WASHINGTON – U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) today lauded the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Relations for approving a resolution calling on Russia to fully protect the freedoms of all religious communities as is required under its constitution and international commitments.
“Russia’s religious minorities have suffered from harassment and even violence,” said Smith, who also serves as the Chairman of the Human Rights Subcommittee. “This resolution urges the Government of Russia to ensure religious freedom for all.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. “This resolution calls on the Russian Government to adhere to the standards and obligations set forth not only under international agreements, but under the Russian Constitution itself.”
Under the 1997 Russian law on freedom of conscience and religious associations, religious organizations must be registered with the government in order to enjoy legal personality and own property. Those groups that are not registered have often been subject to discrimination and occasional violence. While the federal government in Russia has generally been supportive, it has turned a blind eye to local officials who raid unregistered religious communities or overlook crimes committed against religious minorities.
The State Department’s 2005 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom noted that Russia’s protections for religious minorities were insufficient, and that conditions in Russia continue to deteriorate for some minority religious faiths. The report stated that “some federal agencies and many local authorities continued to restrict the rights of various religious minorities.”
“I’ll never forget the pictures I saw of the arson attack against a Baptist church in Tula,” remarked Smith. “After receiving numerous anonymous threats, late one night hate mongers finally took action and razed the church to the ground. The local authorities have been no help, attributing the explosion to a natural gas leak, although the local gas company reportedly found no gas residue at the site.”
“Russia is a participating State in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and as such has committed to meeting an international standard of religious freedom. I hope federal and local officials in Moscow will take the necessary steps to bring Russia in line with its own laws and its international commitments.” said Smith.