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Freedom of Association and Assembly

The freedom of peaceful assembly and association is a cornerstone of democracy; a fundamental freedom. In the Helsinki Final Act and numerous other CSCE/OSCE agreements, all participating States have committed to protect peaceful assembly and to respect the right of individuals to associate with others, even if in so doing they voice opinions critical of the government or are generally unpopular. 

Throughout the decades, the Commission has repeatedly addressed violations of freedom of assembly and association in various participating States, in hearings and briefings, meetings with representatives of governments and parliaments of countries of concern, statements, letters and other venues.  The Commission has also contributed to official U.S. efforts to raise these violations, including statements at the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review meetings.  Currently, prominent violators of these freedom include Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Belarus, and Russian-occupied Crimea and the Russian-separatist occupied territories of eastern Ukraine.

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  • Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in Decline

    This hearing focused on the human rights and democratization process in Uzbekistan. Despite Uzbekistan’s signing of major agreements promising multi-party elections and other democratic reforms, Uzbekistan has not implemented policy that would move it in this direction.  The hearing looked into what measures the U.S. could take within the OSCE to speed the democratization process in Uzbekistan.

  • The War in Chechnya and Russian Civil Society

    This briefing was held in light of recent verbal attacks by President Putin and other Russian officials on human rights organizations and their funding sources that raised concerns about the future of Russian NGOs that may be viewed by the government as politically hostile.  Regarding Moscow’s conduct of the war in Chechnya, the Commission recognized Russia’s right to defend its territorial integrity, but asserted that territorial integrity can be preserved without resorting to the brutal methods employed by some members of the Russian military and the pro-Moscow Chechnya militia. Valentina Melnikova, National Director of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia and Natalia Zhukova, Chairperson of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers testified at this briefing. The “Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers” has become the largest NGO in Russia as an umbrella organization embracing nearly 300 groups and thousands of members. The Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers have opposed the Kremlin’s conduct of the war in Chechnya and have accused the Russian Government of consistently under-reporting the number of Russian military casualties in the conflict.

  • Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?

    The Helsinki Commission briefing occurred in conjunction with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the United States to attend the G8 Summit and focused on the status of democratic progress, human rights, civil liberties, and press freedom in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The consequences of President Putin’s ascent to power and elements of his government determined to reverse Russia’s direction and institute more authoritarian policies were among several topics that were discussed. Four prominent Russian human rights activists – including Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and President, International Helsinki Commission for Human Rights; Arseni Roginsky, Chairman of the International Memorial Society; Alexei Simonov, Head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation and Mara Polyakova, Director of the Independent Council for Legal Experts – gave their assessment of the human rights situation in Russia today, including specific cases of particular interest.

  • Presidential Elections Critical to Ukrainian Democracy

    Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I submit today a resolution urging the Government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process for the presidential elections scheduled to be held in late October. An identical resolution is being submitted by Chairman of the House International Relations Committee Henry Hyde and my colleague and Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, Representative Chris Smith. I am pleased to note that the Commission's Ranking Member, Mr. Dodd, and the Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Mr. Biden, are original cosponsors of the resolution.   The Helsinki Commission, which has long monitored and encouraged human rights, rule of law and democracy in Ukraine, continues to be a stalwart supporter of Ukraine's development as an independent, democratic and market-oriented state. There is a genuine desire in the United States for Ukraine to succeed in this process and for the long-suffering Ukrainian people to fully realize their dreams and aspirations. This resolution, by encouraging fair, open and transparent elections, is a concrete expression of the commitment of the U.S. Congress to the Ukrainian people.   The resolution underscores that an election process and the establishment of a genuinely democratic political system consistent with Ukraine's freely-undertaken OSCE commitments is a prerequisite for Ukraine's full integration into the Western community of nations as an equal member, including into NATO. The October elections will be vital in determining Ukraine's course for years to come and they present the Ukrainian authorities with a real opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to OSCE principles and values.   Unfortunately, Ukraine's pre-election environment has already been decidedly problematic and of increasing concern to the United States and the international community. During the course of this year I have shared specific concerns with Senate colleagues, particularly in terms of the media. The resolution submitted today focuses squarely on key problem areas, including increasing control and manipulation of the media and attempts by national authorities to limit access to international broadcasting, including Radio Liberty and Voice of America. Among other concerns are the blatant obstacles to free assembly and a free and fair political campaign as well as substantial irregularities in several recent elections.   An egregious example of how not to conduct elections was the mayoral election held two weeks ago in the western Ukrainian city of Mukacheve. This election was marred by intimidation, violence, fraud and manipulation of the vote count, electoral disruptions and irregularities. Despite strong evidence indicating that a candidate from the democratic opposition “Our Ukraine” bloc had won, the territorial elections commission announced as winner the candidate of a party led by the head of Presidential Administration, Viktor Medvedchuk. That some of the abuses and violence took place in front of OSCE observers, and that some of the victims of violence were members of the Ukrainian parliament, only underscores the brazenness of these actions. The outlandish conduct of the Mukacheve elections not only casts doubt over their outcome, but when coupled with other recent problematic elections, including in Constituency No. 61 in Donetsk, could be a barometer for the October presidential elections.   The resolution I submit today outlines those measures the Ukrainian authorities need to take--consistent with their own laws and international agreements--for a free, fair, open and transparent election process. The Ukrainian authorities at all levels, including the executive, legislative and judicial branches, need to ensure an election process that enables all of the candidates to compete on a level playing field. This includes the various institutions and agencies involved directly or indirectly in the elections process, such as the Central Election Commission, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Procuracy, the State Security Service (SBU), Tax Administration, as well as the Constitutional and Supreme Courts.   Ukraine's October presidential elections should be a watershed for the future direction of that country of great potential. It is abundantly clear that a small clique have a vested interest in perpetuating the outmoded status quo. Ukrainian authorities need to radically improve the election environment if there is to be hope for these elections to meet OSCE standards. The question is whether their perceived self-interest will trump the interest of the people of Ukraine. Having restored the independence of their proud land, the Ukrainian people deserve an opportunity to overcome the legacy of the past, and consolidate democracy, human rights and the rule of law.   Mr. Campbell (for himself, Mr. Dodd, and Mr. Biden) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations:   S.Con.Res. 106   Whereas the establishment of a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine and of a genuinely democratic political system are prerequisites for that country's full integration into the Western community of nations as an equal member, including into organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO);   Whereas the Government of Ukraine has accepted numerous specific commitments governing the conduct of elections as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including provisions of the Copenhagen Document;   Whereas the election on October 31, 2004, of Ukraine's next president will provide an unambiguous test of the extent of the Ukrainian authorities' commitment to implement these standards and build a democratic society based on free elections and the rule of law;   Whereas this election takes place against the backdrop of previous elections that did not fully meet international standards and of disturbing trends in the current pre-election environment;   Whereas it is the duty of government and public authorities at all levels to act in a manner consistent with all laws and regulations governing election procedures and to ensure free and fair elections throughout the entire country, including preventing activities aimed at undermining the free exercise of political rights;   Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires a period of political campaigning conducted in an environment in which neither administrative action nor violence, intimidation, or detention hinder the parties, political associations, and the candidates from presenting their views and qualifications to the citizenry, including organizing supporters, conducting public meetings and events throughout the country, and enjoying unimpeded access to television, radio, print, and Internet media on a non-discriminatory basis;   Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires that citizens be guaranteed the right and effective opportunity to exercise their civil and political rights, including the right to vote and the right to seek and acquire information upon which to make an informed vote, free from intimidation, undue influence, attempts at vote buying, threats of political retribution, or other forms of coercion by national or local authorities or others;   Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires government and public authorities to ensure that candidates and political parties enjoy equal treatment before the law and that government resources are not employed to the advantage of individual candidates or political parties;   Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires the full transparency of laws and regulations governing elections, multiparty representation on election commissions, and unobstructed access by candidates, political parties, and domestic and international observers to all election procedures, including voting and vote-counting in all areas of the country;   Whereas increasing control and manipulation of the media by national and local officials and others acting at their behest raise grave concerns regarding the commitment of the Ukrainian authorities to free and fair elections;   Whereas efforts by the national authorities to limit access to international broadcasting, including Radio Liberty and the Voice of America, represent an unacceptable infringement on the right of the Ukrainian people to independent information;   Whereas efforts by national and local officials and others acting at their behest to impose obstacles to free assembly, free speech, and a free and fair political campaign have taken place in Donetsk, Sumy, and elsewhere in Ukraine without condemnation or remedial action by the Ukrainian Government;   Whereas numerous substantial irregularities have taken place in recent Ukrainian parliamentary by-elections in the Donetsk region and in mayoral elections in Mukacheve, Romny, and Krasniy Luch; and   Whereas the intimidation and violence during the April 18, 2004, mayoral election in Mukacheve, Ukraine, represent a deliberate attack on the democratic process: Now, therefore, be it   Resolved, That the Senate--   (1) acknowledges and welcomes the strong relationship formed between the United States and Ukraine since the restoration of Ukraine's independence in 1991;   (2) recognizes that a precondition for the full integration of Ukraine into the Western community of nations, including as an equal member in institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is its establishment of a genuinely democratic political system;   (3) expresses its strong and continuing support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to establish a full democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights in Ukraine;   (4) urges the Government of Ukraine to guarantee freedom of association and assembly, including the right of candidates, members of political parties, and others to freely assemble, to organize and conduct public events, and to exercise these and other rights free from intimidation or harassment by local or national officials or others acting at their behest;   (5) urges the Government of Ukraine to meet its Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments on democratic elections and to address issues previously identified by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE in its final reports on the 2002 parliamentary elections and the 1999 presidential elections, such as illegal interference by public authorities in the campaign and a high degree of bias in the media;   (6) urges the Ukrainian authorities to ensure--   (A) the full transparency of election procedures before, during, and after the 2004 presidential elections;   (B) free access for Ukrainian and international election observers;   (C) multiparty representation on all election commissions;   (D) unimpeded access by all parties and candidates to print, radio, television, and Internet media on a non-discriminatory basis;   (E) freedom of candidates, members of opposition parties, and independent media organizations from intimidation or harassment by government officials at all levels via selective tax audits and other regulatory procedures, and in the case of media, license revocations and libel suits, among other measures;   (F) a transparent process for complaint and appeals through electoral commissions and within the court system that provides timely and effective remedies; and   (G) vigorous prosecution of any individual or organization responsible for violations of election laws or regulations, including the application of appropriate administrative or criminal penalties;   (7) further calls upon the Government of Ukraine to guarantee election monitors from the ODIHR, other participating States of the OSCE, Ukrainian political parties, candidates' representatives, nongovernmental organizations, and other private institutions and organizations, both foreign and domestic, unobstructed access to all aspects of the election process, including unimpeded access to public campaign events, candidates, news media, voting, and post-election tabulation of results and processing of election challenges and complaints; and   (8) pledges its enduring support and assistance to the Ukrainian people's establishment of a fully free and open democratic system, their creation of a prosperous free market economy, their establishment of a secure independence and freedom from coercion, and their country's assumption of its rightful place as a full and equal member of the Western community of democracies.

  • Encouraging Democratic Elections in Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to join Rep. Hyde, Chairman of the International Relations Committee, in sponsoring an important resolution urging Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for the upcoming presidential election. By urging the Ukrainian authorities to abide by their freely undertaken OSCE commitments on democratic elections, this resolution emphasizes our commitment to the Ukrainian people and the goal of Ukraine's integration into the Western community of nations.   As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have been a steadfast supporter of human rights and democracy in Ukraine, and I value independent Ukraine's contribution to security and stability in Europe. The stakes in the upcoming elections are high, not only with respect to the outcome, but also as a fundamental indicator of Ukraine's democratic development.   Recent events have dramatically underscored the need for this clear statement of resolve to support a truly democratic process in Ukraine. The pre-election environment in Ukraine has been discouraging, with examples of obstacles to free assembly and free speech, the limiting of access to Radio Liberty, Voice of America and other international broadcasts, and substantial transgressions in recent parliamentary by-elections and mayoral elections.   Mr. Speaker, the most blatant of these took place just a few weeks ago in the city of Mukacheve. These elections witnessed violence, intimidation, fraud and other massive violations both of the electoral code and any standards of civilized human behavior. The mayoral elections have been roundly and rightly criticized by the United States, Europe, and the OSCE. Many observers fear that Mukacheve is a harbinger of things to come. As Chairman of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I join OSCE PA President Bruce George in calling upon Ukrainian President Kuchma to ensure a proper investigation of the violations which took place and to rectify the situation so that the will of the voters is realized.   Mr. Speaker, Ukraine remains at a crossroads. Developments with respect to democracy have been discouraging over the last few years. The elections represent a real chance for Ukraine to get back on the road to full respect for the tenets of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The United States stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as they strive to achieve these essential goals.   Mr. Hyde (for himself, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Lantos) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the International Relations Committee:   H.Con.Res. 415   Whereas the establishment of a democratic, transparent, and fair election process for the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine and of a genuinely democratic political system are prerequisites for that country's full integration into the Western community of nations as an equal member, including into organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO);   Whereas the Government of Ukraine has accepted numerous specific commitments governing the conduct of elections as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including provisions of the Copenhagen Document;   Whereas the election on October 31, 2004, of Ukraine's next president will provide an unambiguous test of the extent of the Ukrainian authorities' commitment to implement these standards and build a democratic society based on free elections and the rule of law;   Whereas this election takes place against the backdrop of previous elections that did not fully meet international standards and of disturbing trends in the current pre-election environment;   Whereas it is the duty of government and public authorities at all levels to act in a manner consistent with all laws and regulations governing election procedures and to ensure free and fair elections throughout the entire country, including preventing activities aimed at undermining the free exercise of political rights;   Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires a period of political campaigning conducted in an environment in which neither administrative action nor violence, intimidation, or detention hinder the parties, political associations, and the candidates from presenting their views and qualifications to the citizenry, including organizing supporters, conducting public meetings and events throughout the country, and enjoying unimpeded access to television, radio, print, and Internet media on a non-discriminatory basis;   Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires that citizens be guaranteed the right and effective opportunity to exercise their civil and political rights, including the right to vote and the right to seek and acquire information upon which to make an informed vote, free from intimidation, undue influence, attempts at vote buying, threats of political retribution, or other forms of coercion by national or local authorities or others;   Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires government and public authorities to ensure that candidates and political parties enjoy equal treatment before the law and that government resources are not employed to the advantage of individual candidates or political parties;   Whereas a genuinely free and fair election requires the full transparency of laws and regulations governing elections, multiparty representation on election commissions, and unobstructed access by candidates, political parties, and domestic and international observers to all election procedures, including voting and vote-counting in all areas of the country;   Whereas increasing control and manipulation of the media by national and local officials and others acting at their behest raise grave concerns regarding the commitment of the Ukrainian authorities to free and fair elections;   Whereas efforts by the national authorities to limit access to international broadcasting, including Radio Liberty and the Voice of America, represent an unacceptable infringement on the right of the Ukrainian people to independent information;   Whereas efforts by national and local officials and others acting at their behest to impose obstacles to free assembly, free speech, and a free and fair political campaign have taken place in Donetsk, Sumy, and elsewhere in Ukraine without condemnation or remedial action by the Ukrainian Government;   Whereas numerous substantial irregularities have taken place in recent Ukrainian parliamentary by-elections in the Donetsk region and in mayoral elections in Mukacheve, Romny, and Krasniy Luch; and   Whereas the intimidation and violence during the April 18, 2004, mayoral election in Mukacheve, Ukraine, represent a deliberate attack on the democratic process: Now, therefore, be it   Resolved, That the House--   (1) acknowledges and welcomes the strong relationship formed between the United States and Ukraine since the restoration of Ukraine's independence in 1991;   (2) recognizes that a precondition for the full integration of Ukraine into the Western community of nations, including as an equal member in institutions such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), is its establishment of a genuinely democratic political system;   (3) expresses its strong and continuing support for the efforts of the Ukrainian people to establish a full democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights in Ukraine;   (4) urges the Government of Ukraine to guarantee freedom of association and assembly, including the right of candidates, members of political parties, and others to freely assemble, to organize and conduct public events, and to exercise these and other rights free from intimidation or harassment by local or national officials or others acting at their behest;   (5) urges the Government of Ukraine to meet its Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) commitments on democratic elections and to address issues previously identified by the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE in its final reports on the 2002 parliamentary elections and the 1999 presidential elections, such as illegal interference by public authorities in the campaign and a high degree of bias in the media;   (6) urges the Ukrainian authorities to ensure--   (A) the full transparency of election procedures before, during, and after the 2004 presidential elections;   (B) free access for Ukrainian and international election observers;   (C) multiparty representation on all election commissions;   (D) unimpeded access by all parties and candidates to print, radio, television, and Internet media on a non-discriminatory basis;   (E) freedom of candidates, members of opposition parties, and independent media organizations from intimidation or harassment by government officials at all levels via selective tax audits and other regulatory procedures, and in the case of media, license revocations and libel suits, among other measures;   (F) a transparent process for complaint and appeals through electoral commissions and within the court system that provides timely and effective remedies; and   (G) vigorous prosecution of any individual or organization responsible for violations of election laws or regulations, including the application of appropriate administrative or criminal penalties;   (7) further calls upon the Government of Ukraine to guarantee election monitors from the ODIHR, other participating States of the OSCE, Ukrainian political parties, candidates' representatives, nongovernmental organizations, and other private institutions and organizations, both foreign and domestic, unobstructed access to all aspects of the election process, including unimpeded access to public campaign events, candidates, news media, voting, and post-election tabulation of results and processing of election challenges and complaints; and   (8) pledges its enduring support and assistance to the Ukrainian people's establishment of a fully free and open democratic system, their creation of a prosperous free market economy, their establishment of a secure independence and freedom from coercion, and their country's assumption of its rightful place as a full and equal member of the Western community of democracies.

  • Belarusian Authorities Continue to Stifle Democracy

    Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I want to update colleagues on developments in the Republic of Belarus, a country with the poorest human rights record of any country in Europe today. In the last year, Belarusian dictator Lukashenka's assault on civil society has steadily intensified, with the liquidation of NGOs, violence against opposition activists, and repression of the independent media and trade unions. The situation in Belarus continues its downward spiral with daily reports of growing repression and new human rights violations.   Since the beginning of the still relatively New Year, NGOs such as the Belarusian Language Society and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee have experienced increased harassment. The Minsk City Court has ordered the liquidation of the Independent Association of Legal Research. Leaders of the opposition "Five Plus" bloc, who are in Washington this week, were recently detained and searched by customs officials at the Polish-Belarusian border. The officials were reportedly looking for printed, audio or video materials that could "damage the political and economic interests of the country." Human rights activists or independent journalists such as Natalya Kolyada, Nina Davydowskaya, Iryna Makavetskaya, Aksana Novikava and Aleksandr Silitsky continue to be subjected to threats, detentions or heavy fines. Others, including activists of the youth group ZUBR, have been arrested for holding an unauthorized picket demanding a thorough investigation of the disappearances of three democratic opposition members Yuri Zakharenka, Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, and journalist Dmitri Zavadsky.   Independent media outlets also continue to feel the wrath of the powers that be, including libel proceedings against Narodnaya Volya, Belarus' largest independent daily; the confiscation of Asambleya, a bulletin of the Assembly of the Belarusian Democratic NGOs; the refusal by the Belarusian Postal Service to distribute the independent newspaper Regionalniye Novosti; the confiscation of copies, in the town of Smorgon, of the independent newspaper, Mestnaya Gazeta; and the censoring of the independent newspaper Volnaya Hlybokaye in the Vitebsk region. Several Jewish cemeteries are being destroyed, Baptist congregations are being fined and Krishna followers detained.   In an unusual step, the International Labor Organization, ILO, has established a commission of inquiry, only the eleventh time in the body's 84-year history, to examine violations of trade union rights in Belarus. Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights unanimously ratified a report on political disappearances in Belarus. The just-released report severely criticizes the Belarusian authorities, stating that "steps were taken at the highest level of the State actively to cover up the...disappearances" of several high-profile members of the opposition in 1999 to 2000 and that senior Belarusian officials may be involved.   Last year I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, S. 700, which is designed to help promote democratic development, human rights and rule of law in the Republic of Belarus, as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence.   While some might be tempted to dismiss Belarus as an anomaly, the stakes are too high and the costs too great to ignore. It is important for us to stay the course and support Belarus in becoming a genuine European state, in which respect for human rights and democracy is the norm and in which the long-suffering Belarusian people are able to overcome the legacy of dictatorship- past and present. The Belarus Democracy Act, which enjoys bipartisan support, is an important, concrete way to exhibit our support. I urge colleagues to support this measure and look forward to timely consideration of the Belarus Democracy Act.

  • Troubling Pre-Election Developments in Ukraine

    Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the sponsor of the 2002 Senate-passed resolution urging the Ukrainian Government to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process in advance of their parliamentary elections, I find recent developments relating to upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine deeply troubling.   Ten months before these critical elections, a constitutional amendment is making its way through the Ukrainian parliament designed to ensure that the current, corruption riddled powers-that-be retain their grip on power, neutralizing the leader of the biggest democratic fraction in parliament and Ukraine’s most popular politician, Victor Yushchenko. The amendment calls for abbreviating the presidential term for the October 2004 elections to two years, with the election of a president by the parliament in 2006, notwithstanding opinion polls indicating that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians support preserving direct presidential elections. This amendment had been approved by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court in a decision which has led many observers both within and outside of Ukraine to question the independence of the Court. The Court’s decision a few weeks ago to allow President Kuchma to run for a third term - despite the 1996 constitution’s two-term limit, has only raised more questions.   Media repression continues, including the issuance of directives sent to media by the Presidential Administration on what and how issues and events should be covered, especially in the electronic media. A recent Freedom House report concludes that "the current state of affairs of Ukraine’s media raises serious questions as to whether a fair and balanced electoral contest can be held." Newspapers critical of the authorities are subjected to various methods of repression, including attacks against journalists, arrests of publishers, "special attention" via tax inspections, administrative controls over distribution and pressure on advertisers.   Mr. President, at the same time, administrative measures are being taken to prevent lawful political activity, the starkest example of which was the disruption - instigated by the authorities - of a national congress of the Yushchenko-led Our Ukraine bloc in Donetsk last November. Most recently, a presidential decree dismissed the elected Our Ukraine mayor of Mukachevo - despite a ruling by the Supreme Court which confirmed that he had been elected in a legitimate way. In a telling twist, an acting mayor from the political party led by the head of the Presidential Administration, Victor Medvedchuk, has been installed.   As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I share the concern of colleagues on both sides of the aisle that the presidential election in Ukraine scheduled for October be free, fair, open and transparent and conducted in a manner consistent with Ukraine’s freely-undertaken commitments as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Helsinki Commission, consistent with our mandate to monitor and encourage compliance with OSCE agreements by all participating States, will continue to follow the situation in Ukraine closely.   Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of a recent Washington Post editorial on troubling pre-election developments in Ukraine be included in the Record. Thank you, Mr. President.   There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:   [From the Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2004] A Resolution for Ukraine   According to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the Bush administration's first foreign policy resolution for 2004 is "to expand freedom." And not only in Iraq and the Middle East: In an op-ed article published in the New York Times, Mr. Powell promised to support "the consolidation of freedom in many new but often fragile democracies . . . in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa." We hope that support will extend beyond the rhetoric that too often has substituted for genuine democratic advocacy during President Bush's first three years, and that it will be applied even where the United States has interests that make toleration of autocracy tempting.   One region where such U.S. engagement, or its absence, might prove decisive is the band of former Soviet republics to the west and south of Russia. Several are struggling democracies; others are ruled by autocrats. Almost all are under threat from Moscow's resurgent imperialism. As the tiny state of Georgia recently demonstrated, democracy is the best defense against Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to create a Kremlin-dominated sphere of influence. Countries that have held free and fair elections have tended to gravitate toward strengthening their independence and seeking good relations with the West, while unstable autocrats are more likely to yield to Mr. Putin.   The country closest to a tipping point may be Ukraine. Like Russia, Ukraine has an electoral democracy tainted by corruption and strong-arm tactics and an economy warped by clans of oligarchs. Much of its population, however, aspires to integration with the West. President Leonid Kuchma has been linked to corruption and serious human rights violations. In recent months he has been moving steadily closer to Mr. Putin, allowing a Russian takeover of much of Ukraine's energy industry and signing an economic integration treaty.   Now Mr. Kuchma appears to be looking for ways to curtail Ukraine's democracy so that he can prolong his own hold on power when his term expires this year. Last month his allies in Parliament pushed through the first draft of a constitutional amendment that would cut short the term of the president due to be elected in October and provide that future presidents be chosen by Parliament, where Mr. Kuchma's forces retain control. Then the judges he appointed to the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution's two-term limit does not prevent Mr. Kuchma from serving again. The president's cronies protest that they are only moving the country toward a more parliament-centered system, and Mr. Kuchma coyly says he has not "yet" decided to seek another term. But the effect of his moves would be to neutralize the country's most popular leader, Viktor Yushchenko, who, polls say, would win the next presidential election if it were fairly held.   More than Mr. Kuchma's quest for continued power is at stake. Mr. Yushchenko is popular precisely because he is associated with those Ukrainians who seek to consolidate an independent democracy and move the country toward integration with Europe. Mr. Putin surely will be sympathetic to Mr. Kuchma's subversion of the system. The question is whether the Bush administration will work with Western Europe to mount an effective counter. Freedom could be consolidated this year in Ukraine or slip away. The outcome may just depend on how well Mr. Powell keeps his resolution.

  • Commission Hearing Looked Ahead to Maastricht Ministerial

    By Michael Ochs CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing on September 9, 2003 reviewing United States policy toward the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing considered the many security, economic, and humanitarian challenges facing the United States, and how the 55-member nation organization can be best utilized to address these challenges. Testifying for the State Department were A. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and Helsinki Commission Member. In his opening statement, Helsinki Commission Chairman, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) emphasized the important role the OSCE plays in promoting American security abroad. "The explicit and implicit connection between security and human rights, the fulcrum of the Helsinki process," he said, "has been at the center of U.S. thinking and policy since the day almost exactly two years ago when religious fanatics flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon." At the same time, he bemoaned the lack of democratic progress throughout much of the former USSR. Particularly in Central Asia, he said, "It becomes more and more difficult to harbor expectations that the future will be better or much different than the past or even the present." Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) expressed his appreciation to the State Department and executive branch for their willingness to work with the Commission over the years. Mr. Cardin particularly lauded the work of Ambassador Stephan M. Minikes, head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, whose efforts, he said, helped to form a unified agenda with Congress in the OSCE. He also expressed his appreciation to the State Department, later echoed by Chairman Smith, for arranging a visit by the Commission to Guantanamo Bay that allowed Commissioners to respond to concerns raised by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly regarding humanitarian standards for detainees. In her remarks, Assistant Secretary Jones noted two particular OSCE successes during the past year that were the result of U.S. efforts: the Vienna Anti-Semitism Conference and the new, annual Security Review Conference. She also identified the adoption of the Anti-Trafficking Action Plan as a positive development. Secretary Jones listed several priorities for the OSCE Maastricht Ministerial, including progress on Russia's Istanbul commitments; mandating the 2004 Berlin Anti-Semitism Conference; and, addressing the pressing problems, discussed at the Security Review Conference, of travel document security and Man Portable Air Defense systems (MANPADs). Secretary Jones identified several broad areas where the OSCE particularly serves U.S. interests: human rights and democracy promotion; conflict prevention and conflict resolution; and trans-national issues, such as human trafficking, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia, the rights of the Roma, refugees, and internally displaced persons. The United States, she said, also hoped to enhance the OSCE's police training capabilities "not only to step up anti-crime capabilities, but to deal with the human rights concerns that are related to the way police deal with civil society." Assistant Secretary Craner began on a positive note, identifying encouraging signs throughout the region. "In a majority of the OSCE countries," he said, "we see growing and increasingly vibrant civil society groups advocating for peaceful change. The rule of law is being bolstered as countries move the administration of prisons under the auspices of the ministry of justice, and guards receive training to respect international standards." He added, however, that there are also areas of both stagnation and backsliding in the OSCE region, all the more troubling given the numerous regional successes. "It is most disheartening," he said, "for the people of those countries who see other nations which have emerged from the Soviet empire now joining NATO and the EU and enjoying the fruits of democracy. Meanwhile, some governments remain authoritarian or unwilling to move beyond the old struggles and practices." Secretary Craner noted troubling signs for democratization efforts throughout the former Soviet Union. Central Asian states, he said, had made little progress. Upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine would seriously affect U.S. attitudes toward that country's suitability for integration into Euro-Atlantic and European institutions. The Russian parliamentary elections in December are showing some troubling signs, while holding legitimate presidential elections in Chechnya would be extremely difficult, given the security situation there. He said, however, that such elections could potentially contribute to the end of that conflict. Chairman Smith noted his pleasure that the sanctions list, established by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 which he sponsored, which groups countries into three tiers based on their action on the issue of human trafficking would be released the week of the hearing. He also welcomed the U.S. military's initiatives against trafficking in South Korea and hoped for similar progress in the Balkans. Secretary Craner agreed that countries were taking the sanctions law seriously, and both witnesses stated that the U.S. and British militaries were taking strong action on trafficking issues. Smith and Jones emphasized that the pressure was not off countries that made it out of the bottom tier. On the former Yugoslavia, Assistant Secretary Jones described gradual progress at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and improved cooperation from the government in Belgrade. "The list [of war criminals] is being reduced," she said, "but it is not done yet." Commissioner Cardin, however, noted that the patience of the international community was coming to an end. Both agreed that the political leadership in Serbia seems to want to do the right thing, but needs help from the United States to reinforce their efforts. On issues of property restitution, Secretary Jones assured the Commissioners that when she travels to pertinent countries, the issue is always on the agenda and explained that the United States has had considerable success convincing governments to take action on a bilateral basis. She also agreed with Representative Cardin that poverty and corruption make democratic development more difficult. She said that the United States would try to attack the issue through the OSCE by working hard on corruption. Commissioner Cardin brought attention to the United States' efforts in the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly to create a mechanism extending Helsinki principles to the OSCE's Mediterranean Partners. Assistant Secretaries Jones and Craner said that the administration supported the goal but was uncertain whether the best way to accomplish it was directly through the OSCE or through a new, OSCE-like institution. Chairman Smith then focused on the importance of "naming names" in the OSCE. He said that "one of the most vital aspects of the Helsinki process was specifically naming names" and "holding people to account," but he noted a curious reluctance to do so in the last ten years. Assistant Secretary Craner stated that the United States had indeed "named names" with regard to the situation in Belarus. The United States sponsored a resolution at the UN Commission on Human Rights putting Belarus in a category with countries like Turkmenistan and North Korea. Assistant Secretary Jones admitted that it was difficult to influence President Lukashenka of Belarus but said there were still elements of civil society in Belarus, activists in the Belarusian body politic, and free media that needed outside moral support. Finally, Chairman Smith raised the issues of Chechnya and missing persons in the Balkans. Assistant Secretary Jones said that Chechnya was on the agenda for the Camp David summit between Bush and Putin in late September . She also indicated that the OSCE was negotiating with Russia to define a role for the organization in that conflict, ideally getting a mission back on the ground. On the Balkans, Secretary Craner said that the United States was actively pressing governments bilaterally and through the OSCE to account for the fate of missing persons. He also highlighted the United States' support for the International Commission for Missing Persons, which is engaged in the painstakingly slow process of DNA identification. Lastly, Secretary Jones assured the Commissioners that the United States was not merely paying lip service to the concerns of minorities in Kosovo. She said, "It is a tough issue, but it nevertheless is a critical one in our policy of standards before status." The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Kevin Angle contributed to this article.

  • Helsinki Commission Reviews OSCE Dutch Leadership

    By Marlene Kaufmann CSCE Counsel The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing featuring the testimony of His Excellency Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Foreign Minister of The Netherlands and Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for 2003. The Foreign Minister testified on September 3, 2003 about the OSCE's efforts to promote security, stability and human rights in Europe and Eurasia. "In the last few years, we have come face to face with unprecedented challenges and threats to our security," said Minister de Hoop Scheffer. "The fight against terrorism is, and it should be, a top priority on our agenda." He noted that developing a comprehensive strategy to address new threats to security and stability will be the objective of OSCE Foreign Ministers in their upcoming meeting in Maastricht, The Netherlands, in early December. "We need to go beyond the repertoire of military action and policing as responses to security problems, and the OSCE can provide an impetus to this effort," he said. "No sustainable conflict resolution, let alone peace, can be achieved without due regard for human rights and democratization, for economic and environmental development, and without due regard for the rule of law." Other more surreptitious threats to security include organized crime, trafficking in human beings and illegal immigration, according to the Foreign Minister. Under de Hoop Scheffer's leadership, the Dutch Chairmanship has made combating human trafficking a priority and has secured the adoption of an OSCE action plan to combat trafficking in human beings to assist countries in confronting this modern day slavery whether they are countries of origin, transfer or countries of destination. The Minister explained that in support of this plan he intends to send missions of experts to assist countries in the fight against trafficking. The missions will draw on the expertise of OSCE institutions and will both monitor and take action against human trafficking. "Against this background, I feel sure that the Organization will be able to make an active, solid contribution to the fight," Mr. de Hoop Scheffer said. United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) welcomed the new OSCE effort. "I think it is a very realistic action plan . . . and it really adds to the common effort that we all need to take with regard to this modern-day slavery," said Smith, who has led the fight in Congress against human trafficking. Chairman Smith asked Minister de Hoop Scheffer to expand the anti-trafficking action plan to include the military in all OSCE countries, as well as policing and peacekeeping deployments throughout the region. Chairman Smith described his own efforts to make the U.S. military aware of this problem, including a request to the Army's Inspector General to investigate allegations of human trafficking at establishments frequented by U.S. military personnel in South Korea. An Ohio-based investigative news team revealed that women trafficked from Russia and the Philippines were being forced into prostitution in local clubs and bars surrounding U.S. bases and exposed the fact that uniformed U.S. military personnel understood the circumstances and yet did nothing to prevent or report the crime. According to Chairman Smith, the Inspector General took quick and decisive action to investigate the alleged activities and made specific recommendations to correct the matter. "The U.S. military has put more than 660 establishments, now seen for what they are, off limits to U.S. military as a direct result of this investigation," Mr. Smith said. Minister de Hoop Scheffer agreed that military and peacekeeping operations should be reviewed in strategies to combat human trafficking and said that the work being done by the U.S. military could serve as an example. The Minister also noted that NATO is undertaking a review of what its role should be in this regard. De Hoop Scheffer will take over as Secretary General of NATO in January, 2004. The Chairman-in-Office reviewed the work of the OSCE in combating anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination by highlighting the June conference held in Vienna regarding the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the OSCE region and strategies to combat it, as well as the September conference focused on efforts to combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination. Both Chairman Smith and Commission Member Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who participated in the June conference, urged de Hoop Scheffer to support another OSCE conference on anti-Semitism, which Germany has offered to host in Berlin in 2004. The Minister confirmed his support for such a conference saying, "having visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum this morning, having seen that, you need not have any other argument to go on fighting anti-Semitism." Commissioner Hastings queried Foreign Minister de Hoop Scheffer about his views on extending the term of the Chairman-in-Office from the current one year to two or three years, in view of the tremendous challenges facing the OSCE Chairmanship and the amount of work to be done. Mr. Hastings complimented the Minister, in particular, for the work he has done with Central Asian states. Calling his work as Chairman-in-Office "very challenging and a tremendously interesting responsibility," de Hoop Scheffer said he felt maintaining the one year term for the OSCE Chairmanship is the best way to proceed. He pointed to the work of the Troika, which is composed of the immediate past, current and upcoming Chairman-in-Office, who meet on a regular basis to discuss OSCE matters. The Minister has sought to strengthen this working group during his tenure and indicated that he felt this mechanism, along with the appointment of Special Representatives to focus on particular issues, serves to bring continuity to the leadership of the OSCE. Commissioner Hastings, who serves as a Vice President in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) also asked the Chairman-in-Office about what can be done to strengthen the working relationship between the OSCE and the OSCE PA. Mr. Hastings voiced hope that the Parliamentary Assembly would participate fully in the Maastricht Ministerial Meeting and that the OSCE and Assembly would continue to foster a working partnership. Viewing this issue from the perspective of his sixteen years of service in the Dutch Parliament, the Chairman-in-Office said he believes that the OSCE leadership has made substantial progress in its relationship with the Parliamentary Assembly. He welcomed the opening of the Parliamentary Assembly's Liaison Office in Vienna, headed by Ambassador Andreas Nothelle, as well as the active participation of Parliamentary Assembly President Bruce George in meetings of the Troika. The Foreign Minister said that he would continue to work to improve interaction between the OSCE and the Assembly. Minister de Hoop Scheffer further highlighted the actions of the OSCE by discussing regions in which the Organization has been particularly active--including Central Asia, Belarus, Moldova, Chechnya, and Georgia. Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) voiced concern about the authoritarian rule in much of Central Asia and the Caucasus and its potential to move toward a family dynasty, as seems to be happening in Azerbaijan. The Chairman-in-Office expressed his view that Central Asian governments need particular attention from the OSCE, given that social changes brought about since the end of the Cold War have begun to stall. The Minister, who recently visited the five Central Asian countries, emphasized the importance of direct involvement with participating States in order to monitor and pressure for change. "The OSCE missions are the eyes and the ears of the organization," he said. Mr. de Hoop Scheffer, who also spoke with members of nongovernmental organizations in Turkmenistan, stressed the need to maintain communications between all OSCE states, because the alternative would be to expel them. "Would that improve the fate of the people in jails in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't think so, but it's the perpetual moral dilemma we have." Mr. Pitts and Minister de Hoop Scheffer also expressed concerns about the refusal of Belarus to fully participate in OSCE meetings and negotiations. The Chairman-in-Office mentioned that of particular concern are attempts by the Government of Belarus to restrict the media's independence. He said he would follow the situation critically and would take whatever necessary action was called for. In Moldova, the OSCE plans to step up its efforts to resolve the Moldova-Transdniestria conflict. The OSCE is focusing on a political settlement and preparations for post-settlement. The two parties understand that a peacekeeping operation may be in place during the transition activities, and the OSCE is discussing the possibility. Mr. de Hoop Scheffer called for Russia to reclaim its weapons and ammunition from Moldova before the end of the year. He also urged the United States and the European Union to assist conflict resolution efforts in Moldova. The OSCE is still pushing for cooperation between Chechnya and the Russian Federation, despite difficulties in negotiations. The OSCE has developed a program aimed at benefitting the Chechen population and improving areas such as the judiciary and public order, economic and social developments, re-integration of displaced people, and media development. De Hoop Scheffer said violence and political obstacles have made negotiations in the area difficult. But he remained positive about a program to affect change. "I believe that the Russian Federation and the OSCE have a common interest in defining such a program," he said, adding the human suffering and material costs of this conflict are immense. The Maastricht Ministerial Meeting will set the agenda for the OSCE's future work and will address modern threats to security and stability, the Chairman-in-Office said. The meeting will take up human trafficking, economic and environmental issues, and review of field missions and peacekeeping. The conference will also be open to nongovernmental organizations, which de Hoop Scheffer said have been crucial to helping bring about change. The Chairman-in-Office concluded his testimony by stressing the importance of multilateral efforts and of the continued support of the United States. "That is one of the reasons why, with full candor, I have shared my impressions, convictions, and intentions for the coming period with you," he said. "In short, it takes a joint effort by the entire OSCE community to make this organization work." The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine senators, nine representatives, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.   United States Helsinki Commission Intern Lauren Smith contributed to this article.

  • Further Assault Against Activists in Belarus

    By Orest Deychakiwsky CSCE Staff Advisor and Ronald McNamara CSCE Deputy Chief of Staff United States Helsinki Commission staff met with a wide variety of opposition party members, non-governmental organization representatives and independent media journalists during an October 11-15 visit to the west Belarusian city of Hrodna and the capital city, Minsk. While the repressive apparat of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenka has mounted a full-fledged assault on civil society over the last few months, pro-democracy forces remain committed to the creation of an independent, sovereign and democratic Belarus. In meetings with representatives from civil society throughout the visit, discussions inevitably turned to the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, introduced earlier this year by United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). The Belarus Democracy Act would authorize increased assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media--including radio broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. In a clear effort to consolidate his firm hold on power, Lukashenka has further tightened his grip on independent elements of Belarusian society, using the full force of the state to repress dissent. This comports with his new "state ideology” which has as its aim to further his rule by eliminating any vestige of pluralism in Belarus. Non-governmental organizations have been "de-legalized," or threatened with closure, often on petty pretexts. Increasingly, spouses and relatives of activists are being used as pawns with threats of dismissal or other forms of retribution. The media are especially facing pressure, with the electronic media under the control of the authorities and the independent media increasingly subject to systematic reprisals. Dozens of independent publications have been closed or threatened with closure. State printing houses have refused to print even previously registered editions and the state's distribution system refuses to circulate independent media material. Even Russian television is getting pushed out. A proposed new media law threatens to further erode freedom of media. Independent trade unions are becoming further circumscribed. The Government of Belarus has made no substantive progress in meeting the criteria for democratization established more than three years ago by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: End repression and the climate of fear; Permit a functioning, independent media; Ensure transparency of the election process; and Strengthen the functioning of the parliament. No progress has been made to investigate the cases of four opposition figures who disappeared in 1999-2000. The four are presumed dead. Attempts by Belarusian democrats and the international community to engage in a dialogue with the powers-that-be on amending the electoral code have thus far been unsuccessful. Belarusian authorities refuse to cooperate with the OSCE, even within the framework of its limited mandate. In both Hrodna and Minsk, Commission staff met with a wide gamut of representatives from leading non-governmental organizations, independent media, national and local leaders of democratic opposition political parties, wives of the disappeared, leaders of independent trade unions, dissident members of the National Assembly, various religious leaders, and human rights and cultural organizations. On the official Belarusian side, Commission staff met with the Governor of Hrodna and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, raising a wide range of concerns with respect to Belarus' refusal to implement its OSCE commitments, including those pertaining to the deepening assault on civil society. In Hrodna, the issues surrounding Jewish cemeteries were raised with the Governor Vladimir Savchenko. On the U.S. side, staff held constructive meetings with newly installed Ambassador George Kroll, Embassy staff and officials of the United States Agency for International Development. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • The Nightmare in Turkmenistan

    Mr. Speaker, November 25 will mark the one-year anniversary of events in Turkmenistan that turned that already bizarre autocracy into an even more nightmarish kingdom. According to the official version, opposition groups led by former high-ranking officials tried to assassinate Saparmurat Niyazov, the country's President-for-Life. The attempt failed, the plotters were found, tried and imprisoned, and in the eyes of Niyazov's regime, justice has been done.   What actually happened that day is unclear. There may well have been a coup attempt against Niyazov, who has turned himself into virtually a living god. Or, as some opposition activists in exile maintain, the whole affair may have been staged by Niyazov to crack down even harder. Since no outsider has had access to those arrested in connection with the events, the truth may never be known.   Whatever happened, it is easy to understand the desperate frustration among Turkmen. Niyazov has made Turkmenistan the only one-party state in the former Soviet space, where one man decides everything, no opposition is permitted, all media are totally censored and the populace is forced to study the "rukhnama"--a dictator's rantings that purport to be a one-stop religion, national history and morality lesson.   What is clear is that Niyazov's response to November 25 has trampled on civilized norms, even if his allegations are true. In the wake of the arrests, all opposition--real or imagined--has been crushed. Quick show trials of the accused were broadcast on television, after which they received long prison sentences with no access to relatives or international organizations. Some of the opposition leaders have already died in prison. One individual who was arrested, an American citizen named Leonid Komarovsky of Massachusetts was eventually released, as a result of pressure from Washington. Upon gaining his freedom, he told the world of the horrible tortures people suffered at the hands of Turkmen security forces. The stories rival any we used to hear from the Soviet Union or Saddam Hussein's Iraq. In addition, relatives of those deemed "enemies of the people" have been targeted for persecution. The luckier ones merely are fired and thrown out of their apartments onto the streets; others have been arrested and tortured in prison or forced to watch their loved ones being tortured.   In response to this crisis, the OSCE invoked the Moscow Mechanism, a rarely-used tool to investigate particularly appalling human rights violations. But Niyazov refused to cooperate with the OSCE, whose officially designated rapporteur was denied a visa. Nevertheless, he was able to compile a comprehensive dossier of horror, which documents as well as possible without access to prisons, the mistreatment and abuse of those arrested and the persecution of their relatives. The rapporteur also forwarded to the Government of Turkmenistan recommendations to move towards reform. Niyazov has dismissed them as "offensive" and "interference in internal affairs."   Niyazov has also refused U.S. officials entry to his jails. Recently, Ambassador Stephen Minikes, head of the U.S. Delegation to OSCE visited Ashgabat, but despite his explicit request, was not allowed to check on the health of one of those arrested: former Turkmen Foreign Minister and OSCE Ambassador Batyr Berdiev. There are persistent rumors he has died in prison.   One year after the events of November 25, Saparmurat Niyazov remains in power. He continues his crackdown, and the country's downward spiral accelerates. Niyazov has reintroduced exit visas, a legacy of the Soviet past we thought had been definitively overcome. Just last week, he instituted new laws harshly restricting freedom of religion, which is trampled upon daily in Turkmenistan; groups brave enough to meet risk home raids, imprisonment, deportation, internal exile, house eviction and even torture. The new provisions further empower regime agents to squash religious practice. Now, individuals caught more than once in a year acting on the behalf of an unregistered community can be fined between ten and thirty months of wages, or be sent to hard labor for up to one year. Of course, registration is in effect impossible to obtain, leaving religious communities and their members in a highly vulnerable position.   A recent Niyazov decree on NGO activity makes it punishable for most Turkmen to interact with foreigners. Representatives of non-Turkmen ethnic groups, such as Uzbeks or Russians, face discrimination in education and employment. Niyazov has not only reestablished and strengthened the environment of fear, he has deliberately isolated his country from outside influences. Under his rule, Turkmenistan has no chance of developing normally.   As November 25 approaches, we recall that when a political system centralizes all power in the hands one man, offering no possibilities for participation to anyone else, people may be tempted to change that system by any means. And we have occasion to consider the eternal validity of Lord Acton's dictum: "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."   Unfortunately, the U.S. response to Turkmenistan's blatant disregard for human rights has been shamefully weak. In August, although Turkmenistan violates freedom of emigration by requiring exit visas, the Administration made the astonishing decision to exempt Turkmenistan from Jackson-Vanik requirements on the free movement of citizens.   Our leverage on this particular dictator may be weak but we have opportunities to express our outrage about these ongoing abuses and to align ourselves with the forces of freedom and democracy. In addition to ending the Jackson-Vanik waiver, the State Department should designate Turkmenistan a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The regime's well-documented record of "particularly severe violations of religious freedom" unquestionably meets the statutory threshold envisioned when we passed the Act of "systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom."   The United States and the international community must condemn the actions of Niyazov's regime and continue working to bring Turkmenistan back towards civilized and democratic norms. Any other approach betrays our own principles.

  • Deplorable Human Rights Conditions Recalled at Helsinki Commission Hearing on Chechnya

    By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing September 16, 2003 on the current human rights situation in, and future of, Chechnya. Testifying before the Commission were Ambassador Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs; Anna Politkovskaya, Moscow journalist and author; Dr. Robert Ware, Associate Professor at Southern Illinois University; and Lord Frank Judd, Member of the British House of Lords and former Co-Chairman of the Council of Europe-Duma Parliamentary Working Group on Chechnya. In his opening statement, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), called the situation in Chechnya "the most egregious challenge to international humanitarian law in the OSCE region." "The Russian Government declares that the situation in Chechnya is normalizing, and that the 'counter-terrorism operation' is over," Smith said, " but it appears to be a tenuous claim, if that." Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) noted the efforts of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to raise human rights issues in Chechnya through resolutions and bilateral meetings with Russian counterparts urging them to "take a position responsible for the human rights issues in Chechnya." In prepared remarks, Commission Co-Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell observed, "The picture the Kremlin does not want us to see is a wasteland dotted with mass graves, villages depopulated of men--young and old, and unspeakable crimes committed against civilians. Each side should and must be held accountable for its acts of lawlessness and brutality. Extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and abuse of the non-combatants by elements of the Russian military continue." Deputy Assistant Secretary Pifer reported that since his appearance before the Commission on Chechnya in May 2002, "The daily reality for the people of Chechnya has been bleak and deteriorating" and that "[t]he toll of casualties, both Chechen and Russian...continues to mount." He noted that the majority of Chechens, whether those inside Chechnya or displaced to other regions of the Russian Federation, are living in dire conditions. "Deplorable violations of human rights persist," Pifer continued, and "terrorist attacks by Chechen extremists have increased." After the 1994-96 Chechen war, according to Pifer, the resulting chaos and lack of rule of law drew international terrorists to Chechnya. Additionally, treatment by Russian security forces of the civilian population during the current war has contributed to growing extremism and further sharpened the conflict. "Moscow's black and white treatment of the conflict," he said, "makes cooperation in the war on terrorism more difficult as its conduct of counter-terrorist operations in Chechnya fuels sympathy for the extremists' cause and undermines Russia's international credibility." Pifer outlined the three pillars of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Chechnya: an end to all human rights violations; cessation of all fighting and a process that will produce a sustainable political settlement, and; continued humanitarian assistance for those affected by the conflict. In response, Chairman Smith urged the Administration to make Chechnya a leading topic at the late September Camp David meeting between Presidents Bush and Putin. Ambassador Pifer stated his expectation that "these concerns will be among the most troubling that the two leaders will find on the U.S.-Russian agenda." In a subsequent Moscow press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed considerable displeasure with Pifer's forthright remarks at the Helsinki Commission hearing. Anna Politkovskaya focused on the October 5th presidential election in Chechnya and the legitimacy of the new [March 23, 2003] constitution. The vote on the constitution, she testified, "basically gave the people of Chechnya a choice of being good 'Chechens' and therefore have the right to live, or being bad 'Chechens' and therefore opening themselves to the possibility of being exterminated." Regarding the presidential elections, Politkovskaya noted the advantages given to the Moscow-supported incumbent, Akhmed Kadyrov. He has been given the ability to "create huge armed units," she continued. "What this amounts to is...a sponsorship of an all-out Chechen against Chechen war." Dr. Robert Ware testified about the lack of acknowledgment of the Chechen invasion of Dagestan and the resulting 32,000 IDPs, and multiple human rights violations that occurred during Chechnya's de facto independence. "Russia had a moral obligation to protect its citizens in the region," Dr. Ware stressed. Ware stressed the importance of making sure that both sides of the story were taken into consideration. "There is no peace and reconciliation without truth," Ware warned. "And there is no truth when you look at only one side of the problem." Lord Judd, who quit his position as Co-Chairman of the Council of Europe-Duma Parliamentary Working Group on Chechnya over Moscow's insistence on conducting the March constitutional referendum, called the constitution issue "deeply disturbing." "There should have been debate and evaluation, pluralist and independent media, freedom of association, and freedom for political parties were needed [as well as] sufficient non-menacing security for people to feel freely able to participate," Judd continued. Commenting on the West's relationship with Russia, Lord Judd exclaimed, "In the case of the Chechen Republic, it is inexplicable folly to hold back on criticism when by their policies and methods of implementing them, the Russians are perversely recruiting for the global terrorists." The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Jason Ekk contributed to this article.

  • 80th Anniversary of the Turkish Republic

    Mr. Speaker, this week the Turkish Republic, an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will mark its 80th anniversary. The Turkish Government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is working hard toward membership in the European Union. The accession of Turkey to the Union would recognize the important reforms that have already been adopted and accelerate the reform process. The various constitutional reform packages in recent years have addressed, or begun to address, many longstanding human rights concerns. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I am pleased to note that much needed change is beginning to take place. For example, the crucial issue of torture is finally receiving the attention necessary to prevent such abuse and address the legacy of this endemic scourge. Perpetrators of torture are facing punishment by a new generation of state prosecutors. For the first time, police who have committed acts of torture are being brought to justice. However the ongoing use of torture in southeast Turkey in the guise of anti-terrorism is an outrage that Turkey must bring to a halt. It is not enough to pass these reforms or to hold a few show trials. No, all transgressors must be arrested and tried. There must be a zero tolerance policy in place on torture. Other issues of concern have also benefited from the reform package process. For example, religious communities with "foundation'' status may now acquire real property, as well as construct new churches and mosques and other structures for religious use. However, there is a considerable gap between the law and its application. Also, while the problem of allowing the return of internally displaced persons who fled the internal conflict with the PKK terrorist organization remains. Renewed efforts to address this problem are promising, such as inviting the UN Rapporteur on IDPs to visit and the possibility that Turkey may host an international conference on internally displaced persons. While Turkey still has a long way to go to successfully eradicate human trafficking in its borders, the government has taken some positive steps. While I am pleased Turkey has expanded its cooperation with source countries to improve its victim protection efforts, I want to encourage continued improvement to wipe out this modern day slavery. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, other serious concerns remain. While Turkey works to bring its laws and regulations into conformity with the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession and works toward fulfilling human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State, actions taken by police and other government authorities raise doubts as to the sincerity of these reforms. The imprisonment this month of Nurcihan and Nurulhak Saatcioglu for attending demonstrations four years ago protesting the prohibition against head scarves in public institutions, is deeply troubling. The fact that the government denies women who choose this religious expression the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public buildings, including schools and hospitals, is counterproductive and an encroachment of their right to freedom of expression. Similarly, authorities severely curb the public sharing of religious belief by either Muslims or Christians with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view. These limitations on religious clothing and speech stifle freedom of religion and expression and are contrary to Turkey's OSCE commitments. At a fundamental level, the inability of religious groups to maintain property holdings is problematic, as the Office of Foundations has closed and seized properties of non-Muslim religious groups for contrived and spurious reasons. Groups most affected by this policy are the Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches, which have also experienced problems when seeking to repair and maintain existing buildings or purchase new ones. I hope the application of the aforementioned reforms will rectify this problem. The most notable property issue concerns the continued closure of the Orthodox Theological School of Halki on the island of Heybeli in the Sea of Marmara. Considering the reportedly promising conversations between the church and government, I urge Turkey to return full control to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and allow religious training to resume, in keeping with relevant OSCE commitments. Furthermore, religious groups not envisioned by the Lausanne Treaty have no legal route for purchasing property and building facilities, since the new legal provisions affect only communities with the official status of a "foundation.'' As no process exists for these other groups to obtain foundation status, they are forced to meet in private apartments. This lack of official status has real consequences, since provincial governorships and the Ministry of Interior have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant groups and Jehovah's Witnesses without any options. Churches and their leaders in Diyarbakir, Mersin, Iskenderun and other towns all face troubling government prosecutions and threats of closure. I urge Turkey to create a transparent and straightforward process to grant religious groups so desiring official recognition, so that they too can enjoy the right to establish and freely maintain accessible places of worship of assembly. The continued incarceration of four Kurdish former parliamentarians: Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak is particularly disturbing. Convicted in 1994, they have won their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and were granted a retrial under recent Government of Turkey legal reforms. The retrial began March 28, and at each of the eight sessions, most recently October 17, the court has refused to release the defendants. Their continued imprisonment is an outrage. Mr. Speaker, on the 80th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, the initial legal reforms put in place by the government display Turkey's--or at least the legislators in Ankara's--apparent willingness to address much needed reforms in human rights practices. But actions speak louder than words. We need to see implementation of these reforms seriously carried out before we can rest assured that Turkey has met minimal OSCE human rights commitments. As Turkey strives to enter the European Union, I applaud the efforts that have been made to date and urge Ankara to intensify the reform process.  

  • Helsinki Commission Examines Plight of Internally Displaced Persons

    By Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing June 10, 2003, focusing on the plight of an estimated three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Caucasus region and southeastern Anatolia. The region has become a temporary dwelling place to the single largest body of displaced persons in the region covered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Testifying at the hearing were Dr. Francis Deng, United Nations Secretary General's Representative on Internally Displaced Persons; Ms. Roberta Cohen, Co-Director of the Brookings-SAIS Project on Internal Displacement; Dr. Maureen Lynch, Director of Research for Refugees International; and Mr. Jonathan Sugden, Researcher in the Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. Mr. Gabriel Trujillo, Mission Head for Doctors Without Borders of the Russian Federation was scheduled to testify, but encountered unexpected delays in Moscow. Mr. Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director of Doctors Without Borders, U.S.A. graciously delivered Mr. Trujillo's opening statement. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) opened the hearing, describing how protracted conflicts in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and the North Caucasus of the Russian Federation have diminished the prospects of displaced persons safely returning home. He noted that few individuals have been allowed to return to southeastern Turkey, despite the lifting of the last state of emergency in late 2002. "We must address this problem now as thousands and thousands of individuals are suffering," said Smith. "More must be done to find just, realistic and durable solutions." Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) stated in written remarks, "As an American Indian, I am particularly sensitive to the plight of men, women and children who have been uprooted from their homes. Whether due to conflict, natural disaster or other causes, the displaced cling to the hope they will one day be able to return home." Campbell added that with millions waiting to return, "it is the responsibility of individual participating States and the international community to meet the needs of these individuals while working to create the conditions necessary for their return in safety and dignity." Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) emphasized the need for the hearing to both ascertain the precise situation of IDPs in the region and to bring greater attention to their needs. He expressed hope that the hearing would provide information and ideas on how the State Department and the U.S. Congress could play a role in assisting the internally displaced. Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) called the condition of IDPs in the region "urgent," as they suffer not only from a lack of food, medical aid, and education, but also from the inability to return home. "Some fear government action against them. Others fear rebel action. Others fear both," Pitts noted. Dr. Deng is the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement which recognized international norms for the rights of the displaced and the corresponding duties of states in protecting those rights. He provided an overview of the situation in the region, characterizing IDPs as having the same needs as refugees, "but worse." Since IDPs do not leave their country, they remain more or less within the conflict zone, faced with the same threats that caused their flight. While their home governments bear primary responsibility for their safety and security, Deng noted in many cases IDPs become in effect political hostages. By not resettling the displaced and allowing free integration, the government uses them as bargaining chips in the political conflict. When the government fails to act, the displaced often fall into a "vacuum of responsibility," Deng observed, noting that the world cannot sit and watch and do nothing. Ms. Cohen offered a series of recommendations for the OSCE on issues pertaining to IDPs. "The OSCE, more than most regional organizations, has tremendous potential for dealing with the problem of internal displacement in the European region," stated Cohen. "It also has the responsibility to do so." Although recognizing that in recent years the OSCE has expanded its involvement with problems of internal displacement, Cohen noted that these steps have been largely ad hoc and too small. She recommended that the OSCE systematically integrate internal displacement into its activities, particularly within the Caucasus region and southeastern Anatolia, using the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement as a framework. Cohen specifically urged OSCE bodies to ensure the right of IDPs to vote. In addition, Cohen identified the OSCE/ODIHR migration unit as the potential focal point for activities within the organization and contended that, if these recommendations are carried out, it would positively impact the situation in the Caucasus and Turkey. Russian Federation Gabriel Trujillo's prepared statement outlined the results of a Doctors Without Borders' survey conducted in February 2003 that polled over 16,000 displaced Chechens housed in camps in neighboring Ingushetia. When questioned about returning to Chechnya, an overwhelming majority of respondents said they were too afraid for their safety to return. Notably, individuals interviewed did not consider the availability of humanitarian aid available in Ingushetia as a reason to stay. The ongoing violence has kept UNHCR from certifying Chechnya as a safe return destination. International aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders, are choosing to limit or suspend their operations out of concern for the safety of aid workers. Mr. de Torrente pointed to recent abductions, including Doctors Without Borders volunteer Arjan Erkel still missing from nearby Daghestan after ten months, as exemplifying the security situation in the region. "If present security conditions in Chechnya and the neighboring republics are not adequate for humanitarian workers to carry out assistance activities," asked de Torrente, "why would they be considered adequate for civilian Chechens to return and resume their normal lives?" Despite this lack of security, the UN estimates that more than 38,000 IDPs from Ingushetia returned to Chechnya last year. Respondents to the survey said people are left with little choice. They report that officials have threatened to cut off assistance in Ingushetia and block future aid in Chechnya for those refusing to leave immediately. Also, Russian troops reportedly are stationed near IDP camps and authorities limit assistance from international agencies, all to pressure IDPs to return to Chechnya. De Torrente concluded, "The results of the survey are a clear indication that the basic rights of displaced people to seek safe refuge, to be protected and assisted properly in a time of conflict, and only to return home voluntarily as guaranteed by international humanitarian law are not being respected." Turkey Mr. Sugden described the situation in southeastern Turkey, where approximately 400,000 to one million people, mostly of Kurdish heritage, fled their villages during the conflict with the PKK. Relative peace returned to the region by 2001, yet the majority of Turkey's displaced have been unable to return home. Sugden noted that often local authorities will not permit villages to be re-inhabited, while in other cases the gendarmes or village guards block resettlement, often by threat or use of violence. While the Government of Turkey has policies and programs aimed at returning the displaced to their homes, Sugden asserted, they have "consistently been underfunded and ill-conceived, falling far short of established international standards." Because of this, the international community has been reluctant to get involved. "Instead of helping villagers to get international assistance, the government, with its flawed plans, is actually standing in their path," he remarked. Sugden noted that the implementation of a fair and effective return program for the displaced populations in Turkey would also serve the country's goal of EU membership. He urged the Helsinki Commission to use its leverage in encouraging Turkey "as a matter of urgent priority" to convene a planning forum with the goal of creating a return program meeting international standards. Azerbaijan and Georgia Dr. Lynch estimated that in the South Caucasus there are currently some 250,000 displaced individuals from the Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts in Georgia and over 572,000 displaced from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan. Although political solutions would provide the best opportunity for these groups to return home, the frozen nature of the conflicts makes that a remote possibility. In addition, Lynch asserted that the Georgian and Azeri Governments have failed to provide alternative integration opportunities, thereby maintaining the displaced as "political pawns." In Azerbaijan, only about ten percent of IDPs live in camps. The rest have settled in abandoned hotels, railway cars, or underground dugouts, all of which represent serious health hazards from air and water quality to the risk of structural collapse. The lucky few provided with government-funded housing find themselves located far from jobs and on unirrigated land unsuitable for farming. Nevertheless, Dr. Lynch maintains that Azerbaijan is full of potential; it is an oil-rich country with a highly literate population. "The answer to Azerbaijan's trouble is not found only in resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict," he asserted, "Azerbaijan must protect itself from corruption and use all of its resources to look to the future." In Georgia, the living conditions for IDPs are just as harsh, but with the added difficulty of only sporadic food aid. There is also a severe lack of even basic healthcare accessible to IDPs and virtually no psychosocial assistance. What healthcare is available is often too expensive for the displaced, resulting in many IDPs dying from curable ailments. Dr. Lynch declared that both Azerbaijan and Georgia must develop long-term solutions for their displaced populations, but they must also allow relief aid to arrive unhindered. In particular, Georgia must lift the import tax it imposed on humanitarian goods, which is currently blocking effective aid distribution, and both countries must work to create economic opportunities for IDPs. She further urged governments to be transparent in their plans, thereby encouraging continued participation of the international community. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Continuous Religious Freedom Concerns in Armenia

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in my capacity as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission to voice concern over Armenia's refusal to register select religious groups and the continuing harassment of certain religious communities, actions which violate Armenia's commitments to religious freedom as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Honoring the commitments enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE documents would ensure Armenia upholds the freedom of the individual to profess and practice religion or belief, alone or in community with others.   With respect to registration, Armenian law requires all religious communities and organizations, other than the Armenian Apostolic Church, to register with the government. Obtaining registration is critical if a religious community wants to carry out basic functions, like renting property, publishing newspapers or magazines, broadcasting programs on television or radio, or officially sponsoring the visas of co-religionists or visitors.   To acquire registration, a petitioning religious organization must obtain an “expert opinion” from the government, in which four questions from Article 14 of the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations Act must be affirmatively answered: (1) Is the religion based on a historically canonized holy book? (2) Does its faith belong to a system of modern worldwide religious church communities? (3) Is it of a purely spiritual orientation, not created for the pursuit of material goals? (4) Does it have at least 200 believing members, not including minors? A negative finding by the government on any of the four questions will terminate the registration application.   This type of approval system is extremely problematic, as it places the government in the role of determining what is or is not a religion, allowing it to make highly subjective decisions. For example, the government refuses to recognize the Jehovah's Witnesses as an official religion, despite having more than 6,000 Armenian members. Other small groups, including approximately 50 Baptist communities, are unable to pass the numerical threshold, so are not qualified to apply for registration. As a result these groups are indiscriminately denied basic rights enjoyed by those which have the government's stamp of approval.   Last September, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian reportedly stated that the Armenian Government must curb the activities of minority religious communities, even if these actions violate Council of Europe obligations. Mr. Speaker, considering this type of bias, I urge the Government of Armenia to revamp the registration process to prevent arbitrary or politicized decisions. Abolishing the registration requirement and ensuring any system facilitates, rather than hampers, the free exercise of religious freedom for individuals and communities, by methodically granting legal status to groups which seek registration would help bring Armenian policy into conformity with OSCE commitments.   Even more alarming is the Armenian Government's continued imprisonment of conscientious objectors, particularly from the Jehovah's Witnesses faith. According to the State Department's 2002 Anual Report on International Religious Freedom for Armenia, military and civilian security officials subject Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse to serve in the military to harsh treatment, because their refusal is seen as a threat to Armenia's survival. One particular example is the case of Araik Bedjanyan, sentenced on July 2nd to 1½ years in a labor camp for refusing military service. Mr. Bedjanyan was sentenced under Article 75 of the criminal code, for “evasion of active military service.” There are currently 24 Jehovah's Witnesses serving sentences for being conscientious objectors on religious grounds. Suren Hakopyan and Artur Torosyan, whom police arrested in Yerevan on July 3, are currently awaiting trial along with six others for their refusal to serve in the military. Seven more Jehovah's Witnesses are reportedly under house arrest for the same “crime.” Despite Article 75 being replaced by Article 327 in the new criminal code, the amendment only reduces the potential sentence from three years to two.   One of the conditions for Armenia's admission to the Council of Europe in January 2001 involved the adoption of a law on alternative military service conforming to European standards within three years. However, while drafts continue to circulate, no laws have been passed that provide for alternative civilian service outside the framework of the army. In the meantime, conscientious objectors continue to receive harsh sentences. Should the Armenian Parliament pass such a law, the service length should not be punitive in nature, but rather be comparable to military service requirements.   As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I urge the Armenian Government to abide by its OSCE commitments regarding religious freedom. Armenia should overhaul its registration scheme, dropping the registration requirement, and liberalize its system for bestowing legal personality to religious communities and organizations. Furthermore, all Jehovah's Witnesses currently imprisoned for “evasion of military service” should be unconditionally freed, and a law in line with Council of Europe standards for alternative military service should be passed as soon as possible.

  • Displaced Persons Facing Serious Obstacles in Russia

    Mr. Speaker, today I want to bring to the attention of colleagues two situations concerning internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Russian Federation. I recently chaired a Helsinki Commission hearing to assess the plight of IDPs, including those in the Caucasus region.   The first involves IDPs from Chechnya who, according to reliable sources, continue to be pressured by Russian authorities to return to the war-torn capital city of Grozny, despite continuing violence there and a lack of many basic services. According to the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2002, approximately 140,000 persons remained internally displaced within Chechnya, with 110,000 more displaced in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. Despite international attention, including a letter initiated last fall by the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, the Russian Government continues to pressure IDPs to return, and in some cases limits the ability of NGOs to provide assistance.   My concern for the safety of Chechen IDPs is well founded, as authorities in the past year closed three IDP camps, two near the village of Znamenskoye in northern Chechnya and the Aki-Yurt camp in Ingushetia, effectively forcing the residents back to Grozny. Reports of violence and human rights violations by both Russian military units and Chechen rebels in Chechnya are disturbing. The ongoing chaos in that war-torn region has kept UNHCR from certifying Chechnya as a safe return destination, which is supported by the fact that many international aid agencies have limited or suspended their operations out of concern for the safety of aid workers.   Despite this lack of security, the United Nations estimates that more than 38,000 IDPs from Ingushetia returned to Chechnya last year, with many complaining of government coercion. While no camp has been closed since December 2002, Doctors Without Borders reports that government officials threaten to cut off assistance in Ingushetia and block future aid in Chechnya for those refusing to leave immediately. The stationing of Russian troops near IDP camps and the limiting of assistance from international agencies to camp residents represent pressure tactics to “encourage” the return of IDPs to Chechnya.   Clearly, the Russian Government is not respecting the fundamental right of individuals to seek safe refuge. As a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Russian Federation has committed to facilitate sustainable solutions to the plight of IDPs and the voluntary return of such individuals in dignity and safety. I urge President Putin to intervene to ensure that Russian policy and practice are consistent with these OSCE commitments and that no IDPs be effectively forced to return to their homes in Chechnya until the conditions have been created for their return. To do otherwise would place the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Russian citizens at risk.   The second situation I want to briefly highlight concerns the plight of Meskhetian Turks in the Krasnodar Krai region of the Russian Federation. Also known as Ahiska Turks or Meskhetians, Meskhetian Turks were forced to relocate twice within the past 50 years, first from Soviet Georgia in November 1944 to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan. In 1989, approximately 90,000 Meskhetian Turks fled ethnic conflicts in Uzbekistan to all parts of the Soviet Union, with the largest concentration today found in Krasnodar Krai. Numbering approximately 13,000, these displaced individuals find themselves in a virtual no man's land, denied citizenship and permanent residency permits, as well as many other fundamental rights.   Due to loopholes in the Russian citizenship law and the improper application of this law by Krasnodar Krai authorities, Meskhetian Turks must register as “guests” every 45 days, may not legally register the purchase of a house or car, and their marriages and deaths are not officially recorded. Most are denied education above high school, as well. The Krasnodar regional legislature enacted a series of laws in 2002 in an attempt to pressure the Meskhetian Turks to leave. Corresponding with the expiration of the temporary registration held by most Krasnodar Meskhetian Turks, the laws reportedly cancelled leases on land or denied lease renewals for the 2002 crop season. Furthermore, chauvinistic local authorities have not intervened to prevent local Cossack paramilitary units from repeatedly victimizing Krasnodar Meskhetian Turks through public harassment, robbery, and vandalism. In late May, a mob of around 50 people attacked Meskhetian Turks and other non-Russian-looking individuals in two villages, injuring 30 people and hospitalizing six.   By not granting citizenship or providing permanent residency status, current Russian policy enables the discriminatory practices subjugating the rights of Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar Krai to continue. Mr. Speaker, President Putin cited the problems of citizenship and stateless persons in his annual State of the Federation address earlier this year. The Russian President pointed out the complexities and uncertainties faced by stateless persons in Russia. I urge him and Members of the State Duma to rectify the status of Meskhetian Turks and other stateless persons. Meanwhile, the Kremlin should intervene to ensure that Krasnodar Krai officials desist in their discriminatory treatment of the Meskhetian Turks until their status is normalized, as well as guarantee the prosecution of violent criminals.  

  • Repression Spreading in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, Europe's last dictator, Belarus' Alyaksandr Lukashenka, appears determined to ignore the voices of the people of Belarus calling for basic respect for human rights and democratic principles a decade after that country gained its independence and joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).   As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am disturbed by recent developments which demonstrate the growing repression in Belarus. There have been further restrictions imposed on the independent media, with the recent suspension of independent newspapers Navinki and Ekho. Just a few days ago, the publication Predprinimatelskaya Gazeta was suspended for three months. The offices of the trade union paper Solidarnost have been sealed by the authorities. Still other publications have received warnings that could lead to their closure. These actions were preceded by the three-month suspension of two prominent independent newspapers--Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta and BDG--For Internal Use Only.   The Lukashenka regime is also targeting schools. The National Humanities Lyceum, a highly respected high school promoting study of the Belarusian language and culture, is under fire, with its acting head to be replaced by a reportedly non-Belarusian-speaking official. Why? Because professors at the school support democracy and the Belarusian language and culture which ironically is anathema to the Belarusian strongman. Mr. Speaker, what kind of leader actively suppresses his nation's language and culture?   Moreover, a new crackdown on Pentecostal home meetings in western Belarus is underway, with fines being handed down on church members who permit their homes to be used for prayer meetings--a result of last year's restrictive religion law.   Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are also facing increasing scrutiny, often for truly spurious reasons such as minor mistakes in registration documents. Several, including Ratusha, Varuta and the Youth Christian Social Union, are under threat of liquidation. Just a few days ago, the Homel regional court ordered the closure of the area's largest NGO, Civic Initiatives. The intensified campaign against NGOs and the independent media are widely regarded among domestic and international observers as a concerted attack on active and independent civil society structures.   Repressive actions against individuals continue as well. Recently, 18-year-old ZUBR activist Tatiana Elovaya was sentenced to 10 days imprisonment for manifesting her support in an April 3 demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy for the campaign to liberate Iraq. Several others, including 19-year-old Lyubov Kuchinskaya had served 10-day sentences earlier. Unfortunately, these are just some recent examples of a longstanding pattern of the Lukashenka regime's flouting of its OSCE commitments and continued disregard for the four OSCE criteria set forth three years ago by the Parliamentary Troika for Belarus.   Despite steps by the OSCE community, including the re-opening of the OSCE Office in Miensk (albeit under a more limited mandate), the seating of the National Assembly and the lifting of a visa ban, not only have reciprocal steps not been taken by the Belarusian authorities but the situation has indeed deteriorated further.   Earlier this year, I introduced H.R. 854, the Belarus Democracy Act, designed to assist the people of Belarus in regaining their freedom and enable them to join the European community of democracies. Key provisions of this Act also have been incorporated into the Foreign Relations Reauthorization bill. Mr. Speaker, the Lukashenka regime's continuing suppression of the longsuffering Belarusian people underscores the need for the Belarus Democracy Act and other efforts--including within the OSCE--to restore respect for human rights and institutions of democratic governance.

  • Human Rights in Chechnya Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

    By John Finerty, CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing April 24, 2003 on the critical human rights and humanitarian situation in war-torn Chechnya, Russian Federation. The panelists of the briefing were Eliza Moussaeva, Director of the Ingushetia office of the Memorial Human Rights Center, and Bela Tsugaeva, Information Manager of World Vision, Ingushetia. The Commission guests were accompanied by Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for Europe and Eurasia, Amnesty International, USA. Helsinki Commission Deputy Chief of Staff Ron McNamara opened the briefing. “Despite concerted efforts by the Russian leadership to portray the situation in Chechnya as approaching normal, the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by Russian forces continues,” McNamara said. “From reports of credible and courageous human rights activists such as our panelists, it is clear that the most egregious violations of international humanitarian law anywhere in the OSCE region are occurring in Chechnya today.” Ms. Moussaeva said that, as of late, Russian forces no longer conduct sweep operations (“zachistki”) in search of rebels, but now rely on night raids by masked personnel. In the three months from January to March, there were 119 abductions by federal forces engaged in such operations, according to Moussaeva, who added that during the same period last year, there were 82 abductions marking an increase in such activity by Federation forces. This shift in tactics has made it more difficult for families to trace their abducted relatives, whereas previously relatives generally knew which units had conducted the sweeps. Now, units and identities of the raiders are unknown, as well as the location of detainees. Officially, 2,800 persons are missing. Memorial believes the actual number to be significantly higher. Mass graves are a common find. In January, one mass grave was found in which the exact number of corpses could not be ascertained, because the bodies had been blown up by grenades to hide traces of torture and abuse. Authorities claim these individuals were abducted by Chechen rebel forces; yet some family members, who were able to identify their relatives by the clothing on the bodies, say that these individuals were actually taken by federal forces. According to Moussaeva, Moscow’s highly-touted March 23rd constitutional referendum has not marked an improvement in Chechen life on the ground. On one single day after the referendum, Memorial received reports of several cases of individuals abducted by federal forces. On the same day, a bus exploded, killing nine. Ms. Moussaeva asked, “So we have the question, why did we need that referendum if it didn’t change the situation for the better, if it didn’t bring us stability?” Regarding an OSCE presence in Chechnya, Moussaeva said, “We hope that they would have the opportunity to open in Chechnya again, and it will be a great help for us. The OSCE had a very positive experience and a good image after the first war.” Ms. Tsugaeva spoke about the situation for internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to information compiled by the Danish Refugee Council, there are some 92,000 IDPs in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia, which has a population of only 350,000. Fifteen thousand of the IDPs live in five large tent camps, 27,000 in other structures such as industrial plants or farms, and 50,000 in private accommodations, for which most have to pay rent. Most individuals lack basic necessities and have been asked by Ingushetia to leave, yet they have nowhere to go. Refugees in this region have also been subjected to efforts by federal officials to drive them away. Seventy percent of aid comes mainly from international NGOs, and the remainder from the UN. Bread distribution to these people is vital but irregular. Most international NGOs have been unable to open offices in Chechnya due to the security situation, meaning only the most needy, such as children and the elderly, can be provided for. Many land mines scattered throughout parts of the country formerly occupied by military forces are an additional cause for concern. According to official statistics, there were over 5,000 victims of landmine explosions in 2002. Despite the work of international NGOs such as the Handicap International Organization, most of these victims do not have access to adequate medical care and are in one way or another incapacitated for life. Ms. Moussaeva stated that an office established by the Putin government to monitor the human rights situation in Chechnya was ineffectual and merely for show. Of more than 29,000 complaints of harassment by federal forces filed by individuals, only 550 had been investigated. Ms. Greenwood commended the Helsinki Commission for its letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell urging the U.S. delegation at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to push for a strong resolution to the conflict in Geneva. The recently concluded 58th Meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights failed by a vote of 15-21 to adopt a U.S.-supported resolution expressing “deep concern” about reported human rights violations in Chechnya. “Amnesty would like to thank co-signers Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Representative Christopher Smith, Senator Gordon Smith, Representative Steny Hoyer, Representative Robert Aderholt and Representative Ben Cardin,” Greenwood said. Furthermore, Greenwood expressed Amnesty International’s concern regarding the targeting of civilians on both sides of the conflict. Chechen rebel forces have engaged in abductions, hostage taking, and assassinations. Russians have used tactics such as extra-judicial executions, rape, and torture. Amnesty International profiles a few prominent cases, but these represent hundreds of other cases of human rights abuses. Ms. Greenwood presented Amnesty International’s recommendations for the United States Government, including: pressuring the Russian Government not to close tent camps for IDPs; encouraging the US Government to maintain funding levels of the Freedom Support Act for pro-human rights and democracy NGOs in the Russian Federation; demanding access to Chechnya for international journalists and observers; and, supporting the establishment of a human rights tribunal in the Council of Europe. Amnesty International’s recommendations for the Russian Government included providing accountability for previous abuses and ending violations of human rights law. Finally, Amnesty International called upon Chechen rebels to abide by international law, and stop the kidnaping and killings. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission intern Sean Callagy contributed to this article.

  • The Critical Human Rights and Humanitarian Situation in Chechnya

    This briefing followed a defeat, by a vote of 15-21 at the 59th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, of a U.S.–supported resolution expressing “deep concern” about reported human rights violation in Chechnya.  The developments in Chechnya since the outbreak of the war in 1994 were briefly surveyed, while the focus of discussion was largely on the human dimension of the situation and the dangers faced by average Chechen civilians. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Eliza Moussaeva, Director of the Ingushetia Office of the Memorial Human Rights Center; Bela Tsugaeva, Information Manager of World Vision; and Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for the Europe and Eurasia division of Amnesty International – addressed the dismal state of human rights in Chechnya and the issue of international assistance, which was less effective than it could have been due to government accountability issues. The lack of infrastructure and security guarantees was additional topics of discussion.

  • President Shevardnadze’s Statement Welcomed, but Action also Needed

    Today I want to acknowledge and welcome the March 14th statement of the President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, pledging his commitment to religious freedom for all Georgians and promising the punishment of individuals complicit in mob attacks on religious minorities. (I am submitting the statement for the RECORD below.) President Shevardnadze made this pledge during an ecumenical service in Tbilisi’s Evangelist-Baptist Cathedral Church, attended by leaders of the Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Baptist churches and many individuals from the diplomatic community. The U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, Richard Miles, also attended and addressed the gathering. Reportedly, so many people came that hundreds had to listen via loudspeakers in the churchyard.   The service was initially planned for late January, but defrocked priest Basil Mkalavishvili and his crowd of thugs assaulted worshipers and clergy an hour before it was scheduled to begin -- as they have been doing with impunity since 1999. Individuals were beaten as they tried to leave, with rocks and stones being reportedly thrown. While President Shevardnadze quickly condemned that attack, ordering the Interior Minister, the Prosecutor General, State Chancellery Head, and the Security Council Secretary to investigate and punish the perpetrators, no arrests or prosecutions followed.   Despite Georgia’s appalling record on religious tolerance for the last few years, I hope President Shevardnadze’s speech at the Baptist church signals a new determination to arrest and aggressively prosecute the mob leaders and their henchmen. He promised that “as the President of Georgia and a believer, I shall not restrict myself only to a mere expression of resentment. I do promise that the President and the Authorities of Georgia will do their utmost to grant every person freedom of expression of faith.” Driving home the point further, Mr. Shevardnadze declared, “the state will exert its pressure on whoever comes in defiance of this principle. You may stand assured that the aggressors will be brought to justice.”   As Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, over the past three years I have watched with increasing alarm the escalation of mob violence. On September 24th I chaired a Commission hearing focused on this disturbing pattern. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have borne the brunt of attacks, along with Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists and Catholics. Most disheartening has been the government's indifference; victims throughout the country have filed approximately 800 criminal complaints, without one criminal conviction.   Despite a series of statements by President Shevardnadze, Georgia's Minister of Interior and Prosecutor General appear unwilling to effectively enforce the rule of law, refusing to arrest mob leaders like Mkalavishvili and Paata Bluashvili and not attempting serious prosecutions. For example, the trial of Mkalavishvili has dragged on for more than a year, without a single piece of evidence considered yet. I would hope the provision of adequate and visible security, which took months to organize, will continue and that the prosecutor will begin his case shortly. Also, the inauguration of trial proceedings against Bluashvili in Rustavi is positive; I trust the delays and shenanigans seen in Mkalavishvili’s trial will not be repeated there. I also urge the Government of Georgia to arrest and detain Mkalavishvili, Bluashvili and other indicted persons who continue to perpetrate violent criminal acts against religious minorities.   Undoubtedly, President Shevardnadze’s presence at the March 14th service and his statement illustrate his personal commitment to religious tolerance and basic law and order. Yet, while I appreciate his gesture, it is time for real action. If the attacks are allowed to continue, it will only become more difficult to rein in this mob violence. If presidential orders are repeatedly ignored, it will only further weaken the government’s ability to enforce the rule of law. And, of course, we must not forget the plight of minority religious communities that continue to live in a state of siege, without any real protection from their government. Ironically, it appears that minorities’ religious communities are freer to profess and practice their faith in regions of Georgia not under the control of President Shevardnadze’s government.   In closing, I urge President Shevardnadze to fulfill his most recent commitment to punish the aggressors, thereby restoring Georgia’s international reputation and upholding its international commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. I and other Members of Congress are acutely interested in seeing whether the Government of Georgia will actually arrest the perpetrators of violence and vigorously prosecute them.   Speech of the President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze, at the Evangelist-Baptist Cathedral Church   “Representatives of all Religions and Nations have to Raise Prayers for Peace Together” Tbilisi, Georgia March 14, 2003   My dear friends, Christians, Dear Ambassadors!   I am here to give utterance to my contentment and admiration, which derives from seeing you, all Christians, or, to be more precise, representatives of all Christian folds, assembled here, under the same roof of this temple, in the capital of Georgia famed as the Virgin’s lot.   I am happy to be a witness to this occurrence. I am happy because you are together, because we are together. But all of us have our own faith.   I am an Orthodox believer, but we are all Christians. It is what we should always bear in mind and keep intact this wholeness and unity.   Georgia is one of those countries on the planet whose roots go back the farthest in history. Tolerance has become particularly entrenched in its history and nature since the days we embraced Christianity.   Christ granted that we be together. And more than this: Georgia is a multinational country, where Muslims and followers of other confessions have dwelt along with Christians in the course of centuries.   We live presently in a world of stark contradictions. It remains anybody’s guess when a bomb may blast. You probably understand what I mean. Therefore, we should pray for peace, and these prayers should be raised by all of us: Christians, Muslims, representatives of every religion, confession and nation.   But prayers alone will not keep us together. We have also to struggle, in order that, through our benevolence, faith, love and respect to one another, we may put up resistance to the eradicating processes of which I already made a mention.   As was customary with my great ancestors, I go to an Orthodox church. But nor do I keep distance from synagogues, mosques or churches of different Christian confessions.   I feel respect for all who have confident belief in kindness and its victory.   I am happy to see, along with Georgian citizens, the attendance of the distinguished ambassadors and diplomats accredited in Georgia, who have come this evening to share our happiness.   I cannot but express a deep sense of regret, even resentment at the gross infringement of our unity, mutual respect and freedom of faith by some of the aggressors.   As the President of Georgia and a believer, I shall not restrict myself only to a mere expression of resentment. I do promise that the President and the Authorities of Georgia will do their utmost to grant every person freedom of expression of faith.   The state will exert its pressure on whoever comes in defiance of this principle. You may stand assured that the aggressors will be brought to justice.   I would like to greet you once more and wish you happiness and advancement of goals. So as with Georgia, a multinational country of various religious confessions, my wishes are for joy, happiness and prosperity.

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