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Chris Smith

International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

108th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I find myself dealing with the issue of torture many times over during the course of any given year–torture committed by Russian forces in Chechnya, systematic police abuse of Roma in Greece, prisoners tortured to death in Uzbekistan, to give just a few recent examples.

 

Unfortunately, torture remains the weapon of choice by many oppressive regimes, systematically used to silence political opposition, punish religious minorities, or target those who are ethnically or racially different from those in power.

 

But on the occasion of the United Nations’ Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, I’d like to reflect on the steps that can be taken to help prevent torture from occurring in the first place.

 

Torture is prohibited by a multitude of international instruments, including documents of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Moreover, it is absolute and nonderogable under any circumstances, even wartime. The challenge, then, is to translate this commitment into practice.

 

Amnesty International has issued a number of recommendations to help end torture. They are remarkably straightforward and easy to grasp: officials at the highest level should condemn torture; governments should ensure access to prisoners; secret detentions should be prohibited; and confessions obtained through torture should be excluded from evidence in the courtroom. I believe the implementation of these fundamental principles would have a significant impact in reducing torture. At the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Annual Session two years ago, I introduced a resolution, passed by the Assembly, that built on these basic concepts.

 

While we work to eradicate torture, we must not forget those who have already become its victims. Along with Representative TOM LANTOS, I have introduced H.R. 1813, legislation to re-authorize the Torture Victims Relief Act and the list of cosponsors is growing. The Senate companion bill, S. 854 was introduced by Senator COLEMAN. This reauthorization will continue funding for centers here in the United States that help provide treatment for the estimated half million survivors, most of whom came to this country as refugees. It will also provide funds, distributed through the Agency for International Development or the U.N. Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture, for treatment centers abroad. While life for torture survivors can never be the same, treatment can provide victims the hope of becoming stable and productive members of their communities. I urge my colleagues in the House to join in supporting this measure as a tangible support of the victims of torture.

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Hearings

My “Hell” in Russian Captivity

Sep 15, 2022

Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine include the brutal and unlawful detention of thousands of Ukrainians. At this hearing, Yuliia “Taira” Paievska, a well-known Ukrainian volunteer medic who was detained in Mariupol in March and held by the Russians for three months, testified about her capture, the deplorable conditions of her captivity, the plight of those […]

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Press Releases

Ukrainian Medic to Testify on “Hell” in Russian Capt...

Sep 07, 2022

WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: MY “HELL” IN RUSSIAN CAPTIVITY Taira Paievska on Russia’s War in Ukraine Thursday, September 15, 2022 9:00 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 106 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine include the brutal and […]

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Publications

HELSINKI COMMISSION DIGITAL DIGEST JUNE 2022

Jun 30, 2022

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Press Releases

Cardin, Wicker Recognition of Romani Americans Clear...

Jun 10, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) lauded unanimous passage in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday of S. Res.124, the first official acknowledgement by Congress of the genocide of the Romani people by the Nazis. The resolution, first authored by Cardin and Wicker in 2019 and reintroduced […]

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Hearings

Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

May 04, 2022

Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, including a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of children were sheltering and the Kramatorsk rail station where thousands were waiting to escape the Russian onslaught. The withdrawal of Russian troops from towns like Bucha, Chernihiv, and Sumy has revealed horrific […]

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Press Releases

Russian War Crimes in Ukraine to Be Discussed at Hel...

Apr 28, 2022

WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: RUSSIAN WAR CRIMES IN UKRAINE Wednesday, May 4, 2022 NEW TIME: 2:00 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment […]

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Statements

Remembering Sergei Magnitsky

Nov 18, 2021

Madam President, 12 years ago this Tuesday, Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in Moscow at the hands of prison guards who, instead of treating him for the acute illness that his torturous, year-long detention provoked, beat him for over an hour.  He was found dead in his cell shortly thereafter.  His “crime” was exposing […]

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Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Recalls Legacy of Sergei Magnitsky

Nov 16, 2021

WASHINGTON—On the 12-year anniversary of the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “Sergei Magnitsky’s heroic legacy is exemplified in the global movement for justice sparked by his death,” […]

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Statements

REMEMBERING AND HONORING SERGEI MAGNITSKY

Nov 16, 2021

Mr. COHEN. Madam Speaker, today we remember and honor Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian tax lawyer who in 2008 uncovered a massive fraud scheme of hundreds of millions of dollars perpetrated by law enforcement officers. In any normal situation, Mr. Magnitsky would have been praised for his efforts. But this was Putin’s Russia, and he was […]

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Publications

Helsinki Commission Summer 2021 Digital Digest

Aug 02, 2021

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Statements

Cardin and Wicker Discuss July 2021 Congressional De...

Jul 21, 2021

Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, I take this time to talk about the work of the U.S. Helsinki Commission in a recent opportunity we had to participate in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I am joined on the floor by Senator Wicker, who is the Republican chair of the Helsinki Commission. The two of us have worked […]

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Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Delegation Advances Priority Iss...

Jul 15, 2021

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) last week led a U.S. delegation to the 2021 OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Annual Session in Vienna, Austria. The assembly was the first major gathering with an in-person component since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The 2021 […]

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