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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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  • Europe's Largest Annual Human Dimension Meeting Closes With Appeal from NGOs

    By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law From October 4-15, 2004, the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe met in Warsaw, Poland, for a Human Dimension Implementation Meeting.  Each year, the OSCE convenes a forum to discuss the participating States’ compliance with the full range of their OSCE human dimension commitments agreed on the basis of consensus. The United States Delegation was headed by Larry C. Napper, former Ambassador to Kazakhstan and Latvia.  He was joined by Ambassador Stephan M. Minikes, Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Ambassador Edward O'Donnell, Department of State Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues; J. Kelly Ryan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration; and Matthew Waxman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs.  Members of the staff of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe also participated in the delegation. In the tradition of engaging accomplished individuals from the private sector with human rights expertise, the U.S. Delegation included several public members:  Gavin Helf and Catherine Fitzpatrick, both experts on the countries of the former Soviet Union; Frederick M. Lawrence, Anti-Defamation League; and Mark B. Levin, Executive Director, NCSJ: Advocates on behalf of Jews in Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States & Eurasia. Broad Range of Issues Reviewed During the first week of the meeting, formal sessions were devoted to a review of the implementation by participating States of the full range of their human rights and fundamental freedom commitments.  During the second week, three days were devoted to topics chosen by the Chair-in-Office, in consultation with the participating States.  This year, the special topics were: the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination (following up on extra-ordinary conferences held earlier this year on anti-Semitism and on racism, xenophobia and discrimination); freedom of assembly and association; and “complementarity and co-operation between international organizations in promoting human rights.” At the meeting’s mid-way plenary session, the United States expressed particular concern about the deteriorating situation in Turkmenistan.  In 2003, ten OSCE participating States took the unusual step of invoking the "Moscow Mechanism" for the first time in a decade.  They were prompted to do so after Turkmenistan authorities reacted to an attack on President Saparmurat Niyazov's motorcade on November 25, 2002, with a widespread human rights crackdown marked by torture, disappearances, and an escalation of Stalin-era practices.  Turkmenistan refused to cooperate with the mission established under the mechanism and, in 2004, refused to renew the accreditation of the Head of the OSCE Office in Ashgabat, Parachiva Badescu.  Although Turkmenistan again declined to send representatives to participate in the HDIM, the United States argued to the participating States that sustained OSCE engagement on these matters is necessary to counter Turkmenistan’s increasing self-isolation. "Why is it that only the United States helps democracy in Belarus?  Where is Europe?" --Human rights activist from Belarus The need to protect human rights while countering terrorism was a strong theme throughout this year’s meeting.  In addition, the deteriorating situation for human rights defenders in much of the former Soviet region, concern about the elections in Belarus and Ukraine, the failure to implement meaningful reforms in Uzbekistan, and the plight of refugees and internally displaced persons, including Roma from Kosovo, were other issues raised.  In the second week session devoted to tolerance, the United States argued that the Chair-in-Office should appoint two personal representatives to address the problems of anti-Semitism as well as racism, xenophobia, and discrimination. As at past human dimension meetings and meetings of the OSCE Permanent Council, the United States was criticized for retaining the death penalty, contrary to the abolitionist trend among other OSCE participating States. At present, the only other OSCE countries that still officially apply the death penalty are Belarus and Uzbekistan. A U.S.-based nongovernmental organization repeatedly criticized the United States for failing to provide citizens of the District of Columbia the right to voting representation in the Congress.  Belarus issued even more sweeping criticism of U.S. electoral practices. Coming just days before Belarusian elections that the OSCE Election Observation Mission subsequently concluded “fell significantly short of OSCE commitments,” the rebuke by Belarus appeared to be a cynical move to preempt or deflect criticism of its own shortcomings. The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was condemned by both governmental and non-governmental speakers.  In addition, some participants criticized the United States for the use of military commissions to try alleged terrorists and for a 2002 Department of Justice memorandum that outlined legal defenses and loopholes that might be used to evade statutory and international legal prohibition against torture. Side Events Add Substance One of the striking features of this year’s meeting was the significant increase in the quality and quantity of side events held in conjunction with the formal sessions.  Side events may be organized at the site of the meeting by non-governmental organizations, OSCE institutions or offices, other international organizations, or participating States.  They augment the implementation review by providing an opportunity to examine specific subjects or countries in greater depth.  Like the “corridor” discussions and informal meetings that are part and parcel of any OSCE meeting, side events are also a vehicle for discussing and promoting OSCE action or decisions.  In some instances, side events have presaged the deeper engagement of the OSCE participating States with a particular subject – for example, side events organized by non-governmental organizations on the problem of hate propaganda on the Internet prompted a more in-depth focus on this issue at an OSCE meeting hosted by France earlier this year.   Side events can also help fill gaps in the implementation review process. This year, in the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy, most governments were reluctant to raise the problem of human rights violations in Chechnya.  Nongovernmental groups, however, organized a side event to provide a forum to focus on these issues.  They argued that, while the problems in Chechnya may seem intractable, human rights abuses do diminish when they are raised with the Russian Government. In an effort to respond to concerns about detainee abuse, the United States organized a side event on the subject of detainee issues.  Department of Defense Deputy Assistant Secretary Matthew Waxman, head of a newly-created DOD office for detainee affairs, discussed steps taken by the United States to address the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere and to prevent such incidents from reoccurring.  The event was open to all participants in the HDIM and, following the presentation of his remarks, Waxman opened the floor for questions. Azerbaijani officials prevented one human rights defender and religious freedom activist from attending the Warsaw meeting.  On October 6, authorities at the Baku airport blocked Imam Ilgar Ibrahimoglu from boarding his Warsaw-bound flight.   Ibrahimoglu was set to attend the HDIM session on religious freedom and speak out against the forcible seizure of his congregation’s mosque earlier this year.  (Similarly, two Kazakhstani human rights activists, Amirzahan Kosanov and Ermurai Bapi, were prohibited from leaving their country last year in an apparent attempt to prevent them from participating in the HDIM.)  On a more positive note, the meeting may have contributed to a favorable decision by the Armenian Government to approve a long-standing application by Jehovah’s Witnesses to be officially registered as a religious organization.  During the meeting, the U.S. House of Representatives and the United States Senate passed the Belarus Democracy Act (on October 4 and 7 respectively). NGOs Rebut “Astana Declaration” At the closing session of the HDIM, 106 human rights advocates from 16 countries presented a declaration countering criticism by several former Soviet states of the OSCE’s human rights work.  (On July 3, 2004, nine OSCE countries – Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan – issued a statement criticizing the human dimension activities of the OSCE.  A subsequent document signed in Astana, Kazakhstan by eight of the above signatories claimed that there are double standards in fulfillment of OSCE commitments concerning democracy and human rights.)  An NGO spokesperson also urged the OSCE participating States to continue to focus on the issue of freedom of assembly. "The most important principle of international affairs ingrained in international legal documents--'respect for human rights is not an internal affair of a state'--must remain unshakable and must be defended." -- Statement signed by human rights advocates and presented at the closing session of the 2004 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting In a press release issued on October 14, 2004, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) welcomed the NGO declaration.  “While many of the men and women who signed this document engage in human rights advocacy at considerable personal sacrifice and risk, they have clearly stated – in their words – their ‘categorical disagreement with the negative evaluation of OSCE activity.’” This year’s HDIM drew record attendance by 220 nongovernmental organizations from across the region.  This is the only multinational human rights meeting in Europe where non-governmental organization representatives and government representatives may speak with equal status. As at past meetings, the United States held extensive bilateral meetings with government representatives.  In many instances, the focus and scope of those meetings reflected the presence of experts from capital cities.  Additional meetings were held with OSCE officials and representatives of nongovernmental organizations.  In the second week of the HDIM, Human Rights Directors from the OSCE countries also held a working meeting to discuss issues of mutual concern. Looking Ahead With a view to the 2005 calendar of human dimension activities, the United States suggested that there are several subjects that deserve focused attention next year.  These include: migration and integration; protection of religious freedom in the fight against terrorism; the challenges of new election technologies, such as electronic voting; and the role of defense lawyers.  The United States also welcomed the Spanish offer to host a follow-up event on tolerance next year in Cordoba and recommended that next year’s HDIM should include another special topic day on the fight against anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination.  The United States proposed that at least one of the Supplementary Human Dimension Implementation Meetings next year be held outside of Vienna, in order to make the meeting more dynamic and allow participants to take part who might not normally be able to travel to Vienna.  (Since 1999, three Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings have been held each year.  Existing modalities allow for them to be convened in various locations but, so far, all have been held in Vienna.) During the closing session, the Dutch Delegation, on behalf of the 25 European Union member states and four candidate countries, noted that there had been insufficient time to address the agenda items during the first week of the HDIM and, during the second week, more time than some subjects warranted.  For example, there was insufficient time to accommodate all those who wished to take the floor during the discussion of national minorities and Roma; the session on freedom of speech and expression was held to standing-room capacity.  By contrast, the session mandated to discuss the OSCE’s “project work” closed early – as it has every year since the subject first appeared on the meeting agenda – when the speakers’ list was exhausted before the end of the allotted time.  Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Director Christian Strohal agreed that "we should adapt our time management." Changes might also, conceivably, be made to the process of compiling a summary of the “recommendations” made at the meeting, a process that grew out of a desire to have a more substantive record of the meeting (in addition to the little-known but publicly available Journals of the Day).  In fact, these summaries have generally turned out to be an unsatisfactory product, notwithstanding the considerable effort of those tasked with producing them.  By definition, summaries must leave a great deal out, and both governments and nongovernmental organizations have complained when their particular recommendations are among those omitted.  Moreover, the summary of recommendations is usually scrubbed of any country-specific recommendations, leaving only anodyne boilerplate language.  In its opening statement at this year’s HDIM, the Netherlands, on behalf of the European Union and four candidate countries, argued that the process of compiling ever longer recommendations had become “non-productive and counter-productive.” At this year’s meeting, the ODIHR launched a highly effective new documents distribution system.  Through a bank of computers on site, participants were able to print copies of any document submitted for circulation.  (This replaced a paper system of distributing all copies of all statements to all participants.)  Moreover, this system allowed participants to email any document, making targeted distribution much more efficient and environmentally friendly.  With the full texts of interventions and additional written material so easily available, the rationale for creating a written summary of recommendations for the benefit of those who were not able to attend the meeting is less compelling. 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.

  • Commission Hearing Surveys Human Rights in Putin's Russia

    By John Finerty Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing on May 20, 2004 to review governance practices and human rights in the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin.  Witnesses focused on media independence, religious freedom, judicial procedures, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and the war in Chechnya. Opening the hearing, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed apprehension that President Putin was leading Russia in an authoritarian direction, increasingly reliant on Russia’s security apparatus and intelligence agencies to govern the country.  Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) also voiced his concerns, focusing on corruption in the Russian Government and abuses in the war in Chechnya. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Steven Pifer stated that Russians enjoy freedom of travel and emigration, and an independent print media that engages in robust political debates; religious association and expression is generally free, and Russians have incorporated voting into their political practices. However, Pifer voiced concern with the Putin administration’s undue influence on judicial proceedings, state control or sway over the broadcast media, the pressuring of non-governmental organizations, anti-Semitism, abuses in the war in Chechnya, and the lack of a level electoral playing field for the political opposition. Ambassador Pifer cited the U.S. record of advocating democratization and human rights to the Russian leadership, while pursuing cooperation on mutual security interests such as the war on terrorism, arms control, counter-proliferation, and the resolution of regional conflicts. Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion and chairman of Committee 2008: Free Choice, presented a critical view of the Putin administration, lamenting the slide of the Russian Government into authoritarianism.  He described a variety of policies undertaken by the Putin administration that he viewed as backtracking from the democratic progress of the 1990s, including the curtailment of civil liberties and the flagrant abuse of human rights. Specifically, Kasparov described government influence over the broadcast media and manipulation of elections. The war in Chechnya had been sidelined as a topic of news discussion, he asserted, thus facilitating the concealment of wartime human rights abuses.  He also faulted the media for disregarding the ineptness of government responses to terrorist attacks. On elections, Kasparov characterized the December 2003 parliamentary polls as unfair, and predicted that President Putin would use parliamentary maneuvers to change the constitution and extend his term, perhaps indefinitely. Mr. Kasparov condemned Russian activities in the Chechen war and described how “hundreds of Chechens, if not thousands, are being interrogated, tortured and killed” by Russian soldiers. He called for the deployment of independent observers to monitor Russian behavior and promote observance of human rights.  As a final critique, Kasparov charged that Putin had stripped the judicial system of its independence and was using it to silence political opponents and critics, such as Mikhail Khordorkovsky and Igor Sutyagin. As for solutions, Kasparov highlighted his efforts to expose the corruption of the December 2003 elections through a lawsuit and public advocacy. He also urged the United States to use diplomatic means to leverage the Russian Government into democratic and civil liberties concessions. Edward Lozansky, president of Russia House and the American University in Moscow, offered a contrasting opinion, pointing to the successes of the Putin administration in taming the “oligarchs” and encouraging economic growth. He viewed state control of the broadcast media as less of a crisis, contending that free alternatives, such as print, electronic, and foreign media, provide the people with a variety of viewpoints. Ultimately, Dr. Lozansky argued, “President Putin enjoys overwhelming support of the Russian people” and that the Russian people “can freely express their opinions.” In closing, Lozansky suggested the United States should not undermine its relationship with Russia through unnecessary criticism, since bilateral cooperation between the nations remains essential in the war on terrorism, space exploration, energy, and the environment.  Engagement and dialogue, rather than condemnation, is paramount, he suggested. Reverend Igor Nikitin, president of the Association of Christian Churches in Russia, offered a mixed assessment of the status of religious liberty in Russia.  In northwest Russia and St. Petersburg particularly, religious tolerance is the norm.  In other regions, however, Protestant churches and other non-Orthodox denominations have experienced discrimination and bureaucratic malfeasance.  For instance, an unconstitutional requirement for churches to register their members – as opposed to merely the institution – is frequently enforced by local authorities, and a Moscow court has ordered the “liquidation” of the city’s community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Nikitin urged measures to educate Russian officials on the importance of religious freedom as a civil liberty. Nickolai Butkevich, Research and Advocacy Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, discussed the situation regarding xenophobia and the treatment of minorities in Russia. Mr. Butkevich noted that President Putin has made efforts at the national level to combat xenophobia, but that implementation of relevant directives is uneven at the local level. Some regions and cities have combated xenophobia and anti-Semitism, while other authorities have actively encouraged it. Mr. Butkevich described cases in Vladivostok, Voronezh, and other cities where individuals had been subject to abuse and local authorities reacted uncaringly or in collusion with perpetrators. In answer to a question posed by Chairman Smith on the disparity between the Russian Government’s public and international pronouncements that it will combat anti-Semitism and its failed implementation of such policies domestically, Butkevich blamed the disparity on a lack of prioritization by the central government.  Mr. Kasparov contended though that President Putin has done nothing to address anti-Semitism or quell xenophobia. Answering other questions on the attitudes of the United States and the West toward the Chechen situation, governmental corruption, and the judiciary, Dr. Lozansky replied that Russia is stabilizing under the pragmatic policies of President Putin and that the international community must engage the country on matters of mutual interest. The witnesses responded with divergent views as to whether Russia was moving toward autocracy.  While Kasparov made his case strongly that Russia was, Lozansky again insisted that it was not.  Mr. Butkevich suggested that Russia was “backsliding toward authoritarianism,” but that President Putin certainly retains popular support. Reverend Nikitin stressed that the next few years will determine whether Russia evolves toward civil and religious liberty or tsarist, oppressive governance reemerges. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent 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 from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Colby Daughtry contributed to this article.

  • Activists Brief Commission on the War in Chechnya, Civil Society and Military Reform in Russia

    By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing entitled “The War in Chechnya and Russian Civil Society” on June 17, 2004 with representatives of one of the largest and most active nongovernmental organizations in Russia, the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia. Valentina Melnikova, National Director of CSM, and Natalia Zhukova, Chairwoman of the Nizhny Novgorod Committee of CSM, briefed the Commission on their efforts to publicize and protest human rights abuses in the Russian military and the current state of civil society in Russia. Helsinki Commission Senior Advisor Elizabeth B. Pryor opened the briefing, noting concerns that President Vladimir Putin’s verbal attacks on human rights organizations and their funding sources – delivered on May 26 during his annual State of the Federation address – may indicate future trouble for Russian NGOs perceived as politically hostile to the Kremlin. Ms. Zhukova described the work of her committee and addressed the impact of Putin’s recent comments on the committee’s activities.  The Nizhny Novgorod Committee is one of 300 such bodies under the umbrella of CSM, comprising approximately 30 volunteer workers and handling nearly 2,000 requests for assistance from parents and soldiers annually.  “The problem is that most [people] have simply no idea of what’s going on in their military…because television is censored,” she said. According to Zhukova, the Nizhny Novgorod Committee also provides assistance to approximately 700 deserters annually, precipitated by “beatings, harsh hazing on the part of officers and other soldiers, a criminal environment in the unit, lack of medical assistance, cases of extortion of money, [and] use of soldiers for slave labor.”   In cooperation with the Foundation for Civil Liberties, CSM provides mediation services with authorities and legal assistance to the military deserters and their families. The Committee also works to ensure social protection for veterans of the Chechen wars with disabilities, lobbying and leading demonstrations in support of adequate allowances for wounded soldiers, and the families of those killed in action. Regarding the recent condemnation of Russian NGOs by top military and administration officials, Ms. Zhukova noted, “I can’t say that we experience direct persecution.… But after the onslaught announced by the Minister of Defense and after the State of the Nation address by President Putin, we believe that we have to expect financial pressure.” President Putin’s May 26 address, in which he accused some NGOs of serving “dubious group and commercial interests” rather than those of the Russian people, has been “viewed by the local authorities as an order,” according to Ms. Zhukova.  Since Putin’s speech, she noted, the local governor has revoked the Committee’s discount on their office rent, resulting in a tenfold cost increase.  Moreover, local funding has been depleted because “local businessmen have been so intimidated by the onslaught against us by the Ministry of Defense and by President Putin that we cannot expect anything from them,” she said. Neither does CSM receive substantial financing from abroad, Zhukova maintains, “We serve the interests of millions of Russian soldiers and their parents, defending them from arbitrary rule and lawlessness of the authorities.” Ms. Melnikova addressed the effects of the Putin administration on Russian civil society.  The Russian people, she asserted, have been deprived of both political opposition and independent media since Putin came to power.  She listed “the closed nature of the Chechen war, lack of information, [and] direct deceit of the population by the authorities,” as the negative effects of his administration’s actions.  As a result of Putin’s policies, she said, “The war in Chechnya has ceased to exist as far as the Russian public is concerned.”  Through media controls and a vigorous propaganda campaign, she said, the Russian Government has led the people to believe “that what’s going on in Chechnya is a counterterrorist operation, that we are fighting Arab mercenaries and Al Qaeda units.”  “In reality, the Chechen problem has nothing to do with international terrorism or Islamic fundamentalism…. There is no trace of stabilization in Chechnya, and there are no attempts by the Russian authorities to strive for a peaceful resolution of the problem,” Melnikova stated. Portraying the Russian military as a “decrepit, poorly managed, federally-corrupted structure,” she described the same grim situation as Ms. Zhukova.  In Chechnya, she charged, Russian officers force young men to become military criminals.  If they return from service alive, they are often psychologically or physically disabled, and abandoned by the government that sent them to Chechnya. In answer to a question by Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) regarding the recently enacted Russian legislation on alternative military service, Melnikova called the alternative civil service law “inadequate.” She noted that it requires that soldiers serve terms double the length of ordinary military service, perform tasks that do not serve civil society, and often work hundreds of miles away from home.  The panelists requested that Chairman Smith raise such issues as the fate of a bill regarding civilian control of the armed forces, which has been introduced in the State Duma, and the possibility for a second amnesty for military deserters when he meets with the Speaker of the State Duma at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Annual Session in early July. Chairman Smith indicated that U.S. officials have, in past meetings with Russian leaders, raised concerns about violent hazing of military conscripts.  In response, Melnikova provided Smith with recent copies of “The News of the Committee of the Soldiers’ Mothers,” featuring vivid photographs of soldiers that had suffered serious injuries as a result of such hazing.  “Russian officers do not treat their soldiers as human beings,” she said, “therefore, everything goes on as before.” Regarding the international community’s response to the Chechen conflict, Melnikova claimed: “There is not enough pressure exerted on Mr. Putin. … Ten years of war have infuriated both the Russian military and the Chechens to such an extent that we don’t see any possibility of peaceful resolution....  But I think Russia’s partners simply have to exert pressure on Putin to make him make at least some tentative steps toward peace, maybe offer some intermediate negotiations, maybe seek some mediation efforts on the part of governments or nongovernmental organizations.  At least something has to be done.” Ms. Melnikova further criticized “the active connivance of the leaders of Western countries, including the United States” as one of the key reasons for the continued restriction of human rights in Russia.  She voiced concern that Washington leaders now believe “that the Russian people don’t need democracy…. That the West supports the anti-democratic policies of the Russian authorities is simply absurd,” she said. She concluded by stating that the CSM “advocates and conducts a social campaign for military reform, for abolition of conscription and for the [establishment] of a professional armed force,” as well as for peace in Chechnya and the expansion of civilian control over the military.  The CSM provides direct aid to more than 50,000 soldiers and their families annually. Finally, Melnikova argued that the “legal slavery, chaos, and corruption at all levels of the Russian military compromises not only Russian civil society but also the strategic objectives of Russia’s allies, including nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  Absent democracy,” she said, “there can be no safe Russia.” Asked about recent attacks on nongovernmental organizations by Putin administration officials, Melnikova mentioned that Putin’s criticisms were preceded by comments by the Minister of Defense and Deputy Minister of Justice to the effect that NGOs were pursuing subversive or illegal activities.  Although she hopes that NGOs will not be targeted by the national authorities, she said that the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky has tempered her optimism. Responding to questions about funding from Russian oligarchs, Melnikova stated, “Oligarchs dread to touch us [because] there is always a chance that the authorities can charge any businessman with any crime and throw him in prison, and they know it.” The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords.  The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Christen Broecker contributed to this article.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing Sheds Light on Russia's Human Rights Situation

    By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor On June 7, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing with four prominent Russian human rights activists to examine the state of human rights and civil liberties in the Russian Federation.  Entitled “Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?,” the briefing covered such topics as elections, Chechnya, religious liberty, media freedom and the overall functioning of the legislative and judicial branches. The briefing was a follow up to the Commission’s May 20th hearing on “Human Rights in Putin’s Russia.” The briefing panel included Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group and President of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.  Other participants were Arseni Roginsky, Chairman of the International Memorial Society; Alexei Simonov, Head of the Glasnost Defense Fund; and Mara Polyakova, Director of the Independent Council for Legal Expertise. Commission Deputy Chief of Staff Ronald J. McNamara began the briefing with a moment of silence to honor the passing of President Ronald Reagan, a “stalwart supporter of freedom and human rights.” McNamara noted the timeliness of the briefing given Russian President Vladimir Putin’s U.S. visit to Sea Island, Georgia, for the G-8 Summit.  He stated that despite Putin’s claim that “nothing will stop Russia” in its quest for economic and democratic freedom, some of Putin’s comments in his State of the Federation address had raised concerns over the Kremlin’s commitment to promote civil society in Russia.  Putin’s accusations of NGOs seeking outside funding and not addressing serious issues were particularly troubling insofar as they may signal the beginning of a crackdown against NGOs in Russia.  Mr. McNamara also referenced the growing problem of “spy mania,” with potentially chilling implications for Russia’s academics and scientific community. Arseni Roginsky began his remarks by stating that the trend in Russia over the past few years has been marked by “the efforts of the powers-that-be to destroy the isolated islands of independence and democracy that still continue to exist in Russia.”  Specifically, Roginsky pointed to the new Russian law limiting public demonstrations and a new law on referenda.  In sentiments echoed by other panelists, he decried the emergence of “made-to-order” elections controlled almost exclusively by the Putin administration and moneyed interests. Ms. Alexeeva later reiterated the concern about the changes on referenda, noting that even if the requisite two million signatures can be garnered, under the new law she believes mid-level Russian bureaucrats will be able to stop indefinitely the progress of a referendum. While the Putin administration has been quick to point to the Russian Constitution and its promise of free speech, Roginsky and panelist Alexei Simonov both claimed that this de jure right does not exist in reality.  According to Simonov, while Russians may be legally entitled to say or print controversial statements, these sentiments are ignored by the powers-that-be. He contended that “[freedom of speech] means not only to shout out but to be heard.”  According to Simonov, there are only four independent-minded Russian magazines with a combined circulation of around 500,000. Smaller such newspapers exist as well, but the costs of protecting against defamation suits, which number more than 50 per month according to Simonov, make it increasingly hard for them to stay in business.  He also stated that most editorials in newspapers are written by what amount to essentially local bureaucrats; most newspapers rely on government or private funding, making them hardly free and independent.  Simonov estimates that only 10 to 15 percent of newspapers are self-sustaining. “Most of them take money from somewhere, and each has this special somewhere, but nobody wants to speak of these ‘somewheres,’” he concluded. Related to this issue is more direct government control over radio and television broadcasts which are the main source of information for most Russians. Ms. Alexeeva and other panelists asserted that “government-controlled media reported those campaigns [in 2003/2004] in an utterly biased way,” denying access to opposition candidates and giving the United Russia Party extensive coverage. Another common theme throughout the briefing was the lack of judicial independence or reform. Mr. Roginsky prefaced the topic by noting that “…the court system is under great influence of the nationalistic, patriotic ideology that is flourishing in Russia at this time.” He specifically spoke of a recent case involving four Russian soldiers who admitted to killing six Chechen civilians by mistake and then attempting to cover it up.  In Mr. Roginsky’s words, “The jury and the courts did state that indeed the murder had taken place; the people were killed. The people who were being tried were those who perpetrated the killing; however, they were not [found] guilty.” Mara Polyakova spoke extensively about judicial reform.  She admitted that new democratic laws are being passed which reflect democratic principles, but the mechanisms needed to implement these principles are often lacking or are thwarted.  She also stated that prisoners in Russia are tortured and that court records are still falsified.  “The judges are still dependent in spite of the fact that their independence was loudly proclaimed in the constitution and other laws, because the real power remains in the hands of the chairmen of the courts who are part of or prone to influence by the executive,” Polyakova said. Speaking specifically on the war in Chechnya, Roginsky described the large number of Chechen civilians abducted or kidnapped monthly, and the one-sided propaganda about the conflict emanating from the state-controlled media. However, Mr. Roginsky denied that the term “genocide” applies to the current Chechen situation (as opposed to the 1944 deportations), calling it instead state-sponsored terror.  In response to a question regarding cutbacks in U.S. assistance for democracy programs in Russia, Simonov said, “Americans do not quite correctly understand what is happening in Russia.  They seem to like the democratic record of the current Russian Government, and they seem to be taking this rhetoric as the truth.”  On a similar note, he later recommended that U.S. officials and international organizations should “never take at face value anything said by officials in Russia.” Mr. McNamara raised the religious freedom issue, specifically the labeling of non-Russian Orthodox groups as “non-traditional religions” and the court-ordered “liquidation” of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization in Moscow, despite federal recognition.  Ms. Alexeeva responded by saying that it would appear the Russian Orthodox Church is striving to become a state religion as it once was.  The panelists were pessimistic about the chances of a successful appeal of the recent Moscow court decision against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, although Simonov suggested that any pressure from President Bush during the G-8 Summit might have an impact. Despite the comments of the panelists painting a fairly bleak picture of the state of civil and human rights in Russia, Ms. Alexeeva did caution that “if you look from the outside in, everything seems to be more frightening than when you are on the inside of that state. I don’t think the fascist system is being created in our country, and even less that it has already been created.” In closing the briefing, Mr. McNamara sought to put events in perspective by recalling that in November 1986 there were 700 known Soviet political prisoners and prisoners of conscience as well as tens of thousands of divided families in the U.S.S.R.  He noted that all of those prisoners had been released and many of those emigration cases resolved by January 19, 1989, President Reagan’s final day in office. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Nicholas Adams contributed to this article.

  • Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in Decline

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

  • Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in Decline

    The hearing will examine democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan in light of the impending decision by the Department of State whether to certify Uzbekistan to continue receiving U.S. assistance. Uzbekistan, an OSCE participating State since 1992, has been closely cooperating with the United States in the campaign against international terrorism.  There is a U.S. military base in Uzbekistan and Washington has stepped up assistance significantly since 2001.  The agreement on Strategic Partnership and Cooperation was signed by President Bush and President Karimov in March 2002. However, Uzbekistan’s human rights record has remained poor, impeding the further development of U.S.-Uzbek relations.  Late last year, the State Department decertified Uzbekistan for aid under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program because it had not made progress toward ending police torture and other abuses.

  • The War in Chechnya and Russian Civil Society

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

  • Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?

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

  • Presidential Elections Critical to Ukrainian Democracy

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

  • Encouraging Democratic Elections in Ukraine

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

  • Belarusian Authorities Continue to Stifle Democracy

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

  • Troubling Pre-Election Developments in Ukraine

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

  • Commission Hearing Looked Ahead to Maastricht Ministerial

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

  • Helsinki Commission Reviews OSCE Dutch Leadership

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

  • Further Assault Against Activists in Belarus

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

  • The Nightmare in Turkmenistan

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

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

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

  • 80th Anniversary of the Turkish Republic

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

  • Helsinki Commission Examines Plight of Internally Displaced Persons

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

  • Continuous Religious Freedom Concerns in Armenia

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

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