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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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  • First Person: Wood Smoke and Expectation

    By Stacy Hope, Communications Director When I checked in to my hotel room in Yerevan, Armenia, on December 6, it smelled faintly—not unpleasantly—of wood smoke. I never did find the source, but to me, the smell of wood smoke in December has always been a harbinger of good things to come. It reminds me of cozy evenings with family by the fireplace, talking about the hopes and expectations we have for the new year, even if the weather is frigid and damp and other circumstances are less than ideal. It is the aroma of expectation. It seemed fitting that wood smoke welcomed me to Armenia for December’s historic elections. In April, Armenia’s Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan, who had served as the country’s president since 2008, resigned less than one week after taking office for what was perceived by many to be a de facto third term. His resignation was sparked by popular protests against Sargsyan and his Republican Party, led by opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan, who was later elected interim Prime Minister. On October 16, Prime Minister Pashinyan resigned abruptly, forcing the country’s first-ever snap parliamentary elections on December 9. I traveled to Armenia as part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s election observation mission, organized in coordination with the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). The OSCE PA observation mission included approximately 50 short-term observers from 17 of the OSCE’s 57 participating States. Our pre-election briefings featured briefings by analysts, civil society, members of the media, and party representatives. Parties in Armenian politics have traditionally been associated with specific personalities, rather than domestic or foreign policy. However, according to interlocutors, this campaign was different. While the personalities of party leaders still play an important role, for the first time a nearly equal focus was placed on policies. This was highlighted by the country’s first-ever televised parliamentary debate, which aired on Armenian public television on December 5 and generated widespread excitement throughout the country. Previous elections in Armenia had been marked by allegations of election fraud, including abuse of state resources, pressure on civil servants, outright vote-buying, and undue influence of the ruling party on the media. Among the media representatives in particular, there was a tangible sense of hope, accompanied by an equal amount of trepidation, that things were changing for the better. In the past, several speakers noted, they had been explicitly directed (“we received phone calls”) by the party in power as to which candidates should be covered, how, and for how long. Now, they noted, there were no phone calls. They were flying blind—coverage decisions were completely at their discretion, as long as they remained within the guidelines of the electoral code. That freedom was unprecedented, exhilarating, and a little bit intimidating. * * * On the morning of December 9, my election observation partner—a British parliamentarian—and I arrived before sunrise at our first polling station in Yerevan. In the city, streetlights turn off in the early hours of the morning, so we gingerly picked our way in near-blackness around potholes and through puddles to the front door of a local school. Upon our arrival, we were welcomed by the head of the polling station, an enthusiastic and competent woman who proudly showed us where voting would take place: the large hallway/common area on the second floor of the building. Like most of the polling stations we would visit throughout the day, it was staffed predominantly by women, many in their mid-to-late twenties. Another thing it had in common with most of the precincts we visited: it was totally inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair or who could not easily navigate stairs.  We remained at the first polling station to observe pre-election procedures as well as the first several voters. We then departed to observe 10 other polling stations, all of which were located in Armavir, the province directly to the west of the city. Outside a polling station in Armavir, where a full list of voters registered at that location was displayed publicly, in line with the electoral code. The polling stations in Armavir ranged from substantially urban to relatively rural and were generally located in schools or “cultural centers”—desolate-looking structures built during the Soviet era, which are still used for civic events, including elections. Throughout the day, we observed very few irregularities and an obvious commitment by poll leaders and workers to faithfully follow election procedures. In addition to our own observation, most of the polling stations we visited were being observed by representatives of each of the political parties, known as “proxies.” We also encountered a few citizen observers. My observation partner and our interpreter speak with a poll worker. One particularly charming ritual we observed in two of the polling stations we visited was the recognition by the poll workers and others in the polling station of first-time voters. When new voters cast their ballots, they were ushered to the center of the room by poll workers and awarded, to a round of applause, a commemorative pin. Almost without fail, the new voters blushed and hurried out of the polling station, embarrassed but unable to hide their smiles. At the end of the day, we returned to the school in Yerevan to observe the polling station’s closing and counting procedure. At some point during the very long day, the vibrant leader of the polling station had contracted a head cold and nearly lost her voice. (She offered us snacks—we offered her cough drops. Both offers were gratefully accepted.) Despite her illness, she persevered, counting by hand the more than 900 ballots cast in her precinct among the 11 political parties and alliances competing in the election. Observed closely by party proxies, the leader of a polling station in Yerevan sorts and counts ballots. I returned to my hotel room—still faintly scented with wood smoke—after midnight, hoping that the high expectations of many of the Armenians we met had been fulfilled. * * * In a landslide victory, Pashinyan’s MyStep alliance surged from just nine seats (7.8 percent of the vote) in 2017 to 88 seats (70.4 percent of the vote). The joint preliminary statement by international election observers from the OSCE, the OSCE PA, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament reflected my own impressions: that the December 9 election process respected citizens’ fundamental freedoms and enjoyed broad public trust. Almost without exception, other international observers shared my sense that the polling stations were efficiently and professionally run. The overall campaign featured open political debate, including in the media, and the lack of vote-buying or similar examples of election fraud meant that the elections were genuinely competitive. Election turnout hovered just under 50 percent—low by Armenian standards, but according to many election analysts, not entirely negative. The relatively low voter turnout (12 percent lower than in the previous election) could likely reflect a lack of the vote-buying and bribery that would encourage otherwise apathetic voters to turn out in droves. Peter Osusky, leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission, noted, “Now that voters have delivered their message, it is up to the political leadership of Armenia to ensure that this momentum is maintained.”

  • The Holy See and Religious Freedom

    Because of its unique status as the universal government of a specific religion, rather than a territorial state, the Holy See is probably the least understood of the 57 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. However, it has a rich diplomatic history and has contributed significantly to the development of today’s OSCE, particularly in the area of religious freedom. Download the full report to learn more.

  • Our Impact by Country

  • Mosque and State in Central Asia

    From 2016 to early 2018, the U.S. government designated three of Central Asia’s five nations—Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—as countries of particular concern (CPC) for engaging in or tolerating “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” like torture, abduction, and clandestine or prolonged detention without charges. In these countries, people of all faiths, or no faith at all, have endured onerous government-mandated harassment, fines, and imprisonment for even minor breaches of state regulations of religious belief and practice. To ensure regime stability and counter violent extremism, the governments of some Central Asian Muslim-majority countries impose strict and invasive violations of religious liberty on adherents of the Islamic faith. Islamic religious institutions and leaders are fully incorporated into the state bureaucracy. Exploring the faith outside the bounds of “official Islam” is forbidden and illegal. The Helsinki Commission convened an expert panel of regional and Islamic scholars to explain the different approaches to state regulation of Islam in Central Asia and the consequences of these policies for religious freedom, radicalization, and long-term political stability and social development.

  • The Security Dimension

    From its inception in the early 1970s, the Helsinki process – which includes the original Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), follow-up activities after 1975 and, since 1995, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – has been a multilateral, politically binding security arrangement. Having successfully addressed the challenges of the Cold War, this arrangement has maintained its relevance in the present era of regional conflict, arms proliferation, terrorism and other emerging threats by combining a uniquely comprehensive definition of security with flexibility and innovation of response. Defining Security Comprehensively The first of three chapters of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, commonly known as Basket I, deals with “Questions Relating to Security in Europe.” This chapter first sets forth 10 Principles guiding relations between participating States: Principle I: Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty; Principle II: Refraining from the threat or use of force; Principle III: Inviolability of frontiers; Principle IV: Territorial integrity of States; Principle V: Peaceful settlement of disputes; Principle VI: Non-intervention in internal affairs; Principle VII: Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief; Principle VIII: Equal rights and self-determination of peoples; Principle IX: Cooperation among States; and Principle X: Fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law. Some of the principles can be found in earlier international agreements, including the UN Charter, but the “primary significance” which the Final Act gave them all provided a uniquely comprehensive, political-military definition of security, particularly by making respect for human rights and the building of democratic institutions in one participating State a legitimate concern of all others. By committing to apply them “equally and unreservedly,” the OSCE also recognized a linkage between progress in one of these areas and progress in the others, a concrete and significant conceptual contribution to European security. The justification for balancing progress was most explicitly stated in the 1990 Charter of Paris for a new Europe, where the participating States expressed their conviction that “in order to strengthen peace and security among [them], the advancement of democracy, and respect for and effective exercise of human rights are indispensable.” Early Soviet proposals for a pan-European conference were designed to manipulate the military balance in Europe, divide the United States from its allies and confirm Soviet hegemony over East-Central Europe. The OSCE’s new and unifying definition of security, however, instead formed a basis for ending the Cold War’s division of Europe and for recognizing that severe and continual violations of human rights are often the source of a conflict. Democratic development, therefore, was subsequently made a prerequisite for building a stable peace. Participating States today seek to ensure its realization “from Vancouver to Vladivostok” and to give this definition wider application around the globe. Building Confidence and Security Through Transparency The Final Act’s first chapter also contains specific military commitments which, as developed in subsequent documents, enhance European security in modest but very concrete ways. Confidence- and Security-Building Measures (CSBMs) – such as prior notification of troop maneuvers and observation of military exercises – that form the core of this work on military aspects of security overcame barriers of secrecy and diminished the threat of surprise attack or misunderstanding of military activity. For a few tense years in the early 1980s, OSCE negotiations were the only place where East and West sat at the same table to discuss security matters. The 1986 Stockholm Document not only achieved progress through measures for greater transparency but ushered in a new era of effective, mutually beneficial East-West arms control encompassing both nuclear and conventional forces. The OSCE capitalized on this success in the 1990s by expanding military openness and encouraging further reductions in force levels. A web of interlocking and mutually reinforcing arms control obligations and commitments links the politically binding Vienna Document of 1999 on CSBMs with the related 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) and the 1992 Treaty on Open Skies, both legally binding and negotiated on an East-West basis, to form a framework for arms control. Reinforcing the regime of new measures in the Vienna Document 1999 is an updated mechanism for consultation and cooperation regarding unusual military activities. An Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty was also signed in 1999, taking into account realities associated with the break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the demise of the Soviet Union. NATO countries, however, have linked ratification of the agreement to Russia’s implementation of commitments made in parallel with the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit to the withdrawal Treaty-Limited Equipment and military forces from Moldova, and the withdrawal or destruction of excess equipment, the closure of two bases and negotiations on remaining Russian bases and facilities in Georgia. To date, these commitments remain unfulfilled, making it impossible for the Agreement on Adaptation to come into force and for additional OSCE States, including some NATO allies, to become parties. Maintaining a Security Dialogue The Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC) was established in 1992 to provide constant attention to implementation of existing arms control agreements, including through regular information exchanges, and to strengthen them when possible. The Forum also encourages a dialogue among the participating States on topics of common concern, such as non-proliferation measures, the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law and civil-military emergency preparedness. The adoption of the 1994 Code of Conduct on Political-Military Aspects of Security, which broke new ground by formulating norms on the role of armed forces in democratic societies, was among the FSC’s first notable achievements. The adoption in 2000 of the Document on Small Arms and Light Weapons was a later but even more significant achievement, providing a basis for developing guidelines on dealing with threats such weapons can pose, as well as for providing assistance upon request in securing stockpiles, disposing of small arms and enhancing border controls to reduce illicit arms trafficking. Security issues are also discussed during the Annual Security Review Conference, the first of which was held in 2003. These conferences provide impetus for bringing new ideas for activity relating to European security into the OSCE framework. Meetings of OSCE foreign ministers and summits of heads of state/government have addressed security issues of paramount concern such as the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. Addressing Regional Conflicts Regional conflicts erupting in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s have been responsible for the most egregious violations of Helsinki principles since their adoption. In response, considerable effort has been devoted by the participating States to developing early warning of potential conflict, offering “good offices” for bringing conflicting parties together, monitoring borders vulnerable to sources of instability and ensuring that sub-regional arms control and security-enhancing measures are adopted and implemented. A good example of the latter were the Article II, Article IV and Article V agreements originally mandated by the Annex 1-B of 1995 Dayton General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, the OSCE has contributed to the training of civilian police in several post-conflict situations. The need to respond to regional conflicts also required the OSCE to become more than a negotiating forum. OSCE field operations, taking many forms, including efforts by OSCE institutions and designated representatives, began in the early 1990s. Significant among them, especially given the ethnic character of regional tensions, was the establishment of the High Commissioner for National Minorities with a specific task to provide early-warning of potential conflict. Field activities, however, take their most visible form as field missions of various sizes deployed at one time or another in places like Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Chechnya, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Kosovo and Serbia and Montenegro. Since 1992, the OSCE has had the capability to organize unarmed peacekeeping forces, although the need for more robust operations in conflict areas has precluded serious activity in this regard. Combating Terrorism The events of September 11, 2001, galvanized OSCE efforts to combat terrorism. An OSCE Charter on Preventing and Combating Terrorism, adopted in 2002, targeted four strategic areas for specific action: policing, border control, trafficking and money laundering. The Action Against Terrorism Unit established in the OSCE Secretariat provides assistance to participating States, often in field activities along with the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, in strengthening the legal framework for combating terrorism. OSCE efforts have sought to strengthen personal travel and document security as well as transport container security. The OSCE has also broadened the application of export controls on man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). The Helsinki Commission’s Role The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission) is a U.S. Government agency, established in 1976 pursuant to Public Law 94-304, mandated to “monitor the acts of the signatories which reflect compliance with or violation of the articles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe…” While particular emphasis was given to “provisions relating to Cooperation in Humanitarian fields,” today known as the Human Dimension, the Commission also monitors developments regarding the Security Dimension and has similarly sought to encourage greater compliance with commitments adopted by the participating States on the basis of consensus. Activities in recent years have included hearings on combating terrorism and on illegal arms/weapons transfers, briefings on the U.S. chairmanship of the Forum for Security Cooperation and on OSCE police training, as well as attendance at security-related OSCE meetings.

  • In the Best Interest of the Child

    While foster families can offer critical and timely emergency care for children in need, study after study shows that children who stay in foster care without permanent parents suffer lifelong emotional harm and life-skills underdevelopment.  The extreme challenges faced by these children put them at risk for homelessness, human trafficking, unemployment, and even incarceration.  More than 20,000 young people aged-out of foster care in the United States in 2016—deprived of the support of their own or adoptive permanent families.  In some countries in Europe, children, especially those of immigrant parents, are removed from their families because the parents “lack parenting skills.”  These children in the United States and Europe are perhaps saved from an immediate emergency by government officials seeking to act in their best interest, but then exposed to the lifelong harm of not belonging to a functioning forever family.  What if these youths and their families of origin had been given the support they needed to stay together, such as mental health services, substance use treatment, in-home parenting skill training, and supportive community?   At this Helsinki Commission briefing, child protection policy experts discussed the social isolation factors that can make families vulnerable to crises, intervention strategies to prevent or shorten a child’s removal from the family, and the key features of the new Family First Prevention Services Act (P.L. 115-123), which is anticipated to prevent unnecessary removals of children from their parents when families can be kept safely together.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Relationship Between Mosque and State in Central Asia

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: MOSQUE AND STATE IN CENTRAL ASIA Can Religious Freedom Coexist with Government Regulation of Islam? Monday, December 17, 2018 3:00 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission From 2016 to early 2018, the U.S. government designated three of Central Asia’s five nations— Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—as countries of particular concern (CPC) for engaging in or tolerating “particularly severe violations of religious freedom” like torture, abduction, and clandestine or prolonged detention without charges. In these countries, people of all faiths, or no faith at all, have endured onerous government-mandated harassment, fines, and imprisonment for even minor breaches of state regulations of religious belief and practice. To ensure regime stability and counter violent extremism, the governments of some Central Asian Muslim-majority countries impose strict and invasive violations of religious liberty on adherents of the Islamic faith. Islamic religious institutions and leaders are fully incorporated into the state bureaucracy. Exploring the faith outside the bounds of “official Islam” is forbidden and illegal. The Helsinki Commission will convene an expert panel of regional and Islamic scholars to explain the different approaches to state regulation of Islam in Central Asia and the consequences of these policies for religious freedom, radicalization, and long-term political stability and social development. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor, Political Science, and Russian and Eurasian Studies, University of Minnesota Edward Lemon, DMGS-Kennan Institute Fellow at the Daniel Morgan Graduate School of National Security Emil Nasrutdinov, Associate Professor of Anthropology, American University of Central Asia Peter Mandaville, Professor of International Affairs, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University On December 11, 2018, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo re-designated Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as CPCs. He upgraded Uzbekistan to the Special Watch List—it had been previously designated as a CPC—based on recent progress. In June 2018, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) urged Secretary of State Pompeo to consider inviting Uzbekistan to the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom because of significant steps taken by President Mirziyoyev to bring Uzbekistan into compliance with its international commitments to respect religious freedom. Later that month, he introduced the bipartisan Senate Resolution 539 calling on President Trump to combat religious freedom violations in Eurasia with a mix of CPC and Special Watch List designations, individual and broader sanctions, and development of a strategy specifically for the region. In early July, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe passed Chairman Wicker’s amendments recognizing the ongoing reforms of the government of Uzbekistan. A few weeks later Chairman Wicker met with Uzbekistan’s delegation to the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom—the only CPC invited—and highlighted the opportunity for Uzbekistan to be a model to other countries if the government follows through with essential reforms

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Explore Best Practices for Keeping Families Safely Together

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: IN THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD Best Practices for Keeping Families Safely Together Friday, December 14, 2018 10:30 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room G-11 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission While foster families can offer critical and timely emergency care for children in need, study after study shows that children who stay in foster care without permanent parents suffer lifelong emotional harm and life-skills underdevelopment.  The extreme challenges faced by these children put them at risk for homelessness, human trafficking, unemployment, and even incarceration.  More than 20,000 young people aged-out of foster care in the United States in 2016—deprived of the support of their own or adoptive permanent families.  In some countries in Europe, children, especially those of immigrant parents, are removed from their families because the parents “lack parenting skills.”  These children in the United States and Europe are perhaps saved from an immediate emergency by government officials seeking to act in their best interest, but then exposed to the lifelong harm of not belonging to a functioning forever family.  What if these youths and their families of origin had been given the support they needed to stay together, such as mental health services, substance use treatment, in-home parenting skill training, and supportive community?   At this Helsinki Commission briefing, child protection policy experts will discuss the social isolation factors that can make families vulnerable to crises, intervention strategies to prevent or shorten a child’s removal from the family, and the key features of the new Family First Prevention Services Act (P.L. 115-123), which is anticipated to prevent unnecessary removals of children from their parents when families can be kept safely together.  Expert panelists scheduled to participate include: Jessica Foster, Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships, Youth Villages Christine Calpin, Managing Director for Public Policy, Casey Family Programs Maridel Sandberg, President and Executive Director, Together for Good

  • Religious Freedom in Eurasia

      In his first Congressional hearing since his confirmation, Ambassador Brownback testified on religious freedom in participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation. OSCE commitments on human rights and freedoms are the strongest, most comprehensive of any security organization in the world. Yet some of its participating States chronically have been among the worst violators of religious freedom–often in the name of countering terrorism or extremism–and designated by the United States as Countries of Particular Concern. The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, Public Law 114-281, requires the President to release Country of Particular Concern designations–required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998–no later than 90 days after releasing the annual International Religious Freedom Report. The State Department issued the latest report on the day of the hearing. The Helsinki Commission explored the designations, as well as religious freedom in Western Europe, including potentially restrictive amendments to the religion law in Bulgaria; restrictions on religious animal slaughter; restrictions on construction of houses of worship; and conscience rights.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing to Examine Religious Freedom in Eurasia

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN EURASIA Are Governments Keeping Their Commitments? Tuesday, December 11, 2018 10:45 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 106 Live Webcast: http://www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission WITNESSES: Sam Brownback, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom In his first Congressional hearing since his confirmation, Ambassador Brownback will testify on religious freedom in participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation. OSCE commitments on human rights and freedoms are the strongest, most comprehensive of any security organization in the world. Yet some of its participating States chronically have been among the worst violators of religious freedom–often in the name of countering terrorism or extremism–and designated by the United States as Countries of Particular Concern. The Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, Public Law 114-281, requires the President to release Country of Particular Concern designations–required by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998–no later than 90 days after releasing the annual International Religious Freedom Report. The State Department issued the latest report, covering 2017, on May 27, 2018. Designations will hopefully be released by this hearing and will reveal whether: Uzbekistan will be designated for the Special Watch List, given the government’s reforms, or re-designated as a Country of Particular Concern Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have been re-designated as Countries of Particular Concern Russia has been designated for the Special Watch List or as a Country of Particular Concern Government of Russia-controlled separatist authorities and forces in eastern Ukraine have been designated as Entities of Particular Concern Kazakhstan has been designated for the Special Watch List because of its draft religion law Even if designations have not been released by December 11, the Helsinki Commission will still explore these and other subjects, including religious freedom in Western Europe, like potentially restrictive amendments to the religion law in Bulgaria; restrictions on religious animal slaughter; restrictions on construction of houses of worship; and conscience rights.

  • All Bets Are Off

    Corruption—including bribery, doping fraud, and match-fixing—permeates international sport. Despite a 2015 FBI investigation into the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) that indicted more than twenty-five top FIFA officials and associates for alleged decades-long racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering, international sport governance bodies remain compromised and U.S. athletes remain vulnerable. Corruption in sport has become an even more pressing concern following the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 14 decision declaring the Amateur Sports Protection Act unconstitutional, unleashing a sports gambling industry in the United States potentially valued at $400 billion. This lucrative and unregulated market may now be susceptible to the same globalized corruption that has come to define international sport. Panelists provided their insights into the structure of international sport, the globalization of sports gambling, and how to protect American sport from the corruption that has swept over the rest of the world.

  • Fighting Terror

    As terrorist threats have multiplied in their scope and scale, the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe plays an increasingly central role in facilitating international efforts to prevent and combat terrorism, including addressing conditions that create fertile ground for terrorist groups to recruit. At this U.S. Helsinki Commission briefing, leading American and European experts discussed where OSCE participating States converge and diverge on policies to counter terrorism and violent extremism. It also highlighted the positive work of the OSCE and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in this area, as well as the role of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism. Participants discussed the state of transatlantic counterterrorism cooperation and recommended policy responses and best practices.  Congressman Richard Hudson, Vice-Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism, said in his introductory remarks, "Terrorism remains one of the most serious threats to international peace and security. I look forward to continuing to actively engage in our common work and to ensure that the efforts of OSCE participating states to address this challenge are making the greatest possible difference in the lives of our citizens." Makis Voridis, the Greek parliamentarian who chairs the same OSCE PA committee, observed, "There is no national answer to international terrorism. So ... the efficient answer to that, is international cooperation, and this leaves a specific role to international organizations, to the international community… if we decide to share information, if we decide to meet our international obligations, if the states understand that this cannot be a national issue, I’m quite optimistic that we’re going to win this war." Bruce Hoffman, Visiting Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted, "ISIS clearly is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, and, just as problematically, al-Qaida hasn’t gone away. …international responses to terrorism have become much more fractionated and countries have become much more self-serving in focusing on protecting their own borders and not undertaking absolutely critical transnational and international cooperative efforts that are needed to counter terrorism." Leanne Erdberg, Director, Countering Violent Extremism, at the United States Institute of Peace, said, "Counterproductive behaviors that abuse human rights, have significant civilian casualties … are incredibly radicalizing factors… when the state takes away human rights… it just plays directly into the terrorists’ hands in terms of recruitment and radicalization. …painting opposition political groups as terrorists and closing civil society space is another way in which you’re just playing into the terrorists’ hands. If you crack down on nonviolent political actors, then you are basically sending a message that the only way to see change is through violence."  

  • December 1, 1991

    By Alexa Zouboukos, Intern On December 1, 1991, 84 percent of eligible voters in Ukraine exercised their democratic rights in a referendum on independence and the election of their president, peacefully transferring power after the long struggle of the Cold War. If the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled a symbolic end to the war, then Ukraine partaking in the democratic process was a concrete outcome. Three U.S. Helsinki Commission staffers sent to monitor the elections—Orest Deychakiwsky, Michael Ochs, and Heather Hurlburt—reported on the implementation of regulations that we recognize in today’s U.S. elections. Some of these regulations included the collection of a certain number of signatures for a candidate to be placed on the ballot, campaign finance laws, and the methodology for marking and counting ballots. Despite many accounts of a free and fair election, however, there were also indicators of information suppression. Helsinki Commission staff noted that there were reports of pro-independence literature being withheld from Crimea and Mykolaiv. Limits to the free flow of information were not the only threat Ukrainians faced, but also “dark warnings by Mikhail Gorbachev, by the central Soviet media and, to some extent, Russian media about the difficulties and dangers Ukrainian independence would pose to Ukrainians themselves, to their neighbors and to international stability.” These threats to the will of Ukrainian people did not dampen their spirits; in fact, according to the report, “many Ukrainians later told Helsinki Commission staff that such attempts to intimidate them only made them more determined to see their cause through to the end.” Ukrainian citizens demonstrated this determination through a landslide referendum. Three-quarters of participants voted in favor of independence. Helsinki Commission staff also observed a distinct feeling of festivity at polling stations, reinforced by the testimonies of Ukrainians previously imprisoned in Siberia who said that this day was the realization of a long-held dream of independence from the Soviet Union. Ukrainians were aware that there would be greater struggles ahead, but also recognized that these could be opportunities to exercise their new sovereignty. December 1, 1991 did not mark the end of Ukraine’s conflicts with Russia, but it did finally allow Ukrainians to exercise rights that were long suppressed under the Soviet yoke.

  • Corruption in Sport Focus of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: ALL BETS ARE OFF Gambling, Match-Fixing, and Corruption in Sport Tuesday, December 4, 2018 11:30 a.m. Russell Senate Office Building Room 188 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Corruption—including bribery, doping fraud, and match-fixing—permeates international sport. Despite a 2015 FBI investigation into the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) that indicted more than twenty-five top FIFA officials and associates for alleged decades-long racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering, international sport governance bodies remain compromised and U.S. athletes remain vulnerable. Corruption in sport has become an even more pressing concern following the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 14 decision declaring the Amateur Sports Protection Act unconstitutional, unleashing a sports gambling industry in the United States potentially valued at $400 billion. This lucrative and unregulated market may now be susceptible to the same globalized corruption that has come to define international sport. Panelists will provide their insights into the structure of international sport, the globalization of sports gambling, and how to protect American sport from the corruption that has swept over the rest of the world. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Declan Hill, Professor of Investigations, University of New Haven David Larkin, U.S. lawyer; co-founder of ChangeFIFA Marko Stanovic, Balkan-based former match-fixer Alexandra Wrage, President and CEO, TRACE International; former member of FIFA’s failed Independent Governance Committee

  • Lies, Bots, and Social Media

    From the latest revelations about Facebook to ongoing concerns over the integrity of online information, the U.S. public has never been more vulnerable or exposed to computational propaganda: the threat posed by sophisticated botnets able to post, comment on, and influence social media and other web outlets to generate a desired outcome or simply sow distrust and disorder.  What can be done to confront and defeat these malevolent actors before they dominate civil discourse on the Internet? One possibility is the use of algorithmic signal reading which displays for users the geographic origin of a given post. Another answer may lie in improving how websites like Facebook curate their content, so the user can make more informed choices.  At this Helsinki Commission briefing, distinguished experts examined the implications of computational propaganda on national and international politics and explored options available to Congress and the private sector to confront and negate its pernicious influence.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Explore Transatlantic Counterterrorism Cooperation

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: FIGHTING TERROR Comparing Notes Across the Atlantic Tuesday, December 4, 2018 4:00 p.m. Cannon House Office Building Room 340 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission As terrorist threats have multiplied in their scope and scale, the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe plays an increasingly central role in facilitating international efforts to prevent and combat terrorism, including addressing conditions that create fertile ground for terrorist groups to recruit. At this U.S. Helsinki Commission briefing, leading American and European experts will discuss where OSCE participating States converge and diverge on policies to counter terrorism and violent extremism. It will also highlight the positive work of the OSCE and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in this area, as well as the role of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism. Participants will discuss the state of transatlantic counterterrorism cooperation and recommend policy responses and best practices.  Congressman Richard Hudson, Vice-Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism, will make introductory remarks. Panelists scheduled to participate include: Makis Voridis, Member of the Greek Parliament and Chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism Leanne Erdberg, Director, Countering Violent Extremism, United States Institute of Peace Bruce Hoffman, Visiting Senior Fellow for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, Council on Foreign Relations

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