On Friday, December 9, 2016, the Law Library of Congress celebrated Human Rights Day and marked International Anti-Corruption Day with a panel discussion on human rights in Eastern Europe. The event featured a distinguished panel of American and European politicians, scholars, and practitioners. Panelists discussed how the U.S. Congress helped to develop human rights in this region and addressed specific human rights violations and advances in Romania and the former Soviet republics. They also made remarks on how the Miranda warning has influenced human rights in these regions.
After a brief introduction by T.J. Halstead, deputy director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Law Library’s director of Global Legal Research, Peter Roudik, who served as the moderator, began the program with a brief history on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . He highlighted the Law Library’s 2016 Law Day and Depiction of Law in Film events, which also celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Miranda warning.
The first panelist, Kyle Parker, a senior member of the professional staff of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, shared his involvement in the Library of Congress’s Open World Leadership Center, which began under the leadership of Dr. James Billington, now the Librarian of Congress Emeritus. Mr. Parker described how this program helped to bring human rights issues to the attention of post-Soviet leaders.
Based on his professional experience working for the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), Mr. Parker addressed achievements of the Commission in implementing the principles of the Helsinki Act. He described the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe statement on human rights as one of the “richest declarations on universal human rights.” He also expounded on the Helsinki Commission’s accomplishments in addressing human rights concerns in Russia, including its work relating to the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, which was developed in to response to the imprisonment, later death of Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed tax fraud among Russian government officials.
Parker concluded his remarks by discussing the role and efforts of the United States Congress in advancing human rights and responding to human rights abuses around the world today.
The second panelist, William Pomeranz, deputy director of the Kennan Institute for the Advanced Russian Studies of the Woodrow Wilson Center, focused his remarks on a “Miranda-Style Warning” in Russia and the Criminal-Procedural Code of the Russian Federation. He discussed Russia’s high conviction rate, citing that “99 percent of persons who go to trial are convicted.” He explained how corruption among prosecutors, the judiciary and courts’ dependence on government results in Russia’s high conviction rate. For example, he stated that prosecutors are judged by how many acquittals result from their prosecutions and evidence submitted by defense attorneys on behalf of defendants is usually assumed to be biased by the judges. He argued that corruption leads to police and prosecutorial abuses and hinders Miranda-type warnings from being effective in protecting the accused in Russia. On the other hand, he pointed out that there are a high number of civil cases in Russia, indicating that people still have faith in the system.
Additionally, Pomeranz mentioned lack of division of power and the rule of law as causes of systemic human rights concerns in Russia. He also spoke about human rights violations in Crimea and a newly passed Russian law that can overturn human rights decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights. He emphasized the importance of human rights in U.S.-Russian relations but expressed uncertainty regarding the role they may play in the future.
The third panelist, Monica Macovei, member of the European Parliament, spoke about the importance of anti-corruption laws to address human rights violations. “You cannot talk about civil rights in a corrupt country,” she said.
Macovei discussed her work as a civil rights attorney for the European Court, where she stated that she represented about 20 legal cases involving human rights violations in Romania. She explained that many Romanian citizens at the time of her work on the Court, were beaten up or killed by police, and journalists were being imprisoned for criticizing political figures.
Furthermore, Macovei highlighted that Miranda rights are similar in Eastern Europe, noting that the warning is given at the time of interrogation. She also discussed the Human Rights chapter of the European Union. In conclusion, Macovei remarked on the importance of change agents working to fight corruption and advance human rights.
The fourth panelist, Natella Boltyanskaya, a Russian journalist and historian of the Soviet dissident movement, provided a presentation on Americans who worked to advance human rights in the Soviet Union. She reviewed U.S. assistance to Soviet dissenters since the 1950s stating that before Stalin’s death it was impossible to advance human rights because repression was so prevalent.
Boltyanskaya cited George F. Kennan, a diplomat and historian, in particular for working to combat Soviet propaganda. Furthermore, she discussed the role of U.S. government funded broadcasting organizations such as Radio Free Europe and Voice of America role in sharing news to Soviet countries. Overall, Boltyanskaya concluded that American support helped Russians greatly.
Roudik concluded the Human Rights Day event with a question and answer period with each of the panelists.
A video of our Human Rights Day will be posted to the Law Library’s YouTube page and this blog as soon as it becomes available.