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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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  • Report: the Oslo Seminar of Experts on Democratic Institutions

    From November 4-15, the CSCE Seminar of Experts on Democratic Institutions met in Oslo, Norway, pursuant to a mandate contained in the 1991 Charter of Paris for a New Europe. Accordingly, experts discussed means and ways for "consolidating and strengthening viable democratic institutions." During the course of the Seminar, participants met in three closed study groups in which they considered constitutional and electoral frameworks, as well as comparative human rights legislation. In this context, numerous experts participated in the Oslo Seminar, contributing expositions on the differences among their various democratic traditions and often describing their national experiences in these areas. In addition, contacts among experts, non*governmental organizations, and government representatives in the margins of the meeting contributed to the overall work of the Seminar.

  • The Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE

    In accordance with the mandate of the Vienna Concluding Document, the 38 states participating in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) met in Moscow from September 10 through October 4, 1991, for the third meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension (CHD, or CDH from the French acronym) of the CSCE. The first meeting of the Conference was held in Paris from May 20 through June 23, 1989, and the second was held in Copenhagen from June 5 through 29, 1990. The meetings of the CHD address the full range of human rights and humanitarian concerns associated with the Helsinki process.

  • Geneva Meeting on National Minorities and Moscow Meeting on the Human Dimension

    The hearing will focus on two important CSCE meetings, the Geneva Experts Meeting on National Minorities.   The Geneva meeting which recently ended was mandated to discuss national minorities, the meeting had three components: exchange of views on practical experience; review of the implementation of relevant CSCE commitments; and consideration of new measures. The distinguished speaker will outline the major points of the Geneva meeting and how the United States can best utilize its success while moving towards the upcoming human dimension meeting in Moscow.

  • CONFERENCE ON SECURITY, STABILITY, DEVELOPMENT, AND COOPERATION IN AFRICA

    This hearing focused on successes of the Helsinki process in guiding Eastern Europe towards democratic governance and how a similar framework could work in Africa. The joint hearing emphasized the need for expedient action for the continent or risk unmanageable stagnating crises. Many former oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe draw parallels to similar governing system in the African continent, such systems lack rule based institutions, political enfranchisement, and civil protections. The Commissioners and the distinguished panelists discuss what measures African countries are taking in their democratization process and what the additional actions should be.

  • Democratic Developments in Albania

    Beginning at the Copenhagen Human Dimension Meeting in June 1990, Albania has been granted observer status at CSCE meetings. Albania would like to move beyond its current observer status and become a full participant in the process. The Commission delegation had stated when it left after its first visit that it needed to see significant improvements in Albania s human rights performance before we could support Albania’s membership in the CSCE. There is no question that the situation has remarkably improved as of last year, a fact which we on the Helsinki Commission have welcomed and have even complimented the existing government for moving in what we consider the right direction. A key question now, in addition to that of CSCE membership, is how the United States can best develop these bilateral relations to the benefit of democracy in Albania.

  • Final Resolution Concerning the Establishment of the CSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    The delegations of the Parliaments of countries participating in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, meeting in Madrid, on April 2nd and 3rd 1991 --- Considering the provisions of the Paris Charter for a New Europe which, in recognition of the important role that parliamentarians can play in the CSCE process, calls for the establishment of a CSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

  • The Charter of Paris for a New Europe

    We, the Heads of State or Government of the States participating in the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, havae assembled in Paris at a time of profound change and historic expectations. The era of confrontation and division of Europe has ended. We declare that henceforth our relations will be founded on respect and co-operation. Europe is liberating itself from the legacy of the past. The courage of men and women, the strength of the will of the peoples and the power of ideas of the Helsinki Final Act have opened a new era of democracy, peace and unity in Europe. Ours is a time for fulfilling the hopes and expectations our peoples have cherished for decades: steadfast commitment to democracy based on human rights and fundamental freedoms; prosperity through economic liberty and social justice; and equal security for all our countries. The Ten Principles of the Final Act will guide us towards this ambitious future, just as they have lighted our way towards better relations for the past fifteen years. Full implementation of all CSCE commitments must form the basis for the initiatives we are now taking to enable our nations to live in accordance with their aspirations.

  • Copenhagen Meeting on the Human Dimension

    This Hearing was convened by Chairman Dennis DeConcini and Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer to address the Human Dimension of the of the Helsinki Final Act. In attendance were Ambassador Max Kampelmann, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Copenhagen CSCE Conference on the Human Dimension, Prof. Thomas Buergenthal, public member of the U.S. Delegation, and Prof. Hurst Hannum, public member of the U.S. Delegation. Those in attendence discussed the state of human rights in the OSCE region and various humanitarian causes that should be emphasized in the coming sessions.

  • Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE

    The participating States welcome with great satisfaction the fundamental political changes that have occurred in Europe since the first Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE in Paris in 1989. They note that the CSCE process has contributed significantly to bringing about these changes and that these developments in turn have greatly advanced the implementation of the provisions of the Final Act and of the other CSCE documents. They recognize that pluralistic democracy and the rule of law are essential for ensuring respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, the development of human contacts and the resolution of other issues of a related humanitarian character. They therefore welcome the commitment expressed by all participating States to the ideals of democracy and political pluralism as well as their common determination to build democratic societies based on free elections and the rule of law. At the Copenhagen Meeting the participating States held a review of the implementation of their commitments in the field of the human dimension. They considered that the degree of compliance with the commitments contained in the relevant provisions of the CSCE documents had shown a fundamental improvement since the Paris Meeting. They also expressed the view, however, that further steps are required for the full realization of their commitments relating to the human dimension. The participating States express their conviction that full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the development of societies based on pluralistic democracy and the rule of law are prerequisites for progress in setting up the lasting order of peace, security, justice, and cooperation that they seek to establish in Europe. They therefore reaffirm their commitment to implement fully all provisions of the Final Act and of the other CSCE documents relating to the human dimension and undertake to build on the progress they have made. They recognize that cooperation among themselves, as well as the active involvement of persons, groups, organizations, and institutions, will be essential to ensure continuing progress towards their shared objectives.

  • Soviet Involvement in Afghanistan

    The purpose of this hearing, which Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Rep. Steny Hoyer presided over, was to examine what was happening in Afghanistan at the time, specifically in relation to the U.S.S.R. At the time of this hearing, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had ceased, and Moscow had expended financial, military, and human resources that had cost the country dearly, towards a war that had grown to be overwhelmingly with the Soviet populace, no less. Likewise, the Soviet conflict with Afghanistan had serious repercussions for the Soviet economy, which was why it was surprising that, even after the war, the U.S.S.R. had continued to spend significant capital to prop up the government in Kabul. Another issue was where U.S. aid was going and whether or not it was being properly spent.

  • Sofia CSCE Meeting on the Protection of the Environment

    The purpose of this hearing, which Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer chaired, was to examine the first meeting in CSCE history devoted exclusively to the environment. The hearing predated the Sofia Meeting itself, whose purpose was to address environmental problems that recognize no borders and threaten every individual’s right to a peaceful and secure life. Unfortunately, the Sofia Meeting had been marred by the Bulgarian government’s lack of tolerance in its treatment of its Turkish and Muslim minorities, specifically the Bulgarian government’s campaign to assimilate Turkish minorities, which constituted a serious violation of human rights. Needless to say, then, intersectionality existed and continues to exist among environmental issues and the Helsinki process’s other top priorities.

  • CODEL DeConcini - Trip Report on Turkey and Poland

    The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, more commonly known as the Helsinki Commission, was established by law in 1976 to monitor and report on compliance with the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The Helsinki Final Act, as well as successor agreements, includes provisions regarding military security; trade, economic issues, and the environment; and human rights and humanitarian concerns. Thirty-two European countries participate in the Helsinki process, plus the United States, Canada, and the Soviet Union. The Helsinki Commission is currently chaired by Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) and co­ chaired by Representative Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), and has 18 members from the Senate and House, as well as one each from the Departments of Commerce, State, and Defense. In accordance with its legislative mandate, the Commission undertakes a variety of activities aimed at monitoring and reporting on all three sections (known as baskets) of the Helsinki Accords. These activities include the solicitation of expert testimony before Congress, providing to Congress and the public reports on implementation of the Helsinki Accords, and the publication of human rights documents issued by independent monitoring groups. In addition, the Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Commission lead delegations to participating States and to meetings of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In undertaking a trip to Poland at this time, the Helsinki Commission had two main objectives. First, the Commission hoped to evaluate the status of human rights reform in the wake of the quantitative and qualitative changes which had taken place in Poland since the Commission's trip to Poland in April 1988 and in light of the new opportunities for reform created by the Round-Table Agreement of April 1989. Second, the delegation was interested in establishing direct contact with those segments of the National Assembly which were democratically elected.3 During the course of the trip, the delegation visited Gdansk, Warsaw. and Krakow. Meetings were held with senior leaders from key political groups, memhers of the Polish parliament, independent human rights advocates, opposition journalists, and environmental activists.

  • Paris Human Dimension Meeting: Human Rights in the Helsinki Process

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Steny Hoyer, took place after the first meeting of three 4-week meetings of the Conference of the Human Dimension. These meetings were a function of the Conference on the Security and Cooperation in Europe the first of which took place on June 23, with the 35 member states of the OSCE in attendance. On the U.S.’s part, the goal was to seek greater implementation of the human rights and human contacts provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The atendees discussed the Vienna Concluding Document of January 1989, continued Soviet and East European violations of the rights of national minorities and religious believers and restrictions on the rights of free assembly, association, expression, and noncompliance with human contacts provisions, and fostering greater respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • The London Information Forum of the CSCE - Compilation of Speeches

    The London Information Forum was the first non-military follow-up activity to be held within the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe following the conclusion of the Vienna CSCE Review Meeting. The forum's aims, as mandated by the Vienna document, included examination of the circulation of, access to and exchange of information; cooperation in the field of information; and the improvement of working conditions for journalists. The London Information Forum addressed fundamental human rights questions: the right to free expression and free choice of information sources. At issue were not only new initiatives in the exchange of information, but also improved compliance with existing CSCE commitments.

  • Conclusion of the Vienna Meeting and implications for U.S. Policy

    The general tenor of East-West relations has changed considerably in recent years. Some changes give cause for hope, others reinforce longstanding doubts. The Helsinki process in general, and the Vienna Meeting in particular, have contributed to this dynamic period, and rightly so, for change is what the Helsinki process is all about, the changing relationships between governments, their citizens, as well as between states. The Vienna Concluding Document itself contains more precise provisions than any previous CSCE document. Particularly noteworthy are those texts concerning religious freedoms, the rights of national minorities, freedoms of movement, the environment, and information. The document, like those which preceded it, will be used as a standard against which to measure the behavior of the participating States. For it is a demonstration of commitment which will give the document its true meaning.

  • Concluding Document of the Vienna Follow-Up Meeting

    The representatives of the participating States of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, the Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Yugoslavia met in Vienna from 4 November 1986 to 19 January 1989 in accordance with the provisions of the Final Act relating to the Follow-Up to the conference, as well as on the basis of the other relevant CSCE documents. The representatives of the participating States reaffirmed their commitment to the CSCE process and underlined its essential role in increasing confidence, in opening up new ways for cooperation, in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and thus strengthening international security.

  • CSCE Vienna Follow-Up Meeting - A Framework for Europe's Future

    The representatives of the participating States of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, the Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Yugoslavia met in Vienna from 4 November 1986 to 17 January 1989 in accordance with the provisions of the Final Act relating to the Follow-Up to the conference, as well as on the basis of the other relevant CSCE documents. The representatives of the participating States reaffirmed their commitment to the CSCE process and underlined its essential role in increasing confidence, in opening up new ways for cooperation, in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and thus strengthening international security. The participating States welcomed the favourable developments in the international situation since the conclusion of the Madrid Meeting in 1983 and expressed their satisfaction that the CSCE process has contributed to these developments. Noting the intensification of political dialogue between their countries and the important progress in negotiations onmilitary security and disarmament they agreed that renewed efforts should be undertaken to consolidate these positive trends and to achieve a substantial further improvement of their mutual relations. Accordingly, they reaffirmed their resolve to implement fully, unilaterally, bilaterally and multilaterally, all the provisions of the Final Act and of the other CSCE documents.

  • Concluding Document of the 1986 Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE

    The representatives of the participating States of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Fin­ land, France, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, the Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thrkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Yugoslavia, met in Vienna from 4 November 1986 to 19 January 1989 in accordance with the provisions of the Final Act relating to the Follow-up to the Conference, as well as on the basis of the other relevant CSCE documents. The participants were addressed on 4 November 1986 by the Austrian Federal Chancellor. Opening statements were made by all Heads of Delegations among whom were Ministers and Deputy Ministers of many participating States. Some Ministers of Foreign Affairs addressed the Meeting also at later stages. The participants were addressed by a representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Contributions were made by representatives of the United Nations Economic Commis­ sion for Europe (ECE) and UNESCO. Contributions were also made by the following non-participating Mediterranean States: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Thnisia. The representatives of the participating States reaffirmed their commitment to the CSCE process and underlined its essential role in increasing confidence, in opening up new ways for co-operation, in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and thus strengthening international security. The participating States welcomed the favourable developments in the international situation since the conclusion of the Madrid Meeting in 1983 and expressed their satisfaction that the CSCE process has contributed to these developments. Noting the intensification of political dialogue among them and the important progress in negotiations on military security and disarmament, they agreed that renewed efforts should be undertaken to consolidate these positive trends and to achieve a substantial further improvement of their mutual relations. Accordingly, they reaffirmed their resolve fully to implement, unilaterally, bilaterally and multilaterally, all the provisions of the Final Act and of the other CSCE documents. As provided for in the Agenda of the Vienna Meeting, the representatives of the participating States held a thorough exchange of views both on the implementation of the provisions of the Final Act and the Madrid Concluding Document and of the tasks defined by the Conference, as well as, in the context of the questions dealt with by the latter, on the deepening of their mutual relations, the improvement of security and the development of co-operation in Europe, and the development of the process of detente in the future.

  • Status of Conventional Stability Talks in Europe

    This hearing, which Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer presided over, was part and parcel of an anticipated series of Conventional Stability Talks within the framework of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The hearing also was a joint hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Helsinki Commission. At the hearing, Commissioner Hoyer expressed the sentiment of a heightened political awareness of the conventional force issue, particularly in the wake of the recently ratified INF Treaty, tempered with the desire to not have these sorts of issues (i.e. the CSCE’s expansion to encompass conventional force negotiations and the developing overlap of the conventional stability and CSBM talks) overshadow human rights. Balancing of the different East-West relations is an explicit objective, the Commissioner said. Not only did attendees at this hearing discuss Conventional Stability, but they also discussed the status of the agenda in Vienna and the developing relationship among all these talks within the CSCE process.  

  • Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Phase III and IV

    The main activity of the Vienna Meeting throughout Phases III and IV was the presentation and negotiation of proposals for inclu sion in the concluding document of the meeting. The number (more than 160), complexity and controversial nature of many of these propos­als led to the extension of the Vienna Meeting well beyond its target closing date of July 31. These factors, along with other ele­ments such as continuing major shortcomings in the implementa­ tion of existing commitments, are largely responsible for the con­tinuation of the Vienna Meeting into 1988. The slow pace of progress already evident in Phase II continued through the next phase. Each side defended its own proposals but showed little disposition to begin the process of compromise which could lead to the conclusion of the meeting. The main procedural development during this phase was the appointment of coordina­tors from the neutral and non-aligned states to guide the work of the drafting groups. This development provided greater order and structure for the proceedings but did little to advance the drafting work or to induce compromises. Other major developments during this phase were the introduc­tion of the long-awaited Western proposal on military security and the tabling of a comprehensive compromise proposed in Basket III by two neutral delegations, Austria and Switzerland. Both propos­als were put forth at the very end of the phase and thus did not have much impact until the next phase. The Western (NATO) proposal on military security questions was designed as a response to the Eastern proposal which envisioned two main objectives: another round of negotiations on confidence­ and security-building measures (CSBMs) to build upon the success­ful Stockholm meeting and the initiation of negotiations on conven­tional disarmament, both within the same CSCE forum. The West­ern response to this proposal was delayed primarily because of United States and French differences over the connection between the conventional arms negotiations and the CSCE process, the French arguing that the negotiations should be an integral part of the process and the U.S. insisting that they be independent. The issue was resolved by agreement that the negotiations would be "within the framework of the CSCE," but should remain autono­mous.

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