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Full Text of Helsinki Commission Letter to President Bush

May 22, 2003

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As Members of Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, we write in advance of your upcoming visit to Poland and the Russian Federation, respectfully urging you to raise specific issues with the respective leaders. These questions include property restitution in Poland, continuing human rights violations in Chechnya, Russia’s denial or revocation of visas for foreign religious workers, and Russia’s influence regarding the situation in the Republic of Belarus.

Both before and after September 11, the people and Government of Poland have demonstrated a solidarity with the United States for which we are deeply grateful. We are also keenly aware of the pivotal role Poles played in bringing an end to communist domination. However, despite repeated promises, Poland has still failed to adopt a restitution or compensation law for private property wrongfully confiscated by the Nazi or communist regimes. More than five decades after the end of World War II and 14 years since the end of communism in Poland, the survivors of totalitarianism still await a small measure of justice for the theft of their property.

Although President Kwasniewski assured Members of Congress during his visit to Washington last July that a compensation law would be prepared by early this year, no draft law has materialized. Mr. President, restitution of or compensation for stolen property in Poland is an important matter for thousands of people who fled to the United States because of religious, ethnic or political persecution during or after the Second World War. We urge you, on behalf of these individuals, to press Polish officials to move quickly on this longstanding issue. For elderly survivors, every day counts.

Mr. President, as we have in the past, we again urge you to raise with President Putin the continuing serious violations of international humanitarian law and basic human rights taking place in Chechnya. While we recognize that some terrorist elements continue to operate in Chechnya, as demonstrated by the recent suicide bombings, Russia’s legitimate struggle against terrorism must not be a pretext for assaults on the civilian population or the indiscriminate use of force. The State Department’s most recent human rights report on Russia notes credible reports of continued extrajudicial killings in Chechnya by Russian forces and the use of excessive force in areas with significant civilian populations. While a political settlement to the conflict may not be realized in the near term, other immediate opportunities to alleviate suffering exist. Foremost, we respectfully ask you to urge President Putin to cease liquidating camps for internally displaced persons in neighboring Ingushetia. This could save thousands of internally displaced persons from being forcibly returned to an unstable and insecure Chechnya.

In addition, we firmly believe that any “road map” to peace in Chechnya must include the observance of rule of law and protection of human rights for the longsuffering people of that region. In this regard, President Putin should be encouraged to utilize the good offices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to seek a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya, as envisioned in the 1999 OSCE Istanbul Declaration.

We are also concerned about the pattern of denial or revocation of visas for foreign religious workers from select minority faiths, adversely affecting Roman Catholic and Protestant communities throughout the Russian Federation. Knowing of the importance you place on religious freedom, we urge you to raise this matter with President Putin. The outstanding cases need to be resolved, and a policy should be established which would ensure full respect for the right of these communities to select, appoint and replace their personnel in accordance with their requirements and standards.

Finally, we remain deeply concerned about the poor situation with respect to human rights, democracy and rule of law in the Republic of Belarus under the regime of Europe’s remaining dictator, Alexander Lukashenka. We encourage you to call upon the Russian Federation to use its influence to encourage democratic development in Belarus, while reiterating U.S. support for Belarusian sovereignty and independence.

Mr. President, we wish you well in your travels, and trust that you will take these vital matters into consideration.

Sincerely, BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S.
Co-Chairman

CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C.
Co-Chairman

CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, U.S.S.
Ranking Member

STENY H. HOYER, M.C.
Ranking Member

JOSEPH R. PITTS, M.C.
Commissioner

BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, M.C.
Commissioner

ROBERT B. ADERHOLT, M.C.
Commissioner

ZACH WAMP, M.C.
Commissioner

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