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Alcee Hastings

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  • Dancers Call Attention to Iraqi Refugees

    For the past six years, news of the Iraq War has flooded the airwaves: the body count — more than 100,000 civilians and more than 4,500 soldiers; the cost — $700 billion; and the uncertainty about when the conflict will end and what the final outcome will be. But one aspect of the tragic situation that does not garner as much attention is that of those Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes, heading to a dubious future in an unfamiliar land. A performance on Tuesday will highlight the escalating humanitarian crisis of refugees seeking some semblance of safety in nearby countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. Millions of Iraqis have been displaced because of the war, and the situation remains dire for many of them. “Still Waiting, Still Suffering,” which will be performed by the D.C.-based CityDance Ensemble, highlights the refugees’ plight in a personal and dramatic way. The event is being sponsored by the Helsinki Commission, which is headed by Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). The hope is that the event will alert people to the often forgotten suffering of Iraqis, as well as educate people about the ethical and security implications of the crisis. “We’re trying to give people in the audience a sense of what these people have lived through,” said Paul Emerson, co-founder and artistic director of CityDance. “It’s trying to say, ‘This is something we shouldn’t forget about.’” Hastings said it is imperative that the U.S. take a more active role in addressing the refugee crisis, as it is only likely to worsen with plans for a surge in Afghanistan. “If we as a nation and our allies who participated in causing the displacement of these people” don’t take action, “we can only imagine what our detractors will do to recruit people.” The large numbers of refugees migrating to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt take a severe toll on the economies of those countries and strain their educational and health care systems as well, Hastings said. As refugees come under increasing duress, they become ripe for the propagandizing by terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and al-Qaida. “When people don’t have any hope, they turn to whatever they can,” Hastings said. Neil Simon, communications director for the Helsinki Commission, said the performance could have more of an effect than a floor speech or lecture might because of the “emotional information” presented through the dance. “Perhaps they’ll build up a different sort of empathy for the cause,” Simon said. In order to prepare for the “Still Waiting, Still Suffering” performance, Emerson and the dancers traveled to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to meet with Iraqi refugees there. Most did not want to be identified but shared their stories of exile and distress after leaving their homeland, Emerson said. Those experiences were then translated into “Still Waiting, Still Suffering.” The piece will consist mostly of dance performances, but video, animation and spoken-word elements will also be incorporated. Emerson said he hopes the event will demonstrate the way in which art can be a conduit to talking about politics and policy. But more importantly than that, the dance is meant to give at least some representation to the millions who are suffering because of the Iraq War. “The main message is to not forget these people who are waiting for international action,” Simon said.   The free performance will take place Tuesday at the Capitol Visitor Center from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

  • Embassy Row: Swiss "Intolerance"

    The leaders of a congressional human rights panel criticized Swiss voters for approving a resolution to ban the further construction of mosque minarets and warned that the prohibition violates European religious freedom standards. "If this ban on religious expression is allowed to stand, Switzerland will clearly be out of step with its OSCE commitments of freedom of religion and belief," Rep. Alcee L. Hastings said this week, referring to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The 56-nation OSCE is a major human rights alliance throughout Europe and Eurasia. Mr. Hastings, Florida Democrat, is the co-chairman of the congressional Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. "I hope the Swiss courts will overturn this referendum and that the Swiss government will double its efforts to implement anti-discrimination laws and have an open and honest dialogue about religious and ethnic tolerance," Mr. Hastings added. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, the commission chairman, expressed worries that the referendum will send the message that Swiss are an intolerant people. "The Swiss vote to ban minarets is worrying for a number of reasons, including the fact that the Swiss people have seen fit to limit the religious practice of one particular group," the Maryland Democrat said. "I trust the Swiss government will work swiftly to be sure that the Swiss are not viewed as an intolerant people." Swiss citizens endorsed the referendum Sunday with 57.5 percent of the vote. The referendum bans the further construction of minarets, the mosque towers used to broadcast daily calls to prayer, but it does not restrict the construction of further mosques. In Switzerland, Ulrich Schuler, the architect of the referendum endorsed by the Swiss People's Party, told reporters that the ban was necessary because minarets are symbols of radical Islamic demands to impose Muslim laws in the majority Christian country.

  • United Nations Forum on Minority Issues - Geneva, Switzerland

    Good afternoon. I am Congressman Alcee Hastings from the United States. I am honored to be here today with a number of my colleagues from the US Congress, including the Chair of this Forum - Congresswoman Barbara Lee. I am pleased that this week’s event offers the opportunity for us to work together in the international arena on an issue of great importance - minority political participation. I am pleased that the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall invited me to present on a minority political participation effort I recently initiated that I believe will be useful for today’s discussion in developing recommendations for this forum’s final document. As the Chair and co-Chair the US Helsinki Commission over the past few years, I have been tasked with the responsibility of monitoring and supporting 56 European and North American countries’ efforts to uphold the Helsinki Accords and related commitments, including fostering equal rights and combating intolerance and discrimination. A series of hearings we held in the US Congress on these issues including existing inequalities and discrimination faced by Black Europeans and other visible minorities throughout the OSCE, led to a call for action. Instrumental to those hearings were the testimonies of UN representatives Gay McDougall and Joe Frans that assisted in identifying patterns of concern in the OSCE region. Following those hearings, I introduced the first US bill calling for transatlantic government partnerships to combat racism and discrimination and partnered with UN Working Group of People of African descent head Joe Frans and current and former EU Parliamentarians Harlem Desir, Claude Moraes, and Glyn Ford to begin an initiative that would support the needed involvement of minorities in the policymaking arenas to effectively address these issues. I’m happy to see a number of my colleagues here today. The resulting event was the “Black European Summit: Transatlantic Dialogue on Political Participation.” The Summit took place over two days in April (15-16) at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. For the first time a small group of political and intellectual minority leaders from more than ten countries exchanged information on barriers to political participation and the roles of minority policymakers in representing minority interests, including promoting equal rights in the United States and Europe. Following the event, participants adopted the Brussels Declaration which addressed the importance of and strategies for increasing racial and ethnic minority political participation. Materials on each of these initiatives have been made available today. What did we learn? Whether a Parliamentarian, Mayor, or City Counselor, we had much in common. First, the majority of our political and legal systems do not accurately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our societies. Second, we have often not been sufficiently included in the development and/or implementation of government policies, even when the stated goal was to combat racism and discrimination. Third, institutionalized processes are often at fault, yet, despite stated commitments to democracy, there continues to be a lack of political will from government, political parties and other actors to include us. Fourth, the lack of political knowledge of our communities often made it difficult to garner the necessary support to effectively address these issues. We noted that often times, political participation was defined as whether minorities had the right to vote or be elected. While this is one aspect of participation, there are many others. Policymaking via obtaining positions in the government and/or with political parties, grassroots advocacy, and an understanding of the political process such as how laws are drafted are also of great importance. We discussed simple solutions governments, political parties, and non-governmental organizations can employ such as advertising employment opportunities in minority communities, requiring that at least a percentage of persons interviewed for a position are minorities, and providing minority fellowships and internships for teenagers and college students in Parliament, government agencies, and other organizations are initial steps. Financing degrees for minorities in relevant fields such as law, international relations, political science, or even economics is another. Tapping minorities in the private sector for public-private policy initiatives such as the development of energy and trade policies are also necessary. We determined that government agencies, parliamentarians, and other government officials can also foster strong relationships with minority communities through educational information sessions on political rights and even regular face to face meetings that allow minorities to be in on the decision-making of policies that impact them. This could be small regular monthly meetings or even town hall sessions. The need for increased support for minorities currently in political careers was deemed essential. Mentorship opportunities for current elected officials and those seeking elections, establishing support networks such as our Congressional Black Caucus, and having procedures in place to address workplace discrimination were noted. In discussing the realm of possible solutions, we agreed to make the initial Summit an annual event and to continue the dialogue. Moving forward we plan to address the following issues, which are also detailed in the final Brussels Declaration: 1. Political education for minority communities, including advocacy, 2. The development of physical and electronic support networks for minority elected officials, 3. Youth and community outreach, including the development of targeted professional development and hiring strategies in the political arena, and 4. Opportunities for self-organization and other empowerment initiatives. Importantly, we believe these efforts must be applied to all levels of national, regional, and local government to ensure that our societies are fully participatory. In the interest of time, I will conclude here. I would urge that many of the concrete steps I detailed be included in the Final Document of this forum. I look forward to answering any questions regarding the Summit, US initiatives, and other thoughts on concrete strategies regarding minority political participation during the discussion. Thank you.

  • Embassy Row: Wall Fallout

    A Democratic congressman this week used a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall to criticize President Obama for failing to nominate a U.S. ambassador to a key European human rights panel. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings of Florida urged Mr. Obama to find time to fill the ambassadorship to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). "I'm disappointed that the administration has still not yet nominated an ambassador to one of the pre-eminent human rights organizations," said Mr. Hastings, co-chairman of the congressional version of the OSCE, the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. "For a president who so strongly supports international engagement and reinvigorating multilateral institutions, I expected better." Mr. Hastings added that he hopes Mr. Obama will nominate an ambassador to the 56-nation OSCE before the end of the year. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, chairman of the congressional panel, called on the United States "to renew its commitment to human rights, not as a personal belief of any political leader or simply an administration policy but as a moral obligation of our country to uphold international law and universal principles." The Maryland Democrat joined other panel members, including the ranking Republican, Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, for the commemoration of the fall of the Wall at the Newseum, which displays the largest section of the Wall outside of Germany. Ambassadors Klaus Scharioth of Germany and Cosmin Vierita of Romania also attended the event, along with House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, who chaired the congressional commission in 1989 when Germany tore down the Berlin Wall.

  • Co-Chairman Hastings Remarks at "Where Walls Still Stand," 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Thank you, Chairman Cardin. And thank you all for being here. Standing here today with this concrete icon before us, the images and lessons of history are inescapable. From the guard tower where officers had shoot-to-kill orders for anybody trying to escape the East -- to the stark contrast in coloring on either side of this barrier, the fall of the Berlin Wall is truly one of the finest chapters in freedom’s story. A few inches of concrete formed the line between a world of free expression and one of repression. And now, 20 years later, it stands as a bold testament to the fact that a people empowered to express themselves cannot be contained, the march of freedom cannot be stopped. Seeing the liberation that took place in November 1989 resonated with me personally. In my lifetime I’ve faced my share of walls – the walls of a segregated South, the walls of lingering racism and discrimination. But I overcame Jim Crow’s walls to be Florida’s first African-American federal judge and then its first African-American in Congress since the post-Civil War era. And I stand here today, in this same building amid the ballot box that brought democracy to a land of apartheid; bombed out signs from sniper alley where journalists covered Europe’s worst massacre since World War II; and here by the largest piece of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany – to remind us of how far we have come, and the work that remains to uphold the dignity of all, regardless of their background. I am happy to see that as of last month we have a new assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor in Michael Posner. But I’m disappointed that this position was filled at the slowest pace in 28 years, and this administration has still not yet nominated an ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. For a president who so strongly supports international engagement and reinvigorating multilateral institutions, I expected better. I know it is early and the agenda is long, but I hope we will have an ambassador nominated by year’s end. The events of 1989 showed the power of civil society to spur change through the exercise of fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association and movement. And because of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, we now live in a very different and better world. And while personal and political freedoms have greatly expanded throughout the OSCE region over the last two decades, some countries continue to limit these basic rights. In particular, I am concerned about backsliding of a free press and places where political and ethnic minorities are blocked from participating in civic life. Across Eastern Europe and Central Asia, press freedom is too often lacking. Discussing the region recently, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media Miklos Haraszti was direct: “The iron curtain is still there.” As long as journalists face unjust fines and penalties designed to literally halt the presses, the press is not free. And if journalists continue to see their colleagues kidnapped, beaten, or killed with no sincere pursuit of the criminals – the press is not free. Our politics can get nasty in this country, but you never see anybody thrown in jail just for running against an incumbent. Today, in too many places, we still see rampant political repression, perversions of the electoral process, and scare tactics used to marginalize those who simply seek to add a new voice to their country’s governing process. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, we’ve seen new walls erected. Right now, Russia is building a virtual wall in what is internationally recognized as Georgian territory, escalating its effective annexation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Elsewhere walls are isolating minorities, and -- even here –keeping out immigrants. I’ve never been convinced that fences make good neighbors, and for a world endeavoring to lift up its people, walls are hardly a sign of progress. The success of nationalistic parties, which campaigned on messages of hate in this year’s European Parliamentary elections, concerns me. The violence and systemic exclusion of Roma is nothing short of scandalous. Don’t get me wrong – historic progress has been made. But we are not done. And our country has much work to do as well. For our country to advance freedom around the globe, we know we must advance it here. This wall did not come down so that we could build new barriers. And those who fought for freedom in the East did not struggle so that their sons and daughters would have to take up their fight anew. We at the Helsinki Commission pride ourselves on giving voice to the voiceless, providing a forum for human rights defenders who often lack even the slightest megaphone for their cause. But like the activists and artists who painted this wall calling for the people to rise up so communism could fall -- we too know something about people power. We know a community galvanized for good, fighting for freedom cannot be stopped. And wherever such defenders of liberty rise up, we will stand up to join them. Through your words and through your work, I know you will be with them as well. Thank you.

  • Promoting Tolerance and Understanding in the OSCE Region: The Role of the Personal Representatives

    This hearing discussed the role of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Witnesses commended the CSCE on its role in furthering tolerance in OSCE member states, particularly its push for member states to face the issue of the rise of anti-Semitism, and its promotion of resolutions and organization of special presentations at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Meetings.

  • Ukraine Lauded for Nixing Hotel Near Babi Yar

    Two U.S. lawmakers hailed Ukraine for halting the construction of a hotel near the site of a Nazi massacre. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) co-chair the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an agency charged with monitoring and encouraging compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other commitments. "The city authorities of Kiev deserve credit for their rapid response to concerns from human rights and Jewish groups on this issue," Cardin, who last visited the memorial park in 2007, said last week. "I applaud their swift action to overturn the city council's insensitive decision and respect the memory of the victims at Babi Yar." The hotel was to be built close to the site of Babi Yar, a ravine near Kiev, where more than 33,000 people were murdered over a two-day period from Sept. 29, 1941. Half were children. Cardin also commended Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko for his pledge "to protect as a sacred spot the site of the Nazi massacre." Between September 1941 and 1943, some 150,000 people were executed by Nazi troops in wooded areas on the outskirts of Kiev. Most were Jews, but the total also included ethnic Ukrainians, Russians, Poles and Roma, or gypsies.  

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement

    By Alex T. Johnson, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission      Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel, U.S. Helsinki Commission      Troy C. Ware, Policy Advisor (CBCF Fellow), U.S. Helsinki Commission      Christian Sy, Legislative Assistant, Office of Congressman Alcee L. Hastings United States Representative Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Co-Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission (CSCE) and Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA), recently convened the “CSCE Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement,” July 22 and 23 at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. The seminar hosted more than 50 participants from the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States of Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia, as well as Members of the United States Congress, U.S. government officials, non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives, and special guests. Delegations of the Mediterranean Partner States consisted of parliamentarians and representatives from their Washington-based diplomatic corps. Special guests included representatives of Greece, the current Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, and delegates from Kazakhstan which will chair the OSCE in 2010, staff representation of the OSCE and OSCE PA International Secretariats, as well as representation of the Swedish Presidency of the European Union. Congressman Hastings opened the seminar with words of welcome for the Mediterranean Partners and special guests, and challenged them to use the event for a frank discussion and exchange of ideas on how to strengthen the OSCE’s partnership with its Mediterranean neighbors. He also chaired each session of the two-day event. Presentations were also given on the first day by OSCE PA President João Soares of Portugal, OSCE PA President Emeritus Göran Lennmarker of Sweden, OSCE PA Vice President Jerry Grafstein of Canada, Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General Paul Fritch, and Barry Pavel of the National Security Council. Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer hosted the delegation for a reception to conclude the first day of proceedings. The second day’s sessions included presentations by Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, Ian Lesser of the German Marshall Fund, OSCE Personal Representative on Mediterranean Affairs Sotiris Roussos and additional contributions by OSCE PA President João Soares. Opening Session The opening session consisted of a panel discussion which began with remarks from Representative Alcee L. Hastings and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and OSCE PA Vice President. OSCE PA President João Soares, OSCE PA President Emeritus Göran Lennmarker, and OSCE PA Vice President Jerry Grafstein delivered keynote presentations for this panel. In sum, the presentations established a framework for the proceedings of the seminar by characterizing the historical developments of Mediterranean Partner engagement in the OSCE and identifying key priorities for enhanced engagement with the partners. Representative Hastings stressed the importance of convening the seminar, specifically to return due prominence and functionality to the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension, which he has long advocated in the OSCE PA and during his recent tenure as its president. Hastings noted that similar goals have been recently prioritized by other multilateral institutions. Senator Cardin noted the considerable work of Helsinki Commissioners in the realm of OSCE Mediterranean Partner engagement through Congressional delegation visits to both current and potential partners as well as hearings in Washington. Cardin also emphasized what he sees as an opportunity to strengthen the OSCE’s relationship with its Partners for Cooperation by the addition of new regional partners in both the Mediterranean and in Asia, namely Lebanon, Syria, and Pakistan. President Soares commended the emergence of several formal documents and proposals for empowering the partnership submitted by the Mediterranean Partners. Soares’ remarks centered around the importance of the OSCE as the most qualified international organization to address challenges within the OSCE region and its partners, proven through its successes in Central Asia and the Caucuses. He also emphasized the importance of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly which perpetuates that spirit of dialogue embodied in the Helsinki Final Act, whose principles he asserted will help achieve the goals of the countries of the Mediterranean region. President Emeritus Lennmarker explored how the OSCE, as a key mechanism through which Europe engages its own persisting challenges, could serve as a powerful model for mitigating the tremendous economic, human, and political costs of conflicts in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. The President Emeritus cautioned against protectionism in the region and offered the enhancement of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension as a vehicle to promote prosperity. The Opening Session concluded with remarks by Vice President Grafstein who urged the creation of regional trade agreements to spur economic growth and promote political stability in the region. Working Meeting on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement OSCE Mediterranean Partner States continue to be actively engaged in the activities of the OSCE and send strong delegations to ministerial level gatherings and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly events. Mediterranean Partners also send delegations to OSCE election monitoring missions and participate in technical exchanges to build capacity. Recent years have seen an increase in opportunities for engagement by the Mediterranean Partners, but there are still a number of challenges to overcome. The working meeting of the seminar sought to explore methods to improve participation by the Mediterranean Partners and expand engagement in OSCE activities. Topics of discussion included prioritizing implementation of OSCE agreements related to the Mediterranean Partner States, identifying uses for the OSCE Partnership Fund, and procedures to increase engagement in the executive structures of the OSCE. Guiding questions for the discussion included: How can we prioritize implementation of the OSCE agreements and initiatives related to Mediterranean Partner States? What should be the priorities for the OSCE Partnership Fund? How can Mediterranean Partner States become more engaged in the executive structures of the OSCE and other tangible partnerships? Paul Fritch of the OSCE Secretariat guided the working meeting by describing the mandate of the OSCE Partners for Cooperation and characterizing the current level of engagement by the Partner States. He identified key considerations and challenges that should be addressed, as well as the successes of Mediterranean Partner Engagement with the OSCE on matters of tolerance, anti-terrorism cooperation, and migration management. Participants made the following recommendations: The Mediterranean Partners must translate their valued relationship with the OSCE into engagement across the entire span of work in all three dimensions of the OSCE – political-security, economic, and human – building on their successful contributions in anti-terrorism cooperation, migration management, and tolerance. The OSCE Partnership Fund should continue to be utilized to inspire ownership of the process of partnership. Specifically, the Fund should foster civil society engagement in the activities of the Mediterranean Partners and be used to promote Partner participation in all activities of the OSCE. The OSCE must build synergy with other regional cooperation mechanisms such as NATO, the European Union, and others, as well as promote cooperative initiatives affiliated with these institutions. The OSCE must clearly negotiate its role and articulate its contributions to the States engaged in the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Currently, extensively overlapping mandates with other international initiatives inhibits the potential for tangible achievements of the Partnership. Expectations of engagement from Mediterranean Partners States must be clearly defined, especially the role of parliamentarians. Appropriate measures should then be taken to facilitate further engagement. Inversely, the OSCE must clearly define what it gains from the engagement of the Mediterranean Partners States. Efforts should be made to promote appropriate diplomatic exchanges with the OSCE through a formalized mechanism, internship, or fellowship to offer training to the diplomatic corps and civil service of Mediterranean Partner States regarding the principles of the Helsinki Process, the organization and functions of the OSCE and the potential to use OSCE institutions and mechanisms to promote economic development and political stability. Opportunities for support and consultation from the various institutions and offices of the OSCE should continue to be explored. Such partnerships should include (but are not limited to) engagement with the Office of the Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings, ODHIR, Strategic Police Matters Unit, Gender Unit, Office of the Coordinator for Environmental and Economic Activities, Office of the High Commissioner on National Minorities, and the Office of the Special Representative on the Freedom of the Media. Increased Mediterranean Partner engagement in the Environmental and Economic Dimension of the OSCE should be further explored, particularly with respect to water security and water management, as well as trade enhancement. Mechanisms to promote regional food security should also be examined. Cooperation among the Mediterranean Partners must be strengthened prior to consideration of additional States for entry as partners of the OSCE; specifically, the Partnership could be utilized for the implementation of confidence building mechanisms. Efforts should be made to galvanize the potential of the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership as a forum to expand political will for reconciliation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Session 1: Expert Seminar on Security in the Mediterranean The engagement of OSCE Mediterranean Partners in the activities of the OSCE has largely emphasized opportunities for cooperation and capacity development on hard and soft security matters. The most recent 2008 OSCE Mediterranean Conference in Amman emphasized the importance of increased public diplomacy efforts, further cooperation with civil society in counter-terrorism efforts, and enhanced cooperation with other regional cooperation mechanisms. Barry Pavel of the National Security Council engaged participants on the regional security priorities of the Obama Administration and the outlook for regional initiatives. Points for this discussion included: What developing transnational trends (environmental, economic, demographic, energy/resource scarcity) are of most concern to Mediterranean Partner States from a broad security perspective? What particular challenges and opportunities arise from the blurring between clearly foreign and domestic policy security issues? How can engagement with other regional cooperation mechanisms, such as NATO and the European Union, increase the security of the Mediterranean Partner States? Key recommendations and themes emanating from this session included: President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech was recognized as a noteworthy start to the United States’ relations with the countries of the Middle East. However, quick action is required for the momentum to be maintained. The speech expressed many concerns shared by people in the Arab world. More specifically, the time frame for peace talks is critical for a number of reasons. In January, 2010 the term of the current Palestinian Authority Chairman ends. Moreover, experience has shown that the first year of an American presidency is the time for action. Afterwards, other items on the President’s agenda will demand more attention. Food security, the financial crisis, immigration, and development are priority issues for the region that must not be neglected. Answers must be sought as to why people are risking their lives to leave their countries. The Obama Administration should not reverse course on free trade with the region. Prior U.S. leadership in free trade compelled other nations to engage the Middle East in trade. The OSCE should be used to assist in the peace process and economic development for the region. The U.S. must appoint an ambassador to the OSCE quickly. Europe has a critical role to play. Economic engagement must be stepped up and protectionist urges resisted. The rise of Islamophobia is also a problem Europe must address to promote mutual understanding and security in the Mediterranean Region and beyond. Session 2: Expert Seminar on Current Issues in the Mediterranean: “Youth of the OSCE Mediterranean Partners: Assets, Challenges, and the Way Forward” Youth throughout the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States are often seen as a demographic time bomb, making up a 40-60% of their nation’s population. This session of the seminar emphasized the solidarity of the Mediterranean Partners in addressing the current demographic needs. Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies helped the participants conceptualize the young men and women of the region as its greatest resource and defined strategies for harnessing their energy to promote prosperity. Questions addressed in this session: What are the main assets of this group on which to build? What challenges do they face in contributing to their society? What recommendations does the research suggest will best unleash their potential? Key recommendations and themes emanating from this session included: Conduct studies throughout the OSCE Mediterranean Partner region to further investigate issues relevant to youth and identify challenges and country-specific solutions to providing a quality education, requisite job training, essential computer skills, access to capital for entrepreneurship, student exchanges, and opportunities for dialogue with government leaders while ensuring freedom and democracy. Strengthen the relationships between OSCE Mediterranean Partner States, the Arab League, and organizations that conduct these studies, e.g. the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt, and share findings and recommendations in the Arab League’s Annual Report. Address the inadequacies of the education system in each of the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States and make comprehensive reforms to ensure that all graduates have the education necessary to attain jobs that maximize their potential, utilize their assets, allow them to contribute to their societies, and help realize their personal and professional goals. Increase access to job training while reevaluating its role in respect to education. Consult and engage youth in the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States about issues important to them, especially concerning conflict, through youth councils and provide them with opportunities for continuing dialogues with government leaders. Listen to the concerns and recommendations of other countries within the OSCE and around the world concerning issues of mutual interest and share innovative ideas. Consider declaring 2010 a “world year” and hold a youth conference under the auspices of the United Nations to affirm global values. Invest in programs together with the private and public sectors to provide cell phones, computers, and Internet access to communities and schools to increase computer literacy and close the digital divide. Bring computers, computer skills, Internet connectivity, job training, and jobs to rural areas in the Mediterranean. Reduce government and market corruption, as well as nepotism in each of the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States. Simplify the bureaucratic process for entrepreneurship and increase access to capital. Address different levels of freedom and democracy in each of the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States. Continue to collect accurate and useful data that reflects the needs and desires of youth in the OSCE Mediterranean Partner States in order to drive effective policy development by governments and practical engagement with the private sector. Promote student exchange programs for students of all ages to foster understanding, solidarity, and the sharing of ideas between the youth of the OSCE Mediterranean Partner states and the world. Session 3: Expert Seminar on Current Issues in the OSCE Region In recent years, OSCE Mediterranean Partner States have had an opportunity to contribute to ministerial documents and proposals on reform of the OSCE. However, appropriate venues for the Mediterranean Partners to offer their perspectives on challenges, conflicts, and priorities within the OSCE region remain infrequent. Topics explored in this session included: What experiences in security cooperation among the Mediterranean Partners inform current initiatives in the OSCE region? What partnerships and exchanges within the OSCE and beyond can be prioritized to offer expertise from Mediterranean Partners to confront challenges within the OSCE region? Ian Lesser of the German Marshall Fund of the United States facilitated this session to provide an opportunity for Mediterranean Partner delegations to offer their expertise and experience to assist in confronting challenges within the OSCE region. He specifically characterized shared challenges in security between the OSCE region (consistency of capitalization) and Mediterranean Partners, as well as the outlook for their combined geopolitical region. This outlook consisted of future challenges in maritime security, migration, resource conflicts, cascading nuclear and arms proliferation, as well as environmental degradation. The discussion evolved into further exploration of mechanisms for cooperation between the Mediterranean Partners and the OSCE participating States, building on the themes of the Working Meeting on the first day of the seminar. Key recommendations from this session included: Capacity development for institutions facilitating cooperation must be prioritized. Frequent opportunities for dialogue exist within the multiplicity of “Mediterranean” frameworks affiliated with the European Union, NATO, and other international organizations. Capacity development for institutions affiliated with these international organizations should focus on avoiding a duplication of efforts and extensive competition over resources. New institutions for cooperation do not need to be developed. Existing institutions must be utilized in a more rational and effective manner throughout the OSCE region. Increased commercial activity and resource exchanges among the OSCE participating States and with their Mediterranean Partners would promote regional stability. The participating States of the OSCE should recognize the unique expertise of the Mediterranean Partners in thwarting challenges to maritime security and generate alliances and technical exchanges to address piracy and other security concerns. Concluding Session Participants in the CSCE Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement synthesized their perceptions of the seminar during the final session of the seminar. Conclusions offered by the participants included: The success of cooperative initiatives between the OSCE and the Mediterranean Partners will require greater leadership and agenda development from the Mediterranean Partners. Distinguishing appropriate and distinct roles for the various regional cooperation mechanisms in the Mediterranean region will be contingent on robust participation from the Mediterranean Partner delegations in the meetings and planning discussions of the different entities. More tangible progress toward cooperation will be made between the OSCE and the Mediterranean Partners if events and conferences have a singular focus, rather than attempting to address all aspects of human security. Fewer priorities that are clearly articulated will make conferences more manageable and implementation more effective. A platform should be developed for closer OSCE institution interaction with regional cooperation mechanisms for the Southern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Micro-institutions or taskforces must be developed for the implementation of agreed upon initiatives and recommendations emanating from conferences. U.S. Helsinki Commission Hearing - “Future of the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation” Following the CSCE Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement, an official hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe was convened. This hearing established an official record in the United States Congress for the proceedings of the seminar, with a particular emphasis on how participation mechanisms for OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation can be optimized and improved to promote greater regional cooperation. Ambassador William Hudson, Deputy Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Mr. Sotiris Roussos, Personal Representative on Mediterranean Affairs to the Greek Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, and the Honorable João Soares, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, all testified before the U.S. Helsinki Commission during this hearing. Commissioners participating included Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings (FL-23), Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-4), Representative Darrel Issa (CA-49), and Representative Mike McIntyre (NC-7). Representative Gwen Moore (WI-4) of the Committee on Financial Services and Committee on Small Business also participated in the hearing. The hearing reiterated the recommendations emanating from the CSCE Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement within the context of U.S. policy toward the region and priorities of the current leadership of the OSCE and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Witness recommendations included: Recognition of the role of the OSCE and its Mediterranean dimension for its potential to develop capacity for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East. The activities and events of the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation generate one of the few spaces in which Israeli and Arab officials can convene open dialogue and consistently cooperate. The United States government looks forward to engaging the Mediterranean Partners on the reintegration of Iraq into the community of nations and on ways to resolve tension over oil and gas supply and demand issues in Eastern Europe. The United States government looks forward to further partnership with the Mediterranean Partners on migration, counter-terrorism, economic cooperation, and regional security. The United States government has contributed to the OSCE Partnership Fund to support NGO involvement in Mediterranean Partner events and Mediterranean Partner delegation and government training on human rights work in Warsaw through the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Support for similar efforts should continue. The prospect of a separate Helsinki Process for the Middle East or an Organization for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East has been an idea circulated in recent years, but the use of a consensus process like that of the OSCE might not be optimal for the region. The Mediterranean Partners and other countries in the region have been involved in various regional organizations and processes revolving around similar core issues of the political military environment, the regional economy, and human development. More diverse priorities must be articulated by any division of labor that might be negotiated among international organizations and process. A mechanism or standing committee to facilitate coordination and collaboration among the principal international organization processes and dialogues in the Mediterranean region should be developed to prevent the duplication of initiatives and counter diminishing regional interest. A renewed focus on the environment and the economy in the Mediterranean region through the OSCE framework would help build capacity for cooperation and common ground for a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and other Middle East security challenges. The expansion of markets, global communication infrastructure development, and improved educational access within the Mediterranean Partner States present greater opportunities for regional economic cooperation. The Arab-Israeli conflict greatly influences Mediterranean Partner engagement. Thus, regardless of outcome, a prompt response on the request of the Palestinian Authority’s request to join the OSCE Mediterranean Partner should be prioritized. Some believe that inclusion of the Palestinian Authority would expand a paradigm of confidence building and conflict resolution. The visibility of the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership should be enhanced and coupled with an expansion of initiatives to engage young leaders and young diplomats from the Mediterranean region. OSCE Partnership Fund initiatives should be coordinated for tangible results and mutual benefit of OSCE participating States and Mediterranean Partners. The flexibility and capacity for adaptation makes the OSCE one of the best international instruments for conflict resolution and it should be further utilized in the Mediterranean region. OSCE engagement can help advance the role of parliamentarians within Mediterranean Partner States. The OSCE Partnership Fund should be utilized for initiatives to empower women and promote entrepreneurship. Mediterranean Partner delegations should continue to be engaged in OSCE region election observation efforts and consider more frequent reciprocal exchanges. Conclusion The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Seminar on OSCE Mediterranean Partner Engagement achieved its intended purpose of generating a space in which the delegations of the Mediterranean Partner States could frankly engage the current and future leadership of the OSCE and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on ways to enhance participation in events, processes, and initiatives. The seminar also served as a forum for Partner State delegations to discuss potential collaborative opportunities with the U.S. Administration and Members of Congress. Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Chairman of the Helsinki Commission committed to working with the OSCE and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly leadership and international secretariats to implement the recommendations of the seminar. Congressman Hastings also committed to travelling once again in the coming year to the Mediterranean Partner States to follow up on the discussions of the seminar.

  • The Western Balkans: Policy Responses to Today's Challenges

    This hearing reviewed the Vice President Biden’s meeting in Sarajevo and the Congressional delegation to Bosnia to speak about democratization process in the Balkan states. The Commissioners mentioned the need for governing bodies and systems that include every voice, particularly the ethnic communities in each country. These issues have correlated to potential instability in Bosnia resulting from the gridlock in government there.   The democratization and integration efforts, in relation to the Balkan joining closer to the greater European community and NATO, were touched upon to see the progress made.  The witness discussed examples of initiatives that moved the Balkans towards the goal of international standard of governance, for example the Model Court Initiative in Bosnia, which has helped to institute European standards in 33 local courts, upgrade court infrastructure and improve customer service.

  • Commission Plays Leading Role at Parliamentary Assembly in Lithuania

    By Robert A. Hand, Policy Advisor A bipartisan U.S. delegation traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania June 29 for the 18th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). The delegation participated fully in the activity of the Assembly’s Standing Committee, the plenary sessions and the Assembly’s three General Committees. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin led the delegation, which included the following commissioners: Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, Ranking Minority Member Chris Smith, and Senator Roger Wicker, Representatives Louise McIntosh Slaughter, Mike McIntyre, G.K. Butterfield and Robert B. Aderholt. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Senator George Voinovich and Representatives Lloyd Doggett, Madeleine Z. Bordallo and Gwen Moore also joined the delegation. Background of the OSCE PA The Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of more than 300 parliamentarians from each of the 56 countries, which stretch from the United States and Canada throughout Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Annual Sessions are the chief venue for debating international issues and voting on a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development, rule of law, economic, environmental and security concerns among the participating States and the international community. The United States delegation is allotted 17 seats in the Assembly. Robust Congressional participation has been a hallmark of the Parliamentary Assembly since its inception nearly 20 years ago, ensuring U.S. interests are raised and discussed. 18th Annual Session This year’s Annual Session, hosted by the Parliament (Seimas) of Lithuania from June 29 to July 3, brought together more than 500 participants from 50 of the 56 OSCE participating States under the theme: “The OSCE: Addressing New Security Challenges.” The Standing Committee -- the Assembly’s leadership body (composed of Heads of Delegations from the participating States and the elected officers) -- met prior to the Annual Session. Senator Cardin, as Head of Delegation and an OSCE PA Vice President, represented the United States. Chaired by the OSCE PA President, Portuguese parliamentarian João Soares, the committee heard reports from the Assembly’s Treasurer, German parliamentarian Hans Reidel, and from the Assembly’s Secretary General, R. Spencer Oliver of the United States. The Assembly continues to operate well within its overall budget guidelines and to receive positive assessments from auditors on financial management. The committee unanimously approved the proposed budget for 2009-2010. The Standing Committee also approved several changes in the OSCE PA’s Rules of Procedure, especially related to gender balance and the holding of elections for officers, as well as 24 Supplementary Items or resolutions for consideration in plenary or committee sessions. The committee brought up as an urgent matter a resolution regarding the detention of Iranian citizens employed by the British Embassy in Tehran. Senator Cardin spoke in support of the resolution. With the Standing Committee’s business concluded, Assembly President Soares opened the Inaugural Plenary Session, stressing in his opening remarks the need for OSCE reform. The first session concluded with a discussion of gender issues led by Swedish parliamentarian Tone Tingsgaard that included comments from Rep. Gwen Moore. A Special Plenary Session the next day was scheduled to accommodate the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who had just presided over an informal meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Corfu, Greece, to launch a new, high-level dialogue on European security. Senator Cardin attended the Corfu meeting as a representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Following her speech, Bakoyannis engaged in a dialogue with parliamentarians on a number of OSCE issues. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas also addressed the special session. Lithuania will chair the OSCE in 2011. U.S. Member Involvement The U.S. delegation actively participated in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees – the first committee for Political Affairs and Security; the second for Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment; and the third on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Each committee considered its own draft resolution, prepared by an elected Rapporteur, as well as 23 of the 25 Supplementary Items. Two Supplementary Items, including one by President Soares on Strengthening the OSCE, were considered in plenary session. Representatives Chris Smith, Mike McIntyre, and Gwen Moore each proposed resolutions that were adopted dealing with freedom of expression on the Internet, international cooperation in Afghanistan, and prevention of maternal mortality respectively. Members of the U.S. delegation were also instrumental in garnering support for Supplementary Items introduced by others, co-sponsoring eight resolutions introduced by delegations of other countries. The U.S. delegation was responsible for 26 amendments to either the committee draft resolutions or various Supplementary Items. Chairman Cardin proposed climate-related amendments to a resolution on energy security and suggested the OSCE initiate work with Pakistan in the resolution on Afghanistan. Co-Chairman Hastings worked on numerous human rights and tolerance issues. Other amendments were sponsored by: Sen. Durbin on improving international access to clean water; Sen. Voinovich on combating anti-Semitism; Sen. Wicker on preserving cultural heritage; Rep. Smith on preventing the abuse of children; and Rep. Butterfield on responding to climate change. Bilateral Meetings The U.S. delegation also engaged in a variety of activities associated with the Annual Session, holding bilateral meetings with the delegations of Russia and Georgia focusing on their respective internal political developments and the tension in the Caucasus since Russia invaded Georgia last August and then sought to legitimize breakaway regions. Separate meetings were also held with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and other Lithuanian leaders, at which the delegation pressed for new laws to resolve outstanding claims of property seized during the Nazi and Communist eras. The delegation also presented President Adamkus a letter from President Barack Obama on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the first written reference to Lithuania. Members of the U.S. delegation attended a working lunch to discuss gender issues, hosted by Swedish parliamentarian Tingsgaard. A variety of social events, including a reception hosted by the British delegation at their embassy, afforded numerous informal opportunities to discuss issues of common concern. U.S. Leadership As a demonstration of active U.S. engagement, a Member of the U.S. Congress has always held some elected or appointed leadership role in the OSCE PA. The Vilnius Annual Session has allowed this to continue at least through July 2012. Chairman Cardin was reelected to a three-year term as one of nine Vice Presidents, a very welcome development given his long record of OSCE engagement going back to his years in the House of Representatives. Rep. Aderholt, who has attended every OSCE PA Annual Session since 2002 and often visits European countries to press human rights issues, was elected Vice Chair of the third General Committee, which handles democracy and human rights. President Soares was reelected for a second term and selected Rep. Smith to serve as a Special Representative on Human Trafficking and asked Co-Chairman Hastings to continue serving as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs. An unfortunate development in the election of new officers is the absence of a representative of the Russian Federation. Because the United States government may disagree so substantively with current Kremlin policies, the U.S. government has always felt it critical to welcome Russian engagement in the OSCE PA. It was, therefore, a disappointment that the head of the Russian Federation delegation, Alexander Kozlovsky, reversed course and decided not to run for a Vice Presidency seat and more disappointing that a political bloc at the OSCE PA defeated Russian incumbent Natalia Karpovich as rapporteur of the Third Committee. Karpovich had been accommodating of U.S. human rights initiatives in her draft resolution. Vilnius Declaration Participants at the closing plenary session adopted the final Vilnius Declaration -- a lengthy document which reflects the initiatives and input of the U.S. delegation. Among other things, the declaration calls for strengthening the OSCE in order to enhance its legitimacy and political relevance; addresses conventional arms control, disarmament and other security-related issues of current concern in Europe; calls for greater cooperation in the energy sector and better protection of the environment; and stresses the continued importance of democratic development and respect for human rights, especially as they relate to tolerance in society and freedom of expression. The most contentious part of the declaration related to the promotion of human rights and civil liberties twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which included language noting the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. While some of the language may have been provocative, strong Russian objections to the entire text appeared to be motivated by a desire to defend a Stalinist past and minimize its crimes. The Russian delegation’s effort to block passage of this resolution reflects a similar sentiment in Moscow that recently led to the creation of a widely-criticized commission "for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia's interests." As a July 9 column for The Economist noted about recent Russian efforts to excuse Stalinism, the “debate in Vilnius makes it a bit harder to maintain that stance.” Some of Russia’s traditional friends and allies in the OSCE PA were noticeably absent from the debate. The Balkans While the Congressional delegation’s work focused heavily on representing the United States at the OSCE PA, the trip afforded an opportunity to advance U.S. interests elsewhere in Europe. While Co-Chairman Hastings traveled to Albania to observe that country’s first parliamentary elections since becoming a NATO member earlier this year, the rest of the delegation visited Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina is still recovering from the conflict in the 1990s and the associated horrors of the Srebrenica genocide and massive ethnic cleansing. The reverberations of the conflict continue to hinder prospects for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The United States was instrumental in bringing the Bosnian conflict to an end in 1995, especially with the negotiation of the Dayton Agreement, and the United States has invested considerable financial, diplomatic and military resources in the post-conflict period. The visit came one month after Vice President Joe Biden visited Sarajevo with a message of renewed U.S. engagement in the Balkans. While meetings with Bosnian political leaders revealed little willingness to work constructively toward constitutional reform needed for an effective central government, a meeting with English-speaking university students revealed a refreshing desire to overcome ethnic divisions and move the country forward. Belarus Given its proximity to Vilnius, members of the Congressional delegation visited Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to press for greater democracy and respect for human rights in that country. Belarus has remained a repressive state over the years even as its European neighbors have transitioned from being former Soviet or Warsaw Pact states to EU and NATO members or aspirants. Following a delegation meeting with President Alexander Lukashenka, Belarusian authorities released imprisoned American Emanuel Zeltzer, who was convicted of espionage in a closed trial and had numerous health concerns. The delegation also urged for greater progress in meeting the conditions in the Belarus Democracy Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2004 and reauthorized in 2006. A meeting with political activists provided useful information on the situation for political opposition, non-governmental organizations and independent media. Finally, the delegation pressed Belarus’ officials to allow for an increased U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. In response to expanding U.S. sanctions, Minsk kicked out 30 diplomats last year, including the U.S. ambassador, leaving a staff of five at the U.S. Embassy. During the course of the Vilnius Annual Session, Senator Voinovich also broke away for a brief visit to Riga, Latvia. That visit was among the highest level visits from a U.S. official in three years, and was important for our relations with this NATO ally, which has deployed troops with Americans in Afghanistan without caveat and recently suffered losses which easily impact such a small country. U.S. interests abroad are advanced through active congressional participation in the OSCE PA. The 19th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held early next July in Oslo, Norway.

  • Cardin, Hastings Call for New Cooperation in Middle East

    U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) today brought together leading parliamentarians from across the Maghreb and the Middle East calling for a stronger partnership between Mediterranean countries and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). “This week’s meeting in Washington of six Mediterranean Partner States for Cooperation highlights a common desire to advance constructive engagement and recognition of the role the OSCE can play in facilitating such dialogue. Helsinki basic principles, confidence building, conflict prevention measures, and other mechanisms could be of valuable assistance in this process. Should Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia decide to continue to advance their cooperation through the OSCE, they can count on the full support of the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the 56 participating States of the OSCE,” said Chairman Cardin. “While every region has different circumstances and priorities, we must begin to shift toward more well-rounded engagement and integration of Mediterranean Partner expertise in the executive structures of the OSCE and OSCE PA,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. Congressman Hastings, who serves as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, organized the two-day Seminar on Mediterranean Partner Engagement, which included parliamentarians from Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia – all countries which are OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Working sessions and discussions focused on security, trade and structures that could be changed to improve the countries’ working relationship with the OSCE. Congressman Hastings said he would work with the Obama Administration to increase U.S. contributions to the OSCE Partnership Fund to promote opportunities for Mediterranean participation within the OSCE, including funding fellowships and internships. “Supporting the Partnership Fund would be immensely useful to engage youth of North Africa and the Middle East in meaningful work, building their capacity for leadership and professional service in their home countries,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. The Commission held hearings in 1993 and 2004, at which diverse government leaders across the Maghreb and the Levant expressed support for using the OSCE model to address security and cooperation in the Mediterranean region. Just this month in Lithuania the Parliamentary Assembly ratified The Vilnius Declaration, including a resolution aimed at reducing trade barriers in the region. “We know one size does not fit all, but we also know the OSCE model is one that works. I look forward to the OSCE playing a reinvigorated role in the Middle East to address issues of peace, security and economic prosperity,” Chairman Cardin said.

  • The Future of the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation

    This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Alcee Hastings, was held to enhance the relationship between the OSCE participating states and the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Through this partnership with the OSCE participating states, the Mediterranean states of Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia have been and are able to develop their capacity for leadership in the region while simultaneously exchanging expertise with the OSCE participating states. Along with Congressman Hastings, Commissioners Cardin, McIntyre, Issa, and Aderholt were present as well, along with a representative from Wisconsin. Witnesses included William Hudson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs; Sotiris Roussos, Personal Representative on Mediterranean Partner Affairs, OSCE; and Joᾶo Soares, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

  • Helsinki Commission Condemns Murder of Russian Human Rights Activist Natalya Estemirova

    Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Ranking Republican Members Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) issued the following statements today upon learning of the killing of Russian human rights activist Natalya Estemirova. “I am saddened and outraged by the kidnapping and killing of Natalya Estemirova, one of the region’s great defenders of human rights. The reports of her abduction in Chechnya and subsequent shooting in the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia remind us of the urgent need to address human rights concerns throughout Russia. President Medvedev’s condemnation of this murder and his pledge to ‘take all necessary measures’ to solve the crime are welcomed, but his words must translate into a prompt and complete criminal investigation by federal authorities that brings those responsible to justice,” said Chairman Cardin. “I agree with what President Obama recently said in Moscow that history has shown ‘governments which serve their own people survive and thrive; governments which serve their own power do not.’ Murder and intimidation of activists and journalists is both a serious violation of human rights and an affront to any democracy.” “In 2006, Ms. Estemirova met with the staff of the Helsinki Commission as part of our work to shine a light on the abuses in Chechnya. Lawlessness and violence too often define the lives of journalists and activists who are simply pushing the cause of freedom.” said Co-Chairman Hastings. “Ms. Estemirova led a courageous life of denouncing corruption, calling for a fair judicial system, and standing up for human rights. While her killers may have ended her life, they will never silence the voice she brought to these issues.” “President Medvedev has talked about the legal nihilism rampant in his country and has made positive gestures in the direction of reform, yet these killings continue. It is time to see real action and real reform regarding the rule of law and respect for human rights in Russia. The death of Natalya Estemirova must not be in vain,” said Senator Brownback. “Natalya Estemirova gave her life and now her death in the service to the cause of human suffering and justice,” said Congressman Smith, who authored a resolution that passed the House in 2007 to address the large number of unsolved murders of investigative journalists in Russia. “Being a human rights activist or an independent journalist in Russia has become among the most dangerous professions in the world. The Russian government needs to create an environment in which the flagrant slaughter of human rights activists is unacceptable.” The Helsinki Commission has held many hearings and briefings on Russia’s human rights record, including one recently focusing on the North Caucasus.

  • Helsinki Commissioners Condemn Violence Against Roma

    Bipartisan Members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today voiced strong concerns for growing violence against the Roma – Europe’s largest ethnic minority group. At a briefing examining the growing prejudice against Roma in Europe and subsequent acts of violence against Roma across Europe, Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) expressed concern for the treatment of Roma, who have been victimized in their own homes – from the killing of elderly to young children burned by fire bombs. “Governments must act with a sense of urgency in combating the pernicious racism that has contributed to the social, economic, and political marginalization of Roma, resulting in the gruesome and deadly attacks on Roma in recent months,” Co-Chairman Hastings said. “But beyond the violence, the continual dislocation of Roma most recently from their historic home in Sulukule, outside Istanbul, Turkey, shows a disregard for minorities and further sends a signal of exclusion. I call on all European countries to reverse this troubling trend.” Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) added: “In the wake of the recent European Parliamentary elections, we are seeing growth of political parties who espouse anti-immigration, anti-minority, and anti-Semitic policies. I urge governments across Europe to respect Roma human rights. They should fully integrate the continent’s largest ethnic minority group, do away with segregated schooling, and when crimes are committed, thoroughly investigate and hold criminals accountable for their acts of hate.” Helsinki Commissioner Congressman Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA) added: “Some people have compared the firebombing and other attacks on Roma in the Czech Republic and Hungary to the sniper attacks that took place in the area a few years ago. For Roma, who are the singular targets in this case, we can only imagine the fear that grips those communities. I urge the Czech and Hungarian Governments to do everything possible to bring the perpetrators of those attacks to justice and to ensure that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

  • Hard Times and Hardening Attitudes: the Economic Downturn and the Rise of Violence Against Roma

    This briefing focused on the economic downturn and the rise of violence against Roma, the largest ethnic minority of Europe. It was presided by Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, the Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, and he was join by Katalin Barsony, Stansilav Daniel, Isabela Mihalache,and Andrzej Mirga, an advisor on Roman issues. The briefing was held during the 20th anniversary of the fall of Communism, in which Eastern and Western needed to work together to meet the challenges to defend the basic human rights of Roma. The panelists gave their opinion about the causes of the spike in violence, the implications of these trends, and what the OSCE could do.    

  • Albania’s Elections and the Challenge of Democratic Transition

    In this briefing, Co-Chairman Rep. Alcee L. Hastings examined the democratic progress made in Albania on the eve of the country’s parliamentary elections, set for June 28, 2009.  This examination was to assess Albania’s overall preparedness for European integration after it had applied for candidate status with the European Union and joined the NATO Alliance. Panelists - including Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Co-Chair, Albania Issues Caucus, Elez Biberaj, Director, Eurasia Division, Voice of America, Jonas Rolett,  Regional Director for South Central Europe, Open Society Institute, and Robert Benjamin, Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe, National Democratic Institute - discussed the prospects for the upcoming elections to be held in accordance with the standards set by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which would be observing the election.

  • The Western Balkans: Challenges for U.S. and European Engagement

    This hearing discussed the recent progress of the seven countries of the Western Balkans with regards to internal stability, democratic development, minority rights, anti-corruption efforts, and the rule of law. The witnesses evaluated each country’s progress and that of the region as a whole. In addition, the hearing also focused on the on the election process in each country and whether they had met the OSCE standards for elections.

  • Human Rights in Afghanistan

    Janice Helwig, policy advisor at the Commission, examined the current state of human rights in Afghanistan, a Partner for Cooperation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  While some progress has been made, rule of law and protection of human rights remains fragile. Witnesses Sima Samar and Scott Worden highlighted the harassment, intimidation, and violence human rights defenders and civil society leaders face while women and girls continue to be threatened and even attacked as they try to go to work or school.  They discuss the limited, if any, freedom of speech or belief reflected by the killings of journalists and the imposing of the death penalty on those who seek to convert from Islam to Christianity. 

  • Co-Chairman Hastings Chairs Meeting in Israel on Countering Discrimination in the Mediterranean Region; Meets with Prime Minister Olmert

    By Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel During two days in December 2007 a unique meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) occurred in Tel Aviv, Israel. For only the second time in eleven years, Israel was chosen by the OSCE participating States to host the annual Mediterranean Seminar -- a meeting designed to encourage dialogue about, and strategies for, improved cooperation between the OSCE participating States and their Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation -- Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. As Special Representative for Mediterranean Affairs of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Co-Chairman Hastings had worked tirelessly to bring the Partners together in Israel for their annual seminar. Unfortunately, official participation by the Partner States was limited, with only Jordan and Egypt sending representatives to the plenary sessions. However, more than seventy delegates from thirty-five countries attended the seminar and robust participation by NGOs from both sides of the Mediterranean yielded spirited discussion and specific recommendations for future OSCE efforts to combat discrimination. Prior to joining the seminar, the Co-Chairman traveled to Jerusalem for a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The two discussed prospects for negotiations toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the Annapolis conference, as well as continued threats to Israel’s security including Iran’s ongoing nuclear program. Co-Chairman Hastings also met with Jordanian Ambassador to Israel, Ali Al-Ayed, to discuss his country’s views on the security situation in the region as well as the impact of the massive displacement of Iraqi citizens, including more than a half million who have sought refuge in Jordan. More than 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced since 2003, including 2 million who have fled to Syria, Jordan and other countries in the region. This is the largest population displacement in the Middle East since 1948. Co-Chairman Hastings has introduced legislation to address this growing humanitarian crisis which provides aid for Jordan and other countries in the region that are hosting Iraqi refugees. The Co-Chairman’s visit also included a briefing by Israel’s Director for relations with the United Nations and International Organizations and a tour of a newly constructed desalination facility in Ashkalon, the largest in the region. Desalination is a critical part of the social and economic infrastructure of the Middle East as it is in the Co-Chairman’s congressional district and the entire State of Florida. Under the broad theme “Combating Intolerance and Discrimination and Promoting Mutual Respect and Understanding,” seminar participants examined such topics as the implementation of OSCE tolerance-related commitments in the participating States and the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation and lessons learned; promoting respect for cultural and religious diversity and facilitating dialogue; and countering discrimination in the OSCE and Partner states. In his opening remarks to the session on Countering Discrimination in the OSCE Participating States and the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, Co-Chairman Hastings pointed out that combating discrimination against individuals because of their race, religion, national origin or gender is a core principle of the Helsinki Process and is essential to stable, productive, democratic societies. “The reality,” said Hastings, “is that none of our societies is immune from the ignorance, indifference or outright hatred that fosters discrimination, intolerance, and ultimately destruction of every sort.” Co-Chairman Hastings noted that hate crimes had increased 8% in the U.S. during 2007 amidst the resurgence of the noose and swastika, unfair equation of Muslims and migrants with terrorism, violent attacks on gays, and the derogatory parodying of minority groups in the media and elsewhere in society. “Elsewhere in the OSCE, the situation is not any better,” he said. “A number of European countries have voted extremist political parties into office that openly espouse xenophobic, racist, and anti-Semitic views in the name of preserving national identity and security.” These scene-setting remarks were followed by presentations from a distinguished panel including Slovenian Ambassador, Mr. Stanislav Rascan, European Commission Ambaassador Mr. Lars Erik Lundin, Israeli lawyer Ms. Gali Etzion and Professor Gert Weisskirchen, a Member of the German Bundestag and Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating anti-Semitism. Their remarks, and the discussion that followed, focused on combating discrimination through legal measures, including legislative initiatives, as well as implementation by courts; education, in particular for young people; special challenges regarding discrimination against women, including religious laws; and the necessity of continuing dialogue between governments, parliaments and NGOs on ways and means to empower individual citizens. In his closing remarks, Co-Chairman Hastings strongly urged the participants to focus on implementation of anti-discrimination laws and regulations and promotion of civic programs that encourage tolerance. He pointed out that all of us as individuals, and in particular government officials, have an obligation to combat intolerance and discrimination, as well as promote mutual respect and understanding. Hastings also stated his intention to visit all Mediterranean Partner countries within a year in his capacity as Special Representative for Mediterranean Affairs of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. On May 16, 2008, Co-Chairman Hastings again traveled to Israel, accompanying Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and other senior Members of Congress to mark Israel’s 60th Anniversary. Co-Chairman Hastings and the delegation met with President Peres, Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Barak and Foreign Minister Livni, as well as with the leaders of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities in Jerusalem. The Co-Chairman also accompanied Speaker Pelosi on a side trip to Baghdad where they met with Prime Minister Maliki and the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, the Council. December 2008 offered the opportunity for Co-Chairman Hastings to fulfill his promise to the OSCE Mediterranean Partners Seminar and again visit all the Mediterranean Partner countries. The Co-Chairman traveled to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and Israel where he met with parliamentarians and senior government officials. Co-Chairman Hastings also met with Jordanian officials in Egypt and expressed his intention to visit Jordan to complete his tour of the region in 2009. For details of the Co-Chairman’s December 2008 visit, see “U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings Visits OSCE Mediterranean Partners to Advance Regional Cooperation,” Helsinki Commission Digest, Volume 40, Number 34.

  • The Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Security Act of 2009

    Mr. HASTINGS of Florida, Madam Speaker, I rise today with my good friend and colleague, Congressman John Dingell and almost 15 original cosponsors in strong support of the Iraqi Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement, and Security Act of 2009, a bill which I am reintroducing for the 1st Session of the 111th Congress. The comprehensive legislation I am introducing today addresses this crisis and the potential security break-down resulting from the mass influx of Iraqi refugees into neighboring countries and the growing internally displaced population in Iraq, and also facilitates the resettlement of Iraqis at risk. The plight of Iraqi refugees and IDP's is worsening by the day. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of families who fled for their safety, are now unable to work and have subsequently depleted their savings in order to survive. I believe that the United States has a moral obligation to take the lead and provide a `humanitarian surge' in responding to this crisis. The future of the Middle East depends on it. I would like to thank Congressman Dingell for his continued leadership in the House of Representatives on this issue and for his help in drafting this legislation as well as the other original co-sponsors supporting this bill. As I have said on many occasions, this must not be a partisan issue, but rather Congress and the Administration have an obligation to work together before the Iraqi refugee crisis further destabilizes the region. I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation, which will provide much needed relief for Iraqi refugees and IDP's. I call on the leadership of the House to support this bill.

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