Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
February 14, 2011
From Fame to Shame: Stop Human Rights Violations and National Discrimination of Foreign Employees at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Dear Mrs. Secretary,
The actions I urge you to undertake will benefit the Czech Republic, the United States, and its instrument of public diplomacy — located in Prague, U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).
As you know, in 1995, RFE/RL has moved from Munich, Germany, to Prague. At that time, for democratically minded people in post-communist Czech Republic, myself included, it was an assertive and highly symbolic event – the Liberty bell, RFE/RL logo, on the building of former communist Czechoslovak Parliament. Indeed, the Mission Statement of historically anticommunist RFE/RL, famous for its unbending support of human rights and the rule of law, solemnly proclaims:
“RFE/RL mission is to promote democratic values and institutions… RFE/RL strengthens civil societies by projecting democratic values… RFE/RL provides a model for local media…”
Subordinate to the assigned by the President and confirmed by U.S. Senate BBG (Broadcasting Board of Governors), RFE/RL employs in Prague quite a number of foreign nationals and broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 countries – of the former Yugoslavia andSoviet Union, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ex officio, as the Secretary of State, you are both the member of BBG and RFE/RL Board of Directors.
On April 4th, 2009, inaugurating in that capacity the new RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, you, as was reported, praised the Radio for being
“a ‘smart power’ , which helps “to create a broad international agreement with values that respect human dignity, individual rights and responsibilities.” You thanked RFE/RL staff on behalf of President Obama: “He and I believe strongly that we have to do a better job in explaining American values… What you do here is an instrumental, essential part of everything America stands for.”
Your speech was met with heartfelt applause. In your audience were hundreds of citizens and refugees from the Radio’s target countries who emotionally and politically identify with RFE/RL noble mission. At the same time, your professionally informed listeners were undoubtedly aware of anti-discrimination lawsuits brought against RFE/RL by their former colleagues, Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan and Armenian Anna Karapetian. Aware even more so because RFE/RL deprived all and any of its foreign employees of the very same values stressed so emphatically in your address.
As the Senator of Czech Republic and Vice-chairman of the Senate caucus of the governmental coalition party TOP 09 headed by Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, I cannot be indifferent to human rights violations wherever they take place, first of all, in my own country. Degrading treatment of RFE/RL foreign personnel is the case in point. I don’t believe that RFE/RL policies intended, for the sake of bureaucratic convenience, to deprive its foreign employees of any legally enforceable rights are, to use your words, “an instrumental, essential part of everything America stands for.”
On another occasion, I characterized RFE/RL labor policies designed to keep foreigners in legal limbo as “patently indecent, unfair, cynical, and hypocritical.” Recently, the Prague-1 District Court in its Decision of November 30, 2010 in the lawsuit of Mrs. Anna Karapetian against RFE/RL went even farther. The Court not only reinstated Mrs. Karapetian whose employment was arbitrary terminated in November, 2006, in her previous position, but ruled that RFE/RL acted intentionally and immorally by providing her as far as in 1997 with legally deceptive Employment Agreement supposedly (!) governed by American laws (translation):
“The Court finds that the reference to American laws in the Employment Agreement concluded between the disputing parties is illegal as directly contradicting not only the American laws and American court practice but also the Czech law, while in American legal literature and American court practice is permanently stressed the intention of American Congress to not permit American legal regulations, including the labor ones, to be applied to foreigners, i.e. non-American citizens, employed by American employers outside the territory of the United States… That, as corroborated by legal experts, is dictated by respect of the Congress to the sovereignty of foreign countries… The defendant (RFE/RL) who is subordinate to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and who uses the services of corporate lawyers in Washington and Prague, intentionally abuses legal inexperience of its employees in American legislation and court practice.”
The bottom line: The end of legal vacuum. Enforceable for employees Czech labor law in theCzech Republic. Just as it was the German law in Germany. Understandably, the quoted judgement applies retroactively to all employment contracts ever provided by RFE/RL to its foreign personnel in Prague. RFE/RL work contracts are standard – illegal and immoral. And, as the Prague-1 Court ruled elsewhere, nationally discriminative. In particular, it applies to the court case of Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan. Her claim against Czech Republic as the country tolerating national discrimination practiced on its territory by the American RFE/RL is in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
By RFE/RL Policies, its foreign personnel in Prague may be fired at any time, for any reason or without any reason whatsoever — without prior warning, without any preliminary disciplinary measures if such are deserved; without even contractual severance pay for the years of service unless one signs the letter of consent with such a termination and, also in writing, gives up the inalienable (at least, in the Czech Republic) human and civil right to seek protection in the courts of law. By such a mode, RFE/RL had disposed of quite a number of its foreign employees in Prague. In the same fashion, RFE/RL management terminated, after years of impeccable service, the employment of Mrs. Snjezana Pelivan and Mrs. Anna Karapetian, mother of three minors. However, they refused to accept the “shut up” money and took RFE/RL to courts.
Infested by the principle of national discrimination, RFE/RL policies and actions in the Czech Republic, its hospitable host country, have nothing in common with its impressive Mission Statement. The oldest Czech newspaper Lidove novinysummed up that regrettable situation in its editorial “Equality with Precondition. Practice of Free Europe Contradicts Its Ideals” (translation):
“Prague headquarters of RFE/RL, which pretends to be a messenger of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, behaves as an employer in such a way as if the principles it heralds, are relevant “just” for the whole planet but not for what is going on inside that estimable organization itself. Employees are divided in three castes. The first includes American citizens who enjoy the protections provided by the Federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Czech citizens are protected by the Czech Labor Code. Unfortunately, the employees from third countries “enjoy” zero protection. Despite their employment agreements are composed with the reference to American laws, they have no place to complain. That situation, as it seems, is brutally abused by the management of the radio station. With foreign employees in the lowest caste, the propagators of democracy act as a colonial power over powerless aborigines.“
It is well known, Mrs. Secretary, how strong and demanding are your statements concerning discrimination of women in foreign countries. In Prague, at American RFE/RL, a pregnant foreign employee receives 16 weeks of maternity leave granted by RFE/RL Policy. Her female Czech colleague at RFE/RL gets 28 weeks, i.e. almost three months more, as provided by Czech law to anyone else in the Czech Republic. As the RFE and BBG official you can use your influence to stop it. RFE/RL policies evidently are formulated by BBG, which, as one could read on its webpages, “makes all major policy determinations governing the operations of RFE/RL.”
RFE/RL actions and policies compromise the moral standing of not only that internationally exposed tool of American “smart (???) power”. They cast shadow over the sincerity of American public diplomacy as such and question your own determination “to strengthen the State Department’s capacity… to advance American values” — to quote your essay “Leading Through Civilian Power: Redefining American Diplomacy and Development “ published recently in Foreign Affaires magazine. And, to my uppermost concern, RFE/RL actions run contrary to the goals spelled out in Coalition Agreement between the governing political parties of the Czech Republic (translation):
“In the coming years, the Government will have as the main goal to strengthen good name of the Czech Republic in the world. With that in mind, we shall struggle for:
–Support of human rights as integral part of the post-revolutionary development in Czech foreign policy.
–Strengthening of public diplomacy… as effective tool to present Czech Republicabroad.”
I share the notion expressed in your essay: ”In this information age, public opinion takes on added importance.” Therefore, it is even more troubling that the ongoing lawsuits caused by nationally discriminative RFE/RL personnel policies in the Czech Republic, policies disdainful to legal sovereignty of its host country, created the extensive body of singularly negative public opinion reflected in readily accessible by Internet international publications – in English, Russian, Czech, Croatian, Armenian, Slovak. Abbreviated list for your information:
“From RFE/RL: Immorality as a Matter of Policy,” “Czech Court Rules Against RFE/RL in Suit by Dismissed Armenian Employee,” “In handcuffs of ‘Liberty’,” “Czech Court to American Radio Free Europe: No Use for U.S. Laws in the Czech Republic. Hillary Clinton Will Not Be Asked to Testify,” “ Czech Court Rules RFE/RL Cannot Discriminate Against Its Own Foreign Journalists,” “Radio Liberty Betrays Its Ideals,” “Czech Supreme Court Rules Against Radio Free Europe. Karapetian’s Case Returned for New Consideration”, “It’s the Morality, Stupid,” “Radio Free Europe – Task for Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg,” “Radio Free Europe – Guantanamo in Prague,” “Armenian journalist appeals to Obama to Protect Rights of Foreign Journalists at U.S. Government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,” “Equality With Precondition. Practice of Free Europe Contradicts Its Ideals,” “U.S. Attorney General is Asked to Investigate Fraud at RFE/RL,” “Doomsday of Radio Liberty. From Double Standards to Double Morals?” “A Sense of Betrayal,” “Czech Politician Accuses U.S. of Discrimination Against Foreign Journalists,” “On Air in Legal Vacuum,” “Czech MP Writes to U.S. Counterparts Over Work Conditions in RFE/RL,” ”New Administration Must Undo RFE/RL Anti-Diplomacy Abroad,” “BBG, RFE/RL: Bring Public Diplomats Instead of Public Bureaucrats,” “Don’t Feed Kremlin’s Public Diplomacy With U.S. Public Hypocrisy,” “Public Disaster Instead of Public Diplomacy,” “Cases of Karapetian and Pelivan as Morality Check for Obama Administration. Radio Free Europe to Face European Court of Human Rights,” “Czech MP Questions Pelivan Case,” “Czech Sovereignty Ends at RFE/RL,” “At Radio Free Europe/Liberty, Bulk of Discriminated Employees is Muslims. Hillary Clinton Serves on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Board of Directors,” “Free Europe With Its Own Laws inColonial Czech Republic?” “From Human Rights Show to Human Rights Court,” “Prague Spring of 2009 Leads to Strasbourg,” ”News Flashes From Radio Free/Radio Liberty. The Face of America Abroad,” “Czech Senator Angry About Croat’s Lawsuit”…
The tenor of all those publications is devastating to public reputation of RFE/RL, the United States, and the Czech Republic: hypocrisy, betrayal of ideals, violation of human rights, lawlessness, double standards, moral disaster, fraud, cynicism… Published in several languages, influential Armenian newspaper AZG (People) wrote:
“The most devious anti-American mind would not be able to design an international media campaign so devastating to RFE/RL and, by natural extension, to American image and trustworthiness abroad, as the American RFE/RL managed to cause on its own.”
Already twice the inquiries (interpellations) concerning national discrimination of RFE/RL foreign employees reached the floor of the Chamber of Deputies of Czech Parliament.
Not a single media voice supportive of RFE/RL (il)legal pretenses is to be found. There is a good reason for it. Absurd as it may sound, but in Czech courts RFE/RL corporate lawyers refer to the Communist law of 1963 written to allow Soviet enterprises to use Soviet labor regulations in politically subjugated Czechoslovakia. Formally, the post-communist CzechRepublic still has on book some dating back to the communist era regulations, which allowed foreign companies to use foreign labor laws if they did not contradict the fundamentals of the “Czechoslovak Socialist Republic”.
Decision of the Prague-1 Court in Karapetian’s case shall put an end to that legal and political travesty detrimental to both the Czech Republic and the United States – unless RFE/RL and BBG are permitted to further waste money of American taxpayers on counterproductive legal tricks performed in foreign courts by highly paid corporate attorneys. Even looking from Prague, it does not seem to be in line with expressed will of American Congress and the White House to eliminate waste in public spending. Even less, it will be attune with the President’s words in his 2011 State of the Union address broadcast worldwide:
“America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom, and justice, and dignity.”
It is exactly what RFE/RL foreign employees yearn for – for their countries and themselves.
The Croatian Times, Zagreb, reported recently that Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan who already brought her anti-discrimination case against the Czech Republic in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, is also considering a formal application agains this country and the United States to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. In UNHRC, Cuba holds the chair of Vice President and a good number of its
47 members is regularly criticized by the United States for human rights violations. It will be the first such claim against the Czech Republic – as a dubious reward for its hospitality to American RFE/RL. The United States already had the unenviable experience last November – to be critisized in Geneva by representatives of such “human rights beakons” as Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, Nicaragua, North Korea, Algeria, Libia, China, Sudan… That should not happen again.
Herewith, Mrs. Secretary, I kindly ask you to use your best judjement, political influence and moral compass in order to prevent further sliding of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty from fame to shame. The ongoing ugly lawsuits should and could be stopped by the dignified peaceful resolution aceptable for all the parties involved, including the CzechRepublic. RFE/RL-BBG discriminative policies of “no-rights-to-foreigners” in the CzechRepublic also should be abandoned.
Senator, The Senate of Parliament of the Czech Republic