Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: The Honorable Christopher H. Smith
Co-Chairman - The Helsinki Commission

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Mr. Chairman, thank you for forging ahead and rescheduling this hearing which had to be postponed due to the tragedies of September 11. The loss of human life, the attack on personal freedom, and the violation of national security strengthen our resolve to stand by the principles which undergird the Helsinki commitments. The principles of freedom, democracy, fundamental human rights, and the rule of law remain the core for civilized societies, and as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice noted, we would not be America if we did not continue to press for these values.

As someone who has long been active on human rights issues, I have been a strong supporter of the Helsinki process – the OSCE and its CSCE predecessor. I believe that the OSCE remains an important forum for advancing U.S. interests, including those which contribute to security here and among our friends and allies in the OSCE region.

One of the OSCE’s greatest assets has been its ability to remain relevant in the issues addressed by the commitments made by the participating States. In the 1980s, when I first became involved in these issues as a member of this Commission, the focus had been on people languishing in the Soviet gulag or East European prisons for what they said, wrote or believed. We gave attention to the families divided between East and West and denied permission to reunite or even contact each other. In the 1990s, there was heavy emphasis on free and fair elections, the rule of law, conflict prevention and tolerance in society.

Today, the persecution of human rights monitors and religious believers remains relevant, as does the lack of democratic development, yet the OSCE has added to its concerns issues like human trafficking, especially of women and children into sexual slavery, and civilian policing. The challenges have only become greater since September 11.

Unfortunately, while one can point to good work by and through the OSCE which has made the world a better place for tens of millions of people in Europe who can now call themselves free, tens of millions remain repressed by regimes, displaced by paramilitary thugs, tortured by the police, unable to choose their elected representative in a fair contest, harassed for openly expressing their belief in God other than through the religious institutions traditional to their country. As our witnesses address U.S. policy toward the OSCE, I hope they will comment on these specific problems and what more can be done to address them.

Considering the events of three weeks ago, I would hope that human rights will serve as the foundation of the US agenda and remain prominent on the OSCE agenda. Some States had previously sought to lessen this focus, but now the authoritarian allies in our new war on terrorism could easily exploit the current circumstances to further stamp out the fledgling opposition forces which exist. I look forward to hearing from our State Department witnesses how the United States will bolster and not dilute the human dimension of the OSCE.