Let’s be clear: If Serbia wants to join the EU, they must deal with their past and prosecute those responsible for war crimes

Engel Statement at Full Committee Markup

Jun 28, 2018

WASHINGTON— Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today entered the following statement into the record at a full committee markup:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this markup, and let me thank our colleagues for all the hard work on the measures we’re considering this morning.

These are all good bills before us today.

First, I’d like to discuss H.Res 256, an important endorsement of Congress’s continued support for a strong, robust NATO alliance. This bipartisan measure is an unambiguous message to the world: the trans-Atlantic alliance is the bedrock of Western security. This resolution makes it clear: the U.S. supports our allies in central and eastern Europe, and we stand side by side with those democracies facing outside coercion from Russia. With the Trump Administration’s constant waffling on the value of our alliances, it’s critical that Congress send this message, and I’m pleased to support this resolution.

The attempts by Russia and other countries to infiltrate democracies is a threat we know all too well here in the U.S. That’s why I’m so pleased to be an original cosponsor of Congressman Yoho’s Cyber Deterrence and Response Act. This measure would require the President to sanction those responsible for cyberattacks against our country, including attacks on our elections.

After the egregious attack on our elections in 2016—and consensus from our intelligence agencies that Putin plans to attack us again in 2018—the Trump administration has been unwilling to properly address the cyber threat to our nation. This is outrageous. I’m pleased to see bipartisan agreement that Congress must step in where the White House has failed. I urge all my colleagues to join me in supporting this critical measure.

Our Committee must work to protect our country and its citizens. That brings me to our next measure, which helps protect the lives of American citizens working at our embassies and consulates abroad. The Improving Embassy Design and Security Act, offered by Representatives McCaul and Kelly, includes a provision I authored requiring all U.S. government employees traveling abroad on official business to receive a security briefing from the State Department on potential threats. Frankly, it is shocking that this isn’t already required.

I thank Mr. McCaul and Ms. Kelly for including my language that requires the State Department to provide a strategy for establishing a physical diplomatic presence in countries where we currently have none. I’m disappointed that we have no U.S. embassies in several countries in the Eastern Caribbean where Venezuela and Cuba are present and active. Our absence significantly weakens U.S. influence in the Caribbean and elsewhere around the globe.

Finally, let me say that while I am pleased that we are passing legislation that makes a number of small fixes to our approach to embassy security, the most important indicator of the priority that a President gives to embassy security can be seen in the annual budget. Frankly, it’s alarming that the Trump Administration has proposed massive cuts for embassy security for two years in a row. President Trump ran a campaign focused on the Benghazi attacks with little regard for the actual facts. It is outrageous that now he’s in office, he has tried to cut funding for embassy security at every possible opportunity.  There is no cost too high to protect the lives of our diplomats and their families.  I wish the President understood that.

The next measure I want to discuss is the Democratic Republic of the Congo Democracy and Accountability Act. I’d like to thank Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Bass for their leadership in introducing this bipartisan bill.

For several years, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been on the brink of political and humanitarian crises. There are indications that President Kabila may attempt to run for a third term in office in violation of the country’s constitution. At the same time, there have been troubling restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. There are disturbing reports of Congolese security forces perpetrating human rights violations against peaceful protestors.

This bill asks the Administration to continue providing robust humanitarian and development assistance to the people of the DRC and supporting democratic governance. This measure also includes language to ensure that the U.N. peacekeeping mission there has sufficient means to operate effectively. I hope all members join me in supporting this important legislation.

Next, I’d like to turn to the UNRWA Accountability Act. Thank you to Representatives Cicilline and Zeldin for their bipartisan leadership on this legislation. UNRWA, the UN agency that serves Palestinian refugees, is in serious need of reforms.

While we have been working through these issues, the Trump Administration has frozen U.S. contributions to UNRWA. However, the freeze is counterproductive. Without U.S. assistance, UNRWA will be unable to implement those essential reforms. Schools for 250,000 children in Gaza will not open when the school year starts, making those children vulnerable to exploitation and extremism. 

These cuts to UNRWA come at the same time that the Trump Administration has frozen all assistance to the West Bank and Gaza.  This freeze will have a direct impact on Israel’s security and impact our goals across the region. We must act on this. This legislation increases transparency and congressional oversight of UNRWA and forces the Administration to report to Congress on its review of West Bank Gaza assistance.

Another measure on our agenda today also deals with our ally, Israel. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, of which I am an original co-sponsor, is an important legislative fix to bring our anti-boycott statutes into the 21st century.

Current law already prohibits U.S. companies from participating in state-sponsored boycotts of countries friendly to the United States.  This legislation simply adds boycotts by international government organizations to that law.

This bill does not infringe on free speech. It makes it clear that this prohibition only applies when a person is acting in an official capacity and if the intent was to comply with the international government organization’s boycott. Individual, personal speech remains protected. Period.

While I strongly disagree with boycotts of Israel, people must retain our basic constitutional protections of freedom of speech.  Let me be clear: No one who personally boycotts Israel or any other country will be affected by this legislation.  I hope all members will join me in supporting this measure.

Next, I’d like to talk about H.Con.Res. 20, which addresses the brutal murder of three US citizens in Serbia in 1999 and sends an important message to the Serbian government.

Ylli, Agron and Mehmet Bytyqi were three brothers from New York State who were killed, execution-style, by Serbian officials after they mistakenly crossed the unmarked Serbia-Kosovo border.  Their bodies were discovered—with their hands bound behind their backs—in a mass grave in 2001.

Serbian President Vucic promised me two years ago that his government would bring the murderers to justice. He promised the same to Vice President Biden. It is simply unacceptable that no Serbian individuals have yet been brought to justice for these murders. Apparently, there is not even a serious criminal investigation underway. This is appalling.

But, sadly, the Bytyqi brothers are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to post conflict justice in Serbia. Last year, the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center released a dossier detailing the murder in Kosovo, and transport and mass burial in Serbia of nearly 1,000 Kosovars. This is mass murder and has been raised by the U.S. government with the Serbian war crimes prosecutor, but – again – no one has been held accountable.  Let’s be clear:  If Serbia wants to join the EU, they must deal with their past and prosecute those responsible for war crimes.

As Ranking Member, I’ll continue to speak on this and support legislation that addresses this injustice. Today’s resolution makes it clear that Serbia must fully investigate the Bytyqi brothers’ case and bring justice to the families of these murdered New Yorkers. U.S.-Serbia relations depend on Serbia’s adherence to the rule of law and human rights and commitment to prosecute horrendous criminal cases such as this.

Now, I’d like to thank Congresswoman Torres for introducing House Resolution 944, expressing Congress’s support for the victims affected by the June 3rd eruption of the Fuego Volcano in Guatemala. As the founding co-chair of the Central America Caucus, Congresswoman Torres has been a tireless champion for the region’s most vulnerable, and I am pleased to support her continued efforts to stand in solidarity with the people of Guatemala.  This resolution rightly urges USAID and other U.S. agencies to bring to bear all resources for relief and reconstruction assistance in Guatemala.

Our final measure before us today is the Rescuing Animals with Rewards Act. Urgent action is needed to counter poaching and wildlife trafficking, which are growing in scale and sophistication, and threaten the extinction of some of the world’s most iconic species. This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Representatives Donovan and Castro, would enhance U.S. efforts to combat wildlife trafficking by authorizing rewards under the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program for information leading to the arrest or conviction of those engaged in the illicit wildlife trade.

These are nine good measures before us, and I urge all members to support them.

Comment

*