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Statement by Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith on the Second Anniversary of the Disappearance of Georgiy Gongadze

Requiem 2002: Face the Truth

On this, the second anniversary of the disappearance and murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, we pay tribute to this brave journalist and to all of the other Ukrainian journalists and political activists who have perished. In the last five years 11 journalists are known to have been killed in Ukraine for their professional activities, and a number of political activists and opposition figures have died under questionable circumstances. We should never lose sight of the fact that each of these deaths is not just a political matter, but a human and personal tragedy, as each of these people left behind family, friends and others whose lives they touched.

Unfortunately, investigations into most of these cases have gone nowhere, and this has only served to fuel speculation about official involvement. Repeated expressions of concern and efforts about the Gongadze murder case directed at Ukrainian authorities over the last two years by the Helsinki Commission, Members of Congress, the State Department, the OSCE, Council of Europe and other international bodies have been met with stonewalling and obfuscation. The lack of a resolution of this case has tarnished the credibility of the Ukrainian authorities’ in dealing with fundamental human rights. I look forward to the new Prosecutor General conducting a full investigation into the deaths of journalists and politicians such as Heorhiy Gongadze, Ihor Alexandrov, Vadym Hetman and others and bringing to justice those responsible — no matter who they are.

In paying tribute to those courageous individuals who perished because of their commitment to the truth, we also pay tribute to all people in Ukraine committed to achieving greater democracy and freedom.

Those of us who have been staunch supporters of independent Ukraine for many years have become increasingly troubled by developments over the last few years, including the curtailing of media and other freedoms, the debilitating problem of high-level, pervasive corruption, and the lack of rule of law. Recently, former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko publicized an open letter to President Kuchma calling upon him to make a choice between “democracy and dictatorship.” President Kuchma, make the clear choice for democracy! I am encouraged that the Ukrainian people are increasingly demanding change – calling to live in a country where intimidation and violence against journalists and opposition politicians is a receding memory; a country where democracy and human rights are respected and the rule of law becomes triumphant. The people of Ukraine should be able to realize their dream to live in an economically vibrant, independent country in which respect for democratic values is the guiding principle.

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