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Citizenship and Political Rights

Political rights refer to an individual's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the society and state without fear of discrimination or repression, and is tied closely to citizenship status. Such rights include not only the right to vote in an election, but also the rights to join a political party; run for office; and participate freely in political rallies, events, or protests.

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  • Senator Cardin’s Response to Rep. King’s U.S. Anti-Muslim Hearings

    Mr. President, I rise today to share my thoughts on the hearings held last week in the House of Representatives called "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." Congressional hearings are supposed to serve as an important role of oversight, investigation, or education, among other purposes. However, this particular hearing--billed as the first of a series--served only to fan flames of fear and division.  My first concern is the title of the hearing--targeting one community. That is wrong. Each of us has a responsibility to speak out when communities are unfairly targeted.  In 1975, the United States joined all the countries of Europe and established the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, now known as the OSCE. The Congress created the U.S. Helsinki Commission to monitor U.S. participation and compliance with these commitments. The OSCE contains commitments in three areas or baskets: security, economics, and human rights. Best known for its human rights advancements, the OSCE has been aggressive in advancing these commitments in each of the OSCE states. The OSCE stands for religious freedom and protection of minority rights.  I am the Senate chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission. In that capacity, I have raised human rights issues in other countries, such as in France when, in the name of national security, the Parliament banned burqas and wearing of all religious articles or when the Swiss restricted the building of mosques or minarets.  These policies were restrictive not only to the religious practice of Muslims but also Christians, Jews, and others who would seek to wear religious symbols and practice their religion as they saw fit.  I have also raised human rights issues in the United States when we were out of compliance with our Helsinki commitments. In that spirit, I find it necessary to speak out against the congressional hearing chaired by Congressman Peter King.  Rather than constructively using the power of Congress to explore how we as a nation can use all of the tools at our disposal to prevent future terrorist attacks and defeat those individuals and groups who want to do us harm, this spectacle crossed the line and chipped away at the religious freedoms and civil liberties we hold so dearly.  Radicalization may be the appropriate subject of a congressional hearing but not when it is limited to one religion. When that is done, it sends the wrong message to the public and casts a religion with unfounded suspicions.  Congressman King's hearing is part of a disturbing trend to demonize Muslims taking place in our country and abroad. Instead, we need to engage the Muslim community in the United States.  A cookie-cutter approach to profile what a terrorist looks like will not work. As FBI Director Mueller recently testified to the Senate:  “... During the past year, the threat from radicalization has evolved. A number of disruptions occurred involving extremists from a diverse set of backgrounds, geographic locations, life experiences, and motivating factors that propelled them along their separate radicalization pathways.”  Let us remember that a number of terrorist attacks have been prevented or disrupted due to informants from the Muslim community who contacted law enforcement officials.  I commend Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Mueller for increasing their outreach to the Arab-American community. As Attorney General Holder said:  “Let us not forget it was a Muslim-American who first alerted the New York police to a smoking car in Times Square. And his vigilance likely helped to save lives. He did his part to avert tragedy, just as millions of other Arab-Americans are doing their parts and proudly fulfilling the responsibility of citizenship.” We need to encourage this type of cooperation between our government and law enforcement agencies in the Muslim community.  As the threat from al-Qaida changes and evolves over time, the piece of the puzzle is even more important to get right. FBI Director Mueller testified before the House recently that:  At every opportunity I have, I reaffirm the fact that 99.9 percent of Muslim-Americans, Sikh-Americans, and Arab-Americans are every bit as patriotic as anyone else in this room, and that many of the anti-terrorism cases are a result of the cooperation from the Muslim community and the United States.  As leaders in Congress, we must live up to our Nation's highest ideals and protect civil liberties, even in wartime when they are most challenged. The 9/11 Commission summed up this well when they wrote:  The terrorists have used our open society against us. In wartime, government calls for greater powers, and then the need for those powers recedes after the war ends. This struggle will go on. Therefore, while protecting our homeland, Americans must be mindful of threats to vital personal and civil liberties. This balancing is no easy task, but we must constantly strive to keep it right.  I agree with Attorney General Holder's recent speech to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, where he stated:  “In this Nation, our many faiths, origins, and appearances must bind us together, not break us apart. In this Nation, the document that sets forth the supreme law of the land--the Constitution--is meant to empower, not exclude. And in this Nation, security and liberty are--at their best--partners, not enemies, in ensuring safety and opportunity for all.” Actions, such as the hearing held last week, that pit us against one another based on our religious beliefs, weaken our country and its freedoms and ultimately do nothing to make our country any safer. Hearings such as the one held last week only serve as a distraction from our real goals and provide fuel for those who are looking for excuses to find fault or blame in our way of life.  Let's not go the way of other countries but instead hold dear the protections in our Constitution that safeguard the individual's right to freely practice their religion and forbid a religious test to hold public office in the United States. Our country's strength lies in its diversity and our ability to have strongly held beliefs and differences of opinion, while being able to speak freely and not fear the government will imprison us for criticizing the government or holding a religious belief that is not shared by the majority of Americans.  On September 11, 2001, our country was attacked by terrorists in a way we thought impossible. Thousands of innocent men, women, and children of all races, religions, and backgrounds were murdered. As the 10-year anniversary of these attacks draws closer, we continue to hold these innocent victims in our thoughts and prayers, and we will continue to fight terrorism and bring terrorists to justice.  After that attack, I went back to my congressional district in Maryland at that time and made three visits as a Congressman. First I visited a synagogue and prayed with the community. Then I visited a mosque and prayed with the community. Then I went to a church and prayed with the community. My message was clear on that day: We all needed to join together as a nation to condemn the terrorist attacks and to take all necessary measures to eliminate safe havens for terrorists and bring them to justice. We all stood together on that day regardless of our background or personal beliefs.  But my other message was equally important: We cannot allow the events of September 11 to demonize a particular community, religion, or creed. Such actions of McCarthyism harken back to darker days in our history. National security concerns were used inappropriately and led to 120,000 Japanese-Americans being stripped of their property and rights and placed in internment camps in 1942, though not a single act of espionage was ever established.  The United States should not carry out a crusade against any particular religion as a response to 9/11 or other terrorist attacks. The United States will not tolerate hate crimes against any group, regardless of their religion or ethnicity, and we should not allow our institutions, including Congress, to be used to foment intolerance and injustice. Let's come together as a nation and move forward in a more constructive and hopeful manner.

  • Legal Hooliganism – Is the Yukos Show Trial Finally Over?

    In this briefing, which Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings presided over, the focus was the second Yukos trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. More specifically, the purpose of “Legal Hooliganism – Is the Yukos Show Trial Finally Over?” was to not only expose the injustice in the Khodorkovsky case, but also in the entire Russian judicial system. The trial against Khodorkovsky and oil company Yukos commenced in 2003. Many viewed such an effort as a politically motivated attack by the Kremlin. Eventually, before the time of the briefing, the case against Khodorkovsky had become a complete show trial in which the accusations against the defendant had become so absurd. The outcome and proceeding of this case, then, had implications not only for the fairness of the trial of Khodorkhovsky, but also for concerns for Russia as a society based on the rule of law.

  • Iraqis Face Threat

    The United States has a "moral obligation" to resettle tens of thousands of Iraqis who helped U.S. troops and civilian groups and who now face death threats from al Qaeda terrorists, members of Congress told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. In letters to the two Cabinet members, the seven senators and 15 House members complained that the Obama administration is moving too slowly to grant visas to the doomed Iraqis and blamed bureaucrats for narrowly applying a law designed to relocate the Iraqis to the United States. They also warned Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Gates that time is running out, as the deadline for the end of U.S. combat operations looms at the end of August. The United States plans to draw down its 64,000 soldiers in Iraq to 50,000 and switch to a training and advisory role with the Iraqi army until a complete U.S. troop withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011. "Resettlement to the United States could be the only safe option for thousands of our Iraqi employees," said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, who organized the letters with Co-chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat. "The United States has a moral obligation to stand by those Iraqis who have risked their lives and the lives of their families to stand by us in Iraq for the past seven years, and doing so is also in our strategic self interest," the letters said. "Providing support for our Iraqi allies will advance U.S. national security interests around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, by sending a message that foreign nationals who support our work abroad can expect some measure of protection." Al Qaeda and other terrorists have threatened to kill the Iraqis who aided the United States, denouncing them as traitors and collaborators. The members of Congress called for swifter processing of the 15,000 visas authorized under the Special Immigrant Visa Program, which has approved visas for only 2,145 Iraqis. They complained that U.S. consular officers are misinterpreting the program by considering only Iraqis who worked directly for the U.S. Embassy or for U.S. contractors and subcontractors and denying visas to Iraqis who worked for U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations. Besides Mr. Cardin and Mr. Hastings, the signatories of the letter included Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat and assistant majority leader; Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. AFRICAN STAR The story of Africa is too often written in blood by tyrants who oppress their people while enriching themselves. However, one nation in southern Africa has been the exception for decades. Botswana is a peaceful, democratic nation, prosperous by African standards. One of Botswana's best leaders is coming to Washington to serve as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Festus Mogae, president from 1998 to 2008, will study the way governments deal with AIDS, the deadly virus that ravaged the continent. "I look forward to interacting with knowledgeable people informed on issues in HIV/AIDS in Africa in the Wilson Center and around Washington," Mr. Mogae said last week after the Wilson Center announced his appointment. Mr. Mogae has been widely recognized for his efforts to combat AIDS and promote democracy. "We are delighted to welcome one of the world's most progressive leaders on the HIV/AIDS pandemic," said Steve McDonald, director of the Wilson Center's Africa program.

  • Fostering Effective Ethnic Minority Political Participation in the OSCE Region

    By Alex T. Johnson and Mischa Thompson, PhD, Policy Advisors As part of an ongoing initiative to foster ethnic minority political participation in the OSCE region, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Co-Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission attended the United Nations (UN) Second Session of the Forum on Minority Issues. The Session focused on Minorities and Effective Political Participation, took place on November 12 and 13, 2009 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The purpose of the Forum was to “identify and analyze best practices, challenges, opportunities and initiatives for the further implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.” The Forum consisted of a Preparatory Meeting for NGOs, Workshop for Minority Political Actors, the Forum, and two Side events organized by the Minority Rights Group and United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Recommendations based on the proceedings were produced at the close of the forum. The U.S. delegation to the Forum was led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. In addition to Co-Chairman Hastings, other members of the U.S. delegation included, Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) - Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Delegate Donna Christensen (D-VI). The Forum was Chaired by Congresswoman Lee and convened by United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall. More than five hundred persons participated in the Forum, including more than eighty elected officials and other political actors, forty-five delegates and ninety-five non-government organizations from all over the world. The U.S. Delegation attended the Workshop for Minority Political Actors, which took place prior to the Forum and allowed elected officials and other political figures to discuss their own priorities and strategies for increasing minority political participation. Participants discussed barriers and possible remedies and efforts governments, parliaments, political parties, national human rights institutions, civil society, treaty bodies, United Nations institutions, the media, and other stakeholders could engage in to foster minority political participation. The U.S. delegation focused on the need to educate minority populations on their civil and political rights, including voting, running for office, and advocacy. Additionally, to address the lack of representation of minorities in government, the delegation called for initiatives that would increase employment opportunities for minorities in the political sphere. Specifically, these recommendations included introducing civic education programs led by minorities and developing minority youth professional development programs at government agencies, in parliaments, and in international bodies. Congressman Honda highlighted the importance of including minorities in the development, management, and implementation of government initiatives targeting minorities. “One should see minorities in professional positions upon immediately entering national human rights agencies, especially when the agency has a stated goal of combating racism and discrimination,” he argued. (This and other suggestions from the U.S. Delegation were included in the final Recommendations of the Forum.) As Chairperson, Congresswoman Lee opened the official Forum. In her remarks, she noted that empowering minorities politically is critical to achieving a truly democratic, free and global community. While she cited the election of President Barack Obama as an example of gains made toward fair election processes, she stated that minorities are still underrepresented in the U.S. Congress. For instance, there is currently only one African-American serving in the U.S. Senate.) Additionally, she stated that a continued focus of the Congressional Black Caucus and other minority caucuses was to address disparities between minority and majority populations in all aspects of society including the political arena. Following her remarks, government delegates and members of civil society ranging from Iranian dissidents to South Asian Dalit activists gave remarks. While many of the governments offered descriptions of their various initiatives to foster minority political participation, some governments provided assessments and prescriptions for improvement, including the U.S. government. Of particular relevance to minority political participation in the European context were the comments of OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek. The Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities is a unique institution of the OSCE in that it is situated in a politico-security dimension of the organization and facilitates confidential direct assessments on the status of minorities in the 56 participating States of the OSCE. High Commissioner Vollebaek highlighted how the underrepresentation of minorities in public services exacerbates the challenge of involving minorities in civic life. More specifically, he noted that exclusion and its causes threaten the stability of societies if left unaddressed. Other presentations throughout the forum corroborated the importance of this message. Speaking on the panel “Concrete Steps to Advance Minority Political Participation and to Build Capacity of Minorities to Participate Effectively,” Co-Chairman Hastings highlighted his work with minority European Parliamentarians in convening the 2009 Black European Summit.  He noted findings from the Summit, including that “the majority of our political and legal systems do not accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our societies.” He called for this problem to be addressed via “simple solutions governments, political parties, and non-governmental organizations can employ such as advertising employment opportunities in minority communities, requiring that at least a percentage of persons interviewed for a position are minorities, and providing fellowships and internships for minority youth in Parliament, government agencies, and other organizations.” Minority Roundtable On the margins of the UN Minority Issues Forum, Co-Chairman Hastings convened a roundtable of participants of the April 2009 Black European Summit and other interested parties. The roundtable provided an opportunity to follow up on the Brussels Declaration adopted at the close of the Black European Summit (see Appendix 1), and discuss future initiatives for continuing the transatlantic dialogue. The discussion also informed individuals unable to participate in the Black European Summit about the scope of activities and potential for future collaboration. Participants identified destinations for study tours to view the situation of minorities and existing initiatives to increase minority political participation in the OSCE region. The United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, and Germany were specifically named given that the populations of visible minorities in these countries remains high and that they each offer unique narratives for analyzing methods to overcome barriers to minority political participation. Participants reaffirmed the need for annual meetings to sustain linkages between minority political actors and agreed to identify additional minority leaders to expand the transatlantic dialogue and plan future initiatives. Conclusion The “Recommendations of the second session of the Forum on Minority Issues on minorities and effective political participation” were compiled at the close of the Forum and should serve as a useful guide for governments to foster minority political inclusion. Moreover, in the OSCE region, sustaining a transatlantic dialogue with minority political actors focused on minority political inclusion is not only key to implementation of the recommendations, but also realizing the commitments to democratic societies enshrined in both the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and the Helsinki Final Act. Appendix 1 Brussels Declaration We, as members of the public, private, and voluntary sectors from Europe and the United States of America convening in Brussels, Belgium from the 15 to 16 of April 2009 for the Black European Summit: Transatlantic Dialogue on Political Inclusion, draw attention to the need for coordinated strategies to address racism and discrimination; We recognize the democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-racial nature of our countries’ diverse societies; We reaffirm the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and recalling that all individuals are born equal in dignity and rights; We remain concerned that the political and legal systems in some of our societies do not reflect the racial and ethnic diversity within our societies, which then contributes to the continuation of racism and discrimination; We recognize that the full access of racial and ethnic minorities to participate in the political sphere and relevant areas of decision making at the levels of national, regional, and locally elected government appropriate to each nation is critical to combating racism and inequality and ensuring our democratic societies; We therefore note the need for concrete strategies to: increase the representation and influence of racial and ethnic minority policymakers; jointly seek solutions to racial and ethnic minorities increased participation in decision-making in the development and implementation of policy initiatives to address discrimination and inequality; and support opportunities to exchange and share perspectives in these areas through the continuance of a transatlantic dialogue to realize these goals. We today resolve that we will endeavor to enact initiatives to eradicate racial and ethnic discrimination through: Continuing a transatlantic dialogue that: includes cultural exchanges between American and European racial and ethnic minority groups, including youth; focuses on the development of opportunities for racial and ethnic minority political leadership and participation in the policymaking process; and fosters the exchange of information on best practices to implement and enforce antidiscrimination measures and achieve racial equality; Joining forces over the coming months to develop common goals and objectives in each of our decision-making bodies to recognize Europe’s Black and racial and ethnic minority populations for their historical and present-day contributions and acknowledge past injustices; Promoting racial and ethnic minority participation at all levels of national, regional, and local government through the education of civil and political rights, including the legislative process and advocacy of legislative issues relevant to racial and ethnic minority communities, development of targeted professional development and hiring strategies, and increased youth and community outreach; Reaffirming our continued cooperation and commitment to work with our governments, international institutions, civil society, private sector, and other partners to improve institutions so that they are fully participatory and reflect the democratic principles of equality, justice, and celebration of the strengths of our countries’ diversity. In 2008, Congressman Hastings Chaired two U.S. Helsinki Commission hearings entitled: “The State of (In)visible Black Europe: Race, Rights, and Politics” and “Racism in the 21st Century: Understanding Global Challenges and Implementing Solutions.” At the hearings, the lack of minority representation in European policymaking, especially at national levels, was identified as a major obstacle to combating racism and discrimination by European witnesses. This prompted a call for a transatlantic dialogue on minority political participation that included best practices from the United States’ Civil Rights Movement. The resulting events have been the 2009 Black European Summit and 2010 Transatlantic Dialogue on Minority Political Leadership.

  • Copenhagen Anniversary Conference

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Policy Advisor Representatives from a majority of the 56 OSCE participating States and several dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in Copenhagen on June 10-11 to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the 1990 Copenhagen Document and to assess implementation of key provisions of that landmark document. The anniversary conference, titled “20 years of the OSCE Copenhagen Document: Status and Future Perspectives,” was co-organized by the Kazakhstani OSCE Chairmanship and Denmark, and held at the Eigtveds Pakhus, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Michael Haltzel led the U.S. delegation, which was joined by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly and representatives from the OSCE Mission in Vienna, the State Department and the Helsinki Commission. Five substantive working sessions, reflecting some of the major themes of the groundbreaking Copenhagen Document, were held: Democratic processes – elections and human rights; Rule of Law; National Minorities; Freedom of Movement; and Measures to improve implementation of the human dimension commitments. Many speakers highlighted the historic importance of the Copenhagen Document, which offered a blueprint for pluralistic democratic development, rooted in the rule of law and protection of human rights, throughout the OSCE region – a revolutionary document at the time and one that remains highly relevant two decades later. The June 1990 Copenhagen Meeting came at a unique time in history when dramatic changes were taking place; the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of one-party regimes in Eastern Europe had taken place only months earlier. And the following year – 1991 -- witnessed the emergence of 15 independent states with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Truly, those were dynamic days during which sweeping new commitments -- which would have been impossible to garner consensus for years or even months prior -- received universal support. Indeed, it is questionable as to whether consensus to the Copenhagen agreement would be found today, given the democratic and human rights backsliding that has occurred in a number of participating States. The Copenhagen Document underlines the centrality of political pluralism, civil society and human rights as fundamental elements of functioning democracies. As Ambassador Max Kampelman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the 1990 conference summed it up, “In effect, the Copenhagen document represents the first formal proclamation, by the States themselves, of a Europe both whole and free.” It identified the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of the basic purposes of government and acknowledged that democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law. Among the achievements of the Copenhagen Document were the far-reaching commitments on democratic elections which laid the groundwork for the OSCE’s future activities with respect to election observation. Copenhagen also represented a significant step forward with respect to the protection of minorities, and for the first time there was a direct reference to Roma and to anti-Semitism. While participants at the anniversary meeting underscored the significant progress over the last 20 years, many also called for fuller compliance with the Copenhagen commitments, noting, for instance, backsliding in holding democratic elections in some participating States; suppression of civil society, including independent media, NGOs and human rights defenders; the deficit of impartial and independent justice; and the lack of separation of powers – especially the concentration of power in the executive. The last session of the conference discussed measures to improve implementation of human dimension commitments, including the prevention of human rights violations through the use of reporting before the violations occur; enhancement of standards and commitments; strengthened monitoring mechanisms, including a U.S. proposal to dispatch special representatives to investigate reports of egregious human rights violations and make corrective recommendations before the violations become entrenched; and improved cooperation with, and involvement of, civil society actors in advancing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ultimately, however, compliance with existing standards enshrined in the Copenhagen Document, the Helsinki Final Act and all other OSCE commitments remains the primary responsibility of the participating State.

  • In the Eye of the Storm: Chechnya and the Mounting Violence in the North Caucasus

    A year after the leading Russian human rights defender, Natalya Estemirova, was abducted near her apartment building in the Chechen capital Grozny, transported to the neighboring republic of Ingushetia and brutally killed, human rights abuses and a continuing climate of fear prevailed in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation.  Ronald McNamara, International Policy Director at the Commission, led a discussion on the marked increase in extrajudicial killings and politically motivated disappearances in Chechnya as well as in neighboring Ingushetia and Dagestan.  Witnesses – Elena Milashina, Raisa Turlueva, and Igor Kalyapin – discussed how strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, the Republic’s Kremlin-backed president, publicly labeled independent journalists and rights activists as “traitors and enemies of the state” and how he reportedly praised the perpetrators of recent paintball gun attacks on the streets of Grozny targeting women for not wearing headscarves.  They emphasized the difficulty of resolving the problem because of Moscow’s backing of Ramzan and of a political model in which “bandits” serve as a prop for the federal powers that be.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session in Oslo

    Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I want to report on the activities of a bicameral, bipartisan congressional delegation I had the privilege to lead last week as chairman of the Helsinki Commission. The purpose of the trip was to represent the United States at the 19th Annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, otherwise known as the OSCE PA. The annual session this year was held in Oslo, Norway, and the U.S. delegation participated fully in the assembly's standing committee, the plenary sessions, the three general committees and numerous side events that included discussion of integration in multiethnic societies and addressing gender imbalances in society.  Although some last-minute developments at home compelled him to remain behind, our colleague from the other Chamber, Mr. Alcee Hastings of Florida, was present in spirit as the deputy head of the delegation. Mr. Hastings, who co-chairs the Helsinki Commission, was very active in the preparations for the trip, and his legacy of leadership in the OSCE PA--for over a decade--is tangible in the respect and goodwill afforded the United States during the proceedings.  Our assistant majority leader, Mr. Durbin of Illinois, joined me on the trip, as he did last year. Our colleague from New Mexico who serves as a fellow Helsinki Commissioner, Mr. Udall, also participated. Helsinki Commissioners from the other Chamber who were on the delegation include Mr. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, serving as the ranking member of the delegation, as well as Mrs. Louise McIntosh Slaughter of New York, and Mr. Robert Aderholt of Alabama. Although not a member of the Helsinki Commission, Mr. Lloyd Doggett of Texas has a longstanding interest in OSCE-related issues and also participated on the delegation.  As many of you know, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of over 300 Parliamentarians from virtually every country in Europe, including the Caucasus, as well as from Central Asia, and the United States, and Canada. The annual sessions are held in late June/early July as the chief venue for debating issues of the day and issuing a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development and the rule of law; economic cooperation and environmental protection; and confidence building and security among the participating states and globally.  This active congressional participation helps ensure that matters of interest to the United States are raised and discussed. Robust U.S. engagement has been the hallmark of the Parliamentary Assembly since its inception nearly 20 years ago.  The theme for this year's annual session was ``Rule of Law: Combating Transnational Crime and Corruption.'' In addition to resolutions for each of the three general committees, delegations introduced a total of 35 additional resolutions for consideration, a record number, including 4 by the United States dealing with:  Nuclear security , which followed up directly on the Nuclear Summit here in Washington in April;  The protection of investigative journalists, a critical human rights issue as those who seek to expose corruption are targeted for harassment or worse;  Mediterranean cooperation, building on the OSCE partnerships to engage important countries in North Africa and the Middle East; and  Combating the demand for human trafficking and electronic forms of exploitation, a longstanding Helsinki Commission issue requiring persistence and targeted action.  U.S. drafts on these relevant, important topics received widespread support and were adopted with few if any amendments.  Beyond these resolutions, the United States delegation also undertook initiatives in the form of packages of amendments to other resolutions. These initiatives addressed:  The needs of the people of Afghanistan in light of the smuggling and other criminal activity which takes place there. The struggle for recovery stability and human rights in Kyrgyzstan, which is an OSCE state in the midst of crisis. And  Manifestations of racism and xenophobia that have become particularly prevalent in contemporary Europe. A critical U.S. amendment allowed us generally to support a French resolution that usefully addressed issues relating to the closure of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. Still other amendments coming from specific members of the U.S. Delegation covered a wide range of political, environmental and social issues relevant to policymakers. My colleagues and I were also active in the successful countering of amendments that would have steered resolutions on the Middle East and on the future of the OSCE multilateral diplomatic process in directions contrary to U.S. policy.  Beyond the consideration of the resolutions which now comprise the Oslo Declaration, the annual session also handled some important affairs for the OSCE PA itself. These, too, had relevance for U.S. policy interests:  the American serving as OSCE PA Secretary General, Spencer Oliver, was reappointed to a new 5-year term; a modest--and for the third fiscal year in a row--frozen OSCE PA budget of about $3 1/2 million was approved that requires continued and unparalleled efficiency in organizing additional conferences, election observation missions, and various other activities that keep the Parliamentary Assembly prominently engaged in European and Central Asian affairs;  in addition to my continued tenure as a vice president in the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr. Aderholt of Alabama was reelected as the vice chair of the general committee dealing with democracy, human rights, and humanitarian questions which ensures strong U.S. representation in OSCE PA decision-making; and a Greek parliamentary leader defeated a prominent Canadian senator in the election of a new OSCE PA president, following a vigorous but friendly campaign that encouraged the assembly to take a fresh look at itself and establish a clearer vision for its future.  While the congressional delegation's work focused heavily on representing the United States at the OSCE PA, we tried to use our presence in Europe to advance U.S. interests and express U.S. concerns more broadly. The meeting took place in Norway, a very close friend and strong, long-time ally of the United States of America. In discussions with Norwegian officials, we expressed our sorrow over the recent deaths of Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan. We also shared our concerns about climate change and particularly the impact global warming has on polar regions  Indeed, on our return we made a well-received stop on the archipelago of Svalbard, well north of the Arctic Circle, to learn more about the impact firsthand, from changing commercial shipping lanes to relocated fisheries to ecological imbalance that make far northern flora and fauna increasingly vulnerable. The delegation also visited the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a facility that preserves more than 525,000 types of seeds from all over the world as a safeguard for future crop diversity, and took the opportunity to donate additional U.S. seeds to the collection.  Norway is located close to a newer, but also very strong, ally with close ties to the United States, Estonia. Since last year's delegation to the OSCE PA Annual Session went to Lithuania and included Latvia as a side trip, I believed it was important to utilize the opportunity of returning to northern Europe to visit this Baltic state as well.  While some remained in Oslo to represent the United States, others traveled to Tallinn, where we had meetings with the President, Prime Minister, and other senior government officials, visited the NATO Cooperative Cyber-Defense Center of Excellence and were briefed on electronic networking systems that make parliament and government more transparent, efficient and accessible to the citizen. Estonia has come a long way since it reestablished its independence from the Soviet Union almost 20 years ago, making the visit quite rewarding for those of us on the Helsinki Commission who tried to keep a spotlight on the Baltic States during the dark days of the Cold War.  During the course of the meeting, the U.S. delegation also had bilateral meetings with the delegation of the Russian Federation and a visiting delegation from Kyrgyzstan to discuss issues of mutual concern and interest.  U.S. engagement in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly sends a clear message to those who are our friends and to those who are not that we will defend U.S. interests and advance the causes of peace and prosperity around the world.

  • U.S. Helsinki Group Slams Baku Court's Refusal of Bloggers' Appeal

    The U.S. Helsinki Commission has criticized a Baku court's rejection of appeals by two Azerbaijani bloggers against their prison sentences, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports. Emin Milli was sentenced in November to 2 1/2 years in prison and Adnan Hajizade to two years on charges of hooliganism arising from what the commission chairmen said "appeared to be a crude, government-arranged incident at a restaurant" in July 2009. Both bloggers were well-known for their satirical comments on Azerbaijani government policy. The Baku court rejected their appeal on March 10. Both men, and a number of rights groups, have insisted the incident behind the jailing was a provocation and the motives connected to their very public criticism of the government. Senator Benjamin Cardin (Democrat, Maryland), the U.S. Helsinki Commission chairman, said the bloggers' case "is the latest in a long series of setbacks for independent journalism and civil society in Azerbaijan." Commission Co-Chair Congressman Alcee Hastings (Democrat, Florida), said it "illustrates the lack of independence of Azerbaijan's judicial system." Congressman Robert Aderholt (Republican, Alabama) said the bloggers' conviction "seems to indicate a determination to stifle dissent before the parliamentary election later this year." The U.S. Helsinki Commission wrote in December to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev expressing concern about the convictions and calling for a fair appeal process. Azerbaijani authorities did not reply to that letter.

  • Commission Plays Leading Role at Parliamentary Assembly in Lithuania

    By Robert A. Hand, Policy Advisor A bipartisan U.S. delegation traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania June 29 for the 18th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). The delegation participated fully in the activity of the Assembly’s Standing Committee, the plenary sessions and the Assembly’s three General Committees. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin led the delegation, which included the following commissioners: Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, Ranking Minority Member Chris Smith, and Senator Roger Wicker, Representatives Louise McIntosh Slaughter, Mike McIntyre, G.K. Butterfield and Robert B. Aderholt. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Senator George Voinovich and Representatives Lloyd Doggett, Madeleine Z. Bordallo and Gwen Moore also joined the delegation. Background of the OSCE PA The Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of more than 300 parliamentarians from each of the 56 countries, which stretch from the United States and Canada throughout Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Annual Sessions are the chief venue for debating international issues and voting on a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development, rule of law, economic, environmental and security concerns among the participating States and the international community. The United States delegation is allotted 17 seats in the Assembly. Robust Congressional participation has been a hallmark of the Parliamentary Assembly since its inception nearly 20 years ago, ensuring U.S. interests are raised and discussed. 18th Annual Session This year’s Annual Session, hosted by the Parliament (Seimas) of Lithuania from June 29 to July 3, brought together more than 500 participants from 50 of the 56 OSCE participating States under the theme: “The OSCE: Addressing New Security Challenges.” The Standing Committee -- the Assembly’s leadership body (composed of Heads of Delegations from the participating States and the elected officers) -- met prior to the Annual Session. Senator Cardin, as Head of Delegation and an OSCE PA Vice President, represented the United States. Chaired by the OSCE PA President, Portuguese parliamentarian João Soares, the committee heard reports from the Assembly’s Treasurer, German parliamentarian Hans Reidel, and from the Assembly’s Secretary General, R. Spencer Oliver of the United States. The Assembly continues to operate well within its overall budget guidelines and to receive positive assessments from auditors on financial management. The committee unanimously approved the proposed budget for 2009-2010. The Standing Committee also approved several changes in the OSCE PA’s Rules of Procedure, especially related to gender balance and the holding of elections for officers, as well as 24 Supplementary Items or resolutions for consideration in plenary or committee sessions. The committee brought up as an urgent matter a resolution regarding the detention of Iranian citizens employed by the British Embassy in Tehran. Senator Cardin spoke in support of the resolution. With the Standing Committee’s business concluded, Assembly President Soares opened the Inaugural Plenary Session, stressing in his opening remarks the need for OSCE reform. The first session concluded with a discussion of gender issues led by Swedish parliamentarian Tone Tingsgaard that included comments from Rep. Gwen Moore. A Special Plenary Session the next day was scheduled to accommodate the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who had just presided over an informal meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Corfu, Greece, to launch a new, high-level dialogue on European security. Senator Cardin attended the Corfu meeting as a representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Following her speech, Bakoyannis engaged in a dialogue with parliamentarians on a number of OSCE issues. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas also addressed the special session. Lithuania will chair the OSCE in 2011. U.S. Member Involvement The U.S. delegation actively participated in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees – the first committee for Political Affairs and Security; the second for Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment; and the third on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Each committee considered its own draft resolution, prepared by an elected Rapporteur, as well as 23 of the 25 Supplementary Items. Two Supplementary Items, including one by President Soares on Strengthening the OSCE, were considered in plenary session. Representatives Chris Smith, Mike McIntyre, and Gwen Moore each proposed resolutions that were adopted dealing with freedom of expression on the Internet, international cooperation in Afghanistan, and prevention of maternal mortality respectively. Members of the U.S. delegation were also instrumental in garnering support for Supplementary Items introduced by others, co-sponsoring eight resolutions introduced by delegations of other countries. The U.S. delegation was responsible for 26 amendments to either the committee draft resolutions or various Supplementary Items. Chairman Cardin proposed climate-related amendments to a resolution on energy security and suggested the OSCE initiate work with Pakistan in the resolution on Afghanistan. Co-Chairman Hastings worked on numerous human rights and tolerance issues. Other amendments were sponsored by: Sen. Durbin on improving international access to clean water; Sen. Voinovich on combating anti-Semitism; Sen. Wicker on preserving cultural heritage; Rep. Smith on preventing the abuse of children; and Rep. Butterfield on responding to climate change. Bilateral Meetings The U.S. delegation also engaged in a variety of activities associated with the Annual Session, holding bilateral meetings with the delegations of Russia and Georgia focusing on their respective internal political developments and the tension in the Caucasus since Russia invaded Georgia last August and then sought to legitimize breakaway regions. Separate meetings were also held with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and other Lithuanian leaders, at which the delegation pressed for new laws to resolve outstanding claims of property seized during the Nazi and Communist eras. The delegation also presented President Adamkus a letter from President Barack Obama on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the first written reference to Lithuania. Members of the U.S. delegation attended a working lunch to discuss gender issues, hosted by Swedish parliamentarian Tingsgaard. A variety of social events, including a reception hosted by the British delegation at their embassy, afforded numerous informal opportunities to discuss issues of common concern. U.S. Leadership As a demonstration of active U.S. engagement, a Member of the U.S. Congress has always held some elected or appointed leadership role in the OSCE PA. The Vilnius Annual Session has allowed this to continue at least through July 2012. Chairman Cardin was reelected to a three-year term as one of nine Vice Presidents, a very welcome development given his long record of OSCE engagement going back to his years in the House of Representatives. Rep. Aderholt, who has attended every OSCE PA Annual Session since 2002 and often visits European countries to press human rights issues, was elected Vice Chair of the third General Committee, which handles democracy and human rights. President Soares was reelected for a second term and selected Rep. Smith to serve as a Special Representative on Human Trafficking and asked Co-Chairman Hastings to continue serving as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs. An unfortunate development in the election of new officers is the absence of a representative of the Russian Federation. Because the United States government may disagree so substantively with current Kremlin policies, the U.S. government has always felt it critical to welcome Russian engagement in the OSCE PA. It was, therefore, a disappointment that the head of the Russian Federation delegation, Alexander Kozlovsky, reversed course and decided not to run for a Vice Presidency seat and more disappointing that a political bloc at the OSCE PA defeated Russian incumbent Natalia Karpovich as rapporteur of the Third Committee. Karpovich had been accommodating of U.S. human rights initiatives in her draft resolution. Vilnius Declaration Participants at the closing plenary session adopted the final Vilnius Declaration -- a lengthy document which reflects the initiatives and input of the U.S. delegation. Among other things, the declaration calls for strengthening the OSCE in order to enhance its legitimacy and political relevance; addresses conventional arms control, disarmament and other security-related issues of current concern in Europe; calls for greater cooperation in the energy sector and better protection of the environment; and stresses the continued importance of democratic development and respect for human rights, especially as they relate to tolerance in society and freedom of expression. The most contentious part of the declaration related to the promotion of human rights and civil liberties twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which included language noting the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. While some of the language may have been provocative, strong Russian objections to the entire text appeared to be motivated by a desire to defend a Stalinist past and minimize its crimes. The Russian delegation’s effort to block passage of this resolution reflects a similar sentiment in Moscow that recently led to the creation of a widely-criticized commission "for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia's interests." As a July 9 column for The Economist noted about recent Russian efforts to excuse Stalinism, the “debate in Vilnius makes it a bit harder to maintain that stance.” Some of Russia’s traditional friends and allies in the OSCE PA were noticeably absent from the debate. The Balkans While the Congressional delegation’s work focused heavily on representing the United States at the OSCE PA, the trip afforded an opportunity to advance U.S. interests elsewhere in Europe. While Co-Chairman Hastings traveled to Albania to observe that country’s first parliamentary elections since becoming a NATO member earlier this year, the rest of the delegation visited Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina is still recovering from the conflict in the 1990s and the associated horrors of the Srebrenica genocide and massive ethnic cleansing. The reverberations of the conflict continue to hinder prospects for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The United States was instrumental in bringing the Bosnian conflict to an end in 1995, especially with the negotiation of the Dayton Agreement, and the United States has invested considerable financial, diplomatic and military resources in the post-conflict period. The visit came one month after Vice President Joe Biden visited Sarajevo with a message of renewed U.S. engagement in the Balkans. While meetings with Bosnian political leaders revealed little willingness to work constructively toward constitutional reform needed for an effective central government, a meeting with English-speaking university students revealed a refreshing desire to overcome ethnic divisions and move the country forward. Belarus Given its proximity to Vilnius, members of the Congressional delegation visited Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to press for greater democracy and respect for human rights in that country. Belarus has remained a repressive state over the years even as its European neighbors have transitioned from being former Soviet or Warsaw Pact states to EU and NATO members or aspirants. Following a delegation meeting with President Alexander Lukashenka, Belarusian authorities released imprisoned American Emanuel Zeltzer, who was convicted of espionage in a closed trial and had numerous health concerns. The delegation also urged for greater progress in meeting the conditions in the Belarus Democracy Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2004 and reauthorized in 2006. A meeting with political activists provided useful information on the situation for political opposition, non-governmental organizations and independent media. Finally, the delegation pressed Belarus’ officials to allow for an increased U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. In response to expanding U.S. sanctions, Minsk kicked out 30 diplomats last year, including the U.S. ambassador, leaving a staff of five at the U.S. Embassy. During the course of the Vilnius Annual Session, Senator Voinovich also broke away for a brief visit to Riga, Latvia. That visit was among the highest level visits from a U.S. official in three years, and was important for our relations with this NATO ally, which has deployed troops with Americans in Afghanistan without caveat and recently suffered losses which easily impact such a small country. U.S. interests abroad are advanced through active congressional participation in the OSCE PA. The 19th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held early next July in Oslo, Norway.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Condemn Violence Against Roma

    Bipartisan Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today voiced strong concerns for growing violence against the Roma – Europe’s largest ethnic minority group. At a briefing examining the growing prejudice against Roma in Europe and subsequent acts of violence against Roma across Europe, Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) expressed concern for the treatment of Roma, who have been victimized in their own homes – from the killing of elderly to young children burned by fire bombs. “Governments must act with a sense of urgency in combating the pernicious racism that has contributed to the social, economic, and political marginalization of Roma, resulting in the gruesome and deadly attacks on Roma in recent months,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “But beyond the violence, the continual dislocation of Roma most recently from their historic home in Sulukule, outside Istanbul, Turkey, shows a disregard for minorities and further sends a signal of exclusion. I call on all European countries to reverse this troubling trend.” Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) added: “In the wake of the recent European Parliamentary elections, we are seeing growth of political parties who espouse anti-immigration, anti-minority, and anti-Semitic policies. I urge governments across Europe to respect Roma human rights. They should fully integrate the continent’s largest ethnic minority group, do away with segregated schooling, and when crimes are committed, thoroughly investigate and hold criminals accountable for their acts of hate.” Helsinki Commissioner Congressman Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) added: “Some people have compared the firebombing and other attacks on Roma in the Czech Republic and Hungary to the sniper attacks that took place in the area a few years ago. For Roma, who are the singular targets in this case, we can only imagine the fear that grips those communities. I urge the Czech and Hungarian Governments to do everything possible to bring the perpetrators of those attacks to justice and to ensure that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

  • Co-Chairman Hastings Chairs Meeting in Israel on Countering Discrimination in the Mediterranean Region; Meets with Prime Minister Olmert

    By Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel During two days in December 2007 a unique meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) occurred in Tel Aviv, Israel. For only the second time in eleven years, Israel was chosen by the OSCE participating States to host the annual Mediterranean Seminar -- a meeting designed to encourage dialogue about, and strategies for, improved cooperation between the OSCE participating States and their Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation -- Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. As Special Representative for Mediterranean Affairs of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Co-Chairman Hastings had worked tirelessly to bring the Partners together in Israel for their annual seminar. Unfortunately, official participation by the Partner States was limited, with only Jordan and Egypt sending representatives to the plenary sessions. However, more than seventy delegates from thirty-five countries attended the seminar and robust participation by NGOs from both sides of the Mediterranean yielded spirited discussion and specific recommendations for future OSCE efforts to combat discrimination. Prior to joining the seminar, the Co-Chairman traveled to Jerusalem for a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The two discussed prospects for negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the Annapolis conference, as well as continued threats to Israel’s security including Iran’s ongoing nuclear program. Co-Chairman Hastings also met with Jordanian Ambassador to Israel, Ali Al-Ayed, to discuss his country’s views on the security situation in the region as well as the impact of the massive displacement of Iraqi citizens, including more than a half million who have sought refuge in Jordan. More than 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, including 2 million who have fled to Syria, Jordan and other countries in the region. This is the largest population displacement in the Middle East since 1948. Co-Chairman Hastings has introduced legislation to address this growing humanitarian crisis which provides aid for Jordan and other countries in the region that are hosting Iraqi refugees. The Co-Chairman’s visit also included a briefing by Israel’s Director for relations with the United Nations and International Organizations and a tour of a newly constructed desalination facility in Ashkalon, the largest in the region. Desalination is a critical part of the social and economic infrastructure of the Middle East as it is in the Co-Chairman’s congressional district and the entire State of Florida. Under the broad theme “Combating Intolerance and Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding,” seminar participants examined such topics as the implementation of OSCE tolerance-related commitments in the participating States and the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation and lessons learned; promoting respect for cultural and religious diversity and facilitating dialogue; and countering discrimination in the OSCE and Partner states. In his opening remarks to the session on Countering Discrimination in the OSCE Participating States and the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, Co-Chairman Hastings pointed out that combating discrimination against individuals because of their race, religion, national origin or gender is a core principle of the Helsinki Process and is essential to stable, productive, democratic societies. “The reality,” said Hastings, “is that none of our societies is immune from the ignorance, indifference or outright hatred that fosters discrimination, intolerance, and ultimately destruction of every sort.” Co-Chairman Hastings noted that hate crimes had increased 8% in the U.S. during 2007 amidst the resurgence of the noose and swastika, unfair equation of Muslims and migrants with terrorism, violent attacks on gays, and the derogatory parodying of minority groups in the media and elsewhere in society. “Elsewhere in the OSCE, the situation is not any better,” he said. “A number of European countries have voted extremist political parties into office that openly espouse xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic views in the name of preserving national identity and security.” These scene-setting remarks were followed by presentations from a distinguished panel including Slovenian Ambassador, Mr. Stanislav Rascan, European Commission Ambaassador Mr. Lars Erik Lundin, Israeli lawyer Ms. Gali Etzion and Professor Gert Weisskirchen, a Member of the German Bundestag and Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating anti-Semitism. Their remarks, and the discussion that followed, focused on combating discrimination through legal measures, including legislative initiatives, as well as implementation by courts; education, in particular for young people; special challenges regarding discrimination against women, including religious laws; and the necessity of continuing dialogue between governments, parliaments and NGOs on ways and means to empower individual citizens. In his closing remarks, Co-Chairman Hastings strongly urged the participants to focus on implementation of anti-discrimination laws and regulations and promotion of civic programs that encourage tolerance. He pointed out that all of us as individuals, and in particular government officials, have an obligation to combat intolerance and discrimination, as well as promote mutual respect and understanding. Hastings also stated his intention to visit all Mediterranean Partner countries within a year in his capacity as Special Representative for Mediterranean Affairs of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. On May 16, 2008, Co-Chairman Hastings again traveled to Israel, accompanying Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and other senior Members of Congress to mark Israel’s 60th Anniversary. Co-Chairman Hastings and the delegation met with President Peres, Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Livni, as well as with the leaders of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities in Jerusalem. The Co-Chairman also accompanied Speaker Pelosi on a side trip to Baghdad where they met with Prime Minister Maliki and the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, the Council. December 2008 offered the opportunity for Co-Chairman Hastings to fulfill his promise to the OSCE Mediterranean Partners Seminar and again visit all the Mediterranean Partner countries. The Co-Chairman traveled to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Israel where he met with parliamentarians and senior government officials. Co-Chairman Hastings also met with Jordanian officials in Egypt and expressed his intention to visit Jordan to complete his tour of the region in 2009. For details of the Co-Chairman’s December 2008 visit, see “U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings Visits OSCE Mediterranean Partners to Advance Regional Cooperation,” Helsinki Commission Digest, Volume 40, Number 34.

  • Turkmenistan: Prospect for Change?

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine Turkmenistan’s parliamentary elections- the first such election since the regime changed. The hearing focused on whether the election might mark a turning point at all for Turkmenistan as well as whether Turkmenistan has made progress on Democratic reforms. Positive signs were reviewed, particularly on education, but also areas of concern, such as reports of Turkmen officials pressuring young men not to apply for study programs in the United States. The distinguished witnesses and Commissioners reviewed the reform process and the significant advancements since the death of longtime President, Berdimuhamedov. In regards to areas of further reform and advancement, the hearing addressed measures in which the U.S. and the OSCE should respond to better the human rights condition in Turkmenistan.

  • OSCE 101: Briefing for Civil Society

    Please join the U.S. Helsinki Commission for OSCE 101: BRIEFING FOR CIVIL SOCIETY Thursday, September 4, 2008  10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.  Rayburn House Office Building  B318 For those in need of a refresher course and those interested in becoming involved. Learn about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Role of Civil Society For those planning to travel to Warsaw, Poland, remember to register to participate in the OSCE’s Annual Human Rights Meeting: What: Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) When: September 29 – October 10, 2008 Where: Warsaw, Poland Why: Annual 2-week human rights conference What is the HDIM? The term "human dimension" describes the set of norms and activities related to human rights, the rule of law, and democracy that are regarded within the OSCE as one of the three pillars of its comprehensive security concept, along with the politico-military and the economic and environmental dimensions. Every year in Warsaw, the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) organizes a two-week conference, the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The HDIM is a forum where OSCE participating States discuss the implementation of human dimension commitments that were adopted by consensus at prior OSCE Summits or Ministerial Meetings. These commitments are not legally binding norms; instead, they are politically binding - a political promise to comply with the standards elaborated in OSCE documents. Follow-up meetings to review the implementation of the commitments are based on the principle that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned. A comprehensive, 2-volume compilation of the OSCE human dimension commitments (available in English and in Russian) can be ordered free of charge through the ODIHR website: Volume 1: Thematic Compilation and Volume 2: Chronological Compilation.

  • Human Rights, Civil Society, and Democratic Governance in Russia: Current Situation and Prospects for the Future

    This hearing, chaired by Helsinki Commission Chairman Hon. Sam Brownback and Ranking Member the Hon. Benjamin Cardin, focused on the tumoltuous developement of human right in Russia. For the past few years, a series of events in Russia has given cause for concern about the fate of human rights, civil society, and democratic governance in that country. Of particular concern is the recent promulgation of a law establishing greater governmental control over NGOs and an attempt by the Russian secret services to link prominent Russian NGOs with foreign intelligence services. Newsweek International wrote in its February 6, 2006 issue: “The Russian secret service is acting more and more like the old KGB.” At the same time, the Russian Federation accedes this year to the chairmanship of the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8), and will chair the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers beginning in May 2006.  

  • Human Rights and Democracy in Belarus off to a Discouraging Start in the New Year

    Madam Speaker, last month, I chaired a Helsinki Commission briefing with a delegation of leading political opposition figures and democratic activists from Belarus. The briefing was entitled, ``The Future Belarus: Democracy or Dictatorship'' and focused on the prospects for change in a country located in the heart of Europe that has Europe's worst track record with respect to human rights and democracy. Unfortunately, developments since the delegation's visit to Washington have been deeply discouraging and do not bode well for Belarus' democratic future. One of the young people who testified at the briefing, 19-year-old Zmitser Fedaruk, spoke eloquently of the dangers that young human rights activists face in Belarus. His words were prophetic, as a few days later, back in Belarus, he was beaten and knocked unconscious by riot policemen, then rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Just last week, the Minsk district prosecutor's office in Minsk refused to open an investigation into Zmitser's beating. A day earlier, my friend Anatoly Lebedka, one of Belarus' staunchest defenders of democratic rights, who also testified before the Commission, was roughed up by Belarusian police as well. It was far from the first time that this leader of the democratic opposition had been beaten up or repressed by the Lukashenka regime. On January 4, the Lukashenka regime banned Anatoly from travelling abroad in what was obviously a politically-motivated decision. Today, Anatoly is in jail serving a 15-day sentence, along with several dozen other pro-democracy and small business advocates who participated in a January 10 protest against restrictions on activities of small businesses. Some of the activists--mostly young people--received injuries during their arrest. Tatyana Tsishkevch, who was severely beaten during her arrest and presented her bloodstained jacket in court, received a 20-day sentence. Arsien Pakhomau, a freelance photo correspondent for ``Nasha Niva'' weekly--one of the very few remaining independent publications in Belarus--was also sentenced to 15 days' administrative arrest. On the day of the protest, a number of websites that cover social and economic affairs in Belarus, such as Charter '97 and Radio Liberty, were partially or fully blocked by the authorities. These most recent repressive actions follow the sentencing of opposition activist Artur Finkevich to 18 months in prison; the arbitrary use of judicial power to put out of business independent newspapers such as ``Novi Chas''; steps to liquidate the opposition Belarusian Communist Party; and the fining of Baptist pastor Yuri Kravchuk for unregistered religious activity. Belarus is the only country in Europe with compulsory registration before religious activity can take place. Unfortunately, the indications in just the first few weeks of this New Year are not encouraging. Lukashenka's presidential administration has recently rejected the opposition's proposal to hold talks on the upcoming 2008 parliamentary elections, refusing an offer by the Belarusian opposition to consider joint proposals on conducting parliamentary elections in accordance with democratic standards. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and as someone who has long been involved in the OSCE process to promote security, cooperation, democracy and human rights among the 56 OSCE countries, including Belarus, I am deeply disappointed in the Belarusian Government's continual flaunting of freely undertaken OSCE commitments. It is my strong hope that Mr. Lukashenka will cease the self-imposed isolation of his country--threatening, most recently, to expel U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart--and will give serious thought to the offers of cooperation that have come from the United States and the European Union if Belarus releases political prisoners and displays respect for basic democratic norms. In the meantime, the Lukashenka regime can be assured that my colleagues and I on the Helsinki Commission are determined to stand by Anatoly Lebedka, Dzmitri Fedaruk and all those in Belarus--young and old--bravely struggling for freedom, democracy and respect for human rights.

  • Hastings Lauds International Tracing Service on Ratifying Holocaust Archives Agreement

    WASHINGTON - Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), introduced a resolution expressing gratitude to all of the member states of the International Commission of the International Tracing Service (ITS) for ratifying the May 2006 Agreement to amend the 1955 Bonn Accords granting open access to vast Holocaust and other World War II related archives located in Bad Arolsen, Germany. Chairman Hastings was joined by Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Mark S. Kirk (R-IL), in introducing the resolution. The opening of the archives is an historical moment that will allow public access to approximately 50 million records on the fates of some 17.5 million individual victims of Nazi brutality. Digital copies of the millions of documents are already being transferred to receiving institutions that include the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel, and will be made available to survivors and scholars beginning in early 2008. “The opening of the Holocaust archives in Bad Arolsen is quite a momentous occasion. It saddens me to think that it has taken more than 62 years to open the largest remaining Holocaust archive in the world. Clearly, it should never have taken so long. “This has been a long path, which I have travelled with my friends and colleagues Robert Wexler, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mark Kirk and others, but nonetheless it brings me great joy to know that Holocaust survivors and researchers alike will be able to view these tremendously important documents and hopefully find closure on one of the darkest moments in history,” said Hastings.  

  • Human Rights Defenders in Russia

    Commission Chairman Hon. Alcee L. Hastings hosted a briefing that focused on the efforts by Russian NGOs, human rights activists and legal experts to halt the retreat in the area of human rights and civil liberties that has taken place in Russia under the current government. Participants at the briefing included Ms. Karinna Moskalenko, a prominent Russian human rights attorney and head of the Russian Affiliate, Center of Assistance to International Protection; Mr. Neil Hicks, Director, Human Rights Defenders Program, Human Rights First; and Ms. Maureen Greenwood-Basken, Advocacy Director for Europe and Central Asia, Amnesty International USA. They spoke of their personal experiences dealing with this issue and acknowledge that although it is difficult, activists must keep pushing back to retain their political freedoms. 

  • Sustaining the Fight: Combating Anti-Semitism and Other Forms of Intolerance within the OSCE

    By Mischa Thompson, PhD, Staff Advisor, Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law, and Ron McNamara, International Policy Director The OSCE Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding, held in Bucharest, Romania was the much anticipated follow-up to the 2005 OSCE Cordoba Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance. A goal of the Bucharest Conference was to continue to provide high level political attention to the efforts of participating States and the OSCE to ensure effective implementation of existing commitments in the fields of tolerance and non-discrimination and freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. In addition to Cordoba, prior conferences took place in 2003, in Vienna, and in 2004, in Berlin, Paris and Brussels. The conference was preceded by a one-day Civil Society Preparatory Meeting in which the three Personal Representatives to the Chair-in-Office on tolerance issues participated and NGOs prepared recommendations to the Conference. Official delegations from the OSCE countries took part in the conference, including participation from the U.S. Congress. Representative Alcee Hastings, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), participated as head of the Official OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation in his role as President Emeritus of the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). Representative Eric Cantor served as Chair and Ranking Republican Member of the Commission, Christopher H. Smith served as Vice-Chair of the U.S. delegation. (Delegation listed below.) The conference was divided into two parts, with the first part focusing on specific forms of intolerance and discrimination and the second part devoted to cross-cutting issues. Side events on various topics ranging from right-wing extremism to forced evictions of Roma were also held during the conference. Romanian President Traian Basescu opened the conference addressing tolerance concerns in his country. Romania's desire to host this conference -- assuming a considerable organizational burden and drain on Foreign Ministry resources -- reflected the government's recognition of the importance of these issues and a desire to play a leadership role in addressing them. However, in advance of the meeting, several developments underscored the extent to which Romanian society still struggles to combat anti-Semitism and racism. First, in December 2006, a Romanian court partially rehabilitated the reputation of Romania's World War II leader, Ion Antonescu, who had been executed after the war for a variety of crimes including war crimes. Second, right up to the start of the meeting, government leaders struggled to find a way to withdraw a national honor (the Star of Romania) that had been awarded to Corneliu Vadim Tudor, a notorious extremist, by President Ion Iliescu in 2004. (Although a mechanism was found to withdraw that award prior to the OSCE conference, after the conference a court suspended the withdrawal of the award.) Third, during a Romanian Senate confirmation hearing in April for Romania's Ambassador to Israel, nominee Edward Iosiper was subjected by some members of the Senate to a degrading inquiry regarding his Jewish heritage. Finally, only weeks before the conference started, President Basescu made unguarded comments -- unaware that they were being recorded -- in which he called a Romanian journalist an "aggressive stinking Gypsy." Like developments in many countries, these events served to underscore the continuing challenges that OSCE participating States face in promoting tolerance and combating anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of bigotry. President Basescu opened the conference linking the importance of tolerance to democratic development and the need for his country to improve its efforts to combat anti-Semitism and discrimination, especially against Roma. His remarks were followed by a speech from a Romanian civil society group - Executive Director of Romani CRISS, Magda Matache – underscoring the unique opportunity the OSCE accords NGOs at some OSCE meetings to have equal footing with governments. Ms. Matache addressed the need for the Romanian Government to better address the discrimination directed towards its Romani population (the largest in Europe) and called upon government officials to set an example, making reference to the negative comments the President made prior to the conference. Following the conference opening, Chairman Hastings, representing the OSCE PA, delivered remarks at the opening plenary session. He highlighted the OSCE PA’s role in instituting the tolerance agenda within the OSCE in response to a spike in anti-Semitic acts in Europe in 2002. He also urged the OSCE to sustain its work in combating all forms of intolerance and addressed the plight of Roma, making special note of his recent visit to Roma camps in northern Kosovo. Rep. Cantor also delivered remarks on the need to sustain efforts to combat anti-Semitism. As in previous years, a major focus of the conference was on anti-Semitism with the first plenary session being dedicated to the issue. Many OSCE participating States reiterated their concerns about the continued presence of anti-Semitism throughout the OSCE region and the need to maintain the fight. States detailed the specific legal, educational, and cultural tools they were employing to counter anti-Semitism, such as Holocaust education in the schools. In the session on discrimination against Muslims, many of the same measures designed to address anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance were being called for to combat intolerance issues in the Muslim community. In particular, the need for data collection, education, and increased civil society work were highlighted. Religious discrimination issues concentrated mainly in Eastern Europe included government enforced laws requiring registration of religious groups, increased taxes, property disputes, and other harassing behaviors. The rights of ‘non-believers’ were also raised. Race and xenophobia issues focused on the increase in physical attacks on racial minorities in both Eastern and Western Europe. Of note, religious issues raised were often acts of discrimination as opposed to hate crimes, and perpetrated by state actors through government enforced laws, which underscored some participants’ calls for religious issues to be viewed and treated as a fundamental right. Chairman Hastings served as introducer for the fourth session on data collection, law enforcement, and legislative initiatives to combat intolerance within the OSCE. Hastings detailed his personal experiences as an African-American during the U.S. civil rights era that spawned anti-discrimination, hate crimes legislation, and other initiatives. Citing statistics on U.S. anti-Semitic incidents, he noted the need for sustained global engagement on anti-Semitism issues, in addition to continued U.S. support for issues affecting Roma, Muslim communities, and the work of the three Personal Representatives on tolerance issues. Speaking during the closing session, Representative Smith praised the OSCE’s work on Holocaust education and reiterated the need for a focus on anti-Semitism. The Conference ended with a declaration drafted by the Spanish Chair-in-Office noting the continued presence of all forms of intolerance in the OSCE region and the need to continue efforts to combat them. Generally, the multitude of issues on the agenda of the Bucharest Conference, coupled with scheduling difficulties, left little time to focus on solutions or implementation, despite the many efforts Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Parliamentary Assembly, and participating States had demonstrated in attempting to identify and address tolerance issues. Thus, the larger question of whether sustained engagement on tolerance issues within the OSCE would continue remained unanswered, as the conference did not provide answers to the following three questions: Whether the current mandates for the three personal representatives with their three distinct portfolios would be extended by the incoming 2008 Finnish chairmanship? What form future follow-up, including the possible location of future conferences and other initiatives on tolerance-related matters would take? How to sustain a focus on anti-Semitism, while addressing emerging concerns around discrimination towards Muslims and other religions, and increases in racism and xenophobia? While it is clear that further consideration must be given as to how best to continue addressing tolerance issues within the OSCE, it is also important to note that much has been accomplished since the OSCE began its intensified efforts in the tolerance arena only five years ago. Some examples include that ODIHR has: developed guidelines for Holocaust memorial days and anti-Semitism and diversity education materials; launched a website dedicated to providing country reports on statistics, data collection, and anti-discrimination legislation (TANDIS http://tandis.odihr.pl/); and drafted annual reports on hate crimes in the OSCE. Within the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, resolutions on tolerance, such as the one introduced by CSCE Commission Co-Chair Senator Ben Cardin this year, have been adopted five consecutive years in a row. Thus, despite the growing pains experienced during the conference, in part due to scheduling and logistics issues, a cautionary note must be sounded. Past efforts, including the role of parliamentarians in supporting these issues, should not go unnoticed and should be continued. However, this does not mean that improvements cannot be made. In particular, the role of conference organization in terms of scheduling and location of sessions and side events can play in developing perceptions around the importance of an issue should not be overlooked. A greater focus on the planning stages is a necessity for future tolerance events. Further consideration should be given for ways to increase collaborations and support for combating all forms of intolerance by participating States and civil society to prevent perceptions that some forms of intolerance take precedence over others, as it takes focus and energies away from the actual goal of combating intolerance. Delegations should give greater thought to diversity and how members of their delegation can address the various sessions of conferences as well as side and other meetings. The U.S., in particular, has the ability to provide a leadership role in this regard given the diversity of our population and histories in addressing tolerance issues. Topics further exploring the benefits of diversity and means to communicate them to a larger populace must be included. Consideration for whether religious issues should be separated from racism and xenophobia issues at future events should be given. Lastly, a greater focus on implementation is needed to parallel or supplement the substantial conference activity on tolerance issues. U.S. DELEGATION (All delegates named by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and approved by the White House): Head of U.S. Delegation, Congressman Eric Cantor U.S. Delegation Vice-Chair, Congressman Christopher H. Smith Ambassador Julie Finley, U.S. Mission to the OSCE Gregg Rickman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism J. Christian Kennedy, U.S. Special Envoy on Holocaust Issues Jeremy Katz, Special Assistant to the President for Policy and White House Liaison to the Jewish Community Imam Talal Eid, Islamic Institute of Boston & U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Director, Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations Dr. Richard Land, President, Southern Baptist Ethics & U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, Emory University   U.S. ADVISORS TO THE U.S. DELEGATION (All advisors named by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and approved by the White House): Rabbi Andrew Baker, American Jewish Committee Stacy Burdett, Anti-Defamation League Dan Mariaschin, B'nai Brith Mark Weitzman, Simon Wiesenthal Center Radu Ionid, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Paul Shapiro, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Lesley Weiss, National Conference on Soviet Jewry Catherine Cosman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Joseph Grieboski, Institute Of Religion and Public Policy Paul LeGendre, Human Rights First Angela Wu, Becket Fund

  • Remembering the 50th Anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising

    Mr. Chairman, this past October, Hungary celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising. As President Bush said in his October 18 Presidential Proclamation, “the story of Hungarian democracy represents the triumph of liberty over tyranny.” Like the President, I honor the men and women who struggled – not only in 1956 but for many years thereafter – for democracy in Hungary.  The following remarks were made by Istvan Gereben, a man who came to this country after the 1956 revolution, but who never forgot his homeland. They were delivered by Mr. Gereben in San Francisco on October 22, 2006, at the “Remember Hungary 1956” Commemoration, at the California State Building. REVOLUTION, REBIRTH, FREEDOM:  HUNGARY 1956 From the shadows of blood, iron bars, gallows and simple wooden crosses we step today into the sunshine of remembrance, hope, duty and responsibility. During the past sixteen years the ideas, guiding principles, heroes and martyrs of 1956 gained amends. The moral and political legacy of the Hungarian Revolution, however, still, even today, is misunderstood, misrepresented and waiting to be fully appreciated.  We remember…our friends, the “Kids of Pest”, the colleagues, the relatives, the familiar strangers. The brave Hungarians. Let’s remember the dead here, thousands of miles away from their graves but close to their soul, grieving woefully, but full with hope. We pray for those who in their defeat became triumphant. “For what they have done has been to expose the brutal hypocrisy of Communism for all mankind” –declared Archibald McLeish in the Special Report of Life Magazine in 1957.  Why did it happen?  The best answer can be found in Sandor Marai’s poem: “Christmas 1956." Angel from Heaven.”  The whole world is talking about the miracle.  Priests talk about bravery in their sermons.  A politician says the case is closed.  The Pope blesses the Hungarian people.  And each group, each class, everybody  Asks why it happened this way.  Why didn’t they die out as expected?  Why didn’t they meekly accept their fate?  Why was the sky torn apart?  Because a people said, “Enough!”  They who were born free do not understand,  They do not understand that  “Freedom is so important, so important!”  The fight waged by Hungarians in 1956 was inspired by a burning desire for freedom of the individual and the nation, by want for national independence, by thirst for full national and individual sovereignty and by hunger for inner democracy. This Revolution against the Soviet occupiers was a defining moment in Hungarian history and in the nation’s political culture. 1956 was one of the most powerful nail driven into the coffin of an evil and fraudulent tyranny.  Then and continuously since we witness the expression of praise, admiration of and support for the aims of this miracle that is called the Hungarian Revolution.  Let’s refresh our memory with some of the more striking observations by our friends here in America and elsewhere in the World:  President John F. Kennedy:  “October 23, 1956 is a day that will forever live in the annals of free men and free nations. It was a day of courage, conscience and triumph. No other day since history began has shown more clearly the eternal unquenchability of man’s desire to be free, whatever the odds against success, whatever the sacrifice required”  (Statement, October 23, 1960)  President Ronald Reagan:  “The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a true revolution of, by and for the people. Its motivations were humanity’s universal longings to live, worship, and work in peace and to determine one’s own destiny. The Hungarian Revolution forever gave the lie to communism’s claim to represent the people, and told the world that brave hearts still exist to challenge injustice”  (Excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation issued on October 20, 1986.)  President George W. Bush:  “On the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, we celebrate the Hungarians who defied an empire to demand their liberty; we recognize the friendship between the United States and Hungary; and we reaffirm our shared desire to spread freedom to people around the world.”  (Excerpt from the Presidential Proclamation issued on October 18, 2006.)  Milovan Djilas:  “The changes in Poland mean the triumph of national Communism, which in a different form we have seen in Yugoslavia. The Hungarian uprising is something more, a new phenomenon, perhaps no less meaningful than the French or Russian Revolutions…The revolution in Hungary means the beginning of the end of Communism.”  (Excerpt from: “The Storm in Eastern Europe,” “The New Leader,” No. 19, 1956)  The New York Times:  “We accuse the Soviet Government of murder. We accuse it of the foulest treachery and the basest deceit known to man. We accuse it of having committed so monstrous crime against the Hungarian people yesterday that its infamy can never be forgiven or forgotten.”  (In an editorial in the paper’s November 1956 issue.)  I could continue with Statements made by Albert Camus, President Richard Nixon, Sir Leslie Munroe, Henry Kissinger, Leo Chern, Pablo Picasso, Nehru and I could read hundreds and hundreds of pages from the Congressional Record listing the praising remarks of hundreds and hundreds lawmakers uttered in the past 50 years. All the words were saved for posterity, everyone can find and savor them.  October 23, 1956 happened when two powerful ideas – tyrannical communism and the eternal human principles of democracy – met and clashed in the middle of Europe, in the small and defenseless Hungary. In this inherently uneven conflict blood was shed and lives were lost. Imre Nagy and his colleagues were arrested, tried and most of them along with countless Freedom Fighters were executed on June 16, 1958.  Since their death, the political and human challenge has been to find the rationale for their supreme sacrifice. This rationale is the indestructible dignity of every human being. By refusing to beg for his life, Imre Nagy repudiated his personal past for a more hopeful future of Hungary and the world at large.  The significance of his and countless other Hungarians’ sacrifice is etched onto the political map of the 21st century. The invented hope of the Hungarian Revolution is taking shape in the recent developments throughout the world. That is the real miracle of the events of 1956 and the subsequent human sacrifices of Imre Nagy and his fellow Freedom Fighters.  The Revolution was brutally and unavoidably defeated.  Why was the fate of the Revolution predetermined? Why did it happen so that when we in the last days of October and the early days of November in 1956 enthusiastically and full with hope sensing victory strolled the streets of Budapest and the cities and villages of Hungary not suspecting that our fate, independently from us, already has been determined. The deadly sentence was delivered by the powers of the world? And if it is so why was the verdict such as it was?  Even after 50 years there is still no answer.  The questions are not new. The lack of answer frustrated many historians, political scientists but none had the determination, the skill, the objectivity and patience to provide an authentic answer.  Robert Murphy, who, in the absence of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles from Washington, attended to the day to day business of the State Department during the Hungarian Revolution, summarized his frustration caused by not being able to find a satisfactory answer to Hungary’s demands in his autobiography, Diplomat Among Warriors, published in 1964 this way:  “In retrospect, world acceptance of the Russian aggression in Hungary is still incredible. For sheer perfidy and relentless suppression of a courageous people longing for their liberty, Hungary will always remain a classic symbol. Perhaps history will demonstrate that the free world could have intervened to give the Hungarians the liberty they sought, but none of us in the State department had the skill or the imagination to devise a way.”  This answer seems to be the most honest one.  Hungarians have fallen back in the Soviet yoke. But the nation persevered.  There are times when remembrance is the bravest action – declared Gyula Illyes the eminent Hungarian poet in the middle of the twentieth century. Today such times are present in Hungary. The time for bravery to remain faithful to the moral and political maxims of the Revolution. Bravery witnessed not against the tanks, soldiers and henchmen of the occupying empire, bravery not contesting a strange, inhuman ideology, but courage to face insensitivity, to confront and solve the problems of humdrum everyday life, the bravery necessary to assume the responsibility and sacrifice of building a truly modern country, which is democratic, committed to observe the rule of law and governed by the constitution. At the present this kind of bravery does not uniformly characterize all Hungarians.  Hungary was redeemed 35 years after the defeated Revolution. During that 35 years her plight to fulfill the demands of 1956 gained respect and support in the West. The courage, the intelligence, the determination and the skill of the Hungarian Democratic Opposition to engage a first bloodthirsty, later sophisticated dictatorship resulted in recognition of the opposition’s leaders as authoritative spokesman for the fulfillment of the desires of the Hungarian people. They were inspired by the spirit of the Revolution and adopted its maxims.  In the United States Presidents and ordinary citizens lined up in support behind the Democratic Opposition. The United States by publicly expressing support in words and in action provided protection for individuals and the whole community of the dissidents.  The U.S. Government published English translations of selected samizdat literature produced by opposition activists. Many volumes each with hundreds of pages of these were printed and distributed in the 70s and the 80s. A collection of these is deposited in the National Szechenyi Library in Budapest.  Information provided by the dissidents were used by the Hungarian Freedom Fighters Federation U.S.A. and the Coordinating Committee of Hungarian Organizations in North America in their countless testimonies before Congress, the U.S Commission on Security and Cooperation, and in numerous briefings presented in the White House and in the State and Defense Departments.  A longstanding issue between the Hungarian Communist Government and the Opposition, Hungarians abroad and more significantly the United States Government was the unwillingness of the Communist Government to identify the secret location of the graves in which the executed Freedom Fighters were buried. A campaign covering several decades by U.S. Presidents, Congressman, the Commission on Security and Cooperation, hundreds of leading public figures and civic organizations culminated in a letter sent on June 20, 1988, by Congressman Frank Horton, along with forty-three other Representatives urging Prime Minister Karoly Grosz of Hungary to comply with the many requests filed with the Hungarian Government in the past and allow the family members of the executed to have access to the body of their relatives. Responding in letter dated July 18, 1988 the Prime Minister wrote:  “My Government has the intention to settle this problem in a humane spirit in the near future, enabling the families to rebury the dead and to pay their tribute at the graves.”  The public ceremony of the reburial took place on June 16, 1989 in the presence of 200,000 grieving Hungarians. With this act the road opened to free parliamentary and local elections in 1990 and the formation of a free Government.  The demands of the Hungarian people were fulfilled. The building of a constitutional parliamentary democracy is under way.  In these days worrisome news comes from Hungary indicating that the road is not smooth. The diamond of twentieth century Hungarian history that was formed in 1956 under the stresses of the circumstances and in the fire burning in every Hungarian’s heart is being tested today in Hungary. False prophets, eager mouths, zealous hands driven by dark emotions attempt to pulverize this gem into powder of coal and then burn it into ashes and dross. They will not succeed. History and we will not let them to succeed.  On this 50th Anniversary when we remember and pay tribute to the ideals and heroes of 1956, we also affirm our deeply felt conviction that lasting freedom and democracy will not take hold in Hungary unless the precepts of the Revolution regarding resolute unity, sacrifice, human and political wisdom are practically and fully implemented. We call upon those who are responsible for Hungary’s welfare to heed to the principles for which so many died in 1956 and to whose memory we pay tribute today.  We pray that it will be so! Lord Hear our prayer… God bless Hungary…Isten aldd meg a magyart!   

  • Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006

    Mr. Speaker, I strongly urge passage of H.R. 5948, the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006, to provide sustained support for the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. Mr. Speaker, I especially thank you for your commitment to bring this legislation before this Congress. Your deep personal interest in the cause of freedom in Belarus, as demonstrated by your recent meetings in Vilnius with the leaders of the democratic opposition, has been particularly appreciated by those struggling for the rule of law and basic human freedoms. This legislation enjoys bipartisan support, and I want to recognize and thank the tremendous collaboration of Rep. Tom Lantos, an original cosponsor of this bill.  As one who has followed developments in Belarus over many years through my work on the Helsinki Commission, I remain deeply concerned that the Belarusian people continue to be subjected to the arbitrary and self-serving whims of a corrupt and anti-democratic regime headed by Aleksandr Lukashenka. Since the blatantly fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, which the OSCE condemned as having failed to meet international democratic standards, the pattern of repression and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. While those who would dare oppose the regime are especially targeted, the reality is that all in Belarus outside Lukashenka’s inner circle pay a price. Recent news regarding Lukashenka’s regime Last week in Riga, President Bush pledged to help the people of Belarus in the face of the "cruel regime" led by President Lukashenka. "The existence of such oppression in our midst offends the conscience of Europe and the conscience of America," Bush said, adding that "we have a message for the people of Belarus: the vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace includes you, and we stand with you in your struggle for freedom." Mr. Speaker, this legislation would be a concrete expression of Congress’ commitment to the Belarusian people and would show that we stand as one in supporting freedom for Belarus. Just within the last few months, we have witnessed a series of patently political trials designed to further stifle peaceful, democratic opposition. In October, 60-year-old human rights activist Katerina Sadouskaya was sentenced to two years in a penal colony. Her “crime”? “Insulting the honor and dignity of the Belarusian leader.” Mr. Speaker, if this isn’t reminiscent of the Soviet Union, I don’t know what is. And just a few weeks ago, in a closed trial, Belarusian youth activist Zmitser Dashkevich received a one-and-a-half year sentence for “activities on behalf of an unregistered organization.”  A report mandated by the Belarus Democracy Act and finally issued this past March reveals Lukashenka’s links with rogue regimes such as Iran, Sudan and Syria, and his cronies’ corrupt activities. According to an October 9, 2006, International Herald Tribune op-ed: “Alarmingly, over the last six years, Belarus has intensified its illegal arms shipment activities to the point of becoming the leading supplier of lethal military equipment to Islamic state sponsors of terrorism.” I guess we shouldn’t be all that surprised that in July, Lukashenka warmly welcomed to Minsk Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. In keeping with their bent, both pledged cooperation and denounced the West. More recently, Belarusian Foreign Minister Martynov traveled to Iran where President Ahmadinejad pledged further cooperation in the energy and defense industries. Not long ago, a member of Belarus’ bogus parliament asserted on state-controlled radio that Belarus has the right to develop its own nuclear weapons. Mr. Speaker and Colleagues, Belarus is truly an anomaly in Europe, swimming against the rising tide of greater freedom, democracy and economic prosperity.  The Legislation  Three years ago, I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act which passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Bush in October 2004. At that time, the situation in Belarus with respect to democracy and human rights was already abysmal. The need for a sustained U.S. commitment to foster democracy and respect for human rights and to sanction Aleksandr Lukashenka and his cronies is clear from the intensified anti-democratic policies pursued by the current leadership in Minsk. Mr. Speaker, I am pleased that countries throughout Europe have joined in a truly trans-Atlantic effort to bring the promise of freedom to the beleaguered people of Belarus. Prompt passage of the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help maintain this momentum aimed at upholding the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people. With the continuing decline on the ground in Belarus since the fraudulent March elections, this bill is needed now more than ever.  This reauthorization bill demonstrates the sustained U.S. support for Belarus’ independence. We seek to encourage those struggling for democracy and respect for human rights in the face of the formidable pressures and personal risks from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes such sums as may be necessary in assistance for each of fiscal years 2007 and 2008 for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, including youth groups, independent trade unions and entrepreneurs, human rights defenders, independent media, democratic political parties, and international exchanges.  The bill further authorizes monies for both radio and television broadcasting to the people of Belarus. While I am encouraged by the recent U.S. and EU initiatives with respect to radio broadcasting, much more needs to be done to penetrate Lukashenka’s stifling information blockade. Mr. Speaker, I hope that the Administration will make this a priority.  In addition, H.R. 5948 calls for selective sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and the denial of entry into the United States for senior officials of the regime – as well as those engaged in human rights and electoral abuses. In this context, I welcome the punitive sanctions imposed by both the Administration and the EU which are targeted against officials – including judges and prosecutors – involved in electoral fraud and other human rights abuses.  The bill expresses the sense of the Congress that strategic exports to the Government of Belarus should be prohibited, except for those intended for democracy building or humanitarian purposes, as well as U.S. Government financing and other foreign assistance. Of course, we would not want the exports to affect humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions are encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs. Furthermore, we would encourage the blocking of the assets (in the United States) of members of the Belarus Government as well as the senior leadership and their surrogates. To this end, I welcome the Treasury Department’s April 10 advisory to U.S. financial institutions to guard against potential money laundering by Lukashenka and his cronies and strongly applaud President Bush’s June 19 “Executive Order Blocking Property of Certain Persons Undermining Democratic Processes or Institutions in Belarus.”  Mr. Speaker, I want to make it crystal clear that these sanctions are aimed not at the people of Belarus, but at a regime that displays contempt for the dignity and rights of its citizens even as the corrupt leadership moves to further enrich itself at the expense of all Belarusians.  Ongoing Anti-Democratic Behavior To chronicle the full litany of repression over the course of Lukashenka’s 12-year misrule would go well beyond the bounds of time available here. Let me cite several more recent illustrations of anti-democratic behavior which testify to the true nature of the regime.  Belarus’ March 19 presidential elections can only be described as a farce, and were met with condemnation by the United States, the OSCE, the European Union and others. The Lukashenka regime’s wholesale arrests of more than one thousand opposition activists and dozens of Belarusian and foreign journalists, before and after the elections, and violent suppression of peaceful post-election protests underscore the contempt of the Belarusian authorities toward their countrymen.  Illegitimate parliamentary elections in 2004 and the recently held presidential “elections” in Belarus brazenly flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation. Albeit safely ensconced in power, Lukashenka has not let up on the democratic opposition. Almost daily repressions constitute a profound abuse of power by a regime that has blatantly manipulated the system to remain in power.  In the last few months, the regime continues to show its true colors, punishing those who would dare to challenge the tin-pot dictator. Former presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin was sentenced to a politically-motivated five-and-one-half-years’ term of imprisonment for alleged “hooliganism” and disturbing the peace. His health is precarious as he is now well into his second month of a hunger strike.  In early August, authorities sentenced four activists of the non-partisan domestic election monitoring initiative “Partnerstva”. In a patent attempt to discourage domestic observation of the fraudulent March 19 presidential elections, the four had been kept in custody since February 21. Two were released, having served their six month sentences. Two others, Tsimafei Dranchuk and Mikalay Astreyka, received stiffer sentences, although Astreyka has been released from a medium security colony and is now in “correctional labor”. Other political prisoners, including Artur Finkevich, Mikalay Autukhovich, Andrey Klimau, Ivan Kruk, Yury Lyavonau, Mikalay Razumau, Pavel Sevyarynets, Mikalay Statkevich also continue to have their freedom denied, languishing in prison or in so-called correctional labor camps.  Administrative detentions of ten or fifteen days against democratic opposition activists are almost a daily occurrence. Moreover, the Lukashenka regime continued to stifle religious expression. It refuses to register churches, temporarily detains pastors, threatens to expel foreign clergy, and refuses religious groups the use of premises to hold services. Despite the repressions, Protestant and Catholic congregations have increasingly become more active in their pursuit of religious freedom. I am also concerned about the recent explosion at a Holocaust memorial in western Belarus, the sixth act of vandalism against the monument in 14 years. Unfortunately, the local authorities have reportedly refused to open a criminal investigation. Lukashenka’s minions have closed down independent think tanks, further tightened the noose around what remains of the independent media, suspended the activities of a political party, shut down the prominent literary journal Arche, and evicted the Union of Belarusian Writers from its headquarters. Of course, Lukashenka’s pattern of contempt for human rights is nothing new – it has merely intensified with the passage of time.  Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents – perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders.  Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 will help end to the pattern of violations of OSCE human rights and democracy commitments by the Lukashenka regime and loosen its unhealthy monopoly on political and economic power. I hope our efforts here today will facilitate independent Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe in which the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are respected. The beleaguered Belarusian people have suffered so much over the course of the last century and deserve better than to live under a regime frighteningly reminiscent of the Soviet Union. The struggle of the people of Belarus for dignity and freedom deserves our unyielding and consistent support.  This legislation is important and timely because Belarus, which now borders on NATO and the EU, continues to have the worst human rights and democracy record of any European state – bar none.

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