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2009 OSCE Mediterranean Conference in Cairo is a Sucess
Highlights Importance of Revisiting Annual Conference Administration
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

By Alex Johnson, Policy Advisor
and Marlene Kaufmann, General Counsel

In December 2009, Commission staff attended the 2009 OSCE Mediterranean Conference on “The Mediterranean Partners and the OSCE: Cooperation Toward Enhanced Security and Stability” in Cairo, Egypt. This conference brought together 33 of the 56 OSCE participating States, four of the Asian Partners for Cooperation (Australia, South Korea, Japan, and Thailand), and representation from all of the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. The Palestinian National Authority attended at the invitation of the host government. The conference featured three sessions focusing on the politico-military aspects of security in the OSCE area, implications of the current financial crisis on migration, and prospects for OSCE Mediterranean Cooperation. These sessions featured presentations from Mediterranean Partner OSCE delegations, academics, international organizations, and relevant ministry representatives.

Participation in this conference was at a high level with the majority of the participating States and all of the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation represented by their Ambassadors to the OSCE. Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE in attendance included a Vice-President and officers of two of the Assembly’s General Committees. Discussion in all of the sessions was lively with active participation by the Ambassadors, particularly those representing the Mediterranean Partners, as well as other public and private sector participants. A number of themes emerged across the sessions including agreement that the partnership between the OSCE participating States and their Mediterranean Partners has strengthened. The establishment of the Partnership Fund and the Athens’ Ministerial invitation to the Partners to contribute to the Corfu Process are largely attributed with bolstering the strength of the Partnership. Findings included a future activity emphasis on specific areas of cooperation by setting both short and long-term goals and providing a mechanism to assess effectiveness. In addition, the OSCE Mediterranean Partnership should undertake its work in coordination with other regional organizations and institutions, through which the possibility of expanding the Partnership could be considered.

Session 1: Politico-military aspects of security in the OSCE area and the Mediterranean

The session’s moderators were Ambassador Ian Cliff, Head of the delegation of the United Kingdom to the OSCE and Ambassador Taous Feroukhi, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the OSCE. Panelists included Mr. Pascal Heyman, Deputy Director of the OSCE Conflict Prevention Center, Ambassador Gyorgy Molnar, Head of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Hungary to the OSCE, and Dr. Mostafa Elwy Saif, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Political Science, Cairo University and Member of the Shura Council.

Ambassador Cliff opened the discussion by pointing out that the OSCE had developed expertise on crisis prevention and conflict resolution, particularly regarding protracted conflicts. He believes there has recently been some incremental progress.

Pascal Heyman emphasized that the OSCE has developed a unique conflict prevention and resolution expertise through constant political dialogue, dedicated crisis management mechanisms such as fact-finding missions, the Conflict Prevention Center, confidence and security building measures and the establishment of field operations. While these are effective tools, Heyman maintained that workable and lasting conflict resolution depends ultimately on the political will of the participating States and the parties in a conflict.

Ambassador Molnar spoke to the destabilizing consequences of transnational or multi-dimensional threats to security in the OSCE space. He noted that participating States are attempting to address these threats through the Maastricht Strategy and decisions adopted at both the Madrid and Athens Ministerials regarding transnational threats, combating terrorism, and promoting effective law enforcement and police training programs.

Dr. Saif presented a detailed review of Egypt’s political and military security concerns and concluded that the primary challenges to his country’s security stem from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s regional and nuclear ambitions, water shortages, the political situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

Ambassador Feroukhi said that the absence of a dedicated institutional forum in the Mediterranean region hampered the development of effective security mechanisms but felt that the development of confidence-building measures – particularly involving civil society and academic communities – should be encouraged as a first step. She also agreed that a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and better protection of the environment were vital for the stability and security of the Mediterranean region.

All delegations who participated in the discussion welcomed the Athens Ministerial decision to invite input from the Partners for Cooperation on furthering the Corfu Process. A number of delegations raised the possibility of enlarging the Mediterranean Partnership to include the Palestinian National Authority, while others pointed out the difficulties of doing so, due to the fact that the OSCE is a state-based organization. The Partnership Fund was hailed as an effective tool to enhance the Mediterranean Partnership and it should continue to be used to sustain a culture of cooperation, including the possible creation of a clearing house on water issues within the OSCE. It was also stressed that the OSCE should coordinate its activities with relevant international and regional organizations.

The moderators stated the following conclusions emanating from the discussion: The confidence and security building measures as well as early warning mechanisms developed in the framework of the OSCE could serve as a model and help to foster cooperation and confidence in the Mediterranean region; the participation of the Partners in the Corfu process should enhance the Mediterranean Partnership; and, the Partnership should move forward based on concrete, achievable objectives with possible long-term goals of establishing a Mediterranean conflict prevention center and developing regional codes of conduct to enhance dialogue and cooperation.

Session 2: Implications of the current economic and financial crisis on migration

The second session was moderated by Mr. Daman Bergant, Head of the OSCE Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, and panelists included Ambassador Omar Zniber, Head of the Delegation of the Kingdom of Morocco to the OSCE, and Ms. Rebecca Bardach, Director of the Center for International Migration and Integration of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Mr. Bergant began the session by explaining that the global economic and financial crisis has an impact on migration and development. He outlined several topics to guide the discussion including the development of cooperative migration policies between the OSCE and the Mediterranean Partners; dialogue on how to prevent and combat illegal migration; international and regional cooperation on preventing trafficking in human beings, including trafficking for forced labor; protecting the human rights of migrants, including through combating hate crimes; and, the role of migrants in promoting tolerance and non-discrimination.

Ambassador Zniber spoke to the impact of the current economic crisis on both migrants and development. He pointed out that the impact of the crisis makes migrants even more vulnerable and they face increased discrimination and further marginalization in society. Decreasing remittances, said the Ambassador – 10 to 15% in 2009 according to the World Bank – are a destabilizing factor, impacting countries of origin like Morocco which are particularly dependent on revenues from abroad.

The Ambassador welcomed the Athens Ministerial Council Decision on migration management and urged that the OSCE continue its work in this area, in particular, by facilitating dialogue, exchanging best practices and fighting discrimination against migrants. Specifically, he recommended that the OSCE and its Mediterranean Partners establish a working group on migration management and related security aspects; develop a multi-dimensional and long-term approach on migration management; promote regional cooperation and partnerships between all responsible parties including countries of origin, transit and destination, civil society and the private sector; create reintegration and training programs; and, protect the human rights of migrants and their families.

Ms. Bardach gave a comprehensive review of migration issues impacting Israel. She explained that only in the last two decades has Israel seen a significant increase in migration flows across its borders. This is presenting challenges to the government in managing migration and dealing with large numbers of refugees, asylum seekers, and labor migrants, in addition to human smuggling and trafficking. While Israeli efforts to combat trafficking for sexual exploitation have resulted in marked progress, she said, efforts to combat labor trafficking are still in their infancy. Based on this experience, Ms. Bardach suggested that the OSCE should develop policies to address irregular recruitment practices and raise awareness about such practices; develop cooperation on both the regional and bilateral level to increase information sharing, strengthen border controls and address the humanitarian needs of migrants; develop culturally sensitive tools for law enforcement officials; and, improve the reception and registration of refugees, including assisted voluntary return.

During the discussion following the panel presentations, a number of delegations echoed the view that the OSCE and its Mediterranean Partners should serve as a broad regional platform for a coordinated dialogue on migration, and should develop a comprehensive strategy to prevent cross-border trafficking that includes the private sector.

The contributors in this session demonstrated the need for better data collection and sharing regarding migration in the Euro-Mediterranean context. This goal was identified as a potential priority for the Partnership Fund. Proposals distributed by the Moroccan and Egyptian delegations have both cited the importance of developing research institutions, which could serve to further the goal of better data collection and expertise sharing.

Session 3: Prospects for OSCE Mediterranean Cooperation

The third session Chaired by Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Head of the Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the OSCE and Chair of the OSCE Permanent Council, focused on a review of achievements to date in improving dialogue and cooperation between the participating States and the Mediterranean Partners, and developing effective follow-up on recommendations of previous seminars and ministerial declarations referencing the Partners. Featured speakers were Ambassador Makram Queisi, Permanent Representative of Jordan to the OSCE, and Mr. Agustin Nunez, Deputy Head of Mission of the Permanent Mission of Spain to the OSCE.

Ambassador Queisi presented four areas in which he felt cooperation could improve the relationship between the OSCE and the Mediterranean region – environmental aspects of security such as soil erosion, desertification and water management including the possible creation of an environmental data collection center in the region; enhanced border security to combat terrorism and trafficking including cooperation with the Regional Counter Terrorism Training Center in Jordan; combating discrimination against Muslims; and developing nuclear non-proliferation strategies for the region. The Ambassador also stated his view that Partner status should be granted to the Palestinian National Authority as a confidence building measure.

Mr. Nunez reviewed the development of the participating State’s cooperation with their Mediterranean Partners including increased participation by Mediterranean Partners in OSCE activities and recent examples of concrete cooperation on issues such as countering terrorism, promoting tolerance and freedom of the media, and enhancing border management. He emphasized the importance of having a strategic vision for the Partnership and commended the proposal by the Kazakh Chair of the Mediterranean Contact Group that three priority areas should be identified for developing projects to be financed by the Partnership Fund. Mr. Nunez concurred with Ambassador Queisi’s view that the Partnership should be enlarged to include the Palestinian National Authority and noted that Spain had circulated two food-for-thought papers on this topic in 2008.

Following the presentations, active debate among the delegations ensued and focused primarily on the current status of the Partnership and its achievements to date, proposals for additional areas of cooperation, procedural improvements and the issue of possible enlargement of the Partnership.

Enhanced cooperation in the areas of promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, freedom of the media, gender, combating trafficking in human beings, energy security, security aspects of climate change, water management and fighting corruption, drug trafficking and terrorism was discussed. It was suggested that working groups should be established to examine these issues and make recommendations for action. Participants also called for the establishment of a system for effective follow-up on recommendations and agreed proposals, as well as enhanced coordination with other regional institutions and organizations.

The participants actively discussed the question of enlarging the Mediterranean Partnership with some participants supporting the granting of Partner status to the Palestinian National Authority as a confidence building measure conducive to dialogue and peace in the region. Debate over this particular consideration illuminated the need for an expeditious response to the request of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to become an OSCE Mediterranean Partner for Cooperation. It is apparent that a number of participating States and partners recognize the value of their participation in Mediterranean Dimension activities. Yet, disagreement arises when considering the implications of recognizing a territory as a full-fledged partner. Some participating States see the case of the PNA as unique in that there is already international agreement on the existence of a future Palestinian State. Other participating States believe that affording a territory official status sets a precedent for other territories seeking recognition in the OSCE region. A number of these leaders believe that a future Palestinian State should be granted partner status after formal international recognition. Thus, it will be unlikely that consensus on partnership with the PNA will be reached at this time and the OSCE Chair-in-Office should issue a formal response acknowledging this. The question of PNA participation will continue to mire productive dialogue on other opportunities for cooperation until a decisive response is issued by the OSCE Chair-in-Office. Alternatives for their participation should however be explored. Some possibilities include establishment of an alternative status of “observer” or other title within the framework of the Partners for Cooperation to allow for a transitional process of full recognition as a Partner. In addition, some sort of agreement should be established on recommended countries outside of the Mediterranean Partnership for invitations to OSCE Mediterranean Dimension activities.

Conclusion: Future Considerations for Annual Conference Administration

A tremendous success of the 2009 Mediterranean Conference was the engagement of the Ambassadors from the Mediterranean Partners in the agenda. Each panel featured a Mediterranean Partner Ambassador, which helped balance the contributions during the discussion. Previous conferences did not adequately balance the opportunities for contributions between the Mediterranean Partners and the OSCE participating States. In the most grievous of incidences, panelists and participating States at the 2008 Mediterranean Conference in Amman, Jordan took so much time during the discussion that contributions from representatives of the Partners were significantly curtailed. It only makes sense that the contributions of the Partners be prioritized when the purpose of the conference is enhancing cooperation with their respective countries. Meaningful participation by the Partners remains the only way to sustain the future of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension.

A recurring challenge of the annual Mediterranean conference is a lack of willingness to host the event among the Mediterranean Partners. The venue question remains an issue that paralyzes cooperation among the Mediterranean Partners and has the potential to diminish the productivity of the conference each year. The venue question stems from a number of factors. Not only is the conference capital-intensive for the hosting State, political considerations regarding the participants in the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension keep Partners like Algeria and Tunisia from taking a leadership role in hosting the event. Thus, active Partners like Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Israel bear the burden of hosting the conference most frequently. Ownership of the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension through hosting the conference and originating initiatives remains an ideal that the partnership should aspire to. However, it is not unprecedented that participating States would host the conference. Previous Mediterranean seminars were hosted by Greece (2002), Croatia (2001), Slovenia (2000), and Malta (1998), prior to the elevation of the event to a “conference” by the Greek chairmanship of the OSCE in 2008. Participating States have offered to host the upcoming 2010 conference. Proceeding with an established venue earlier in the year may provide for more time for substantive topic development. Such a deviation from Mediterranean Partner ownership of the event should be seen as an exception until a more appropriate mechanism for rotating the responsibility of hosting the conference is devised.

The 2009 Mediterranean Conference was well executed by the Egyptian government, especially considering the short time between their final commitment to do so and the date of the event. However, NGO participation was notably missing. The 2008 OSCE Mediterranean Conference in Amman featured a session for NGOs from throughout the Mediterranean region on the day prior to the conference and subsequently included a robust NGO presence during the conference proceedings. OSCE Participating States led by the United States made extra-budgetary contributions to the OSCE Partnership Fund to help facilitate a robust NGO presence. International organization representatives that were invited to present on the session panels in the 2009 Cairo conference were among the few non-governmental participants present. It is true that participating States lack the wherewithal to contribute annually to facilitate an NGO presence especially given global fiscal challenges. However, exploring partnerships with appropriate foundations, endowments, and institutions involved in Euro-Mediterranean engagement may result in a consistent and strong NGO presence at events within the OSCE Mediterranean Dimension.

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  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest May 2022

  • Supporting Ukrainian Refugees

    More than 6 million Ukrainians have had to flee their country due to Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Most have entered bordering EU states, with more than half of those going to Poland. Poland and other frontline countries acted swiftly not only by opening their borders to Ukrainians, but also by enacting policies and legislation to provide them with temporary status, housing, job training, healthcare, and access to education. For its part, the Biden Administration announced that it will take in 100,000 refugees, opening a path for Ukrainians to obtain humanitarian parole in the United States. In addition, the United States has provided significant humanitarian assistance and support to countries hosting refugees. Nevertheless, as Russia’s bloody assault on Ukraine enters its third month, there is no end in sight to what has become the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Witnesses discussed the responses and challenges that frontline countries face in supporting Ukrainian refugees and how the United States might strengthen its policies in response, including by making the process of applying for visas more efficient.   Related Information Witness Biographies

  • Support for Ukrainian Refugees to Be Discussed at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: SUPPORTING UKRAINIAN REFUGEES U.S. Policy and Visa Issuance Wednesday, May 25, 2022 2:30 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission More than 6 million Ukrainians have had to flee their country due to Russia’s brutal war of aggression. Most have entered bordering EU states, with more than half of those going to Poland. Poland and other frontline countries acted swiftly not only by opening their borders to Ukrainians, but also by enacting policies and legislation to provide them with temporary status, housing, job training, healthcare, and access to education. For its part, the Biden Administration announced that it will take in 100,000 refugees, opening a path for Ukrainians to obtain humanitarian parole in the United States. In addition, the United States has provided significant humanitarian assistance and support to countries hosting refugees. Nevertheless, as Russia’s bloody assault on Ukraine enters its third month, there is no end in sight to what has become the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Witnesses will discuss the responses and challenges that frontline countries face in supporting Ukrainian refugees and how the United States might strengthen its policies in response, including by making the process of applying for visas more efficient. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1 Dana Francis, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration,U.S. Department of State (TBC) Panel 2 H. E. Marek Magierowski, Ambassador of Poland to the United States Irina Manelis, Esq., Principal, Manelis Law

  • Swiss Release Some Frozen Russian Assets

    The Swiss government on Thursday reported 6.3 billion Swiss francs ($6.33 billion) worth of Russian assets frozen under sanctions to punish Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, a drop from early April as around 3.4 billion francs in provisionally blocked assets were released. The figure marked a decrease from roughly 7.5 billion Swiss francs in funds the government reported frozen on April 7. Government official Erwin Bollinger pointed to fewer funds -- 2.2 billion francs -- newly frozen than those that had been released. read more "We can't freeze funds if we do not have sufficient grounds," Bollinger, a senior official at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) agency overseeing sanctions, told journalists. Pressure has increased on Switzerland -- a popular destination for Moscow's elite and a holding place for Russian wealth -- to more quickly identify and freeze assets of hundreds of sanctioned Russians. read more The U.S. Helsinki Commission, a government-funded independent commission which looks at security, cooperation and human rights issues in Europe, in early May called Switzerland "a leading enabler of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his cronies", who the commission said used "Swiss secrecy laws to hide and protect the proceeds of their crimes". The Swiss government rejected the accusations "in the strongest possible terms", while Swiss President Ignazio Cassis had requested the U.S. government "correct this misleading impression immediately" during a telephone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Swiss banks hold up to $213 billion of Russian wealth, Switzerland's bank lobby estimates, with its two largest lenders UBS (UBSG.S) and Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) each holding tens of billions of francs for wealthy Russian clients. read more Credit Suisse alone froze some 10.4 billion Swiss francs of that money through March under sanctions imposed in connection with the invasion. read more Credit Suisse's reporting did not make clear how much of that money was frozen in Switzerland. While banks and asset managers can provisionally freeze funds, SECO officials on Thursday said funds needed to be released if they could not establish the assets were directly owned or controlled by a sanctioned individual. "The amount of assets frozen is not a measure of how effectively sanctions are being implemented," Bollinger said, adding asset freezes were "by far" not the most important measure in a wide-ranging packet of sanctions. ($1 = 0.9948 Swiss francs)

  • Helsinki Commissioners Lead Bipartisan Ask for Biden to Sanction Russians Responsible for Jailing Opposition Leader Vladimir Kara-Murza

    WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), author of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission), along with Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (MS) and Commissioners Senators Jeanne Shaheen (NH) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) are urging President Joe Biden to publicly sanction “every Russian official and associate involved with the false arrest, detention, and political persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza.” The lawmakers made the plea last week in a letter that also was signed by U.S. Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chair of the Helsinki Commission; Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member of the Helsinki Commission; Gerald Connolly (VA-11); John Curtis (UT-03); Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Ruben Gallego (AZ-07); Richard Hudson NC-08); Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18); Marcy Kaptur (OH-09); Bill Keating (MA-09); Adam Kinzinger (IL-16); Tom Malinowski (NJ-07); Peter Meijer (MI-03); Mike Levin (CA-49); Gwen Moore (WI-044); Burgess Owens (UT-04); Katie Porter (CA-45); Maria Elvira Salazar (FL-27); Abigail Spanberger (VA-07); and Marc Veasey (TX-33). “Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician who has long stood up against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He embodies what Russia might be one day when it is democratic and free,” the lawmakers wrote. “As Russia loses its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, we must consider what might come next in that country. Kara-Murza offers a vision of a Russia free from imperialist kleptocracy. He has bravely answered the call of many Ukrainians for Russians to take a stand and oppose this bloody and senseless war. He must be immediately freed and allowed to continue his work.” The full letter is below and can be downloaded at this link. President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear President Biden, We urge you to name and sanction every Russian official and associate involved with the false arrest, detention, and political persecution of Vladimir Kara-Murza. Kara-Murza is a Russian opposition politician who has long stood up against Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He embodies what Russia might be one day when it is democratic and free. We also urge you to examine whether to sanction those involved in the persecution and imprisonment of other Russian political prisoners. Kara-Murza is a Russian patriot who has fought for decades for democracy in Russia and a prosperous future for his country. For this, the regime in Russia has poisoned him twice. On April 11, while in Russia, Kara-Murza called this regime “a regime of murderers.” He was then arrested, and now faces trumped up charges that may result in years of unjust imprisonment. Kara-Murza was the key Russian activist behind the passage of the Magnitsky Act and its adoption by our allies. The late Senator John McCain called him “one of the most passionate and effective advocates for the passage of the Magnitsky Act.” Kara-Murza himself, like his mentor Boris Nemtsov before him, has called the Magnitsky Act the most “pro-Russian law passed in the United States in the history of our countries.” Nemtsov was murdered in front of the Kremlin. The Magnitsky Act is the appropriate tool to sanction those involved in the persecution of Kara-Murza. We ask that you coordinate with our allies to sanction these individuals at the same time. The European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia now all have Magnitsky sanctions laws of their own. As Russia loses its brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, we must consider what might come next in that country. Kara-Murza offers a vision of a Russia free from imperialist kleptocracy. He has bravely answered the call of many Ukrainians for Russians to take a stand and oppose this bloody and senseless war. He must be immediately freed and allowed to continue his work. Sincerely,

  • Lithuania Becomes First to Designate Russia as Terrorist State

    Lithuania's parliament on Tuesday designated Russia as a terrorist country and recognized its actions in Ukraine as genocide. Why it matters: In doing so, Lithuania has become the first country in the world to designate Russia as a sponsor and executor of terrorism, Ukraine's Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security tweeted. State of play: Lithuania's unicameral parliament adopted the two-pronged resolution unanimously, per a statement posted to its Facebook page. "The war against Ukraine by the Russian Federation is a genocide of the Ukrainian nation carried out by Russia. The Russian Federation is a country that supports and executes terrorism," the statement read. What they're saying: The resolution stated that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukrainian cities such as Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Borodyanka and Hostomel, Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) reported. The parliament "recognizes the full-scale armed aggression – war – against Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation and its political and military leadership ... as genocide against the Ukrainian people," it added. The resolution also stated that Russia, "whose military forces deliberately and systematically target civilian targets, is a state that supports and perpetrates terrorism." The big picture: Last week, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova told the U.S. Helsinki Commission that Russia had committed nearly 10,000 war crimes over the course of the war. Russian forces have deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure such as hospitals. Last month, Sima Bahous, the United Nations executive director for women, told the UN Security Council that reports of human trafficking, rape and other sexual violence in Ukraine were increasing. President Biden said last month that Russia was committing genocide in Ukraine.

  • Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

    Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, including a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of children were sheltering and the Kramatorsk rail station where thousands were waiting to escape the Russian onslaught. The withdrawal of Russian troops from towns like Bucha, Chernihiv, and Sumy has revealed horrific scenes of civilian carnage, mass graves, and reports of rape and torture. Several world leaders have accused Russia of committing genocide against the people of Ukraine. In March, 45 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states began proceedings to “establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity…and to collect, consolidate, and analyze this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability mechanisms.”  The resulting report, issued on April 14, found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces” and recommended further investigations to “establish individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.” The Government of Ukraine, Ukrainian NGOs, and the International Criminal Court are collecting evidence for use in future legal proceedings. Witnesses at the hearing discussed the findings of the OSCE report, examined evidence being collected to document Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and analyzed paths to bring perpetrators to justice.   Related Information Witness Biographies  

  • Co-Chairman Cohen Condemns Lavrov’s Antisemitic Comments

    WASHINGTON—In response to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's recent antisemitic comments regarding Ukraine’s president and the people of Ukraine more generally, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “In a despicable attempt to justify Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, including well-documented indiscriminate murders of civilians, including children; torture; and rape of women, children and also men, Lavrov stooped to the basest antisemitism by claiming that Hitler had Jewish heritage and President Zelensky, although Jewish, can still be a Nazi and Ukraine a Nazi state. “By outrageously restating the false and offensive tropes of Holocaust denial and claiming that Jews are the worst antisemites—all while Russian forces commit genocide against the Ukrainian people at the behest of Vladimir Putin—Lavrov and the state he represents show that they are clearly disconnected from reality, morality, humanity, and sensitivity, and that they have no problem embracing the very ideology they claim to rebuke so long as it serves their propaganda. “Comparing President Zelensky to Hitler should be shocking. Unfortunately, this level of depravity is consistent with the reprehensible, repugnant, and reptilian conduct of Putin’s government. Such comments are no longer surprising as we witness Putin’s bloody attempt to destroy the people of Ukraine.” Co-Chairman Cohen, in his capacity as Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), along with other Helsinki Commission leaders, recently urged the OSCE PA to adopt a declaration by the parliament of Ukraine that recognizes Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide.

  • Helsinki Commission Regrets Closure of OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—On April 28, the OSCE announced that Russia had definitively forced the closure of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine, following its veto of the mission’s mandated activities as of April 1. In light of this announcement, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “Moscow’s choice to force the closure of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine is only its latest offense against the rules-based international order. The brave monitors and staff who served the mission, in place since 2014, did exactly what they were supposed to do. Despite continual harassment and under constant threat, they reported objectively on ceasefire violations, informing the international community about the brutal reality of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The monitors’ clear and continuous reporting allowed the world to draw its own conclusions about the roots of Russia’s aggression. Moscow’s move to force the mission to close only underlines its desire to hide this ugly fact. “As we commend the service of these brave monitors and condemn Russia’s obstruction, we renew our call on Moscow to immediately release all Ukrainian SMM staff members who have been detained in occupied parts of Ukraine. “We also mourn the recent loss of Maryna Fenina, a Ukrainian national serving with the SMM who was killed by Russia’s shelling in Kharkiv on March 1, and we will never forget American paramedic Joseph Stone, who was killed while serving in support of the mission when his vehicle struck a landmine in Russian-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine on April 23, 2017.” The SMM was established in 2014 as an unarmed, civilian mission and served as the international community’s eyes and ears on the security and humanitarian situation in the conflict zone. It operated under a mandate adopted by consensus among the 57 OSCE participating States, including the United States, Russia, and Ukraine.

  • Helsinki Commission Digital Digest April 2022

  • Russian War Crimes in Ukraine to Be Discussed at Helsinki Commission Hearing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: RUSSIAN WAR CRIMES IN UKRAINE Wednesday, May 4, 2022 NEW TIME: 2:00 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Well-documented Russian bombings and missile strikes in Ukraine have decimated hospitals, schools, and apartment buildings, including a theater in Mariupol where hundreds of children were sheltering and the Kramatorsk rail station where thousands were waiting to escape the Russian onslaught. The withdrawal of Russian troops from towns like Bucha, Chernihiv, and Sumy has revealed horrific scenes of civilian carnage, mass graves, and reports of rape and torture. Several world leaders have accused Russia of committing genocide against the people of Ukraine. In March, 45 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states began proceedings to “establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity…and to collect, consolidate, and analyze this information with a view to presenting it to relevant accountability mechanisms.”  The resulting report, issued on April 14, found “clear patterns of international humanitarian law violations by the Russian forces” and recommended further investigations to “establish individual criminal responsibility for war crimes.” The Government of Ukraine, Ukrainian NGOs, and the International Criminal Court are collecting evidence for use in future legal proceedings. Witnesses at the hearing will discuss the findings of the OSCE report, examine evidence being collected to document Russian war crimes in Ukraine, and analyze paths to bring perpetrators to justice.   The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1: OSCE Experts Wolfgang Benedek, Professor of International Law (ret.), University of Graz Veronika Bílková, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Charles University in Prague Marco Sassoli, Professor of International Law, University of Geneva Panel 2 Beth Van Schaack, U.S. Ambassador at Large for Global Criminal Justice Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University; Permanent Fellow, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna Iryna Venediktova, Prosecutor General, Ukraine

  • Following in the Footsteps of Tsar Nicholas II

    As Vladimir Putin attempts to turn back the clock to the Russian Empire of the pre-Soviet era, he also adopts a tool of political manipulation used in Imperial Russia—fostering violent extremist organizations as a means to a political end. Tsar Nicholas II used this technique with terrorist organizations like the Union of the Russian People and the Black Hundreds, and Putin follows his example today with the Russian Imperial Movement and Imperial Legion. The Russian Imperial Movement Putin advances his political agenda by allowing the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM)—a white supremacist extremist organization based in St. Petersburg—to freely exist and operate in Russia and beyond. RIM holds ultranationalist and monarchist views and believes in two pillars of authority: the political power of the tsar and the spiritual power of the Russian Orthodox Church. The U.S. State Department labeled RIM a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity in April of 2020, making them the first white supremacist extremist organization to receive the title. RIM received the designation due, in part, to their paramilitary training course, Partizan. The course—ostensibly teaching survival skills, marksmanship, and hand-to-hand combat—functions as RIM’s citizen-to-terrorist pipeline. Attendees have gone on to join RIM’s paramilitary unit, the Imperial Legion, and fight alongside pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. And Russians are not the only ones enrolling. In 2016, two members of Sweden’s largest neo-Nazi organization, the Nordic Resistance Movement, bombed a café and a migrant center and attempted to bomb a refugee center in Gothenburg, Sweden. The subsequent investigation discovered that the bombers were trained at Partizan. RIM has attempted to broaden its network beyond Europe. American neo-Nazi Matthew Heimbach, former head of the Traditionalist Workers Party, met with RIM representatives, and RIM offered paramilitary training to organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. There are also reports that members of the Imperial Legion fought in conflict areas in Syria and Libya. The Russian Imperial Movement is vocally anti-Putin, decrying him and his regime. Despite this criticism and RIM’s monarchist beliefs, Putin has been lenient toward the group and allows it to operate as long as its attention remains turned away from domestic politics. Though reinstatement of a tsar remains a foundational pillar of RIM’s doctrine, it is not their main selling point. Dr. Anna Kruglova, a lecturer in Terrorism Studies at the University of Salford, finds RIM’s large web following surprising “since the group has a relatively narrow agenda—monarchist ideas are not particularly popular in Russia as only 8 percent of Russian people would want monarchy restored, according to one poll.” RIM’s appeal for potential members and Putin himself lies in its vicious ethno-nationalism. RIM demands that Russia maintain influence over all territories where ethnic Russians reside, particularly in Ukraine. For instance, Partizan-trained Russians fought alongside pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine in 2014 as members of the Imperial Legion. In the words of Denis Gariev, an instructor at Partizan, “We see Ukrainian-ness as rabies. A person is sick. Either quarantine, liquidation, or he’ll infect everyone.” Putin also values RIM as a tool to sow discord in the West. RIM supports and collaborates with other white supremacist extremist organizations, even in the United States, and trains individuals like the Swedish NRM bombers. RIM is convenient for Putin: it poses no real threat as a monarchist organization yet benefits his attempts to colonize Ukraine and destabilize the West. The Union of the Russian People The Union of the Russian People (Soyuz russkovo naroda, or SRN) was a right-wing, fanatically anti-Semitic political movement active in the 1900s. They came to prominence in the wake of the Russo-Japanese war. After the Russian Empire’s devastating defeat, there was such discontent and domestic unrest that strikes and mutinies flooded the empire, forcing Tsar Nicholas II to enact constitutional reforms. This moment, known as the 1905 Revolution, left the Russian Empire shaken and greatly polarized. Fears that the imperial system would collapse led to a rise in reactionary extreme right-wing ideologies and groups, one of which was SRN. Members of SRN and its paramilitary branch, the Black Hundred, were fervent monarchists and bore the colors of the Romanov family—the reigning imperial dynasty in Russia from 1613 to 1917—as their insignia. They also had deep ideological connections with the Russian Orthodox Church and identified Jews as the source of all evil in Russia. From 1905 to 1906, the Black Hundred carried out relentless pogroms, killing hundreds of Jews across the Russian Empire. The ruling class at the time held mixed opinions on SRN, ranging from hesitance to fanaticism. Lower-ranking officials viewed the Black Hundred’s pogroms as a convenient way to keep Jewish and ethnic minority populations in their place. The tsar called them a “shining example of justice and order to all men.” SRN was a convenient political tool for the tsar. Tsar Nicholas II believed anti-Semitism united people behind the government, and that Jewish capitalism and Jewish socialism were revolutionary forces that threatened his regime. In this way, SRN and the Black Hundred, while too radical for many members of the Duma and the public, served the tsar’s political interests. Utilizing extremism as a political weapon is not a new tool in Russia’s repertoire. As Putin harkens back to a grand Imperial history and conducts brutal military invasions into former Soviet states, like Ukraine, and political invasions of others, like Belarus, he demands comparison to the power-grasping techniques of the past. As Tsar Nicholas II’s grip on power loosened with civil unrest in the Russian Empire, he supported extremism to preserve his regime. Putin repeats this pattern today as he lets the Russian Imperial Movement and the Imperial Legion train neo-Nazis to wreak havoc and terror in the West.

  • Helsinki Commission Leaders Condemn Detention of OSCE Officials by Russian-Led Forces in Ukraine

    WASHINGTON—Following the detention of four Ukrainian nationals serving as members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine who reportedly were accused of illegal activities including treason and espionage, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Members Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) and Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “The targeting and detention of OSCE officials by Russian-controlled forces is utterly unacceptable. Those detained must be released immediately. We will hold Russian officials responsible for any mistreatment they suffer.” On April 24, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed that four Ukrainian staff members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) had been detained and held “for engaging in administrative activities that fall within their official functions as OSCE staff.”   The SMM had served a critical function as the eyes and ears of the international community in the conflict zone since 2014, until a Russian veto forced its mandated activities to cease on April 1. Since then, Ukrainian mission members had been carrying out minimum necessary administrative tasks focused on efforts to ensure the safety and security of its mission members, assets, and premises throughout Ukraine, including in Russian-controlled areas.

  • Helsinki Commission Urges OSCE PA to Adopt Ukrainian Declaration Recognizing Russia’s Actions as Genocide

    WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), who serves as Head of the U.S. Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), along with other Helsinki Commissioners who hold leadership roles in the commission and the OSCE PA, today released a letter urging the assembly to adopt a declaration by the parliament of Ukraine that recognizes Russia’s actions in Ukraine as genocide. Co-Chairman Cohen was joined in the letter to OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt by Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), who serves as the OSCE PA Special Representative on Anti-Semitism, Racism and Intolerance; Senate Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), who serves as an OSCE PA vice-president; Commissioner Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-08), who chairs the OSCE PA Committee on Political Affairs and Security; and House Ranking Member Joe Wilson (SC-02). The letter read in part: “It is clear to us that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and his military regime are engaging in acts of genocide against Ukraine and its people and we urge the OSCE PA to also endorse the Rada’s declaration and issue a similar statement. “We do not come to this conclusion lightly, and we recognize the importance of precision in employing such terminology. However, given the overwhelming evidence—from Putin and his regime’s many comments denying the existence of Ukrainian nationhood and the deliberate targeting of civilians, to the wholesale destruction of Mariupol, the mass graves that now pockmark Ukrainian lands, and reports of forced deportation of Ukrainian people including children to Russia where they are being indoctrinated in “reeducation camps” in attempts to destroy Ukrainian identity—we cannot be silent. The OSCE PA must raise its voice and speak with unity and unmitigated clarity about the unspeakable horrors that are unfolding in Ukraine and be truthful about what is happening there… “Given Russia’s disregard for the 10 Helsinki principles guiding relations between participating States, its manipulation of OSCE rules for its own destructive ends, and its encouragement of neighboring Belarus to be complicit in its war crimes and genocidal actions, the Parliamentary Assembly should make clear where we as a credible body stand. Russia’s horrific war of choice in Ukraine and this unfolding genocide must be described just as it is.” The full letter is available online.

  • Debunking “Denazification”

    By Worth Talley, Max Kampelman Fellow​ On February 24, 2022, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine—in reality, a Russian invasion designed to subjugate the democratic, peaceful people of Ukraine. When the news broke, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen immediately decried the statement. “Like Mr. Zelensky, I am Jewish; Nazis kill Jews,” he said. Putin’s claim of “denazification,” not only patently false, borders on incoherent to a Western audience, which immediately links Nazism with antisemitism and the Holocaust and thus understands the “denazification” of a country led by a Jewish president to be impossible.   The real nature of Putin’s claim is clear: it is a fallacious attempt to drum up domestic support for his war of aggression in Ukraine designed to resonate with a Russian audience. Putin draws on the Soviet myth of the Great Patriotic War in an attempt to validate his invasion and to obscure the true nature of his war—an attack on Ukrainian identity—under the guise of a mission against Nazism. Within this historical footing, Russians can accept the “denazification” of Ukraine precisely because the myth, like other holdovers from Soviet policy, deemphasizes antisemitism’s connection to Nazism and reimagines Nazism primarily as an attack on Soviet and Russian identities, not Jewish ethnicity. The Great Patriotic War World War II occupies a central place in Russian historical memory. The Russian conception of the Great Patriotic War has existed in multiple formulations since the defeat of Nazi Germany, but it consistently centers the role of the Soviet people in defeating Nazism, placing equal emphasis on Soviet victory and on the suffering and sacrifices of the Soviet people. In fact, the Great Patriotic War begins in 1941—rather than 1939—with Nazi Germany’s invasion of the USSR under Operation Barbarossa. The fact that the Great Patriotic War is the term commonly used for World War II by Russians obscures the nature of Russian involvement in the war prior to 1941. This state-sponsored narrative eschews a nuanced understanding of Soviet participation in the Second World War, particularly of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and of the Soviet atrocities committed in Poland and the Baltics during that period of non-aggression between the 1939 pact and the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The Law Against the Rehabilitation of Nazism, signed into law by Putin in 2014, effectively criminalizes speech regarding these Soviet actions. As the Great Patriotic War emphasizes Soviet anguish, it glosses over the suffering of Jews and other minorities and even the Holocaust itself. Soviet policy historically downplayed the centrality of the Holocaust by centering a collective, Soviet suffering over a particular, Jewish one. Furthermore, denouncing the antisemitic core of Nazism would have directly contradicted the Soviet Union’s own state-sponsored antisemitism. The Holocaust, particularly the millions of deaths that occurred in Soviet territory, was written off in Soviet historical narratives as a crime against the (ethnically ambiguous) Soviet citizenry. For example, the Soviet memorial at Babyn Yar—a site in Kyiv, formerly in the Soviet Union, where 33,000 Jews were murdered by Nazi troops and Ukrainian collaborators over the course of two days—featured an inscription to the “peaceful Soviet citizens” that died there, insinuating that the site formed part of a collective, Soviet suffering rather than acknowledging it as a site of antisemitic genocide. The myth of the Great Patriotic War thus classifies the actions of Ukrainians who collaborated with the Nazis—such as Stepan Bandera and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists—primarily as a crime against the Soviet people, with the antisemitic actions and beliefs of these Ukrainians nationalists occupying a secondary—or altogether irrelevant—level of importance. Nonetheless, the collaboration of some Ukrainian nationalists with Nazis during World War II has allowed the Kremlin, through a peculiar melding of myth and reality, to conflate Nazism with the very development of Ukrainian national identity (though, of course, Ukrainian national identity is not synonymous with Nazism, nor did it only begin to develop during the Second World War). Language Laws and Russian Rhetoric As Ukraine has distanced itself from Russian political influence, establishing a distinct national identity has become of a question of greater importance—particularly considering the stifled development of such an identity under the Soviet Union. Putin’s current, baseless, claims of genocide against Russian speakers in Donetsk and Luhansk occur against the backdrop of Ukrainian language laws, which make Ukrainian the country’s sole official language and set forth requirements for the use of Ukrainian in education and media. The most recent of these laws, passed in 2019, was met with harsh criticism from Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who termed it “a law of forced Ukrainization,” and with skepticism from Volodymyr Zelensky, then the president-elect of Ukraine and himself a native Russian speaker. In an earlier reaction to such legislation, Zakharova claimed that “Ukraine uses language genocide on a state level,” echoing the rhetoric of genocide now used by the Kremlin to justify its invasion. Zakharova’s statements recall Soviet policy against Ukrainian national identity. Her use of the term “Ukrainization” echoes the use of the same term under Stalin in a 1932 decree to combat the growth of Ukrainian language and culture (i.e. “Ukrainization”). This decree was issued during the beginning of Holodomor—the genocide against Ukrainians, which began as an unintentional famine yet was retooled by Stalin to deliberately kill millions of Ukrainians. In this sense, contemporary Kremlin claims of “Ukrainization” and “language genocide” toward Russian speakers in Ukraine recall Stalin’s policies of both cultural and literal genocide directed at Ukrainians and Ukrainian national identity. Now, through the distorted lens of the Great Patriotic War and other Soviet policy, the Kremlin misrepresents the development of Ukrainian national identity as a crime against Russian speakers. Analysis of this historical manipulation, however, lays bare the reality of the war as an act of flagrant aggression committed against Ukrainians intended to destroy their culture and identity.

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