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Latvia

The Republic of Latvia is a 25,499-square-mile area (about the size of West Virginia) situated on the Baltic Sea.  It is bordered by Estonia to the north, Russia and Belarus to the east, and Lithuania to the south.  Latvia's population is approximately 1.9 million, almost a third of whom live in the capital, Riga.

Latvia was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1944. Tens of thousands of Latvians were deported to Siberia both during and after the war, and Russians and people from other Soviet republics began migrating to Latvia. In 1987, an independence movement emerged in the country, and independence was finally restored in September 1991.  Latvia joined both the EU and NATO in 2004. Today, Latvians comprise only about 62 percent of the country's population. The Russian population is about 25 percent of the total, with the remainder consisting mostly of Belarusians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Lithuanians.

In a move reflecting Latvia’s growing anxiety about Russian aggression, the country has joined its two Baltic neighbors in requesting that NATO permanently deploy forces within its borders as a deterrent.  Specifically, Latvia is concerned that recent Russian declarations of an “obligation” to protect Russian speakers across the former Soviet States signal an increasing Russian willingness to intervene militarily elsewhere in the region. Latvia’s largest internal challenge is corruption, while issues such as incidents of anti-Semitism, trafficking in persons, and prisoner abuse arise sporadically.    

Staff Contact: Rachel Bauman, policy advisor

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  • Concerning Rise in Anti-Semitism in Europe

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my good friend for yielding me time, and I rise in very strong support of H. Res. 393. I want to commend its sponsor and all of the Members who are taking part in this very important debate.   Mr. Speaker, yesterday, along with the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin), who is on the floor and will be speaking momentarily, we returned back from the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Parliamentary Assembly.   Every year, parliamentarians from the 55 nations that comprise the OSCE meet to discuss issues of importance. This year the focus was on terrorism, but we made sure that a number of other issues, because certainly anti -Semitism is inextricably linked to terrorism, were raised in a very profound way.   Yesterday, two very historic and I think very vital things happened in this debate. I had the privilege of co-chairing a historic meeting on anti -Semitism with a counterpart, a member of the German Bundestag, Professor Gert Weisskirchen, who is a member of the Parliament there, also a professor of applied sciences at the University of Heidelberg, and we heard from four very serious, very credible and very profound voices in this battle to wage against anti-Semitism.   We heard from Abraham Foxman, the National Director of the Anti -Defamation League, who gave a very impassioned but also very empirical speech, that is to say he backed it up with statistics, with information about this rising tide of anti-Semitism, not just in Europe, but in the United States and Canada as well.   He pointed out, for example, according to their data, 17 percent of Americans are showing real anti -Semitic beliefs, and the ugliness of it. Sadly, among Latinos and African Americans, it is about 35 percent. He pointed out in Europe, in the aggregate, the anti -Semitism was about 30 percent of the population.   Dr. Shimon Samuels also spoke, who is the Director of the Wiesenthal Center in Paris. He too gave a very impassioned and very documented talk. He made the point that the slippery slope from hate speech to hate crime is clear. Seventy-two hours after the close of the Durban hate-fest, its virulence struck at the strategic and financial centers of the United States. He pointed out, “If Durban was Mein Kampf, than 9/11 was Kristalnacht, a warning.”   “What starts with the Jews is a measure, an alarm signaling impending danger for global stability. The new anti -Semitic alliance is bound up with anti -Americanism under the cover of so-called anti –globalization.”   He also testified and said, ``The Holocaust for 30 years acted as a protective Teflon against blatant anti -Semitic expression. That Teflon has eroded, and what was considered distasteful and politically incorrect is becoming simply an opinion. But cocktail chatter at fine English dinners,'' he said, ``can end as Molotov cocktails against synagogues.   ``Political correctness is also eroding for others, as tolerance for multi-culturism gives way to populous voices in France, Italy, Austria, Denmark, Portugal, and in the Netherlands. These countries' Jewish communities can be caught between the rock of radical Islamic violence and the hard place of a revitalized Holocaust-denying extreme right.   “Common cause”, he concluded, “must be sought between the victimized minorities against extremism and fascism.”   I would point out to my colleagues one of those who spoke pointed out, it was Professor Julius Schoeps, that he has found that people do not say “I am anti -Semitic;” they just say ”I do not like Jews”, a distinction without a difference, and, unfortunately, it is rearing itself in one ugly attack after another.   I would point out in that Berlin very recently, two New Jersey yeshiva students, after they left synagogue, they left prayer, there was an anti -American, anti -Israeli demonstration going on, and they were asked repeatedly, are you Jews? Are you Jews? And then the fists started coming their way and they were beaten right there in Berlin.   Let me finally say, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday we also passed a supplementary item at our OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. I was proud to be the principal sponsor. The gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Cardin) offered a couple of strengthening amendments during the course of that debate, and we presented a united force, a U.S. force against anti-Semitism.   I would just point out this resolution now hopefully will act in concert with other expressions to wake up Europe. We cannot sit idly by. If we do not say anything, if we do not speak out, we allow the forces of hate to gain a further foothold. Again, that passed yesterday as well.   Mr. Speaker, I urge Members to become much more aware that this ugliness is rearing its ugly face, not just in the United States, but Canada, in Europe, and we have to put to an end to it. Hate speech and hate crimes go hand in hand.   Mr. Speaker, I urge support of the resolution.   United States Helsinki Commission--Anti -Semitism in the OSCE Region   The Delegations of Germany and the United States will hold a side event to highlight the alarming escalation of anti -Semitic violence occurring throughout the OSCE region.   All Heads of Delegations have been invited to attend, as well as media and NGOs.   The United States delegation has introduced a supplementary item condemning anti -Semitic violence. The Resolution urges Parliamentary Assembly participants to speak out against anti-Semitism.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Report on Human Rights and the Process of NATO Enlargement

    The Commission held a series of three public hearings on “Human Rights and the Process of NATO Enlargement” in anticipation of the summit of Heads of State and Governments of Member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to be held in Madrid, Spain, on July 8 and 9, 1997. The emergence of new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe and the demise of the Warsaw Pact created a security vacuum in the territory between the current eastern frontier of NATO and the Russian border. The first attempt to address the new security realities in the region occurred at the end of 1991 with the establishment of NATO’s North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) as a forum for the evolution of a new relationship based on constructive dialogue and cooperation. In early 1994, the Partnership for Peace (PfP) was launched with the aim of providing a practical program to transform the relationship between NATO and states participating in PfP, moving beyond dialogue and cooperation to forge a genuine security partnership. (All 27 states of the Partnership for Peace (PfP) are OSCE participating States.) Simultaneously, NATO began to consider the possibility of enlarging the Alliance. The result was the 1995 Study on NATO Enlargement which addressed practical steps and requirements candidates for membership would have to satisfy. In December 1996, NATO foreign ministers called for a NATO summit at which one or more countries that wanted to join NATO would be invited to begin accession negotiations. The U.S. Congress was instrumental in stimulating the debate through several legislative initiatives. The NATO Participation Act of 1994 (PL 103-447) provided a reasonable framework for addressing concerns about NATO enlargement, consistent with U.S. interests in ensuring stability in Europe. The law lists a variety of criteria, such as respect for democratic principles and human rights enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act, against which to evaluate the suitability of prospective candidates for NATO membership. The Act stipulates that participants in the PfP should be invited to become full NATO members if they... “remain committed to protecting the rights of all their citizens....” Under section 203, a program of assistance was established to provide designated emerging democracies with the tools necessary to facilitate their transition to full NATO membership. The NATO Enlargement Facilitation Act of 1996 (PL 104-208) included an unqualified statement that the protection and promotion of fundamental freedoms and human rights are integral aspects of genuine security. The law also makes clear that the human rights records of emerging democracies in Central and Eastern Europe interested in joining NATO should be evaluated in light of the obligations and commitments of these countries under the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Helsinki Final Act.  

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Status of Media Freedom in Democracies

    This briefing detailed the progress of media freedom in newly democratic states, especially within Eastern Europe. The role of the media in the democratization process and methods for promoting freedom of the media were examined as well. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including David Webster, Chairman of the  Trans-Atlantic Dialogue on European Broadcasting and Sandra Pralong, President of Democracy Works – detailed several major values that a free media promotes in the democratic process, including peaceful social change, education of the democratic electorate, dissenting opinions about the government and society in general, and transparency of political corruption.

  • CSCE to Examine Repression against Evangelicals in Former Soviet Union

    Chris Smith, ranking Republican on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, addressed both the opportunities for democratic, economic, and social reforms in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and the difficulties of achieving these reforms presented by renewed tensions based on nationality and religion. The rise of extreme nationalism was cited as a key factor in the rise of religious intolerance in this region. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Boris Pechatkin and Edward Zawistowski of the Russian-American Institute for Adaption, and Lauren Homer, Director of Law and Liberty Trust – addressed the difficulties that have been encountered in ending religious prosecution following the fall of the Soviet Union. The impact of a breakdown of law and order in the countries of Eastern Europe was evaluated as a mechanism for religious injustice.

  • Baltic Leadership on the Status of Independence Movements

    The Hearing comes at a time when there is great peril for the people of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Soviet troops seized government buildings the aforementioned countries. The Baltic Military Personnel Unit has been reactivated to curb Soviet troop presence. The Baltic States have undergone immense destruction wrought by the hand of force from Moscow. The hearing will attempt to underscore the importance of American presence in the Balkan region.

  • Soviet Crackdown in the Baltic States

    This hearing, which Steny H. Hoyer presided over, came at a time during which the United States’ time was occupied elsewhere in the world (i.e. the Middle East). Therefore, the running time of this hearing was expected to be an hour, with a more in-depth hearing to follow later on. In any case, attendees discussed, from the view of the U.S., anyway, that the Baltic States (i.e. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) had all been illegally absorbed into what was then the Soviet Union. Likewise, the Baltic States had raised the issue that enforcement of conscription laws of the Soviet Union in these countries is in and of itself legal within the framework of the Geneva Convention. The consensus of the hearing was that the attempt by Moscow to crush democracy in the Baltic States must be met by the U.S. with the same resolve that the U.S. took in meeting similar attempts in other parts of the world, including collaboration with other countries.

  • Copenhagen Meeting on the Human Dimension

    This Hearing was convened by Chairman Dennis DeConcini and Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer to address the Human Dimension of the of the Helsinki Final Act. In attendance were Ambassador Max Kampelmann, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Copenhagen CSCE Conference on the Human Dimension, Prof. Thomas Buergenthal, public member of the U.S. Delegation, and Prof. Hurst Hannum, public member of the U.S. Delegation. Those in attendence discussed the state of human rights in the OSCE region and various humanitarian causes that should be emphasized in the coming sessions.

  • The Baltic Question

    This Helsinki Commission hearing was brought to order due to the independence movements in the Baltic States. The independence movements in these states expressed the desire for self-rule on the part of peoples who, after forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union, had been brutally colonized for 50 years, reduced to the status of minorities and second-class citizens in their historic homelands, robbed of their language, their culture and their history, and victimized by police brutality and environmental assault. They sought independence from Moscow not because they hate Russians, but because they saw it as a prerequisite for physical and cultural survival.

  • Sofia CSCE Meeting on the Protection of the Environment

    The purpose of this hearing, which Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer chaired, was to examine the first meeting in CSCE history devoted exclusively to the environment. The hearing predated the Sofia Meeting itself, whose purpose was to address environmental problems that recognize no borders and threaten every individual’s right to a peaceful and secure life. Unfortunately, the Sofia Meeting had been marred by the Bulgarian government’s lack of tolerance in its treatment of its Turkish and Muslim minorities, specifically the Bulgarian government’s campaign to assimilate Turkish minorities, which constituted a serious violation of human rights. Needless to say, then, intersectionality existed and continues to exist among environmental issues and the Helsinki process’s other top priorities.

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