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Minority Rights

Staff Contact: Mischa Thompson, senior policy advisor

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  • The Museum of the History of Polish Jews

    Witnesses in this hearing spoke about their vision for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, its mission, and what it means for Poland – a country that was once home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. The witnesses also highlighted the major significance the museum has for Poland and its post-war identity.

  • Continuing the Fight: Combating Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims

    By Mischa Thompson, PhD, Staff Advisor The Cordoba conference was the first OSCE event to solely focus on the experiences of intolerance and discrimination against Muslim communities within the OSCE. Despite concerns that the conference took place during Ramadan and was primarily planned by the Spanish Chair-in-Office (CiO), the event offered an important forum for highlighting and addressing a range of concerns from both OSCE Participating States and the Muslim community. While questions of what form OSCE follow-up efforts will take remain, the need for such a conference was underscored by the multitude of concerns raised at the conference as well as current events highlighting existing tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim communities within and between OSCE Participating States. With estimates of 20 million Muslims in Western Europe and 14-23 million Muslims in Russia, Muslims are often cited as the largest religious minority in Europe and Islam as the fastest growing religion. Spain, in particular is experiencing an unprecedented growth in its immigrant population with the majority being Muslims. While Muslim communities’ experiences of prejudice and discrimination within many parts of the OSCE are not new, following the terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, and the United States, many participating States have increased their focus on the Muslim community amidst security and immigration concerns. In this context, the conference was planned by the Spanish CiO to address the historical and contemporary causes and consequences of intolerance against Muslims and the use of media, education, and other strategies to address the problem. In particular, five themes dominated the discussions: “Islamophobia”: Participants were concerned by the use of the term Islamophobia, which currently describes attitudes and behaviours ranging from hate crimes to housing discrimination and has led to unclear and inconsistent use. Several participants noted that the term leads all problems experienced by Muslims to be viewed as religious based, when race, culture, and socio-economic factors have also been cited as reasons for tensions and problems. Notably, the Holy See cautioned against only religious approaches and argued for increased attention on migration and culture. Gender equality: Participants raised concerns that gender equality issues were often confined to discussions about forced marriages, honor killings, and head scarves and other dress, while ignoring everyday experiences of discrimination, for example in employment. It was suggested that Muslim women were often politicized to exacerbate differences between Muslims and others, but often did not actually address the realities of Muslim women or serve to benefit them. Integration: Many Participating States highlighted changes to or the creation of integration policies and programs to address concerns voiced by Muslim communities. Several civil society groups noted that some of these efforts did not address: 1) the issues of xenophobia and racism exhibited by hate crimes and employment and housing discrimination that target even ‘integrated’ immigrants – i.e., those who are citizens, speak the language, hold college degrees, etc. and 2) that some of these policies were inherently discriminatory in that they only applied to Muslims and not other migrant populations. It was stressed that integration and discrimination policies be discussed together and that Muslim populations be able to participate in the decision-making process of the development of these policies in some capacity. Stereotypes: Concerns surrounding monolithic image of Muslims, such as all women wearing head scarves and all men being terrorist were highlighted. Mechanisms for addressing these stereotypes included ensuring that school textbooks accurately reflect the history of migration and Islam and Muslims in the world, especially in cases where religion is taught in schools. ‘Cultural competence’ and other diversity or sensitivity training for teachers and media was suggested. Several speakers suggested that aims to utilize “moderate Muslims” for public platforms had the potential to backfire by not being seen by Muslims as ‘true representatives’ and also serving to reinforce a non-existent, yet stereotypical dichotomy between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Islam. Hate Speech: The need to strike a balance between protecting freedom of speech and the protection of vulnerable groups and individuals was discussed. Despite calls for defamation of religion laws, it was generally recommended that publicly speaking out and unequivocally condemning intolerant speech, not legislating against it, was the best response. Self-regulation, codes of conduct, internet monitoring and training for the media and other sectors of society, including the positive involvement of political leaders, was discussed as a means to best counter hate speech. The Conference ended with a declaration drafted by the Spanish CiO, which: reaffirmed that racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, discrimination against Christians, and discrimination against Muslims, are against the core OSCE commitments, offered support for the three Personal Representatives, and, called upon the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to strengthen the work of its Tolerance and Non-Discrimination Program on intolerance and discrimination against Muslims. The conference was preceded by a one-day Civil Society Preparatory Meeting hosted by the Spanish CiO with the goal of providing NGOs with an opportunity to prepare recommendations to be presented to the Cordoba conference. Of great concern were allegations that the Spanish CiO attempted to restrict the participation of NGOs in the preparatory meeting and at the Cordoba conference at a time when human rights defenders have increasingly been under attack within the OSCE. Generally, because there was such interest by participating States to speak during the opening sessions of the conference, there was little time to adequately discuss solutions to many of the issues on the Cordoba Conference agenda. While this suggests the need for a follow-up OSCE conference as proposed by the OSCE Mediterranean Partner, Algeria, few participating States explicitly outlined whether and how the OSCE should implement efforts discussed at the conference. Further consideration should therefore be given for ways to ensure the expeditious implementation of mechanisms that combat intolerance towards Muslims within the OSCE. This assertion was underscored one week later at a University of Michigan conference entitled, “Islamophobia/Islamophilia: Beyond the Politics of Enemy and Friend” where Muslim and non-Muslim scholars from around the world addressed the global security implications and human rights concerns associated with not successfully combating prejudice and discrimination against Muslims and mischaracterizations of Islam.

  • Combating Hate Crimes and Discrimination in the OSCE

    Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the CSCE, held a briefing on hate crimes and discrimination in the OSCE region.  Joining Chairman Hastings at the dais were Helsinki Commissioners Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA).  The briefing focused on intolerance and discrimination within the 56 countries that make up the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  Congressman Hastings emphasized the discrimination against the Roma and other minorities of Turkish, African, and south Asian descent when they attempt to apply for jobs, find housing, and get an education The panel of speakers – Dr. Dou Dou Diene, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance; Dr. Tiffany Lightbourn, Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate; and Mr. Micah H. Naftalin and Mr. Nickolai Butkevich, UCSJ: Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke of the rising popularity of right-wing extremist party, who espouse vicious anti-Semitic slogans and appeal to a 19th century form of European ethnic identity.  In addition, Urs Ziswiler, the Ambassador of Switzerland, attended the briefing and commented on the rise in xenophobic views in Switzerland.  

  • Remarks at the OSCE Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding

    Thank you and good afternoon. I have been on the road the past 2 weeks in Warsaw, Poland, Israel, Ramallah, and in a Roma camp in Kosovo. As many of you know, I am the immediate past President of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly. In that capacity, and as a member of the United States House of Representatives, I have worked with my colleagues in the OSCE PA like Ambassador Strohal and Professor Gert Weisskirchen to help institute a focus on anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance within the OSCE. Today I will tell you a little about my history as an African-American living during the civil rights era and how the United States came to develop some of its tolerance laws. I hope we can all learn from my words how best to tackle the scourge of anti-Semitism, racism and other “-isms” that exists in each of our countries. It was only 40 years ago when “separate but, equal” was a law in the United States and Whites could legally discriminate against blacks and others by having separate facilities. Legally, I, nor any other black person, could sit next to a white person on a bus, eat at the same restaurant, or even use the same restrooms, or drink out of the same water fountains. While facilities were separate as the law required, they were definitely not equal. After years of struggle, I and many others of my generation, standing on our forbearers’ shoulders, created the climate that enabled Congress and then-President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That groundbreaking law ended legal discrimination in the United States and served as the foundation for other laws; such as the historic Voting Rights Act, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices, and the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. However, the days of colonization and slavery, made it difficult for whites to accept laws now stating that blacks and others should be treated equally. To maintain the status quo, white supremacy groups attacked blacks and their supporters to instil widespread fear in the black community and anyone else calling for change. The Kennedys, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. Black churches were burned. But the violence had the unintended effect of bringing Americans together to support civil rights legislation. Americans realized that extending Constitutional rights to some and not all would be the undoing of America. So, in the 80s and 90s, the brutal murders of racial and gender minorities and flames atop the rooftops of churches and synagogues again became a beacon for change. Congress reacted by passing hate crimes laws to collect statistics, impose longer prison sentences, and investigate arsons and rebuild churches and refurbish synagogues that had been decimated. Until the Civil Rights Act in 1964, race and class-based preferential access had been reserved for whites. For example, the U.S. government funded GI bill, predominantly provided free college education and housing assistance to white World War II veterans. And, so called ‘legacy rules’ guaranteed college admission to family members of white alumni. Affirmative action did help make up for the decades of missed opportunities by qualified blacks blocked from attending top universities and upper-level jobs irregardless of their intelligence and skills. Now, while my country may be seen somewhat as a model for tolerance and anti-discrimination laws, I sadly must admit that our work is not yet done. Just last year, the U.S. Congress reimplemented its historic Voting Rights act the right. Those of you watching our presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 may remember the irregularities that prevented thousands of predominantly poor and minority voters from having their votes counted as a result of discriminatory tactics. This was purposeful and has forever altered United States and world history. Our hopes are that in passing these new voting rights laws, Americans will no longer experience discrimination at the voting booth. We are all aware of the OSCE’s unmatched work in election observation that hinges upon the teaming of ODHIR bureaucrats with seasoned elected officials from the PA under the great leadership of my peer Ambassador Strohal. I urge you all to watch our elections, and when the invitation to monitor comes next year… Come. Monitor our elections and see if our laws are being upheld. And I encourage you all to do the same in other OSCE spheres. Just months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives expanded our hate crimes laws to include individuals targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Though controversial, Americans ultimately agreed that there is an obligation to protect not only those with whom we share common characteristics, ideas, or belief systems, but all Americans. Assuring the protection and rights of all has also been a concern in the wake of September 11th for Muslim Americans. Despite a recent survey showing that most Muslims came to America and here in Europe in search of a better way of life, desire to work hard, uphold democratic values, and reject religious extremism, they are now often treated as second class citizens. They question whether European or American dream is still achievable for them, or even truly exists. As an African-American who lived during the Civil Rights era, I, too, have loudly questioned whether the rights enshrined in our United States Constitution applied to me. However, I now understand that the beauty of my country is that it allows for the capacity and space to change our legal and legislative system as time and circumstance dictates. The difficulty is determining whether the time for change is now and what changes should be made. I hope that under the Chairman-in-office’s recommendation, the upcoming conference in Cordoba will raise further awareness about anti-Muslim sentiments and stereotypes throughout the OSCE region. This is a growing problem and anti-Semitism continues to be a problem both of which we must address, whether all of us in this room are willing to admit it or not. There are no overnight solutions. Sustained activity on issues of tolerance and civil rights by introducing new laws when necessary and ensuring implementation are a necessity if we are to keep history from revisiting itself here in the EU, United States, and elsewhere in the world. We cannot forget that only 40 years ago, civil rights legislation in my country was non-existent. And without it, it is safe to say, I would not be standing here today. Places where I was once challenged to vote, restaurants where I was unable to eat... Today’s children are clearly in need of the same and hopefully a better situation than mine. Be they in the United States or elsewhere in the OSCE region. When I see Paris burning, I see the Detroit and LA riots and wonder if affirmative action or other inclusionary laws will follow. Requirements for religious registration in some places in Europe cause me to wonder where continued anti-Semitism and the world’s fear of Islam may lead and if it will ultimately trample on our freedom of religion. Just this past Tuesday, I was in the northern Kosovo Roma camps. When I think of the abject poverty I saw there along with testaments of Roma being sent to different schools than their peers despite their intelligence, I can only think of my own experiences riding to 60 miles to school each day with hand me down books, no cafeteria, and no foreign languages taught. The OSCE with the support of the United States must continue its focus on the situation of the Roma and Sinti. When I addressed this conference yesterday, I pointed out the critical role that the OSCE PA played in establishing this conference. Indeed, it is fair to say that we have come a long way. Many of the countries sitting in this room today have written and passed anti-discrimination laws as a direct result of the OSCE’s work to combat anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, and other forms of discrimination. Now we must implement them! And I for one stand in support of the Special Envoy, Personal Representatives, and NGOs. All of us are necessary to achieve positive results. The reality remains that anti-Semitism – the initial reason why we called for a convening such as this – continues to run rampant in all of our streets, including my own. In fact, over 1500 incidents of anti-Semitic acts were recorded in the U.S. alone last year and the continued stereotypic misperceptions of Jews within the OSCE region are only increasing the propensity for violence. In my country, we are trying to stop these attacks. All of you in these countries with our help must do the same in yours. Member states need to collect such statistics, for anti-Semitic attacks and all hate crimes. It is in this way that we can best fully monitor and address these heinous actions. In the words of the African-American scholar WEB Dubois, “There can be no perfect democracy curtailed by color, race, or poverty. And I would add religion and gender. But with all, we accomplish all, even peace.” America’s history and its use of legislation to combat intolerances and discrimination can be a working blueprint for peace. I urge you to use this blue print and learn from our successes. I also urge you to learn from and not repeat our mistakes. It is time to implement our wonderful ideas from five years of these conferences. But, please – more action and less talk! Thank you very much.  

  • Remarks at the OSCE High-Level Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding

    I am privileged to address you today as the representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to the Bucharest Conference, an outgrowth of the work begun by the Assembly in 2002 in response to an alarming spike in anti-Semitic incidents and related violence. Indeed, the Assembly’s timely initiative has led to a sustained focus, by parliamentarians and diplomats alike, on combating this and other forms of intolerance, including racism as well as discrimination against individuals because of their religion. The reality is that none of our societies is immune from the ignorance, indifference or outright hatred that fosters discrimination, intolerance, and ultimately destruction of every sort. Faced with such social afflictions, each of us has a choice whether to remain complacent, some might say complicit, or to take action. The choice is there for each of us to make. It would be foolhardy for any of us to suggest that he or she could single-handedly wipeout these virulent viruses that plague society. But the enormity of the challenge should not deter us from taking action within our own spheres of influence no matter how limited they might seem. From our home, school or workplace to the football stadium, town hall square or pages of our local newspaper, each of us can make a difference. As elected officials, we must recognize our unique responsibility – our obligation -- to combat intolerance and discrimination as well as to promote mutual respect and understanding. First we have a duty to use the public platform entrusted to us to speak out when manifestations of hate occur. As Elie Wiesel has rightly observed, “neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Additionally, we can and must work to help our governments and people come to terms with the historical truths of our collective past. Perpetuating myth as history only serves to impede this vital and healthy process. Access to accurate information, including archival materials, is particularly relevant in this regard as well as the textbooks used to educate our young people. Education – whether at the dinning room table or the formal lecture hall – is a powerful instrument for overcoming the legacy of the past, promoting social justice in the present, and building a brighter future. As government officials we have a duty to ensure adequate resources for such programs, including Holocaust education. Government alone cannot accomplish all that needs to be done. To be successful, we must reach out in partnership to civil society. Finally, as legislators, parliamentarians are uniquely positioned to shape laws that help define the limits of conduct in society. At times a daunting task, we face the challenge of ensuring appropriate protection of the targets of hate while preserving fundamental freedoms and human rights. While we may differ on approaches, one thing that we can all agree on is that there can be no neutrality or silence when violence is used against an individual or group. I have traveled across the breadth of the OSCE region and beyond in connection with my work with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Having just been in the Middle East, I am mindful of the unique role the Mediterranean Partners could play in promoting mutual respect and understanding. During the course of my travels I have made it a point to be in contact with a wide spectrum of society, from the displaced Roma forced to live on the extreme margins and members of minority faith communities denied the right to freely profess and practice their faith to ethnic and racial minorities constantly living in fear for their safety. In each instance, they simply seek the dignity that should be accorded to every human being. Far too often there is a fixation on differences that blinds us to our common humanity. In closing, I would note that this year marks the bicentennial of the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, which banned the slave trade in the British Empire. The words of a courageous abolitionist in the House of Commons, William Wilberforce, should serve as an inspiration to all of us that we must take a stand no matter the seemingly insurmountable odds against success. “So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the [slave] trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.” May we display such determination and dedication in our common efforts to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and discrimination and work energetically to promote mutual respect and understanding. You and I can make a difference, if we care to. Your presence here in Bucharest is a good starting point. Thank you.

  • Confronting Global Anti-Semitism: a Transatlantic Partnership

    Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Council Thank you for that kind introduction, and for inviting me here tonight. It is a true honor to sit on this panel with three proven leaders in the global fight against anti-Semitism. The ADL is a one of the premier human and civil rights organizations in the world. I do not need to tell you what you have in Abe Foxman. He is a dear friend of mine and to countless others worldwide. When he speaks, I listen. I also want to welcome the more than 20 activists from South Florida with us tonight. Make sure to thank them for bringing the warm weather. I have been asked to keep my remarks brief. So please forgive me if I am a bit cryptic, and do not hesitate to ask me questions later. Elected officials have a unique platform from which to address anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance. In fact, we have a moral obligation to do so. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the immediate past President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, I been working to improve trans-Atlantic relations to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance for years. Both organizations have provided an invaluable political impetus for this issue to receive the attention which it deserves by all 56 OSCE countries. The reality is that we are seeing a resurgence not only of anti-Semitism, but all forms of intolerance, throughout the entire world. The need for us to combat these evils is growing every day. In Romania, for example, the courts are attempting to rehabilitate the reputation of General Ion Antonescu, an individual responsible for the killing of between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews during the Holocaust. In Hungary, the U.S Holocaust Museum is being denied access to Holocaust archives. And, in Bad Arolson, Germany, one of the largest Holocaust-era archives in the world remains closed to the public because four countries – Italy, Greece, France, and Belgium – have not yet ratified certain amendments to the Bonn Accords. Realize, had it not been for the actions of the Helsinki Commission and others, including the ADL, the situation in Bad Arolson would be worse today than it already is. The Commission first acted on the issue last year with a public briefing. And just last week, the House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution I authored calling on European countries to expedite the opening of these archives. Indeed, we will not be successful in this and other endeavors unless we work together. Almost every day, I meet with various senior officials, ambassadors, parliamentarians and other dignitaries. Hardly a meeting passes without me engaging my colleagues on common concerns of justice and fairness. Essential aspects of such dialogue are an acknowledgement that we don’t have all the answers, and when it comes to anti-Semitism, no country is immune. It is, therefore, critical that we partner with those who share our awareness, concern, and passion to confront and combat these evils. But let me not sugar coat the issue. Time and time again, I am met with resistance from certain quarters of the international community to these efforts. Some want to talk about the problem and its manifestation, while others refuse that a problem even exists. Institutions built to combat anti-Semitism and protect human rights are key to refuting the deniers. As such, countries would be wise to create their own Helsinki Commissions to serve as a mechanism under which these issues can be addressed. Further, I can not stress enough the importance of face-to-face dialogue. In early June, I will travel first to Warsaw to keynote a conference on the U.S.-Polish-Israeli relationship, then to Israel with the current President of the OSCE PA. My journey will end in Bucharest, Romania at the next OSCE conference on anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and discrimination – a conference which I and other legislators helped create almost five years ago. High-level government officials will be there with NGO’s, including the ADL, and it is my sincere hope that Secretary Rice will be among them. Her presence would send a very powerful message. Friends, we can no longer live in a world which encourages and fosters the manifestation of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and all other forms of bigotry. Our shared dream for justice and fair treatment of all citizens alike is attainable with continued commitment to working together and a willingness to confront anything that comes our way. Thank you.

  • Parliamentary Elections in Serbia Reveal Progress in Democratic Development but also Support for Nationalist Causes

    By Clifford Bond and Robert Hand On January 21, Serbia held elections for the 250-seat parliament, the National Assembly. Monitored by more than 300 international observers under OSCE auspices, including two members of the Helsinki Commission staff, the elections were overwhelmingly viewed as being conducted in a free and fair manner. The outcome and related institutional questions, on the other hand, indicate that Serbia’s political development remains burdened by the legacy of the Milosevic regime that ruled for over a decade before being ousted in 2000, even as the country moves in an increasingly democratic direction. These elections were held in the aftermath of the dissolution of the state-union between Serbia and Montenegro following the latter’s declaration of independence in June 2006. Serbia subsequently adopted a new constitution in October 2006. Looming over these formal developments and new elections, however, is the larger question of Kosovo’s future status. The actual timing of the elections was used as a pretext for delaying a UN recommendation on Kosovo, which is expected shortly. Based on the conduct of previous elections in Serbia, there was little concern that these elections would fall short of international standards. However, some concerns were raised regarding the conduct of the earlier constitutional referendum, which witnessed a strong, last-minute push of voting in some regions with the apparent purpose of ensuring a positive outcome. The constitution itself is controversial, particularly in its numerous references to Kosovo as an integral part of Serbia, which may have led some segments of Serbian society to boycott the referendum. Undoubtedly, more important international concerns include the uncertain direction of Serbia’s political development and a desire to strengthen Serbia’s democratic institutions. OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Goran Lennmarker, a Swedish parliamentarian, was designated by the OSCE Chair-in-Office to lead the short-term election observation mission as Special Coordinator. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) conducted a long-term observation effort headed by retired German Ambassador Geert Ahrens. Perhaps the chief criticism of the election process was the obvious gap between the voter’s choice and the actual selection of the person who ultimately takes a parliamentary seat. The Serbian voter chooses a political party or coalition on the election list, but, once it is determined how many seats a particular party/coalition gets, the party leadership then has ten days in which to select which of the 250 persons on its submitted party list actually take a seat. This method of selecting parliamentarians has been criticized for lacking transparency and effectively concentrating attention not on specific candidates and their views or abilities but on the political party leaders who retain control over their members. This leadership control may be further strengthened by requiring deputies to sign undated letters of resignation which can be used to remove them if they fail to observe party discipline. On the other hand, efforts were undertaken – albeit not without some opposition -- to modify existing law and encourage minority representation, including lowering the number of signatures for parties representing ethnic minorities from the normal 10,000 to only 3,000 and dropping the threshold needed to enter the parliament from 5 percent of the votes case to 0.4 percent (1/250) of those cast. Two Hungarian and two Romani political parties joined a Bosniak coalition from the Sandzak region and an Albanian coalition from southern Serbia on the election ballot. Albanian participation was the first since 1997, although two Albanian-based political parties which originally joined the coalition subsequently withdrew and supported a boycott of the elections. The election campaign was long by Serbian standards and quite intense. In contrast to the constitutional referendum campaign, the issue of Kosovo’s status did not dominate campaign rhetoric. Instead, there was considerable and perhaps refreshing discussion of economic issues, for example, reflecting the fact that despite significant economic growth, unemployment remains high. EU enlargement may also increasingly isolate Serbia and its people within the region. Some parties focused more heavily on corruption, property restitution and other economic issues. The democratic and nationalistic range of the dominant Serbian political parties differed on integration mostly in their degree of enthusiasm and differentiation between support for joining the European Union on the one hand and joining NATO on the other. They likewise differed on Kosovo mostly to the degree to which its loss to Serbia was an acknowledged inevitability. Comments by politicians and diplomats from other countries supporting reformist parties late in the campaign prompted cries of interference from more nationalist parties. Observers monitoring media coverage of the campaign reported a very balanced approach, particularly among the broadcast media, as well as a positive tone indicating almost too much official instruction about how to remain neutral. The print media’s performance was more uneven in its campaign coverage, but low reliance on print media in Serbia made such differentiation of questionable significance. Election day was largely dry and unseasonably mild, and this contributed to high voter turnout of above 60 percent. This reversed trends toward voter apathy in previous elections. Out-of-country voting also took place for Serbian citizens in 34 other countries. Upon visiting their designated polling station, over 8,500 in all, voters typically encountered a polling board enlarged by political party representation to often as many as 20 to 30 or more members. Nevertheless, with few exceptions the polling was conducted in a professional manner that respected the secrecy of the ballot and made election-day manipulation, if any was intended, difficult to accomplish. The ballot presented the same list of 20 political parties or coalitions to voters across the country, albeit in different languages depending on concentrations of ethnic minorities residing in the area. Unlike the referendum in which the constitution would either pass or fail, polling board members represented political parties that had no real expectation of an outright victory and merely hoped to achieve or maybe exceed the high end of predictions based on public opinion polls. This likely reduced tension on election day, including during the critical counting of ballots once polls closed, despite significant political differences within polling boards. The Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CeSID), a civic non-governmental organization, helped reduce tension by peppering Serbia with close to 4,000 domestic observers to discourage irregularities. The day after the election, before final results were announced, the International Election Observation Mission held a press conference to announce its preliminary conclusions. As Special Coordinator, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Goran Lennmarker released the joint statement which began with the clear statement that the “parliamentary elections in Serbia were free and fair. They provided a genuine opportunity for the citizens of Serbia to freely choose from a range of political platforms. The 20 lists of political parties and coalitions vigorously competed in an open campaign environment. The election campaign was calm, and checks and balances ensured that the election reflects the will of the people, in line with the OSCE’s Commitments as well as with the Council of Europe standards.” The OSCE’s ODIHR released an additional report of its preliminary findings based on the month-long observation of its 28-member team. Despite the overwhelmingly positive assessment, the Republican Election Commission did cancel results in 14 polling stations due to irregularities. World reaction to the results focused heavily on the continued support among the Serbian electorate for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) led by indicted war criminal Vojislav Seselj, which garnered 28.7 percent of the vote, up from 27.6 percent in the last elections in 2003. That, of course, rightly leads to concern about Serbia’s inability to reject the extreme nationalism fostered by the Milosevic regime throughout the 1990s. On the other hand, the Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic came in second with 22.9 percent of the vote, an increase from 12.6 percent in 2003 and an indication that entrenched nationalist sentiments have not negated strong support for democratic development and integration. The coalition led by the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of the current Prime Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, gained only 16.7 percent of the vote, compared to 17.7 percent in 2003. The DSS, which bridges the nationalist/democratic divide in Serbian politics, appears to be replaced by the DS as the leading reform-oriented party in Serbia. G17-Plus, which has focused heavily on economic reform, saw its percentage of support drop but retained enough for parliamentary representation, as did the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), once led by Slobodan Milosevic. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a newer party led by Cedomir Jovanovic which more completely than any other rejects the Milosevic legacy, crossed the 5 percent threshold by leading a coalitions of like-minded parties. The Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) of Vuk Draskovic, which traditionally featured prominently in Serbia’s multi-party political history, did not. One Hungarian and two Romani parties, along with the Bosniak and the Albanian coalition, won one or more seats in the National Assembly. The odds that the SRS will be part of a coalition government appear to be slimmer than one year ago, when that was a major concern. Instead, the hope is for the DS and the DSS to overcome differences to form a new government with the support of other democratic forces, such as the G-17 Plus. Such a coalition could advance Serbia’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community. Prime Minister Kostunica’s past government relied on SPS support to stay in power, and he has indicated an unwillingness to enter a coalition with the Radicals. Personality conflicts, as well as differences over important issues such as cooperation with the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the appropriate response to an expected UN proposal on the status of Kosovo could complicate coalition formation. Most leading Serbian parties have counted on international concern over Serbia’s political direction to delay an expected UN recommendation, but that appears increasingly unlikely. A proposal on a new status for Kosovo will jolt the Serbian political scene. Many in Serbia feel victimized by the Milosevic regime. They fail to fully appreciate, however, the tremendous damage and suffering inflicted on the neighboring peoples of the former Yugoslavia during the Milosevic era through the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and a deep distrust resulting from Serbia’s inability to acknowledge that reality. Serbia will not fulfill its democratic promise until it fully comes to terms with this recent history. For that reason full cooperation with The Hague Tribunal remains essential. Over the longer term, democratic forces inside the country should prevail and advance Serbia’s reconciliation with its neighbors and its full integration into Europe, but without a mental break with its past this task will take longer and be more difficult to accomplish.

  • Remarks by Ambassador Clifford G. Bond at the International Forum Bosnia

    It is good to be back in Sarajevo again and I feel very much at home in this city and this country. When Dr. Mahmutcehajic invited me to speak at today’s conference on “American Policy in the Western Balkans,” I suggested that it might be best if I provided a perspective on the on-going work of the Helsinki Commission, which is where I am currently serving, and its impact on U.S. policy in the Balkans. The Commission is a unique institution made up of members of the U.S. Congress. It is not an easy task to generalize about the views of Commission members since each representative and senator is independent. Those who serve on the Commission do so because they share a commitment to human rights and democracy, and want to have an impact on U.S. engagement on these issues especially in the OSCE area, but beyond as well. Congress’ role in foreign policy, as in other areas, is to ensure that policy reflects the democratically expressed will of the American people. It balances the expertise of diplomats at the State Department and other Executive Branch agencies with a consideration of what the public will support. This is one reason why U.S. foreign policy has taken a more comprehensive view of security that includes democratic development and human rights, as opposed to a more “realpolik” view of the world. This was evident in the Balkans throughout the 1990s. In response to conflict in Bosnia, for example, many in Congress pressed the Bush and later Clinton Administration for a more activist and a more interventionist response. Members of Congress, including members of the Commission at that time, were among the first in government to advocate not only for efforts to contain the conflict but for decisive action, including the use of force if necessary, to stop it. Whenever I addressed an audience in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in the past, the question invariably arose of whether the Balkans remained a priority for the U.S. Obviously the region receives much less attention today than it did 10 years ago. But it would be incorrect to say that the Balkans is ignored and developments on the ground are not being followed on Capitol Hill. There remains an understanding within Congress that the work of the international community is incomplete in this region and that the states of the western Balkans deserve to be integrated into Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions. This has sustained Congressional support for NATO enlargement and the process of EU integration of the western Balkans, a view that runs even deeper among members of the Helsinki Commission. Moreover, at the initiative of representatives of the more than 300,000 members of the Bosnian-American diaspora, a new bipartisan Bosnian Caucus is being set up within Congress to focus on and support issues of importance to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region. The Helsinki Process and the Commission Now let me say a few words about the work of the Helsinki Commission. As I said, it is an independent agency created by Congress in 1976 to advance human rights and encourage compliance with the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, particularly its human rights commitments. The Commission is composed of members of both houses of the U.S. Congress. Successive agreements within the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have expanded these common Helsinki standards into a whole framework of human and humanitarian rights. These have come to be termed the “human dimension” of the OSCE’s work. These agreements are not treaties, but political commitments which all participating states, including Bosnia and its neighbors, have adopted on the basis of consensus. Significantly, however, these same states have agreed that these are issues of direct and legitimate concern to all participating states of the OSCE and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned. Democracy and human rights are thus matters of international concern. This has created a Helsinki process of bilateral and multilateral dialogue that includes the active participation of NGOs as well as governments in assessing the level of compliance with these common commitments. One element of that process is an annual review of implementation which takes place in Warsaw. I participated in the 2006 session and can assure you that it provided a forum for frank and open exchange of how our countries are or are not living up to our OSCE commitments. My own government faced serious criticism in terms of some aspects of its conduct of the fight against terrorism. Since 1989, Europe has undergone an historic transformation and the OSCE has played a vital role in this process of transition to democracy, particularly in the post conflict situation in the western Balkans. Much of this work has been driven on the ground by its field missions, such as the one headed here in Sarajevo by Ambassador Davidson. The Commission believes strongly that this work remains critical to the states of the western Balkans in helping them to overcome a legacy of communism and war. A permanent democratic transformation in the western Balkans will require a rethinking of the overall conditions of society with an aim of protecting rights and instituting peaceful change. Public debate needs to be expanded beyond a discussion of group rights to the rights of the individual and improving the overall quality and dignity of life, which is the essence of the OSCE’s human dimension. This process has not advanced nearly as far as it must to build modern societies in the region. Integration through Consolidating Democracy and Rule of Law Let me now review some of the areas of particular interest to the Commission and its members and where it will be pushing to influence U.S. policy in future. These are areas where I think more public debate and more active local NGO engagement with governments in the region will be essential. As I said, the Commission has been a strong advocate for the integration of the region into Euro-Atlantic institutions. This remains the best long term strategy for securing both peace and prosperity. The key to that integration is consolidating democracy, rule of law and good governance. There has been tremendous progress in this regard, but complacency must be avoided. Political leaders in Bosnia have come to realize that reforming their Dayton-era constitution in ways that make the government more functional and compatible with EU requirements is a necessary step. The U.S. Senate adopted a resolution (S. Res 400, 109th Congress) last year voicing support for this constitutional reform process. It did not advocate for specific changes, which must be decided by the people of Bosnia, not the international community. From the perspective of the Helsinki Commission, however, we think it critical that reforms, in addition to changes in the structure of government, guarantee the human and civic rights of all the citizens of BiH. As you know, the current constitutional provisions restrict Serbs living in the Federation, Bosniaks and Croats living in the RS, and non-constituent peoples, no matter in what part of the country they reside, from running for the post of BiH presidency. This is a violation of both the European Convention on Human Rights and the 1990 OSCE Copenhagen Document. This inability of all citizens to fully participate in BiH’s political life should be corrected. If we look at elections as another benchmark of progress in consolidating democracy, we can see that virtually all countries in the western Balkans are approaching the international standards for free and fair elections. Last October’s elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina were judged by the OSCE to be in line with international standards. Similarly the general elections held recently in Serbia were judged by OSCE as being conducted in a free and fair manner. Going beyond the technical conduct of these elections, however, the results and the tenor of the elections in the region are a matter of concern. In Bosnia nationalistic campaign rhetoric approached pre-war levels and polarized the electorate along ethnic lines. In Serbia the strong showing of the Serbian Radical Party and statements by other politicians indicated a lack of willingness among a large part of the population to come to terms with the crimes committed during the Milosevic era. Hopefully, over time, democratic forces in the region will prevail and a true reconciliation can be achieved. Without a meaningful break with the past and a full recognition in Serbia and the Republika Srpska (RS) of the crimes that were committed during the Milosevic era, however, this task will be immensely more difficult to accomplish. The decision of the International Court of Justice on February 26 does not change the need for this recognition or absolve Serbia or the Republika Srpska of responsibility in this regard. The ICJ confirmed an act of genocide was committed and that Serbia was in a unique position to prevent it. By failing to do so, Serbia violated the Genocide Convention and continues to violate it by not bringing the perpetrators of that genocide to justice. The court’s decision also makes clear that the full responsibility for conducting that genocide lies with the leadership and members of the military in the RS at that time. Unfinished Business It was to bring war criminals to justice and to determine the objective truth of what occurred in the Balkans that the Helsinki Commission was an early proponent of the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. It has pressed all countries in the region to fully cooperate with the Tribunal. The Commission has welcomed the establishment of the War Crimes Chamber within the BiH State Court, and the decision to transfer more cases from The Hague to the region for local prosecution. Despite building this indigenous capacity to conduct trials, there is a strongly felt sense within the Commission that the work of the International Tribunal should not be concluded until Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic are brought to justice. The real message that Belgrade should take from the ICJ’s verdict on February 26 and convey to these indicted war criminals is that: “your time is up.” Other consequences of the war are still being dealt with. More than ten years after Dayton, additional mass graves continue to be uncovered. The Helsinki Commission recently organized a briefing on Capitol Hill at which Amor Masovic reported on the work of the State Missing Persons Commission. We believe that international support for determining the identification of these missing persons must continue. The right of refugees and displaced persons from the Balkan conflicts to return home has not been fully guaranteed. The 2005 Sarajevo Declaration on Refugee Return and Integration was a notable achievement in this regard, but implementation of this trilateral arrangement has been too slow. The Commission has urged Bosnia and Croatia and Serbia in particular to intensify efforts to ensure durable solutions for resettlement are found and displaced persons and refugees given access to all rights, including the right to property and citizenship. The legal issues involved are complicated, but with political will these can be managed and refugees re-integrated into society. In the midst of war in the 1990’s the region was confronted with a new and dangerous form of organized crime – human trafficking. Considerable progress has been made in the region in combating this modern day form of slavery, but even greater efforts are required. Trafficking also needs to be looked upon as not just as one field of criminal activity, but as part of a wider issue of corruption in the region. While criminals organize this activity, it is corruption that allows them to get away with it or go unpunished when caught. Preventing Future Conflict A fundamental principle behind the Helsinki Final Act is that there can be no true security without a commitment to democracy and human rights. Addressing the root causes of intolerance and discrimination are therefore essential to preventing future conflict in the region. The OSCE has done pioneering work in this area and is developing programs to prevent hate crimes and discrimination by confronting the sources of intolerance and by strengthening respect for ethnic and religious diversity. In a series of high level conferences the OSCE has sought to encourage states to collect hate crimes statistics, share information and strengthen education to combat intolerance as well as increase training of law enforcement officials. This is clearly a subject of importance to the entire region and governments should be cooperating in this work. We want to encourage regional participation at the next high level meeting on tolerance to be held in June in Bucharest. The Romanian government is now putting together an agenda which will cover racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance against Muslims and Christians as well as relevant programs to combat this discrimination. We want the conference to consider ways that our societies can move beyond tolerance to acceptance and recognition of diversity. I hope we can count on broad government and NGO representation from the region, but particularly from Bosnia, at the conference. Bosnia can and should be a leader in promoting dialogue among religious groups. We would very much like to see Bosnia host an OSCE event on this theme in future. At the Warsaw human dimension’s meeting last year there was only one Bosnian NGO represented. This was the National Council of Roma, but its participation was very significant for us. The plight of the Roma has been a special concern of the Helsinki Commission. No group within the former Yugoslavia has faced discrimination and exclusion so broadly as the Roma have. They continue to be deprived of housing and property rights, face difficulties in accessing personal documents and establishing citizenship. Many have no access to healthcare or education. In view of this widespread discrimination, not just within the Balkans but throughout Europe, the OSCE has sought to address the specific problems of the Roma. Your local Bosnian Helsinki Committee has also recently translated a human rights manual into Romani and I hope this will assist this marginalized community to assert and defend its rights. Eight governments of central and southeastern Europe have taken their own political initiative, titled the “Decade of Roma Inclusion,” to close the gap in welfare and living conditions between the Roma and non-Roma in their societies. Their aim is to break the cycle of poverty and exclusion by 2015. Several of the western Balkan states are active in this initiative. My understanding is that Bosnia is not yet a participant. It should be. One way to judge a society is by how well it protects the rights of those least able to realize them on their own. Any sincere effort to create modern, rights-based societies in the Balkans cannot overlook the plight and abuse of the civil, political, economic and social rights of the Roma. Among fundamental freedoms is the right to religious expression and belief. This is an issue of deep concern to Commission members. The right to practice your faith is no more secure than your readiness to acknowledge the right of others to practice theirs. Since the fall of communism various laws have been adopted in the region to provide for religious freedom, but these have unfortunately had the effect in some respects of restricting this fundamental right. They set numerical thresholds for the registration of religious groups, discriminate in favor traditional faiths, and place limits on free speech and proselytizing. These restrictions are particularly burdensome to new religious denominations and can lead to harassment against and stigmatization of their members. Albania, in contrast, has adopted a progressive law which provides for a neutral registration system that is applied universally. This is a model others in the region should consider adopting. Meanwhile, there is a need to step up efforts to respect the sanctity and ensure the safety of places of worship that have been targets of ethnically based violence in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo. Governments need to adopt a “zero-tolerance” approach in responding to such provocations. Finally let me address the situation of Kosovo. The pending decision on the final status of Kosovo has given rise to much anxiety and apprehension in the region. Much of the debate on Kosovo has focused on the larger issues of sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination. Within Congress and even within the Helsinki Commission reaching a consensus on the right outcome in Kosovo is difficult, but two things are clear. First, there is no connection between Kosovo’s future and the recognized sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Second, whatever form a Kosovo settlement takes, the fundamental issue in the Commission’s view is whether or not it improves the respect for human rights, especially the rights of those people belonging to the Serb, Roma and other minority communities. Those rights include the protection of property and the right of return for displaced persons. Any settlement should also encourage a process of integration and inclusion of these minority communities within a broader Kosovo society. From this perspective the proposed plan of UN Special Envoy Ahtissari can serves as a solid basis for compromise. Even if Belgrade and Pristina cannot agree on the issue of status, they should be engaged in serious negotiations to protect the rights of these minority communities. But whatever becomes of Kosovo, the OSCE and other international human rights standards must apply there and the OSCE must be fully involved in monitoring implementation of any settlement to assure these rights are respected. Conclusion My remarks have focused on some areas of concern, but let me say in conclusion that the region of the western Balkans has come a long way since the 1990’s. The international community has made a substantial investment in the peace, stability and reconstruction in the region, and we welcome this progress. Slovenia is a full-fledged member of NATO and the EU. Croatia is well on the road to membership in both, and Macedonia and Albania are making progress in the right direction. In a welcome development at the end of last year, Bosnia, Serbia and newly independent Montenegro were invited to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace. The regional trajectory is positive. More importantly, the EU and NATO have made a political commitment to include all of the western Balkan states into Euro-Atlantic institutions, and recognized that Europe will be incomplete without your countries. That does not relieve you of the responsibility to meet the conditions of membership in these institutions, but it does offer a bright future for the region. The issues your societies now face are perhaps less dramatic than achieving peace was a decade and more ago. These are issues of complying with human rights norms and improving the quality of life and the relationship between the individual and his or her government. These issues should be a matter of open, public debate in local and regional fora like this one. For too long nationalism and an “us versus them” mentality have dominated public discussion and driven politics in the region. It is time politicians on all sides put down the megaphones and drop the rhetoric that they have been using to polarize the situation. A new dialogue based on an open discussion of these human issues needs to replace it. This is essential to preventing future conflict, promoting economic and social development and sustaining peace. Only political will on the part of governments and party leaders and the full engagement of NGOs and citizens in this Helsinki process of dialogue can get this job done and complete the transition of the western Balkan states into permanent and stable democracies.  

  • The Sterilization Investigation in the Czech Republic

    This briefing addressed the policy pursued by the Czechoslovak Government during the 1970s and 1980s to reduce the birthrate of Roma by targeting some Romani women for sterilization. Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s, in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Commission expressed concern over this issue, especially in light of the head of the Slovak Nationalist Party calling for the restriction of the birth rate of Roman as recently as February of 2006. Gwendolyn Albert, Director of the League of Human Rights in Prague, presented testimony on the League’s efforts to secure justice for ethnic Romani women living in the Czech Republic who were coercively sterilized. This issue was presented in the context of overall human rights violations committed against the Romani minority in the Czech Republic, ranging from racially motivated murder to discrimination in employment and housing.

  • Helsinki Commission Report Describes Investigations Into Wrongful Sterilizations in Slovakia and Czech Republic

    A United States Helsinki Commission staff report released today describes investigations into the practice of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The report describes an investigation by the Czech Public Defender of Rights as an “unflinching examination” of “highly sensitive issues.” An investigation of the same issue by the Slovak Government was “marred by numerous shortcomings and insufficient follow up.” During the 1970s and 1980s, the Czechoslovak Government pursued a policy aimed at reducing the birthrate of Roma, including by targeting Romani women for sterilization. Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Slovakia investigated allegations regarding sterilization in 2003, and questions continue to be raised about this matter at international fora. The Czech Public Defender of Rights issued a report on December 23, 2005, confirming that some women had been sterilized without informed consent. “I commend the Czech Public Defender of Rights for his courageous and principled investigation into this sensitive issue,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), “and I call on the next Czech Government to move quickly to act on his recommendations.” “Unfortunately,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), “Slovakia has yet to admit that this terrible practice occurred, despite clear evidence to the contrary. I urge the Slovak Government to acknowledge that some Roma women were sterilized without their consent and to ensure that women are given proper access to their own medical records.” The report states, “[T]he Slovak Government has failed to demonstrate any compassion for women and girls who were sterilized without their consent and deprived of the opportunity to bear children again. By treating their claims as lies, the government has effectively treated these victims as liars, and compounded their original injury with this indignity. If the Slovak Government is to counter the endemic prejudice faced by its most marginalized minority, it must acknowledge the fact – and state it publicly – that wrongful sterilizations of Romani women did occur.” Recent parliamentary elections in Slovakia are cited in the report as a potential hindrance to progress on this issue. Slovak parliamentary elections were held on June 17, and those elections produced a coalition government that includes the extremist Slovak National Party. As recently as February 2006, Jan Slota, head of the Slovak National Party, stated that if his party joined the government after the June elections, he would seek to control the birth rate of “unadapted” Roma. The report is available through the Helsinki Commission's web site at www.csce.gov. The Commission will examine the issue in more detail during a briefing featuring Ms. Gwendolyn Albert, Director of the League of Human Rights in Prague, that will be held on August 15, 2006, at 2:00 PM in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

  • The Human Rights Situation of Roma: Europe's Largest Ethnic Minority

    This briefing addressed the status of Roma, Europe’s largest minority and also one of its most marginalized. In particular, the causes and implications of the housing crisis facing Roma; the progress of efforts to end segregated education in the region; and the impact on Roma of rising populist and extremist movements were discussed.  Personal testimonies presented by the witnesses addressed the disproportionate levels of poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment that Roma face throughout the region, but also examined the current actions undertaken by Roma to gain control of their political destiny – including winning seats in the European Parliament and winning cases before the European Court on Human Rights.

  • Human Rights, Democracy, and Integration in South Central Europe

    The hearing, led by the Hon. Christopher H. Smith,  the Hon. Sam Brownback , and the Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, focused primarily on the legal restrictions on religious activities and other attacks on religious freedom, lagging efforts to combat trafficking in persons, discrimination and violence against Roma, and the prevalence of official corruption and organized crime. The efforts to encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to move beyond the limitations imposed by the Dayton Peace Agreement will be discussed. Further, the plight of the displaced and minority communities of Kosovo, and the need for Serbia to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal will also be covered.   

  • From Promises to Practice: Implementation of National Policies on Roma, Sinti and Travellers

    By Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law A recent conference on Romani issues provided a positive benchmark on how far the international community has come in addressing discrimination toward Europe’s largest ethnic minority group.  The meeting also served to highlight how much more national governments have to do to address the needs of Roma in their countries.  On May 4 and 5, 2006, the Government of Romania, along with several inter-governmental and non-governmental partners, hosted an “International Conference on the Implementation and Harmonization of National Policies for Roma, Sinti, and Travellers:  Guidelines for a Common Vision.”  The two-day meeting, conducted in Romani, Romanian, and English, was well attended and focused on housing, employment, community policing, and the status of Roma in Kosovo. Although one opening speaker joked that the magnitude of logos on display for the numerous hosts reminded him of medieval European heraldic insignia, the meeting demonstrated that at least in one area – Romani issues – two major players in this field, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe, are able to put aside institutional rivalries in favor of cooperation.  The conference hosts included the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Council of Europe, the European Commission, the European Union Monitoring Center, the European Roma and Travellers Forum, the OSCE, the Project on Ethnic Relations, and the Romanian Government in its capacity as Chair of the Council of Europe and as President of the Decade of Roma Inclusion.  The Bucharest conference was convened to follow up on a similar meeting held in October 2005 in Warsaw. The title of the meeting underscored one of the key goals of Romani activists: turning promises into practice.  For national governments, this means developing both the legal framework as well as the political will necessary for the full implementation of national policies and practices that meet the needs of their Romani minorities.   Currently eight countries – Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Slovakia – participate in the “Decade of Roma Inclusion.”  The Decade is a multilateral initiative, supported by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the World Bank, designed to establish measurable national goals for improving the situation of Roma in four priority areas:  education, employment, health, and housing.  In the context of this initiative, all of the countries involved have adopted national action plans as a basis for addressing these specific areas during the period 2005-2015. Romani leaders look to opportunities like the Bucharest conference to push for improved implementation of the action plans.  Nicolae Gheorghe, a veteran of the Romani civil rights movement who will soon conclude his tenure as the OSCE Senior Advisor remarked that, 16 years ago, he thought the impetus for change would come from international organizations.  Today, he suggested, change must be implemented by national governments. The focus of the conference was by no means exclusively on the eight Decade countries.  While these eight countries collectively are home to roughly half of Europe’s Romani population, the addition of Central Europe’s large Romani minority into an expanded European Union has also served to heighten the attention given to Romani issues in Western Europe.  This heightened awareness was reflected in the inclusion of speakers from countries such as Finland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.  Indeed, one Council of Europe speaker drew pointed attention to problems “in some of the oldest members of the European Union.” The situation of Roma in Kosovo as well as Kosovo Romani refugees and internally displaced person was addressed in a plenary session that underscored the widespread concern over the precarious situation of that particular Romani community.  The plight of Kosovo Roma remains a top priority for Romani activists across the region.  Some speakers argued that Romani representatives should be included in the ongoing status talks on Kosovo. The conference also addressed the issues of housing, employment, and police relations as they relate to the Romani communities.  A Council of Europe official suggested that, in the aftermath of Romania’s recent floods, the Romanian Government should take advantage of the opportunities presented in the post-emergency context to regularize the legal status of Romani housing in flood-affected areas.  A Hungarian Romani police officer noted that the inspiration for his transnational Romani Police Officers Association came from a meeting in New York with representatives of the National Black Police Officers Association. Changes Bring New Challenges As a benchmark for progress, the conference clearly showed how far the international community has come in addressing Roma issues.  In 1994, the OSCE held its first seminar on Romani human rights issues.  At that meeting, two interventions illustrated clearly the chasm that separated governments from the experiences and perspectives of their most vulnerable citizens.  On one side stood Florina Zoltan, who described the brutal pogrom in Hadareni, Romania, that one year earlier had left her a young widow.  On the other side, an Italian Government official welcomed the opportunity to attend a meeting where one could finally talk about that pesky “Gypsy crime problem.”  There was little room for dialogue, let alone mutual cooperation. Twelve years later, the landscape has changed dramatically.  Many government delegations to the Bucharest conference included Romani officials, and the improvements made in protecting the basic human rights of Roma now leaves enough political space for the discussion of other factors which contribute to the marginalization of Europe’s largest minority.  (At the same time, this development prompted one Romani NGO to lament the virtual decapitation of the Romani civil rights movement:  as more Roma move into government and inter-governmental positions, there are fewer independent Romani voices to hold those authorities accountable.) As the number of international meetings on Romani issues has increased in recent years, organizers of such meetings face considerable challenges in meeting the ever higher expectations for them, and governments, non-governmental actors, and international organizations must work hard to avoid duplication and create a sense of forward motion and real change.  And, as suggested in concluding remarks by a Council of Europe representative, such conferences must figure out how to reach out to local governments, national parliaments and, above all, the majority populations which are the source of the discrimination Roma face.

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

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

  • European Court Rules in Critical Czech Desegregation Case; Equal Access to Education for Roma Remains Goal

    By Erika B. Schlager Counsel for International Law Summary In 1999, several Romani students from the Czech Republic brought a suit before the European Court on Human Rights alleging that their assignment to “special schools” for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated European human rights law.  On February 7, 2006, a seven-member Chamber of the Court held that the applicants failed to prove that their placement in “special schools” was the singular result of intentional racial discrimination.  The plaintiffs have 3 months to appeal to a 17-member Grand Chamber.  Elsewhere in Central and Southern Europe, Roma are also pursuing efforts to achieve equal access to education. Background During the Communist-era, many East European countries developed a practice of channeling Roma into schools for children with mental disabilities, called “special schools.”  Critics have argued that this practice constitutes, de facto, a form of segregating Roma into a separate and inferior school system. The Ostrava Case “Unsatisfactory performance of Gypsy children in Czech and Slovak schools is often “solved” by transferring the children to special schools for the mentally retarded. During the school year of 1970-71 in the Czech lands alone, about 20% of Gypsy children attended these special schools as against only 3% of children from the rest of the population. According to psychological tests the great majority of these children should not be in these schools. This indiscriminate transferring of Gypsy children to these special schools, which is the general practice, reflects unfavorably on the whole Gypsy population. A child who “graduates” from such a school has the same standing as a child who did not finish his basic schooling. Access to better employment opportunities is closed. Even art schools are closed to them, while persons with special musical talent - not uncommon among Gypsies - are shunned. Musical and dance groups are interested in these talented persons, however, they cannot employ them. “The main reason for the unsatisfactory performances of Gypsy children is the fact that there are no schools which teach Gypsy culture and try to develop it. The powers that be are, on the contrary, doing everything to suppress Gypsy culture and the media assists in this destruction by spreading lies, such as that Gypsy culture does not exist. Gypsy children are forced to attend schools where they are taught in the Czech or Slovak language and where, from the pictures in the primer, they get the impression that they are foreign, that they are second class citizens, without their own language, without a past and without a future.”   - Situation of the Gypsies in Czechoslovakia, Charter 77 Document No. 23, issued December 13, 1978 by Vaclav Havel and Dr. Ladislav Hejdanek, Charter 77 Spokesmen In 1999, a group of Roma from Ostrava, the Czech Republic’s third largest city, brought suit against their government, alleging that their assignment to “special schools” for the mentally disabled was tainted by racial prejudice and therefore violated Czech national and constitutional law, as well as European human rights law. At the time the case was brought, a number of Czech newspapers ran editorials indirectly espousing some form of school segregation.  For example, one leading newspaper ran an article arguing that educating a “future plumber” and a “future brain surgeon” together ultimately benefits neither one. On October 20, 1999, the Czech Constitutional Court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim.  In the view of the court, it did not have the jurisdiction to address the broad pattern of discriminatory treatment alleged – allegations supported by compelling statistical evidence but no smoking gun that proved an explicit intent to discriminate against the individual plaintiffs. Notwithstanding the Constitutional Court’s perceived jurisdictional inability to provide a remedy to the plaintiffs, the Court recognized “the persuasiveness of the applicants’ arguments” and “assume[d] that the relevant administrative authorities of the Czech Republic shall intensively and effectively deal with the plaintiffs’ proposals.” Having exhausted their domestic remedies, the students then turned to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, an organ of the Council of Europe. In connection with that suit, Case of D.H. and Others v. The Czech Republic, the Czech Government acknowledged that, nationwide, 75 percent of Czech Roma were channeled into special schools.  In some special schools, Roma made up 80-90 percent of the student body.  The Czech Government also acknowledged that “Roman[i] children with average or above-average intellect [we]re often placed in such schools” for children with mental disability. In opposing the plaintiffs’ claims, the Czech Ministry of Education attempted to deflect an examination of whether their placement in schools for the mentally disabled was the result of racial bias by claiming (among other things) that Romani parents have a “negative attitude” toward education. This assertion was particularly ironic, given the lengths to which the plaintiffs’ parents were willing to go – all the way to Europe’s highest human rights court – to ensure their children could get a good education. “In countries with substantial Romani communities, it is commonplace for Romani children to attend schools that are largely comprised of Roma or to be relegated to Roma classes within mixed schools. In its most pernicious form, segregation is achieved by routing Romani children into ‘special schools’ – schools for the mentally disabled – or into classes for mentally disabled children within regular schools”. - Report on the Situation of Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area, issued by the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, 2000 Moreover, this broad sweeping generalization, originally made before the Czech Constitutional Court, was viewed by some as confirmation of racial prejudice in the Czech education system. Remarkably, it was repeated without comment in the European Court’s decision.  Putting aside the bias reflected in the Ministry of Education’s assertion, there is no evidence demonstrating that a parent’s “negative attitude” results in actual mental disability in his or her children. Meanwhile, the Czech Government adopted some changes to the law on special schools which came into effect on January 1, 2005 (Law No. 561/2004) and on February 17, 2005 (Decree No. 73/2005).  To some degree, these changes were reactive to the issues raised by the Ostrava suit, including the criticisms of the procedures by which parental consent was purportedly obtained for the placement of children in special schools.  Nevertheless, non-governmental groups monitoring this situation argue that the changes have not dismantled an education system that remains effectively segregated and that the changes fail to provide redress or damages for the Romani plaintiffs from Ostrava who were denied equal access to mainstream schools. The case in Strasbourg was heard by a seven-member Chamber of European Court and resulted in a 6-1 decision.  Significantly, the President of the Chamber issued a concurring decision, in which he stated that some of the arguments of the dissenting judge were very strong.  He also suggested that in order to hold that there had been a violation of the Convention in this case, the Chamber might have to depart from previous decisions of the Court.  In his view, overturning or deviating from past rulings is a task better undertaken by the Grand Chamber of the Court.  The applicants have three months to decide whether to appeal this decision to a 17-member Grand Chamber. While the underlying issues which led Roma to bring this suit still persist, there are many indications that prejudices against Roma in the Czech Republic have diminished since the Ostrava case was first heard by the Czech Constitutional Court.  For example, when the European Court issued its holding in the case, a leading daily paper wrote that although the Czech Government “won” its case, there were still significant problems for Roma in the Czech educational system that needed to be addressed. Limitations of the European Court Decision Significantly, there were several issues the court did not address. The suit in question was brought under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the non-discrimination provision of the Convention, in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the Convention, which provides for a right to education.  In essence, discrimination in education based on race, ethnicity or social origin is prohibited. When interpreting this standard, the Court referred to previous cases in which it held that States party to the European Convention “enjoy a certain margin of appreciation in assessing whether and to what extent differences in otherwise similar situations justify a difference in treatment.”  The Court also reiterated “that the setting and planning of the curriculum falls in principle within the competence of the Contracting States.”  In short, while European Convention norms prohibit discrimination in education, States still have considerable discretion in designing their education programs.  But while the Court reiterated this jurisprudence, it failed to indicate what is meaningfully left of Articles 14 and Protocol 1, Article 2?  What threshold must be crossed before the court will actually determine that alleged discrimination takes a case out of the discretion of the States party to the Convention and brings it within the reach of the Court? Two other issues the court did not address do not relate so much to the court’s own jurisprudence, but from parallel developments in European Union norms in the field of non-discrimination. “The European Parliament [ . . . c]alls on Member States in which Roma children are segregated into schools for the mentally disabled or placed in separate classrooms from their peers to move forward with desegregation programmes within a predetermined period of time, thus ensuring free access to quality education for Roma children and preventing the rise of anti-Romani sentiment amongst school-children.” - European Parliament resolution on the situation of the Roma in the European Union, adopted April 25, 2005 In 2000, the European Union adopted “Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000 implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin,” more commonly known as the “Race Directive.”  The directive is binding on all current 25 Member States of the European Union and is intended to ensure a minimum level of protection from race discrimination in all EU countries in several areas, including education.  (The fifteen countries that were EU members as of 2000 had until July 19, 2003, to transfer the directive into national law; applicant countries had until the date of their accession.  The Czech Republic joined the EU in 2004 but, in fact, it has not yet adopted comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.  Legislation was introduced in the parliament in late 2005, but the draft was narrowly rejected by the Senate in January 2006.) The Race Directive requires Member States to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that, among other things, requires anti-discrimination legislation to include both direct and indirect discrimination.  Indirect discrimination, which is at issue in the Ostrava case, is defined by the directive as occurring when “an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice would put persons of a racial or ethnic origin at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are proportionate and necessary.”  The legislation should also shift the burden of proof in civil cases from the plaintiffs to the defendants once a prima facie case of discrimination has been made. Thus, the EU Race Directive anticipates exactly the kind of case the plaintiffs in the Ostrava case presented.  Under the provisions of the directive, the overwhelming pattern of disparate treatment of Roma demonstrated by the plaintiffs should shift the burden of proof from them to the Czech Government.  (Notably, the directive was not applicable to the Czech Republic at the time of the Constitutional Court’s decision.) While the European Court of Human Rights does not adjudicate compliance with or implementation of the EU Race Directive, the Court’s overall approach to the Ostrava case appears to lag behind the legal developments in the European Union and, potentially, render the European Court a less effective vehicle for addressing discrimination than other existing or emerging tools in Europe. Regional Issues and Trends On November 27, 2003, the OSCE Permanent Council adopted “Decision No. 566, Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area.”  In particular, that Action Plan calls on the participating States to “[e]nsure that national legislation includes adequate provisions banning racial segregation and discrimination in education and provides effective remedies for violations of such legislation.”  In addition, participating States were urged to: 73.  Develop and implement comprehensive school desegregation programmes aiming at:  (1) discontinuing the practice of systematically routing Roma children to special schools or classes (e.g., schools for mentally disabled persons, schools and classes exclusively designed for Roma and Sinti children); and  (2) transferring Roma children from special schools to mainstream schools. 74. Allocate financial resources for the transfer of the Roma children to mainstream education and for the development of school support programmes to ease the transition to mainstream education. Thus, all OSCE participating States, including the Czech Republic, have agreed, in principle, to the goal of integrating Roma in education and eradicating de facto segregated school where it may exist. In 2004, the European Roma Rights Center issued a report, Stigmata: Segregated Schooling of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, examining the experiences of five countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia).  The report describes the most common ways of segregating Romani children from non-Roma: channeling Roma into “special schools” for children with developmental disabilities; the de facto segregation that goes hand-in-hand with existence of Romani ghettos; having mixed-population schools where Romani children are segregated into all-Romani classes; and the refusal of some local authorities to enroll Romani children in mainstream schools. The report concludes that, unfortunately, “with the exception of Hungary, concrete government action aimed at desegregating the school system has not been initiated to date.” In addition to the countries examined in Stigmata, the European Roma Rights Center has reported on unequal access to education for Roma in other countries, including Greece and Denmark.  In a 2004 Danish case, Roma were placed into separate classes in one particular locality.  Following complaints from a Romani non-governmental organization, the Danish Ministry of Education intervened to end this practice.  In the case of Greece, the Greek Helsinki Monitor has reported on several localities where Roma are denied equal access to schools.  These cases remain unresolved. In Hungary and Bulgaria, some efforts to litigate this issue have made their way into the courts, with mixed results. “Education is a prerequisite to the participation of Roma and Sinti people in the political, social and economic life of their respective countries on a footing of equality with others. Strong immediate measures in this field, particularly those that foster school attendance and combat illiteracy, should be assigned the highest priority both by decision-makers and by Roma and Sinti communities. Educational policies should aim to integrate Roma and Sinti people into mainstream education by providing full and equal access at all levels, while remaining sensitive to cultural differences.” - OSCE Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area, 2003 In October 2004, the Budapest Metropolitan City Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision ordering a primary school and the local government of Tiszatarjan to pay damages to nine Romani families whose children were wrongly placed in “special schools” between 1994 and 1999.  In June 2005, a court dismissed a case brought against the Miskolc Municipality alleging city-wide segregation.  A Hungarian non-governmental organization which assisted in filing the suit, Chance for Children Foundation, is appealing.  Other legal disputes continue to surround a self-proclaimed “private school” in Jaszladany (established at least in part with municipal resources).  A study commissioned by the Ministry of Education found the “private school” violated the law and contributed to racial segregation. Notwithstanding some recent government initiatives to address this problem in Hungary, desegregation initiatives have met resistance in significant quarters.  Former Prime Minister Victor Orban (who also heads of Hungary’s largest opposition party, FIDESZ), argued in a speech on January 29, 2006, that integrated schooling should not be mandatory, but left to local officials and parents to “choose” or reject.  In fact, the greatest resistance to integrated schooling often comes at the local level. In Bulgaria – where the government continues to deal with Roma through an office for “demographic issues” – efforts to address the causes of segregation have largely originated with the non-governmental community.  Particularly promising results have been achieved in Viden, where community-based efforts, supported by international non-governmental organizations, have resulted in integrating Roma and ethnic Bulgarian school children.  Efforts to replicate that program elsewhere, however, have not been embraced by the government. In addition, in a landmark holding, the Sofia District Court held on October 25, 2005, that the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, the Sofia Municipality and School Number 103 of Sofia violated the prohibition of racial segregation and unequal treatment provided in Bulgarian and international law.   In welcoming that ruling, the European Roma Rights Center declared, “After a period of 51 years, the soul of Brown v. Board of Education has crossed the Atlantic.”

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

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

  • Progress and Challenges: The OSCE Tackles Anti-Semitism and Intolerance

    By Ron McNamara, International Policy Director & Knox Thames, Counsel The OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance convened in Córdoba, Spain, from June 8-9, 2005. The conference, the third since the Helsinki Commission’s 2002 groundbreaking hearing on “Escalating Anti-Semitic Violence in Europe,” was well attended with many participating States represented by senior-level officials.  New York Governor George E. Pataki headed the U.S. Delegation. Specific sessions were held on: Fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of discrimination, and promoting tolerance - from recommendations to implementation; Anti-Semitism and the media; Education on the Holocaust and on anti-Semitism; Responding to anti-Semitic and hate-motivated crimes; Fighting intolerance and discrimination against Muslims; Fighting intolerance and discrimination against Christians and members of other religions; and, Fighting racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination. Specialized workshops were focused on: Anti-Semitism and the Media; Implementation of OCDE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ (ODIHR) Taskings in the Field of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination; Promoting Tolerance and Ensuring Rights of Religion and Belief; and Combating Racism and Discrimination against Roma and Sinti. Side events were organized to address:  Education on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism; Combating hate speech online in the OSCE framework; Anti-Semitism and satellite television; Teaching the Holocaust and the History of Anti-Semitism in Catholic Schools: Promoting Tolerance and Interfaith Understanding; Why Should We Work Together? The ODIHR’s Law Enforcement Officer Training Program for Combating Hate Crimes; The role of Parliaments in Combating Anti-Semitism; The Anti-Semitism/terrorism Nexus, Hate sites on the Internet; and Discrimination, Hate crimes and Intolerance on the grounds of homophobia. The Conference was preceded by a one-day NGO Forum hosted by the Three Cultures Foundation on June 7, 2005 in Seville.  The opening session included presentations by Professors Gert Weisskirchen and Anastasia Crickley and Ambassador Omur Orhun, who are the three Personal Representatives of the outgoing OSCE Chair-in-Office, Slovene Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel.   There was also a video presentation by U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback [available here]. The Córdoba Conference was the product of intense negotiations following last year’s Berlin Conference and the adoption of a number of specific commitments by OSCE countries aimed at stemming the tide of anti-Semitism and related violence.  Numerous participating States had actively resisted the convening of a meeting exclusively focused on anti-Semitism and instead argued in favor of a “holistic” approach to tolerance issues.  As OSCE Chair-in-Office (CiO) Dimitrij Rupel put it, “I also hope that Córdoba, and after Córdoba, a truly holistic approach to combat all forms of discrimination and intolerance will prevail, as this is the most effective way to address this issue.” While supporting a broader approach, others, including the U.S. Helsinki Commissioners, voiced concern that the focus on anti-Semitism as a unique form of intolerance not be lost, especially given the dimensions of the Holocaust and European history. Most participating States used the Córdoba Conference to reiterate their commitment to combating anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance.  Disappointingly few, however, cited concrete steps they are undertaking to implement existing OSCE commitments.  One of the few exceptions was the Solicitor General of the United Kingdom, who reported on the evolution of anti-hate legislation in his country and a new law being considered by Parliament to address anti-religious bigotry.  The Italian and Polish delegations also noted some tangible progress. CiO Rupel reported on initiatives undertaken by the OSCE to improve implementation of commitments made in Berlin.  He also warned that “we must be vigilant against discrimination and show no tolerance for intolerance,” a theme repeated by numerous subsequent speakers. U.S. Helsinki Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings addressed the Córdoba Conference in his capacity as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.  Hastings reminded participants of the role of parliamentarians, including members of the Helsinki Commission, in ensuring that the issue of anti-Semitism and related violence were given priority in the OSCE framework. The most tangible results to come out of the Córdoba Conference was the Córdoba Declaration, as well as reports presented by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) on “Combating Hate Crimes in the OSCE Region” and “Education on the Holocaust and on Anti-Semitism.”  The declaration recognized that some forms of intolerance need proper definition, and reiterated the Berlin Declaration’s  acknowledgement that “international developments or political issues, including in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.” According to the ODIHR reports, 13 participating States have not provided any information on statistics, legislation and national initiatives relating to hate crimes.  Of the 42 participating States that have responded, only 29 countries have provided information and statistics on hate crimes and violent manifestations of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and intolerance.  The quality of information varied widely – one country’s statistical submission consisted of a single sentence. Beyond implementation issues and concerns, three outstanding questions remain to be resolved: Will the OSCE maintain a distinct focus on anti-Semitism or will the issue be folded into a more generic tolerance rubric? Will the current mandates for the three personal representatives be extended? What form will future follow-up, including the possible location of future conferences, on tolerance-related matters take? There is also some concern that the Personal Representatives of the Chair-in-Office have been hampered in undertaking their tasks, and have been hamstrung by limitations that have been imposed on their activities.  It is also unclear whether the newly incoming Chair-in-Office will reappoint the three representatives or, if so, if he will maintain their distinct portfolios. Discussions in Córdoba did little to narrow differences on these points.  The United States has been among the few stalwarts committed to sustaining a particular focus on anti-Semitism.   At the same time, a growing number of countries prefer a “holistic” approach, where distinct issues are discussed under a generic theme. Governor Pataki in closing remarks stressed the need to move beyond words: “We have all given our speeches in the best prose we can muster, but there is more to combating anti-Semitism and intolerance than mere speeches.”  He urged that future follow-up focus on implementation; endorsed the reappointment of the three Personal Representatives under their existing titles; called for preserving a distinct focus on anti-Semitism; supported continuing efforts to combat intolerance and discrimination against Muslims, Christians, and other faiths; and urged further institutionalization of tolerance and non-discrimination work.  Pataki concluded, “We can talk, we can coordinate through the OSCE, but the primary responsibility ultimately rests with the participating States.”      U.S. DELEGATION Governor George E. Pataki, Head of U.S. Delegation Hon. Jennette Bradley, Treasurer, State of Ohio The Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, Archbishop of Denver and Commissioner, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Sander Ross Gerber, Chairman and CEO of the XTF Group and President of the Gerber Capital Management Group Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder, Simon Wiesenthal Center Kamal Nawash, founder, Free Muslims Coalition Rabbi David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President for Government and Public Affairs, Agudath Israel of America

  • The Future of Human Rights in Kosovo

    This hearing, held by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith , stressed, among other things, that there was still a lot of work to be achieved regarding human rights in Kosovo, such as security and property issues. In particular, Brownback and Smith focused on the international community, including countries in the OSCE region. This hearing was held with increased diplomatic activity that may have led to consideration of Kosovo’s status in 2005 in mind. Witnesses to this hearing included Soren Jessen-Petersen, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, and Charles L. English, Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  

  • Briefing Surveys Human Rights of Russia's Roma Population

    By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law On September 23, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on “The Roma in Russia.”  Panelists included Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director, Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, a consultant for the Open Society Institute specializing in minority issues in the former Soviet Union. Elizabeth Pryor, Senior Advisor to the Helsinki Commission, moderated the briefing.  She noted the Commission’s long engagement regarding the human rights problems faced by Roma as well as the overall human rights situation in Russia.  Highlighting the need to examine the particular situation of Roma in Russia, she observed that since Roma “constitute a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight is often overlooked.” Dr. Petrova noted that, for the 2002 Russian census, approximately 182,000 individuals identified themselves as Romani.  Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the number of Roma in Russia is much higher; a figure often cited is 1.2 million.  She argued that the fate of Roma in Russia is emblematic of the racism, xenophobia, and discrimination faced by other ethnic minorities in Russia, particularly Jews and people from the Caucasus region. In a comprehensive statement, Dr. Petrova outlined nine key areas of concern:  historical and social discrimination against Roma; the legal and institutional context of anti-discrimination legislation; the current political and ideological climate in Russia; the abuse of Roma rights by state actors (primarily the police); the abuse of Roma rights by non-state actors; discrimination in the criminal justice system; the portrayal of Roma in the Russian media; the lack of personal documents; and access to housing and education.  The main focus of Dr. Petrova’s statement concerned abuse by both state and non-state actors.  The main impetus of anti-Roma abuse in Russia is related directly to the ideological “war on drugs.”  People of Roma descent are targeted through racial profiling and various media outlets as illegal drug dealers and are subject to frequent police raids.  The “war on drugs” has also become an excuse for police brutality and racial targeting in which police plant drugs on the Roma or in their homes and then arrest them for the possession of illegal substances. Dr. Petrova ended her statement with a call for the United States Government “to play a leadership role and use its economic and political weight to help improve the position of Roma in Russia and address the human rights problems of Roma in Russia as a matter of urgency and as a primary concern in combating racial discrimination.”  She asked human rights monitoring agencies both in the United States and in Europe to prioritize Roma rights in Russia and to draw the Russian Government’s attention to Roma issues that are currently not being addressed. Dr. Torkohov, representing the Ekaterinburg-based Roma Ural, presented his organization’s efforts to monitor media coverage of Roma, examine factors contributing to lower levels of education among Roma, and assist Romani Holocaust survivors obtain compensation through existing programs. Torkohov offered a number of recommendations to improve the current situation.  With respect to education, he suggested creating preschool programs for Roma children to improve literacy, working with both children and parents to understand the value of education, and facilitating cooperation between parents and schools.  Given the pronounced bigotry against Roma that characterizes portrayals of Roma in the broadcast and print media, he also suggested training journalists to improve their professional skills. Leonid Raihman focused on ill treatment of Roma by the police, access to justice, and problems associated with the lack of personal documents, including passports.  Endemic corruption among the poorly paid and poorly trained police in Russia has fostered an environment in which Roma are the routine victims of extortion by the police.  This extortion, in turn, contributes to the economic marginalization of Roma. Raihman also described the serious and complex problem of personal documents for the Roma.  He said the absence of personal documents, as well as the rigid nature of the personal documents system in Russia, represents an aspect of the problem.  However, he felt that ethnicity was the primary reason for problems in obtaining a passport.  “Administration officials,” he stated, “especially in housing and immigration departments abuse the discretionary decision-making power accorded to them by the passport system to discriminate against Roma and members of the vulnerable groups.” Mr. Raihman urged the U.S. Government to use its power “to persuade the Russian Government to place the human rights problems which the Roma face high on their agenda.”  He stated that it is time for the Russian Government, as well as the rest of the world, to acknowledge and deal with the problems faced by the Roma in Russia.   United States Helsinki Commission Intern Judy Abel contributed to this article.

  • Briefing Surveys Human Rights of Russia's Roma Population

    By Erika Schlager CSCE Counsel on International Law On September 23, 2004, the United States Helsinki Commission held a briefing on “The Roma in Russia.”  Panelists included Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director, European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director, Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, a consultant for the Open Society Institute specializing in minority issues in the former Soviet Union. Elizabeth Pryor, Senior Advisor to the Helsinki Commission, moderated the briefing.  She noted the Commission’s long engagement regarding the human rights problems faced by Roma as well as the overall human rights situation in Russia.  Highlighting the need to examine the particular situation of Roma in Russia, she observed that since Roma “constitute a relatively small part of the Russian population, their plight is often overlooked.” Dr. Petrova noted that, for the 2002 Russian census, approximately 182,000 individuals identified themselves as Romani.  Unofficial estimates, however, suggest that the number of Roma in Russia is much higher; a figure often cited is 1.2 million.  She argued that the fate of Roma in Russia is emblematic of the racism, xenophobia, and discrimination faced by other ethnic minorities in Russia, particularly Jews and people from the Caucasus region. In a comprehensive statement, Dr. Petrova outlined nine key areas of concern:  historical and social discrimination against Roma; the legal and institutional context of anti-discrimination legislation; the current political and ideological climate in Russia; the abuse of Roma rights by state actors (primarily the police); the abuse of Roma rights by non-state actors; discrimination in the criminal justice system; the portrayal of Roma in the Russian media; the lack of personal documents; and access to housing and education. The main focus of Dr. Petrova’s statement concerned abuse by both state and non-state actors.  The main impetus of anti-Roma abuse in Russia is related directly to the ideological “war on drugs.”  People of Roma descent are targeted through racial profiling and various media outlets as illegal drug dealers and are subject to frequent police raids.  The “war on drugs” has also become an excuse for police brutality and racial targeting in which police plant drugs on the Roma or in their homes and then arrest them for the possession of illegal substances. Dr. Petrova ended her statement with a call for the United States Government “to play a leadership role and use its economic and political weight to help improve the position of Roma in Russia and address the human rights problems of Roma in Russia as a matter of urgency and as a primary concern in combating racial discrimination.”  She asked human rights monitoring agencies both in the United States and in Europe to prioritize Roma rights in Russia and to draw the Russian Government’s attention to Roma issues that are currently not being addressed. Dr. Torkohov, representing the Ekaterinburg-based Roma Ural, presented his organization’s efforts to monitor media coverage of Roma, examine factors contributing to lower levels of education among Roma, and assist Romani Holocaust survivors obtain compensation through existing programs. Torkohov offered a number of recommendations to improve the current situation.  With respect to education, he suggested creating preschool programs for Roma children to improve literacy, working with both children and parents to understand the value of education, and facilitating cooperation between parents and schools.  Given the pronounced bigotry against Roma that characterizes portrayals of Roma in the broadcast and print media, he also suggested training journalists to improve their professional skills. Leonid Raihman focused on ill treatment of Roma by the police, access to justice, and problems associated with the lack of personal documents, including passports.  Endemic corruption among the poorly paid and poorly trained police in Russia has fostered an environment in which Roma are the routine victims of extortion by the police.  This extortion, in turn, contributes to the economic marginalization of Roma. Raihman also described the serious and complex problem of personal documents for the Roma.  He said the absence of personal documents, as well as the rigid nature of the personal documents system in Russia, represents an aspect of the problem.  However, he felt that ethnicity was the primary reason for problems in obtaining a passport.  “Administration officials,” he stated, “especially in housing and immigration departments abuse the discretionary decision-making power accorded to them by the passport system to discriminate against Roma and members of the vulnerable groups.” Mr. Raihman urged the U.S. Government to use its power “to persuade the Russian Government to place the human rights problems which the Roma face high on their agenda.”  He stated that it is time for the Russian Government, as well as the rest of the world, to acknowledge and deal with the problems faced by the Roma in Russia. 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.

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