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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

Representative Alcee L. Hastings

 

Co-Chairman

Senator Roger F. Wicker

  • Our International Impact
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  • Asset Recovery in Eurasia

    Asset recovery—the process of repatriating funds previously stolen by corrupt officials—remains one of the most contentious points in the fight against transnational corruption. Though only a small percentage of stolen funds are ever recovered, major questions exist about the best ways to ensure that repatriated funds don’t simply reenter the same patronage cycle from which they came. This briefing explored approaches to repatriation in Armenia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Panelists discussed best practices and challenges in asset recovery as well as appropriate policy responses, both by the state in question and the international community, and compared the respective approaches of the three countries. Brian Earl, who worked the Pavlo Lazarenko case for years as a detective in the FBI, spoke of uncovering massive amounts of unexplained assets that were initially generated by fraudulent schemes in Ukraine but were scattered abroad. Earl underscored the importance of a multiparty investigation between authorities from the United States, Ukraine, and Switzerland in unearthing evidence of fraud against Lazarenko. Joint investigative liberty and resources were crucial to asset recovery efforts in the 1990s—resources he said were drastically reduced once attention was turned away from investigating capital flight from former Soviet states to antiterrorism efforts after the September 11 attacks. Professor Kristian Lasslet of Ulster University asked the question of what to do with restituted assets when the government to which the asset belongs may be part of the corruption scheme. Lasslet cited the example of Kazakhstan Two, in which seized assets flowed back into questionable hands by bungled efforts from the World Bank and the Swiss government. He contrasted the case with Kazakhstan One, in which asset recovery was handled well at arm’s length of parties that may be interested in funneling assets back into the cycle of fraud. Sona Ayvazyan of Transparency International Armenia offered optimism in the Armenian government’s renewed approach toward transparency and anticorruption efforts but warned of the serious lack of capacity on asset recovery infrastructure. Though the leadership may be serious about removing corruption, she spoke of a discredited judiciary that poses serious problems for Armenia’s future anticorruption policies. According to Karen Greenaway from the FBI (ret.), civil society and non-governmental societies must reassert their role in the conversation on asset recovery. She highlighted the severe lack in bureaucratic infrastructure for asset recovery in many nations afflicted with corruption—particularly Ukraine. The paradox, she asserted, was between the structure of corruption, which is designed to dissipate large quantities of money very rapidly, and the system to repatriate those assets, which is painfully slow and often lacking in resources.  

  • Chairman Hastings Appoints Alex T. Johnson Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff

    WASHINGTON—Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), today announced the appointment of Alex T. Johnson as Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff. Johnson will be the commission’s first African-American chief of staff since it was established in 1976. “I am pleased to welcome Alex Johnson back to the Helsinki Commission,” said Chairman Hastings. “His broad range of experience—including several years at the U.S. Mission to the OSCE in Vienna—and deep understanding of issues related to fundamental freedoms and human security in North America, Europe, and Central Asia will keep the commission at the vanguard of regional policymaking.” “I have learned from Chairman Hastings over the years that transatlantic security is contingent on advancing human rights and human dignity, including for the most marginalized populations in the OSCE region,” said Johnson. “I am honored to once again empower our commissioners' legacy as the moral compass for transatlantic cooperation.” Johnson, a former policy advisor at the Helsinki Commission, returns to the organization after serving as the senior policy advisor for Europe and Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations, where he led U.S.-focused advocacy for 12 national foundations and regional programs ranging from Central Asia to Western Europe. An expert on European human rights and transatlantic security, he served as an Obama Administration official at the Pentagon, where he focused on furthering security cooperation with Eurasia and the Western Balkans. Johnson is also known for his research and leadership of advocacy coalitions of diverse foreign policy professionals and is recognized as a leader in advancing inclusion for the U.S. national security workforce. He is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Truman National Security Project Defense Council. Johnson’s first day as chief of staff of the Helsinki Commission will be February 14, 2019.

  • Our Impact by Country

  • Wicker, Cardin Condemn Detention of Russian Activist Nastya Shevchenko

    WASHINGTON—Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) today issued the following statements on the detention of Anastasia (Nastya) Shevchenko, a human rights activist with the Open Russia organization, who was placed under house arrest on January 23: “No one should face jail time for peaceful advocacy,” said Sen. Wicker. “The callous and cruel treatment of Nastya Shevchenko by Russian authorities is a disturbing tactic to silence a citizen-activist.” “The Russian authorities must release Nastya Shevchenko,” said Sen. Cardin. “It should not be a crime to advocate for the best interests of one’s country and fellow citizens.” Shevchenko is the first Russian to face criminal charges under Russia’s 2015 “undesirable organizations” law, which is intended to prevent NGOs based outside of Russia from operating within the country. A single mother, she was prevented from visiting her critically-ill special needs daughter until shortly before her daughter’s death at the end of January. Open Russia is a Russian-led, Russia-based organization that advocates for greater government transparency and accountability. Amnesty International has declared Shevchenko a prisoner of conscience.

  • Representative Alcee L. Hastings to Helm Helsinki Commission

    WASHINGTON—Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has appointed Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) to chair the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, during the 116th Congress. “For more than four decades, the Helsinki Commission has championed human rights and democracy across North America, Europe, and Central Asia,” said Chairman Hastings. “While we have worked to keep these concerns on the U.S. agenda, much remains to be accomplished. Rogue actors are challenging the integrity of elections at home and abroad; Russia’s internal repression threatens its citizens while its external aggression imperils its neighbors; and members of vulnerable communities are targets of bigotry, discrimination, and violence. All of these challenges undermine comprehensive security in the region and place our societies at risk. “I’m honored to once again chair the Helsinki Commission, and look forward to continuing the bipartisan, bicameral cooperation that is vital to promoting human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in the 57 countries of the OSCE.” Chairman Hastings has served on the Helsinki Commission since 2001, and in 2007, he became the first African American to chair the commission. Hastings is also the only American to have ever served as President of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), and is the former Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs of the PA.

  • Parliamentary Diplomacy

    The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) was established in 1991 to offer opportunities for engagement between parliamentarians from OSCE participating States. The Helsinki Commission has become central to the organization of bicameral U.S. delegations to OSCE PA annual sessions and other meetings, and provides for substantial interaction between Commission staff and the Assembly’s secretariat on issues of common concern.  U.S. objectives and interests in the OSCE region are advanced through the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in the following ways: Engagement With 17 of 323 seats, the United States has the largest representation in the Assembly.  Even when actual delegations are smaller, the active yet measured involvement of Members of Congress in debates and dialogue assures all other states – including not only allies and friends but those with which there is a more adversarial relationship – of a strong U.S. commitment to security in the OSCE region. This engagement was perhaps best exemplified when Washington, DC, hosted the 2005 OSCE PA annual session.            Service Members of the U.S. Congress have consistently held leadership positions in the Assembly since its inception.  Senator Roger Wicker currently serves as an OSCE Vice-President, and chaired the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Committee on Political Affairs and Security Committee from 2014 to 2017. In addition, Representative Christopher Smith is the current Special Representative to the OSCE PA President on Human Trafficking Issues and Senator Benjamin Cardin serves as the Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance. Representative Richard Hudson is a vice-chair of Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism, and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee serves on the Ad Hoc Committee on Migration. In the past, Representative Alcee Hastings served as a committee officer, as President of the Assembly from 2004 to 2006, and for many years was the OSCE PA Special Representative on Mediterranean Issues Affairs. Senator Benjamin Cardin and Representatives Steny Hoyer and Robert Aderholt have all served as committee officers as well as Vice Presidents of the Assembly, and former Representative Hilda Solis served as a committee officer while in Congress. Advocacy U.S. Delegations have found the OSCE PA to be a useful venue for introducing new issues and concerns that ultimately need to be addressed by the OSCE itself in Vienna.  Efforts to combat trafficking in persons or to respond to anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of intolerance in society became central to the OSCE’s work as a result of initiatives coming from the Parliamentary Assembly.  The Assembly also encourages the OSCE to further develop its partnerships with Mediterranean and Asian states.  While the OSCE operates on the basis of consensus decision-making, meaning just one of the 57 participating States can block a decision, the OSCE PA operates on majority voting, allowing for adoption of resolutions on more challenging and sometimes controversial issues that need to be confronted directly. Responsiveness Central to OSCE diplomacy is the notion that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is part of a comprehensive definition of security, and that raising concern about violations of these rights and freedoms in other states does not constitute interference in the internal affairs of that state. Still, many states resist discussion of their human rights performance. The United States has generally been more responsive to the concerns raised about its record, including the conduct of elections, use of the death penalty or treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees.  Both diplomatic and congressional representatives have accepted legitimate concerns raised, even if the motivation appears to be less than genuine, clarified the picture when necessary and acknowledged shortcomings that do exist. Members of the U.S. Congress, however, have the additional ability to speak their own minds on these issues, rather than reflect official policy.  The diversity of opinion expressed by Members of the U.S. Congress is lacking in many other parliaments and therefore sets an example for others hopefully to emulate.  Field Activity The Helsinki Commission has observed scores of elections in other OSCE participating States ever since contested elections first occurred in the formerly one-party communist states of Eastern Europe and then-republics of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For most of that time, including today, the observation missions of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly represent the most effective way to deploy Commissioners and Commission staff to observe elections in order to encourage their free and fair conduct.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing to Focus on Asset Recovery In Eurasia

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: ASSET RECOVERY IN EURASIA Repatriation or Repay the Patron? Wednesday, February 13, 2019 10:00 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Asset recovery—the process of repatriating funds previously stolen by corrupt officials—remains one of the most contentious points in the fight against transnational corruption. Though only a small percentage of stolen funds are ever recovered, major questions exist about the best ways to ensure that repatriated funds don’t simply reenter the same patronage cycle from which they came. Is it possible to ensure that recovered assets actually serve the people from whom they have been stolen? This briefing will explore approaches to repatriation in Armenia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. Panelists will discuss best practices and challenges in asset recovery as well as appropriate policy responses, both by the state in question and the international community, and compare the respective approaches of the three countries. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: Sona Ayvazyan, Executive Director, Transparency International Armenia Bryan Earl, Retired Supervisory Special Agent/Assistant General Counsel, Federal Bureau of Investigation Karen Greenaway, Retired Supervisory Special Agent, Federal Bureau of Investigation Kristian Lasslett, Professor of Criminology and Head of School, Ulster University

  • Unorthodox?

    By Thea Dunlevie, Max Kampelman Fellow “The Russian Federation is a secular state,” according to Chapter 1, Article 14 of the Russian constitution. Adopted two years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which systematically repressed religious activity, Article 14 created a framework for a religious resurgence in Russia, namely the Russian Orthodox Church’s optimistic emergence from the Soviet era. However, the Russian Orthodox Church has become a battlefield of choice for the Russian government as it seeks status as the religious and regional hegemon. President Vladimir Putin’s vision for a “Russian world” has in many ways negated the country’s constitutional commitment to a religiously neutral government, particularly in relation to former Soviet Bloc countries. Vladimir Putin has coupled violent encroachments such as the 2014 invasion and illegal occupation of Crimea and the Donbas and its 2008 invasion and illegal occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia with subtler maneuvers to establish strongholds in foreign countries, including through religious interventions. The latter activities rest under the umbrella term “soft power,” which Putin identified as a foreign policy strategy in his 2017 Foreign Policy Concept. According to political scientist Joseph Nye, who coined the term, “Soft power is the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment.” Rooted in Russian History and Culture The Russian Orthodox Church, which has deep roots in Russian identity, history, and culture, was revived under President Boris Yeltsin and has since been increasingly employed as a tool of soft power. The RAND Institute reports that the Russian Orthodox Church has been rated “the most-trusted institution in [Russia]”—surpassing the president and parliament. Consequentially, the Kremlin’s interconnectivity with the Russian Orthodox Church lends the state legitimacy by proxy. Capitalizing on this perceived legitimacy, the 2015 Russian National Security Strategy lists “preserving and developing culture and traditional Russian spiritual and moral values” as one of six “National Interests and National Strategic Priorities.” Religion has been instrumentalized by Russian diplomatic missions with goals beyond proselytizing or constructing churches. Putin sent Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia as a Kremlin emissary to solidify international ties under the auspices of religious, humanitarian outreach. For example, Putin has characterized Russia as the defender of persecuted Christians in the Middle East by supporting Bashar al-Assad’s government. Patriarch Kirill and Putin also vowed to rebuild churches in the region, positioning Russia as the great defender, reconstructor, and regional power. However, not all these efforts have been successful. Patriarch Kirill’s 2013 visit to the politically volatile region of Transnistria, Moldova—where 1,400 Russian troops are stationed—was met by local protests suggesting an unwelcome link between the Russian Orthodox Church’s presence and the Kremlin’s. The Russian Orthodox Church has also helped the Government of Russia maintain regional influence in former Soviet Bloc countries and the Balkans and expand its influence in Asia. The Russian government commemorated 50 years of cooperation with Singapore by building an Orthodox church there, and Patriarch Kirill’s delegation visited North Korea to establish an Orthodox church in Pyongyang alongside North Korean government officials. However, current debates primarily focus on Ukraine because it contains an estimated one-third of the Moscow Patriarchate’s churches. Russia has approached the OSCE with concerns about “Ukrainization,” alleging that 50 Russian Orthodox churches had been illegally seized by the government since 2014. Ukraine Fights Back The Russian Orthodox Church’s Kremlin-driven influence has been of particular concern to Ukraine, which struggles to maintain its political sovereignty as Russia encroaches militarily. To counter this influence, in 2018 the Ukrainian Orthodox Church sought autocephaly (independence) under the auspices of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the governing body of the Orthodox Church. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko justified the Ukrainian Orthodox Church’s pursuit of autocephaly before the United Nations General Assembly Human Rights Council as “a matter of national security and [Ukraine’s] defense in a hybrid war, because the Kremlin views the Russian Orthodox Church as key instruments of influence on Ukraine.”  However, the Russian Orthodox Church condemned Ukraine’s autocephaly efforts for blasphemously entangling religion and politics. Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, characterized the Ukrainian church’s move as a “pre-election political project.” The Russian Orthodox Church severed tied with the Ecumenical Patriarch in mid-October. In December, Metropolitan Epifaniy was elected head of the nascent Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Prior to his election, the U.S. State Department said the United States “respects the ability of Ukraine’s Orthodox religious leaders and followers to pursue autocephaly according to their beliefs.” Immediately after his election, the State Department issued a congratulatory statement and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with him by phone.   After the January 6th announcement of autocephaly for an independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, the Secretary described the outcome as an “historic achievement.” All of these U.S. statements explicitly referenced U.S. support for religious freedom as the context. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine now sidesteps Russian religious authority and submits to the Ecumenical Patriarch and Holy Synod alone.  The Russian government, however, maintains that Ukraine is “territory of the Russian church” and vows to “defend the interests of the Orthodox.” Ongoing Power Struggles Russia’s religious intervention has also instigated ecclesiastical divisions within the other Orthodox churches and between churches and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. The Russian meddling has created opposing teams: Ukraine and its allies, like the Ecumenical Patriarch and U.S. Government, versus the Russian Government and regional churches which pledged loyalty to the Russian Orthodox Church. In the wake of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Holy Synod decision on the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Putin awarded the Metropolitan of Moldova “Russia’s Order of Friendship,” perhaps  to encourage Moldovan sympathy to the Russian Orthodox Church’s cause amid the “schismatic” behavior of Ukraine. In November of 2018, St. Andrew’s Church in Ukraine was attacked with Molotov cocktails, following  the transfer of its ownership to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. This attack has been interpreted by some Ukrainians as a symbolic attack on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Ukraine’s religious makeup is exceptionally diverse. However, the Kremlin’s political meddling into the inter-orthodox religious conflict raises larger concerns about how government can support or suppress certain beliefs for primarily political purposes. This phenomenon threatens the religious liberty of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and potentially the freedom of the country’s minority religious groups like Greek Catholics. All 57 participating States of the OSCE have committed to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which includes the statement that  “the participating States will respect (...) the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion… participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.”  The participating States have repeatedly recommitted themselves in subsequent agreements. The Ukrainian government and leadership of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine must be vigilant for infringements on the religious rights of Moscow Patriarchate adherents in Ukraine after the Holy Synod’s decision. As priests, imams, and pastors did during Euromaidan in 2013, so should the Ukrainian Government, the Russian Government, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the Russian Orthodox Church condemn violence, protect freedom of religion and belief, and promote inter-faith peace.

  • Undermining Human Rights in the Name of Countering Terror

    By Yena Seo Max Kampelman Fellow Governments of OSCE participating States commit to upholding human rights in all circumstances, including in the fight against violent extremism. However, according to the U.S. Department of State’s Country Reports on Terrorism 2017, issued in September 2018, several OSCE countries are failing to fulfill these obligations. The reports suggest that counterterrorism efforts undertaken by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan are inconsistent with the specific commitments these nations made under the 2012 OSCE Consolidated Framework for the Fight Against Terrorism, as well as with their broader commitments to human rights outlined in the Helsinki Final Act. Under the 2012 framework, participating States agreed to promote a comprehensive approach to security to ensure that efforts to counter terrorism are conducted on the basis of rule of law and respect human rights. The framework also rejects the identification of terrorism with a specific nationality or religion and seeks to promote cooperation between national authorities, the private sector, civil society, and the media. At the 2016 OSCE Counter-Terrorism Conference, participating States acknowledged that impunity for human rights violations can contribute to radicalization and violent extremism. Governments that attempt to fight terrorism by undermining human rights can instead simultaneously undermine the security they seek to promote. The U.S. Mission to the OSCE also emphasizes that counterterrorism strategies are most successful when government and civil society leaders work together to address violent extremism. According to the State Department reports, nations where counterterrorism practices routinely undermine OSCE commitments to human rights include: Azerbaijan In 2017, the Government of Azerbaijani “continued to cite ‘countering violent extremism’ as a justification for incarcerating members of the secular and religious political opposition, whom it alleges are ‘religious extremists.’” According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017, the incarceration of political opponents by the Azerbaijani authorities “raised concerns about authorities’ abuse of the judicial system to punish dissent.” Kazakhstan The Government of Kazakhstan increased restrictions on religious freedom for minority groups and its Muslim-majority population as part of its approach to addressing homegrown terrorism. In one case, authorities sentenced a man to six years in prison for the sole charge of having Arabic-language songs praising Allah on his cell phone. The Government of Kazakhstan has taken a “law enforcement-first” approach to extremism and radicalization following two domestic terrorist attacks in 2016, which has resulted in violating religious freedoms in the name of preventing terrorism. Russia Russia uses its ongoing construction of a counterterrorism legal framework to prosecute peaceful individuals and organizations within its borders. Those targeted by Russia’s “anti-extremism” laws include members of the political opposition, independent media, and certain religious organizations. A Helsinki Commission report on human rights and democracy in Russia described the “Yarovaya package,” amendments introduced in 2016 nominally intended as counterterrorism measures, which have been used against certain religious organizations and opponents of the Russian government’s actions in Ukraine. A 2017 Helsinki Commission briefing also discussed the Russian Supreme Court’s ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses as an “extremist organization.” During a 2017 Helsinki Commission hearing on democracy and human rights abuses in Russia, a representative of Human Rights Watch noted that individuals in Russia are targeted with arbitrary cases of extremism for sharing or posting criticism of the government on the Internet. Additionally, the Government of Russia government refused to cooperate on countering violent extremism (CVE) initiatives with independent non-governmental organizations and civil society. The government instead chose to address counterterrorism through agencies or organizations controlled by the state. Tajikistan Tajikistan’s Law on Combating Terrorism was used in 2017 by the government to suppress independent voices, including journalists, political opposition figures, and representatives of religious groups. The Tajik government has restricted some forms of political and religious expression to counter what it has deemed “extremism.” The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 also describes how the Government of Tajikistan requires registration of religious associations, but has prevented members of minority religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, from registering their organizations to practice legally in the country. The government also imprisoned a Protestant pastor for “extremism” and possessing “unauthorized” religious literature. A 2017 Helsinki Commission briefing noted that more than a hundred people in Tajikistan were detained for membership in banned religious groups, and a number of individuals were subjected to long-term imprisonment for “extremist views.” In 2016, the U.S. Department of State designated Tajikistan as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Turkey The Government of Turkey has used its prosecution of what it refers to as the “Fethullah Terrorism Organization” (“FETO”) to justify widescale purges and mass detentions of military, security, and civil servants throughout the country. As of November 2017, the Turkish government had dismissed approximately 150,000 civil servants from public service for alleged links to FETO or terrorism. These charges were often made despite minimal evidence and due process. In 2016 speech a given on the floor of the House of Representatives, then-Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) condemned the Turkish Government’s “assault on the human rights of the Turkish people,” noting that press outlets were charged with “supporting terrorism” for unflattering reporting about Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to , dozens of journalists were prosecuted by the government for “propaganda for a terrorist organization” or “publishing terrorist organization’s statement.” The Helsinki Commission held a 2017 briefing detailing the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Turkish government in the name of countering terrorism and extremism. Uzbekistan Though Uzbekistan has recently made progress toward fulfilling its commitments to religious freedom, Uzbek law bans several religious groups as “extremist,” requires religious groups to register with the government, and declares that religious activities of unregistered groups are illegal. In 2017, all minority religious groups that attempted to register a new house of worship were denied. The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017 claims that prisoners held on religious extremism charges are unable to practice their religion, and members of religious groups whose registration applications were denied by the government are legally unable to practice their religious beliefs. The State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 also alleges that torture and impunity for torturers continued regarding members of minority religious groups, including Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Reported methods of torture and abuse included beatings, denial of food and use of toilet, and tying of hands. Since the early 2000s, the Helsinki Commission has followed efforts to counter violent extremism in the OSCE region. In December 2018, a commission briefing reviewed counter-terrorism policies of several OSCE participating States to counter terrorism and violent extremism. Participants also discussed the state of transatlantic counterterrorism cooperation and recommended policy responses and best practices.  Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08) is the Vice Chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism, which assesses terrorism trends in the OSCE region and works to advance the OSCE’s efforts in countering terrorism. The Helsinki Commission, the OSCE PA, and OSCE participating States recognize that measures to counter terrorism should be undertaken in strict accordance with the rule of law, the UN Charter, and international human rights, refugee, and humanitarian law.

  • Whitehouse, Wicker, Jackson Lee, Burgess Introduce Rodchenkov Act

    WASHINGTON—One week after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) failed to suspend the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) for missing a crucial December 31, 2018, deadline, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Roger Wicker (MS) and Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Michael Burgess (TX-26) today introduced in the Senate and the House the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. The legislation, originally introduced in the 115th Congress, would criminalize international doping fraud conspiracies. “We know from experience that we must meet the bad behavior of Russia’s corrupt government with strength. Anything less they take as encouragement,” said Senator Whitehouse. “That’s why the responses of WADA and the International Olympic Committee to the Russian doping scandal fall woefully short. Now is the time to create stiff penalties for Russia’s cheating and send a signal that Russia and other sponsors of state-directed fraud can’t use corruption as a tool of foreign policy.” “Without Dr. Rodchenkov’s courage, we would still be in the dark about the extent of Russia’s doping fraud. He is now in hiding, fearing that Russian thugs may one day come for him as they did Sergei Skripal in London. Whistleblowers should not be forced to live this way. Dr. Rodchenkov and those other brave individuals who reveal the crimes of authoritarian regimes deserve better,” said Senator Wicker. “Russia’s full-throated defiance of international norms and standards undermines the rule of law and demands the strongest of responses. The Putin regime uses strategic corruption to destabilize peaceful civil society, democratic institutions, and the alliances that have been the foundation of transatlantic peace and prosperity for the past 70-plus years. This long overdue bill would define doping for what it is: fraud.  Never again should Russia or any other authoritarian state believe that there will be no legal consequences for committing doping fraud conspiracies,” said Representative Jackson Lee. “WADA’s most recent decision to give Russia a free pass clearly conveys that leaders of international sport governance refuse to uphold the integrity of sport. The current framework has proven ineffective and fundamentally unfit to defend clean athletes and prevent doping fraud. Russia’s state-sponsored doping scandal not only caused damages to clean international athletes, but also resulted in harm to its own athletes.  It is time to restore a level playing field by ensuring that the rights of U.S. and all clean athletes are respected. RADA will keep fraud away from competitions that touch the U.S. market and interests, and protect our athletes,” said Representative Burgess. The Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act will: Establish criminal penalties for participating in a scheme in commerce to influence a major international sport competition through prohibited substances or methods.  This section applies to all major international sport competitions in which U.S. athletes participate, and where organizing entities receive sponsorship from companies doing business in the United States or are compensated for the right to broadcast their competition there, so that international fraud against Americans will not go unpunished. Penalties will include fines of up to $1,000,000, or imprisonment of up to ten years, depending on the offense. Provide restitution to victims of such conspiracies.  Athletes and other persons who are victims of major international doping fraud conspiracies shall be entitled to mandatory restitution for losses inflicted upon them by fraudsters and conspirators. Protect whistleblowers from retaliation.  By criminalizing participation in a major international doping fraud conspiracy, whistleblowers will be included under existing witness and informant protection laws. Establish coordination and sharing of information with the United States Anti-Doping Agency.  Federal agencies involved in the fight against doping shall coordinate and share information with USADA, whose mission is to preserve the integrity of competition, inspire true sport, and protect the rights of athletes, to enhance their collective efforts to curb doping fraud. Senators Ben Cardin (MD) and Marco Rubio (FL) are original cosponsors of the bill in the Senate.  Original cosponsors in the House include Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Richard Hudson (NC-08), Diana DeGette (CO-01), Peter King (NY-03), Alcee Hastings (FL-20), Billy Long (MO-07), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Chris Smith (NJ-04), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Bobby Rush (IL-01), and Paul Tonko (NY-20). In 2016, Dr. Rodchenkov exposed the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal that took place during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.  By deceiving international anti-doping authorities and swapping athletes’ samples, Russian officials cheated U.S. athletes out of Olympic glory and U.S. corporations out of honest sponsorships.  These corrupt officials used bribes and illicit payments, sometimes through U.S. financial institutions, to commit this fraud.  Unfortunately, the masterminds behind the Russian sports doping operation escaped punishment for their actions because there was no U.S. legal mechanism to bring them to justice. In February 2018, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing featuring Dr. Rodchenkov’s attorney, Jim Walden, on combating fraud in sports and the role of whistleblowers in safeguarding the integrity of international competitions.  In March, Commissioners Senators Cardin and Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Representative Jackson Lee met with Dr. Rodchenkov to discuss the threat posed by Russia to the United States, corruption in international sports bodies, and how the United States can contribute to the international effort to counter doping fraud. In July, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing that explored the interplay between doping fraud and globalized corruption and U.S. policy responses, including the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. In October 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted seven individuals for involvement in a Russian-operated military intelligence program in which GRU officers are alleged to have conducted sophisticated hacking of U.S. and international anti-doping agencies who investigated and publicly condemned Russia’s state-sponsored doping program.  The hacking victims also included 230 athletes from approximately 30 countries.  The operation was part of a disinformation campaign in which victims’ personal email communications and individual medical and drug testing information, sometimes modified from its original form, was used to actively promote media coverage to further a narrative favorable to the Russian government.

  • Hastings Recognizes International Holocaust Remembrance Day

    Fort Lauderdale, FL—Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20) released the following statement marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day: “Today, I join the international community in reflecting on the murder of six million Jews during one of the darkest periods in human history. Between 1940 and 1945, two out of every three Jews in Europe perished in ghettos, mass shootings, forced labor camps, and extermination camps under the Nazi Regime, forever changing the face of Europe and the world. “The world’s Jewish population has yet to recover to its numbers prior to the Holocaust, yet global Jewry has witnessed a resurgence. Today, the Jewish State of Israel thrives and Jewish life has strengthened. Yet, we must always remain vigilant against the forces of anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, each of which have risen sharply in our country and across the globe. We must never allow hatred to go unchallenged, and it is incumbent upon all of us to stand with the Jewish community and others working to confront injustice. “As we mark an international day of remembrance, we must commit to supporting Holocaust education across the globe and ensure survivors in our nation, many of whom live at or below the poverty line, have access to the lifesaving services they rely on. As a representative of South Florida, which possesses one of the largest populations of Holocaust survivors in the world, I will continue to do everything I can to ensure this community may live with dignity.”

  • Cardin on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

    WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Ranking Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, made the following statement on International Holocaust Commemoration Day, which is Sunday, January 27: “The anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland is a day set aside by the international community for the remembrance of the Holocaust. Faced with the deadly consequences of ignorance, hatred, and conspiracy theories from Pittsburgh and Kentucky to Gdansk, it is critical to advance knowledge, tolerance, and reason.  This is not a one-day-of-the-year task, but an undertaking that requires commitment, action, and resources 365 days a year. “Last year, I was honored to join the United States Holocaust Memorial Council as one of the 10 members from the Congress – five from the United States Senate and five from the House of Representatives – who serve on this governing board.  The Museum is the United States’ official memorial to victims of the Holocaust; it is the U.S. Government’s preeminent voice to ensure that we never forget those who perished; and it is our collective conscience in the fight against apathy and ignorance.  As a leader of the Helsinki Commission, I have long worked with to support the mission of the Museum, including preserving irreplaceable archives and testimonies and protecting sensitive sites of remembrance.  Now more than ever, we must apply lessons from the past to the challenges we face today.” In 2015, Sen. Cardin was named as the Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Intolerance for the 57-nation Organization Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly. In the U.S. Senate and, through the U.S. Helsinki Commission (CSCE), Senator Cardin has worked to raise awareness of the escalation of global anti-Semitic violence, anti-Muslim laws, and other forms of intolerance while working to promote peace, tolerance and equality. Senator Cardin is the author of the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, bipartisan legislation to ensure that the U.S. government works in a coordinated manner using its full range of tools to help prevent mass atrocities. He is the author of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act and the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which have set the global standard for ensuring justice for rights defenders in the fight against impunity.

  • The Human Dimension

    The OSCE participating States have identified the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of the basic purposes of government and reaffirmed that recognition of these rights and freedoms constitutes the foundation of freedom, justice and peace. When the Helsinki Final Act was signed in Helsinki, Finland in 1975, it enshrined among its ten Principles Guiding Relations between participating States (the decalogue), a commitment to "respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion" (Principle VII). In addition, the Final Act included a section on cooperation regarding humanitarian concerns, including transnational human contacts, information, culture and education. The HFA and subsequently adopted OSCE agreements are not treaties and are therefore viewed as political commitments, not legal obligations. The Helsinki Commission has a special mandate 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, with particular regard to the provisions relating to Cooperation in Humanitarian fields [i.e., the human dimension]." Since 1990, the Helsinki Commission has particularly focused on restrictions on the freedoms of speech, press, and assembly; the treatment of persons belonging to ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, including Roma; human rights violations in conflict settings and the prevention of torture. In addition, the Commission has monitored aspects of the transition to democracy, including challenges to the rule of law, free and fair elections, and the impact of corruption on the human and other dimensions of the OSCE. What is the "Human Dimension?" The Human Dimension was a term coined during the drafting of the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document. This term was designed as a short-hand phrase to describe the human rights and humanitarian provisions of the agreements concluded within the framework of the Helsinki process. Consensus: All of the agreements of the Helsinki process have been adopted on the basis of consensus; i.e., each participating State has agreed to every provision in each OSCE document.   Universality: Each participating State is equally bound by each document. All countries which joined the Helsinki process after 1975 have pledged, as a condition for membership, to "accept in their entirety all commitments and responsibilities contained in these documents and [. . . ] to act in accordance with their provisions."   Establishing Common Standards on Human Rights: Through the negotiation of successive agreements, the OSCE participating States gradually expanded the body of shared commitments. It was often the case, however, that Soviet-bloc countries might concede to a provision in principle, only to undermine it through the operation of national laws, rules, or regulations. The 1989 Vienna Concluding Document stated, "In this context, [the participating States] confirm that they will respect each other's right freely to choose and develop their political, social, economic and cultural systems as well as their right to determine their laws, regulations, practices and policies. In exercising these rights, they will ensure that their laws, regulations, practices and policies conform with their obligations under international law and are brought into harmony with the provisions of the Declaration on Principles and other CSCE commitments." By 1990, as the Iron Curtain began to fall, the OSCE Heads of State and Government declared in the Charter of Paris for a New Europe: "We undertake to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations." Two OSCE documents enshrined the practice of raising human rights concerns. First, the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document committed each participating State (1) to respond to requests for information and to representations from any other participating State on specific cases or broad situations relating to commitments in the human dimension; (2) to meet bilaterally with participating States requesting such a meeting to examine these cases or situations; (3) to bring these cases and situations to the attention of the other participating States; and (4) to provide, if it deems necessary, information on what has transpired under the first two points at OSCE meetings. Further establishing the OSCE commitments as the basis for bilateral and multilateral dialogue, the 1991 Moscow Concluding Document stated: "The participating States emphasize that issues relating to human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are of international concern, as respect for these rights and freedoms constitutes one of the foundations of international order. They categorically and irrevocably declare that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension of the CSCE are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned."

  • Rep. Smith Authors New Comprehensive American Law to Combat Trafficking

    WASHINGTON—On Tuesday, President Trump signed into law Rep. Chris Smith’s (NJ-04) bill authorizing $430 million over four years for a whole-of-government effort to fight sex and labor trafficking at home and abroad—Smith’s fifth comprehensive law to fight human trafficking.   “My Frederick Douglass law authorizes over $430 million over 4 years to prevent human trafficking, protect victims, and beef up prosecution of those involved in this nefarious trade both at home and abroad,” Smith said. His Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act is his fifth comprehensive anti-human trafficking bill to become law. “In the fight to end modern day slavery, my law honors the extraordinary legacy of one of the greatest Americans who ever lived,” Smith said of Frederick Douglass, of whom the bill is named. Douglass, born a slave in 1818, escaped slavery at the age of 20 and became a leader in the fight to abolish slavery and, later, to ending Jim Crow laws. “A gifted orator, author, editor, statesman (and Republican), he died in 1895.” Kenneth B. Morris, Jr., great-great-great grandson of Frederick Douglass and President of Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, stated that “If my great ancestor were here today, I believe he would be driven to lead the struggle against contemporary forms of slavery.  My family sends a special thanks to Representative Christopher Smith from New Jersey, the entire U.S. Congress and the President for permitting the Douglass legacy to do just that.” Smith serves as the U.S. Congress Special Representative on combatting human trafficking to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), an international organization of leading lawmakers from 57 countries representing over one billion people worldwide. The assembly focuses on security-related concerns including human rights, policing strategies, and democratization. At the OSCEPA, Smith has sponsored 13 successful resolutions on trafficking, including the very first resolution in 1999 in St. Petersburg, Russia. As Special Representative, he also writes an annual report on human trafficking for the assembly. His 2016 and 2017 resolutions were the basis for an OSCE ministerial decision on combatting child trafficking in 2017, which provided practical steps for member countries to protect children from traveling sex offenders and from misuse of the internet for child trafficking and sexual exploitation. Smith has previously authored four major U.S. laws to fight trafficking: the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act (P.L. 106-386), the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (P.L. 108-193), the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-164) and the International Megan’s Law (P.L. 114-119). International Megan’s Law, funded in Smith’s new law, established country-to-country notification to protect children from convicted pedophiles who may seek to travel for the purposes of sex trafficking of children and other forms of child sexual exploitation; since the law’s enactment in February, 2016, it has resulted in 3,442 denials of entry of convicted pedophiles seeking to enter a country. This whole-of-government effort to fight trafficking in Smith’s new law includes: Age-appropriate prevention education for children; Shelter, therapy, and reintegration for trafficking victims; Facilitation of trafficking-free supply chains in U.S. commerce; Training of U.S. government officials and airline industry employees to better identify and prevent possible cases of trafficking, and; Oversight to ensure that U.S. government purchases are not employing traffickers. The Frederick Douglass legislation authorizes funding for the following: $18 million over three years to DHS and DOJ and State to fund the International Megan’s Law   $78 million over four years to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to: Ensure that children in the U.S. are educated in an age appropriate manner on how to avoid becoming victims of sex and labor trafficking Provide U.S. Citizen and Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) and foreign victims with 24/7 access to rescue and assistance through the National Human Trafficking Hotline $20 million over four years to the Department of Labor (DOL) to: Facilitate trafficking-free supply chains in private businesses and U.S. government purchases Inform DHS of imports that may contain trafficked products, to prevent their entry into the United States $315 million over four years to the Department of State (DOS) for their work to: Support the training of U.S. and foreign law enforcement officials to better combat human trafficking Write the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report and encourage credible and effective use of the Report to hold countries accountable in the fight against human trafficking Engage diplomatically with countries to help them improve their trafficking laws and implementation Help countries develop better referral and assistance programs for rescued sex and labor trafficking victims Improve coordination of government and civil society efforts abroad to fight child trafficking Convene the President’s Interagency Task Force and coordinate the efforts of various U.S. government agencies to fight human trafficking at home and abroad Create a special complaint mechanism in embassies whereby the U.S. is warned of traffickers exploiting the U.S. entry system Prevent abuse of domestic servants in embassies and diplomatic homes in the U.S. Encourage USAID to integrate human trafficking prevention into disaster relief Assist foreign countries in meeting the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking Assist foreign victims of human trafficking $1 million over four years to train airport personnel, flight attendants, and pilots to recognize and report to law enforcement potential trafficking victims in transit Smith’s landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which he has reauthorized and/or enhanced through his subsequent legislation, created a bold new strategy both domestically and internationally that included sheltering, asylum and other protections for the victims, long jail sentences and asset confiscation for the traffickers, and tough sanctions for governments that failed to meet minimum standards.  Smith’s legislation has served as a model for new laws in countries throughout the world.  The new Frederick Douglass legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), originally passed the House with full reauthorization for all agencies that were originally funded through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations.  The legislation has been endorsed by a consortium of faith-based and non-profit groups including the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT-USA), Free the Slaves, Futures Without Violence, International Justice Mission (IJM), National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), National Network for Youth (NN4Y), Polaris, Safe Horizon, Solidarity Center, Verité, Vital Voices Global Partnership, Rights4Girls, Shared Hope International, Amb. Swanee Hunt, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Equality Now, and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). The bipartisan legislation has been cosponsored by Members from both parties, including original cosponsors Reps. Karen Bass (CA-37), Ed Royce (CA-39), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Susan Brooks (IN-05), Lois Frankel (FL-21), Ann Wagner (MO-02), Tony Cardenas (CA-29), Ted Poe (TX-02), and Ryan Costello (PA-06).

  • 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.

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