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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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  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Compilation of Speeches (Jan-Apr 1987)

    On November 4, 1986, the 35 signatory nations to the Helsinki  Final  Act convened in Vienna for the third follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. During the six weeks that followed the opening of the Conference, there was a thorough exchange of views on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and the Madrid Concluding Document, along with discussion about the next phases of review of the Helsinki process. The United States delegation to the Vienna Review Meeting made significant contributions in detailing the human rights abuses of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries in their many speeches in both the plenary sessions and in various subsidiary working groups.

  • Documents of the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in the U.S.S.R. and Lithuania (1976-1986), Vol. 3 - Ukraine

    November 9, 1986, marked the 10th anniversary of the largest and, in terms of prison sentences, the most repressed of the Soviet Helsinki Groups--the Ukrainian Helsinki Group. Founded by Ukrainian writer and World War II veteran Mykola Rudenko, the group produced extensive documentation on violations of the Helsinki Accords in Ukraine, such as persecution of individual dissent, suppression of the Ukrainian language and culture, and religious persecution. The Soviet Government was determined to deny this group any public voice. Of the 38 members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, all but one have been imprisoned at one time or another. Fourteen Ukrainian Helsinki Monitors and one Estonian human rights activist who joined the group while in a labor camp, are currently serving lengthly sentences. Since May 1984, three members have died in camps. All three men had been ill and denied adequate medical care. Oleksa Tykhy, Yuriy Lytvyn and Vasyl Stus all died for their beliefs. Prior to his death, Stus had written "Moscow has given the camp authorities complete power, and anyone harboring the illusion that our relations with /the camp authorities/ are regulated by some sort of law is sadly mistaken." His words were tragically prophetic. We are concerned that the same fate awaits others, including Lev Lukianenko, Mykola Horbal, Ivan Kandyba, Vasyl Ovsienko and Vitaly Kalynychenko. It is vital that we remember the courageous members of the Ukrainian Monitoring Group and their eloquent call for compliance with the ideals of Helsinki. In fact, the Congress recently passed a resolution commemorating the anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki group and honoring the members of all the Soviet Helsinki Monitoring Groups. At the ongoing Vienna CSCE Follow-up Meeting, the United States and other Western delegations are speaking out on behalf of the imprisoned members of the Ukrainian and other Helsinki Groups. We hope that the documents contained in this volume will help to ensure that the Ukrainian Group and its message are not forgotten.

  • Report: Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Phase I

    At the initial session of the third CSCE follow-up meeting held in Vienna from November 4 to December 20, 1986, the Soviet Union and a number of its Warsaw Pact allies came under the most concentrated and concerted attack for human rights abuses since the beginning of the Helsinki process in 1975. In some ways the barrage of criticism directed at the East during the implementation phase of the Vienna Conference was more remarkable for the fact that the Soviet Union for the first time offered a series of gestures, promises and public relations maneuvers specifically designed to soften or mute negative Western assessments of its performance. Partly out of underlying distrust for Soviet motives and partly because of Soviet bumbling or callousness in the death of imprisoned Helsinki Monitor Anatoly Marchenko and the agonizingly delayed departure of cancer patient Rimma Bravve, Western as well as neutral and nonaligned (NNa) participants joined together to mount an unprecedented indictment of Soviet and East European violations of the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act. As a result, the calculated Soviet effort under General Secretary Gorbachev to project a new, more open and humane image remained at best open to doubt and at worst suffered a serious loss in credibility.

  • The Vienna Review Meeting of the CSCE - Compilation of Speeches, Nov-Dec 1986

    On November 4, 1986, the 35 signatory nations to the Helsinki  Final  Act convened in Vienna for the third follow-up meeting of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. During the six weeks that followed the opening of the Conference, there was a thorough exchange of views on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and the Madrid Concluding Document, along with discussion about the next phases of review of the Helsinki process. The United States delegation to the Vienna Review Meeting made significant contributions in detailing the human rights abuses of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries in their many speeches in both the plenary sessions and in various subsidiary working groups.  

  • 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.

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