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Ranking Member Howard L. Berman’s Statement at Foreign Affairs Committee Mark-up

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s full committee mark-up.

Statement, as prepared for delivery, follows:

Madam Chairman, thank you very much. I want to express my appreciation to you and your staff for working with us on this mark-up and for including several Democratic measures. I support all of the bills and resolutions that we are taking up today.

First, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012 is a very important piece of legislation. Later this year Congress may consider lifting the Jackson-Vanik provisions concerning emigration from Russia and granting Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations. But if we were to consider such changes to our trade law, it should be done in conjunction with legislation to address serious human rights violations in Russia.

In addition to Sergei’s tragic death, we are deeply concerned about a range of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, the serious irregularities in recent elections, and legislation enacted by several city council -- including Saint Petersburg – to restrict the ability of Russia’s LGBT community to exercise their rights of expression, association and assembly.

This substitute differs from the original in that it only sanctions human rights violators in Russia. My preference is worldwide application of these provisions, as opposed to singling out one specific country, which is consistent with steps already taken by the Obama administration to deny visas to human rights violators and to curb corruption by foreign government officials. As this legislation moves forward, I hope we will re-examine the issue of whether or not to take a more expansive approach to human rights violators and those that facilitate financial corruption.

I also want to commend Mr. Bilirakis for his very important resolution, H. Res. 506 “Calling upon the Government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay.”

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has numerous, fully legitimate concerns about the unjust treatment the Turkish government has accorded it over the years, including policies that have threatened the very existence of the Patriarchate. And those of us who have been seized with those concerns for some time remain fully committed to them. But the message of this resolution, which I strongly support, is very specific – simple but powerful – and directed toward the Turkish government: Reopen the Halki Seminary!

The Halki Seminary, located on an island near Istanbul, was the pre-eminent seminary of the Greek Orthodox world until Turkey closed it in 1971. For the past 41 years, its classrooms -- which produced the top theologians of the Greek Orthodox world -- have been silent.

This balanced resolution notes some positive gestures by the Turkish government in recent years, including the return of some Church property and the unprecedented meeting of the Turkish prime minister with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. But a flourishing Halki Seminary would be a true sign that Turkey is serious about moving toward religious freedom and fully joining the family of democratic nations. I call on the Turkish government to re-open Halki without any further delay.

H.R. 4141, the Donald M. Payne International Food Assistance Improvement Act of 2012, honors and builds on the tireless efforts of our late colleague to protect the world’s most vulnerable populations. With Don’s untimely passing, we not only lost a dear friend and respected colleague, but a wise and determined champion for those who live in chronically food-insecure environments. All too often, the food rations designed to address short-term crises end up being relied upon for multiyear feeding programs, but they are unsuited to provide adequate nutrition over longer periods. This bill does not add new costs or impose new obligations – it simply refines and targets existing food aid to maximize its impact and find cost efficiencies, as recommended by GAO. I urge strong support for this measure.

With H. Res. 583, introduced by Mr. McGovern, this Committee re-iterates its condemnation of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army, which continues to terrorize communities in Central Africa. This resolution underscores our support for U.S. and international efforts to stop the LRA and bring Joseph Kony to justice. It also emphasizes the importance of regional cooperation, local capacity building, civilian protection, and recovery programs, which will be necessary even after Kony and his allies are removed from the battlefield.

H. Res. 526, offered by Mr. Shuster, is a strong statement in support of Georgia’s progress on democratic reforms, its territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic aspirations. It recognizes the reforms since the 2003 Rose Revolution and calls on the Government of Georgia to continue this progress so that we can strengthen our partnership and expand our bilateral relations. A critical measure of this progress will be the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. . I am concerned by efforts to prevent a prominent political opponent from running in the parliamentary election and reported attempts to intimidate local opposition leaders, including denying them access to media. We will continue to watch this process closely.

I thank my friend from New York, Mr. Engel, for introducing H.Res.663. This resolution encourages the International Olympic Committee to hold a minute of silence during the upcoming London Olympics to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Munich Olympics terrorist attack in which eleven Israeli Olympians, including a dual US-Israeli national, lost their lives.

The unspeakable horror that shook the international community forty years ago in Munich is still fresh in the memory of those old enough to recall it. An Olympics that was supposed to showcase the new Germany instead became a synonym for murder and hatred. No single event in the history of the Olympics so contradicted the very ideals on which the Olympic movement is founded.

This 40th anniversary year of that tragedy is an appropriate time to honor those lost that day, and a moment of silence at all future Olympics will remind the victims’ families and friends that the international community has not forgotten their loved ones. And the International Olympic Committee should understand that, through this quadrennial moment of silence, it will be boldly re-affirming the ideals of brotherhood and peaceful competition for which it purports to stand and defiantly, if belatedly, rejecting terrorists who were contemptuous of those ideals.

Thank you very much Madame Chairman. I look forward to working with you at our next mark-up on the State Authorization legislation.

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