Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Testimony :: The Honorable Steny H. Hoyer
Ranking Member - The Helsinki Commission


Mr. Chairman, we convene this hearing, originally scheduled for September 12, 2001, in a different time and indeed in a different era. We are all deeply aware that the terrible events of September 11 have forever changed our country, our people, our world.

As we build our coalition of nations to combat the scourge of terrorism, the OSCE and its participating States will and should play an important role in this battle. The geographic breadth of the OSCE encompasses North America, Europe, the Caucuses and Central Asia, and includes a special relationship with its Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. In his recent address to the OSCE Permanent Council, Chairman-in-Office Mircea Geoana called for an OSCE strategy to combat terrorism.

The OSCE – the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – emerged from the signing of the Helsinki Final Act in 1975. In that document, the United States, Canada, the nations of Europe and the former Soviet Union committed themselves first to “ensuring conditions in which our people can live in true and lasting peace, free from any threat to, or attempt against, their security.” These are enduring words, Mr. Chairman.

An equal pillar of The Final Act is respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. As we and our allies combat terrorism we must all, Mr. Chairman, be ever vigilant in protecting those rights that are the foundation of democracy. True security and peace cannot be achieved in the absence of respect for basic human rights and the rule of law. This will be a particular challenge for the participating States which emerged from the former Soviet Union, many of whom struggle with the very concept of democracy and the rule of law.

Mr. Chairman, the OSCE has evolved and grown as an organization since its creation twenty-five years ago. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the ethnic strife which followed caused the OSCE participating States to develop new strategies to achieve peace and security. The underlying commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms have not changed, Mr. Chairman, and I submit that it has been the leadership of the United States in ensuring an unrelenting focus on compliance with the human rights commitments of the Final Act that hastened the lifting of the iron curtain of repression from the people of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Without the United States, the practice of naming names of the persecuted would not have been undertaken, with the profound impact it had on the communist regimes responsible for the persecution. Without the United States, the international community would not have intervened to stop genocide in the Balkans and to bring those responsible to justice. Without the United States, our allies, and later Europe as a whole, would never have taken a stand on human rights.

Indeed, Mr. Chairman, I would suggest that the Commission played no small role in this regard. What the Commission so often pushed eventually became U.S. policy in the OSCE. What the United States pushed would often obtain eventual consensus within OSCE. What the OSCE has done has been of enormous benefit to security and cooperation in Europe. I do not mean this as self-praise, because the strong human rights component which the Commission had first advocated was the vision of our predecessors, people like the late Dante Fascell and Millicent Fenwick. Those of us who have led the Commission in subsequent years deserve credit for simply continuing their course.

I hope, at today’s hearing, not only to hear statements about U.S. policy toward the OSCE, and its role in the battle against terrorism, but statements indicating U.S. willingness to exercise the leadership and example only the United States can provide, particularly in the field of human rights, in OSCE and elsewhere, even when it may not seem easy to do so. In the current crisis our government has led by example in its engagement with our Muslim citizens and their leaders and its condemnation and prosecution of those who have harmed them.

In addition, I hope this hearing will be viewed as an example itself of the kind of cooperation in foreign policy which can develop between the Congress and the Executive branch. This interaction is very useful and important as we seek to address the development of the OSCE in a proper manner. For example, the OSCE has the potential to succeed in promoting positive change in the region, but to do so, it needs to avoid the inefficient and indecisive bureaucracy which has burdened the United Nations. The OSCE must not become an organization for organization’s sake.

I have serious concerns in this regard, and I welcome the State Department’s willingness to be here today to discuss how to improve OSCE operations. Ever more critical as we face the challenges ahead. I also am grateful that this hearing will provide a forum for the expert analysis of our second panel, which promises to be a source of new ideas and suggestions for maintaining and increasing the OSCE’s focus and effectiveness in the field of human rights.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.