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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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  • Ankara's Efforts to Undermine the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey

    By Chadwick R. Gore Staff Advisor The Helsinki Commission briefing, “The Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey: A Victim of Systematic Expropriation” was held on March 16, 2005. The ecumenical panel of experts included: Archbishop Demetrios, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington; Rabbi Arthur Schneier, President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation; Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander of the Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle; and Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) opened the briefing and Commission Senior Advisor Elizabeth B. Pryor moderated. Co-Chairman Smith described the issue of the status of the Orthodox Church in Turkey as “black and white.” Turkey’s practice of property seizures, continuous impediments to land ownership and church repairs, and the denial of legal status for the Ecumenical Patriarchate are all in direct contradiction to Ankara’s OSCE commitments. While the current government has initiated a broad regime of reforms, Co-Chairman Smith encouraged the government to do more. “Turkey has a proud history of religious tolerance, but current government policies appear targeted to bring about the eventual exodus of Greek Orthodoxy from Turkey entirely,” said Rep. Smith. “I urge the Government of Turkey to continue with its good reform program, take actions to support its Orthodox citizens, and to bring its laws and policies into conformity with OSCE commitments.” Archbishop Demetrios provided a detailed account of the maltreatment of the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey. Since the government-provoked riots against the Greek Orthodox minority in 1955 – when the community numbered around 100,000 – the Church has been reduced to its present day remnant of 3,000 believers or less. The survival of this minority has been threatened by the continued closure of the Halki Theological School. This seminary, which was closed in 1971 on the pretext that privately run institutions were no longer legal, was the only school in the country for the training of Orthodox clergy. The continued closure means the Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey is unable to train new clergy in-country. The Archbishop also detailed cases of government confiscation of other church property. The two most significant accounts of such seizure are a recent Supreme Court ruling allowing the government to take possession of an historic orphanage on the island of Pringipo, and the expropriation of 152 properties of the Balukli Hospital in Istanbul. In addition, Demetrios noted that the government does not recognize the word “ecumenical” in the Ecumenical Patriarchate, thus denying the principal body of the church legal status. Rabbi Schneier relayed his experiences from multiple trips to Turkey speaking in support of the Greek Orthodox Church in crisis. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkey was thought to be a model of peaceful, religious coexistence for countries of Central Asia. In 1991, Rabbi Schneier met with the Patriarch and proposed a “Peace and Tolerance Conference.” The conference, which occurred in 1994, was widely supported by various religions and seemed to set a new tone for religious tolerance in Turkey and the region. Schneier urged the Turkish Government to take advantage of the world-wide respect that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has gained as a religious institution that preaches tolerance and fosters inter-religious cooperation. In conclusion, Rabbi Scheiner admonished the Turkish Government “to live and let live.” Dr. Limberakis detailed the various religious liberty violations he had personally witnessed on several trips to Turkey. He provided charts, showing that in 1936 the Greek Orthodox Church owned more than 8,000 properties. By 1999, its holdings had been reduced to about 2,000 places and today that number is less than 500. For the properties the church retains, the government has been slow or non-responsive in issuing building permits and allowing for repairs. The Church of the Virgin Mary, which was severely damaged in the 2003 terrorist bombings in Istanbul, waited more than a year for the building permits to rebuild. Limberakis categorized this as “emblematic of the modus operandi of the Government of Turkey.” Limberakis also discussed the Balukli Hospital and Home for the Aged. In addition to having some of its properties seized, the government has recently informed the hospital that it is subject to a 42% retroactive tax dating back to 1999. He recounted how he was assured by government leaders in February 2004 that the Halki Seminary would reopen and that it would possibly be operational for the 2004-2005 school year. September 2004 came and no progress was made. In a meeting in December 2004, the issue was discussed with Turkish officials but no further assurances were given. Dr. Edgar began his testimony by stressing the importance of the Ecumenical Patriarch, not only to Orthodox believers, but to Christians around the world for thousands of years. Istanbul has retained “its place of ecclesiastical prominence among the Orthodox Churches and its place of honor throughout the entire Christian world.” Edgar lauded the Ecumenical Patriarch as the “symbolic leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians.” Edgar discussed how the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which formally recognized the Greek Orthodox community as a minority in Turkey, guarantees the community’s rights. The Turkish Constitution states that religious liberties are to be enjoyed by all. Though the government has made promises, the implementation is lacking. Cardinal McCarrick agreed with others in saying that the Turkish Government greatly misunderstands the importance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He said, “Turkey, one would hope, would be so proud to have among its citizens and among its religious leaders one whose influence is felt not only beyond its borders, but throughout the world.” He discussed Pope John Paul II’s tremendous respect and honor for Patriarch Bartholomew, the current Ecumenical Patriarch and leader of the Orthodox Church. McCarrick briefly mentioned Turkey’s Law on Foundations which has created difficulties for non-Muslim religious communities. He reported that revenues from property transactions were often frozen and that religious institutions were often required to pay corporate taxes. Over the years members of the Helsinki Commission have been consistent and vocal advocates for the Greek Orthodox Church, as well as other religious groups experiencing problems in Turkey, be they Muslim, Christian or other. The briefing made it clear the Government of Turkey needs to take several positive steps to fulfill the Helsinki commitments regarding freedoms of religion and assembly which it has freely accepted. First, the apparent systematic expropriation of the properties of the Greek Orthodox Church ascribed as legal under the foundation laws of Turkey must cease. While such actions may be legal they are clearly wrong and prevent Turkey from fulfilling its basic Helsinki commitments. One can easily perceive sinister motives in the application of these laws regarding religious institutions—they appear to have as their goal the eradication of the Greek Orthodox from all of Turkey. Turkey needs to remove religious institutions from under these laws and free religious institutions from their burden. Second, Turkey needs to appreciate that freedom of the spirit is not a threat to the state. Allowing such freedom actually enhances one’s commitment to and love of country. The current system erodes the fundamental glue that keeps citizens proud of their lineage. And, finally, Turkey needs to look outward to the modern world to realize that the great democracies not only allow freedom of religion and assembly, accompanied by speech rights, but encourage them. Both the state and the citizen will grow better in the light of openness, acceptance and tolerance. This briefing was the first in a series of three, with the second briefing focusing on the Turkish Government’s treatment of other religious communities in the country. The last event will be with representatives of the Turkish Government in Ankara, addressing a variety of issues including those discussed in the first two briefings. United States Helsinki Commission intern Alesha Guruswamy contributed to this article.

  • The Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey: A Victim of Systematic Expropriation

    In this briefing, Co-Chairman Smith described the issue of the status of the Orthodox Church in Turkey and condemned Turkey’s practice of property seizures; continuous impediments to land ownership and church repairs; and the denial of legal status for the Ecumenical Patriarchate as direct contradictions to Ankara’s OSCE commitments. The progress that the Government of Turkey has made in its reform program as well as the actions that should be taken in the future to support its Orthodox citizens and to bring its laws and policies into conformity with OSCE commitments was also discussed. Witnesses providing testimony at the briefing addressed a range of topics, including the confiscation of church property and other religious liberty violations undertaken by the government. A combination of personal experience and historical evidence was used by the witnesses to illuminate these violations and present suggestions for improving religious liberty in the future.

  • Religious Freedom in Southeastern Europe

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel While the free practice of religion is generally enjoyed in Southeastern Europe, problematic policies exist that run counter to commitments made when countries from the region joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Issues range from discriminatory legal schemes denying small religious communities registration to harsh government actions against unpopular religious groups and their leaders. As will be discussed, having a legal mechanism for religious groups to achieve juridical personhood is important in ensuring religious freedom for all. Furthermore, this does not necessitate the creation of special religion laws, as legal status can be established through tax or corporation laws. Albanian and Bosnian Examples Despite shortcomings in other areas, Albania’s system for conferring registration and legal status to religious communities could serve as a model to others in the region. All religious groups with at least five members and meeting minimal criteria may obtain legal and non-profit status under the Law on Associations, the same status given to any applicant group, whether religious or secular. Albania’s neutral approach avoids the problematic entanglements of special religion laws common elsewhere in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina missed an opportunity to lead by example, as many parts of its recently passed Law on Freedom of Religion and the Legal Position of Churches and Religious Communities are well constructed, explicitly protecting manifestations of religious belief while limiting the ability of the government to interfere in the internal affairs of a religious group. Unfortunately, the law also contains troubling provisions which include penalties against free speech while setting numerical thresholds for obtaining legal status. For unregistered groups to qualify for official status, they must meet a membership threshold of at least 300 citizens. The law could be brought into harmony with OSCE commitments, should the Bosnian parliament amend the law, either expunging or significantly reducing this numerical requirement. While there has been marked improvement in recent years, the lack of physical security for minority religious communities and their places of worship as well as ineffective law enforcement and judicial action remain real problems. Police and prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina have proven slow or unwilling to protect minority groups in some areas. The answer is not a specially crafted religion law with novel criminal penalties, but better enforcement of current laws by police and determined prosecutions by authorities. OSCE Leadership: Bulgaria and Slovenia Despite Bulgaria’s status as OSCE Chairman-in-Office in 2004, religious freedom conditions took a turn for the worse when, in July, the authorities seized properties used by the alternative Bulgarian Orthodox synod for more than 10 years. The 2002 Law on Religions blatantly favors the Bulgarian Orthodox Church over the alternative Orthodox synod and other religious groups, thereby providing legal cover for the church seizures. While there is no numerical threshold for registration, the legal system established by the law appears open to manipulation and arbitrary decisions. Additionally, the sanctions available under the Law on Religions are also ambiguous yet far-reaching, potentially restricting a variety of religious freedom rights. It is not too late for Bulgarian authorities to erase this dark spot by immediately reinstating to the alternative synod full control of the seized properties until the courts settle the dispute. The overall situation for religious freedom is good in Slovenia, which became Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE on January 1, 2005. The registration system for religious communities is simple, and there are no numerical thresholds or formal requirements to overcome. While the small Muslim community in Ljubljana has experienced problems in obtaining permission to build a mosque, it appears the matter is being resolved. One city counselor successfully initiated a referendum in May opposing the zoning regulation change to allow the building of the mosque. However, the Constitutional Court found the referendum to be unconstitutional, thereby removing this hurdle to construction. It is hoped there will be no further bureaucratic delays, so construction can begin as Slovenia takes up the OSCE chairmanship. Law and Practice in Croatia and Macedonia While the freedom to practice religion is generally respected in Croatia, the Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities passed in July 2002 falls short of OSCE commitments, establishing a discriminatory, tiered system of registration. For a new religious group to enjoy the rights and benefits available with the higher Religious Communities status, it must demonstrate a membership of at least 500 individuals and be registered under the lesser Religious Association status for five years. Benefits explicitly given to Religious Communities include: freedom to operate independently; capacity to determine their internal organization; freedom to conduct religious meetings in their own or leased space; tax exemptions; the right to establish schools; and ability to receive state funding. Considering Croatia’s candidacy for the European Union, current EU members France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia do not use membership thresholds in conferring registration. In addition to the excessive numerical threshold and the five-year prohibition on registering new groups as Religious Communities, the law declares that the name and insignia of a religious group may not contain the official names and insignia of other countries. Doing so will cause the denial of registration. In addition, it is unclear under the law whether Religious Communities or Associations may legally conduct meetings in private homes or apartments. To lessen the likelihood of problems in the future and to set a positive example for others, Croatia should correct these deficiencies, as well as eliminate or significantly reduce the 500-member threshold. The legal framework governing religious freedom in Macedonia is ambiguous, due to Constitutional Court decisions striking down provisions of the 1997 Law on Religious Communities and Religious Groups, such as the numerical threshold for registration. Since religious groups are required to register, the lack of a clear mechanism can be problematic. Adding to the confusion, the U.S. State Department reports that the remaining provisions of the religion law are not consistently applied, leading to arbitrary delays in granting registration. The government could easily close this gap by creating simple avenues to obtain equal status either through the civil or administrative code. In addition to these legal problems, concern exists about the situation surrounding Bishop Jovan (Zoran Vraniskovski). Macedonian officials, in response to the ecclesiastical dispute concerning the status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, have over-reacted to Jovan’s activities on behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Authorities in January 2004 arrested Jovan for conducting a church service in a private apartment. Responding to complaints of neighbors about disturbing the peace is appropriate, but sentencing him to 18 months in jail for “causing national, racial or religious hate, discord and intolerance” is excessive and unjustified. Escalating things further, police officials in October reportedly bulldozed the foundations of a new chapel Jovan’s followers had begun to build, allegedly because local authorities had not received permission to start construction. (There is also concern about reports the government intends to demolish another Serbian Orthodox Church established in the village of Luzani.) Those sympathetic to the larger issues surrounding the Macedonian Orthodox Church and its status should be among the first to defend the rights of others to participate in the church of their choosing. The government, at least, must exhibit more restraint and end these harassments, and also pay reparations for the destroyed buildings. Problematic Draft Laws Elsewhere The legal framework for Serbia remains uncertain, since the 1976 communist-era law was abandoned in 1993. A draft religion law circulated earlier this year contained numerous shortcomings, blatantly tilting the playing field in favor of seven “traditional” communities and establishing the numerical threshold of 1000 members for new groups to register. Despite improvements, the new draft micromanages the affairs of religious groups, while making contingent most of the rights and benefits available to religious communities on the meeting of the burdensome 1000-member threshold. For smaller groups, this will result in the serious limitation of their activities; the draft prohibits unregistered groups from renting or owning land for worship, using private apartments for meetings, holding public events, receiving donations or opening schools or orphanages. Registration can be revoked for vague and arbitrary reasons – if a group “destroys family” or “disrupts spiritual integrity . . . for the purpose of . . . spreading its doctrine.” The draft reaches into the internal affairs of religious groups, as all are “obliged” to “inspire understanding” of others and not “spread lies, prejudices or intolerance” against other faiths. In addition, local officials would be empowered to monitor how religious groups use voluntary contributions. Serbian authorities are urged to seek technical assistance and input from individuals on the OSCE Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom or Belief, just as their predecessors at the federal, Yugoslav level did roughly two years ago, in order to develop a new draft that comports with international norms and practice. Regarding other issues, a dispute over a Romani church in Leskovac will be resolved when municipal authorities fulfill a pledge to provide some of the land nearby for an alternative site. The State Department reports the Belgrade Islamic community continues to have problems obtaining land and government approval to open an Islamic cemetery. In addition, in response to the burning of two mosques in March, reports indicate that 12 people of the 100 plus arrested have been charged with criminal offenses, and news of convictions should be forthcoming. There is also concern about religious freedom in Kosovo, as reportedly only three individuals have been found guilty for their involvement in the March violence that resulted in the destruction or damage of 30 Serbian Orthodox Churches and monasteries. The two-year prison sentences issued were suspended, making the penalties nothing more than a slap on the wrist. In addition, recent legislative initiatives are troubling, as the latest draft of the Law on Religious Freedom and Legal Status of Religious Communities falls short of international standards. The drafting process has been closed to minority religious communities, as well. The comments of minority communities should be actively sought and fully considered during the public debate. Among its many problematic portions, the draft creates the preferential status of a Religious Community, while providing virtually no rights for the lesser Union of Natural Persons. Small or new groups are prevented from obtaining Religious Community status, as they must have 500 members and have been operating in Kosovo for at least five years, but it is unclear how that time is tolled. Only Religious Communities can publish materials, either in print or electronically, or obtain funds from voluntary contributions. The draft unduly limits speech and activities of all groups, stating they shall not “disrupt other religious communities, or citizens without religious convictions, in public manifestation of religion or other conviction.” The government may also select certain religious groups to participate in the Committee for Relations with Religious Communities, thereby giving favored faiths an inappropriate degree of oversight or veto over other religious groups. Lastly, for existing Religious Communities, the law would make rights contingent on reregistering successfully within six months of passage. There is growing concern by reports coming out of Romania regarding a new draft religion law being reviewed by a parliamentary subcommittee. Reliable sources indicate this legislation is based on the highly flawed 1999 draft, which set the numerical threshold for registration at 0.5% of Romania’s population, or over 100,000 people. If reports are true, it is deeply concerning that the parliament would resurrect this seriously problematic bill rather than starting afresh and incorporating the views of interested Romanian religious communities. The OSCE Panel of Experts would be willing to provide technical assistance if invited by the government, and such a gesture would help ensure the legislation upholds all OSCE commitments on religious freedom.

  • Democratization in Central Asia

    Mr. Speaker, as the 108th Congress comes to an end, I want to make some observations about democratization in Central Asia, an energy-rich and geo-strategically important region. All these states are ruled by secular leaders who cooperate with Washington against terrorists. There are U.S. bases in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, to help promote stabilization in Afghanistan. This collaboration benefits us, as well as Central Asian presidents, and should certainly continue. But unfortunately, these countries are some of the worst human rights violators in the OSCE space. Everywhere in the region, super-presidents dominate the political arena, with parliaments and judicial systems dependent on the executive branch. Media are under heavy government pressure; in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, Soviet-era censorship continues in force. Equally characteristic of Central Asian states is corruption, which has not only enriched the ruling families and the favored few at the top but has impeded the development of free media and independent courts.   True, much of this characterization could be said about all the post-Soviet states to some degree, including Russia. But it is important to point out that there is a counter, or competing tendency in the region, exemplified by Georgia’s Rose Revolution of a year ago. While Georgia has a long way to go, there is no doubt about the legitimacy or popularity of its leader, President Mikheil Saakashvili. Also the peaceful protest movement he led to overturn the results of a rigged election has emboldened opposition activists throughout the former Soviet Union to believe that society may yet be able to have a voice in who governs and how.   Central Asian leaders were quick to claim that circumstances in Georgia were so different from their own that no parallels were possible. Still, the Georgian example sent shivers down their spines. That is one reason why the elections in Central Asia that have taken place this year have been, as they were in the past, carefully controlled, with predictable outcomes.   Uzbekistan, for example, is holding parliamentary elections in December. No opposition parties have been allowed to operate in Uzbekistan since 1992-1993. Despite pressure from Washington, Tashkent refused to register opposition parties this year, leaving only five pro-government parties to participate. Moreover, Uzbek authorities have contrived to keep opposition candidates from registering in single mandate races – even though officials told the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review Meeting in Warsaw in October that opposition candidates would be able to run. The result is obvious in advance: another pro-government, pocket parliament, with no dissenting voices and no capacity to perform any oversight of the executive branch. It should be noted that there have been several outbursts of popular dissatisfaction in Uzbekistan in the last few months; President Islam Karimov’s tightly-run political system may be less stable than many suppose.   In neighboring, oil-rich Kazakhstan, opposition parties are registered and were able to compete in September’s parliamentary election. Kazakhstan had previously expressed its desire to become OSCE Chairman-in-Office in 2009, and many observers linked Kazakhstan’s chances to a good grade on the parliamentary election. But the assessment of OSCE and Council of Europe monitors – citing numerous infractions and an uneven playing field for pro-government parties and the opposition – was critical. Kazakhstan’s chances of winning the OSCE Chairmanship have clearly diminished. At the same time, President Nursultan Nazarbaev – who is under investigation for corruption by the U.S. Department of Justice – has announced his intention to run, yet again, for reelection in 2006. Some commentators speculate that he may hold snap elections next year, to keep his opposition off guard. Should he win and serve out another seven-year term, he will have been in office almost 25 years.   Obviously, Mr. Speaker, Central Asian leaders do not find the responsibilities of the presidency too burdensome: Tajikistan’s President Imomaly Rakhmonov last year orchestrated a referendum on constitutional changes that could allow him to remain in office until 2020. True, Tajikistan is the only country in Central Asia where Islamic political activism is tolerated. We await with interest the parliamentary elections, in which opposition and Islamic parties will participate, scheduled for next February.   As for Turkmenistan, one of the most repressive countries on earth, I’m pleased to note that freedom of religion advanced a bit. The government of President Saparmurat Niyazov took some steps to liberalize the process of registration for confessions – instead of 500 adult members per locality, now only five nationwide are needed to register a community. For years, only Sunni Islam and Russian Orthodoxy were legal; now Ashgabat has registered Baptists, Adventists, Hare Krishna’s, and Baha’is. Moreover, the authorities released six Jehovah’s Witnesses, although two others remain jailed along with the former grand mufti. These steps – taken under Western and especially U.S. pressure, but which we welcome nonetheless – allowed Turkmenistan to escape designation by the U.S. Government as a Country of Particular Concern this past year. However, troubling reports continue to emerge about limitations on religious freedom and harassment of registered and unregistered religious communities. We must continue to monitor the situation closely and encourage Turkmenistan to continue moving forward with reforms, as even the improved situation is far from meeting OSCE standards on religious freedom.   In all other respects, however, democratization has made no progress. Turkmenistan remains the only one-party state in the former Soviet bloc and Niyazov’s cult of personality continues unabated. Recently, he tried to discuss holding presidential elections in 2008. But in a farcical scene, the assembled officials and dignitaries refused to hear of it. They “insisted” that Niyazov remain Turkmenistan’s leader in perpetuity; he, duly humbled by their adulation, took the issue off the table.   This brings us to Kyrgyzstan, in many ways the most intriguing of the Central Asian states. Of all the region’s leaders, only President Askar Akaev, who has held office for almost 15 years, has announced his intention not to run next year for reelection – though he has phrased the pledge carefully if he changes his mind. Kyrgyzstan is also the only Central Asian country where a large-scale protest movement has ever seemed poised to force a Head of State out of office: in summer 2002, thousands of people furious about the shootings of demonstrators in a southern district blocked the country’s main road, and threatened a mass march on the capital, Bishkek. Ultimately, the movement petered out but the precedent of public activism was set.   President Akaev’s stated intention not to run again, the upcoming parliamentary (February 2005) and presidential (October 2005) elections and Kyrgyzstan’s history of protest movements make for an interesting situation. In the next few months, Akaev must make fateful decisions: the most important is whether or not to run again. If he chooses to stay in office for another term, he risks sparking demonstrations. Though Kyrgyzstan is not Georgia, something akin to a Rose Revolution should not be excluded as a possible scenario. If Akaev opts to step down, however, we should not expect that he, his family and entourage would permit free and fair elections. More likely, he will try to select a successor – as Boris Yeltsin did with Vladimir Putin in Russia – and act to ensure his victory. But that course, too, could lead to protests.   Any decision Akaev makes – with intrusive, anxious neighbors looking over his shoulder – is risky and might have resonance beyond Kyrgyzstan’s borders. For that reason, the elections in Kyrgyzstan next year are of great interest not only to the voters of that country but to capitals near and far. Mr. Speaker, I hope to be able to report to this chamber next year that democratization has made strides in Central Asia.

  • OSCE Conference Focuses on Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The second Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination convened in Brussels, Belgium, September 13-14, 2004.  Along with the first conference held last fall in Vienna, the two meetings were part of broad efforts by OSCE participating States to address concerns about intolerance and anti-Semitism. Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, led the United States Delegation.  Other U.S. delegates included Dr. Maha Hadi Hussain, University of Michigan; Tamar Jacoby, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute; William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore; Larry Thompson, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General; Robert L. Woodson, President of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; and Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE. Conference participants included 47 OSCE participating States, five Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, and many non-governmental organizations representing a range of interests.  His Royal Highness Prince Filip of Belgium, His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan, and His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I addressed the opening session of the conference.  United States Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also spoke at the opening session in his capacity as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The Brussels Conference consisted of four plenary sessions and four workshops.  Considering the broad themes of the conference, the plenary sessions focused on a variety of issues related to intolerance: governmental actions in law enforcement and promoting tolerance; efforts to combat discrimination against legal migrant workers; and efforts to promote tolerance through education and the media.  The workshop topics were equally diverse, addressing discriminatory government policies affecting religious freedoms, promotion of tolerance toward Muslims, and combating discrimination based on color. The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights also reported on its strategy and activities relating to tolerance.        Members of the U.S. Delegation participated fully in all aspects of the conference, giving introductory statements at plenary sessions and actively engaging in discussions regarding various forms of discrimination. In the first session, “Legislative and Institutional Mechanisms and Governmental Action, including Law Enforcement,” U.S. Head of Delegation, Secretary Jackson noted that “abuses prompted by disregard for the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination occur in countries across the globe.  Some come in the form of individual acts of racism that harm only small numbers of people at a time.  Others come in the form of national policies that discriminate against certain segments of society.  All pose a challenge that all countries must confront directly in order to guarantee the freedom, democracy, and prosperity that we hold dear.” During the workshop entitled “Facilitating Freedom of Religion and Belief through Transparent and Non-Discriminatory Laws, Regulations, Policies and Procedures,” Cardinal Keeler stressed that participating States must “work to implement non-discriminatory laws, avoiding those that limit the ability of groups to operate equally. Registration systems should not create unfair tiered systems offering unique benefits and privileges to some and lesser legal status to others, or establish numerical thresholds almost impossible to meet.” Dr. Hussain’s contribution to the workshop on “Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination toward Muslims” addressed a number of issues, also singling out specific examples of governmental discrimination against Muslims.  “While the threat of terrorism is real and it can never be condoned, the negative attention stigmatizes communities and fosters xenophobia against minorities—be they Muslims, Arabs or others,” said Hussain.  “It also can result in violation of individual privacy and abuse of police powers.  It is hard to justify these actions, particularly in democratic states where human and minority rights are meant to be protected.” In the closing session, Secretary Jackson urged OSCE participating States and conference participants to combat all forms of discrimination, especially those based on skin color.  He spoke from his own experiences growing up in the southern United States in the 1960s during the  Civil Rights Movement.  Jackson noted how far the United States has traveled toward tolerance.  He observed, however, that work within the United States is not finished.  “That is why we gathered here this week to share our experiences and learn all we can from one another … to discuss the successes we have achieved in our respective countries … and to recommit ourselves to resolving the challenges that remain,” Secretary Jackson said.  “We know there is much work ahead of us, but as nations committed to promoting tolerance and diversity, we must focus the combined and concerted efforts of government, civil society, and individuals in the pursuit of positive change.”  The U.S. Delegation proposed 13 recommendations for consideration in future efforts to address issues of discrimination and intolerance, which included: Leaders of participating States should speak out and take resolute action against attacks and crimes directed at individuals based on race, color, religion, political or other opinion, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Participating States without anti-discrimination laws should enact such legislation at the earliest opportunity.  Those states with anti-discrimination laws should make strengthening such legislation a top priority.  All states may consult ODIHR on best practices. Participating States should reach out to minority communities and establish procedures for the reporting of possible bias-motivated crimes and violations of anti-discrimination laws.  Authorities should ensure the rapid and effective investigation and prosecution of such crimes. Participating States, OSCE Institutions, and NGOs should cooperate in developing training programs for law enforcement and justice officials on legislation relating to hate crimes and its enforcement. Participating States should affirmatively declare that institutionalized discrimination against religious communities is unacceptable and ensure that their legal systems foster equality, not subordination, of religious groups.  Registration laws, policies, and procedures should be non-discriminatory, neutral and transparent and should not use overly burdensome numerical or temporal thresholds. The OSCE should consider meetings on the promotion of tolerance and nondiscrimination toward Muslims. The conference concluded in similar fashion to the Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism, with the reading of a declaration by OSCE Chair-in-Office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy.  The “Brussels Declaration” condemned “without reserve all forms of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism and other acts of intolerance and discrimination, including against Muslims” and organizations and individuals that promote “hatred or acts of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, or related intolerance, including against Muslims, and anti-Semitism.”  In parallel to the Berlin Declaration, the Brussels Declaration also declared “unambiguously that international developments or political issues never justify racism, xenophobia or discrimination,” while also rejecting the “identification of terrorism and extremism with any religion, culture, ethnic group, nationality or race.”  Following the Berlin precedent, the Brussels Declaration incorporated a previously agreed Permanent Council decision setting forth actions participating States and ODIHR should undertake.  Reinforcing the PC decision for Berlin, participating States again agreed to “collect and maintain reliable information and statistics about hate crimes” and to forward that information to ODIHR periodically, and directed ODIHR to work with international organizations in this endeavor and to report their findings to the Permanent Council.  States decided to “take steps to combat acts of discrimination and violence” against Muslims, migrants and migrant workers, and to consider “undertaking activities to raise public awareness of the enriching contribution of migrants and migrant workers to society.”  In addition, governments committed to “consider establishing training programmes for law enforcement and judicial officials on legislation and enforcement of legislation relating to hate crimes.”  The Brussels Declaration and statements given at the conference are available at http://www.osce.org/events/conferences/tolerance2004.  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 Judy Abel contributed to this article.

  • OSCE Conference Focuses on Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination

    By H. Knox Thames CSCE Counsel The second Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination convened in Brussels, Belgium, September 13-14, 2004.  Along with the first conference held last fall in Vienna, the two meetings were part of broad efforts by OSCE participating States to address concerns about intolerance and anti-Semitism. Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, led the United States Delegation.  Other U.S. delegates included Dr. Maha Hadi Hussain, University of Michigan; Tamar Jacoby, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute; William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore; Larry Thompson, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General; Robert L. Woodson, President of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; and Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE. Conference participants included 47 OSCE participating States, five Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, and many non-governmental organizations representing a range of interests.  His Royal Highness Prince Filip of Belgium, His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan, and His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I addressed the opening session of the conference.  United States Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also spoke at the opening session in his capacity as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The Brussels Conference consisted of four plenary sessions and four workshops.  Considering the broad themes of the conference, the plenary sessions focused on a variety of issues related to intolerance: governmental actions in law enforcement and promoting tolerance; efforts to combat discrimination against legal migrant workers; and efforts to promote tolerance through education and the media.  The workshop topics were equally diverse, addressing discriminatory government policies affecting religious freedoms, promotion of tolerance toward Muslims, and combating discrimination based on color. The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights also reported on its strategy and activities relating to tolerance.       Members of the U.S. Delegation participated fully in all aspects of the conference, giving introductory statements at plenary sessions and actively engaging in discussions regarding various forms of discrimination. In the first session, “Legislative and Institutional Mechanisms and Governmental Action, including Law Enforcement,” U.S. Head of Delegation, Secretary Jackson noted that “abuses prompted by disregard for the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination occur in countries across the globe.  Some come in the form of individual acts of racism that harm only small numbers of people at a time.  Others come in the form of national policies that discriminate against certain segments of society.  All pose a challenge that all countries must confront directly in order to guarantee the freedom, democracy, and prosperity that we hold dear.” During the workshop entitled “Facilitating Freedom of Religion and Belief through Transparent and Non-Discriminatory Laws, Regulations, Policies and Procedures,” Cardinal Keeler stressed that participating States must “work to implement non-discriminatory laws, avoiding those that limit the ability of groups to operate equally. Registration systems should not create unfair tiered systems offering unique benefits and privileges to some and lesser legal status to others, or establish numerical thresholds almost impossible to meet.” Dr. Hussain’s contribution to the workshop on “Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination toward Muslims” addressed a number of issues, also singling out specific examples of governmental discrimination against Muslims.  “While the threat of terrorism is real and it can never be condoned, the negative attention stigmatizes communities and fosters xenophobia against minorities—be they Muslims, Arabs or others,” said Hussain.  “It also can result in violation of individual privacy and abuse of police powers.  It is hard to justify these actions, particularly in democratic states where human and minority rights are meant to be protected.” In the closing session, Secretary Jackson urged OSCE participating States and conference participants to combat all forms of discrimination, especially those based on skin color.  He spoke from his own experiences growing up in the southern United States in the 1960s during the  Civil Rights Movement.  Jackson noted how far the United States has traveled toward tolerance.  He observed, however, that work within the United States is not finished. “That is why we gathered here this week to share our experiences and learn all we can from one another … to discuss the successes we have achieved in our respective countries … and to recommit ourselves to resolving the challenges that remain,” Secretary Jackson said.  “We know there is much work ahead of us, but as nations committed to promoting tolerance and diversity, we must focus the combined and concerted efforts of government, civil society, and individuals in the pursuit of positive change.” The U.S. Delegation proposed 13 recommendations for consideration in future efforts to address issues of discrimination and intolerance, which included: Leaders of participating States should speak out and take resolute action against attacks and crimes directed at individuals based on race, color, religion, political or other opinion, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Participating States without anti-discrimination laws should enact such legislation at the earliest opportunity.  Those states with anti-discrimination laws should make strengthening such legislation a top priority.  All states may consult ODIHR on best practices. Participating States should reach out to minority communities and establish procedures for the reporting of possible bias-motivated crimes and violations of anti-discrimination laws.  Authorities should ensure the rapid and effective investigation and prosecution of such crimes. Participating States, OSCE Institutions, and NGOs should cooperate in developing training programs for law enforcement and justice officials on legislation relating to hate crimes and its enforcement. Participating States should affirmatively declare that institutionalized discrimination against religious communities is unacceptable and ensure that their legal systems foster equality, not subordination, of religious groups.  Registration laws, policies, and procedures should be non-discriminatory, neutral and transparent and should not use overly burdensome numerical or temporal thresholds. The OSCE should consider meetings on the promotion of tolerance and nondiscrimination toward Muslims. The conference concluded in similar fashion to the Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism, with the reading of a declaration by OSCE Chair-in-Office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy.  The “Brussels Declaration” condemned “without reserve all forms of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism and other acts of intolerance and discrimination, including against Muslims” and organizations and individuals that promote “hatred or acts of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, or related intolerance, including against Muslims, and anti-Semitism.”  In parallel to the Berlin Declaration, the Brussels Declaration also declared “unambiguously that international developments or political issues never justify racism, xenophobia or discrimination,” while also rejecting the “identification of terrorism and extremism with any religion, culture, ethnic group, nationality or race.” Following the Berlin precedent, the Brussels Declaration incorporated a previously agreed Permanent Council decision setting forth actions participating States and ODIHR should undertake.  Reinforcing the PC decision for Berlin, participating States again agreed to “collect and maintain reliable information and statistics about hate crimes” and to forward that information to ODIHR periodically, and directed ODIHR to work with international organizations in this endeavor and to report their findings to the Permanent Council.  States decided to “take steps to combat acts of discrimination and violence” against Muslims, migrants and migrant workers, and to consider “undertaking activities to raise public awareness of the enriching contribution of migrants and migrant workers to society.”  In addition, governments committed to “consider establishing training programmes for law enforcement and judicial officials on legislation and enforcement of legislation relating to hate crimes.” The Brussels Declaration and statements given at the conference are available at http://www.osce.org/events/conferences/tolerance2004. 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 Judy Abel contributed to this article.

  • Greater Regulation of Religion in Kazakhstan?

    Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission I am concerned about Kazakhstan’s draft law on combating extremist activity, as the legislation could violate Kazakhstan’s OSCE commitments on religious freedom and damage the country’s positive reputation on religious tolerance and liberty. In President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s address to the parliament on September 1, he urged deputies to pass the bill while dismissing concerns about the further regulation of religion. Nevertheless, the text is problematic in several respects and would benefit from further refinement. Considering that Kazakhstan wishes to be the OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2009, I urge Kazakhstan to seek the advice of the OSCE Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom or Belief, as President Nazarbaev wisely did two years ago regarding a proposed draft law on religion. Intended to combat terrorism, the draft law would criminalize membership in certain groups or the holding of certain beliefs, rather than combating actual criminal deeds. A critical portion of the law is also vague, as the text fails to define clearly the term “extremism.” The omission is glaring and will very likely lead to its misapplication. In addition, the draft uses the word “religious” ten times and links religion with an ill-defined understanding of “extremism.” In the context of an anti-terrorism law, such a connection gives rise to concern, as these types of statutes can easily be misused against unpopular religious communities. The draft law would strengthen state control over religious activity by giving the State Agency for Work with Religious Associations the ability to monitor groups. From its observations, the State Agency can recommend the banning of a group for “extremist activity,” but again the text does not spell out what activities would qualify. Another problematic provision included in the draft concerns the foreign classification of a group as “extremist,” as the law will honor the classification by another country and ban their activity in Kazakhstan. This clause would in effect allow the long arm of a repressive government to outlaw a group in Kazakhstan, as well. I remember when a Moscow court labeled the Salvation Army as a “paramilitary” organization; under this draft bill, Kazakhstan could follow this erroneous assertion and ban this well-respected humanitarian organization. Existing Kazakh law fully provides for the prosecution of criminal acts, so these new provisions are not only unnecessary but harmful. In fact, some articles of current law are too restrictive. For example, Article 375 of the Administrative Code, which requires the registration of religious groups, should be removed. I have received consistent reports since the promulgation of Article 375 of unregistered groups being penalized for legitimate activities and their facing civil and criminal sanctions. Considering the recurring misuse of civil regulations, I fear further abuse under the draft law. I understand that President Nazarbaev is concerned about the spread of extremism in his country, especially from “radical” Islamic groups. The President may be tempted to follow the actions of his neighbors, especially Uzbekistan, but I would advise him otherwise. The Uzbek Government has for years ruthlessly clamped down on pious Muslims suspected of being associated with Hizb ut-Tahrir. This reactionary and heavy-handed policy has proven counterproductive, antagonizing the devout Muslim population and leaving it receptive to other, radical voices. Instead of defeating terrorists, demanding legal requirements for religious practice and Uzbekistan’s harsh responses have restricted the religious freedoms of the many peaceful Muslims and Christians wanting to practice their faith. Obviously, individuals involved in criminal activity in Kazakhstan should be punished. But, by banning entire groups, particularly independent mosques outside the control of the state-backed Muslim Spiritual Association, entire communities will be penalized. The result will be the inappropriate limiting of a fundamental freedom, while doing little to prevent criminal acts. In closing, the Congress of World and Traditional Religions convened by President Nazarbaev himself was successful in bringing together Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu leaders to discuss tolerance and understanding. I fear that the draft law on extremism, if not amended, will sully Kazakhstan’s reputation on religious tolerance by unduly limiting religious freedoms through the criminalization of certain memberships and beliefs as opposed to addressing real criminal activity.

  • Religious Freedom in the Caucasus

    Helsinki Commission Chairman Hon. Chris Smith and Commission Staff Advisors Elizabeth Pryor and Knox Thames evaluated issues regarding religious freedom in the Caucasus states. In Azerbaijan, unregistered religious communities experienced harassment from authorities; in Armenia, government policy regarding registration restriction for religious groups conflicted with the government’s commitment to human rights; and Georgian authorities needed to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violent assaults against religious minorities. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Eric Rassbach, Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; Andre Carbonneau, Attorney for Jehovah’s Witnesses; and Dr. Paul Crego, Senior Cataloging Specialist for the Library of Congress – focused on the violations of religious freedom perpetrated by the governments of each of these three states and emphasized the potential role of the international community, and specifically the United States government, in resolving these violations.

  • Commission Hearing Surveys Human Rights in Putin's Russia

    By John Finerty Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing on May 20, 2004 to review governance practices and human rights in the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin.  Witnesses focused on media independence, religious freedom, judicial procedures, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and the war in Chechnya. Opening the hearing, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed apprehension that President Putin was leading Russia in an authoritarian direction, increasingly reliant on Russia’s security apparatus and intelligence agencies to govern the country.  Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) also voiced his concerns, focusing on corruption in the Russian Government and abuses in the war in Chechnya. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Steven Pifer stated that Russians enjoy freedom of travel and emigration, and an independent print media that engages in robust political debates; religious association and expression is generally free, and Russians have incorporated voting into their political practices. However, Pifer voiced concern with the Putin administration’s undue influence on judicial proceedings, state control or sway over the broadcast media, the pressuring of non-governmental organizations, anti-Semitism, abuses in the war in Chechnya, and the lack of a level electoral playing field for the political opposition. Ambassador Pifer cited the U.S. record of advocating democratization and human rights to the Russian leadership, while pursuing cooperation on mutual security interests such as the war on terrorism, arms control, counter-proliferation, and the resolution of regional conflicts. Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion and chairman of Committee 2008: Free Choice, presented a critical view of the Putin administration, lamenting the slide of the Russian Government into authoritarianism.  He described a variety of policies undertaken by the Putin administration that he viewed as backtracking from the democratic progress of the 1990s, including the curtailment of civil liberties and the flagrant abuse of human rights. Specifically, Kasparov described government influence over the broadcast media and manipulation of elections. The war in Chechnya had been sidelined as a topic of news discussion, he asserted, thus facilitating the concealment of wartime human rights abuses.  He also faulted the media for disregarding the ineptness of government responses to terrorist attacks. On elections, Kasparov characterized the December 2003 parliamentary polls as unfair, and predicted that President Putin would use parliamentary maneuvers to change the constitution and extend his term, perhaps indefinitely. Mr. Kasparov condemned Russian activities in the Chechen war and described how “hundreds of Chechens, if not thousands, are being interrogated, tortured and killed” by Russian soldiers. He called for the deployment of independent observers to monitor Russian behavior and promote observance of human rights.  As a final critique, Kasparov charged that Putin had stripped the judicial system of its independence and was using it to silence political opponents and critics, such as Mikhail Khordorkovsky and Igor Sutyagin. As for solutions, Kasparov highlighted his efforts to expose the corruption of the December 2003 elections through a lawsuit and public advocacy. He also urged the United States to use diplomatic means to leverage the Russian Government into democratic and civil liberties concessions. Edward Lozansky, president of Russia House and the American University in Moscow, offered a contrasting opinion, pointing to the successes of the Putin administration in taming the “oligarchs” and encouraging economic growth. He viewed state control of the broadcast media as less of a crisis, contending that free alternatives, such as print, electronic, and foreign media, provide the people with a variety of viewpoints. Ultimately, Dr. Lozansky argued, “President Putin enjoys overwhelming support of the Russian people” and that the Russian people “can freely express their opinions.” In closing, Lozansky suggested the United States should not undermine its relationship with Russia through unnecessary criticism, since bilateral cooperation between the nations remains essential in the war on terrorism, space exploration, energy, and the environment.  Engagement and dialogue, rather than condemnation, is paramount, he suggested. Reverend Igor Nikitin, president of the Association of Christian Churches in Russia, offered a mixed assessment of the status of religious liberty in Russia.  In northwest Russia and St. Petersburg particularly, religious tolerance is the norm.  In other regions, however, Protestant churches and other non-Orthodox denominations have experienced discrimination and bureaucratic malfeasance.  For instance, an unconstitutional requirement for churches to register their members – as opposed to merely the institution – is frequently enforced by local authorities, and a Moscow court has ordered the “liquidation” of the city’s community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Nikitin urged measures to educate Russian officials on the importance of religious freedom as a civil liberty. Nickolai Butkevich, Research and Advocacy Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, discussed the situation regarding xenophobia and the treatment of minorities in Russia. Mr. Butkevich noted that President Putin has made efforts at the national level to combat xenophobia, but that implementation of relevant directives is uneven at the local level. Some regions and cities have combated xenophobia and anti-Semitism, while other authorities have actively encouraged it. Mr. Butkevich described cases in Vladivostok, Voronezh, and other cities where individuals had been subject to abuse and local authorities reacted uncaringly or in collusion with perpetrators. In answer to a question posed by Chairman Smith on the disparity between the Russian Government’s public and international pronouncements that it will combat anti-Semitism and its failed implementation of such policies domestically, Butkevich blamed the disparity on a lack of prioritization by the central government.  Mr. Kasparov contended though that President Putin has done nothing to address anti-Semitism or quell xenophobia. Answering other questions on the attitudes of the United States and the West toward the Chechen situation, governmental corruption, and the judiciary, Dr. Lozansky replied that Russia is stabilizing under the pragmatic policies of President Putin and that the international community must engage the country on matters of mutual interest. The witnesses responded with divergent views as to whether Russia was moving toward autocracy.  While Kasparov made his case strongly that Russia was, Lozansky again insisted that it was not.  Mr. Butkevich suggested that Russia was “backsliding toward authoritarianism,” but that President Putin certainly retains popular support. Reverend Nikitin stressed that the next few years will determine whether Russia evolves toward civil and religious liberty or tsarist, oppressive governance reemerges. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Colby Daughtry contributed to this article.

  • OSCE Meeting Examines Hate Crimes and Racist, Xenophobic, and Anti-Semitic Internet Propaganda

      “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law On June 16 and 17, 2004, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s participating States met in Paris for a meeting on “the Relationship between Racist, Xenophobic and Anti-Semitic Propaganda on the Internet and Hate Crimes.”  The meeting was part of an OSCE focus this year on racism, xenophobia, discrimination, and anti-Semitism and, like two other special human dimension meetings scheduled for this year, was mandated by the OSCE Ministerial Meeting held Maastricht last December. Conferences on anti-Semitism (held in Berlin, April 28-29) and racism, discrimination and xenophobia (to be held in Brussels, September 13-14) are intended to build on high-level meetings already held last year in Vienna on those same subjects. The Paris meeting focused on a specific issue – the Internet - related to the overall topic.   The convocation of a special meeting on the relationship between racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and hate crimes was the product of advocacy by non-governmental organizations such as IN@CH, the International Network Against Cyber Hate, and the leadership of the Government of France.  IN@CH had previously raised awareness of the problem of hate mongering on the Internet at the OSCE’s annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in 2002 and, at the 2003 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, hosted a side-event on the subject.  Historically, the OSCE has been most effective when governments gain a sense of ownership of an issue and exercise leadership in moving it forward.  Non-governmental organizations typically play a critical role in identifying concrete human rights problems and bringing them to the attention of governments. The U.S. Delegation to the Paris meeting was jointly led by Ambassador Stephan M. Minikes, head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights; and Dan Bryant, Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy.  Markham Erickson, General Counsel from Net Coalition; Brian Marcus, Director of Internet Monitoring; Anti-Defamation League, and Ronald Rychlak, Professor of Law and Associate Dean, University of Mississippi Law School, joined the delegation as Public Members.  Other members of the delegation came from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Helsinki Commission.  The United States Delegation engaged fully in the 2-day meeting, making presentations in all formal sessions and side events, holding bilateral meetings, and conducting consultations with non-governmental organizations.  Assistant Attorney General Dan Bryant was a keynote speaker. Although the meeting was mandated to examine the relationship between hate propaganda on the Internet and hate crimes, few participants actually discussed the nexus between these two phenomena.  For many participants, the existence of a cause-and-effect relationship was simply an article of faith or intuition, and did not lead to an exploration of the nature of that relationship.  As a consequence, the meeting made only a marginal contribution to an understanding of which populations might be most vulnerable to the influence of hate propaganda, whether hate propaganda on the Internet fosters some particular kinds of hate crimes more than others, or whether the effect of hate propaganda on the Internet plays a different role in fostering violent crimes than, for example, weak law enforcement or public officials who make or refuse to condemn racist, anti-Semitic or xenophobic remarks.  It is not clear whether web-based hate propaganda is related to spikes in hate crimes that have occurred in some countries in recent years, or why, as seems to be the case, some places with unfettered Internet access have relatively lower levels of hate crimes than other places with similarly unfettered Internet access. Nevertheless, participants did address a broad range of subjects related to hate propaganda, hate crimes and the Internet over the course of the two days.  Formal sessions focused on “Legislative Framework, Including Domestic and International Legislation Regarding Propaganda on the Internet and Hate Crimes,” “The Nature and Extent of the Relationship between Racist, Xenophobic and anti-Semitic Propaganda on the Internet and Hate Crimes,” “Public and Private Partnerships in the Fight Against Racism, Xenophobia and Anti-Semitism on the Internet – Best Practices,” and “Promoting Tolerance on and through the Internet – Best Practices to Educate Users and Heighten Public Awareness.”   Side events were held on “Guaranteeing Media Freedom on the Internet,” “‘The IN@CH Network’ - Dealing with Cyber Hate on a Daily Basis,” “Identifying Examples of Hate Speech: A BBC Monitoring Project,” “Filtering: Princip, the Solution that goes beyond Key Words,” “Satellite Television and Anti-Semitism: How to Combat the Dissemination in Europe of Racist and Anti-Semitic Propaganda through Satellite Television?” and “Promoting Awareness of Anti-Semitism in the European Classroom: Teacher Training, Curricula, and the Internet.” A number of speakers, including U.S. Government representatives, discussed the legal mechanisms for action that might be taken when hate propaganda rises to the level of a crime in and of itself, such as when the hate propaganda constitutes a threat or incitement to a criminal action.  Many speakers discussed the role of non-governmental organizations in monitoring and facilitating the removal of hate sites from the web when they violate the terms of agreements with their Internet service providers (ISPs).  Some participants described ways in which the pernicious effects of hate speech can be mitigated or countered.  For example, a Canadian non-governmental organization, Media Awareness Network, made a presentation on programs in Canadian schools designed to teach children to distinguish between hate propaganda sites and legitimate information sources.  Vividly illustrating the challenges and risks for those organizations which monitor and report on the activities of extremist hate groups, the offices of People Against Racism, a Slovak non-governmental organization that participated in Paris meeting, were burned out only weeks before the meeting opened. Although there was broad agreement on the goal of combating hate propaganda, some participants flagged concerns about the methods that might be used to that end.  For example, industry representatives provided some insight regarding difficulties faced due to the technological challenges of tracking, filtering, or blocking hate propaganda transmitted through the Internet, emails, or text messaging.  Some concepts of regulation, they argued, could not be effectively implemented given the state of current technology.  Asking ISPs to be responsible for screening all content on the web is not feasible, anymore than making telephone companies responsible for everything that gets said over the telephone. A few participants drew attention to factors other than hate propaganda on the Internet that may contribute to hate crimes.  A Russian non-governmental representative, for example, remarked that there was more anti-Semitism in the Russian State Duma than on Russian-language web sites.  And, illustrating the complexities of deciding exactly what constitutes hate propaganda, one non-governmental representative argued that evangelical Christian sites that reach out to Jews should be considered anti-Semitic.  Similarly, the Russian delegation identified the web sites of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Hare Krishnas as “promoting hate doctrines.” Other concerns were voiced as well.  Some non-governmental groups suggested that ISPs were ill-suited to determine whether web sites constituted hate propaganda or not.  One described an ISP that removed an innocuous site devoted to English philosopher John Stuart Mill after that non-governmental organization – testing the bases upon which ISPs would act – urged the ISP to take down the allegedly racist site. Regulation of hate propaganda by ISPs, they concluded, lacked transparency and accountability. Some speakers warned that combating hate propaganda could be used as a pretense for sanctioning views disfavored by the regime.  The International League for Human Rights suggested that states with “weak democratic institutions and traditions” should not be entrusted with additional powers of control beyond those that already exist.  Indeed, some speakers argued there have already been instances where laws against incitement to racial hatred (or similar laws) have been misapplied for political or other purposes.  The ongoing fight against terrorism, they suggested, increases that danger.  In fact, only days after the Paris meeting concluded [June 22], the Paris-based watchdog Reporters without Borders released a report entitled “Internet Under Surveillance,” documenting repression of the Internet around the globe.  One of the U.S. recommendations made during the meeting was that the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media should examine whether hate speech laws are being enforced in a discriminatory or selective manner or misused to suppress political dissent.  The full texts of statements circulated at the Paris meeting by the United States and other participants are available through the OSCE’s Internet web site at http://www.osce.org/events/conferences/anti-racism. One of the sub-texts of the meeting was the putative “Atlantic Divide.” In the context of discussions of “cyber hate” and hate crimes, this phrase was used to describe the perceived gulf between the United States’ and Europe’s approaches to hate propaganda.  According to the adherents of the “Atlantic divide” theory, the United States is a free-speech Wild West, where speech has no limitations or legal consequences.  “Europe,” in contrast, is portrayed as a unified region speaking with one voice, populated by those who have wisely learned from the horrors of World War II that dangerous speech can and must be sanctioned and that governments are easily capable of performing this task and do so as a matter of course.  The “Atlantic Divide” perception was fostered by Robert Badinter, former French Minister of Justice and current president of the OSCE Court of Arbitration and Conciliation, who, in a keynote address, dramatically appealed to the United States to “stop hiding behind the first amendment.” Others, however, implicitly or explicitly rejected this overly simplistic image.  In the United States, a long chain of legal authority recognizes that the right to free speech and freedom of expression is not absolute.  As U.S. Public Member Robert Rychlak noted, “When speech crosses the line and becomes more than speech – when it presents a clear and present danger – the authorities must be prepared to step in and take legal action.  At that time, the speech may constitute an actual threat, true harassment, or be an incitement to imminent lawlessness.”  Department of Justice officials separately gave examples of numerous recent cases where individuals were prosecuted for sending email messages that rose to the level racially motivated threats.  While it is important not to over-read these or related cases – criminal sanctions based purely on one’s opinion remain prohibited – they should dispel the misimpression that there are no limitations whatsoever on speech or the consequences of speech in the United States. Conversely, the context of the meeting also provided an opportunity to reflect on the image of Europe as a continent uniformly bound in a single regulatory approach to hate speech.  In reality, the national laws relating to hate speech of individual European countries vary considerably; what constitutes prohibited speech in one country may be permitted in the next.  Moreover, both national courts and the European Court of Human Rights apply balancing tests to speech restrictions that, while not identical to balancing tests applied by U.S. courts, are not entirely dissimilar.  The Hungarian Constitutional Court, for example, in May 2004 held that a proposed hate speech law would violate the free speech provisions of the Hungarian Constitution.  Just before the opening of the Paris meeting, on June 13, the French Constitutional Council struck down parts of a new law governing communication over the Internet (adopted to implement a June 8, 2000, European Union directive on electronic commerce). 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.

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

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

  • Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in Decline

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

  • Religious Freedom in Turkmenistan

    Deputy Chief of Staff of the Helsinki Commission Ronald J. McNamara, in cooperation with the U.S. Commission on International Religious freedom, assessed the prospects for religious freedom in Turkmenistan in light of a strong critique of the repressive practices of Saparmurat Niyazov’s regime in the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Joseph R. Crapa, Executive Director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Najia Badykova, Research Associate for the George Washington University Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies; Lawrence Uzzell, President of the International Religious Freedom Watch; and Felix Corley, Editor of Forum 18 News Service – presented testimonies regarding the implementation of “legislative improvements” that only further restricted freedom of religion. These testimonies provided a basis on which to assess developments in Turkmenistan as the State Department considered designating Turkmenistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” for its ongoing, systematic violations of religious freedom.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Active at Parliamentary Assembly Winter Meeting

    Approximately 250 parliamentarians from 50 OSCE participating States met February 19-20 in Vienna for the third annual Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  The United States delegation was headed by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission.  Also participating were Ranking House Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL).  Former Commission Chairman Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) also attended. At the Vienna Meeting, OSCE PA President Bruce George appointed Chairman Smith as his Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues.  Smith will serve as the Assembly’s point person for collecting information on human trafficking in the OSCE region; promoting dialogue within the OSCE on how to combat human trafficking; and, advising the Assembly on the development of new anti-trafficking policies.  Over the past five years, Chairman Smith has provided considerable leadership in raising human trafficking concerns within the Assembly.  In Congress, Smith sponsored the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act,” which enables the U.S. Government to prosecute offenders and provides resources to help victims of trafficking rebuild their lives. Ranking House Member Benjamin L. Cardin, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment, led a panel discussion on economic challenges and opportunities in the Republic of Georgia following the historic “Revolution of the Roses.”  OSCE PA Vice-President and Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Nino Burjanadze, described her experience as Acting President of the country after the resignation of former President Eduard Shevardnadze following flawed elections in late 2003.  Speaker Burjanadze stated emphatically that the revolution was unavoidable and inevitable because corruption had been so overwhelming that it was a threat to Georgia’s national security.  She reviewed the steps the new government is taking to combat corruption and strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law.  Joining Burjanadze was Ambassador Roy Reeve, Head of the OSCE Mission in Georgia.  The Committee was also addressed by the OSCE Coordinator for Economic and Environmental Activities, Dr. Marcin Swiecicki, and Committee Rapporteur Dr. Leonid Ivanchenko. Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, who serves as one of nine Assembly Vice Presidents, held a series of meetings with delegations in Vienna in his bid for the presidency of the OSCE PA that will be decided in elections to take place in early July at the Edinburgh Annual Session.  Hastings also met with the leadership of the various political groups -- the Conservatives, Greens, Liberals, and Socialists.  He discussed his plans for future development of the Assembly and its relationship with the governmental side of the OSCE.  Rep. Hoyer chaired the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency and Accountability, which discussed ways to further improve relations between the parliamentary and governmental parts of the OSCE, including regular access for Ambassador Andreas Nothelle, Permanent OSCE PA Representative in Vienna, to all OSCE meetings.  Discussion also focused on streamlining Assembly declarations of the annual sessions as a means of enhancing the OSCE PA’s influence on the work of the Permanent Council in Vienna.  The committee concluded that a limited number of recommendations should be included in forthcoming declarations sent to the PC each year, coupled with a significant reduction in preamble language.  Members of the U.S. delegation were also briefed by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Stephan M. Minikes and Ambassador Andreas Nothelle on issues of concern in Vienna.  A bilateral meeting was held with Head of the French delegation Mr. Michel Voisin and French Ambassador to the OSCE Yves Doutriaux to discuss the recent French ban on wearing headscarves, yarmulkes, crucifixes and other obvious religious symbols in public schools.  ODIHR Director Ambassador Christian Strohal discussed human dimension issues, including the future of election observations and budget issues, as well as programs dealing with human trafficking and anti-Semitism. Bulgarian Ambassador and Chairman-in-Office Representative Ambassador Ivo Petrov outlined the CiO’s plan for 2004 and issues around the anti-Semitism program and anti-trafficking initiatives.  The delegation was also briefed by Helen Santiago Fink of the OSCE Economic Coordinator’s Office, who addressed the economic dimension of trafficking in persons.  Dr. Andreas Khol, President of the Austrian Nationalrat, welcomed the opening of the Winter Meeting for its ability to encourage “intensified dialogue and co-operation between the governmental and parliamentary dimensions of the OSCE.” OSCE Chairman-in-Office Dr. Solomon Passy who is Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister gave his overview of the priorities of the Bulgarian Chairmanship for 2004. Other OSCE officials made presentations, including Chair of the Permanent Council and Representative of the Chairman-in-Office Bulgarian Ambassador Ivo Petrov; Chair of the Forum for Security Cooperation, Coordinator for OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities Ambassador Marcin Swiecicki; OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Ambassador Rolf Ekééus; a representative from the office of the OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media; Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Ambassador Christian Strohal; and OSCE Secretary General Ambassador Jan Kubis. All presentations were followed by question and answer sessions. Each of the rapporteurs of the three General Committees discussed their draft reports for the forthcoming OSCE PA Annual Session this July in Edinburgh, Scotland.  All have focused their reports on the theme for the annual session, “Co-operation and Partnership: Coping with New Security Threats.” The ninth OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy was presented to the New York-based NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, represented by Executive Director Ann Cooper.   The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

  • Belarusian Authorities Continue to Stifle Democracy

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

  • Parliamentary Assembly Convenes on Religious Freedom, Mediterranean Issues

    By Chadwick R. Gore, CSCE Staff Advisor and H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel More than 160 parliamentarians from 49 participating States took part in the 2003 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly's (OSCE PA) Conference on Religious Freedom (October 9-10) and Parliamentary Forum on the Mediterranean (11 October) held in Rome at the invitation of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) led the United States delegation comprised of Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the OSCE PA Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment, Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), one of the OSCE PA Vice Presidents, and Rep. JoAnn Davis (R-VA). Conference on Religious Freedom The OSCE PA and the Italian Parliament hosted parliamentarians from across the OSCE region for two days in the Italian Chamber of Deputies to discuss and debate the importance of religious freedom. Mr. Pier Ferdinando Casini, President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, opened the conference, followed by welcoming remarks from Mr. Bruce George, President of the OSCE PA and from Mr. Marcello Pacini, President of the Italian Delegation to the OSCE PA. Three sessions were held during the conference, each focusing on a different aspect of religious liberty. The first session on the Law and Politics of Religious Freedom, and the second session on Religious Tolerance in Pluralistic Societies, both addressed germane issues facing parliamentarians throughout the region. Presenters spoke of the need to create legislation to protect minority religious groups and to combat intolerance through education. Experts also noted that if religious communities cannot enjoy religious freedom, then individual members also lose that freedom. For instance, official government status for religious groups must be equally accessible for all, without any major obstacles, and groups should not have to complete more requirements than other civic organizations. In short, fundamental rights should not be curtailed due to the size or age of a religious community. On the second day of the conference, Chairman Smith gave a keynote address during the Round Table on Religious Freedom and Democracy, in which he stated that "religious liberty, in my view, is the single most tangible reason why America has prospered in so many ways. Our strength isn't in our military might or even in our economy but in our collective faith." Chairman Smith continued, discussing the importance of fighting for human rights. "Some say to intervene is to be a nuisance. Some say we are arrogant. Let me note here, none of these criticisms could be further from the truth. We did it...because human rights are universal and cannot be abridged by selfish and cruel policies. We took bold action because we were inspired to act by brave individuals like Pastor Richard Wurmbrand of Romania, Alexander Solzhenitsyn of Russia, Armando Valladares of Cuba, Yuri Kosharovsky or Natan Sharansky, and Bishop Su of China. They never quit nor tired in their opposition to tyranny. Can anyone of us do less? Especially when we are the lawmakers?" The conference was also addressed by expert speakers including Abdelfattah Amor, Special UN Rapporteur for Religious Freedom, as well as Silvio Ferrari and Brigitte Bas-devant-Gaudemet, Members of the European Consortium for Church and State. Conference participants attended a special audience with Pope John Paul II. In his statement, the Pope said, "When States are disciplined and balanced in the expression of their secular nature, dialogue between the different social sectors is fostered and, consequently, transparent and frequent cooperation between civil and religious society is promoted, which benefits the common good." He concluded with a challenge to the parliamentarians saying, "the respect of every expression of religious freedom is therefore seen to be a most effective means for guaranteeing security and stability within the family of Peoples and Nations in the twenty-first century." Parliamentary Forum on the Mediterranean The second OSCE PA meeting in Rome focused on strengthening security in the Mediterranean and developing the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension. The Parliamentary Forum followed up on the outcomes of last year's OSCE PA Fall Conference in Madrid on ensuring peace, democracy and prosperity in the Mediterranean. There has been a Mediterranean dimension of the Helsinki process from the outset. Throughout the negotiations that preceded and produced the Helsinki Final Act in 1975, issues relating to the Mediterranean were discussed. The result was a section of the Final Act entitled "Questions relating to Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean." Under the rubric of "non-participating Mediterranean countries," Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia contributed to relevant discussions in the security dimension. These discussions were held in recognition of the relationship between security in Europe and in the Mediterranean region. The Mediterranean dimension of the OSCE was reconstituted in the mid-1990s under the designation "Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation." Countries included were Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia. Jordan subsequently joined as a partner. All six were represented in Rome. In opening the forum, OSCE PA President Bruce George expressed his belief that "there is a growing awareness in the OSCE that only a free, democratic, prosperous and undivided Europe will be able to promote security, stability and prosperity in the adjacent area." He also noted that European security will benefit from positive developments in other regions, including the Mediterranean. During the session on Strengthening Security in the Mediterranean, Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini pointed out that the countries of the southern Mediterranean--Islamic countries--have confidence in Italy and her objectives for trade and peace in the region. The emphasis among these states today must be in rooting out and eliminating terrorism, as "terrorism is the enemy of peace, and the negation of dialogue." He also emphasized that "immigration is a European issue, not a national issue" when calling for a joint solution to the problems of illegal immigration. "EU immigration policy should focus on developing non-EU countries so people stay in those countries, and so people do not come, have no need to come, to EU." There was a general discussion that included the suggestion that a regional Mediterranean Center for Conflict Prevention be established. This was in conjunction with some comments asserting that the United States was more concerned about U.S. national security than regional security issues around the globe, including in the Mediterranean. Proponents suggested such a center would allow the States of the region to function in this arena of security without dependence on the United States. During the session on Developing the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension a general discussion--some would call it an argument--about the Israel/Palestinian situation took place. Members of the delegations of Mediterranean Partner States Tunisia and Egypt said that while Palestinian claims and concerns have a firm historical and geographical basis, they are given short shrift in the considerations of the West. Instead, the West and Israel should give the Palestinians concrete details and specifics about the creation of a Palestinian state, should accelerate the Road Map calendar, and set conditions for the violence to cease. Most of all, they said, the United States needs to be visibly engaged and committed to the process. Many felt that the Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations) should consult with the Arab states Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and some felt that Arabs should take the initiative reflecting a recent Saudi proposal. During concluding remarks, President George made note of the fact that the Mediterranean Partners were, for the first time, seated in alphabetical order among the other attending participating States as signs that all are trying to work more closely with each other and the Mediterranean States are to be dealt with as equals. Other prominent speakers included: Cesare Salvi, Deputy President of the Italian Senate; Jan Kubis, OSCE Secretary General; and Christian Juret, Diplomatic Advisor of the EU Representative for the Middle East. On October 3, 2003, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing on human rights and democracy in the six Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. The transcript is available on the Helsinki Commission website at www.csce.gov. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.

  • Commission Hearing Looked Ahead to Maastricht Ministerial

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

  • Further Assault Against Activists in Belarus

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

  • The Nightmare in Turkmenistan

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

  • 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.  

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