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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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  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol. III – Information Flow, And Cultural And Educational Exchanges

    In this hearing, Commissioner Dante Fascell and others discussed the impact that the Helsinki Accords had on easing and expanding the flow of ideas and information across ideological and international frontiers. The rationale for this hearing, which consisted of three mornings of testimony, was that, while the Commission has had a long and storied history of hearing and discussing the movement of people, one goal of the Helsinki Accords is to diminish the obstacles that keep the views of others out, which are also the borders that restrict freedom of movement for people.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol I - Human Rights and Contacts

    This hearing focused on the implementation of the Helsinki Accords and explored proposals for advancing compliance.  The Commissioners and witnesses discussed how the accords could better East-West relations. They discussed how the framework of the Helsinki accords helps provide protection against armed intervention in internal affairs, or the threat of such intervention.  The Commissioners heard testimonies from those working on human rights in Warsaw Pact countries and from many American citizens seeking reunification with relatives in Warsaw Pact countries.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol.I - Human Rights & Contacts

    Hon. Dante Fascell, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided over this hearing on the implementation of the Helsinki Accords. This hearing focused on the Commisison's consideration of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords dealing with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and with freer movement of people and information. The purpose was to define what the Commission knew of implementation of the accords and of their violations, to explore proposals for advancing compliance, and to seek advice on the role the accords played bettering East-West relations. Hon. Fascell was joined by Leonard Garment, former U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and Vladimir Bukovsky, former Soviet political prisoner.

  • 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.

  • Report of the Study Mission to Europe

    Study Mission of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe visited 18 signatories of the Helsinki Final Act between November 5 and November 23, 1976. The purpose of the Mission was to gather information about the current status of implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki accords and to establish contacts with key European political and governmental officials as well as private individuals and organizations concerned with various aspects of the implementation process. The CSCE Study Mission was composed of Rep. Dante B. Fascell, D-Fla. (Commission chairman); Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I. (co-chairman); Rep. Jonathan Bingham, D-N.Y.; Rep. Millicent Fenwick, R-N.J.; and Rep. Paul Simon, D-Ill. Travelling individually, Commissioners and staff aides met with government officials and parliamentarians in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands,' Norway, the Holy See, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia, as well as with experts at NATO, the European Community, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, the Intergovernmental Committee on European Migration, the OECD, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The Mission regrets that it could not confer with all signatory countries at this time and intends to do so in the future. The limited time available precluded visits to some countries. The Warsaw Pact countries, however, refused to permit the Commissioners to visit their countries, an action which runs counter to the very spirit of Helsinki. Additionally, the Study Mission met with half a dozen private refugee organizations, a number of recent Soviet exiles, more than 30 businessmen and organizations active in East-West trade, a cross section of journalists specializing in Eastern European affairs, and more than 20 individuals and private institutions conducting research on Helsinki implementation questions. Commission members Mansfield Sprague and James G. Poor from the Departments of Commerce and Defense, respectively, attended the initial and final joint Study Mission sessions in Brussels and London, and Commissioner Monroe Leigh of the Department of State attended the Brussels meetings.

  • Helsinki Final Act (Long Version)

    The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which opened at Helsinki on 3 July 1973 and continued at Geneva from 18 September 1973 to 21 July 1975, was concluded at Helsinki on 1 August 1975 by the High Representatives of 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. During the opening and closing stages of the Conference the participants were addressed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as their guest of honour. The Director-General of UNESCO and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe addressed the Conference during its second stage. During the meetings of the second stage of the Conference, contributions were received, and statements heard, from the following non-participating Mediterranean States on various agenda items: the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Israel, the Kingdom of Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia.

  • The Helsinki Final Act

    The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which opened at Helsinki on 3 July 1973 and continued at Geneva from 18 September 1973 to 21 July 1975, was concluded at Helsinki on 1 August 1975 by the High Representatives of 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. During the opening and closing stages of the Conference the participants were addressed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as their guest of honour. The Director-General of UNESCO and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe addressed the Conference during its second stage. During the meetings of the second stage of the Conference, contributions were received, and statements heard, from the following non-participating Mediterranean States on various agenda items: the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Israel, the Kingdom of Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Tunisia.

  • Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

    In July 1973 the Foreign Ministers of 33 European countries and the United States opened the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), in Helsinki. Since then the participants have made slow but steady progress on a broad range of security, political, economic and other issues of mutual concern. As the conference reaches what appears to be a conclusive stage interest in its eventual outcome has mounted both in Congress and throughout the Nation: Special concern has been expressed over the implications the Conference may have for such issues as human rights in Eastern Europe, the division of Germany, U.S. force levels in Europe, and the future of the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

  • OSCE Election Observation

    After OSCE nations pledged in 1990 to hold free and fair elections, election observation – one of the most transparent and methodical ways to encourage commitment to democratic standards – became a core element of the OSCE’s efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. As part of its OSCE commitments, each OSCE country is expected to invite foreign observers to observe its elections. In 2018 alone, the OSCE was invited to observe elections in Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Monaco, Montenegro, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and the United States.* History of OSCE Election Observation In 1990, all OSCE countries voluntarily committed to holding democratic elections that meet the same basic standards: universal access, equality, fairness, freedom, transparency, accountability, and privacy in voter submission. Because violations of these commitments can endanger stability in the OSCE region, as well as within an individual country, OSCE nations also agreed to open their elections to observers from other participating countries. To encourage compliance and confidence in the results of the observation missions, countries agreed to observe elections together under the OSCE umbrella. Since the 1990s, OSCE election observers have been present at more than 300 elections throughout the OSCE region. While some OSCE countries benefit from foreign observation more than others – especially those that formerly had one-party communist systems and little experience with democracy – the OSCE also observes elections in more established and stable democracies, such as the United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. As one of the original 35 members of the OSCE, the United States has participated actively in OSCE election observation missions, both by providing observers for foreign elections as well as by inviting the OSCE to observe every general and midterm election since 2002. Election Observation in Practice By analyzing election-related laws and systems, as well as the effectiveness of their implementation, election observation missions help ensure that elections in OSCE countries are free and fair for voters and candidates alike. OSCE election observation missions often are undertaken jointly by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA). The missions, which combine strong technical expertise and sound political judgement, include ODIHR officials, professional analysts, parliamentarians, and others on loan from OSCE member countries. To ensure that no single country’s point of view is overrepresented, the OSCE limits the number of observers from any one country. No matter where they are from, observers must commit themselves to an election observation code of conduct, which limits their role to observing and reporting. Observers have no authority to instruct, assist, or interfere in the voting, counting, tabulation, or other aspects of the electoral process. Ahead of the elections, observers receive briefings from the host government, political parties, civil society, and media representatives. Long-term observers also follow pre-election activities including candidate and voter registration, political campaigns, and media coverage. On Election Day, two-person teams of short-term observers fan out across the country to observe the conduct of the election, including opening of polling stations; checking whether ballot boxes are empty and properly sealed; the counting of ballots; the handling of spoiled or unused ballots; and the transmission of polling station results. Observers monitor how voters are processed, the accuracy of voter registries, and whether voters are able to vote in secret and in an environment that is free from intimidation. After the elections, long-term observers note how electoral complaints and appeals are handled. The OSCE election observation mission publishes preliminary findings immediately after the elections, with a final comprehensive report issued a few weeks later. The final report includes in-depth analysis of the election’s political context and  legislative framework;  election  administration;  voter  and  candidate  registration; the election campaign; the media; participation of women and national minorities; and the voting, counting, and tabulation processes. The OSCE methodology represents the global standard for quality election observation. Its expertise has been shared with other regional organizations, and the OSCE has contributed to observation efforts outside the OSCE region. The Helsinki Commission Contribution The U.S. Helsinki Commission was the first to propose concrete commitments regarding free and fair elections more than a year before they were adopted by the OSCE in June 1990. By that time, Commissioners and staff had already observed the conduct of the first multi-party elections in seven East and Central European countries transitioning from one-party communist states to functioning democracies. As the OSCE developed its institutional capacities in the mid-1990s, the Commission joined the efforts of an increasing number of observer teams from across the OSCE region, which evolved into the well-planned, professional election observation missions of today.  Commissioners and staff have observed well over 100 elections since 1990. The Commission continues to support OSCE observation efforts, focusing on countries where resistance to democratic change remains the strongest. Learn More Elections: OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly * Following Needs Assessment Missions designed to assess the situation and determine the scale of a potential observation activity in a particular country, election observation was deemed unnecessary in some cases.

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