Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. Christopher H. Smith
Ranking Minority Member - Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe


Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in today’s timely hearing on Russia in advance of the President’s upcoming summit meeting with his Russian counterpart in early July. While many are focused on the pursuit of arms control agreements with Moscow, the human rights situation in the Russian Federation continues to deteriorate across the boards. Whether we are speaking about freedom of expression and the media; the rights of all believers to freely profess and practice their faith; or the ability of human rights defenders, NGOs, independent journalists and political parties to operate without fear of government harassment, the space for such activity is shrinking. Compounding this reality is the near absence of an independent judiciary to which victims can appeal, receive a fair hearing and stand a chance of prevailing.

The troubling trends in Russia since the rise of Vladimir Putin from relative obscurity nearly a decade ago have largely continued unabated. In the 1990 Copenhagen Document all participating States reaffirmed that democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law and recognized the importance of pluralism. The Kremlin’s pursuit of “managed democracy” is nothing more than euphemism for creeping authoritarianism.

As President Reagan once observed, “concentrated power has always been the enemy of liberty.” Regrettably, there is nothing to suggest that the current Russian leadership is about to shift course.

Not surprisingly, at the OSCE the Russians have teamed up with a motley crew of likeminded countries seeking to strip the human dimension of any meaning. Among their specific targets are the OSCE’s democracy promotion activities, particularly the framework for election observation. Similarly, they are looking to severely limit the involvement of NGOs within the OSCE. This ongoing campaign is of particular concern in light of Kazakhstan’s upcoming chairmanship of OSCE beginning in January.

Mr. Chairman, from my experience as a member of this Commission since 1983 as well as human rights work elsewhere, I have found that the American people can be moved when they see the human face of rights violations. Today’s witnesses bring to the table deeply personal experiences that remind us that there are very real victims of the policies and practices pursued by Russia’s current leaders.

In anticipation of Secretary Clinton’s travel to Corfu later this month for an OSCE discussion about the future of European security and the President’s summit meetings in Moscow next month, I urge them not to lose sight of the fact that, at its root, genuine security is inextricably linked to democracy, human rights and the rule of law – the very foundations of the Helsinki Process.