Chris Smith began advocating for human rights issues back in early 1982, when as a freshman congressman he traveled to the Soviet Union to push the government of Leonid Brezhnev to stop harassing individuals who sought the freedom to practice their religion.
One of the “refuseniks” Smith met on that trip was Yuli Kosharovsky, who had been denied a visa to leave the Soviet Union for eleven years. Kosharovsky was so taken by Smith that he kept a photo of the 28-year-old New Jersey Republican on the wall of his Moscow apartment. Smith was persistent, and seven years later, the Soviet Union allowed Kosharovsky to leave.
On Saturday, Smith was in Berlin as the leader of a U.S. delegation that held a bilateral meeting with Russian lawmakers to discuss human trafficking, adoption, cyber attacks, and election interference, as well as Syria, Iraq and the Ukraine. He met with Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma.
In a statement issued from his office, Smith said he pressed the Russians “for peace in Syria, unfettered safe access for humanitarian aid workers and accountability—prosecution of those who have committed war crimes.”
The “unlawful annexation of Crimea coupled with Russian military expansion into other parts of Ukraine had led to enormous suffering and death,” Smith said. “A durable cease-fire—agreed in the Minsk Agreement—and deployment of a UN peacekeeping mission to the region will save lives.”
As U.S. chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), also known as the Helsinki Commission, Smith was part of an assembly of 300 lawmakers from 47 countries that took part on a meeting to discuss worldwide human rights and other issues. The meeting comes just a week before President Trump was set to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
Smith sponsored a resolution aimed at combating human trafficking. The first time he pushed a measure like this, in 1999, Smith played a key role in bringing the issue to the attention of legislators throughout the world.