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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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  • The Referendum in Chechnya

    Mr. Speaker, last Sunday, while the world's eyes were focused on the momentous events taking place in Iraq, a constitutional referendum was held in the war-torn region of Chechnya. The referendum was held as part of the Russian Government's attempt to “normalize” the situation in that tortured part of Russia's North Caucasus.   For the last ten years, Chechnya has been the scene of a bloody war between armed Chechen rebels and Russian military forces. Hostilities were precipitated in late 1994 when, in the wake of Chechnya's attempt to secede from the Russian Federation, Russian military forces launched a full-scale assault on the Chechen capital of Grozny. There was a restive peace from 1996 until the summer of 1999, when the armed clashes erupted anew. The roots of this conflict go back to Tsarist conquests in the 19th century and Stalin's brutal deportation of the Chechen people to Central Asia during World War II. Unfortunately, certain radical Islamic militant elements linked to international terrorism have become involved on the Chechen side, though the State Department has stressed that not all Chechens are terrorists.   Despite Moscow's repeated claims that heavy-handed Russian tactics in Chechnya are part of the war against global terrorism, the situation is far more complex. Many Chechens have taken up arms against what they believe is a repressive colonial power and wish to see Chechnya as an independent state that will be able to make the critical choice regarding the future of its people. As is so frequently the case, the civilian population has suffered terribly from the war. While both sides are guilty of violations of international humanitarian law, the Russian military and special operations units have been responsible for numerous and well-documented instances of gratuitous, brutal and mass violence against the civilian population.   During my years in the leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Commission has conducted eight hearings and briefings on Chechnya. Witnesses, including a nurse who was present in a Chechen town where some of the worst atrocities by Russian forces took place, have described the appalling fate of the civilian population.   According to the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001, “The indiscriminate use of force by government troops in the Chechen conflict resulted in widespread civilian casualties and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of persons, the majority of whom sought refuge in the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. Attempts by government forces to regain control over Chechnya were accompanied by the indiscriminate use of air power and artillery. There were numerous reports of attacks by government forces on civilian targets, including the bombing of schools and residential areas.” The report continues: “Command and control among military and special police units often appeared to be weak, and a climate of lawlessness, corruption, and impunity flourished, which fostered individual acts by government forces of violence and looting against civilians.” Among the examples of such lawlessness and impunity in the Country Reports were “...reports of mass graves and 'dumping grounds' for victims allegedly executed by Russian forces in Chechnya” and “cleansing” operations directed against guerrillas but resulting in deaths and the disappearance of non-combatants.   The State Department points out that Chechen forces also committed serious abuses: “According to unconfirmed reports, rebels killed civilians who would not assist them, used civilians as human shields, forced civilians to build fortifications, and prevented refugees from fleeing Chechnya. In several cases, elderly Russian civilians were killed for no apparent reason other than their ethnicity.”   Against this unsettling backdrop, with an estimated 100,000 internally displaced persons living in refugee camps in neighboring Ingushetia, and under the guns of approximately 80,000 Russian soldiers in Chechnya, the Chechen people have reportedly voted overwhelmingly for the proposed new constitution. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that a genuine assessment of the public will would have been determined under such circumstances. I would ask the same question I asked in a Helsinki Commission press release over a month ago: “Are we supposed to believe that this referendum will stabilize Chechnya while armed conflict between the Russian military and Chechen fighters continue to produce death and destruction?'”   The well-respected Russian human rights group, Memorial, has charged that Chechens were pressured to vote with the threat of losing their pensions or humanitarian aid. A joint assessment mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe stated that “no group has been able to campaign officially against the referendum in the mass media or distribute literature arguing against the referendum,” although some opposition opinions were voiced in the media. Incidentally, in the concluding communique of the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit, the Russian Government agreed that all sides should seek a political solution to the conflict, and avail themselves of the assistance of the OSCE. This commitment was seriously undermined when the Russian government evicted the OSCE Assistance Mission to Chechnya at the end of last year.   Mr. Speaker, the Bush Administration has stated that “...we hope [the referendum] can be the basis for a political solution to that tragic conflict.” I find that rather optimistic. The Russian Government might better instruct its military to stop terrorizing the civilian population, prosecute human rights violators and rebuild Chechnya. Then perhaps it would not have to hold referenda in Chechnya under armed guard.

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act 2003

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, which is intended to help promote democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in the Republic of Belarus , as well as encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence. I am joined by Congressmen HOYER, HOEFFEL and Congresswoman Slaughter, as original cosponsors.   When measured against other European countries, the state of human rights in Belarus is abysmal--it has the worst record of any European state.   Through an illegitimate 1996 referendum, Alexander Lukashenka usurped power, while suppressing the duly-elected legislature and the judiciary. His regime has repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The democratic opposition, nongovernmental organizations and independent media have all faced harassment. Just within the last few months, we have seen a number of events reflecting the negative trend line: the passage of a repressive law on religion which bans religious activity by groups not registered with the government and forbids most religious meetings on private property; the bulldozing of a newly-built church; the incarceration of leading independent journalists; and the continued harassment, as well as physical attacks on the political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations--in short, anyone who, through their promotion of democracy , would stand in the way of the Belarusian dictator. Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the disappearances of political opponents--perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence points at the involvement of the Lukashenka regime in their murders. Furthermore, growing evidence also indicates Belarus has been supplying military training and weapons to Iraq, in violation of UN sanctions.   Despite efforts by the U.S. Government, non-govermental organizations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and other European organizations, the regime of Alexander Lukashenka continues its hold onto power with impunity and to the detriment of the Belarusian people.   One of the primary purposes of this bill is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. The bill authorizes increases in assistance for democracy building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus , and international exchanges. The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards--in sharp contrast to recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Belarus which flaunted democratic standards. As a result of these elections, Belarus has the distinction of lacking legitimate presidential [Page: E242] GPO's PDF and parliamentary leadership, which contributes to that country's self-imposed isolation.   In addition, this bill would impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, and deny highranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs.   The bill would require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states.   Mr. Speaker, finally, it is my hope that this bill would help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected violations of OSCE commitments by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belaras' integration into democratic Europe in which democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount. The Belarusian people deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country based on the rule of law and democratic institutions.

  • Hearing Surveys Human Rights in Republic of Georgia

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The Helsinki Commission held a hearing September 24, 2002 on developments in the Republic of Georgia, with particular focus on the recent violent attacks against selected minority religious communities, as well as the threat of Russian aggression against that Caucasus nation. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) chaired the hearing that examined Georgia’s prospects for democratization, its security situation, and how Washington can best promote the complementary goals of advancing democracy, human rights and economic liberty while leading the battle against international terrorism. The hearing opened with a gripping video documenting mob violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and the failure of Georgian police to quell such attacks. Georgia, which became an OSCE participating State in 1992, was seemingly headed toward domestic stability and democratic governance in the mid-1990s, but recent trends have been disappointing. The official results of elections have not inspired confidence, undermining the public’s faith in democracy and the right of the people to choose their government. While civil society has grown substantially, independent media and non-governmental organizations remain at risk. The savage attack on the human rights organization, Liberty Institute, like the campaign of violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faiths, as well as efforts to silence Rustavi-2 Television, testify to the lingering influence of forces bent on preventing Georgia from consolidating democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Meanwhile, Georgia has been under intensifying pressure from Russia, with Moscow accusing Georgia of failing to cooperate in the war on terrorism. Russian planes have invaded Georgian airspace and bombed the territory, killing Georgian citizens. Russian officials increasingly threaten to launch unilateral military actions within Georgia against Chechen rebels. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently asked the United Nations to support his country’s threats to launch military strikes inside Georgia. Moscow’s threats place at risk Georgia’s sovereignty and stability, moving Washington to consider how best to help Georgia defend itself and maintain control of its territory, while moving decisively against criminal elements and terrorists. This is a very complicated situation because much of the assistance from the United States is contingent upon Georgia’s compliance to stop religious violence within its borders. Co-Chairman Smith opened the hearing by acknowledging Georgia’s progress since the last hearing in 1995, but was quick to point out salient shortcomings. Mr. Smith voiced several concerns pertaining to Georgia’s internal problems. Special attention was paid to the inaction of the Georgian Government in regard to the mob attacks on minority faiths. “I am especially concerned and appalled by the ongoing religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there has been a campaign of assaults against members of minority faiths – especially Jehovah’s Witnesses – which Georgian authorities has tolerated,” Smith commented, “there can be no excuse for state toleration of such barbarity. It must end, and it must end now.” Not only was Mr. Smith concerned about the violence, but he also was concerned with the future of Georgia - U.S. relations because of the “rampant corruption,” unsatisfactory rate of democratization, and lack of compliance with OSCE standards. Mr. B. Lynn Pascoe, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, voiced concern about the violence in the Pankisi Gorge and the Russian pressure on Georgia to eradicate the Chechen terrorist threat. Turning to trends in the areas of democracy and human rights, Pascoe noted, “We have stressed to President Shevardnadze and his government again and again that poor records on human rights and freedom of religion not only undermine Georgia's efforts at economic and democratic reform, but will also negatively affect our assistance if such problems are not addressed.” He further explained efforts in the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP) to help Georgia in the war on terrorism, but suggested that U.S. assistance would diminish if Georgia does not act on the concerns voiced in the hearing. Georgian Ambassador Levan Mikeladze expressed his remorse for the mob attacks. He reassured the Commission that Georgia fully recognizes the problems in religious persecution and legal and practical actions are being taken to ensure there will be no more violent attacks: “We are hopeful that after all these assignments are executed, we will be in a position to say religion-based intolerance in Georgia has no future and manifestations of religiously motivated violence no longer occur.” Georgia’s security was a pressing issue for Ambassador Mikeladze given intrusions and aggression by the Russian Federation. He encouraged the United States to continue the GTEP and continue the strong rapport between the two nations. Co-Chairman Smith and Commissioner Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) were not satisfied with Ambassador Mikeladze’s explanation and expressed concern regarding the lack of action on the part of the Georgian Government to bring the perpetrators of attacks against minority faiths to justice. Smith issued a strong call to action, explaining the injurious nature to Georgia-U.S. relations of Georgia’s failure to actively stop the mob attacks. Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Baptist Union of Georgia set forth a long list of why and how such violence and hatred could be permitted in a democratic state. In attempting to give an explanation as to why such events have occurred in Georgia, the Bishop observed, “We gained independence but we still have not reached freedom. Old values have gone. New values have not come yet.” Songulashvili remarked, “It is not an absence of religious legislation which causes religious violence and persecution but rather absence of culture, justice and general law.” Despite all the grievances noted, Bishop Songulasvili remained hopeful that there would be progress. He offered four “targets” as a solution for the current religious violence: “Family, Mass Media, School and Teaching Institutions, and Religious Congregations.” He concluded, “Our optimism for the better future should not be overshadowed by the turmoil of the present time.” Mr. Gennadi Gudadze, a Jehovah’s Witness from Tbilisi, testified to the brutality experienced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia, including himself. He noted that “since then [October 1999], there have been 133 separate incidents involving either mob attacks, individual attacks or destruction of property.” Gudadze also pointed out that minimal action has been taken by the authorities against the criminals. He called for a three-pronged solution: apply the law, arrest the perpetrators, and remove the corrupt officials. Dr. Gia Nodia, Director of the Institute for Peace, Development, and Democracy, discussed the interrelationship between security on human rights. Dr. Nodia was very concerned with the possibility that the religious violence might evolve into political violence, hence impinging on the democratic process, causing much more turmoil within Georgia. Professor Stephen Jones of Mount Holyoke College gave a dismal summary of the current state of affairs in Georgia. He asserted that the government is failing its citizens and its current stability is based on the “thinnest of ice.” Professor Jones highlighted three main reasons for these failures: lack of economic security in Georgia; lack of proper institutions to carry out governmental and economic functions (i.e. Georgia’s current economy has shrunk 67% and industry is working at 20% of its capacity. Between 1997-2000, expenditure on defense decreased from $51.9 million to $13.6 million, education from $35.6 to $13.9 million, agriculture forestry and fishing from $13.4 to $7.2 million); and lack of political and public support for reform. Jones’ recommendation called for increased western aid, but the burden of progress lays heaviest on Georgia itself. The hearing concluded with a strong statement from Co-Chairman Smith urging the Government of Georgia to work quickly and effectively to eradicate its corruption and religious violence. He concluded his statement with these words, “Our only hope here is to try to promote human rights, democracy, and to protect the sovereignty of Georgia . . . from any forays by Russia.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noticed: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)*, which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the now 55-nation organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. Each of the OSCE participating States, including those examined in this report, has committed to “build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.” Similarly, the participating States have declared that “human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of government. Respect for them is an essential safeguard against an over-mighty State.” In a step designed to preserve the unity of the Helsinki process, each new participating State submitted a letter accepting in their entirety all commitments and responsibilities contained in the Helsinki Final Act, and all subsequent documents adopted prior to their membership (see Appendix I). To underscore this continuity, the leaders of each of the countries signed the actual original Final Act document (see Appendix II).

  • Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe: A Decade of Membership in the Organization

    The ten-year anniversary of the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, fell in 2001. The following year marked another milestone, perhaps less widely noted: the passage of a decade since the entry of the Eurasian and East European States into the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which embraces all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Membership in the organization is predicated on the acceptance of certain bedrock principles of democracy, a wide array of human rights commitments and modern norms of statecraft, including respect for the rule of law and promotion of civil society. This report conducts a review of Eastern European and Eurasian countries' records on these commitments over the course of the decade following the Soviet Union's collapse.

  • Commission Staff Meet with Georgian Officials While Religious Persecution Persists

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel   United States Helsinki Commission staff held consultations in Tbilisi, Georgia from October 14-16, 2002, with senior government officials, religious groups and NGOs to assess religious freedom and other human rights developments in that country. The discussions specifically focused on the ongoing mob violence against non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups, the prospects for ending the attacks, and what actions the Georgian Government should take to stop the depredations. The trip occurred on the heals of a Commission hearing on democracy, human rights and security in Georgia. During that hearing, Members of Congress raised their concerns regarding the ongoing violence against members of minority religious communities, Georgian authorities’ unwillingness to take action against the perpetrators of violence, and Georgia’s relationship with Russia concerning the Panksi Gorge. Commission Members have also written three letters in as many years to President Eduard Shevardnadze urging him to take concrete steps to quell the violence. The violence against minority religious communities began roughly three years ago, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals all being victimized. Over that period, the frequency and intensity of the attacks have increased. Police have been implicated in the attacks, but as of late, their transgressions consist of omissions, such as reportedly refusing to intervene when notified of assaults in-progress. More recently, the main instigators of mob violence are Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. In addition, demagogic parliamentarians, like Guram Sharadze, have led rallies and made inflammatory statements about the so-called “dangers” of non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups to Georgian society and nationhood. The victimization of minority religious groups is often justified through the language of Georgian nationalism. The small former Soviet Republic is squeezed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Once a desired Soviet vacation destination, Georgia’s economy and infrastructure are crumbling, with the government struggling to provide the most basic of services. For example, there is much debate on whether sufficient gas and electricity will be available to avoid outages during the upcoming winter. Some Georgian public figures and religious leaders apparently see political profit from fighting religious pluralism behind the flag of Georgian nationalism, and non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups and their adherents have been characterized as unpatriotic and dangerous to Georgian society. On October 14, President Shevardnadze and the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II, signed a concordat concretizing the church’s relationship with the state. The Georgian Parliament, by a vote of 203 to one, ratified the concordat, bringing the measure into force. In addition to the questionable legal status of a concordat between a government and an entity lacking both sovereignty and any international legal personality, other problems arise. Foremost, the concordat creates an unbalanced playing field against other religious groups. The agreement grants the Catholicos-Patriarch immunity, excludes Georgian Orthodox clergy from military service and limits the creation of chaplain institutions in both prisons and the military to this one religious group. Also troubling is the provision granting the Georgian Orthodox Church the power to approve licenses for “official symbols and terminology of the Church.” As the concordat appendix enumerates a broad and vague list of items and terms falling under the church’s purview, which includes, inter alia, church buildings, liturgical items, crosses, and theological literature, other religious groups, like the schismatic True Orthodox Church, fear this will limit their ability to operate freely. The concordat is not the only legal issue of concern to minority religious communities, as a draft law on religion is circulating in the Georgian Parliament. The draft law, in its current form, contains several problematic articles. The term “improper proselytism” makes impermissible offers of “material or social benefits” or use of “psycho-ideological influence.” Charges of “improper proselytism” could have criminal repercussions, as Article 155 of the criminal code punishes the “offering of material or social care to attract new members to a religious organization or confession” by a fine or two-years imprisonment. Other troubling portions of the legislation include the creation of a registration scheme for religious groups. The draft law mandates the submission of the names of 50 members, as well as information on the group’s doctrines and activities, “attitude towards the family and marriage issues” and “the peculiarities of the attitude of the adherents towards health.” The draft also restricts the use of “Georgia” or “of Georgia” to groups “operating on the territory of Georgia for not less than 50 years.” Denial of registration can occur if, “as a result of the state religious expertise it is established that the entity is not religious.” Lastly, the draft law would allow the termination of religious activities, if the group is found to violate “state security and public order” or for refusing to “administer medical assistance on religious grounds.” If passed in its current form, the law would violate Georgia’s OSCE commitments, as these provisions appear tailored to ensure the curtailing, if not outright banning, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious communities. While there is a legitimate need to provide religious groups juridical personality, the draft law is too invasive and burdensome. The question is will it ever become law. Several officials and NGOs have indicated their general unhappiness with the current draft, saying it is too liberal for some and too limiting for others, but neither viewpoint has the numbers in the fractious parliament to amend the text. Others opined that with the Georgian Orthodox Church secured through the concordat as the preeminent Georgian faith and considering their dissatisfaction with the draft text, the church will no longer push for the religion law. As an alternative, the Supreme Court Chairman has proposed allowing religious groups to access the simple civil code registration process currently provided for non-profit organizations. The Ministry of Justice is reportedly reviewing this option. In discussions with Commission staff, minority religious community leaders expressed greater concern about the unchecked violence, rather than the future implications under the concordat or law on religion. Their concerns are warranted, as several assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the days immediately following the Commission’s September 24 hearing. Additionally, during the first week of October, villagers in Shemokmedi destroyed a church built by the in independent True Orthodox Church. Georgian officials and NGO representatives offered conflicting opinions on the phenomenon of violence inflicted by Vasili Mkalavishvili. Some view Mkalavishvili as an agent of the Russian Government, whose mission is to further destabilize Georgia. Others believe the Georgian Government and the Georgian Orthodox Church purposefully allow Mkalavishvili and his mobs to run wild. The government may benefit from the mob attacks distracting the Georgian polity from numerous government failures. For the Georgian Orthodox Church, the mobs intimidate and harass religious groups considered competition, and elevates the church as the protector of Georgian heritage and nationhood. However, while it is difficult to establish a direct link between the defrocked Mkalavishvili and the government or the Georgian Orthodox Church, the government appears hesitant to stop the cycle of violence. Commission staff also met with officials of the State Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Security Council and the Ombudsman for Human Rights, as well as members of the Supreme Court and several parliamentarians. Each admitted the mob violence was a serious problem, but some were quick to raise what they believe to be contributing factors, such as lack of education, poor economic situation, weak government, or Russian aggression. Government officials and religious groups agreed that if authorities had immediately arrested Mkalavishvili and his thugs three years ago, the problem would not exist today. Georgian officials, for the most part, seem fearful of repercussions which may result from any conviction against mob leaders. Nevertheless, most officials admitted that if authorities arrested, tried and jailed the top perpetrators, even for only six months, the violence would end. Commission staff expressed to Georgian officials the danger of allowing the brutality to continue and escalate, which could have repercussions for the government and the future of Georgia. Staff also made clear the great concern Commissioners maintain about the unwillingness of Georgian authorities to prosecute and jail the perpetrators of violence against members of minority faiths. Commission staff pushed Georgian officials for the provision of proper security for the ongoing trial of Mkalavishvili. In response, each of the Georgian officials repeated their resolution to thwart the violence, with both Georgia’s Ministry of Interior and National Security Council promising adequate police protection. Mkalavishvili’s trial, which started in January of this year, has been postponed five times, with Mkalavishvili’s mob crashing the courtroom and assaulting those in attendance. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) wrote President Eduard Shevardnadze in late October 2002, seeking to reaffirmation of these guarantees. To the credit of the Georgian Government, they have provided adequate security personnel at the subsequent court proceedings of Mkalavishvili’s case. However, during a November 16th hearing, Mkalavishvili’s followers verbally assaulted and forcibly removed a reporter from Radio Free Europe. Security personnel did not intervene. In addition, one of the accused perpetrators reportedly was carrying a concealed firearm inside the courtroom. In closing, there is little hope for religious freedom if the Georgian Government remains unwilling to arrest, prosecute and jail the perpetrators of the mob attacks. While the providing of proper security at the Mkalavishvili trial is a welcomed step, it is long overdue. Considering the hundreds of criminal complaints against Mkalavishvili and other perpetrators of mob violence, the government must bring more prosecutions on serious criminal charges. It is the Georgian Government’s duty to ensure that all its citizens, regardless of their faith, can enjoy religious freedom, as well as personal and communal security. 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.

  • Turkey: What Can We Expect After the November 3 Election?

    This briefing addressed the November 3 elections, which were held during a rather turbulent time in Turkey. Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a former mayor of Istanbul, won an unprecedented 34.27 percent of the votes in Turkey’s legislative election while the Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Deniz Baykal, received 19.39 percent of the votes and won 178 seats in the next Parliament. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Abdullah Akyuz, President of the Turkish Industrialist’s and Businessmen’s Association, U.S. Representative Office; Sanar Yurdatapan, Musician and Freedom of Expression Advocate; and Jonathan Sugden, Researcher for Turkey with Human Rights Watch – addressed the massive recession face by Turkey and the concern of another war with Iraq. The effect, if any, on the rise of Islamist parties in Turkish politics is yet another concern. All of this following the recent snub by the European Union regarding Turkish accession, and increasingly bleak prospects for a resolution of the Cyprus impasse.

  • Prospects for Change in Turkey

    Mr. Speaker, I wish to extend my congratulations to the people of Turkey for their elections held on November 3. Witnessing the peaceful change of government is a change that is significant for both Turkey's citizens and for their neighborhood. Many of Turkey's neighbors need to see that such a transfer of power is possible, for the people of these countries have for too long suffered under the illusion that they must live with their repressive regimes that maintain power through undemocratic means.   It is also important to keep in mind that the Turks, seen by some as a model for the countries of Central Asia, are not new kids on the block--former President Demirel was an original signer of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), I have followed closely the developments in Turkey . With a particularly keen interest in the protection of human rights which has such an impact on the lives of individual men, women and children, I continue to be concerned about the ongoing use of torture, violations of religious freedom and threats to civil society.   Through the ballot box, the Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, received 34.3 percent of the vote, giving them a clear majority of 363 seats in the 550-seat Turkish Grand National Assembly. This entitles the AKP, led by former Istanbul Mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to govern without sharing political power. He will not be without challenges to his authority though.   On November 8, the anniversary of the death of the Turkish reformer Kemal Ataturk, General Hilmi, Ozkok issued a statement vowing "to protect the republic against all types of threats, especially fundamentalism and separatist activities,'' reiterating strongly the military's view of itself as the historical guarantor of Turkey's secular system. Mr. Speaker, while the transition appears peaceful, it is not without its strains and stresses, even with the potential of the military stepping in like it has done repeatedly in the past. We can only hope that is not the outcome of this transition.   As an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Turkey has accepted a broad range of human rights obligations. As head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I have worked with my parliamentary colleagues from Turkey to encourage protection for these commitments. With a new government not obligated to continue the ways of the old, there is a welcome opportunity for such initiatives to be undertaken.   There are a few specific matters that I urge the incoming government to address without delay. Four Kurdish members of the Grand National Assembly have been in prison since March 1994. I call upon the new government to free Layla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan, and Selim Sadak and remove the trumped-up charges from their records. They were convicted for, among other things, speaking their mother tongue in and out of the parliament building. As Mr. Erdogan himself has said, such convictions should not stand.   Also, past efforts to return the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Kurds to their homes in southeastern Turkey have proven ineffectual. The government should take concrete steps to ensure that refugees are allowed to return to their own homes in safety and dignity, which may well require the clearing of land mines and repairing of villages.   Mr. Speaker, without reciting the lengthy list of Turkey's human rights violations, including the use of torture, it is fair to say that Turkey's record of implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments remains poor. While progress has been made, the authority of police officials must be checked by the rule of law. All claims of torture must be seriously investigated, no matter where the investigation leads. It is important that anyone who commits torture--especially police, the security forces or other agents of the state--must be taken to court and tried for high crimes. The Forensic Medical Association should be allowed to carry out its professional responsibilities and act without fear in its attempts to document torture. Victims of torture should be paid due recompense by the state.   I am very concerned about the continuing difficulty no-governmental organizations face throughout Turkey, particularly the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey. The Human Rights Foundation exists in an uncertain environment, with arbitrary shutdowns and having its officials harassed, intimidated or arrested. Property has been seized and not returned.   Religious freedom in Turkey, whether for Muslims or other religious communities, had suffered from heavy-handed government involvement and control. The government allows Turkish Muslims to only attend state-approved mosques, listen to state-funded Imams, and receive religious education from state-funded schools. The Directorate of Religious Affairs, which regulates all of Turkey's 75,000 mosques and employs Imams, has been criticized for only promoting Sunni branch of Islam. I would encourage the new government to bring to a close its regulation of all religious institutions.   The wearing of headscarves has also been regarded as quite controversial since it is seen as a religious totem in a secular state. Women who choose this expression of religious conviction are denied the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public building, including schools and hospitals. The public sharing of religious belief in Turkey with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view is severely curbed for both Muslims and Christians. A number of evangelical Protestant groups throughout Turkey have reported being targeted because of their religious free speech, which contradicts OSCE commitments on religious liberty and freedom of expression.   Turkey's Office of Foundations has contributed its own difficulties for faith communities, as it has closed and seized properties of "official'' minority religious groups and unrecognized faith communities. Several religious groups, most notably the Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches report difficulties, particularly on the local level, in repairing and maintaining existing buildings or purchasing new buildings. The continued closure of the Orthodox seminary on Halki Island remains a concern.   Furthermore, religious groups not considered "official minorities'' under the Lausanne Treaty are provided no legal route to purchase or rent buildings to meet, and are thereby forced to hold meetings in private apartments. In response, provincial governorships, after receiving a letter from the Ministry of Internal Affairs last year, have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant communities without any options. The lack of official recognition is an insurmountable hurdle for minority religious groups wishing to practice their faith as a community.   Turkey is at a critical crossroads. I am hopeful that the new government will take this opportunity to move forward, and craft policies which are consistent with OSCE commitments and protective of all peoples living in Turkey.

  • Russian Democracy Act of 2002

    Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and concur in the Senate amendments to the bill (H.R. 2121) to make available funds under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to expand democracy, good governance, and anti-corruption programs in the Russian Federation in order to promote and strengthen democratic government and civil society in that country and to support independent media.   The Clerk read as follows:   Senate amendments:   Strike out all after the enacting clause and insert:   SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.   This Act may be cited as the ``Russian Democracy Act of 2002''.   SEC. 2. FINDINGS AND PURPOSES.   (a) FINDINGS.--Congress makes the following findings:   (1) Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the leadership of the Russian Federation has publicly committed itself to building--   (A) a society with democratic political institutions and practices, the observance of universally recognized standards of human rights, and religious and press freedom; and   (B) a market economy based on internationally accepted principles of transparency, accountability, and the rule of law.   (2) In order to facilitate this transition, the international community has provided multilateral and bilateral technical assistance, and the United States' contribution to these efforts has played an important role in developing new institutions built on democratic and liberal economic foundations and the rule of law.   (3)(A) Since 1992, United States Government democratic reform programs and public diplomacy programs, including training, and small grants have provided access to and training in the use of the Internet, brought nearly 40,000 Russian citizens to the United States, and have led to the establishment of more than 65,000 nongovernmental organizations, thousands of independent local media outlets, despite governmental opposition, and numerous political parties.   (B) These efforts contributed to the substantially free and fair Russian parliamentary elections in 1995 and 1999.   (4) The United States has assisted Russian efforts to replace its centrally planned, state-controlled economy with a market economy and helped create institutions and infrastructure for a market economy. Approximately two-thirds of the Russian Federation's gross domestic product is now generated by the private sector, and the United States recognized Russia as a market economy on June 7, 2002.   (5)(A) The United States has fostered grassroots entrepreneurship in the Russian Federation by focusing United States economic assistance on small- and medium-sized businesses and by providing training, consulting services, and small loans to more than 250,000 Russian entrepreneurs.   (B) There are now more than 900,000 small businesses in the Russian Federation, producing 12 to 15 percent, depending on the estimate, of the gross domestic product of the Russian Federation.   (C) United States-funded programs have contributed to fighting corruption and financial crime, such as money laundering, by helping to--   (i) establish a commercial legal infrastructure;   (ii) develop an independent judiciary;   (iii) support the drafting of a new criminal code, civil code, and bankruptcy law;   (iv) develop a legal and regulatory framework for the Russian Federation's equivalent of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission; (v) support Russian law schools; (vi) create legal aid clinics; and (vii) bolster law-related activities of nongovernmental organizations.   (6) Because the capability of Russian democratic forces and the civil society to organize and defend democratic gains without international support is uncertain, and because the gradual integration of the Russian Federation into the global order of free-market, democratic nations would enhance Russian cooperation with the United States on a wide range of political, economic, and security issues, the success of democracy in Russia is in the national security interest of the United States, and the United States Government should develop a far-reaching and flexible strategy aimed at strengthening Russian society's support for democracy and a market economy, particularly by enhancing Russian democratic institutions and education, promoting the rule of law, and supporting Russia's independent media.   (7) Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the Russian Federation has stood with the United States and the rest of the civilized world in the struggle against terrorism and has cooperated in the war in Afghanistan by sharing intelligence and through other means.   (8) United States-Russia relations have improved, leading to a successful summit between President Bush and President Putin in May 2002, resulting in a ``Foundation for Cooperation''.   (b) PURPOSES.--The purposes of this Act are--   (1) to strengthen and advance institutions of democratic government and of free and independent media, and to sustain the development of an independent civil society in the Russian Federation based on religious and ethnic tolerance, internationally recognized human rights, and an internationally recognized rule of law; and   (2) to focus United States foreign assistance programs on using local expertise and to give local organizations a greater role in designing and implementing such programs, while maintaining appropriate oversight and monitoring.   SEC. 3. UNITED STATES POLICY TOWARD THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION.   (a) SENSE OF CONGRESS.--It is the sense of Congress that the United States Government should--   (1) recognize that a democratic and economically stable Russian Federation is inherently less confrontational and destabilizing in its foreign policy and therefore that the promotion of democracy in Russia is in the national security interests of the United States; and   (2) continue and increase assistance to the democratic forces in the Russian Federation, including the independent media, regional administrations, democratic political parties, and nongovernmental organizations.   (b) STATEMENT OF POLICY.--It shall be the policy of the United States--   (1) to facilitate Russia's integration into the Western community of nations, including supporting the establishment of a stable democracy and a market economy within the framework of the rule of law and respect for individual rights, including Russia's membership in the appropriate international institutions;   (2) to engage the Government of the Russian Federation and Russian society in order to strengthen democratic reform and institutions, and to promote transparency and good governance in all aspects of society, including fair and honest business practices, accessible and open legal systems, freedom of religion, and respect for human rights;   (3) to advance a dialogue among United States Government officials, private sector individuals, and representatives of the Government of the Russian Federation regarding Russia's integration into the Western community of nations;   (4) to encourage United States Government officials and private sector individuals to meet regularly with democratic activists, human rights activists, representatives of the independent media, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, civic organizers, church officials, and reform-minded politicians from Moscow and all other regions of the Russian Federation;   (5) to incorporate democratic reforms, the promotion of independent media, and economic reforms in a broader United States dialogue with the Government of the Russian Federation;   (6) to encourage the Government of the Russian Federation to address, in a cooperative and transparent manner consistent with internationally recognized and accepted principles, cross-border issues, including the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, crime, trafficking, and corruption;   (7) to consult with the Government of the Russian Federation and the Russian Parliament on the adoption of economic and social reforms necessary to sustain Russian economic growth and to ensure Russia's transition to a fully functioning market economy and membership in the World Trade Organization;   (8) to persuade the Government of the Russian Federation to honor its commitments made to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at the November 1999 Istanbul Conference, and to conduct a genuine good neighbor policy toward the other independent states of the former Soviet Union in the spirit of internationally accepted principles of regional cooperation; and   (9) to encourage the G-8 partners and international financial institutions, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, to develop financial safeguards and transparency practices in lending to the Russian Federation.   SEC. 4. AMENDMENTS TO THE FOREIGN ASSISTANCE ACT OF 1961.   (a) IN GENERAL.--   (1) DEMOCRACY AND RULE OF LAW.--Section 498(2) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295(2)) is amended--   (A) in the paragraph heading, by striking ``DEMOCRACY'' and inserting ``DEMOCRACY AND RULE OF LAW'';   (B) by striking subparagraphs (E) and (G);   (C) by redesignating subparagraph (F) as subparagraph (I);   (D) by inserting after subparagraph (D) the following:   ``(E) development and support of grass-roots and nongovernmental organizations promoting democracy, the rule of law, transparency, and accountability in the political process, including grants in small amounts to such organizations;   '`(F) international exchanges and other forms of public diplomacy to promote greater understanding on how democracy, the public policy process, market institutions, and an independent judiciary function in Western societies;   ``(G) political parties and coalitions committed to promoting democracy, human rights, and economic reforms;   ``(H) support for civic organizations committed to promoting human rights;''; and   (E) by adding at the end the following:   ``(J) strengthened administration of justice through programs and activities carried out in accordance with section 498B(e), including-- ``(i) support for nongovernmental organizations, civic organizations, and political parties that favor a strong and independent judiciary; ``(ii) support for local organizations that work with judges and law enforcement officials in efforts to achieve a reduction in the number of pretrial detainees; and ``(iii) support for the creation of legal associations or groups that provide training in human rights and advocacy, public education with respect to human rights-related laws and proposed legislation, and legal assistance to persons subject to improper government interference.''.   (2) INDEPENDENT MEDIA.--Section 498 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295) is amended--   (A) by redesignating paragraphs (3) through (13) as paragraphs (4) through (14), respectively; and   (B) by inserting after paragraph (2) the following:   ``(3) INDEPENDENT MEDIA.--Developing free and independent media, including--   ``(A) supporting all forms of independent media reporting, including print, radio, and television;   ``(B) providing special support for, and unrestricted public access to, nongovernmental Internet-based sources of information, dissemination and reporting, including providing technical and other support for web radio services, providing computers and other necessary resources for Internet connectivity and training new Internet users in nongovernmental civic organizations on methods and uses of Internet-based media; and   ``(C) training in journalism, including investigative journalism techniques that educate the public on the costs of corruption and act as a deterrent against corrupt officials.''.   (b) CONFORMING AMENDMENT.--Section 498B(e) of such Act is amended by striking ``paragraph (2)(G)'' and inserting ``paragraph (2)(J)''.   SEC. 5. ACTIVITIES TO SUPPORT THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION.   (a) ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS.--In providing assistance to the Russian Federation under chapter 11 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295 et seq.), the President is authorized to-- (1) work with the Government of the Russian Federation, the Duma, and representatives of the Russian Federation judiciary to help implement a revised and improved code of criminal procedure and other laws; (2) establish civic education programs relating to democracy, public policy, the rule of law, and the importance of independent media, including the establishment of ``American Centers'' and public policy schools at Russian universities and encourage cooperative programs with universities in the United States to offer courses through Internet-based off-site learning centers at Russian universities; and (3) support the Regional Initiatives (RI) program, which provides targeted assistance in those regions of the Russian Federation that have demonstrated a commitment to reform, democracy, and the rule of law, and which promotes the concept of such programs as a model for all regions of the Russian Federation.   (b) RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY AND VOICE OF AMERICA.--RFE/RL, Incorporated, and the Voice of America should use new and innovative techniques, in cooperation with local independent media sources and using local languages as appropriate and as possible, to disseminate throughout the Russian Federation information relating to democracy, free-market economics, the rule of law, and human rights.   SEC. 6. AUTHORIZATION OF ASSISTANCE FOR DEMOCRACY, INDEPENDENT MEDIA, AND THE RULE OF LAW.   Of the amounts made available to carry out the provision of chapter 11 of part I of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2295 et seq.) and the FREEDOM Support Act for fiscal year 2003, $50,000,000 is authorized to be available for the activities authorized by paragraphs (2) and (3) of section 498 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended by section 4(a) of this Act.   SEC. 7. PRESERVING THE ARCHIVES OF HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER ANDREI SAKHAROV. (a) AUTHORIZATION.--The President is authorized, on such terms and conditions as the President determines to be appropriate, to make a grant to Brandeis University for an endowment for the Andrei Sakharov Archives and Human Rights Center for the purpose of collecting and preserving documents related to the life of Andrei Sakharov and the administration of such Center. (b) FUNDING.--There is authorized to be appropriated to the President to carry out subsection (a) not more than $1,500,000.   SEC. 8. EXTENSION OF LAW.   The provisions of section 108(c) of H.R. 3427, as enacted by section 1000(a)(7) of Public Law 106-113, shall apply to United States contributions for fiscal year 2003 to the organization described in section 108(c) of H.R. 3427.   Amend the title so as to read: ``An Act to make available funds under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to expand democracy, good governance, and anti-corruption programs in the Russian Federation in order to promote and strengthen democratic government and civil society and independent media in that country.''.   The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) and the gentlewoman from California (Ms. Watson) each will control 20 minutes.   The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith).   GENERAL LEAVE   Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks on the bill under consideration.   The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from New Jersey?   There was no objection.   Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.   This bill, the Russian Democracy Act, ensures that American assistance will continue to be available to help strengthen and consolidate democracy in the Russian Federation. While this seems to be a routine measure, we should take a few minutes to note what this bill represents. The mere fact that we can talk of democracy in Russia as a reality in the present and not some dim prospect in the hazy future is one of the many wonders of the past decade that have grown familiar and now is largely taken for granted. Its existence, however, is a testament to the deep commitment to fundamental values shared by peoples all over the world.   Mr. Speaker, this bill before us represents an important part of the effort to continue that democratization. It focuses our attention and assistance on many of the prerequisites of a free and a prosperous society, including the creation of a resilient civil society, the strengthening of an independent press, and the establishment of the rule of law.

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act

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

  • Escalating anti-Semitic Violence in Europe

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

  • HEARING FOCUSES ON RUSSIAN-CHECHEN WAR

    By John J. Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a hearing on the latest developments in the conflict in Chechnya on May 9, 2002. Commissioner Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Ms. Aset Chadaeva, a pediatric nurse and former resident of Chechnya; Andrei Babitsky, Radio Liberty correspondent and author of Undesirable Witness; and Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The United States Government is committed to doing all that we can to bring about an end to this conflict and to relieve the suffering of the civilian population,” testified Secretary Pifer. He asserted that the issue of Chechnya has been raised frequently by U.S. government officials with their counterparts, and President George W. Bush discussed it with President Vladimir Putin last November. “We anticipate it will come up at the summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg in two weeks,” Pifer said. “We seek a political settlement that will end the fighting, promote reconciliation, and recognize the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation [as well as] accountability for human rights abuses committed by all sides, and unimpeded access to the displaced by humanitarian organizations,” Pifer elaborated. Referring to U.S. concern about links of some Chechen forces with international terrorist groups, Secretary Pifer stated that the United States Government has called on Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other moderate Chechens to disassociate themselves from terrorists. On this point, Pifer noted the United States Government’s efforts to train and equip Georgian military units to deal with terrorist elements in the Pankisi Gorge adjacent to Chechnya’s southern border. Pifer testified that the United States has been the largest single provider of humanitarian aid to the North Caucasus. Since 1999 the U.S. Government has contributed more than 30 million dollars to relieve war-related suffering in the region. Ms. Chadaeva presented gripping testimony based on her work as a nurse in the Chechen town of Aldi on February 5, 2000, when Russian contract soldiers conducted a “cleansing operation” that left sixty civilians dead. “They threw grenades into basements where people were hiding,” Chadaeva said. “They executed unarmed men, women, old people and children. The victims ranged in age from a one-year-old baby to an eighty-two-year-old woman. They killed a woman who was eight months pregnant and her one-year-old son. All my patients who had been wounded during the bombings, who were getting well, were killed and their bodies burned.” Asked if the soldiers intended to kill their victims or if the casualties were the result of random grenades, Chadaeva replied, “these people were killed by being shot in the head...the soldiers knew exactly whom they were killing.” Concluding her description of wanton killing of Chechen civilians by Russian forces, Ms. Chadaeva asked “Is it really necessary to have millions of victims to call such behavior genocide? Isn’t the death of 100,000 Chechens since 1994 in the two Russian-Chechen wars sufficient reason for effective international action to end the conflict and the agony of the Chechen people?” Andrei Babitsky briefly described the fate of people killed for unknown reasons in Chechnya their bodies found bearing signs of torture. They were killed, he said, “as part of the anarchy and arbitrary rule which is now the order of the day in Chechnya.” The Radio Liberty correspondent then described the efforts made by Russian authorities, to prevent information about the war, especially human rights violations and atrocities against non-combatants, from reaching the general public. Moscow had succeeded in creating a “ghetto” of the war zone, he asserted, “shut off from the sight and influence of the outside world.” The main issue, Babitsky contended, is not how individual Russian journalists view the war. Most reporters agree with the official position that Moscow is waging an “anti-terrorist” and “anti-separatist” operation. “The main issue is that the Russian military and the Kremlin have banned reports on killings, torture and kidnaping of civilians by the Russian military,” Babitsky said. “The lack of information about Chechnya is one of the most effective ways to create a situation in which killers and kidnappers in epaulets can operate without legal accountability.” Regarding assertions by Moscow of Chechen involvement with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Babitsky noted that during a recent visit to Afghanistan, neither he nor other Russian journalists found any Chechen fighters, despite a concerted search. Anatol Lieven observed that the United States now recognizes the presence of international Islamic militant forces in Chechnya and Georgia, whereas earlier, “this was downplayed or even ignored altogether by wide sections of U.S. officialdom, the media and public opinion.” The prevention or elimination of lawless areas and quasi-states in the Muslim world – of which Chechnya between 1996 and 1999 was one – is now recognized as a vital U.S. national interest, since such areas can all too easily become safe havens for Al Qaeda or allied groups,” Lieven continued. Nevertheless, Lieven stated, “while extremists and terrorists have established a strong presence in Chechnya, they have been able to do so because of the legitimate grievances and the great suffering of the Chechen people...The initial appearance of these forces – as in Afghanistan – was due to the brutal Russian military intervention of 1994-96; and the way in which they were able to carve out a powerful position for themselves in 1996-99 owed an enormous amount to the destruction, brutalization, and radicalization left behind by that war.” Summing up, Lieven suggested that U.S. goals should be the destruction or exclusion of the radicals followed by a sharp reduction of the Russian military presence, free elections for a Chechen administration, and the restoration of autonomy. However, he concluded, “before it can embark on any such path the U.S. needs to think very seriously about the correct balance between sympathy for Chechen suffering, respect for Russian security and sovereignty, and America’s own vital interests in this region, in the context of the wider war against terrorism.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Hearing Focuses on Russian-Chechen War

    The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a hearing on the latest developments in the conflict in Chechnya on May 9, 2002. Commissioner Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) chaired the hearing. Commissioners Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) and Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also participated. Testifying before the Commission were Steven Pifer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State; Ms. Aset Chadaeva, a pediatric nurse and former resident of Chechnya; Andrei Babitsky, Radio Liberty correspondent and author of Undesirable Witness; and Anatol Lieven, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “The United States Government is committed to doing all that we can to bring about an end to this conflict and to relieve the suffering of the civilian population,” testified Secretary Pifer. He asserted that the issue of Chechnya has been raised frequently by U.S. government officials with their counterparts, and President George W. Bush discussed it with President Vladimir Putin last November. “We anticipate it will come up at the summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg in two weeks,” Pifer said. “We seek a political settlement that will end the fighting, promote reconciliation, and recognize the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation [as well as] accountability for human rights abuses committed by all sides, and unimpeded access to the displaced by humanitarian organizations,” Pifer elaborated. Referring to U.S. concern about links of some Chechen forces with international terrorist groups, Secretary Pifer stated that the United States Government has called on Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and other moderate Chechens to disassociate themselves from terrorists. On this point, Pifer noted the United States Government’s efforts to train and equip Georgian military units to deal with terrorist elements in the Pankisi Gorge adjacent to Chechnya’s southern border. Pifer testified that the United States has been the largest single provider of humanitarian aid to the North Caucasus. Since 1999 the U.S. Government has contributed more than 30 million dollars to relieve war-related suffering in the region. Ms. Chadaeva presented gripping testimony based on her work as a nurse in the Chechen town of Aldi on February 5, 2000, when Russian contract soldiers conducted a “cleansing operation” that left sixty civilians dead. “They threw grenades into basements where people were hiding,” Chadaeva said. “They executed unarmed men, women, old people and children. The victims ranged in age from a one-year-old baby to an eighty-two-year-old woman. They killed a woman who was eight months pregnant and her one-year-old son. All my patients who had been wounded during the bombings, who were getting well, were killed and their bodies burned.” Asked if the soldiers intended to kill their victims or if the casualties were the result of random grenades, Chadaeva replied, “these people were killed by being shot in the head...the soldiers knew exactly whom they were killing.” Concluding her description of wanton killing of Chechen civilians by Russian forces, Ms. Chadaeva asked “Is it really necessary to have millions of victims to call such behavior genocide? Isn’t the death of 100,000 Chechens since 1994 in the two Russian-Chechen wars sufficient reason for effective international action to end the conflict and the agony of the Chechen people?” Andrei Babitsky briefly described the fate of people killed for unknown reasons in Chechnya their bodies found bearing signs of torture. They were killed, he said, “as part of the anarchy and arbitrary rule which is now the order of the day in Chechnya.” The Radio Liberty correspondent then described the efforts made by Russian authorities, to prevent information about the war, especially human rights violations and atrocities against non-combatants, from reaching the general public. Moscow had succeeded in creating a “ghetto” of the war zone, he asserted, “shut off from the sight and influence of the outside world.” The main issue, Babitsky contended, is not how individual Russian journalists view the war. Most reporters agree with the official position that Moscow is waging an “anti-terrorist” and “anti-separatist” operation. “The main issue is that the Russian military and the Kremlin have banned reports on killings, torture and kidnaping of civilians by the Russian military,” Babitsky said. “The lack of information about Chechnya is one of the most effective ways to create a situation in which killers and kidnappers in epaulets can operate without legal accountability.” Regarding assertions by Moscow of Chechen involvement with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Babitsky noted that during a recent visit to Afghanistan, neither he nor other Russian journalists found any Chechen fighters, despite a concerted search. Anatol Lieven observed that the United States now recognizes the presence of international Islamic militant forces in Chechnya and Georgia, whereas earlier, “this was downplayed or even ignored altogether by wide sections of U.S. officialdom, the media and public opinion.” The prevention or elimination of lawless areas and quasi-states in the Muslim world – of which Chechnya between 1996 and 1999 was one – is now recognized as a vital U.S. national interest, since such areas can all too easily become safe havens for Al Qaeda or allied groups,” Lieven continued. Nevertheless, Lieven stated, “while extremists and terrorists have established a strong presence in Chechnya, they have been able to do so because of the legitimate grievances and the great suffering of the Chechen people...The initial appearance of these forces – as in Afghanistan – was due to the brutal Russian military intervention of 1994-96; and the way in which they were able to carve out a powerful position for themselves in 1996-99 owed an enormous amount to the destruction, brutalization, and radicalization left behind by that war.” Summing up, Lieven suggested that U.S. goals should be the destruction or exclusion of the radicals followed by a sharp reduction of the Russian military presence, free elections for a Chechen administration, and the restoration of autonomy. However, he concluded, “before it can embark on any such path the U.S. needs to think very seriously about the correct balance between sympathy for Chechen suffering, respect for Russian security and sovereignty, and America’s own vital interests in this region, in the context of the wider war against terrorism.” An un-official transcript of the hearing and written statements submitted by Members and witnesses are located on the Helsinki Commission’s Internet web site. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Georgian Government Complicity in Mob Violence against Minority Religious Groups

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

  • Unpunished Religious Persecution in the Republic of Georgia

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

  • Escalating Violence and Rights Violations in Central Asia

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

  • Kyrgyzstan's Release of Azimbek Beknazarov

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

  • Re-Registration Campaign Denying Religious Freedom in Azerbaijan

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

  • U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns

    This briefing addressed U.S. policy in Central Asia and human rights concerns in the region in advance of the President of Uzbekistan’s visit to Washington, which had drawn attention to the deepening engagement of the United States in the region. Questions about Washington’s leverage presently and in the foreseeable future as well as the prospects for improving the dismal human rights situation in the region were discussed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence Uzzell, Director of the Keston Institute; E. Wayne Merry, Senior Associate of the American Foreign Policy Council; and Nina Shea, Commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – presented numerous examples of the human rights violations that occur in Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan and pointed to the inheritance of imperial policies of commodity exploitation, ecological damage, and extremely bad demographics as several of the motivating factors of these violations.

  • Alarming Developments for Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan

    Mr. Speaker, troubling amendments to the current Kazakh law on religion await President Nursultan Nazarbayev's signature to enter into force. Both the lower and upper houses of the Kazakh parliament passed the amendments without any substantive modifications. As a result, if President Nazarbayev signs the legislation into law during the ten-day window, Kazakhstan would seriously undermine its commitments as a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to ensure the freedom of the individual to profess and practice their religion or belief. Introduced without public consultation in late November 2001, the amendments passed the lower house on January 17 and the upper house on January 31 of this year. The sudden rush to passage was surprising. Kazakhstan had been working with the OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts for Freedom of Religion or Belief to craft a law in harmony with its OSCE commitments. In fact, an earlier draft heavily criticized by the Advisory Panel was withdrawn in August 2001. The Advisory Panel issued a report on the latest draft on January 16, 2002, highlighting serious deficiencies in the text. However, it appears little heed was given to their critique. Reportedly, the executive branch pushed vigorously for legislation providing stricter controls on minority religious groups, which would explain the rapid consideration. In response to these unfolding events, myself, Chairman Ben Nighthorse Campbell and six other Commissioners of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Helsinki Commission, wrote President Nazarbayev last week about these developments. The text of that letter, which I am submitting for the RECORD, highlights several, but not all problematic elements of the recently passed legislation. Of particular note are the increased hurdles for registration and vaguely worded articles, which could allow for arbitrary denials of registration for religious groups, and consequently their legal existence. Accordingly, there is great concern for the future of religious freedom in Kazakhstan, whether for Muslims or Christians. Mr. Speaker, in the letter we respectfully asked President Nazarbayev not to sign the amendments into law. Our concerns are not based on mere supposition; related laws and regulations have been utilized to suppress faith communities in Kazakhstan. For example, this past summer Article 375 of the Administrative Code was introduced, requiring the registration of all religious groups and including language penalizing unregistered religious groups. Police have since justified several raids on religious meetings citing Article 375, resulting in harassment and imprisonment as well as reported beatings and torture. Actions late last year against unregistered Baptist pastors is an illustrative example. On October 27, 2001, Pastor Asylbek Nurdanov, a Baptist leader in the Kyzyl-Orda regional city of Kazalinsk, went to a police station after his church was raided for failing to register. Once there, he was reportedly severely beaten and stripped, with one officer attempting to strangle him with a belt. Another threatened to cut off his tongue with scissors if he did not renounce his faith. It was also reported that on November 10, Pastor Nurdanov was forcibly taken and detained in a psychiatric hospital in Kyzyl-Orda. While he was released on November 16, such abuse is unacceptable. Other reports of police harassment and detention of Baptist pastors who have not registered their faith communities also exist. For example, on September 25, 2001, the Aktobe public prosecutor initiated legal proceedings against Baptist Pastor Vasily Kliver on the charge of ``evading the registration of a religious community.'' In October, Baptist pastor Valery Pak was jailed in Kyzyl-Orda for five days on the same charge. These reports of harassment, torture and detention indicate a serious failure to uphold Kazakhstan's human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State. As is evident, our concerns about Kazakh authorities utilizing the proposed amendment's restrictive nature to harass, if not condemn, religious groups are borne out by past practice in Kazkahstan. Mr. Speaker, it is my hope that President Nazarbayev will honor the obligations his nation freely chose to uphold as a participating OSCE state and not sign the amendments into law. Mr. Speaker, I request that the text of the letter sent to President Nazarbayev last week be included in the Record. January 30, 2002. His Excellency Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana, Kazakhstan. Dear President Nazarbayev: The OSCE Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion and Belief issued a review of the proposed amendments on January 16, 2002. The review found the proposed amendments, while an improvement from an earlier draft withdrawn in August 2001, seriously deficient in many respects. In addition, the OSCE Centre in Almaty has stated the current religion law meets international standards and found no justification for initiating the new provisions. Therefore, we believe the remarks contained in the OSCE Advisory Panel critique should be followed fully. Problematic areas include, but are not limited to, permitting the registration of Muslim groups and the building of mosques only after a recommendation of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Kazakhstan. In addition, the number of individuals required to form a religious association would increase from 10 to 50, regardless of religion. Furthermore, the proposed amendments would permit dissolution of a religious group should individual members of the group commit repeated violations of the law. Each of these examples would allow the government to arbitrarily deny registration, and thereby legal existence, on specious legal grounds not in harmony with OSCE commitments. Reportedly, your government's justification for the new requirements in the current amendments, which create hurdles for registration, is to combat religious extremism. Yet the definition of "religious extremism'' in the amendments is vague and inherently problematic, potentially categorizing and prohibiting groups on the basis of their beliefs, rather than on their having committed illegal actions. Such vague language would allow the arbitrary interpretation of a group's beliefs and uneven implementation of the law. Our fear of Kazakh authorities harshly employing new requirements against religious groups is not unfounded. While the existing religion law does not require registration of faith communities, Article 375 of the Administrative Code, a provision added last year, requires the registration of faith communities. Since the promulgation of that article, we have received several reports of unregistered groups being penalized through criminal sanctions, as well as individuals being beaten while in custody. The harassment, detention and beating of individuals for merely belonging to unregistered religious groups, as well as disproportionate criminal charges for an administrative violation, are in direct violation of OSCE commitments. In calling for these actions, we remind you of the 1991 Moscow Document in which the OSCE participating States declared that "issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern'' and "are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.'' It is in this light that these requests are made. Last autumn, your government made a wise decision by choosing to honor its OSCE commitments and withdrawing the earlier version of the amendments. Recognizing the crucial importance that the very highest standards of religious freedom and human rights agreed to and proclaimed in various Helsinki documents be upheld, we respectfully urge you to take similar steps and not sign the amendments into law, should they pass the Senate without substantive modification. Sincerely, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, U.S.S. Chairman Christopher H. Smith, M.C. Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer, M.C.; Joseph R. Pitts, M.C.; Zach Wamp, M.C.; Robert B. Aderholt, M.C.; Alcee L. Hastings, M.C.; Louise McIntosh Slaughter, M.C.  

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