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Commission on security and cooperation in Europe

U. S. Helsinki Commission

Mission

We are a US government commission that promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Nine Commissioners are members of the Senate, nine are members of the House of Representatives, and three are executive branch officials.

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Chairman

Representative Alcee L. Hastings

 

Co-Chairman

Senator Roger F. Wicker

  • Our International Impact
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  • Russia’s Election: What Does It Mean?

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and others discussed the outcome and the implications of the Russian presidential election of 1996, which, at the time of the hearing, had just happened. The winner of the election was Boris Yeltsin, who was re-elected with a margin of thirteen percentage points over Communist Party Chairman and challenger Zyuganov. The hearing also incorporated discussion concerning the conflict in Chechnya and the circumstances under which the election transpired (i.e., fairness, media coverage).

  • Bosnia: Should the OSCE Certify Conditions Exist for Free and Fair Elections?

    The Helsinki Commission is focusing on what it considers one of the most important international events of this year, the elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Commission has held several briefings on this topic already with election experts from the United States, with members of the Provisional Election Commission from Bosnia, with representatives of political parties from that country, and most recently, with persons close to the situation in Banja Luka. Human rights organizations and others following the situation in Bosnia have warned that conditions for a free and fair election simply do not exist; and yet, the U.S. Government and some European governments have pressured the OSCE to certify nonetheless. A robust discussion on curbing rampant political gerrymandering and obstructions to free and fair elections will be underscored in the hearing.

  • Albanian Parliamentary Elections

    Robert Hand, policy advisor at the Commission, addressed what he called the “most controversial elections held in recent times in [Eastern Europe]” and described his experiences observing Albania’s elections. Hand commented on the limited progress of the Albanian government since 1990 and specifically the corruption of the 1996 elections. The witnesses - Susan Atwood from the National Democratic Institute, Jim Swigert from Office of South the State Department, and Ambassador Dilja - spoke of their personal surprise at the elections and about the general confusion that surrounded them. Jim Swigert described his role in motivating members of the OSCE to observe the elections and take interest in Albania’s democratization.

  • The Albanian Parliamentary Elections

    The May 1996 parliamentary elections in Albania were the third such elections in that country, which beforehand had by far the most repressive communist regime. It has also been the poorest country in Europe. In March 1991, only four months after political pluralism was tolerated in the country, the commu- nists (Socialist Party) won a majority and maintained control, relying on a less than adequately free and fair electoral process and lingering support in the countryside. In March 1992, the opposition Democratic Party led by Sali Berisha was better able to get the message out to a still traumatized population, and took power as the Socialists conceded. Since that time, there have been incredible economic and political reforms, although since 1994 shortcomings in democratic development seem less the result of the lack of understanding of concepts like the rule of law than more the overbearing nature of the Democratic Party's core leadership, especially after splits within the party led to the departure of some of its earlier leaders. The Democrats received a significant setback in November 1994 when popular resentment led to the defeat in a referendum of a new constitution for the country. The situation is exacerbated by an only partly reformed Socialist opposition, which has been inclined more to obstruct and provocate than anything else. The elections were for 140 seats in the unicameral Assembly, 115 of them contested on the basis of majority races in electoral zones, with second-round runoffs, and 25 on the basis of a proportional division of parties achieving at least 4 percent of the vote. This gave the electorate two votes, one for a specific candidate and one for a political party. Members of several opposition parties complained that the greater preference given to the majority system favored the ruling party, or larger parties which would only include the Socialists. Democratic Party leaders argued that this is not necessarily the case, and that the majority system permits direct contact between a candidate and a constituency, thus strengthening democratic development. From the viewpoint of the election observer, either system or combination thereof is legiti- mate as long as it was approved through democratic means. A recently adopted law -- called the Genocide Law -- and a commission established to implement it had an impact on the eligibility for candidacy. The law prohibited those who "collaborated" with the com- munist regime from holding office until 2002. Given the severity of the repression during the communist era, it is not surprising that such a prohibition would be popular, but the commission which made the decisions was under government control and did not act in a transparent matter. Indeed, some opposition members called it unconstitutional because it was acting as a court when it was not. A total of 139 people were declared ineligible to compete in the elections, 57 of whom appealed decisions, seven successfully. Only three of the 139 people prohibited came from the ruling party, although it was claimed that the Democratic Party had told people who would probably also have been prohibited not to run as a candidate in the first place. The campaign period began in April, allowing a reasonable amount of time for political parties to get their message across. In fact, as these elections were required by the expiration of the mandate of the previously elected Assembly, the political parties were generally preparing for the elections months before- hand. The print media in Albania is almost all completely biased in favor of one party or another, allowing all points of view to be expressed but with little objective analysis available. The broadcast media is state controlled and had a definite but not overwhelming bias in its coverage of the campaign. However, the election law stipulated time frames for each political party in the campaign to present itself to the voters on television, and this was advantageous to the party in power. Many of the political parties campaigned by holding mass rallies. Opposition parties complained that the police in some towns prevented party leaders from traveling to attend rallies, and the Socialists were denied the ability to hold a final rally on the central (Skenderbeg) square of the capital city, Tirana, because it would disrupt traffic. A Democratic Party rally, on the other hand, was permitted because it was technically scheduled as an official address by Sali Berisha as the Albanian President.

  • The War Crimes Trials for the Former Yugoslavia: Prospects and Problems

    This briefing addressed several questions regarding the Yugoslav conflict: how can the warm criminals be held personally and individually accountable for their actions, what role should the United States play in achieving that goal, and what will be the ultimate cost of failing to achieve that goal? Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Tom Warrick, law partner of Pierson, Semmes, & Bemis; Norman Cigar, Professor of National Security Studies for the U.S. Marine Corps School of Advanced Warfighting; and Iain Guest, Senior Fellow of the United States Institute for Peace – focused on the progress made for the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tribunals and the developments of the Dayton peace agreement, especially regarding its human rights elements.

  • Violence in Slovakia

    Mr. Speaker, I am alarmed by recent violence in Slovakia that may be part of a larger pattern of politically motivated violence. During the weekend of May 4-5, a device that may have been a hand-grenade exploded in front of the home of Bela Bugar. Mr. Bugar is not only a member of the Hungarian minority's opposition coalition, he is also, according to opinion polls, its most popular member. Shortly before that incident, Robert Remias, a former policeman who has been questioned in connection with the kidnaping of President Michal Kovac's son last year, died when his propane-fueled BMW exploded. Although it is not yet certain who is responsible for these acts, it is clear that violence coincides with politics in Slovakia at a suspiciously high rate. I also recall, for example, that Frantisek Miklosko, the opposition leader of the Christian Democratic Movement, was assaulted by unknown attackers near his home last August; Peter Toth, a journalist investigating the Kovac case, has also been assaulted; last April, a bomb went off in the car of Arpad Matejka, a member of the Prime Minister's party. The Helsinki Commission, which I chair, is no stranger to Slovakia. We were a close observer of developments there well before the breakup of the Czechoslovak Federation in 1992 and have issued two major reports on that country. Since last summer, I have been joined twice by Senator Alfonse D'Amato, the Commissions' cochairman, and the Commission's ranking minority members, Representative Steny H. Hoyer and Senator Frank Lautenberg, in sending letters to Slovak Ambassador Lichardus regarding continuing challenges to the democratization process in his country. Although the Commission has raised a number of serious concerns in these letters, we have, remained generally optimistic about developments in Slovakia. Last week, for example, I hosted a conference in New Jersey on business opportunities in Central Europe, where I discussed some of the positive economic changes in Slovakia that are creating new opportunities for Slovak society as a whole. I appreciate the willingness of the Slovak Parliament to consider the views of a number of international interlocutors regarding draft legislation and note the active and constructive role of the President and the Constitutional Court in guiding the passage of legislation consistent with democratic values and human rights norms. I commend Prime Minister Meciar for his decision last week to seek, in his words, a wider democratic discussion of the draft law on the protection of the Republic. Most of all, I have been greatly heartened by the increasing involvement of Slovak citizens in all areas of public life. The message sent by the most recent developments in Slovakia, therefore, is all the more discouraging. And that message is dangerous: take on a high political profile, and you are possibly a more visible--and more likely--target of violence. I welcome the May 9 statement of the Government of Slovakia condemning acts of violence and promising a thorough investigation of these matters. I believe it is particularly important that the death of Robert Remias be examined in an open and transparent manner, in a manner that makes information available to all those concerned with this case, and in a manner that will foster credibility in its results. Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Commission will continue to follow closely developments in this case, and I expect to report further to this body as information becomes available.

  • Rebuilding Bosnia-Herzegovina: Strategies and the U.S. Role

    The Helsinki Commission addressed the status of the ongoing rehabilitation efforts in Bosnia-Herzegovina following the conclusion of the war that took place between 1992 and 1995. Amidst lasting tensions, the Commission emphasized the need for reconciliation and for civilians to actively participate in this process. The primary witness, J. Brian Atwood, administrator of the Agency for International Development, emphasized several goals for moving forward in Bosnia-Herzegovina such as addressing the issue of displaced persons by repairing housing infrastructure, encouraging economic activity through international cooperation with the central bank, and initiating elections under free and fair conditions. 

  • Russian Media in Light of Upcoming Elections

    This briefing examined the Russian media in light of the upcoming elections and also with reference towards Russia's obligations to permit and protect the free media in Russia in accordance to the Helsinki Final Act. The true state of the press in Russia and whether the Yeltsin regime is complying or even trying to comply with its internationally recognized obligations were topics of discussion. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Elena Masyuk, Reporter for NTV and Catherine Fitzpatrick, Program Coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists – illuminated the issues that journalists and the media in general had encountered in recent years, including government sponsored threats and deprivation of accreditation. The Committee to Protect Journalists, in particular, voiced its concerns about the restrictive and even deadly conditions in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

  • Report: Prosecuting War Crimes in the Former Yugolsavia, An Update

    In early 1996, with little fanfare, the U.N. Security Council quietly and quickly selected Canadian Judge Louise Arbour to succeed Justice Richard Goldstone, the first chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The relative ease with which a replacement was chosen -- in contrast to the prolonged, relatively public, and embarrassing manner in which the Security Council members fought among themselves for nearly a year over the selection of the first prosecutor -- reflects the dramatically changed circumstances in which the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal now finds itself. At the time of Goldstone’s appointment in 1994, most observers of the Yugoslav conflict seemed to fall into one of two categories: those that thought war crimes trials should be held, but did not believe the Tribunal would ever indict anybody above the rank of private (let alone hold an actual trial), and those who believed that the mere discussion of war crimes trials undermined peace negotiations. Under Goldstone’s able stewardship, the Tribunal has developed a full complement of staff, including prosecuting attorneys and investigators; issued more than fifty indictments, including for the two highest ranking Bosnian-Serb political and military leaders and three members of the Yugoslav People’s Army; obtained custody of three men; and begun the Tribunal’s first trial. Goldstone has deftly managed a multitude of political crises, successfully traversed the treacherous waters of the U.N. bureaucracy, and, thus far, helped safeguard the legal integrity and credibility of the Tribunal. All of these factors, combined with the achievement of a tenuous peace agreement in Dayton in November 1995,2 now make the possibility of war crimes trials seem, to many, more real than ever before. This memorandum outlines the basic structure of the Tribunal and the most recent developments with respect to investigations and trials, cooperation by U.N. member states with the Tribunal, and funding.

  • Turkish Minority in Western Thrace

    This briefing presented an overview of the problems and the situation of the Turkish minority in Thrace, which had suffered from human rights abuses, including the deprivation of citizenship, denials of the right to buy land or houses, restriction of freedom of expression, movement, and religion, and the degrading treatment of ethnic Turks by Greek government officials. In spite of some reforms taken to improve this situation, many issues still remain, involving education, the expropriation of land, and religious discrimination. Witnesses providing testimony at this hearing – including Tozun Bahcheli, Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace; Van Coufoudakis, Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at Indiana University/Purdue; and Western Thrace residents Adem Bekiroglu and Irene Laganis – discussed the limitations established by the Greek government’s failure to acknowledge without restriction the existence of the Turkish minority. Issues such as arbitrary deprivation of citizenship, the election of muftis, job discrimination, and discrimination in providing public services were identified as obstacles faced by the Turkish minority.  

  • 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.

  • The Legacy of Chernobyl

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) presided over this hearing, which marked the tenth anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the worst of its kind. Ten years out, what transpired had grave implications for Ukraine and Belarus. More specifically, according to Smith, “The explosion of the reactor at Chornobyl released 200 more times more radioactivity than was released by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.” Likewise, thyroid cancer in Belarusian children was extremely entrenched. Perhaps most worryingly, at the time of this hearing, the obliterated fourth nuclear reactor’s “sarcophagus” had developed serious cracks, which, if uncontained, could have released tons of radioactive dust into the environment.

  • Challenges to Democracy in Albania

    The hearing focuses on the challenges to democracy in Albania. Given reports to the Helsinki Commission that human rights protections in Albania were slipping, the further democratization of Albania, and, by extension, Albania’s bilateral relations with the United States, has been called into question. This hearing opens up dialogue with various experts and witnesses on the state of human rights in Albania and how that relates to the OSCE and the agreements which OSCE states sign onto.  

  • THE CHECHEN CONFLICT AND RUSSIAN DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT

    The hearing addressed the OSCE-brokered military agreement in July 1995 between Russian and Chechen representatives to end ethnic conflict among Chechens, Russians, Ingush, and other ethnic groups caught up in the terror of war. The Commissioners discussed the disappearance of people, including a prominent American humanitarian aid worker and an American freelance journalist.  The witnesses gave testimony on the visible breakdown in law and order which has forced humanitarian organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, to withdraw to a safer location.

  • Report on the Russian Duma Elections of December 1995

    On December 17, 1995, Russia held an election to the lower chamber of Parliament (Duma). The election was Russia’s second since the breakup of the U.S.S.R., and its first since the December 1993 election that followed the October 1993 destruction of the former Parliament building. Although some analysts had warned of the possible cancellation or postponement of the election, the voting took place without incident or violence. International observers considered the election to be free and fair. According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), about 63 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The figure was higher than had been anticipated, considering the widely-reported malaise and cynicism in Russian society. The high turnout testifies to the electorate’s continuing involvement in the political process, despite many disappointments and economic hardships, and to the desire for change. Russia’s parliamentary election was a multi-party, multi-candidate contest. Forty-three parties fielded party lists totalling 5,675 candidates. Parties needed 5 percent of the national vote to gain representation in Parliament. In the 225 district races, 2,700 candidates entered the lists, an average of 12 per district. All participating parties received an equal amount of free air time on television, and they could buy more. The big winner in the election was the Communist Party (CPRF), headed by Gennady Zyuganov. According to the official results, the CPRF won 22.3 percent of the proportional vote, plus another 58 seats in single mandate districts. The CPRF appealed to voters who had not benefited from Russia’s experiment with a market economy and were discontented about crime, corruption, and a general sense of "disorder" in post-Soviet Russian society. Zyuganov also advocated the restoration, "by voluntary means," of the Soviet Union. The strong showing by the Communist Party mirrors the electoral revival of communist forces in other former Soviet republics and in Eastern Europe, 3.5 years after Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared in the U.S. Congress that "communism is dead in Russia." Zyuganov has also become the frontrunner in the race to unseat Yeltsin in the June 1996 presidential election.

  • Report: 1995 Parliamentary Elections in Croatia

    On October 29, 1995, Croatia held elections for the 127 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber in Croatia's "Sabor," or parliament. The elections were called earlier than required by President Franjo Tudjman in light of the new situation in Croatia created by the retaking of most of the territory occupied by Serb militants since 1991, and the mass exodus of ethnic Serbs from those regions into Serb-occupied parts of neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina and into Serbia itself Representatives for 80 of the seats were chosen on the basis of a nationwide, proportional vote in which 14 political parties or coalitions of parties participated. Representatives for 28 seats were chosen on the basis of a majority vote in electoral districts established for the elections. Twelve seats were chosen on the basis of a proportional vote of Croatian citizens, the so-called "diaspora" residing outside Croatia's borders, in which seven political parties or coalitions participated. The remaining seven seats were reserved for some of Croatia's national minorities, including three seats in a nationwide ,vote among members of the Serb community, one seat for those of the Italian minority, one for the Hungarian minority, one for the Czech and Slovak minorities, and one for the Ruthenian, Ukrainian, German and Austrian minorities in specified regional districts. The elections demonstrated disappointingly little democratic progress in Croatia since 1990, when multiparty elections were first held. In fact, the apparent unwillingness of the authorities to permit a truly open electoral system in which all had confidence, or a genuinely free media to permit a more competitive campaign period, seemed almost an expression of defiance of any democratic trend that may exist in Croatia at this time. Smaller flaws in polling practices observed on election day also become less excusable in that they indicated no attempt by the authorities to correct problems observed in all past elections. Thus, while the elections generally have been considered to be free in tenns of providing voters with a choice, they were not satisfactorily fair in the way that choice of candidates was presented to the voters.

  • Mass Graves and Other Atrocities in Bosnia

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and others discussed the atrocities committed against women, men, and children in the former Yugoslavian country of Bosnia. These atrocities exemplified Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the former Yugoslavia at large, as areas where internecine violence and strife seemed to be constant phenomena.

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