by Erika B. Schlager
CSCE Counsel for International Law
On October 3, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on "U.S. Policy toward the OSCE." Originally scheduled for September 12, the hearing was postponed after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
This hearing was convened to examine U.S. priorities and human rights concerns in the OSCE region; how the OSCE can serve to advance those goals and address human rights violations; the pros and cons of the institutionalization and bureaucratization of the OSCE and field activities; and the openness and transparency of the Helsinki process.
Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Commissioners Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Rep. Robert B. Aderholt (R-AL) heard from four witnesses: A. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (who has since been formally appointed by the President as one of the three executive-branch Commissioners), Ambassador Robert Barry, former Head of OSCE Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and P. Terrence Hopmann, professor of political science at Brown University and research director of the Program on Global Security at the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Institute for International Studies. Catherine Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the International League for Human Rights, had agreed to participate in the hearing as originally scheduled for September 12, but was unable to attend on October 3.
In her prepared statement, Assistant Secretary Jones described the OSCE as an important tool for advancing U.S. national interests “by promoting democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, arms control and confidence building measures, economic progress, and responsible or sustainable environmental policies.” While portraying the OSCE as “the primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention, crisis management, and post-conflict rehabilitation in [the] region,” she also argued that “it is not the forum for discussion or decision regarding all security issues” – a role implicitly reserved for NATO.
Jones alluded to a possible role for the OSCE in combating terrorism, an issue that will be taken up at the OSCE Ministerial, scheduled for December 3 and 4 in Bucharest. In this connection, Chairman Campbell urged the State Department to pursue an OSCE meeting of Ministers of Justice and Interior as a step toward promoting practical cooperation in fighting corruption and organized crimes, major sources of financing for terrorist groups.
Assistant Secretary Craner tackled an issue of key concern to human rights groups: would the war against terrorism erode efforts to promote democracy and human rights, particularly with respect to Central Asian countries that are now key U.S. allies in that war? Craner observed that “[s]ome people have expressed concern that, as a result of the September 11 attack on America, the Administration will abandon human rights. I welcome this hearing today to say boldly and firmly that this is not the case. Human rights and democracy are central to this Administration’s efforts, and are even more essential today than they were before September 11th. They remain in our national interest in promoting a stable and democratic world. We cannot win a war against terrorism by stopping our work on the universal observance of human rights. To do so would be merely to set the stage for a resurgence of terrorism in another generation.”
The testimony of the two expert witnesses, Professor Hopmann and Ambassador Barry, examined the operational side of the OSCE, with particular focus on the field work of the institution. Hopmann, one of a small number of analysts in the United States who has written in depth about the work of the OSCE and who served as a public member on the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Review Conference in Istanbul in 1999, offered several specific recommendations: 1) enhance the professional qualifications and training of its mission and support staff; 2) strengthen its capacity to mediate serious conflicts that appear to be on the brink of violence or that have become frozen in the aftermath of violence, including making better use of ‘eminent persons’ to assist these efforts; and 3) attract more active support from its major participating States, especially from the United States, to strengthen the OSCE's capacity to intervene early in potentially violent conflicts when diplomacy still has a chance to win out over force.
Ambassador Barry drew on his experience as head of one of the OSCE’s largest missions to address the complex issue of the OSCE’s relations with other international organizations. Barry asserted that OSCE has, at times, “bitten off more than it can chew” and the United States needs to exercise discretion in assigning tasks to the OSCE. When asked specifically to describe the relationship between the OSCE and the Council of Europe, he characterized it as “permanent struggle.” He suggested that the two organizations should not compete with other, but play to their relative strengths: the OSCE, for example, should be dominant in field missions, while the Council of Europe should be given the lead in providing expert advice on legislative drafting.
One area where the OSCE is underutilized is in the area of policing – the focus of a Commission hearing held on September 5, 2001. Barry remarked, “Last month several witnesses testified before the Commission concerning the OSCE role in police training and executive policing. With its requirement of universality, the [United Nations] must call upon police who are unable or unwilling to deal with terrorism or human rights violations at home. We cannot expect them to be much help, for example, in dealing with mujahedin fighters in Bosnia or Macedonia. Therefore I believe the OSCE ought to be the instrument of choice for both police training and executive policing. In order to fill the latter role the OSCE should change its policy on arming executive police. Unarmed international police have no leverage in societies where every taxi driver packs a gun.”
Barry also argued that the United States needs to involve the Russian Federation more closely with OSCE. “Too often in the past,” he said, “we have marginalized Russia by making decisions in NATO and then asking OSCE to implement the decisions. Macedonia is only the most recent example.”
Many of the questions raised by Commissioners focused on institutional issues such as the transparency of the weekly Permanent Council meetings in Vienna, the respective roles of the Chair-in-Office and Secretary General and pressure to enlarge the OSCE’s bureaucracy by establishing new high-level positions to address whatever is, at the moment, topical. State Department witnesses were asked several questions relating to specific countries where human rights issues are of particular concern, including Turkmenistan, a country whose human rights performance is so poor that some have suggested it should be suspended from the OSCE, and Azerbaijan, a country engaged in a significant crackdown against the media. Assistant Secretary Jones argued that, when faced with an absence of political will to implement OSCE human dimension commitments, it is necessary to “persevere” and to hold OSCE participating States accountable for their actions.
Noting that the death penalty is the human rights issue most frequently raised with the United States, Commissioner Cardin asked Assistant Secretary Craner how the United States responds to this criticism and whether the use of capital punishment in the United States impacts our effectiveness. Craner noted that the death penalty in the United States is supported by the majority of Americans, in a democratic system, and that the quality of the U.S. judicial system ensures its fairness. He also argued that it does not affect the credibility of the United States on human rights issues. Professor Hopmann, however, disagreed with this assertion. Based on extensive contacts with European delegates to the OSCE in Vienna, Hopmann observed that Europeans find it difficult to reconcile the U.S. advocacy on human rights issues with a practice Europeans view as a human rights violation.
Chairman Campbell recommended that similar hearings be convened on a periodic basis to update Congress and the American people on the ongoing work of the OSCE and how it advances U.S. interests across the spectrum of the security, economic, and human dimensions.
The complete statements of the Commissioners and panelists are available on the Commission website http://www.csce.gov
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.