As the nation continues to mourn the death of Otto Warmbier—the American student who died after being held in horrendous conditions by the North Korean regime for 17 months—Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on Africa and global human rights, is calling on the State Department to increase their efforts to free a naturalized American citizen being held without charge by the government of Congo-Brazzaville since March 2016.
“The principle of due process demands that Congo-Brazzaville should have released Marcel Pika long ago, but the government continues to ignore their own laws and continue his imprisonment without charging him or bringing him to trial,” Smith said. “As the long overdue release and untimely death of Otto Warmbier underscores, every American Administration, no matter the party, must bring pressure on the bad actors of the world—and push ever harder for the release of Pika, another American held in harsh conditions, before another tragedy occurs.”
Pika had fled Congo-Brazzaville in the 1990s during President Denis Sassou-Nguesso’s first term in office. With the help of the United Nations in 1999, he sought refuge in Lincoln, Nebraska, and became a U.S. citizen in 2005. A retired colonel who once served in the Congolese armed forces, Pika wanted to live out his life in his home country and returned there in 2007. His family believes Pika was arrested for supporting the opposition against President Sassou-Nguesso.
Pika is a diabetic, and his son, Percy, said his father has lost a lot of weight and is living in what he described as “grim” conditions. According to the current State Department human rights report, the Government of Congo-Brazzaville is guilty of numerous human rights violations, including politically motivated disappearances, harsh detention conditions and a lack of judicial due process.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), who represents parts of Monmouth, Mercer and Ocean counties, today warned of a dangerous new telephone scam being used to target individuals across the country, with seniors at particular risk. Reports of this new scam have increased throughout the country in recent days, prompting a call to action by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
In this latest con, callers will claim to be from the IRS and tell the victim that two letters have been sent to their home address, but were returned as undeliverable. The scam artist will then pressure the victim, including threatening to send police to arrest them, if payment is not made immediately through a prepaid debit card or some form of gift card. This payment would be demanded without the victim being given the time to contact their tax preparer, an attorney or the local IRS office.
In addition, with the latest scam, the fraudster will often falsely claim that their system is tied to the IRS’ Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) in an attempt to further mislead the victim. The EFTPS system is automated and a taxpayer would never receive a call about this system from the IRS. The IRS notes that claiming to be calling about the EFTPS is a sign of illegal activity on the part of the caller.
“Even though the 2017 tax season is behind us, we must stay vigilant against this and other scams year round,” said Smith. “In particular, with laws and regulations covering the IRS being complicated and subject to frequent revision, we must ensure that seniors—who are the main targets of these scammers—know about these dirty tricks. Tell your friends, parents and grandparents, together we can fight back against these schemes.”
Key facts from the IRS:
The IRS (and its authorized private collection agencies) will never:
For anyone who doesn’t owe taxes and has no reason to think they do:
For anyone who owes tax or thinks they do:
Last week, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on global human rights, received two hunger awards in less than two hours recognizing his outstanding leadership on issues important to hungry and poor people in the U.S. and abroad.
The first award, the “Leadership on Global Food Security and Nutrition” presented by Bread for the World was followed by the “Bill Emerson and Mikey Leland Hunger Leadership Award,” given by the Congressional Hunger Center.
“To end hunger worldwide we must have resources, and we must have the will,” said Smith at his first award ceremony. “We continue to face challenges, but there is strong bipartisan support for humanitarian aid. We will rally.”
Continuing the tradition of bipartisanship exemplified in the creation of both of these organization, Smith was joined by Democratic Congressmen in receiving an award at each event. Rep. Dwight Evans (PA-02) recived the Bread for the World award, and Rep. Bobby Scott (VA-03) received the award from the Congressional Hunger Center. The bipartisan commitment to ending hunger was further highlighted in the second ceremony as Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) presented the award to Smith.
Both organizations noted the Global Food Security Act, which Smith sponsored in the House, was instrumental in the fight against hunger. The law coordinates the efforts of 11 different governmental agencies to improve basic nutrition and reduce hunger in the 19 lower income countries.
“The Global Food Security Act is a blueprint, it is totally bipartisan and it is law,” said Smith. “Now we have to make sure that it is fully and faithfully implemented, and ensure it helps those that need it most.”
Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on human rights, released the following statement on the death of Otto Warmbier:
“My condolences and prayers go out to the parents, family and friends of Otto Warmbier. His death is an unnecessary tragedy that must be laid squarely at the feet of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.
“The era of strategic patience is over, the Administration has thankfully moved on from the failed policies of the Obama Administration, but we cannot shy away from the truth that a rogue regime, able to sentence a young tourist to 15 years of hard labor for apparently stealing a propaganda poster, is willing to use nuclear weapons when it finally acquires them. This is a clear national security threat that requires action.
“The U.S. and the international community must focus on bringing those responsible for Otto Warmbier’s death to account. This would include those corporations and countries complicit in propping up a Kim Jong Un.
“There are still three other Americans being held hostage in North Korea, and as many as 200,000 North Koreans being held in modern day concentration camps. We have an obligation to do everything we can to help these individuals.”
The three Americans still detained in North Korea are:
The Hellenic Federation of New Jersey bestowed Congressman Chris Smith of Hamilton, NJ with its 2017 Public Service Award for his work in government. The Federation represents 45 Greek associations across the Garden State. The event began with the U.S. National Anthem, followed by the Greek National Anthem. Smith spoke about human rights issues in Turkish-occupied Cyprus, as well as the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the recent passage on the House Floor of House Resolution 354. H. Res. 354 condemns the violence perpetrated by Turkish President Erdogan’s security detail on peaceful protesters and American police outside the Turkish Ambassador’s residence. Smith also acknowledged the two other honorees: Tony Papamarkos for leadership in the community, and Paul Kalamaras for leadership in business. PICTURED BELOW: At a June 17 event at the Graycliff Manor in Moonachie, NJ, Federation President Savas Tsivicos, of Ocean Township, on left, presents Smith with a bust of Alexander the Great. Federation member Stavros Antonakakis of Voorhees Township, is on right.
ROBBINSVILLE -- Township firefighters will receive federal funding to update their medical equipment, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith recently announced.
Smith said the Robbinsville Fire Department will be awarded a $22,740 grant from the Department of Homeland Security, through the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program.
Smith said in a statement the grant will be used to purchase four defibrillators and one CPR device. The money will cover about 95 percent of the total cost, replacing the township's current outdated equipment, he said.
In 2000, Smith helped create the AFG Program through his involvement with the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. Robbinsville received a grant of over $100,000 in 2015 through the program.
The township fire department is a combination career/volunteer force that is staffed around the clock by a staff of 18 professional firefighters.
The department also operates an basic life support (BLS) ambulance staffed by Capital Health System employees.
Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on global human rights, released the following statement on the Trump Administration’s New Cuba Policy:
“I am encouraged by President Trump’s seeking to curtail the flow of funds to the communist Castro regime in Cuba. This is the first step in halting the Obama Administration’s misguided policy—which overlooked egregious human rights abuses, including the regime’s complicity in human trafficking, in order to further his personal ‘legacy.’ I would further encourage the President to set concrete and measurable milestones which tie any liberalization in Cuba policy to progress in respect for human rights and democracy. To that end, I intend to reintroduce the Cuba Human Rights Act, which protects the human rights of the Cuban people, demands the return of fugitives from justices such as convicted cop killer Joanne Chesimard and requires the Castro regime to compensate those whose property they stole.”
By Salem Solomon, VOA Staff Writer -
In 2003, Roger Thurow was a journalist assigned to cover the looming famine in Ethiopia. Upon arriving in the country, he was given a warning by a World Food Program worker who told him that “looking into the eyes of someone dying of hunger becomes a disease of the soul.”
Thurow soon found that to be all too true. While visiting the emergency feeding tents he met a little boy named Hagirso who was five years old and weighed under 14 kilograms when his dad carried him in from their village.
“He was severely malnourished and basically disappearing,” Thurow recalled. “That haunted me. Hagirso, the whole setting, everything that was going on in the emergency feeding tents and just the magnitude of the famine. It was the first famine of the 21st century. What’s wrong with us that we brought famine into this new millennium of ours?”
PHOTO: Adel Bol, 20, cradles as she her 10-month-old daughter Akir Mayen at a food distribution site in Malualkuel in the Northern Bahr el Ghazal region of South Sudan.
Ten years later, Thurow returned to see what had happened to Hagirso. He found the boy was physically stunted, only coming up slightly above an adult’s waist and was cognitively stunted, learning at a first grade level.
“You just have to wonder, what might they have accomplished? What might they have achieved for all of us in the world, were they not stunted?” he said. “The lost chance of greatness for one child becomes a lost chance for all of us.”
On Thursday, Thurow was one of three experts testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee meeting on the ongoing food crisis in Yemen and the African nations of Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia. Labeled the worst food crisis since World War II, an estimated 28 million people now need humanitarian assistance.
In all four countries, drought or climate challenges are being exacerbated by war.
“The bottom line and the biggest takeaway is that conflict is driving these famines,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, the chairman of the subcommittee. “The farmers of Africa are extraordinary. They can grow anything, plus they have this wonderful arable land that goes unplanted because of conflict. And the humanitarian help cannot get to them because of the soldiers and the militias. There has to be an all-out effort to end this war.”
Aid funding cuts
In May, the U.S. House of Representatives successfully added $1 billion to the omnibus appropriations bill specifically to address the famine through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
Many, however, voiced concerns over a budget blueprint proposed by President Donald Trump that would cut USAID funding by 31 percent and consolidate it within the Department of State.
“The president’s budget that was introduced into the Congress worries me because they propose to cut a lot of hunger programs, not only overseas, but even in our own country,” said Tony P. Hall, executive director emeritus at the Alliance to End Hunger. “And so it worries me because it will hurt. I think Congress will be against a lot of those cuts, but we’re very concerned.”
Smith said the dire warnings about proposed cuts to USAID and foreign assistance are overblown. “I don’t think the budget cuts are going anywhere,” he said. “I’ve been in Congress 37 years. The next budget that I see arriving on Capitol Hill that becomes anything but a talking point will be the first.” He added of Congress: “We’re the ones who write the budget.”
Julien Schopp, director for humanitarian practice at InterAction, who testified at the hearing, said the future uncertainty of U.S. funding for humanitarian relief offers the ideal time for other countries to step up.
“The humanitarian need, if you look at the global picture, is growing, growing, growing in terms of dollar amounts and number of people that need to be assisted,” he said. “So we need to talk more to the Gulf countries, talk more to China, to talk more to non-traditional donors. Because at some point it’s not going to be possible for the U.S. and Europe to continue carrying that load.”
More help needed
Smith agreed, saying he’d like to see U.S. partners do more to address the food crisis. “We ask that more of our international partners and friends kick in far more money than they have. We’re glad they’re helpful, but they could be more helpful,” he said.
During his recent trip to Uganda and South Sudan, Smith had the opportunity to meet with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. During the meeting, he handed the Ugandan leader a copy of Roger Thurow’s book, The First 1,000 Days. The book argues that children must be protected from malnutrition, disease and other ailments for the first 1,000 days of their lives to ensure a bright future for themselves, their communities and the world.
“My message to all of Africa, all the world including the U.S., is: get the first 1,000 days right, protect mother and baby, supplement it with food and nutrition and supplementation and vitamins; you’ll have a healthier planet because all of us will be that much stronger,” Smith said.
Throughout the East African region, 28 million people are unable to meet even the most basic needs without aid. Today, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on Africa, held a hearing where the root cause of the famine—including and especially man-made conflict—was scrutinized and strategies on how to help mitigate the ongoing suffering were developed.
“Famine in Africa and Yemen has been called the worst since World War II, even worse than the catastrophic 2011 famine in East Africa,” said Smith, who held his first hearing on East Africa more than 20 years ago when he took the helm on the Human Rights Subcommittee. “What makes this round of famine even more tragic is how preventable it is. For example, South Sudan contains the most arable land in what was once a united Sudan. Now, areas such as the Equatoria provinces, South Sudan’s potential breadbasket, are engulfed in conflict with citizens fleeing the country by the thousands daily.” Click Here to read Smith’s Full Statement.
Conflict has had an effect on all East African countries—all border at least one country in conflict and all host refugee populations. Uganda, who hosts the largest refugee population, currently has almost one million refugees, a majority of which come from neighboring South Sudan. Rather than use resources to mitigate regional droughts, the U.N. has indicated that the government of South Sudan has used a “scorched Earth” policy, designed to “render … communal life unviable and prohibiting any return to normalcy following the violence.”
Due primarily to the actions of the South Sudanese government, more than 4.9 million people—greater than 40% of the population—currently face severe, life threatening hunger. This number is expected to rise to 5.5 million in a report by the U.N. due next month. Smith and Subcommittee Ranking Member Karen Bass recently returned from a CODEL to South Sudan and Uganda where they spoke with South Sudanese President Kiir. Smith called on Kiir to end the violence in his country.
“There has been a cease-fire declared in South Sudan, but many observers believe that is due more to the rainy season preventing large movements of troops and heavy equipment than a genuine determination to end the conflict,” said Smith. “No amount of assistance will do the job unless the conflict in South Sudan is definitively ended.”
The Honorable Tony P. Hall, Executive Director Emeritus of the Alliance to End Hunger said, “Over the past 30 years, we have cut worldwide food insecurity nearly in half. This, along with the 50% reduction in extreme poverty, is due in no small part to the exceptional leadership of the United States government and the generosity of our citizens.” Click Here to read Hall’s full statement.
Julien Schopp, Director for Humanitarian Practice at InterAction said, “It is critical to underscore that when we speak of famine or the threat of famine, we are speaking of avoidable, man-made crises. Widespread food insecurity can also be the result of climatological events, such as drought, but in each context where we speak of famine conditions, the key factor is conflict.” Click Here to read Schopp’s full statement.
Roger Thurow, Senior Fellow, Global Food and Agriculture, at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs said “Yes, droughts will occur. Conflicts will rage. Corruption will complicate relief efforts. But starvation and famine can be avoided. Timely humanitarian response with food aid, and water, and shelter, and medical assistance, is absolutely necessary to reduce the suffering and save lives.” Click Here to read Thurow’s full statement.
This week, the world celebrated individuals who donate blood and thus save the lives of thousands every year. Along with the celebration comes the reminder that, as summer nears, blood donations often take a tumble with vacations and other summer activities overtaking the nation’s attention.
“One pint of blood can save up to three lives—the impact a single visit to a donation center can have is remarkable,” said Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), the chairman of the House panel that oversees global health initiatives. “The demand for donated blood never diminishes.”
Smith noted that the U.S. uses millions of units of blood every year, with donated units rarely lasting two weeks before reaching their end user. He said with people on travel, there is typically a lull of donations during the summer months which puts hospitals and emergency medical programs at a disadvantage.
“The ongoing need, combined with the maximum storage time of only 35 days, creates a ‘perfect storm’ for the summer when there is often lower donations and dwindling supply,” Smith said. “In these summer months we must do more to ensure a healthy and viable supply of blood.”
“The need for blood never takes a holiday,” said Michael Leviton, Director of Donor Relations at Central Jersey Blood Center. “People in car accidents, those with cancer and even our smallest premature infants all need blood products on a daily basis. It takes two days to test the blood which means we need an adequate blood supply before tragedy strikes. Give the greatest gift, the gift of life.”
Last month, Smith met with Pascal George, the CEO at the Central Jersey Blood Center, and Leviton at their Howell location. There they discussed new and innovative methods to increase the number of donors and the lives of those who have been saved by blood donation.
“It was refreshing to interact with a Representative who shows such great interest in what is in essence a public good: the nation’s blood supply,” said George.
“Blood donation facilities—such as the CJBC center in Howell—are a great resource to our community. The work that they do has a positive impact all of us,” said Smith.
For more information on where to find a blood drive near you, please click here:
2373 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Elected in 1980, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Robbinsville, N.J.) is currently in his 17th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, and serves residents in the Fourth Congressional District of New Jersey. Smith, 60, currently serves as a senior member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and is chairman of its Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization Subcommittee. In 2011-2012 he chaired both the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. He also serves as “Special Representative” on Human Trafficking for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and as an executive member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Previously, he served as Chairman of the Veterans Committee (two terms) and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Operations and the Subcommittee on Africa.
Smith has long chaired a number of bipartisan congressional caucuses (working groups) including the Pro-life (31 years), Autism (15 years), Alzheimer’s (13 years), Lyme Disease (nineyears), Spina Bifida (nine years), Human Trafficking (nine years), Refugees (nine years), and Combating Anti-Semitism caucuses, and serves on caucuses on Bosnia, Uganda and Vietnam.
According to the independent watchdog organization Govtrack, as of January 2014 Smith ranks fourth among all 435 Members of the House over the last two decades in the number of laws authored.
He is the author of America’s three landmark anti-human trafficking laws including The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a comprehensive law designed to prevent modern-day slavery, protect victims, and enhance civil and criminal penalties against traffickers, as well as more than a dozen veterans health, education and homeless benefits laws, and laws to boost embassy security, promote democracy, religious freedom, and health care.
Smith is the author of the $265 million Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 which established a nationwide program for ethical research and treatment using umbilical cord blood and bone marrow cells. That landmark law was reauthorized in September 2010 for another five years.
In October 2011, Smith’s bill, HR 2005, the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act (CARA) of 2011, was signed into law (Public Law PL112-32), a follow-up to his Autism Statistics, Surveillance, Research, and Epidemiology Act (ASSURE) of 2000.
A lifelong New Jerseyan, Congressman Smith graduated from The College of New Jersey with a degree in business administration. Prior to being elected to Congress, he helped run a small business– his family’s wholesale sporting goods corporation. He is also the former Executive Director of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee.
The congressman is married to his wife of 35 years, Marie, and they have four grown children.
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