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The Helsinki Process and the OSCE

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has its origins in the early 1950s, when the Soviet Union first proposed the creation of an all-European security conference. In the mid-1960s the Warsaw Pact renewed calls for such a conference. In May 1969, the Government of Finland sent a memorandum to all European countries, the United States and Canada, offering Helsinki as a conference venue. Beginning in November 1972, representatives from the original 35 nations met for nearly three years to work out the arrangements and the framework for the conference, concluding their work in July 1975.

On August 1, 1975, the leaders of the original 35 participating States gathered in Helsinki and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also known as the Helsinki Accords, the Final Act is not a treaty, but rather a politically binding agreement consisting of three main sections informally known as "baskets," adopted on the basis of consensus. This comprehensive Act contains a broad range of measures designed to enhance security and cooperation in the region extending from Vancouver to Vladivostok.

  • Basket I - the Security Dimension - contains a Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations between participating States, including the all-important Principle VII on human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also includes a section on confidence-building measures and other aspects of security and disarmament aimed at increasing military transparency.
  • Basket II - the Economic Dimension - covers economic, scientific, technological and environmental cooperation, as well as migrant labor, vocational training and the promotion of tourism.
  • Basket III is devoted to cooperation in humanitarian and other fields: freer movement of people; human contacts, including family reunification and visits; freedom of information, including working conditions for journalists; and cultural and educational exchanges. Principle VII and Basket III together have come to be known as the "Human Dimension."

Since 1975, the number of countries signing the Helsinki Accords has expanded to 57, reflecting changes such as the breakup of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

Institutionalization of the Conference in the early 1990s led to its transformation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, effective January 1995.

Today, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is engaged in standard setting in fields including military security, economic and environmental cooperation, and human rights and humanitarian concerns. In addition, the OSCE undertakes a variety of preventive diplomacy initiatives designed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict within and among the participating States.

The OSCE has its main office in Vienna, Austria, where weekly meetings of the Permanent Council are held. In addition, specialized seminars and meetings are convened in various locations and periodic consultations are held among Senior Officials, Ministers and Heads of State or Government.

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  • List of Organizations Involved in Exchange Programs with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

    The Commission developed this report to help in­terested persons and organizations participate in exchange pro­grams with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe: Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. It lists organizations which conduct exchange programs and other contacts with these countries. The parties to the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe declared their intention to expand cooperation in security, economic, humanitarian, information, culture, and education affairs and to respect and put into practice certain basic principles, including those of human rights. The Final Act was signed in Helsinki on August 1, 1975, by 35 heads of state or govern­ment, including the United States, Canada, and every state in Europe except Albania. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsin­ki Commission) was created as an independent government agency in 1976 to monitor compliance with the Final Act and to encourage U.S. governmental and private programs to expand East-West eco­nomic and cultural cooperation and exchange of people and ideas. In the Final Act, the signatories express the view that cultural exchanges and development of relations in education and science contribute to the strengthening of peace, better mutual under­ standing, and enrichment of the human personality. In the Com­ mission's view, exchange programs with the Soviet bloc countries break down barriers and lessen distrust. They help Americans learn about the views and goals of these societies. Such programs help expose the peoples of these countries to the values and goals of our pluralistic society. Critical to such programs is that Americans are given the opportunity to tell the Soviets and their allies on a personal level about their concern for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • Stockholm Meeting of the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe (CDE)

    In this hearing, which Rep. Steny H. Hoyer presided over, took place on the heels of the Stockholm Meeting of the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe (CDE). Concerning the conference, Chairman D’Amato stated, “This package of confidence- and security-building measures is designed to bring about greater openness with respect to European security and reduce the risk of war.” One of the main aspects of this “package” was the first inclusion of provisions for onsite inspection in an East-West agreement. The conference had large implications for the Helsinki process. For instance, one named concern was that security could overshadow human rights. The witness (Ambassador Barry) did say, though, that the conference could, if properly implemented, reduce the risk of war in Europe, contribute to greater security and openness, and lead to improved East-West relations. 

  • Vienna Follow-Up Meeting of the CSCE

    This hearing focused on the Vienna Meeting and narratives in previous meetings in Belgrade and Madrid. These meetings centered on the U.S.S.R.’s persistent publicity about the true nature of the Soviet system, in particular regarding the role it played in the reversal of the Soviet image in Western Europe in the early 1980's. Due to Soviet improper compliance with OSCE rules and statues, such as detaining Helsinki monitors, the Vienna Meeting focused on strengthening the relevance and effectiveness of the Helsinki process to improve efficacy on progress.

  • Transcript: Bern Human Contacts Experts Meeting, March 18 and June 18, 1986

    The Commission met, pursuant to notice, in room 428-A, of the Russell Senate Office Building, at 10 a.m., Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato (chairman) and Representative Steny H. Hoyer (co-chairman) presiding. In attendance: Commissioners and Senators Gordon J. Humphrey and Dennis DeConcini; and Commissioner and Representative Don Ritter. Also in attendance: Michael R. Hathaway, staff director, and Mary Sue Hafner, general counsel of the Commission. This hearing took place before the Human Contacts Experts Meeting which was held in Bern, Switzerland beginning on April 15, 1986. Ambassador Michael Novak was head of the U.S. delegation to the Human Contacts Experts Meeting and testified in this hearing regarding U.S. goals for the meeting.

  • Transcripts: Restrictions on Artistic Freedoms in the Soviet Union, October 29, 1985; and the Budapest Cultural Forum, December 11, 1985

    * Public Hearing on Restrictions on Artistic Freedom in the Soviet Union The Commission met, pursuant to notice, in room 210, Cannon House Office Building, at 10 a.m., Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, chairman, and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, cochairman, presiding. In attendance: Commissioners and Senators John Heinz, Gordon J. Humphrey, and Dennis DeConcini; Commissioners and Representatives Dante B. Fascell, Don Ritter, and Christopher H. Smith. Also in attendance: Michael R. Hathaway, staff director, and Mary Sue Hafner, general counsel of the Commission. This hearing concerned restrictions on creative freedom in the Soviet Union.   Public Hearing on the Budapest Cultural Forum The Commission met, pursuant to notice, in room 538, of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, at 11 a.m., Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, chairman, and Representative Steny H. Hoyer, cochairman, presiding. In attendance: Senator Malcolm Wallop, Commissioner. Also in attendance: Michael R. Hathaway, staff director, and Mary Sue Hafner, general counsel of the Commission. In this hearing, the Helsinki Commission heard testimony on the most recent international meeting in the Helsinki process, the Budapest Cultural Forum.

  • THE OTTAWA HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS MEETING AND THE FUTURE OF THE HELSINKI PROCESS

    The commissioners gave testimony on the importance of the 35-nation conference which addressed "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief," The discussion centered on inconsistencies between the rhetoric of the United States on the subject of human rights and its actions.  The focus of human rights covered the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and also Afghanistan. In response to human rights violations- recognizing the framework provided by the Helsinki accords- the witnesses discussed constructive measures to concentrate on human rights violations that could be corrected with relative ease and without effecting systemic change within the Soviet Union or the other states in the Soviet sphere.

  • GAO Report: Helsinki Commission: The First 8 Years

    This report, which describes and evaluates the work of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is in response to Chairman Fascell's request.  The report's conclusions: We believe that the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe has helped, through its hearings and reports, to focus public attention and to inform public opinion and has made itself a principal Western source of information on Soviet and East European violations of the Final Act; helped resolve numerous family reunification cases for Eastern victims of Communist repression; played a key role in planning and conducting U.S. Helsinki diplomacy.; and effectively promoted a strong U.S. human rights policy in the East-West dialogue about cooperation, detente, and international security. The Commission has put considerably less emphasis on implementing its second mandate--to monitor and encourage governmental and private programs aimed at expanding East-West economic and cultural cooperation. The Commission's unusual organizational arrangement has worked well, although there were some initial difficulties, and as some observers have pointed out, more orthodox arrangements could also have worked well. Commission-participation in the international conferences has enhanced its ability to carry out its mandate to monitor and report on implementation of the Helsinki accords, and it has increased the ability of the Commission's congressional members to influence U.S. policy in the Helsinki process. Yet it has invited criticism on constitutional grounds relating to the separation of powers because it has, in practice, given executive functions to staff personnel who report to members of Congress. No one we consulted has suggested that this arrangement should be changed with respect to the Helsinki Commission. Some, however, have cautioned against suggestions that such an arrangement might be applied to other areas of U.S. foreign relations.

  • Report: The Madrid CSCE Review Meeting

    The second follow-up meeting of the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) finally came to a close on September 9, 1983, nearly three years after the deliberations began on November 11, 1980. Burdened throughout by sharply deteriorating East-West relations -- the result of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the imposition of martial law in Poland and continuing Soviet human rights abuses -- the Madrid Meeting served to focus international attention on Soviet actions which violated the letter and spirit of the Helsinki Final Act. Even the formal closing week of the meeting was overshadowed by yet another Soviet atrocity -- the shooting down of a Korean commercial airliner with the loss of 269 lives. Review meetings like Madrid and its predecessor in Belgrade (October 1977 - March 1978) have a three-fold function: a review of the implementation records of the 35 participating states, the consideration of new proposals to enhance the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and the adoption of a concluding document. The review of implementation at Madrid was frequently heated, at times tempestuous. Continuing East-West tensions over human rights and other issues determined that the consideration of new proposals and the adoption of a concluding document would necessarily be a protracted affair. While it did not take consensus to criticize implementation failures, CSCE procedures require unanimous consent of all 35 signatory states for agreement to a concluding document. The gulf between East and West was such, particularly on the key issues of human rights and military security, that more than two years of negotiations were necessary to produce the compromise concluding document. The length of these negotiations was also heavily conditioned by external events such as Poland and Afghanistan which had a strong negative effect on the proceedings.

  • Update on Raoul Wallenberg

    This hearing focused on the disappearance of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, distinguished diplomat who risked his life to help grant protection to Jewish refugees in Hungary during Nazis occupation. Wallenberg’s whereabouts became unknown when the Soviets liberated Hungary. Despite Soviet declarations that Mr. Wallenberg died in 1947, many witnesses have contested this claim and have reported that he is in fact in Soviet prison. The Commissioners and the witnesses discussed the U.S. response and what further actions may be needed.

  • Implementation of the Final Act: Findings and Recommendations Seven Years After Helsinki

    This report, including its findings and recommendations, is based upon material compiled during the Commission's continuing study of Final Act implementation -- with special emphasis on the period since the last report in August 1980. The Commission has focused its attention in this report primarily on the compliance records of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies where, with rare exceptions, the level of implementation in many areas continues to be appallingly low. Given the continued armed occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet forces; the imposition, under heavy Soviet pressures, of martial law in Poland; and the radically increased repression of all forms of dissent in the Soviet Union and many other Warsaw Pact countries, it is clear that compliance with the Final Act has seriously regressed. The Western CSCE states, on the other hand, generally have maintained relatively high standards of implementation in all areas of the Final Act, specifically, in those areas such as human rights where the Eastern record has been a cause of dismay. The Commission, therefore, has directed the bulk of its research to those nations whose records under the Helsinki Accords display the greatest need for improvement. For the CSCE review conference in Madrid, this report will serve as an overview of compliance of the two-year period since the Commission undertook its review in the fall of 1980. For the American public, whose support is essential to continued U.S. participation in the CSCE process, the report provides a current picture of major implementation achievements and shortcomings in the most critical areas - the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. 

  • The Assassination Attempt on Pope John Paul II

    The subject of this hearing, which Commissioner Millicent Fenwick chaired, was whether or not there was the possibility of complicity, on the part of the Soviet and Bulgarian secret police, to Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca’s assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. As per Principle VI of the Helsinki Final Act, signatory nations are to refrain from direct or indirect assistance to terrorist activities. Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were privy to this at the time of the hearing. The hearing utilized witnesses to shed light as to whether or not Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were honoring this commitment in Principle VI, which was not a guarantee, especially because of Mehmet Ali Agca’s potential involvement in a Turkish arms ring that Bulgarians supported. The hearing was part and parcel of an “essential” effort to carefully and impartially examine all evidence of possible Soviet and Bulgarian involvement with Agca. 

  • Soviet Involvement in the Polish Economy

    Commissioner Dante B. Fascell chaired this hearing, the purpose of which was to review the record of Soviet involvement in the planning, direction, and operation of the Polish economy. Before the time of this hearing, Soviet involvement in the Polish economy had been the source of much speculation. More specifically, Poland’s economy was functioning poorly, but it was debated whether the fault of this lay more with Poland itself or more with the U.S.S.R. What was hoped to be achieved in the hearing, then, was to shed light on the issue of how Soviet involvement affected the Polish economy, specifically based on the personal experience of one of Poland’s leading economists and a former government official, Ambassador Zdzislaw Rurarz.

  • Soviet Violation of Helsinki Final Act: Invasion of Afghanistan

    Attendees at this hearing, over which Commissioner Dante B. Fascell presided, discussed the December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union, an invasion that ran counter to international law due to Afghanistan’s status as sovereign and independent. The set of agreements that the Soviet Union signed on to in 1975 with 34 other countries (i.e. the Helsinki Final Act) incorporated rights inherent in a country’s sovereignty, refraining from the threat or use of force, the rights of peoples to self-determination, and acceptance of international conduct principles. In short, the Soviet Union’s invasion and attempted occupation of Afghanistan had struck at the very heart of these principles, and its invasion had severely damaged the international climate and greatly damaged East-West relations.

  • A Thematic Survey of the Documents of the Moscow Helsinki Group

    The Moscow Public Group to Promote Observance of the Helsinki Accords in the USSR (better known as the Moscow Helsinki Group) announced its formation at a press conference for Western journalists on May 12, 1976. The first statement of the Moscow Helsinki Group publicized the names and addresses of the founding members: Professor Yuri Orlov, Group leader; and founding members Lyudmila Alekseeva, Elena Bonner, Aleksandr Ginzburg, Petro Grigorenko, Malva Landa, Anatoly Marchenko, Vitaly Rubin and Anatoly Shcharansky. (Later, ten other human rights activists joined the Moscow Helsinki Group: Sofya Kalistratova, Ivan Kovalev, Naum Meiman, Yuri Mnyukh, Viktor Nekipelov, Tatiana Osipova, Feliks Serebrov, Vladimir Slepak, Leonard Ternovsky and Yuri Yarym-Agaev.) Believing that human needs and open information are directly related to international security, the Group seeks to inform the CSCE states and public opinion about violations in the USSR of the humanitarian provisions of the Final Act. The Moscow Helsinki Group hopes that the information it provides will be considered at those international meetings (the Belgrade Conference, the Madrid Conference and similar future meetings) which are envisioned in the Final Act, under the section "Followup to the Conference," to examine the fulfillment of obligations under the Helsinki Accords. The Group called itself the Group to Promote the observance of the Helsinki Accords to stress its loyalty to the authorities and its desire to cooperate if they revealed a conscientious attitude towards their Helsinki human rights obligations. The Group members called on other CSCE signatories to create similar citizens groups, since violations of the Final Act human rights provisions are possible in any country.

  • Fifth Anniversary of the Formation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group

    On November 9, 1976, 10 brave men and women in Kiev organized a citizens' group to examine how the Soviet Government was living up to its Helsinki human rights pledges. Tragically, however, far from greeting this new civic endeavor, the Kremlin, in a savage campaign of official reprisal, singled out the Ukrainian Helsinki Group for especially harsh treatment. By 1981, 30 group activists were in Soviet camps, prisons, and places of exile. The four witnesses at the Helsinki Commission hearing provided expert testimony on Ukraine and the Helsinki process, and their fates gave an insight into the radically different ways in which our Government and that of the Soviet Union reacted to citizen interest in the Helsinki process.

  • Implementation of the Final Act: Findings and Recommendations Five Years After Helsinki

    This report and its findings and recommendations are drawn from material compiled during the Commission's continuing study of Final Act implementation -- with special emphasis on the period since the last report in August 1977. Directed by law to give "particular regard" to the provisions of the Final Act section (Basket III) on Cooperation in Humanitarian and Other Fields, the Commission is: "Further authorized and directed to monitor and encourage the developoment of programs and activities of the United States government and private organizations with a view toward taking advantage of the provisions of the Final Act to expand East-West economic cooperation and a greater interchange of people and ideas between East and West." Guided by its mandate, the Commission has concentrated its attention in this report primarily on the compliance records of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies where, with rare exceptions, the level of implementation in many areas has remained appallingly low and, in some cases, has even regressed. By comparison, Western CSCE states generally have maintained relatively high standards of implementation in all areas of the Final Act and, in particular, in those areas such as human rights where the Eastern record has been most dismal. Therefore, in examining the impact of the Final Act -- actions reflecting compliance with or violations of its articles -- the Commission, in this report, has directed the bulk of its research to those nations whose records under the Helsinki Accords stand the greatest need for improvement. 

  • Review of Implementation of Basket II of the Helsinki Final Act

    This hearing, which Commissioner Jonathan B. Bingham chaired, was a joint meeting of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. These organizations held this hearing after the establishment of a new strategy by the U.S. in its relations with the Soviet Union. More specifically, the month before this hearing, the CSCE adopted a resolution condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the arrest and exile of Andrei Sakharov as blatant violations of the Helsinki Final Act. Commissioner Millicent Fenwick, who was also one of the sponsors of legislation creating the CSCE, proposed this resolution. Likewise, the resolution called on the signatory states of the Final Act to join in such protest and undertake such sanctions against the former U.S.S.R. as may be available to them. The hearing itself, then, focused on the current status and prospects of U.S. commercial and economic relationships with the U.S.S.R. and Eastern European countries, implementation of Basket II, efforts to promote better implementation, and the impact the Soviet violation of the Helsinki accords in Afghanistan would have on the Madrid Review Session and the CSCE process as a whole.

  • Profiles: Helsinki Monitors

    In May of 1976, a group of Soviet citizens dedicated themselves to promoting compliance by their government with the humanitarian provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. Collecting and disseminating information on violations of those provisions, these human rights activists thereby expressed their stated conviction that "the issues of humanitarianism and free information have a direct relationship to the problem of international security." Respect for human rights in the USSR, they held, is a precondition for the development of a solid East-West detente. After hearing about the work of the Helsinki Groups on foreign radio broadcasts, many ordinary Soviet citizens began sending the Group information on human rights violations in various areas of the USSR. In this way, the Groups became catalysts, drawing together the disparate strands of Soviet dissent. Group reports reflect these varied concerns: conditions in labor camps and psychiatric hospitals; the problems of religious and ethnic minorities; emigration difficulties; and denials of economic rights. The CSCE Commission translates and compiles these Group documents in its series of "Reports of the Helsinki Accord Monitors in the Soviet Union." Encouraged by the success of the first Helsinki Group in Moscow, other such groups were organized in the Ukraine, Lithuania, Armenia, and Georgia. In Moscow, two allied groups were formed to deal with more specific issues: the Working Commission on the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes, and the Christian Committee to Defend the Rights of Believers. In recognition of the sacrifice, dedication, and successful work of all these groups, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe nominated all their members for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 and 1979. During the past two years, other allied groups have emerged: the Initiative Group for the Defense of the Rights of Invalids in the USSR; the Group for the Legal Struggle and Investigation of Facts about the Persecution of Believers in the USSR of the All-Union Church of the Faithful and Free Seventh-Day Adventists; and the Catholic Committee to Defense the Rights of Believers in the USSR. With the addition of these new committees, an even broader spectrum of human rights issues and interests in the Soviet Union is now represented.  At the present time, there are 66 men and women in the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in Moscow, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia. Currently, 26 people have joined the Christian, Catholic and Adventist Committees, the Working Con-miission on Psychiatric Abuse and the Initiative Group for Invalids. For this compilation of biographical information on the present members, the Commission is indebted to the following for their assistance: ORGANIZATIONS AND PUBLICATIONS Amnesty International, Bulletin d'Information, Comite pour I'application des accords d'Helsinki en Georgie, Committee for the Defense of Soviet Political Prisoners, ELTA Information Service, Helsinki Guarantees for Ukraine Committee, Keston College, Khronika Press, Lithuanian-American Community of the U.S.A., Inc., Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid, National Conference on Soviet Jewry, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Smoloskyp, Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, the Ukrainian National Information Service, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, Washington Street Research Center. INDIVIDUALS Mr. Victor Abdalov, Mrs. Lyudmila Alekseeva, Gen. and Mrs. Pyotr Grigorenko, Ms. Dina Kaminskaya, Mr. Ambartsum Khlagatyan, Mr. Michael Meerson, Rev. Aleksandr Shmeiman, Mr. Konstantin Simis, Ms. Veronika Stein, Mr. Valentin Turchin, and Ms. Lydia Voronina, Ms. Yulya Zaks.

  • Fulfilling our Promises: The United States and the Helsinki Final Act (1)

    The Commission has three main purposes in preparing this report. First, it hopes to demonstrate the good faith of the U.S. in assessing its Helsinki implementation record in light of criticisms from other CSCE countries and domestic critics. Second, the Commission hopes to stimulate honest implementation evaluations by other CSCE states and thus to lay the groundwork for real progress prior to the next review meeting at Madrid in 1980. Finally, the Commission hopes to encourage improved compliance by the United States. Although the Commission agrees with President Carter that the U.S. record is very good, additional discussion and interaction between responsible government agencies and interested private organizations in a necessary prerequisite to greater progress. This report follows the structures of the Final Act by discussing, in order, each major section or "basket" of the Act. Basket I deals with questions relating to security in Europe which includes Human Rights; Basket II, economic and scientific cooperation; Basket III, cooperation in humanitarian and other fields.

  • Fulfilling our Promises: The United States and the Helsinki Final Act (2)

    The Commission has three main purposes in preparing this report. First, it hopes to demonstrate the good faith of the U.S. in assessing its Helsinki implementation record in light of criticisms from other CSCE countries and domestic critics. Second, the Commission hopes to stimulate honest implementation evaluations by other CSCE states and thus to lay the groundwork for real progress prior to the next review meeting at Madrid in 1980. Finally, the Commission hopes to encourage improved compliance by the United States. Although the Commission agrees with President Carter that the U.S. record is very good, additional discussion and interaction between responsible government agencies and interested private organizations in a necessary prerequisite to greater progress. This report follows the structures of the Final Act by discussing, in order, each major section or "basket" of the Act. Basket I deals with questions relating to security in Europe which includes Human Rights; Basket II, economic and scientific cooperation; Basket III, cooperation in humanitarian and other fields.

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