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Georgia

Georgia joined the OSCE in 1992 shortly after gaining its independence from the Soviet Union.  The current President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, George Tsereteli, is a Georgian Member of Parliament. Tbilisi also hosted the 2016 Annual Session of the OSCE PA.

Tbilisi hosted an OSCE field office from November 1992 until 2008 when Russia’s unilateral invasion and occupation of Georgia helped scuttle the renewal of the office’s mandate. Russia refused to approve any mandate for a Tbilisi-based office that affirmed Georgian sovereignty over the Russian-occupied regions of South Ossetia/Tskhinvali and Abkhazia/Sukhumi. According to the OSCE, the office had “assisted the Georgian Government with conflict settlement, democratization, human rights and the rule of law issues.”

The OSCE—along with the United Nations and European Union—co-chairs the Geneva International Discussions, begun in October 2008 to facilitate international talks concerning the ongoing Russian occupation of Georgia. The United States participates in the talks alongside Georgia, Russia, and representatives from the de facto authorities of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In legislation, hearings, briefings, statements, and international travel, the Helsinki Commission has consistently condemned Russia’s 2008 invasion and ongoing occupation of Georgian territory and demanded the full restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Georgia has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1999 and is party to an association agreement with the European Union as part of the EU’s Eastern Partnership. In Bucharest in 2008, NATO allies agreed that Georgia and Ukraine would become NATO members in the future.

Staff Contact: Michael Cecire, senior policy advisor

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  • Roadblock to Religious Liberty: Religious Registration

    The United States Helsinki Commission conducted a public briefing to explore the issue of religious registration, one of many roadblocks to religious liberties around the world, focusing on religious registration among the 55 nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The troubling trend followed by several OSCE participating states toward restricting the right to freedom of religion by using registration schemes, making it virtually impossible for citizens to practice their faith was addressed. Panelists at the event – including Dr. Sophie van Bijsterveld, Co-Chair of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Dr. Gerhard Robbers, Member of the OSCE/ODIHR Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Vassilios Tsirbas, Senior Counsel for the European Centre for Law and Justice; and Col. Kenneth Baillie, Commanding Officer of the Salvation Army-Moscow – discussed the various ways governments are chipping away at religious liberty. New legislation concerning religious registration policies that could potentially stymie religious freedom within the OSCE region was also addressed.

  • Twenty-Five Years of the Helsinki Commission

    Mr. Speaker, twenty-five years ago this month, on June 3, 1976, a law was enacted creating the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. We know it as “the Helsinki Commission.” One of the smallest and most unique bodies in the U.S. Government, it perhaps ranks among the most effective for its size. I have been proud to be a member of the Commission for the past 16 years. When President Gerald Ford signed, in Helsinki in 1975, the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, he said that “history will judge this Conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow--not only by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.” That piece of rhetoric has not only been repeated in various forms by every United States President since; it has continually served as a basis for U.S. policy toward Europe. Credit for this fact, and for the Commission's establishment, first goes to our late colleague here in the House, Millicent Fenwick, and the late-Senator Clifford Case, both of New Jersey. Observing the foundation of human rights groups in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to monitor and, it was hoped, to encourage their governments to keep the promises made in Helsinki, she and other Members of Congress felt it would be good to give them some signs of support.   Keep in mind, Mr. Speaker, that this was in the midst of detente with Moscow, a polite dance of otherwise antagonistic great powers. It was a time when the nuclear warhead was thought to be more powerful than the human spirit, and the pursuit of human rights in the communist world was not considered sufficiently realistic, except perhaps as a propaganda tool with which to woo a divided European continent and polarized world. The philosophy of the Commission was otherwise. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is, as the Helsinki Final Act indicates, a prerequisite for true peace and true security. As such, it is also a principle guiding relations between states, a legitimate matter for discussion among them. This philosophy, broadened today to include democratic norms such as free and fair elections and respect for the rule of law, remains the basis for the Commission's work.   Of course, the Commission was not meant to be a place for mere debate on approaches to foreign policy; it had actually to insert itself into the policy-making process. The Commission Chairman for the first decade, the late Dante Fascell of Florida, fought hard to do just that. It was, I would say, a bipartisan fight, with several different Congresses taking on several different Administrations. Moreover, it was not just a fight for influence in policy-making; it was a much tougher fight for better policies. The Commission staff, led during those early years by R. Spencer Oliver, was superb in this respect. It knew the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It worked with non-governmental organizations to increase public diplomacy and, subsequently, public support for In 15 years at the East-West divide, the Commission also championed policies, like the Jackson-Vanik amendment, linking human rights to trade and other aspects of U.S. bilateral relationships. The concept of linkage has often been chastised by the foreign policy establishment, but it comes from the passion of our own country's democratic heritage and nature. With persistence and care, it ultimately proved successful for the United States and the countries concerned.   The Helsinki Commission also became the champion of engagement. Commission members did not simply speak out on human rights abuses; they also traveled to the Soviet Union and the communist countries of East-Central Europe, meeting dissidents and ``refuseniks'' and seeking to gain access to those in the prisons and prison camps. At first, the Commission was viewed as such a threat to the communist system that its existence would not be officially acknowledged, but Commissioners went anyway, in other congressional capacities until such time that barriers to the Commission were broken down. The Commission focus was on helping those who had first inspired the Commission's creation, namely the Helsinki and human rights monitors, who had soon been severely persecuted for assuming in the mid-1970s that they could act upon their rights. Ethnic rights, religious rights, movement, association and expression rights, all were under attack, and the Commission refused to give up its dedication to their defense. Eventually, the hard work paid off, and the beginning of my tenure with the Commission coincided with the first signs under Gorbachev that East-West divisions were finally coming to an end. Sharing the chairmanship with my Senate counterparts--first Alfonse D'Amato of New York and then Dennis DeConcini of Arizona--the Commission argued against easing the pressure at the time it was beginning to produce results.   We argued for the human rights counterpart of President Reagan's “zero option'' for arms control, in which not only the thousands of dissenters and prospective emigrants saw benefits. They were joined by millions of everyday people--workers, farmers, students--suddenly feeling more openness, real freedom, and an opportunity with democracy. Dissidents on whose behalf the Commission fought--while so many others were labeling them insignificant fringe elements in society--were now being released and becoming government leaders, people like Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek and Czech President Vaclav Havel. The independence of the Baltic States, whose forced incorporation into the USSR was never officially recognized by the United States, was actually reestablished, followed by others wishing to act upon the Helsinki right to self-determination.   Of course, Mr. Speaker, those of us on the Commission knew that the fall of communism would give rise to new problems, namely the extreme nationalism which communism swept under the rug of repression rather than neutralized with democratic antiseptic. Still, none of us fully anticipated what was to come in the 1990s. It was a decade of democratic achievement, but it nevertheless witnessed the worst violations of Helsinki principles and provisions, including genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina and brutal conflicts elsewhere in the Balkans as well as in Chechnya, the Caucuses and Central Asia, with hundreds of thousands innocent civilians killed and millions displaced. Again, it was the Commission which helped keep these tragedies on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, holding hearings, visiting war zones and advocating an appropriately active and decisive U.S. response. In the face of such serious matters, too many sought to blame history and even democracy, equated victim with aggressor and fecklessly abandoned the principles upon which Helsinki was based. Again the Commission, on a bipartisan basis in dialogue with different Administrations, took strong issue with such an approach. Moreover, with our distinguished colleague, Christopher Smith of New Jersey, taking his turn as Chairman during these tragic times, the Commission took on a new emphasis in seeking justice for victims, providing much needed humanitarian relief and supporting democratic movements in places like Serbia for the sake of long-term stability and the future of the people living there.   In this new decade, Mr. Speaker, the Commission has remained actively engaged on the issues of the time. Corruption and organized crime, trafficking of women and children into sexual slavery, new attacks on religious liberty and discrimination in society, particularly against Romani populations in Europe, present new challenges. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, the latest Commission Chairman, has kept the Commission current and relevant. In addition, there continue to be serious problem areas or widespread or systemic violations of OSCE standards in countries of the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucuses, or reversals of the democratization process as in Belarus. The Commission was born in the Cold War, but its true mission--the struggle for human rights, democratic government and the rule of law--remains as important now as it was then. It remains an essential element for true security and stability in the world, as well as, to paraphrase Helsinki, for the free and full development of the individual person, from whose inherent dignity human rights ultimately derive.   To conclude, Mr. Speaker, I wish to erase any illusion I have given in my praise for the Helsinki Commission on its first quarter of a century that it had single-handedly vanquished the Soviet empire or stopped the genocidal policies of Slobodan Milosevic. No, this did not occur, and our own efforts pale in comparison to the courage and risk-taking of human rights activists in the countries concerned. But I would assert, Mr. Speaker, that the wheels of progress turn through the interaction of numerous cogs, and the Commission has been one of those cogs, maybe with some extra grease. The Commission certainly was the vehicle through which the United States Government was able to bring the will of the American people for morality and human rights into European diplomacy. To those who were in the Soviet gulag, or in Ceausescu's Romania as a recent acquaintance there relayed to me with much emotion, the fact that some Americans and others were out there, speaking on their behalf, gave them the will to survive those dark days, and to continue the struggle for freedom. Many of those voices were emanating in the non-governmental community, groups like Amnesty International, Freedom House and Human Rights Watch. Through the Helsinki Commission, the voice of the United States Congress was heard as well, and I know that all of my colleagues who have been on the Commission or worked with it are enormously proud of that fact.

  • Calling the President to Issue a Proclamation Recognizing the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act

    Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman) for yielding me time. Mr. Speaker, at the outset, let me give a special thanks to Bob Hand, who is a specialist on the Balkans, especially the former Yugoslavia and Albania, at the Helsinki Commission. As my colleagues know just a few moments ago, we passed H.R. 1064 by voice vote, legislation that I had introduced early last year. We went through many drafts and redrafts, and I would like to just thank Bob for the excellent work he and Dorothy Taft, the Commission's Chief of Staff, did on that legislation. H.R. 1064 would not have been brought to the floor in a form we know the Senate will pass quickly and then forward for signature, without their tremendous work on this piece of legislation, and their organization of a whole series of hearings that the Helsinki Commission has held on the Balkans. We have had former Bosnian Prime Minister Silajdzic, for example, testify at several hearings. The Congress itself has had so much input into this diplomatic process which we know as the ``Helsinki process,'' and they have done yeoman's work on that. Mr. Speaker, I rise and ask my colleagues to support passage of H.J. Res. 100, recognizing the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act. I am pleased that we have more than 40 cosponsors on this resolution, and that includes all of our colleagues on the Helsinki Commission. The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer) is the ranking Democratic Member, and my good friend and colleague. Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Final Act was a watershed event in European history, which set in motion what has become known as the Helsinki process. With its language on human rights, this agreement granted human rights the status of a fundamental principle regulating relations between the signatory countries. Yes, there were other provisions that dealt with economic issues as well as security concerns, but this country rightfully chose to focus attention on the human rights issues especially during the Cold War years and the dark days of the Soviet Union. The Helsinki process, I would respectfully submit to my colleagues, was very helpful, in fact instrumental, in relegating the Communist Soviet empire to the dust bin of history. The standards of Helsinki constitute a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues. The West, and especially the United States, used Helsinki to help people in Czechoslovakia, in East Germany and in all the countries that made up the OSCE, which today comprises 54 nations with the breakup of the Soviet Union and other States along with the addition of some new States. Let me just read to my colleagues a statement that was made by President Gerald Ford, who actually signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975. He stated, and I quote, “the Helsinki Final Act was the final nail in the coffin of Marxism and Communism in many, many countries and helped bring about the change to a more democratic political system and a change to a more market oriented economic system.” The current Secretary General of the OSCE, Jan Kubis, a Slovak, has stated, and I quote him, “As we remember together the signature of the Helsinki Final Act, we commemorate the beginning of our liberation, not by armies, not by methods of force or intervention, but as a result of the impact and inspiration of the norms and values of an open civilized society, enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and of the encouragement it provided to strive for democratic change and of openings it created to that end. Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Final Act is a living document. We regularly hold follow-up conferences and meetings emphasizing various aspects of the accords, pressing for compliance by all signatory states. I urge Members to support this resolution, and I am very proud, as I stated earlier, to be Chairman of the Helsinki Commission. Mr. Speaker, I include for the Record the Statement made by the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, David T. Johnson, at the Commemorative meeting on the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act Statement at the 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act (By Ambassador David T. Johnson to the Commemorative Meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE) Madame Chairperson, as we look with fresh eyes today at the document our predecessors signed on August 1, 1975, we are struck by the breadth of their vision. They agreed to work together on an amazing range of issues, some of which we are only now beginning to address. The States participating in the meeting affirmed the objective of “ensuring conditions in which their people can live in true and lasting peace free from any threat to or attempt against their security;” they recognized the “indivisibility of security in Europe'' and a ``common interest in the development of cooperation throughout Europe.” One of the primary strengths of the Helsinki process is its comprehensive nature and membership. Human rights, military security, and trade and economic issues can be pursued in the one political organization that unites all the countries of Europe including the former Soviet republics, the United States and Canada, to face today's challenges. Over the past twenty-five years we have added pieces to fit the new realities, just last November in Istanbul we agreed on a new Charter for European Security and an adapted Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. But the most significant provision of the Helsinki Agreement may have been the so-called Basket III on Human Rights. As Henry Kissinger pointed out in a speech three weeks after the Final Act was signed, “At Helsinki, for the first time in the postwar period, human rights and fundamental freedoms became recognized subjects of East-West discourse and negotiations. The conference put forward . . . standards of humane conduct, which have been, and still are, a beacon of hope to millions.” In resolutions introduced to our Congress this summer, members noted that the standards of Helsinki provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive regimes. Many paid a high price with the loss of their freedom or even their lives. Today we have heard from you, the representatives of the many who have struggled in the cause of human rights throughout the years since Helsinki. We are in awe of you, of the difficult and dangerous circumstances of your lives, and of what you have and are accomplishing. Many of us here cannot comprehend the conditions of life in a divided Europe. And those who lived under repressive regimes could not have imagined how quickly life changed after 1989. Political analysts both East and West were astounded at the rapidity with which the citizens of the former Iron Curtain countries demanded their basic rights as citizens of democratic societies. What we have heard time and again is that the Helsinki Final Act did matter. Leaders and ordinary citizens took heart from its assertions. The implementation review meetings kept a focus fixed on its provisions. Even before the Wall came down, a new generation of leaders like Nemeth in Hungary and Gorbachev in the Soviet Union made decisions to move in new directions, away from bloodshed and repression. In the summer of 1989, the Hungarians and Austrian cooperated with the West Germans to allow Romanians and East Germans to migrate to the West. Looking at what was happening in Europe, the young State Department analyst Francis Fukuyama, wrote an article which captured the world's attention. In ``The End of History,'' he claimed that what was happening was not just the end of the Cold War but the end of the debate over political systems. A consensus had formed that democracy, coupled with a market economy, was the best system for fostering the most freedom possible. And then in the night of November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall opened unexpectedly. Citizens emerging from repressive regimes knew about democracy and told the world that what they wanted more than anything else was to vote in free and fair elections. Only a year after the fall of the Wall, a reunited Germany held elections at the state and national level. Poland, Hungary, and the Baltic states carried out amazing transformations beginning with elections which brought in democratic systems. When Albania descended into chaos in 1997, groups across the country shared a common desire for fair elections. We have seen Croatia and the Slovak Republic re-direct their courses in the past several years, not by violence but through the ballot box. Just a few weeks ago, citizens of Montenegro voted in two cities with two different results, in both instances there was no violence and the new governments are moving forward with reforms to benefit their citizens. OSCE has time and again stepped up to assist with elections and give citizens an extra measure of reassurance that the rest of the world supports them in the exercise of their democratic rights. We are all aware that in the decades since Helsinki, we have seen conflict, torture, and ethnic violence within the OSCE area. Unfortunately, not all areas in the OSCE region made a peaceful transition to the Euro-Atlantic community of democratic prosperity. Some OSCE countries remain one-party states or suffer under regimes which suppress political opposition. Perhaps the most troubled region is the former Yugoslavia. As Laura Silber has written in the text to the BBC series “The Death of Yugoslavia,” “Yugoslavia did not die a natural death. Rather, it was deliberately and systematically killed off by men who had nothing to gain and everything to lose from a peaceful transition from state socialism and one-party rule to free-market democracy.” We need only look at the devastation of Chechnya and the continuing ethnic strife in parts of the former Yugoslavia to realize there is much still to be done in the OSCE region. We must continue our work together to minimize conflict and bring contending sides together, foster economic reforms through enhanced transparency, promote environmental responsibility, and or fight against organized crime and corruption. Human rights remain very much on our agenda as we seek to eradicate torture, and find new solutions for the integration of immigrants, minorities and vulnerable peoples into our political life. “Without a vision,” wrote the prophet Isaiah so long ago, “the people will perish.” We here today have a vision of collective security for all the citizens of the OSCE region. After twenty-five years, the goals embodied in the Helsinki final act remain a benchmark toward which we must continue to work. The Panelists have reminded us today that the Helsinki Final Act has incalculable symbolic meaning to the citizens of our region; we must continue to take on new challenges as we strive to keep this meaning alive. Mr. Crowley. Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to yield 8 minutes to the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Hoyer), the ranking member of the Helsinki Commission.   Mr. Hoyer: Mr. Speaker, I thank the distinguished gentleman from New York (Mr. Crowley) for yielding me the time. I thank the gentleman from New York (Mr. Gilman), the Chairman of the Committee on International Relations, for bringing this resolution to the floor. I am pleased to join my very good friend, the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith), with whom I have served on the Helsinki Commission since 1985 and who is now the chairman of our commission and does an extraordinarily good job at raising high the banner of human rights, of freedom, and democracy and so many other vital values to a free people. I am honored to be his colleague on the Helsinki Commission. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of H.J. Res. 100 which commemorates the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act which, was signed on August 1, 1975. It is my firm belief that the political process set in motion by the signing of the Final Act was the groundwork for the forces which consumed the former Soviet empire. In 1975, many of the Final Act signatory states viewed the language of the act dealing with human rights and the obligation that each state had toward its own citizens, as well as those of other states, as essentially meaningless window dressing. Their objective, it was felt that of the Soviets, was to secure a framework in which their international political position and the then existing map of Europe would be adjudged a fait accompli. Let me say as an aside that as we honor the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, we ought to honor the courage and the vision of President Gerald Ford. I am not particularly objective. President Ford is a friend of mine for whom I have great affection and great respect, but those who will recall the signing of the Final Act in August of 1975 will recall that it was very controversial, and that many particularly in President's Ford's party thought that it was a sellout to the Soviets, thought that it was, in fact, a recognition of the de facto borders that then existed with the 6 Warsaw Pact nations, captive nations, if you will. President Ford, however, had the vision and, as I said, the courage, to sign the Final Act on behalf of the United States along with 34 other heads of state; that act became a living and breathing process, not a treaty, not a part of international law, but whose moral suasion ultimately made a very significant difference.

  • U.S. Statements at the 1999 OSCE Review Conference

    In February 1999, officials from 90 governments, including representatives from many OSCE participating States, visited Washington for the First Global Forum on Fighting Corruption among justice and security officials. Participants concluded that their governments must cooperate more closely if they were to succeed in promoting public integrity and controlling corruption among their officials. OSCE efforts served as an example to others when the international community gathered in the Netherlands in 2001 for the Second Global Forum on Fighting Corruption.

  • 25th Anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act

    Mr. Speaker, next Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Final Act, which organized what has become known as the Helsinki or OSCE process, a critical venue in which the United States has sought to advance human rights, democracy and the rule of law. With its language on human rights, the Helsinki Final Act granted human rights of a fundamental principle in regulating international relations. The Final Act's emphasis on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is rooted in the recognition that the declarations of such rights affirms the inherent dignity of men and women, and are not privileges bestowed at the whim of the state. The commitments are worth reading again. Among the many pages, allow me to quote from several of the documents: In the Helsinki Final Act, the participating States commit to `respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.' In the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the participating states declared, `Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, are inalienable and are guaranteed by law. Their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of government.' In the 1991 Document of the Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, the participating States `categorically and irrevocably declare[d] that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension of the CSCE are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the States concerned.' In the 1990 Charter of Paris for a New Europe, the participating States committed themselves `to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.' The 1999 Istanbul Charter for European Security and Istanbul Summit Declaration notes the particular challenges of ending violence against women and children as well as sexual exploitation and all forms of trafficking in human beings, strengthening efforts to combat corruption, eradicating torture, reinforcing efforts to end discrimination against Roma and Sinti, and promoting democracy and respect for human rights in Serbia. Equally important, the standards of Helsinki, which served as a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues also provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive communist regimes. Many of these brave men and women, members of the Helsinki Monitoring and affiliated Groups in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, and similar groups in Poland and Czechoslovakia and elsewhere, Soviet Jewish emigration activists, members of repressed Christian denominations and others, paid a high price in the loss of personal freedom and, in some instances, their lives, for their active support of principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. Pressure by governments through the Helsinki process at various Helsinki fora, thoroughly reviewing compliance with Helsinki commitments and raising issues with Helsinki signatory governments which violated their freely undertaken human rights commitments, helped make it possible for the people of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to regain their freedom and independence. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the OSCE region has changed dramatically. In many of the States, we have witnessed widespread and significant transformations and a consolidation of the core OSCE values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Unfortunately, in others, there has been little if any progress, and in some, armed conflicts have resulted in hundreds of thousands having been killed and in the grotesque violation of human rights. Mr. Speaker, this milestone anniversary presents the President an appropriate opportunity to issue a proclamation in recognition of the obligations we and the other OSCE States have committed to uphold. It is important to keep in mind that all of the agreements of the Helsinki process have been adopted by consensus and consequently, each participating State is equally bound by each document. In addition to committing ourselves of the faithful implementation of the OSCE principles, the President should encourage other OSCE signatories as all of us have recognized that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles, economic liberty, and the implementation of related commitments continue to be vital elements in promoting a new era of democracy and genuine security and cooperation in the OSCE region. Each participating State of the OSCE bears primary responsibility for raising violations of the Helsinki Final Act and the other OSCE documents. In the twenty-five years since this historic process was initiated in Helsinki, there have been many successes, but the task is far from complete. Mr. Speaker, we can look at OSCE's past with pride and its future with hope, keeping in mind President Ford's concluding comments at the signing of the Helsinki Final Act: `History will judge this conference not by what we say here today, but by what we do tomorrow, not by the promises we make, but by the promises we keep.'

  • Torture in the OSCE Region

    In advance of the 2000 commemoration of the United Nations Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, the Helsinki Commission held a briefing to focus on the continuing problem of torture in the OSCE region. In spite of these efforts and the efforts of our Commission, including introducing and working for passage of two bills, the Torture Victims Relief Act and the Reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act, torture continues to be a persistent problem in every OSCE country including the United States. This briefing considered two specific problem areas, Chechnya and Turkey, as well as efforts to prevent torture and to treat torture survivors. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Dr. Inge Genefke, International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims; Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for  Europe and the Middle East, Amnesty International; and Douglas Johnson, Executive Director of the Center for the Victims of Torture – highlighted statistics about the number of torture victims in Turkey and Chechnya and related violations of individual rights.

  • Helsinki Final Act 25th Anniversary Resolution

    Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing a resolution commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act, an international accord whose signing represents a milestone in European history. As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, I have been privileged to be associated with the Helsinki process and its seminal role in advancing human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. I am pleased to be joined by my fellow Helsinki Commissioners Representatives Hoyer, Wolf, Cardin, Salmon, Slaughter, Greenwood, Forbes and Pitts as original cosponsors. A companion resolution is being introduced today in the Senate by Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.   The Helsinki Final Act and the process it spawned have been instrumental in consigning the Communist Soviet Empire, responsible for untold violations of human rights, into the dustbin of history. With its language on human rights, the Helsinki Final Act, for the first time in the history of international agreements, granted human rights the status of a fundamental principle in regulating international relations. The Final Act's emphasis on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is rooted in the recognition that the declaration of such rights affirms the inherent dignity of men and women and not privileges bestowed at the whim of the state.   Equally important, Mr. Speaker, the standards of Helsinki which served as a valuable lever in pressing human rights issues also provided encouragement and sustenance to courageous individuals who dared to challenge repressive communist regimes. Many of these brave men and women, members of the Helsinki Monitoring Groups in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia, Armenia, and similar groups in Poland and Czechoslovakia, Soviet Jewish emigration activists, members of repressed Christian denominations and others, paid a high price in the loss of personal freedom and, in some instances, their lives, for their active support of principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act. Western pressure through the Helsinki process, now advanced in the forum of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, greatly contributed to the freeing of the peoples of the Captive Nations, thus bringing an end to the Cold War.   The Helsinki Commission, on which I have served since 1983, played a significant role in promoting human rights and human contacts. The congressional initiatives such as hearings, resolutions, letters and face-to-face meetings with representatives of Helsinki signatories which violated human rights commitments, encouraged our own government to raise these issues consistently and persistently. The Commission's approach at various Helsinki meetings has always been to encourage a thorough and detailed review of compliance with Helsinki agreements. Specific cases and issues are cited, rather than engaging in broad, philosophical discussions about human rights. With the passage of time, and with the leadership of the United States, this more direct approach in pressing human rights concerns has become the norm. In fact, by 1991 the Helsinki signatory states accepted that human dimension commitments `are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the state concerned.'   With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, the OSCE region has changed dramatically. In many States, we have witnessed dramatic transformation and a consolidation of the core OSCE values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In others, there has been little if any progress, and in some, armed conflicts have resulted in hundreds of thousands having been killed and in the grotesque violation of human rights. The OSCE, which now includes 54 participating States, has changed to reflect the changed international environment, undertaking a variety of initiatives designed to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict and emphasizing respect for rule of law and the fight against organized crime and corruption, which constitute a threat to economic reform and prosperity. The Helsinki process is still dynamic and active, and the importance of a vigorous review in which countries are called to account for violations of their freely undertaken Helsinki commitments has not diminished.   This resolution calls on the President to issue a proclamation reaffirming the United States' commitment to full implementation of the Helsinki Final Act. All signatory states would be asked to clarify that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic principles as well as economic liberty, and the implementation of related commitments continue to be vital elements in promoting a new era of democracy, peace and unity in the OSCE region. In the twenty-five years since this historic process was initiated in Helsinki, there have been many successes. Mr. Speaker, the task is still far from complete, and we must continue to do our part in championing the values that Helsinki espouses.

  • Report on the Presidential Election in Georgia

    On April 9, 2000, Georgia held a presidential election. According to the Central Election Commission, turnout was almost 76 percent. Incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze won reelection with about 80 percent of the vote. Former Communist Party boss Jumber Patiashvili came in second, with 16.6 percent. The other candidates on the ballot were largely irrelevant. Though Shevardnadze’s victory was anticipated, it remained unclear until election eve whom he would defeat. Batumi Alliance leader Aslan Abashidze, boss of the Autonomous Republic of Ajaria, had announced last year plans to mount a presidential race, but many expected him to drop out, as he had no real chance of winning. By threatening a boycott, Abashidze won concessions from the CUG on the election law, but his overall strategy collapsed when his Batumi Alliance colleague, Jumber Patiashvili, announced plans to run against Shevardnadze no matter what. One day before the election, Abashidze withdrew, leaving Patiashvili as Shevardnadze’s only serious contender. The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights election observation mission began its assessment by stating that “considerable progress is necessary for Georgia to fully meet its commitments as a participating state of the OSCE.” Among the problems in the election, ODIHR noted, inter alia, the authorities’ support for the incumbent, the failure of state media to provide balanced reportage, and the dominant role of the CUG in election commissions at all levels. While voting was generally conducted “calmly,” the “counting and tabulation procedures lacked uniformity and, at times, transparency.” The ODIHR also observed ballot stuffing and protocol tampering. Shevardnadze’s prospects for resolving the conflict in Abkhazia are bleak and he has little reason to expect help from Russia. Since the beginning of Russia’s latest campaign against Chechnya, Moscow has accused Tbilisi of allowing or abetting the transit of Chechen fighters through Georgian territory. These allegations also aim to pressure Georgia in negotiations about the withdrawal of Russia’s four military bases. High-level Russian political and military figures have made it plain that Moscow will try to retain the bases and will reassert its interests in the region to counter gains by Western countries, especially the United States. Tbilisi will need help from the United States in resisting a newly aggressive Moscow. Eduard Shevardnadze has long enjoyed good relations with Washington, which gratefully remembers his contribution as Soviet Foreign Minister to ending the Cold War peacefully. The United States has provided substantial assistance to Georgia and backed Shevardnadze morally as well. Presumably the congratulations tendered at the beginning of the State Department’s April 10 statement reflected appreciation for his past services, rather than acceptance at face value of the election’s results. President Clinton noted the election’s shortcomings in a post-election letter to Shevardnadze, reiterated Washington’s longstanding exhortation to attack corruption, and pressed him to implement urgent economic changes.

  • Report on Georgia's Parliamentary Elections: October 1999

    On October 31, 1999, Georgia held its third parliamentary election since gaining independence in 1991. President Eduard Shevardnadze’s ruling party, the Citizens Union of Georgia, scored a convincing victory. According to the Central Election Commission, in the first round, the CUG won 41.85 percent of the party list voting, or 85 seats, along with 35 single districts. The opposition Batumi Alliance, led by Ajarian strongman Aslan Abashidze, came in second, with 25.65 percent of the vote and seven districts, gaining 51 seats. Industry Will Save Georgia was the only other party to break the sevenpercent threshold for parliamentary representation, managing 7.8 percent and 14 seats. In second-round voting on November 14, the CUG increased its lead, picking up ten more seats, and then won another two in a November 28 third round, for a total of 132. The Batumi Alliance’s final tally was 59. Overall, the CUG has an absolute majority in Georgia’s 235-seat legislature, improving on the position it held from 1995-1999. The outcome did not indicate how tense the race had been between the CUG and the leftist, proRussian Batumi Alliance. A win by the latter threatened to move Georgia into Russia’s orbit and away from market reforms. The election also offered a foretaste of next year’s presidential contest, when Abashidze runs against Shevardnazde. With such high stakes and relations so confrontational between the contending forces, charges of widespread fraud dogged the elections. Of the Central Election Commission’s 19 members, only 13 signed the document announcing the results. Nevertheless, OSCE’s observation mission called the first round of the election a “step towards” compliance with OSCE commitments, adding that most of the worst violations occurred in Ajaria. OSCE’s verdict after the November 14 second round was more critical, noting violence at some polling stations and vote rigging and intimidation at others. OSCE’s initial cautiously positive judgement, however, allowed Eduard Shevardnadze to claim that democratization is proceeding in Georgia and that the country’s admission to the Council of Europe was well deserved.

  • The Ombudsman in the OSCE: An American Perspective

    This briefing assessed the role of ombudsmen institutions in the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from an American perspective. The ombudsman institution was described as a flexible institution; adaptable to national and local government structures in a wide variety of countries, and a brief evaluation of the evolution of this institution was presented. Dean M. Gottehrer, a consultant on ombudsmen in human rights institutions for the United Nations Development Program, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, and the United States Information Agency, presented a personal analysis of the role of ombudsmen institutions in protecting human rights in OSCE participating states.

  • Deterioration of Religious Liberty in Europe

    This briefing addressed the persisting question of problems of religious liberty and the patterns of discrimination against religious minorities and other belief groups that had developed in a number of countries in the OSCE region in the aftermath of the Cold War. Efforts of improving religious liberty in former communist countries were discussed, as well as the need for spending time and attention on countries farther west, like France, Belgium, and Austria, in which concern for religious minorities was also expressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights without Frontiers and James McCabe, Assistant General Counsel of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society – examined the multi-tiered system that European countries employ regarding religion, and the different statuses and treatment of citizens based on where their religion falls within this system. The issues faced by minority religious associations, like being targeted by fiscal services, were also topics of discussion.

  • Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)

    This briefing focused on the topics of European security and NATO enlargement, specifically in terms of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Elements of the treaty that remained especially important, including the goal of avoiding destabilizing concentrations of forces in Europe and the goal of creating greater transparency and promoting information exchange among governments in Europe, were discussed. Witnesses testifying at this briefing spoke to the need for amendments and changes to the CFE, but maintained the relevance of the treaty to international security. Different strategies for making these changes related to Russian pressure and NATO involvement were presented. 

  • U.S. Statements on the Human Dimension, 1996 OSCE Vienna Review Conference and Lisbon Summit

    This compendium of statements illustrates the U.S. perspective that one of the key and distinguishing features of the OSCE is the interlocking framework of critical, politically binding commitments which provide a common set of principles to which all participating States can aspire. The OSCE draws its real strength and practical flexibility from participating states' commitments to the values of the original Helsinki Act, rather than from a legalized, treaty-based institutional structure. A fundamental strength of the OSCE is the review process, which provides a regular opportunity to assess a participating states' efforts to further the realization of the Helsinki Accords within its own borders, and in its relations with other OSCE states. The OSCE is increasingly a pillar of European security. By facilitating honest implementation review the OSCE can strengthen security links based on common values.

  • Report: US Helsinki Commission Delegation to Georgia and Azerbaijan

    From April 22-26, 1996, Commission staff attended, along with 30 media professionals, the International Conference on Conflict in Trans-Caucasus [sic] and the Role of Mass Media, held in Kobuleti, Ajaria (an Autonomous Republic in Georgia). The conferences organizers were the OSCE Office of Democratic Institu- tions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Mission to Georgia, the Council of Europe and the Tbilisi-based Black Sea Press Information Agency. The project was co-sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, through the Eurasia Foundation. Participants came from Baku, Tskhinvali (South Ossetia), Stepanakert (Nagorno-Karabakh), Tbilisi and Yerevan. Organized by the ODIHR as a follow-up to the 1995 Human Dimension Implementation Review Meeting in Warsaw, the conference was one in a series on the role of the media in conflict situations and in systems undergoing the transition from communism. The stated aim of these conferences is to develop aware- ness of and working recommendations for the journalists working in conflict regions on the role the media can play in preventing and resolving conflicts. A secondary goal is to give journalists from states or regions in conflict the opportunity to meet, discuss common problems and establish personal contacts to promote the exchange of information. Other scheduled conferences examine the role of the media in the former Yugoslavia (June 1996) and the situation of the media in Uzbekistan (October 1996). One important reason conference organizers chose Kobuleti was that Ajaria has managed to avoid the destruction and disruption visited upon the rest of Georgia in the last several years by ethnic conflicts and by gangs of marauding criminals associated with various paramilitary groups. Under the iron grip of Aslan Abashidze, the Chairman of Ajarias Supreme Soviet, Ajaria has been relatively calm, and has taken in refugees from Georgias ethnic-separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Since these conflicts are technically unre- solved, Tbilisi, the capital, would have been problematic for Abkhaz and South Ossetians, whereas Ajaria seemed a more neutral site.

  • Summary of the OSCE Rule of Law Seminar

    From November 28 to December 1, 1995, the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) convened a seminar on the rule of law. The meeting was organized by the Warsaw-based OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Thirty-eight of the 53 fully participating States attended, along with representatives from two Non-Participating Mediterranean States, six international organizations, and 25 non-governmental organizations. Over the course of two days, a number of emerging democracies described the constitutions and other legislative provisions that had been adopted in their countries to provide for the rule of law, at least on paper. Western participants, for their part, generally spoke of the specific and concrete challenges faced in their countries in actually implementing safeguards for the rule of law. In general, the participation of East-Central European and former Soviet countries—most of which attended this meeting—was more active than at the 1991 Oslo meeting, and Western participants, for their part, avoided the West-West bickering that marred the earlier seminar. At the end of the meeting, the rapporteurs produced summaries of the discussions.

  • Religious Liberty: The State Church and Minority Faiths

    Samuel G. Wise, Director for International Policy at the US Helsinki Commission, presented the second briefing in a series focusing on religious liberty in the participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. This particular discussion was intended to evaluate the relationship between state churches or traditional religious and freedom of religion for minority faiths in the OSCE region through an analysis of the effects of certain historical legacies on individual states. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Father Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer of the Orthodox Church in America; Father George Papaioannou, Pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church; Gerard Powers, Foreign Policy Advisor for the U.S. Catholic Conference; Lauren Homer, Founder of Law and Liberty Trust; and Lee Boothby, Vice President of the Council on Religious Freedom – focused on the issue of minority and majority in society as it relates to religion and the potential for this issue to result in conflict. The historical origins of these tensions, especially in Eastern Europe, were particularly emphasized. 

  • Religious Liberty in the OSCE: Present and Future

    Speaking on behalf of Congressman Christopher H. Smith and Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato, chairman and co-chairman of the Helsinki Committee, the Committee’s Director for International Policy, Samuel G. Wise, addressed the improvements made by the countries of the OSCE in religious liberty since the demise of communism. Observed deficits in this particular subject were also evaluated, including acts of OSCE governments perpetrating religious intolerance and discrimination against people of faith by passing laws favoring certain religions, turning a blind eye to harassment, and establishing bureaucratic roadblocks to prevent religious minorities from practicing their faith. Each panelist – including Dr. Paul Marshall, Senior Fellow of Political Theory for the Institute for Christian Studies; Dr. Khalid Duran, Senior Fellow for the Institute for International Studies; and Micah Naftalin, National Director for the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews – spoke to the overall factors affecting religious freedom in the OSCE, including: respect for other freedoms such as freedom of speech and religion, ethno-cultural tensions, and the relevance of old prejudices. These ideas were presented in the context of moving towards a more comprehensive respect for religious freedom among OSCE member states in the future.

  • Trade and Investment in Central Europe and the NIS

    This briefing was the tenth in a series of briefings covering topics such as U.S. assistance to Central and East Europe and the NIS, and free trade unions. Topics of discussion included the economic aspects of efforts to develop institutional networks between the Central and Eastern European countries and the OSCE and the Western European multilateral structures and the progress that has been made by countries in developing association agreements with the European Union. Witnesses testifying at this briefing – including Harriet Craig Peterson, President of Cornerstone International Group and Thomas Price, Coordinator for OSCE Affairs for the State Department – evaluated regional issues associated with infrastructure, environment, energy, and border procedures that needed to be addressed to produce a smoother flow of goods from an economic perspective.

  • U.S. Assistance to Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS: An Assessment

    This briefing discussed the successes achieved and the difficulties encountered on the road to democratic reform and stabilization are reflected throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and evaluated the impact of these factors in the scope and tenor of U.S. assistance programs. Such programs involve assistance to countries throughout the region in democratic institution building, market reform and restructuring, health care improvement, energy efficiency, environmental policy, and housing sector reform. Witnesses testifying at this briefing addressed the relevance of the crisis in Chechnya, continued conflict in the Balkans, and tensions in various parts of East-Central Europe to United States Interests in the region. They focused on the goals of U.S. assistance to the NIS and East-Central Europe and the effectiveness of current programs in furthering those goals.

  • Russia and its Neighbors

    Dennis Deconcini (D-AZ) and other legislators discussed Russia’s relations with its neighboring countries. More specifically, concerning democratic reform, the hearing contrasted the economic criteria of privatization, the rate of inflation, currency emission, and subsidies to enterprises with Moscow’s policies vis-à-vis its neighbors. Of course, Russia’s neighbors are referred to as the New Independent States, and, as Deconcini argues, it is problematic when Russia militarily or economically coerces its neighbors to enter into unwanted, yet inevitable, political, security, or economic relationships.

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