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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

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  • Report on Slovakia's Religion Law

    Since the ouster of the Meciar regime in 1998, Slovakia has made a remarkable transition to democracy. Once described as “the black hole of Europe,” Slovakia officially became a member of NATO on March 29, 2004 and joined the European Union on May 1, 2004. Most recently, Bratislava hosted the joint summit held by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moreover, Slovakia has become a voice for fundamental freedoms in its own right. At the same time, the United States has continued to raise a number of longstanding concerns with Slovakia. The most serious human rights problems in Slovakia are those experienced by members of the Romani minority, who face profound discrimination in most walks of life as well as racially motivated violence. The Slovak law concerning religion is also problematic, as it contains the most demanding registration scheme in the entire OSCE region. Due to the discriminatory nature of the current legal structure, new religious communities or groups unable to meet the burdensome numerical requirements are denied rights and privileges afforded to recognized religious groups. At the 2003 OSCE Maastricht Ministerial Council, Slovakia and all other participating States pledged to “ensure and facilitate” the free practice of religion or belief “alone or in community with others . . . through transparent and non-discriminatory laws, regulations, practices and policies.”  In light of this and other OSCE commitments, it is hoped Slovakia will amend the registration system and eliminate the numerical threshold.

  • OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2015

    “The Human Dimension” is OSCE-speak for human rights, democracy, and humanitarian concerns.  When the Helsinki Final Act (HFA) 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 HFA included a section on cooperation regarding humanitarian issues that provided an umbrella for addressing (among other things) family reunification and working conditions for journalists. "The Human Dimension" was a term coined during the drafting of the 1989 Vienna Concluding Document to serve as shorthand to describe the human rights and humanitarian provisions of the agreements concluded within the framework of the Helsinki process. Today, it has come to include the OSCE’s watershed commitments on democracy, the rule of law, and free and fair elections. In any given year, the OSCE participating States address human dimension issues in multiple fora.  The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting – HDIM – attracts the largest number of participants, covers the greatest range of issues, and is open to participation by civil society. That work includes formal sessions on the full range of human rights  issues as well as rule of law, free elections, and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, and tolerance and nondiscrimination are also on the agenda.  U.S. Delegation Led by David Kramer The 2015 HDIM was held September 21 to October 2 and drew 1,386 participants.  The U.S. delegation was led by David J. Kramer, Senior Director for Human Rights and Human Freedoms at the McCain Institute and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.  It also included U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Robert Berschinksi; Department of State Special Advisor for International Rights Judith Heumann; and Helsinki Commission Senior Senate Staff Representative Ambassador David T. Killion.  Helsinki Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work. In addition to active engagement in the formal sessions, the United States participated in side events focused on specific countries or issues organized by civil society, OSCE participating States, or international organizations, and held numerous bilateral meetings with other delegations to raise and discuss human rights.  Special Advisor Heumann led a panel highlighting the importance of disability rights for OSCE countries as part of a U.S. side event cosponsored with Finland. Russia: External Aggression and Internal Repression During the HDIM, Russia’s aggression in and against Ukraine was raised in connection with almost every agenda item for the meeting.  The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) also issued a joint report prepared with the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities detailing widespread human rights violations in Russian-occupied Crimea.  Increasing levels of repression within Russia also were raised throughout the HDIM and served to highlight the relationship between external aggression and internal repression. In early 2015, Boris Nemtsov, an advocate for the rule of law and accountability in Russia and an outspoken Russian critic of the Russian government’s war against Ukraine, was gunned down just outside the Kremlin.  Russia’s increasingly repressive government has eroded the democratic institutions that ensure a government’s accountability to its people. A free and independent media is virtually nonexistent and the remaining state-controlled media is used to propagandize disinformation, fear, bigotry, and aggression. Azerbaijan’s Record Draws Sharp Criticism In 2015 Azerbaijan unilaterally shuttered the OSCE Mission in Baku, effectively blocked the OSCE’s independent election observation in October, and sentenced journalist-heroine Khadija Ismayilova to 7 ½ years in prison for reporting on government corruption.  The government of Azerbaijan has also escalated pressure against the family members of its critics, in a further effort to stifle dissent.  As a consequence, throughout the HDIM, Azerbaijan was the subject of singular attention and criticism. In one particularly sharp exchange with the moderator during the discussion of fundamental freedoms in the digital age, Azerbaijan challenged its critics to name at least 25 of an estimated 100 political prisoners.  A partial list – 25 names – is below. Abilov, Abdul Aliyev, Intigam Aliyev, Nijat Akhundov, Rashadat Guliyev, Araz Hasanov, Nasimi Hashimli, Parviz Hazi, Seymur Ismayilova, Khadija Jabrayilova, Valida Jafarov, Rasul Karimov, Fara Mammadli, Anar Mammadov, Hilal Mammadov, Igar Mammadov, Omar Mirkadirov, Rauf Ramazanov, Rashad Rustamov, Aliabbas Rustamzada, Ilkin Seyidov, Elnur Yagublu, Tofig Yunusov, Arif** Yunus, Leyla** Zakharchenko, Irina **Leyla and Arif Yunus have been released from prison since the HDIM but remain under house arrest.

  • Azerbaijani Government is Committed to Hold Democratic Elections, Ambassador Assures Helsinki Commissioners

    WASHINGTON – Azerbaijani Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev has assured leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) that President Heydar Aliev is determined to hold democratic elections this year after scores of citizens were arrested and injured for speaking out against the incumbent government. In a series of meetings over the past week with Commission Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Ranking Member Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Ambassador Pashayev discussed preparations for November's parliamentary election and the growing tensions in Azerbaijan between the government and the opposition. The discussions were arranged at the initiative of the Azerbaijani side. In fact, the Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on Elections, Democratization and Human Rights in Azerbaijan on Thursday, May 25. "The Helsinki Commission, which has carefully followed elections in Azerbaijan for the last decade, welcomed the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Pashayev," said Chairman Smith. "After several elections which did not meet OSCE standards, the November parliamentary election is critical to the further development of democratization in Azerbaijan, as well as the country's stability." On April 29, opposition parties demanding changes in the election law and the composition of the Central Election Commission organized unsanctioned rallies in Baku, in which scores were arrested and injured. Rep. Hoyer said, "The Commission is extremely concerned about the violent confrontations on April 29. Future rallies are planned, with the next one scheduled for May 20. It is imperative that freedom of assembly be safeguarded while Azerbaijan's authorities and opposition parties work out an arrangement that will avert potential clashes." Ambassador Pashayev assured Commission members that President Heydar Aliev is determined to hold democratic elections in November. He said that the authorities are willing to take opposition concerns into account and meet the opposition half way. Ambassador Pashayev expressed confidence that agreement would be reached on holding demonstrations and, with the intercession of the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), a compromise will be found on the election law and the Central Election Commission. Rep. Pitts welcomed Ambassador Pashayev's assurances: "The experience of the past elections has resulted in deep distrust between opposition parties and the government. This election offers a chance to overcome that legacy and consolidate Azerbaijani society," he said. This week, ODIHR representatives will be in Baku for meetings with the authorities and opposition parties, and will offer suggestions about reforming the Central Election Commission. Chairman Smith said, "The Helsinki Commission will follow with keen interest the progress of the negotiations. We hope to see a parliamentary election in November that is free and fair, in which all sides can accept the official results."

  • Religious Freedom in Southeastern Europe

    By H. Knox Thames, CSCE Counsel While the free practice of religion is generally enjoyed in Southeastern Europe, problematic policies exist that run counter to commitments made when countries from the region joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Issues range from discriminatory legal schemes denying small religious communities registration to harsh government actions against unpopular religious groups and their leaders. As will be discussed, having a legal mechanism for religious groups to achieve juridical personhood is important in ensuring religious freedom for all. Furthermore, this does not necessitate the creation of special religion laws, as legal status can be established through tax or corporation laws. Albanian and Bosnian Examples Despite shortcomings in other areas, Albania’s system for conferring registration and legal status to religious communities could serve as a model to others in the region. All religious groups with at least five members and meeting minimal criteria may obtain legal and non-profit status under the Law on Associations, the same status given to any applicant group, whether religious or secular. Albania’s neutral approach avoids the problematic entanglements of special religion laws common elsewhere in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina missed an opportunity to lead by example, as many parts of its recently passed Law on Freedom of Religion and the Legal Position of Churches and Religious Communities are well constructed, explicitly protecting manifestations of religious belief while limiting the ability of the government to interfere in the internal affairs of a religious group. Unfortunately, the law also contains troubling provisions which include penalties against free speech while setting numerical thresholds for obtaining legal status. For unregistered groups to qualify for official status, they must meet a membership threshold of at least 300 citizens. The law could be brought into harmony with OSCE commitments, should the Bosnian parliament amend the law, either expunging or significantly reducing this numerical requirement. While there has been marked improvement in recent years, the lack of physical security for minority religious communities and their places of worship as well as ineffective law enforcement and judicial action remain real problems. Police and prosecutors in Bosnia and Herzegovina have proven slow or unwilling to protect minority groups in some areas. The answer is not a specially crafted religion law with novel criminal penalties, but better enforcement of current laws by police and determined prosecutions by authorities. OSCE Leadership: Bulgaria and Slovenia Despite Bulgaria’s status as OSCE Chairman-in-Office in 2004, religious freedom conditions took a turn for the worse when, in July, the authorities seized properties used by the alternative Bulgarian Orthodox synod for more than 10 years. The 2002 Law on Religions blatantly favors the Bulgarian Orthodox Church over the alternative Orthodox synod and other religious groups, thereby providing legal cover for the church seizures. While there is no numerical threshold for registration, the legal system established by the law appears open to manipulation and arbitrary decisions. Additionally, the sanctions available under the Law on Religions are also ambiguous yet far-reaching, potentially restricting a variety of religious freedom rights. It is not too late for Bulgarian authorities to erase this dark spot by immediately reinstating to the alternative synod full control of the seized properties until the courts settle the dispute. The overall situation for religious freedom is good in Slovenia, which became Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE on January 1, 2005. The registration system for religious communities is simple, and there are no numerical thresholds or formal requirements to overcome. While the small Muslim community in Ljubljana has experienced problems in obtaining permission to build a mosque, it appears the matter is being resolved. One city counselor successfully initiated a referendum in May opposing the zoning regulation change to allow the building of the mosque. However, the Constitutional Court found the referendum to be unconstitutional, thereby removing this hurdle to construction. It is hoped there will be no further bureaucratic delays, so construction can begin as Slovenia takes up the OSCE chairmanship. Law and Practice in Croatia and Macedonia While the freedom to practice religion is generally respected in Croatia, the Law on the Legal Status of Religious Communities passed in July 2002 falls short of OSCE commitments, establishing a discriminatory, tiered system of registration. For a new religious group to enjoy the rights and benefits available with the higher Religious Communities status, it must demonstrate a membership of at least 500 individuals and be registered under the lesser Religious Association status for five years. Benefits explicitly given to Religious Communities include: freedom to operate independently; capacity to determine their internal organization; freedom to conduct religious meetings in their own or leased space; tax exemptions; the right to establish schools; and ability to receive state funding. Considering Croatia’s candidacy for the European Union, current EU members France, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia do not use membership thresholds in conferring registration. In addition to the excessive numerical threshold and the five-year prohibition on registering new groups as Religious Communities, the law declares that the name and insignia of a religious group may not contain the official names and insignia of other countries. Doing so will cause the denial of registration. In addition, it is unclear under the law whether Religious Communities or Associations may legally conduct meetings in private homes or apartments. To lessen the likelihood of problems in the future and to set a positive example for others, Croatia should correct these deficiencies, as well as eliminate or significantly reduce the 500-member threshold. The legal framework governing religious freedom in Macedonia is ambiguous, due to Constitutional Court decisions striking down provisions of the 1997 Law on Religious Communities and Religious Groups, such as the numerical threshold for registration. Since religious groups are required to register, the lack of a clear mechanism can be problematic. Adding to the confusion, the U.S. State Department reports that the remaining provisions of the religion law are not consistently applied, leading to arbitrary delays in granting registration. The government could easily close this gap by creating simple avenues to obtain equal status either through the civil or administrative code. In addition to these legal problems, concern exists about the situation surrounding Bishop Jovan (Zoran Vraniskovski). Macedonian officials, in response to the ecclesiastical dispute concerning the status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, have over-reacted to Jovan’s activities on behalf of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Authorities in January 2004 arrested Jovan for conducting a church service in a private apartment. Responding to complaints of neighbors about disturbing the peace is appropriate, but sentencing him to 18 months in jail for “causing national, racial or religious hate, discord and intolerance” is excessive and unjustified. Escalating things further, police officials in October reportedly bulldozed the foundations of a new chapel Jovan’s followers had begun to build, allegedly because local authorities had not received permission to start construction. (There is also concern about reports the government intends to demolish another Serbian Orthodox Church established in the village of Luzani.) Those sympathetic to the larger issues surrounding the Macedonian Orthodox Church and its status should be among the first to defend the rights of others to participate in the church of their choosing. The government, at least, must exhibit more restraint and end these harassments, and also pay reparations for the destroyed buildings. Problematic Draft Laws Elsewhere The legal framework for Serbia remains uncertain, since the 1976 communist-era law was abandoned in 1993. A draft religion law circulated earlier this year contained numerous shortcomings, blatantly tilting the playing field in favor of seven “traditional” communities and establishing the numerical threshold of 1000 members for new groups to register. Despite improvements, the new draft micromanages the affairs of religious groups, while making contingent most of the rights and benefits available to religious communities on the meeting of the burdensome 1000-member threshold. For smaller groups, this will result in the serious limitation of their activities; the draft prohibits unregistered groups from renting or owning land for worship, using private apartments for meetings, holding public events, receiving donations or opening schools or orphanages. Registration can be revoked for vague and arbitrary reasons – if a group “destroys family” or “disrupts spiritual integrity . . . for the purpose of . . . spreading its doctrine.” The draft reaches into the internal affairs of religious groups, as all are “obliged” to “inspire understanding” of others and not “spread lies, prejudices or intolerance” against other faiths. In addition, local officials would be empowered to monitor how religious groups use voluntary contributions. Serbian authorities are urged to seek technical assistance and input from individuals on the OSCE Panel of Experts on Religious Freedom or Belief, just as their predecessors at the federal, Yugoslav level did roughly two years ago, in order to develop a new draft that comports with international norms and practice. Regarding other issues, a dispute over a Romani church in Leskovac will be resolved when municipal authorities fulfill a pledge to provide some of the land nearby for an alternative site. The State Department reports the Belgrade Islamic community continues to have problems obtaining land and government approval to open an Islamic cemetery. In addition, in response to the burning of two mosques in March, reports indicate that 12 people of the 100 plus arrested have been charged with criminal offenses, and news of convictions should be forthcoming. There is also concern about religious freedom in Kosovo, as reportedly only three individuals have been found guilty for their involvement in the March violence that resulted in the destruction or damage of 30 Serbian Orthodox Churches and monasteries. The two-year prison sentences issued were suspended, making the penalties nothing more than a slap on the wrist. In addition, recent legislative initiatives are troubling, as the latest draft of the Law on Religious Freedom and Legal Status of Religious Communities falls short of international standards. The drafting process has been closed to minority religious communities, as well. The comments of minority communities should be actively sought and fully considered during the public debate. Among its many problematic portions, the draft creates the preferential status of a Religious Community, while providing virtually no rights for the lesser Union of Natural Persons. Small or new groups are prevented from obtaining Religious Community status, as they must have 500 members and have been operating in Kosovo for at least five years, but it is unclear how that time is tolled. Only Religious Communities can publish materials, either in print or electronically, or obtain funds from voluntary contributions. The draft unduly limits speech and activities of all groups, stating they shall not “disrupt other religious communities, or citizens without religious convictions, in public manifestation of religion or other conviction.” The government may also select certain religious groups to participate in the Committee for Relations with Religious Communities, thereby giving favored faiths an inappropriate degree of oversight or veto over other religious groups. Lastly, for existing Religious Communities, the law would make rights contingent on reregistering successfully within six months of passage. There is growing concern by reports coming out of Romania regarding a new draft religion law being reviewed by a parliamentary subcommittee. Reliable sources indicate this legislation is based on the highly flawed 1999 draft, which set the numerical threshold for registration at 0.5% of Romania’s population, or over 100,000 people. If reports are true, it is deeply concerning that the parliament would resurrect this seriously problematic bill rather than starting afresh and incorporating the views of interested Romanian religious communities. The OSCE Panel of Experts would be willing to provide technical assistance if invited by the government, and such a gesture would help ensure the legislation upholds all OSCE commitments on religious freedom.

  • Helsinki Commission Concerned with Proposed Law to Change Roma Term

    WASHINGTON--Leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) expressed concern today in advance of the Romanian Senate's consideration of a proposal to change the term used for one of the country's largest ethnic minorities, Roma, to "Tsigan" -- a term widely viewed as pejorative by Romani communities, including those in the United States. "I was stunned to hear that Romania is considering changing the official term used for Roma to 'Tsigan,'" said Commission Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD). "Ostensibly, this change would prevent people from confusing members of the ethnic Roma minority with members of the ethnic Romanian majority. This makes no sense, especially since the term 'Roma' has become the term most widely used by Romani organizations internationally and is used by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe." The current legislative proposal comes at a time when Romanian nationals are facing escalating bigotry in some other EU countries. Earlier this year, France targeted Roma from Romania for ethnically-based expulsion. Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) said, "The change of terms being considered seems to be really about stoking prejudice against Romania's largest and most persecuted minority. The argument that the term Roma is confusing just doesn't hold up. No one in Rome is demanding that Romania change its name because their similar city and country names are 'too confusing.' This proposal would essentially return Romania to a discredited policy of the communist government of Ion Iliescu."  In 1995, a Romanian government decree directed that Roma could not be identified in official documents by the name "Roma" but instead had to be called "Tsigan," a word of Greek origin that is considered offensive to many Roma. Numerous Romani NGOs and the U.S. delegation denounced the decree during a meeting on tolerance convened in Bucharest in May 1995. After the 1996 elections, the decree fell into disuse and, in September 1999, the Minister for National Minorities  formally recommended that the government use the term "Rom/Tsigan" in official documents.

  • Political Imprisonment in Ukraine

    Madam President. I would like to address the current situation in Ukraine, an important country in the heart of Europe, a bellwether for democratic development in the region, and the current Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE.  Let me first welcome the release from prison Sunday of former Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs and leading opposition figure Yuri Lutsenko. Mr. Lutsenko had been convicted on politically motivated charges and incarcerated since December 2010. President Yanukovych's pardon of Mr. Lutsenko is an encouraging step in the right direction. I also welcome the pardon of former Environment Minister Heorhiy Filipchuk, who also served as a member of Ms. Tymoshenko's Cabinet and had been released last year after his sentence was suspended. By pardoning Mr. Lutsenko and Mr. Filipchuk, President Yanukovych is indicating not only a willingness to resolve what has been a major irritant in Ukraine's relations with the United States and the EU, but also a stain on Ukraine's democratic credentials.  At the same time, I remain deeply concerned about the politically motivated imprisonment of Ukrainian opposition figure and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been incarcerated since August 2011.  Mrs. Tymoshenko's case stands out as a significant illustration of Ukraine's backsliding with respect to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law since she was defeated by President Yanukovych in February 2010. The United States, EU, and Canada have repeatedly expressed concerns about the application of selective justice against political opponents, their flawed trials, conditions of detention, and the denial of their ability to participate in last October's parliamentary elections.  As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, which has long been committed to Ukraine's independence and democratic development, I am especially mindful of Ukraine's 2013 OSCE chairmanship. Like any Chair-in-Office, Ukraine faces formidable tasks in leading a multilateral organization that operates on the basis of consensus, which includes 57 countries ranging from mature democracies to oppressive dictatorships. The United States wants Ukraine to succeed, but the reality is that the politically motivated imprisonment of Ms. Tymoshenko casts a cloud over its chairmanship. A Chair-in-Office must itself have strong democratic credentials if it is to succeed in encouraging reform in other countries.  Furthermore, democratic regression in Ukraine has harmed U.S.-Ukrainian bilateral relations, preventing a traditionally strong partnership from realizing its full potential. It has also slowed down the process of Ukraine's drawing closer to the EU, which is that country's stated foreign policy priority, manifested in the still-delayed signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. More than half a year has gone by since the unanimous adoption of S. Res. 466, calling for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko.  The Ukrainian authorities now need to follow up on the important step they have taken in freeing Yuri Lutsenko. They need to free Ms. Tymoshenko and restore her civil and political rights. By demonstrating commitment to the rule of law and human rights principles embodied by the OSCE, Ukraine will strengthen the credibility of its chairmanship and show it is serious about being a full-fledged member of the democratic community of nations.  I strongly urge the Ukrainian government to resolve the case of Ms. Tymoshenko. 

  • Schneerson Collection Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON – The Chairman of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), announced that the Commission will hold the following hearing on the efforts of the Chabad community and the U.S. Government to recover the “Schneerson Collection” of sacred and irreplaceable Jewish books and manuscripts from the Russian Government: The Schneerson Collection and Historical Justice 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM Wednesday, April 6, 2005 216 Hart Senate Office Building Witnesses: Amb. Edward B. O’Donnell, Jr, Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, Department of State Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of Chabad-Lubavitch on the West Coast, senior executive member of Agudas Chasidei Chabad-Lubavitch and the delegation appointed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson to secure the return of the Schneerson Collection. Marshall B. Grossman Esq., Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan LLP, attorneys for Agudas Chasidei Chabad-Lubavitch in the effort to recover the Schneerson Collection. Jon Voight, Academy Award-winning actor and advocate for human rights issues. Leon Fuerth, Research Professor of International Affairs at The George Washington University and former national security advisor to Vice President Albert Gore. Rabbi Joseph Wineberg, noted author on Judaism, senior member of Chabad-Lubavitch who survived the bombing of Warsaw with Rabbi Schneerson and preserved parts of the Schneerson Collection. Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, former assistant chief-of-staff to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson, chairman of the international Chabad-Lubavitch social services and educational organizations, senior executive member and secretary for Agudas Chasidei Chabad-Lubavitch. The Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States or a representative has been invited to testify. A transcript of the hearing will be available on the Helsinki Commission's web site within 24 hours of the hearing.

  • Remarks at the OSCE Conference on Combating Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding

    Thank you and good afternoon. I have been on the road the past 2 weeks in Warsaw, Poland, Israel, Ramallah, and in a Roma camp in Kosovo. As many of you know, I am the immediate past President of the OSCE’s Parliamentary Assembly. In that capacity, and as a member of the United States House of Representatives, I have worked with my colleagues in the OSCE PA like Ambassador Strohal and Professor Gert Weisskirchen to help institute a focus on anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance within the OSCE. Today I will tell you a little about my history as an African-American living during the civil rights era and how the United States came to develop some of its tolerance laws. I hope we can all learn from my words how best to tackle the scourge of anti-Semitism, racism and other “-isms” that exists in each of our countries. It was only 40 years ago when “separate but, equal” was a law in the United States and Whites could legally discriminate against blacks and others by having separate facilities. Legally, I, nor any other black person, could sit next to a white person on a bus, eat at the same restaurant, or even use the same restrooms, or drink out of the same water fountains. While facilities were separate as the law required, they were definitely not equal. After years of struggle, I and many others of my generation, standing on our forbearers’ shoulders, created the climate that enabled Congress and then-President Lyndon Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That groundbreaking law ended legal discrimination in the United States and served as the foundation for other laws; such as the historic Voting Rights Act, which prohibited discriminatory voting practices, and the Fair Housing Act, which prohibited discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. However, the days of colonization and slavery, made it difficult for whites to accept laws now stating that blacks and others should be treated equally. To maintain the status quo, white supremacy groups attacked blacks and their supporters to instil widespread fear in the black community and anyone else calling for change. The Kennedys, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated. Black churches were burned. But the violence had the unintended effect of bringing Americans together to support civil rights legislation. Americans realized that extending Constitutional rights to some and not all would be the undoing of America. So, in the 80s and 90s, the brutal murders of racial and gender minorities and flames atop the rooftops of churches and synagogues again became a beacon for change. Congress reacted by passing hate crimes laws to collect statistics, impose longer prison sentences, and investigate arsons and rebuild churches and refurbish synagogues that had been decimated. Until the Civil Rights Act in 1964, race and class-based preferential access had been reserved for whites. For example, the U.S. government funded GI bill, predominantly provided free college education and housing assistance to white World War II veterans. And, so called ‘legacy rules’ guaranteed college admission to family members of white alumni. Affirmative action did help make up for the decades of missed opportunities by qualified blacks blocked from attending top universities and upper-level jobs irregardless of their intelligence and skills. Now, while my country may be seen somewhat as a model for tolerance and anti-discrimination laws, I sadly must admit that our work is not yet done. Just last year, the U.S. Congress reimplemented its historic Voting Rights act the right. Those of you watching our presidential elections in 2000 and 2004 may remember the irregularities that prevented thousands of predominantly poor and minority voters from having their votes counted as a result of discriminatory tactics. This was purposeful and has forever altered United States and world history. Our hopes are that in passing these new voting rights laws, Americans will no longer experience discrimination at the voting booth. We are all aware of the OSCE’s unmatched work in election observation that hinges upon the teaming of ODHIR bureaucrats with seasoned elected officials from the PA under the great leadership of my peer Ambassador Strohal. I urge you all to watch our elections, and when the invitation to monitor comes next year… Come. Monitor our elections and see if our laws are being upheld. And I encourage you all to do the same in other OSCE spheres. Just months ago, the U.S. House of Representatives expanded our hate crimes laws to include individuals targeted because of their gender, sexual orientation, or disability. Though controversial, Americans ultimately agreed that there is an obligation to protect not only those with whom we share common characteristics, ideas, or belief systems, but all Americans. Assuring the protection and rights of all has also been a concern in the wake of September 11th for Muslim Americans. Despite a recent survey showing that most Muslims came to America and here in Europe in search of a better way of life, desire to work hard, uphold democratic values, and reject religious extremism, they are now often treated as second class citizens. They question whether European or American dream is still achievable for them, or even truly exists. As an African-American who lived during the Civil Rights era, I, too, have loudly questioned whether the rights enshrined in our United States Constitution applied to me. However, I now understand that the beauty of my country is that it allows for the capacity and space to change our legal and legislative system as time and circumstance dictates. The difficulty is determining whether the time for change is now and what changes should be made. I hope that under the Chairman-in-office’s recommendation, the upcoming conference in Cordoba will raise further awareness about anti-Muslim sentiments and stereotypes throughout the OSCE region. This is a growing problem and anti-Semitism continues to be a problem both of which we must address, whether all of us in this room are willing to admit it or not. There are no overnight solutions. Sustained activity on issues of tolerance and civil rights by introducing new laws when necessary and ensuring implementation are a necessity if we are to keep history from revisiting itself here in the EU, United States, and elsewhere in the world. We cannot forget that only 40 years ago, civil rights legislation in my country was non-existent. And without it, it is safe to say, I would not be standing here today. Places where I was once challenged to vote, restaurants where I was unable to eat... Today’s children are clearly in need of the same and hopefully a better situation than mine. Be they in the United States or elsewhere in the OSCE region. When I see Paris burning, I see the Detroit and LA riots and wonder if affirmative action or other inclusionary laws will follow. Requirements for religious registration in some places in Europe cause me to wonder where continued anti-Semitism and the world’s fear of Islam may lead and if it will ultimately trample on our freedom of religion. Just this past Tuesday, I was in the northern Kosovo Roma camps. When I think of the abject poverty I saw there along with testaments of Roma being sent to different schools than their peers despite their intelligence, I can only think of my own experiences riding to 60 miles to school each day with hand me down books, no cafeteria, and no foreign languages taught. The OSCE with the support of the United States must continue its focus on the situation of the Roma and Sinti. When I addressed this conference yesterday, I pointed out the critical role that the OSCE PA played in establishing this conference. Indeed, it is fair to say that we have come a long way. Many of the countries sitting in this room today have written and passed anti-discrimination laws as a direct result of the OSCE’s work to combat anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, and other forms of discrimination. Now we must implement them! And I for one stand in support of the Special Envoy, Personal Representatives, and NGOs. All of us are necessary to achieve positive results. The reality remains that anti-Semitism – the initial reason why we called for a convening such as this – continues to run rampant in all of our streets, including my own. In fact, over 1500 incidents of anti-Semitic acts were recorded in the U.S. alone last year and the continued stereotypic misperceptions of Jews within the OSCE region are only increasing the propensity for violence. In my country, we are trying to stop these attacks. All of you in these countries with our help must do the same in yours. Member states need to collect such statistics, for anti-Semitic attacks and all hate crimes. It is in this way that we can best fully monitor and address these heinous actions. In the words of the African-American scholar WEB Dubois, “There can be no perfect democracy curtailed by color, race, or poverty. And I would add religion and gender. But with all, we accomplish all, even peace.” America’s history and its use of legislation to combat intolerances and discrimination can be a working blueprint for peace. I urge you to use this blue print and learn from our successes. I also urge you to learn from and not repeat our mistakes. It is time to implement our wonderful ideas from five years of these conferences. But, please – more action and less talk! Thank you very much.  

  • Human Rights and Democratization in Azerbaijan

    Azerbaijan has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and plays a pivotal role in diversifying sources of energy. A moderate Muslim country, Azerbaijan enjoys good relations with the United States. On human rights, however, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe have numerous concerns, including freedom of the media, political prisoners and the conduct of elections. With the presidential contest in October 2008, Azerbaijan would have an opportunity to hold an election that meets OSCE commitments, as well as implement other reforms. The hearing examined the state of human rights and democratization in Azerbaijan and discussed how U.S. – Azerbaijan cooperation could help promote advances.

  • Report: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States (Part 4)

    The Environmental Protection Agency has revised its Worker Protection Standard (WPS) dealing with the protection of agricultural workers  from pesticide exposure (40 CFR Part 170). The new Worker Protection Standard contains requirements designed to reduce the risks of illness or injury resulting from pesticide handlers' and agricultural workers' occupational exposures and agricultural workers' and other persons' accidental exposures to pesticides used in the production of agricultural plants on farms, nurseries, greenhouses, and forests.

  • HELSINKI COMMISSION BRIEFING: THE STATE-SANCTIONED MARGINALIZATION OF CHRISTIANS IN WESTERN EUROPE

    WASHINGTON —The Helsinki Commission hosted a briefing in Washington, D.C. on “The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western Europe” in order to look more closely at recent reports and studies showing an alarming rise in social and governmental hostility toward religion in general—and Christianity in particular—in Western Europe. This briefing follows seminars on the same topic held in the European Parliament and by the OSCE in Vienna and Rome. The Helsinki Commission was briefed by Professor Tom Farr, Dr. Roger Trigg, and Roger Kiska. Professor Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, noted a three-year Pew Forum study that shows “of all the regions of the world, social hostilities toward religion are rising most rapidly, not in the Middle East, Africa, or Asia, but in Europe.” The study ranks the United Kingdom 17th out of 200 countries in social hostilities toward religion. Germany was ranked 23rd and France 25th. Professor Farr explained that these countries also showed significant increases in government restrictions on religion: “Between 2007 and 2010 government restrictions in the UK increased by 63%, in France by 20%, and in Germany by 23%.” Professor Farr underscored how the current state of affairs is in tension with Europe’s history as the intellectual birthplace of religious freedom, as well as with its commitment to democracy. Dr. Roger Trigg, Academic Director, Kellogg Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Oxford University and Associate Scholar of Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University noted with concern the growing European trend to pit human rights against religious freedom. He observed that the English courts are now, through the Human Rights Act of 1998 and the Equality Act of 2010, placing “more importance on ‘equality,’ and tend to enforce non-discrimination on grounds of race, sex, and sexual orientation, rather than because of religion.” Dr. Trigg emphasized that, historically, Britain and the United States did not “see religion on the one hand, human rights on the other,” but rather “rights as growing out of religion”—particularly the right to equality. “We are equal because we are equal in the sight of God. We are free because God has given us free will,” Dr. Trigg explained.    Roger Kiska, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has intervened in four religious freedom cases from the UK currently pending before the European Court of Human Rights, noted that in all four cases, “the applicants…were fired or pushed out of their jobs because they sought reasonable accommodations for their religious beliefs where such accommodations were fairly de minimus and absolutely no business hardship would have occurred.”  Kiska also noted the censorship of the cross and other religious symbols from the public square, growing restrictions on parental rights in the area of the education of their children, and limitation on free expression—including religious expression—through “hate speech” laws.             The full transcript of the briefing can be found on the Helsinki Commission Web site. 

  • Prospects Fade for Free and Fair Belarus Elections

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission leaders today called upon Belarus to allow international Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors to observe the country’s September 9, 2001 presidential elections. OSCE officials have sought to monitor the elections, only to be snubbed by the Alexander Lukashenka regime. “The refusal of the Belarusian authorities to issue invitations to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to observe the presidential elections does not bode well for the integrity of the election process in Belarus,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). A contingent of ODIHR long-term observers were expected to arrive in Minsk on August 1 to monitor the candidates’ registration process and the formation of local election commissions. The OSCE Istanbul Charter commits participating States to invite ODIHR to observe their elections. ODIHR is Europe’s principal election observation body. “With little more than four weeks before the elections, time is rapidly running out,” Chairman Campbell added. “Refusal to allow ODIHR entry to observe the elections would constitute a first, as no other participating State has ever blocked ODIHR’s observation of elections.” “Forbidding ODIHR observation flies in the face of assurances by Belarus that it is doing its best to create conditions for elections that meet international democratic standards,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “We’re becoming increasingly concerned about the pre-election climate, including reports of harassment of activists and independent election observers and seizures of American computer equipment being used by a non-governmental organization and independent newspaper. The Justice Ministry did not inspire confidence through a statement last week warning newspapers that publishing information about unregistered parties, trade unions or other organizations constitutes a criminal offense.” “Let there be no illusions, that if Belarus’ elections are not free and fair, self-imposed isolation will only grow and relations with democratic countries, including the United States, will only deteriorate,” Smith said. “The ball, Mr. Lukashenka, is in your court.” The Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. The Commission’s Internet web site is located at http://www.csce.gov. The Commission’s work on issues surrounding Belarus and the Lukashenka regime may be accessed through the Internet at http://www.csce.gov/state_query.cfm?state_id=6.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Welcomes Candidacies of Germany, Austria for Future OSCE Chairs

    WASHINGTON—On November 4, Germany formally announced its candidacy for the 2016 chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), followed by Austria, which announced its candidacy for the 2017 chairmanship. In response, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, issued the following joint statement: “We welcome the initiative demonstrated by the German and Austrian governments during a pivotal moment in the history of the OSCE. The leadership of these nations, which have been committed to the Helsinki Process from the very beginning, will be vital. We thank them in advance for their willingness to lead and for their drive to advance the cause of human rights, democracy, and international cooperation among our participating States.” The OSCE Chairmanship rotates annually among the 57 participating States, and is decided by consensus. The post of the Chairperson-in-Office (CiO) is held by the Foreign Minister of the participating State selected to hold the Chairmanship. The CiO is assisted by the previous and succeeding Chairpersons; the three of them together are known as the Troika, which ensures continuity and consistency in the OSCE’s work. Switzerland currently holds the OSCE Chairmanship, and Serbia will assume the OSCE Chairmanship in January 2015.

  • Cardin, Hastings Denounce Reprisals, Restrictions on Free Media

    WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) today marked World Press Freedom Day by assessing developments effecting free media throughout the 56-country OSCE region. “Journalism in general faces more challenges than ever right now, but investigative journalists focused on exposing corruption and human rights abuses often face sharp reprisals, including murder, as a result of their work,” Chairman Cardin said. “I commend independent journalists who, often at great personal risk, pursue truth wherever it may lead, frequently putting themselves at odds with ruling powers in their countries. These courageous individuals play a critical role in advancing democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” Chairman Cardin and Co-Chairman Hastings announced plans to convene a Helsinki Commission hearing in June to focus attention on media freedom challenges in the OSCE region. The Co-Chairmen will also raise the issue in July at the Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly which this year bears the theme: “Rule of Law: Combating Transnational Crime and Corruption.” “I am disturbed by increasing attempts to muzzle free media in the OSCE region,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “As a legislator, I am particularly concerned that laws are being written in some countries to impose strict control over the media, including crippling penalties for defamation, burdensome registration requirements, and censorship of online communications. Bloggers, often the most independent of journalists with less financial or physical protection, are particularly vulnerable to harsh treatment from authoritarian governments.” A Commission briefing, “Violence and Impunity: Life in the Russian Newsroom,” last November, drew particular attention to the situation there. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported last week that the cases of 18 murdered journalists remain unsolved in Russia. At least six investigative journalists were slain in the OSCE countries in 2009. The recently released Freedom House annual press freedom index listed three OSCE countries -- Belarus, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- as particularly egregious for the wide-ranging restrictions they impose on independent media. “In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate,” the report noted. Restrictive media environments often indicate broader restrictions elsewhere in society, especially in terms of democratic development, human rights and the rule of law, cornerstones of the Helsinki Process.

  • Statement on USCIRF Report on Religious Freedom in Iraq by Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin

    WASHINGTON - We commend the tireless work of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, whose fight against religious repression and intolerance has truly enhanced the United States’ role in addressing the challenges we face worldwide. USCIRF’s most recent report on religious freedom conditions in Iraq is a critical tool to help U.S. policymakers address the circumstances of religious freedom within minority communities. As Co-Chairmen of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, we remain extremely concerned about the rise of intolerance and discrimination directed toward members of religious and other minority groups. It is imperative that we not ignore these acts of intolerance, but instead face them head on. Religious extremism in Iraq continues to threaten all minority communities. The decline of religious pluralism is most troubling, which has the potential of emptying Iraq of its minority communities. The Iraqi government has a moral obligation to protect the rights of all minority communities by implementing concrete solutions to ensure their safety. As we recently commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, sadly, Iraq has not upheld this declaration that would guarantee freedom of religion to all. Instead, we have seen the manifestation of violence and criminal attacks against religious minority communities, who are not protected by their own government and have been forced to flee. USCIRF’s report not only offers an insightful look into abuses against religious minorities, but also the need to improve conditions for refugees and internally displaced persons. As their resources are depleted and they remain stranded, jobless, and deprived of essential services – they will look for any means to survive. This is a recipe for disaster. The United States must take the lead and provide a ‘humanitarian surge’ in responding to this crisis. The future of the Middle East depends on it. Moving ahead this will remain a top priority of the Helsinki Commission as we commence the 111th Congress next month. In cooperation with USCIRF, we look forward to working together to advance human rights around the globe.

  • Human Rights in Turkey

    In this briefing, Mary Sue Hafner, Deputy Staff Director to the Commission, addressed the state of human rights in Turkey and its failure to build effective, enduring democratic institutions.  Hafner highlighted the most pressing issues as being torture, the rights of minorities, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. Panelists focused on Turkey’s NATO membership, the assumption that Tukey would share values and ideologies with other NATO members, and the policy challenge their membership creates for the United States when battling Turkey’s human rights abuses. They also emphasized Turkey’s history of torturing their Kurdish population and questioned its ability to accommodate legitimate Kurdish cultural aspirations while maintaining its integrity as a state and a functioning democracy.

  • 2009 OSCE Mediterranean Conference in Cairo is a Sucess

    By Alex Johnson, Policy Advisor and Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel In December 2009, Commission staff attended the 2009 OSCE Mediterranean Conference on “The Mediterranean Partners and the OSCE: Cooperation Toward Enhanced Security and Stability” in Cairo, Egypt. This conference brought together 33 of the 56 OSCE participating States, four of the Asian Partners for Cooperation (Australia, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand), and representation from all of the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. The Palestinian National Authority attended at the invitation of the host government. The conference featured three sessions focusing on the politico-military aspects of security in the OSCE area, implications of the current financial crisis on migration, and prospects for OSCE Mediterranean Cooperation. These sessions featured presentations from Mediterranean Partner OSCE delegations, academics, international organizations, and relevant ministry representatives. Participation in this conference was at a high level with the majority of the participating States and all of the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation represented by their Ambassadors to the OSCE. Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE in attendance included a Vice-President and officers of two of the Assembly’s General Committees. Discussion in all of the sessions was lively with active participation by the Ambassadors, particularly those representing the Mediterranean Partners, as well as other public and private sector participants. A number of themes emerged across the sessions including agreement that the partnership between the OSCE participating States and their Mediterranean Partners has strengthened. The establishment of the Partnership Fund and the Athens’ Ministerial invitation to the Partners to contribute to the Corfu Process are largely attributed with bolstering the strength of the Partnership. Findings included a future activity emphasis on specific areas of cooperation by setting both short and long-term goals and providing a mechanism to assess effectiveness. In addition, the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership should undertake its work in coordination with other regional organizations and institutions, through which the possibility of expanding the Partnership could be considered. Session 1: Politico-military aspects of security in the OSCE area and the Mediterranean The session’s moderators were Ambassador Ian Cliff, Head of the delegation of the United Kingdom to the OSCE and Ambassador Taous Feroukhi, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the OSCE. Panelists included Mr. Pascal Heyman, Deputy Director of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Center, Ambassador Gyorgy Molnar, Head of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Hungary to the OSCE, and Dr. Mostafa Elwy Saif, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Political Science, Cairo University and Member of the Shura Council. Ambassador Cliff opened the discussion by pointing out that the OSCE had developed expertise on crisis prevention and conflict resolution, particularly regarding protracted conflicts. He believes there has recently been some incremental progress. Pascal Heyman emphasized that the OSCE has developed a unique conflict prevention and resolution expertise through constant political dialogue, dedicated crisis management mechanisms such as fact-finding missions, the Conflict Prevention Center, confidence and security building measures and the establishment of field operations. While these are effective tools, Heyman maintained that workable and lasting conflict resolution depends ultimately on the political will of the participating States and the parties in a conflict. Ambassador Molnar spoke to the destabilizing consequences of transnational or multi-dimensional threats to security in the OSCE space. He noted that participating States are attempting to address these threats through the Maastricht Strategy and decisions adopted at both the Madrid and Athens Ministerials regarding transnational threats, combating terrorism, and promoting effective law enforcement and police training programs. Dr. Saif presented a detailed review of Egypt’s political and military security concerns and concluded that the primary challenges to his country’s security stem from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s regional and nuclear ambitions, water shortages, the political situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East. Ambassador Feroukhi said that the absence of a dedicated institutional forum in the Mediterranean region hampered the development of effective security mechanisms but felt that the development of confidence-building measures – particularly involving civil society and academic communities – should be encouraged as a first step. She also agreed that a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and better protection of the environment were vital for the stability and security of the Mediterranean region. All delegations who participated in the discussion welcomed the Athens Ministerial decision to invite input from the Partners for Cooperation on furthering the Corfu Process. A number of delegations raised the possibility of enlarging the Mediterranean Partnership to include the Palestinian National Authority, while others pointed out the difficulties of doing so, due to the fact that the OSCE is a state-based organization. The Partnership Fund was hailed as an effective tool to enhance the Mediterranean Partnership and it should continue to be used to sustain a culture of cooperation, including the possible creation of a clearing house on water issues within the OSCE. It was also stressed that the OSCE should coordinate its activities with relevant international and regional organizations. The moderators stated the following conclusions emanating from the discussion: The confidence and security building measures as well as early warning mechanisms developed in the framework of the OSCE could serve as a model and help to foster cooperation and confidence in the Mediterranean region; the participation of the Partners in the Corfu process should enhance the Mediterranean Partnership; and, the Partnership should move forward based on concrete, achievable objectives with possible long-term goals of establishing a Mediterranean conflict prevention center and developing regional codes of conduct to enhance dialogue and cooperation. Session 2: Implications of the current economic and financial crisis on migration The second session was moderated by Mr. Daman Bergant, Head of the OSCE Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, and panelists included Ambassador Omar Zniber, Head of the Delegation of the Kingdom of Morocco to the OSCE, and Ms. Rebecca Bardach, Director of the Center for International Migration and Integration of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Mr. Bergant began the session by explaining that the global economic and financial crisis has an impact on migration and development. He outlined several topics to guide the discussion including the development of cooperative migration policies between the OSCE and the Mediterranean Partners; dialogue on how to prevent and combat illegal migration; international and regional cooperation on preventing trafficking in human beings, including trafficking for forced labor; protecting the human rights of migrants, including through combating hate crimes; and, the role of migrants in promoting tolerance and non-discrimination. Ambassador Zniber spoke to the impact of the current economic crisis on both migrants and development. He pointed out that the impact of the crisis makes migrants even more vulnerable and they face increased discrimination and further marginalization in society. Decreasing remittances, said the Ambassador – 10 to 15% in 2009 according to the World Bank – are a destabilizing factor, impacting countries of origin like Morocco which are particularly dependent on revenues from abroad. The Ambassador welcomed the Athens Ministerial Council Decision on migration management and urged that the OSCE continue its work in this area, in particular, by facilitating dialogue, exchanging best practices and fighting discrimination against migrants. Specifically, he recommended that the OSCE and its Mediterranean Partners establish a working group on migration management and related security aspects; develop a multi-dimensional and long-term approach on migration management; promote regional cooperation and partnerships between all responsible parties including countries of origin, transit and destination, civil society and the private sector; create reintegration and training programs; and, protect the human rights of migrants and their families. Ms. Bardach gave a comprehensive review of migration issues impacting Israel. She explained that only in the last two decades has Israel seen a significant increase in migration flows across its borders. This is presenting challenges to the government in managing migration and dealing with large numbers of refugees, asylum seekers, and labor migrants, in addition to human smuggling and trafficking. While Israeli efforts to combat trafficking for sexual exploitation have resulted in marked progress, she said, efforts to combat labor trafficking are still in their infancy. Based on this experience, Ms. Bardach suggested that the OSCE should develop policies to address irregular recruitment practices and raise awareness about such practices; develop cooperation on both the regional and bilateral level to increase information sharing, strengthen border controls and address the humanitarian needs of migrants; develop culturally sensitive tools for law enforcement officials; and, improve the reception and registration of refugees, including assisted voluntary return. During the discussion following the panel presentations, a number of delegations echoed the view that the OSCE and its Mediterranean Partners should serve as a broad regional platform for a coordinated dialogue on migration, and should develop a comprehensive strategy to prevent cross-border trafficking that includes the private sector. The contributors in this session demonstrated the need for better data collection and sharing regarding migration in the Euro-Mediterranean context. This goal was identified as a potential priority for the Partnership Fund. Proposals distributed by the Moroccan and Egyptian delegations have both cited the importance of developing research institutions, which could serve to further the goal of better data collection and expertise sharing. Session 3: Prospects for OSCE Mediterranean Cooperation The third session Chaired by Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Head of the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the OSCE and Chair of the OSCE Permanent Council, focused on a review of achievements to date in improving dialogue and cooperation between the participating States and the Mediterranean Partners, and developing effective follow-up on recommendations of previous seminars and ministerial declarations referencing the Partners. Featured speakers were Ambassador Makram Queisi, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the OSCE, and Mr. Agustin Nunez, Deputy Head of Mission of the Permanent Mission of Spain to the OSCE. Ambassador Queisi presented four areas in which he felt cooperation could improve the relationship between the OSCE and the Mediterranean region – environmental aspects of security such as soil erosion, desertification and water management including the possible creation of an environmental data collection center in the region; enhanced border security to combat terrorism and trafficking including cooperation with the Regional Counter Terrorism Training Center in Jordan; combating discrimination against Muslims; and developing nuclear non-proliferation strategies for the region. The Ambassador also stated his view that Partner status should be granted to the Palestinian National Authority as a confidence building measure. Mr. Nunez reviewed the development of the participating State’s cooperation with their Mediterranean Partners including increased participation by Mediterranean Partners in OSCE activities and recent examples of concrete cooperation on issues such as countering terrorism, promoting tolerance and freedom of the media, and enhancing border management. He emphasized the importance of having a strategic vision for the Partnership and commended the proposal by the Kazakh Chair of the Mediterranean Contact Group that three priority areas should be identified for developing projects to be financed by the Partnership Fund. Mr. Nunez concurred with Ambassador Queisi’s view that the Partnership should be enlarged to include the Palestinian National Authority and noted that Spain had circulated two food-for-thought papers on this topic in 2008. Following the presentations, active debate among the delegations ensued and focused primarily on the current status of the Partnership and its achievements to date, proposals for additional areas of cooperation, procedural improvements and the issue of possible enlargement of the Partnership. Enhanced cooperation in the areas of promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, freedom of the media, gender, combating trafficking in human beings, energy security, security aspects of climate change, water management and fighting corruption, drug trafficking and terrorism was discussed. It was suggested that working groups should be established to examine these issues and make recommendations for action. Participants also called for the establishment of a system for effective follow-up on recommendations and agreed proposals, as well as enhanced coordination with other regional institutions and organizations. The participants actively discussed the question of enlarging the Mediterranean Partnership with some participants supporting the granting of Partner status to the Palestinian National Authority as a confidence building measure conducive to dialogue and peace in the region. Debate over this particular consideration illuminated the need for an expeditious response to the request of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to become an OSCE Mediterranean Partner for Cooperation. It is apparent that a number of participating States and partners recognize the value of their participation in Mediterranean Dimension activities. Yet, disagreement arises when considering the implications of recognizing a territory as a full-fledged partner. Some participating States see the case of the PNA as unique in that there is already international agreement on the existence of a future Palestinian State. Other participating States believe that affording a territory official status sets a precedent for other territories seeking recognition in the OSCE region. A number of these leaders believe that a future Palestinian State should be granted partner status after formal international recognition. Thus, it will be unlikely that consensus on partnership with the PNA will be reached at this time and the OSCE Chair-in-Office should issue a formal response acknowledging this. The question of PNA participation will continue to mire productive dialogue on other opportunities for cooperation until a decisive response is issued by the OSCE Chair-in-Office. Alternatives for their participation should however be explored. Some possibilities include establishment of an alternative status of “observer” or other title within the framework of the Partners for Cooperation to allow for a transitional process of full recognition as a Partner. In addition, some sort of agreement should be established on recommended countries outside of the Mediterranean Partnership for invitations to OSCE Mediterranean Dimension activities. Conclusion: Future Considerations for Annual Conference Administration A tremendous success of the 2009 Mediterranean Conference was the engagement of the Ambassadors from the Mediterranean Partners in the agenda. Each panel featured a Mediterranean Partner Ambassador, which helped balance the contributions during the discussion. Previous conferences did not adequately balance the opportunities for contributions between the Mediterranean Partners and the OSCE participating States. In the most grievous of incidences, panelists and participating States at the 2008 Mediterranean Conference in Amman, Jordan took so much time during the discussion that contributions from representatives of the Partners were significantly curtailed. It only makes sense that the contributions of the Partners be prioritized when the purpose of the conference is enhancing cooperation with their respective countries. Meaningful participation by the Partners remains the only way to sustain the future of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension. A recurring challenge of the annual Mediterranean conference is a lack of willingness to host the event among the Mediterranean Partners. The venue question remains an issue that paralyzes cooperation among the Mediterranean Partners and has the potential to diminish the productivity of the conference each year. The venue question stems from a number of factors. Not only is the conference capital-intensive for the hosting State, political considerations regarding the participants in the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension keep Partners like Algeria and Tunisia from taking a leadership role in hosting the event. Thus, active Partners like Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Israel bear the burden of hosting the conference most frequently. Ownership of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension through hosting the conference and originating initiatives remains an ideal that the partnership should aspire to. However, it is not unprecedented that participating States would host the conference. Previous Mediterranean seminars were hosted by Greece (2002), Croatia (2001), Slovenia (2000), and Malta (1998), prior to the elevation of the event to a “conference” by the Greek chairmanship of the OSCE in 2008. Participating States have offered to host the upcoming 2010 conference. Proceeding with an established venue earlier in the year may provide for more time for substantive topic development. Such a deviation from Mediterranean Partner ownership of the event should be seen as an exception until a more appropriate mechanism for rotating the responsibility of hosting the conference is devised. The 2009 Mediterranean Conference was well executed by the Egyptian government, especially considering the short time between their final commitment to do so and the date of the event. However, NGO participation was notably missing. The 2008 OSCE Mediterranean Conference in Amman featured a session for NGOs from throughout the Mediterranean region on the day prior to the conference and subsequently included a robust NGO presence during the conference proceedings. OSCE Participating States led by the United States made extra-budgetary contributions to the OSCE Partnership Fund to help facilitate a robust NGO presence. International organization representatives that were invited to present on the session panels in the 2009 Cairo conference were among the few non-governmental participants present. It is true that participating States lack the wherewithal to contribute annually to facilitate an NGO presence especially given global fiscal challenges. However, exploring partnerships with appropriate foundations, endowments, and institutions involved in Euro-Mediterranean engagement may result in a consistent and strong NGO presence at events within the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension.

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