BBG Watch Commentary


In a letter sent to the Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG), the International Labor Rights Forum calls for the U.S. Government agency to end discriminatory employment policies at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and implement the U.S. Government’s commitments under the OECD Guidelines for Multi-national Enterprises and the United Nations’ Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights.

Discriminatory employment policies at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) are one of many labor issues inherited by the new chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Jeff Shell, and the renewed BBG board. Years of violations of U.S. labor laws and regulations, which became the norm under the former BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) management and which essentially destroyed employee morale, first at RFE/RL and later at the Voice of America (VOA), IBB, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), may be finally coming to an end.

Sources told BBG Watch that Chairman Shell and the Board want to resolve many of the legal cases that the IBB legal team kept losing one by one at great expense to U.S. taxpayers and great harm to journalists, the management culture and effectiveness of U.S. international broadcasting.

READ: Federal Labor Relations Authority Judge slams BBG for law violations, BBG Watch, June 4, 2014.

READ: Federal court issues another rebuke to IBB officials accused of mistreating journalists, BBG Watch, May 19.

READ: Voice of America wasted estimated millions on improper contract payments, Radio Free Asia gets clean bill of health, BBG Watch, May 3, 2014.

READ: Protests from Helsinki Committee, bad publicity continue for RFE/RL over treatment of foreign journalist staff, BBG Watch, April 3, 2014.

About the International Labor Rights Forum: “In 1984, the coalition of human rights, labor, academic, and faith-based communities succeeded in winning legislation linking the granting of U.S. trade and investment benefits — through the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) — to a country’s respect for fundamental labor rights. In 1986, the group launched the International Labor Rights Education & Research Fund (the name was later shortened to International Labor Rights Forum, or ILRF) to monitor enforcement of these laws and to develop other means to protect workers’ rights around the world.”

Link to: Discrimination at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, BRIAN CAMPBELL, INTERNATIONAL LABOR RIGHTS FORUM, June 13, 2014.

Mr. Jeffrey Shell
Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)
330 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20237

June 13, 2014

Dear Mr. Shell,

I am writing to express our concerns and ask that you bring an end to discriminatory employment policies at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which has resulted in significant professional and economic harm to many former and current employees of RFE/RL.

Utilizing a legal vacuum created by a Soviet-era law of  the former Czechoslovakia aimed to  granting special legal status to Soviet enterprises , including immunity from Czech labor laws, RFE/RL management has implemented discriminatory employment policies creating two classes of employees: citizens of the United States and the Czech Republic, who have legal rights enforceable in respective national courts of law, and one for foreign nationals working for RFE/RL in the Czech Republic who are neither citizens of the Czech Republic or the United States.[1]

In a remarkable legal decision, the Czech Supreme Court ruled that non-U.S./non-Czech employees of RFE/RL were not protected by Czech labor laws. In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that RFE/RL, which is recognized as a State Owned Enterprise of the United States Government, was regulated by Public Law #87/1963 and therefore has special legal status. Among the special privileges granted by the law, RFE/RL was exempted from having to comply with Czech labor laws and regulations and free to treat all non-American/non-Czech employees different from American and Czech employees.

As a result, RFE/RL management has been able to exploit the legal vacuum by entering into misleading standardized contracts with its non-US/ non-Czech employees stipulating, “Conditions of employment are governed by the applicable laws of the United States, the laws of the District of Columbia or the policies of the Company.”  When doing so, RFE/RL management does not disclose to their foreign national staff that for non-Americans working for American employers abroad there are no American “applicable laws” at all.

This was confirmed in a letter from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) in response to a complaint filed by Croatian Snjezana Pelivan against RFE/RL management for discrimination. In the letter, the EEOC explained that non-U.S. citizens were not protected by U.S. laws prohibiting discrimination and that the Commission “lacked jurisdiction to investigate a charge of discrimination on behalf of non-U.S. citizen working for a U.S. company abroad.” Also, non-U.S./non-Czech employees of RFE/RL are barred from seeking legal remedy in US Courts. See e.g. Shekoyan v. Sibley International Corp., (217 E. Supp. 2d 59, 68 D.C. Cir. 2002) holding that to “non-U.S. citizens, even if they are recruited, hired, and trained in the U.S., when their workstation is outside the U.S., U.S. discrimination laws do not apply.”

Lacking all legal protections, non-Czech/non-American employees at RFE/RL are left with only the “policies of the Company “ to offer any basic protections usually afforded under the labor laws of either the Czech Republic or the United States. As a result, all foreign nationals working for RFE/RL in Prague are placed in a precarious position relative to their Czech and American colleagues: being dependent on RFE/RL for their work visa while at the same time denied basic legal protections provided for by the laws of the Czech Republic, where the business operates, or the U.S., where the company’s board of directors is located.

These discriminatory employment policies have had, and continue to have, a serious detrimental impact on the professional and personal lives of hundreds of current and former RFE/RL’s employees.  For two employees in particular, RFE/RL management exploited the legal vacuum when they fired Snjezana Pelivan and Anna Karapetian. Despite their impeccable work records supported by outstanding performance reviews by their managers, Mrs. Pelivan and Mrs. Karapetian were fired by RFE/RL management without cause and without advance notice. In the process, they were denied the same rights and privileges granted to their Czech colleagues employed on contracts governed by Czech law. In addition, the RFE/RL management had in writing requested them to sign the obligations not to question their terminations in courts of law. After they refused to give up their inalienable rights to seek court protection against arbitrary terminations, management retaliated by stripping them of severance compensation owed to them for their years of service at RFE/RL.

Having been denied legal rights, protections, and compensation by the RFE/RL management that are afforded by Czech law to others in the same employment positions, both Mrs. Pelivan and Mrs. Karapetian have suffered injury to their careers. Neither Snjezana Pelivan nor Anna Karapetian, mother of three minors, received any severance for their many years of service to RFE/RL. Nor were they eligible for unemployment benefits available to everyone else in the U.S. or the Czech Republic. Nor were they able to find other employment forcing them to uproot their families from the lives they had built living and working in Prague.

RFE/RL discriminatory hiring and firing policies, and RFE/RL management’s use of those discriminatory policies, violate the basic right of all foreign employees at RFE/RL to work in an environment free from discrimination, as required by both U.S. and international legal principles, including the International Labor Organization’s Fundamental Principles of Rights at Work.[2]

RFE/RL’s discriminatory employment policies also violate the U.S. Government’s and RFE/RL management’s obligations to respect the basic principles of equality of opportunity and treatment for all non-US, non-Czech nationals to work in an environment free of discrimination. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Guidelines for Multi-national Enterprises provides:

Enterprises should, within the framework of applicable law, regulations and prevailing labour relations and employment practices and applicable international labour standards . . . Be guided throughout their operations by the principle of equality of opportunity and treatment in employment and not discriminate against their workers with respect to employment or occupation on such grounds as race, colour, sex, religion, political opinion,national extraction or social origin, or other status . . .”[3] (emphasis added)

Furthermore, we believe that the BBG, which is a Federal agency comprised exclusively of members assigned by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate, including ex officio the Secretary of State, has a heightened duty to protect the fundamental legal rights of workers at RFE/RL for two reasons.[4]

First, the United States Government is the “parent company” of RFE/RL. RFE/RL is incorporated, funded, and directed by the United States Government.  As a result, RFE/RL is a U.S. Government State Owned Enterprise. The U.S. Government-endorsed United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provides, “States should take additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or controlled by the State, or that receive substantial support and services from State agencies. . .”[5]

Second, as a “parent company” with extraordinary powers, the U.S. Government helped create and perpetuate the legal vacuum for non-U.S./non-Czech employees of RFE/RL by failing to provide basic legal protections to them as provided for others under U.S. and Czech laws.  According to the UN Guiding Principles,

As part of their duty to protect against business-related human rights abuse, States must take appropriate steps to ensure, through judicial, administrative, legislative or other appropriate means, that when such abuses occur within . . . their jurisdiction those affected have access to a remedy.[6]

Now that it is clear that Czech law has delegated legal authority to the United States Government to protect the basic legal rights of RFE/RL employees, the U.S. Government has an obligation to act on its duty to protect the rights of RFE/RL employees. As an agency of the U.S. Government, BBG must strive to exercise this duty as well.

Therefore, we ask that you use your authority as directors of RFE/RL to bring an end to the on-going discriminatory employment practices at RFE/RL. We also call on you to fulfill the U.S. Government’s duty to provide access to remedies by providing fair compensation to Mrs. Pelivan, Mrs. Karapetian, and others foreign national employees injured as a result of management’s discriminatory hiring and firing policies.

We look forward to your response.


Brian Campbell
Director of Policy and Legal Programs
International Labor Rights Forum

Cc        Richard Stengel, Under Sec’y of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Tom Malinowski, Assistant Sec’y for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

[1] Czech citizens employed by RFE/RL have employment agreements that are governed by Czech labor laws. Their contracts prohibit “at-will” employment and require management demonstrate good cause to justify any terminations. Americans are protected by U.S. statutory laws, U.S. EEOC and court jurisdiction.

[2] As a condition of membership to the International Labor Organization, all member country governments, including the United States Government, has agreed to respect and protect four core labor rights, including the rights of every worker to be free from discrimination.

[3] OECD Guidelines for Multi-national Enterprises, Sec. V(1)(e).

[4] See United Nations Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, A/HRC/17/31, Sec.I (“State Duty to Protect”). OECD Guidelines for MNE’s, Sec. IV. (“States have the duty to protect human rights.”).

[5] UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights, A/HRC/17/31, Sec.I(B), 4. ( (“Where a business enterprise is controlled by the State or where its acts can be attributed otherwise to the State, an abuse of human rights by the business enterprise may entail a violation of the State’s own international law obligations.”). See also OECD Guidelines for MNEs, Sec. II, Commentary, para. 11 (“State-owned multinational enterprises are subject to the same recommendations as privately-owned enterprises, but public scrutiny is often magnified when a State is the final owner.”).

[6] Id. Sec.III(A), 25.


Click here to download the PDF of the letter.

BBG Watch Commentary, April 3, 2014

Protests from Helsinki Committee, bad publicity continue for RFE/RL over treatment of foreign journalist staff

Czech Helsinki Committee Letter to Czech PM

During the Cold War, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty made every effort to publicize human rights appeals from Helsinki Committees in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union, while communist governments made every effort to ignore them. A number of former Soviet block countries still have Helsinki Committees speaking out for human rights. For the last few years, the Helsinki Committee in the Czech Republic has been sending letters to the management of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington protesting against alleged discriminatory treatment of foreign journalists employed by RFE/RL in Prague. As in the Soviet times, the Czech Helsinki Committee has not received any answer from either RFE/RL or BBG.

There was some hope for a change in RFE/RL’s labor policies in the Czech Republic when the BBG had appointed Kevin Klose to become RFE/RL’s CEO in early 2013. He carried out a number of management reforms and re-hired some of Radio Liberty journalists in Russia who had been unjustly fired by the previous RFE/RL management. But he never got around to addressing the main labor-management issue in Prague of how foreign RFE/RL journalists are treated before resigning suddenly for apparently personal reasons.

tana_fischerovaThe Czech Helsinki Committee has now sent a letter to Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka. The head of the Czech Helsinki Committee Tana Fischerova wrote that “it is difficult to understand American silence other than as a display of contempt for the Czech Republic as a partner and ally.”

Tana Fischerova wrote that Anna Sabatova, former Head of the Czech Helsinki Committee and a winner of the United Nations Human Rights Prize who is now the Ombudsman of the Czech Republic, also had written letters about this matter and never received an answer from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty management in Prague or from the Broadcasting Board of Governors in Washington. Czech Senator Jaromir Stetina also did not receive an answer to his letters in defense of RFE/RL foreign journalists.

Tana Fischerova asked the Czech Prime Minister to address the government of the United States with a “request to solve the problems stemming from immoral double-standard policies of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.” “In Munich, even when it was in American zone of occupation, German labor laws covered all RFE/RL employees including Americans, while in Prague BBG and RFE/RL assume that they can be above the laws,” Tana Fisherova wrote in her letter to Czech Prime Minister.

Tana Fischerova, a former member of the Czech Parliament, was a candidate in the 2013 Czech presidential elections. She is a writer, a TV personality and member of the board of the Vaclav and Dagmar Havel Foundation VIZE 97.

BBG Watch has learned that recently some BBG members have expressed their deep concern over this issue and are discussing it with the interim RFE/RL management team put in place after Kevin Klose’s departure. The BBG also has a new chairman, Jeff Shell, who has promised management reforms and better treatment of employees.

According to BBG Watch sources, Tana Fischerova had written a letter to Chairman Shell late last year, but it it not known whether the executive staff of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) has shown him the letter. IBB has been badly managed for years. Its executives ignored numerous problems that later caused great embarrassment to the BBG and the U.S. government. They also reportedly kept material information hidden from BBG members. There was a subsequent change in the IBB management team ordered by the new BBG Chairman and the renewed BBG board.

It remains to be seen what actions, if any, might be taken by BBG and RFE/RL to resolve this longstanding issue now that some BBG members have gotten involved.


Read: Radio Free Europe Violates Human Rights and Hospitality of the Czech Republic in PDF.

Mr. Bohuslav Sobotka
Prime Minister of the Czech Republic
Nabrezi Edvarda Benese 4/128
Prague 1 – Mala Strana

Radio Free Europe Violates Human Rights and Hospitality of the Czech Republic

Prague, 28th March 2014

Dear Prime Minister,

We appeal to you concerning the matter, which Czech Helsinki Committee follows for several years, and in which former Head of CHC Anna Sabatova wrote to Washington. It is labor discrimination of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) foreign employees.

As you know, in 1995, at the invitation of Vaclav Havel, RFE/RL that operates on the basis of U.S. International Broadcasting Act was transferred from Munich to Prague and settled in the building of former Federal assembly of Czechoslovakia. The Radio is subordinate to Federal Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Washington. Members of BBG are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by Senate. The Secretary of State (presently John Kerry) serves on BBG ex officio. Simultaneously, BBG, including the Secretary of State, acts as RFE/RL Board of Directors. RFE/RL broadcasts in 28 languages to 21 so called target countries and employs in Prague hundreds of foreign citizens. According to International Broadcasting Act, BBG controls and directs all American non-military broadcasters abroad and “makes all major policy determinations governing the operations of RFE/RL.” RFE/RL, the largest institution of American public diplomacy overseas, is financed by U.S. Congress. On January 26, 2010, Norman Eisen, then newly assigned American ambassador to Prague, visited RFE/RL president even before he handed his diplomatic credentials to the President of Czech Republic.

Czech Republic extended to RFE/RL an extraordinary hospitality corresponding to the glorious human-rights-oriented history and present official mission of that Radio: “to promote democratic values and institutions,” “strengthen civil societies by projecting democratic values,” “provide a model for local media…” The building at Wenceslas Square was leased to RFE/RL for symbolic rent of 1 Czech Crown per month. The Ministry of Finance relieved all RFE/RL American employees, as performing duties of governmental nature, of Czech income taxes. In April 2006, Cyril Svoboda, the then Czech Minister of Foreign Affaires, personally handed to BBG in Washington a check of 27 million Czech Crowns to co-finance the resettlement of RFE/RL into its own building in Prague. In June 2012, Dennis Mulhaupt who headed BBG’s delegation to Prague, stated with satisfaction after reception by former Czech President Vaclav Klaus: “We could not imagine more hospitable, dedicated and supportive host.”
American banner is hoisted at RFE/RL’s building. The problem is that hundreds of foreigners working in that building are intentionally deprived of any real — defendable by the Czech and/or American laws – labor rights, for they are hired on uniform employment agreements stating: “Conditions of employment are governed by the applicable laws of the United States, the laws of the District of Columbia or the policies of the Company.” In fact, however, to them as to foreigners working for American employer outside the United States, American labor laws are not applicable at all. (Czech personnel are employed on different agreements governed by Czech Labor Code).

Thus, American management is placing RFE/RL employees from countries other than Czech Republic and USA into legal vacuum without informing them at the time of hire of their actual legal status. In reality, they are subjected to the “policies of the Company “only. Those internal regulations contain a specific rule absent in their employment agreements (section 5.18.1, RFE/RL Policies&Procedures): “Employment at RFE/RL is considered to be “at will”, which means that either the employee or RFE/RL can terminate the employment agreement at any time and for any reason, with or without notice or cause.” It means also without any reason – as is the RFE/RL’s practice.

Legal claim against RFE/RL by Armenian citizen Anna Karapetian, mother of three minor children, is presently in the Czech Constitutional Court. The case of Croatian citizen Snjezana Pelivan vs. Czech Republic is in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Czech Republic, as the country hosting on its territory the American RFE/RL, is accused of failing to safeguard Mrs. Pelivan’s rights to non-discrimination and fair trial guarantied by European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. After years of impeccable service prized by regular performance reviews, both women were fired without any stated reason, without advance notices, without any disciplinary measures (if deserved), and even without severance compensations because they refused to give up in writing the right of appeal to court – an inalienable human and civil right in any democratic state including the Czech Republic.

In its Statement of June 4, 2012, Employment of Foreigners in Radio Free Europe, Czech Helsinki Committee criticized the RFE/RL’s practice as being “immoral.” In its further pronouncement of August 30, 2012, CHC defined that practice as “an act of fraud.” On October 8, 2012, CHC appealed to Representative Christopher H. Smith and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, leaders of U.S. Helsinki Commission, with an Open letter, Violations of Human Rights and Disregard of Moral Principles by American Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague Should Not Go On. March 5, 2013, CHC wrote to RFE/RL president Kevin Klose asking him for “changing of discriminatory labor policies” and “ending of the court cases with Mrs. Karapetian and Mrs. Pelivan with the amicable settlement.” On November 23, 2013, CHC published and forwarded to Mr. Jeffrey Shell, BBG Chairman, a letter, “Radio Free Europe: Labor Policies Shall be Changed, Lawsuits Peacefully Stopped.”

CHC did not get an answer to any of those letters.

Without any reaction and answer remained also the letters by Czech Senator Jaromir Stetina to the president of RFE/RL, U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, leaders of U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. On July 15, 2013, Senator Stetina wrote to John Kerry:

“As a member of Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Security, I dare to inquire if such a mode of operations – to ignore, disregard, not to react – is appropriate for American officials and institutions in relation to the friendly and allied Czech Republic.”

“Unnoticed” remained also three interpellations (inquiries) in Czech parliament addressed to the governments of PMs Mirek Topolanek and Petr Necas concerning the discrimination of RFE/RL’s employees by nationality principle — discrimination inadmissible at the territory of sovereign Czech Republic…

Equally, the American side never paid any attention to angry reaction by Czech mass media – TV, radio, print media.

Foreign media reaction to court cases of Anna Karapetian and Snjezana Pelivan, titles like “Radio Free Europe – Guantanamo in Prague” or “Free Europe with Its Own Law in Colonial Czech Republic” are not contributing to positive international image of the Czech Republic. Critical comments in English, Russian, Slovak, Armenian, Croatian and other languages regularly appear in print, electronic and voice media. The list of such publications is virtually endless.

To try to explain that silence in response to appeals and requests coming from the Czech Republic and concerning RFE/RL only by by bad manners of American officials, would be just as absurd as to call RFE/RL simply a private organization having private arguments with its employees in Czech Republic. However, exactly in that spirit sounded humiliating answers of PMs Mirek Topolanek and Petr Necas to parliamentary interpellations.

Czech Helsinki Committee finds that the silence of American institutions has nothing to do whatsoever with court disputes if it is permissible or not to apply American labor laws to foreigners at the territory of sovereign Czech Republic. In opinion of CHC, it is inadmissible. It is excluded itself by American laws. In Munich, even when it was in American zone of occupation, German labor laws covered all RFE/RL employees including Americans, while in Prague BBG and RFE/RL assume that they can be above the laws.

It is difficult to understand American silence other than as a display of contempt for the Czech Republic as a partner and ally. Last year, when Mrs. Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, protested the violation of labor rights in RFE/RL Moscow bureau (Radio Svoboda), not only the RFE/RL president Kevin Klose, the chairman and members of BBG came to Moscow to talk to her, but also the Secretary of State John Kerry met her there. Moreover, she was invited and traveled to Washington. Anna Sabatova, former Head of Czech Helsinki Committee, winner of the United Nations Human Rights Prize presently elected to a position of Ombudsman of the Czech Republic, did not even get an answer.

On June 11, 2013 to PM Petr Necas appealed with written interpellation the Parliament deputy Vladimira Lesenska – member of your party (CSDP), which at that time was in opposition to the government of Petr Necas. On June 17, his government has resigned and the interpellation — reported already by Czech and foreign media — could not be considered. Deputy Lesenska inquired, in particular: “Snjezana Pelivan, referring to the Croatian Constitution, officially requested the government in Zagreb to support her claim against the Czech Republic submitted to Strasbourg. Czech and foreign media also quoted her words: ‘Americans spit on this country openly and smile nicely. And Prague wipes itself dry and keeps smiling, too. Our next complaint, mine and Anna’s, will be to Geneva, to the UN Human Rights Council.’
How the Czech government , Mr. Prime Minister, assesses such a consequence of its inactivity, how much longer it intends to stay silent, not addressing American institutions with relevant questions regarding RFE/RL’s labor policies and actions at the territory of sovereign Czech Republic?” As the head of CSDP, you are definitely familiar with that interpellation.

Therefore, we ask the new, headed by you government of the Czech Republic to address the government of the United States of America with request to solve the problems stemming from immoral double-standard policies of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Discrimination of hundreds of its foreign employees shall be stopped, protracted lawsuits ended by peaceful resolutions. Czech Republic is the state treating the defense of human rights seriously and that should be made clear. It is one of our main slogans.

We hope that the burning political and moral problem concerning the defense of human rights, which your government inherited from previous Czech governments, will be solved by diplomatic means at intergovernmental level Prague – Washington.

In conclusion, we quote Governmental Declaration: “The government will pursue the high standard in defense of human rights.”

Thank you and warm wishes,

Tana Fischerova
Head of Czech Helsinki Committee