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Christopher Smith

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  • 2050: Implications of Demographic Trends in the OSCE Region

    The hearing focused on the implications of current demographic trends in the expansive OSCE region through the prism of the security, economic and human dimensions.  Most of the OSCE’s 56 participating states are experiencing varying stages of demographic decline, marked by diminishing and rapidly aging populations. Such patterns were identifying as likely to have significant social, economic and security consequences for countries throughout the region, including the United States. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Jack A. Goldstone, Director of the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University; Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy of the American Enterprise Institute; Richard Jackson, Director and Senior Fellow of the Global Aging Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Steven W. Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute – addressed issues related to the demographic trends in the OSCE region, such as shrinking workforces in a growing number of participating States that are expected to become increasingly dependent upon foreign workers in the coming decades. A concern that these factors could contribute to mounting social tensions as demonstrated by clashes in some participating States in recent years was evident.

  • Prospects for Unfreezing Moldova’s Frozen Conflict in Transnistria

    This briefing, which Commissioner Phil Gingrey moderated, focused on the human cost of Moldova’s frozen conflict with Transnistria, its breakaway region, and the prospects for resolving this conflict that, at the time of the briefing, was two decades old. The term “frozen” entails settlement not by a peace agreement, but, rather, by an agreement to freeze each side’s positions. The conflict began immediately following the dissolution of the former U.S.S.R. in 1992, when armed conflict between Moldova and Russian-backed separatist forces was frozen by mutual consent. The Moldovan government had no reasonable alternative. The frozen conflict in Transnistria also has had grave human rights and humanitarian concerns. So, the questions the briefing examined were how to resolve these concerns whether or not the conflict can be unfrozen.

  • Labor Trafficking In Troubled Economic Times: Protecting American Jobs And Migrant Human Rights

    This hearing brought attention to the extremely lucrative criminal enterprise of human trafficking. Specific attention was focused on those who were most likely to be victims (i.e. people who were poor, had lost their jobs). Therefore, human trafficking, which involves forced labor, profits more in times of economic decline.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Labor Trafficking

    WASHINGTON­—U.S. Representative Chris Smith (NJ-4), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman, announced today they will hold a hearing next week on human trafficking: “Labor Trafficking in Troubled Economic Times: Protecting American Jobs and Migrant Human Rights” Monday, May 23, 2011 2:00 p.m. 2172 Rayburn House Office Building The global economic downturn has contributed to the exploitation of vulnerable individuals, often women and children, through sex and labor trafficking.  Each year tens of thousands of victims are trafficked into the United States from throughout the world in this modern-day form of slavery.  Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar criminal enterprise. The U.S. Helsinki Commission held its first hearing on trafficking in June 1999.  The United States has been at the forefront of efforts to combat human trafficking in all its forms, including labor trafficking, following adoption of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, sponsored by Chairman Smith. The Commission hearing will focus on various aspects of labor trafficking, including abusive and illegal business practices as well as ways to better educate potential migrants of their rights.  Among other issues to be considered will be increased education and accountability, foreign labor recruiting practices and enhancing supply chain transparency. Labor trafficking remains the most prevalent form of human trafficking in the U.S. Witnesses scheduled to testify: Ambassador-at-Large Luis C. deBaca, U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (G/TIP) Gabriela Lemus, Ph.D. – Senior Advisor and Director, Office of Public Engagement, Department of Labor and Representative to the Senior Policy Operating Group on Trafficking in Persons Nancy A. Donaldson, Director Washington Office, International Labor Organization Neha Misra, J.D., Senior Specialist Migration and Human Trafficking, Solidarity Center Julia Ormond, Actress, Founder of the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking, and former Goodwill Ambassador to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

  • Northern Ireland: Why Justice in Individual Cases Matters

    This hearing, chaired by Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), focused on possible British Government collusion or complicity in murders in Ireland during the Troubles. Witnesses at this hearing included John Finucane, John Teggart, Raymond McCord, Sr., and Ciarán McAirt, all relatives of Irish citizens murdered by British loyalists. Another witness was Jane Winter, Director of British Irish Rights Watch. Chairman Smith expressed concern about the British government’s commitment to holding those who committed the murders accountable, particularly in light of the Inquiries Act of 2005, which empowered the government to limit independent action by the judiciary and block scrutiny of state actions in inquiries held under its terms. 

  • Lithuania’s Leadership of the OSCE

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other legislators welcomed Lithuania’s as a member of NATO, the EU, and OSCE Chair-in-Office. The commissioners commended Lithuania on its remarkable work in democratically reforms in its own country. However, the attendees of the hearing expressed their concerns over Lithuania’s neighbor, Belarus, Europe’s “last dictatorship.” Legislators also reflected on the trajectories of other Newly Independent States.

  • A Decade Later: Major Challenges Remain in Fight Against Human Trafficking

    This year marks important milestones in the fight against human trafficking—the tenth anniversary of : • the Palermo Protocol to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons especially woman and children; and • the enactment of the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TPVA), which I authored in 2000. • And according to Dr. Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, over the past ten years, “52 of the 56 OSCE participating states have integrated anti-trafficking legislation into their national legal framework… .” The twenty articles of the Palermo Protocol, which supplemented the UN Convention against transnational organized crime, provided nations a blueprint for comprehensive and effective action against human trafficking. The Protocol’s definitions of what constitutes trafficking and prescribed actions for state parties has helped ensure uniformity of response to modern day slavery. The Protocol remains one of the UN’s finest and most enduring accomplishments. When I first introduced the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 1998, the legislation was met with a wall of skepticism and opposition. Many people both inside of government and out thought our bold new strategy that included asylum, sheltering and other protections for the victims, long jail sentences for the traffickers as well as confiscation of their assets and tough sanctions for governments that failed to meet minimum standards were merely solutions in search of a problem. Oh, how they were wrong. Similarly, when I sponsored the first supplementary item on human trafficking a year later in 1999 at the Parliamentary Assembly in St. Petersburg, Russia, some lawmakers told me that they thought the resolution unnecessary and a waste of time. For most people at that time, the term trafficking usually applied to illicit drugs. For others it meant weapons—or both. Reports of growing numbers of vulnerable persons—especially women and children—being reduced to commodities for sale was often met with surprise, incredulity or indifference. At home, it took two years to overcome the opponents and skeptics and muster the votes for passage in the U.S. House and Senate. The TPVA became law on October 28, 2000—ten years ago this month. One TPVA provision requires the US Government to do a detailed assessment of every nation including the United States—the annual TIP Report. In order to measure progress or the lack thereof, serious objective criteria—minimum standards—were established. The TPVA established three tier rankings, and a watch list. • Tier 1: governments that fully comply with the minimum anti-trafficking standards; • Tier 2: countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to do so; and • Tier 3: countries that do not fully comply with minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so. Bosnia is perhaps the best example of progress: a Tier 3 country in 2001, today Bosnia in now Tier 1. Georgia also moved from Tier 3 to Tier 1. There are many OSCE countries on the Watch List, however, including Azerbaijan, Moldova, Malta, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. I would note that Malta has recently taken the step of naming a “Czar” to fight trafficking in persons. In the past decade, we have seen progress in combating human trafficking on a number of fronts, especially in victim identification. In 2008, over 8,900 victims were identified in the OSCE region excluding the United States and Canada. In 2009, over 14,650 victims were identified plus an additional 1,700 in the US. Clearly, we are all getting better at finding and assisting victims. Albania and Montenegro are to be especially congratulated for their progress in victim identification—much of that progress is due to education and awareness. On another important front, however, I am concerned that prosecutions in the OSCE region have declined from a high of 3,270 in 2005 to 2,208 in 2009. Which begs the question: why the drop? Could it be that we are winning and the tide is turning? Or have the traffickers become savvier at eluding law enforcement or gone deeper underground? Or have prosecutors simply begun to de-prioritize human trafficking cases? I believe that In each of our countries, we need to be ramping up prosecutions, with the aim of not just mitigating but ending modern day slavery. Notwithstanding the fact that many of our countries have enacted tougher penalties for the crime of trafficking, convictions of traffickers—around 1,700-1,900 a year—have not increased over the last five years. We need to ask why? As lawmakers with oversight responsibilities, we need to make serious inquiries as to why the numbers of human trafficking prosecutions are diminishing. And why convictions have ebbed? Each of us must ensure that our countries devote sufficient priority—the highest priority—and the requisite financial resources and legal talent to aggressively prosecute traffickers. And we must also ensure that the various government and civil sectors dealing with trafficking are communicating with each other. U.S. funding for anti-trafficking efforts abroad have brought together labor inspectors, police, prosecutors, NGOs and faith-based organizations. Yet, the top ranking trafficking official in the United States has told me that, in some countries, people from these sectors have never even met. As Special Representative on Human Trafficking for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I offered a supplemental resolution in Oslo entitled “Combating Demand for Human Trafficking and Electronic Forms of Exploitation,” to build on recent accomplishments. The resolution focused in part on best practices designed to root out misuse of the Internet for human trafficking and child pornography. Some of these best practices include: • Digital tagging of adult sections of websites; • community flagging of website postings reasonably believed to be advertising a trafficking or child pornography victim; • use of manual and regularly updated electronic screening for criminal postings; • telephone and credit card verification on all posts, which enables the website to block from use a person who has previously posted a trafficking or child pornography victim; • Trafficking and child pornography reporting hotlines; and an ongoing dialogue with law enforcement. Tragically, the internet has opened a whole new front in the war with human traffickers—enabling and encouraging demand with few obstacles. We must develop appropriate safeguards to ensure that freedom of speech does not become freedom to exploit and abuse. And we must demand that corporations act responsibly and cease all facilitation of trafficking. I am happy to report that, as of September 3, Craigslist—a free advertising website—is no longer operating its “adult services” page in the United States. Public outrage, investigative reports in the media, requests from law enforcement, and damning testimony from young girls who had been trafficked on Craigslist—all had an impact. Sex tourism is an escalating threat to the children of every country. The supplemental resolution adopted in Oslo underscores the importance of enhanced international cooperation to monitor the travel of convicted sex offenders. In the U.S. Congress, I have sponsored a new bill—the International Megan’s Law—that has passed the House and is pending in the Senate. The bill provides notification to a government when a convicted U.S. sex offender, who poses a real danger to children, is planning to visit that country. Similarly, the legislation encourages other governments to establish a domestic registry of dangerous child sex offenders and to notify the U.S. when a convicted child sex offender plans to travel to the United States. Another best practice that can be implemented immediately includes training airline flight attendants and others in the tourist industry to spot potential trafficking victims. This past summer, I hosted a congressional briefing with The Airline Ambassadors International’s Child Trafficking Initiative—spearheaded by American Airlines—and an NGO called Innocents at Risk. The briefing focused on the critical role flight attendants can play in indentifying trafficking victims on airplanes. With a modest amount of training and situational awareness, flight crews are already helping law enforcement rescue trafficking victims and arrest their predators. This past week, a follow-up meeting was held in Washington for embassy officials from several countries including OSCE nations—Portugal, Greece, Macedonia, Italy, Malta, Belgium, Ukraine, Bosnia Herzegovina, and Kazakhstan sent representatives. The flight attendants shared numerous stories of their own experience—highlighting how awareness of the signs of human trafficking and a phone call to police, in advance of landing, can literally save someone’s life. Air France is to be commended for running public service announcements on trafficking and encouraging passengers to keep an eye out for potential victims. We must encourage every airline in our respective countries to implement—without delay or excuse—The Airline Ambassadors Child Trafficking Initiative. In sum, a decade later, much has been accomplished—acts of human trafficking have been prevented, victims rescued and protected, and traffickers prosecuted and thrown into jail. Major challenges, however, remain. It falls to us—and like-minded people everywhere—to meet those challenges head on and wage an unceasing campaign to eradicate human trafficking from the face of the earth.

  • A Decade of the Trafficking in Persons Report

    Senator Benjamin L. Cardin convened a standing-room only hearing centered on the diplomatic impact of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  The hearing focused on the ten years that the annual TIP report has been prepared by the State Department. Improvements to TIP-related efforts were suggested, such as working more closely with the Tier 2 Watch List countries in the OSCE Region, – Azerbaijan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – helping them to implement the changes necessary to meet the minimum standards and to avoid statutory downgrades which will otherwise be required in next year’s TIP report. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador at Large of the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Jolene Smith, CEO & Co-Founder of Free the Slaves; and Holly J. Burkhalter, Vice President for Government Relations of the International Justice Mission – explored ways to potentially create extra-territorial jurisdiction for trafficking cases.  They also focused on ways to deter demand for trafficking victims in all countries, including Tier 1 countries.

  • Statement to the Plenary Session of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly

    Mr. President, the record shows that most OSCE states have made progress—some very significant progress—in combating the scourge of human trafficking. Prosecution and conviction of traffickers has increased as has victim identification. Still, we need to do more to rescue and more tangibly assist victims—especially women and children. Part of my supplemental item, approved by the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions, calls on States to encourage airlines—including and especially flight attendants—to be trained to detect trafficking victims in-flight and inform law enforcement prior to landing. This best practice is taking off-- the “Airline Partners Against Human Trafficking” program by Airline Ambassadors is being adopted by major U.S. airlines and will rescue many women and children. This must be replicated in all of our participating States. Second, maternal mortality can and must be reduced by expanding emergency obstetrical care with an emphasis on skilled birth attendants to perform cesarean sections and equipped with medicines to stop hemorrhaging as well as safe blood and antibiotics to save women’s lives. Mr. President, maternal care and prenatal care are closely linked and we must care and show compassion for both mother and unborn child. I am greatly encouraged that the Committee adopted my amendment calling on States to recognize and support the enormous opportunities available today to diagnose and treat an ever-growing number of diseases and disabilities in unborn children—diseases and disabilities that can be cured or mitigated by timely intervention. When sick, the unborn child, like every other child, is a medical patient, in need of a blood transfusion, medicines that cure and even microsurgery. Wellness begins in the womb. The healthier the unborn child, the healthier the 1, 2, 5 and 10 year old. Thank you.  

  • Global Threats, European Security and Parliamentary Cooperation

    From nuclear security to climate change, global terrorism to anti-corruption efforts, this hearing examined what parliamentarians can do to work together on some of the most significant challenges facing the world. Members addressed European and Central Asian security concerns, including unresolved conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere, and considered how international parliaments can cooperate to address challenges related to trafficking, tolerance, and democratic development, including elections and media freedom.

  • The Link Between Revenue Transparency and Human Rights

    This hearing focused on the lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector posing both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. The hearing examined how such policies affect government accountability. Instead of serving their citizens, politicians often take advantage of the resources of the country in pursuit of their own self-interest. In particular, the continued assaults on freedom of speech and on civil society and how that bodes for the future of EITI implementation in Azerbaijan were discussed. The Commissioners and the witnesses looked into the present actions of the U.S. and what could be done within the OSCE process to address these issues.

  • Cardin: Take Action Against Child Slavery

    More than a century after ratification of the 13th Amendment, thousands of slaves are still transported to America each year. The International Labor Organization estimates that over 12 million people worldwide are held in bondage at any point in time, nearly 2 million of whom are child sex slaves. Modern day human traffickers have developed creative and ruthless methods to extend the practice of slavery into the 21st century, making their crimes more difficult to detect and counter. The United States, starting with leadership from the U.S. Helsinki Commission, has always been at the forefront of combating these crimes, but more work remains, not only at home, but abroad where developing nations often lack the resources and mechanisms to confront traffickers. That is why Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and I recently introduced the Child Protection Compact Act. This legislation is critical to protecting children, the most vulnerable prey of human traffickers. This bill will help coordinate an international response against trafficking in persons by empowering the State Department to partner with foreign governments, so a lack of resources in one country does not mean a lack of action to protect children from these crimes. Under this legislation, if a government demonstrates a commitment to eliminate trafficking, they will qualify for a 3-year agreement with the Secretary of State. The agreements, or compacts, will identify effective measures to address institutional weaknesses and increase local governments' capacity. Under the agreement, the United States would provide up to $15 million to support government initiatives such as improved law enforcement, victim-friendly courts, and shelters for rescued children. The Senate bill is similar to legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by my colleague on the Helsinki Commission, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), whose bill has attracted 95 bipartisan cosponsors. By supporting bills like ours, lawmakers stand up to remind the world that slavery in all forms is unacceptable. The Child Protection Compact Act is the next stage of the American effort in leading the world in fighting this atrocity.  

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Role of OSCE Institutions in Advancing Human Rights and Democracy

    This hearing discussed the role of OSCE institutions in advancing human rights and democracy, highlighting the role of the United States. The United States was mentioned as a leading force of democracy promotion and protection of human rights. However, the witnesses mentioned certain issues like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rendition flights, and detention centers that suggest double-standards. The discussion centered on the importance of inclusive voice in government and the need to find a way to build pluralism into single-party developing democracies by establishing political parties that can be competitive, that can be critical of governments and that can bring new ideas and fresh faces into their government.

  • Russia, Georgia, and the Return of Power Politics

    This hearing, which Commissioner Benjamin L. Cardin presided over, was considered one of the most important hearings that the Helsinki Commission conducted in 2008 that dealt with Russia, Georgia, and the return of power politics Russian military involvement in Georgia represented a new chapter in U.S.-Russia relations, a chapter that, unsurprisingly, continues to have negative implications and ramifications. Obviously, the CSCE has strongly condemned Russia’s use of military force in Georgia, and there has been justified concern that, as Russia has gained more aggression internationally, they have also internally moved in the wrong direction as it relates to the liberties of the peoples within Russia. So, the goal of the hearing was to look for a way in which the U.S. could constructively engage Russia, a major international player, while simultaneously clarifying that Russia’s actions regarding Georgia have been intolerable.

  • Guantanamo Detainees after Boumediene: Now What?

    The hearing reviewed the detainee-related policy issues – particularly for Guantanamo detainees -- that remain in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Boumediene. Witnesses also had the opportunity to discuss a related question: what does Europe do with its terror suspects, and are there any lessons for the United States from the European experience? The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in Boumediene v. Bush that foreign terrorism suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility have the right under the Constitution to challenge their detention in a U.S. civilian court.

  • Combating Sexual Exploitation of Children: Strengthening International Law Enforcement Cooperation

    The hearing examined current practices for sharing information among law enforcement authorities internationally and what concrete steps can be taken to strengthen that cooperation to more effectively investigate cases of sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography on the Internet. Despite current efforts, sexual exploitation of children is increasing globally. The use of the Internet has made it easier for pedophiles and sexual predators to have access to child pornography and potential victims. In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2008 (S.1738), which will allocate over one billion dollars over the next eight years to provide Federal, state, and local law enforcement with the resources and structure to find, arrest, and prosecute those who prey on our children.

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