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Podcast: Seeking Justice in Serbia

Twenty years after U.S. citizens Ylli, Agron, and Mehmet Bytyqi were brutally murdered in Serbia in the aftermath of the 1999 conflict in Kosovo, their brother Ilir documents his family’s fight for justice in the face of inaction by Serbian authorities. Ilir is joined by family lawyer Praveen Madhiraju and Helsinki Commission senior policy advisor Robert Hand.


"Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America.

Transcript | Episode 2: Seeking Justice in Serbia | Helsinki on the Hill

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  • Statement on Russian NGO ADC Memorial

    WASHINGTON—In response to this week’s Russian court decision against Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial’s (ADC Memorial) challenge to the requirement to register as a foreign agent, Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) made the following statement: “Often an organization closes its doors because they've accomplished a goal or outlived their usefulness to society or the market. But Russia's decision to force ADC Memorial in St. Petersburg to close if it does not register as a foreign agent is proof-positive that this NGO’s work is needed and their message is powerful. The affiliated Memorial in Moscow was founded during the Soviet period of perestroika to address a totalitarian past. Now, as the darkness of lies and propaganda appear again on the Russian horizon, we will not waiver in our support for groups like Memorial that are dedicated to telling the truth about the past and the present no matter the cost.” ADC Memorial is one of many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia forced to fight for their right to operate in the wake of tremendous government pressure against them. Russian president Vladimir Putin has conducted a systematic campaign to shrink the space for independent voices in Russia. The “foreign agents law” enacted by Russia in 2012 requires all NGOs that accept foreign funds to register as foreign agents. Many groups such as ADC Memorial have decided to cease operations rather than submit to the onerous labeling and reporting requirements that are clearly meant to smear them as traitors and force them to close.

  • Cardin, Wicker Name Ambassador David Killion to Lead U.S. Helsinki Commission Staff

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) have announced the joint appointment of David T. Killion as the Senate Staff Director for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission). A diplomat familiar with navigating multilateral international organizations, Killion is the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). He previously served as a Senior Professional Staff Member on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where he was the foremost expert on international organizations. Killion first joined the House Foreign Affairs Committee staff as a key advisor to then Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and he was a leader on human rights work. Ambassador Killion will replace Fred Turner, who recently became chief of staff to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ). “The U.S. Helsinki Commission has a long-standing tradition of operating above partisan politics as it works to advance our country’s international leadership on democracy, human rights and economic issues. Along with Senator Wicker, I am proud to welcome Ambassador David Killion as Staff Director, extending this bipartisan precedent with an individual steeped in experience who has represented the United States of America at the highest levels overseas but also understands the deep origins and appropriate uses our Nation’s foreign policy tools,” said Senator Cardin.    “Ambassador Killion’s extensive professional experience in diplomacy and international affairs uniquely qualifies him to serve in this important role,” Senator Wicker said.  “He has proven his ability to promote America’s best interests on the global stage, earning the respect of members from both political parties.  I look forward to working with him on the Helsinki Commission, which continues to be a force for the advancement of democracy and security around the world.” Ambassador Killion will serve as an advisor to Senators Cardin and Wicker, Chairman and Senate Ranking Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission respectively.  He will manage a professional staff charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through the promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in the 57 countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The CSCE/U.S. Helsinki Commission is a bipartisan, bicameral, dual-branch organization that consists of nine members each from the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. Most recently, the OSCE has played an integral role in monitoring events in Ukraine as Russia disregards its commitments to Ukraine’s territorial integrity under the Helsinki Final Act and specifically the Budapest Memorandum. The OSCE has provided many of the non-military tools at the disposal of the Administration and Europe and continues to address how to best assist Ukraine and deter further Russian aggression.  "At a time when conflict is flaring in the OSCE region, I am honored that Senators Cardin and Wicker have placed their faith in me to lead the professional staff of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.  The Commission is a hidden gem in the Congress that still reflects the goal that partisanship stops at our Nation's shores,” Ambassador Killion said. “The Commission has never been more relevant than it is today.  I hope to assist Senators Wicker and Cardin and all the Commissioners to as we seek to hold Russia accountable to its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act and the Budapest memorandum and more broadly as we strengthen America's leadership in human rights and democratic development." Killion served as the U.S. Permanent Representative to UNESCO from 2009-2013. In this role, he administered a multi-agency, multi-million dollar U.S. Mission, worked to better align UNESCO programs and activities with U.S. strategic interests, managed complex political and diplomatic challenges, and fostered public-private partnerships with key American corporations and foundations. As a Senior Professional Staff member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Killion managed the drafting of the State Department Authorization Act on behalf of Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.). He has also coordinated Committee initiatives to improve management at the United Nations and reforms to UN human rights mechanisms. Prior to serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Killion served in the Department of State’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs (1996-2001) and as a legislative assistant to Congressman David Skaggs (D-Colo.) (1994-1996).  Ambassador Killion holds a BA from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., and an MA from the University of California at Los Angeles.

  • Confronting Internal Challenges and External Threats

    The hearing focused on the current situation in Ukraine and discussed how the United States, along with the including EU and the OSCE, could best assist Ukraine and deters further Russian aggression. Since November of 2014, Ukraine has been in turmoil, with a deteriorating economy, public unrest by millions of protesters against human rights abuses and corruption. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland discussed the geopolitical complications from Russia’s illegal referendum and annexation of Crimea, and stated that Russia's actions in Ukraine are an affront to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. The United States' approach to the situation includes four pillars: bilateral and multilateral support for Ukraine's democratic future, the costs imposed on Russia for its aggressive actions, efforts to de-escalate the crisis diplomatically, and unwavering commitment to the security of NATO allies. The hearing also highlighted the work of the Commission’s delegation sent to monitor Ukraine’s May 25th elections.

  • Senator Cardin’s Floor Statement on Ukraine

    Mr. President, tomorrow we are going to have an opportunity to vote on S. 2124, and I am pleased to learn that it looks as if there is going to be overwhelming support in the Senate for the passage of S. 2124. This is the legislation that helps Ukraine in dealing with the invasion by Russia. Russia's illegal actions of using its military to overtake Crimea, a part of Ukraine, violate numerous international obligations that Russia has committed to. I have the honor of chairing the U.S. Helsinki Commission. The Helsinki Accords were entered into in 1975. Russia was one of the leading forces for forming the OSCE. Russia's taking over of Crimea violates its commitments it made under the Helsinki Final Act. It violates the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which was signed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, and Russia, that guaranteed basically Ukraine's integrity of its land. It violates the 1997 Ukraine-Russia bilateral treaty. It violates the U.N. Charter. The list goes on and on and on. So I believe it is absolutely essential that we have a strong voice in standing with the people of Ukraine. There was absolutely no justification whatsoever for Russia's action. There was no threat to any of the ethnic communities in Ukraine. All the rights of the people were being protected. The country was in transition from a corrupt government to a government that respected the rights of its citizens. If there was any provocation whatsoever of any unrest, it was caused by Russia's presence in Ukraine. We got reports from the chief rabbi in Kyiv that Russia was staging anti-Semitic provocations in Crimea, and the list goes on and on as to what Russia was doing in order to try to give some justification for its actions. Russia's thinly veiled land grab, cloaked in the cloth of self-determination, must not go unchallenged. Here is what I think is critically important: This is a dangerous precedent. We saw Russia use a similar action in Georgia, and now in Crimea in Ukraine. There are other territorial issues involved around the world. If this goes unchecked, if we do not speak with a unified voice, it just encourages more irresponsible action by Russia in other countries. We know that we have concerns about the South China Sea. We know we have concerns about Moldova. There are many other areas where Russia could be involved in its border areas. So all of these issues are matters for us to speak with a strong unified voice. S. 2124 does that. It does it in two principal ways. First, it imposes the sanctions against those responsible for  Russia's invasion into Crimea, Ukraine. It provides sanctions so that these individuals are not permitted to come to the United States. There are economic sanctions in regard to the use of our banking system. These are similar sanctions to what are now being imposed by our European allies. We need to isolate Russia. As we all know, the G8, which included Russia, is now a G7 without Russia. Russia needs to know that there will be sanctions imposed, and they will be stronger sanctions unless they stop this aggressive action. In addition, the legislation provides economic assistance to the new Government of Ukraine. Just 2 weeks ago the Prime Minister of Ukraine was here and met with Members of the Senate. I tell you, it was inspirational to listen to his vision for Ukraine as a democratic, independent state, with full integration into Europe. That is important. He is preparing for a May 25 election for the Presidency of Ukraine. These are all very, very positive steps. But if Ukraine does not have the economic foothold to be able to develop the type of economy and strength in their country, it will be difficult for Ukraine to be maintained as a viable independent state. Here is where the United States and our European allies, and I hope the global community, come together, as we have in this legislation, to provide economic help on a restructured economic plan for Ukraine that will help them move forward in a very constructive way. Mr. President, I must tell you I am disappointed, though, that the reforms of the IMF will be eliminated from this legislation. I think that is regrettable. We are entering into a plan for Ukraine that very much depends upon the IMF's--the International Monetary Fund's--plan to make sure that the moneys we are spending, Europe is spending, and other countries are loaning and providing to Ukraine are based upon a sound economic plan that will work. That is why the IMF is there. And they will be there. But the United States needs to be a full participant in the IMF. We are out of compliance, and here is another opportunity lost for us to be in full compliance with the IMF. I am disappointed about that. But as I said as I took the floor, we must speak with one voice--the Obama administration; the House, the Senate; the Congress--as we stand with the people of Ukraine for their integrity, for their independence, and for the adherence to international principles, which Russia has clearly violated.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Developments in the Western Balkans and Policy Responses

    WASHINGTON–The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following hearing: Developments in the Western Balkans and Policy Responses Wednesday, March 5, 2014 10:00 am Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 106 Scheduled to testify: Hoyt Yee, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State Tanja Fajon, Member (Slovenia), European Parliament Kurt Volker, Executive Director, the McCain Institute for International Leadership The countries of the Western Balkan region of Europe – Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia – have started 2014 with a mix of challenges and expectations. Elections, dialogue and ongoing reform will be shaped by the hope of taking the next steps toward European and Euro-Atlantic integration, with each country at a different stage of achievement or preparedness but all of them sharing an interest in progress, advancement and stability across the entire region. The hearing will feature the official views and policy approaches of the United States toward the countries of the Western Balkans, supplemented by the insights and analysis of experts from both sides of the Atlantic.

  • Developments in the Western Balkans and Policy Responses

    This hearing on the Western Balkans examined the progress being made towards democratization. Commissioners Benjamin L. Cardin and Christopher H. Smith presided over the hearing, which included testimonies from: Hoyt Yee, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs for the U.S. Department of State;  Tanja Fajon, Member for the European Parliament from Slovenia; and Kurt Volker, Executive Director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership. This hearing held great significance, not only for the members of the Commission, but the wider foreign policy community, as whilst the Western Balkans is no longer the setting for violent conflict that it was two decades ago, the United States has had to devote considerable resources—financial, diplomatic and military —to restore peace and to encourage the democratic and other reforms necessary to sustain it. However, that job is not yet done—the need to see the task of a stable, democratic and fully integrated Western Balkans is yet to be completed.   http://www.senate.gov/isvp/?type=live&comm=csce&filename=csce030514

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

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

  • Kyiv Ministerial Held Amid Protests

    On December 5 and 6, 2013, Kyiv hosted the 20th meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe while hundreds of thousands of protestors occupied Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kyiv’s central square. Although as 2013 OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ukraine had successfully shepherded a package of decisions to adoption in Kyiv, the meeting was dominated by demonstrations taking place throughout the country triggered on November 21 by the Ukrainian government’s suspension of preparations to sign integration agreements with the EU. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland represented the United States. She began the Ministerial by meeting with civil society activists, which she described as her “most important event” in Kyiv. In her opening statement at the Ministerial, she highlighted three “worrying trends” in OSCE participating States: the persecution of journalists, the rising intolerance of minorities, and “democratic backsliding” into restrictive laws and practices that violate civil liberties.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Welcomes Step Toward Justice in Serbia

    WASHINGTON—Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Representative Christopher H. Smith (NJ-4), Co-Chairman, today issued statements welcoming arrests in Serbia relating to the murder of Dnevni Telegraf editor-in-chief Slavko Curuvija on April 11, 1999. “Slavko Cutuvija was a courageous journalist who was murdered for challenging the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia,” noted Chairman Cardin. “On several occasions, I have publicly called for the perpetrators of this crime to be brought to justice. I commend the Serbian authorities for arresting former security officers for their alleged responsibility, a demonstration of political will to confront a dark period in Serbia’s history. Serbia’s judicial system will hopefully proceed with the next steps in this case and take similarly concrete actions in regard to other outstanding cases from that period, including the murders of the American-citizen Bytyqi brothers in July 1999. Serbia has my full support in that regard.” “Slavko Curuvija testified at a hearing of the Helsinki Commission I chaired just months before he was gunned down outside his apartment in Belgrade,” added Co-Chairman Smith. “His testimony showed that he fully understood the threat he faced.  He said at the hearing: ‘By making an example of me, the regime sends a message to all those who would oppose it... After all his other wars, Slobodan Milosevic appears to be preparing a war against his own people…’ I hope that today’s news of arrests brings comfort, at long last, to the family and friends of Slavko Curuvija.”

  • Troubled Partner: Growing Authoritarianism in Azerbaijan

    This briefing provided an opportunity to discuss current events in Azerbaijan and the prospects for a free and fair election. Recent political trends in Azerbaijan include reported intimidation, arrests, and use of force against journalists and human rights activists; tough new NGO registration requirements; legal restrictions on the Internet, including criminalizing online “libel” and “abuse”; restrictions on freedom of assembly, forceful dispersion of unsanctioned protests, detention of demonstrators; and unfair administration of justice, including arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated imprisonment, lack of due process, lengthy pre-trial detention, and executive interference in the judiciary. Witnesses testifying at this briefing addressed these trends and the overall political environment for human rights and fundamental freedom, which had worsened in recent years. They urged the government of Azerbaijan to respect universally recognized freedoms such as freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and not to penalize individuals for attempting to exercise these freedoms and to take concrete steps to enhance political stability during the important election year.

  • Age of Delirium

    Paul Carter, State Department Adviser at the Commission, and Kyle Parker facilitated a discussion with David Satter, the author and producer of Age of Delirium. They addressed the relevance of these personal testimonies in understanding post-communist Russia. They spoke of the “moral decay of the society” under communist rule and the detrimental effects of ideological thinking, which continues to affect post-communist, as well as Western, societies. Age of Delirium, produced by Russian scholar and former Moscow correspondent David Satter, chronicles the fall of the Soviet Union through the personal stories of those who lived this momentous transformation. The film is based on Satter's book, Age of Delirium: the Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union acclaimed by the Virginia Quarterly Review as, "the finest or one of the finest psychological portraits of Russia in the 1970s and 1980s.” Delirium received the prestigious 2013 Van Gogh Grand Jury Award at the Amsterdam Film Festival and has been screened in Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and New Zealand.

  • THE TRAJECTORY OF DEMOCRACY – WHY HUNGARY MATTERS

    This hearing focused on recent constitutional changes to the Hungarian Constitution which has brought concerns from the United States and the European Union. Recently, Hungary has instituted sweeping and controversial changes to its constitutional framework, effectively remaking the country’s entire legal foundation. In addition to constitutional changes, there have been some bills passed without the proper democratic spirit and has brought concerns about the trajectory of democracy in that country. The witnesses raised the changes that have created the majority government into a nearly one-party rule structure and compared such actions to President Madison’s written exposé in the Federalist Papers number 47.

  • Justice for the Bytyqi Family

    Mr. President, today is the 37th anniversary of the Helsinki process. Starting with the signing of the Helsinki Final Act on August 1, 1975, this process began as an ongoing conference which helped end the Cold War and reunite Europe. It has continued as a Vienna-based organization that today seeks to resolve regional conflicts and promote democratic development and the rule of law throughout the region. While serving in both chambers of the U.S. Congress, it has been a unique and rewarding privilege to engage in this diplomatic process and its parliamentary component as a member and chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, with the goal of improving the lives of everyday people. While they may be citizens of other countries, promoting their human rights and fundamental freedoms helps us to protect our own. It is, therefore, in our national interest to engage in this process. On this anniversary, however, I do want to focus on three U.S. citizens who suffered the ultimate violation of their human rights when they were taken into a field and shot, deliberately murdered, in July 1999 by a special operations unit under the control the Interior Ministry in Serbia. They were brothers: Ylli, Agron and Mehmet Bytyqi. The Bytyqi brothers were Albanian-Americans from New York. Earlier in 1999, they went to Kosovo to fight as members of the Kosovo Liberation Army in a conflict which eventually prompted a NATO military intervention designed to stop Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and his forces. When the conflict ended, the Bytyqi brothers assisted ethnic Roma neighbors of their mother in Kosovo by escorting them to the Serbian border. Accidently straying into Serbian territory, they were arrested and sentenced to 2 weeks in jail for illegal entry. When released from prison, they were not freed. Instead, the Bytyqi brothers were transported to an Interior Ministry training camp in eastern Serbia, where they were brutally executed and buried in a mass grave with 75 other ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. Two years later, after the fall of the Milosevic regime, their bodies were recovered and repatriated to the United States for burial. Ylli, Agron and Mehmet were never given a fair and public trial, an opportunity to defend themselves, or any semblance of due process. Their post-conflict, extrajudicial killing was cold-blooded murder. In the last decade Serbia has made a remarkable recovery from the Milosevic era. I saw this myself last year when I visited Belgrade. This progress, however, has not sufficiently infiltrated the Interior Ministry, affording protection to those who participated in the Bytyqi murders and other egregious Milosevic-era crimes. Nobody has been held accountable for the Bytyqi murders. Those in command of the camp and the forces operating there have never been charged. The same situation applies to the April 1999 murder of prominent journalist and editor Slavko Curuvija, who testified before the Helsinki Commission on the abuses of the Milosevic regime just months before. There needs to be justice in each of these cases, but together with other unresolved cases they symbolize the lack of transparency and reform in Serbia's Interior Ministry to this day. Combined with continued denials of what transpired under Milosevic in the 1990s, including the 1995 genocide at Srebrenica in neighboring Bosnia, these cases show that Serbia has not completely put an ugly era in its past behind it. For that reason, not only does the surviving Bytyqi family in New York, as well as the friends and family of Slavko Curuvija, still need to have the satisfaction of justice. The people of Serbia need to see justice triumph in their country as well. I want to thank the U.S. Mission to the OSCE in Vienna, which under the leadership of Ambassador Ian Kelly continues to move the Helsinki process forward, for recently raising the Bytyqi murders and calling for justice. I also want to commend the nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, Michael David Kirby, for responding to my question on the Bytyqi and Curuvija cases at his Foreign Relations Committee hearing by expressing his commitment, if confirmed, to make justice in these cases a priority matter. On this anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, I join their call for justice.  

  • Prerequisites for Progress in Northern Ireland

    This hearing assessed the progress towards peace made in Northern Ireland and discussed ways to ensure the sustainability of the peace.  Witnesses condemned the British government for backtracking on the Good Friday Agreement, as well as the United States for not putting enough pressure on Great Britain. Witnesses identified the murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, whose widow Geraldine was in attendance, as an obstacle to peace.

  • Healing the Wounds of Conflict and Disaster: Clarifying the Fate of Missing Persons in the OSCE Area

    The hearing examined efforts by governments and their partners in clarifying the fate of persons missing within a number of OSCE participating States and partner countries, especially in the western Balkans and northern Caucasus. The hearing also appraised the adequacy of assistance to governments and other entities engaged in locating missing persons, the obstacles that impede progress in some areas, as well as how rule of law mechanisms help governments fulfill their obligations to the affected families and society in clarifying the fate of missing persons. Currently, over a million persons are reported missing from wars and violations of human rights. In addition, there are thousands of reported cases a year of persons missing from trafficking, drug-related violence, and other causes. Locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, trafficking in humans and human rights violations and other causes remains a global challenge, with significant impact within the OSCE area.

  • Moldova: The Growing Pains of Democracy

    In this briefing, which Commission Staffer Kyle Parker chaired, the focus was on the progress on the implementation of democratic institutions in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova. The briefing took place on the heels of the December elections in the region of Transnistria and what such elections may have portended for the future in terms of normalization of the conflict in the region that had existed for twenty years at the time of the briefing. To be sure, at the time that the briefing was held, Moldova still had a lot of progress to make regarding human rights commitments, particularly as far as corruption and human trafficking were concerned, two intertwined issues that had been of particular interest to the Commission. However, as far as human rights commitments are concerned, Moldova has led the countries of the commonwealth of independent states.

  • The OSCE 2011 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Overview From September 26 to October 7, 2011, the OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The meeting was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 56 participating States. The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights gathering and provides a venue for participating States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to review the implementation of the full range of core human rights and fundamental freedoms (e.g., freedoms of speech, assembly and association; prevention of torture; right to a fair trial), as well as rule of law, free elections and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, tolerance and non-discrimination are also on the agenda. In accordance with OSCE procedures, the agenda included three specially selected topics, each of which was given a full day of review. In 2011, those subjects were: 1) “Democratic elections and electoral observation,” 2) “Freedom of movement,” and 3) “Enhancing implementation of OSCE commitments regarding Roma and Sinti.” U.S. Delegation The U.S. Delegation was headed by Ambassador David Johnson. Other members of the delegation included Ambassador Ian Kelly, Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; Ambassador Cynthia Efird, Senior State Department Advisor to the Helsinki Commission; Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Thomas Melia. Helsinki Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work. Patrick Merloe, National Democratic Institute, Kathleen Newland, Migration Policy Institute, and Ethel Brooks, Rutgers University, served as Public Members of the delegation, addressing democratic elections, freedom of movement, and the situation of Romani people in the OSCE region respectively. Public Members have traditionally been included in U.S. delegations to OSCE human dimension meetings as a means of bringing special expertise to the U.S. delegations and to promote greater knowledge of the OSCE process in civil society. Highlights of This Year’s Meeting The severe crackdown in Belarus which followed elections last December was a focus of attention throughout the two-week meeting, both in formal sessions and special side events. During the final session, the United States delivered a statement focused on the use of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Belarus -- an OSCE tool used in exceptional circumstances to conduct fact-finding regarding extreme human rights concerns. The mechanism had been invoked in April by 14 participating States and a report was presented to the OSCE Permanent Council by the Mechanism Rapporteur, Professor Emmanuel Decaux, on May 28. NGOs also demonstrated throughout the meeting on behalf of Belarusian political prisoner Alex Bielatskiy. The United States also raised issues which remain unresolved following the 2003 invocation of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Turkmenistan. In particular, Ambassador Johnson drew attention to the continued disappearance of Ambassador Batyr Berdiev, the former representative of Turkmenistan to the OSCE. Although Turkmenistan officials did not to participate in the HDIM, human rights groups concerned with Turkmenistan were present and members of the opposition-in-exile made a statement expressing their willingness to return to Turkmenistan and participate in the February 2012 presidential elections. They also called for the OSCE to conduct a full election observation mission for those elections. In its opening statement, the United States observed that Kazakhstan had failed to fully implement the commitments on domestic reform it had made in 2007 in Madrid upon receiving the Chairmanship for 2010, that leading human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis remained in prison as a result of a trial that lacked due process, that Kazakhstan had adopted measures in a one-party parliament giving the current president continued power and immunity from prosecution for life and had held a poorly-conducted snap presidential election following an attempt to push through a referendum to obviate future elections for the incumbent. Although Kazakhstan protested the U. S. characterization of 2010 as “a year of missed opportunities for reform,” Kazakhstan’s adoption of a new restrictive religion law during the course of the human dimension meeting illustrated the very point the United States was making. In fact, of the topics restricted to three-hour sessions, the subject of religious liberties was the most oversubscribed, with Kazakhstan’s new religion law generating particular criticism. As at previous meetings, the allocation of time during the meeting was highly problematic, with speaking time at some of the sessions limited to only one or two minutes to accommodate dozens desiring the floor, while other sessions ended early with time unused. Other real-time developments during the HDIM also found their way into discussions. Following the outbreak of fighting on September 27 at a Kosovo border crossing with Serbia, Serbian representatives at the meeting engaged in a sharply worded exchange with Albanian officials. (Serbia's engagement at the meeting was of particular note in light of Belgrade's bid to serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2014.) The outbreak of anti-Roma rioting in every major Bulgarian town or city during the HDIM underscored the urgency of addressing the chronic human rights problems affecting Roma as well as the acute and escalating crises. Many participants also raised concern regarding continuing human rights abuses against ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in the wake of widespread violence last year and in advance of Kyrgyzstani elections in October. During the formal sessions, NGOs demonstrated on behalf of Kyrgyzstani political prisoner Azhimzhon Askarov. The United States engaged fully in all aspects of the meeting, holding bilateral meetings with other OSCE participating States and extensive consultations with NGOs. The United States also organized two side events. The first focused on on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Professor Louise Teitz from the Hague Permanent Bureau (an intergovernmental organization that administers this and other Hague Conventions), and Corrin Ferber from the Department of State, made presentations, with additional comments provided by Consul General Linda Hoover, U.S. Embassy Warsaw. The second event focused on fundamental freedoms in the digital age. DAS Thomas Melia moderated the discussion, which included comments by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic; Agata Waclik-Wejman, policy counsel for Google; and Nataliya Radzina, a Belarusian journalist who faces a lengthy prison sentence in Belarus. Conclusions The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting served as an important forum for the United States to raise issues of concern, both formally and informally, and to hold extensive consultations with governments, OSCE officials, and representatives of civil society. That said, this year's HDIM was somewhat diminished relative to past meetings. First, member states of the European Union appeared divided or preoccupied (or both). As a consequence, on a number of subjects – for example, the session that included migrant workers, refugees, and displaced persons -- there was neither a coordinated European Union statement nor statements by individual EU member states speaking in their national capacity. This voice was missed. Second, the level of participation on the part of governments as well as civil society was reduced. This may be in part due to economic factors. But it may also reflect other factors. Prior to the HDIM, for example, Belarus and Russia dragged out the adoption of an agenda until the last possible moment, making it especially hard for NGOs to plan their participation. In addition, OSCE has, in recent years, scheduled so many human dimension meetings throughout the year that it is difficult for government and non-governmental experts to cover them all. (In addition to the discussion of tolerance and non-discrimination at the HDIM, those issues have been or will be addressed at three different ad hoc meetings, as well as one of the Supplementary Human Dimension Implementation Meetings.) The Lithuanian Chairmanship also scheduled some meetings in Vienna during the HDIM, although the modalities call for all Vienna meetings to be suspended during the HDIM to facilitate participation by the representatives to the OSCE. Similarly, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly fall meeting overlapped with the final sessions of the HDIM. In fact, the modalities for the OSCE's human dimension activities were a dominant theme during the HDIM's closing session -- presaging the opening of discussions in Vienna on that issue held immediately after the HDIM at the insistence of Belarus. While many governments, including the U.S., believe the way in which the OSCE organizes its human dimension activities could be improved, the discussions themselves risk being held hostage by those countries inimical to the OSCE's human rights work.

  • Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region: Taking Stock of the Situation Today

    By most accounts, and thanks to the work of many courageous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the despicable evil of anti-Semitism has decreased in most parts of the OSCE region in recent years – but it still remains at higher levels than in 2000. This is simply unacceptable, and it was the topic discussed in this hearing. Concerns raised included political transitions in the Arab world and how they might affect Muslim-Jewish relations, including in Europe; the importance of engagement with Muslim communities in Europe; and growing nationalist and extremist movements that target religious and ethnic minorities.  Additionally the roles of the OSCE, U.S. government, and Congress in addressing continuing issues of anti-Semitism at home and abroad were discussed.

  • Human Rights Play on Magnitsky Murder

    Kyle Parker introduced the briefing, which followed a performance of the play “One Hour Eighteen,” based on the final moments in the life of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. After exposing the largest tax fraud in Russian history, Magnitsky was wrongly arrested and tortured in prison. Six months later he became seriously ill and was consistently denied medical attention despite 20 formal requests. On the night of November 16, 2009, he went into critical condition, but instead of being treated in a hospital he was put in an isolation cell, chained to a bed, and beaten by eight prison guards for one hour and eighteen minutes. Sergei Magnitsky was 37 years old and left behind a wife and two children. Those responsible for this crime have yet to be punished and his story has become a global human rights cause and is emblematic of corruption, violence, and impunity in Russia. Parker was joined by Ury Urnov, director of “One Hour Eighteen,”  in discussing the play as an emblematic example of the devastating human cost of corruption and the lack of rule of law in Russia. The play juxtaposed the moving and chilling testimony and documents from Magnitsky's diary; a radio interview with his mother; two judges; a prison doctor and paramedic; an investigator; and a young ambulance paramedic.  

  • Belarus: The Ongoing Crackdown and Forces for Change

    Nearly one year after the brutal post-December 19, 2010, election crackdown, the human rights picture in Belarus remains bleak. Brave and committed individuals who attempt to promote a democratic future for Belarus continue to be crushed by the dictatorial Lukashenka regime. Civil society continues to be under assault, with NGOs facing ever greater constraints, and freedoms of assembly and expression are severely curtailed. Yet the ongoing economic turmoil has produced growing disaffection, as manifested in Lukashenka’s plummeting popular support, and a changing domestic and international environment. The hearing will focus on the extent and impact of the crackdown on the lives of its victims and on the larger society, and what more can be done by the U.S. and our European partners to promote democratic change in Belarus.

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