Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol I - Human Rights and ContactsWednesday, February 23, 1977
This hearing focused on the implementation of the Helsinki Accords and explored proposals for advancing compliance. The Commissioners and witnesses discussed how the accords could better East-West relations. They discussed how the framework of the Helsinki accords helps provide protection against armed intervention in internal affairs, or the threat of such intervention. The Commissioners heard testimonies from those working on human rights in Warsaw Pact countries and from many American citizens seeking reunification with relatives in Warsaw Pact countries.
Conference on Security and Cooperation in EuropeTuesday, May 06, 1975
In July 1973 the Foreign Ministers of 33 European countries and the United States opened the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), in Helsinki. Since then the participants have made slow but steady progress on a broad range of security, political, economic and other issues of mutual concern. As the conference reaches what appears to be a conclusive stage interest in its eventual outcome has mounted both in Congress and throughout the Nation: Special concern has been expressed over the implications the Conference may have for such issues as human rights in Eastern Europe, the division of Germany, U.S. force levels in Europe, and the future of the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Human rights within states are crucial to security among states. Prioritizing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, defending the principles of liberty, and encouraging tolerance within societies must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. Peace, security, and prosperity cannot be sustained if national governments repress their citizens, stifle their media, or imprison members of the political opposition. Authoritarian regimes become increasingly unstable as citizens chafe under the bonds of persecution and violence, and pose a danger not only to their citizens, but also to neighboring nations. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption; protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.
Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic States and is the eastern boundary of the European Union with the Commonwealth of Independent States. It sits astride both sea and land routes connecting North to South and East to West, with Poland and the Kaliningrad region of the Russian Federation on one side and Belarus on the other. Ethnically more homogenous than the other Baltic States, 83.6 percent of Lithuania’s population of approximately 2.7 million people is ethnically Lithuanian. Approximately 6.6 percent are Polish and 5.8 percent Russian.
Lithuania claimed its independence from the Soviet Union when the new, democratically elected Supreme Council voted on March 11, 1990, to reestablish the Lithuanian Republic. The collapse of the Moscow coup in August 1991 led to international, including Russian, recognition of Lithuania's independence. Lithuania became a state party to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (which later became the OSCE) in 1991, the first international organization it joined after independence. Accession to NATO and the European Union in 2004 cemented Lithuania's commitment to democracy and market economics.
Lithuania is particularly concerned with what it perceives as a security threat from Russia on the heels of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and continued Russian accusations of mistreatment of Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltics. The deployment of Russian troops and equipment to Lithuania’s border with Belarus has also sparked growing concern. Lithuania’s values-based foreign policy has included hosting political opposition leaders from Russia and Belarus, as well as taking a principled stance against China’s authoritarian policies and human rights violations, including by deepening ties with Taiwan. As a result, the country has faced a campaign of economic and diplomatic pressure from Beijing.
The Helsinki Commission has devoted significant attention to strategic picture in the Baltic region in recent years, and especially since Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014. For example, Commission Members visited the Baltic states in July 2021 (Estonia) and February 2022 (Lithuania). In July 2019, the Helsinki Commission convened an unprecedented Field Hearing on Baltic Regional Security in Gdansk, Poland, to underscore America’s commitment to security in the Baltic Sea region and its unwavering support for U.S. friends and allies. Lithuanian Minister of Defense, Raimundas Karoblis, testified at the hearing, held less than 80 miles from Russia’s Kaliningrad border, alongside senior U.S. civilian and military leaders, who outlined America’s collaborative approach to enhancing security in the region, as well as high-level officials from Poland, Finland, Sweden, and Estonia, who provided regional perspectives on the evolving security environment.
Staff Contact: Alex Tiersky, senior policy advisor