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Roma

Roma are the largest ethnic minority in Europe.  Concentrated in post-communist Central and Southern Europe, the Romani population is estimated at over 12 million in EU countries, with significant numbers in former Soviet republics, the Balkans, and Turkey.  There may be as many as 1 million Americans with Romani ancestry.

Roma have historically faced persecution and were the victims of genocide during WWII.  In post-communist countries, Roma have suffered disproportionately in the transition to market economies, in part due to endemic racism and discrimination. 

Over the past three decades, Helsinki Commissioners have led the effort in Washington to speak out against racially motivated violence against Roma, including pogroms, murders and other violent attacks, and police abuse.  The Helsinki Commission has also advocated for recognition of the enslavement and genocide of Roma and redress for sterilization without informed consent.  The Commission has addressed race-based expulsion of Roma, the denial of citizenship to Roma after the break-up of federative states and the consequences of ethnic conflict and war in the Balkans.  The first international agreement to specially recognize the human rights problems faced by Roma was adopted by the OSCE participating States in 1989, with Helsinki Commission support. 

Staff Contact: Erika Schlager, counsel for international law

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  • The Romani Minority in Russia

    The Helsinki Commission examined the situation of the Romani minority in Russia, with a focus on hate crimes, police abuse, and discrimination in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Beslan, during which Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the potential for many ethnic-confessional conflicts in the Federation. Reports by Roma of racially motivated attacks by law enforcement agents were also points of discussion. Panelists – including Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of the European Roma Rights Center; Alexander Torokhov, Director of Roma Ural; and Leonid Raihman, Consultant for Open Society – provided background information on Russia’s Romani minority, setting their discussion in the current context of the current political, economic and security climate in Russia.

  • Mass Murder of Roma at Auschwitz Sixty Years Ago

    Madam President, during World War II, some 23,000 Roma were sent to Auschwitz, mostly from Germany, Austria, and the occupied Czech lands. Sixty Years ago, on the night of August 2 and 3, the order was given to liquidate the “Gypsy Camp” at Auschwitz. Over the course of that night, 2,898 men, women, and children were put to death in the gas chambers. In all, an estimated 18,000 Roma died at Auschwitz-Birkenau.   During the intervening years, Aug. 2 and 3 have become days to remember the Porrajmos, the Romani word that means "the Devouring," and to mourn the Romani losses of the Holocaust.   As the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has suggested, Roma are ``understudied victims'' of the Nazis. What we don't know about the Romani experiences during the war is far greater than what is known.   But we do know that the fate of the Roma varied from country to county, and depended on many factors. We know that, in addition to the atrocities in Auschwitz, thousands of Roma were gassed at Chelmno. We know that an estimated 90 percent of Croatia's Romani population--tens of thousands of people--was murdered. We know that approximately 25,000 Roma were deported by the Romanian regime to Transnistria in 1942, where some 19,000 of them perished there in unspeakable conditions. We know that in many places, such as Hungary, Roma were simply executed at the village edge and dumped into mass graves. We know that in Slovakia, Roma were put into forced labor camps, and that in France, Roma were kept in internment camps for fully a year after the war ended.   Still, far more research remains to be done in this field, especially with newly available archives like those from the Lety concentration camp in the Czech Republic. I commend the Holocaust Museum for the efforts it has made to shed light on this still dark corner of the past, and I welcome the work of nongovernmental organizations, such as the Budapest-based Roma Press Center, for collecting the memories of survivors.   I do not think I can overstate the consequences of the Porrajmos. Some scholars estimate that as many as half of Europe's Romani minority perished. For individuals, for families, and for surviving communities, those losses were devastating. Tragically, the post-war treatment of Roma compounded one set of injustices with others. Those who were most directly involved in developing the Nationalist-Socialist framework for the racial persecution of Roma--Robert Ritter and Eva Justin--were never brought to justice for their crimes and were allowed to continue their medical careers after the war. The investigative files on Ritter--including evidence regarding his role in the forced sterilization of Roma--were destroyed. German courts refused to recognize, until 1963, that the persecution of Roma based on their ethnic identity began at least as early as 1938. By the time of the 1963 ruling, many Romani survivors had already died.   During my years of service on the leadership of the Helsinki Commission, I have been struck by the tragic plight of Roma throughout the OSCE region. It is not surprising that, given the long history of their persecution, Roma continue to fight racism and discrimination today. I commend Slovakia for adopting comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation in May. As the OSCE participating states prepare for a major conference on racism, discrimination, and xenophobia, to be held in September, I hope they will be prepared to address the persistent manifestations of racism against Roma--manifestations that often carry echoes of the Holocaust.

  • Roma Still Waiting for Their "Brown v. Board of Education"

    Mr. President, 2 years ago, the United States Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, held its third hearing on the human rights problems faced by Roma. At that time, we gave particular attention to the barriers Roma face in the field of education. As the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities said in his very helpful report on Roma in OSCE region, “exclusion of Roma extends to every sphere of social life, perhaps nowhere with more far-reaching and harmful effect than in respect of schooling.” In other words, ensuring equal access for Roma in the fields of education is an essential element for their integration in other areas of life. The World Bank and United Nations Development Program have also emphasized, in their reports, that integration in education is an essential ingredient for improving the overall conditions in which Roma live. Last month, as our own country was commemorating the Supreme Court's historic decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the European Roma Rights Center issued a report entitled “Stigmata: Segregated Schooling of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe.” This report evaluates practices and policies in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia and describes the most common ways of segregating Romani children from non-Roma: channeling Roma into so-called “special schools” for children with developmental disabilities; the de facto segregation that goes hand-in-hand with 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 European Roma Rights Center report concludes that, unfortunately, “with the exception of Hungary, concrete government action aimed at desegregating the school system has not been initiated to date.” It is surely not a coincidence that Hungary is also the only country in Europe where the mainstream political parties have started to compete for the Romani vote--both developments which reflect meaningful steps towards the real integration of Roma in that country. As the European Roma Rights Center notes, segregated schooling is the result of many factors which conspire together--not the least of which is the pernicious stereotype that Romani culture is somehow incompatible with education. This fiction continues to be widely held and disseminated by the media, by government officials and public leaders, and sometimes even by the representatives of respected international organizations. Frankly, this myth needs to be debunked. In reality, before World War II, there was no country in Europe that allowed Roma to attend school and maintain their language and cultural identity at the same time. Formal schooling, by definition, meant forced assimilation. It is amazing testimony to the strength of Romani culture that--after centuries as a dispersed people in Europe, after slavery in Romania and Moldova, after forced assimilation campaigns, and after the Holocaust--Romani identity has survived. For most Roma in Europe, concentrated in countries that fell behind the Iron Curtain, it is only the context of a post-communist world, a Europe which has now recognized the rights of ethnic and linguistic minorities, that the theoretical opportunity to be educated without having to hide or surrender one's Romani identity is within grasp. Kids like Elvis Hajdar, the Romani-Macedonian computer whiz-kid the Christian Science Monitor profiled in April, embrace this opportunity. For many other Roma, however, educational opportunities remain only distant and only theoretical. And, contrary to popular mythology, it is not Romani culture that holds them back, but crushing poverty and entrenched racism. Education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and it is no surprise that Romani organizations across Europe have made access to education one of their principle demands. Moreover, the “Action Plan on Improving the Situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE Area,” adopted at the Maastricht Ministerial last December, the OSCE participating states outlined a variety of concrete measures states might undertake to achieve this goal. But desegregation will not just happen on its own. It will take leadership and political will and--as we know from our own experiences after the Brown decision--it may still take many years. The time to get started is now.

  • Strong Substance, Potent Politics Mark Historic Maastricht OSCE Ministerial Council

    By Elizabeth B. Pryor, CSCE Senior Advisor The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) once again demonstrated its ability to promote candid political discussion and take prescient decisions when the Eleventh OSCE Ministerial Council met December 1-2, 2003. The meeting took place in Maastricht, the Netherlands, capping the Dutch chairmanship of the OSCE, under the leadership of Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Ministers and other senior officials from the 55 OSCE states engaged in extensive consultations and approved an impressive array of action programs and strategic initiatives. Members of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, including Helsinki Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), and representatives of OSCE partner states and other affiliated organizations joined them. Secretary of State Colin Powell led the United States delegation. The Ministerial meeting was historic, not only for the quantity and quality of the decisions it took, but because it signaled a move away from defining the organization solely on the basis of broad formalized statements. The flexibility of the organization was also on display. When one participating state threatened a veto on jointly agreed political positions, the Chairman and other members turned it into an opportunity to forcefully reiterate their determination to see conflicts resolved through the standards set in OSCE agreements. They also intensified the pressure to fulfill previously taken commitments. The result was a stronger expression of collective political will than might have been made in a compromise document. By moving beyond the predictable rhetoric of a communiqué, the OSCE underscored its own political vitality and the unique platform it offers for frank debate and creative political action. The Maastricht Ministerial took place in the wake of Georgia’s "Revolution of the Roses" and was attended by the Acting President of Georgia, Nino Burjanadze. That situation, and growing concern over disputes in the Transdniestria region of Moldova, produced frank comments from the Ministers, opening the way for real dialogue on the issues and an expression of international concern that was impossible to ignore. Secretary Powell was among those who used the unconstrained OSCE stage to address issues directly. He cautioned that no support would "be given to breakaway elements seeking to weaken Georgia’s territorial integrity" and called for international support for the new elections to be held January 4, 2004. The European Union, and Dutch OSCE Chairman echoed this, voicing their own warnings against interference in Georgia’s democratic development. The Chairman also strongly reasserted the OSCE’s role in deliberations over the political future of Transdniestria. He was joined by many of the Ministers, who took exception to Russian efforts to broker an inequitable accord outside of the internationally coordinated mediation process. While applauding some progress on arms reductions by Russia in Transdniestria, the U.S. delegation, as well as many others, spoke forthrightly of the need to fulfill all provisions of the 1999 Istanbul agreement which called for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova. Even when given an extension to withdraw by December 31, 2003, no progress has been made. The exchange also gave Russia the opportunity to express its viewpoint: that ratification of the revised Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was being held up over the implementation of the Istanbul commitments and that the collapse of its diplomatic initiative in Moldova would delay any chance of reaching a settlement. The initiatives unanimously agreed by the Ministers reflect the OSCE’s dedication to strong standard setting and innovative yet practical solutions for entrenched problems. The decisions taken on security issues continue OSCE’s long tradition of crafting action-oriented agreements with low political cost and long-term stabilizing effects. The development of more secure travel documents, export controls on portable air defense systems, "best practices" for the transfer of small arms and new measures for the destruction of stockpiles of ammunition are among the most robust set of security decisions taken in recent years by any international organization. The United States welcomed these decisions and praised the OSCE’s work as an example of effective multilateralism. These concrete action programs were coupled with a comprehensive strategy for addressing the changing security environment of the 21st century. The holistic OSCE approach to stability is evident in this document, which encompasses everything from arms control to environmental concerns and fighting corruption. "The [Helsinki] Final Act tells us that lasting security requires not just respect for the sovereignty of states, but also respect for the integrity of human beings," noted Secretary Powell in Maastricht. In keeping with this integrated approach to security, the OSCE agreed to a strategic roadmap for tackling the difficult problem of trafficking in human beings. The OSCE Action Plan is the most detailed blueprint devised by any international organization; in Maastricht Ministers decided to appoint a Special Representative to ensure that its provisions are carried out. In addition, the OSCE approved a comprehensive policy for improving the situation of Roma and Sinti, the first of its kind in the region. They also strengthened their commitment to an enhanced economic and environmental work plan. In a matter of particular interest to numerous Helsinki Commissioners, the Maastricht Ministerial formally welcomed the offer by Germany to host a conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin. Belgium will host a meeting on racism, xenophobia and discrimination. In a letter to Secretary Powell in the lead up to the ministerial, Commissioners urged U.S. leadership in securing agreement on the German proposal as well as other areas of particular concern, including disturbing developments in Turkmenistan, Chechnya, Belarus and severe limitations placed on minority religious communities in some parts of the region. "The United States’ leadership is essential to secure consensus on initiatives on combating anti-Semitism and racism; human trafficking; internally displaced persons; corruption and international crime; cooperation with the ICTY; withdrawal of foreign forces from Moldova; and the Annual Security Review Conference," Commissioners wrote. Ministers also addressed the wider sharing of OSCE norms, principles and commitments with others, pledging to identify additional fields of cooperation and interaction with OSCE Mediterranean and Asian Partners for Cooperation. 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.

  • International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture

    Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I find myself dealing with the issue of torture many times over during the course of any given year--torture committed by Russian forces in Chechnya, systematic police abuse of Roma in Greece, prisoners tortured to death in Uzbekistan, to give just a few recent examples.   Unfortunately, torture remains the weapon of choice by many oppressive regimes, systematically used to silence political opposition, punish religious minorities, or target those who are ethnically or racially different from those in power.   But on the occasion of the United Nations' Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, I'd like to reflect on the steps that can be taken to help prevent torture from occurring in the first place.   Torture is prohibited by a multitude of international instruments, including documents of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Moreover, it is absolute and nonderogable under any circumstances, even wartime. The challenge, then, is to translate this commitment into practice.   Amnesty International has issued a number of recommendations to help end torture. They are remarkably straightforward and easy to grasp: officials at the highest level should condemn torture; governments should ensure access to prisoners; secret detentions should be prohibited; and confessions obtained through torture should be excluded from evidence in the courtroom. I believe the implementation of these fundamental principles would have a significant impact in reducing torture. At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Annual Session two years ago, I introduced a resolution, passed by the Assembly, that built on these basic concepts.   While we work to eradicate torture, we must not forget those who have already become its victims. Along with Representative TOM LANTOS, I have introduced H.R. 1813, legislation to re-authorize the Torture Victims Relief Act and the list of cosponsors is growing. The Senate companion bill, S. 854 was introduced by Senator COLEMAN. This reauthorization will continue funding for centers here in the United States that help provide treatment for the estimated half million survivors, most of whom came to this country as refugees. It will also provide funds, distributed through the Agency for International Development or the U.N. Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture, for treatment centers abroad. While life for torture survivors can never be the same, treatment can provide victims the hope of becoming stable and productive members of their communities. I urge my colleagues in the House to join in supporting this measure as a tangible support of the victims of torture.

  • Coerced Sterilization Investigated in Slovakia

    Mr. Speaker, on May 8, the Senate gave its consent to protocols providing for the accession of seven new members to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I have supported Slovakia's admission to NATO and am heartened that the post-1998 democratic and human rights progress in Slovakia made the Senate vote possible. Slovak leaders continue to demonstrate in many concrete ways their commitment to the oftcited but not always visible "shared values" that are central to the trans-Atlantic community. I was moved to read that several Slovak leaders, including Speaker of the Parliament, Pavol Hrusovsky, with whom I met last year, Laszlo Nagy, Chairman of the Parliament's human rights committee, and the Foreign Ministry have spoken out so clearly and strongly on behalf of the Cuban dissidents victimized by Castro's recent sweeping crackdown on human rights activists. At the same time, I have continuing concerns about the Slovak Government's ongoing investigation into allegations that Romani women were sterilized without proper informed consent. Mr. Speaker, I know these allegations are of concern to many members of the Helsinki Commission, one of whom recently sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing concerning the sterilizations. I also discussed the issue with Slovak Ambassador Martin Butora and Deputy Minister Ivan Korcok in March. Eight Helsinki Commissioners joined me in writing to Prime Minister Dzurinda to express our concern, and U.S. Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor, Lome Craner, commented on this abhorrent practice at his hearing on the State Department's annual human rights report. I was encouraged by the Prime Minister's substantive and sympathetic response, and I commend his commitment to improve respect for the human rights of Slovakia's Romani minority. At the same time, I am deeply troubled by one particular aspect of the government's response to the reports documenting that sterilizations occurred without proper informed consent. Shortly after the release in January of a lengthy report on sterilization of Romani women, a spokesperson for the ministry responsible for human rights was quoted in The New York Times as saying: "If we confirm this information, we will expand our charges to the report's authors, that they knew about a crime for a year and did not report it to a prosecutor. And if we prove it is not true, they will be charged with spreading false information and damaging the good name of Slovakia." In other words, if the government's investigation does not find evidence of coerced sterilization, they intend to make those who dared make the allegation pay a price. And if the government's investigation does confirm the allegation, they will still make those who made the allegation pay a price. I believe this is what is meant by the old expression, "Damned if you do, and damned if you don't." This is really an outrageous threat, and it's hard to believe that an official responsible for human rights would have made it. Mr. Speaker, I had hoped that this was an unfortunate misstatement and not really reflective of the Slovak Government's policies. I had hoped that the fact that almost every newspaper article, from Los Angeles to Moscow, about coerced sterilization in Slovakia has mentioned this threat would lead the Slovak Government to issue some kind of clarification or retraction. Unfortunately, not only has there been no such clarification or retraction, but the threat has now been repeated--not once, but at least twice. First, in mid-March, the Ministry of Health issued a report based on its own investigation into the allegations. (A separate government investigation continues.) Naming a particular Slovak human rights advocate by name, the ministry complained that she had refused to cooperate with police investigators and this could be considered covering up a crime. Essentially the same point was made by Slovakia's Ambassador to the OSCE in early April, ironically during a meeting on Romani human rights issues. Mr. Speaker, these threats raise serious doubts about the breadth and depth of the Slovak Government's commitment to get at the truth in this disturbing matter. Can the Slovak Government really expect women who may have been sterilized without consent to come forward and cooperate with an investigation with a threat like this hanging over them? A few brave souls may, but I believe these threats have had a substantial chilling effect on the investigative process. In fact, it is not unusual for those whose rights have been violated to confide their stories only upon condition of anonymity. And while I realize there has been a very serious effort in Slovakia to improve the professionalism of the police and to address past police abuses against Roma, I certainly can't blame Romani women if they are unwilling to pour their hearts out to their local constables. Simply put, the police have not yet earned that trust. I hope the Slovak Government will set the record straight on this and remove any doubt that the days when human rights activists could be sent to jail for their reports is over. Doing so is critical for the credibility of the government's ongoing investigation.

  • The Continuing Plight of Roma in Greece

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

  • Taking Stock in Romania

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

  • 10 Years of Remembrance: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

    Mr. Speaker, today I want to pay special tribute on the 10th anniversary of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. During the past decade, the institution and its dedicated staff members have worked tirelessly to promote remembrance of the Holocaust and to draw lessons for the future from this very dark chapter of mankind's recent history. When the Museum was dedicated and formally opened in late April 1993, this event culminated over 10 years of preparation that started in 1980 with the chartering of the institution by a unanimous Act of Congress. Recognizing the work of the Museum this week is very fitting, as it is the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a time for honoring the millions of Jews who died almost 60 years ago under Nazi tyranny. As set forth in its mission statement, the Holocaust Memorial Museum has become America's national institution for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history, and is this country's memorial to the millions of people murdered during the Holocaust. The Museum and its International Archives Project focuses on all individuals who suffered during the Holocaust, in addition to the six million executed Jews, the horrific Nazi treatment of millions of Roma, disabled, religious and political prisoners, and prisoners of war. The Museum plays a critical role in advancing and disseminating information, documenting the historicity of the Holocaust, while also preserving the memory of individuals who suffered. While insuring that the lessons of the past will not be forgotten, the Museum has actively and creatively developed ways to work towards a better future. The institution's dedication to dealing with the horrors of genocide, whether in Nazi Germany, Bosnia, Rwanda or Cambodia is a critical part of the effort to mobilize international action against this plague on all humanity. The Committee on Conscience plays a particularly significant role in bringing timely attention to acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity. The Museum has rightfully become one of Washington's most revered attractions. The hundreds of thousands of visitors who have toured the Museum since its opening have left with an unforgettable experience and the opportunity to reflect on the deep moral questions stemming from the tragedy of the Holocaust. The Museum's research center has served as a critical resource for scholars who try to help us better understand the lessons of this terrible chapter of human history. The creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has also encouraged other countries to move to establish comparable institutions including, most significantly, in Berlin, Germany. The U.S. Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, has worked with the Museum on several occasions, from pushing for the release of documents from the Romani concentration camp in Lety, Czech Republic, to urging Romania to give greater meaning to its stated commitment of rejecting anti-Semitism by removing Antonescu statues from public lands. In response to the alarming spike of anti-Semitic incidents found last summer in Europe, myself and other Members of the Commission have been very active in urging governments and elected officials to denounce the violence and ensure their laws are enabled to prosecute the perpetrators. In support of this effort, I have introduced H. Con. Res. 49, urging, among other things, European states to "promote the creation of educational efforts throughout the region encompassing the participating States of the OSCE to counter anti-Semitic stereotypes and attitudes among younger people, increase Holocaust awareness programs, and help identify the necessary resources to accomplish this goal." It is my hope that other countries will copy the unique and effective model of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Congress has designated April 27th to May 4th as "Days of Remembrance," when our nation will commemorate again the victims of the Holocaust. May we use this time of reflection that will reinforce our common determination to learn from history's harsh lessons.

  • Intolerance in Contemporary Russia

    Donald Kursch, senior advisor at the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, led this briefing regarding the emergence of bigotry and anti-semitic rhetoric in Russia. Kursch emphasized that the Russian Federation pledged to promote tolerance and non-discrimination and counter threats to security such as intolerance, aggressive nationalism, racist chauvinism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism.  In the then open environment that prevailed in Russia, proponents of bigotry were more at ease to propagate their unwelcome messages. Experts discussed current trends as well as prospects for fostering a climate of tolerance toward ethnic and religious minorities in the Russian Federation. Ludmilla Alexeyeva, Chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group, presented the group’s recent report entitled “Nationalism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Contemporary Russia.”  Micah Naftalin, Executive Director of the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union presented its compilation on “Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, and Religious Persecution in Russia’s Regions.”

  • Recommending the Integration of the Republic of Slovakia Into NATO

    Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of H. Res. 253, recommending the integration of Slovakia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.   In my years of service with the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have observed the sometimes difficult transition to democracy of this Central European country. It has been very difficult for them. It was because of Slovakia's own authoritarian leaders, most notably Vladimir Meciar, that Slovakia was rightly excluded from the accession process in 1997. Today, it is thanks to a new generation of bright and enlightened Slovak leaders that that situation has dramatically been reversed.   To the credit of the Dzurinda government, many important changes have already been undertaken. The support of the U.S. Congress for Slovakia's admission to NATO reflects the deep respect my colleagues and all of us have for these remarkable achievements.   Let me just say to my colleagues that the reform process in Slovakia should not end with the Prague-NATO summit. On the contrary, the long-term well-being of Slovakia requires that this process continue and indeed intensify after November.   In this regard, there are three areas that I believe deserve particular attention.   First, the most recent elections clearly demonstrate Slovakia's ability to elect pro-democracy, pro-western governments that respect the sacredness and sanctity of human life. The results of the 1998 elections were not a fluke but an illustration of real and meaningful democratic transition that first found its voice in civil society and then in the government itself. The question now is whether that maturity will also be found in a loyal opposition in the parliament, one that by definition has policy differences from time to time from the ruling coalition, but whose ultimate interest is in serving the Slovak people.   Second, the Slovakia government must make headway in fighting corruption. Unless and until that happens, the rule of law will remain weak, economic development will go to other countries, and justice will be elusive.   Finally, Slovak leaders must address in earnest the scourge of racism against the Roma. This problem, as we all know, is not unique to Slovakia. While other countries in the region have moved to counter the most alarming manifestations of hatred and intolerance, violent attacks, Slovakia has failed to bring these attacks under control. The NATO Participation Act of 1994, I would remind my colleagues, which all of us supported, made clear that “participants in the Partnership for Peace should be invited to become full NATO Members if they remain committed to protecting the rights of all of their citizens.'' So we make a strong appeal to the Slovak leadership, please, undertake aggressive efforts to protect the Roma.   Mr. Speaker, I want to thank again my good friend for his leadership on this issue.

  • Romani Human Rights: Old Problems, New Possibilities

    This hearing discussed the mistreatment of the Romani, in particular the discrimination they face in Central and Eastern Europe. Witnesses commented on the exclusion of Romani from public facilities in several countries, which the governments justify as legal and legitimate public order measures. Witnesses also brought up articles in several European newspapers that explicitly described Roma children as less intelligent and more suited for “special” schools with limited academic resources. The hearing also discussed the use of a successful anti-discrimination program in Viden, Bulgaria as a model for other communities.

  • Romania's Chairmanship of OSCE

    Mr. Speaker, this year, Romania holds the chairmanship of the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Obviously, this is one of the most important positions in the OSCE and, as Romania is a little more than half way through its tenure, I would like to reflect for a moment on some of their achievements and challenges. First and foremost, I commend Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana for his leadership. In late January Minister Geoana met in the Capitol with members of the Helsinki Commission which I co-chair and again two weeks ago at the Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Paris, we had a helpful exchange of views. He has demonstrated, in word and deed, that he understands how important the role of chairman is to the work of the OSCE. His personal engagement in Belarus and Chechnya, for example, illustrates the constructive possibilities of the chairmanship. I appreciate Foreign Minister Geoana's willingness to speak out on human rights concerns throughout the region. As Chair-in-Office, we also hope that Romania will lead by example as it continues to implement economic and political reform and to further its integration into western institutions. In this regard, I would like to draw attention to a few of the areas the Helsinki Commission is following with special interest. First, many members of the Helsinki Commission have repeatedly voiced our concerns about manifestations of anti-Semitism in Romania, often expressed through efforts to rehabilitate or commemorate Romania's World War II leadership. I was therefore encouraged by the swift and unequivocal response by the Romanian Government to the inexcusable participation of General Mircea Chelaru in a ceremony unveiling a bust of Marshal Ion Antonescu, Romania's war-time dictator. I particularly welcome President Iliescu's statement that "Marshal Ion Antonescu was and is considered a war criminal for the political responsibility he assumed by making [an] alliance with Hitler.'' I encourage the Romanian Government to give even greater meaning to this statement and to its stated commitment to reject anti-Semitism. Clearly, the next step should be the removal of Antonescu statues from public lands, including those at the Jilava prison and in Slobozia, Piatra Neamt, and Letcani. Mr. Speaker, I also appreciate the recent statement by Prime Minister Nastase that journalists should not be sent to jail for their writings. But frankly, it is not enough for the Prime Minister merely to reject efforts to increase the criminal penalties that journalists are now vulnerable to in Romania. Non-governmental organizations have spoken to this issue with one voice. In fact, since the beginning of this year, NGOs have renewed their call for changes to the Romanian penal code that would bring it into line with OSCE standards. Amnesty International, Article l9, the Global Campaign for Free Expression, the International Helsinki Federation and the Romanian Helsinki Committee have all urged the repeal of articles 205, 206, 207, 236, 236(1), 238 and 239 from the criminal code and, as appropriate, their replacement by civil code provisions. I understand the Council of Europe made similar recommendations to Romania in 1997. Moreover, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has said, clearly and repeatedly, that criminal defamation and insult laws are not consistent with OSCE commitments and should be repealed. There is no better time to take this step than now, while Romania holds the Chairmanship of the OSCE. Public authorities, of course, should be protected from slander and libel, just like everyone else. Clearly, civil codes are more than adequate to achieve this goal. Accordingly, in order to bring Romanian law into line with Romania's international obligations and commitments, penal sanctions for defamation or insult of public authorities in Romania should be altogether ended. It is time, and past time, for these simple steps to be taken. As Chairman-in-Office, Minister Geoana has repeatedly expressed his concern about the trafficking of human beings into forced prostitution and other forms of slavery in the OSCE region. The OSCE has proven to be an effective forum for addressing this particular human rights violation, and I commend Minister Geoana for maintaining the OSCE's focus on the issue. Domestically, Romania is also in a position to lead by example in combating trafficking. Notwithstanding that the State Department's first annual Trafficking in Persons report characterizes Romania as a “Tier 3” country in the fight against human trafficking, that is, a country which does not meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with those standards--it is clear the Government of Romania is moving in a positive direction to address the trafficking of human beings from and through its territory. For example, the Ministry of Justice is actively working on a new anti-trafficking law. The government is also cooperating closely with the Regional Center for Combating Trans-Border Crime, created under the auspices of the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative and located in Bucharest, and in particular, with the Center's anti-human trafficking task force. I encourage the Government of Romania to continue with these efforts and to undertake additional initiatives. For example, law enforcement officers in Romania, as in many other OSCE States, are still in need of thorough training on how to investigate and prosecute cases of suspected human trafficking. Training which reinforces the principle that trafficked persons deserve a compassionate response from law enforcement--as they are victims of crime themselves, not criminals, is necessary. When such training leads to more arrests of traffickers and more compassion toward trafficking victims, Romania will be a regional leader in the fight against this modem slavery. Finally, Mr. Speaker, I would like to say a few words about the Romani minority in Romania. Romania may have as many as 2 million Roma, and certainly has the largest number of Roma of any OSCE country. Like elsewhere in the region, they face discrimination in labor, public places, education, and housing. I am especially concerned about persistent and credible reports that Roma are subjected to police abuse, such as the raids at the Zabrauti housing development, near Bucharest, on January 12, and in Brasov on February I and 9 of this year. I commend Romani CRISS and other groups that have worked to document these problems. I urge the Romanian Government to intensify its efforts to prevent abusive practices on the part of the police and to hold individual police officers accountable when they violate the law. In the coming months, the OSCE will conduct the Human Dimension Implementation Review meeting in Warsaw, a Conference on Roma and Sinti Affairs in Bucharest, and the Ministerial Council meeting also in Bucharest, among other meetings and seminars. The legacy of the Romanian Chairmanship will entail not only the leadership demonstrated in these venues but also progress made at home through further compliance with OSCE commitments.

  • International Roma Day Revisited

    Mr. Speaker, on International Roma Day last year, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities released a detailed report on the situation of Roma in the OSCE region. Unfortunately, in the intervening months, relatively little progress has been made by government authorities in addressing the problems he described. The Helsinki Commission, which I co-chair, receives so many reports on an almost daily basis which demonstrate the magnitude of the problems Roma face. We receive reports of Roma who are denied access to public places, like the three Roma who were turned away from a Warsaw restaurant last September 29, just before the OSCE convened its annual human rights meeting in that city. We receive reports of discrimination in housing, like the January 27 Hungarian television report that local authorities in Rabakoez, Hungary, have called for prohibiting the sale of real estate to Roma. We receive reports of police abuse, such as the repeated cases of unlawful police raids in Hermanovce, Slovakia. We receive reports of violent attacks, such as the assault on a Romani church in Leskovac, Serbia, at the beginning of this year. Too often, courts are part of the problem, not the solution. Rather than providing a remedy for victims, they compound the abuse. Take a recent case from the Czech Republic. The Czech Supreme Court issued a ruling that a violent attack on a Romani man in 1999 was premeditated and organized, and then remanded the case back to the district court in Jesenik for sentencing in accordance with that finding. But the district court simply ignored the Supreme Court's finding and ordered four of the defendants released. I am hopeful that Slovak courts, which are currently weighing the fate of three of the defendants charged in last year’s brutal murder of Anastazia Balazova, will do a better job of bringing her murderers to justice. In a few places, there are some glimmers of hope. In Viden, Bulgaria, for example, the Romani organization Drom has led a successful effort to bring 400 Romani children, who previously attended segregated schools, into the mainstream school system. In that instance, the cooperation of local and national authorities, governmental and non-governmental bodies, is paying off. Unfortunately, too few government leaders demonstrate the courage necessary to address these issues. Some pass the buck, looking to the European Union or the Council of Europe to fix problems that must be tackled, first and foremost, through political leadership at home. Moreover, a number of EU countries have little to teach the applicant countries about tolerance towards Roma. Many OSCE countries, not just the former Communist states, are in need of comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, a priority recognized in the 1999 OSCE summit agreement and by the European Commission in the adoption of its “race directive” in June of last year. Regrettably, nearly two years after Bulgaria received praise from many quarters for agreeing to adopt such legislation; the government is not one step closer to fulfilling its commitment. The Slovak Government's human rights office, in contrast, has undertaken a serious study of legislative options and may soon have a draft ready for a vote. In addition, it is imperative that political and civic leaders condemn anti-Roma manifestations in clear and unequivocal terms. Mr. Speaker, when the Mayor of Csor, Hungary, a publicly elected official, said “the Roma of Zamoly have no place among human beings; just as in the animal world, parasites must be expelled,” I believe it is the responsibility of Hungary's political leadership to condemn these outrageous slurs. If more leadership was demonstrated, perhaps confidence would have been strengthened and maybe 5,772 Hungarian Roma would not have applied for asylum in Canada over the past three years. When the Mayor of Usti nad Labem built a wall to segregate Roma from non-Roma, all members of the Czech parliament, not just a paper slim majority of 101 out of 200 MPs, should have voted to condemn it. And when Mayor Sechelariu of Bacau, Romania, announced plans to build a statue of Marshall Antonescu, the World War II dictator who deported 25,000 Roma to Transniestra, where some 19,000 of them perished, Romanian officials, who have pledged to the OSCE community to fight intolerance, should begin at home by ridding their country of every Antonescu statue built on public land.

  • International Roma Day

    Mr. President, in my capacity as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I take this opportunity to let my colleagues know that on Sunday, April 8, Roma from around the world will commemorate the 30th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of World Romani Congress. In countries across Europe as well as in North America, Roma will gather together to demonstrate solidarity with each other and to draw attention to the human rights violations they continue to face. Roma are a dispersed minority, present in virtually every country in the region covered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, including the United States. They first arrived in Europe around the 13th century, after migrating from Northern India and their language, Romani, is related to Sanskrit. Roma were enslaved in what is now modern Romania and Moldova until 1864 and, in much of the rest of Europe, the Romani experience has been marked by pronounced social exclusion. The single most defining experience for Roma in the 20th century was the Holocaust, known in Romani as the Porrajmos, the Devouring. During the war itself, Roma were targeted for death by the Nazis based on their ethnicity. At least 23,000 Roma were brought to Auschwitz. Almost all of them perished in the gas chambers or from starvation, exhaustion, or disease. Not quite a year ago, the Helsinki Commission, which I now chair, held a hearing on Romani human rights issues. I heard from a panel of six witnesses, four of whom were Romani, about the problems Roma continue to face. Unfortunately, since the fall of Communism, the situation for Roma in many post-Communist countries has actually gotten worse. As Ina Zoon said, “the defense of Roma rights in Europe is probably one of the biggest failures of the human rights battle in the last ten years.” The more I learn about the plight of Roma, the more I am struck by certain parallels with the experience of American Indians here in our own country.  Increasingly, Roma have begun to raise their voices not in search of special treatment, but for an opportunity to freely exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination. At the OSCE's Summit of Heads of State and Government, held in Istanbul in 1999, the United States strongly supported the commitment, adopted by all OSCE participating States, to adopt anti-discrimination legislation to protect Roma. It is heartening that a number of Central European governments, countries where Roma are the most numerous, have publicly recognized the need to adopt legislation that will protect Roma from the discrimination they face. The adoption last year of the European Union's “race directive”, which will require all current EU member states, as well as applicant countries to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, should spur this effort. The Helsinki Commission will continue to monitor the plight of the Roma in the 107th Congress.

  • Celebrating Greek Independence Day

    Madam Speaker, 180 years ago the Greek people rose against the Ottoman Empire to free themselves from oppression and to reestablish not only a free and independent state, but a country that would eventually regain her ancient status as a democracy. In congratulating the people of Greece on the anniversary of their revolution, I join in recognizing the distinction earned by Greece as the birthplace of democracy and her special relationship with the United States in our fight together against Nazism, communism and other aggression in the last century alone. Yes, democrats around the world should recognize and celebrate this day together with Greece to reaffirm our common democratic heritage. Yet, Mr. Speaker, while the ancient Greeks forged the notion of democracy, and many Greeks of the last century fought to regain democracy, careful analyses of the political and basic human freedoms climate in today's Greece paint a sobering picture of how fundamental and precious freedoms are treated. Taking a look at the issues which have been raised in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Review Meetings and will be considered over the next week at the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a few of the most critical human dimension concerns about contemporary Greece affect the freedom of expression, the freedom of religious belief and practice, and protection from discrimination. Legal restrictions on free speech remain on the books, and those convicted have typically been allowed to pay a fine instead of going to jail. In recent years, though, Greek journalists and others have been imprisoned based on statements made in the press. This was noted in the most recent Country Report on Human Rights Practices prepared by the Department of State. The International Press Institute has also criticized the frequent criminal charges against journalists in cases of libel and defamation. Religious freedom for everyone living in Greece is not guaranteed by the Greek Constitution and is violated by other laws which are often used against adherents of minority or non-traditional faiths. Especially onerous are the provisions of Greek law which prohibit the freedom of religion. These statutes have a chilling impact on religious liberty in the Hellenic Republic and are inconsistent with numerous OSCE commitments which, among other things, commit Greece to take effective measures to prevent and eliminate religious discrimination against individuals or communities; allow religious organizations to prepare and distribute religious materials; ensure the right to freedom of expression and the right to change one's religion or belief and freedom to manifest one's religion or belief. Over the last ten years, the European Court of Human Rights has issued more than a dozen judgments against Greece for violating Article 9 (pertaining to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion) of the European Convention on Human Rights. One positive development was the decision made last summer to remove from the state-issued national identity cards the notation of one's religious affiliation. In May 2000, Minister of Justice Professor Mihalis Stathopoulos publicly recognized that this practice violated Greece's own Law on the Protection of Personal Data passed in 1997. The decision followed a binding ruling made by the relevant Independent Authority which asked the state to remove religion as well as other personal data (fingerprints, citizenship, spouse's name, and profession) from the identity cards. This has long been a pending human rights concern and an issue raised in a hearing on religious freedom held by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (which I Co-Chair) in September 1996. I am pleased to note that Greece has acknowledged in its most recent report to the UN CERD that the problems faced by the Roma community (which has been a part of Greek society for more than 400 years), migrant workers and refugees are “at the core of the concern of the authorities.” The recognition that issues which need attention is always the first step necessary to addressing the problem. The Commission has received many reports regarding the Roma community in Greece, including disturbing accounts of pervasive discrimination in employment, housing, education, and access to social services, including health care. With a very high illiteracy rate, this segment of Greek society is particularly vulnerable to abuse by local officials, including reports of Roma being denied registration for voting or identity cards that in turn prevents them from gaining access to government-provided services. Particularly alarming are incidents such as the forced eviction of an estimated 100 families by order of the mayor of Ano Liossia and the bulldozing of their makeshift housing in July of 2000. Similar incidents have occurred in recent years in Agia Paraskevi, Kriti, Trikala, Nea Koi, and Evosmos. Our Founding Fathers relied heavily on the political and philosophical experience of the ancient Greeks, and Thomas Jefferson even called ancient Greece “the light which led ourselves out of Gothic darkness.” As an ally and a fellow participating State of the OSCE, we have the right and obligation to encourage implementation of the commitments our respective governments have made with full consensus. I have appreciated very much and applaud the willingness of the Government of Greece to maintain a dialogue on human dimension matters within the OSCE. We must continue our striving together to ensure that all citizens enjoy their fundamental human rights and freedoms without distinction.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing on Kosovo's Displaced and Imprisoned

    Mr. Speaker, this week the Helsinki Commission held a hearing to review the current situation in Kosovo and the prospects for addressing outstanding human rights issues there. More specifically, the hearing focused on the more than 200,000 displaced of Kosovo, mostly Serb and Roma, as well as those Albanians, numbering at least 1,600 and perhaps much more, imprisoned in Serbia. Witnesses included Ambassador John Menzies, Deputy Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for Kosovo Implementation; Bill Frelick, Director for Policy at the U.S. Committee for Refugees; His Grace, Bishop Artemije of the Serbian Orthodox Church; Andrzej Mirga, an expert on Roma issues for the Project on Ethnic Relations and the Council of Europe; Susan Blaustein, a senior consultant at the International Crisis Group; and, finally, Ylber Bajraktari, a student from Kosovo. The situation for the displaced, Mr. Speaker, is truly horrible. In Serbia, most collective centers are grim, lacking privacy and adequate facilities. While most displaced Serbs have found private accommodations, they still confront a horrible economic situation worsened by the high degree of corruption, courtesy of the Milosevic regime. The squalor in which the Roma population from Kosovo lives is much worse, and they face the added burdens of discrimination, not only in Serbia but in Montenegro and Macedonia as well. There is little chance right now for any of them to go back to Kosovo, given the strength of Albanian extremists there. Indeed, since KFOR entered Kosovo eight months ago, it was asserted, more than 80 Orthodox Churches have been damaged or destroyed in Kosovo, more than 600 Serbs have been abducted and more than 400 Serbs have been killed. The situation for those Serbs and Roma remaining in Kosovo is precarious. Other groups, including Muslim Slavs, those who refused to serve in the Yugoslav military, and ethnic Albanians outside Kosovo, face severe problems as well, but their plights are too often overlooked. Meanwhile, the Milosevic regime continues to hold Albanians from Kosovo in Serbian prisons, in many cases without charges. While an agreement to release these individuals was left out of the agreement ending NATO's military campaign against Yugoslav and Serbian forces, with the Clinton Administration's acquiescence, by international law these people should have been released. At a minimum, the prisoners are mistreated; more accurately, many are tortured. Some prominent cases were highlighted: 24-year-old Albin Kurti, a former leader of the non-violent student movement; Flora Brovina, a prominent pediatrician and human rights activist; Ukshin Hoti, a Harvard graduate considered by some to be a possible future leader of Kosovo; and, Bardhyl Caushi, Dean of the School of Law, University of Pristina. Clearly, the resolution of these cases is critical to any real effort at reconciliation in Kosovo. This human suffering, Mr. Speaker, must not be allowed to continue. Action must be taken by the United States and the international community as a whole. Among the suggestions made, which I would like to share with my colleagues, are the following: First, get rid of Milosevic. Little if anything can be done in Kosovo or in the Balkans as a whole until there is democratic change in Serbia; Second, bring greater attention to the imprisoned Albanians in Serbia, and keep the pressure on the Milosevic regime to release them immediately and without condition; Third, rein in extremists on both sides, Albanian and Serb, in Kosovo with a more robust international presence, including the deployment of the additional international police as requested by the UN Administrator; Fourth, find alternative networks for improved distribution of assistance to the displaced in Serbia; Fifth, consider additional third-country settlement in the United States and elsewhere for those groups most vulnerable and unable to return to their homes, like the Roma and those who evaded military service as urged by NATO. Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I intend to pursue some of these suggestions with specific legislative initiatives, or through contacts with the Department of State. I hope to find support from my fellow Commissioners and other colleagues. Having heard of the suffering of so many people, we cannot neglect to take appropriate action to help, especially in a place like Kosovo where the United States has invested so much and holds considerable influence as a result.

  • Tear Down the Usti Wall, Drop the Charges against Ondrej Gina

    Mr. Speaker, in recent weeks, we have seen a number of historic dates come and go, with appropriate commemoration. November 9, for example, marked the tenth anniversary since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Yesterday, November 17, is recognized as the commencement of the Velvet Revolution which unleashed the forces of democracy against the totalitarian regime in Czechoslovakia. To mark that occasion, George Bush, Margaret Thatcher, Mikhail Gorbachev and other former leaders from the day met with President Vaclav Havel in Prague. Beyond the symbolism of those dates, they have had other meaning. Many of us had hoped that the wall in Usti nad Labem, Czech Republic, a symbol of racism, would be brought down on the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Regrettably, November 9, came and went, and the Usti Wall still stood. We had hoped that the Usti Wall would come down on November 17. Some Czech officials even hinted this would be the case. Regrettably, November 17 has come and gone, and the Usti Wall still stands. Now, I understand some say the Usti Wall should come down before the European Union summit in Helsinki, scheduled for December 6. Mr. Speaker, the Usti Wall should never have been built, and it should come down now, today. As President Reagan exhorted Mr. Gorbachev more than ten years ago, so I will call on Czech leaders today: Tear down the Usti Wall. Last fall, a delegation from the Council of Europe visited Usti nad Labem. Afterwards, the Chairwoman of the Council's Specialist Group on Roma, Josephine Verspaget, held a press conference in Prague when she called the plans to build the Usti Wall “:a step towards apartheid.” Subsequently, the United States delegation to the OSCE's annual human rights meeting in Warsaw publicly echoed those views. Since the construction of the Usti Wall, this sentiment has been voiced, in even stronger terms, by Ondrej Gina, a well-known Romani activist in the Czech Republic. He is now being prosecuted by officials in his home town of Rokycany, who object to Gina's criticisms. The criminal charges against Mr. Gina include slander, assault on a public official, and incitement to racial hatred. In short, Mr. Gina is being persecuted because public officials in Rokycany do not like his controversial opinions. They object to Mr. Gina's also using the word “apartheid.” I can certainly understand that the word “apartheid” makes people feel uncomfortable. It is an ugly word describing an ugly practice. At the same time, if the offended officials want to increase their comfort level, it seems to me that tearing down the Usti Wall, not prosecuting Ondrej Gina, would be a more sensible way to achieve that goal. As it stands, Mr. Gina faces criminal charges because he exercised his freedom of expression. If he is convicted, he will become an international cause célebre. If he goes to jail under these charges, he will be a prisoner of conscience. Mr. Speaker, it is not unusual for discussions of racial issues in the United States to become heated. These are important, complex, difficult issues, and people often feel passionate about them. But prosecuting people for their views on race relations cannot advance the dialogue we seek to have. With a view to that dialogue, as difficult as it may be, I hope officials in Rokycany will drop their efforts to prosecute Mr. Gina.

  • Expressing United States Policy toward the Slovak Republic

    Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, as chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I watched for several years as the human rights situation in Slovakia deteriorated under the leadership of former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. I saw how the fledgling democratic institutions of that new country were undermined, how parliamentary and constitutional processes were threatened, and how the rule of law was slowly but surely choked. I, joined by colleagues from the Commission, raised these issues time and again with Slovak officials, as did other officials of the U.S. Government. Unfortunately, Mr. Meciar was not very receptive to our arguments.   As it happened, however, the fate of the democratic process in Slovakia was not left to the tender mercies of Vladimir Meciar. A year ago, the people of Slovakia took matters into their own hands. In an election carefully monitored by the OSCE, voters returned to office a coalition government that ended Meciar's increasingly authoritarian rule.   Initially, this broadly based, some might even say weak, coalition seemed to stand only for one thing: it was against Meciar. But in the year that has passed, we cannot say that this government is not simply united in its opposition against the former regime, it is united in its commitment for democracy, for the rule of law, for a free market economy, for a transparent privatization process that is accountable to the people, and for a community of democracies dedicated to the protection of their common security.   Mr. Speaker, the process of transition that Slovakia struggles with today is not an easy one. In fact, many of the commemorations held this month to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism have focused on just how difficult this transition has been, including for Slovakia's closest neighbors. In spite of this, the Slovak Government has proceeded to make some very tough decisions this year. I am particularly impressed by the willingness of Prime Minister Dzurinda to make decisions that, while necessary for the long term, economic well-being of his country, may be very politically unpopular in the short term. That takes courage.   I know, of course, that Slovakia still has a lot of work ahead. As in most other European countries, there is much that should be done in Slovakia to improve respect for the human rights of the Romani minority. But there is much that Slovakia has accomplished in the past year and, especially as someone who has been critical of Slovakia in the past, I want to acknowledge and commend those achievements. Mr. Speaker, I hope others will join me in sending this message and will support H. Con. Res. 165.

  • Romani Human Rights in Europe

    Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith presided over this hearing that discussed the rights of the Romani population in Europe. While ostensibly of Central and Eastern European descent, Romani, or Roma, individuals have existed in almost every European state. The Roma consist of a dispersed minority that, at the time of this hearing, was the fastest growing European population, numbering between 8 million and 10 million people. Unfortunately, their numbers did not protect the Roma from being the only population whose situation had actually worsened since the fall of Communism. From the first signs of anti-Romani discrimination in Romania to the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation in January of 1994, the reasons to justify holding this hearing to discuss the plight of the Romani were many. At this hearing, besides Commissioner Chris Smith, were Commission Chairman Steny Hoyer, and witnesses James Goldston of the European Roma Rights Center, Livia Plaks of the Project on Ethnic Relations, and Drs. David Crowe and Ian Hancock, professors at Elon and the University of Texas-Austin, respectively.

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