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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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  • Unregistered Religious Groups in Russia

    This hearing focused the disfranchisement of religious minorities Russia.  In several cases, authorities unfairly targeted religious groups with excessive force and threatened their right to worship. The hearing examined these cases and what the OSCE and U.S. have done in response. The witness John V. Hanford, III, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, gave testimony about specific measures the State Department has in place in Moscow for addressing this issue and what the administration of President Bush has done to respond directly to these violations.

  • Remembering the Srebrenica Massacre

    Mr. Speaker, I want to bring to the attention of my colleagues House Resolution 199, regarding the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica in eastern Bosnian-Herzegovina. In July, ten years will have passed since thousands of Bosniaks perished in what was the worst atrocity committed during the three-and-a-half years of conflict in Bosnia. This was an absolute fiasco by the international community, eroding its credibility and principles. Those of us who worked together at the time in urging a more decisive international response can remember the horror associated with that conflict.  Many may ask: why do this? Why focus on what happened ten years ago in a region that we are encouraging to look forward to a future that includes further European integration? I believe it is impossible to look forward without acknowledging the past and what really happened at Srebrenica. We have many lessons to learn from the past.  First, the very fact that many of those responsible for the Srebrenica massacre--especially Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic and others, not only have evaded justice in The Hague but may be receiving protection and are held almost as folk heroes by some indicates that the past has not been fully understood. Hundreds of people currently holding positions of responsibility are only now being investigated for possible connections to the massacre. Clearly the myths and propaganda originally used to justify a slaughter still hold sway in the minds of too many people.  Second, the international community must learn not to repeat the mistakes it made with horrible consequences in 1995. Some lessons have been learned. For the first time since World War II, for example, an international tribunal was created to prosecute those responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. That body has borne some results, though its task is not complete.  Intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina was not some reckless act, as some suggest, but a needed response made increasingly difficult by unnecessary delay. Mutual congratulations will undoubtedly come later this year when commemorating the ten year anniversary of the Dayton Agreement. We would do well, however, to recall that it was the simple shame of allowing thousands to be massacred within one of the international community's officially designated "safe areas" that finally motivated serious consideration of action against the brazen thugs responsible for these crimes. Unfortunately, it took additional atrocities before effective action was taken.  It is also helpful to listen to some of the words spoken in the aftermath of the Srebrenica massacre. For example, 27 non-governmental organizations, including religious and humanitarian organizations not usually inclined to support the use of force, as well as Muslim and Jewish organizations not known for taking common stands, issued a powerful statement:  Bosnia is not a faraway land of no concern to our "national interest." At stake is the global commitment to fundamental human values, the right not to be killed because of one's religious or ethnic heritage, and the right of civilians not to be targeted by combatants. At about the same time, the U.N.’s rapporteur for human rights in the former Yugoslavia, former Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiezki, explained why he could no longer ‘‘continue to participate in the pretense of the protection of human rights’’ and chose to resign in response to the events at Srebrenica. Known as a thoughtful, principled man, he said: One cannot speak about the protection of human rights with credibility when one is confronted with the lack of consistency and courage displayed by the international community and its leaders. . . . Crimes have been committed with swiftness and brutality and by contrast the response of the international community has been slow and ineffectual. If, when listening to these words from ten years ago, we think of subsequent events including Darfur today, we realize how little we have indeed learned. In Bosnia-Herzegovina we also produced examples of the best in humanity, people in the international community, aid workers, soldiers, diplomats, journalists, monitors and advocates, who risked and sometimes gave their lives to prevent further loss of life. I particularly mention in this connection the American negotiators Robert Frasure, Joseph Kruzel, and Nelson Drew who died while traveling Bosnia’s dangerous, war-torn roads. They deserve our gratitude for the efforts to restore peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Finally, Mr. Speaker, we cannot forget the memory of the victims of Srebrenica and those who survived, but were traumatized by the debacle at Srebrenica. Many continue to wonder about the ultimate fate of the missing, even as new mass graves have been unearthed in northeastern Bosnia-Herzegovina. For these people, ten years is not long ago, and recognizing the pain and anguish they experienced may help bring closure for them. Some of these victims, I should add, have come to our country as refugees and are now Americans. They will no doubt be remembering the tragic events at Srebrenica ten years ago. I will not detail here the almost unspeakable horrors that were part of the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995. Some of the events are mentioned in House Resolution 199. Mr. Speaker, I hope that my colleagues will give this measure their serious consideration and active support.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Visit Ukraine; Impressed By Government's Efforts on Road to Recovery

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Staff Advisor United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Commission Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) met with Ukrainian officials, non-governmental organizations, and religious leaders in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 26-27, 2005. The delegation also laid wreaths at the Memorial to the Victims of the 1932-33 Terror-Famine and at the Babyn (Babi) Yar memorial. The Commissioners had substantive and far-reaching meetings with Ukraine’s State Secretary Oleksandr Zinchenko, Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yevhen Chervonenko, and Chairman of the parliament’s Committee on Organized Crime and Corruption Volodymyr Stretovych. The meetings covered many topics, including the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik amendment and granting normal trade relations (NTR) status as well as facilitating Ukraine’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Commissioners Smith and Cardin were impressed with the political will and determination of Ukraine’s Government officials as well as the non-governmental organizations to work for positive change in Ukraine. As an original cosponsor, Co-Chairman Smith noted the recent introduction of a bill by House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL), which would grant Ukraine NTR. Commissioner Cardin affirmed his support for NTR and Ukraine’s joining WTO, noting that it was critical for Ukraine to conclude intellectual property rights talks with the United States. Discussions also centered on human trafficking, corruption, the rule of law and human rights issues such as torture, the Gongadze case, sustaining media freedoms, and on how the United States can best assist Ukraine during this time of historic transition. State Secretary Zinchenko expressed pleasure at the current state of U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations, observing that both sides now have trust in each other. He outlined President Viktor Yushchenko’s priorities, including combating corruption, extending a hand to business, protecting private property, promoting respect for the rule of law – especially in government entities such as the Interior Ministry, tax police and the security services – as well as promoting the further development of civil society. Secretary Zinchenko also emphasized the importance of U.S. investment in Ukraine. The Commissioners and Ukrainian officials also discussed in detail HIV/AIDS in Ukraine, which Zinchenko described as very acute and far-reaching, and the proposed new Chornobyl shelter that will cover the crumbling old sarcophagus. Minister of Justice Roman Zvarych outlined the Justice Ministry’s priorities to encourage and ensure the rule of law. Securing human rights and liberties would include such measures as getting the police to pay attention to procedural norms and urging parliament to adopt necessary civil and administrative procedural code changes. With respect to combating corruption, Zvarych hopes to soon unveil a comprehensive “Clean Hands” program, including a code of ethics. Cleaning up the court system is another priority, and the Justice Ministry has plans to take a variety of steps against judges engaged in corrupt practices. The delegation and Zvarych discussed the issues of human trafficking, torture of detainees, the Gongadze case, restitution of religious property and national minority issues. Chairman Volodymyr Stretovych and representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) gave a comprehensive briefing on the problem of human trafficking in Ukraine, what steps are being taken by the government and NGOs to combat this scourge and plans on further addressing this important issue. A key concern was improving law enforcement cooperation between Ukraine (as a country of origin for victims of trafficking) and countries of destination. U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Sheila Gwaltney hosted a meeting with U.S. Embassy, U.S. Agency for International Development, and FBI officials during which U.S. efforts to assist the new Ukrainian Government in promoting the rule of law and combating human trafficking were discussed. The delegation also visited an IOM-sponsored medical rehabilitation center for trafficking victims. Human trafficking, as well as religious rights issues, were also discussed in a meeting with Papal Nuncio Archbishop Ivan Jurkovich. Ambassador John Herbst organized and hosted a discussion with NGO representatives from Freedom House, Institute for Mass Information, the Chernihiv-based organization Dobrochyn and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Mykhaylo Horyn, former Soviet political prisoner and head of the pro-independence movement Rukh in the early 1990s, also participated in the meeting. The delegation met with Jewish representatives, including the new Minister of Transportation and Communications Yevhen Chervonenko who is also Vice-President of the Eurasian Jewish Congress. They discussed matters pertaining to Ukraine’s Jewish community, assessing them positively. Foreign Minister Tarasyuk expressed gratitude to the Helsinki Commission for its active work in support of democracy in Ukraine and stated that the clear position of Congress and the U.S. Government, including support for a strong contingent of international election observers during the recent elections, effectively helped Ukrainian democracy. In raising Jackson-Vanik graduation, market economy status, and the WTO, Minister Tarasyuk cited strong readiness and willingness on the part of the Ukrainian Government to remove obstacles on their part, including a promise to submit in the Rada shortly a draft law on intellectual property rights. Minister Tarasyuk and the Commissioners also discussed the vital importance of ongoing OSCE election observation, Ukrainian-Russian relations, and Ukraine’s strengthened role in resolving the long-festering Moldova-Trandniestria conflict.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Visit Ukraine

    By Orest Deychakiwsky Staff Advisor United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Commission Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) met with Ukrainian officials, non-governmental organizations, and religious leaders in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 26-27, 2005. The delegation also laid wreaths at the Memorial to the Victims of the 1932-33 Terror-Famine and at the Babyn (Babi) Yar memorial. The Commissioners had substantive and far-reaching meetings with Ukraine’s State Secretary Oleksandr Zinchenko, Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yevhen Chervonenko, and Chairman of the parliament’s Committee on Organized Crime and Corruption Volodymyr Stretovych. The meetings covered many topics, including the lifting of the Jackson-Vanik amendment and granting normal trade relations (NTR) status as well as facilitating Ukraine’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Commissioners Smith and Cardin were impressed with the political will and determination of Ukraine’s Government officials as well as the non-governmental organizations to work for positive change in Ukraine. As an original cosponsor, Co-Chairman Smith noted the recent introduction of a bill by House International Relations Committee Chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-IL), which would grant Ukraine NTR. Commissioner Cardin affirmed his support for NTR and Ukraine’s joining WTO, noting that it was critical for Ukraine to conclude intellectual property rights talks with the United States. Discussions also centered on human trafficking, corruption, the rule of law and human rights issues such as torture, the Gongadze case, sustaining media freedoms, and on how the United States can best assist Ukraine during this time of historic transition. State Secretary Zinchenko expressed pleasure at the current state of U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations, observing that both sides now have trust in each other. He outlined President Viktor Yushchenko’s priorities, including combating corruption, extending a hand to business, protecting private property, promoting respect for the rule of law – especially in government entities such as the Interior Ministry, tax police and the security services – as well as promoting the further development of civil society. Secretary Zinchenko also emphasized the importance of U.S. investment in Ukraine. The Commissioners and Ukrainian officials also discussed in detail HIV/AIDS in Ukraine, which Zinchenko described as very acute and far-reaching, and the proposed new Chornobyl shelter that will cover the crumbling old sarcophagus. Minister of Justice Roman Zvarych outlined the Justice Ministry’s priorities to encourage and ensure the rule of law. Securing human rights and liberties would include such measures as getting the police to pay attention to procedural norms and urging parliament to adopt necessary civil and administrative procedural code changes. With respect to combating corruption, Zvarych hopes to soon unveil a comprehensive “Clean Hands” program, including a code of ethics. Cleaning up the court system is another priority, and the Justice Ministry has plans to take a variety of steps against judges engaged in corrupt practices. The delegation and Zvarych discussed the issues of human trafficking, torture of detainees, the Gongadze case, restitution of religious property and national minority issues. Chairman Volodymyr Stretovych and representatives of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) gave a comprehensive briefing on the problem of human trafficking in Ukraine, what steps are being taken by the government and NGOs to combat this scourge and plans on further addressing this important issue. A key concern was improving law enforcement cooperation between Ukraine (as a country of origin for victims of trafficking) and countries of destination. U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Sheila Gwaltney hosted a meeting with U.S. Embassy, U.S. Agency for International Development, and FBI officials during which U.S. efforts to assist the new Ukrainian Government in promoting the rule of law and combating human trafficking were discussed. The delegation also visited an IOM-sponsored medical rehabilitation center for trafficking victims. Human trafficking, as well as religious rights issues, were also discussed in a meeting with Papal Nuncio Archbishop Ivan Jurkovich. Ambassador John Herbst organized and hosted a discussion with NGO representatives from Freedom House, Institute for Mass Information, the Chernihiv-based organization Dobrochyn and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Mykhaylo Horyn, former Soviet political prisoner and head of the pro-independence movement Rukh in the early 1990s, also participated in the meeting. The delegation met with Jewish representatives, including the new Minister of Transportation and Communications Yevhen Chervonenko who is also Vice-President of the Eurasian Jewish Congress. They discussed matters pertaining to Ukraine’s Jewish community, assessing them positively. Foreign Minister Tarasyuk expressed gratitude to the Helsinki Commission for its active work in support of democracy in Ukraine and stated that the clear position of Congress and the U.S. Government, including support for a strong contingent of international election observers during the recent elections, effectively helped Ukrainian democracy. In raising Jackson-Vanik graduation, market economy status, and the WTO, Minister Tarasyuk cited strong readiness and willingness on the part of the Ukrainian Government to remove obstacles on their part, including a promise to submit in the Rada shortly a draft law on intellectual property rights. Minister Tarasyuk and the Commissioners also discussed the vital importance of ongoing OSCE election observation, Ukrainian-Russian relations, and Ukraine’s strengthened role in resolving the long-festering Moldova-Trandniestria conflict. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • The Srebrenica Massacre of 1995, H.Res. 199

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join our colleague and Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, Mr. Smith of New Jersey, in cosponsoring House Resolution 199, regarding the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina.  For us, the congressional debates regarding the nature of the Bosnian conflict and what the United States and the rest of the international community should do about it are increasingly part of history. Now focused on other challenges around the globe, it is easy to forget the prominence of not only Bosnia, but the Balkans as a whole, on our foreign policy agenda.  It would be a mistake, however, to ignore the reality of Srebrenica ten years later to those who were there and experienced the horror of having sons, husbands, fathers taken away never to be seen again. Their loss is made greater by the failure to apprehend and transfer to The Hague for trial people like Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic who were responsible for orchestrating and implementing the policies of ethnic cleansing.  Following the Srebrenica massacre, the United States ultimately did the right thing by taking the lead in stopping the bloodshed and in facilitating the negotiation of the Dayton Agreement, the tenth anniversary of which will likely be commemorated this November. Thanks in large measure to the persistence of the U.S. Congress and despite the resistance of some authorities particularly in Belgrade and Banja Luka, cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia remains a necessary precondition for improved bilateral ties and integration into NATO and the European Union. Meanwhile, the United States and many other countries have contributed significant resources, including money and personnel, to the region's post-conflict recovery.  It is therefore appropriate that we, as the leaders of the Helsinki Commission, introduce and hopefully pass this resolution on Srebrenica ten years later, not only to join with those who continue to mourn and seek closure, but also to understand why we have done what we have done since then, and, more importantly, to learn the lesson of failing to stand up to those in the world who are willing to slaughter thousands of innocent people. The atrocities committed in and around Srebrenica in July 1995, after all, were allowed to happen in what the United Nations Security Council itself designated as a "safe area."  In confirming the indictments of Mladic and Karadzic, a judge from the international tribunal reviewed the evidence submitted by the prosecutor. His comments were included in the United Nations Secretary General's own report of the fall of Srebrenica, which described the UN's own responsibility for that tragedy. Let me repeat them here:  After Srebrenica fell to besieging Serbian forces in July 1995, a truly terrible massacre of the Muslim population appears to have taken place. The evidence tendered by the Prosecutor describes scenes of unimaginable savagery: thousands of men executed and buried in mass graves, hundreds of men buried alive, men and women mutilated and slaughtered, children killed before their mothers' eyes . . . .These are truly scenes from hell, written on the darkest pages of history.

  • Religious Freedom in Southeastern Europe

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

  • Bring Paul Klebnikov’s Killers to Justice

    Mr. Speaker, I want to call the attention of my colleagues to the death of journalist Paul Klebnikov, who was murdered on July 9 of this year outside his Moscow office. An American citizen of Russian lineage, Mr. Klebnikov was editor of the Russian edition of Forbes magazine. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, he was the 11th journalist killed in Russia in a contract-style murder in the past four and a half years.   Mr. Klebnikov had achieved prominence as a result of his investigative journalism which often focused on the connections between business, politics and crime in Russia. Mr. Klebnikov's investigations resulted in his writing two books, both devoted to exposing corruption within Russia's business and political sectors. Clearly, he made powerful enemies. There has been speculation that his murder was connected to a Forbes article that focused on Moscow's 100 wealthiest people. Someone, goes the theory, did not care for the publicity. Another suggestion is that Mr. Klebnikov's book Conversation with a Barbarian: Interview with a Chechen Field Commander on Banditry and Islam may have sparked a motive for the murder.   It was Mr. Klebnikov's love of Russia and his belief that reforms were advancing the nation toward a greater transparency in business and politics that motivated him to launch the Russian edition of Forbes magazine in April 2004. Mr. Klebnikov was committed to exposing and confronting corruption in the hope that such work would contribute to a brighter future for the people of Russia. He believed that accountability was an essential element to achieve lasting reforms.   Unfortunately, this hope for a better future in Russia has been dealt a serious blow by the murder of Paul Klebnikov. As I and ten other Members of the Helsinki Commission wrote to President Putin on October 5th of this year, much more is at stake than determining who killed Paul Klebnikov. The fear and self-censorship arising from the murders of journalists in Russia only serves to add to the corruption of government officials and businessmen. A cowed press cannot be the effective instrument for building the free and prosperous society that Mr. Putin purports to seek.   Mr. Speaker, according to the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, on the occasion of "Militia Day," November 10, President Vladimir Putin told police officials that protecting the economy from crime and fighting corruption is a priority task in Russia. I would urge Mr. Putin to back up these words with action. Russian authorities should investigate to the fullest extent possible the murder of Mr. Klebnikov, no matter where the trail leads.   Only through rule of law and accountability can Russia achieve the safe, free and comfortable future that Mr. Klebnikov believed was possible.

  • The Case of Mikhail Trepashkin

    Mr. Speaker, there is reason to fear for the fate of rule of law in Russia. I want to present one relevant example.   Mikhail Trepashkin, an attorney and former Federal Security Service, FSB, officer was arrested on October 24, 2003, a week before he was scheduled to represent in legal proceedings the relatives of one of the victims of a terrorist attack in Moscow. Mr. Trepashkin's American client is Tatyana Morozova of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In September 1999, Ms. Morozova's mother was killed and her sister barely survived the bombing of an apartment house in Moscow. Officially, the crime was blamed on Chechen separatists, but Mr. Trepashkin was expected to present the findings of his investigation which suggested involvement of elements of the FSB in the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow as well as an aborted attempted bombing in the city of Ryazan.   Mr. Trepashkin had been a consultant to the public commission set up by prominent human rights activist and former Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalev to investigate the 1999 bombings. The Kovalev commission asked many unpleasant questions but got precious few answers from the authorities. Meanwhile, in the course of his investigation Trepashkin discovered evidence that didn't track with the official version of the bombing incidents. This included events in Ryazan, where a bomb in an apartment basement was discovered by local police and safely detonated hours before it was due to explode. The two suspects in that case were released after presenting FSB identification documents. The whole incident was later declared a "readiness exercise" by Russian authorities.   Several months later, the co-chairman of the Kovalev Commission, Duma Deputy Sergei Yushenkov, was assassinated in front of his home. Four persons were convicted of the murder. Another member of the Commission died of food poisoning in a hospital, another was severely beaten by thugs, and two members lost their seats in the Duma. The activities of the decimated commission came to an abrupt halt.   A week before the October 24, 2003 trial opened, the police just happened to pull Trepashkin over on the highway, and just happened to find a revolver in his car. Trepashkin claims the gun was planted. Three weeks later, he was put on trial and sentenced to 4 years labor camp by a closed court for allegedly divulging state secrets to a foreign journalist.   Mr. Speaker, I don't know all the details of this case, but it looks very much like Mr. Trepashkin was prosecuted in order to prevent him from releasing potentially damaging information regarding the activities of the FSB. The U.S. State Department has commented diplomatically: "The arrest and trial of Mikhail Trepashkin raised concerns about the undue influence of the FSB and arbitrary use of the judicial system."   Today Mr. Trepashkin is held in a Volokolamsk city jail in a 130-square foot, lice-infested cell, which he shares with six other prisoners. He suffers from asthma but reportedly has been denied health care or even medicine. These arduous conditions may be retaliation for Mr. Trepashkin's filing a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.   It is difficult to believe that President Putin, given his KGB and FSB background, is unaware of the controversy surrounding the bombing investigations and the possibility that elements of the security services were involved. He must realize that corruption and personal vendettas within the FSB are dangerous commodities not only for the people of Russia, but for an entire civilized world that relies on the combined efforts of the intelligence community in the war against terrorism.   I urge President Putin to order a thorough and honest investigation of Mikhail Trepashkin's jailing and full cooperation with the Kovalev Commission. While the jury is still out on the 1999 bombings, persecution of those who want to find out the truth does not add to Mr. Putin's credibility among those in the West who so far have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  

  • Helsinki Commission Staff Observe Farcical Belarus Elections

    By Orest S. Deychakiwsky and Ronald J. McNamara CSCE Staff On October 17, Belarus held fundamentally flawed parliamentary elections and a referendum allowing Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenka unlimited terms as president.  Lukashenka’s current “term” expires in 2006.  The rigged referendum certainly did nothing to legitimize Lukashenka's now ten-year repressive rule.  Likewise, the new National Assembly will lack legitimacy because of the fundamentally flawed nature of these elections. The entire electoral process from beginning to end was marred by abuses, including a profound lack of a level playing field especially with respect to media access, an intimidating electoral environment, arbitrary candidate de-registration, breaches in pre-electoral early voting, and serious misconduct in balloting and the count. Not one opposition candidate officially won a seat to the 110-member National Assembly, the Belarusian parliament.  The handful of independent-minded parliamentarians from the previous National Assembly will be replaced by Lukashenka loyalists, eliminating even that modest reformist element.  While the official results of the referendum asserted that the measure had passed with 77 percent of the vote, an independent Gallup Organization exit poll indicated only 48.4 percent support.     The OSCE International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) consisted of nearly 300 election observers.  Helsinki Commission staff members were part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly component of the OSCE effort, observing balloting in the Minsk , Mogilev and Gomel oblasts.  The IEOM concluded that Belarus ’ elections fell significantly short of OSCE commitments for democratic elections and that “the Belarusian authorities failed to ensure the fundamental conditions necessary for the will of the people to serve as a basis for authority of government.” The United States , with other Western nations and institutions concurring, expressed dismay over the systematic, egregious violations of numerous OSCE commitments in the lead up to and during the elections.  On October 21, Ambassador of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE Stephan M. Minikes stated: “In light of the damning reports from the OSCE IEOM, of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, and of independent domestic and international NGOs about the intimidating electoral environment, the deficient and abusively implemented legal electoral framework and misconduct during actual voting and vote counting, the Government of Belarus has called into question its own democratic authority and legitimacy and that of its constitution.” The international media slammed the referendum and elections.  On October 19, The New York Times called the elections a “sham” while The Washington Post titled its lead editorial “The Rape of Belarus.”  Not surprisingly, only the contingent of observers from the “Commonwealth of Independent States,” a dubious group yet to issue a critical assessment of an election in a member state, gave its ringing endorsement of the elections. Commission observers concluded that the regime's domination over the media and constant assault on the independent press together with the authorities’ near-total control of all facets of the electoral apparatus resulted in a referendum and parliamentary election that were neither free nor fair.  There was a stark absence of any kind of a level playing field and a profound lack of transparency in the electoral process.  The Government of Belarus has repeatedly failed to address the four OSCE criteria for free and fair elections in Belarus established more than four years ago.  It was evident throughout the electoral period that a chilling climate of fear remains in Belarus . Commission staff were particularly struck by the extent of the domination and shameless bias of state-run news media, especially Belarusian Television One which, in its post-referendum coverage, evoked pre-glasnost, Soviet-era television in addition to other forms of agitation and propaganda.  The struggling independent media has faced escalating pressures. The courage, determination and resourcefulness of the independent media, as well as that of NGOs and the democratic opposition was impressive.  Each persists in providing alternative viewpoints and perspectives in the face of overwhelming odds.  Lukashenka’s crackdown has swept other independent institutions, such as schools and independent trade unions.  Last month, for instance, a U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) Commission of Inquiry report found evidence of severe workers’ rights violations in Belarus . It did not take long for Lukashenka’s true colors to re-emerge following his referendum “victory.”  Commission staff observed approximately 2,000 people peacefully protesting against the falsified referendum results the day after the October 17 vote.  Security forces showed restraint, perhaps because of the presence of international media and observers.  However, during an October 19 demonstration, security forces viciously beat United Civic Party leader Anatoly Lebedka, causing him to be hospitalized.  Some 40 individuals were beaten, arrested and detained for peacefully protesting the “official results” of the elections and referendum.  Both Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), who met with Lebedka on several occasions in Washington and in Europe during meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, condemned the violence. “The violence perpetrated by the authorities only serves to further expose the nature of Lukashenka’s dictatorial regime,” said Chairman Smith.  “One would think that with his referendum ‘victory,’ Lukashenka would have enough confidence to allow peaceful expression of views without resorting to brutal force,” added Co-Chairman Campbell. The farcical October 17 elections underscore the importance of the Belarus Democracy Act, with its strong commitment to democracy, human rights and rule of law in Belarus. The Belarus Democracy Act Despite the widespread belief both within and outside Belarus that the passage of the Belarus Democracy Act was linked with the referendum, it was actually the result of the exigencies of the congressional calendar, as the 108th Congress moved toward adjournment.  The Belarus Democracy Act (BDA), sponsored by Chairman Smith, unanimously passed the House of Representatives on October 4 and the United States Senate on October 6.  The original measure was introduced in the Senate by Co-Chairman Campbell. Passage of the BDA provoked harsh reaction from Minsk.  Lukashenka derided Members of Congress as “dumb asses” for passing the bill.  The Belarusian Foreign Ministry resorted to worn-out accusations of “interference in internal affairs.” On October 21, President George W. Bush signed the BDA into law stating, “At a time when freedom is advancing around the world, Aleksandr Lukashenka and his government are turning Belarus into a regime of repression in the heart of Europe, its government isolated from its neighbors and its people isolated from each other.” “The Belarus Democracy Act will help us support those within Belarus who are working toward democracy,” Bush added.  “We welcome this legislation as a means to bolster friends of freedom and to nurture the growth of democratic values, habits, and institutions within Belarus.  The fate of Belarus will rest not with a dictator, but with the students, trade unionists, civic and religious leaders, journalists, and all citizens of Belarus claiming freedom for their nation.” The BDA promotes democratic development, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus, and encourages the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus’ sovereignty and independence.  The bill authorizes assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media – including radio broadcasting into Belarus – and international exchanges. The BDA also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections; supports imposition of sanctions on Lukashenka’s regime; and requires reports from the president concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states and reports on Lukashenka’s personal wealth and assets as well as those of other senior Belarusian leaders. 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.  

  • Supporting Democracy in Belarus

    Mr. President, I welcome the unanimous passage of the Belarus Democracy Act, BDA, by the United States Senate last night following similar action by the House of Representatives earlier this week. As co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I am particularly pleased at timely adoption of this important legislation. I thank Chairman Lugar and Senator Biden for their assistance in facilitating consideration of this bill by the full Senate.   Repression and stagnation have been the hallmarks of the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka, the leader of Belarus who increasingly tightened the noose around those who express independent views. A series of fundamentally flawed elections have left Belarus without legitimate executive and parliamentary leadership. Against this backdrop, preparations are underway for parliamentary elections and a referendum later this month. The elections take place in an environment in which the regime has intensified its repression of the remaining independent media and vilification of the opposition and their supporters. Lukashenka is also seeking to manipulate the situation to extend his rule by eliminating constitutional term limits for president, possibly paving the way for him to become a ``president-for-life.''   As co-chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have maintained a strong interest in Belarus and have tried to inform my Senate colleagues about the increasingly troubling developments in that strategically located country, whose 10 million people have suffered cruelty at the hands of czars, Nazis, Communists and now, Aleksandr Lukashenka. During my service on the Commission, I have met and come to know many of the courageous individuals, who often at personal risk have spoken out in support of democracy in the face of Europe's last dictatorship, including the spouses of opposition leaders and a journalist who disappeared in 1999 and 2000 because they dared speak to the truth.   Belarus, under Lukashenka, has the worst human rights record in Europe. His regime has increasingly violated basic human rights and freedoms. The goal of the Belarus Democracy Act is to help put an end to repression and human rights violations in Belarus and to promote Belarus' entry into a democratic Euro-Atlantic community of nations following years of self-imposed isolation.   The Belarus Democracy Act authorizes additional assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for NGOs, independent media, including radio broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. It also encourages free and fair parliamentary elections, which have been notably absent in Belarus and which look to be highly problematic when they are held on October 17, judging by the pre-election environment and the regime's tight control over the electoral process.   The BDA includes sense of the Congress language that would prohibit U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian reasons and U.S. executive directors of the international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance for humanitarian needs. The bill also requires a report from the President concerning the sale of delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states and on the personal wealth and assets of Lukashenka.   Nearly 2 years after the introduction of the Belarus Democracy Act the situation in that country has spiraled downward. Adoption and implementation of the Belarus Democracy Act will offer hope that the current period of political, economic and social stagnation will indeed end. It shows our concrete support for the courageous individuals, non-governmental organizations, independent media and independent trade unions struggling mightily against the machine of repression. And it shows our support for the people of Belarus, who deserve a chance for a brighter future.

  • Advancing U.S. Interests through the OSCE

    The OSCE has been a pioneer in defining an integrated approach to security, one in which human rights and economic well-being are as key to a nation’s stability as are traditional military forces.  It remains not only the largest trans-Atlantic organization, but the one with the broadest definition of security.  The OSCE has also created the most innovative habits of dialogue and collective action of any multilateral organization in the world.  The focus of the hearing will be how the OSCE can be used most effectively to highlight and advance the interests of the United States.  Among the subjects to be covered will be objectives for the December (2004) meeting of Foreign Ministers in Sofia; recent high-impact security initiatives; expectations for the upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw; and refining and strengthening the OSCE.

  • Advancing Democracy in Albania

    Albania is expected to hold new parliamentary elections, and further reform is viewed as key to their success.  The country has faced tremendous challenges in its democratic development since emerging from harsh communist rule and self-imposed isolation in the early 1990s. Despite highly polarized politics and splits within the Socialist camp in particular, there has been renewed progress.  Albania, nevertheless, continues to face the difficult task, common to the region, of tackling organized crime and official corruption. The Albanian Government is making efforts, for example, to combat trafficking in persons, though it remains a source and a transit country for women and children who are sexually exploited or used as forced labor elsewhere in Europe.  Meanwhile, Albania has maintained strong bilateral ties with the United States and cooperated with the international response to past regional conflicts. The country is a strong supporter of the war on terrorism and works within the framework of the Adriatic Charter, a U.S. initiative that includes Macedonia and Croatia, in laying the groundwork for further European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

  • Georgia's "Rose Revolution"

    First, a “revolution” was possible in Georgia because during Eduard Shevardnadze’s tenure, opposition leaders, parties and society had developed leeway for action which did not exist elsewhere in the Caucasus, not to speak of Central Asia. Since the late 1980s, many parties and NGOs had emerged, as had relatively free media. Their freedom of maneuver and action, which translated into effective political influence, reflected Shevardnadze’s own relatively liberal attitudes, the weakness of the Georgian state— i.e., its inability to control and co-opt competing center of power and authority—and Georgians’ unruly national character. Moreover, international NGOs were deeply involved in Georgian events. Much press and analytical attention has been focused on the Open Society Institute of the Soros Foundation, which funded critically important groups like Georgia’s Liberty Institute, its leading human rights organization. Some Liberty Institute associates traveled to Serbia to study how Slobodan Milosevic had been ousted. Closely allied with 5 the Liberty Institute was the student movement Kmara [“Enough”], which mobilized opposition to vote fraud countrywide. These groups, urged on by opposition politicians, were determined not to let Shevardnadze and Georgia’s entrenched political groups steal the election. Second, the Georgian state, crippled by corruption, was extremely weak. The worst consequence of this weakness was that criminals and crooked officials did not worry about the possible penalties of breaking the law. But this weakness ultimately made possible November’s Rose Revolution by dissipating the state’s ability to resist better organized players. True, international organizations and foreign capitals were urging a peaceful resolution of the showdown and warning Shevardnadze—whom everyone expected to remain in office until 2005—that resorting to violence would end in disaster. But by November 2003, Shevardnadze could no longer command the state’s coercive apparatus; in the end, nobody was willing to act against crowds peacefully calling, first, for new elections and then for his resignation. Third, Georgia’s key opposition leaders were united. Unlike counterparts in Armenia and Azerbaijan, “Misha” Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania and Nino Burjanadze were able to overcome their longstanding differences and competing ambitions to act together. While the latter two may have—as reported—trailed the former in his conviction that Shevardnadze had to go, they overcame their doubts and hung together until the final triumph. Saakashvili, for his part, has continued to collaborate with them after his inauguration and often restates his determination to keep doing so. Fourth, Georgia had Rustavi-2 TV, which powerfully shaped public opinion. In fact, the events in Georgia last November have demonstrated convincingly the power of independent—i.e., not state-controlled—television in former Soviet republics. It was a failed attempt by the state to pressure Rustavi-2 in November 2001 that produced the biggest public protest in Georgia before November 2003. At that time, thousands of demonstrators not only forced Shevardnadze to back down, he was compelled to dismiss his entire government. Not for nothing has the ruling elite in other former Soviet states contrived so consistently to keep TV in its own hands. If there is any downside to the influence Rustavi-2 wielded in Georgia, it is the strengthened conviction of repressive rulers elsewhere to prevent at all costs the emergence of analogous TV stations. Fifth, economic conditions in Georgia had been deteriorating for years, with no respite in sight. Over the last few years, residents of Baku and Yerevan have told Helsinki Commission staff that things were getting better, even if slightly, but in Tbilisi conditions had fallen steadily. A seemingly endless stream of winters without heat or electricity and little or no prospect of improvement sapped support for Shevardnadze. Desperate Georgians had concluded by November 2003 that almost anything was better than what they had, despite the uncertainties. Within Georgia, the Rose Revolution greatly accelerated the country’s scheduled political processes, resolving several fundamental problems and opening the door to new opportunities. In one stroke, a longanticipated political succession that was expected to feature a long winnowing process, tough negotiations and possibly violence among contending groups was eclipsed by a sustained manifestation of popular will. The Rose Revolution has had a major impact on the other countries of the former Soviet Union. First of all, it was an inspiring victory for democracy and even peaceful conflict resolution. While ruling elites have stolen elections throughout the former Soviet space, in Georgia a group of opposition leaders managed to unite and unify behind themselves large enough numbers of voters to thwart an attempted theft of the vote. No less important, they did so peacefully, settling the dispute between state and society without bloodshed. The Georgian events have created an important precedent and elsewhere have inspired frustrated opposition activists who followed Georgian events closely.

  • Unsolved Murder of Ukrainian Journalist Heorhiy Gongadze

    Mr. President, for nearly 4 years the case of murdered Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze has gone unsolved, despite repeated calls by the Helsinki Commission, the State Department, and the international community for a fair and impartial investigation into this case. As cochairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have met with Gongadze's widow and their young twin daughters. Besides the human tragedy of the case, the Gongadze murder is a case study of the Ukrainian authorities' utter contempt for the rule of law.   Gongadze, who was editor of the Ukrainian Internet news publication Ukrainska Pravda, which was critical of high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared in September 2000. His headless body was found in November of that year. That same month, audio recordings by a former member of the presidential security services surfaced that included excerpts of earlier conversations between Ukrainian President Kuchma and other senior officials discussing the desirability of Gongadze's elimination.   Earlier this week, Ukraine's Prosecutor General's office announced that Ihor Honcharov, a high-ranking police officer who claimed to have information on how Ministry of Internal Affairs officials carried out orders to abduct Gongadze, died of “spinal trauma” while in police custody last year. This came on the heels of an article in the British newspaper, The Independent, which obtained leaked confidential documents from Ukraine indicating repeated obstruction into the Gongadze case at the highest levels. Furthermore, just yesterday, Ukraine's Prosecutor General announced that investigators are questioning a suspect who has allegedly admitted to killing Gongadze.   Many close observers of the Ukrainian authorities' mishandling, obfuscation and evasiveness surrounding this case from the outset are suspicious with respect to this announcement. Just one of numerous examples of the Ukrainian authorities' obstruction of the case was the blocking of FBI experts from examining evidence gathered during the initial investigation in April 2002, after the Bureau had been invited by these authorities to advise and assist in the case and earlier had helped in identifying Gongadze's remains.   The Ukrainian parliament's committee investigating the murder has recommended criminal proceedings against President Kuchma. This committee's work has been thwarted at every turn over the course of the last several years by the top-ranking Ukrainian authorities.   A serious and credible investigation of this case is long overdue--one which brings to justice not only the perpetrators of this crime, but all those complicit in Gongadze's disappearance and murder, including President Kuchma.   Ukraine faces critically important presidential elections this October. Last month, I introduced a bipartisan resolution urging the Ukrainian Government to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process. Unfortunately, there have been serious problems in Ukraine's pre-election environment.   Ukraine can do much to demonstrate its commitment to democracy and the rule of law by conducting free and fair elections and fully and honestly investigating those who were behind the murder of Heorhiy Gongadze. The Ukrainian people deserve no less.  

  • Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in Decline

    This hearing focused on the human rights and democratization process in Uzbekistan. Despite Uzbekistan’s signing of major agreements promising multi-party elections and other democratic reforms, Uzbekistan has not implemented policy that would move it in this direction.  The hearing looked into what measures the U.S. could take within the OSCE to speed the democratization process in Uzbekistan.

  • Russia: Are Rights in Retreat?

    The Helsinki Commission briefing occurred in conjunction with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to the United States to attend the G8 Summit and focused on the status of democratic progress, human rights, civil liberties, and press freedom in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The consequences of President Putin’s ascent to power and elements of his government determined to reverse Russia’s direction and institute more authoritarian policies were among several topics that were discussed. Four prominent Russian human rights activists – including Ludmilla Alexeeva, Chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and President, International Helsinki Commission for Human Rights; Arseni Roginsky, Chairman of the International Memorial Society; Alexei Simonov, Head of the Glasnost Defense Foundation and Mara Polyakova, Director of the Independent Council for Legal Experts – gave their assessment of the human rights situation in Russia today, including specific cases of particular interest.

  • Northern Ireland Update: Implementation of the Cory Reports

    This hearing, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), was a continuation of an earlier hearing in March 2004 that focused on developing accountability and public confidence in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.  This hearing reviewed a report by former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory concerning the question of British state collusion in six murders in the Republic of Ireland and in Ulster. Justice Cory discussed the critical links between public confidence in the rule of law, government accountability, and the prospects for a peaceful future. Geraldine Finucane, the widow of murdered human rights attorney Patrick Finucane, was also a witness at this hearing.

  • Bulgarian Foreign Minister Passy Testifies before Commission

    By Orest Deychakiwsky CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission convened its first hearing of 2004, featuring the testimony of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy early in his tenure in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Accompanying Minister Passy were Ambassador Ivan Naydenov, Director of the OSCE section of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry and personal representative of the Chairman-in-Office; Elena Poptodorova, Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the United States; and Richard Murphy, Spokesman for the OSCE.  Minister Passy, appearing before the Commission on February 26, laid out his goals of implementing OSCE commitments in the war on terrorism, focusing on the human dimension and managing regional conflicts. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) opened the hearing by extending his heartfelt condolences on behalf of Members of the Commission to Minister Passy regarding the tragic death of his colleague and personal friend, President Boris Traikovsky of Macedonia. Passy began his testimony with the question of the relevance and the current role of the OSCE considering the end of the Cold War and the existence of organizations such as NATO, the European Union, and the NATO-Russia Council. The Bulgarian Foreign Minister noted the uniqueness of the OSCE as the only organization providing a comprehensive security model founded on the values of respect for human rights and promotion of democratic institutions. Though less than three decades old, the OSCE has proven its ability to tackle the challenges of conflicts in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Central Asia.  Notable are the OSCE's efforts to end the civil war in Tajikistan and the secessionist armed conflict in Transdniestria, and rebuilding the war-torn societies in the Balkans. With 18 field missions, the OSCE remains, according to Passy, “the most comprehensive security forum.” Minister Passy stressed that the war on terrorism is one of his top priorities. He focused on issues such as airport security, policing, and secure travel documents as potentially helpful tools in thwarting the spread of terrorism.  In order to achieve this goal, the OSCE organized an inter-governmental conference where practitioners and security experts shared their ideas on improving the safety and security of aircraft.  The OSCE also launched an Internet-based network, designed to facilitate cooperation between security experts and help match resources with needs.  The Chairman-in-Office cited policing as “the perfect OSCE issue, bringing together security and human rights.” He commended American police officers for providing outstanding service in OSCE police reform efforts and their contribution to the establishment of an “accountable police force that is trusted by the population and does not have to resort to brutality or torture to solve crimes.” Minister Passy reaffirmed his commitment to continue the battle against anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, informing the Commission of three important events that will help address these problems which continue to plague many participating States.  In April, a conference on anti-Semitism will take place in Berlin, followed by a September conference on tolerance and xenophobia in Brussels.  A June meeting in Paris will address the relationship between xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and hate crimes.  Chairman Smith, strongly supported by Ranking House Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), urged Passy to follow up on the Berlin conference with robust action. "'Never again' has to mean 'never again' in all of its vicious manifestations," Chairman Smith proclaimed. On the issue of trafficking in human beings, the Bulgarian Chairman-in-Office focused on the problem of countries of destination. “A firm and persistent police clampdown on the work of traffickers in the Western cities would send a clear message to these criminal gangs that their evil work will not be tolerated,” said Passy.  Chairman Smith echoed this sentiment by citing the estimated 18,000-20,000 victims trafficked annually into the United States.  Passy also emphasized that the OSCE must undertake a special commitment of prosecuting traffickers -- and anyone else associated with this evil trade -- while treating victims with dignity and compassion. Chairman Smith asked the Bulgarian Foreign Minister to devote special attention to the March parliamentary elections in Georgia, underscoring the importance that these elections be carried out in a free and open manner.  Passy commended the OSCE mission in Georgia for doing a remarkable job in monitoring the border with Chechnya and assisting in the destruction of the Soviet stockpiles of ammunition. Smith similarly urged that the OSCE conduct close observation of the upcoming elections in Belarus and Ukraine. He insisted that an open and free media must be allowed to cover the election process and provide access to the voices of the opposition candidates; otherwise, the results of the elections will be predetermined.  In response, Minister Passy stressed that the involvement of the OSCE in the election process is indispensable and mentioned his upcoming trip to Ukraine, where he planned to meet with both government officials and the opposition. With regard to Belarus, Chairman Passy stated he “shared the view that the necessary conditions for free elections [need to] be created” and noted that the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) plans to monitor  parliamentary elections expected this Fall. The Chairman-in-Office also noted the OSCE’s determination to end the ongoing conflict between Moldova and the secessionist region of Transdniestria. Mediators held two meetings in Sofia and Belgrade during which the conflicting parties resumed negotiations. Commissioner Cardin posed a question on the possible re-engagement of OSCE activities in Chechnya. Minister Passy stated that during his recent meeting with then-Foreign Minister Ivanov, Russia was the first to address this issue and even suggested a list of concrete projects, the scope and details of which are still being discussed.  Passy promised to keep the Commission informed of any related developments. The Bulgarian CIO said he also plans to promote the issue of education throughout the remainder of his year in office.  Although it is an issue that has not received much attention in the OSCE, Passy said that “education and training are vital for empowering individuals and groups with the capacity to resolve conflict in a peaceful manner.” The first Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting was devoted to this subject. The hearing concluded with Minister Passy’s personal vision for the future of the OSCE.  He called for a stronger focus on OSCE activities in the Caucasus and Central Asia.  Additionally, he suggested that the OSCE should reach out to countries beyond its scope, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, which could benefit from the comprehensive security model offered by the OSCE. An unofficial transcript of the hearing is available through the Helsinki Commission’s Internet site at http://www.csce.gov. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Irina Smirnov contributed to this article.

  • Resolution on the Recent Violence in Kosovo

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a resolution which expresses the sense of the House regarding the recent violence in Kosovo. Supporting the resolution as original co-sponsors are my colleagues on the Helsinki Commission: Mr. Cardin, Mr. Pitts and Mr. Hastings.   Last week, close to 30 people were killed, hundreds were wounded and over 3,000 persons were displaced by renewed ethnic violence in Kosovo. In addition, considerable property was damaged or destroyed, in particular Orthodox Churches. In retaliation, protesters in Serbia damaged or destroyed several mosques.   This violence was noteworthy mostly in its scale. As a practical matter, the situation for minority communities in Kosovo, including Serbs and Roma, has not been good since the United Nations, backed by a NATO-led peace operation, took control in 1999. A few weeks ago, I met with Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije, who presented documentation of attacks on churches and monasteries in Kosovo.   As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I recall the horrors which Slobodan Milosevic and his regime inflicted on the Albanian population of Kosovo. Attacks on places of worship and the lack of measures to stop these obviously vulnerable sites from being attacked again and again are inexcusable, as are the attacks on innocent people, be they Serbs, Albanians, Roma or anybody else.   This resolution says that the violence must stop. It supports Kosovo achieving benchmarks which, if met, would effectively mean the protection of human rights and democratic development as well. It support the international community taking greater action, including providing more security, in order to achieve this progress.   I believe this resolution should be able to garner wide support. This House should be on record as condemning the violence and saying that the human rights situation for the people who live there, regardless of their ethnicity, must improve.

  • Belarusian Authorities Continue to Stifle Democracy

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

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