By Orest Deychakiwsky
CSCE Staff Advisor
The United States Helsinki Commission convened its first hearing of 2004, featuring the testimony of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy early in his tenure in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Accompanying Minister Passy were Ambassador Ivan Naydenov, Director of the OSCE section of the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry and personal representative of the Chairman-in-Office; Elena Poptodorova, Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the United States; and Richard Murphy, Spokesman for the OSCE. Minister Passy, appearing before the Commission on February 26, laid out his goals of implementing OSCE commitments in the war on terrorism, focusing on the human dimension and managing regional conflicts.
Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) opened the hearing by extending his heartfelt condolences on behalf of Members of the Commission to Minister Passy regarding the tragic death of his colleague and personal friend, President Boris Traikovsky of Macedonia.
Passy began his testimony with the question of the relevance and the current role of the OSCE considering the end of the Cold War and the existence of organizations such as NATO, the European Union, and the NATO-Russia Council. The Bulgarian Foreign Minister noted the uniqueness of the OSCE as the only organization providing a comprehensive security model founded on the values of respect for human rights and promotion of democratic institutions.
Though less than three decades old, the OSCE has proven its ability to tackle the challenges of conflicts in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Central Asia. Notable are the OSCE’s efforts to end the civil war in Tajikistan and the secessionist armed conflict in Transdniestria, and rebuilding the war-torn societies in the Balkans. With 18 field missions, the OSCE remains, according to Passy, “the most comprehensive security forum.”
Minister Passy stressed that the war on terrorism is one of his top priorities. He focused on issues such as airport security, policing, and secure travel documents as potentially helpful tools in thwarting the spread of terrorism. In order to achieve this goal, the OSCE organized an inter-governmental conference where practitioners and security experts shared their ideas on improving the safety and security of aircraft. The OSCE also launched an Internet-based network, designed to facilitate cooperation between security experts and help match resources with needs.
The Chairman-in-Office cited policing as “the perfect OSCE issue, bringing together security and human rights.” He commended American police officers for providing outstanding service in OSCE police reform efforts and their contribution to the establishment of an “accountable police force that is trusted by the population and does not have to resort to brutality or torture to solve crimes.”
Minister Passy reaffirmed his commitment to continue the battle against anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, informing the Commission of three important events that will help address these problems which continue to plague many participating States. In April, a conference on anti-Semitism will take place in Berlin, followed by a September conference on tolerance and xenophobia in Brussels. A June meeting in Paris will address the relationship between xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda on the Internet and hate crimes. Chairman Smith, strongly supported by Ranking House Commissioner Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), urged Passy to follow up on the Berlin conference with robust action. “‘Never again’ has to mean ‘never again’ in all of its vicious manifestations,” Chairman Smith proclaimed.
On the issue of trafficking in human beings, the Bulgarian Chairman-in-Office focused on the problem of countries of destination. “A firm and persistent police clampdown on the work of traffickers in the Western cities would send a clear message to these criminal gangs that their evil work will not be tolerated,” said Passy. Chairman Smith echoed this sentiment by citing the estimated 18,000-20,000 victims trafficked annually into the United States. Passy also emphasized that the OSCE must undertake a special commitment of prosecuting traffickers — and anyone else associated with this evil trade — while treating victims with dignity and compassion.
Chairman Smith asked the Bulgarian Foreign Minister to devote special attention to the March parliamentary elections in Georgia, underscoring the importance that these elections be carried out in a free and open manner. Passy commended the OSCE mission in Georgia for doing a remarkable job in monitoring the border with Chechnya and assisting in the destruction of the Soviet stockpiles of ammunition.
Smith similarly urged that the OSCE conduct close observation of the upcoming elections in Belarus and Ukraine. He insisted that an open and free media must be allowed to cover the election process and provide access to the voices of the opposition candidates; otherwise, the results of the elections will be predetermined. In response, Minister Passy stressed that the involvement of the OSCE in the election process is indispensable and mentioned his upcoming trip to Ukraine, where he planned to meet with both government officials and the opposition. With regard to Belarus, Chairman Passy stated he “shared the view that the necessary conditions for free elections [need to] be created” and noted that the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) plans to monitor parliamentary elections expected this Fall.
The Chairman-in-Office also noted the OSCE’s determination to end the ongoing conflict between Moldova and the secessionist region of Transdniestria. Mediators held two meetings in Sofia and Belgrade during which the conflicting parties resumed negotiations.
Commissioner Cardin posed a question on the possible re-engagement of OSCE activities in Chechnya. Minister Passy stated that during his recent meeting with then-Foreign Minister Ivanov, Russia was the first to address this issue and even suggested a list of concrete projects, the scope and details of which are still being discussed. Passy promised to keep the Commission informed of any related developments.
The Bulgarian CIO said he also plans to promote the issue of education throughout the remainder of his year in office. Although it is an issue that has not received much attention in the OSCE, Passy said that “education and training are vital for empowering individuals and groups with the capacity to resolve conflict in a peaceful manner.” The first Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting was devoted to this subject.
The hearing concluded with Minister Passy’s personal vision for the future of the OSCE. He called for a stronger focus on OSCE activities in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Additionally, he suggested that the OSCE should reach out to countries beyond its scope, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, which could benefit from the comprehensive security model offered by the OSCE.
An unofficial transcript of the hearing is available through the Helsinki Commission’s Internet site at http://www.csce.gov.
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives, and one official from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.
United States Helsinki Commission Intern Irina Smirnov contributed to this article.