Approximately 250 parliamentarians from 50 OSCE participating States met February 19-20 in Vienna for the third annual Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. The United States delegation was headed by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the United States Helsinki Commission. Also participating were Ranking House Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL). Former Commission Chairman Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) also attended.
At the Vienna Meeting, OSCE PA President Bruce George appointed Chairman Smith as his Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues. Smith will serve as the Assembly’s point person for collecting information on human trafficking in the OSCE region; promoting dialogue within the OSCE on how to combat human trafficking; and, advising the Assembly on the development of new anti-trafficking policies. Over the past five years, Chairman Smith has provided considerable leadership in raising human trafficking concerns within the Assembly. In Congress, Smith sponsored the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act,” which enables the U.S. Government to prosecute offenders and provides resources to help victims of trafficking rebuild their lives.
Ranking House Member Benjamin L. Cardin, who chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and Environment, led a panel discussion on economic challenges and opportunities in the Republic of Georgia following the historic “Revolution of the Roses.” OSCE PA Vice-President and Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Nino Burjanadze, described her experience as Acting President of the country after the resignation of former President Eduard Shevardnadze following flawed elections in late 2003. Speaker Burjanadze stated emphatically that the revolution was unavoidable and inevitable because corruption had been so overwhelming that it was a threat to Georgia’s national security. She reviewed the steps the new government is taking to combat corruption and strengthen democratic institutions and the rule of law. Joining Burjanadze was Ambassador Roy Reeve, Head of the OSCE Mission in Georgia. The Committee was also addressed by the OSCE Coordinator for Economic and Environmental Activities, Dr. Marcin Swiecicki, and Committee Rapporteur Dr. Leonid Ivanchenko.
Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, who serves as one of nine Assembly Vice Presidents, held a series of meetings with delegations in Vienna in his bid for the presidency of the OSCE PA that will be decided in elections to take place in early July at the Edinburgh Annual Session. Hastings also met with the leadership of the various political groups — the Conservatives, Greens, Liberals, and Socialists. He discussed his plans for future development of the Assembly and its relationship with the governmental side of the OSCE.
Rep. Hoyer chaired the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Transparency and Accountability, which discussed ways to further improve relations between the parliamentary and governmental parts of the OSCE, including regular access for Ambassador Andreas Nothelle, Permanent OSCE PA Representative in Vienna, to all OSCE meetings. Discussion also focused on streamlining Assembly declarations of the annual sessions as a means of enhancing the OSCE PA’s influence on the work of the Permanent Council in Vienna. The committee concluded that a limited number of recommendations should be included in forthcoming declarations sent to the PC each year, coupled with a significant reduction in preamble language.
Members of the U.S. delegation were also briefed by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Stephan M. Minikes and Ambassador Andreas Nothelle on issues of concern in Vienna. A bilateral meeting was held with Head of the French delegation Mr. Michel Voisin and French Ambassador to the OSCE Yves Doutriaux to discuss the recent French ban on wearing headscarves, yarmulkes, crucifixes and other obvious religious symbols in public schools.
ODIHR Director Ambassador Christian Strohal discussed human dimension issues, including the future of election observations and budget issues, as well as programs dealing with human trafficking and anti-Semitism. Bulgarian Ambassador and Chairman-in-Office Representative Ambassador Ivo Petrov outlined the CiO’s plan for 2004 and issues around the anti-Semitism program and anti-trafficking initiatives. The delegation was also briefed by Helen Santiago Fink of the OSCE Economic Coordinator’s Office, who addressed the economic dimension of trafficking in persons.
Dr. Andreas Khol, President of the Austrian Nationalrat, welcomed the opening of the Winter Meeting for its ability to encourage “intensified dialogue and co-operation between the governmental and parliamentary dimensions of the OSCE.” OSCE Chairman-in-Office Dr. Solomon Passy who is Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister gave his overview of the priorities of the Bulgarian Chairmanship for 2004.
Other OSCE officials made presentations, including Chair of the Permanent Council and Representative of the Chairman-in-Office Bulgarian Ambassador Ivo Petrov; Chair of the Forum for Security Cooperation, Coordinator for OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities Ambassador Marcin Swiecicki; OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Ambassador Rolf Ekééus; a representative from the office of the OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media; Director of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Ambassador Christian Strohal; and OSCE Secretary General Ambassador Jan Kubis. All presentations were followed by question and answer sessions.
Each of the rapporteurs of the three General Committees discussed their draft reports for the forthcoming OSCE PA Annual Session this July in Edinburgh, Scotland. All have focused their reports on the theme for the annual session, “Co-operation and Partnership: Coping with New Security Threats.”
The ninth OSCE Prize for Journalism and Democracy was presented to the New York-based NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, represented by Executive Director Ann Cooper.
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.