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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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  • 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.

  • 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.  

  • Criminal Defamation and "Insult" Law: Armenia

    Numerous international documents, including those adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), establish freedom of expression as a fundamental right. The right to free speech, however, is not absolute. Consistent with international law, certain kinds of speech, such as obscenity, may be prohibited or regulated. When governments restrict speech, however, those restrictions must be consistent with their international obligations and commitments; for example, the restrictions must be necessary in a democratic country and proscribed by law. Criminal defamation and "insult" laws are often defended as necessary to prevent alleged abuses of freedom of expression. They are not, however, consistent with OSCE norms and their use constitutes an infringement on the fundamental right to free speech. Criminal Defamation Laws All individuals, including public officials, have a legitimate right to protect their reputations if untruthful statements have been made about them. Untrue statements which damage a person's reputation constitute defamation. Oral defamation is known as slander; defamation in writing or other permanent forms such as film is libel. In some instances, criminal codes make defamation of public officials, the nation, or government organs a discreet offense, as distinct from defamation of a person. Truthful statements--as well as unverifiable statements of opinion--are not legally actionable as defamation. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights has held that public officials must tolerate a greater degree of criticism than private individuals: "The limits of acceptable criticism are accordingly wider as regards a politician as such than as regards a private individual. Unlike the latter, the former inevitably and knowingly lays himself open to close scrutiny of his every word and deed by both journalists and the public at large, and he must consequently display a greater degree of tolerance." (Lingens v. Austria, Eur. Ct. H.R., 1986.) Criminal defamation laws are those which establish criminal sanctions for defamation. Those sanctions may include imprisonment, fines, and prohibitions on writing. Individuals convicted of defamation in a criminal proceeding and sentenced to suspended prison terms may be subjected to the threat of immediate imprisonment if, for example, they violate an order not to publish. The existence of a criminal record may also have other social and legal consequences. In a criminal defamation case, state law enforcement agents (police and prosecutors)--using taxpayer money--investigate and prosecute the alleged defamation on behalf of the complainant. It is sometimes argued that criminal defamation laws are necessary to achieve the legitimate goal of providing the victims of defamation with redress. But general laws against libel and slander, embodied in civil codes, provide private persons as well as public officials the opportunity to seek redress, including damages, for alleged defamation. In such cases, the plaintiff and defendant stand in court as equals. Accordingly, specific criminal laws prohibiting defamation are unnecessary. "Insult" Laws "Insult" laws make offending the "honor and dignity" of public officials (e.g., the President), government offices (e.g., the Constitutional Court), national institutions, and/or the "state" itself punishable. Unlike defamation laws, truth is not a defense to a charge of insult. Accordingly, insult laws are often used to punish the utterance of truthful statements, as well as opinions, satire, invective, and even humor. Although insult laws and criminal defamation laws both punish speech, significant differences exist between them. Defamation laws are intended to provide a remedy against false assertions of fact. Truthful statements, as well as opinion, are not actionable. The use of civil laws to punish defamation is permissible under international free speech norms. The use of criminal sanctions to punish defamation, however, chills free speech, is subject to abuse (through the use of state law enforcement agents), and is inconsistent with international norms. In contrast, recourse to any insult law, whether embodied in a civil or a criminal code, is inconsistent with international norms. Their Use Today At one time, almost all OSCE countries had criminal defamation and insult laws. Over time, these laws have been repealed, invalidated by courts, or fallen into disuse in many OSCE participating States. Unfortunately, many criminal codes contained multiple articles punishing defamation and insult. Thus, even when parliaments and courts have acted, they have sometimes failed to remove all legal prohibitions against insult or all criminal sanctions for defamation. In communist countries and other anti-democratic regimes, such laws are often used to target political opponents of the government. Today, when insult and criminal defamation laws are used, they are most often used to punish mere criticism of government policies or public officials, to stifle political discussion, and to squelch news and discussion that governments would rather avoid. It is relatively rare for a private individual (someone who is not a public official, elected representative, or person of means and influence) to persuade law enforcement representatives to use the tax dollars of the public to protect their reputations. In some OSCE countries, such laws are still used systematically to punish political opponents of the regime. Even in countries where these laws have fallen into a long period of disuse, it is not unheard of for an overzealous prosecutor to revive them for seemingly political purposes. The International Context Numerous non-governmental organizations have taken strong positions against criminal defamation and insult laws. These include Amnesty International; Article 19; the Committee to Protect Journalists; national non-governmental Helsinki committees such as the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Croatian Helsinki Committee, Greek Helsinki Committee, Romanian Helsinki Committee, and Slovak Helsinki Committee; the International Helsinki Federation; The World Press Freedom Committee; Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression; national chapters of PEN; and Reporters Sans Frontières. Moreover, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and the Organization of American States Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression issued a joint statement in February 2000 which included the following conclusions, based on relevant international norms: "Expression should not be criminalized unless it poses a clear risk of serious harm. [. . . ] Examples of this are laws prohibiting the publication of false news and sedition laws. . . . These laws should be repealed." "Criminal defamation laws should be abolished." "Civil defamation laws should respect the following principles: public bodies should not be able to bring defamation actions; truth should always be available as a defense; politicians and public officials should have to tolerate a greater degree of criticism. . . ."[1] Finally, the United States Department of State regularly reports on cases where criminal defamation or insult laws have been used in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and, at OSCE meetings, has frequently called for the repeal of such laws in recent years. Criminal Defamation and Insult Laws in Armenia Since Armenia gained independence in 1991, there have been mixed developments regarding freedom of speech and a free press. There is no outright censorship in Armenia and a plurality of views can be found in the press. Nevertheless, there are reasons for concern. In April 2002, for example, two independent television stations, Noyan Tapan and A1+, had their broadcasting licenses revoked in what was widely seen as a politically motivated move. Subsequent efforts to renew those licenses have failed; as recently as October 13, 2003, A1+ was turned down again. In October 2002, independent journalist Mark Grigorian--then preparing an investigative report on the 1999 terrorist attack in the Parliament which resulted in eight deaths--was himself the victim of a grenade attack (which he survived). In December 2002, Tigran Nagdalian, Chairman of the National Public Television Board, was murdered. In April 2003, journalist Mger Galechian was seriously beaten after the newspaper for which he worked, Chorrord Ishkanutyun, ran an article critical of the head of Armenia's National Security Services. Journalists were also the victims of harassment and intimidation during presidential elections in 2003. On September 27, 2003, Gayone Mukoyan, editor-in-chief of Yerevan's Or newspaper, was beaten. In addition, in February 2002 the government released a draft law on mass media which, according to Freedom House, would "require journalists to pay for interviews with officials and create a government agency to 'monitor' the media."[2] Although the bill's worst elements have been removed, journalists still view the pending draft as inadequate. In September 2003, the National Press Club in Yerevan organized demonstrations outside the Armenia parliament against the draft law. The use of criminal defamation or insult laws in Armenia does not appear to be the regime's first line of defense against the opposition. Nevertheless, it is a tool that public leaders have been consistently willing to use against their critics. In 2000, for example, Nikol Pashinyan, editor-in-chief of the Yerevan-based opposition newspaper Aykakan Zhamanak was charged with insult and given a suspended sentence. Charges were brought against poet Dzanik Adamyan in 2002 as well as against Dzhema Saakyan (who reportedly typed the poems on a typewriter), but the charges were dropped after Adamyan spent two months in prison and Saakyan spent a few days in the custody of police. Pashinyan was charged again with insult in April 2002; those charges were eventually dropped. On April 18, 2003, the National Assembly adopted Armenia's first post-Soviet penal code. That bill was signed into law by the president on April 30, 2003. Unfortunately, the new penal code effectively renumbered, but did not repeal, those articles criminalizing defamation and insult. On June 19, 2003, Ambassador Roy Reeve, Head of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, sent an open letter to Artur Bagdasaryan, the newly elected Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia. (The letter was also signed by members of the informal Media Legislation Working Group including representatives of the Embassies of the United Kingdom, Germany, the United States, Italy, Romania, Poland and ten representatives of non-governmental organizations.[3]) The writers called for the decriminalization of defamation and insult and further criticized the fact that the code envisions greater penalties for insult of government officials than for ordinary citizens. According to the regular report to the OSCE Permanent Council submitted on July 31, 2003, by Freimut Duve, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Duve also wrote to the Armenian Foreign Minister expressing concern regarding this matter. The views of OSCE officials, non-governmental organizations, and members of Yerevan's diplomatic community have met with mixed reactions. On the one hand, Parliamentary Speaker Artur Bagdasaryan pledged that parliament would review the criminal code. On the other hand, Parliament Deputy Speaker Tigran Torosian initially rejected these views as "interference in Armenia's internal affairs."[4] In fact, the 1991 OSCE Moscow Document, accepted by Armenia when it joined the OSCE in 1992, explicitly states that the OSCE participating States "categorically and irrevocably declare that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension of the [OSCE] are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned." Meanwhile, Manvel Grigorian, one of the drafters of the new penal code, responded by arguing that defamation is a criminal offense in all other member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (i.e., those countries which, like Armenia, inherited a communist penal code) as well as some countries like Germany. While it is true that other post-Soviet countries have failed to repeal their communist-era criminal defamation and insult laws, the clear trend in post-communist Central Europe--where democratic reform is generally more advanced--is to decriminalize defamation and abolish insult laws. This incremental process[5] continues to move in a singular direction: criminal defamation and insult laws have been repealed or struck down (in whole or in part) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. In May 2003, the Romanian Government proposed a new penal code with sweeping and positive changes to the current provisions on insult and defamation; that draft is before the parliament. Countries like Germany--longtime members of the Council of Europe--have already had their criminal defamation or insult laws somewhat "neutralized" through the European Court of Human Right's case law. Those countries where the implementation of an archaic criminal defamation or insult law contradicts the European Court's evolving and elevating norms pay a price--literally--for doing so.[6] Relevant Armenia Laws The articles of the Armenian penal code which are not consistent with Armenia's freely undertaken OSCE commitments include: Article 135. Libel. Dissemination of false information humiliating a person's good reputation, dignity and honor, is punishable by a fine in the amount of 50 to 150 times the minimum salary, or correctional labor for up to one year. Libel through public speeches, publicly demonstrated works or through mass media, is punishable by a fine in the amount of 100 to 200 times the minimum salary, or correctional labor for one to two years, or with arrest for up to two months. Actions envisaged in parts 1 or 2 of this Article, accompanied with accusation of the person committing grave or particularly grave crime, are punishable by correctional labor for up to two years, or with arrest for the term of one to two months, or with imprisonment for up to three years. Article 136. Insult. Insult is the improper humiliation of another person's honor and dignity and is punishable by a fine in the amount of up to 100 times the minimum salary, or correctional labor for up to six months. Insult manifested in public speeches, in publicly demonstrated works or by mass media, is punishable by a fine in the amount of 50 to 200 times the minimum salary, or correctional work for up to one year. Article 318. Insulting a Representative of the Authorities. Publicly insulting a representative of authorities, in relation to the duties carried out by him, is punishable by a fine in the amount of 100 to 200 times the minimum salary, or correctional labor for six months to one year. The same act expressed in public speeches, in publicly demonstrated works, or by mass media, is punished with a fine in the amount of 200 to 400 times the minimum salary, or with arrest for a term of one to three months, or with imprisonment for a term of up to two years.   1. See: "Statement Regarding Key Issues and Challenges in Freedom of Expression," agreed by Santiago Canton, OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Freimut Duve, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and Abid Hussain, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, February 2000, www.article19.org. See also: "Insult Laws: An Insult to Press Freedom," published by The World Press Freedom Committee, www.wpfc.org. 2. Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2003 (www.freedomhouse.org). 3. The non-governmental organizations were: the Eurasia Foundation, the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia, the London-based Article 19, ABA/CEELI, the Yerevan Press Club; the Association of Investigative Journalists, Internews, ProMedia, Media Law Institute, and Caucasus Media Institute. The full text of the letter is at: http://www.osce.org/news/generate. pf.php3?news_id=3358. 4. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline, 23 June 2003 (www.rferl.org). 5. The abolition of criminal defamation and insult laws has been achieved both through the adoption of new penal codes and through high court rulings striking down laws deemed inconsistent with the national constitution and/or international law. In most Central European countries, this process has resulted in a gradual diminishing of the numbers of articles in the penal code that punish defamation or insult. 6. It is nowhere argued that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms prohibited criminal defamation or insult laws at the time of its adoption in 1950. Indeed, Article 10 of the European Convention is frequently decried by free speech advocates as the most restrictive free speech provision of any of the major international agreements on human rights. Many of the first countries to join the Council of Europe had criminal defamation or insult laws at the time they ratified the Convention. Nevertheless, since 1950, the cases of the European Court on Human Rights demonstrate evolving concepts of free speech (concepts most clearly articulated by the OAS, UN and OSCE Special Rapporteurs quoted in the first part of this report). Thus, while the Court has never ruled that a criminal defamation or insult law is per se in violation of the European Convention, the actual implementation of such a law runs a substantial risk of being found to violate the Convention. In 2002, for example, France was required to pay 4,096.46 Euros to a plaintiff who had been charged with insulting a foreign head of state (the King of Morocco). That same year, Finland was required to pay 8,400 Euros to a plaintiff who had been charged with criminal defamation (with 13 percent interest on the pecuniary damages and 11 percent interest on non-pecuniary damages). As a consequence of this judicial trend--and perhaps an increasing understanding of the civil alternatives to criminal prosecution for defamation--such laws are increasingly viewed as anachronisms. 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.

  • Floor Statement in Support of H.R. 1950, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005 - Rep. Smith

    Madam Chairman, I am pleased that Title XV of the State Department authorization bill incorporates key provisions of the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, which I sponsored earlier this year. The State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices report on Belarus states that the Belarusian regime's "human rights record remained very poor and worsened in several areas." Thanks to Alexander Lukashenka--aptly cited by The Washington Post as "Europe's last dictator"--Belarus has the worst human rights record in Europe today. The Helskinki Commission, which I Chair, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe including its Parliamentary Assembly, the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Union and other international entities have all chronicled the appalling state of human rights and democracy in a country located in the heart of Europe. Belarus already borders NATO. In just a few years, Belarus will border the European Union.   The Lukashenka regime has blatantly and repeatedly violated basic freedoms of speech, expression, assembly, association and religion. The independent media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and democratic opposition have all faced harassment. Indeed, in the last few months, his war against civil society has intensified--resulting in the closure of non-governmental organizations, independent media outlets and Western-funded media support groups, such as Internews Network group, an international organization that helps develop independent media in countries in transition.   Just last week, the Lukashenka regime denied continuation of the accreditation of the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), an American organization that has implemented a variety of assistance programs in Belarus for years, including programs that helped the struggling independent media. Last week, they ordered the closure of the Minsk bureau of Russian NTV television. Just a few weeks ago, Lukashenka closed down the National Humanities Lyceum, a highly respected school promoting the study of the Belarusian language and culture. There are growing, legitimate fears that Lukashenka is aiming to remove Belarus from its vestiges of democracy dissent.   In October, Lukashenka signed into law the most restrictive religion law in Europe. Independent journalists have been sentenced to "corrective labor" for their writings. There are credible allegations of the Lukashenka regime's involvement in the disappearances of leading opposition figures and a journalist. Here in Washington and at various OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meetings, I've had occasion to meet with the wives of the disappeared, Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovsky, Yuri Zakharenka, and Dmitry Zavadsky. These meetings have been heart-wrenching. The cases of their husbands--who disappeared in 1999 and 2000 and are presumed to have been murdered--are a stark illustration of the climate of fear that pervades in Belarus.   On the security front, reports of arms deals between the Belarusian regime and rogue states, including Iraq and North Korea, continue to circulate. Lukashenka and his regime were open in their support of Saddam Hussein.   One of the primary purposes of this initiative is to demonstrate U.S. support for those persevering to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the onerous pressures they face from the anti-democratic regime. Necessary assistance is authorized for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media--including radio and television broadcasting to Belarus--and international exchanges.   The bill also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, conducted in a manner consistent with international standards--in sharp contrast to the 2000 parliamentary and 2001 presidential elections in Belarus which flagrantly 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. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in 2004, and we should encourage those who seek to create the laws and environment conducive to a free and fair election.   In addition, the Executive Branch is encouraged to impose sanctions against the Lukashenka regime and deny high-ranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. U.S. Government financing would be prohibited, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products. The U.S. Executive Directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance that serve humanitarian needs.   Madam Chairman, we are seeking to help put an end to the pattern of clear and uncorrected human rights violations by the Lukashenka regime and are hoping this will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus' integration into democratic Europe. The Belarusian people deserve to live in a society where democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is preeminent. The Belarusian people--who have endured so much both under past and current dictatorships--deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country.   In addition, Madam Chairman, in keeping with this authorization for the Department of State, I want to express my appreciation for the work of the Department in bringing needed attention to the concerns about ongoing anti-Semitism, an age-old plague that still haunts many countries in the OSCE, including our own. I have sought to identify effective responses to this troubling phenomenon, including the introduction of the resolution, H. Con. Res. 49 which passed last month.   Last month, I joined Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Congressman HASTINGS in Vienna for an OSCE conference specifically focused on anti-Semitism. Having the OSCE itself take up this important cause is significant. In fact, the idea was first raised in the May 2002 hearing of the Helsinki Commission and also suggested in the resolution condemning anti-Semitism I presented at the Berlin Parliamentary Assembly meeting last summer. I offered a similar resolution week before last at the Rotterdam OSCE PA meeting. Both resolutions passed the Assembly unanimously. While the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has actively denounced anti-Semitic acts, I give great credit to the State Department for making the Vienna Conference a reality. Notably, one initiative emerging from the Vienna Conference was a pledge by our German friends to hold a follow-up meeting in Berlin next year to focus on anti-Semitism. I hope this meeting will rally the troops from Europe, the U.S., and Canada to say in one voice "never again."   Finally, Madam Chairman, I was pleased to learn of Senator Voinovich's amendment to the Senate's State Department reauthorization bill requiring the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom to include specific coverage of anti-Semitism. The amendment calls for the report to cover "acts of anti-Semitic violence that occurred in that country" and "the response of the government of that country to such acts of violence." Importantly, the amendment would mandate the report to chronicle "actions by the government of that country to enact and enforce laws relating to the protection of the right to religious freedom with respect to people of the Jewish faith." I think this is a worthwhile idea and hope it will be enacted into law.

  • Repression Spreading in Belarus

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

  • Human Rights in Chechnya Focus of Helsinki Commission Briefing

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

  • The Continuing Plight of Roma in Greece

    Mr. Speaker, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) and Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM) have just published a report on the human rights situation of Roma in Greece. “Cleaning Operations: Excluding Roma in Greece” documents the plight of the inhabitants of the Romani settlement of Aspropyrgos, outside Athens, and details the problems of Roma across the country. Illustrated with stark scenes of bulldozed homes and marginalized and neglected Romani communities, a picture disturbing in more ways than one has been painted.   In particular, the report supports the accusation that the Government of Greece has used preparations for the 2004 Olympics as justification for the campaign to uproot Roma. Ironically, Greece currently holds the presidency of the European Union.   The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, held hearings in 1998, 2000, and in 2002 focused on the human rights problems faced by Roma with the intent of raising the awareness of these problems amongst the governments of the OSCE participating States. The plight of the Roma has also been addressed in specific hearings or briefings covering Greece, Russia, Serbia, Kosovo, and Romania, as well as the OSCE process.   Members of the Commission have also sent several letters to Greek leaders in recent years addressing longstanding human rights concerns in the Hellenic Republic, including those affecting the Romani community. These expressions of concern have specifically addressed forced evacuations of Roma from numerous villages, the abusive application of the use of national identity cards issued to Roma, the inability of Roma children to have access to schools on a non-discriminatory basis and other matters of blatant racial discrimination.   This newly released report on Roma clearly indicates that the Greek Government has failed to properly address many of these ongoing concerns. At a June 2002 Commission hearing on Greece, in fact, I raised the specter of an intensified campaign targeting Roma to obtain land for use as venues for the 2004 Olympics. This campaign is well documented in this report.   Notwithstanding the assertions of Greek officials at the Commission hearing that “everything is done (concerning the relocation) in consultation with, and with the consent of, the Roma involved,” numerous non-governmental organizations have raised such issues with Athens. Greek human rights activists have stepped forward.   As an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, Greece has accepted numerous commitments pertaining to the treatment of Roma and joined in condemning discrimination against Roma, a provision found in the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit Document. Regrettably, the Greek Government has failed to fulfill these commitments, as documented in the new ERRC/GHM report on Roma in Greece.   The ERRC and GHM conducted intensive field missions that revealed several patterns of human rights abuse against Roma in Greece: cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment of Roma in housing; police violence against Roma; exclusion of Roma from the educational system; and, barriers to access to health care and other social support services for Roma.   Based on the facts in this report and the discussions I have had over the years in my leadership capacity with the Helsinki Commission, I urge the Government of Greece to take corrective measures, without delay, along the lines recommended by the ERRC and the GHM:   1. Facilitate access to Greek citizenship for those Roma residing in Greece who are stateless and provide the necessary legal documents (such as identity cards) to all Roma.   2. Use all appropriate means to guarantee protection against forced evictions outside the rule of law and without due process.   3. Bring to justice public officials and private individuals responsible for forced evictions of Roma in breach of Greek law.   4. Carry out thorough and timely investigations into all alleged instances of police abuse.   5. Undertake effective measures to ensure that local authorities register all persons factually residing in a given municipality, without regard to ethnicity.   6. Ensure that Romani schoolchildren have equal access to education in a desegregated school environment.   7. Without delay, adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, as called for in the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Summit Document.   8. Conduct public information campaigns on human rights and remedies available to victims of human rights abuse, and distribute in both the Greek and Romani languages.   9. Conduct comprehensive human rights and anti-racism training for national and local administrators, members of the police force, and the judiciary.   10. At the highest levels, speak out against racial discrimination against Roma and others, and make clear that racism will not be tolerated.   The Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor the situation of Roma in the Hellenic Republic with the aim of encouraging the Government of Greece to implement commitments it has agreed to within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Commission will also work to ensure that the plight of Roma in Greece is raised at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to be held this fall in Warsaw.

  • Taking Stock in Romania

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the consolidation of democracy in Romania. As Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe--the Helsinki Commission--I have followed events in Romania for many years. The Romanian people have survived the repression of a brutal communist dictatorship and, in the years since the fall of that regime, have made great strides in building democratic institutions and the rule of law. However, much remains to be done to overcome the legacy of the past.   Romania is a good friend and strong ally of the United States. I appreciate and thank the Government of Romania for its steadfast support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, where a battalion serves on the ground, and for its support of the U.S.-led military action in Iraq. Romania has been offered the much sought after admission to NATO, and today the Senate began debate on the Protocols of Accession. Romania is also an accession candidate to the EU.   It is in the spirit of friendship that I continue to follow the human rights issues there, based on a belief that Romania will be a stronger democracy, and therefore a stronger partner, when respect for human rights is strengthened. Frankly, I am concerned that, following Romania’s invitation to join NATO, the reform momentum in Bucharest may have dissipated.   Mr. Speaker, I believe that there is no greater barometer of democracy than free speech and freedom of the press. While there is no doubt that the Romanian people have access to a broad range of print and electronic media, 13 years after the fall of Ceausescu, Romanian law still includes communist-era criminal defamation provisions which impose prison terms for offenses such "insult" or "offense against authority." These laws cause a chilling effect on independent and investigative journalism and should be repealed.   Today, I received a letter from Foreign Minister Geoana, informing me that a new draft Penal Code would do exactly that. This is encouraging news, and I will follow this process closely with the hope that articles 205, 206, 236, 236 (1), 238, and 239 of the Romanian Penal Code will actually be repealed and not just modified.   Mr. Speaker, there is no international requirement that countries must make property restitution or provide compensation for confiscated properties. However, if a legal process for property restitution or compensation is established, international law requires that it be nondiscriminatory and be implemented under the rule of law. Property restitution in Romania since the fall of communism has been slow and ineffective, and the laws--which the government has enacted to address the problem--lack transparency, are complex, and have not been effectively implemented.   Restitution of communal property--for example, churches or synagogues--is especially difficult. In 1948, Romania’s communist government banned the Greek Catholic (Uniate) Church and ordered the incorporation of the Greek Catholic Church into the Orthodox Church. More than 2,500 churches and other buildings seized from the Uniates were given to Orthodox parishes. The government decree that dismantled the Greek Catholic Church was abrogated in 1989, however, of the thousands of properties confiscated from Greek Catholics, fewer than 200 have been returned nearly 15 years later. The status of thousands of properties belonging to the historic Hungarian faiths (Roman Catholic, Reformed, Lutheran and Unitarian), and the Jewish community, as well as other non-traditional religions has not been resolved, despite the enactment of a communal property restitution law in July of 2002.   The restitution of private property in Romania is equally as murky. In February 2001, the Romanian Parliament enacted Law 10/2001, the express purpose of which, according to Article 1 (1) of the Law, is to make restitution in-kind of nationalized real property and, whenever such in-kind restitution is not possible, to make restitution in an equivalent consisting of cash for residential properties and vouchers to be used in exchange for shares of state-owned companies or services. This clearly stated principle has been undermined by so many exceptions that it becomes virtually meaningless. Those claimants who have overcome the numerous exceptions contained in the law have then been stymied by government recalcitrance when they have attempted to obtain the necessary documentation to support their claims. Many title deeds were purposely destroyed by the former communist regime. State archives, having been deluged with a significant volume of requests, complicate the process with chronic bureaucratic delays in processing property records, and seeming indifference to the urgency of those requests. The Government of Romania cannot expect claimants to file within prescribed deadlines, and then not provide them with the means to obtain the proof of their clams from the government’s own records.   Further, I am disappointed by the ineffective and inadequate attempts of the Romanian Government to register the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion. The inability of the government to make this happen is a serious concern, as it is more than an issue of legal personality, but also of rule of law, religious freedom and discrimination. In October 2001, I received personal assurances from Foreign Minister Geoana that this longstanding matter would be resolved; it has not despite a ruling by Romania’s highest court dating back to 2000. The Ministry of Culture and Religious Affairs seemed to provide a fix in October of last year, but it proved faulty and failed to bring closure to this matter. Mr. Speaker, I urge the competent Romanian authorities to remove this issue from the agenda by facilitating the recognition of the Jehovah’s Witnesses as an official religion without further delay.   Another matter which I hope the Government of Romania will bring to closure is the rehabilitation and honoring of World War II dictator, Marshall Ion Antonescu, Hitler ally and war criminal condemned for the mass murder of Jews. Last year government officials publicly condemned efforts to honor Antonescu and removed from public land three statues that had been erected in his honor. One statue remains on public land in Jilava, the site of Antonescu’s execution, and important streets in the cities of Timisoara and Oradea continue to be named after him. I urge the Government of Romania to remove these remaining vestiges honoring the former dictator.   Finally, Mr. Speaker, I want to express my continuing concern about the Romani minority in Romania. I appreciate that Romania was the first country in Central Europe to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. This was an extremely important and positive step. But there appears to be a rising tide of intolerance against Roma, manifested by scapegoating of Roma in the media and in the statements of some public officials. In all likelihood, this climate contributed to the tragic events in Buhusi last December, when a number of Roma were shot during a police raid, including a 14-year-old boy who was reportedly shot in the back. I hope the Romanian Government will play a leadership role in countering prejudice against Roma and will continue to implement programs to address discrimination against them.   Protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights, as well as commitment to the Helsinki Final Act and respect for Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe norms and principles, are requirements for NATO membership. As a participating State of the OSCE, and as a candidate for admission to NATO, Romania has made that commitment. It is my hope, Mr. Speaker, that the Government of Romania will use this opportunity to strengthen its democracy, not retreat from it.

  • The Troubled Media Environment in Ukraine

    Mr. President, later this week individuals around the world will mark World Press Freedom Day. The functioning of free and independent media is tied closely to the exercise of many other fundamental freedoms as well as to the future of any democratic society. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I co-chair, is responsible for monitoring press freedom in the 55 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE. Recently, I reported to the Senate on the deplorable conditions for independent media in the Republic of Belarus. Today, I will address the situation of journalists and media outlets in Ukraine.   Several discouraging reports have come out recently concerning the medic environment in Ukraine. These reports merit attention, especially within the context of critical presidential elections scheduled to take place in Ukraine next year. The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Ukraine for 2002 summarizes media freedoms as follows: "Authorities interfered with the news media by intimidating journalists, issuing written and oral instructions about events to cover and not to cover, and pressuring them into applying self-censorship. Nevertheless a wide range of opinion was available in newspapers, periodicals, and Internet news sources."   Current negative trends and restrictive practices with respect to media freedom in Ukraine are sources of concern, especially given that country's leadership claims concerning integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Lack of compliance with international human rights standards, including OSCE commitments, on freedom of expression undermines that process. Moreover, an independent media free from governmental pressure is an essential factor in ensuring a level playing field in the upcoming 2004 presidential elections in Ukraine.   In her April 18, 2003 annual report to the Ukrainian parliament, Ombudsman Nina Karpachova asserted that journalism remains among the most dangerous professions in Ukraine, with 36 media employees having been killed over the past ten years, while beatings, intimidation of media employees, freezing of bank accounts of media outlets, and confiscation of entire print runs of newspapers and other publications have become commonplace in Ukraine.   The murder of prominent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze--who disappeared in September 2000--remains unsolved. Ukrainian President Kuchma and a number of high-ranking officials have been implicated in his disappearance and the circumstances leading to his murder. The Ukrainian authorities' handling, or more accurately mishandling of this case, has been characterized by obfuscation and stonewalling. Not surprisingly, lack of transparency illustrated by the Gongadze case has fueled the debilitating problem of widespread corruption reaching the highest levels of the Government of Ukraine.   Audio recordings exist that contain conversations between Kuchma and other senior government officials discussing the desirability of Gongadze's elimination. Some of these have been passed to the U.S. Department of Justice as part of a larger set of recordings of Kuchma's conversations implicating him and his cronies in numerous scandals. Together with Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith, I recently wrote to the Department of Justice requesting technical assistance to determine whether the recordings in which the Gongadze matter is discussed are genuine. A credible and transparent investigation of this case by Ukrainian authorities is long overdue and the perpetrators--no matter who they may be--need to be brought to justice.   The case of Ihor Alexandrov, a director of a regional television station, who was beaten in July 2001 and subsequently died also remains unsolved. Serious questions remain about the way in which that case was handled by the authorities.   A Human Rights Watch report, “Negotiating the News: Informal State Censorship of Ukrainian Television,” issued in March, details the use of explicit directives or temnyky, lists of topics, which have been sent to editors from Kuchma's Presidential Administration on what subjects to cover and in what manner. The report correctly notes that these temnyky have eroded freedom of expression in Ukraine, as "editors and journalists feel obligated to comply with temnyky instructions due to economic and political pressures and fear repercussions for non-cooperation." To their credit, the independent media are struggling to counter attempts by the central authorities to control their reporting and coverage of issues and events.   Another troubling feature of the media environment has been the control exerted by various oligarchs with close links to the government who own major media outlets. There is growing evidence that backers of the current Prime Minister and other political figures have been buying out previously independent news sources, including websites, and either firing reporters or telling them to cease criticism of the government of find new jobs.   Last December, Ukraine's parliament held hearings on "Society, Mass Media, Authority: Freedom of Speech and Censorship in Ukraine." Journalists' testimony confirmed the existence of censorship, including temnyky, as well as various instruments of harassment and intimidation. Tax inspections, various legal actions or license withdrawals have all been used as mechanisms by the authorities to pressure media outlets that have not towed the line or have supported opposition parties.   As a result of these hearings, the parliament, on April 3rd, voted 252 to one to approve a law defining and banning state censorship in the Ukrainian media. This is a welcome step. However, given the power of the presidential administration, the law's implementation remains an open question at best, particularly in the lead up to the 2004 elections in Ukraine.   I urge our Ukrainian parliamentary colleagues to continue to actively press their government to comply with Ukraine's commitments to fundamental freedoms freely agreed to as a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act. I also urge the Ukrainian authorities, including the constitutional "guarantor", to end their campaign to stifle independent reporting and viewpoints in the media. Good news from Ukraine will come not from the spin doctors of the presidential administration, but when independent media and journalists can pursue their responsibilities free of harassment, intimidation, and fear.

  • Regime Targets Independent Media in Belarus

    Madam President, recently I introduced S. 700, the Belarus Democracy Act, a bipartisan initiative aimed at supporting democratic forces in the Republic of Belarus. As co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I want to report to my colleagues on the pressures faced by independent media in that country. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has just released their annual report documenting the dangers journalists face around the world, including Belarus.   In May of 2002, CPJ named Belarus one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist due to the worsening repression under Europe's most authoritarian regime. Throughout the year the situation of the country's independent media deteriorated as Belarusian leader Aleksander Lukashenka mounted a comprehensive assault on all independent and opposition press.   While criminal libel laws had been on the books since 1999, they were not used by the Government until 2002. The law stipulates that public insults or libel against the President may be punished by up to 4 years in prison, 2 years in a labor camp, or by large fine. Articles in the criminal code which prohibit slandering and insulting the President or government officials are also used to stifle press freedom. The criminal code provides for a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment for such offenses.   Journalists critical of the fall 2001 presidential elections were targeted. Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka of Pahonya and Viktar Ivashkevich of of Rabochy were sentenced to corrective labor for "libeling" the President in pre-election articles. On March 4, a district court in Belarus commuted Mikola Markevich's sentence from time in a corrective labor facility to "corrective labor at home." On March 21, a district court released Pavel Mazheyka on parole. Under Belarus law, prisoners may be released on parole after serving half term there.   Other charges were leveled later in the year against a woman who distributed anti-Lukashenka flyers, an opposition politician for libeling the President in a published statement, and a Belarusskaya Delovaya Gazeta reporter for criticizing the Prosecutor General of Belarus. A former lawyer for the mother of disappeared cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky received a one-and-a-half year prison sentence suspended for 2 years for libeling the Prosecutor General.   Last August the independent newspaper Nasha Svaboda was fined 100 million Belarusian rubles for civil libel of the chairman of the State Control Committee. The paper closed when it could not pay the fine. There are other forms of pressure and harassment as well.   The CPJ report notes the financial discrimination faced by non-state media, including pressure from government officials on potential advertisers not to buy space in publications that criticize Lukashenka and his regime. Government officials also regularly encourage companies to pull advertising and threaten them with audits should they fail to do so, according to CPJ.   When the Belasrusian Government increased newspaper delivery rates, only nongovernmental papers had to pay. When the Minsk City Council of Deputies levied 5 percent tax on newspapers, government papers were again exempt. Such tactics caused such independents as the Belaruskaya Maladzyozhnaya, Rabochy, Den and Tydnyovik Mahilyouski to go under.   According to the State Department's recently released County Reports on Human Rights Practices "the regime continued to use its near-monopolies on newsprint production, newspaper printing and distribution, and national television and radio broadcasts to restrict dissemination of opposition viewpoints."   Madam President, I urge my colleagues to support S. 700, the Belarus Democracy Act, in support of those brave individuals in Belarus, including representatives of independent media, who speak out in defense of human rights and democracy in a nation which enjoys neither.

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

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

  • Introduction of Belarus Democracy Act 2003

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

  • Hearing Surveys Human Rights in Republic of Georgia

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

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

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

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

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

  • Commission Staff Meet with Georgian Officials While Religious Persecution Persists

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel   United States Helsinki Commission staff held consultations in Tbilisi, Georgia from October 14-16, 2002, with senior government officials, religious groups and NGOs to assess religious freedom and other human rights developments in that country. The discussions specifically focused on the ongoing mob violence against non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups, the prospects for ending the attacks, and what actions the Georgian Government should take to stop the depredations. The trip occurred on the heals of a Commission hearing on democracy, human rights and security in Georgia. During that hearing, Members of Congress raised their concerns regarding the ongoing violence against members of minority religious communities, Georgian authorities’ unwillingness to take action against the perpetrators of violence, and Georgia’s relationship with Russia concerning the Panksi Gorge. Commission Members have also written three letters in as many years to President Eduard Shevardnadze urging him to take concrete steps to quell the violence. The violence against minority religious communities began roughly three years ago, with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals all being victimized. Over that period, the frequency and intensity of the attacks have increased. Police have been implicated in the attacks, but as of late, their transgressions consist of omissions, such as reportedly refusing to intervene when notified of assaults in-progress. More recently, the main instigators of mob violence are Vasili Mkalavishvili, a defrocked Orthodox priest, and Paata Bluashvili, director of the Orthodox “Jvari” Union. In addition, demagogic parliamentarians, like Guram Sharadze, have led rallies and made inflammatory statements about the so-called “dangers” of non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups to Georgian society and nationhood. The victimization of minority religious groups is often justified through the language of Georgian nationalism. The small former Soviet Republic is squeezed between Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Russian Republic of Chechnya. Once a desired Soviet vacation destination, Georgia’s economy and infrastructure are crumbling, with the government struggling to provide the most basic of services. For example, there is much debate on whether sufficient gas and electricity will be available to avoid outages during the upcoming winter. Some Georgian public figures and religious leaders apparently see political profit from fighting religious pluralism behind the flag of Georgian nationalism, and non-Georgian Orthodox religious groups and their adherents have been characterized as unpatriotic and dangerous to Georgian society. On October 14, President Shevardnadze and the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Ilya II, signed a concordat concretizing the church’s relationship with the state. The Georgian Parliament, by a vote of 203 to one, ratified the concordat, bringing the measure into force. In addition to the questionable legal status of a concordat between a government and an entity lacking both sovereignty and any international legal personality, other problems arise. Foremost, the concordat creates an unbalanced playing field against other religious groups. The agreement grants the Catholicos-Patriarch immunity, excludes Georgian Orthodox clergy from military service and limits the creation of chaplain institutions in both prisons and the military to this one religious group. Also troubling is the provision granting the Georgian Orthodox Church the power to approve licenses for “official symbols and terminology of the Church.” As the concordat appendix enumerates a broad and vague list of items and terms falling under the church’s purview, which includes, inter alia, church buildings, liturgical items, crosses, and theological literature, other religious groups, like the schismatic True Orthodox Church, fear this will limit their ability to operate freely. The concordat is not the only legal issue of concern to minority religious communities, as a draft law on religion is circulating in the Georgian Parliament. The draft law, in its current form, contains several problematic articles. The term “improper proselytism” makes impermissible offers of “material or social benefits” or use of “psycho-ideological influence.” Charges of “improper proselytism” could have criminal repercussions, as Article 155 of the criminal code punishes the “offering of material or social care to attract new members to a religious organization or confession” by a fine or two-years imprisonment. Other troubling portions of the legislation include the creation of a registration scheme for religious groups. The draft law mandates the submission of the names of 50 members, as well as information on the group’s doctrines and activities, “attitude towards the family and marriage issues” and “the peculiarities of the attitude of the adherents towards health.” The draft also restricts the use of “Georgia” or “of Georgia” to groups “operating on the territory of Georgia for not less than 50 years.” Denial of registration can occur if, “as a result of the state religious expertise it is established that the entity is not religious.” Lastly, the draft law would allow the termination of religious activities, if the group is found to violate “state security and public order” or for refusing to “administer medical assistance on religious grounds.” If passed in its current form, the law would violate Georgia’s OSCE commitments, as these provisions appear tailored to ensure the curtailing, if not outright banning, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority religious communities. While there is a legitimate need to provide religious groups juridical personality, the draft law is too invasive and burdensome. The question is will it ever become law. Several officials and NGOs have indicated their general unhappiness with the current draft, saying it is too liberal for some and too limiting for others, but neither viewpoint has the numbers in the fractious parliament to amend the text. Others opined that with the Georgian Orthodox Church secured through the concordat as the preeminent Georgian faith and considering their dissatisfaction with the draft text, the church will no longer push for the religion law. As an alternative, the Supreme Court Chairman has proposed allowing religious groups to access the simple civil code registration process currently provided for non-profit organizations. The Ministry of Justice is reportedly reviewing this option. In discussions with Commission staff, minority religious community leaders expressed greater concern about the unchecked violence, rather than the future implications under the concordat or law on religion. Their concerns are warranted, as several assaults against Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred in the days immediately following the Commission’s September 24 hearing. Additionally, during the first week of October, villagers in Shemokmedi destroyed a church built by the in independent True Orthodox Church. Georgian officials and NGO representatives offered conflicting opinions on the phenomenon of violence inflicted by Vasili Mkalavishvili. Some view Mkalavishvili as an agent of the Russian Government, whose mission is to further destabilize Georgia. Others believe the Georgian Government and the Georgian Orthodox Church purposefully allow Mkalavishvili and his mobs to run wild. The government may benefit from the mob attacks distracting the Georgian polity from numerous government failures. For the Georgian Orthodox Church, the mobs intimidate and harass religious groups considered competition, and elevates the church as the protector of Georgian heritage and nationhood. However, while it is difficult to establish a direct link between the defrocked Mkalavishvili and the government or the Georgian Orthodox Church, the government appears hesitant to stop the cycle of violence. Commission staff also met with officials of the State Ministry, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Security Council and the Ombudsman for Human Rights, as well as members of the Supreme Court and several parliamentarians. Each admitted the mob violence was a serious problem, but some were quick to raise what they believe to be contributing factors, such as lack of education, poor economic situation, weak government, or Russian aggression. Government officials and religious groups agreed that if authorities had immediately arrested Mkalavishvili and his thugs three years ago, the problem would not exist today. Georgian officials, for the most part, seem fearful of repercussions which may result from any conviction against mob leaders. Nevertheless, most officials admitted that if authorities arrested, tried and jailed the top perpetrators, even for only six months, the violence would end. Commission staff expressed to Georgian officials the danger of allowing the brutality to continue and escalate, which could have repercussions for the government and the future of Georgia. Staff also made clear the great concern Commissioners maintain about the unwillingness of Georgian authorities to prosecute and jail the perpetrators of violence against members of minority faiths. Commission staff pushed Georgian officials for the provision of proper security for the ongoing trial of Mkalavishvili. In response, each of the Georgian officials repeated their resolution to thwart the violence, with both Georgia’s Ministry of Interior and National Security Council promising adequate police protection. Mkalavishvili’s trial, which started in January of this year, has been postponed five times, with Mkalavishvili’s mob crashing the courtroom and assaulting those in attendance. Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) wrote President Eduard Shevardnadze in late October 2002, seeking to reaffirmation of these guarantees. To the credit of the Georgian Government, they have provided adequate security personnel at the subsequent court proceedings of Mkalavishvili’s case. However, during a November 16th hearing, Mkalavishvili’s followers verbally assaulted and forcibly removed a reporter from Radio Free Europe. Security personnel did not intervene. In addition, one of the accused perpetrators reportedly was carrying a concealed firearm inside the courtroom. In closing, there is little hope for religious freedom if the Georgian Government remains unwilling to arrest, prosecute and jail the perpetrators of the mob attacks. While the providing of proper security at the Mkalavishvili trial is a welcomed step, it is long overdue. Considering the hundreds of criminal complaints against Mkalavishvili and other perpetrators of mob violence, the government must bring more prosecutions on serious criminal charges. It is the Georgian Government’s duty to ensure that all its citizens, regardless of their faith, can enjoy religious freedom, as well as personal and communal security. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

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

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

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