Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: Hon. George V. Voinovich
Commissioner - Helsinki Commission

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Opening Statement
March 29, 2001

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Chairmen Smith and Campbell for scheduling this hearing to examine recent developments in Kosovo and throughout southeast Europe. I have been very active in efforts to promote peace and stability in this part of the world during the past two years, and so it seems quite appropriate that my first official hearing as a member of the Helsinki Commission is intended to highlight some of the problems faced in the Balkans in order to prompt dialogue so that we may effectively act to solve them. I am glad to be here, and I would like to underscore the importance of continuing to discuss the difficulties faced by those in Kosovo and surrounding areas. As we are all well aware, there is still much work to be done in order to help bring a time of peace, security and prosperity to the Balkans.

Since the end of the war, I have worked on three essential items that I believe will bring peace and stability to the region: first, to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo that continues today; next, to implement the Stability Pact; and finally, to support democracy in Serbia — an effort that I began when I was governor of the State of Ohio. Along with Senator Arlen Specter, I was so pleased to have the opportunity to visit with President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Vojislav Kostunica during a trip to southeast Europe and the Middle East over the New Year’s holiday. At last, there is a remarkable opportunity for positive change in the FRY, which I hope will serve as a stabilizing force in the region.

I have visited Kosovo twice during the past several years, most recently in July 2000 as vice-chairman of the U.S. delegation to the annual meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Bucharest, Romania. Along with some of my colleagues, I traveled to Kosovo to get an update on the situation there. During the OSCE meeting, I introduced a resolution on Southeastern Europe that called to the attention of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly the situation in Kosovo and Serbia, and made clear the importance of democracy in Serbia. I was pleased that my resolution passed, putting the OSCE on record as condemning the Milosevic regime and insisting on the restoration of human rights, the rule of law, free press and respect for ethnic minorities in Serbia.

I also visited Kosovo in February 2000, and I had the opportunity to sit down with leaders of Kosovo’s ethnic minority groups, including leaders of the Serbian Orthodox Church. In addition, I met with leaders of Kosovo’s Albanian community, Thaci, Rugova and Quojsa. I urged them to end the cycle of ethnic violence that has decimated the region for so many years, and I called on them to establish a new paradigm of respect for minority rights and rule of law in Kosovo. Only when the violence ends can a new era of hope and stability begin in southeast Europe.

Unfortunately, we have not seen an end to ethnic conflict in the Balkans. Most recently, we have seen violence in Macedonia, and ethnic conflict in the Presevo Valley is still a concern of President Kostunica’s government as well as members of the international community. Through a daily exchange of e-mails with two former Ohio state troopers serving as part of the U.N. police force in Kosovo, I am aware of turmoil that continues to plague Kosovo, as well. Individuals on all sides in Kosovo — Albanians as well as Serbs and other ethnic groups — continue to engage in violent activity, and I am saddened to learn that OSCE staff members have been injured in attacks. We must remain engaged and continue to promote peace in southeast Europe.

Given the vast amount of activity in region during the past few weeks — including the strife in Macedonia, happenings in Kosovo and the looming March 31 certification deadline for continued U.S. assistance to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia — this hearing is very timely. I have been particularly active in efforts to encourage President Kostunica and the new government in the FRY to meet the three certification requirements outlined in the fiscal year 2001 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, speaking with our officials in Belgrade as well as President Kostunica and Prime Minister Djindjic, and I have been paying close attention to developments in Macedonia. I thank the witnesses for their willingness to come before the Helsinki Commission today. I had the privilege of meeting General Ralston during the annual meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Budapest last May, and in February 2000, I enjoyed having lunch with Ambassador Everts in Pristina. It is good to see them both again, and I look forward to hearing their testimony, as well as the insights of Ambassador Pardew.