Decades after fleeing the U.S. in an attempt to prevent justice, George Wright, Joanne Chesimard and others like them could be returned to face the penalties of their crimes thanks to the Walter Patterson and Werner Foerster Justice and Extradition Act (H.R. 1744), introduced on Monday by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04).
“The bill is named after Walter Patterson and New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster, two men who were both brutally murdered by people who have been convicted, escaped prison and simply moved abroad, where they live with no consequences or accountability and taunt the surviving relatives and friends of the people they killed,” said Smith, who has been a champion of similar legislation for years. “Despite some efforts, our government has failed to bring back the criminals in either case. These are two of the most egregious cases, but it’s clear that there are many others. This year we will mark 55 years since Walter Patterson was slain—a time to remember that his murder still walks free. Passage of H.R. 1744 would enable us to properly assess the actions taken across various federal agencies, reevaluate our efforts and ultimately make policy changes aimed at bringing back these criminals who have fled the U.S. justice system. The surviving family members and friends deserve no less.”
The bill, co-Sponsored by Rep. Albio Sires (NJ-08), would require the Executive Branch to report to Congress on the number of fugitives which our government is seeking to extradite, the efforts it has undertaken to secure their return, how often it is successful, and factors that have prevented their return. This information would allow Congress to evaluate and strengthen the Executive Branch’s efforts to extradite fugitives. Smith introduced the bill in previous Congresses, and in September 2016 it was marked up and approved by the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations Subcommittee.
Patterson was murdered by George Wright at Patterson’s gas station in Wall, N.J., during a Nov. 23, 1962 robbery and convicted. In 1970 Wright escaped from the New Jersey state prison in Leesburg, N.J., later hijacking a plane and fleeing the country. Due to cold case work initiated by FBI investigator R.J. Gallagher, in 2011 Wright was discovered living in a coastal resort area of Portugal, but the Portuguese government refuses to extradite him.
Foerster was murdered execution-style on the New Jersey Turnpike on May 2, 1973. On March 25, 1977 Chesimard was convicted of 1st degree murder in the case. Later, in 1979, she escaped from a New Jersey state prison near Clinton, N.J. and made her way to Cuba, which has since supported her at Cuban government expense.
Ann Patterson, of Monmouth County, N.J., the daughter of Walter Patterson, said, “Once again as the calendar reminds me of that dreadful night, November 23, 1962, I remember the heartbreaking events that mark the… anniversary of my father, Walter Patterson’s brutal beating and murder. George Wright, who administered the beating, has not paid his debt to society, nor to the Patterson family as he escaped from prison, hijacked a plane, held 86 passengers as hostages and threatened others with bodily harm and death. The family of Walter Patterson has not given up hope that the United States government, both the State Department and the Department of Justice, will pursue all avenues so that justice will be served and we will have some measure of closure.”
Chris Burgos, President of the State Troopers Fraternal Association of New Jersey, said, “This piece of legislation is a clear reminder that we will not forget the brutal cold-blooded murder of Trooper Foerster over 40 years ago, and that we will not relent on seeking justice done for those responsible. We applaud Congressman Smith on his efforts.”
Walter Patterson’s granddaughter, Jackie, added: “As the anniversary of my grandfather’s death approaches, I think about the holidays George Wright is able to spend with his family while my family will once again be missing a family member. Having this bill passed in honor of my grandfather is a step towards obtaining justice for the Patterson family. We continue to hope that one day George Wright will serve the remainder of his sentence, but in the meantime, we will continue to honor my grandfather by setting up a scholarship in his name. Hopefully this bill will prevent other families from experiencing the disappointment that our family has faced.”
Terry, another granddaughter, said Wright should serve out the rest of his sentence: “Where he decides to hide out for 40 years, or the amount of time that has passed does not erase the crimes committed, nor does it erase the fact that he is a convicted criminal who has not fulfilled his sentencing. The amazing part of the story is that after 40 years, and who knows how many aliases later, the FBI agents and U.S. Marshalls tracked down this murderer. The more amazing part of the story is that after they invested numerous hours and resources, the murderer is still living as a free man.”
Terry said that Wright dodging his debt to society sends the wrong message about the U.S. criminal justice system. “If anything positive comes out of the murder of my grandfather, I can only hope that other criminals are brought to justice, no matter where they decide to try to hide, or what country they flee to.”
Smith added, “In 2012, when it became clear that our government’s efforts to extradite George Wright from Portugal had failed, I held meetings with the Portuguese ambassador and the Department of Justice, and chaired a hearing on the Wright case and the extradition process. It was apparent right away that the process is failing far too many people–above all for those who see people who have killed their loved ones living openly abroad, apparently outside of our government’s reach. It was also apparent that, while our government has certainly taken the Wright and Chesimard cases very seriously, there are experts currently outside our government who have ideas for a more vigorous, creative pursuit of these criminals. This bill will give Congress the relevant facts with which to jump-start new approaches to extradition.”
Smith is one of the foremost voices in the fight to return escaped fugitives to face U.S. justice. Since the discovery of George Wright in Portugal in 2012, he has held several meetings with and written to Portuguese government officials and corresponded with the Department of Justice on their efforts to secure the return of fugitives. In 2012, he chaired a hearing entitled “Justice in the International Extradition System: The Case of George Wright and Beyond.”
The bipartisan Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 390), authored by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), today unanimously passed in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This legislation will help those who have suffered at the hands of ISIS—and hold perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to account.
“ISIS has committed genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against Christians, Yezidis and other religious and ethnic minority communities in Iraq and Syria,” said Smith, who introduced similar legislation last Congress. “Many of them are now internally displaced or refugees and desperately need aid. Unless at least some humanitarian, stabilization and recovery assistance is intentionally directed to the survivors, many are them at risk of being forced to leave their ancient homelands forever. Some may even put their lives in the hands of human smugglers and attempt the deadly Mediterranean journey to Europe.”
Since 2013, Smith has chaired nine Congressional hearings on atrocities in Iraq and Syria, including one entitled The ISIS Genocide Declaration: What Next? and another entitled Fulfilling the Humanitarian Imperative: Assisting Victims of ISIS Violence. Last December, Smith traveled to Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq to witness first-hand the plight of genocide survivors and see the humanitarian assistance the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil is providing with support from organizations like the Knights of Columbus to more than 70,000 Christians—1/3 of Christians remaining in Iraq—who escaped ISIS.
H.R. 390, co-sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18) along with 34 other Members, includes key provisions directing the U.S. Administration to:
· Support entities that are effectively serving genocide survivors in-country, including faith-based entities;
· Assess and address the humanitarian vulnerabilities, needs, and triggers that might force survivors to flee their homes;
· Identify warning signs of deadly violence against genocide survivors and other vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq or Syria;
· Support entities that are conducting criminal investigation into perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Iraq;
· Recommend where to close gaps in U.S. law so that the American justice system can prosecute foreign perpetrators present in the U.S., as well as any Americans who commit such crimes;
· Encourage foreign countries to add identifying information about suspected perpetrators of such atrocity crimes in their security databases and security screening;
“Christians have lived in Iraq since the 1st century and only 250,000 remain, down from 500,000 in 2013, the year before ISIS began its campaign of genocide,” said Smith. “Yezidis have lived in Iraq since the 12th century and their population has dropped 20 to 30 percent from 2013. There are other ancient religious and ethnic minority groups targeted for crimes against humanity and war crimes that likewise need our attention and assistance if they are to survive in their home countries or at least the region. This bill will help ensure that survivors receive our aid and that perpetrators of crimes against them are held accountable.”
Joined in spirit by the 28 million in East Africa who are in need of aid, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) held a hearing today looking at what can, and what must, be done to help resolve the famine in East Africa. The famine, caused by drought and exacerbated by conflict and government mismanagement, has sparked fears of a return to the era of great famines in the region.
“The number of individuals who are affected is truly staggering, 1 in 10 are affected in Sudan and Burundi, 1 in 5 in Somalia and Djibouti—and almost half of everyone living in South Sudan is facing severe food insecurity,” said Smith, Chairman of the House Panel on Africa.
“The problem is compounded by strife throughout the region. Uganda, itself struggling with the effects of drought, currently has as many as 3,000 South Sudanese a week crossing the border due to an ongoing civil war,” he said. Click Here to read Smith’s Full Statement.
Humanitarian concerns are often delayed or outright blocked by the regimes in the area. In 2011, then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice called Eritrea a “black hole in terms of governance” and remarked that Eritreans “are being left to starve” by the government thanks to a policy of “self-reliance,” a policy the country still has in effect. Due to decades of state collapse, Somalia’s young government has only limited capacity to respond to the crisis. In Sudan, despite above-average harvests this year, 3.3 million individuals who reside in Darfur require assistance due to government intervention.
“In 2011, we struggled with how to get humanitarian aid to those in Somalia who lived in areas controlled by al-Shabaab,” said Smith. “That problem has not been eliminated six years later. In 2017, not only is the ongoing conflict in Somalia hampering humanitarian efforts there, but the continuing civil conflict in South Sudan has amplified the impact of the drought.”
“The term ‘famine,’ like the term ‘genocide,’ should not be used lightly,” said Smith. “Somali children in the womb won’t have enough nourishment to complete their growth in utero. Most—if not all—will be born stunted, which will be made worse by their continuing lack of nutrition once born. Their mothers will be severely weakened and may not survive childbirth. All of them will have damaged immune systems and will be susceptible to diseases such as cholera or acute diarrhea and may die a preventable death.”
Matt Nims, Acting Director of the Office of Food for Peace, Bureau of Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at USAID, explained that famines can mean more than just hunger, “When we think of famine we naturally think of food, but the provision of safe drinking water, emergency health care and proper sanitation and hygiene are equally critical during these crises to battle opportunistic illnesses like cholera and diarrhea. Hunger weakens people’s immune systems, leaving them susceptible to these often largely preventable and treatable afflictions; in situations of extreme food insecurity and famine, they can turn deadly.” Click Here to read Nims’ Full Statement.
Ken Isaacs, Vice President of Programs and Government Relations at Samaritan’s Purse, warned that famine can often spark other security issues, “This isn’t just a matter of compassion. Food insecurity only brings further instability and insecurity to areas already plagued by conflict. When people are starving, governments are undermined and the situation supports the brutality of the brutal.” Click Here to read Issacs’ Full Statement
Michael Bowers, Vice President of Humanitarian Leadership and Response at Mercy Corps, highlighted how prevention can often be the most cost effective method of fighting famine, “I would like to stress to this subcommittee the fact that we can prevent and mitigate food security crises. It’s also extremely cost effective: a study by the British government in Kenya and Ethiopia estimates that every $1 invested in resilience will result in $2.90 in reduced humanitarian spending, avoided losses and development benefits.” Click Here to read Bowers’ Full Statement.
Thabani Maphosa, the Vice President for Food Assistance and Senior Director for Food Security and Livelihoods at World Vision, underscored the ripple effect famine can have throughout the region, “As communities migrate, millions of children are forced to leave school, putting their education, careers and dreams on hold. As families’ exhaust coping mechanisms, children become more vulnerable to hazardous child labor, child marriage, trafficking, and recruitment in armed forces and other groups.” Click Here to read Maphosa’s Full Statement.
Faustine Wabwire, Senior Foreign Assistance Policy Advisor at Bread for the World Institute, noted that with action, the effects of the famine can be mitigated, “Lessons from the 2011 famine have helped strengthen data systems so that officials can assess the crisis more accurately. Humanitarian partners now have a better system in place to get people help in forms they can immediately use.” Click Here to read Wabwire’s Full Statement.
In the last Congress, Smith held nine hearings on East African issues. As with the September 2011 hearing on the last East Africa famine, Smith intends to follow up this hearing with discussions on how to make U.S. humanitarian assistance more effective in the midst of recurring droughts and ongoing conflicts in East Africa and other regions.
The East African famine, a result of recent disasters both natural and man-made, has wreaked havoc across the region. Government mismanagement and conflicts in the region have only made the problem worse. To investigate the situation, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) will convene a hearing entitled “East Africa’s Quiet Famine” on March 28, 2017, helping to establish what options may be available for the U.S. government to effectively address the growing hunger crisis. Testifying at the hearing will be a government official managing USAID’s response, as well as several civil society leaders from organizations operating humanitarian programs in the region.
“The East Africa famine of 2011 gained significant news coverage and a very active international response,” said Smith. “In contrast, the current East Africa famine has gotten much less obvious news attention despite the fact that at least 16 million people in the region face hunger or even starvation. This hearing is intended to examine the dimensions of the current famine, the reasons why it has become so acute and existing government and civil society efforts to meet the desperate needs.”
Who: Chairman Smith (NJ-04), Senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations; other members of the committee
Mr. Matthew Nims
Office of Food for Peace
Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance
U.S. Agency for International Development
Mr. Ken Isaacs
Programs and Government Relations
Mr. Michael Bowers
Humanitarian Leadership and Response
Mr. Thabani Maphosa
Vice-President for Food Assistance
World Vision International
Ms. Faustine Wabwire
Senior Foreign Assistance Policy Advisor
Bread for the World Institute
What: House hearing on the famine in East Africa
When: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 2:30 PM
Where: Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2200 (second floor)
Following the arrest in Israel today of an American-Israeli dual national suspected of perpetrating most of the bomb threats to Jewish community institutions in the U.S. and several other countries, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), a long-time leader in the fight against anti-Semitism and Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, issued the following statement:
“The wave of bomb threats has afflicted Jewish communities for months. I thank the Department of Justice, FBI and law enforcement agencies in Israel and elsewhere for their relentlessness pursuit. If this suspect is guilty, he must be held accountable. Even if there is only one main perpetrator—it remains to be seen whether there are accomplices—who has been responsible for these threatening calls, we must remain vigilant against all threats to Jewish communities, whoever the perpetrators, whatever their motivation.”
Levels of anti-Semitic hate have reached crisis levels in the U.S. and around the globe and perpetrators are increasingly connected to each other across borders. Today, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on global human rights, held a Congressional hearing to discuss with expert witnesses what can be done to stem this tide.
“The Jewish people have survived and thrived from the times of Biblical antiquity to the present day—quite a feat, when you consider all the civilizations that have come and gone,” said Smith, who held his first hearing on anti-Semitism more than fifteen years ago. “But just as the Jewish people have endured, so has anti-Semitic hatred. This hatred has ranged from private prejudices to the murder of more than six million Jews in the Holocaust. 72 years after the Holocaust ended, anti-Semites continue to target the Jewish people for discrimination, destruction of property and even death.” Click Here to Read Smith’s Full Statement.
Although anti-Semitism, a blight that affects millions across the globe, is not limited to Islamist terrorist groups and overt Neo-Nazis, the general threat of terrorism is the broader context. In 2015, there were 211 terrorist attacks, in six European countries, resulting in 350 injuries and 151 deaths. This is an increase from 201 terrorist attacks in seven European countries in 2014, resulting in six injuries and four deaths. The number of jihadist attacks has increased from two to 17, right-wing extremist from none to nine and other categories such as “leftists” and “anarchists,” held steady.
Many observers have claimed that anti-Israeli rhetoric from European political elites provides an environment conducive to anti-Semitic manifestations and extremist acts. They suggest that some members of the European media and political classes are exhibiting a “new” anti-Semitism, which usually targets Israel in some form, may conflate “Jews” and the policies of the Israeli government and holds Israel to standards not applied to other countries. Although some acknowledge that criticism of Israeli policies is not inherently anti-Semitic, others, such as the New York Times, note that there has also been a greater “blurring of distinctions between being anti-Israel and anti-Jew.”
Nikki Haley, the recently appointed Ambassador to the United Nations, has been a staunch supporter of stopping those who have crossed the line from being against Israeli policy to being anti-Semitic. During the hearing, one witness, Mark Weitzman, praised Haley’s “rigorous pushback” against the long standing tradition of anti-Semitic policies directed at Israel often advanced at the United Nations.
“For as long as I have been a Member of Congress, there has been broad bipartisan support for combating anti-Semitism. We have had success advancing key initiatives at home and abroad because Members of Congress across the political and philosophical spectrum came together and refrained from partisanship. It is my hope that this bipartisan consensus will continue, and that none will seek to score political points to advance a political narrative,” said Smith, who has been a leader in the fight against anti-Semitism since meeting with the “Refuseniks” of the Soviet Union in the early 1980’s as a young Congressman. “Partisanship and politics have no place in this fight. Our effectiveness depends on being able to work together to end this evil and to ensure that Jewish communities around the world are safe and secure.”
Paul Goldenberg, National Director of the Secure Community Network, noted that “extremist groups in the United States are borrowing, adapting and enhancing the tactics and strategies adopted in Europe,” and then reported that nevertheless “after months of enduring 166 bomb threats across over 40 states, Jewish Community Center members, parents and other guests have moved from fear and anxiety to defiant resolve and resilience. They refused to be driven from their schools and community spaces by cowardly acts of intolerance and hatred. In this, the hate and fear that seeks to divide us, has indeed united us even more so.” Click Here to Read Goldenberg’s Full Statement.
Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chair-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism and Director of International Jewish Affairs, indicated that while steps have been taken, more must be done, “We were surely helped by the tragic events of terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and Copenhagen. No longer were governments able to ignore the situation. They have responded, and that is good news. But problems still remain. Governments have taken different approaches, and some only in stop-gap measures.” Click Here to Read Baker’s Full Statement.
Mark Weitzman, Director of Government Affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, highlighted the importance of bipartisan action against anti-Semitism, saying, “Fighting antisemitism has always been a bipartisan commitment, and in today’s fractured political world it is more necessary than ever that the US maintain its diplomatic and moral leadership in this issue. Indeed, we would strongly suggest that the position even be upgraded, to that of Ambassador, thus demonstrating the importance attached by our government to this issue.” Click Here to Read Weitzman’s Full Statement.
Stacy Burdett, Vice President of Government Relations, Advocacy and Community Engagement at the Anti-Defamation League, expressed concern over an increase in online hate speech and incitement to violence, “A call to kill Jews can be uploaded in the Middle East and watched around the world at any time. Proponents of hate inject anti-Semitic content, inferences and narratives into every platform from @killjews on Twitter, to a Jewish Ritual Murder page on Facebook, to a Jews Did 9/11 video on YouTube to anti-Semitic memes to Stormfront.org, a multilingual racist website which has existed since the dawn of the Internet.” Click Here to Read Burdett’s Full Statement.
Smith has chaired 11 hearings on anti-Semitism, including Congress’s first ever hearing on anti-Semitism. He is also the author of the provisions of the law that created the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism and the Special Envoy to lead it in 2004.
During a series of meetings held over the past several days, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) expressed his deep concern with the Office of Management and Budget’s proposed 2018 Budget Blueprint to Majority Whip Steve Scalise (LA-01), who also represents a district recently ravaged by floods, and Rep. Sean Duffy (WI-07). Smith, who stressed the importance of a fully funded National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) during the meetings, said he appreciated the opportunity to come together and discuss this topic with Scalise and Duffy and that he looks forward to working together as the NFIP reauthorization moves through Committee.
“This Blueprint proposes to strip federal funding from NFIP and increase the costs on vulnerable families and businesses, whose flood insurance premiums are already skyrocketing,” said Smith in a letter handed to the Majority Whip during a meeting. “The Budget proposes eliminating the discretionary appropriation for the NFIP’s Flood Hazard Mapping Program, a cut of $190 million. With National Flood Insurance Policy holders in all 50 states as well as 5 territories and the District of Columbia, this issue truly has a national impact.” Click Here to Read the Letter.
Nationwide, there are over 5 million NFIP policies, 231,000 of which are held by families and businesses in New Jersey. According to FEMA, the average policy holder will pay $878 for flood insurance—costs that are in addition to their standard home owner’s insurance premiums—in 2017, a total that rises to over $1,000 once fees and surcharges included. These rates represent a 9% increase over 2016 rates.
“These rate increases are burdens placed on homeowners above and beyond current premiums and the out-of-pocket amounts that homeowners affected by Superstorm Sandy here in New Jersey, and the ‘1000-year rain’ that took place last year in Louisiana, are still paying,” said Smith, who has been joined by other House Members from the New Jersey delegation in this fight.
Smith also discussed his legislation, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act, which would help Houses of Worship recover from natural disasters such as floods. FEMA has argued that Houses of Worship are precluded by law from being interpreted as facilities that provide essential services of a governmental nature—a prohibition that does not align with facts on the ground.
“Houses of Worship are usually the first to open their doors to victims of these disasters and the last to turn the lights off during the cleanup efforts,” said Smith. “It is unconscionable that foundational pillars of our communities have been categorically denied access to these otherwise generally-available funds.”
Smith’s bill, originally co-Sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng (NY-06) and Rep. Pete King (NY-02), has previously passed the house 354-72, however was not taken up before the Senate. Smith plans on reintroducing this legislation later this congress.
Last year, former Secretary of State Kerry declared that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities, however the Administration fell short on necessary follow through. Today, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on global human rights, urged the new Trump Administration to step in and close the gap created by its predecessor.
“Even after acknowledging the genocide, the previous Administration refused to support criminal investigations of perpetrators,” said Smith, author of the bipartisan Iraq and Syria Emergency Genocide Relief and Accountability Act (H.R. 390). “Staff from non-governmental organizations are risking their lives to conduct these investigations. Without our help, evidence that can be used in trials will be lost. Proving these perpetrators are criminals—murderers, child abusers, rapists, slavers, drug dealers and more—will support our efforts to combat support for terrorist groups like ISIS.”
Smith, along with Rep. Sean Duffy (WI-07), Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA-18), Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) and Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), today sent a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, requesting an update on actions the U.S. has taken to investigate and hold accountable perpetrators, urging the U.S. to take the lead on related efforts at the U.N. and emphasizing the need to seek justice for all the victims, including Christians. Click Here to Read the Letter.
“President Trump personally committed his Administration to confronting the genocide that ISIS has been committing against Christians and other religious minorities,” said Smith. “Only a few months ago, I met with Christian survivors in Iraq and saw that aid and action is needed, and needed right now. For the previous three years, the United States had abandoned these and the other survivors from religious and ethnic minorities. H.R. 390 is a blueprint for making sure these genocide victims finally get aid from the U.S. and perpetrators are punished.”
At the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump stated “We have seen a campaign of ISIS and genocide against Christians…All nations have a moral obligation to speak out against such violence. All nations have a duty to work together to confront it.”
Smith’s legislation, co-led by Eshoo, will direct the U.S. government to:
· Identify threats of persecution and other early warning indicators of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes against Iraqi and Syrian religious or ethnic minorities that ISIS targeted for these crimes, or against other religious or ethnic minorities that are persecuted.
· Provide humanitarian, stabilization, and recovery assistance to these communities, through entities that are effectively assisting them, including faith-based entities.
· Support criminal investigations of perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes in Iraq, specifically ones collecting evidence that can be used in criminal trials.
· Review U.S. relevant law and recommend how to close statutory gaps in being able to prosecute in the U.S. American citizens, or foreign nationals who come to the U.S., who have committed these crimes abroad.
The legislation is supported by more than 20 groups, including the Knights of Columbus, Family Research Council, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (Southern Baptist Convention), 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, In Defense of Christians, ADF International, Baylor University, Open Doors, Chaldean Assyrian Syriac Business Alliance, A Demand for Action, Yezidi Human Rights Organization International, Religious Freedom Institute, Center for Religious Freedom (Hudson Institute), Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Community of Sant'Egidio, International Christian Concern and the Religious Freedom Coalition.
It is also supported by all the former US Ambassadors-at Large for War Crimes, David Scheffer (1997-2001), Pierre Prosper (2001-2005), Clint Williamson (2006-2009) and Stephen Rapp (2009-2015), as well as the Founding Chief Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, David Crane; Director of the Center for Religious Freedom Nina Shea; and the author of Defying ISIS, Rev. Johnnie Moore.
Smith added, “Any legitimate effort to prosecute ISIS for genocide must follow the evidence and include crimes against Christian victims. I urge the Administration to ensure that international prosecution initiatives recognize the genocide against Christians and thereby ensure justice for all victims.”
Smith has held nine related Congressional hearings since 2013 and last December led a mission to Erbil (Kurdistan Region of Iraq) at the invitation of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil, Bashar Warda, to see first-hand the plight of the 70,000 Christians – almost 1/3 of Christians remaining in Iraq – who escaped ISIS and have been sustained by the Archdiocese of Erbil with support from organizations like the Knights of Columbus and without any support so far from the U.S..
With levels of anti-Semitic hate, threats and violence high in many countries, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House panel on global human rights, announced that he will convene a hearing to examine “Anti-Semitism Across Borders.” Smith authored the provisions of law that created the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism and the Special Envoy to lead it in 2004.
“Anti-Semitism is an ancient and persistent hatred that must be fought until it is defeated. We must be clear-eyed about the problem and relentless with the perpetrators. The witnesses at this hearing will discuss the most urgent threats to Jewish communities, underlying ideological motivations, and make recommendations for what needs to be done,” said Smith.
Who: Chairman Smith (NJ-04), Senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations; other members of the committee
Mr. Paul Goldenberg
Secure Community Network
Rabbi Andrew Baker
Personal Representative of the OSCE Chair-in-Office on Combating Anti-Semitism
Director of International Jewish Affairs
American Jewish Committee
Mr. Mark Weitzman
Director of Government Affairs
Simon Wiesenthal Center
What: House hearing on worldwide anti-Semitism
When: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 10:00 A.M.
Where: Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2172 (first floor)
This afternoon, in front of a large crowd of Ethiopian citizens concerned about repression in their homeland, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) convened a hearing to look at the appalling human rights record of the Ethiopian government and discuss what could be done to help those who are suffering at the hands of this regime.
“According to the State Department’s newly released Human Rights Report on Ethiopia, security forces killed ‘hundreds’ in the context of using excessive force against protestors in 2016,” said Smith, Chairman of the Africa Subcommittee. “In addition, there are at least 10,000 more people held in jail who are considered political prisoners, and the government continues to arrest and imprison critics of its actions. In late February, Ethiopian prosecutors charged Dr. Merera Gudina, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress with attempting to ‘disrupt constitutional order.’ He was arrested upon his return to Ethiopia after testifying in November at a European parliament hearing about the crisis in his country.” Click Here to Smith’s Full Statement.
Despite holding regular elections, a tradition of authoritarian rule continues to strangle the advancement of democracy in Ethiopia. Through violence and elections that were deemed “unfair” by U.S. and European monitors, a single party has dominated the legislature for over two decades. The violent crackdown on any opposition intensified in 2015 as protests by the Oromo and Amhara grew, with tens of thousands being arrested and Prime Minister Desalegn announcing that the number of protestors killed “could be more than 500.”
In January, two journalists from the faith-based station Radio Bilal, Khalid Mohamed and Darsema Sori, were sentenced to 5 and 4 year prison terms respectively for “inciting extremist ideology and planning to overthrow the government” through their coverage of Muslim protests about government interference in religious affairs. The journalists were arrested in February 2015 and convicted in December of that year under the 2009 anti-terrorism law alongside 18 other defendants.
“This oppression is preventable,” said Smith. “Rather than spend hundreds of thousands on consultants to try to mislead Members of Congress on the facts and inciting e-mail form letter campaigns by supporters, the Government of Ethiopia can acknowledge their challenges and work with the U.S. government and others in the international community to seek reasonable solutions. We are prepared to help once they are ready to face the ugly truth of what has happened and what continues to happen in Ethiopia today.”
The hearing followed the introduction of House Resolution 128, which offers an outline to bring Ethiopia back onto the path towards democracy. This resolution is designed to promote democracy and good governance in Ethiopia and, among other key provisions, condemns the actions of the Government of Ethiopia and calls on the Secretary of State to improve the oversight and accountability of U.S. assistance in Ethiopia.
Terrence Lyons, Associate Professor at George Mason University, noted the extreme control the regime has over the media: “Following the 2005 elections and subsequent crackdown, the regime successfully expanded and institutionalized its system of authoritarian control, virtually eliminating independent space for opposition political parties, civil society organizations, and non-state media. The EPRDF controls mass organizations for women and youth, humanitarian and development organizations, and large economic enterprises.” Click Here to read Lyons’ Full Statement.
Felix Horne, Senior Researcher for the Horn of Africa at Human Rights Watch said, “The state systematically ensures that many of the country’s 100 million citizens are dependent on the government for their livelihoods, food security and economic future.” Click Here to read Horne’s Full Statement.
The President of the Coalition of Oromo Advocates for Human Rights and Democracy, Seenaa Jimjimo, explained the strife within Ethiopia, “Today…people are afraid to speak and exercise basic rights guaranteed by the constitution. Under the codename of “State of Emergency” a husband watches his wife and daughters get raped, sons taken away or killed. I myself have lived under terror and being watched and beaten by this government.” Click Here to read Jimjimo’s Full Statement.
Tewodrose G. Tirfe, a Board Member at the Amhara Association of America, highlighted the plight faced by the Amhara people, “As stated in the 2007 Ethiopian Census that was released in 2010, the Amhara population was short by 2.5 million. A debate was not even allowed in parliament when this fact was presented. Some estimates have the number now closer to 5 million. We believe there has been a systematic effort by the government to depopulate the Amhara population.” Click Here to read Tirfe’s Full Statement.
Guyaa Abaguya Deki, a Representative for the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition and a Polio survivor, gave his personal experience with the Ethiopian Government, “They picked me up in a taxi. The driver punched me in my mouth with his pistol, and I lost my two lower teeth. They kept me for three days in solitary confinement in a tiny dark cell. I had to crawl on the ground outside the cell to lift myself up to get to the toilet. And I was only allowed to go to the toilet twice a day. My hands were tied to a chair and my mouth was wrapped up with dirty wet socks.” Click Here to read Deki’s Full Statement.
Deacon Yoseph R. Tafari spoke about the religious persecution going on in Ethiopia, “Ethiopia is ruled by a minority ethnic regime which has brought about highly destructive governance by perpetually marginalizing and terrorizing other ethnic group and religious groups by pitting one against the other.” Click Here to read Tafari’s Full Statement.
Smith has held four hearings on Ethiopia with the first, “Ethiopia and Eritrea: Promoting Stability, Democracy and Human Rights,” was held more than a decade ago in 2005.
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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.