, the point of these weapons is to protect U.S. national security and the security of our allies, which Ukraine is currently doing alone. The transfer of our ATACMS is logical and urgent under these circumstances.  Now that the decision has been made to send F-16s, now is the time to commit to Ukraine’s full victory and deliver all the tools needed. Nearly every weapon system requested by Ukraine has been delivered after intense pressure. Let us not wait for another pressure campaign to deliver ATACMS. In the spirit of proactivity, deterrence, and mindful of the innocent Ukrainian lives lost the longer Russia is allowed to continue its war, we urge your administration to send these war-winning weapons to Ukraine immediately.  [Click on the PDF icon above to view the full letter]

  • CHAIRMAN WILSON LEADS BIPARTISAN DELEGATION TO GERMANY, POLAND, AND UKRAINE

    WASHINGTON—From May 1st to May 7th, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) led a bipartisan U.S. delegation to Germany, Poland, and Ukraine to coordinate support for Ukraine and examine current wartime challenges. The delegation consulted with high-ranking government officials and civil society actors regarding ongoing military and humanitarian responses to the Russian invasion. Chairman Wilson was joined on the delegation by Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Commissioner Victoria Spartz (IN-05). “Friends of democracy are inspired by courageous Ukrainians capably supported by our appreciated western allies, like Germany and Poland, in the global competition between democracies with rule of law opposing authoritarians with rule of gun. “Ukraine must win this war against Russia’s brutal aggression — there is no alternative. Ukraine must be restored to its internationally recognized 1991 borders and integrated into NATO and other Euro-Atlantic institutions. The United States must work with its allies and partners to ensure that the leaders of the Russian Federation are held accountable. “Despite promises after World War II of ‘never again,’ today, in 2023, Russia is committing the very crimes that the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg was created to address: the crime of aggression, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. As in Nuremberg, we must bring to justice the perpetrators of the genocide being carried out in Ukraine – including war criminal Putin himself,” said Chairman Wilson and Ranking Member Cohen. In Germany, the delegation met with high-level defense and foreign affairs officials to discuss Germany’s partnership in ensuring Ukrainian victory. In Berlin, the Commissioners met with National Security Advisor Jens Ploetner, Ministry of Foreign Affairs State Secretary Andreas Michaelis, and Ministry of Justice State Secretary Dr. Angelika Schlunck who provided assurances of sustained support for Ukraine. In a visit to the Nuremburg Palace of Justice, site of the Nuremberg trials, the delegation drew obvious parallels to accountability for Russia’s criminal aggression against Ukraine. After visiting Nuremberg, Lieutenant General Andrew Rohling welcomed the delegation to the 7th Army Grafenwoehr Training Area where Ukrainian troops are being trained. In Ukraine, the delegation visited Bucha and Kyiv joined by U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation Michael Carpenter and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink. In Bucha, survivors testified to mass murder of civilians by Russian soldiers and the delegation paid homage to the victims. In Kyiv, the delegation met with Ukrainian children who had been taken to Russia and Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine as part of a Russian effort to erase their identity and forcibly assimilate them. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov highlighted Ukraine’s military needs and mechanisms of accountability for international assistance. The delegation met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who expressed the urgent need for F-16 fighter aircraft to defend his people and keep open sea-lanes for Ukrainian wheat vital to feeding Europe, Africa, and the world. President Zelenskyy expressed his deep gratitude to the United States for supporting Ukraine’s fight for freedom. In Poland, the delegation visited Rzeszów where Colonel Matt Braman and Colonel Kendall Clark briefed on the activities of the 10th Mountain Division. The delegation also met with the Polish border service and non-governmental organizations working near the border to prevent Ukrainian refugees from falling victim to human traffickers. Warsaw was the concluding stop for consultations with U.S. Ambassador Mark Brzezinski, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Arkadiusz Mularczyk and OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Director Matteo Mecacci. The delegation thanked Poland for supporting Ukraine and welcoming millions of Ukrainians who have fled Russian terror.

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SALOME ZOURABICHVILI

    WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break the cycle of political prosecution in the country. In the letter, the legislators cite the case of Mr. Nikoloz Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and political activist. His imprisonment, on spurious charges, is a violation of his human rights and an affront to Georgia’s democracy. Releasing political prisoners such as Mr. Gvaramia is an essential step towards EU candidacy for Georgia, and an important humanitarian gesture. President Zourabichvili has shown herself to be an outspoken and principled leader for Georgian democracy and has an opportunity to continue to cement this legacy, advance Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic dream, and perform a significant humanitarian service by using her pardon powers to address the ongoing cycle of political prosecution. Click the PDF icon above to view the letter.

  • CHURCH, STATE, AND RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINE

    The Putin regime has long used the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to consolidate its power at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has explicitly endorsed Russia’s war on Ukraine, even blessing weapons for the invasion. Churches under the mantle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had long been viewed as actual or potential surveillance and influence outposts for the Putin regime, directly contributing to the official establishment of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine in 2019. Additionally, the Putin regime has exported its widespread internal persecution of non-ROC-affiliated Christians to the territories it occupies in Ukraine. This hearing will assess Putin’s political control over ROC institutions and the implications for Ukraine’s religious and political culture. Relatedly, panelists will speak to harassment and denial of religious freedoms in territories occupied by Russia. Witnesses will also testify to how religious institutions, churches, and individual Christians have supported Ukraine in wartime and the future of church-state relations within Ukraine. His Beatitude Epiphaniy, Metropolitan of Kyiv and All Ukraine, will give opening remarks. Related information Witness Biographies

  • BIPARTISAN UKRAINE VICTORY RESOLUTION INTRODUCED IN HOUSE AND SENATE

    WASHINGTON— Yesterday, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) introduced the Ukraine Victory Resolution in the House of Representatives. Commissioners Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC), introduced the resolution in the Senate. The resolution affirms that it is the policy of the United States to see Ukraine victorious against the Russian invasion, holds that the peace brought by victory must be secured by integrating Ukraine into NATO, and declares that the United States must work with its allies and partners to secure reparations, reconstruction, justice for Russian war crimes, and accountability for Russian leaders.  “Ukrainian victory is the only path to peace. We must ensure that Ukraine is well-armed and outfitted so that the upcoming counteroffensive can meet expectations and Ukraine can win the war as quickly as possible. Ukrainian victory is good for U.S. national security and economic stability, denies Putin any reward for its invasion, and deters China and Iran. Ukraine’s existence depends on victory,” said Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson.  “Ukrainian victory is also critical for the United States. Ukraine is preventing an incursion into NATO and demonstrating to autocrats that borders cannot be changed by force alone—a fundamental underpinning of the peaceful international system. The Ukrainian fight is our common fight. There is no alternative to victory,” said Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen.  “Ukraine will win the war—and win the peace—if America continues its steadfast support as this resolution strongly states,” said Senator Blumenthal. “True victory means stopping Russia’s murderous assault, imposing accountability for crimes against humanity, and rebuilding Ukraine at Russia’s expense. To our NATO allies as well as Ukraine, our message must be that we’ll have your back in this fight for freedom and democracy—yours and ours together,” said Commissioner Sen. Richard Blumenthal.  “This bipartisan, bicameral resolution says what we all know to be true – that Ukrainian victory is in the best interest of every democracy on earth,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “Putin’s brutal war seeks to steal Ukraine’s land and its future.  The United States and our allies have played, and should continue to play, a leading role in securing everything Ukraine needs to achieve victory and rebuild.  I join my colleagues in sending a clear message to the people of Ukraine: we are with you to victory,” said Commissioner Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.  “I enthusiastically support the concept of victory for Ukraine, which is possible with aggressive Western help, particularly in the area of weapons. The Russian army has been dealt a severe blow. It is now time to go all in for victory for Ukraine. That means continuing to provide them the weapons they need to repel the Russian invaders, labeling Putin’s Russia a state sponsor of terrorism and lending our voice to holding Putin and his cronies accountable for war crimes committed on an industrial scale. Victory for Ukraine is possible, but we have to be all in,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham.  Ukraine regained its independence in 1991 after three centuries of Moscow’s imperial rule. In 1994, the United States encouraged Ukraine to abandon its arsenal of nuclear weapons, the third largest in the world at the time, in exchange for security assurances in the Budapest Memorandum. The Ukrainians have had two revolutions since independence, the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, demonstrating their commitment to shared ideals of democracy and freedom and their desire for Euro-Atlantic integration.  In 2008, at the Bucharest NATO Summit, NATO states declared, “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agree today that these countries will become members of NATO.” Russia initially invaded Ukraine in 2014 and massively escalated its invasion in 2022.  In 2022, the UN General Assembly called on member states to create a mechanism for reparations to be paid to Ukraine. In 2023, the United States issued a finding that Russian officials have committed crimes against humanity.  Original cosponsors of the resolution in the House of Representatives also include: Mike Lawler (NY-17), Richard Hudson (NC-09), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Doug Lamborn (CO-05), Bill Pascrell (NJ-08), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Deborah Ross (NC-02), Jim Costa (CA-21), David Trone (MD-06), Joe Morelle (NY-25), Susan Wild (PA-07), and Marcy Kaptur (OH-09).  Click on the PDF icon above to view the resolution.

  • Putin’s Regime Is Descending Into Stalinism

    Vladimir Kara-Murza is a pro-democracy opposition leader in Russia — and my friend. He was arrested in April of last year for “discrediting the armed forces” of Russia. His arrest was apparently triggered by a visit he made to Arizona the previous month during which he simply told the truth. “The entire world sees what [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s regime is doing to Ukraine,” Kara-Murza told members of Arizona’s state legislature. “It bombs civilian areas, hospitals and schools.” In the months that followed his arrest, the Kremlin piled on. He was also charged with using the funds of an “undesirable organization” — the Washington, D.C. -based NGO “Free Russia Foundation” — to convene a conference in support of Russian political prisoners in Moscow in October 2021. Simultaneously, he was accused of “high treason” because he testified before the Helsinki Commission and the NATO Parliamentary assembly, and for allegedly “consulting foreign special services” for $30,000 a month. On Monday, Kara-Murza was sentenced to 25 years in a “strict regime” prison colony. This is likely the longest sentence ever meted out for political activity in post-Soviet Russia, where the maximum term for murder is 15 years and the punishment for rape is the same. His sentence combines penalties for all these “crimes”: seven years for the first, three for the second, and 15 years (apparently “reduced” from eighteen) for the third. This punishment is much harsher than the ones to which the regime’s vengeance has lately subjected members of the opposition. The two other leading opponents of the Kremlin, Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin, were sentenced to nine years and eight-and-a-half years respectively. Heightened repression is always a sign of fear. Could Kara-Murza’s punishment have had something to do with the fact that Navalny was sentenced a year ago and Yashin last December, when the war in Ukraine may not have looked to the Kremlin as much of an endless bloody slog as it appears today? And also when its prosecution of the war, while dealing with harsh Western sanctions, was not as much fraught with the possibility of popular discontent over gradual impoverishment and casualties in the hundreds of thousands? It seems that the reason the sentence is so harsh is to scare civil society and preclude any chance of organized resistance. Even in the post-Stalin Soviet Union, the authorities generally avoided charging dissidents with crimes like “high treason,” most often espionage. (The 1977 case of the Jewish refusenik Anatoly Sharansky was an exception.) As Kara-Murza, whom the Kremlin almost certainly tried to poison twice before, pointed out to the kangaroo court this week, his sentence harkens back not just to Soviet times but to the 1930s Stalinist purges of “enemies of the people.” Kara-Murza is a Cambridge-trained historian, and he was right. Putin’s regime is descending into Stalinism. Sustained by indiscriminate ruthlessness, such regimes do not “evolve”— witness North Korea or Cuba. They can only be destroyed either by an invasion, like Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or exploded from within by a miraculous leader like Mikhail Gorbachev. Neither outcome is likely in Russia so long as Putin lives. And so the struggle is very personal now between the two Vladimirs, Putin and Kara-Murza, even biological: Only Putin’s death can free my friend Vladimir. Putin is 70, Kara-Murza is 41. But the effective age gap will narrow steadily as Kara-Murza’s jailers will undoubtedly begin grinding him down from day one. Yet Kara-Murza was defiant and hopeful even as his sentence came down. “I know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will be gone,” he said in his final statement before the court. “When the war will be called a war, and the usurper [in the Kremlin] will be called a usurper; when those who have ignited this war will be called criminals instead of those who tried to stop it... And then our people will open their eyes and shudder at the sight of the horrific crimes committed in their names.” Even in the post-Stalin Soviet Union, the authorities generally avoided charging dissidents with crimes like “high treason,” most often espionage. (The 1977 case of the Jewish refusenik Anatoly Sharansky was an exception.) As Kara-Murza, whom the Kremlin almost certainly tried to poison twice before, pointed out to the kangaroo court this week, his sentence harkens back not just to Soviet times but to the 1930s Stalinist purges of “enemies of the people.” Kara-Murza is a Cambridge-trained historian, and he was right. Putin’s regime is descending into Stalinism. Sustained by indiscriminate ruthlessness, such regimes do not “evolve”— witness North Korea or Cuba. They can only be destroyed either by an invasion, like Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or exploded from within by a miraculous leader like Mikhail Gorbachev. Neither outcome is likely in Russia so long as Putin lives. And so the struggle is very personal now between the two Vladimirs, Putin and Kara-Murza, even biological: Only Putin’s death can free my friend Vladimir. Putin is 70, Kara-Murza is 41. But the effective age gap will narrow steadily as Kara-Murza’s jailers will undoubtedly begin grinding him down from day one. Yet Kara-Murza was defiant and hopeful even as his sentence came down. “I know that the day will come when the darkness over our country will be gone,” he said in his final statement before the court. “When the war will be called a war, and the usurper [in the Kremlin] will be called a usurper; when those who have ignited this war will be called criminals instead of those who tried to stop it... And then our people will open their eyes and shudder at the sight of the horrific crimes committed in their names.”

  • U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA presents Joint Statement on Russia’s War in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON— Today, the U.S. Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) endorsed the “Joint Statement of Action on the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s War Against Ukraine and the International Legal Order,” which was endorsed by the OSCE PA Bureau and published today at the conclusion of the 2023 OSCE PA Winter Meeting. Members of the U.S. Delegation include Head of Delegation and Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33). Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-37) also participated in the delegation.    Following a dedicated debate marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Assembly issued the statement to condemn Russia’s years-long clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of its commitments under the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE commitments.   Click here to read the Joint Statement  

  • Helsinki Commissioners re-introduce Ukrainian Genocide Resolution in the House and Senate

    Today, Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Commissioners Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (MO-05) along with Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Lloyd Doggett (TX-37), Bill Keating (MA-09), Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27), Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Bill Pascrell (NJ-09), André Carson (IN-07), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), introduced a resolution condemning Russian actions in Ukraine as a genocide under applicable international laws in the 118th Congress.   The resolution was also re-introduced in the U.S. Senate on February 16th by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Senator Ben Cardin (MD) and Senator Jim Risch (ID). Commissioners Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT) as well as Senators Lindsey Graham (SC), Michael Crapo (ID), Tim Kaine (VA), Rick Scott (FL), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Joe Manchin (WV), John Barrasso (WY), Patty Murray (WA), Marco Rubio (FL), and Todd Young (IN) joined Sens. Cardin and Risch as original co-sponsors.    The resolution calls on the United States, along with NATO and EU allies, to support the government of Ukraine, support tribunals and investigations on Russian war crimes, use the Global Magnitsky sanctions on those responsible, and describes the substantial and significant evidence of Russia’s systemic actions to eliminate Ukrainians. The Commission applauds this vital resolution to hold Russia accountable for their atrocities.   For more information click here. The resolution was first introduced in the 117th Congress in the House of Representatives by Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen and Chairman Joe Wilson, along with Commissioners Marc Veasey, Richard Hudson, and Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick and Marcy Kaptur, along with companion legislation in the Senate by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Cardin and Sen. Jim Risch. 

  • Steadfast Support for Ukraine: United States Delegation Hosts Ukrainian and Partner Country Parliamentarians on the Margins of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    WASHINGTON – Today, the United States Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), led by Senator Ben Cardin (MD), met with Mykyta Poturaiev, Ukraine’s Head of Delegation and additional representatives of the Ukrainian Rada in Vienna, Austria, along with the Heads of Delegation of Canada, Estonia, France, Latvia, Poland, and the United Kingdom. On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the parliamentary leaders in attendance pledged their sustained and steadfast support for Ukraine to counter Russian aggression:  “We will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over its 1991 borders. A year after Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we recommit to combining our efforts to redress this injustice and hold Russia to account for its crimes, including by seeking its suspension from the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). We further urge the PA to host annual sessions and meetings in OSCE participating States prepared to block the participation of Russia’s representatives. We will not allow Russia’s reprehensible propaganda to go unchallenged at the OSCE PA or any other international forum. The world must hold Russia accountable for its aggression and for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide it is committing against the people of Ukraine. All of us are committed to the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine and seek restitution from Russia to this end.  “To the people of Ukraine: as you suffer Russia’s attacks on your cities and fight the aggressor in the battlefield, know that you are never alone in your courageous struggle for a secure and democratic future. As missiles rain down and the lights go out, and as you mourn all those you have lost, we mourn with you and share your fight for Ukrainian victory. You have our admiration and above all, our gratitude, as we remain resolutely at your side in solidarity and partnership.”  Joining U.S. Head of DelegationSenator Ben Cardin were delegation members Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), and Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Lloyd Doggett (TX-37).  The Ukrainian delegation consisted of Mr. Mykyta Poturaiev, Head of Delegation; Mr. Artur Gerasymov, Deputy Head of Delegation, Mr. Pavlo Frolov, Ms. Irina Gerashchenko, Ms. Evgeniia Kravchuk, and Ms. Nataliia Pipa.  Heads of delegations present included Dr. Hedy Fry (Canada), Mr. Sven Sester (Estonia), Mr. Didier Paris (France), Mr. Rihards Kols (Latvia), Ms. Barbara Bartuś (Poland), and Sir John Whittingdale (United Kingdom). 

  • Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair: Statement on Bakhtiyar Hajiyev

    WASHINGTON—Following reports of the sharp deterioration of Azerbaijani dissident Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-2) and Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following joint statement: “We are absolutely appalled at the continued unwarranted detention and mistreatment of Azerbaijani civil activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has been imprisoned on trumped up charges and is facing a precipitous decline in his health as he continues his hunger strike. His sentencing by the Azerbaijani regime is not only completely disproportionate to the allegations raised against him, but also not the first time he has been harassed, detained, and subjected to abuse as a result of his justifiable activism.  “Azerbaijan has been an important U.S. partner and crucial for energy opportunities in the world, but our international relationships rely in no small part on the mutual recognition of basic principles of human rights. This is true for Mr. Hajiyev as well as numerous other political prisoners. “We join our colleagues in the Administration and in Europe in urging Azerbaijani authorities to ensure Mr. Hajiyev’s humane treatment and human rights, and return to its internal and external obligations under the Helsinki Principles."

  • Helsinki Commissioners Urge Austria to Deny Visas to Russian Delegation Ahead of OSCE PA Winter Meeting

    WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission leadership, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, and Rep. Steve Cohen, on February 10, sent a letter to Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg to reconsider granting visas to the Russian delegation to the Winter Meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, taking place in Vienna next week. The Winter Meeting will coincide with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, February 24th, 2022, and is set to be the first in-person gathering of the Parliamentary Assembly with Russian and Belarusian participation since the start of the war. The United States and European Union have sanctioned every member of the Russian delegation for having explicitly endorsed Vladimir Putin's war of aggression on Ukraine and his claim to have annexed vast swathes of Ukrainian territory.     Read the letter in PDF form above.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Announce Re-Introduction of HARM Act

    Today, Helsinki Commissioners Steve Cohen, Joe Wilson, Marc Veasey,  Richard Hudson, Ruben Gallego and Brian Fitzpatrick along with Representatives Ted Lieu, Maria Salazar and Marcy Kaptur, re-introduced the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act in the House of Representatives, bipartisan legislation that would require the Secretary of State to designate the Russian-based mercenary Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO).  The Commission applauds this vital piece of legislation to hold Wagner accountable for the terror it inflicts in Ukraine and elsewhere.  For more information click here.   The HARM Act was first introduced in the last Congress by Helsinki Commission Chair Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Roger Wicker (MI), along with companion legislation in the House of Representatives led by Reps. Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson, Richard Hudson, and Marc Veasey.

  • Bipartisan reps introduce bill to designate Russia’s Wagner Group as foreign terrorists

    A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced legislation on Wednesday to designate Russian mercenary company Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act, sponsored by nine members of the lower chamber, would require the State Department to designate the Wagner Group an FTO within 90 days of becoming law. The lawmakers cited the paramilitary company’s history of human rights violations in Africa and ongoing deployment of private soldiers in Ukraine to fight with Russia, adding that the Wagner Group has received weapons from North Korea, a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism. “Where the Wagner Group operates, atrocities follow,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in a statement. “The HARM Act will identify Putin’s private mercenary group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and let the world know that its activities are both malign and illegal.” The Biden administration designated the Wagner Group as a transnational criminal organization last week and announced countries and entities supporting it would run afoul of the U.S. government. But an FTO designation would authorize the U.S. to slap criminal penalties on entities supporting Wagner Group, according to the lawmakers sponsoring the HARM Act. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said in a statement the Biden administration’s designation “does not go far enough” against Wagner, adding it should use the FTO label to “expose them in their true state as a murderous, criminal enterprise.” “The Wagner Group has been engaging in nefarious atrocities around the globe, all at the behest of war criminal Putin and his cronies,” Wilson said. Legislation to designate the Wagner Group an FTO was also introduced last year in both the House and Senate. There was a standoff between the Biden administration and some U.S. lawmakers last year over designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. The administration said the designation, which comes with a raft of restrictions and penalties, could do more harm than good for Ukraine. Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, formed the Wagner Group in 2014. The mercenary outfit has since meddled in conflicts across the world, from Africa to Syria and now Ukraine, where Wagner forces are fighting alongside Russian soldiers in the eastern Donetsk region. DOJ disrupts global ransomware gangTop FDA safety official resigns In November, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging the European Council to adopt a measure that would place Wagner Group on an EU terrorist list. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who is vying for a Senate seat in 2024, also sponsored the HARM Act and called for “rebuking mercenary terrorist organizations like the Wagner Group.” “While Ukrainians stand up for freedom and democracy, the Wagner Group stands with authoritarian regimes like Russia,” Gallego said in a statement. “Declaring them a Foreign Terrorist Organization is a commonsense step to hold them accountable for their atrocities in Ukraine and across the globe.”

  • The Crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh Highlights Russia’s Waning Global Influence

    Mariam Abrahamyan is a hard woman to get in touch with. She appears on the screen for just a few moments before the picture freezes and she drops off the video call. “Sorry,” she says after phoning back a minute later, “our power went out again and the internet went down.” For more than a month now, the 30-year-old Armenian mother of three has been cut off from the rest of the world by a near-total blockade on the only road in or out of Nagorno-Karabakh—a disputed territory nestled between Armenia and Azerbaijan—that she and her family call home. Regular supplies of food and medicine have been stopped by Azerbaijan, and locals say supermarket shelves are empty and pharmacies are running out of essential prescriptions, while officials warn a famine could now be on the cards. “We didn’t think it would last this long,” Abrahamyan says. “But what’s really frightening is not knowing when it will end. We made the decision to stay here, and I dread the day one of my children might turn around and ask why we chose to live in a place like this.” Nagorno-Karabakh has already seen two wars within Abrahamyan’s lifetime. In the 1990s, as the Soviet Union unraveled, erstwhile members Armenia and Azerbaijan fought a series of fierce battles over the mountainous region, with hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azeris displaced from the region, and thousands killed on both sides. Nagorno-Karabakh is located inside Azerbaijan’s internationally-recognized borders, but locked behind a line of landmines and defensive positions, and for three decades it was accessible only from Armenia. Governed as the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh, its officials point to two referendums held in 1991 and 2006 as proof that those living there have chosen independence. But in 2020, Azerbaijani troops launched an offensive to retake Nagorno-Karabakh, conquering swathes of territory and leaving Karabakh Armenians in control of just their de facto capital, Stepanakert, and the surrounding area. Only a Moscow-brokered ceasefire ended the war, putting the sole highway linking Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia—known as the Lachin Corridor—under the control of a 1,500-strong Russian peacekeeping contingent, with Azerbaijani troops stationed behind the wire fence on both sides of the road. Yet with Russia bogged down in Ukraine, there are fears the battle-scarred Nagorno-Karabakh could see conflict once again as Moscow fails to step in. Road to nowhere On the morning of Dec. 12, a group of self-described Azerbaijani eco-protesters pushed past the Russian peacekeepers and set up camp on the Lachin Corridor, stopping traffic. They allege Karabakh-Armenians have been using the road to export illegally-mined gold at the expense of the environment, while importing landmines and other military hardware as the Russians watch on. Now, officials say the Russian peacekeeping convoys and a smattering of Red Cross relief vehicles are the only ones that are able to pass—nowhere near enough to replace the 400 tons of goods that used to arrive daily from Armenia. “We don’t see much of the Russians,” Adnan Huseyn, one of the Azerbaijani organizers of the sit-in says. “During the first few days, we had eye-to-eye contact with the peacekeepers, but there were no problems. We watched the World Cup together, which was actually nice. Most of the time they kept quiet.” While Huseyn’s group insists it is moving aside for humanitarian convoys and denies it is staging a blockade, Armenia alleges they were sent by Azerbaijan in order to spark a crisis and lay the ground for “ethnic cleansing” of the region. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, whose government has repeatedly cracked down on political protests at home, has described the demonstrators as the pride of the nation, while observers have been quick to point out few have any prior record of environmental activism. Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe and author of several books on the conflict, has argued that the protesters had “evidently been sent there by the government in Baku,” and Western nations including the U.S. have called on Azerbaijan to unblock the road. Now, anger is building as the humanitarian situation grows dire and Russia appears reluctant to force a reopening of the road. “Armenia is a firm supporter of the Russian peacekeepers,” the country’s Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in December, as it became clear the protesters were there to stay. “But it is unacceptable for us that they are becoming a silent witness to the depopulation of Nagorno-Karabakh.” Broken promises In Stepanakert, propaganda posters of the Russian peacekeepers hang in shop windows, looking out over the rows of empty shelves. “Karabakh, live in peace,” one reads. For many ethnic Armenians in the breakaway region, Russian is a native language on par with Armenian, and Moscow has long been seen as a close ally. But since the 2020 war, many locals say their existence feels more precarious than ever and that Azerbaijan is intent on asserting control over their unrecognized state. In a poll published by the Caucasus Research Resource Center in January, fewer than half of 400 Karabakh-Armenian respondents said independence would help settle the conflict in the disputed territory. Almost one in four said they would prefer to be annexed by Moscow and given special status as part of the Russian Federation—slightly more than the number that back unification with Armenia. “I’m not political,” says Abrahamyan. “I only know that the Russians have a duty to protect us, and they’re not doing that.” On Dec. 24, a delegation of Karabakh-Armenians marched to the peacekeepers’ checkpoint on the Lachin Corridor, where the Azerbaijanis have been staging their sit-in, to demand the road be reopened. “The Russian officer there told us to go home and not to worry,” says Marut Vanyan, a 39-year-old blogger from Stepanakert who joined the group. “He told us the road would be reopened within two days, like it was before. That never happened.” According to Vanyan, one of the protest organizers told the peacekeepers that locals were losing trust in them and, if the worst comes to the worst, they would take their families and leave—with Moscow losing its foothold in the region. Three days later, dozens of men, women, and children walked to the gates of the peacekeeping headquarters to demand answers. “Putin, keep your word,” read one sign carried by a young boy. Guards told the crowd that they were unable to get hold of their commander, Major General Andrey Volkov, and he was the only one who could answer their questions. Many Karabakh-Armenians now fear a protracted blockade or another Azerbaijani military offensive could see them forced to flee their homes for good. Man from Moscow? Azerbaijan has long accused Armenia of being a Russian puppet state, pointing to Yerevan’s membership of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization and the close economic ties between the two countries. At the same time, just two days before Moscow’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Aliyev himself traveled to meet with President Vladimir Putin and sign a deal upgrading their relations to alliance level. But the standoff between the two sides has only worsened in recent weeks after an enigmatic Russian-Armenian oligarch, Ruben Vardanyan, announced he was moving to Nagorno-Karabakh in September. The Yerevan-born billionaire was initially coy about seeking political office but, two months later, was suddenly appointed State Minister of the unrecognized Republic of Artsakh, making him effectively the most powerful man in Stepanakert overnight. Since then, talks with Azerbaijan have broken down, with Aliyev accusing Vardanyan of having been “sent from Moscow with a very clear agenda.” Officials in Baku point to the fact that he has been sanctioned by Ukraine as proof of his close ties to the Russian state. Kyiv says his business interests “undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence of Ukraine.” Speaking via video link from his office in the blockaded region, Vardanyan rejects those charges. “People don’t understand when someone like me decides to give up his family and his lifestyle,” he says with a half-smile. “I decided it is the right time to be with my people and [the Armenian] nation.” The 54-year-old banking magnate is careful to avoid directly criticizing the role of Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, but firmly denies Moscow has any undue influence over the region. “I can’t just pick up the phone and call Vladimir Putin,” he laughs, “the peacekeepers are only 2,000 people standing between the Armenian population and the sizable Azerbaijani army. It’s tough, and it’s clear Russia’s attention isn’t here—it’s in the West, given Ukraine.” Crisis in the Kremlin “For Putin, conquering Ukraine has become an all-encompassing issue and there’s little interest at the top for anything else,” says Jade McGlynn, a researcher at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. “Moscow’s quest to increase its influence has left it a diminished and less formidable power in the South Caucasus. Putin may not see that, but the Foreign Ministry does—it’s just being sidelined. Junior diplomats are in despair.” While Karabakh-Armenians fear their calls for help are falling on deaf ears, others are questioning whether Moscow was ever a reliable security guarantor in the first place. “Russia is exploiting the conflict to further its own interests. Ultimately, its strategy is about maintaining an imperial grip on the region,” says Michael Cecire, a senior policy advisor at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a U.S. government agency. From Yerevan, Pashinyan is now calling on the international community as a whole to step up and put an end to the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh, arguing a U.N. peacekeeping mission should take over if the Russians cannot fulfill their commitments. The U.S., along with the U.K. and a number of European nations, have expressed concern over the situation, while France has emerged as a leading ally for Armenia, tabling an unsuccessful motion condemning Baku at the U.N. Security Council. On Tuesday, RFERL reported that the E.U. has now agreed to send a monitoring mission to Armenia for as long as two years, in a sign that Brussels is concerned about the prospect of new clashes along the internationally-recognized border between Armenia and Azerbaijan. While the civilian team will not enter Nagorno-Karabakh, the move has been interpreted as a sign that the West is stepping up to fill the power vacuum left by Russia. But Elin Suleymanov, Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Britain, says that no outside power will be able to impose a solution to the standoff over the region. “Armenia’s problem is structural dependency—and now they’re looking to the West and hoping France will be their big daddy.” For Vardanyan, confined to the blockaded region he moved to just months ago, the outside world feels a very long way away, and he warns the Karabakh-Armenians can’t expect to depend on anyone but themselves. “It’s like a Russian fairytale—there’s a hero standing in front of a crossroads,” he says. “One way, you lose your independence, another, you lose your home. The third way is to fight. We don’t want war, but of these three options we have to make a choice, even if it is dangerous and you can lose your life. We need to be ready for this.”

  • Standing with Russia, or staying silent, protects genocide

    This month, in a unanimous vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed Senate Resolution 713, which correctly identifies and designates Russian atrocities in Ukraine as genocide. Led by Ranking Member Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the resolution looks poised to pass the Senate, sending a clear message to the world where the United States stands during this moment of supreme moral urgency. This resolution, and its companion in the House, brings clarity and attention to Russia’s genocide in Ukraine. Every day seems to bring fresh, compounding evidence of Russia’s genocidal intent and patterns of action — mass graves and torture chambers that seem to pockmark every liberated territory; homes, schools, hospitals and kindergartens repeatedly and deliberately targeted by Russian firepower; civilians, including children and infants, kidnapped and herded into Russian so-called “filtration” concentration camps, where they are sorted for either Russification or the gulag or worse; and flagrant attacks against refugee and humanitarian convoys.  If you care to look, these images repeat themselves throughout Ukraine, and it is as safe a bet as any that newly liberated areas will bear the blistering scars of this genocide. Sure enough, mass graves and torture chambers have been identified in recently liberated Mykolaiv and Kherson, including an archipelago of torture sites specifically for children. This is the apogee of depravity. The physical evidence is shocking enough, but the Russian government’s very public embrace of a campaign of terror and genocide is incredible to behold. The summer before the invasion, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin penned, by his own hand, a 7,000-word ahistorical screed denying the existence of Ukraine as a state and a nation, highlighting his eliminationist agenda for all the world to see. And even since then, Russian government figures at every level have repeated this noxious and ridiculous denial of Ukrainian nationality, deliberately dehumanizing and mass violence-encouraging rhetoric about “denazification,” and outright, even gleeful, calls for mass killing and destruction. The official state mouthpiece, RIA Novosti, even published in April a detailed plan laying out the intended destruction of the Ukrainian nation. What is striking about this genocide is perhaps the clarity and openness by which it has been prosecuted. And the pattern of action is startlingly predictable; not just in Ukraine, but also in Russia’s past colonial wars in Syria, Georgia and Chechnya, where ethnic cleansing, deliberate and widespread targeting of civilians, torture and rape were employed widely and purposefully as rote tools of Russian warfare. So, what can we do about it? For one, we can and should give Ukraine every tool that it needs to win its war against Russia’s genocidal war of imperial conquest. The faster Russia loses — and lose it must — the faster its genocidal program is halted. But also crucially, Congress, the U.S. government, and the world must be willing to call this genocide for what it is. In June, our co-chairman, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) introduced House Resolution 1205, which later would be introduced in the Senate as S. Res.713. Both resolutions draw on the definition of genocide in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide, to which the U.S. and Russia are both parties and which is codified in U.S. law.  The bill text illustrates how, as is well documented, Russia’s actions in Ukraine exhibits both genocidal intent and pattern of action along all of the Convention’s five acts in Article 2: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Only one must be in evidence for genocide to exist. But what can a nonbinding resolution do? In this case, speaking out is more than some mere symbol. Ukraine’s war for its homeland is being won not because of Ukrainian material superiority, but because of the justness of its cause and the morale of its people. For the United States to officially recognize the extent of Russia’s horrors is tremendously meaningful to Ukraine and Ukrainians who still, despite their victories, endure the unendurable. Around the world, such a designation also demonstrates that we do not tolerate such heinous crimes. Calling out Russia’s genocide demonstrates the gravity of the stakes not only for Ukraine and Europe, but for global peace and stability. It can marshal further support for Kyiv, help sap Moscow’s fraying relationships, and further isolate this repugnant, totalitarian regime in the Kremlin. If you stand with Russia, or stand silent, you protect genocide. And here at home, these bipartisan, bicameral resolutions can help signal to the American people the true stakes in Ukraine. That Europe’s security, and the principles that undergird it, is a bulwark for freedom around the world and under great threat by a regime that purposefully and unflinchingly engages in genocide for its own imperial, corrupt ends. It is important to emphasize, too, that the 1948 Genocide Convention is about not only punishing genocide, but preventing it, and if we are to be true to our collective commitment to “never again,” we must act now. Of course, the ongoing legal investigations remain important and authoritative. But in the interest of prevention, a political declaration and congressional action is not only justifiable but essential. Congress, particularly Reps. Cohen and Wilson in the House, and Sens. Risch and Cardin in the Senate, should be applauded for their leadership. And the Senate, particularly Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), should be credited for bringing this resolution to fruition. Hopefully the House will do the same, in this Congress or the next, inspire the whole world to speak out as well — just as we were inspired by similar legislative actions in Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, the Czech Republic, Canada and Ireland.  Michael Hikari Cecire is a senior policy adviser at the U.S. Helsinki Commission. Follow him on Twitter @mhikaric. https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/3780873-standing-with-russia-or-staying-silent-protects-genocide/

  • Saving Ukraine's Children

    Ukraine’s children are suffering serious injury and trauma due to Russia’s genocidal war on Ukraine. Almost two-thirds of the country’s children have been displaced. Thousands have been injured and, although UNICEF has said more than 1,000 children have been killed, that number is likely much higher as there is no reliable way to verify how many civilians have been killed in the most decimated areas of Ukraine, like Mariupol, where, for example, Russian forces bombed a theater housing hundreds of civilians despite clear markings that children were present. And in addition to its immediate danger, the effects of war on children could have lasting consequences. Many Ukrainian children have witnessed unimaginable violence, including the murders of their own parents or family members. They have had to endure the stress of almost constant bombardment, in fear for their safety. Others have experienced hunger, cold, and weeks spent hiding in wet, frigid basements without daylight or fresh air and without sanitation or healthcare. Disruptions to education may never be fully recovered. Ukrainian children are also being forcibly taken to Russia and put up for adoption into Russian families in an apparent effort to assimilate them, a practice that genocide scholar Timothy Snyder has said could be considered genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The U.S. State Department has said Russian authorities have deliberately separated Ukrainian children from their parents during so-called “filtration” procedures and abducted others from orphanages before putting them up for adoption inside Russia and estimated that the number may be as high as 260,000. Unaccompanied minors are also vulnerable to falling prey to human trafficking.

  • Congress Wants to Boot Russia From U.N. Security Council

    Two U.S. lawmakers heading up an independent U.S. government human rights watchdog have introduced a resolution that calls on President Joe Biden to boot Russia from the United Nations Security Council, just days before the Kremlin’s flagging full-scale invasion of Ukraine is set to hit its 10-month mark.  The bipartisan Helsinki Commission, which called on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to protest Russia’s standing as a permanent Security Council member in October, wants Congress to argue that Russia’s war has violated the “purposes and principles of the United Nations” and asks U.S. government agencies to take steps to limit Russia’s privileges at the U.N., though it gives the administration some free rein to determine how it might act.   In the congressional resolution shared with Foreign Policy, Reps. Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson said that Russia had committed “flagrant violations” of the U.N. Charter that call into question its right to hold a Security Council seat, including the illegal annexation vote in four Ukrainian oblasts, the perpetration of atrocities in Ukrainian cities such as Bucha, nuclear saber-rattling, and creating risks to the world’s food supply.  Ukraine has also advocated for Russia to be removed from the council, though experts remain skeptical that such efforts will work. The U.N.’s governing charter doesn’t contain any provisions for removing a permanent member of the Security Council. While countries can be removed from the United Nations altogether, doing so would require a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly, including the consent of the council itself. “Russia would have to agree to it, and it’s just not going to happen,” said Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director with Human Rights Watch. China is also unlikely to agree to such a precedent.  Though House resolutions are not binding law, the move solidifies thinking both on Capitol Hill and within the Biden administration about how to curb Russian influence in Turtle Bay. The resolution pushes forward a previous effort from the Helsinki Commission—which was created in 1975 as part of a U.S. law that solidified the brief detente between the United States and the Soviet Union—calling on the State Department to initiate a process to strip Russia’s seat on the top U.N. body. One idea, backed by the commission as well as some legal scholars, seeks to challenge Russia’s status as the heir of the Soviet Union’s seat at the Security Council. As one of the initial signatories of the treaty that founded the Soviet Union, alongside Russia and Belarus, Kyiv could make a convincing claim to be the only successor state of the Soviet Union not to have flagrantly violated the principles of the U.N. Charter and issue credentials for one of its own diplomats to take the seat. As deciding on credentials is a procedural matter, it would only require nine of the 15 members of the council to vote in support of Ukraine, Thomas Grant, a senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge, has noted.  The feasibility of such a plan remains a subject of debate. And three decades after Russia took over the Soviet Union’s seat, challenging such precedent could also prove to be an uphill battle. “You’re looking at three decades of recognition of Russia in this place,” Charbonneau said.  But Russia’s long-standing intransigence, along with the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has gotten both the United States and Ukraine to begin thinking about alternatives to diminish Moscow’s influence. Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in September, Biden called for reforms of the Security Council, including the possibility of adding more permanent and nonpermanent members, such as for countries in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The United States also succeeded on Wednesday in ousting Iran from a United Nations panel on women’s rights.

  • Ukrainian official rips Russia for ‘kidnapping’ more than 13,000 children

    A Ukrainian official slammed Russia for “kidnapping” more than 13,000 Ukrainian children amid its invasion of the country “under the guise of an alleged evacuation,” during a hearing held by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Wednesday.  Nikolay Kuleba, the commissioner for children’s rights in the Ukrainian president’s office and co-founder of the Alliance for Ukraine Without Orphans, said Russia has deported 13,124 children during the war, citing a government portal.  He also noted that Russian state media had reported a “horrifying number of 712,000 deported Ukranian children.”  “The occupiers are kidnapping Ukrainian children to the Russian Federation,” he told lawmakers, accusing Russia of facilitating the deportations by simplifying their adoption process and bribing Russian citizens to adopt displaced Ukrainian children.   “To encourage ordinary Russian to adopt forcibly removed children they offer a one-time payment of maternity capital and state aide,” Kuleba said, adding adoptive parents were paid $300 per year for each child, and about $2,000 a year for children with disabilities. He also noted the Ukrainian children were not being deported into border territories but to areas of Russia further away from the border.   “The Russian authorities made a conscious decision to resettle deported children into the territories thousands of kilometers away from Ukraine,” he said.    Kuleba also claimed that Russian adopters were allowed to change an adopted Ukrainian child’s name and date of birth. “This means that it will be very difficult for us to personally find and identify our children in the future,” he said.   Kuleba said that there were several reasons Russia was stealing Ukrainian children, including making up for the demographic losses caused by Russian casualties in the invasion. He also said the Kremlin was pushing propaganda that Russians are saving the children from Ukrainian Nazis.   James Gordon, founder of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, told the commission that roughly 60 percent of Ukrainian children had been displaced from their homes since the conflict with Russia began, and that these children were highly distressed.  “Every child in Ukraine and all Ukrainian children who have left, are experiencing some level of distress,” Gordon said.  In addition to kidnapping, Kuleba said he had recently received reports from the Ukrainian Parliament’s Commissioner for Human Rights that Russians were torturing Ukranian children, “and have even set up separate torture chambers for this.” The Hill reached out to the Russian Embassy for a response to Kuleba’s claims.

  • No Safe Haven: Launching the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions

    Since February 24, 2022, Western countries have imposed sanctions against Russian officials, businessmen, and public figures who support Russian aggression against Ukraine by financial or political means. Personal sanctions have been effective in creating tension between Putin’s proponents and continuing to help Ukraine fight for its independence. The biggest issue of personal sanctions policy is desynchronization among the countries imposing them. For example, when the United States enacts sanctions against politicians, public officials, and businessmen who support Russia’s war, the European Union and the United Kingdom do not. A similar dysfunction occurs when the European Union and Great Britain enforce sanctions on individuals without equal participation from the United States. The unity of the West in imposing sanctions on those driving Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is essential for Ukrainian victory. This public briefing united seven legislators from the United States, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. The panelists will announce the creation of the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions, which will synchronize the sanctions policy between the European Union, Ukraine, and the USA.

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Briefing on US-Europe Coalition for Russia Sanctions

    WASHINGTON—At a virtual kickoff event on December 13, Co-Chairman Cohen and Ranking Member Wilson launched the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions.   NO SAFE HAVEN Launching the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions   Tuesday, December 13, 2022 8:30 a.m. EST   Since February 24, 2022, Western countries have imposed sanctions against Russian officials, businessmen, and public figures who support Russian aggression against Ukraine by financial or political means. Personal sanctions have been effective in creating tension between Putin’s proponents and continuing to help Ukraine fight for its independence. The biggest issue of personal sanctions policy is desynchronization among the countries imposing them. For example, when the United States enacts sanctions against politicians, public officials, and businessmen who support Russia’s war, the European Union and the United Kingdom do not. A similar dysfunction occurs when the European Union and Great Britain enforce sanctions on individuals without equal participation from the United States. The unity of the West in imposing sanctions on those driving Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is essential for Ukrainian victory. This public briefing will unite seven legislators from the United States, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. The panelists will announce the creation of the US-Europe Coalition on Russia Sanctions, which will synchronize the sanctions policy between the European Union, Ukraine, and the USA. The following panelists are scheduled to participate:   Representative Steve Cohen — Member of Congress, Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, United States Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson — Member of Congress, Commissioner of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, United States Member of Parliament Oleksii Goncharenko — Chairman of the Ukrainian parliament caucuses "For free Caucasus" and "For democratic Belarus", Ukraine Member of Parliament Dr. Robert Seely, MBE — British Conservative Party politician who has served as the Member of Parliament (MP) for the Isle of Wight since June 2017. Member of Parliament Eerik Kross — head of the Estonian delegation in PACE, Estonia Member of the EU Parliament Petras Austrevicius — serves on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Lithuania Member of the Sejm Arkadius Mularczyk — Secretary of State for European Affairs, Leader of the Polish delegation to the Council of Europe, Poland    

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