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It's Time to Hold the Azerbaijan Regime AccountableFriday, January 08, 2016
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's habit of brutally silencing dissent may be finally catching up with him. A new bill introduced in Congress last month would require the U.S. State Department to deny visas to senior members of Aliyev's government until the country can prove it has ceased harassment of independent media and NGOs and made significant progress toward freeing its political prisoners. Despite facing long odds, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015 marks a major turning point. For years, the United States has struggled to muster any real condemnation of Azerbaijan's government, one of the most corrupt and repressive in the world. U.S. officials and lawmakers still routinely refer to their Azerbaijani counterparts as "friends" despite the fact that the former Soviet country's latest crackdown has been accompanied by a general turn away from the West. Or should we say partial turn. Azerbaijan wants to be at the table with Western nations when money is up for grabs, but it hasn't acquired the same taste for values about human rights and dignity. This juxtaposition was perhaps most apparent earlier this year when the country hosted the inaugural European Games, a 17-day competition featuring 6,000 athletes from 50 countries. The capital city of Baku spared no expense to project a modern, glamorous image during the event--even flying in Lady Gaga for a surprise performance. For many people, it was a first glimpse of Azerbaijan. But that glimpse was carefully choreographed. Foreign reporters who agreed to play by the government's rules were rewarded with access to the games; others,including Guardian sports correspondent Owen Gibson, were banned from attending after calling out human rights abuses in the country. What the cameras did not capture that night was the escape of Emin Huseynov, the founder of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, who fled Azerbaijan for Switzerland on the private plane of the Swiss foreign minister. Huseynov first sought refuge at the Swiss embassy ten months earlier after Azerbaijani authorities raided his office. Other human rights advocates and journalists have not been as fortunate. Within a 10-day period in August 2014, Intigam Aliyev, Rasul Jafarov, and Leyla and Arif Yunus all were arrested. They were later subjected to speedy show trials resulting in lengthy prison sentences for crimes they did not commit. Leyla and Arif, both seriously ill, have recently been released to serve suspended sentences but still face charges of treason. Employees of Meydan TV, whose founder reported receiving a high-level threat during the European Games, have been barred from leaving Azerbaijan, repeatedly questioned at the prosecutor's office, and detained without cause. Their families have also faced pressure. Two brothers of editor Gunel Movlud are currently being held on bogus drug charges. Most tragically, in August, Rasim Aliyev, a journalist and chairman of the Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, died after he was severely beaten by attackers. Although the assault was reportedly connected to a criticism Aliyev made of a soccer player on Facebook, Aliyev had previously experienced threats against his life. The attack was one of hundreds against Azerbaijan's journalists in the past decade, including at least two other murders. Quiet diplomacy from the United States and the European Union has failed to reverse Azerbaijan's relentless pursuit of critics and civil society groups. The State Department called Leyla Yunus' release earlier this month a "welcome" development and a "positive step." Meanwhile, the deputy chairman of the opposition Popular Front Party, was arrested the day before, and the treason trial of dissident journalist Rauf Mirqadirov is still underway. But perhaps President Aliyev's luck is running out. In November, in an unprecedented step, the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, its Parliamentary Assembly, and the European Parliament all canceled monitoring missions to Azerbaijan to protest the irregularity of the country's parliamentary elections. Last month, Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, made a bold move of his own, announcing an inquiry into Azerbaijan's implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights. And on the same day, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith, chairman of the Helsinki Commission, introduced the Azerbaijan Democracy Act and held a hearing on the case of Khadija Ismayilova, one of the few journalists in Azerbaijan who dared to report on corruption among the country's ruling elite. Ismayilova was arrested last year and is now serving a seven and a half-year prison sentence. Ismayilova has kept up the pressure on her country even from behind bars. On the eve of the European Games, with the help of Sport for Rights, a coalition of international press freedom groups that recently published a report on Azerbaijan's human rights record, she managed to get a letter out of jail to The New York Times. "The truth is that Azerbaijan is in the midst of a human rights crisis. Things have never been worse," she wrote, urging the international community: "Do not let the government of Azerbaijan distract your attention from its record of corruption and abuse." Maybe now the world is ready to listen.
Helsinki Commission Chair Acts to End Human Rights Violations in AzerbaijanWednesday, December 16, 2015
WASHINGTON—Following years of systematic efforts by the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society groups, Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) today introduced H.R. 4264, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, a landmark bill that will deny U.S. visas to senior members of the Azerbaijani government. “We recognize that there are important national security and economic ties that exist between our two countries, but the United States can no longer remain blind to the appalling human rights violations that are taking place in Azerbaijan,” said Rep. Smith. “Journalists and activists are routinely arrested and imprisoned; opposition politicians are in jail and elections are not free and fair; human rights lawyers have been harassed and disbarred; and religious freedom is under attack. The Azerbaijan Democracy Act demonstrates that the United States takes human rights and fundamental freedoms seriously, and that we will not compromise when faced by a government that represses the political opposition, the media, and religious minorities.” In addition to denying U.S. visas to senior leaders of the Government of Azerbaijan, those who derive significant financial benefit from business dealings with senior leadership, and members of the security or judicial branches, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act also expresses the sense of Congress that financial penalties should be considered. Sanctions could be lifted when the Azerbaijani government shows substantial progress toward releasing political prisoners, ending its harassment of civil society, and holding free and fair elections. “It is unacceptable that senior members of the Azerbaijani government are free to visit the United States while courageous women and men like investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova, attorney Intigam Aliyev, opposition politician Ilgar Mammadov, and activist Anar Mammadli are locked away in prisons with inadequate access to legal or even medical assistance,” Rep. Smith said. “If they can pay the price for standing up for human rights, the least we can do is to stand with them.” Rep. Smith is a long-standing advocate for human rights in Azerbaijan. Following the introduction of today’s legislation he will chair a 2PM hearing to examine Azerbaijan’s persecution of Ms. Ismayilova, who was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in early September.
Attacks on Press Freedom in Azerbaijan Investigated at Congressional HearingWednesday, December 16, 2015
WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers examined the plight of political prisoners in Azerbaijan and in particular the imprisonment of journalist of Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist known for her reports into the wealth of the senior leadership of the Government of Azerbaijan. “Much of Khadija’s reporting was done as a journalist for U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This means that the U.S. government has a special obligation to do everything it can to secure Khadija’s release,” said Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). “Our government must take every opportunity, must leave no stone unturned, in the effort to secure her release. The State Department must make Khadija’s release a true diplomatic priority.” Following several months of harassment by Azerbaijani authorities, Ms. Ismayilova was arrested on spurious charges in December 2014. RFE/RL was subsequently raided and closed by the Government of Azerbaijan. After a lengthy trial that was widely condemned by the international community for numerous irregularities, in September Ms. Ismayilova was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison. Her appeal was denied on November 25. “Human rights organizations have documented Azerbaijan’s crackdown on civil society over the last three years,” Rep. Smith continued. “The human rights situation has seriously deteriorated in Azerbaijan, causing damage to its relations with the United States and other countries, and has damaged its own society by imprisoning or exiling some of its best and brightest citizens. The time has come to send a clear message.” Nenad Pejic, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Programming at RFE/RL, testified at the hearing. He said, “The arrest and imprisonment of Khadija Ismayilova and the closure of RFE/RL’s Baku bureau represent a targeted and coordinated effort by the country’s most senior leadership to punish journalists who report on the government’s corruption, silence independent journalism, and end RFE/RL’s operations in Azerbaijan.” “[We urge] the Commission, the Obama Administration, and Members of Congress to raise the issue of restrictions on freedom of the press in meetings with senior Azerbaijani officials, to demand the immediate release of all Azerbaijani journalists, to put an end to these trumped-up prosecutions, to abandon the practice of collective punishment and to investigate the murders of journalists,” said Delphine Halgand, the U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders. “President Obama should meet with Khadija Ismayil’s mother, and members of Congress visiting Azerbaijan should visit Khadija Ismayil in prison,” said T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director for Amnesty International USA. The Helsinki Commission has long pressed the Government of Azerbaijan to end its repression of the political opposition, journalists, and religious minorities. Earlier today, Chairman Smith introduced H.R. 4264, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, landmark legislation to deny U.S. visas to senior members of the Azerbaijani government following years of systematic efforts by the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, opposition politicians, and civil society groups. In 2015 alone, the Commission has issued numerous statements on the rapid decline of human rights in the country and held a November briefing examining how the government of Azerbaijan uses its judicial system to intimidate and imprison critics of the government.
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U.S. Bill Seeks Sanctions On Azerbaijani Officials For 'Appalling' Rights RecordWednesday, December 16, 2015
A U.S. lawmaker has introduced legislation that would deny U.S. visas to senior Azerbaijani officials due to what he calls Baku's "appalling human rights violations." U.S. Representative Chris Smith (Republican-New Jersey) introduced the bill, titled the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, in the House of Representatives on December 16. "The human rights situation has seriously deteriorated in Azerbaijan, causing damage to its relations with the United States and other countries, and has damaged its own society by imprisoning or exiling some of its best and brightest citizens," Smith told a hearing of Congress's Helsinki Commission held in conjunction with the announcement of the legislation.
Human Rights Violations in Russian-Occupied CrimeaFriday, December 11, 2015
The briefing reviewed the current condition of life in Crimea under Russian rule. Panelists highlighted the illegal nature of Russian rule over the peninsula and described the human rights abuses commited by the new authorities. Several of the panelists described the propaganda campaign and censorship that the Russian government has been carrying out to tighten its grip on the peninsula. Participants also outlined possible responses by the international community -- particularly sanctions -- to address the situation in Crimea.
Chairman Smith Underscores Plight of Political Prisoners in OSCE Region on International Human Rights DayThursday, December 10, 2015
WASHINGTON–To mark International Human Rights Day on December 10, Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement: “The number of political prisoners is growing in several OSCE countries. For example, Russian human rights organization Memorial estimates that there are currently 50 political prisoners in Russia – a spike in recent years. Their so-called ‘criminal’ activities include protesting Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, blogging on police misbehavior, or exchanging open source information with a foreign research partner. “The government of Azerbaijan has in recent years imprisoned scores of people—including human rights activists and journalists. The recent release of Leyla and Arif Yunus is a positive first step. President Aliyev now must insist that the spurious charges against not only the Yunuses, but also against Khadija Ismayilova, Intigam Aliyev, and many other political prisoners, be dropped. “The number of political prisoners in central Asia has been high for years and it is not declining. In Turkmenistan, former Foreign Ministers Batyr Berdiev and Boris Shikmuradov are just two of the more than 100 people who have disappeared into Turkmenistan’s prison system, which is known for shockingly terrible conditions. In Tajikistan, members of the opposition Islamic Renewal Party of Tajikistan have been arrested, alongside the lawyers who tried to defend them. Uzbekistan has jailed human rights activists, members of certain religious groups, and journalists – including Muhammad Bekjanov, who has been held since 1999 – after poorly conducted trials and despite allegations of torture and abuse.” “On International Human Rights Day, I call on the OSCE to place the release of political prisoners at the top of the organization’s agenda.” Smith also issued a statement calling on the administration to sanction the Chinese government egregious human rights violations. December 10, International Human Rights Day, commemorates the Universal Declaration on Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948.
Helsinki Commission Briefing to Probe Human Rights Violations in Occupied CrimeaFriday, December 04, 2015
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Human Rights Violations in Russian-Occupied Crimea” Friday, December 11 2:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room B-318 Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s sovereign territory of Crimea in March 2014 – which flagrantly violated numerous international agreements, including core OSCE principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act – resulted in a deplorable human rights situation that continues today. Changes in government and the legal framework in Crimea following Russia’s annexation have had a toxic impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms. Violations of civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights are widespread, especially against those who openly oppose the Russian occupation, including Crimean Tatars and other ethnic, political, and religious groups. The Helsinki Commission briefing will present key findings of the recent report, “Human Rights on Occupied Territory: Case of Crimea,” prepared by an international team of lawyers led by Ivanna Bilych. Panelists from Ukraine will provide valuable insights about the situation on the ground. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Ivanna Bilych, Co-founder and President of VOLYA Institute, board member of the Ukrainian American Bar Association Andriy Klymenko, Chief Editor of Black Sea News; prominent economist, originally from Crimea Bohdan Yaremenko, Chairman of the board of the Ukrainian non-governmental organization, Maidan of Foreign Affairs, former Ukrainian diplomat Yuriy Yatsenko, Activist of the Maidan Revolution of Dignity who was illegally imprisoned in Russia on political grounds and recently released after a year of imprisonment
Best Practices for Rescuing Trafficking VictimsTuesday, December 01, 2015
Recent research indicates that more than 80 percent of human trafficking victims in the United States have contact with the healthcare system in the course of being trafficked. Some victims are even brought to the clinic by their trafficker. However, opportunities to identify trafficking victims during their interactions with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers are often missed. The briefing was the latest installment in the ongoing TVPA oversight series with a focus on best practice development for identifying--and rescuing--foreign trafficking victims in the U.S. Panelists included two foreign-born trafficking victims who shared insights on what helped them escape, and how doctors in the United States could have helped free them sooner. Expert analysis was also provided by panelists from the healthcare field and the NGO community.
Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Best Practices for Rescuing Trafficking VictimsWednesday, November 25, 2015
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “Best Practices for Rescuing Trafficking Victims” December 1, 2015 2:00PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2255 The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its reauthorizations have numerous provisions to ensure that foreign victims trafficked into the United States receive at least the same care as refugees, and that they can apply for a T or a U visa if returning to their home country is too dangerous. However, the numbers of foreign victims found in the United States each year is below the estimated thousands. In 2014 approximately 750 foreign victims were identified, up from 520 in 2013, but still far below suspected numbers. We can do better at identifying foreign victims. Recent research indicates that more than 80% of trafficking victims in the United States have contact with the healthcare system in the course of being trafficked. Some are even brought to the clinic by their trafficker. This hearing is the latest installment in the ongoing TVPA oversight series with a focus on best practice development for identifying--and rescuing--foreign trafficking victims in the U.S. Two foreign-born victims will be sharing insights on what helped them escape, and how doctors could have helped free them sooner. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Panel 1: Survivors “Roxana,” Foreign-born Female Survivor of Sex Trafficking in the United States “Celena,” Foreign-born Female Survivor of Sex Trafficking in the United States Panel 2: Experts Yaroslaba Garcia, ACT Clinical Director; President, Southwest Florida Regional Human Trafficking Coalition Dr. Kimberly Chang, Asian Health Services Community Health Clinic Dr. Jordan Greenbaum, Stephanie Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
Security in the Mediterranean Region: Challenges and OpportunitiesFriday, November 13, 2015
From October 20-21, 2015, the OSCE held its annual Mediterranean Conference focused on “Security in the Mediterranean Region – Challenges and Opportunities.” It included four distinctive themes: Session I: Common Security in the Mediterranean Region; Session II: Addressing Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism; Session III: The Role of Interfaith/Intercultural Dialogue; and Session IV: Irregular Migration, Refugee Protection, Migrant Smuggling and Human Trafficking in the Mediterranean.
The Rule of Law and Civil Society in AzerbaijanThursday, November 05, 2015
This briefing discussed the current state of democracy and human rights in Azerbaijan following the 2015 parlimentary election. Ambassador Morningstar, who was the U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan from 2012 until 2014, recommended that the United States focus on building trust and opportunites for cooperation with the Azerbaijani government, in order to have leverage to encourage respect for human rights. Natalia Bourjaily spoke about the increasing number of legal restrictions on foriegn NGOs in Azerbaijan and Dinara Yunus discussed the conditions under which her parents, Azeri human rights activists, were held.
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US Lawmakers Back Protection for Europe’s Jewish CommunitiesWednesday, November 04, 2015
A resolution calling on the United States to urge European governments to act to keep their Jewish communities safe won unanimous support from the US House of Representatives Tuesday. The resolution, which had 89 co-sponsors, calls on the US administration to encourage European governments, law enforcement agencies and intergovernmental organizations to formally recognize and partner with Jewish community groups to strengthen crisis prevention, preparedness, mitigation and responses related to anti-Semitic attacks. It was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who chairs the Helsinki Commission, the congressional body that monitors compliance with human rights overseas.
Smith Resolution to Help Protect Jewish Communities in Europe Passes House UnanimouslyTuesday, November 03, 2015
WASHINGTON—Following the recent upswing in violent anti-Semitic attacks in several European nations, the U.S. House of Representatives today unanimously passed legislation urging the United States and European governments to take key steps to help keep Jewish communities safe. The legislation was introduced by Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04). “The number of violent anti-Semitic attacks has increased from 100 to 400 percent in some European countries since 2013,” said Rep. Smith, who co-chairs the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism. “The murders in Paris, Copenhagen, and elsewhere reminded us that there are those who are motivated by anti-Semitism and have the will to kill.” H. Res. 354 calls on the U.S. Administration to encourage European governments, law enforcement agencies, and intergovernmental organizations to formally recognize and partner with Jewish community groups to strengthen crisis prevention, preparedness, mitigation, and responses related to anti-Semitic attacks. “This resolution calls for the United States Government to work with our European allies on specific actions that are essential to keep European Jewish communities safe and secure,” Rep. Smith continued. “It is based on consultations with the leading experts who are working directly with these communities.” The legislation passed today was endorsed by leading Jewish community groups including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Orthodox Union, the Secure Community Network, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The 89 bipartisan co-sponsors included all seven of the other co-Chairs of the House of Representatives Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism: Reps. Ted Deutch (FL-21), Nita Lowey (NY-17), Eliot Engel (NY-16), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27), Kay Granger (TX-12), Steve Israel (NY-03), and Peter Roskam (IL-06). “Jewish Federations are grateful to the House of Representatives for passing a responsive resolution today, which provides a needed framework for how the U.S. government and Jewish community security groups like the Secure Community Network can work with their European counterparts to combat increasing anti-Semitic attacks in Europe,” said William C. Daroff, Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of the Jewish Federations of North America. “Jewish Federations are proud to have worked with Congress on this resolution's language and passage.” “Battling the anti-Semitic threats facing European Jewish communities is vital to ensure the democratic and pluralistic fabric of Europe for all its citizens,” said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris. “This resolution sends a powerful message that battling the anti-Semitic threats facing European Jewish communities is a shared responsibility.” “As a former law enforcement executive responsible for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, I applaud the unwavering leadership and determination of Congressman Smith for bringing this resolution to fruition,” said Paul Goldenberg, National Director of the Secure Community Network. “It is a time of tremendous need, concern and uncertainty for all faith-based communities who face intimidation, hate crimes and fear of violence.” Rep. Smith has a long record as a congressional leader in the fight against anti-Semitism. He is the author of the provisions of the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 that created the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism within the U.S. State Department. Following his 2002 landmark hearing on combating the escalation of anti-Semitic violence in Europe, “Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe,” he led a congressional drive to place the issue of combating anti-Semitism at the top of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) agenda, as a result of which in 2004 the OSCE adopted new norms for its participating States on fighting anti-Semitism. In 2009, he delivered the keynote address at the Interparliamentary Coalition Combating Anti-Semitism London conference. In the 1990s, he chaired Congress’s first hearings on anti-Semitism and in the early 1980s, his first trips abroad as a member of Congress were to the former Soviet Union, where he fought for the release of Jewish “refuseniks.”
Help Protect Jewish Communities in EuropeMonday, November 02, 2015
Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I thank Chairman ROYCE for his leadership on this very important human rights issue, as he has done so ably and effectively on all of these issues, particularly his leadership on Iran; and that, of course, would be echoed with ELIOT ENGEL’s excellent work there as well. This is a group of leaders that have made a huge difference. So thank you, Chairman ROYCE, for that. H. Res. 354, Mr. Speaker, prescribes specific, effective actions that government should take in response to the deadly threats to the Jewish communities in Europe. As we all know, the number of violent anti-Semitic attacks have increased from 100 to 400 percent in some European countries since 2013 alone. Murders in Paris and Copen-hagen and elsewhere remind us that there are those who are motivated by anti-Semitic hate and have the will and the means to kill. I would just note parenthetically that my work in combating anti-Semitism began back in 1981, in my first term, from this very podium, speaking out in favor of Jewish refuseniks. I joined Mark Levin and the NCSJ 1 year later in 1982 on a trip to the Soviet Union where we met with men and women who were targeted by the KGB and the Soviet evil empire simply be-cause they were Jewish. Sadly, anti- Semitism has not abated, and in recent years, it has actually worsened. This resolution calls for the United States Government to work with our European allies on specific actions that are essential to keep European Jewish communities safe and secure. It is based on consultations with the leading experts who are working directly with these communities. The resolution focuses on the formal partnerships between European law enforcement agencies and Jewish community security groups. Here in the United States, Mr. Speaker, the collaboration between the Department of Homeland Security and Security Community Network—an initiative of the Jewish Federation of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations—has been essential to protecting Jewish communities here. The formal partnerships between the Community Security Trust in the United Kingdom and the Jewish Community Security Service in France and their respective governments are also excellent models that need to be emulated. The resolution emphasizes the importance of consistent, two-way communication and information sharing between law enforcement agencies and Jewish community groups. It encourages the development of a pan-European information sharing, communication, and alerting system, and envisions governments, intergovernmental agencies, and Jewish communities working together on it. Such a system should function day-round and year- round and include training for personnel who are implementing it. The resolution also calls for European governments to support assessments in several key areas and accordingly adjust their actions and strategies. Details matter. The assessments should gather and analyze data on crimes committed, response from law enforcement, types of attacks or incidents that are most prevalent, and the types of targets that are most at risk. It is essential to understand how law enforcement agencies usually receive reports of anti-Semitic crimes and what initial actions they take when a report is filed. I remember years ago, when I offered a resolution at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, we heard that it was just hooliganism and other kinds of acts done by young people when you spray-paint a swastika on a tombstone in a Jewish cemetery, when you deface a synagogue, and you attack a man simply because he is wearing a yarmulke. Clearly, these are acts of anti-Semitic hate; yet, they were being dismissed as something that was other. Assessments are also needed on Jewish community security groups, particularly of their capabilities, re-sources, relationships with local law enforcement agencies, preparedness, including emergency response plans, and the extent to which their decision-making is based on the best available information, analysis, and practices. The resolution calls for governments to use these assessments to help these community groups develop common baseline safety standards. These standards should include, as I said before, training, controlling access to physical facilities, physical security measures, including cameras, and crisis communications. Emergency exercises and simulations, mapping access to facilities, and sharing information with law enforcement agencies should also be part of the standards. These assessments, Mr. Speaker, will help achieve the resolution’s call for law enforcement personnel to be well trained to monitor, prevent, and respond to anti-Semitic violence and to partner with Jewish communities. For all of these assessments, governments should draw information from sources that include Jewish groups, law enforcement agencies, independent human rights NGOs, research initiatives, and other civil society groups and leaders. H. Res. 354 calls for safety awareness and suspicious activity reporting campaigns, like ‘‘If you see something, say something’’ here in the United States. Other aspects of the resolution include appropriately integrating initiatives to counter violent extremism and those to combat anti-Semitism and the urgency of implementing the declarations, decisions, and other commitments of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that focus on anti-Semitism. To accomplish these goals, the resolution calls for European governments to ensure that they appoint or designate senior officials with the necessary authority and resources to combat anti-Semitism and collaborate with governmental and intergovernmental agencies, law enforcement, and Jewish community groups. Finally, the resolution reaffirms support for the mandate of the United States Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism as part of the broader policy of fostering international religious freedom and urges the Secretary of State to continue robust U.S. reporting on anti-Semitism by the Department of State and the Special Envoy to Combat and Monitor Anti-Semitism. I would note parenthetically that I authored the amendment to the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, introduced and sponsored by Senator Voinovich. My amendment created the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti- Semitism within the State Department. That has proven to be a key tool in this fight. Mr. Speaker, the resolution has the support of leading organizations, and it has 89 cosponsors, including all eight of the co-chairs of the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism. I would like to acknowledge, Mr. Speaker, John Farmer, Jr., and Paul Goldenberg for their tireless efforts and dedication and leadership in fighting anti-Semitism and terrorism over the years. John is a former attorney general of New Jersey and is now on the steering committee of the Institute for Emergency Preparedness and Homeland Security and is the codirector of the Faith-Based Communities Security Program at Rutgers University. Paul is the executive director of the Secure Community Network and a senior adviser to the Institute and the program. Several major Jewish communities in Europe have relied on their counsel, and both have spent time on the ground within these communities. Finally, I would like to acknowledge and single out for very, very special thanks and recognition Rabbi Andy Baker, personal representative of the OSCE chair in the Office on Combating Anti-Semitism and director of the International Jewish Affairs for the American Jewish Committee. He has been critical—critical—to American leadership in Europe and in the United States in the fight against anti-Semitism.
Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Serious Decline in Respect for Human Rights in AzerbaijanThursday, October 29, 2015
WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “The Rule of Law and Civil Society in Azerbaijan” Thursday, November 5 2:00PM Cannon House Office Building Room 311 The last two years have witnessed a precipitous decline in the respect for rule of law and human rights in Azerbaijan. Many independent civil society organizations have been forced to close due to onerous regulations, threats of intimidation, or the arrest of the organization’s leaders. Independent media has been severely curtailed or closed down. Opposition parties are harassed and often shut out of the election process. High-profile politicians are serving lengthy prison sentences on charges that many observers believe were politically motivated. This briefing will have a particular focus on the rule of law and how the government of Azerbaijan is using its judicial system to intimidate and imprison critics of the government. The briefing will also analyze the results of the November 1 parliamentary election and its implications for Azerbaijan’s future direction. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Ambassador Richard Morningstar, US Ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan from July 2012 to August 2014 and Founding Director of the Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council Natalia Bourjaily, Vice President – Eurasia, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Dinara Yunus, Daughter of imprisoned Azerbaijani human rights defenders Leyla and Arif Yunus
The Russian Government Violates Its Security, Economic, Human Rights Commitments and AgreementsThursday, October 22, 2015
Mr. Speaker, yesterday I chaired a hearing of the Helsinki Commission that examined the Russian government’s repeated violations of its international security, economic, and human rights commitments. In accord with the three dimensions of security promoted by the OSCE and the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the Commission looked at Russia’s respect for the rule of law through the lens of three ‘‘case studies’’ current to U.S.-Russian relations—arms control agreements; the Yukos litigation; and instances of abduction, unjust imprisonment, and abuse of prisoners. Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, we face a set of challenges with Russia, a founding member of the organization, that mirror the concerns that gave rise to the Helsinki Final Act. At stake is the hard-won trust between members—now eroded to the point that armed conflict rages in the OSCE region. The question is open whether the principles continue to bind the Russian government with other states in a common understanding of what the rule of law entails. In respect of military security, under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum Russia reaffirmed its commitment to respect Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and existing borders. Russia also committed to refrain from the threat or use of force or economic coercion against Ukraine. There was a quid pro quo here: Russia did this in return for transferring Soviet-made nuclear weapons on Ukrainian soil to Russia. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent intervention in the Donbas region not only clearly violate this commitment, but also every guiding principle of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. It appears these are not isolated instances. In recent years, Russia appears to have violated, undermined, disregarded, or even disavowed fundamental and binding arms control commitments such as the Vienna Document and binding international agreements, including the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF), and Open Skies treaties. In respect of commercial issues, the ongoing claims regarding the Russian government’s expropriation of the Yukos Oil Company are major tests facing the Russian government. In July 2014, GML Limited and other shareholders were part of a $52 billion arbitration claim awarded by the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In response, the Russian government is threatening to withdraw from the ECHR and seize U.S. assets should American courts freeze Russian holdings on behalf of European claimants, while filing technical challenges that will occupy the courts for years to come. All of this fundamentally calls into question Russia’s OSCE commitment to develop free, competitive markets that respect international dispute arbitration mechanisms such as that of the Hague. I note that U.S. Yukos shareholders are not covered by the Hague ruling for their estimated $6 billion in losses. This is due to the fact that the United States has not ratified the Energy Charter Treaty, under which European claimants won their case, as well as the continued absence of a bilateral investment treaty with Russia. This has handicapped U.S. investors in Russia’s energy sector, leaving them solely dependent of a State Department espousal process with the Russian government. We were all relieved to learn that Mr. Kara-Murza is recovering from the attempt on his life—by poisoning—in Russia earlier this year. His tireless work on behalf of democracy in Russia, and his personal integrity and his love of his native country is an inspiration—it is true patriotism, a virtue sadly lacking among nationalistic demagogues. Sadly, the attempt on Mr. Kara-Murza’s life is not an isolated instance. Others have been murdered—most recently Boris Nemtsov—and both his and Mr. Kara-Murza’s cases remain unsolved. In other cases, such as the abductions, unjust imprisonments, and abuses of Nadiya Savchenko, Oleg Sentsov, and Eston Kohver, we are dealing the plain and public actions of the Russian government. Nadiya Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot and elected parliamentarian, was abducted by Russian government agents, imprisoned, subjected to a humiliating show trial, and now faces 25 years in prison for allegedly murdering Russian reporters—who in fact were killed after she was in Russian custody. Meanwhile, a Russian court has sentenced Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov on charges of terrorism. Tortured during detention, Sentsov’s only transgressions appear to be his refusal to recognize Russia’s annexation of the peninsula and his effort to help deliver food to Ukrainian soldiers trapped on their Crimean bases by invading Russian soldiers. And the kidnaping and subsequent espionage trial against Estonian law enforcement officer Eston Kohver demonstrates the Russia’s readiness to abuse its laws and judicial system to limit individual freedoms both within and beyond its borders. The Magnitsky Act that I had the honor to co-sponsor was in part meant to address human rights abuses such as these. It sanctions those involved in the abuse, and works to discourage further human rights violations while protecting those brave enough to call attention to their occurrence. It troubles me greatly to hear that the Administration’s listings of sanctioned individuals has thus far only targeted ‘minor players,’ rather than those who pull the strings.
Taking Action on Europe’s Worst Refugee Crisis Since World War IIWednesday, October 21, 2015
Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday I convened a Helsinki Commission hearing to scrutinize the European refugee crisis and help determine the most effective ways in which the U.S., the European Union, and the OSCE can and should respond. The Syrian displacement crisis that has consumed seven countries in the Middle East has become the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. At least 250,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war, many of them civilians. The security forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s security forces have been responsible for many of these killings, targeting neighborhoods with barrel bombs and shooting civilians point-blank. ISIS has committed genocide, mass atrocities, and war crimes, against Christians and other minorities, and likewise targeted, brutalized and killed Shia and Sunni Muslims who reject its ideology and brutality. Fleeing for safety, more than four million Syrians are refugees, the largest refugee population in the world, and another 7.6 million Syrians are displaced inside their home country. Syria’s neighbors—Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt—are hosting most of these refugees. Before the Syria crisis, these countries struggled with high rates of unemployment, strained public services, and a range of other domestic challenges. Since the conflict began, Syrian refugees have become a quarter of Lebanon’s population, and Iraq, which has been beset by ISIS and sectarian conflict, is hosting almost 250,000 refugees from Syria. Until this past summer, few Syrian refugees went beyond countries that border their homeland. Syrian refugees and migrants from a range of countries have since come to Europe in such large numbers, and so quickly, that many European countries, especially front-line entry points like Greece, transit countries like Serbia, and destination countries like Germany, have been challenged to respond. The UN High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, reports that more than 635,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe by sea in 2015. Fifty three percent of these people are from Syria, sixteen percent from Afghanistan, six percent from Eritrea, and five percent from Iraq. Notably, only fourteen percent of them are women, twenty percent are children, and the remaining sixty-five percent are men. The European crisis requires a response that is European, national, and international, and the United States is essential to it. There must be effective coordination and communication directly between countries as well as through and with entities like the OSCE and European Union. Individual countries also must have the flexibility to respond best to the particular circumstances in their own countries. The response must address ‘‘push’’ factors, like economic challenges and aid short-falls in countries like Syria’s neighbors that have been hosting refugees. It must also address ‘‘pull’’ factors, like decisions individual European countries have made that have attracted refugees. There is real human need and desperation. Refugees are entrusting themselves to smugglers and where there is human smuggling there is a higher risk of human trafficking. I am especially concerned about the risk of abuse, exploitation, and enslavement, of women and children. Already we are hearing reports that some European countries are failing to protect women and girls from sexual assault and forced prostitution. The lack of separate bathroom facilities for males and females, rooms that can be locked, and other basic measures, enable such attacks. There is no excuse for such failures and everything must be done to ensure that women and children are safe. There is also the real threat that terrorist groups like ISIS will infiltrate these massive movements of people to kill civilians in Europe and beyond. I am deeply concerned that the screening at many European borders is inadequate and putting lives at risk. All of us must be responsive to the humanitarian needs without compromising one iota on security. European response plans should include specifics about strengthening security screening throughout the European region. During the conflict in Kosovo, I travelled to Stenkovec refugee camp in Macedonia and was at the McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey to welcome some of the 4,400 people brought from there to the United States. A refugee—Agron Abdullahu—was apprehended and sent to jail in 2008 for supplying guns and ammunition to the ‘‘Fort Dix 5’’—a group of terrorists who were also sent to prison for plotting to kill American soldiers at the Fort Dix military installation. Given Secretary Kerry’s announcement in September that the United States intends to resettle at least 85,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016, including at least 10,000 Syrians, and at least 100,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017, the United States and Europe must be on high alert to weed out terrorists from real refugees. Because religious and ethnic minorities often have additional risks and vulnerabilities even as refugees, they should be prioritized for resettlement. Tuesday’s hearing examined the ‘‘who’’ is arriving, the ‘‘why’’ they are coming to Europe, and the ‘‘what’’ has been done and should be done in response. European governments, entities like the OSCE and the EU, and civil society all have critical roles to play. The United States has been the leading donor to the humanitarian crisis inside Syria and refugee crisis in the region. We also have the largest refugee admissions program in the world. However, according to Tuesday’s testimony from Shelly Pitterman, Regional Representative for the UN High Commission for Refugees, ‘‘The current inter-agency Syrian Regional Refugee and Resilience (3RP) plan for 2015 is only 41 percent funded, which has meant cuts in food aid for thousands of refugees.’’ Globally, he warned, ‘‘the humanitarian system is financially broke. We are no longer able to meet even the absolute minimum requirements of core protection and lifesaving assistance to preserve the human dignity of the people we care for. The current funding level for the 33 UN appeals to provide humanitarian assistance to 82 million people around the world is only 42 percent. UNHCR expects to receive just 47 percent of the funding we need this year.’’ At the hearing, Sean Callahan, Chief Operating Officer of Catholic Relief Services, said, ‘‘As global leaders in the international humanitarian and refugee response, the U.S. and Europe must heed Pope Francis’ call and find new ways to alleviate the suffering and protect the vulnerable.’’ I could not agree more. In the 20th and 21th centuries, the United States and Europe have come together to address the great challenges of our time and this is an opportunity to do so again.
Helsinki Commission Chair Chris Smith Shines Light on Egregious Rule-of-Law Abuses by Russian GovernmentWednesday, October 21, 2015
WASHINGTON—At a Congressional hearing today, the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, spotlighted the many recent violations of the rule of law committed by the Russian government. “Forty years after the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, we face a set of challenges with Russia, a founding member of the organization, that mirror the concerns that gave rise to the Helsinki Final Act,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who called the hearing. “At stake is the hard-won trust between members, now eroded to the point that armed conflict rages in the OSCE region. The question is open whether the principles continue to bind the Russian government with other states in a common understanding of what the rule of law entails.” “Russia’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent intervention in the Donbas region not only clearly violate this commitment, but also every guiding principle of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. It appears these are not isolated instances. In recent years, Russia appears to have violated, undermined, disregarded, or even disavowed fundamental and binding arms control commitments,” Smith continued. “[I also] question Russia’s OSCE commitment to develop free, competitive markets that respect international dispute arbitration mechanisms...[and recent government actions] demonstrate Russia’s readiness to abuse its laws and judicial system to limit individual freedoms both within and beyond its borders.” Witness testimony highlighted case studies corresponding to each of the three dimensions of comprehensive security established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE): politico-military security; economic and environmental security; and human rights and fundamental freedoms. Tim Osborne, executive director of GML Ltd., the majority owner of the now-liquidated Yukos Oil Company, said, “It is clear that the Russian Federation is not honoring its obligations and commitments under the rule of law or in a manner consistent with the Helsinki process. Russia’s tendency, more often than not, has been to ignore, delay, obstruct or retaliate when faced with its international law responsibilities…Russia cannot be trusted in international matters and that even when it has signed up to international obligations, it will ignore them if that is what it thinks serves it best.” “Russia had engaged in the uncompensated expropriation of billions of dollars of U.S. investments in Yukos Oil Company,” observed former U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs Ambassador Alan Larson. “American investors—who owned about 12 percent of Yukos at the time of the expropriation—have claims worth over $14 billion, and they are entitled to compensation under international law even though they have no option for bringing claims directly against the Russian Federation.” Vladimir Kara-Murza, a well-known Russian activist and the coordinator of the Open Russia Movement, said, “Today, the Kremlin fully controls the national airwaves, which it has turned into transmitters for its propaganda…the last Russian election recognized by the OSCE as conforming to basic democratic standards was held more than 15 years ago.” “There are currently 50 political prisoners in the Russian Federation,” Kara-Murza continued. “These prisoners include opposition activists jailed under the infamous ‘Bolotnaya case’ for protesting against Mr. Putin’s inauguration in May 2012; the brother of anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny; and Alexei Pichugin, the remaining hostage of the Yukos case.” “A clear pattern emerges when one looks at Russia’s implementation of its arms control obligations overall,” observed Stephen Rademaker, former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Nonproliferation. “Should Moscow conclude such agreements have ceased to serve its interest, it will ignore them, effectively terminate them, violate them while continuing to pay them lip service, or selectively implement them…Russia believes that this is how great powers are entitled to act, and today Moscow insists on acting and being respected as a great power.” Chairman Smith was joined at the hearing by a panel of lawmakers including Commission Co-Chairman Senator Roger Wicker (MS) and Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-04).
Europe's Refugee Crisis: How Should the US, EU and OSCE Respond?Tuesday, October 20, 2015
This hearing, held on October 20, 2015, discussed possible responses to the Syrian refugee crisis. Witnesses, including representatives from the American and Serbian governments, the UNHCR, the European Union, and non-profit groups working with refugees, highlighted the scale and intensity of the crisis. Many of the witnesses also emphasized the need for cooperation among governments and between governments and non-profit organizations in addressing this crisis.
Smith Calls for Action on Worst Refugee Crisis in Europe since WWIITuesday, October 20, 2015
WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers scrutinized actions being taken to deal with Europe’s largest refugee crisis since World War II by the United States, European governments, regional bodies like the OSCE and the EU, and civil society. The Commission also reviewed recommendations on developing a long-term solution to the crisis. “The European crisis requires a response that is European, national, and international. There must be effective coordination and communication directly between countries as well as through and with entities like the OSCE and European Union,” said Rep. Smith, who called today’s hearing. “There is real human need and desperation. Refugees are entrusting themselves to smugglers and where there is human smuggling there is a higher risk of human trafficking,” he continued. “There is also the real threat that terrorist groups like ISIS will infiltrate these massive movements of people to kill civilians in Europe and beyond. I am deeply concerned that the screening at many European borders is inadequate and putting lives at risk. All of us must be responsive to the humanitarian needs without compromising one iota on security.” Smith said that “given the disproportionate number of men fleeing to Europe and potentially soon to the United States – currently only 14 percent of the refugees and migrants arriving via the Mediterranean Sea are women, 20 percent are children, and the remaining 65 percent are men – robust vetting is essential. We must ensure that lone wolf terrorists don’t turn into wolf packs.” Smith noted that during the conflict in Kosovo, he travelled to Stenkovec refugee camp in Macedonia and was at the McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey to welcome some of the 4,400 people brought from there to the United States. A refugee – Agron Abdullahu – was apprehended and sent to jail in 2008 for supplying guns and ammunition to the “Fort Dix 5,” a group of terrorists who were also sent to prison for plotting to kill American soldiers at the Fort Dix military installation. Given Secretary Kerry’s announcement in September that the United States intended to resettle at least 85,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016, including at least 10,000 Syrians, and at least 100,000 refugees in fiscal year 2017, “The United State and Europe must be on high alert to weed out terrorists from real refugees,” Smith said. He added, “ISIS has committed genocide, mass atrocities, and war crimes, against Christians and other minorities. Religious and ethnic minorities often have additional risks and vulnerabilities even as refugees and should be prioritized for resettlement.” Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the root causes of the refugee crisis as well as the current measures being put into place to help mitigate the humanitarian impact and ensure that security and economic challenges are addressed. In addition, witnesses emphasized the importance of a shared and coordinated response by all actors involved to ensure a long-term solution to the crisis. “It’s a very challenging situation,” said Anne Richard, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. “The scale of this migration is much bigger than before.” “The US government has a three-pronged approach: strong levels of humanitarian assistance; active diplomacy; and expanded refugee resettlement,” she continued. “Without our support, more people would be making the dangerous journey to the north.” “Europe is facing its biggest refugee influx in decades. UNHCR is calling upon the European Union to provide an immediate and life-saving response to the thousands of refugees as they are crossing the Mediterranean and making their way through Europe,” said Shelly Pitterman, Regional Representative to the United States and Caribbean, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Europe can no longer afford to continue with this fragmented approach that undermines efforts to rebuild responsibility, solidarity and trust among states, and is creating chaos and desperation among thousands of refugee women, men and children. After the many gestures by governments and citizens across Europe to welcome refugees, the focus now needs to be on a robust, joint European response.” “The ongoing refugee crisis is not a European crisis. It is a global crisis, fueled by conflicts, inequality and poverty, the consequences of which unfolded in Europe but the roots of which are far away from our continent,” noted EU Ambassador to the United States David O’Sullivan. “The EU and its Member States are firmly committed to the promotion and protection of the human rights of migrants. Despite the influx, we do not remove or return genuine refugees, we respect the fundamental rights of all persons arriving in the EU, and we invest major resources in saving lives at sea.” Djerdj Matkovic, Ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to the United States, said, “The OSCE region is witnessing the largest refugee influx in decades. Apart from being a significant economic challenge, this is a process with potentially very serious security implications and the cause of concern in regards to the respect for human rights… As the presiding country [of the OSCE] Serbia recognizes the importance of this issue and is trying to provide more active and concrete approach of the OSCE in addressing it. In light of this bleak security situation and looming instability, it is paramount that all the mechanisms that were designed and adopted by the participating States to oversee the implementation of commitments are strong and functioning.” Sean Callahan, chief operating officer of Catholic Relief Services, observed, “As global leaders in international humanitarian and refugee response, the US and Europe must find new and creative ways to help to alleviate this suffering and protect the vulnerable. Pope Francis has led in this effort to do more by asking every Catholic parish in Europe to reach out and assist the refugees; he reminds us of our moral obligation to help the stranger... Despite efforts by [international NGOs] like CRS, local civil societies, governments, and non-traditional donors, the despair of so many refugees indicates that assistance must move beyond short-term band-aids to longer-term solutions.” Chairman Smith was joined at the hearing by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Senator John Boozman (AR), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Representative Michael Burgess (TX-26), Representative Randy Hultgren (IL-14), and Representative Joe Pitts (PA-16).
By Janice Helwig and Mischa Thompson, Policy Advisors
Since 1999, the OSCE participating States have convened three “supplementary human dimension meetings” (SHDMs) each year – that is, meetings intended to augment the annual review of the implementation of all OSCE human dimension commitments. The SHDMs focus on specific issues and the topics are chosen by the Chair-in-Office. Although they are generally held in Vienna – with a view to increasing the participation from the permanent missions to the OSCE – they can be held in other locations to facilitate participation from civil society.
The three 2010 SHDMs focused on gender issues, national minorities and education, and religious liberties. But 2010 had an exceptionally full calendar – some would say too full. In addition to the regularly scheduled meetings, ad hoc meetings included:
A February 9-10 expert workshop in Mongolia on trafficking;
A March 19 hate crimes and the Internet meeting in Warsaw;
A June 10-11th meeting in Copenhagen to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Copenhagen Document;
A (now annual) trafficking meeting on June 17-18; and
A high-level conference on tolerance June 29-30 in Astana.
The extraordinary number of meetings also included an Informal Ministerial in July, a Review Conference (held in Warsaw, Vienna and Astana over the course of September, October, and November) and the OSCE Summit on December 1-2 (both in Astana).
Promotion of Gender Balance and Participation of Women in Political and Public Life
The first SHDM of 2010 was held on May 6-7 in Vienna, Austria, focused on the “Promotion of Gender Balance and Participation of Women in Political and Public Life.” It was opened by speeches from Kazakhstan's Minister of Labour and Social Protection, Gulshara Abdykalikova, and Portuguese Secretary of State for Equality, Elza Pais.
The discussions focused mainly on “best practices” to increase women’s participation at the national level, especially in parliaments, political parties, and government jobs. Most participants agreed that laws protecting equality of opportunity are sufficient in most OSCE countries, but implementation is still lacking. Therefore, political will at the highest level is crucial to fostering real change. Several speakers recommended establishing quotas, particularly for candidates on political party lists. A number of other forms of affirmative action remedies were also discussed. Others stressed the importance of access to education for women to ensure that they can compete for positions. Several participants said that stereotypes of women in the media and in education systems need to be countered. Others seemed to voice stereotypes themselves, arguing that women aren’t comfortable in the competitive world of politics.
Turning to the OSCE, some participants proposed that the organization update its (2004) Gender Action Plan. (The Gender Action Plan is focused on the work of the OSCE. In particular, it is designed to foster gender equality projects within priority areas; to incorporate a gender perspective into all OSCE activities, and to ensure responsibility for achieving gender balance in the representation among OSCE staff and a professional working environment where women and men are treated equally.)
A few participants raised more specific concerns. For example, an NGO representative from Turkey spoke about the ban on headscarves imposed by several countries, particularly in government buildings and schools. She said that banning headscarves actually isolates Muslim women and makes it even harder for them to participate in politics and public life. NGOs from Tajikistan voiced their strong support for the network of Women’s Resource Centers, which has been organized under OSCE auspices. The centers provide services such as legal assistance, education, literacy classes, and protection from domestic violence. Unfortunately, however, they are short of funding.
NGO representatives also described many obstacles that women face in Tajikistan’s traditionally male-oriented society. For example, few women voted in the February 2010 parliamentary elections because their husbands or fathers voted for them. Women were included on party candidate lists, but only at the bottom of the list. They urged that civil servants, teachers, health workers, and police be trained on legislation relating to equality of opportunity for women as means of improving implementation of existing laws. An NGO representative from Kyrgyzstan spoke about increasing problems related to polygamy and bride kidnappings. Only a first wife has any legal standing, leaving additional wives – and their children - without social or legal protection, including in the case of divorce.
The meeting was well-attended by NGOs and by government representatives from capitals. However, with the exception of the United States, there were few participants from participating States’ delegations in Vienna. This is an unfortunate trend at recent SHDMs. Delegation participation is important to ensure follow-up through the Vienna decision-making process, and the SHDMs were located in Vienna as a way to strengthen this connection.
Education of Persons belonging to National Minorities: Integration and Equality
The OSCE held its second SHDM of 2010 on July 22-23 in Vienna, Austria, focused on the "Education of Persons belonging to National Minorities: Integration and Equality." Charles P. Rose, General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Education, participated as an expert member of the U.S. delegation.
The meeting was opened by speeches from the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek and Dr. Alan Phillips, former President of the Council of Europe Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Three sessions discussed facilitating integrated education in schools, access to higher education, and adult education. Most participants stressed the importance of minority access to strong primary and secondary education as the best means to improve access to higher education.
The lightly attended meeting focused largely on Roma education. OSCE Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues Andrzej Mirga stressed the importance of early education in order to lower the dropout rate and raise the number of Roma children continuing on to higher education. Unfortunately, Roma children in several OSCE States are still segregated into separate classes or schools - often those meant instead for special needs children - and so are denied a quality education. Governments need to prioritize early education as a strong foundation. Too often, programs are donor-funded and NGO run, rather than being a systematic part of government policy. While states may think such programs are expensive in the short term, in the long run they save money and provide for greater economic opportunities for Roma.
The meeting heard presentations from several participating States of what they consider their "best practices" concerning minority education. Among others, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Greece, and Armenia gave glowing reports of their minority language education programs. Most participating States who spoke strongly supported the work of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities on minority education, and called for more regional seminars on the subject.
Unfortunately, some of the presentations illustrated misunderstandings and prejudices rather than best practices. For example, Italy referred to its "Roma problem" and sweepingly declared that Roma "must be convinced to enroll in school." Moreover, the government was working on guidelines to deal with "this type of foreign student," implying that all Roma are not Italian citizens. Several Roma NGO representatives complained bitterly after the session about the Italian statement.
Romani NGOs also discussed the need to remove systemic obstacles in the school systems which impede Romani access to education and to incorporate more Romani language programs. The Council of Europe representative raised concern over the high rate of illiteracy among Romani women, and advocated a study to determine adult education needs.
Other NGOs talked about problems with minority education in several participating States. For example, Russia was criticized for doing little to provide Romani children or immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus support in schools; what little has been provided has been funded by foreign donors.
Charles Rose discussed the U.S. Administration's work to increase the number of minority college graduates. Outreach programs, restructured student loans, and enforcement of civil rights law have been raising the number of graduates.
As was the case of the first SHDM, with the exception of the United States, there were few participants from participating States’ permanent OSCE missions in Vienna. This is an unfortunate trend at recent SHDMs. Delegation participation is important to ensure follow-up through the Vienna decision-making process, and the SHDMs were located in Vienna as a way to strengthen this connection.
OSCE Maintains Religious Freedom Focus
Building on the July 9-10, 2009, SHDM on Freedom of Religion or Belief, on December 9-10, 2010, the OSCE held a SHDM on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the OSCE Headquarters in Vienna, Austria. Despite concerns about participation following the December 1-2 OSCE Summit in Astana, Kazakhstan, the meeting was well attended. Representatives of more than forty-two participating States and Mediterranean Partners and one hundred civil society members participated.
The 2010 meeting was divided into three sessions focused on 1) Emerging Issues and Challenges, 2) Religious Education, and 3) Religious Symbols and Expressions. Speakers included ODIHR Director Janez Lenarcic, Ambassador-at-large from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Madina Jarbussynova, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Heiner Bielefeldt, and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Silvano Tomasi of the Holy See.
Issues raised throughout the meeting echoed concerns raised during at the OSCE Review Conference in September-October 2010 regarding the participating States’ failure to implement OSCE religious freedom commitments. Topics included the: treatment of “nontraditional religions,” introduction of laws restricting the practice of Islam, protection of religious instruction in schools, failure to balance religious freedom protections with other human rights, and attempts to substitute a focus on “tolerance” for the protection of religious freedoms.
Notable responses to some of these issues included remarks from Archbishop Silvano Tomasi that parents had the right to choose an education for their children in line with their beliefs. His remarks addressed specific concerns raised by the Church of Scientology, Raelian Movement, Jehovah Witnesses, Catholic organizations, and others, that participating States were preventing religious education and in some cases, even attempting to remove children from parents attempting to raise their children according to a specific belief system. Additionally, some speakers argued that religious groups should be consulted in the development of any teaching materials about specific religions in public school systems.
In response to concerns raised by participants that free speech protections and other human rights often seemed to outweigh the right to religious freedom especially amidst criticisms of specific religions, UN Special Rapporteur Bielefeldt warned against playing equality, free speech, religious freedom, and other human rights against one another given that all rights were integral to and could not exist without the other.
Addressing ongoing discussion within the OSCE as to whether religious freedom should best be addressed as a human rights or tolerance issue, OSCE Director Lenarcic stated that, “though promoting tolerance is a worthwhile undertaking, it cannot substitute for ensuring freedom of religion of belief. An environment in which religious or belief communities are encouraged to respect each other but in which, for example, all religions are prevented from engaging in teaching, or establishing places of worship, would amount to a violation of freedom of religion or belief.”
Statements by the United States made during the meeting also addressed many of these issues, including the use of religion laws in some participating States to restrict religious practice through onerous registrations requirements, censorship of religious literature, placing limitations on places of worship, and designating peaceful religious groups as ‘terrorist’ organizations. Additionally, the United States spoke out against the introduction of laws and other attempts to dictate Muslim women’s dress and other policies targeting the practice of Islam in the OSCE region. Notably, the United States was one of few participating States to call for increased action against anti-Semitic acts such as recent attacks on Synagogues and Jewish gravesites in the OSCE region. (The U.S. statements from the 2010 Review Conference and High-Level Conference can be found on the website of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE.)
In addition to the formal meeting, four side events and a pre-SHDM Seminar for civil society were held. The side events were: “Pluralism, Relativism and the Rule of Law,” “Broken Promises – Freedom of religion or belief in Kazakhstan,” “First Release and Presentation of a Five-Year Report on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe” and “The Spanish school subject ‘Education for Citizenship:’ an assault on freedom of education, conscience and religion.” The side event on Kazakhstan convened by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee featured speakers from Forum 18 and Kazakhstan, including a representative from the CiO. Kazakh speakers acknowledged that more needed to be done to fulfill OSCE religious freedom commitments and that it had been a missed opportunity for Kazakhstan not to do more during its OSCE Chairmanship. In particular, speakers noted that religious freedom rights went beyond simply ‘tolerance,’ and raised ongoing concerns with registration, censorship, and visa requirements for ‘nontraditional’ religious groups. (The full report can be found on the website of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.)
A Seminar on Freedom of Religion and Belief for civil society members also took place on December 7-8 prior to the SHDM. The purpose of the Seminar was to assist in developing the capacity of civil society to recognize and address violations of the right to freedom of religion and belief and included an overview of international norms and standards on freedom of religion or belief and non-discrimination.