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Freedom of Speech and Expression

Freedom of expression includes the right to hold opinions and to express them and the right to the free flow of information and ideas across borders through any media.  Expression means not only speech, but may include cartoons, artwork, musical performance, or displays.  It is a keystone freedom essential in and of itself as well as necessary for many other elements of democracy such as free elections.  It is closely related to freedom of religion. 

Helsinki Commissioners have been particularly engaged on free speech cases that limit religious liberties, unduly limit political pluralism, or targets civil society.

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  • Hate in the Information Age

    The briefing provided an overview of hate crimes and hate propaganda in the OSCE region, focusing on the new challenges posed by the internet and other technology. Mischa Thompson led the panelists in a discussion of the nature and frequency of hate crimes in the OSCE region, including the role of the internet and other technologies in the training, recruiting, and funding of hate groups. Panelists - Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Mark A. Potok, Christopher Wolf, Tad Stahnke – discussed how best to combat hate crimes and hate propaganda and highlighted internet governance issues in the United States and Europe and how the internet extensively contributes to hate propaganda. Issues such as free speech and content control were at the center of the discussion.

  • Armenia after the Election

    Since the February 19 presidential election, Armenia has experienced its most serious political crisis in over a decade. The March 1 confrontation between the authorities and supporters of the opposition resulted in at least eight fatalities and the imposition of a state of emergency, causing serious damage to Armenia’s reputation. Although Prime Minister Serzh Sarkissian has been elected President, some opposition leaders refuse to recognize the outcome and government opposition relations remain tense.  The state of emergency has been lifted but restrictions on freedom of assembly continue in effect.  The hearing will focus on the ramifications of these developments for Armenia and the United States, especially the ongoing Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia s qualifications for assistance from the Millennium Challenge Account.

  • Helsinki Commission Delegation Visits Prague and Bratislava

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Prior to participating in the Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Vienna, Austria, Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), the Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, led a Congressional delegation to Prague, the Czech Republic, from February 18-20. In Prague, he was joined by Chairman Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY) and Congressman Michael McNulty (D-NY). Chairman Hastings also traveled to Bratislava, Slovakia, for additional meetings on February 21, where he was joined by Commissioner Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). In the Czech Republic, the delegation met with representatives of the Jewish community and toured the historic Jewish quarter in Prague, which dates back to the Middle Ages. The delegation discussed recent anti-Semitic manifestations, most notably a large demonstration organized last November on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and other planned demonstrations by extremists. Although Czech civil society has strongly countered these demonstrations, local officials have struggled to find the appropriate balance between respect for freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and their desire to combat anti-Semitism and manifestations of other forms of intolerance. The delegation also held a round-table discussion with leading civil society and Romani activists. Their discussions touched on past instances of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent, and discrimination against Roma in education, housing and employment. It was noted that victims of wrongful sterilization practices have been advised by government officials to seek redress from the courts, even though most cases will be barred by statutes of limitations. The delegation held official meetings with the President of Senate, Premysl Sobotka, and other members of the Czech Senate; Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout; representatives of the Government Council for Human Rights; and Otakar Motejl, the Public Defender of Rights (also known as the Ombudsman). In these meetings, delegation members expressed concern about the unresolved property claims of Americans who were excluded by the legal framework for property restitution previously adopted by the Czech Republic. They urged Czech officials to protect freedom of speech and assembly, while demonstrating sensitivity for dates or sites of particular importance to the Jewish community. With respect to the situation of the Romani minority, the delegation expressed concern for the victims of past sterilization without informed consent. They urged the Czech Government to take concrete steps to improve the situation of Roma, including through the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. Discussions with Czech officials also touched on bilateral or regional issues, including Kosovo’s declaration of independence and managing relations with Russia. While in Prague, the delegation also met with President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Jeffrey Gedman, toured the broadcasting facility, and held a press conference at the RFE/RL headquarters. In Slovakia, Chairman Hastings and Commissioner Solis met with leading political analysts to hear a broad discussion of political developments and trends, including concerns regarding proposed legislation on non-governmental organizations and on the media. During a round-table discussion with Romani activists, participants discussed the need to translate the government’s program into concrete action, and the particular challenge of translating national policies into change at the local level. The delegation also met with Foreign Minister Jan Kubis, Deputy Prime Minister Dusan Caplovic (who has responsibility for, i.a., human rights issues), and a group of parliamentarians, including representatives of opposition parties. In their meeting with Minister Caplovic, Chairman Hastings urged the Slovak Government to acknowledge the past sterilization without informed consent of Romani women. In other meetings, the delegation also expressed concern about the adoption by the parliament of resolution honoring Andreij Hlinka, who died in 1938 but whose nationalist leadership set the stage for Slovakia’s WWII alliance with Nazi Germany and the deportation of its Jewish citizens.

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

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

  • OSCE Chairman Addresses Helsinki Commission in Advance of Madrid Ministerial

    By Ronald J. McNamara, International Policy Director Spain’s Foreign Minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, appeared before the Helsinki Commission on October 29, in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to discuss developments in the 56-nation OSCE before ministers meet in Madrid in late November. Similar hearings with the top political leader of the Vienna-based organization have been convened annually since 2001. Finland will assume the year-long chairmanship beginning in January. In prepared remarks, Commission Chairman Alcee L. Hastings noted, “While the participating States may share a common view of Europe on paper, translating that vision into reality is another matter altogether. While all OSCE commitments have been agreed to by all of the countries, the fact is that there are human rights commitments that have been on the books for many years that would not be agreed to by some today. Indeed, the OSCE, and its precursor, the CSCE, have served as barometers for relations among the participating States. Frankly, the current barometric pressure is low, signaling a likely impending storm.” Commission Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin, also in a prepared statement, commended the Government of Spain for organizing the 2005 Córdoba Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance. He noted that the Helsinki Commission has been particularly active in the face of the spike of anti-Semitism and related violence in the OSCE region. “We appreciate your efforts to keep this important issue on the OSCE agenda with the reappointment of the personal representative on different aspects of tolerance as well as the related conferences convened this year in Bucharest and Córdoba,” said Cardin. The October 2007 Córdoba Conference focused on intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, a priority concern of the Spanish chairmanship. Commissioner Louise McIntosh Slaughter, who chaired the hearing, expressed particular appreciation for the Minister’s recognition of the distinctive contributions of parliamentarians to the Helsinki process. Slaughter has been a long-time active participant in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. She welcomed the timeliness of the hearing and recognized the complicated dynamics evident in the lead up to the Madrid Ministerial. “I know you have an ambitious agenda for the Madrid meeting and the Russians and others may complicate your work given the OSCE rule requiring consensus,” she said, continuing, “over the years, I have appreciated the opportunity to work closely with fellow parliamentarians from throughout the OSCE region, from Vancouver to Vladivostok. The OSCE PA has provided important leadership on issues from combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance to promoting projects aimed at protecting the environment, to combating the scourge of human trafficking and advancing security among the participating States.” As one of Congress’ leading voices on equal rights for women, Commissioner Slaughter also commented on the OSCE PA’s trailblazing work in this area, as well. Moratinos’ testimony covered a wide range of accomplishments during the Spanish chairmanship as well as the numerous outstanding and potentially contentious issues on the OSCE’s agenda. On Kosovo, the Minister stressed, “We have managed over the years to maintain a neutral and unbiased position in regard to the status of Kosovo and the communities recognize this effort of OSCE. While the OSCE is not directly involved in the status negotiation, we are, as OSCE, contributing to the process of creating the necessary conditions on the ground for the implementation of the status settlement.” In response to a query from Slaughter about a possible unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo and the prospects for renewal of OSCE’s current mandate covering operations in Kosovo which expires at year’s end, Moratinos stressed that “it's very important that OSCE maintain its engagement in Kosovo, whatever is going to be the future status. We are ready to stay in Kosovo in order to focus on monitoring protection of the rights of communities, particularly regarding the centralization and the protection of cultural and religious sites.” With regard to longstanding conflicts in the OSCE region, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office pointed to the Organization’s continuing work to facilitate a settlement on the Transnistrian issue in Moldova, through participation in the "five-plus-two" negotiations. Regarding the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, he reported that while ongoing mediation efforts by the OSCE Minsk Group have not resulted in a breakthrough in the settlement process, the parties nevertheless remain committed to continuing the negotiations. Moratinos cited concern over serious incidents both in Abkhazia and the zone of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. He discussed the chairmanship’s efforts in the aftermath of the August 6th missile incident between Russian and Georgia, stressing the need for forward-looking measures to build confidence between the two OSCE countries and avoid similar incidents in the future. Turning to Afghanistan, the OSCE's newest Partner for Cooperation, Slaughter remarked, “When I first flagged the concerns regarding the problems in Afghanistan in the OSCE context, some people said ‘that isn't our concern, it's outside the OSCE region.’ Well, one of the lessons of September 11 is that events in seemingly faraway lands do matter for the people there and ultimately for our own security.” Moratinos, in response, said “The situation in Afghanistan continues to have a substantial impact on security in Central Asia. In this respect, the OSCE is considering a serious border management project, particularly in Tajikistan. We hope to encourage counterparts in Afghanistan in these border related activities.” Spain is proposing an informal discussion on the margins of the Madrid Ministerial on the OSCE’s role in promoting the stability and future of Afghanistan. Slaughter referred to a recent meeting she had with Afghanistan’s President Karzai in which she underscored the importance of the movement of women in that country and the benefits of educating his young Afghan girls. An outspoken supporter of Kazakhstan’s longstanding bid to chair the OSCE, Moratinos remarked, “this bid has been welcomed by all members of the Organization and we hope and we are sure that this is an excellent opportunity for Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the OSCE as a whole. For now, there is not a final consensus regarding the date of the chairmanship by Kazakhstan, but as Chairman-in-Office, Spain is actively seeking to build a consensus amongst all OSCE states on this important decision for the Organization.” Broaching concerns over observation of upcoming parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation scheduled for December 2, Commissioner Slaughter cited remarks by a senior Russian elections official suggesting that there would be a numerical limit to the number of international observers, including OSCE observers to 400 in total. Slaughter pointed out that the OSCE alone deployed over 450 in 2003 for the last election to the State Duma, Russia’s parliament. In response, Moratinos stated, “If there is a danger in the debate of election observation, it is that some participating States, to a certain extent, would like to shift the discourse away from commitments and the fulfillment, or lack of fulfillment. We find it unhelpful to call into question the well established OSCE practice on election observation, which so far has proved most fruitful. In this respect, it is our concern that the announcement made by the Russian representative in Vienna indicating that the invitation to observe the Duma election would be ‘ala carte.’” On the thorny issue of Russian intransigence in the OSCE, Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith, in a prepared statement, underscored that the power of ideas remains a meaningful force today as witnessed by the drama being played out in the arena of the OSCE between those committed to pluralistic democracy and those pursuing authoritarianism, euphemistically termed “managed democracy, and dictatorship, as in Belarus and others. “Compromising on core values or watering down longstanding commitments is not the solution to the current impasse. Rather, our responsibility is to remain steadfast to these values and principles to which all participating States – including those now recalcitrant – have promised to uphold in word and deed,” warned Smith. Moratinos concluded by focusing on the future of the OSCE against the backdrop of discontent among some participating States, notably Russia, Belarus and like-minded countries with some of the activities of the Organization and its direction as well as uncertainty over sustained funding of OSCE, including potential gaps between U.S. rhetorical support and actual commitment of resources. On the former, the Minister suggested that perhaps the time was ripe for the convening of an OSCE summit meeting of Heads of State or Government from the participating States. The last OSCE summit was held in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1999. Skeptics might question the prudence of organizing a summit now, given the acrimony over fundamental aspects of the OSCE standing in stark contrast to the 1990 Paris Summit which opened a new chapter in the Helsinki process firmly rooted in a commitment to pluralistic democracy and free and fair elections. On the question of U.S. funding of OSCE, Moratinos voiced concern over “some rumors” regarding possible cuts in support and enlisted the support of members of the Helsinki Commission in addressing the matter. “I know that the Helsinki Commission plays a unique role as a forum for debate on the burning issues of the day facing the OSCE and the region. In so doing, this Commission pays unique tribute to the longstanding and continued engagement by the United States with the OSCE and the values that underpin it,” said Moratinos.

  • Kazakhstan’s Bid to Chair The OSCE: A Fundamental Right or a Foolhardy Ambition?

    At this hearing, commissioners and witnesses examined the implications of the prospect of Kazakhstan at the helm of the OSCE, specifically as far as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law are concerned. This role would affect Kazakhstan and the OSCE, and it would also have implications for Central Asia and Russia as well. However, to be a serious contender for chair of the OSCE, Kazakhstan would have to demonstrate meaningful progress concerning human rights.

  • Human Rights Defenders in Russia

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

  • Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006

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

  • Freedom of the Media Revisited at Vienna Meeting; Ethics Codes Discussed

    By Chadwick R. Gore, Staff Advisor The Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Freedom of the Media: Protection of Journalists and Access to Information was held July 13 and 14 in Vienna, Austria. The meeting was sponsored by OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklós Haraszti and supported by the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Ambassador Christian Strohal. An estimated 82 delegates from participating States and 102 representatives of civil society participated. The attendees discussed concerns about government restrictions on access to government information, codes of conduct for media professionals, and threats to the safety of journalists. Haraszti and Strohal initially focused on current government-imposed restrictions on access to government information and the effect of such limits on the public. Specific concern was voiced about recent increases in the use of old laws to impose punitive damages on journalists who publish leaked information.  It is worth noting that for years government officials from participating States with such “dormant” speech laws have argued that concerns about provisions remaining on the books were unnecessary since these laws were never used. Now many of these laws are being applied, resulting in numerous cases of administrative harassment of the media in numerous participating States in violation of OSCE commitments. Citing violations of commitments guaranteeing the freedoms of access to information, assembly and association, as well as onerous NGO registration requirements that impair democracy and security, Haraszti cited Belarusian customs officials taking one month to clear a carload of OSCE publications for entry into Belarus. In her keynote, Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of Article XIX, contrasted the two main justifications for restricting access to information usually given by States: national security concerns and blocking hate speech. She argued “restriction of freedom of expression or access to information in the name of national security is an extremely short-sighted view—in fact, denial of information is far more likely to result in social tensions and conflicts.”  In short, she dismissed legitimate national security needs, going so far as to advocate that anyone who disclosed classified information should benefit from a public interest defense even if disclosure of the information would cause harm. Callamard then went on to discuss hate speech, reflecting on the environment surrounding the Danish cartoon controversy. She argued that these concerns reflected “insecurity” across and between societies, describing the background to the cartoon events as one of global insecurity: terrorism and the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and images of Western soldiers on Iraqi soil, Israeli tanks in Palestinian cities, escalation of intolerance and discrimination, etc. Some attendees were amazed at her failure to recognize the attacks of 9/11, terrorist beheadings on TV, the bombings in Madrid, London and Bali, the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, and more.  Her presentation was a thinly-veiled anti-United States, anti-Israel commentary. Turning to hate speech more broadly, Callamard argued that hate speech regulations constitute a legitimate and potentially necessary restriction to freedom of expression. Yet, she said, the appropriate answer to hate speech is not more speech, but also policies and action which “tackles the causes of inequality in all its forms.”  She recommended that an effective government response to such expression that “vilifies” others requires a sustained commitment on the part of governments to promote equality of opportunity, to protect and promote linguistic, ethnic, cultural and religious rights, and to implement public education programs about tolerance and pluralism. Many were struck by her conclusion that proscribing speech for national security concerns is not justifiable, while regulation of so-called hate speech is both justifiable and necessary for massive social engineering. While discussing access to government information, the discussion turned to the right of the media to protect news sources. Speakers noted that, while nearly all participating States have such laws, they vary as to the type and extent of protection accorded to journalists. While most agreed that laws providing for strong protection of sources are necessary to ensure freedom of information, many thought journalists should not be allowed to publish whatever they want; they remain liable, legally and ethically, for what they write.  Regarding access to information, the application of laws restricting access to information has proven to be very controversial. Predictably most States praised their own systems. Notably, Russia reflected a very positive review of the situation of the media and journalists in Russia, and offered Russia's “civilized development of the market” as a model for others. This was rather odd given the decline of independent media and the expansion of government control in the Russian Federation. A highlight of the meeting was a session dedicated to the “cartoon crisis.”  Jehad Momani, former Editor-in-Chief of the Jordanian newspaper Shihan, argued the cartoons were “used in several ways in different countries to gain political points” without regard for the possible consequences as he believed publication of the cartoons was a violation of the freedom of expression and an attack on others’ rights.  He argued that others stand up “against any offensive expression in writ[ing] or in [pictures] or in any way against any religion or faith.” For this reason, Momani sharply criticized the terrorists who tortured and killed a journalist from Al Arabia TV, saying that the murder “offended us as human beings more than any illustrations or statements.” Momani’s view was supported by Ambassador Orhun, the Chair-in-Office’s Personal Representative on Discrimination against Muslims. Orhun saw the cartoons as part of a larger problem of “overly selective, one-sided, simplistic and clichéd” reporting on Muslims in the West. He emphasized the need for increased restrictions to freedom of expression, stressing that you cannot have freedom without responsibility.  These restrictions should, however, be self-imposed by the media itself: “self-regulatory ethical systems should be established, or if they exist, should be strengthened.” This view was not shared by the U.S. Delegation and others. However, most other speakers pointed to the impossibility of legislating tolerance. Patrick Chappatte, cartoonist for the International Herald Tribune, observed that, to the contrary, there is no responsibility without freedom. He argued we must first ensure freedom of the press while encouraging responsible use of that freedom. As to voluntary professional standards, Johann Fritz, Director of the International Press Institute, noted that there have been numerous initiatives over the past 50 years by international, governmental and media organizations to regulate press ethics, all of which were unworkable in practice. This is why many media outlets have chosen to elaborate regional or sectoral professional standards.  However, he cautioned that self-regulation must be decided upon by the media itself.  In several countries around the world, media councils are veiled legal bodies limiting the freedom of the press in a way which the state cannot do or does not want to do. Ali Dilem, cartoonist for the Algerian daily Liberté, presented a lengthy animated program that showed what can be published and is controlled.  He also demonstrated a few instances where he voluntarily withheld publication of cartoons which he felt would cause either political unrest or offend the public. This was much more than a set speech and such presentations will hopefully be more frequent in the future. The application of administrative measures such as excessive licensing or registration procedures to control the press was discussed at length. Ioana Avadani, Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Journalism in Bucharest, pointed out that while most countries have adequate media legislation, implementation is lagging or is often applied in a discriminatory manner. She cited the case of Turkey, which uses a law which forbids “insulting the Turkish identity” to silence certain opinions.  Azer Hasret, Director of the Central Asian and Southern Caucasian Freedom of Expression Network, made a presentation on violations of freedom of the media, including administrative measures and physical repression, in the countries covered by his network. There was a lively exchange between a representative of the Kazakh newspaper Respublika and an official from the Kazakh Ministry of Culture and Information.  The individual from Respublika painted a bleak picture of the media situation in Kazakhstan, asserting serious and sustained administrative harassment; the official denied the accusations, claiming that the new media law does not impinge on media freedom in any way. Belgian Ambassador de Crombrugghe commented that media form an important link between civil society and government; therefore it is even more important that they act responsibly.  In the view of the Belgian Chairmanship, voluntary professional standards can promote increased professionalism, accuracy and adherence to ethical standards among journalists, without in any way endangering the freedom of expression and opinion. De Crombrugghe also highlighted the importance of media development initiatives and noted that the Belgians will begin consultations on possible OSCE initiatives in this area.   During the closing session, the United States delegation forewarned the participating States about the potential loss of liberty when rushing to regulate speech in an environment of trying not to offend others, such as the period immediately following the publication of the Danish cartoons.  It was emphasized that such lost liberties are difficult to regain.

  • President Niyazov Intensifies Repression in Turkmenistan

    Mr. Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I want to bring to the attention of the Congress a number of alarming arrests recently made by the Government of Turkmenistan.  Last month between June 16-18, three human rights defenders were detained by Turkmen security forces and have been held for over a month. Considering Turkmenistan’s abysmal human rights record, I greatly fear for their safety as they are certainly at risk of torture.  Amankurban Amanklychev, Ogulsapar Muradova, and Sapardurdy Khajiev are affiliated with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, a non-governmental organization that monitors human rights in Turkmenistan.  In addition, Ms. Muradova has served as a journalist for Radio Liberty, a private communications service funded by the Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.  Apparently Turkmen authorities arrested these three individuals because of their connection to a documentary about President Saparmurat Niyazov’s cult of personality and their use of hidden video equipment in making this film.  The three now face the trumped-up charges of illegal weapons possession and allegations of “espionage.” Given the absence of any media or speech freedoms in Turkmenistan, the government’s allegations are simply not credible, and the detentions are unjustifiable.  Human rights organizations report that the detainees are being abused.  Most troubling are allegations of psychotropic drugs being administered to Amanklychev and Muradova in an effort to force their confession to “subversive activities.”  The reports concerning psychotropic drugs are quite believable, as Turkmenistan is known to use these drugs in psychiatric hospitals to punish individuals.  In April, 54 members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives wrote to President Niyazov, urging the unconditional release of a prisoner of conscience held in a psychiatric hospital.  While that individual was released, soon thereafter Congress learned of an almost identical case: 69-year-old Kakabay Tedzhenov.  He has been held in incommunicado detention in a psychiatric hospital since January 2006 for peacefully protesting government policies. Considering that just three months ago a significant number of Senators and Members of the House wrote President Niyazov about this barbaric practice, I am particularly disappointed that the Turkmen President continues to allow the misuse of psychiatric institutions as prisons for political dissidents and that Mr. Tedzhenov remains jailed. With Ms. Muradova’s ties to Radio Liberty and the Congress, as well as the letter from 54 Members of Congress to Niyazov regarding the use of psychiatric hospitals, the continuation of these inexcusable actions will affect the relations between Turkmenistan and the U.S. Congress. Mr. Speaker, I am urging President Niyazov to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Amankurban Amanklychev, Ogulsapar Muradova, and Sapardurdy Khajiev, as well as Kakabay Tedzhenov.

  • Uzbekistan: Are There Prospects for Change?

    This briefing evaluated the political status of Uzbekistan, which, under the rule of President Islam Karimov, has been a repressive, authoritarian state that bans opposition and maintains Soviet-style censorship. Since the bloody events in Andijon in May 2005, however, repression has intensified, with a countrywide crackdown on human rights activists, religious groups and members of opposition groups. The void left by NGOs that promote democracy that have been forced to leave the country was especially concerning. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Mr. Abdurahim Polat, Chairman of the Birlik Party; Mr. Muhammad Salih, Chairman of the Erk Party; Mr. Gulam Umarov, son of Sanjar Umarov, the imprisoned Chairman of the Sunshine Coalition; and Dr. Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – addressed prospects for democratization in Uzbekistan, particularly in light of the upcoming presidential election in that country.

  • Thirtieth Anniversary of the Founding of the Moscow Helsinki Group

    Mr. President, last Friday, May 12, marked the 30th anniversary of the oldest active Russian human rights organization, the Moscow Helsinki Group. The creation of the Moscow Helsinki Group was announced on May 12, 1976, at a press conference called by Academician Andrei Sakharov, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his defense of human rights and his commitment to world peace. Formally named the “Public Group to Assist in the Implementation of the Helsinki Final Act in the USSR,” its members sought to monitor the Soviet Government’s implementation of the historic Helsinki Accords.  At the initiative of Professor Yuri Orlov, a physicist by profession and a veteran human rights activist, the group joined together 11 committed individuals to collect and publicize information on Soviet violations of the human rights provisions enshrined in the Helsinki Accords. The group monitored fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedom of movement and freedom of religion, as well as the basic rights of minorities. The group documented evidence of systemic human rights abuses and provided reports of Helsinki violations to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and the embassies of Helsinki signatory countries in Moscow. Additionally, these reports were widely distributed to Western correspondents. All together, the Moscow Helsinki Group published 195 numbered reports, along with numerous other documents, some of the cooperative initiatives with other human rights organizations. These reports played a critical role in documenting the Soviet Union’s failure to adhere to many of its Helsinki commitments. The example set by the Moscow Helsinki Group inspired human rights activists elsewhere in the USSR. Helsinki monitoring groups were founded in Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, and Armenia, and affiliated groups were also established to combat psychiatric abuse for political purposes and to defend religious liberty in Lithuania. As time went on, more brave individuals joined the Moscow Helsinki Group in its pursuit of truth and accountability. However, regrettably, the Soviet Government had no intention of tolerating the “assistance” provided by the Moscow Helsinki Group in monitoring the Soviet Union’s adherence to Helsinki commitments. The state-controlled Soviet press launched a campaign of slander against the group. By early 1977, the group’s founders, Dr. Yuri Orlov and Alexander Ginzburg, a longtime activist who had earlier produced the celebrated ‘‘White Book’’ on the trial of writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, had been arrested on political charges. Cyberneticist Anatoly “Natan” Sharansky and retired geologist Malva Landa were arrested shortly thereafter. Orlov was sentenced to 7 years in a labor camp and 5 years in internal exile. Ginzburg received 8 years labor camp and 3 years internal exile. Sharansky was sentenced to a total of 13 years in labor camp and prison, and Landa received 2 years internal exile.   Other members followed this path into the “Gulag” or were forced to emigrate. By 1981, KGB pressure had left only three members of the Moscow Helsinki Group at liberty in the Soviet Union, and they were forced to announce the “suspension” of their work. In 1984, one of those three, Dr. Elena Bonner, joined her husband, Dr. Sakharov, in forced internal exile in the closed city of Gorky.  Tragically, in December 1986, just as the Soviet political system was showing the signs of the exhaustion that would eventually lead to its collapse, Moscow Helsinki Group member Anatoly Marchenko died during a hunger strike at Chistopol Prison. Just over 2 months later, hundreds of known political and religious prisoners were freed from the Soviet prison system. With the advent of Glasnost, the Moscow Helsinki Group was formally reestablished in July 1989 by a handful of Helsinki veterans, and several new members joined their cause. Today, the Moscow Helsinki Group continues to work to defend human rights in post-Soviet Russia. And while there have been dramatic changes in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the lure of authoritarianism still has a strong appeal for some in today’s Russia. Mr. President, on the occasion of its 30th anniversary, I congratulate the members and former members of the Moscow Helsinki Group, many of whom, sadly, are no longer with us, for their courage and fortitude in the struggle against tyranny. I wish the group continued success as they work to advance democracy, defend human rights, and promote a vigorous civil society.

  • Statement on Human Rights in Central Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

    First, let me thank the organizers of this conference for inviting me to speak.  I applaud the co-sponsors for putting together this timely and sober gathering to mark the one-year anniversary of the Andijon events. I won’t bother talking to this audience about the human rights situation in Central Asia.  The State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices routinely characterize the human rights observance in each country as “poor.”   Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) here today probably consider that too lenient, and I agree with them.   It’s not surprising that countries which emerged from 70 years of communism should have difficulties creating rule of law states.  But after 15 years of independence we should be seeing some separation of powers and a strong civil society.  Instead, we see “super-presidents,” who have overwhelmed legislatures and judicial systems.  Several have been in power for about 20 years, after rigged or canceled elections.  “Royal families” control the most lucrative sectors of the economy and the media. Of course, newspapers in Kazakhstan have more leeway than in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan.  But even in Kazakhstan, reports on presidential misdeeds are taboo.    Only in Kyrgyzstan do we see a freer media and hope of more in the future.  And only in Kyrgyzstan is the president’s relationship with the other branches of power not yet set in a pattern of executive branch dominance.  Yet a Tulip Revolution was necessary last year to bring about change in Kyrgyzstan, which raises serious questions about prospects for evolutionary development toward democracy in Central Asia.   This brings us to Uzbekistan.  No Central Asian country worked harder during the last 15 years to develop good strategic relations with Washington and to counterbalance residual Russian influence. But the country’s terrible human rights record complicated the development of a closer relationship.  President Islam Karimov allows no opposition, torture is pervasive, for years human rights groups were unregistered, and Tashkent has waged war against Muslims who wanted to practice their faith outside state-approved channels.    Now, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is a terrorist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir is virulently anti-Western and anti-Semitic.  But Karimov’s exclusive reliance on repression only exacerbates matters and has probably supplied cadres for radical and terrorist organizations.   After September 11, 2001, we needed Uzbekistan’s cooperation and Karimov was delighted to help.  Uzbekistan gave us a military base and the March 2002 agreement on strategic cooperation was signed in Washington.  We agreed to support Uzbekistan, and Uzbekistan pledged to move towards democracy. But Karimov only implemented the democratization commitments just enough for Tashkent and Washington to point to “progress.” Gradually, frustration grew on both sides.  It was just a matter of time before the arrangement collapsed.   People often date the breakdown of U.S.-Uzbek relations to the events that happened in Andijon on May 12 and 13, 2005. We did not condone the violent takeover of government buildings in that city.  But we condemned the indiscriminate shootings in the square that followed and when we called for an independent, international investigation, Karimov balked.    As we all know, he began to move against U.S. NGOs.  Few remain in Uzbekistan today.  Then we were unceremoniously booted out of the K-2 base.  But ties had actually soured long before, because Karimov saw the Stars and Stripes behind the Georgian, Ukrainian and Kyrgyz revolutions. Most alarming for Tashkent was the Tulip Revolution which proved that “people power” was possible in Central Asia.    Like President Putin, Central Asian leaders insist that a sinister hand, based in Washington but using American NGOs working in the region, plotted the downfall of Eduard Shevardnadze, Leonid Kuchma and Askar Akaev -- and is now gunning for them.  So a split has developed in Central Asia.  Kyrgyzstan, though plagued by criminality and sometimes seemingly chaotic, is better off than with the previous corrupt regime and well disposed towards the U.S.    Uzbekistan’s Karimov sees us as his greatest strategic danger; he has cracked down even harder and state-run media accuse us of trying to enslave Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are suspicious of our allegedly revolutionary goals but still want to maintain good ties – as long as they are not threatened by civil society.  And Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan surely assume that we want their oil and gas too much to stir the pot. What can we do about this?  How can we try to make things better, especially keeping in mind that U.S. influence is limited?   This week I will be re-introducing my Central Asia bill, to help ensure that the United States is doing everything possible to encourage these governments to respect human rights and democratization.  The act will also bring greater consistency to U.S. policy, creating a framework to guide our bilateral relations in Central Asia.   The Central Asia Democracy and Human Rights Promotion Act supports the President’s freedom agenda by providing $118 million in assistance for human rights and democracy training and $15 million for increased Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America broadcasting.    The new Act will also establish a certification mechanism for the distribution of assistance to each government. The Secretary of State will determine whether each has made “significant improvements in the protection of human rights.”  This system will have a national security waiver and is modeled on the current system in Foreign Ops appropriations for Kazakhstan and expanded for all five countries.   In addition, considering the forced return of Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the new Act will require the Secretary of State to report on whether any government is “forcibly returning Uzbeks or other refugees who have fled violence and political persecution.” This is modeled on language regarding Kyrgyzstan in Foreign Ops appropriations and expanded for all five countries.    Notably, my new legislation will create a sanctions section for Uzbekistan.  First, the bill concretizes into law the limitations already in place in Foreign Ops appropriations. The limitation prevents funding to the Uzbek Government unless the Secretary of State determines the government is “making substantial and continuing progress” towards respect for human rights and that the Uzbek Government begins a “credible international investigation” of Andijon.   In addition, the new Act mirrors European Union sanctions by establishing a visa ban and an export ban on munitions.  The sanctions section also establishes an asset freeze for Uzbek officials, their family members, and their associates implicated in the Andijon massacre or involved in other gross violations of human rights.   Ladies and gentlemen, it is hard to promote democratization in strategically important countries whose leaders want to keep all real power in their own hands. Our task is especially complicated by the fact that Russia – which has re-emerged as a major international player, thanks to sky-high oil prices – is working hard to undermine our efforts.  But I think the measures which I’ve outlined here in brief offer a good chance of achieving our goals.   Thank you for your attention.  I look forward to hearing the other participants’ views and your comments.   

  • Promoting Religious Freedom in the Russian Federation

    Mr. Speaker, I rise as a co-sponsor and in support of H.Con.Res. 190, which urges the Russian Federation to “ensure full protection of freedoms for all religious communities without distinction, whether registered and unregistered, and end the harassment of unregistered religious groups by the security apparatus and other government agencies,” as well as to “ensure that law enforcement officials vigorously investigate acts of violence against unregistered religious communities, as well as make certain that authorities are not complicit in such attacks.”   As the Ranking House Member on the Helsinki Commission, I have seen how religious freedoms for minority religious communities throughout the Russian Federation have come under increasing pressure.  Throughout that vast country, local officials and government authorities continue to harass and limit the ability of these groups to practice their faith freely.  In addition, instances of violence, such as arson attacks, have been alarmingly common in recent years.  The Helsinki Commission heard disturbing testimony to this effect in April of last year. The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2005 reported that some federal agencies and many local authorities continued to restrict the rights of various religious minorities, and the internationally recognized expert on religious liberty in Russia, Larry Uzzell, has written that even in Moscow some 10 Baptist congregations have ceased to exist because local bureaucrats refused to allow rentals or property transfers for the use of worship services. Mr. Speaker, I am concerned that the religious liberty picture in Russia is deteriorating at a critical time for Russia.  Russia is an OSCE participating State and assumes the leadership of the Council of Europe in May of this year.  Russia also chairs the G-8 this year. A nation holding such positions should not be a country where members of minority religious groups need to constantly battle with bureaucrats in order to have a place to worship, or to get permission from the local clergy of another faith in order to hold a public gathering, or to wonder if their prayer house will be the target of vandalism.   Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues support H.Con.Res. 190, and I again thank my Helsinki Commission Chairman, Chris Smith, for introducing this resolution, and for his tireless efforts on behalf of religious freedom and liberty around the world.  I also join Chairman Smith in commending John Finerty of the Helsinki Commission staff for his decades of service to the Commission, and I especially thank him for assisting me in my interactions with members of the Russian Duma through our OSCE Parliamentary Assembly process.

  • Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election

    Presidential elections in Belarus are scheduled to be held March 19, against the backdrop of stepped up repression by the regime of Alexander Lukashenka. The Belarusian strongman's power grab, begun a decade ago, has included liquidation of the democratically elected parliament, a string of fundamentally flawed elections and manipulation of the country's constitution to maintain power. A climate of fear following the disappearance of leading opposition figures in 1999 has continued with the harassment and arrests of opposition activists and the forced closure of independent newspapers. Rights violations in Belarus have intensified in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, as the regime seeks to squelch dissent. The repressive environment has made it difficult for opposition candidates to engage in normal campaign activities. Meanwhile, administration of the elections at all levels remains firmly in the hands of Lukashenka loyalists.

  • Debate on "Present World Crisis Regarding Freedom of Expression and Respect for Religious Beliefs"

    In the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, the people’s right to freedom of speech, including freedom of the press, and the people’s right to peacefully assemble to protest both, are guaranteed. As political leaders, we have a special responsibility—words have consequences.  When words can lead to anti-Muslim or anti-Semitic or anti-Christian actions—we have a responsibility to speak out against such expression.   The recent political cartoons published in the European press which mock the Prophet Mohammed and equate Islam and practicing Muslims with terrorism are not only offensive but also irresponsible because they foster anti-Muslim sentiment. We should protect the right of the press, but we should condemn such expressions as wrong.   If we do not act, we risk leaving a terrible legacy to our children.    Such a legacy would condone hate speech and racial and religious incitement.  Such a legacy would lead to more tragic and unjustifiable violence, more discrimination against Muslims and more attempts by government to improperly control the media.   We should act effectively and peacefully.    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the most profound civil rights leader in the United States in the 20th Century, cautioned all of us that the legacy of hate and violence must not be hate and violence.  The violent response to the cartoons must be condemned, but our response to the cartoons must be decisive.   The OSCE has acted against anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia and all forms of religious discrimination.  We have an action plan reinforced by ODIHR and our special representatives.   We need to reinforce our efforts to educate respect and understanding among all religions.  We need to strengthen training on the right and responsibility of a free media.  We need to promote specific and appropriate activities in each of our States to facilitate these goals.    As leaders, let our legacy be for each of our States—freedom of the press and greater understanding and respect for religious diversity.

  • Riding Roughshod Over Rights in Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, as co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the sponsor of the Belarus Democracy Act, I remain deeply concerned about the violations of human rights occurring every day in Lukashenka's Belarus.   During a recent news conference, the autocratic Belarusian leader expressed confidence in his victory in the presidential election scheduled for next year, rhetorically asking why should he be rigging this election. Given his intensified assault on civil society, his dismal human rights record, and penchant for rigged elections, Mr. Lukashenka's statements ring hollow. Yet, Lukashenka's actions against democratic forces, non-governmental organizations and the independent media belie his stated confidence regarding electoral victory.   Last week, the lower chamber of Lukashenka's pocket parliament passed a law endorsing tougher new penalties for activities “directed against people and public security,” a proposal submitted to the parliament only days before passage. These changes to the Criminal Code increase penalties for participation in organizations that were liquidated or warned to stop their pro-democratic activities, or for the training and other preparations for unauthorized demonstrations or other civic actions.   Mr. Speaker, to cite just one of the draconian provisions, the Code now gives authorities the leeway to jail an individual for up to 2 years for “providing a foreign country, a foreign or international organization with patently false information about the political, economic, social, military, and international situation of the Republic of Belarus.” Putting aside the matter of such a provision violating free speech norms, if the past is any guide, it is clear who would be the arbiter of what constitutes “false information.” There can be no doubt that the law aims to stifle the democratic opposition, and the head of the KGB (yes, in Belarus it is still called the KGB) himself recently admitted that the reasons for the law is to discourage street protests during the upcoming presidential race.   This law, while particularly blatant, is part and parcel of other actions designed to strengthen the regime's control and deny the Belarusian people any alternative voices as the presidential election campaign unfolds. Last month, a new law further controlling political parties came into force. A recent Council of Ministers decree clamps down on organizations that conduct public opinion polls. A Lukashenka decree further discriminates against independent trade unions, stipulating that only trade unions belonging to the pro-governmental federation are granted the right to premises at no cost. Yet another decree considerably limits students' opportunities to travel abroad.   Meanwhile, opposition activists are routinely beaten up or detained. Just last week, for instance, Ales Kalita was detained and at the hands of the police suffered a dislocated arm for merely distributing the independent newspaper “Narodna Volya.” Viktor Syritsya, a lecturer at Baranavichi College was fired for organizing a meeting of students with presidential opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich. Belarusian State Economic University in Minsk expelled fourth-year student Tatsyana Khoma because she took a brief trip to France, where she was elected to the executive committee of the Brussels-based National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB), an umbrella organization of 44 national student unions from 34 countries. The police beat activist Mikita Sasim. They detained youth activists Yauhen Afnagel and others. Other repressive actions include frequent arrests of activists of democratic youth movements such as ZUBR, a ban on worship by some religious congregations and other repressive actions against selected religious minorities, and continued harassment of members of the Union of Poles in Belarus.   Moreover, there is an emerging pattern of the regime putting obstacles in the way of Mr. Milinkevich. Recently, a public meeting he held in Borbuisk was disrupted by the authorities, with participants being told by the authorities to go home and threatened with tax inspections. During a press conference, the electricity in the room was cut off, as well as a “hot-line” phone with town residents.   Especially egregious has been the regime's intensification of the war against the already repressed and struggling independent media. Newspaper closures, suspensions, threats, and exorbitant and absurd libel fines, pressures on advertisers and other forms of harassment have become routine. Outright police confiscations of independent newspapers are also not uncommon. A seemingly more subtle tactic, implemented just a few weeks ago, involved the decision by Belarus' monopoly state postal service to stop delivery to subscribers of a dozen private periodicals. Meanwhile, the suspicious murder in 2004 of journalist Veronika Charkasova has not been resolved. Authorities have refused to open a criminal investigation into journalist Vasil Hrodnikau's death. Lukashenka himself recently admitted to Russian journalists that his regime applies very serious pressure on the media, somewhat incongruously adding that ``this does not mean I am crushing them.''   Mr. Speaker, what I have cited is by no means an exhaustive list of abuses perpetrated by the Lukashenka regime, merely a sampling of the types of repressive actions employed on a daily basis by Europe's last dictator. As Helsinki Commission Co-Chair, I will continue to monitor closely and speak out forcefully regarding these and other violations of Belarus' freely undertaken OSCE commitments. I urge the Bush Administration to step up efforts to break the Lukashenka regime's near monopoly over the country's information space and provide timely assistance to pro-democracy forces in Belarus.   It is clear that Mr. Lukashenka and his minions are laying the groundwork for yet another un-free and unfair election--similar to the 2001 presidential elections and the 2000 and 2004 parliamentary elections--that will fall far short of OSCE standards. Lukashenka is once again showing that, despite his confident rhetoric, he fears his own people and profoundly fails to respect their dignity as citizens and as human beings.

  • The Meaning of Egypt's Elections and Their Relevance to the Middle East

    The United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on October 12, 2005 to examine Egypt’s September 7, 2005 presidential election and its ongoing parliamentary elections.   The presidential election was the first in Egyptian history to be open to opposition candidates, while the parliamentary elections are being held in three phases over a six- week period to be concluded in early December. In the Egyptian presidential election, as was widely expected, incumbent President Hosni Mubarak of the National Democratic Party won a fifth consecutive six-year term with  88% of the vote. Out of numerous opposition candidates, the two main challengers, Ayman Nour of the Al-Ghad party and Noaman Gomaa of Al-Wafd, received 7.3% and 2.8% of the vote, respectively Post-election Analysis While the elections were generally acknowledged to have fallen short of meeting international standards, it was broadly agreed that the vote represented a change in Egyptian politics.  The nature of that change was, however, disputed by the panelists. Consequently, much of the discussion at the briefing was critical of the government’s conduct of the elections, with claims that electoral reforms that had been undertaken in Egypt had not gone far enough. “While the Egyptian elections did not meet internationally recognized standards of fairness, the mere fact that the regime allowed the opposition a place on the ballot had opened a doorway,” said U.S. Helsinki Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) in prepared remarks. In a statement, Commission Co-Chair, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) said, “The Egyptian people have tasted electoral freedom for the first time and began to debate the future of their country in a way that once was unthinkable. This is the beginning of a long process of democratic reform which over time will reverberate throughout the Arab world.” Thomas Garrett of the International Republican Institute (IRI), who had observed the pre-election period and the elections as part of a 15-member observer delegation, remarked on the significant progress made by Egypt in allowing open elections.  “For the first time in history, Egyptian voters were given the opportunity to choose from among several candidates for the position of president,” he said. Garrett noted that one of the problems in the lead-up to the elections was that access to voter lists was not provided to opposition parties until two days before the election, making voter contact difficult for all but the incumbent.  He was also concerned that apparent “off-the-cuff remarks”  by members of the independent electoral commission regarding candidacies and party participation were given the force of law by virtue of the fact that such remarks could not be subjected to legal challenge.  These issues notwithstanding, Garrett commented that the election broke the historic taboo against citizens openly criticize their government in a way that had previously been unheard of in Egyptian politics.  Overall, Garrett concluded, the aspirations of the voters were not subverted in that it was the clear intent of those who did vote to re-elect President Mubarak. Khairi Abaza, visiting fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and formerly of Egypt’s Wafd Party, the second major opposition party in the election, discussed the nature of the opposition.  Abaza pointed out that although Mubarak received 88% of the vote, estimates are that only 15-23% of the 32 million registered voters participated in the election, meaning that Mubarak had the support of 6.5 million in a country of 72 million. Abaza listed less-than-democratic aspects of the election, arguing that these had the impact of lowering voter turnout. These problems notwithstanding, Abaza noted that the public gains for the opposition were very important, allowing for the first time in 50 years a real civic debate about political reform and systemic change.  He added that the lead-up to the election saw the growth of the opposition which, as a result, began to speak much more openly against the government.  However, “there’s still a long way to go before we can see free and fair elections in Egypt,” he said.  “What happened in Egypt is probably a step toward a freer system, but it could only be considered a step if it’s promptly followed by many other steps.”  Abaza also remarked that it because of its comparatively more solid national, social, and linguistic identity as well as parliamentary history, Egypt was well positioned to serve as an example for the region. A Different Perspective Somewhat in contrast to the prevailing view, Dr. Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace did not view the presidential election as representing an historic step or breakthrough.  Hamzawy maintained that describing the election as historic was misleading, especially when taking into account the low voter turnout and the lack of serious competitors to Mubarak.  Rather, Hamzawy suggested, the election was simply the latest step forward in an ongoing reform of Egyptian politics that had gone on for the past 5 to10 years.  He predicted that the impact of the irregularities suffered in the election would be minimized by judges who would play a greater role in monitoring the elections than had historically been the case.  This, Hamzawy argued, would help restore the public’s belief in the neutrality of state institutions.  Hamzawy also added that he believed that opposition parties would win 15-20% of the seats in the People’s Assembly in the parliamentary elections. First Steps Counselor Wael Aboulmaged of the Embassy of Egypt noted that, as the vote was Egypt’s first experience with open presidential elections, it was perhaps inevitable that an assessment of their conduct would show them to have been deficient in various aspects. He added that Egyptians were only beginning to understand such facets of an election as campaigning nationally; how to raise funds; addressing people in different parts of the country who have different concerns; when to talk substance, when to talk style. Aboulmaged further contended that voter apathy and low voter turnout in the elections was due to many citizens lacking faith in the process.  However, he thought there was evidence of a new trend in which average people were becoming more involved politically and were beginning to feel that they have a real stake in electoral outcomes. The Counselor made note of the election’s irregularities, but reminded the audience of the significance of the recent events:  “For the first time, an incumbent president in Egypt had to campaign nationwide to present his political, economic and social agenda for public scrutiny:  to be held, in effect, accountable.  This is something that presidents in Egypt simply did not do in the past.  He had to ask for the trust of the voters.” Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD) in a statement observed, “Nobody would mistake this election as free and unfettered.  The opposition was fragmented, its main party excluded, and campaigning was tightly restricted.  However, the sight of any public debate in the very heart of the Arab world’s most important state is the first crack in the façade of the old regime.” Witnesses Mr. Thomas Garrett, Director of Middle East and North Africa Program, International Republican Institute Dr. Amr Hamzawy, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Mr. Khairi Abaza, Past Cultural Secretary, Wafd Party; Visiting Fellow, The Washington Institute Mr. Wael Aboulmagd, Counselor, Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt Moderator Mr. Chadwick R. Gore, Staff Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission

  • Religious Speech Limitations in Sweden

    Mr. Speaker, freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is a fundamental element of international human rights norms. It is inextricably intertwined with other fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of assembly. Considering this, I am increasingly concerned by European trends to place limitations on religious speech under the guise of preventing offense or limiting hate speech. One such case concerns Ake Green, the pastor of a Pentecostal church in Kalmar, Sweden, who was sentenced to 1 month in prison for “inciting hatred” against homosexuals.   Pastor Green’s troubles began on July 20, 2003, when he expressed his disapproval of homosexuality in a sermon, founded upon his understanding of the Bible. He did not incite nor encourage his congregation on the small southeastern island of Oland to violence. He did, however, express his personal opinion on homosexuality and made a personal moral judgment that the lifestyle was sinful. He later circulated the sermon text to media outlets in an attempt to insert an alternative view into Sweden’s “marketplace of ideas.”   When prosecutors saw the sermon printed, they brought charges against Pastor Green for “inciting hate” toward homosexuals. A district court agreed in June 2004, finding his sermon to be criminal. One particularly alarming quote from the district court’s decision stated, “It is forbidden to use the Bible or similar material to threaten or express disrespect for homosexuals as a group.” Mr. Speaker, should pastors really be sent to jail for sermons that a court deems “disrespectful” or “offensive”? Should the state really dictate how a religious leader interprets the Bible, the Torah, or other religious texts? The district court’s ruling raises the question of whether ministers and priests in Sweden are really free to preach their beliefs.   I recognize that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and not all speech is protected. After 9/11 and the Madrid and London bombings, we have all seen how criminals abuse religion to preach violence and lead others in criminal deeds. Authorities are within their rights to take legal action to curtail the speech when it rises to the level of posing an imminent threat of actual criminal action. The international community and the European Court of Human Rights have recognized this high threshold for limiting speech activity. Yet we must be careful to not limit religious liberties and speech rights.   Thankfully, Pastor Green has not spent a night in jail while his case is on appeal. Also encouraging was the February decision by an appellate court to overturn the conviction, saying it is not illegal to preach a personal interpretation of the Bible. However, Sweden’s chief prosecutor, Fredrik Wersaell, appealed to the Supreme Court, contending that Green violated Sweden’s 2003 hate crimes law. The Supreme Court will hear the appeal on November 9th.   Undoubtedly, Swedes enjoy tremendous religious freedoms and generally Sweden is a staunch defender of human rights. However, in this case, the government has sought to limit basic religious teachings. I believe the criminalization of the use of the Bible to express beliefs, if not overturned, will have frighteningly broad ramifications for the free practice of religion in Sweden and beyond.

  • Human Rights in Iran: Prospects and the Western Response

    By Ronald J. McNamara, International Policy Director In response to ongoing developments in Iran, on June 9 the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also called the U.S. Helsinki Commission, held a hearing entitled, “The Iran Crisis: A Transatlantic Response,” to examine the continuing pattern of serious human rights violations in Iran and consider how to formulate an effective transatlantic response. The hearing is part of a series to explore emerging threats to countries in the OSCE region. Iran shares borders with several OSCE participant States: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Turkmenistan and also borders Afghanistan, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation. Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) focused squarely on the deteriorating human rights climate in Iran: “Across the border, Iran's human rights record is dismal and getting worse. The Iranian regime employs all of the levers of power to crush dissent, resorting in every form of persecution, even so far as execution. No effort is spared to silence opposition.” “Freedom denied” sums up the regime’s approach to fundamental human rights across the board, observed Chairman Brownback, “the tyrants in Tehran time and time again have shown a zeal for crushing outbreaks of free thought. Having come down hard on vestiges of independent media, the regime has pursued those who sought refuge on the Internet as a domain for democratic discussion.” Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) drew attention to the extensive economic ties between many European countries and Iran, suggesting that such interests influence policy toward Tehran. Smith also questioned the effectiveness of existing UN human rights structures and the need for major reform of the system. Dr. Jeff Gedmin, Director of the Aspen Institute Berlin, testifying before the Commission, noted the paradigm shift in U.S. foreign policy following the 9/11 terrorist attacks: “It’s changed our thinking about democracy, not only for the moral reasons, but because, as the president and others have said, the old realism, the old stability sort of policies didn't keep us safe, either. They weren’t fully moral, and they didn’t keep us safe.” Gedmin urged a more assertive approach toward Iran that would link the security approach and the human rights and democracy approach, and warned against concentrating on the former to the exclusion of the latter. Gedmin called for ensuring that promotion of democracy is part of any dialogue with the regime, while admitting that European commercial interests could complicate matters. In his testimony, Tom Melia, Deputy Executive Director of Freedom House, focused on the dynamics of democracy promotion more generally and efforts to foster related U.S. and European cooperation through the Trans-Atlantic Democracy Network initiative involving senior government officials and NGO activists from both sides of the Atlantic. He admitted that there are a variety of European perspectives on how best to encourage democratic change, contrasting “the more traditional Western European officials around Brussels and the newly arrived officials from Central and Eastern Europe….who are willing to be strong allies.” Citing the recently released report How Freedom is Won, Melia noted that broad civic engagement can speed democratic reform and that the absence of opposition violence in the struggle for change ultimately enhances the prospects for consolidation of democracy. Turning to Iran, he noted that the June 17th elections in that country “are not about filling the offices that matter in Iran.” Ms. Goli Ameri, Co-Founder of the Iran Democracy Project, addressed the complexities faced by Iranian-Americans who have thrived in the freedom and opportunity offered in the United States, and who hope that such liberties will be seen in Iran itself. She explained some of the differing approaches advocated within the community: “In my experience, there are three different views on U.S. policy towards Iran amongst Iranian-Americans. One group believes that the U.S. needs to take an active role and make regime change an official U.S. policy. The second group believes that freedom from decades of oppression can only come from the Iranian people themselves without any type of outside involvement.” Ameri continued, “In my travels, the majority of Iranian-Americans I met have a third, more considerate way in mind. They speak as concerned citizens of the United States and independent of political opposition groups or extremist political doctrines. They care about U.S. long-term interests as much as they care for their compatriots in Iran…Iranian-Americans support the promotion of a civil society and a civil movement in Iran. However, they want to ascertain that the format of support does not hurt the long-term security and interests of the United States, as well as not sully the mindset of the Iranian people towards the United States.” Ameri emphasized that Iranian-Americans, “differentiate between support for civic organizations and support for opposition groups, with the latter being of zero interest.” Dr. Karim Lahidji, an Iranian human rights activist since the late 1950s who fled Iran in 1979, pointed to contradictions that exist within the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the “farce” that the regime is somehow based on popular sovereignty. He noted that “power itself is dual in the sense that, on one hand, there is this [unelected] supreme guide, who is kind of a Superman, who supersedes over the other branches of government” and exercises “100 percent real executive power.” Under the current structures in place in Iran, Lahidji stressed, “the underlying and governing principle, it's not equality. It is discrimination that really rules” in which “the rights of the common citizen are different from the rights of Muslims, or the rights of non-Muslims are different from the rights of Muslims. Women don't have the same rights as men. But common people don't have the same rights as the clergy.” He concluded, “Under the present constitution, any reform of the power structure in the country that would lead to democracy or respect of human rights is impossible.” Manda Ervin, founder of the Alliance of Iranian Women, focused on the daily difficulties facing the average Iranian, including rising unemployment, unpaid workers, and other hardships that have spawned manifestations of civil disobedience that are in turn repressed by security and paramilitary forces. Hunger strikes and sit-ins by university students and journalists are common and are met with repression by the authorities. Citing arrests of activists, including members of the Alliance of Iranian Women, Ervin stated, “The regime of Iran practices gender apartheid and legal abuse of children. The constitution of this regime belongs to the 7th century and is unacceptable in the 21st century.” In an impassioned conclusion Ervin said, “the people of Iran need our support, our moral support, our standing in solidarity with them. They don't want words any more. They don't trust words. They want actions. They want United States and Europe to stand together against the regime of Iran.” The panelists repeatedly cited Iranian youth and the efforts of NGO activists as key elements in building a brighter future for Iran. 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.

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