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Commission on security and cooperation in Europe

U. S. Helsinki Commission

Mission

We are a US government agency that promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Nine Commissioners are members of the Senate, nine are members of the House of Representatives, and three are executive branch officials.

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Chairman

Senator Roger F. Wicker

Co-Chairman

Representative Christopher H. Smith

  • Our International Impact
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  • Averting All-Out War in Nagorno-Karabakh

    Last year, the conflict surrounding the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in the South Caucasus saw its worst outbreak of violence in more than two decades. The so-called Four Day War in April 2016 claimed approximately 200 lives and demonstrated that the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has persisted in a state of no-war/no-peace since a 1994 ceasefire, is not a “frozen” conflict at all. Instead, the Line of Contact separating the parties sees numerous ceasefire violations annually. Each one risks igniting a larger-scale conflict that could draw in major regional players, such as Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Since 1997, the United States, France, and Russia have co-chaired the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the principal international mechanism aimed at reaching a negotiated solution to the conflict. The fragility of the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire underscores the importance of United States engagement in the Minsk Group process. The U.S. Helsinki Commission hosted two former United States Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group process as well as a renowned independent expert on the conflict to assess the current state of the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Minsk Group format, and the prospects for achieving a lasting peace.

  • Helsinki Commission Urges Turkish President to Lift State of Emergency

    WASHINGTON—In a letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday, the four senior members of the Helsinki Commission – Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Ranking Commissioner Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Alcee Hastings (FL-20) – urged him to lift the state of emergency that has been in place in Turkey since July 2016 and immediately restore Turkey’s commitment to international standards of due process and judicial independence. The bipartisan letter, which came just hours after President Erdoğan announced a fifth three-month extension of the country’s state of emergency, was also signed by Helsinki Commissioners Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Sen. Thom Tillis (NC), Rep. Roger Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Randy Hultgren (IL-14), Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04), and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18). It reads in part: “We are concerned about your government’s continued actions to undermine human rights and democratic principles in Turkey. The prolonged state of emergency is gravely undermining Turkey’s democratic institutions and the durability of our countries’ longstanding strategic partnership, including more than half a century as NATO allies. Last year, the Turkish people defeated a violent and illegal challenge to their democratic institutions; today, the 15-month-old state of emergency poses a different threat to these same institutions, particularly the judiciary. By facilitating sweeping purges with no evidentiary standards, the state of emergency has upended countless innocent lives and undercuts domestic and international confidence in Turkey’s rule of law… “As a member of the Council of Europe and participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), your country officially recognizes the rule of law as a cornerstone of democratic governance. Restoring respect for fair judicial treatment would remove a persistent distraction in our bilateral relationship and help to rebuild a principles-based partnership rooted in shared commitments to collective security, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.” The letter highlighted the cases of American citizens Andrew Brunson, a pastor, and Serkan Gölge, a NASA scientist, both of whom were arrested in Turkey following the coup attempt. As of mid-2017, at least seven additional American citizens were jailed in Turkey. The letter also noted the cases of two detained Turkish employees of the U.S. consulates in Turkey as well as a group of Turkish and international activists—known as the Istanbul 10—who were arrested this summer while holding a routine human rights defenders workshop in Istanbul. The full text of the letter can be found below: Dear President Erdoğan, We are concerned about your government’s continued actions to undermine human rights and democratic principles in Turkey. The prolonged state of emergency is gravely undermining Turkey’s democratic institutions and the durability of our countries’ longstanding strategic partnership, including more than half a century as NATO allies. Last year, the Turkish people defeated a violent and illegal challenge to their democratic institutions; today, the 15-month-old state of emergency poses a different threat to these same institutions, particularly the judiciary. By facilitating sweeping purges with no evidentiary standards, the state of emergency has upended countless innocent lives and undercuts domestic and international confidence in Turkey’s rule of law. In February, many of us joined over 70 of our colleagues from the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to appeal to you for the immediate release of American pastor Andrew Brunson, who has been held without trial for a year on baseless terrorism charges. We continue to be dismayed by your government’s unwillingness to heed our calls for his release and the recent imposition of four additional charges on Mr. Brunson for allegedly conspiring to overthrow your government. These allegations are preposterous. We urge you to recognize them as such, drop all charges against Mr. Brunson, and release him. Since the failed coup attempt, Turkish authorities have arrested a number of American dual citizens and two long-time Turkish employees at U.S. consulates on terrorism charges. Some of these individuals—including American citizen and NASA scientist Serkan Gölge—have been in jail for more than a year despite the prosecution’s ability to present only circumstantial evidence against them. Our citizens have also been denied the courtesy of U.S. consular assistance that would help them and their families cope with these difficult and confusing circumstances. It is clear that terrorism charges under the state of emergency are also being manipulated to suppress the activism of a group of human rights defenders arrested in early July. Authorities seized a group of ten Turkish and international activists holding a routine human rights defenders workshop in Istanbul. The group of activists, which has come to be known as the Istanbul 10 and includes Amnesty International’s Turkey Director, Ms. İdil Eser, is charged with “committing crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.” A month earlier, Amnesty International’s Turkey Board Chair, Mr. Taner Kılıç, was arrested on charges of being a member of an alleged terrorist organization. Ms. Eser, Mr. Kılıç, and many of their colleagues remain in pre-trial detention. We urge you to ensure the timely, transparent, and fair adjudication of the aforementioned cases, lift the state of emergency and immediately restore Turkey’s commitment to international standards of due process and judicial independence. As a member of the Council of Europe and participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), your country officially recognizes the rule of law as a cornerstone of democratic governance. Restoring respect for fair judicial treatment would remove a persistent distraction in our bilateral relationship and help to rebuild a principles-based partnership rooted in shared commitments to collective security, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Sincerely, 

  • Our Impact by Country

  • Helsinki Commission Policy Advisor Discusses Kleptocracy at Hudson Institute Event

    On October 11, 2017, U.S. Helsinki Commission anti-corruption policy advisor Paul Massaro joined experts including Ilya Zaslavskiy of the Free Russia Foundation; Jeffrey Gedmin of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service; David Kramer of Florida International University’s Green School for International and Public Affairs; Louise Shelley of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University; Sarah Chayes of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace; and Ambassador Richard D. Kauzlarich of the Center for Energy Science and Policy to discuss the threat that kleptocratic regimes pose to the United States and its allies. The public seminar was hosted by the Hudson Institute and was moderated by Charles Davidson, the Executive Director of the Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative. A recent report by Zaslavskiy, “How Non-State Actors Export Kleptocratic Norms to the West,” was the focal point of the event, which was designed to explore the nature and mechanisms of kleptocracy and strategies Washington can employ to combat it. During the discussion, the panelists stressed the threat kleptocracy poses to global democracy; described the extent to which it is entrenched in authoritarian societies; and explained how the silence of our institutions enables this system to perpetuate itself. Though kleptocrats benefit from criminal activity, their exploitation of legitimate financial and legal institutions insulates them. Furthermore, the panel noted the dual nature of the environment in which corruption thrives; it not only finds fertile ground in states with a legacy of autocracy, but also in cultures of acquiescence and complicity. Discrediting such public indifference is among the most severe challenges Western institutions face, but it is one that must be addressed in order to successfully combat kleptocracy. In his remarks, Massaro outlined the avaricious and cruel nature of kleptocracy and the grave threat it poses to democracy and the rule of law. He characterized the fight against kleptocracy as an ideological struggle between corruption and the rule of law, and strongly reaffirmed the Helsinki Commission’s resolve to counter global corruption in all its forms. As Massaro explained, “On the Hill, we [the Helsinki Commission] have become the primary forum for discussion of the topic and we will continue to work to expose the severity of kleptocratic practices.” He commended his fellow panelists on their committed work to combat corruption and challenge kleptocratic norms and reaffirmed the Commission’s aim to work collaboratively with other organizations to recognize and meet this challenge.

  • The Internal Enemy

    Ukraine’s struggle with corruption has prevented it from becoming a full, prosperous democracy and hinders its ability to respond effectively to Russian violations of its sovereignty. This Helsinki Commission staff report examines why corruption has been so persistent in Ukraine. It provides a historical analysis of corruption in Ukraine from its break with the Soviet system to today, reviewing the current state of reforms and providing recommendations in context. The resilience and influence of Ukraine’s oligarchs are at the heart of the country’s persistent corruption. Oligarchs have captured the Ukrainian state, crowding out non-corrupt political parties and competing with one another to steal Ukraine’s wealth. They are not so much businesspeople as courtiers, who transform political and personal connections into monopolies supported by the state. Two phenomena in particular have given rise to this system of oligarchic competition: (1) the lack of reforms in the early years of independent Ukraine, which resulted in incomplete economic liberalization, and (2) gas arbitrage, which has been uniquely devastating to reform attempts due to building so many oligarchic fortunes and providing a backdoor for Russia to influence Ukrainian politics for decades. Today’s Ukraine has implemented many important reforms that have helped to counter corruption, specifically in energy, finance, and economics. However, judicial reforms continue to lag behind. Commentators have observed that progress has slowed and frustration among civil society and the international community has increased. This report recommends that Ukraine move forward with remaining reforms, supported by both civil society and the international community. Most important is that Ukraine not allow backsliding to occur.  Ultimately, the oligarchs must be transformed from courtiers into entrepreneurs and businesspeople so as to finally end the pervasive institutionalized corruption. An empowered Ukrainian civil society—including independent media—will be paramount to such reforms, and has proven time and again that it is world class in its engagement. Key here is to condemn any attempt to hinder or harm civil society. The report makes numerous recommendations by sector, with an emphasis on the importance of reforming the judiciary. In particular, Ukraine should establish an anticorruption court as soon as possible, so as to provide the final necessary piece of Ukraine’s anticorruption architecture. Additional reform areas discussed include the safeguarding and further empowering of the anticorruption architecture; implementing privatization and additional regulatory and corporate governance reform as the next step for energy sector reform; pursuing consolidation and transparency as ideas for banking sector reform; and limiting parliamentary immunity. This report also discusses greater e-government and press freedom as mechanisms to empower Ukrainian civil society, including independent media, to monitor the reform process and prevent backsliding. Finally, it encourages the international community to continue its support for Ukraine and dig in for the long haul. Download the full report.  

  • Trafficked: Untangling the Bonds of Modern Slavery

    Human trafficking remains an entrenched—but not intractable—problem in the United States and around the world.  According to the International Labor Organization, 40 million people suffered from human trafficking last year—most of whom were women and girls. “Trafficked,” the new drama based on Siddharth Kara’s award-winning book, follows the stories of three girls from Nigeria, America, and India as they lose and reclaim their freedom. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion of the root causes of vulnerability to trafficking, the role of the buyer in trafficking, police corruption and accountability, the psychological effects of trafficking on survivors, and the road to recovery.

  • The OSCE at a Crossroads

    Dr. Terry Hopmann is one of few American academics who has followed the Helsinki Process as it developed over four decades from a multilateral conference of 35 countries dealing with Cold War divisions – the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe – to a regional organization of 57 countries confronting a broad range of challenges across its security, economic and human dimensions – today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As well-acquainted with the intricacies of its institutional development as the diplomats who negotiated them, Hopmann also considers the Helsinki Process and its importance in the context of the broader development of European affairs and the U.S.-Russian relationship.  In his current capacity as Professor of International Relations and Conflict Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), based in Washington, DC, Hopmann not only introduces the OSCE to graduate students preparing for a career in international relations but also invites them to contribute to the intensive study of OSCE-related hot spots, including through field visits to areas such as Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh.  Focusing especially on security issues, Dr. Hopmann frequently interacts with the Helsinki Commission, both at OSCE-organized meetings in Europe and at Commission-organized briefings and hearings in Washington. In light of the numerous challenges the OSCE currently faces, including Russia’s markedly aggressive behavior and fears of an eroding U.S. commitment to European security and cooperation, Helsinki Commission staff recently sought Hopmann out to discuss the utility of the Helsinki Process in the past, and the interplay of U.S., Russian and European interests through the OSCE today and into the future. The OSCE’s Value Hopmann asserts in no uncertain terms that “OSCE membership is very beneficial for the United States.”  The organization has made major contributions to defusing conflicts and increasing military transparency, Hopmann believes; he also underlines the need to keep in mind the organization’s role in the defense of human rights. “The OSCE’s defense of national sovereignty, minority rights, and other important socio-political freedoms, together help prevent or at least de-escalate conflict, and make escalation harder. We see this precise action with regards to Ukraine right now. There’s a lot of value in that,” he notes. “The OSCE remains important for the U.S. in promoting its interests abroad, and at relatively low cost,” Hopmann adds.  “Still, the OSCE needs more support. The United States has struggled to engage with multilateral organizations and this represents a major issue. Without permanent and knowledgeable diplomatic representation and without the guarantee of adequate funding and resources, the OSCE’s capacity to act is severely hindered, and we play a role in that. Furthermore, the fact that we do not have a permanent representative there at the moment devalues the OSCE in ways that are dangerous.” Hopmann calls for the United States to continue to “support the OSCE institutions and missions, help its fellow member states in their work at the OSCE, and not forget its commitment to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, nor lose sight of their significance.” In the past, the Helsinki Process made important contributions to stability and peace in Europe, Hopmann believes. The confidence-building measures developed through the Helsinki Process of the mid-1970s, in particular, “initiated the practice of international observation and greater transparency. As a result, states could now better distinguish military maneuvers and exercises from preparations for a surprise attack. In many ways this was the most important breakthrough during the Cold War, greatly reducing the risk for surprise attack from the Soviet Union. This anxiety was a root cause of the Cold War and animated the conduct of both Western and Eastern powers. Of course, there were the ideological arguments that influenced the political landscape, but in Europe, the fear of Soviet aggression was immense.” At the time these confidence-building measures were negotiated, the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was still a vivid, recent memory. Hopmann also acknowledges the value of the other, non-military baskets of issues discussed in the Helsinki context. “The human rights basket was also important, though not as immediate,” he observes. “For the negotiators, this basket was less about human rights, but more about the promotion of human interaction. It was, effectively, an agreement to begin encouraging cultural and educational exchange.  In the shorter term, the first basket [on political-military issues] was critical, but in the longer term, the third basket [on human rights] became more important - particularly after the 1986 Stockholm agreement updated the CSBMs that were at the heart of Helsinki’s Basket 1. Then, following the Vienna Review Conference that concluded in early 1989, suddenly people were guaranteed the right to enter and leave their own country. Here, we see the first breach in the Iron Curtain when Hungary allowed people to cross freely into Austria – it didn’t all fall at once in 1989, rather it was a gradual process that started with a CSCE set of expanded principles. “ Hopmann considers the institutional development of the European security architecture in the post-Cold War period to have in many ways played out to the OSCE’s disadvantage.  Although initially successful in the 1990s with the deployment of field missions, successive U.S. administrations have missed an opportunity by viewing the OSCE as an organization principally relating to human rights concerns, rather than political-military security. “We missed the idea that NATO and the OSCE are not mutually exclusive,” he says “While we’ve contributed a lot to the OSCE, NATO remains the priority for policy makers in Washington. We have yet to realize how closely and effectively they can and should be working together. I believe this is our biggest foreign policy mistake since the end of the Cold War. It is the most effective way to bring Russia to the negotiating table and it is far easier to work with them in Vienna than the UN. The OSCE remains a security institution, like NATO, and as long as we value using all diplomatic measures to resolve conflict before using military force, we’re making a mistake by underutilizing the OSCE.” A growing European Union has not necessarily helped, Hopmann believes.  “The development of the E.U. has somewhat complicated the operation of the OSCE. Through the creation of its own common foreign and security policy and other initiatives, Brussels has duplicated OSCE institutions, but without the participation of the United States and Russia. Thus, the E.U. alone simply isn’t as effective,” he observes. “There is a lot of overlap between the two bodies and this begets structural and bureaucratic blockages that prevent action, especially when E.U. and OSCE representatives diverge or try to do the same thing independently. So, like OSCE-NATO relations, the E.U.’s relationship with the OSCE is occasionally marked by competition that hurts both parties’ effectiveness.” The View from Kremlin Walls Many of the earlier successes of the Helsinki Process were enabled by a very different leadership in Moscow than that we see today, Hopmann suggests. Under the late-Soviet leadership and Russian President Yeltsin, “there was a real interest to engage more with the West. They were, generally speaking, in support of Helsinki and didn’t view it as a threat to Russian interests,” he says. “That strongly contrasts with Putin. Putin has a totally different worldview and perceives the OSCE’s interests as inimical to Russian national priorities. We now find a much stronger, more belligerent Russia that no longer trusts the OSCE to help protect its interests, as it once did.”  This dynamic creates a real danger that Russia could turn away from the OSCE completely.  “The Kremlin could decide to leave as a result of domestic pressure or as a result of frustration with the West and its criticism. The Russians feel that they are attacked on all sides in the OSCE and obviously derive no joy from it,” Hopmann notes.    He therefore warns against outright rejection of all Russian concerns in the OSCE area, for instance as regards ensuring the protection of Russian-speaking populations in neighboring states.  “It is paramount that, in the spirit of Helsinki, we ensure Russian minorities are treated equally and fairly, to avoid perceived provocations by the West that might serve as a pretext for Russia to intervene. He suggests the closure of earlier OSCE missions in the Baltic states might have been perceived by Moscow, rightly or wrongly, as evidence that the OSCE was no longer responding to Russian concerns. Russia’s military occupation and subsequent illegal annexation of Crimea might have been averted, Hopmann asserts, had its view of the OSCE not evolved so dramatically from the first post-Cold War decade to the second.  While objecting to Kosovo’s bid for statehood based on core OSCE commitments regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, even a decade ago Moscow was willing to engage diplomatically to resolve the issue. In the case of Crimea in 2014, it was not. “They prioritized military force over diplomacy – the precise kind of behavior the OSCE was designed to discourage,” Hopmann states.  He predicts that “while this decision may have been tactically effective, it will hurt Russia in the long run. The OSCE is designed to deal with these situations and it has the institutional framework to do so effectively – Russia failed to take advantage of the OSCE and we’re all now paying the price.” Still, Moscow recognizes that the OSCE is still valuable to Russian interests, according to Hopmann: “Russia wields a lot of influence in the OSCE because of their effective veto power under the consensus rule – indeed, the Kremlin recognizes the sway it carries in it and recognizes the OSCE as the place where it can effectively and discreetly negotiate with both the U.S. and the E.U. Ultimately, the OSCE is designed precisely to facilitate this kind of diplomatic interaction, and it meshes more closely with Putin’s view of how diplomacy should be conducted than the U.N. I believe it is for this reason that the Russians have been willing to work with the OSCE on some issues, including the conflict in Ukraine.” Effectively engaging Russia at the OSCE will remain a challenge, Hopmann adds, suggesting that a multilateral format may be useful.  “The most important question we face is how to continue the discussion and being firm with Russia when it blatantly violates OSCE norms as it did in Ukraine, without going overboard with our criticisms,” he says. “There are some countries, like Austria, Finland and Switzerland that are simply better at dealing with Russia, due to their past or current neutrality. Russia prefers to deal through them and likely finds it easier to appear to cooperate with them than working directly with the U.S.” On the OSCE’s Role in Conflicts The OSCE is demonstrating clear added-value in conflict areas today, according to Hopmann, including in and around Ukraine, and as regards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Hopmann praised the OSCE as having “played a key role in ensuring the [Ukraine] conflict does not escalate and cause more destruction. Indeed, within the limits of its mandate and available resource, the OSCE has done admirable work; however, this scope is limited and much remains to be done. Thus, the best thing the U.S. can do is to continue to support the OSCE’s mission and the Minsk process. It’s not ideal, but there’s no better option.”  Frustration over the OSCE’s inability to overcome the absence of political will to prevent or stop the conflict altogether should not overshadow its success in ascertaining the facts on the ground and galvanizing a defense of key principles guiding international behavior, he believes.  Regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, Hopmann suggests that the OSCE has moderated what could otherwise be a much more intense conflict.  “The presence of the OSCE has helped already,” he says. “Its presence helped diffuse the four day war last year and prevented it from becoming a more violent conflict. Still, there is significant risk that the conflict will escalate and this highlights the importance of OSCE and the role it may play in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh question.” Hopmann believes that an alignment of U.S.-Russian interests in Nagorno-Karabakh, even if partial, may be helpful here.  “The OSCE absolutely has the mandate and ability to negotiate such a deal and to organize peace-keeping initiatives to ensure the conflict does not start up again. That being said, this process will be long, complicated, and expensive,” he predicts. The Future Hopmann concedes that the OSCE will remain beset for the foreseeable future with challenges largely emanating from the consensus-based decision-making process, over which any one country (including Russia) effectively has a veto.  However, he remains convinced that “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue dialogue. In fact, we must continue dialogue. Many people remain committed to the OSCE and its values, including some Russian diplomats – though they’re keeping a low profile at the moment. This bodes well not only for change in the OSCE, but also for Russia. Change is not impossible, and keeping the dialogue channels open is of incredible importance. Without them, when the chance to encourage positive change does appear, we will not be able to capitalize on it. We worked together immediately after the Cold War to diffuse East-West tensions and ensure a peaceful Europe. There is no reason we cannot do that again.” Professor Hopmann was interviewed by Bob Hand and Alex Tiersky, Helsinki Commission Staff.

  • Helsinki Commission Announces Briefing on Nagorno-Karabakh

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “AVERTING ALL-OUT WAR IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH: THE ROLE OF THE U.S. AND OSCE” Wednesday, October 18, 2017 2:00PM Russell Senate Office Building Room 188 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Last year, the conflict surrounding the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in the South Caucasus saw its worst outbreak of violence in more than two decades. The so-called Four Day War in April 2016 claimed approximately 200 lives and demonstrated that the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, which has persisted in a state of no-war/no-peace since a 1994 ceasefire, is not a “frozen” conflict at all. Instead, the Line of Contact separating the parties sees numerous ceasefire violations annually. Each one risks igniting a larger-scale conflict that could draw in major regional players, such as Russia, Turkey, and Iran. Since 1997, the United States, France, and Russia have co-chaired the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the principal international mechanism aimed at reaching a negotiated solution to the conflict. The fragility of the Nagorno-Karabakh ceasefire underscores the importance of United States engagement in the Minsk Group process. The U.S. Helsinki Commission will host two former United States Co-Chairs of the Minsk Group process as well as a renowned independent expert on the conflict to assess the current state of the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Minsk Group format, and the prospects for achieving a lasting peace. Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh, Professor of Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution, University of Kentucky; Former U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group (1999-2001) Magdalena Grono, Europe & Central Asia Program Director, International Crisis Group Ambassador James Warlick, Partner and Senior Policy Advisor, Egorov Puginsky Afanasiev & Partners; Former U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group (2013-2016)

  • Refugee Crisis in Europe and Turkey

    Since 2015, more than 2 million people have traveled north across the Mediterranean Sea, seeking refuge from wars, political repression, famine, and climates of economic and social hopelessness. In 2017 alone, more than 133,000 refugees and migrants have arrived on European shores. At least 11,309 people died or went missing on this perilous sea route since the start of the crisis, including more than 2,655 this year. Using overland routes, more than 3 million registered refugees have reached Turkey, fleeing the Syrian civil war and other desperate circumstances from points further east. These massive flows of humanity bear with them significant humanitarian, economic, political, and security implications. Such large population movements also leave thousands of people vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers and other predators. The briefing brought together experts from the United Nations and international NGOs to assess the current humanitarian situation facing these refugees and the root causes of their flight. Speakers addressed the response of international organizations, receiving national governments, and civil society. These practitioners and experts also contributed their recommendations for action from domestic and international actors at all levels, including the United States. Mr. Reynolds provided a brief overview of the UNHCR and its response to the current crisis and urged support for all countries receiving and hosting those forcibly displaced. He called for renewed efforts to address root causes and find solutions and protection for refugees before they embark on the perilous journey by sea, where the risk of dying is one in thirty-nine. Additionally, he said that traditional humanitarian responses need to adjust to the problem of forced displacement and pursue greater engagement in stopping root causes so that voluntary repatriation becomes the norm. Mr. Reynolds concluded by saying, “We stand at a unique juncture, and this opportunity must not be lost.” Mr. Dall’Oglio focused on the need to establish long-term solutions to the crisis. Because many of the migrants traveling across the Mediterranean are coming from East Africa for a variety of social, economic, and political factors, these flows are expected to last for a much longer period of time. Mr. Dall’Oglio said that problems in the region require a comprehensive approach between source countries and destination states to improve the situation for migrants on both sides and to expand legal resettlement options for those seeking protection. He also called for more resources for navies and coast guards to rescue refugees and migrants at sea. Speaking from Copenhagen, Mr. Hyldgaard emphasized the impact of the crisis as it relates to human trafficking and provided a personal account of the current refugee situation. He also laid out A21’s three-prong approach, which is to reach, rescue, and respond. While A21 is not a humanitarian organization, it recognizes that refugees are highly vulnerable for human trafficking and has worked to counter human trafficking on multiple fronts, stepping in immediately to provide substantive relief, but with a long-term focus on providing anti-trafficking information and training for refugees and workers. Ms. Gerschutz-Bell highlighted Pope Francis’ movement with “Share the Journey, saying that the refugee crisis is a crisis of solidarity and expressing the hope that fostering a culture of solidarity will change the environment into which migrants are thrust. On a policy level, Ms. Gerschutz-Bell urged greater responsibility sharing among European states, calling attention to the current failures of the Dublin System and stressing the need for safe channels into Europe along with better implementation of resettlement processes. She then appealed to civil society as a whole to speak up when governments fail to fulfill their agreements, saying, “It’s not enough for someone to have courage; we need to do something about it.”

  • Helsinki Commission Advisor Discusses ZAPAD 2017

    On September 27, 2017, Helsinki Commission Global Security and Political-Military Affairs Advisor Alex Tiersky joined Ambassador Kurt Volker, Dr. Stephen Blank, and Ambassador Eitvydas Bajarunas at a public seminar to discuss the execution, outcomes and aftermath of Russia’s large-scale ZAPAD 2017 military exercise. Hosted by the Central and East European Coalition, Russia on NATO’s Doorstep: The West's Response to the Kremlin's Wargames was moderated by Dr. Mamuka Tsereteli. During the discussion, Tiersky shared his experience as one of only two American officials who was invited by the Belarusian government (who partnered with Russia for the joint military exercise) to be present for the conclusion of ZAPAD 2017. Tiersky commended the Belarusian government for offering the Distinguished Visitors program that he participated in along with representatives of the OSCE, the Red Cross and NATO, as well as defense attachés from various countries. The program included an extensive briefing on the aims, parameters, and intent behind the exercise, as well as an opportunity to witness an impressive live-fire demonstration at the Borisov training ground.  Belarusian briefers underlined that the aim of the program was to offer as much transparency as possible; the exercise was purely defensive in nature and neighboring countries had nothing to fear, Tiersky was told.  However, Tiersky added, the program offered by Belarusian authorities – while commendable – fell short of fulfilling the spirit of commitments to military transparency under the Vienna Document, which would have provided a greater opportunity for evaluating the exercise's scale and scope through broader participation by OSCE participating states and more intrusive inspection measures.  While impressive and worthwhile, the distinguished visitors program was thus not in itself sufficient to draw broad conclusions about ZAPAD, according to Tiersky. Tiersky concluded by describing how ZAPAD did little to assuage broader concerns related to Russian unwillingness to fulfill its commitments to military transparency, including under the Vienna Document (through for example its increasing use of snap exercises), as well as Russian violations of various arms control measures that have been essential contributors to peace and security in Europe for decades.

  • Helsinki Commission to Screen Trafficking Docudrama Based on Award-Winning Book

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following staff-led panel and movie screening: “TRAFFICKED: UNTANGLING THE BONDS OF MODERN SLAVERY” Friday, October 13, 2017 Movie Screening: 2:30 PM Panel Discussion: 4:00 PM Rayburn House Office Building Room 2168 Live Webcast (panel only): www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Human trafficking remains an entrenched—but not intractable—problem in the United States and around the world.  According to the International Labor Organization, 40 million people suffered from human trafficking last year—most of whom were women and girls. “Trafficked,” the new drama based on Siddharth Kara’s award-winning book, follows the stories of three girls from Nigeria, America, and India as they lose and reclaim their freedom. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion of the root causes of vulnerability to trafficking, the role of the buyer in trafficking, police corruption and accountability, the psychological effects of trafficking on survivors, and the road to recovery.  Panelists will include: Siddharth Kara, Producer of “Trafficked,” Director of the Program on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and also a Visiting Scientist on Forced Labor at the Harvard School of Public Health Alex Trouteaud, Ph.D., Director of Policy and Research, Demand Abolition Marcia Eugenio, Director, Office of Child Labor, Forced Labor and Human Trafficking at the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor

  • A New Ocean in the North: Perils and Possibilities

    Increasingly navigable waters and technological advances have opened the Arctic to further exploration, and an abundance of natural resources is driving investment in the region. Given the Arctic’s economic potential and environmental implications, the “High North” is likely to become a new theater of international engagement. As one of eight Arctic nations, the United States holds a vested interest in encouraging economic development in the region. However, U.S. Arctic infrastructure is underdeveloped and is dwarfed by Russia’s investment in the region. Moreover, like other Arctic nations, the United States must contend with the challenge posed by melting ice caps and rising sea levels. The briefing examined the importance of the development of Arctic infrastructure as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) least-developed region becomes more accessible. It also analyzed the challenges faced by the international community to promote greater cooperation in unlocking the region’s potential.

  • Systematic Attacks on Journalists in Russia and Other Post-Soviet States

    Representative Steve Chabot, Co-Chair of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus, opened the briefing with a statement highlighting the importance of a free and independent press in Russia and Eastern Europe, saying that it was more important now than ever to counter an increasingly bold Vladimir Putin and the spread of Kremlin-backed media. The Congressman affirmed support for the Broadcasting Board of Governors and how their work helps foster a greater independent press in the region. Jordan Warlick, U.S. Helsinki Commission staffer responsible for freedom of the media, introduced the panelists: Thomas Kent, President of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL); Amanda Bennett, Director of Voice of America (VOA); Nina Ognianova, Coordinator for Europe and Central Asia at the Committee to Protect Journalists; and Karina Orlova, Washington correspondent for Echo of Moscow. Thomas Kent summarized the work and reach of RFE/RL in Russia and the former Soviet Union. He outlined the pressures that RFE/RL journalists face in the region covering the issues that matter to local people. Kent described the plight of several RFE/RL journalists who have been either attacked or detained due to their work, including Mykola Semena in Russian-occupied Crimea and Mykhailo Tkach in Ukraine. He added that reporting on corruption is often the most likely cause for attacks on journalists and that social media has expanded the reach of journalists work in the region. Amanda Bennett discussed the work of Voice of America in the region and its efforts to expand freedom of speech in the region. She outlined the vast audience of VOA broadcasting and emphasized that the Russian government has directly attacked VOA reporters. Bennett stated that VOA’s mission in Russia and the former Soviet Union, as with other regions around the world, was not only to provide high quality content to the audience and journalists alike, but also help foster an independent media, free from harassment. Representative Adam Schiff, Co-Chair of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus, gave remarks about the importance of an independent media in the former Soviet Union. He noted that journalists are often the first to suffer a backlash from authorities, as they investigate and report on issues that regimes do not want to draw attention to. Representative Schiff told the panel that he, along with then-Congressman Mike Pence, reestablished the House Freedom of the Press Caucus not long before the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006. He thanked the panelists for the work to not only highlight attacks and harassment against journalists in the region, but also their efforts to protect and assist them and to further press freedom. Nina Ognianova highlighted numerous cases that the Committee to Protect Journalists had worked on in recent months with specific discussion of the situations in Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan. Ognianova detailed the case of the harassment and temporary flight of Russian reporter Elena Milashina following her work on the torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya. Also listed were the cases of Belarus-born journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed in a car bombing in Kyiv in July 2016, the abduction and detention of Azerbaijani journalist Afgan Mukhtarli for his investigation of President Ilham Aliyev’s assets in Georgia, and the concerning claims of slander against journalists by the Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev. Providing the audience with a firsthand perspective, Karina Orlova described her decision to flee Russia due to her work as a journalist. Karina spoke of how her Radio Echo of Moscow talk show garnered unfavorable attention from Chechens, following discussion of the Charlie Hebdo attacks on 7 January, 2015, and the magazine’s depiction of the prophet Muhammad. Ramzan Kadyrov directly threatened her station and her editor, Alexey Venediktov, right after the show. She detailed threatening phone calls from self-described Chechens her that labeled her as an enemy of the state. Karina raised other incidents of violence and intimidation against journalists, such as the attack on Oleg Kashin, which was directly ordered by the Governor of Pskov, and a lack of action to bring the perpetrators to justice. She also spoke of censorship by the Russian authorities, particularly towards any journalists that refer to the annexation of Crimea. Karina emphasized that sanctions against the Russian state and elite are working, despite claims to the contrary. Although some journalists are unfortunately forced to self-censor due to safety concerns, Karina refuses to do so herself.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Focus on Refugee Crisis

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “REFUGEE CRISIS IN EUROPE AND TURKEY: CURRENT CHALLENGES AND RESPONSES” Tuesday, October 10, 2017 2:00 PM Russell Senate Office Building Room 188 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Since 2015, more than 2 million people have traveled north across the Mediterranean Sea, seeking refuge from wars, political repression, famine, and climates of economic and social hopelessness. In 2017 alone, more than 133,000 refugees and migrants have arrived on European shores. At least 11,309 people died or went missing on this perilous sea route since the start of the crisis, including more than 2,655 this year. Using overland routes, more than 3 million registered refugees have reached Turkey, fleeing the Syrian civil war and other desperate circumstances from points further east. These massive flows of humanity bear with them significant humanitarian, economic, political, and security implications. Such large population movements also leave thousands of people vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers and other predators. The briefing brings together international experts and NGO representatives to assess the current humanitarian situation facing these refugees and the root causes of their flight. Speakers will address the response of international organizations, receiving national governments, and civil society. These practitioners and experts will also contribute their recommendations for action from domestic and international actors at all levels, including the United States. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Matthew Reynolds, Regional Representative for the United States and the Caribbean, United Nations High Commission for Refugees Luca Dall'Oglio, Chief of Mission, International Organization for Migration (Washington, DC office) Philip Hyldgaard, Executive Director, A21 Campaign Jill Marie Gerschutz-Bell, Senior Policy and Legislative Specialist, Catholic Relief Services and on behalf of Caritas Europa  

  • Combating Kleptocracy with Incorporation Transparency

    The world is locked in a struggle between the rule of law and corruption. On the one side are democratic governments that respect the rule of law; on the other, authoritarian regimes that steal with impunity and view the rule of law with disdain. Sadly, the former enables the latter by providing a safe haven for stolen assets. Once laundered, this ill-gotten money is used to finance crime and terrorism, corrupt public institutions, and fund criminals’ luxurious lifestyles. The OSCE, NGOs, and national governments have emphasized incorporation transparency as an effective way to combat global corruption. The EU has been at the forefront of this effort, enacting rules that require Member States to maintain registers of the beneficial owners of companies and other structures associated with laundering the proceeds of crime. This hearing examined the development of the EU’s beneficial ownership transparency provisions as well as the success of their implementation as relates to corruption as a vector for authoritarian influence in Europe. Witnesses also addressed transparency and anti-money laundering policies in the United States as they relate to U.S. foreign policy.

  • Witness to ZAPAD

    For months, watchers of European security have focused unprecedented attention on one, singular scheduled event:  ZAPAD 2017, a Joint Strategic Military Exercise conducted by Russia and Belarus from September 14 to September 20, 2017. The author, the political-military affairs advisor for the U.S. Helsinki Commission staff, attended the final phase of the exercise as a Distinguished Visitor at the invitation of the Government of Belarus.    ZAPAD 2017, the most anticipated—and, in some quarters, feared—military exercise in recent memory concluded on September 20. The extensive maneuvers by Belarusian and Russian forces took place at a number of training ranges in Belarus and on nearby Russian territory and featured a broad range of military capabilities. The planned exercise was in some ways routine; it followed a well-known Russian schedule of readiness-enhancing exercises that rotates among Russia’s military districts on a quadrennial basis (“ZAPAD,” or “West,” takes place in the Western Military District). However, unlike previous exercises, ZAPAD 2017 took place in a strategic context now defined by Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia—incursions that were, according to western analysts, facilitated by Russian exercise activity.  The Russian leadership's track record of aggression, dismissiveness towards transparency, and geopolitical unpredictability understandably put its neighbors to the west on edge.  These countries have seen prior Russian exercises serve as cover for force build-ups that enabled, for instance, the illegal attempted annexation of Crimea. Leading officials ranging from Baltic defense ministers, to the Ukrainian President, to the Secretary General of NATO raised concerns about what ZAPAD 2017 might mean for the security of Belarus' neighbors, both before the exercise and during its execution. Download the full report to learn more.

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