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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 and NATO: Moscow’s Foreign Policy and the Partnership for Peace

    This briefing examined what role Russia would play in the Partnership for Peace and NATO. It also looks at human rights concerns as well as military, security, and economic relations bewteen Russia and the West. Several complexities of this situation in the context of the post-communist period were addressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence DiRita, Deputy Director of Foreign and Defense Policy for the Heritage Foundation and Dr. Phillip Petersen, Principle Researcher for the Potomac Foundation – evaluated the Partnership for Peace Framework, which worked towards establishing partnerships with a number of European country, including those of the former Soviet Union. The role of Russian policy in this partnership was an especially debated topic.

  • A Child’s Life in Sarajevo

    This hearing examined the warfare, aggression, and genocide in Sarajevo through the eyes of 13-year-old, Zlata Filipovic, whose diary of the war period was published in the United States. The causes of the war, as well as the shortcomings of the international response, were addressed. In her testimony, Zlata Filipovic spoke in the name of children from Sarajevo who suffered through war time atrocities. The realities of war were presented, as well as an interpretation of the causes of the war from someone who had experienced it. The goal of this hearing was to encourage the administration to continue to improve recent efforts in the region.

  • 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.

  • Bosnia’s Second Winter Siege

    After two years of genocide and starvation and despite the best efforts of Western Europe and the United States, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina has not ended. A robust discussion on the best policies toward Bosnia-Herzegovina the United States should implement will ensue.

  • Bosnia’s Second Winter Siege

    After two years of genocide and starvation and despite the best efforts of appeasement from Western Europe and the United States, the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina won’t go away. It won’t go away because, despite overwhelming odds, the victims have refused to surrender to the forces of genocide and territorial aggression. A robust discussion on the Bosnia-Herzegovina policies the United States should implement will ensue.

  • Russia's Parliamentary Election and Constitutional Referendum

    This report is based on a Helsinki Commission staff delegation to Russia to observe the December 12, 1993 parliamentary election and constitutional referendum. Because of the importance of the event, and because charges had been leveled of improprieties and unfair access to the media, the Commission sent five staff members to Russia to observe the process for a period of more than two weeks. Michael Ochs and Orest Deychak went to Russia two weeks before the voting to monitor the pre-election campaign. The Commission's Senior Advisor, David Evans, and staff members John Finerty and Heather Hurlburt, arrived subsequently and remained through December 12, when they monitored balloting in various cities and regions.  Despite a number of problems and irregularities, both during the campaign and the voting, the Helsinki Commission believes that the Russian voters were able to express their political will freely and fairly. The Russians have made genuine progress in bringing their electoral procedures into conformity with international standards, and the election itself represents a significant step in the ongoing process of democratization in Russia.

  • Human Rights and Democratization in Hungary

    The Helsinki Commission's last comprehensive report on Hungary’s implementation of Human Dimension commitments was published in December 1988. At that time the Hungarian communist regime was pushing ahead of its more repressive neighbors in East-Central Europe, gradually abandoning active ideological indoctrination of Hungarian citizens, tacitly granting legitimacy to competing ideologies, allowing citizens to retreat into private life, and easing the situation of human rights activists.  The historic transition to a multi-party system, which accelerated rapidly over the course of 1989, was markedly peaceful. Roundtable negotiations between the government and the opposition worked to set the terms for the parliamentary elections in March 1990, as well as to curb the influence of the party in the workplace, the military and the judiciary. By the end of the year, some 50 political parties had been registered, of which six had significant national support. The elections of March 1990 demonstrated the clear progress Hungary had made toward democracy. A coalition government led by Prime Minister Jozsef Antall and the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) assumed the reins of power; on the basis of an important agreement between the ruling parties and the opposition, however, Arpad Gonez of the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) became president. With democratically elected representatives in place, serious institutional reform got underway.  Since that time, Hungary has generally received high marks for its record on human rights and political stability. The important role played by the Constitutional Court has bolstered respect for the rule of law, and Hungary has so far managed to avoid some of the tensions that have complicated the transition for many of its neighbors: inter-ethnic strife, crippling political infighting, and civil unrest.  At the same time, it is too soon to conclude that the progress Hungary has made is deeply rooted or complete. Ongoing battles over the role, and control, of the media raise serious questions about the sanctity of freedom of expression and opinion. The vocal nationalism and xenophobia of Istvan Csurka - a prominent figure in the MDF until June 1993 - and continued, if isolated, incidents of violence and prejudice against Roma (Gypsies) and foreigners challenge the aim of mutual respect and non-discrimination. finally, tensions within the ruling coalition, between the president and the late prime minister (Jozsef Antall died at the age of 61 on December 12, 1993), and among the opposition suggest that Hungary's reputation for political stability may be fading as may the public's taste for swift reform: current opinion polls show the former communist party at 25 percent, with the ruling MDF at only 8 percent.  Certainly Hungary has made significant strides in democratization in the five years since the Commission's last implementation review. Today's Hungary is judged not in comparison with the communist past, but by the standards of modern Western democracies. This report will examine some of the most pressing challenges that remain -- challenges which, in many cases, are the subject of lively debate and discussion in Hungary itself.

  • The Current State and Future Prospects of Democracy in Russia

    As its name suggests, this hearing, which Steny H. Hoyer presided over, dealt with the prospect for the implementation of democratic institutions in the former Soviet Union. In addition, though, part of the hearing focused on the Russian legislature’s dissolution after the presidency of Mikhail Gorbachev (i.e. post-Communism), as well as, of course, Russia and its formerly incorporated countries’ courses for the future. Witnesses who attended this hearing were: Michael Dobbs, Resident Scholar at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute; Dr. Leon Aron, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and Dr. Robert Krieble, Chairman of the Krieble Institute of the Free Congress Foundation.

  • THE FATE OF THE PEOPLE OF BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA - PART 3

    President of Intertect Relief and Reconstruction Corp, Frederick Cuny, and former special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, José Maria Mendiluce, gave testimony in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission in regards to the civilian populations of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In their testimony, each witness covered the humanitarian efforts on the ground and its effects on the civilian population, obstacles created by the mafia, and the effects of the Bosnian arms embargo. Also the Commissioners and witnesses discussed the different perspectives of sanction use- employ sanctions to deter the foreign government to follow a desired goal or that the use of such particular sanctions only adds fuel to the survival of the regime via nationalism.The hearing concludes with possible U.S. responses with findings and reports to support prospective actions.

  • THE FATE OF THE PEOPLE OF BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA- PART 2

    President of Intertect Relief and Reconstruction Corp, Frederick Cuny, and former special envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, José Maria Mendiluce, gave testimony in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission in regards to the civilian populations of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In their testimony, each witness covered the humanitarian efforts on the ground and its effects on the civilian population, obstacles created by the mafia, and the effects of the Bosnian arms embargo. Also the Commissioners and witnesses discussed the different perspectives of sanction use- employ sanctions to deter the foreign government to follow a desired goal or that the use of such particular sanctions only adds fuel to the survival of the regime via nationalism.

  • CSCE Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension Issues

    Against a backdrop of savage conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nagorno Karabakh, and Georgia, attendant refugee crises throughout the region, and a wave of sometimes violent racism and xenophobia even in long-established European democracies, the participating states of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) met in Warsaw, Poland in 1993 for the first biannual Implementation Meeting on Human Dimension Issues As specified by the 1992 Helsinki Document, the meeting included a thorough exchange of views on the implementation of Human Dimension commitments, consideration of ways and means of improving implementation, and an evaluation of the procedures for monitoring compliance with commitments. The dramatic unfolding over the course of the meeting of the showdown within the Russian government-- culminating in the shelling of the Russian Parliament building by government troops-- served as a sober reminder to participants of the vulnerability of democracy in transition and the importance of shoring up Human Dimension compliance.

  • Report: Human Rights and Democratization in Unified Germany

    While this Helsinki Commission report on Germany's implementation of CSCE human dimension commitments forms part of a series reviewing implementation in the formerly communist countries of East-Central Europe, it is necessarily unique and atypical. The Commision's most recent review of human rights implementation, undertaken in 1988, examined the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) - at the time among the most repressive and ostensibly secure of the communist regimes - together with the other Warsaw Pact states. This current implementation review, intended to update the scenario in view of the dramatic changes that have occurred in Europe since 1988, will begin with the GDR as a communist state, describe its revolutionary transition to democracy and a market economy, and then examine the situation as it currently exists in the context of a unified Germany. In the process, the report will consider both the particular challenges in the five eastern Laender, or states, and the strains of unification felt throughout. It will also consider human dimension issues not directly related to unification - for example, the debate over the right to asylum and the ongoing, deeply disturbing violence against foreigners. The human dimension challenges covered by this report fall into two general categories: those connected to the process of de-communization in eastern Germany, and those connected to the process of promoting tolerance and unity, not just among Germans, but toward all persons living within Germany's borders. Both sets of issues are profoundly linked to the ongoing struggle to define status and identity in the vasty environment that Germany represents today.

  • Human Rights and Democratization in Bulgaria

    The Helsinki Commission's last comprehensive report on Bulgarian CSCE implementation was published in 1988. (The Commission also published a report in 1991 on the ethnic Turkish minority in Bulgaria). At that time, Bulgaria was in violation of many of its CSCE commitments. Its human rights record was among the worst of the Helsinki signatory states. Clearly, much has changed since then. Since the fall of communism in November 1989, Bulgaria has made impressive strides towards becoming a democratic state based on the rule of law. Bulgaria is experiencing a rare historical opportunity in which it can genuinely forge its own fate. Unshackled from the external Soviet empire of communist rule with which it had especially close links, Bulgaria is developing a democratic, rule of law state where the rights of all of its citizens are being met with greater respect. While Bulgaria faces considerable problems in its post-communist transition, and will continue to in the foreseeable future, it is doing much better than most of its Balkan neighbors. Moreover, it is exceeding the expectations of those who until recently viewed Bulgaria through the prism of being the Soviet Union's “16th republic” and the home of papal assassination plots and forcible assimilation campaigns. Despite its very real problems, Bulgaria is indicating that it is more tolerant, pluralistic, democratic and stable than many would have supposed.

  • Ethnic Violence in Trans-Caucasia

    Chairman Dennis DeConcini addressed rising ethnic violence in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia and emphasized this region as more violent than other post-Soviet states. He referred to the continuing violence in Abkhazia, a separatist region in Georgia, and the rising concerns about further deterioration of stability in the region and Russia’s role in the conflict. Witnesses - Dr. Paul Henze, Ross Vartian, Mourad Topalian, Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev, and Ambassador John Maresca - highlighted the conflict between proponents of self-determination and governments insisting on territorial integrity and the difficulty of negotiating with sides that see completely different situations.

  • The Yugoslavia Conflict: Potential for Spillover in the Balkans

    This hearing reviewed the potential for spillover in the Yugoslav conflict. In particular, the hearing examined the aggression in Bosnia- Herzegovina and the possible effects of this on its own ethnic communities and on those of neighboring countries. The economic decline that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia provided additional hardships for the large refugee population in the region. The Commissioners examined how the U.S. should respond, and whether current policies, such as sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro, are effective.

  • Human Rights Policy Under the New Administration

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine the euphoria of the post-Cold War age in regards to the lack of confidence and political drive on how to promote commitments made in the Charter of Paris agreement. The hearing reviewed the actions made in the Balkans and Serbia’s continual territorial aggression and also developed democratic countries selectively applying human right policies. The Commissioners stressed the need for continual assistance to democratically developing countries, but to those countries that disrespect universal human rights should have additional pressures applied to change this behavior. The distinguished witnesses and Commissioners discussed ways in which the U.S. can help play a role in strengthening the United Nation’s ability to promote and protect human rights, as well as how the U.S. could use greater use of regional bodies similar the CSCE in conflict resolution.

  • U.S. Human Rights Policy: Joint Hearing with House Foreign Affairs Subcommitee on International Security, international Organizations and Human Rights

    This hearing examined the best ways to promote commitments made in the Charter of Paris agreement. The Commissioners and witnesses reviewed developments in the Balkans and Serbia’s continued territorial aggression.  They also discussed the practice of developed democratic countries selectively applying human right policies. The Commissioners stressed the need for continual assistance to democratically developing countries.  They also highlighted the need for additional pressures on  those countries that disrespect universal human rights to encourage them to change their behaviors.   The distinguished witnesses and Commissioners discussed ways in which the U.S. can strength the United Nation’s ability to promote and protect human rights, as well as how the U.S. can make greater use of regional bodies, like the CSCE, in conflict resolution.

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