Name

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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  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Dogs Have More Freedom

    Mr. Speaker, `Dogs have more freedom than us; at least they are not afraid to go outside.' Mr. Speaker, this is the conclusion of a young Romani father in Slovakia who recounted his experience with growing skinhead violence in his country. His story is, regrettably, just one of the many documented in a January 1997 report prepared by the European Roma Rights Center [ERRC] entitled `Time of the Skinheads: Denial and Exclusion of Roma in Slovakia.' This study describes a grim pattern of violent assaults against Roma perpetrated by skinhead extremists; it also suggests that local police forces have been, at best, unwilling to fulfill their obligation to protect their citizens and, at worst, have themselves actually engaged in violence against Roma.   Descriptions of a 1995 organized attack on the entire Romani community in the town of Jarovnice--something that reads like a pogrom from a bygone era--were especially chilling. Since Slovakia became an independent state in 1993, a great deal of international attention has, rightly, focused on the status of the Hungarian minority in that country, a community that makes up approximately 10 percent of the population. Slovakia also has another large minority population which is less well known abroad. While the exact number of Roma in Slovakia is contested, it is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. These people, the survivors of Nazi efforts to eradicate the Roma altogether, now face increasing violent attacks against their homes, their villages, and their lives.   The problems of Roma in post-Communist European countries are many, and often defy easy answers. But at least three of the problems described in `Time of the Skinheads' do have obvious solutions. First, the Slovak Government has failed to demonstrate any serious effort to acknowledge and address the widespread problem of violent skinhead attacks on Roma. On the contrary, some public officials, members of the ruling coalition, have repeatedly made crude racist remarks about the Roma. As long as such remarks stand uncontested or unchallenged by Prime Minister Meciar, skinheads will believe that they can attack Roma with impunity. Clearly, local police officials take their cues from the top. Accordingly, any improvement in the situation of Roma in Slovakia must begin with the leadership of that country stating that racism and bigotry will not be tolerated.   Second, the ERRC report described a pattern of excessive use of force by the police against Roma. When the victims seek to bring a complaint against the police, the charges are, in effect, reversed and the Rom is charged with assaulting the police. Significantly, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture released a report on April 3, which also documented a problem of police brutality in Slovakia. That report, like the report of the ERRC, noted that the failure to ensure that those charged with a criminal offense have adequate legal representation has significantly contributed to this miscarriage of justice. One of the purposes of providing such representation is to guarantee a fair trial, consistent with the due process of law, and to ensure that those accused of crimes do not have confessions extracted from them by force. The failure to provide the accused with defense counsel violates one of the most important provisions of the international human rights system: the right to an attorney, a right articulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as paragraph 5.16 of the OSCE Copenhagen Document. I hope the Slovak Government will take immediate measures to redress this problem.   Finally, the ERRC report on Slovakia indicates that Slovak localities continue to use a system of tightly controlled residency permits to restrict the freedom of movement of Roma. Not only does this practice offend the nondiscrimination provisions of the Helsinki process, this system also harkens back to the rigid controls of the Communist days. If people are not permitted to move where jobs are, how can a free market system flourish?   Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, this pattern of violence against Roma is not unique to Slovakia. The ERRC, which was founded to defend the human rights of Roma, has also issued major reports on Austria and Romania. In addition, its most recent newsletter reported on problems Roma face in several other European countries. Clearly, there is much more that many governments in Central Europe can and should do to address these problems. I realize that Slovakia is in the midst of grappling with a very broad range of fundamental questions regarding its development and future. The basic human rights of Roma should be a part of that agenda. I see no better time. Will Slovakia enter the 21st century as a country which seeks to unite its citizens in achieving common goals, or will it lag behind with those countries which have permitted nationalism and racism to divide their people and weaken the very state they worked so hard to create?

  • U.S. Statements on the Human Dimension, 1996 OSCE Vienna Review Conference and Lisbon Summit

    This compendium of statements illustrates the U.S. perspective that one of the key and distinguishing features of the OSCE is the interlocking framework of critical, politically binding commitments which provide a common set of principles to which all participating States can aspire. The OSCE draws its real strength and practical flexibility from participating states' commitments to the values of the original Helsinki Act, rather than from a legalized, treaty-based institutional structure. A fundamental strength of the OSCE is the review process, which provides a regular opportunity to assess a participating states' efforts to further the realization of the Helsinki Accords within its own borders, and in its relations with other OSCE states. The OSCE is increasingly a pillar of European security. By facilitating honest implementation review the OSCE can strengthen security links based on common values.

  • Ex Post Facto Problems of the Czech Citizenship Law

    When the Czechoslovak Federal Republic dissolved on January 1, 1993, the newly independent Czech Republic adopted a citizenship law that provided citizenship to only some of the former Czechoslovak citizens then resident in the Czech Republic. An undetermined number of people, including long-term residents and even some people born in the Czech Republic, have been left stateless or with an unclear legal status. Almost all of these people belong to the Czech Republic's largest minority, Roma (Gypsies). As a consequence, this law has been heavily criticized at meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In particular, the law presents numerous and serious questions regarding its conformity with international standards, such as those relating to recognition before the law (the status of orphans), equal protection before the law (different requirements for citizenship established for different classes of former Czechoslovak citizens), the right to a fair hearing (lack of adequate hearing procedures and opportunities for appeal), and actual or arbitrary discrimination (original intent of the law). Non-governmental organizations in the Czech Republic and abroad have heavily criticized the law both as drafted and as applied. This memorandum examines one discrete aspect of the current Czech citizenship law: its conformity with the Czech Republic's international obligation to refrain from increasing criminal penalties after the crime in question was committed.

  • Report on the U.S. Helsinki Commission Delegation Visit to Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Albania

    The main purpose of the Commission's visit to Budapest was to participate in the Seminar on Parliamentary Responsibility for Economic Development being co-sponsored by the Helsinki Commission, the Hungarian Parliament, the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, and the Library of Congress. Additionally, members of the delegation discussed Hungary's current political and economic situation with members of the Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ), leaders of the Gypsy community, and U.S. business representatives.

  • Our Impact by Country

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