Today’s hearing of the Helsinki Commission – the first of the 107th Congress -- will examine the unfolding developments in and around Kosovo. While there are differing views over the strategic interest of the United States in the region, one fact is beyond dispute – thousands of American soldiers were placed and remain in harm’s way in the Balkans. I have personally met with many of these young men and women who are deserving of our support.
Given the ongoing violence in Macedonia, as well as southern Serbia, this hearing will include an assessment of developments beyond the borders of Kosovo and implications for countries in the region. Escalating tensions in the Balkans are cause for grave concern with serious consequences for continued engagement in the region by NATO, the OSCE, and the United States.
Left unchecked, the latest outbreak of violence threatens to undermine efforts by the international community to bring some degree of order to an otherwise chaotic environment and could lead to even greater human suffering and hardship.
Initiatives by the OSCE and others on the ground in Kosovo are attempting to make some inroads. A good example, is the OSCE-run Kosovo Police Service School, which I visited earlier this year. The school is providing professional law enforcement training with the aim of establishing a credible civilian police force in Kosovo.
Despite these efforts, the situation in Kosovo appears dismal, sometimes even hopeless. If you are a Serb or Roma, you cannot move about freely without risking your own life. Many individuals who fled their homes are not be able to return. There are few institutions in place and functioning which define the parameters through which a civil society can thrive and economic opportunities can be sought. Like other places in the region, corruption is rampant in Kosovo.
I look forward to hearing from the experts assembled this afternoon as we assess the latest developments in and around Kosovo and their implications for NATO, the OSCE and the United States. First, we have General Joseph Ralston of the U.S. Air Force, serving as the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, who can provide a NATO and military perspective on the current situation Next we will hear from Ambassador James Pardew, the Principal Deputy Advisor for Kosovo and Dayton Implementation at the U.S. Department of State, who can talk about U.S. policy approaches. Finally, we have Ambassador Daan Everts of the Netherlands, head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, who can comment as a person serving in the field and dealing with everything from human rights and police training to institutional development in Kosovo.
The Helsinki Commission is pleased to have such a distinguished panel, and we all look forward to your presentations.