(Washington, DC) Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Minority Member Congressman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), and Commissioners Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Congresswoman Hilda Solis (D-CA), and Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), held a hearing entitled, “A Parliamentary Perspective on Security and Cooperation in Today’s Europe.”
The hearing focused on the challenges facing today’s Europe and the ability of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to meet those challenges, which include unresolved conflicts and obstacles to democratic development in a region stretching across North America and Europe into the Caucasus and Central Asia. Testifying at the hearing was the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Swedish parliament (Riksdag), Göran Lennmarker.
At the hearing, Lennmarker remarked, “The work of the Helsinki Commission and the participation of the United States in OSCE and its Parliamentary Assembly have been invaluable to our organization. In fact, the membership of the U.S. and of Canada in our organization makes it unique – it is truly an organization that stretches from Vancouver to Vladivostok, and we want to strengthen the important transatlantic link in order for the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly to be able to meet all the numerous challenges in the OSCE world.”
Hastings noted, “The role of parliamentarians in the Helsinki process goes back almost to the beginning. With the creation of the Helsinki Commission in 1976, the U.S. Congress has played an enormous role in shaping U.S. OSCE policy, combining regional and diplomatic expertise with the political capital Members of Congress have. Over the years, many countries expressed interest in emulating the Commission in their own national parliaments, but the creation of the 320-member OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has served a similar purpose. It has created groups within parliaments knowledgeable about OSCE issues and willing to keep the diplomats moving forward.”
Cardin commented, “Members of the U.S. Delegation have heard in recent OSCE PA meetings the concerns of our colleagues regarding Guantanamo Bay, and the U.S. human rights record. I believe we are no less concerned about this than our OSCE PA colleagues are, as our Helsinki Commission hearing in June and other activities demonstrate. We also know that this seriously hinders our own ability to press for positive changes in other countries. The answer, of course, is not to remain silent about the records of other countries, but to be sure we clean up our own act. I want to thank, President Lennmarker, for encouraging the work of Belgian Senator Ann-Marie Lizin as your Special Representative on this issue.”
Smith stated, “The Parliamentary Assembly is a vital part of the OSCE. Within the OSCE it has been the Parliamentary Assembly that has consistently pushed human rights issues to the top of the OSCE agenda. The governments of most OSCE Participating States have often been reluctant to put human rights first. They have criticized so-called “parliamentary interference” in OSCE policy, but they have been quick to take the credit for the PA’s human rights initiatives.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.