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Chairman Smith and the Helsinki Principles

Chairman Smith has been a member of the Helsinki Commission since 1983, and has chaired the Commission five times.  During his years on the Commission, he has consistently promoted the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, which articulates a uniquely comprehensive, political-military definition of security and identifies respect for human rights and the building of democratic institutions in any participating State as a legitimate concern of all others. OSCE participating States agree to apply all of the Helsinki Principles  “equally and unreservedly,” recognizing that human rights cannot be separated from more traditional concepts of security such as sovereign equality, territorial integrity, and settlement of disputes.

  • Principle I: Sovereign equality, respect for the rights inherent in sovereignty;
  • Principle II: Refraining from the threat or use of force;
  • Principle III: Inviolability of frontiers;
  • Principle IV: Territorial integrity of States;
  • Principle V: Peaceful settlement of disputes;
  • Principle VI: Non-intervention in internal affairs;
  • Principle VII: Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief;
  • Principle VIII: Equal rights and self-determination of peoples;
  • Principle IX: Cooperation among States; and
  • Principle X: Fulfillment in good faith of obligations under international law.

Through hearings, statements, and legislation, Chairman Smith has supported the development of democracy, rule of law, and the promotion and defense of universally-recognized human rights in many OSCE participating States.

Azerbaijan: Chairman Smith convened a December 2015 hearing on the plight of imprisoned investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova and her fellow prisoners of conscience in Azerbaijan. He is also the author of the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015, a bill he introduced to draw attention to the systematic efforts of the Government of Azerbaijan to eliminate the voices of independent journalists, and opposition politicians. In addition to denying U.S. visas to senior leaders of the Government of Azerbaijan, those who derive significant financial benefit from business dealings with senior leadership, and members of the security or judicial branches, the Azerbaijan Democracy Act also expresses the sense of Congress that financial penalties should be considered. Sanctions could be lifted when the Azerbaijani government shows substantial progress toward releasing political prisoners, ending its harassment of civil society, and holding free and fair elections. Chairman Smith has also spoken out on multiple occasions on behalf of Ismayilova and other political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

Belarus: Since Alexander Lukashenka came to power two decades ago, Chairman Smith has introduced and passed resolutions, chaired hearings, given press conferences, issued numerous press releases and statements decrying the lack of human rights and democracy in Belarus, including individual victims of the Lukashenka dictatorship, and advocating for democratic practices and the rule of law, including free and fair elections.  He is the author of the  Belarus Democracy Act of 2004, the  Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 and the Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011.  These three laws provide support for those in Belarus struggling for freedom, including opposition activists, independent media, support international broadcasting to Belarus,  and authorize sanctions against senior officials involved in human rights abuses as well as their cronies. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Chairman Smith has been a strong advocate of human rights and justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the 1992-95 conflict in that country.  Under his leadership, the Helsinki Commission remained at the forefront of Congressional efforts to document atrocities occurring in Bosnia and to seek more effective policy responses end the conflict, including lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia and supporting the establishment and early work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.  

Chairing one dozen hearings and briefings related to Bosnia and Herzegovina in the years since, Smith focused post-conflict efforts on the international role in organizing free and fair Bosnian elections, ascertaining the fate of missing persons, facilitating the safe return of those displaced by conflict, ending abuse of ethnic safeguards to block the country’s progress, and apprehending those individuals indicted by ICTY for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.  He also authored legislation that helped shift U.S. policy to support democratic forces in Serbia in order to bring greater long-term stability to the region.  In 2005, Smith introduced and successfully led H. Res. 199 to passage by the House of Representatives, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre and unambiguously concluding the atrocity as an act of genocide.  He did the same with H. Res. 310 for the 20th anniversary in 2015, increasing focus on countering genocide denial and preventing future genocides. 

In 2007, the mothers of Srebrenica victims presented Smith with the “Srebrenica 1995” award for his “efforts to promote truth and justice” in the wake of atrocities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  That same year he became a founding co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Bosnia.

Cyprus: Chairman Smith is a strong supporter of the Republic of Cyprus and supporter of efforts to negotiate a bi-zonal, bi-communal reunification of the strategically significant island. His key concerns have included religious freedom in the Turkish-occupied region and the rights of Greek Cypriots to fully practice their faith, preserve Christian religious sites, and secure the return of property located in these areas.

Turkey: In legislative initiatives, hearings, and public statements, Chairman Smith has consistently highlighted human rights, religious liberty, press freedom, and human trafficking concerns in Turkey. In recent years, he  has paid special attention to the refugee crisis that is buffeting Turkey and many parts of mainland Europe. In October 2015, the Helsinki Commission, under Chairman Smith’s leadership, held a hearing to address possible US, EU, and OSCE responses to the mounting crisis. Additionally, for years Chairman Smith has been a leading voice in Congressional efforts supporting recognition of the Armenian genocide, highlighting the need for the current government of Turkey to take responsibility for the atrocity. The Congressman chaired the first congressional hearing on the genocide in September 2000 and in April 2015 chaired a Commission hearing commemorating the centennial anniversary of the mass crime.

Ukraine: Throughout his three decades serving on the Helsinki Commission, Chairman Smith has supported Ukraine’s struggle for freedom and democracy.  During Soviet times, he advocated for Ukrainian political prisoners, repressed Ukrainian churches, and other human rights issues.  Since independence, he has supported Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, especially in light of Russia’s invasion and, when necessary, encouraged the Ukrainian government on democracy and rule of law issues, including free and fair elections. Chairman Smith has chaired and participated in hearings, including on subjects such as the state of Ukraine’s democracy and Chornobyl; sponsored or managed Congressional resolutions; issued numerous statements and press releases; and spoken out in support of Ukraine in U.S. and international fora.  

United Kingdom (N. Ireland): For two decades, Chairman Smith has played an active role in advocating for the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland and emphasized the duty of the U.K. government to establish full, independent, and public judicial inquiries into human rights abuses committed during the Troubles – including accusations of government collusion. Chairman Smith has chaired 15 Congressional hearings on human rights in Northern Ireland, helping to raise awareness of the lack of action to bring the murderers of Northern Ireland defense attorney Patrick Finucane to justice. He also authored several House resolutions — including H.Res. 128 (106th Cong.), H.Res. 740 (109th Cong.), and H.Con.Res. 20 (110th Cong.) — calling on the Government of the United Kingdom to resolve the Finucane case and launch an independent public inquiry for the investigation of the murder of defense attorney Rosemary Nelson.