PRAGUE. - Residing in Prague former employees of American Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan and Armenian national Anna Karapetian, officially request the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva (UN HRC)
to open special investigative procedure against U.S. Federal government agency Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) maintaining nationally discriminative labor policies at the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). BBG oversees all U.S. non-military international media world-wide. RFE/RL is headquartered in Prague.
BBG members are appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. The Secretary of State serves on BBG ex officio. According to “United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994,” BBG represents the exclusive Board of Directors for RFE/RL and makes “all major policy determinations governing the operations of RFE/RL.”
Formal Complaint by two former RFE/RL employees is based on UN HRC Resolution 5/1 of 18 June 2007, “Institution-Building of United Nations Human Rights Council.” The Resolution established special complaint procedure to empower private persons and non-governmental organizations “to address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any RFERL torchpart of the world and under any circumstances “(Art.85-88).
In their Complaint, Snjezana Pelivan and Anna Karapetian list some of international NGO’s, which condemned RFE/RL’s policies of national discrimination by direct protests to BBG, its Board of Directors:
“Information Centre CAUCASUS – EASTERN EUROPE (Prague, Czech Republic),
Czech Helsinki Committee (Prague, Czech Republic),
Inter-American Platform for Human Rights, Democracy and Development (Quito, Ecuador),
Human Rights Association in Central Asia (Le Mans, France),
Moscow Helsinki Group (Moscow, Russia),
Foundation Open Dialog Poland-Ukraine (Warsaw, Poland),
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo, BiH),
Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (Dublin, Ireland),
Institute for Peace and Democracy (Baku, Azerbaijan),
International Society “Memorial” (Moscow, Russia),
International Association of Democrats against Authoritarian Regimes (Toronto, Canada),
International Labor Rights Forum (Washington, USA).”
The Complaint submitted to UN HRC by Snjezana Pelivan and Anna Karapetian names the United States of America as the “state concerned.” RFE/RL is the largest overseas institution of American public diplomacy financed by U.S. Congress via Broadcasting Board of Governors. Since 1995 when invited by Czech government RFE/RL, moved from Munich, Germany, to Prague, it received well over 1,5 billion taxpayers’ dollars for its operations.
From Prague, RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 countries – of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, to Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. It employs hundreds of non-Czechs and non-Americans. Foreigners deprived by BBG-RFE/RL labor policies of both American and Czech legal protections, form the bulk of RFE/RL’s editorial staff.
Their Czech colleagues are provided with employment contracts negotiated with Czech trade unions and based on Czech labor legislation enforced by Czech courts. Americans are covered by American laws extending to them free of charge services of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and protection by American courts, both of which are off limits to foreign nationals working in Prague for RFE/RL — an American employer outside the United States.
At that, RFE/RL misleadingly declares itself an “equal opportunity employer.” Equally misleadingly, the uniform employment agreements provided by RFE/RL-BBG to foreign employees in Prague state: “The parties understand that the laws of the United States govern this agreement. Furthermore, all conditions of employment are governed by the applicable laws of the United States, laws of the District of Columbia or the policies of the Company.”
In fact, by expressed will of American Congress, not a single U.S. and/or the District of Columbia labor or human rights law is applicable to foreigners employed outside the United States by American companies.
By the reference to “applicable” American laws in employment contracts with legally uninformed foreign personnel, the RFE/RL’s Board of Directors, Broadcasting Board of Governors, knowingly, intentionally and “immorally” commits “an act of fraud” (Anna Sabatova, former Head of Czech Helsinki Committee, presently the Parliament-elected Human Rights Defender (ombudsman) of the Czech Republic). Former Czech Senator Jaromir Stetina, now the deputy of European Parliament, branded RFE/RL labor policies of national discrimination as “patiently indecent, unfair, cynical and hypocritical.”
The only regulation applicable to RFE/RL’s foreign employees, write Snjezana Pelivan and Anna Karapetian to United Nations Human Rights Council, is “lex BBG” – “the policies of the Company,” stipulating that “either party may terminate an agreement at any time for any reason” . In RFE/RL-BBG practice it means also without any provided reason.
After years of impeccable service with “very good” or “excellent” performance reviews, Anna Karapetian’s and Snjezana Pelivan’s employments were terminated — without any provided reason or cause, without previous warning, without any preliminary corrective measures (if such were deserved), and even without severance compensations earned during years of service — because they refused to sign an obligation not to question in courts their arbitrary terminations.
They were neither the first nor the last foreign employees of RFE/RL to be terminated without any provided motivation. But Snjezana Pelivan was the first to bring her case to Czech courts. After four hearings, her appeal was rejected on the ground that she voluntarily accepted the choice of American laws — to her inapplicable and unknown. On the same ground –after protracted, pro and contra, seven back and forth hearings across the national court system — Czech courts rejected the anti-discrimination claim by Anna Karapetian, mother of three minors. Czech Constitutional Court agreed that RFE/RL’s foreign employees have unequal status with their Czech and American colleagues but ruled that it is not for Czech courts to judge if American RFE/RL acts against American laws, for the discussion of American laws, i.e. the will of U.S. Congress, is outside the “optic” of Czech courts.
In their Complaint to United Nations Human Rights Council Snjezana Pelivan and Anna Karapetian write: “The bottom line of Czech court decisions in our cases: Hundreds of RFE/RL foreign employees are cemented in total legal vacuum without any potential protection either by American or Czech courts against arbitrary actions of RFE/RL’s Board of Directors – the BBG. There is little wonder that RFE/RL’s foreign staffers call their workplace “our little Guantanamo,” thus echoing the title of an article published by respectable Czech newspaper Lidove noviny, “Radio Free Europe – Guantanamo in Prague.” The oldest Czech newspaper compared legal status of foreigners at RFE/RL to that of the “void of rights aborigines.”
Their Complaint factually illustrates the violations of international human rights norms by direct references to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Art. 14), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Art. 2 (1), 26),
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Art.2 (2)), etc. The applicants quote the International Labor Organization Recommendation R166, “Termination of Employment at the Initiative of the Employer”, Paragraph 13(1): “A worker who has been notified of termination of employment or whose employment has been terminated should be entitled to receive, on request, a written statement from his employer of the reasons for termination”. However, the reasons for arbitrary terminations of Pelivan’s and Karapetian’s employment were not disclosed by RFE/RL even in Czech courts.
To UN HRC they write: “Reacting to the avalanche of fact-based condemning letters by international NGO’s, BBG sent them a uniform misleading answer signed by the BBG Chairman Geffrey Shell in his capacity of the Chairman of RFE/RL Board of Directors (…), stating, in particular: “Employment at RFE/RL is terminated only for valid reasons such as corporate restructurings, poor performance, violations of company policy, or budget cuts.” That statement made by the head of U.S. governmental institution financed by American Congress is patently untruthful. At the open BBG meeting held August 13, 2014, in Washington, BBG Chairman publicly called the international protests a “noise”: “There’s been noise about us not treating people the same ways, you know, whether they are US citizens or not US citizens.”
Already three times – on June 11, 2009, February 4, 2010, June 7, 2012 – Czech Parliament discussed the deputies’ interpellations concerning RFE/RL’s discriminative labor policies. Czech and foreign media – in Russia, Armenia, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Slovakia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Arab countries, USA, etc. — extremely negative, often sarcastically react to national discrimination at American RFE/RL, which solemnly proclaims as its Mission “to promote democratic values and institutions,.. strengthen civil societies by projecting democratic values,.. provide a model for local media…” The number of condemning media voices is virtually endless. Abbreviated two-page long list is attached to Pelivan’s and Karapetian’s Complaint to United Nations Human Rights Council.
Asking UN HRC to open special investigative procedure, Snjezana Pelivan and Anna Karapetian note: “In our opinion, the question why American Congress tolerates manifested disregard of its legislative will by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is of especial importance.”