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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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  Senator Ben Cardin

Chairman

Senator Ben Cardin

  Representative Steve Cohen

Co-Chairman

Representative Steve Cohen

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  • 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.

  • Helsinki Final Act (Long Version)

    The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which opened at Helsinki on 3 July 1973 and continued at Geneva from 18 September 1973 to 21 July 1975, was concluded at Helsinki on 1 August 1975 by the High Representatives of Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, the Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Yugoslavia. During the opening and closing stages of the Conference the participants were addressed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as their guest of honour. The Director-General of UNESCO and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe addressed the Conference during its second stage. During the meetings of the second stage of the Conference, contributions were received, and statements heard, from the following non-participating Mediterranean States on various agenda items: the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Israel, the Kingdom of Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia.

  • The Helsinki Final Act

    The Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, which opened at Helsinki on 3 July 1973 and continued at Geneva from 18 September 1973 to 21 July 1975, was concluded at Helsinki on 1 August 1975 by the High Representatives of Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Finland, France, the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, the Holy See, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Yugoslavia. During the opening and closing stages of the Conference the participants were addressed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as their guest of honour. The Director-General of UNESCO and the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe addressed the Conference during its second stage. During the meetings of the second stage of the Conference, contributions were received, and statements heard, from the following non-participating Mediterranean States on various agenda items: the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Israel, the Kingdom of Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Tunisia.

  • Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe

    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.

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  • Podcast: Equitable and Inclusive Democracies

    How can the United States and Europe achieve a long-term vision of stable, and sustainable, and inclusive democracies?  Political inclusion and economic empowerment in the face of discrimination and intolerance are imperative. Samira Rafaela, the first woman of Afro-Caribbean descent to win a seat in the European Parliament, European activist Alfiaz Vaiya, and Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Alex T. Johnson discuss their experiences on the front lines of the fight for greater diversity and inclusion in Europe, and in the transatlantic policymaking space more broadly.  "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 5 | Equitable and Inclusive Democracies

  • Speeches

    Read what our chair, co-chair, and Commissioners have had to say at OSCE events, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and more.

  • Max Kampelman Fellowships

    The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe seeks candidates for its Max Kampelman Fellowship program. Named for a longtime U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Kampelman Fellows represent the next generation of American leaders in security policy, human rights, and strategic communications. Kampelman Fellows join a team of world-class experts at an independent, bicameral, bipartisan, inter-branch federal agency. The Helsinki Commission advances American national security and national interests by promoting human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries.  Kampelman Fellowships last three months, with fellows expected to work 30 hours per week. Fellows are paid $25 per hour and are offered ongoing enrichment, professional development, and networking opportunities facilitated by senior commission staff. Meet the current Kampelman Fellows. Policy Fellowships Policy fellows will work in political and military affairs, economic and environmental matters, or respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, based on their areas of interest, expertise, and needs of the Commission. Under the direction of commission policy advisors, policy fellows research topics and trends relating to international military, economic, and human rights issues throughout the 57-country OSCE region; assist staff advisors with hearings, briefings, congressional delegations, legislation, and publications; attend congressional hearings, panels, and events; and perform administrative duties. Each fellow is expected to write at least one article for potential publication on the commission website during his or her fellowship period. Communications Fellowships Under the direction of the communications director, communications fellows support projects and initiatives in all areas of the commission’s portfolio. Communications fellows assist with media outreach activities; help publicize Commission hearings and briefings; staff Commission events; develop web content; and craft creative and engaging content to be shared on social media. They also assist with other special communications projects and perform administrative duties. Each fellow is expected to write at least one article for publication on the commission website during his or her fellowship period. Qualifications The Kampelman Fellowship program is open to recent undergraduates (the beginning of the fellowship term should be less than one year since graduation), current graduate students, and undergraduate students with previous internship experience. All Kampelman Fellowship candidates should have a keen interest in learning more about international affairs, the inner workings of Congress, and the relationship between the legislative and executive branches in the realm of foreign policy. Proficiency in a second OSCE language is an asset. Pursuant to Section 704 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, Pub. L. No. 115-31 (May 5, 2017), as amended, an applicant must be one of the following: (1) a citizen of the United States; (2) a person who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence and is seeking citizenship as outlined in 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a)(3)(B); (3) a person who is admitted as a refugee under 8 U.S.C. 1157 or is granted asylum under 8 U.S.C. 1158 and has filed a declaration of intention to become a lawful permanent resident and then a citizen when eligible; or (4) a person who owes allegiance to the United States. Policy-Focused Fellows: A broad liberal arts education is ideal. Applicants should demonstrate excellent writing, analysis, research, and oral presentation skills, as well as an interest in government, international relations, and human rights. Communications-Focused Fellows: Candidates with a focus on marketing, communications, journalism, public relations, or related disciplines are encouraged to apply. Applicants should demonstrate excellent writing and editing skills; a good working knowledge of photography, cutting-edge web content management systems, and new media platforms; and an interest in government, international relations, and human rights. How to Apply Please send the following application package to csce[dot]fellowships[at]mail[dot]house[dot]gov. Brief cover letter indicating the following: Why you want to work for the Commission, including relevant background or personal experiences Your specific areas of interest as they relate to the work of the Commission Your availability (start and end dates, as well as hours per week) Résumé of no more than two pages Academic transcript(s) (official or unofficial) Writing sample of three pages or less In the subject line of your e-mail application, please indicate whether you are applying for a policy fellowship or a communications fellowship and for which term you are applying. Only complete applications received by the deadline will be considered. Please do not contact the commission, or the offices of our commissioners, to inquire about the status of your application. Finalists will be notified if they have been selected for an interview. Upcoming Terms and Application Deadlines Spring 2022 (January 18 – April 22): Deadline for applications is November 5, 2021 at 11:59 PM EST Summer 2022 (April 25 – July 29): Applications will be accepted from October 25 until January 25, 2022 at 11:59 PM EST Fall 2022 (September 12 – December 16): Applications will be accepted from March 12 until June 12, 2022 at 11:59 PM EST

  • Podcast: Lost and Found

    Only July 11, 1995, more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from the town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina were rounded up, gunned down, and buried in mass graves by Bosnian Serb forces, in what was the worst mass killing in Europe since World War II. The brutality of the genocide of Srebrenica was compounded by the deliberate effort by those responsible to hide their crimes. The use of mass graves and the subsequent movement of remains of the murdered using heavy machinery meant that the identification of the victims seemed nearly impossible at the time.  Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, Kathryne Bomberger, director general of the International Commission on Missing Persons, discusses how ICMP has helped families of the Srebrenica victims find closure and pursue justice. She also discusses the commission’s evolution from dealing with the conflict in the former Yugoslavia to its work worldwide—including in Syria, Colombia, and elsewhere—today. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 12 | Lost and Found: How the International Commission on Missing Persons Helps Find Closure and Pursue Justice

  • In the News

    Helsinki Commission leadership, members, and initiatives are frequently featured in both the U.S. and foreign press.

  • Decoding the OSCE

    The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest regional security organization with 57 participating States representing more than a billion people. Its origins trace back to the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, which contains a broad range of measures focused on politico-military, economic and environmental, and human aspects designed to enhance comprehensive security and cooperation in the region, and the decades of multilateral diplomacy that followed. The OSCE operates coordinated efforts, adapted to the needs of each participating State, to protect democracy, promote peace, and manage conflict. The organization focuses on creating sustainable change through shared values, and decisions are taken by consensus. Learn more about the OSCE’s operations and institutions below. The Helsinki Process and the OSCE: On August 1, 1975, the leaders of the original 35 OSCE participating States gathered in Helsinki and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also known as the Helsinki Accords, the Helsinki Final Act is not a treaty, but rather a politically binding agreement consisting of three main sections informally known as "baskets," adopted on the basis of consensus. The Security Dimension The Economic Dimension The Human Dimension Four Decades of the Helsinki Process: The gatherings following the Final Act became known as the Helsinki Process. The process became a diplomatic front line in the Cold War and a cost-effective diplomatic tool to respond to the new challenges facing Europe during the post-Cold War era. Since its inception over forty years ago, the Helsinki Process and the OSCE continue to provide added value to multilateral efforts enhancing security and cooperation in Europe. OSCE Institutions, Structures, and Meetings: The OSCE sets standards in fields including military security, economic and environmental cooperation, and human rights and humanitarian concerns. The OSCE also undertakes a variety of preventive diplomacy initiatives designed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict within and among the participating States. The Consensus Rule: The OSCE operates using a consensus decision-making process. Consensus fosters ownership of decisions by all OSCE participating States, enables them to protect key national priorities, and creates an important incentive for countries to participate in the OSCE.  It also strengthens the politically binding nature of OSCE commitments. The Moscow Mechanism: The OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism allows for the establishment of a short-term fact-finding mission to address a specific human rights concern in the OSCE region. OSCE Election Observation: Election observation is one of the most transparent and methodical ways to encourage States’ commitment to democratic standards and has become a core element of the OSCE’s efforts to promote human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Parliamentary Diplomacy of the OSCE: The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) offers opportunities for engagement among parliamentarians from OSCE participating States. The OSCE PA debates current issues related to OSCE commitments; develops and promotes tools to prevent and resolve conflicts; supports democratic development in participating States; and encourages national governments to take full advantage of OSCE capabilities. Non-Governmental Participation in the OSCE: One of the advantages of the OSCE is that it is the only international organization in which NGOs are allowed to participate in human dimension meetings on an equal basis with participating States. NGOs—no matter how small—can raise their concerns directly with governments. 

  • Podcast: Nagorno-Karabakh

    The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan remains one of the world’s most intractable and long-standing territorial and ethnic disputes. Its fragile no-peace, no-war situation poses a serious threat to stability in the South Caucasus region and beyond. The conflict features at its core a fundamental tension between two key tenets of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act: territorial integrity and the right to self-determination. Ambassador Carey Cavanaugh, former U.S. Co-Chair of the OSCE Minsk Group, joins Helsinki Commission Senior Policy Advisor Everett Price to discuss the history and evolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the OSCE's role in conflict diplomacy and the prospects for a lasting peace. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 8 | Nagorno-Karabakh

  • Principled Foreign Policy

    The 10 principles of the Helsinki Final Act provide a robust framework for the development of U.S. foreign policy. From respect for sovereignty and the territorial integrity of states to human rights and fundamental freedoms, these commitments underpin peace and stability in the OSCE region and form the basis of comprehensive security for all people. 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. 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 all are vital to the promotion of democracy and to U.S. national security. Active engagement with other OSCE participating States reflects the dedication of the United States to security and cooperation in Europe and Central Asia. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and democratic development are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; and that that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking. This includes balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains; promoting the sustainable management of resources; battling corruption; and protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized.

  • The Helsinki Process and the OSCE

    The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has its origins in the early 1950s, when the Soviet Union first proposed the creation of an all-European security conference. In the mid-1960s the Warsaw Pact renewed calls for such a conference. In May 1969, the Government of Finland sent a memorandum to all European countries, the United States and Canada, offering Helsinki as a conference venue. Beginning in November 1972, representatives from the original 35 nations met for nearly three years to work out the arrangements and the framework for the conference, concluding their work in July 1975. On August 1, 1975, the leaders of the original 35 participating States gathered in Helsinki and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also known as the Helsinki Accords, the Final Act is not a treaty, but rather a politically binding agreement consisting of three main sections informally known as "baskets," adopted on the basis of consensus. This comprehensive Act contains a broad range of measures designed to enhance security and cooperation in the region extending from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Basket I - the Security Dimension - contains a Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations between participating States, including the all-important Principle VII on human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also includes a section on confidence-building measures and other aspects of security and disarmament aimed at increasing military transparency. Basket II - the Economic Dimension - covers economic, scientific, technological and environmental cooperation, as well as migrant labor, vocational training and the promotion of tourism. Basket III is devoted to cooperation in humanitarian and other fields: freer movement of people; human contacts, including family reunification and visits; freedom of information, including working conditions for journalists; and cultural and educational exchanges. Principle VII and Basket III together have come to be known as the "Human Dimension." Since 1975, the number of countries signing the Helsinki Accords has expanded to 57, reflecting changes such as the breakup of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Institutionalization of the Conference in the early 1990s led to its transformation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, effective January 1995. Today, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is engaged in standard setting in fields including military security, economic and environmental cooperation, and human rights and humanitarian concerns. In addition, the OSCE undertakes a variety of preventive diplomacy initiatives designed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict within and among the participating States. The OSCE has its main office in Vienna, Austria, where weekly meetings of the Permanent Council are held. In addition, specialized seminars and meetings are convened in various locations and periodic consultations are held among Senior Officials, Ministers and Heads of State or Government.

  • Frequently Asked Questions

    Find answers to our most frequently asked questions about the Helsinki Commission, Helsinki Commissioners, and the OSCE. Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission)   What is the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe? The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe—also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission—is an independent U.S. government commission that advances American national security and national interests by promoting human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries. The Helsinki Commission monitors and encourages compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE commitments by strengthening human rights monitoring, defending those persecuted for acting on their rights and freedoms, and ensuring that compliance with Helsinki provisions are given due consideration in U.S. foreign policy. The Helsinki Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine members from the U.S. House of Representatives, and one member each from the U.S. Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.  The work of the Helsinki Commission covers issues in all three “dimensions” of the OSCE: politico-military challenges (“first”); economic and environmental cooperation (“second”); and the defense of human rights (“third”). Topics range from ongoing conflicts in the OSCE zone and emerging challenges including terrorism and insecurity in cyberspace, to combating corruption through economic transparency, to promoting full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms across the 57 OSCE participating States. The commission regularly convenes public hearings and briefings to draw attention to violations of OSCE commitments, to assess the OSCE as a vehicle to address U.S. concerns in a given foreign policy area, and to explore different approaches and best practices within the OSCE region. Commission leaders regularly issue public statements pertaining to the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, and often initiate or are involved in the passage of related legislation. The Helsinki Commission also authors articles and reports concerning implementation of OSCE commitments in participating States and organizes official delegations to participating States and OSCE meetings to address and assess democratic, economic, security, and human rights developments firsthand. It is the primary organizer of U.S. congressional delegations to meetings of the OSCE PA, and uniquely contributes to U.S.  representation in the OSCE by  joining the Department of State and other Executive Branch agencies to prepare for and participate in a wide variety of multilateral meetings, consultations, and negotiations. Why is a U.S. government commission referred to by the name of a capital in Europe? The Helsinki Commission takes its name from the location where the original 35 participating States of today's OSCE gathered to sign the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe: Helsinki, Finland. Why is the Helsinki Commission important? The Helsinki Commission reflects the overarching commitment of the United States to security and cooperation in Europe, and has played a vital role in introducing and promoting the concept of human rights as an element in U.S. foreign policy decision-making globally. Through its work, the Helsinki Commission has helped ensure U.S. support for democratic development in Eastern and Central Europe, and continues to push for greater respect for human rights in Russia and the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Helsinki Commission participated in the debates of the 1990s on how the United States should respond to conflicts in the Balkans, particularly Bosnia, Kosovo, and elsewhere, and does the same today in regard to Russia’s aggression toward its neighbors. It has pushed U.S. policy to take action to combat trafficking in persons, anti-Semitism and racism, and intolerance and corruption, as well as other problems which are not confined to one country’s borders. The Helsinki Commission also was the first to propose concrete OSCE commitments regarding free and fair elections. By 1990, commissioners and staff had already observed the conduct of the first multi-party elections in seven East and Central European countries transitioning from one-party communist states to functioning democracies. Since then, commissioners and staff have observed well over 100 elections, and the commission continues to support OSCE observation efforts, focusing on countries where resistance to democratic change remains the strongest. What is the relationship between the Helsinki Commission and the OSCE? The Helsinki Commission monitors and encourages compliance with the Helsinki Final Act—the founding document of today’s OSCE—and subsequent OSCE commitments. However, it is not part of the OSCE. As part of its mandate, the Helsinki Commission regularly convenes public hearings and briefings to draw attention to violations of OSCE commitments, to assess the OSCE as a vehicle to address U.S. concerns in a given foreign policy area, and to explore different approaches and best practices within the OSCE region. Commission leaders regularly make public statements pertaining to the provisions of the Helsinki Final Act, and often initiate or are involved in the passage of related legislation. The Helsinki Commission also authors articles and reports concerning implementation of OSCE commitments in participating States and organizes official delegations to participating States and OSCE meetings to address and assess democratic, economic, security, and human rights developments firsthand. It is the primary organizer of U.S. Congressional Delegations to meetings of the OSCE PA, and uniquely contributes to U.S.  representation in the OSCE by  joining the Department of State and other Executive Branch agencies to prepare for and participate in a wide variety of multilateral meetings, consultations, and negotiations. What is the relationship between the Helsinki Commission and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly? With 17 of 323 seats, the United States has the largest representation in the OSCE PA, which assures a strong U.S. commitment to security in the OSCE region. The Helsinki Commission is the primary organizer of U.S. congressional delegations to OSCE PA meetings, and provides additional support to commissioners who hold various leadership positions in the assembly. Members of the U.S. Congress have consistently held leadership positions in the OSCE PA since its inception. What is the difference between the Helsinki Commission and the Helsinki Committees found in other countries? The Helsinki Commission is an independent U.S. government commission. Helsinki Committees are non-governmental human rights organizations that play a vital role in monitoring the compliance of their respective participating States with the Helsinki Final Act. Helsinki Committees generally have no formal affiliation with their national governments.  How does the Helsinki Commission help implement the Helsinki Accords? The Helsinki Commission has no enforcement power, not least because the Helsinki Accords are politically—not legally—binding. As an independent commission of the U.S. government, the Helsinki Commission monitors and encourages compliance with the Helsinki Final Act and other OSCE commitments by strengthening human rights monitoring, defending those persecuted for acting on their rights and freedoms, and ensuring that compliance with Helsinki provisions are given due consideration in U.S. foreign policy. How does the Helsinki Commission decide what issues to focus on? The work of the Helsinki Commission covers issues in all three “dimensions” of the OSCE: politico-military challenges (“first”); economic and environmental cooperation (“second”); and the defense of human rights (“third”). Topics range from ongoing conflicts in the OSCE zone and emerging challenges including terrorism and insecurity in cyberspace, to combating corruption through economic transparency, to promoting full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms across the 57 OSCE participating States. Promoting basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, along with other humanitarian concerns, has historically been the cornerstone of the commission’s work and remains central to its mandate. The Helsinki Commission pays particular attention to those countries where severe and persistent violations of human rights and democratic norms occur.  In practice, this has translated into a strong focus on Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.  The commission also responds to shortcomings and setbacks in other countries, including those with more extensive development in the areas of democracy and human rights.  In response to the recent sharp geopolitical deterioration in the OSCE region, highlighted by Russian aggression against Ukraine and Georgia, the commission has renewed its focus on political-military challenges. This has included a focus on Russia’s violations of key Helsinki Final Act commitments, which have also included flouting key arms control and military transparency measures.  Is the Helsinki Commission a part of Congress? No. The Helsinki Commission is an independent U.S. government commission. However, 18 of the 21 Helsinki Commissioners represent the legislative branch. The remaining three Helsinki Commissioners represent the executive branch. Is the Helsinki Commission a part of the Department of State? No. The Helsinki Commission is an independent U.S. government commission. However, the Helsinki Commission maintains a close working relationship with the Department of State: one of the 21 Helsinki Commissioners represents the State Department; the Helsinki Commission hosts a State Department detailee in its office; and one Helsinki Commission staff member is a full member of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE. How is the Helsinki Commission funded? Like all U.S. government entities, the commission is funded by an appropriation from the U.S. Congress: in this case, as part of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs appropriations legislation. What do Helsinki Commission staff members do? Members of the Helsinki Commission are supported by a professional staff with in-depth regional and policy expertise. Helsinki Commission staff work with commissioners to organize public hearings and briefings to draw attention to violations of OSCE commitments, to assess the OSCE as a means to address U.S. concerns in a given foreign policy area, and to explore different approaches and best practices within the OSCE region. They also support commissioners in the development of statements and legislation related to the Helsinki Final Act; author articles and reports concerning implementation of OSCE commitments in participating States; and organize official delegations to participating States and OSCE meetings to address and assess democratic, economic, security, and human rights developments firsthand. Is the Helsinki Commission affiliated with a political party? No. The Helsinki Commission is an independent, bicameral, bipartisan, and inter-branch organization. The Helsinki Commission consists of 21 Commissioners, 18 of whom come from the U.S. Congress. Nine Senators and nine Representatives—five from the majority and four from the minority in each chamber—are selected by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, respectively. The remaining three commissioners are appointed by the President of the United States from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce, usually at the Assistant Secretary level. How can I get a job or fellowship with the Helsinki Commission? Visit our join our team page. If I have an issue I want to bring to the Commission’s attention, who do I contact? Email info[at]csce[dot]gov or call (202) 225-1901 and one of our staff members will respond to your inquiry. Helsinki Commissioners   Who are the Helsinki Commissioners? The Helsinki Commission consists of 21 Commissioners, 18 of whom come from the U.S. Congress. Nine Senators and nine Representatives—five from the majority and four from the minority in each chamber—are selected by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, respectively. The remaining three Commissioners are appointed by the President of the United States from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce, usually at the Assistant Secretary level. What do Helsinki Commissioners do? Commissioners regularly communicate with the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, and other senior U.S. officials on OSCE-related matters and issue public statements on matters of concern as needed.  Commissioners meet officials and prominent visitors from other OSCE participating States in Washington, D.C., and travel to countries of concern to monitor and encourage implementation more directly, including through election observation.  When warranted, Senate and House Commissioners act in their capacity as members of Congress to introduce and seek passage of legislation, and a Helsinki Commission perspective is often evident in their foreign policy work.  How are Helsinki Commissioners selected? Eighteen of the 21 Commissioners are selected by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, respectively. The remaining three Commissioners are appointed by the President of the United States from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce, usually at the Assistant Secretary level. How long do Commissioners serve on the Helsinki Commission? Commissioners may serve on the Commission as long as they remain eligible and are selected by the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, or the President of the United States. Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe   What is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe? The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is the world’s largest regional security organization. It spans 57 participating States reaching from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Originally known as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, today’s OSCE has its origins in the early 1950s, when the Soviet Union first proposed the creation of a pan-European security conference. After the Warsaw Pact renewed calls for such a conference, in May 1969, the Government of Finland sent a memorandum to all European countries, the United States, and Canada, offering Helsinki as a conference venue. On August 1, 1975, after three years of negotiation, the leaders of the original 35 participating States gathered in Helsinki and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also known as the Helsinki Accords, the Final Act is not a treaty, but rather a politically binding agreement consisting of three main sections informally known as "baskets," adopted on the basis of consensus. Basket I—the Security Dimension—contains a Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations between participating States, including Principle VII, which governs respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. It also includes a section on confidence-building measures and other aspects of security and disarmament aimed at increasing military transparency. Basket II—the Economic Dimension—covers economic, scientific, technological and environmental cooperation, as well as migrant labor, vocational training, and the promotion of tourism. Basket III is devoted to cooperation in humanitarian and other fields: freer movement of people; human contacts, including family reunification and visits; freedom of information, including working conditions for journalists; and cultural and educational exchanges. Principle VII and Basket III together have come to be known as the "Human Dimension." Since 1975, the number of signatories has expanded to 57, reflecting the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, and the desire of other nations to join. Institutionalization of the conference in the early 1990s led to its transformation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, effective January 1995. Today, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sets standards in fields including military security, economic and environmental cooperation, and human rights and humanitarian concerns. In addition, the OSCE undertakes a variety of initiatives designed to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict within and among the participating States. The OSCE is headquartered in Vienna, Austria, where weekly meetings of the Permanent Council are held. In addition, specialized seminars and meetings are convened in various locations and periodic consultations are held among senior officials, ministers, and heads of state or government. What is the Helsinki Final Act? What are its three dimensions? Defining security in a uniquely comprehensive manner, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975—the founding document of today’s OSCE—contains 10 principles guiding inter-state relations, among them respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Also known as the Helsinki Accords, the Final Act is not a treaty, but rather a politically binding agreement consisting of three main sections informally known as "baskets," adopted on the basis of consensus. Basket I—the Security Dimension—contains a Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations between participating States, including Principle VII, which governs respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief. It also includes a section on confidence-building measures and other aspects of security and disarmament aimed at increasing military transparency. Basket II—the Economic Dimension—covers economic, scientific, technological and environmental cooperation, as well as migrant labor, vocational training, and the promotion of tourism. Basket III is devoted to cooperation in humanitarian and other fields: freer movement of people; human contacts, including family reunification and visits; freedom of information, including working conditions for journalists; and cultural and educational exchanges. Principle VII and Basket III together have come to be known as the "Human Dimension." Is the Helsinki Final Act a treaty? No. It is a politically—though not legally—binding agreement. What is the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly? Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) was established in 1991 to offer opportunities for engagement among parliamentarians from the OSCE participating States. Today, the OSCE PA is an independent, consultative body consisting of 323 parliamentarians from OSCE participating States. As part of its remit, the OSCE PA assesses the implementation of OSCE objectives by participating States; discusses subjects addressed during meetings of the OSCE Ministerial Council and summit meetings of OSCE heads of state or government; develops and promotes mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflicts; supports the strengthening and consolidation of democratic institutions in OSCE participating States; and contributes to the development of OSCE institutional structures and of relations and cooperation between existing OSCE institutions. The OSCE PA also allows parliamentarians from participating States to introduce new issues and concerns that will ultimately need to be addressed by the OSCE itself in Vienna.  Efforts to combat trafficking in persons or to respond to anti-Semitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance in society became central to the OSCE’s work as a result of initiatives coming from the Parliamentary Assembly.  With 17 of the 323 seats, the United States has the largest representation in the OSCE PA.  The active involvement of Members of Congress helps ensure that U.S. objectives and interests are advanced and that new issues of concern are placed on the OSCE diplomatic agenda, and assures other participating States of the depth of the U.S. commitment to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. Members of the U.S. Congress have consistently held leadership positions in the OSCE PA since its inception. What are the other key OSCE institutions? The OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) gets involved in situations where tensions involving national minorities could develop into a conflict. The High Commissioner addresses the short-term triggers of inter-ethnic tension or conflict and long-term structural concerns. If a participating State is not meeting its political commitments or international norms, the High Commissioner will assist by providing analysis and recommendations. Based on experience, the HCNM publishes thematic guidance on common challenges and best practices. The High Commissioner also provides structural support through small collaborative projects that aim to achieve sustainability through increasing local ownership. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) provides support, assistance and expertise to participating States and civil society to promote democracy, rule of law, human rights, and tolerance and non-discrimination. ODIHR observes elections, reviews legislation and advises governments on how to develop and sustain democratic institutions. The office conducts training programs for government and law-enforcement officials and non-governmental organizations on how to uphold, promote, and monitor human rights. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media observes media developments as part of an early warning function and helps participating States abide by their commitments to freedom of expression and free media. The representative also holds annual regional media conferences, bringing together journalists, representatives of civil society and government, as well as academics, to discuss current media freedom issues. What does the U.S. Mission to the OSCE do? The United States Mission to the OSCE is a multi-agency team of more than thirty staff members from the Department of State and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A representative from the Helsinki Commission is also fully integrated into the mission. The mission coordinates with the rotating OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office and the OSCE Secretariat, negotiates with the other national delegations in Vienna, and works closely with U.S. embassies and the OSCE field presences situated throughout the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. The U.S. Mission to the OSCE represents the United States in the Permanent Council, the OSCE’s principal policy-making body. It also represents the United States in several other entities, including the Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC), the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the Treaty in the Joint Consultative Group (JCG), and the Open Skies Consultative Commission (OSCC). What is the difference between an OSCE participating State and an OSCE Partner for Cooperation? The OSCE maintains special relations with 11 countries—known as Partners for Cooperation— to better address shared security challenges. Six of them (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia) are in the Mediterranean region, and four (Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Afghanistan) are in Asia. Australia is also an OSCE Partner for Cooperation. Although the OSCE dialogue with its Partners for Cooperation encompasses the full range of the organization’s activities, each group of partners focuses on specific issues of common interest. For example, Mediterranean Partners are particularly engaged with issues including anti-terrorism, border security, intercultural and interreligious dialogue, and tolerance and non-discrimination. Asian Partners look to the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security and to confidence-and security-building measures as possible sources of good practice for their own region.

  • Human Rights at Home

    By signing the Helsinki Final Act, the United States committed to respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, even under the most challenging circumstances. However, like other OSCE participating States, the United States sometimes struggles to implement humane migration policies, ensure transparency in political leadership, safeguard press freedom, and counter hate and discrimination. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that U.S. practices remain consistent with international standards and that the United States remains responsive to legitimate concerns raised in the OSCE context, including about the conduct of elections; the death penalty, use of force by law enforcement, and other criminal justice practices; and the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. In 1979, the Helsinki Commission hosted a series of hearings to examine whether the United States was meeting its commitments under the Helsinki Final Act. It was the first time that a participating State reviewed its own record in such a manner, considering criticism by other signatories and domestic monitoring groups. In the 2000s, commissioners addressed the toll that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, along with other practices undertaken as part of the “War on Terror,” was taking on U.S. leadership on human rights. The commission also has organized events examining ethnic profiling in Europe and the U.S. and highlighting U.S. government reform efforts through “constitutional policing” initiatives. Commissioners—especially those who have observed elections abroad—have also been supportive of OSCE election observation missions to the United States. Engaging in such candid self-assessment allows the United States to legitimately demand a similar level of reflection from other OSCE participating States. In addition, through hearings, briefings, and other public awareness activities, the commission increases U.S. citizen engagement with international institutions like the OSCE and deepens American relationships with civil society organizations throughout the region.

  • Podcast: Parliamentary Diplomacy in Action

    Through participation in parliamentary assemblies, national legislators can wield global influence on issues ranging from counterterrorism to climate change. Roberto Montella, Secretary General of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and Ruxandra Popa, Secretary General of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, peel back the curtain on activities of their institutions and underscore the value of parliamentary diplomacy in promoting security, prosperity, and human rights worldwide. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 9 | Parliamentary Diplomacy in Action

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