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Commission on security and cooperation in Europe

U. S. Helsinki Commission

Mission

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

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Chairman

Senator Roger F. Wicker

Co-Chairman

Representative Christopher H. Smith

  • Our International Impact
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  • Belarus' President Lukashenka Called on the Carpet by Helsinki Commission for Human Rights Violations

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe released the text of a letter to His Excellency Alyaksandr Lukashenka, President of the Republic of Belarus, expressing growing concern about violations of human rights, democracy and rule of law, specifically: the arrest yesterday of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in an "unsanctioned" march; the continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir; the disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar and others; increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals; the denial of registration of non-governmental organizations; the police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96; criminal charges against opposition activists; and, the initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday's Freedom March. The Commission has been concerned about this deterioration in Belarus for quite some time and has raised such issues with the Government of Belarus to little avail. The letter was signed by Commissioners Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), and Ranking Members Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD). The full text of the letter follows: Dear President Lukashenka: We are writing to express our serious and growing concerns about recent developments in Belarus. Until recently, we were becoming more hopeful that meaningful dialogue between the Belarusian Government and opposition would take place. Within the last month, however, violations of the principles of human rights, democracy and rule of law have come to our attention that, frankly, lead us to question your government's seriousness in finding a solution to the problems of democracy in Belarus. We were disturbed to learn of the arrest earlier today of democratic opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, for allegedly participating in "an unsanctioned march." Our concerns include the following: • the continued imprisonment of former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir, who was supposed to be released from investigative detention where he has been held for six months. • the disappearances of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktor Gonchar, his colleague Yuri Krasovsky, former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenka, and former National Bank Chair Tamara Vinnikova. • increased attempts to stifle freedom of expression, including the annulling of registration certificates of nine periodicals, and especially the harassment of Naviny through the use of high libel fees clearly designed to silence this independent newspaper. • the denial of registration of non-governmental organizations, including the Belarusian Independent Industrial Trade Union Association. • the police raid, without a search warrant, on the human rights organization Viasna-96, and confiscation of computers which stored data on human rights violations. • criminal charges against opposition activist Mykola Statkevich and lawyer Oleg Volchek and continued interrogation of lawyer Vera Stremkovskaya. • the initial attack by riot police against peaceful protestors in last Sunday's Freedom March. Your efforts to address these concerns would reduce the climate of suspicion and fear that currently exists and enhance confidence in the negotiation process which we believe is so vital to Belarus' development as a democratic country in which human rights and the rule of law are respected. Sincerely, BEN NIGHTHORSE CAMPBELL, U.S.S Co-Chairman FRANK LAUTENBERG, U.S.S. Ranking Member CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C. Chairman STENY H. HOYER, M.C. Ranking Member

  • The State of Human Rights and Democracy in Kazakhstan

    Commission Chairman Christopher Smith presided over a hearing on the status of democratization and human rights in Kazakhstan following the country's presidential election in January of 1999. The election, which saw the victory of incumbent presient Nursultan Nazarbayev, was strongly criticsed by the OSCE, which stated that it had fallen "far short" of meeting OSCE commitments. Ross Wilson, Principal Deputy to the Ambassador At-Large, noted that opposition figures were beaten, arrested, and convicted for attending political meetings. Independent media organizations were bought out, silenced, and in extreme cases firebombed by allies of President Nazarbayev. Finally, a new law barred candidates who had been conviced of administrative violations from running for president. Akezhan Kazhegeldin, former prime minister of Kazakhstan and leading opposition member in the election, noted in his testimony that he was barred from running in the election due to this law. Bolat Nurgaliev, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States, acknowledged "imperfections" in the state of Kazakhstan's political system, but defended the legal and ethical credentials of the election. The hearing concluded by offering a set of recommendations calling for the abolition of laws restricting opposition members from running, improved anti-corruption legislation, and greater press freedom.      

  • East-West Economic Cooperation-Basket II-Helsinki Final Act

    Our immediate business is to look at Basket IT, whose scope is greater than mere questions of trade and commerce, because in many ways politics is economics. Basket IT was designed to enhance economic cooperation among CSCE states in a way to loosen restraints inhibiting dealings between the Soviet bloc and the West. The hearing will offer suggestions on resolving problems of trade with eastern CSCE states; and how the U.S. Government deals with Basket II problems and how it can improve the overall trade picture by exploiting Basket II provisions in order to bolster East-West trade initiatives.

  • Homelessness in the United States

    In November 1979, the Commission published a comprehensive domestic compliance report entitled "Fulfilling Our Promises: The United States and the Helsinki Final Act." The Commission undertook the project for numerous reasons. First, it believed that the United States should work with the other signatory nations to identify and acknowledge problems within our respective societies and attempt to find solutions to those problems. Second, as the Final Act encourages multilateral scrutiny of signatory compliance, self-examination enables the Commission to more credibly raise concerns regarding non-compliance by other signatory nations. Finally, the Commission is often called to respond to changes of U.S. non-compliance and the 1979 domestic compliance report has served as a useful data base. The report examines the issue of homelessness in America, its origins, dimensions and the responses to the growing problem, ultimately seeking to determine whether the United States is moving effectively towards fulfilling its stated international commitments under the Helsinki Accords. It was subsequently updated in 1981, and was the subject of Commission hearings. The examination of homelessness in the United States since 1979 is part of the Commission's ongoing review of domestic compliance issues.

  • CHAIRMAN SMITH EXPRESSES GRAVE CONCERN FOR HEALTH OF JAILED IRANIAN BLOGGER

    WASHINGTON — In response to reports that Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki, an Iranian Internet freedom activist imprisoned for ‘insulting’ the Iranian supreme leader, may be close to death in his hunger strike, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) issued the following statement: “I am deeply concerned about the health of Hossein Ronaghi-Maleki, a political prisoner in Iran who is suffering from kidney problems. I urge the Iranian Government to provide Mr. Ronaghi-Maleki with the immediate and appropriate medical care that he has requested and has so far been denied. The fact that Mr. Ronaghi-Maleki is in jail at all shows what a travesty justice is in Iran today. As one of the earliest challengers of Iran’s heavy-handed censorship of the Internet, Mr. Ronaghi-Maleki came under immense political pressure and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.. This sentence should not by default become a death sentence. The purposeful deprivation of medical care for Mr. Ronaghi-Maleki and other political prisoners is a gross violation of human rights and should be stopped immediately.” “In the past few years repressive governments have transformed the Internet from a freedom plaza to a dictator’s best friend. Every day we learn of more democratic activists being arrested through the use of a growing array of Internet censorship and surveillance tools, abused by the governments of Iran, China, Belarus, Egypt, Syria and many other countries around the world. The stakes are life and death for online activists and they deserve our support and protection.” Chairman Smith is the sponsor of the Global Online Freedom Act of 2012 (H.R. 3605). The bill is designed to help democratic activists and human rights defenders by creating a new transparency standard for U.S. Internet companies. The bill also restricts the flow of U.S. technology to repressive regimes. Click here for the text of H.R. 3605.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Russia’s Muslims

    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) will hold a briefing: "Russia’s Muslims" Thursday, Dec. 17 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. 1539 Longworth House Office Building   The Russian Federation is one of the most culturally and religiously diverse countries in the world. Islam, brutally suppressed in the Soviet period, is once again a dynamic and growing religion in numerous regions of Russia, especially the North Caucasus. Russian Islam has a unique history and character that does not appear to be well understood in Moscow, let alone Washington. Please join us for what promises to be an informative discussion with world class experts on a most interesting and relevant community - Russia's Muslims. Panelists include: Mr. Paul Goble, Professor, Institute of World Politics Dr. Shireen Hunter, Visiting Professor, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service

  • The Business Climate in Russia and the States of the Former Soviet Union

    Madam Speaker, after the summer recess, the Helsinki Commission, which I chair, was preparing to conduct a hearing on United States and Western businesses at risk entering markets in Russia and the former Soviet Republics without the protections guaranteed by the rule of law and government adherence to market principles. The hearing had to be postponed due to the invasion of Georgia, but it is our intention to take up this issue in the next Congress.  The Helsinki Commission, and the OSCE, is fully committed to the development of democracy, civil society, the rule of law and free markets in the Russia Federation and in other states of the former Soviet Union. We trust that Russian President Medvedev shares that commitment when he proclaims that ``my most important task is to further develop civil and economic freedoms.''  Yet we see evidence that Russian authorities continue to selectively prosecute and harass human rights advocates, prominent business leaders and journalists by employing arbitrary and extralegal means to achieve state and political ends. This is often accomplished through a manipulated court system, thus denying its citizens and foreign investors the impartial application of the rule of law and equal justice.  In June, 1992, the United States and Russia negotiated and signed the Bilateral Investment Treaty, which grants investors the protections and safeguards necessary to conduct business in a fair and transparent environment. Unfortunately, Russia has failed to ratify this important measure that would ultimately serve the economic interests of both our nations.  Along the same lines, it is regrettable that Russia refuses to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty. This measure insures the rights and protections of private and public sector interests against a government taking arbitrary action that would disrupt or threaten global energy security. The thousands of United States investors who became shareholders in the Russian oil company, YUKOS, lost everything when the Russian government seized the company's assets.  Finally, Russia has not honored its pledge to amend its federal laws to guarantee protections of intellectual property rights and enforcing such laws consistent with international standards. I would note the frequent Western media reports on cases where Russian authorities have seized the assets of certain companies, many with foreign investors, utilizing executive decrees, court orders, and extradition requests to assume ownership or control over Russian enterprises. Some foreign investors have been compelled to surrender their equity shares in Russian companies without proper due process and compensation only to have Western courts, in a series of cases, issue rulings in favor of such companies.  Madam Speaker, we appreciate that our economy is truly global and American and Western investments are essential in Russia and throughout Eurasia, given their abundant natural resources, and urge that all countries can mutually commit to an economic relationship that is based on mutual trust, the rule of law and market forces that are free of arbitrary or capricious government activity.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders React to State Department's Anti-Semitism Report

    WASHINGTON - United States Helsinki Commission leaders today welcomed the State Department’s release of its report on global anti-Semitism, as mandated in legislation calling for an assessment of the level of anti-Semitic activity worldwide. Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) offered their appraisal of the report. "I am very pleased by the release of the Report on Global Anti-Semitism, and I want to thank Ambassador Ed O'Donnell and his staff for overseeing the writing of this groundbreaking document,” said Chairman Smith.  "Thanks to their good work, we now have a comprehensive record of whether countries are propagating or combating the evil of anti-Semitism.  With this information in hand, the United States can confront state-sponsors of anti-Semitism and press recalcitrant countries to clamp down on anti-Semitic activity." "Anti-Semitism is a scourge that must be defeated, and understanding where problems begin is the first step toward a solution," Smith continued. "This report establishes a clear benchmark for reporting by the State Department and should lead to consistent and thorough coverage of anti-Semitism each year." "I commend the State Department for issuing its first-ever comprehensive global report on anti-Semitism," said Commissioner Cardin. "I was pleased to work with Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith and International Relations Committee Ranking Member Tom Lantos to enact the Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004, which led to today’s report.  This report surveys the rising tide of anti-Semitism in numerous countries, and most importantly details the responses of foreign governments to combat anti-Semitism in their countries.” “I am encouraged that this report specifically names countries that are still falling short in meeting their OSCE commitments, as well as countries that have adopted ‘best practices,’ by strictly enforcing anti-discrimination legislation and promoting anti-bias and tolerance education,” Cardin continued.  “I am confident that this report will serve as an important baseline to build upon in future country reports and religious freedom reports by the State Department.” “The Helsinki Commission and the OSCE must continue to play a leading role in combating the scourge of anti-Semitism, and I look forward to working with the State Department and my colleagues in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to fully implement the Berlin Declaration and insure that participating States meet their OSCE commitments,” Cardin added. Chairman Smith served as Vice Chairman of the U.S. Delegations to the Vienna and Berlin OSCE Conferences on Anti-Semitism, and Ranking Member Cardin was part of the U.S. Delegation to the Berlin meeting.  Former New York City Mayors Rudolph Giuliani and Edward Koch led the delegations to the Vienna and Berlin conferences, respectively, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spoke at the Berlin conference. “The increasing frequency and severity of anti-Semitic incidents since the start of the 21st century, particularly in Europe, has compelled the international community to focus on anti-Semitism with renewed vigor,” the report states.  “In recent years, incidents have been more targeted in nature with perpetrators appearing to have the specific intent to attack Jews and Judaism.  These attacks have disrupted the sense of safety and well being of Jewish communities.” “This nation will keep watch; we will make sure that the ancient impulse of anti Semitism never finds a home in the modern world,” said President George W. Bush as he signed the legislation into law last year.  “The unwavering support from the Bush Administration on this issue has greatly aided our efforts to fight anti Semitism across the globe.” Today’s report was mandated by the Global Anti Semitism Review Act of 2004.  A joint effort between Chairman Smith, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), Commissioner Cardin and Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), the Act increases U.S. efforts to combat anti-Semitism through the establishment of a monitoring office, new reporting standards for acts of anti-Semitism both in the United States and abroad. The Act also established additional requirements for reporting on anti-Semitism when appropriate in the State Department’s annual reports to Congress on Human Rights Practices and International Religious Freedom.  These standards parallel the areas covered by the Office, enabling U.S. embassies to more thoroughly and consistently document acts of anti-Semitism. The report is available through the State Department’s Internet web site at www.state.gov. The United States 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.

  • **ROOM CHANGE** U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Russia’s Future Under a Medvedev Administration

    WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), will hold a hearing entitled, “U.S.-Russia Relations: Looking Ahead to the Medvedev Administration,” on Thursday, May 8 at 3:00 p.m. in room 419 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The hearing will examine U.S. policy toward Russia with the approach of the Administration of Dmitry Medvedev. On March 2, Medvedev was elected President of the Russian Federation with over 70 percent of the vote against limited opposition. He will take office on May 7, 2008. WHAT: U.S. Helsinki Commission on Russia WHEN: Thursday, May 8 at 3:00 p.m. WHERE: 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building WITNESSES: The Honorable Daniel Fried, Acting Undersecretary of State, U.S. Department of State Dr. Stephen Blank, MacArthur Professor of National Security Affairs, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College Dr. Celeste A. Wallander, Visiting Associate Professor, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University Dr. David Foglesong, Associate Professor, Department of History, Rutgers University  

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on OSCE Mediterranean Partners

    WASHINGTON - Today the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) announced the following hearing: Political Pluralism in the OSCE Mediterranean Partners? Wednesday, July 9, 2014 10:00 am U.S. Capitol Visitor Center Room SVC 203/202 The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) have cooperated closely through tangible projects, expertise exchanges, election assistance, conferences, and rich dialogue to advance human security with the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation – Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia. A hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe will serve as an opportunity to take stock of political developments among the Mediterranean Partners in the years following the popular uprisings that began in late 2010, now often referred to as the “Arab Awakening.”  This hearing will explore political transition among the Mediterranean Partners in terms of current developments in democratic reforms, civil society empowerment, political pluralism, and the role of international community engagement.  The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: The Honorable William Roebuck, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Egypt and the Maghreb, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs The Honorable William B. Taylor, Vice President for Middle East and Africa of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Dr. Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and Brookings Institution Saban Center Non-Resident Senior Fellow Ms. Zeinab Abdelkarim, Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)

  • OSCE Election Commitments Reaffirmed

    By Chadwick R. Gore CSCE Staff Advisor Representatives of the OSCE participating States and a variety of non-governmental organizations met in Vienna, Austria, July 15 and 16 for a Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Election Standards and Commitments.  The first of a multi-part process, the meeting was organized by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in keeping with the December 2003 Maastricht Ministerial Council Decision on elections. That decision tasked the ODIHR “to consider ways to improve the effectiveness of its assistance to participating States in following up recommendations made in ODIHR election-observation reports and inform the Permanent Council on progress made in fulfilling th[e] task.” The decision also tasked “the Permanent Council, drawing on expertise from the ODIHR, to consider the need for additional commitments on elections, supplementing existing ones, and report to the next Ministerial Council.” The next Ministerial Council is scheduled for Sofia, Bulgaria, December 6 and 7, 2004. However, several days prior to the Vienna meeting, the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OSCE Permanent Council, Ambassador Alexey N. Borodavkin, delivered an intervention to the Permanent Council presenting a Declaration by some member States of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) “regarding the state of affairs within the OSCE.”  The intervention presented a wide range of sharp criticisms of the OSCE, not the least of which was a supposed inability to “adapt itself to the demands of a changing world and ensure an effective solution of the problems of security and co-operation in the Euro-Atlantic area.” The Declaration went on to accuse the organization of interfering in internal affairs and failing to respect the sovereignty of States. The OSCE was also accused of applying double standards and failing to take into account the realities and specific features of individual countries. Then Borodavkin laid what many believed to be the groundwork for the approach of countries associated with the Declaration to the SHDM: These attitudes manifest themselves particularly in the work of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which mainly deals with monitoring and assessment of election results in participating States. This work of the ODIHR is frequently politicized and does not take into account the specific features of individual countries. For that reason, we believe it necessary to draw up standard objective criteria for assessments by the ODIHR and OSCE missions of election processes throughout the OSCE area. Thus, as the attendees approached Vienna, many were expecting a classic stand-off between a group of former Soviet states, led by the Russian Federation, and at least the United States, if not many members of the European Union, over the role of election observation and the various commitments, especially provisions of the Copenhagen Document. Hints of Russian dissatisfaction with the OSCE’s democracy promotion activity can be traced back to a terse statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on August 1, 2000, the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act.  “Attempts to turn it [OSCE] exclusively into an instrument of ‘democratizing’ individual states will only land the OSCE in an impasse. They are fraught with the danger of a retreat from the Helsinki principles and, in the end, the degradation of the Organization.  Opening remarks at the Vienna meeting were delivered by Ambassador Ivo Petrov, Chairman of the Permanent Council, and Ambassador Christian Strohal, Director of ODIHR. Strohal mentioned that there might be a need for new commitments to address future challenges regarding referenda, new technology and election standards from outside the OSCE. He thought there might be a need for additional commitments to further universal suffrage, increase transparency, enhance accountability of election and political authorities, and to maintain public confidence in the electoral process. Alexander Veshnyakov, Chairman of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, gave the initial keynote speech. Those waiting to see if the Russian Federation would continue the line of attack started at the July 8 meeting of the PC were not disappointed. Mr. Veshnyakov quickly pointed out that electoral standards and commitments need to be added to converge “our ideas for the democratic process and help remove possibilities of double standards. The democratic process can be used for anti-democratic means.” He then proceeded to point out that the Copenhagen Document must be fleshed out and rights need to be promoted, agreements since Copenhagen have been diverse and detailed, and despite shortcomings, the OSCE must be given its due for applying these standards. Veshnykov cited the new “vector” in elections toward European-wide documents on standards in draft form in some twenty Central Election Commissions and that the adoption of the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters of the European Commission for Democracy through Law, also known as the Venice Commission, could be the source for a “Copenhagen II.” Interestingly he lamented the lack of a “binding character” to the existing commitments and felt that making them binding with sanctions for the failure could be useful to help develop common goals. The main complaint expressed was that each state should know precisely what has been agreed in such commitments: the current commitments are too vague, just a set of guidelines as opposed to standards, and thus have led to the development of double standards in both practice and election observation criteria. Jean-Pierre Kingsley, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada, was the second keynote speaker. He addressed several issues of common concern, such as the role of the media, control of money, and public versus private concerns. He contrasted the fundamental tension as between egalitarians and libertarians. Three sessions were structured to address the key areas of ODIHR’s concerns to fulfill their Maastricht tasking: The OSCE/ODIHR 2003 Progress Report “Existing Commitments for Democratic Elections in OSCE Participating States”; implementation of existing OSCE commitments for democratic elections and follow up on OSCE/ODIHR recommendations; and, identification of possible areas for supplementing the existing OSCE commitments and potential need for additional commitments. Moderators of the sessions were Steven Wagenseil, First Deputy Director of the ODIHR and Patrick Merloe, Senior Associate and Director of Election Programs, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Introducers, who presented the core content of each session in their remarks, were: Mr. Merloe; Professor Christoph Grabenwarter, Substitute Member of the Council on Democratic Elections, Council of Europe; Pentii Väänänen, Deputy Secretary General, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly; Mr. Kingsley; Jessie Pilgrim, Legal Expert; and, Jeno Szep, Advisor, Association of Central and Eastern European Election Officials. The general thrust of each session was remarkably similar. It quickly became clear that there was a near consensus that while clarification of the details of a few of the existing commitments might be desirable, if not outright necessary, reopening the Copenhagen election commitments to debate was not necessary or desirable. Many delegations restated in various ways that those commitments, and those from all the other OSCE documents that have addressed elections, have created a body of obligations and guidance so fundamental and expansive that there is little new that can or ought to be added. Most interesting was the statement of the European Union that expressed the general opinion:  “If we really need to consider if new commitments are necessary, if so, where?” The European Commission addressed the issue, “We don’t need a Copenhagen II, but maybe a Copenhagen Plus.” However, a few speakers did mention specific areas of concern, and former Soviet states that are signatories to the aforementioned Declaration made comments of note. Mr. Merloe saw the possibility to enrich, reinforce and amplify the existing commitments might be forthcoming, possibly at Sofia. He reminded the meeting that those areas critical to all elections are: establishing public confidence in the electorate; establishing universal equal suffrage; transparency at all stages; and, accountability of all authorities. The opening statement from the U.S. Delegation reiterated these points, emphasizing that elections cannot be assessed solely by examining the technical aspects of voting, and transparency and accountability are absolutely essential components of democratic elections. Regarding the ODIHR election monitoring teams, the United States took the opportunity to underscore that: [T]he U.S. does not see ODIHR’s election monitoring efforts as “politicized,” but rather as objective and based upon standards set out in the OSCE commitments stipulated in the 1990 Copenhagen Document and the 1991 Moscow Document and reaffirmed in the Charter for European Security adopted at the Istanbul Summit.  Furthermore, the U.S. emphasized that ODIHR monitoring teams should not be seen as “interference in [a country’s] internal affairs,” but rather as an international resource, like the Election Assistance Commission that works domestically in the United States, which is available to countries that seek to improve public confidence in elections and uphold their OSCE commitments. NGOs from the Russian Federation, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine (note: all States that signed the CIS Declaration) uniformly complained that their governments fail to fulfill the existing OSCE commitments.  So why, they asked, would the OSCE need new commitments when governments fail to meet the existing ones? By contrast, the government representatives of Belarus, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Armenia (all signatories of the CIS Declaration) complained that the Copenhagen commitments were more like guidelines than standards.  Some said that the commitments should be obligatory instead of voluntary. Mr. Väänänen pointed out that often when returning to a country a few years after observing elections and providing recommendations for electoral improvements the same problems remain. The attitude of the state leadership and the nature of the problems found are the crux of the problem (numerous comments regarding the need for political will in follow up to observation missions’ recommendations were made throughout the meeting). Mr. Pilgrim discussed six issues of concern that need to be addressed. Public confidence is critical to the legitimacy of all elections. Electronic voting, which is becoming the norm, must produce a verifiable paper trail. Referenda or recounts must not be used to end or change a term of office as this practice is in direct conflict with the Copenhagen commitments. Observation is necessary to guarantee other criteria. Transparency includes public knowledge about the role of money, i.e. public disclosure of all funding and expenditures is necessary for public confidence. The protection of electoral rights – registration, party regulation, media access, etc. – while assumed, must be actively pursued. An extensive discussion regarding electronic voting was held. The distinction between voting on an electronic device, such as a touch-screen device, versus E-voting over the Internet was made by Dr. Szep. The need for the electronic device to produce an auditable paper trail seemed universally accepted as a basic standard for use of such systems. However, the German Delegation described the degree of public skepticism and lack of confidence in electronic devices, and “that is why we’re going to stay on paper.” The primary problem with E-voting seems to be the lack of public trust, but there is hope that in time, with the improvement of technology and security software, this will change. During the closing session, DeForest B. Soaries, Jr., Chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, expressed the general consensus of the meeting in the U.S. Delegation’s closing statement.  Reiterating that the United States remains as committed as ever to the OSCE commitments laid out in the 1990 Copenhagen Document and in subsequent OSCE documents, he made clear the openness of the United States to ideas on how the OSCE election commitments, and especially their implementation, can be improved. However, he said, there is no need to re-open the Copenhagen commitments as they provide the guidelines and benchmarks necessary to achieve democratic, free, and fair elections. Mr. Soaries pointed out that the OSCE does not yet have specific commitments related to the participation of internally displaced persons in electoral processes or concerning accountable, balanced, and impartial election administration, and a more systematic mechanism that might be considered for follow up to election observation missions’ recommendations. Interestingly, the comments from the representatives of countries associated with the Declaration were quite benign and agreeable at the end of the session, emphasizing the forward-looking nature of the meeting. Ambassador Strohal described the further steps in the process, noting that the ODIHR would be forthcoming with recommendations to the Permanent Council on any changes to the election standards and commitments in preparation for the Ministerial Meeting in Sofia in December.  The United States 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.

  • BRIEFING ON EUROPEANS OF AFRICAN DESCENT

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) will hold the following briefing today: Europeans of African Descent ‘Black Europeans’: Race, Rights, and Politics Tuesday, November 19 11:00 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room SDG-50 Throwing bananas and other racist acts targeting Black cabinet-level officials in Italy and France have put a spotlight on the experiences of the 7-10 million people of African Descent in Europe / Black Europeans. A visible minority in Europe often unacknowledged despite a centuries’ long presence in Europe, Black Europeans have increasingly become the targets of discrimination, pernicious racial profiling, and violent hate crimes impacting equal access to housing, employment, education, and justice. Europe today grapples with the complex intersection of national identity, decreasing birth rates, increasing immigration, security concerns, and a rise in extremist political parties and vigilantism. In this context, the experiences of Black Europeans increasingly serve as a measure of the strength of European democracies and commitments to human rights. The briefing will discuss the work of Black European rights organizations and the efforts of the international community to address issues of inequality, discrimination, and inclusion for Black Europeans, in addition to discussing similarities and work with African-American civil rights organizations. The following panelists are scheduled to participate: King C. Asante-Yeboa, President, Africa Center, Ukraine Hedwig Bvumburah, Director, Cross Culture International Foundation (CCIF), Malta Salome Mbugua, CEO, AkiDwA, Migrant Women’s Network, Ireland Jallow Momodou, Vice-Chair for European Network Against Racism; Chair, Pan-African Movement for Justice, Sweden Larry Olomoofe, Racism and Xenophobia Advisor, OSCE/ODIHR, Poland Please click here to watch the BET interview with the 10 nation delegation of Black Europeans. Please click here to read the press release introducing Congressman Hasting's Resolution recognizing People of African Descent and Black European Leaders.

  • Cardin, Hastings Among First to Meet New Greek Prime Minister

    ATHENS - The Co-Chairmen visited Athens for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Fall Meeting. On the sidelines of the meeting, they met Sunday with Prime Minister George Papandreou, who also serves as the Greek Foreign Minister. The U.S. delegation, which also included Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH) and Congressman Mike McIntyre (D-NC), are among the first foreign officials to visit the Papandreou government in Athens since the Oct. 4 election. The delegation met on Saturday with Greek Deputy Prime Minister Theodoros Pangalos. "We had a very positive meeting with Prime Minister Papandreou. He was generous with his time and thoughts. The new government has a real chance to take advantage of this moment in history to have a lasting legacy resolving ongoing discussions between the governments in Athens and Skopje, and improving Greece’s relationship with Cyprus and Turkey," said Sen. Cardin. "I look forward to the great friendship between the U.S. and Greece growing stronger under this new administration. The government's early outreach to Turkey is a welcome sign that the Prime Minister is serious about regional cooperation. Considering Greece's role as the 2009 Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, I pledge the full cooperation of the U.S. to help the December ministerial meeting meet reasonable expectations." "Greece has a critical role to play in the Mediterranean region. I look forward to continued cooperation between the U.S. and our Greek friends to help migrants and all people throughout this global intersection," Congressman Hastings said. "I encourage the Greek government to promote and defend human rights of all people--domestic and foreign-- to ensure minorities are treated fairly, refugees are taken care of properly and governments across the Mediterranean work together to protect all lawful flows of people." "Greece can and should play a constructive role in increasing regional stability through resolving the name issue with the Republic of Macedonia, and ensuring that country's membership in the NATO alliance," Senator Voinovich said. "I look forward to the governments in Athens and Skopje reaching a compromise that satisfies both nations." Friday, Senator Cardin, as vice president of the Parliamentary Assembly, delivered a keynote address on climate change, before the 200 gathered parliamentarians from 49 OSCE participating States.  Congressman Hastings, a past president of the Assembly and now its Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, led a discussion Sunday on how the OSCE could more effectively involve Mediterranean Partner countries. The delegation also received a high level briefing from U.S. Ambassador to Greece Daniel V. Speckhard and visited a Roma village to see firsthand the conditions in which members of this minority group live in Greece. After discussing the need for greater access to education and health care with local Roma residents and touring a few makeshift homes, the delegation donated needed clothing and health supplies to about 40 children and their families. 

  • Rep. Smith Chairs Helsinki Commission Hearing on Armenian Genocide

    WASHINGTON—At a hearing convened today by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other lawmakers examined denialism of the Armenian Genocide by the Government of Turkey and the decades-long effort to seek accountability.  “The Armenian genocide is the only genocide of the 20th century in which a nation that was decimated by genocide has been subject to the ongoing outrage of a massive campaign of genocide denial, openly sustained by state authority,” said Smith, who called today’s hearing and chaired Congress’s first-ever hearing on the Armenian Genocide in 2000. “Sadly, the Turkish government has driven this campaign of denial, and has done so over a course of decades.” Smith continued, “I must respond to President Obama. On Tuesday his aides met with Armenian leaders and made it clear that once again he will not recognize the Armenian genocide. This is in direct contradiction to the promises he made before becoming president—and in order to become president.  “While a candidate, in 2008 the President made passionate statements in support of genocide recognition… these are beautiful words which echo hollowly today,” Smith said. “The president’s abandonment of this commitment is unconscionable and cynical. With Germany and the EU lining up to do the right thing, our government needs to do likewise. Sadly, after the President’s powerful promise, he is following, not leading – or rather, we are not even following.” Witnesses testifying at the hearing focused on the sustained campaign of the Turkish government to deny the Armenian genocide and its impact on Armenian-Turkish relations and foreign policy in the region. “Turkey’s denialism of its past and making it an essential part of its foreign policy is not simply a moral abomination; it represents a threat to democracy, stability and security, not only in Turkey but in the region too,” testified Dr. Taner Akçam, a Turkish scholar who holds the chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. “The refusal [of the U.S.] to recognize past injustices is fundamentally undemocratic and contributes to the destabilization of Turkey and the region. How can the United States, which prides itself on its exceptionalism in supporting liberal values and human rights at home and across the world, justify a position at odds with its own democratic values?” “Far too often, over the past several decades, under Turkey's arm-twisting here in Washington, DC, official discussions of the Armenian Genocide were framed in denialist terms, on the basis of Ankara's artificially contrived ‘debate’ about whether there was an Armenian Genocide,” said Kenneth Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America. “Turkey's denial of truth and justice for the Armenian Genocide remains the central issue between Turks and Armenians, the one that must be openly acknowledged, honestly discussed, and fairly resolved for there to be real, sustained progress in relations between these two nations.”  “How did denial start and how did it last as long as it has?  The answer is simple—successive Turkish governments have used the issue to instill fear, promote racism, distract their population from the truth, and avoid progress,” said Van Krikorian, co-chairman of the board of trustees of the Armenian Assembly of America. “Having re-written their own history, they are now afraid to tell the truth as they will lose votes and risk power. Tragically, this pattern has found accomplices, as Turkish leaders have openly threatened countries which do not deny the Armenian Genocide.  Those who bend to bullying continue to be bullied. Those who do not, show honor and backbone.” Additional witnesses who testified at the hearing, “A Century of Denial: Armenian Genocide and the Ongoing Quest for Justice,” included Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, visiting associate professor of conflict resolution at Tufts University’s Fletcher School, and Mrs. Karine Shnorhokian, representative of the Genocide Education Project.

  • The Russian-Syrian Connection: Thwarting Democracy in the Middle East and the Greater OSCE Region

    This hearing explored the destabilizing role that Syria and its support to terrorist organizations play in the security of surrounding countries, such as Iraq and Israel. The hearing examined the special relationship between Russia and Syria and this relationship’s destabilizing effects on the region. The Commissioners and witnesses reviewed Russian arms sales to Syria and the Syrian support for Hezbollah, both of which are affecting the security of Israel and Lebanon.

  • Helsinki Commission Briefing Explores Prospects for Renewed Cyprus Talks

    WASHINGTON - The United States Helsinki Commission will conduct a briefing to explore the renewal of talks on Cyprus between Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. The briefing will feature United States Special Coordinator for Cyprus Ambassador Thomas G. Weston. Current Developments in Cyprus Tuesday, December 4, 2001 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM 340 Cannon House Office Building Ambassador Weston will discuss the developing talks between the two leaders; the current status of the United Nations sponsored talks; implications of European Union expansion; and the leadership on both sides of the Cyprus issue and where the respective leaders stand on the issues. Cyprus was an original signatory to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and is a participating State in the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). President Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Denktash have agreed to meet in Nicosia on Tuesday, December 4, 2001 with talks reportedly aimed toward resolution of the longstanding conflict on the island. Britain’s Lord Hannay and United Nations envoy Alvaro de Soto will travel to Cyprus in an effort to advance the peace process. Hannay is expected to visit Ankara, Athens, and Nicosia next week. De Soto is expected to arrive in Athens December 2, for the meeting at the residence of U.N. Representative Zbigniew Wlosowicz. President Clerides has reportedly indicated he is prepared to meet with Denktash to lay the groundwork to resume U.N.–brokered talks which Denktash abandoned last year. Ambassador Weston was named Special Coordinator for Cyprus in August 1999. As mandated by the President, the Special Coordinator for Cyprus is dedicated to facilitating a permanent settlement of the Cyprus problem. Ambassador Weston, a Minister-Counselor in the Senior Foreign Service, most recently served as Special Coordinator for Summits in the Bureau of European Affairs. Prior to his service as a Senior Inspector in the Office of the Inspector General in 1998, he was Charge d'Affaires to Canada. Before going to Ottawa in June 1996, Weston was Director of Studies at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. In 1993 –1994, Weston served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, responsible for multilateral diplomacy with Europe including U.S. participation in NATO, the OSCE, and the OECD and U.S. relations with the European Union, the Western European Union, and the Council of Europe. Prior to that he served at the U.S. Mission to the European Union as Deputy Chief of Mission and had tours in Bonn, Bremen, and Kinshasa.

  • Regime Targets Independent Media in Belarus

    Madam President, recently I introduced S. 700, the Belarus Democracy Act, a bipartisan initiative aimed at supporting democratic forces in the Republic of Belarus. As co-chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I want to report to my colleagues on the pressures faced by independent media in that country. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has just released their annual report documenting the dangers journalists face around the world, including Belarus.   In May of 2002, CPJ named Belarus one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist due to the worsening repression under Europe's most authoritarian regime. Throughout the year the situation of the country's independent media deteriorated as Belarusian leader Aleksander Lukashenka mounted a comprehensive assault on all independent and opposition press.   While criminal libel laws had been on the books since 1999, they were not used by the Government until 2002. The law stipulates that public insults or libel against the President may be punished by up to 4 years in prison, 2 years in a labor camp, or by large fine. Articles in the criminal code which prohibit slandering and insulting the President or government officials are also used to stifle press freedom. The criminal code provides for a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment for such offenses.   Journalists critical of the fall 2001 presidential elections were targeted. Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mazheyka of Pahonya and Viktar Ivashkevich of of Rabochy were sentenced to corrective labor for "libeling" the President in pre-election articles. On March 4, a district court in Belarus commuted Mikola Markevich's sentence from time in a corrective labor facility to "corrective labor at home." On March 21, a district court released Pavel Mazheyka on parole. Under Belarus law, prisoners may be released on parole after serving half term there.   Other charges were leveled later in the year against a woman who distributed anti-Lukashenka flyers, an opposition politician for libeling the President in a published statement, and a Belarusskaya Delovaya Gazeta reporter for criticizing the Prosecutor General of Belarus. A former lawyer for the mother of disappeared cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky received a one-and-a-half year prison sentence suspended for 2 years for libeling the Prosecutor General.   Last August the independent newspaper Nasha Svaboda was fined 100 million Belarusian rubles for civil libel of the chairman of the State Control Committee. The paper closed when it could not pay the fine. There are other forms of pressure and harassment as well.   The CPJ report notes the financial discrimination faced by non-state media, including pressure from government officials on potential advertisers not to buy space in publications that criticize Lukashenka and his regime. Government officials also regularly encourage companies to pull advertising and threaten them with audits should they fail to do so, according to CPJ.   When the Belasrusian Government increased newspaper delivery rates, only nongovernmental papers had to pay. When the Minsk City Council of Deputies levied 5 percent tax on newspapers, government papers were again exempt. Such tactics caused such independents as the Belaruskaya Maladzyozhnaya, Rabochy, Den and Tydnyovik Mahilyouski to go under.   According to the State Department's recently released County Reports on Human Rights Practices "the regime continued to use its near-monopolies on newsprint production, newspaper printing and distribution, and national television and radio broadcasts to restrict dissemination of opposition viewpoints."   Madam President, I urge my colleagues to support S. 700, the Belarus Democracy Act, in support of those brave individuals in Belarus, including representatives of independent media, who speak out in defense of human rights and democracy in a nation which enjoys neither.

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