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  • Religious Freedom in Eurasia

      In his first Congressional hearing since his confirmation, Ambassador Brownback testified on religious freedom in participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation. OSCE commitments on human rights and freedoms are the strongest, most comprehensive of any security organization in the world. Yet some of its participating States chronically have been among the worst violators of religious freedom–often in the name of countering terrorism or extremism–and designated by the United States as Countries of Particular Concern. The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, Public Law 114-281, requires the President to release Country of Particular Concern designations–required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998–no later than 90 days after releasing the annual International Religious Freedom Report. The State Department issued the latest report on the day of the hearing. The Helsinki Commission explored the designations, as well as religious freedom in Western Europe, including potentially restrictive amendments to the religion law in Bulgaria; restrictions on religious animal slaughter; restrictions on construction of houses of worship; and conscience rights. Questions for the Record Submitted to Ambassador Samuel D. Brownback by Chairman Roger Wicker  

  • First Person: Encountering Auschwitz

    By Rachel Bauman, Policy Advisor During the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw, I joined 21 other members of the U.S. delegation on my first visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, the site of the former concentration and death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. The mass murder of Jews, Poles, Romani people, Soviet political prisoners, and other groups by the Nazi state is almost too monstrous for comprehension, especially from a distance. Fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remain, and though many of their memories have been preserved, soon there will be no witnesses to speak to the horrors of the past. What remains of Auschwitz-Birkenau, perhaps the most notorious death camp, is a testament to the millions of people slaughtered by the Nazi regime. Auschwitz I, though significantly smaller than Birkenau, is largely intact, and houses powerful exhibitions giving a deeply personal glimpse into a tragedy that often seems too large to grasp. For me, the faceless masses of black-and-white history book photos were brought into sharp relief through collections of objects found after Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.  Enormous piles of eyeglasses, human hair shaved from the bodies of women dragged from the gas chambers, and children’s shoes were on display as a reminder of the simple trappings of humanity denied to the victims. We laid a wreath at the Wall of Death, an execution site, and finished the tour with a silent walkthrough of a gas chamber, illuminated by the holes in the ceiling from which Zyklon-B pellets rained down on the trapped prisoners. At Birkenau, we walked along the original train tracks where wagonloads of people were selected to either die in the gas chambers or labor in terrible conditions in which disease, starvation, and exposure meant that the average prisoner perished mere months after arrival.  The remains of the killing factory, hastily destroyed upon the approach of the Soviets, are a haunting illustration of the scale of Nazi atrocities. The final death toll of Auschwitz is estimated at 1.3 million, with Jews accounting for about 90 percent of the murdered.  One in six Jews killed during the Holocaust were killed at Auschwitz.  The evils of anti-Semitism, racism, and persecution of minority groups still exist today. At the Birkenau memorial to the victims, Ambassador Brownback reminded us that the United States must continue to defend human rights around the world. Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Kyle Parker (left) and Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback (right) lay a wreath at Auschwitz at the Death Wall where those who attempted to escape were shot. As we prepared to depart, the clouds lifted over Birkenau, revealing a sunny sky, in stark contrast with the heavy grief of the morning.  Each of us processed the visit differently, but all experienced a renewed sense of the importance of our mission upon returning to the HDIM.

  • U.S. Holds Historic Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom

    By Nathaniel Hurd, Senior Policy Advisor From July 24-26, 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C. U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom and former Helsinki Commission Chairman Sam Brownback coordinated the event, which brought together governments, religious leaders, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to “to discuss challenges, identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.” The United States invited 81 governmental delegations from “countries that have a demonstrated record for advancing religious freedom and are committed to promoting Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or that recently have taken meaningful steps to begin to do so.” Participating countries included four from North America; seven from South America; nine from Africa; 36 from Europe; nine from the Middle East; 14 from Asia; one from Oceana; and Australia. Foreign ministers led 13 delegations. Forty of the countries represented are participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The OSCE, European Union, and United Nations also took part, along with more than 400 leaders from religious groups and non-governmental organizations. Uzbekistan was the only governmental participant that had been designated by the United States as a Country of Particular Concern because of particularly severe religious freedom violations like torture, prolonged detention without charges, or clandestine detention. In remarks on the final day of the ministerial, Secretary Pompeo stated, “We applaud the steps that Uzbekistan is taking towards a more free society. We have great confidence that a degree of religious freedom greater than before will have a positive ripple effect on their country, their society, and the region as well.” Ministerial Activities During the event, survivors of religious persecution or their representatives—including Jacqueline Brunson Furnari, daughter of imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson—spoke to the full assembly. Furnari testified at a November 2017 Helsinki Commission hearing, “Prisoners of the Purge: The Victims of Turkey's Failing Rule of Law,” where she pleaded for her father’s release. When Ambassador Brownback reported that Turkish authorities had transferred Pastor Brunson—who had been jailed since October 2016 on false charges of terrorism, espionage, and attempting to overthrow the state—from prison to house arrest, attendees applauded. Other speakers included representatives from Burma, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Nicaragua, and Sudan.    Plenary sessions focused on religious persecution around the world and opportunities to work together to advance religious freedom. The ministerial also featured panel discussions on private sector engagement, religious freedom grant opportunities at the State Department, effective advocacy on behalf of religious minorities, preventing genocide and mass atrocities, the relationship between religious freedom and economic prosperity; religious freedom in the context of countering violent extremism; legal limitations on religious freedom; religious freedom and women’s rights; the needs of displaced minorities during humanitarian emergencies; and cultural heritage. During the ministerial, the United States also presented “Statements of Concern” to the delegations regarding repression in Burma, China, and Iran; “Counterterrorism as a False Pretext for Religious Freedom Repression;” and “Religious Freedom Repression by Non-State Actors, including Terrorist Groups.” Twenty-four participating governments joined the United States as signatories on at least one statement of concern. The governments of Armenia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Israel, Kosovo, Oman, Poland, Sri Lanka, and United Kingdom signed all three thematic statements of concern. The governments of Canada and Kosovo signed all three country-specific statements of concern. Speaking at the event, former U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf, author of the landmark International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, said, “Religious freedom is deeply imbedded in our own legal tradition reaching all the way back to the Magna Carta, but is also understood as a necessity for human dignity by the international community ... I stand before you today with a grave and growing sense of urgency regarding the erosion of religious freedom around the globe. All over this world, people are denied the fundamental and inalienable human right to confess and express their beliefs according to the dictates of their conscience.” Senior U.S. government officials who addressed non-governmental representatives over the ministerial included Vice President Mike Pence; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan; Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback; Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney; Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development Mark Green; Assistant Secretary for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce; Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs Michelle Giuda; Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State and Director of the Secretary’s Policy Planning Staff Brian Hook; Senior Advisor in the Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Pam Pryor; and Special Advisor for Religious Minorities in the Near East and South/Central Asia Knox Thames. There were more than 15 side events during the ministerial, organized by members of Congress, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the Religious Freedom Roundtable and its members. Topics included Christians in the Middle East, parliamentarian engagement on religious freedom, Southeast Asia, India, politicization of religious freedom and human rights, Baha’is in Iran and Yemen, China, securing U.S. government grants, Russia, parental rights, technology, security and religious freedom, violent conflict, and fragile states. Follow-Up Actions During the ministerial, Secretary Pompeo unveiled the Boldline Religious Freedom plan, the State Department’s “partnership accelerator aimed to support and scale innovative public-private partnerships…to promote and defend religious freedom around the world.” In October 2018, the first Boldline workshop will convene civil society organizations, public institutions, corporations, innovation companies, entrepreneurship support organizations, and financial institutions. On the final day of the ministerial, Vice President Mike Pence announced two new initiatives. The International Religious Freedom Fund is designed to help governments and entities that already promote freedom of religion and belief extend financial support to initiatives that address the barriers to freedom of religion or belief, or provide assistance to those facing discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. The Genocide Recovery and Persecution Response Program will facilitate partnerships with local faith and community leaders to rapidly deliver aid to persecuted communities, beginning with Iraq. Following the ministerial, the United States also issued the Potomac Declaration, which reaffirmed the U.S commitment to freedom of religion or belief, and proposed the Potomac Plan of Action to defend the freedom of religion or belief, confront legal limitations, advocate for equal rights and protections for all (including members of religious minorities), respond to genocide and other mass atrocities, and preserve cultural heritage.

  • Chairman Wicker Welcomes Confirmation of Gov. Brownback as U.S. Ambassador-At-Large For International Religious Freedom

    WASHINGTON—Following today’s Senate confirmation of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following statement: “I am proud to vote to confirm my friend and former colleague Governor Sam Brownback as the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Religious freedom is the first freedom, and defending the persecuted is vital to our national identity and national security. Governor Brownback is exactly the man we need out there, everywhere, doing this work, right now. “Radical Islamist terrorists target and kill Christians and people of other faiths to advance their evil ideology, recruiting, and propaganda. A robust defense of religious freedom is vital to defeating them. As a member of Congress, most notably as Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Brownback tirelessly fought for the religious freedom and human rights of people of all faiths, at home and abroad – especially those suffering in the gulag of North Korea. I commend President Trump on this nomination and look forward to working closely with Governor Brownback to defend religious freedom.”

  • 40th Anniversary of the U.S. Helsinki Commission

    Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, on June 3, 1976, U.S. President Gerald Ford signed into law a bill establishing the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, more commonly known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission. I bring this 40th anniversary next week to my colleagues’ attention today because the commission has played a particularly significant role in U.S. foreign policy. First, the commission provided the U.S. Congress with a direct role in the policymaking process. Members and staff of the commission have been integrated into official U.S. delegations to meetings and conferences of what is historically known as the Helsinki Process. The Helsinki Process started as an ongoing multilateral conference on security and cooperation in Europe that is manifested today in the 57- country, Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE. As elected officials, our ideas reflecting the interests of concerned American citizens are better represented in U.S. diplomacy as a result of the commission. There is no other country that has a comparable body, reflecting the singular role of our legislature as a separate branch of government in the conduct of foreign policy. The commission’s long-term commitment to this effort has resulted in a valuable institutional memory and expertise in European policy possessed by few others in the U.S. foreign affairs community. Second, the commission was part of a larger effort since the late 1970s to enhance consideration of human rights as an element in U.S. foreign policy decision-making. Representatives Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey and Dante Fascell of Florida created the commission as a vehicle to ensure that human rights violations raised by dissident groups in the Soviet Union and the Communist countries of Eastern Europe were no longer ignored in U.S. policy. In keeping with the Helsinki Final Act’s comprehensive definition of security—which includes respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as a principle guiding relations between states—we have reviewed the records of all participating countries, including our own and those of our friends and allies. From its Cold War origins, the Helsinki Commission adapted well to changing circumstances, new challenges, and new opportunities. It has done much to ensure U.S. support for democratic development in East-Central Europe and continues to push for greater respect for human rights in Russia and the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Commission has participated in the debates of the 1990s on how the United States should respond to conflicts in the Balkans, particularly Bosnia and Kosovo and elsewhere, and does the same today in regard to Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. It has pushed U.S. policy to take action to combat trafficking in persons, anti- Semitism and racism, and intolerance and corruption, as well as other problems which are not confined to one country’s borders. The Helsinki Commission has succeeded in large part due to its leadership. From the House, the commission has been chaired by Representatives Dante Fascell of Florida, my good friend STENY HOYER of Maryland, the current chairman, CHRISTOPHER SMITH of New Jersey, and ALCEE HASTINGS of Florida. From this Chamber, we have had Senators Alfonse D’Amato of New York, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, Sam Brownback of Kansas and today’s cochairman, ROGER WICKER of Mississippi. I had the honor, myself, to chair the Helsinki Commission from 2007 to 2015. That time, and all my service on the commission, from 1993 to the present, has been enormously rewarding. I think it is important to mention that the hard work we do on the Helsinki Commission is not a job requirement for a Member of Congress. Rather than being a responsibility, it is something many of us choose to do because it is rewarding to secure the release of a longtime political prisoner, to reunify a family, to observe elections in a country eager to learn the meaning of democracy for the first time, to enable individuals to worship in accordance with their faiths, to know that policies we advocated have meant increased freedom for millions of individuals in numerous countries, and to present the United States as a force for positive change in this world. Several of us have gone beyond our responsibilities on the commission to participate in the leadership of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Representative HASTINGS served for 2 years as assembly president, while Representative HOYER, Representative ROBERT ADERHOLT of Alabama, and I have served as vice presidents. Senator WICKER currently serves as chairman of the assembly’s security committee. Representative Hilda Solis of California had served as a committee chair and special representative on the critical issue of migration. Today, Representative SMITH serves as a special representative on the similarly critical issue of human trafficking, while I serve as special representative on anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance. Our engagement in this activity as elected Members of Congress reflects the deep, genuine commitment of our country to security and cooperation in Europe, and this rebounds to the enormous benefit of our country. Our friends and allies appreciate our engagement, and those with whom we have a more adversarial relationship are kept in check by our engagement. I hope my colleagues would consider this point today, especially during a time when foreign travel is not strongly encouraged and sometimes actively discouraged. Finally, let me say a few words about the Helsinki Commission staff, both past and present. The staff represents an enormous pool of talent. They have a combination of diplomatic skills, regional expertise, and foreign language capacity that has allowed the Members of Congress serving on the commission to be so successful. Many of them deserve mention here, but I must mention Spencer Oliver, the first chief of staff, who set the commission’s precedents from the very start. Spencer went on to create almost an equivalent of the commission at the international level with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. One of his early hires and an eventual successor was Sam Wise, whom I would consider to be one of the diplomatic heroes of the Cold War period for his contributions and leadership in the Helsinki Process. In closing, I again want to express my hope that my colleagues will consider the value of the Helsinki Commission’s work over the years, enhancing the congressional role in U.S. foreign policy and advocating for human rights as part of that policy. Indeed, the commission, like the Helsinki Process, has been considered a model that could be duplicated to handle challenges in other regions of the world. I also hope to see my colleagues increase their participation on Helsinki Commission delegations to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, as well as at Helsinki Commission hearings. For as much as the commission has accomplished in its four decades, there continues to be work to be done in its fifth, and the challenges ahead are no less than those of the past.

  • Cardin: Take Action Against Child Slavery

    More than a century after ratification of the 13th Amendment, thousands of slaves are still transported to America each year. The International Labor Organization estimates that over 12 million people worldwide are held in bondage at any point in time, nearly 2 million of whom are child sex slaves. Modern day human traffickers have developed creative and ruthless methods to extend the practice of slavery into the 21st century, making their crimes more difficult to detect and counter. The United States, starting with leadership from the U.S. Helsinki Commission, has always been at the forefront of combating these crimes, but more work remains, not only at home, but abroad where developing nations often lack the resources and mechanisms to confront traffickers. That is why Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and I recently introduced the Child Protection Compact Act. This legislation is critical to protecting children, the most vulnerable prey of human traffickers. This bill will help coordinate an international response against trafficking in persons by empowering the State Department to partner with foreign governments, so a lack of resources in one country does not mean a lack of action to protect children from these crimes. Under this legislation, if a government demonstrates a commitment to eliminate trafficking, they will qualify for a 3-year agreement with the Secretary of State. The agreements, or compacts, will identify effective measures to address institutional weaknesses and increase local governments' capacity. Under the agreement, the United States would provide up to $15 million to support government initiatives such as improved law enforcement, victim-friendly courts, and shelters for rescued children. The Senate bill is similar to legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by my colleague on the Helsinki Commission, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), whose bill has attracted 95 bipartisan cosponsors. By supporting bills like ours, lawmakers stand up to remind the world that slavery in all forms is unacceptable. The Child Protection Compact Act is the next stage of the American effort in leading the world in fighting this atrocity.  

  • Twitter This

    The most interesting question President Obama fielded in China came over the Internet, via the U.S. Embassy, from a Chinese citizen who asked, "Do you know of the firewall? Should we be able to use Twitter freely?" In response, Mr. Obama, speaking at a town hall in Shanghai, did not directly address China's massive Internet censorship operation -- "the firewall" -- and he confessed that he does not use Twitter. But he said, "I'm a big supporter of not restricting Internet use, Internet access, other information technologies like Twitter." No doubt that's correct. And, just as likely, Mr. Obama is not aware that his State Department not only is doing next to nothing to support Internet freedom in countries such as China, but that it also has been slow-walking congressional initiatives to do so. For two years Congress has appropriated funds to support groups that are developing ways to circumvent the Chinese firewall and those erected in Iran, Burma, Cuba and other repressive countries. The most prominent of the groups, the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, says it has the capacity to host 1.5 million users daily. Its technology works: Shiyu Zhou, the deputy director of the consortium, testified to the U.S. Helsinki Commission last month that at the height of opposition protests on June 20, more than 1 million Iranians used the system. He said that with $30 million of additional funding, capacity could be increased to 50 million users a day, making it "prohibitively expensive for any repressive government to counter our efforts." A bipartisan coalition that includes Sens. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has been trying to channel the necessary funding. A total of $20 million has been included in the past two State Department budgets, and $30 million more is pending in the Senate's version of the 2010 budget. But State hasn't passed the money on to the firewall-busters. Instead it gave the lion's share of its 2008 appropriation to a group that specializes in conducting media studies and training journalists, and it has failed to distribute the 2009 funds, even though the fiscal year ended nearly three weeks ago. The department says it is increasing the staff dedicated to working on Internet freedom issues and that it is funding some "implementing partners" that it won't identify. Still, no money is going to the one organization with a proven record of overcoming firewalls. The group's advocates suspect that that's because the Global Internet Freedom Consortium is identified with China's banned Falun Gong movement -- and State is fearful of Beijing's reaction to any U.S. support for it. The Obama administration has already done plenty to appease the Chinese regime. The least it can do is act on the president's own words about the value of free information -- and help give Chinese their chance to Twitter.

  • Senator Brownback Remarks at "Where the Walls Still Stand," 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Distinguished ambassadors, fellow members of the Commission, and honored guests, thank you for the opportunity to speak here today. This solemn and uplifting anniversary gives us all a chance to reflect on one of the clearest examples in human history of the triumph of freedom over tyranny. Since for many people, personal recollection can be the most meaningful part of reflection, allow me to share my story with all of you. … But as much as this event commemorates a single moment in time, its lesson still echoes throughout the world. In the darkest corners of the world, where our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity face new walls and new challenges, the oppressed can take comfort in today’s ceremony. For today we see honor what President Reagan called “the one great and inescapable conclusion: that freedom leads to prosperity. That freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. And that freedom is the victor.” However, remembrance alone cannot serve as the limit of our obligations today. As we celebrate twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we must also rededicate ourselves to tearing down those walls that remain standing and the new walls being erected in the 21st Century. Of those that still stand, held over from the days of the Soviet Union and spread beyond its borders, no wall does greater damage to the spirit of the individual than the oppressive wall against faith—a wall that, unfortunately, is rampant throughout many authoritarian states. In China, North Korea, Iran, Vietnam, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and beyond, authoritarian governments still fear religion as a challenge to their grip on power. It matters not that some of these governments have implemented economic reforms, built sky-scrapers, or paved new roads. As long as citizens are denied the freedom to believe and to worship as they see fit, they will still be imprisoned in their own minds and held back from their full potential. We must pledge to eradicate this tyranny wherever we find it. We must free all prisoners of conscience, not only for the sake of the oppressed, but for ours as well. Faith is one front on which we must engage; truth is the other. We must confront the growing assault on truth by authoritarian regimes. Looking at the newest wall against liberty—the cyber-wall used to censor and punish voices of truth and information—we face a formidable challenge. For while no regime anywhere can stifle the human spirit, regimes can try to blot out pieces of history from the minds of its next generation. For example, there is no inherent ability of a human being to know about the brave democratic uprising at Tiananmen Square unless he or she learns about it. The Chinese government has gone to great lengths to wipe this event from the record. But as individual information exchanges become effortless through fiber and wireless communication, the Chinese government, indeed all authoritarian regimes, must devote ever more resources to maintain their electronic wall. In Iran this past summer, the real battle took place—and is still taking place—on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter as Iranians struggle to tell their story while the regime desperately tries to block access to the Internet. The same was true for the Burmese opposition in 2007, where the junta struggled to contain the fallout from its bloody crackdown. Before that, text messaging played a crucial role in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. One thing is clear: while physical brutality will always be a tool of oppressors, the tyranny of today and tomorrow will be measured by the extent to which tyrants censor and suppress access to electronic information. As the next generation inherits a globally and instantly connected planet, the struggle for liberty will be waged with fiber optics as much as with firepower. By resolving to help citizens combat censorship, we will ensure that the more the oppressed see and understand the real nature of their regime, and the more they share with the outside world, the more power they will have to determine their own future. As we commemorate this twentieth anniversary of the breaking of the Berlin Wall, we must gather our strength and commit ourselves to finding ways to tear down all the walls of the 21st Century. Our duty is to scale these walls wherever we find them. Our mission is to make freedom of conscience and free access to information universal. Our work did not end twenty years ago, and it does not end today. Today we dedicate ourselves to a new and hopeful beginning, to see a more peaceful and prosperous future.  

  • Twitter Against Tyrants: New Media in Authoritarian Regimes

    Held after a year in which Twitter and Facebook catalyzed protest movements in Iran and Moldova and authoritarian regimes around the world unleashed new tools of Internet control, this briefing considered the ways in which new media and Internet communication technologies affect the balance of power between human rights activists and authoritarian governments. Panelists who spoke at this briefing focused on new media’s role in protests and elections, the ways in which it empowers civil society activists, and the darker side: how dictators use new technology to control and repress their citizens. The response of authoritarian regimes to the significant opportunities for advancing freedom through new media was addressed.  

  • Helsinki Commission Condemns Murder of Russian Human Rights Activist Natalya Estemirova

    Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Ranking Republican Members Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) issued the following statements today upon learning of the killing of Russian human rights activist Natalya Estemirova. “I am saddened and outraged by the kidnapping and killing of Natalya Estemirova, one of the region’s great defenders of human rights. The reports of her abduction in Chechnya and subsequent shooting in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia remind us of the urgent need to address human rights concerns throughout Russia. President Medvedev’s condemnation of this murder and his pledge to ‘take all necessary measures’ to solve the crime are welcomed, but his words must translate into a prompt and complete criminal investigation by federal authorities that brings those responsible to justice,” said Chairman Cardin. “I agree with what President Obama recently said in Moscow that history has shown ‘governments which serve their own people survive and thrive; governments which serve their own power do not.’ Murder and intimidation of activists and journalists is both a serious violation of human rights and an affront to any democracy.” “In 2006, Ms. Estemirova met with the staff of the Helsinki Commission as part of our work to shine a light on the abuses in Chechnya. Lawlessness and violence too often define the lives of journalists and activists who are simply pushing the cause of freedom.” said Co-Chairman Hastings. “Ms. Estemirova led a courageous life of denouncing corruption, calling for a fair judicial system, and standing up for human rights. While her killers may have ended her life, they will never silence the voice she brought to these issues.” “President Medvedev has talked about the legal nihilism rampant in his country and has made positive gestures in the direction of reform, yet these killings continue. It is time to see real action and real reform regarding the rule of law and respect for human rights in Russia. The death of Natalya Estemirova must not be in vain,” said Senator Brownback. “Natalya Estemirova gave her life and now her death in the service to the cause of human suffering and justice,” said Congressman Smith, who authored a resolution that passed the House in 2007 to address the large number of unsolved murders of investigative journalists in Russia. “Being a human rights activist or an independent journalist in Russia has become among the most dangerous professions in the world. The Russian government needs to create an environment in which the flagrant slaughter of human rights activists is unacceptable.” The Helsinki Commission has held many hearings and briefings on Russia’s human rights record, including one recently focusing on the North Caucasus.

  • Human Rights, Civil Society, and Democratic Governance in Russia: Current Situation and Prospects for the Future

    This hearing, chaired by Helsinki Commission Chairman Hon. Sam Brownback and Ranking Member the Hon. Benjamin Cardin, focused on the tumoltuous developement of human right in Russia. For the past few years, a series of events in Russia has given cause for concern about the fate of human rights, civil society, and democratic governance in that country. Of particular concern is the recent promulgation of a law establishing greater governmental control over NGOs and an attempt by the Russian secret services to link prominent Russian NGOs with foreign intelligence services. Newsweek International wrote in its February 6, 2006 issue: “The Russian secret service is acting more and more like the old KGB.” At the same time, the Russian Federation accedes this year to the chairmanship of the Group of Eight Industrialized Nations (G-8), and will chair the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers beginning in May 2006.  

  • Georgia in 2008: Elections or Street Politics?

    This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Alcee Hastings, Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, and attended by Commissioners Cardin, Smith, and Brownback, focussed on Georgia and the recent violence within the country. Over the last few months, Georgia has experienced considerable turmoil, with the violent confrontation between riot police and protesters in November, the imposition of a state of emergency, the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili and the holding of a snap presidential election in early January. Although President Saakashvili narrowly won re-election in the first-round, opposition leaders refuse to recognize the outcome and have pledged to launch another round of protests beginning on February 15 unless their extensive list of demands are met. The hearing will examine the ramifications of these developments for Georgia, the United States and NATO, which Georgia is hoping to join.

  • Russia: In Transition or Intransigent?

    This hearing, which Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings chaired, focused, on Russia, a country whose role had become larger and larger, with a more assertive take on Georgia, Russia’s neighbor to the south, as well as concurrent positions in the United Nations, the Group of 8, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE. In spite of an initially positive looking trajectory of representative government after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., since 2001, the Russian government had begun to recentralize power again. This has been perhaps best exemplified by the government’s curtailing of civil liberties. While the Russian Federation has made progress in certain arenas as far as human rights are concerned (i.e. having heat in the winter, getting paid on time, and access to the judicial process), there has been a vocal and growing minority that is deeply concerned about Russia’s trajectory, and the Russian government has met these individuals’ concerns with heavy-handedness and brutality. To address this situation, Commissioner Hastings expressed the need to find new ways to have more frequent interaction and with all governmental branches, as well as a substantial and sustainable bilateral dialogue at the level of civil society.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Meet with Vaclav Havel, Commemorate 30th Anniversary of Charter 77 Movement

    On February 27, 2007, Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, met with Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003), world renowned human rights activist, and playwright. “This year marks the 30th anniversary of Charter 77’s founding, a movement that was dedicated to compelling the communist government of Czechoslovakia to abide by the international human rights agreements it had freely adopted, including the Helsinki Final Act,” observed Chairman Hastings. “I was delighted to be able to personally share with President Havel the deep respect I have for him, for the movement he helped to found, and for his continuing leadership on human rights issues around the globe.” Former Commission Chairman Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Czech Ambassador Petr Kolar also participated in the discussions, which touched on issues including Russia, China, Cuba, and developments in the Middle East. Havel was briefly in Washington early this year at the Library of Congress’ John W. Kluge Center. Librarian of Congress Dr. James Billington hosted meetings on Capitol Hill with Havel and Members of Congress. Havel addressed a joint session of Congress in 1990 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. The Charter 77 movement was founded in Czechoslovakia in 1977, originally with the support of approximately 240 signatories, each of whom signed a card stating, “I agree with the Charter 77 declaration of January 1, 1977.” The original cards have since been discovered in the Czechoslovak secret police archives. In January, the National Museum in Prague mounted an exhibit of materials related to the Charter 77 movement. In addition, the Washington-based National Security Archives (affiliated with George Washington University), in conjunction with the Prague-based Czechoslovak Documentation Center, released a compilation of documents about the Charter 77 movement, including now-declassified State Department and CIA reporting. Statements made by current and former leaders of the Helsinki Commission on the occasion of the 30 th anniversary of Charter 77, as published in the Congressional Record, are printed below. STATEMENTS REPRINTED FROM THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ‘‘CHARTER 77 MOVEMENT’’ HON. ALCEE L. HASTINGS OF FLORIDA IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Thursday, March 1, 2007 Mr. HASTINGS of Florida. Madam Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am privileged to add my voice today to those honoring Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovakia's first post-communist President, and the Charter 77 movement which, 30 years ago, he helped to found. Three decades ago, the Charter 77 movement was established and its founding manifesto was formally delivered to the Communist regime in Prague. The goals of the Chartists – as signatories came to be known – were fairly straightforward: “Charter 77 [they stated] is a loose, informal and open association of people of various shades of opinion, faiths and professions united by the will to strive individually and collectively for the respect of civic and human rights in our own country and throughout the world – rights accorded to all men by the two mentioned international covenants, by the Final Act of the Helsinki conference and by numerous other international documents opposing war, violence and social or spiritual oppression, and which are comprehensively laid down in the U.N. Universal Charter of Human Rights.” The phrase “people of various shades of opinion” was, in fact, a charming understatement regarding the diversity of the signatories. Founding members of this movement included Vaclav Maly, a Catholic priest banned by the regime; Vacla Benda, a Christian philosopher; former Trotskyite Peter Uhl; former Communists like Zdenek Mlynar and Jiri Hajek, both of whom were ousted from their leadership positions in the wake of the 1968 Soviet attack that crushed the Prague Spring reforms; and, of course, Vaclav Havel, a playwright and dramatist. Notwithstanding the many differences these people surely had, they were united by a common purpose: to compel the Communist regime to respect the international human rights agreements it had freely adopted. Interestingly, the Charter 77 movement was never a mass dissident movement – fewer than two thousand people ever formally signed this document. But, to use a boxing analogy, Charter 77 punched above its weight. Its influence could be felt far beyond the number of those who openly signed on and, ultimately, in the battle of wits and wills with the Communist regime, Charter 77 clearly won And most importantly, Charter 77 – like other human rights groups founded at roughly the same time in Moscow, Vilnius, Warsaw and elsewhere – looked to the Helsinki process as a vehicle for calling their own governments to account. Although it is sometimes said that the Helsinki process helped to bring down communism, it is really these grass roots movements that gave the Helsinki process its real meaning and its true legitimacy. Thirty years ago, a small, courageous band of people came together and said, “We believe that Charter 77 will help to enable all citizens of Czechoslovakia to work and live as free human beings.” Today, we remember their struggle and praise their enduring contributions to democracy and human rights. IN HONOR OF VACLAV HAVEL SENATOR BENJAMIN L. CARDIN OF MARYLAND IN THE SENATE March 13, 2007 Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, 30 years ago, the Charter 77 movement was established with the simple goal of ensuring that the citizens of Czechoslovakia could ``live and work as free human beings.'' Today, as cochairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I join with my colleagues in celebrating the founding of Charter 77 and honoring those men and women who, through their personal acts of courage, helped bring freedom to their country. When the Charter 77 manifesto was issued, three men were chosen to be the first spokespersons of this newly formed movement: a renowned European philosopher, Jan Patocka; Jiri Hajek, who had been Czechoslovakia's Foreign Minister during the Prague Spring; and the playwright, Vaclav Havel. They had the authority to speak for the movement and to issue documents on behalf of signatories Tragically, Jan Patocka paid with his life for his act of bravery and courage. After signing the charter and meeting with Dutch Ambassador Max van der Stoel, he was subjected to prolonged interrogation by the secret police. It is widely believed this interrogation triggered a heart attack, resulting in his death on March 13, 1977. In spite of the chilling message from the regime, Jiri Hajek and Vaclav Havel continued to work with other chartists, at tremendous personal cost. Two-hundred and thirty signatories were called in for interrogation; 50 houses were subjected to searches. Many supporters lost their jobs or faced other forms of persecution; many were sent to prison. In fact, the harsh treatment of the Charter 77 signatories led to the creation of another human rights group, the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted, known by its Czech acronym, VONS. In October 1979, six VONS leaders including Vaclav Havel, were tried for subversion and sentenced to prison terms of up to 5 years. Perhaps the regime's harsh tactics reflected its knowledge that, ultimately, it could only retain control through force and coercion. Certainly, there was no perestroika or glasnost in Husak's Czechoslovakia, no goulash communism as in neighboring Hungary. And so, the regime was threatened by groups that might have seemed inconsequential elsewhere: by the psychedelic band, ``Plastic People of the Universe;'' by a musical appreciation group known as the Jazz Section; by environmentalists, historians, philosophers and, of course, playwrights. Mr. President, 1989 was an extraordinary year--a year in which the regime sought to control everything and, in the end, could control nothing. In May, Hungary opened its borders. In June, free elections were held for parliamentary seats in Poland for the first time in decades. By August, 5,000 East Germans were fleeing to Austria through Hungary every single week. Demonstrations in East Germany continued to rise, forcing Eric Honecker to resign in October. On November 9, the Berlin Wall was breached. But while Communist leaders in other countries saw the writing on the wall, authorities in Prague continued to believe they could somehow cling to power. Ironically, the regime's repressive tactics were part of its final undoing. On November 17, 1989, significant student demonstrations were held in Prague. Human rights groups released videotapes of police and militia viciously beating the demonstrators and these tapes were rapidly and widely circulated through the underground. Shortly thereafter, VONS received credible information that a student demonstrator had been beaten to death. The alleged death so outraged Czechoslovak society that it triggered massive demonstrations. Within days, Czechoslovakia's Communist regime collapsed like a house of cards. As it turned out, no one had actually been killed during the November 17 protests; the story of the student death had been concocted by the secret police to discredit VONS but was all too believable. As concisely stated by Mary Battiata, a reporter for the Washington Post, ``..... a half-baked secret police plan to discredit a couple of dissidents apparently boomeranged and turned a sputtering student protest into a national rebellion.'' On December 29, Vaclav Havel--who had been in prison just a few months earlier--was elected President of Czechoslovakia by the Federal Parliament. Jan Patocka once wrote, ``The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.'' It seems that destiny had a particular role for Vaclav Havel, not one that he invented or envisioned for himself, but one that he has played with courage and grace, with dignity and honor. Today, we honor Vaclav Havel and the Charter 77 movement he helped to found. IN HONOR OF VACLAV HAVEL AND THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHARTER 77 HON. STENY H. HOYER OF MARYLAND IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Tuesday, February 27, 2007 Mr. HOYER. Madam Speaker, this year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Charter 77 movement. Along with other colleagues from the Helsinki Commission, which I had the privilege of Chairing and Co-Chairing from 1985 to 1994, I rise today to commemorate Charter 77's extraordinary accomplishments, and to praise Vaclav Havel, a founding member of the Charter 77 movement and Czechoslovakia's first President after the fall of communism. Twenty years ago this month, I led a Congressional delegation to Czechoslovakia – my first trip to that country. At that time, I was assured by Czechoslovak Government officials that Charter 77 was only a small group, and there was no need to have a dialogue with its members. In an apparent effort to underscore their point, the regime detained several Chartists to keep them from meeting with our delegation: Vaclav Havel, Petr Uhl and Jiri Dienstbier were all arrested in Prague; Miklos Duray was prevented from traveling to Prague from Slovakia; and although Petr Puspoki-Nagy made it to Prague, he was also immediately detained on his arrival. Although I was deprived of the chance to meet these individuals in person, I was already well aware of their work. In fact, the Helsinki Commission's second hearing, held in February 1977, published the full text of the Charter 77 manifesto at the request of one of our witnesses, Mrs. Anna Faltus. We owe a special debt of gratitude to the late Mrs. Faltus, who worked tirelessly for decades as an advocate for a free Czechoslovakia. To this end, she made sure that the documents of Charter 77 and the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Persecuted were quickly translated and widely disseminated to policy makers and human rights advocates. Her effort made it possible for the Helsinki Commission to publish (in 1982 and in 1987) selected and representatives texts of the Charter 77 movement. Looking back, the breadth of those documents is truly remarkably, touching on everything from the legacy of World War II to the country's economic situation; from contemporary music to nuclear energy. But the common thread that bound these diverse statements together was a commitment to promote and protect “the right of the individual to know and act upon his rights.” This right was freely adopted by the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic when Gustav Husak fixed his signature to the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. It was, of course, with great interest that I discussed Charter 77 , first with Czechoslovak officials during my February 1987 trip to Prague, then with Czechoslovak parliamentarians visiting Washington in June 1988 (a delegation which included Prague Communist Party boss Miroslav Stepan), and then with the Czechoslovak delegation to the 1989 Paris Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension. In these meetings, as well as in correspondence with the Czechoslovak Ambassador to the United, I was told that Charter 77 didn't represent public opinion. I was warned that siding with Charter 77 would not help bilateral relations, and I was assured that democracy was coming soon to Czechoslovakia – “socialist democracy.” Needless to say, I was not convinced by my interlocutors: I was not convinced that Augustin Navratil was actually being treated for a mental health condition, rather than being persecuted for his religious activism. I was frankly disgusted when the Czechoslovak delegation to the Paris meeting baldly lied about Jiri Wolf, telling us he had been released early from his prison sentence as a “humanitarian” gesture, and then shrugging with indifference when they were caught in their lie. Most of all, I did not believe that Vaclav Havel was a criminal and Charter 77 merely an “insignificant” group. In fact, in 1989 Senator Dennis DeConcini and I nominated Vaclav Havel for the Nobel Peace Prize. As Senator DeConcini said, “[i]n spite of relentless harassment by the authorities, including imprisonment, repeated detentions, house searches, and confiscation of property, Havel has remained active in the struggle for human rights. . . Havel is now in prison, but he is not alone in his cause. In a dramatic move. . . over 700 of his colleagues – playwrights, producers, artists, and actors – signed a petition calling for his release and the release of others [similarly imprisoned]. For these people, like many others in his country, Vaclav Havel has become a symbol of an enduring and selfless commitment to human rights.” Madam Speaker, on this 30th anniversary of the founding of the Charter 77 movement, I rise to commend and remember the courageous men and women, signatories and supporters, who paved the way for the peaceful transition from communism in Czechoslovakia and restoration of Europe, whole and free. On this anniversary, I give special tribute to Vaclav Havel, playwright and president, and his singular role in leading his country to freedom. IN HONOR OF VACLAV HAVEL AND THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHARTER 77 HON. CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH OF NEW JERSEY IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Tuesday, February 27, 2007 Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Madam Speaker, Edmund Burke once said that, “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Thirty years ago, good men and women came together, and together, they ultimately triumphed over evil. In 1987, I traveled to Czechoslovakia with a Helsinki Commission delegation led by my good friend, STENY HOYER, who was then Chairman of the Commission. We traveled there just ten years after the Charter 77 movement had been formed and, amazingly, in spite of persecution and imprisonment, they had managed to publish 350 documents during its first ten years. And it was clear during my visit to Prague that this organization was having an impact, especially when the communist authorities went to the trouble of preventing five independent activists, including Vaclav Havel, from meeting with us. In spite of this, our delegation was able to meet with several other Charter 77 signatories and sympathizers: Libuse Silhanova, Josef Vohryzek, Father Vaclav Maly, Zdenek Urbanek, and Rita Klimova. Libuse Silhanova, then serving as a Charter 77 spokesperson, described her fellow Chartists as ``ordinary people who happen to be part of a movement.'' For a group of ``ordinary people,'' they certainly accomplished extraordinary things. One of the most notable of these “ordinary people” was the playwright Vaclav Havel, who is today the sole surviving member of Charter 77’s first three spokespersons. At a time when most Czechoslovaks preferred to keep their heads low, he held his up. When others dared not speak out, he raised up his voice. While others hid from communism in their apartments and weekend cottages, he faced it down in prison. In 1978, Havel wrote a seminal essay entitled, “The Power of the Powerless.” In it, he proposed a remarkably conspiratorial concept: the idea that those repressed by the Communist Lie actually had the power to “live for truth,” and that by doing so, they could change the world in which they live. One of the people who read this essay was Zbygniew Bujak, who became a leading Solidarity activist in Poland. Bujak described the impact of Havel's message: This essay reached us in the Ursus factory in 1979 at a point when we felt we were at the end of the road. Inspired by KOR [the Polish Workers' Defense Committee, which preceded Solidarity], we had been speaking on the shop floor, talking to people, participating in public meetings, trying to speak the truth about the factory, the country, and politics. There came a moment when people thought we were crazy. Why were we doing this? Why were we taking such risks? Not seeing any immediate and tangible results, we began to doubt the purposefulness of what we were doing. Shouldn't we be coming up with other methods, other ways? Then came the essay by Havel. Reading it gave us the theoretical underpinnings for our activity. It maintained our spirits; we did not give up, and a year later – in August 1980 – it became clear that the party apparatus and the factory management were afraid of us. We mattered. And the rank and file saw us as leaders of the movement. When I look at the victories of Solidarity, and of Charter 77, I see in them an astonishing fulfillment of the prophecies and knowledge contained in Havel’s essay. Vaclav Havel’s essay was not just the product of clever wordsmithing; it was an act of singular heroism. In fact, shortly after writing “The Power of the Powerless,” Vaclav Havel found himself in prison, again. And it should be remembered that others, including philosopher Jan Patocka, Havel's close friend, and Pavel Wonka, paid with their lives for their opposition to the Czechoslovak communist regime. Vaclav Havel is a man who has always been guided by the courage of his convictions. Remarkably, his courage did not fade upon his assumption of the presidency. Indeed, he is all the more heroic for his steadfast commitment to human rights even from the Prague Castle. From the beginning, he was a voice of reason, not revenge, as he addressed his country's communist and totalitarian past. In 1993, he rightly identified the situation of Roma as “a litmus test for civil society.” And not only has he raised human rights issues in his own country but reminds the world of the abuses taking place in Cuba and China. Throughout his presidency, he pardoned those faced with criminal charges under communist-era laws that restrict free speech. In 2001, he spoke out against the parliament's regressive religion law, which turned the clock back on religious freedom. And he has reminded other world leaders of our shared responsibility for the poor and less fortunate the world over. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the founding of Charter 77, I want to join my colleagues from the Helsinki Commission in honoring Vaclav Havel and all the men and women who signed the Charter, who supported its goals, and who helped bring democracy to Czechoslovakia. IN HONOR OF VACLAV HAVEL SENATOR SAM BROWNBACK OF KANSAS IN THE SENATE March 07, 2007 Mr. BROWNBACK. Mr. President, today I wish to join my colleagues from the Helsinki Commission in commemorating the founding of the Charter 77 movement 30 years ago, and praising Vaclav Havel, one of Charter 77’s first spokesmen and the first post-Communist President of Czechoslovakia. Many aspects of Vaclav Havel’s biography are well known. His advanced formal education was limited by the Communist regime because of his family's pre-World War II cultural and economic status. By the 1960s, he was working in theater and writing plays. But by 1969, the Communist regime had deemed him “subversive,” and his passport was confiscated. In 1977, he took the daring step of joining two others – Jan Patocka and Jiri Hajek – in becoming the first spokesmen for the newly established “Charter 77” movement. This group sought to compel the Czechoslovak Government to abide by the international human rights commitments it had freely undertaken, including the Helsinki Final Act. In the 1970s and 1980s, Vaclav Havel was repeatedly imprisoned because of his human rights work. His longest period of imprisonment was 4 1/2 years, 1979-1983, for subversion. After this, Havel was given the opportunity to emigrate but, courageously, he chose to stay in Czechoslovakia. By February 1989, Havel had come to symbolize a growing human rights and democratic movement in Czechoslovakia and, that year, the Helsinki Commission nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Remarkably, in November 1989, the repressive machinery of the Communist regime – a regime that for five decades had persecuted and even murdered its own citizens – collapsed in what has come to be known as the “Velvet Revolution.” To understand just how repressive the former regime was – and therefore how stunning its seemingly sudden demise was – it may be instructive to recall the first measures of the post-Communist leadership, introduced in the heady days of late 1989 and early 1990. First and foremost, all known political prisoners were released. Marxism-Leninism was removed as a required course from all school curricula. Borders were opened for thousands of people who had previously been prohibited from traveling freely. Control over the People's Militia was transferred from the party to the Government. The Federal Assembly passed a resolution condemning the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Approximately 40 Ambassadors representing the Czechoslovak Communist regime were recalled. Newly appointed Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier announced that the “temporary” 1968 agreement allowing Soviet troops to remain in Czechoslovakia was invalid because it was agreed to under duress and that Soviet troops would withdraw from the country. The Politburo announced it would end the nomenklatura system of reserving certain jobs for party functionaries. The secret police was abolished. Alexander Dubcek, leader of the 1968 Prague Spring, was elected Chairman of the Federal Assembly on December 28 and, a day later, Vaclav Havel was voted to replace Gustav Husak. In February 1990, Vaclav Havel addressed a joint session of Congress. Charter 77 paved the way for all of these things, and more: for Czechoslovakia's first free and fair elections since 1946, for the normalization of trade relations between our two countries, and for the Czech Republic's accession to NATO. Not surprisingly, the work of Charter 77 continues to inspire, as is evidenced by the adoption of the name “Charter 97” by human rights activists in Belarus, who are still working to bring to their own country a measure of democracy and respect for human rights that Czechs have now enjoyed for some years. I am therefore pleased to recognize the 30th anniversary of the Charter 77 movement and to join others in honoring Vaclav Havel who remains, to this day, the conscience of the global community.

  • Democracy in Tajikistan: Preview of the Presidential Election

    The briefing addressed the then upcoming presidential election, scheduled for November 6, which was predicted to demonstrate prospects for systemic democratization in Tajikistan. President Imomali Rakhmonov, running for re-election, has been in power since 1994 and could remain in office until 2020 if re-elected.  International policy advisor Ronald J. McNamara was joined by Eric M. McGlinchey, Khamrokhon Zaripov, Dennis de Tray, and Anthony C. Bowyer in analyzing the extent of the Tajikistan government’s allowance for an opposition. While there were multiple candidates, the major opposition leaders experienced significant harassment from authorities and most decided not to run. 

  • Protecting Children: The Battle Against Child Pornography and Other Forms of Sexual Exploitation

    This hearing discussed the proliferation of child pornography and other crimes against children through trafficking, prostitution, and sex tourism. Annually, thousands of American children, at least half of which are boys, have been the victims of pornography and many subjected to violence in the process. Often, those guilty of such crimes have been parents, relatives, or acquaintances of these victims. Victims of pornography have been disproportionately affected by depression and suicide and such victims have committed these crimes themselves, perpetuating this cycle.  Global criminal networks that profit from this activity have developed.   In the 1990s, the Commission began efforts to fight child pornography, and in the second half of the 1990s the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed. This strengthened the case more comprehensive actions against child pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation.

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Is It Undermining U.S. Interests in Central Asia?

    This Commission examined activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization since its inception in 2001 and its effects on the U.S. mission in Central Asia. The United States is vitally interested in the transition of the Central Asian states to democracy and to market economies. The region is also a critical partner in the war on terrorism. However, many of the Central Asian countries still lack inclusive governing bodies. Countries such as Uzbekistan may use the SCO as cover against international criticism about their authoritarian systems.  The witnesses and Commissioners discussed the future for relations with Central Asia with the possibility of a stronger influence from the SCO.

  • Helsinki Commission Report Describes Investigations Into Wrongful Sterilizations in Slovakia and Czech Republic

    A United States Helsinki Commission staff report released today describes investigations into the practice of sterilizing Romani women without informed consent in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The report describes an investigation by the Czech Public Defender of Rights as an “unflinching examination” of “highly sensitive issues.” An investigation of the same issue by the Slovak Government was “marred by numerous shortcomings and insufficient follow up.” During the 1970s and 1980s, the Czechoslovak Government pursued a policy aimed at reducing the birthrate of Roma, including by targeting Romani women for sterilization. Although it was generally assumed that the practice of sterilizing Romani women without their consent had stopped after the fall of communism, allegations that this practice had not definitively ended persisted throughout the 1990s in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Slovakia investigated allegations regarding sterilization in 2003, and questions continue to be raised about this matter at international fora. The Czech Public Defender of Rights issued a report on December 23, 2005, confirming that some women had been sterilized without informed consent. “I commend the Czech Public Defender of Rights for his courageous and principled investigation into this sensitive issue,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), “and I call on the next Czech Government to move quickly to act on his recommendations.” “Unfortunately,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), “Slovakia has yet to admit that this terrible practice occurred, despite clear evidence to the contrary. I urge the Slovak Government to acknowledge that some Roma women were sterilized without their consent and to ensure that women are given proper access to their own medical records.” The report states, “[T]he Slovak Government has failed to demonstrate any compassion for women and girls who were sterilized without their consent and deprived of the opportunity to bear children again. By treating their claims as lies, the government has effectively treated these victims as liars, and compounded their original injury with this indignity. If the Slovak Government is to counter the endemic prejudice faced by its most marginalized minority, it must acknowledge the fact – and state it publicly – that wrongful sterilizations of Romani women did occur.” Recent parliamentary elections in Slovakia are cited in the report as a potential hindrance to progress on this issue. Slovak parliamentary elections were held on June 17, and those elections produced a coalition government that includes the extremist Slovak National Party. As recently as February 2006, Jan Slota, head of the Slovak National Party, stated that if his party joined the government after the June elections, he would seek to control the birth rate of “unadapted” Roma. The report is available through the Helsinki Commission's web site at www.csce.gov. The Commission will examine the issue in more detail during a briefing featuring Ms. Gwendolyn Albert, Director of the League of Human Rights in Prague, that will be held on August 15, 2006, at 2:00 PM in Room 2255 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

  • Helsinki Commission Leadership Condemns Kyrgyz Return of Uzbek Refugees

    Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) expressed outrage about the forced return of Uzbek refugees by the Kyrgyz Government. Four refugees and one asylum seeker were deported on Wednesday to Uzbekistan, from which they had fled. “I am profoundly disappointed that Kyrgyzstan has forcibly returned these five individuals,” said Senator Brownback. “Kyrgyzstan did allow the UN to resettle to third countries the majority of refugees fleeing the Andijon shootings. I do not understand this change in policy, which certainly damages Kyrgyzstan’s international reputation. The consequences of this decision may be life threatening for the refugees.” “I urge President Bakiev to ensure this grave mistake is not repeated with other Uzbeks seeking shelter in Kyrgyzstan from the repressive Karimov regime,” added Senator Brownback. “I also urge President Karimov to allow the international community access to the returnees.” Four individuals were recognized as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which had reportedly found third countries to accept their resettlement. Despite repeated UNHCR requests to Kyrgyz officials to allow the transfer, Kyrgyz authorities deported all five individuals to Uzbekistan on Wednesday. UNHCR had not been granted sufficient access to the fifth individual to determine whether he qualified as a refugee. “The forcible return of refugees to Uzbekistan, an egregious human rights abuser, is unconscionable and outrageous,” said Rep. Smith. “I had hoped the United States had found a reliable partner in President Bakiev, but apparently he’s more interested in pleasing Tashkent by offering up these poor souls for likely mistreatment than in upholding international commitments.” “Considering this and the recent expulsion of two American diplomats on specious grounds, we should take a long and hard look at the policies coming out of Bishkek and how they will affect the bilateral relationship,” said Rep. Smith. The four Uzbeks were being detained in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh for over one year due to an Uzbek extradition request. They were part of a larger group of over 400 refugees that crossed into Kyrgyzstan fleeing the shootings by Uzbek security forces in May 2005 in the Uzbek city of Andijon. UNHCR recognized the entire group as refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, to which Kyrgyzstan is a signatory. The group was transferred to Romania last year for resettlement processing. Under the nonrefoulement obligation of the UN Refugee Convention, Contracting States must not forcibly return individuals to situations where their life and freedom would be threatened. In addition, Kyrgyzstan is obligated by the UN Convention Against Torture to not return individuals if there are substantial grounds for believing they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

  • Belgium’s Chairmanship of the OSCE

    The Belgian Government assumed Chairmanship of the OSCE in January 2006.  The first half of 2006 saw a number of developments within, and adjacent to, the OSCE region that formed the focus of the hearing.  Among the issues addressed were developments in Central Asia and neighboring Afghanistan, the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the political situation in the Caucasus, and human rights trends in the Russian Federation.  Commissioners also focused on OSCE democracy-promotion work, with a special emphasis on election monitoring, programs to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, and initiatives aimed at promoting greater international cooperation to curtail human trafficking and child pornography.

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