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Freedom of Thought, Conscience, Religion, or Belief

The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 recognizes religious freedom as a “human right and fundamental freedom.” Participating States of the OSCE “will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.”

To help ensure this commitment is fully honored, the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has senior staff focused on religious freedom.

The Helsinki Commission promotes and defends the religious freedom of people in the OSCE region, particularly prioritizing the cases of individuals and communities whose religious freedom has been violated and laws and policies that conflict with the Helsinki Final Act.

Staff Contacts: Nathaniel Hurd, senior policy advisor; Mischa Thompson, senior policy advisor

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  • Chairman Smith and Rep. McGovern Introduce “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act”

    WASHINGTON—Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02), today introduced the “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act” (H.R. 624). The bill prohibits foreign human rights offenders and corrupt officials operating anywhere in the world from entering into the United States and blocks their U.S. assets. It effectively globalizes and strengthens the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012,” which was directed at individuals and entities from Russia. “The ‘Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act’ is a game-changer, and demonstrates America’s commitment to protecting human rights worldwide,” said Chairman Smith. “We are sending a message to the world’s worst human rights violators:  we will shine a spotlight on your crimes. We will deny your visas. We will freeze your assets. No matter who you are or how much money you have, you won’t be enjoying the fruits of your misdeeds by visiting the United States or taking advantage of our financial institutions.” “We have made important progress in the last few years,” Rep. McGovern said.  “But since the introduction of the original Magnitsky Act, human rights defenders and anti-corruption activists worldwide have urged us to pass a law that covers similar violations in countries other than Russia.  Through the Global Magnitsky Act, we can better standardize our approach to human rights violators and provide clear guidance to the executive branch on how we expect these perpetrators to be held accountable.” “Conscripting child soldiers, kidnapping political opponents, and brutalizing people based on their religion are horrifying acts for which people must be held accountable – and this bill will do it,” said Chairman Smith. “The earlier Magnitsky Act enjoyed overwhelmingly bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. I expect the Global Magnitsky Act to move forward with the same level of commitment in both chambers, and on both sides of the aisle.” Earlier this week, Senators Ben Cardin (MD) and John McCain (AZ) introduced similar legislation in the Senate, which also applies worldwide and employs visa bans and property freezes. Unique aspects of the House bill include the requirement that the President impose sanctions if he or she determines that a foreign person has committed gross human rights offenses. The bill also permits the President to sanction perpetrators regardless of whether the victims were exercising or defending basic human rights; requires that the annual Global Magnitsky List be released each year on Human Rights Day; and directs the Comptroller General to assess and report on implementation. Both the “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act” and the earlier “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012” were inspired by Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was arrested and imprisoned by the Russian government following his investigation into fraud involving Russian officials. He was beaten to death by prison guards in 2009 after being held in torturous conditions for 11 months without trial. Summary: The “Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act” This act requires the President to publish and update a list of foreign persons or entities that the President determines are responsible, and who the President has sanctioned, for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights – including extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and prolonged, arbitrary detention – or significant corruption. Known as the Global Magnitsky List, the list will be due annually on December 10 (Human Rights Day). Although the bill directs the President to prioritize cases where the victims were seeking to exercise or defend internationally recognized human and rights and freedoms, like freedom of religious, assembly, and expression, or expose illegal government activity, the President can act regardless of the victim. Sanctions on these individuals and entities will include: Prohibiting or revoking U.S. visas or other entry documentation for foreign individuals. Freezing and prohibiting U.S. property transactions of a foreign individual or entity if such property and property interests are in the United States; come within the United States; or are in, or come within, the control of a U.S. person or entity. This act also requires the Comptroller General of the United States to assess the implementation of the law and report to Congress, so that Congress can ensure it is being executed fully.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Chair Notes Challenges, Need for Action on International Human Rights Day

    WASHINGTON—To mark International Human Rights Day, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, issued the following statement: "It has been a difficult year for those of us who are active in human rights in the OSCE region. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has flagrantly violated the principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act, exacerbated regional security, and further revealed the weaknesses of Russia’s own democracy .  The space for civil society – the guardians of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms – is shrinking in more than a few of our participating States, including Russia, Azerbaijan, and Hungary, breeding abuse of power and corruption. We have been appalled by violent anti-Semitic attacks and a rising tide of intolerance across the OSCE region against minorities and other vulnerable populations.  Uzbekistan holds the world’s longest-imprisoned journalist, who languishes alongside of thousands of political prisoners. "Clearly, the challenges for the countries of the OSCE are as great as ever.  We look forward to supporting Serbia’s 2015 chairmanship of the OSCE, which offers an opportunity both for the country and for the organization. As the effective successor to the only country to be suspended from the Helsinki process, Serbia is a concrete example of how a country can turn things around and how the OSCE can contribute. "In particular, we urge Serbia to build on decisions adopted at last week's Basel Ministerial Council on combating anti-Semitism and corruption.  These are challenges faced by virtually every OSCE participating State. We hope that Serbia will move forward with conviction to support these initiatives and to defend and advocate for the Helsinki principles throughout the region." December 10, International Human Rights Day, celebrates the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

  • The Tyranny You Haven't Heard Of

    You could call it a stealth North Korea: a country in the same league of repression and isolation as the Hermit Kingdom, but with far less attention paid to its crimes. The country is Uzbekistan, one of the Central Asian nations that emerged out of the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991. It has brought some unique touches to the conduct of a dictatorship. When political prisoners have served their full terms, they often have their sentences extended for violations such as improperly peeling carrots in the prison kitchen or failing to sweep their cells correctly. At harvest time, millions of students, teachers and other workers are temporarily enslaved to pick cotton to the profit of the regime. It has been known to boil its prisoners alive. But in most ways, it is a classic, hard-core police state, among the worst in the world. Like Zimbabwe, it has a president who will not go away: Islam Karimov, who assumed power as Communist Party boss in 1989. After a quarter-century, Karimov, 76, appears as ensconced as ever, though Uzbekistan’s GDP per capita of $3,800 puts it 171st in the world. Like China, it had its Tiananmen Square massacre: the shooting of hundreds of unarmed protesters in the city of Andijan in 2005, after which the government ramped up its repression nationwide. And like North Korea, it confines in brutal conditions thousands of political prisoners. How many thousands? Probably not the 80,000 to 120,000 who populate North Korea’s gulag. Human rights groups have offered estimates of 10,000 or 12,000. But, as Human Rights Watch noted in a recent report, no one really knows, because, like North Korea, “Uzbekistan has become virtually closed to independent scrutiny.” Foreign correspondents and human rights monitors generally are not granted visas. No U.N. human rights expert has been allowed in since 2002. Even the International Committee of the Red Cross, which is permitted almost everywhere because it never publicly embarrasses a country, had to pull out of Uzbekistan last year because of interference in its attempted prison visits. Drawing the curtains has helped Uzbekistan avoid scrutiny. But the nation has stayed below the radar for another reason, too: The United States and other Western nations have been reluctant to confront Karimov and his regime. They have needed to ship military supplies through Uzbekistan to reach Afghanistan. And as Russian President Vladi­mir Putin has become increasingly hostile, the West has competed with him for the favor of neighboring nations. Thus the tenor of this White House summary of a telephone call between President Obama and Karimov in 2011, unimaginable if Kim Jong Un had been on the other end of the line: “President Obama congratulated President Karimov on Uzbekistan’s 20 years of independence, and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries. The President and President Karimov discussed their shared desire to develop a multi-dimensional relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan, including by strengthening the contacts between American and Uzbek civil societies and private sector.” Never mind that Karimov has virtually eradicated Uzbekistan’s “civil sector.” It’s hard to read of such a phone call without thinking of, say, Muhammad Bekjanov, 60, possibly the world’s longest-imprisoned journalist. Uzbek security agents kidnapped Bekjanov in 1999 in Ukraine, where he was living in exile. He has been beaten, shocked, subjected to temporary suffocation (the “bag of death”) and tortured in other ways. He has contracted tuberculosis, and beatings have cost him most of his teeth and much of his hearing. When his term was set to expire in 2012, he was sentenced to another five years for unspecified “violations of prison rules.” Bekjanov’s crime was to have served as editor of an opposition party newspaper. “There may be legitimate national security concerns that the U.S. needs to engage on,” Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, told me. “That doesn’t mean you have to shove everything else under the rug.” There are some encouraging signs that Congress, at least, may be lifting a corner of that rug. In October the congressional Helsinki Commission, which is chaired by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and co-chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), held a briefing on political prisoners in Uzbekistan. Last week eight senators, including Foreign Relations Committee chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), sent Karimov a letter urging the release of five prisoners, including Bekjanov. These are small steps, but they shine some light on Uzbekistan’s crimes. Karimov cares about his reputation, his access to Western weaponry and his officials’ freedom to travel to Europe and the United States. If Obama also would take some small steps, it might make a big difference to the inmates of Uzbekistan’s invisible gulag.

  • Annual OSCE Human Rights Meeting Dominated by Russia and Ukraine

    Representatives of governments and civil society from OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, from September 22 to October 3, 2014 for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The meeting was organized by the OSCE office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) under the leadership of its newly-appointed Director Michael Link. This year’s annual OSCE human dimension implementation meeting drew 1,225 participants from 53 countries, including 700 NGOs.  There were an unprecedented 82 side events on specific countries or issues.  The session on tolerance and nondiscrimination was the most oversubscribed of the three-hour sessions with 85 people vying for the speaker’s list. Other specific topics for HDIM sessions included violence against women, rights of migrants and right of national minorities. In this issue: About the U.S. HDIM Delegation Russia Takes Propaganda Campaign to Warsaw OSCE Ambassadors Visit Auschwitz Civil Society Speaks Up

  • Imprisoned in Uzbekistan: Politically Motivated Cases

    David Killion, chief of staff at the Commission, addressed the limited freedom of expression in the former USSR and the imprisonment of those who speak out against their governments.  Uzbekistan was the focus of the briefing, as it has one of the highest numbers of persons imprisoned on politically motivated charges of any former Soviet country. Human rights activists, journalists, and members of certain religious groups fall victim to restrictive laws and policies that curb basic human rights. He was joined by Steve Swerdlow, Sanjar Umarov, Aygul Bekjan, and Cathy Cosman, who emphasized the consistent reports of widespread abuse and torture in Uzbekistan’s prisons, more than a decade after the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur on Torture concluded that torture was "systematic" in the country's prisons and detention camps. They referenced the Human Rights Watch report that detailed the cases of 34 of Uzbekistan’s most prominent individuals imprisoned on politically-motivated charges, from poor conduct of trials to mistreatment in prison.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Politically and Religiously Motivated Imprisonment in Uzbekistan

    WASHINGTON–The United States Helsinki Commission today announced a briefing: “Imprisoned in Uzbekistan: Politically Motivated Cases” Tuesday, October 28, 2014 11:00 a.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Uzbekistan has one of the highest numbers of persons imprisoned on politically motivated charges of any former Soviet country. Human rights activists, journalists, and members of certain religious groups fall victim to restrictive laws and policies that curb basic human rights. In addition, there are consistent reports of widespread abuse and torture in Uzbekistan’s prisons, more than a decade after the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur on Torture concluded that torture was "systematic" in the country's prisons and detention camps. Human Rights Watch has issued a new report detailing the cases of 34 of Uzbekistan’s most prominent individuals imprisoned on politically-motivated charges, from poor conduct of trials to mistreatment in prison. While some governments claim that ensuring stability and fighting extremism are paramount, laws restricting political participation, independent journalism, civil society, and freedom of religion may have the opposite effect. This briefing will discuss the Human Rights Watch report and look at what impact such cases may have in Uzbekistan, as well as hear about the human cost directly from a former prisoner and a family member of a current prisoner. Briefers: Steve Swerdlow, Esq., Human Rights Watch Central Asia Researcher and Director, Bishkek Office Dr. Sanjar Umarov, Former political prisoner Aygul Bekjan, Daughter of imprisoned journalist Muhammad Bekjanov Cathy Cosman, Senior Policy Analyst, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

  • Commission to Hold Hearing with OSCE Human Rights Appointees

    WASHINGTON—Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing: Anti-Semitism, Racism and Discrimination in the OSCE Region Tuesday, July 22, 2014 10:00 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Following an escalation of anti-Semitic hate crimes a decade ago, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) intensified efforts to combat prejudice and discrimination throughout Eurasia and North America. Since 2004, three Personal Representatives have been appointed annually by the OSCE Chair-in-Office (currently Switzerland) to address anti-Semitism; racism, xenophobia, and discrimination including against Christians and members of other religions; and intolerance and discrimination against Muslims. In an official joint visit to the United States, the Personal Representatives will address progress and ongoing challenges in the OSCE region a decade after the creation of their positions. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative on Combating Anti-Semitism Professor Talip Küçukcan, Personal Representative on Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims Alexey Avtonomov, Personal Representative on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination, also focusing on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians and Members of Other Religions

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Human Rights in Turkmenistan

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following briefing: Disappeared in Turkmenistan’s Prisons: Are They Still Alive?  Thursday, February 20, 2014 3:00 p.m. Cannon House Office Building Room 122 Ten years ago, the Organization for Cooperation in Europe’s Moscow Mechanism was invoked against Turkmenistan after hundreds were arrested in the wake of an alleged coup attempt. The resulting report detailed the lack of rule of law during the arrest process and subsequent trials, as well as the absence of information about the health and whereabouts of those imprisoned. And despite years of inquiries and a change in regime in Turkmenistan, the fate of many of those who have disappeared into Turkmenistan’s prisons over the past ten years remains unknown. Their families deserve answers, and this briefing will take a new look at these cases. Turkmenistan has been characterized as one of the world’s most repressive countries, with virtually no freedom of expression, association, or assembly. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom again recommended in 2013 that the Secretary of State designate Turkmenistan a “country of particular concern,” and the State Department placed Turkmenistan on its “Tier 2 Watch List” for trafficking in persons - the second lowest category. Imprisonment has been used as a tool for political retaliation against those who do speak out, and Turkmenistan’s prisons – closed to outside monitoring - are notorious for torture, poor conditions, and disease. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Rachel Denber, Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch Catherine Fitzpatrick, Independent Expert on Eurasia Peter Zalmayev, Director, Eurasia Democracy Initiative Kate Watters, Executive Director, Crude Accountability Boris Shikmuradov, Editor, Gundogar.org

  • The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western Europe

    This briefing presented a close examination of recent reports and studies showing an alarming rise in social and governmental hostility toward religion in general—and Christianity in particular—in Western Europe. Various topics of discussion underscored how the current state of affairs is in tension with Europe’s history as the intellectual birthplace of religious freedom, as well as with its commitment to democracy. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Professor Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University; Dr. Roger Trigg, Academic Director of the Kellogg Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Oxford University; and Roger Kiska, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom – noted with concern the growing European trend to pit human rights against religious freedom. Censorship of the cross and other religious symbols, growing restrictions on parental rights in the area of the education of their children, and limitation on free expression—including religious expression—through “hate speech” laws were also identified as obstacles for religious liberty in Western Europe.

  • Escalating Violence against Coptic Women and Girls: Will the New Egypt be more Dangerous than the Old?

    This hearing examined evidence that, as Egypt’s political and social crisis persists, violence against Coptic women and girls is escalating, including kidnappings, forced conversions, and other human rights abuses.  According to a new report released at the hearing by Michele Clark, at least 550 Coptic women and girls over the last five years have been kidnapped from their communities.  The few who have been found suffered human rights abuses including forced conversion, rape, forced marriage, beatings, and domestic servitude while being held by their captors, raising the question whether developments in the new Egypt are leaving Coptic women and their families more vulnerable than ever.  The hearing also included testimony and suggestions about possible initiatives the United States can take that may drastically curb the human rights issues in Egypt as they pertain to Coptic rights.

  • Irish Chairmanship of the OSCE

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Eamon Gilmore and others discussed what had transpired in regards to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) while Ireland was at the helm of the organization. This included priorities set by Gilmore involving Internet freedom. Congressman Smith also praised Gilmore for incorporating his experiences in Ireland into his leadership of the OSCE, such as drawing on Ireland’s experience in Northern Ireland’s peace process in reference to protracted conflicts elsewhere in the OSCE region. The hearing attendees went on to discuss the status of the agenda as it related to ODIHR and human dimension meetings.

  • From Arab Spring to Coptic Winter: Sectarian Violence and the Struggle for Democratic Transition in Egypt

    On Sunday, October 9, 2011, 25 people were killed and more than 300 injured when the Egyptian military attacked a peaceful group of Coptic Christians protesting the burning of a church in Aswan. In what has been deemed the “Massacre at Maspero,” referring to the location of the demonstration, witnesses say the army fired on the demonstrators with live ammunition and plowed into the crowd with armored vehicles. The military denied the use of live ammunition and claimed that their soldiers were attacked by an armed mob. The military has arrested at least 28 people, almost all Copts, including prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, and brought them before military prosecutors. The hearing focused on violence perpetrated against the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the implications of the events for that community and the current Egyptian leadership, and prospects for the consolidation of democracy in Egypt.

  • Minority at Risk: Coptic Christians in Egypt

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), focused on the current state of affairs of Coptic Christians in Egypt and their future in light of the Arab Spring. Coptic Christians, who make up eight percent of Egypt’s population, have historically been marginalized, discriminated against, persecuted, and even physically attacked. The perpetrators have been not only Muslim extremists, but also the Egyptian government itself. However, violence against Copts has escalated since the revolution. Witnesses present at this hearing included Caroline Doss, JD, Vice President of Coptic Solidarity; Michele A. Clark, Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs; and Jean Maher, president of the French Office at the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization.

  • 40th Anniversary of the Forced Closure of the Theological School of Halki

    Mr. President, I am pleased to be joined today by Senators Snowe, Reid, Shaheen, Whitehouse, and Menendez in introducing a resolution calling upon the government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay.  I was privileged to again meet with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, during his 2009 visit to the United States. His impassioned request to those of us gathered was for our support for the reopening of the Theological School of Halki, forcibly closed by the Turkish authorities in 1971. In this year marking the 40th anniversary of that tragic action, I urge the Turkish leadership to reverse this injustice and allow this unique religious institution to reopen  Founded in 1844, the Theological School of Halki, located outside modern-day Istanbul, served as the principal seminary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate until its forced closure. Counted among alumni of this preeminent educational institution are numerous prominent Orthodox scholars, theologians, priests, and bishops as well as patriarchs, including Bartholomew I. Many of these scholars and theologians have served as faculty at other institutions serving Orthodox communities around the world.  Past indications by the Turkish authorities of pending action to reopen the seminary have, regrettably, failed to materialize. Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met with the Ecumenical Patriarch in August 2009. In an address to a wider gathering of minority religious leaders that day, Erdogan concluded by stating, ``We should not be of those who gather, talk and disperse. A result should come out of this.'' I could not agree more with the sentiment. But resolution of this longstanding matter requires resolve, not rhetoric.  In a positive development last August, the authorities in Ankara, for the first time since 1922, permitted a liturgical celebration to take place at the historic Sumela Monastery. The Ecumenical Patriarch presided at that service, attended by pilgrims and religious leaders from several countries, including Greece and Russia. Last November, a Turkish court ordered the Buyukada orphanage to be returned to Ecumenical Patriarchate and the transfer of the property has been completed.  As one who has followed issues surrounding the Ecumenical Patriarchate with interest for many years, I welcome these positive developments. My hope is that they will lead to the return of scores of other church properties seized by the government. In 2005, the Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, convened a briefing, ``The Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey: A Victim of Systematic Expropriation.'' The Commission has consistently raised the issue of the Theological School for well over a decade and will continue to closely monitor related developments.  The State Department's 2010 Report on International Religious Freedom is a reminder of the challenges faced by Orthodox and other minority religious communities in Turkey. I urge the Turkish Prime Minister to ensure respect for the rights of individuals from these groups to freely profess and practice their religion or beliefs, in keeping with Turkey's obligations as an OSCE participating State.  The 1989 OSCE Vienna Concluding Document affirmed the right of religious communities to provide ``training of religious personnel in appropriate institutions.'' The Theological School of Halki served that function for over a century until its forced closure four decades ago. The time has come to allow the reopening of this unique institution without further delay.  I urge my colleagues to support this resolution. SENATE RESOLUTION 196--CALLING UPON THE GOVERNMENT OF TURKEY TO FACILITATE THE REOPENING OF THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE'S THEOLOGICAL SCHOOL OF HALKI WITHOUT CONDITION OF FURTHER DELAY  Mr. CARDIN (for himself, Ms. SNOWE, Mr. REID of Nevada, Mrs. SHAHEEN, Mr. WHITEHOUSE, and Mr. MENENDEZ) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations:  S. Res. 196  Whereas the Ecumenical Patriarchate is an institution with a history spanning 17 centuries, serving as the center of the Orthodox Christian Church throughout the world;  Whereas the Ecumenical Patriarchate sits at the crossroads of East and West, offering a unique perspective on the religions and cultures of the world;  Whereas the title of Ecumenical Patriarch was formally accorded to the Archbishop of Constantinople by a synod convened in Constantinople during the sixth century;  Whereas, since November 1991, His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, has served as Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch;  Whereas Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1997, in recognition of his outstanding and enduring contributions toward religious understanding and peace;  Whereas, during the 110th Congress, 75 Senators and the overwhelming majority of members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives wrote to President George W. Bush and the Prime Minister of Turkey to express congressional concern, which continues today, regarding the absence of religious freedom for Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in the areas of church-controlled Patriarchal succession, the confiscation of the vast majority of Patriarchal properties, recognition of the international Ecumenicity of the Patriarchate, and the reopening of the Theological School of Halki;  Whereas the Theological School of Halki, founded in 1844 and located outside Istanbul, Turkey, served as the principal seminary for the Ecumenical Patriarchate until its forcible closure by the Turkish authorities in 1971;  Whereas the alumni of this preeminent educational institution include numerous prominent Orthodox scholars, theologians, priests, bishops, and patriarchs, including Bartholomew I;  Whereas the Republic of Turkey has been a participating state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) since signing the Helsinki Final Act in 1975;  Whereas in 1989, the OSCE participating states adopted the Vienna Concluding Document, committing to respect the right of religious communities to provide ``training of religious personnel in appropriate institutions'';  Whereas the continued closure of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Theological School of Halki has been an ongoing issue of concern for the American people and the United States Congress and has been repeatedly raised by members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and by United States delegations to the OSCE's annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting;  Whereas, in his address to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey on April 6, 2009, President Barack Obama said, ``Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond.'';  Whereas, in a welcomed development, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, met with the Ecumenical Patriarch on August 15, 2009, and, in an address to a wider gathering of minority religious leaders that day, concluded by stating, ``We should not be of those who gather, talk, and disperse. A result should come out of this.'';  Whereas, during his visit to the United States in November 2009, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I raised the issue of the continued closure of the Theological School of Halki with President Obama, congressional leaders, and others;  Whereas, in a welcome development, for the first time since 1922, the Government of Turkey in August 2010 allowed the liturgical celebration by the Ecumenical Patriarch at the historic Sumela Monastery; and  Whereas, following a unanimous decision by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in 2010, ruling that Turkey return the former Greek Orphanage on Buyukada Island to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on the eve of the feast day of St. Andrew observed on November 30, the Government of Turkey provided lawyers representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the formal property title for the confiscated building: Now, therefore, be it  Resolved, That the Senate—  (1) welcomes the historic meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I;  (2) welcomes the positive gestures by the Government of Turkey, including allowing the liturgical celebration by the Ecumenical Patriarch at the historic Sumela Monastery and the return of the former Greek Orphanage on Buyukada Island to the Ecumenical Patriarchate;  (3) urges the Government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay; and  (4) urges the Government of Turkey to address other longstanding concerns relating to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

  • Northern Cyprus

    Mr. President, I rise today to return to the issue of the legacy of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Northern Cyprus and related human rights violations in the region. The disruption of a Christmas liturgy at the Orthodox Church of Agios Synesios, in Rizokarpaso, by the security services is appalling and should be roundly condemned by people of good will. The town, located in the Karpas region, is an anchor for the remnant of the once thriving Greek Cypriot community, now numbering several hundred mainly aged souls. The faithful had gathered at the church one of only a handful of Orthodox places of worship in the occupied area to have survived intact for a rare service. According to reports, members of the security services entered the church while the liturgy was being celebrated, ordered a halt to the religious service, and forced the worshipers and the priest out of the building before locking the doors. This sad turn of events has become all too familiar in a region under the effective control of the Turkish military. Of the 500 Orthodox Christian churches, monasteries, chapels and other sacred sites in the north, nearly all have sustained heavy damage, with most desecrated and plundered, including cemeteries. A mere handful, including the Church of Agios Synesios, may occasionally be used for religious services depending upon the whims of the local authorities and the military. The disruption of the Christmas Day liturgy is an affront to the dignity of those attending the service and is part of a disturbing pattern of violation of OSCE commitments on the fundamental freedom of religion, including the right of religious communities to maintain freely accessible places of worship. A related concern has been the tendency of State Department reports to downplay the difficulties faced by Orthodox Christians seeking to conduct services in northern Cyprus as well as the extent of the region's rich religious cultural heritage. I raised my concerns over the denial of religious freedom in occupied Cyprus when the Committee on Foreign Relations held a nomination hearing for the position of Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom and will continue to closely monitor the situation in that part of Cyprus . Under my chairmanship of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe we undertook an examination of the destruction of religious cultural heritage in that part of Cyprus . Our findings, along with expert testimony were presented at a Commission briefing, "Cyprus' Religious Cultural Heritage in Peril'' held on July 21, 2009. I encourage my colleagues and other interested parties to review the materials from that event, available on the Commission's Web site, www.csce.gov. A Law Library of Congress report: "Cyprus: Destruction of Cultural Property in the Northern Part of Cyprus and Violations of International Law" was also released at the briefing. In addition to documenting the extensive destruction of such sites, the briefing also touched on infringements of the rights of Orthodox Christians in Northern Cyprus to freely practice their religion. Those responsible for the interruption and abrupt forcible ending of the Christmas service at the Church of Agios Synesios should issue a formal apology for the boorish act of repression and I call upon all authorities in northern Cyprus to remove restrictions on the free exercise of freedom of religion and other basic human rights in this part of the country under their control.  

  • Northern Cyprus

    Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I rise today to return to the issue of the legacy of the invasion and ongoing occupation of Northern Cyprus and related human rights violations in the region. The disruption of a Christmas liturgy at the Orthodox Church of Agios Synesios, in Rizokarpaso, by the security services is appalling and should be roundly condemned by people of good will. The town, located in the Karpas region, is an anchor for the remnant of the once thriving Greek Cypriot community, now numbering several hundred mainly aged souls. The faithful had gathered at the church one of only a handful of Orthodox places of worship in the occupied area to have survived intact for a rare service. According to reports, members of the security services entered the church while the liturgy was being celebrated, ordered a halt to the religious service, and forced the worshipers and the priest out of the building before locking the doors. This sad turn of events has become all too familiar in a region under the effective control of the Turkish military. Of the 500 Orthodox Christian churches, monasteries, chapels and other sacred sites in the north, nearly all have sustained heavy damage, with most desecrated and plundered, including cemeteries. A mere handful, including the Church of Agios Synesios, may occasionally be used for religious services depending upon the whims of the local authorities and the military. The disruption of the Christmas Day liturgy is an affront to the dignity of those attending the service and is part of a disturbing pattern of violation of OSCE commitments on the fundamental freedom of religion, including the right of religious communities to maintain freely accessible places of worship. A related concern has been the tendency of State Department reports to downplay the difficulties faced by Orthodox Christians seeking to conduct services in northern Cyprus as well as the extent of the region's rich religious cultural heritage. I raised my concerns over the denial of religious freedom in occupied Cyprus when the Committee on Foreign Relations held a nomination hearing for the position of Ambassador-At-Large for International Religious Freedom and will continue to closely monitor the situation in that part of Cyprus . Under my chairmanship of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe we undertook an examination of the destruction of religious cultural heritage in that part of Cyprus . Our findings, along with expert testimony were presented at a Commission briefing, ``Cyprus' Religious Cultural Heritage in Peril'' held on July 21, 2009. I encourage my colleagues and other interested parties to review the materials from that event, available on the Commission's Web site, www.csce.gov. A Law Library of Congress report: ``Cyprus : Destruction of Cultural Property in the Northern Part of Cyprus and Violations of International Law'' was also released at the briefing. In addition to documenting the extensive destruction of such sites, the briefing also touched on infringements of the rights of Orthodox Christians in Northern Cyprus to freely practice their religion. Those responsible for the interruption and abrupt forcible ending of the Christmas service at the Church of Agios Synesios should issue a formal apology for the boorish act of repression and I call upon all authorities in northern Cyprus to remove restrictions on the free exercise of freedom of religion and other basic human rights in this part of the country under their control.

  • Russia: U.S. Congressmen Propose Sanctions in Lawyer’s Death

    Members of the United States Congress introduced legislation on Wednesday that would impose financial sanctions and visa bans on Russian officials implicated in the case of Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in prison in Moscow in November after being ensnared in tax inquiry. The measure’s sponsors — including Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, and Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat — said it was intended to spur the Russian government to properly investigate Mr. Magnitsky’s death. His defenders contend that he was jailed in an effort to force him to falsify testimony against Hermitage Capital Management, a major foreign investment fund that once had large holdings in Russia. His death caused widespread outrage and focused renewed attention on police tactics and corruption in Russia.

  • Opening a Second Front

    The death in prison of Sergei Magnitsky, a young Russian lawyer, remains one of the darkest scandals in the blotchy history of Russia's criminal justice system, exemplifying a culture of impunity in which power and wealth are fungible, and those who get in the way get squashed. Mr Magnitsky died of untreated pancreatis in pre-trial detention. He hadaccused Russian officials of stealing millions of tax dollars paid by his client, Hermitage Capital Management. Energetic lobbying by the head of Hermitage, the American-born financier Bill Browder, now seems to be getting somewhere. Two senior American lawmakers, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (a Democrat from Maryland), who is Chairman of the congressional Helsinki Commission and James P. McGovern (a Democratic congressman from Massachussetts), who chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, have introduced laws that would prohibit some 60-odd Russian officials linked to his death from visiting the United States, and freeze any assets they hold under American jurisdiction. (The Russian officials concerned have either made no public comment, or deny all wrongdoing). Mr Cardin said: “Nearly a year after Sergei’s death, the leading figures in this scheme remain in power in Russia. It has become clear that if we expect any measure of justice in this case, we must act in the United States...At the least we can and should block these corrupt individuals from traveling and investing their ill-gotten money in our country.” Mr McGovern said: “I have introduced the ‘Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Act of 2010’ in the House of Representatives as a direct consequence of the compelling testimony at a hearing on human rights in the Russian Federation in the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. The death of this courageous whistleblower in a Russian prison is the consequence of an abysmal prison system and corruption aimed at defrauding the Russian Treasury of billions. We know about Sergei Magnitsky, and we know about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, but how many more Magnitskys and Khodorkovskys are currently suffering in Russian prisons? My bill addresses the root causes of these severe human rights violations -- the Russian prison system and official corruption. We should not rest until justice is achieved in Sergei’s case, and the money is returned to its rightful owners -- the people of the Russian Federation."

  • Roundtable Discussion: Minorities in France

    On behalf of Congressman Hastings, Dr. Mischa Thompson of the U.S. Helsinki Commission addressed concerns for the respect of minority rights in France, highlighting both the positive and negative developments that have been made in an effort to learn from both situations. Several points were discussed including the increasing number of minorities within politics in France and the countries response to Roman policies. Witnesses testifying at the briefing from both France and the United States assessed the status of minorities, especially young individuals, in regards to participation in political issues, economic issues, budgetary issues, and public health. Efforts to deconstruct ethno-racial prejudices and the methods of doing so were also debated.

  • Fostering Effective Ethnic Minority Political Participation in the OSCE Region

    By Alex T. Johnson and Mischa Thompson, PhD, Policy Advisors As part of an ongoing initiative to foster ethnic minority political participation in the OSCE region, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Co-Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission attended the United Nations (UN) Second Session of the Forum on Minority Issues. The Session focused on Minorities and Effective Political Participation, took place on November 12 and 13, 2009 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The purpose of the Forum was to “identify and analyze best practices, challenges, opportunities and initiatives for the further implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities.” The Forum consisted of a Preparatory Meeting for NGOs, Workshop for Minority Political Actors, the Forum, and two Side events organized by the Minority Rights Group and United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Recommendations based on the proceedings were produced at the close of the forum. The U.S. delegation to the Forum was led by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. In addition to Co-Chairman Hastings, other members of the U.S. delegation included, Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) - Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and Delegate Donna Christensen (D-VI). The Forum was Chaired by Congresswoman Lee and convened by United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall. More than five hundred persons participated in the Forum, including more than eighty elected officials and other political actors, forty-five delegates and ninety-five non-government organizations from all over the world. The U.S. Delegation attended the Workshop for Minority Political Actors, which took place prior to the Forum and allowed elected officials and other political figures to discuss their own priorities and strategies for increasing minority political participation. Participants discussed barriers and possible remedies and efforts governments, parliaments, political parties, national human rights institutions, civil society, treaty bodies, United Nations institutions, the media, and other stakeholders could engage in to foster minority political participation. The U.S. delegation focused on the need to educate minority populations on their civil and political rights, including voting, running for office, and advocacy. Additionally, to address the lack of representation of minorities in government, the delegation called for initiatives that would increase employment opportunities for minorities in the political sphere. Specifically, these recommendations included introducing civic education programs led by minorities and developing minority youth professional development programs at government agencies, in parliaments, and in international bodies. Congressman Honda highlighted the importance of including minorities in the development, management, and implementation of government initiatives targeting minorities. “One should see minorities in professional positions upon immediately entering national human rights agencies, especially when the agency has a stated goal of combating racism and discrimination,” he argued. (This and other suggestions from the U.S. Delegation were included in the final Recommendations of the Forum.) As Chairperson, Congresswoman Lee opened the official Forum. In her remarks, she noted that empowering minorities politically is critical to achieving a truly democratic, free and global community. While she cited the election of President Barack Obama as an example of gains made toward fair election processes, she stated that minorities are still underrepresented in the U.S. Congress. For instance, there is currently only one African-American serving in the U.S. Senate.) Additionally, she stated that a continued focus of the Congressional Black Caucus and other minority caucuses was to address disparities between minority and majority populations in all aspects of society including the political arena. Following her remarks, government delegates and members of civil society ranging from Iranian dissidents to South Asian Dalit activists gave remarks. While many of the governments offered descriptions of their various initiatives to foster minority political participation, some governments provided assessments and prescriptions for improvement, including the U.S. government. Of particular relevance to minority political participation in the European context were the comments of OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek. The Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities is a unique institution of the OSCE in that it is situated in a politico-security dimension of the organization and facilitates confidential direct assessments on the status of minorities in the 56 participating States of the OSCE. High Commissioner Vollebaek highlighted how the underrepresentation of minorities in public services exacerbates the challenge of involving minorities in civic life. More specifically, he noted that exclusion and its causes threaten the stability of societies if left unaddressed. Other presentations throughout the forum corroborated the importance of this message. Speaking on the panel “Concrete Steps to Advance Minority Political Participation and to Build Capacity of Minorities to Participate Effectively,” Co-Chairman Hastings highlighted his work with minority European Parliamentarians in convening the 2009 Black European Summit.  He noted findings from the Summit, including that “the majority of our political and legal systems do not accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our societies.” He called for this problem to be addressed via “simple solutions governments, political parties, and non-governmental organizations can employ such as advertising employment opportunities in minority communities, requiring that at least a percentage of persons interviewed for a position are minorities, and providing fellowships and internships for minority youth in Parliament, government agencies, and other organizations.” Minority Roundtable On the margins of the UN Minority Issues Forum, Co-Chairman Hastings convened a roundtable of participants of the April 2009 Black European Summit and other interested parties. The roundtable provided an opportunity to follow up on the Brussels Declaration adopted at the close of the Black European Summit (see Appendix 1), and discuss future initiatives for continuing the transatlantic dialogue. The discussion also informed individuals unable to participate in the Black European Summit about the scope of activities and potential for future collaboration. Participants identified destinations for study tours to view the situation of minorities and existing initiatives to increase minority political participation in the OSCE region. The United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, and Germany were specifically named given that the populations of visible minorities in these countries remains high and that they each offer unique narratives for analyzing methods to overcome barriers to minority political participation. Participants reaffirmed the need for annual meetings to sustain linkages between minority political actors and agreed to identify additional minority leaders to expand the transatlantic dialogue and plan future initiatives. Conclusion The “Recommendations of the second session of the Forum on Minority Issues on minorities and effective political participation” were compiled at the close of the Forum and should serve as a useful guide for governments to foster minority political inclusion. Moreover, in the OSCE region, sustaining a transatlantic dialogue with minority political actors focused on minority political inclusion is not only key to implementation of the recommendations, but also realizing the commitments to democratic societies enshrined in both the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities and the Helsinki Final Act. Appendix 1 Brussels Declaration We, as members of the public, private, and voluntary sectors from Europe and the United States of America convening in Brussels, Belgium from the 15 to 16 of April 2009 for the Black European Summit: Transatlantic Dialogue on Political Inclusion, draw attention to the need for coordinated strategies to address racism and discrimination; We recognize the democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-racial nature of our countries’ diverse societies; We reaffirm the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and recalling that all individuals are born equal in dignity and rights; We remain concerned that the political and legal systems in some of our societies do not reflect the racial and ethnic diversity within our societies, which then contributes to the continuation of racism and discrimination; We recognize that the full access of racial and ethnic minorities to participate in the political sphere and relevant areas of decision making at the levels of national, regional, and locally elected government appropriate to each nation is critical to combating racism and inequality and ensuring our democratic societies; We therefore note the need for concrete strategies to: increase the representation and influence of racial and ethnic minority policymakers; jointly seek solutions to racial and ethnic minorities increased participation in decision-making in the development and implementation of policy initiatives to address discrimination and inequality; and support opportunities to exchange and share perspectives in these areas through the continuance of a transatlantic dialogue to realize these goals. We today resolve that we will endeavor to enact initiatives to eradicate racial and ethnic discrimination through: Continuing a transatlantic dialogue that: includes cultural exchanges between American and European racial and ethnic minority groups, including youth; focuses on the development of opportunities for racial and ethnic minority political leadership and participation in the policymaking process; and fosters the exchange of information on best practices to implement and enforce antidiscrimination measures and achieve racial equality; Joining forces over the coming months to develop common goals and objectives in each of our decision-making bodies to recognize Europe’s Black and racial and ethnic minority populations for their historical and present-day contributions and acknowledge past injustices; Promoting racial and ethnic minority participation at all levels of national, regional, and local government through the education of civil and political rights, including the legislative process and advocacy of legislative issues relevant to racial and ethnic minority communities, development of targeted professional development and hiring strategies, and increased youth and community outreach; Reaffirming our continued cooperation and commitment to work with our governments, international institutions, civil society, private sector, and other partners to improve institutions so that they are fully participatory and reflect the democratic principles of equality, justice, and celebration of the strengths of our countries’ diversity. In 2008, Congressman Hastings Chaired two U.S. Helsinki Commission hearings entitled: “The State of (In)visible Black Europe: Race, Rights, and Politics” and “Racism in the 21st Century: Understanding Global Challenges and Implementing Solutions.” At the hearings, the lack of minority representation in European policymaking, especially at national levels, was identified as a major obstacle to combating racism and discrimination by European witnesses. This prompted a call for a transatlantic dialogue on minority political participation that included best practices from the United States’ Civil Rights Movement. The resulting events have been the 2009 Black European Summit and 2010 Transatlantic Dialogue on Minority Political Leadership.

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