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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

Senator Ben Cardin

 

Co-Chairman

Senator Roger F. Wicker

  • Our International Impact
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  • Report: the Armenian Referendum on Independence

    On September 21, 1991, Armenia held the first referendum in its 4.000-year history. The reason was as momentous as the occasion was unique: a "yes" or "no" vote on independence from the USSR. Along with scores of observes from Soviet republics and foreign countries, Helsinki Commission staff monitored the balloting, in which, according to official Armenian sources, 95 percent of eligible voters participated and 99 percent of them voted "yes". Armenia is the only Soviet republic that is seeking its independence in conformity with the Soviet law on secession, which currently involves a series of referendum over five years and protracted negotiations with central authorities. The overwhelming result on September 21 provided what Armenia's leadership sees as the legal basis for a declaration of independence, which the parliament issued unanimously on September 23. Armenia has now taken its initial step toward independence, even if the process of obtaining full independence may still take several years. At this writing, the Armenian government is waiting to enter into serious, good faith negotiations with the Central Government in Moscow regarding financial claims by both sides.

  • Trip Report on South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, and Nigeria, August 4-19

    The dramatic realignment of relations between the Soviet Union and the United States has impacted significantly on developments in African states. A fundamental restructuring of internal and external political and economic systems has started to take shape and aspirations for more open and just societies based upon democratic principles are evident across the continent. While some changes have been made possible by the dramatic relaxation of superpower tensions, indigenous democratic movements toward democracy still face enormous barriers. African nations, with few exceptions, are in the midst of a very profound and prolonged economic depression. Other problems confronting Africa are of equally catastrophic proportions: exploding population growth; civil wars sometimes involving ethnic genocide; large displaced populations fleeing violence, persecution and starvation; a burgeoning debt crisis; ravaging famine and spreading diseases. Senator DeConcini visited Africa to study recent developments and examine how Africans are dealing with present demands, aspirations and problems. A corresponding objective of Codel DeConcini's visit to Africa was to examine the present economic, political and human rights developments and how the newly emerging political process known as the Conference on Security, Stability, Development and Cooperation in Africa (CSSDCA) intends to address and meet the unique challenges confronting Africa today.

  • The Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE

    In accordance with the mandate of the Vienna Concluding Document, the 38 states participating in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) met in Moscow from September 10 through October 4, 1991, for the third meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension (CHD, or CDH from the French acronym) of the CSCE. The first meeting of the Conference was held in Paris from May 20 through June 23, 1989, and the second was held in Copenhagen from June 5 through 29, 1990. The meetings of the CHD address the full range of human rights and humanitarian concerns associated with the Helsinki process.

  • Geneva Meeting on National Minorities and Moscow Meeting on the Human Dimension

    The hearing will focus on two important CSCE meetings, the Geneva Experts Meeting on National Minorities.   The Geneva meeting which recently ended was mandated to discuss national minorities, the meeting had three components: exchange of views on practical experience; review of the implementation of relevant CSCE commitments; and consideration of new measures. The distinguished speaker will outline the major points of the Geneva meeting and how the United States can best utilize its success while moving towards the upcoming human dimension meeting in Moscow.

  • CONFERENCE ON SECURITY, STABILITY, DEVELOPMENT, AND COOPERATION IN AFRICA

    This hearing focused on successes of the Helsinki process in guiding Eastern Europe towards democratic governance and how a similar framework could work in Africa. The joint hearing emphasized the need for expedient action for the continent or risk unmanageable stagnating crises. Many former oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe draw parallels to similar governing system in the African continent, such systems lack rule based institutions, political enfranchisement, and civil protections. The Commissioners and the distinguished panelists discuss what measures African countries are taking in their democratization process and what the additional actions should be.

  • Report by the CSCE Staff: The Geneva CSCE Experts Meeting on National Minorities

    In accordance with the relevant provisions of the Charter of Paris, the representatives of the participating States had a thorough discussion on the issues of national minorities and of the rights of persons belonging to them that reflected the diversity of situations and of the legal, historical, political and eoonanic backgrounds. They had an exchange of views on practical experience with national minorities, in particular on national legislation, democratic institutions, international instruments and other possible forms of co-operation. Views were expressed on the inplementation of the relevant CSCE commitments, and the representatives of the participating States also considered the scope for the improvement of relevant stardards.They also considered new measures aimed at improving the implementation of the aforementioned commitments.

  • Minority Rights: Problems, Parameters, and Patterns in the CSCE Context

    Principle VII of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act pledges the participating States the "respect the right of persons belonging to [national] minorities to equality before the law, [to] afford them the full opportunity for the actual enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms and will, in this manner, protect their legitimate interests in this sphere." Since the adoption of that language, problems of minorities have become more acute and, in some places, threatening to the very stability of Europe itself. As a consequence, minority rights have taken on a heightened profile in the Helsinki process. We are pleased to provide you with the following Helsinki Commission staff report on national minorities. Mandated to monitor and encourage progress in implementing the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, the Commission feels it is its duty to address some of the more troubling issues confronting the CSCE community. Although not an exhaustive examination of minority rights, we hope this report will contribute to the discussion of these pressing issues by considering both violations of minority rights within the CSCE as well as instances of success.

  • Democratic Developments in Albania

    Beginning at the Copenhagen Human Dimension Meeting in June 1990, Albania has been granted observer status at CSCE meetings. Albania would like to move beyond its current observer status and become a full participant in the process. The Commission delegation had stated when it left after its first visit that it needed to see significant improvements in Albania s human rights performance before we could support Albania’s membership in the CSCE. There is no question that the situation has remarkably improved as of last year, a fact which we on the Helsinki Commission have welcomed and have even complimented the existing government for moving in what we consider the right direction. A key question now, in addition to that of CSCE membership, is how the United States can best develop these bilateral relations to the benefit of democracy in Albania.

  • 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.

  • Chernobyl: Five Years Later

    Held as a fifth anniversary commemoration of the disaster at Chernobyl, the briefing featured a short film that was produced by an Australian film company on Chernobyl’s progress in the five years after the crisis. Afterward, Samuel Wise, staff director at the Commission, led the discussion on the damage Chernobyl continued to have on surrounding regions in 1991. Witnesses Dr. David Marples and Dr. Natalia Preobrazhensk addressed the environmental concerns and political authority over Chernobyl, along with how Ukraine’s judicial system had dealt with the situation. They also acknowledged the situation of Soviet nuclear power at the time.

  • Report: The Elections in Albania

    Taken as a whole, the Albanian elections cannot be considered free and fair. This does not mean, however, that the irregularities, intimidation and other problems encountered were necessarily sufficient to invalidate the results. The Party of Labor may well have won a majority of seats even if the election environment had been more free and fair, although it is questionable whether it would have still achieved the two-thirds benchmark critical for passing constitutional changes. Nevertheless, the very holding of these multi-party elections was a definite step forward. In the post-election period, the Democratic Party has refused to join the Party of Labor in any government coalition and has boycotted the Assembly until the perpetrators of a post-election crackdown on demonstrators which left several dead are identified. One of the most important and unanswered questions at present is the situation within the Party of Labor. Marty hard line leaders won election to the Assembly, but the current· President and Party First Secretary, Ramiz Alia, lost his seat, raising questions as to whether he can still lead the party and, if elected the new President as expected, will remain a powerful head of state. With or without further reform efforts, additional unrest can be expected in Albania. The country is now open to contact with the rest of the world and in dire need of foreign economic assistance. However, a slowdown in the pace of change -- let alone any rollback in the reforms undertaken to date -- will certainly be resisted by the population, the youth in particular, lead tonew waves of people seeking to leave the country and discourage foreign governments from extending any economic assistance other than purely humanitarian aid.

  • Final Resolution Concerning the Establishment of the CSCE Parliamentary Assembly

    The delegations of the Parliaments of countries participating in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, meeting in Madrid, on April 2nd and 3rd 1991 --- Considering the provisions of the Paris Charter for a New Europe which, in recognition of the important role that parliamentarians can play in the CSCE process, calls for the establishment of a CSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

  • Referendum in the Soviet Union

    Mikhail Gorbachev's March 17, 1991 referendum on maintaining the USSR as a "renewed federation" was the first in Soviet, or Russian, history. As the following report makes clear, the referendum was not merely an exercise in public opinion polling or a guide to policymakers. It was intended to give Gorbachev a popular mandate for pressuring the newly elected legislatures of the Baltic States and Soviet republics seeking independence or greater sovereignty. In this light, the referendum amounted to an attempt to use democratic methods to undermine the results of democracy. Its other purposes aside, however, Gorbachev's referendum does represent an aspect of the democratization of Soviet politics that has taken place since 1985. The Helsinki Commission has carefully tracked this process through public hearings and extensive staff reports on perestroika and on the Baltic States. In 1990, in accordance with its mandate to monitor and promote compliance with the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and subsequent CSCE documents, the Commission sent staffers to observe parliamentary elections in the Baltic States and the Soviet republics. A compendium of their reports was published in December 1990. This year, Commission staffers monitored the March 3 "counter-referendums" on independence held in Latvia and Estonia, at the invitation of their parliaments and governments. The Commission also sent staffers to observe the conduct of the voting on March 17 in Latvia, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and on March 31 observed Georgia's plebiscite on independence. The following report reflects their on-site observations, supplemented by subsequent published reportage about the referendum, and contains as well an analysis· of the referendum's implications. In retrospect, perhaps the most striking thing about the referendum is how little notice the Soviet and international media now pay to an event depicted as "historic." To some extent, the fast pace of change in Soviet politics precludes lingering on last month's news. But the lack of attention also reflects the referendum's minimal impact: as a stategem, it was flawed; as policy, it was irrelevant, since the jurisdictional disputes in the USSR between center and republics had already gone too far for mere strategems to be effective. In fact, the failure of the March referendum to deliver what its initiators sought was its greatest contribution to Soviet politics, since it helped produce the "April Pact" between Gorbachev and leaders of nine republics. That agreement, if followed through sincerely, promises to be a watershed in the decentralization and democratization of the Soviet Union, and may prove genuinely "historic."

  • Report on the U.S. Helsinki Commission Delegation Visit to Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Albania

    The main purpose of the Commission's visit to Budapest was to participate in the Seminar on Parliamentary Responsibility for Economic Development being co-sponsored by the Helsinki Commission, the Hungarian Parliament, the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, and the Library of Congress. Additionally, members of the delegation discussed Hungary's current political and economic situation with members of the Alliance of Young Democrats (FIDESZ), leaders of the Gypsy community, and U.S. business representatives.

  • Congressional Visit to Stockholm, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Moscow

    The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe decided to visit Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in mid-February 1991 and to meet with their freely­ elected leaders and government officials for one paramount purpose: in the context of a fact-finding mission, to express U.S. Congressional support for Baltic aspirations in the wake of the bloodshed in Lithuania and Latvia in January, when Soviet Internal Affairs Ministry troops killed 18 unarmed civilians. The delegation was the first group of Members of the U.S. Congress to visit the Baltics since those events. The unusually large size of the delegation -- it comprised 13 Members and was the largest Congressional delegation ever to visit the Baltic States in the fifty years since their forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union --and the broad geographic range of the Members' home districts testified to widespread backing for the Baltic cause in the U.S. Congress and among the American people, despite preoccupation in the United States with the military campaign in the Persian Gulf. The delegation's other objective was to meet with Boris Yeltsin, chairman of the parliament of the Russian Federation, and was directly connected to the primary objective of voicing support for the Baltic cause. Yeltsin had publicly condemned the use of force in Lithuania and Latvia, even calling on Russian soldiers to disobey orders to fire on Lithuanians. Members wanted to hear his position on the situation in the Baltic States, the status of their negotiations with Russia, and prospects for democratization in the USSR. The Members also hoped to arrange a meeting with Soviet President Gorbachev to convey the sense of concern in the U.S. Congress at the resort to violence in January and to express support for continued political and economic liberalization in the Soviet Union. Although President Gorbachev did not meet with the delegation, Soviet authorities did set up a formal meeting in Moscow with Rafik Nishanov, Chairman of the Council of Nationalities of the USSR Supreme Soviet, and his colleagues. The discussion allowed delegation members to familiarize themselves with the current official Soviet position on the Baltic States' desire to regain their political independence.

  • The USSR In Crisis: State of the Union

    This hearing centered the economic and political crisis in the Soviet Union. The Commissioners praised the diligent work of Gorbachev by positively changing the human rights dimension in Eastern Europe. From multi-party participation to higher freedoms of speech and assembly, the Soviet Union has pivoted to international standard of human rights. Despite the reforms made towards the advancement of human rights the economic situation has never been so pronounced in recent memory. The economic challenges facing the people of the Soviet Union is affecting the political atmosphere in very concerning way- increased powers to the KGB and arms deals that violate past international treaties. The hearing reviewed whether the economic crisis is causing the Soviet state to use military methods to save the Soviet power.

  • 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.

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