Name

Dante Fascell

Chairman

1976-1985

"I am extremely proud of the work of this Commission during the past eight years. I think we have had a real impact on the Helsinki process and on U.S. Government policy in this area.

We have provided valuable services to the Congress as well as the Executive Branch. And, most importantly, we have made a lasting contribution to the noble cause of human rights."

- Chairman Dante Fascell (February 6, 1984)

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  • INVASION AND REVISION

    By Annie Lentz, Max Kampelman Fellow The Soviet-Afghan War, which lasted for more than nine years, began with the December 1979 invasion following a Soviet-orchestrated coup and the subsequent appointment of Soviet loyalist Babrak Karmal as president of a communist Afghan government. The coup was a direct violation of international law and global norms as Afghanistan was—and remains—a sovereign and independent nation. In June 1981, two Mujahideen insurgent coalitions—one moderate, one fundamentalist—formed to combat Soviet influence over the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. These new groups contributed to an increase in organized, effective guerilla attacks against Soviet forces, leading to the eventual Soviet withdrawal from the country following their failure to quell the Mujahideen insurgency.  Four years earlier, the Soviet Union signed a collection of international agreements—including the Helsinki Final Act—committing to respect the rights of sovereign nations. By signing the Helsinki Final Act, the Soviet Union and 34 other countries pledged to refrain from exercising the threat or use of force, to observe the rights of peoples to self-determination, and to accept international principles of conduct, all commitments that the Soviet Union violated by invading Afghanistan. On July 22, 1981, during the early stages of the Soviet-Afghan war and shortly after the mobilization of the new Mujahideen coalitions, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing, “Soviet Violation of Helsinki Final Act: Invasion of Afghanistan,” to examine how the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was not only a violation of international law but also of the terms of the Helsinki Final Act. Then-Chairman Rep. Dante Fascell chaired the hearing, saying, “The Soviet invasion has clearly undermined the spirit and intentions of the principles embodied in the Final Act. Most importantly the invasion of this formerly independent state has severely damaged the international climate and has done great harm to East-West relations.” Rep. Don Bonker, then-Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations, noted, “There is hardly a single international agreement, treaty, rule of law, custom or civilized behavior that the Soviets have not violated during their bloody occupation and suppression of the Afghan population.” He went on to urge the Reagan administration to use U.S. allies to convince the Soviets that an independent Afghanistan was in the best interest of all parties. Prior to the Helsinki Commission hearing, the international community’s response to the Soviet Union had been growing more severe. On top of escalating sanctions and embargoes which exasperated tensions from the Cold War, in 1980, the U.S. led a boycott of the Summer Olympics hosted in Moscow. In 1984, the Soviet Union did the same to the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The retaliatory actions continued through the end of the war, deepening the strain between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Despite the signing of the Geneva Accords (1988), an international agreement aimed to resolve the situation in Afghanistan, the Mujahideen refused to accept the terms and continued fighting until Soviet forces (or the Soviet military) withdrew in 1989. The conflict resulted in upwards of two million civilian casualties and forced 5.5 million Afghans to flee as refugees. The failure of Soviet forces to win the war or quell the Mujahideen insurgency is thought to have contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The failure to win the Cold War proxy battle having an extensive impact on Soviet politics and the perceived legitimacy of the Soviet government. The Soviet-Afghan War left the Afghan government in ruins. It would take years for significant progress to be made, and even then, the deteriorated state of the government and the economy left the country susceptible to extremist groups. In 1999 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1267 to combat terrorist entities in the country, including the Taliban, which can trace its origins to the aftermath of the Soviet-Afghan War. Unfortunately, the UN’s efforts proved insufficient, allowing for the rise of Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. For the past few decades, the Helsinki Commission has worked closely to promote human rights and security in Afghanistan, holding hearings to support the country’s progress and recovery. The Commission has also worked to ensure the U.S. upholds its own international commitments. The Russian Government remembers the conflict differently. The Kremlin is using the 30th anniversary of Soviet troop withdraw for political gains, passing legislation this year to subsequently justify the conflict. Such legislation continues Vladimir Putin’s trend of historical revisionism and deepens the divide between the Kremlin’s political narrative and history.

  • The Helsinki Commission, Forty Years Ago and Today

    Spencer Oliver saw the foundation of the Helsinki Commission as its first Chief of Staff, from 1976 to 1985. After subsequent service as Chief Counsel at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he served as the first Secretary General of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly from October 1992 to December 2015. Spencer Oliver, a personal witness to the diplomacy that brought trans-Atlantic relations from the Cold War era to the present, recently paid a visit to the Helsinki Commission offices he first opened in 1976.  After a nine-year tenure as the Commission’s first Chief of Staff, Mr. Oliver remained involved with the Helsinki Process through his subsequent career in the Congress and at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Mr. Oliver gave a short interview on the Commission’s accomplishments over four decades, and prospects for the future. Before the establishment of the Helsinki Commission in 1976, Oliver observed, “human rights were not really a component of U.S. foreign policy. It was the Commission that made a strong effort for President Carter to make human rights a definite element in his foreign policy portfolio.” He recalled a private foreign policy strategy meeting in the fall of 1976 with then-candidate Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy team. Then-Helsinki Commission Chairman Dante B. Fascell, a U.S. Representative from Florida, made a pitch about why human rights should be on Carter’s agenda.  Senator Hubert Humphrey, a very close friend and advisor to Carter, slammed his hand on the table and said, “By golly, Dante’s right! Human rights ought to be one of the principal pillars of the Carter foreign policy!” After Carter took office, Chairman Fascell and his staff, including Mr. Oliver, met with the new President’s Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, to discuss a plan to make human rights a U.S. foreign policy priority. They recommended that: 1) the State Department position of “Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs” be elevated to a full Bureau for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs; 2) Patricia M. Derian, a civil rights activist from Mississippi, become the first Assistant Secretary of State to head that Bureau; 3) the Assistant Secretary also become the State Department’s representative on the Helsinki Commission; and 4) the Helsinki Commission be fully integrated into inter-agency CSCE planning and the U.S. Delegation to the upcoming CSCE Review Meeting in Belgrade. The Secretary agreed and implemented these recommendations, despite resistance within the State Department. “Without Dante Fascell and Patt Derian, human rights probably would not have had the place it eventually did in American foreign policy,” Oliver observed. Oliver mentioned with sadness the passing of Derian in May 2016. Mr. Oliver explained that the Helsinki Commission was also partly responsible for creating the practice of human rights implementation, review, and accountability. At the 1977 Belgrade Review Meeting, the Helsinki Commission participants in the U.S. Delegation articulated specific cases of human rights abuses and violations of the Helsinki Accords committed by the Soviet Union. In response, the Soviet delegation shot back with criticisms of U.S. human rights issues, such as racism and poverty, to which the United States responded by investigating and reporting factually on these concerns. By publishing a human rights compliance report, the United States set a precedent for accountability on the part of all Helsinki Final Act signatory states. “The Helsinki Accords,” Oliver explained, “were not just about how the countries treat one another, but also about how countries treat their own citizens.” Noting that, today, Russia’s human rights conditions are worse than they have been since the collapse of the USSR, Mr. Oliver recalled moments that looked more promising. Accompanying Fascell to Moscow in April 1986, he was among the first American officials to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev after his consolidation of power as leader of the Soviet Union. In a four-hour meeting at the Kremlin on a Saturday morning, Mr. Oliver expected Gorbachev to find recourse to concerns raised by displaying the same defensiveness and counter-criticism as previous Soviet leaders. Instead, Gorbachev was honest about the issues his country was facing, and expressed his intention to enact economic and political reforms to open the Soviet Union up to the rest of the world. Mr. Oliver left that meeting feeling encouraged about the direction of the USSR. This progressive streak in Russian leadership was short-lived, as illustrated by Vladimir Putin’s increasingly authoritarian rule and denial of basic freedoms. Mr. Oliver believes that Putin’s rise to power and current popularity result from the turmoil and economic devastation of the 1990s, compounded with his tight grip on the media. “There’s no country in the world where the dictator controls the media and he isn’t running at 80 percent in the polls,” he said. In terms of U.S. policy towards Russia, Mr. Oliver believes that strengthening and widening those economic sanctions already in place would put the most pressure on the Russian government to change its ways. “When the Russians invaded Crimea, they broke every one of the ten principles of the Helsinki Final Act,” he said.  “We should let the Russians know that we don’t intend to back off until they change their ways.” In the meantime, the Commission can continue to play an important role maintaining the gains made in promoting human rights through bilateral as well as multilateral diplomacy.

  • Status of Conventional Stability Talks in Europe

    This hearing, which Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer presided over, was part and parcel of an anticipated series of Conventional Stability Talks within the framework of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The hearing also was a joint hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Helsinki Commission. At the hearing, Commissioner Hoyer expressed the sentiment of a heightened political awareness of the conventional force issue, particularly in the wake of the recently ratified INF Treaty, tempered with the desire to not have these sorts of issues (i.e. the CSCE’s expansion to encompass conventional force negotiations and the developing overlap of the conventional stability and CSBM talks) overshadow human rights. Balancing of the different East-West relations is an explicit objective, the Commissioner said. Not only did attendees at this hearing discuss Conventional Stability, but they also discussed the status of the agenda in Vienna and the developing relationship among all these talks within the CSCE process.  

  • Chairmanship of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

    This hearing was convened to discuss H.R. 4504, a bill introduced by the committee chairman, the Honorable Dante Fascell, of Florida.  This legislation provided for several changes in the administration of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. First, it stipulated that the Chairman of the Commission could not also be the chairman of another sitting committee. Second, it provided for rotation between the House and the Senate for chairman of the Commission to ensure that it meets the needs of both houses of Congress. Third, it established the position of co-chairman, which had previously been an informal arrangement. Representatives of several organizations, including the National Conference of Soveit Jewry, the Helsinki Watch, and the Joint Baltic American National Committee, spoke in favor of the legislation. The bill was ultimately passed in a vote by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on International Operations.

  • Forced Labor in the Soviet Union

    The subject of our hearing is forced labor in the Soviet Union. We have long been interested in the subject at the Commission, as many others have. The Commission issued staff reports on the subject as early as August 1980. There is no exact statistics exist in the West on the central question of the total number of Soviets engaged in various types of forced labor. The generally accepted minimum number is 3 or 4 million people-including about 10 000 political prisoners-performing forced labor in places of imprisonment and on penal labor brigades. The robust discussion provided by experts will make clear the vast extent of Soviet reliance on forced labor.

  • Abuse of Psychiatry in the Soviet Union

    This joint hearing with the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations was held in response to a request from the American Psychiatric Association to generate an opportunity for discussion about the abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. This human rights violation was a common weapon of punishment utilized by the Soviet Union against its citizens. The hearing was held in the context of the Soviet Union withdrawing from the international association that represents psychiatry because it knew it would not be able to abide by the expected standards. Experts in the field of psychiatry presented testimony as this hearing on examined this issue as of the Soviet government in suppressing individuals who voice opposing opinions. The uniqueness of the abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union as a widespread and systemic issue was addressed.

  • Soviet Jewry: H. Con. Res. 63

    This joint hearing by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations, and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe examined the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union. Moscow's heightened campaign of hatred against its own citizens, in flagrant disregard of international law, was identified as a factor in whether the United States should enter into any further agreements with the Soviet Union, especially ones which involve United States security. Witnesses testifying at this hearing expressed their concerns about the continued persecution and harassment of the Jewish community in the Soviet Union. The repressive policies instituted by the Soviet regime to destroy Jewish culture, despite its commitment to the human rights terms agreed upon during the Helsinki Final Act, were outlined.

  • The Assassination Attempt on Pope John Paul II

    The subject of this hearing, which Commissioner Millicent Fenwick chaired, was whether or not there was the possibility of complicity, on the part of the Soviet and Bulgarian secret police, to Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca’s assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. As per Principle VI of the Helsinki Final Act, signatory nations are to refrain from direct or indirect assistance to terrorist activities. Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were privy to this at the time of the hearing. The hearing utilized witnesses to shed light as to whether or not Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were honoring this commitment in Principle VI, which was not a guarantee, especially because of Mehmet Ali Agca’s potential involvement in a Turkish arms ring that Bulgarians supported. The hearing was part and parcel of an “essential” effort to carefully and impartially examine all evidence of possible Soviet and Bulgarian involvement with Agca. 

  • Soviet Involvement in the Polish Economy

    Commissioner Dante B. Fascell chaired this hearing, the purpose of which was to review the record of Soviet involvement in the planning, direction, and operation of the Polish economy. Before the time of this hearing, Soviet involvement in the Polish economy had been the source of much speculation. More specifically, Poland’s economy was functioning poorly, but it was debated whether the fault of this lay more with Poland itself or more with the U.S.S.R. What was hoped to be achieved in the hearing, then, was to shed light on the issue of how Soviet involvement affected the Polish economy, specifically based on the personal experience of one of Poland’s leading economists and a former government official, Ambassador Zdzislaw Rurarz.

  • Soviet Violation of Helsinki Final Act: Invasion of Afghanistan

    Attendees at this hearing, over which Commissioner Dante B. Fascell presided, discussed the December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union, an invasion that ran counter to international law due to Afghanistan’s status as sovereign and independent. The set of agreements that the Soviet Union signed on to in 1975 with 34 other countries (i.e. the Helsinki Final Act) incorporated rights inherent in a country’s sovereignty, refraining from the threat or use of force, the rights of peoples to self-determination, and acceptance of international conduct principles. In short, the Soviet Union’s invasion and attempted occupation of Afghanistan had struck at the very heart of these principles, and its invasion had severely damaged the international climate and greatly damaged East-West relations.

  • Fifth Anniversary of the Formation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group

    On November 9, 1976, 10 brave men and women in Kiev organized a citizens' group to examine how the Soviet Government was living up to its Helsinki human rights pledges. Tragically, however, far from greeting this new civic endeavor, the Kremlin, in a savage campaign of official reprisal, singled out the Ukrainian Helsinki Group for especially harsh treatment. By 1981, 30 group activists were in Soviet camps, prisons, and places of exile. The four witnesses at the Helsinki Commission hearing provided expert testimony on Ukraine and the Helsinki process, and their fates gave an insight into the radically different ways in which our Government and that of the Soviet Union reacted to citizen interest in the Helsinki process.

  • The Helsinki Forum and East-West Scientific Exchange

    The Committee on Science and Technology as well as the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe sponsored the hearing to examine free and open scientific exchange among the OSCE member states. Amidst the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Andrei Tverdokhlebov, physicist and human rights activist, gave testimony about the restrictive state of freedom of association in the U.S.S.R., its effects on the scientific community, and attempts by the Soviet Government to silence Andrei Sakharov. The witnesses and the Commissioners discussed possible non-essential travel bans on future scientific exchanges and other joint international scientific efforts.

  • Implementation of The Helsinki Accords Vol. X – Aleksandr Ginzburg On The Human Rights Situation In The U.S.S.R.

    CSCE Chairman Dante Fascell presided over this hearing on the human rights situation in the USSR. Aleksandr Ginzburg,a Russian human rights activist who had finally been released from the Gulag Archipelago and subsequently returned to his family, testified.  The hearing also focused on the repression and imprisonment of members of the Moscow Helsinki Monitoring Group, a Russian human rights advocacy organization whose work focused on pressure in support of the Helsinki Final Act. The hearing gave Ginzburg a platform to candidly discuss the as human rights abuses taking place in the USSR.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol. IX – U.S. Visa Policies

    This briefing discussed how the Helsinki Accord’s provisions on the free flow of people apply to the United States.  The briefing followed President Carter’s commitment to embody the principles outlined in the Helsinki Final Act.  Representatives from  U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of State and the Department of Justice, and interested civil society organizations testified about their experiences with the current visa regime. The witnesses were asked to make recommendations about the advisability of changing U.S. law to align with the freedom of movement provisions in the Helsinki Accords.

  • Implementation Of The Helsinki Accords Vol. VI – Soviet Law And Helsinki Monitors

    This briefing discussed the repression against human rights activists in the Soviet Union.  Chairman Fascell and Commissioner Leahy oversaw the testimony of several American lawyers representing imprisoned members of the Moscow-Helsinki Group detailing the abuses committed against their clients.  Numerous documents from Soviet citizens were also submitted to the record documenting the Soviet authorities’ violations of the Helsinki Accords’ human rights provisions.

  • IMPLEMENTATION OF THE HELSINKI ACCORDS VOL. IV - REPORTS ON SOVIET REPRESSION AND THE BELGRADE CONFERENCE

    In light of first anniversary of the creation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, this hearing focused on the work and the plight of courageous individuals who utilized the Helsinki accords as instruments for advancing international respect for human rights. In particular, the hearing delved into the case of Anatoly Shcharansky, one of the most courageous spokesmen of human rights in the U.S.S.R., faces treason charges as groundless as they are ominous. The Soviet decision to hold a show trial for Shcharansky with phony evidence and counterfeit witnesses combined with the earlier arrest of members of Helsinki monitoring groups in Russia, Ukraine, and most recently, in Georgia, were in violation of the Helsinki accords.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol.I - Human Rights & Contacts

    Hon. Dante Fascell, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided over this hearing on the implementation of the Helsinki Accords. This hearing focused on the Commisison's consideration of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords dealing with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and with freer movement of people and information. The purpose was to define what the Commission knew of implementation of the accords and of their violations, to explore proposals for advancing compliance, and to seek advice on the role the accords played bettering East-West relations. Hon. Fascell was joined by Leonard Garment, former U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and Vladimir Bukovsky, former Soviet political prisoner.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol I - Human Rights and Contacts

    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.

  • East-West Economic Cooperation-Basket II-Helsinki Final Act

    Our immediate business is to look at Basket IT, whose scope is greater than mere questions of trade and commerce, because in many ways politics is economics. Basket IT was designed to enhance economic cooperation among CSCE states in a way to loosen restraints inhibiting dealings between the Soviet bloc and the West. The hearing will offer suggestions on resolving problems of trade with eastern CSCE states; and how the U.S. Government deals with Basket II problems and how it can improve the overall trade picture by exploiting Basket II provisions in order to bolster East-West trade initiatives.

  • Report of the Study Mission to Europe

    Study Mission of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe visited 18 signatories of the Helsinki Final Act between November 5 and November 23, 1976. The purpose of the Mission was to gather information about the current status of implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki accords and to establish contacts with key European political and governmental officials as well as private individuals and organizations concerned with various aspects of the implementation process. The CSCE Study Mission was composed of Rep. Dante B. Fascell, D-Fla. (Commission chairman); Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I. (co-chairman); Rep. Jonathan Bingham, D-N.Y.; Rep. Millicent Fenwick, R-N.J.; and Rep. Paul Simon, D-Ill. Travelling individually, Commissioners and staff aides met with government officials and parliamentarians in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands,' Norway, the Holy See, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia, as well as with experts at NATO, the European Community, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, the Intergovernmental Committee on European Migration, the OECD, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The Mission regrets that it could not confer with all signatory countries at this time and intends to do so in the future. The limited time available precluded visits to some countries. The Warsaw Pact countries, however, refused to permit the Commissioners to visit their countries, an action which runs counter to the very spirit of Helsinki. Additionally, the Study Mission met with half a dozen private refugee organizations, a number of recent Soviet exiles, more than 30 businessmen and organizations active in East-West trade, a cross section of journalists specializing in Eastern European affairs, and more than 20 individuals and private institutions conducting research on Helsinki implementation questions. Commission members Mansfield Sprague and James G. Poor from the Departments of Commerce and Defense, respectively, attended the initial and final joint Study Mission sessions in Brussels and London, and Commissioner Monroe Leigh of the Department of State attended the Brussels meetings.

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