Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Chairman - Helsinki Commission

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We convene today’s hearing as developments in the Republic of Georgia appear almost on a daily basis in our newspapers. Given the involvement of scores of Coloradans in the U.S.- sponsored train and equip program, I am particularly concerned over threats to the sovereignty and independence of Georgia that could impact U.S. forces deployed in that country.

As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I am concerned over a myriad of problems that plague Georgia a decade after restoration of its independence. This year also marks 10 years of Georgia’s participation in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

In the human dimension, I am especially concerned about the ongoing campaign of violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of other minority faiths. The leadership of the Helsinki Commission and other members of the Senate and House have been in correspondence with President Shevardnadze about this disturbing pattern of attacks. The Georgian President has assured us that the problem will be appropriately addressed and the perpetrators arrested. So far, however, the culprits remain at liberty. I hope that growing international attention to this issue will have the desired effect of quelling mob violence. Whatever difficulties might ensue from the arrest, indictment and sentencing of these criminals, allowing them to continue targeting innocent believers of another confession is an even greater threat to Georgian democracy and, indeed, stability.

Precisely that stability, I fear, is at risk from outside the country as well. In the security dimension, we have heard the recent saber-rattling from Moscow with alarm; Russian planes have already bombed Georgian territory, killing Georgian civilians. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation continues to maintain military bases on Georgian territory. Any unilateral Russian military action on Georgian territory, which Russian generals constantly threaten, would cause a crisis not only in Russo-Georgian relations but would greatly complicate ties between Moscow and Washington.

In this regard, let there be no mistake concerning our strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. The OSCE, which has significantly increased its presence on the ground in Georgia, can play a valuable role in addressing the current crisis as well as longstanding conflicts that pose a threat to an independent Georgia.