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THE OSCE AS A MODEL FOR THE MIDDLE EAST



HON. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN

OF MARYLAND

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


For video of this speech, please click here.

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to speak as in morning business.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, we have all watched in awe during the past weeks as the unquenchable desire for liberty and human dignity has inspired the people of the Middle East to lift themselves from oppression and move their country toward a new dawn.

Sadly, we now also watch in horror the brutality of Colonel Qadhafi, who murders his own people as he clings to power. I join President Obama in calling for Colonel Qadhafi to leave Libya immediately and support our efforts, in concert with the international community, to help the Libyan people.

What happens next? No one knows. I certainly do not have the answer. I pray that peace and stability come quickly to Libya and hope the people of Egypt and Tunisia make swift and concrete progress in establishing democratic institutions and the rule of law.

While each country in the region must find its own path in this journey, I would suggest the international community currently has a process in place that can serve as a way forward for the countries in the Middle East and North Africa in establishing a more democratic process, that guarantees free elections and free speech.

I am referring to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe , the OSCE. The OSCE traces its origins to the signing of the Helsinki Accords in 1975, and for more than 35 years has helped bridge the chasm between Eastern and Western Europe and Central Asia, by ensuring both military security for member countries and the inalienable human rights of its citizens.

There are three baskets in OSCE. One basket deals with human rights because it is critically important that the countries respect the rights of their citizens. Another basket deals with security because you cannot have human rights unless you have a secured country that protects the security of its people. The third basket deals with economics and environment because you cannot have a secure country and you cannot have human rights unless there is economic opportunity for your citizens and you respect the environment in which we live. The three baskets are brought together.

In the United States, the Congress created the U.S. Helsinki Commission that monitors and encourages compliance by the member states in the OSCE.

I am privileged to serve as the Senate chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and I represent our Commission on most of these issues. Today Egypt and Tunisia, along with Algeria, Israel, Jordan, and Morocco, are active Mediterranean partners within the OSCE and have made a commitment to work toward the principles of the organization.

In 1975, the Helsinki Final Act recognized that security in Europe is closely linked with security in the Mediterranean and created this special partnership between the signatory states and the countries in the Mediterranean as a way to improve relations and work toward peace in the region. Libya was an original partner in this endeavor but, regrettably--and , in my view, to its detriment--ultimately, turned its back on the organization.

More recently, the U.S. Helsinki Commission has made the Mediterranean partnership a priority on our agenda. Parliamentary assembly meetings have taken place in which all of the member states were present, including our partners, and we have had sidebar events to encourage the strengthening of the relationship between our Mediterranean partners for more cooperation to deal with human rights issues, to deal with free and fair elections, to deal with their economic and environmental needs, including trade among the Mediterranean partners and , yes, to deal with security issues to make sure the countries and the people who live there are safe.

A Helsinki-like process for the Middle East could provide a pathway for establishing human rights, peace, and stability in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in the region. As a member of the Helsinki Commission since 1993, I have discussed the possibility of a Helsinki-like process for the region with Middle Eastern leaders, a process that could result in a more open, democratic society with a free press and fair elections. The Helsinki process, now embodied in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe , bases relations between countries on the core principles of security , cooperation , and respect for human rights. These principles are implemented by procedures that establish equality among all the member states through a consensus-based decisionmaking process, open dialog, regular review of commitments, and engagement with civil society.

We have seen the Helsinki process work before in a region that has gone through generations without personal freedom or human rights. Countries that had been repressed under the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union are now global leaders in democracy, human rights, and freedom. One need only look as far as the thriving Baltic countries to see what the Middle East could aspire to. Lithuania now chairs both the OSCE and the Community of Democracies. Estonia has just joined the Unified European common currency, and Latvia has shown a commitment to shared values as a strong new member of the NATO alliance.

Enshrined among the Helskini Accord's 10 guiding principles is a commitment to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including free speech and peaceful assembly. The Helsinki process is committed to the full participation of civil society. These aspects of the Helsinki process--political dialog and public participation--are critical in the Middle East, and we have watched these principles in action today in Egypt and Tunisia.

The principles contained in the Helsinki Accords have proven their worth over three decades. These principles take on increasing importance as the people of the Middle East demand accountability from their leaders. Whether the countries of the region choose to create their own conference for security and cooperation or, as some have suggested, the current OSCE Mediterranean partners and their neighbors seek full membership in the OSCE, I believe such an endeavor could offer a path for governments in the region to establish human rights, establish a free press, and institute fair elections.

Finally, as the citizens of both Tunisia and Egypt demand more freedom, I urge both countries to permit domestic and international observers to participate in any electoral process. The OSCE and its parliamentary assembly have extensive experience in assessing and monitoring elections and could serve as an impartial observer as both countries work to meet the demands of openness and freedom of their citizens.

The election monitoring which takes place within the OSCE states is a common occurrence. During our midterm elections, there were OSCE observers in the United States. So they are present in most of the OSCE states because we find this a helpful way to make sure we are doing everything we can to have an open and fair election system. Free and fair elections are critical, but they must be built upon by the strengthening of democratic institutions and the rule of law. I believe the principles contained in the Helsinki Accords have a proven track record and could help guide this process.

With that, I yield the floor.





   
 

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Rep. Alcee L. Hastings accepts the 2009 Defenders of Freedom Award in the Russell Senate Office Building, July 29, 2009