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Background: OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine
Monday, April 24, 2017

By Alex Tiersky, Global Security and Political-Military Affairs Advisor

On April 23, 2017, the OSCE announced that a U.S. paramedic serving in the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine had been killed when his vehicle struck an explosive – likely a landmine – in separatist controlled territory in eastern Ukraine. Two other SMM personnel, from Germany and the Czech Republic, were also injured in the incident.

What is the OSCE SMM?

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine was established in 2014, to monitor implementation of the Minsk agreements designed to bring peace to eastern Ukraine. The SMM operates under a mandate adopted by consensus among the 57 OSCE participating States, including the United States, Russia and Ukraine. 

Currently fielding roughly 700 monitors, nearly 600 of whom are in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the SMM is an unarmed, civilian mission that serves as the international community’s eyes and ears in the conflict zone. The Mission has some notable achievements, including regular reporting on the near-constant ceasefire violations, as well as the humanitarian needs of the population struggling in the conflict zone.  It has also sought to bring the sides together on weapons withdrawals and demining, as well as working towards agreements to fix power and water lines in the conflict area.

However, Mission personnel face regular and sometimes violent harassment by combined Russian-separatist forces, who seek to limit the SMM’s access to the areas they control.  The attacks have made the environment in which Mission personnel operate increasingly volatile and dangerous, a fact tragically underlined by the incident on April 23.  In addition to this harassment, the SMM has faced limits imposed by the Russian-backed separatists including denial of access to the Ukrainian-Russian border, as well as jamming or downing of the OSCE’s unmanned aerial vehicles, critical tools for maintaining a clear operational picture.

What is the U.S. Position?

The United States supports the SMM and its monitors by providing personnel (roughly 75 Americans, making it the largest national contributor) and resources to the mission. The U.S. also supports the SMM by pushing Russia to end the separatists’ obstructions.  Since the April 23 incident, the U.S. has reiterated its call for full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, particularly by the Russian-led separatist forces who are most responsible for the threats to the SMM.  The U.S. has pushed for the sides to move towards a real and durable ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons, and disengagement from the line of contact, as well as safe, full, and unfettered access throughout the conflict zone for the SMM monitors.

The U.S. Helsinki Commission has consistently upheld Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, including through support of the efforts of the SMM in Ukraine, and called for full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, in particular underlining Russia’s responsibility in ensuring that the separatists make verifiable and irreversible progress on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The latest incident must not only be fully investigated; it is a reminder of the urgent need for progress on full implementation of the Minsk Agreements, including a cease-fire and withdrawal of weapons.

 

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    This hearing assessed the progress towards peace made in Northern Ireland and discussed ways to ensure the sustainability of the peace.  Witnesses condemned the British government for backtracking on the Good Friday Agreement, as well as the United States for not putting enough pressure on Great Britain. Witnesses identified the murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, whose widow Geraldine was in attendance, as an obstacle to peace.

  • More Democratic Setbacks in Ukraine

    Mr. Speaker, last week, former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko was sentenced to four years imprisonment in yet another politically motivated trial. This comes after the imprisonment--also the result of an unfair trial on specious charges--of his ally, former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who continues to languish in prison in ill health. The sentencing of Mr. Lutsenko is a further confirmation that the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych is not taking its OSCE human rights and democracy obligations seriously. The imprisonment of opposition leaders Tymoshenko and Lutsenko prohibits their participation in October's parliamentary elections, raising serious questions about whether Ukraine will meet OSCE election standards. This could be especially troubling given Ukraine's assumption of the OSCE Chairmanship in January, 2013, two months after these elections. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, it is also of concern to me and my colleagues, who have long advocated an independent, democratic, and free Ukraine. Mr. Lutsenko's conviction is disconcerting in that it starkly illustrates the deterioration of human rights, democracy and the rule of law under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, who has pressed the pause button on Ukraine's once-promising advance towards democracy--and increasingly it seems he is switching to the reverse button. Instead, what we now see is something increasingly reminiscent of the kind of authoritarianism that exists in Russia, Belarus and elsewhere in the post-Soviet space. Ukraine's democratic backsliding is harming relations with the EU and the United States, and both have repeatedly made clear that for relations to improve, respect for human rights and the democratic process must improve. Most importantly, this now two-year deterioration negatively affects the Ukrainian people, who, following the Orange Revolution, had tasted the fruits of freedom, and are now increasingly experiencing the burden of its undoing. It is time for President Yanukovych to show respect for the dignity of his own people by putting an end to political prosecutions and other reprisals against those who oppose him and allow their full participation in political life. In order to find credibility with both the Ukrainian people and the international community, he must end restrictions on freedom of speech and association and reverse the debilitating corruption and judicial subservience to the executive which has so eroded the rule of law. Mr. Speaker, the time has come for the Ukrainian authorities to stop their slide to authoritarianism and resulting isolation which will only harm Ukrainians who for so long--and at such great cost--have struggled for freedom, dignity and justice. 

  • Healing the Wounds of Conflict and Disaster: Clarifying the Fate of Missing Persons in the OSCE Area

    The hearing examined efforts by governments and their partners in clarifying the fate of persons missing within a number of OSCE participating States and partner countries, especially in the western Balkans and northern Caucasus. The hearing also appraised the adequacy of assistance to governments and other entities engaged in locating missing persons, the obstacles that impede progress in some areas, as well as how rule of law mechanisms help governments fulfill their obligations to the affected families and society in clarifying the fate of missing persons. Currently, over a million persons are reported missing from wars and violations of human rights. In addition, there are thousands of reported cases a year of persons missing from trafficking, drug-related violence, and other causes. Locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, trafficking in humans and human rights violations and other causes remains a global challenge, with significant impact within the OSCE area.

  • Dispatches From Moscow: Luke Harding’s Chilling Tale of KGB Harassment

    This briefing, moderated by Kyle Parker, Policy Advisor at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, addressed issues of human rights abuses in Russia in the context of the then imminent elections and widespread protests. The witness – Luke Harding, a journalist with the Guardian – remarked on Russia’s human rights abuses which blatantly ignore their commitments to the Helsinki Accords, citing anecdotal evidence. Harding, who had been the only Guardian correspondent to have actually reported from Russia since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, had suffered more at the hands of the FSB than any other Western correspondent, due to the fact that, during his four year tenure in Moscow, he comprehensively and repetitively busted Russia’s taboos that make it the security state it is today.

  • Moldova: The Growing Pains of Democracy

    In this briefing, which Commission Staffer Kyle Parker chaired, the focus was on the progress on the implementation of democratic institutions in the former Soviet Republic of Moldova. The briefing took place on the heels of the December elections in the region of Transnistria and what such elections may have portended for the future in terms of normalization of the conflict in the region that had existed for twenty years at the time of the briefing. To be sure, at the time that the briefing was held, Moldova still had a lot of progress to make regarding human rights commitments, particularly as far as corruption and human trafficking were concerned, two intertwined issues that had been of particular interest to the Commission. However, as far as human rights commitments are concerned, Moldova has led the countries of the commonwealth of independent states.

  • The OSCE 2011 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    By Erika B. Schlager, Counsel for International Law Overview From September 26 to October 7, 2011, the OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The meeting was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 56 participating States. The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights gathering and provides a venue for participating States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to review the implementation of the full range of core human rights and fundamental freedoms (e.g., freedoms of speech, assembly and association; prevention of torture; right to a fair trial), as well as rule of law, free elections and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, tolerance and non-discrimination are also on the agenda. In accordance with OSCE procedures, the agenda included three specially selected topics, each of which was given a full day of review. In 2011, those subjects were: 1) “Democratic elections and electoral observation,” 2) “Freedom of movement,” and 3) “Enhancing implementation of OSCE commitments regarding Roma and Sinti.” U.S. Delegation The U.S. Delegation was headed by Ambassador David Johnson. Other members of the delegation included Ambassador Ian Kelly, Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE; Ambassador Cynthia Efird, Senior State Department Advisor to the Helsinki Commission; Ambassador Suzan Johnson Cook, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Thomas Melia. Helsinki Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work. Patrick Merloe, National Democratic Institute, Kathleen Newland, Migration Policy Institute, and Ethel Brooks, Rutgers University, served as Public Members of the delegation, addressing democratic elections, freedom of movement, and the situation of Romani people in the OSCE region respectively. Public Members have traditionally been included in U.S. delegations to OSCE human dimension meetings as a means of bringing special expertise to the U.S. delegations and to promote greater knowledge of the OSCE process in civil society. Highlights of This Year’s Meeting The severe crackdown in Belarus which followed elections last December was a focus of attention throughout the two-week meeting, both in formal sessions and special side events. During the final session, the United States delivered a statement focused on the use of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Belarus -- an OSCE tool used in exceptional circumstances to conduct fact-finding regarding extreme human rights concerns. The mechanism had been invoked in April by 14 participating States and a report was presented to the OSCE Permanent Council by the Mechanism Rapporteur, Professor Emmanuel Decaux, on May 28. NGOs also demonstrated throughout the meeting on behalf of Belarusian political prisoner Alex Bielatskiy. The United States also raised issues which remain unresolved following the 2003 invocation of the Moscow Mechanism regarding Turkmenistan. In particular, Ambassador Johnson drew attention to the continued disappearance of Ambassador Batyr Berdiev, the former representative of Turkmenistan to the OSCE. Although Turkmenistan officials did not to participate in the HDIM, human rights groups concerned with Turkmenistan were present and members of the opposition-in-exile made a statement expressing their willingness to return to Turkmenistan and participate in the February 2012 presidential elections. They also called for the OSCE to conduct a full election observation mission for those elections. In its opening statement, the United States observed that Kazakhstan had failed to fully implement the commitments on domestic reform it had made in 2007 in Madrid upon receiving the Chairmanship for 2010, that leading human rights activist Yevgeniy Zhovtis remained in prison as a result of a trial that lacked due process, that Kazakhstan had adopted measures in a one-party parliament giving the current president continued power and immunity from prosecution for life and had held a poorly-conducted snap presidential election following an attempt to push through a referendum to obviate future elections for the incumbent. Although Kazakhstan protested the U. S. characterization of 2010 as “a year of missed opportunities for reform,” Kazakhstan’s adoption of a new restrictive religion law during the course of the human dimension meeting illustrated the very point the United States was making. In fact, of the topics restricted to three-hour sessions, the subject of religious liberties was the most oversubscribed, with Kazakhstan’s new religion law generating particular criticism. As at previous meetings, the allocation of time during the meeting was highly problematic, with speaking time at some of the sessions limited to only one or two minutes to accommodate dozens desiring the floor, while other sessions ended early with time unused. Other real-time developments during the HDIM also found their way into discussions. Following the outbreak of fighting on September 27 at a Kosovo border crossing with Serbia, Serbian representatives at the meeting engaged in a sharply worded exchange with Albanian officials. (Serbia's engagement at the meeting was of particular note in light of Belgrade's bid to serve as OSCE Chair-in-Office in 2014.) The outbreak of anti-Roma rioting in every major Bulgarian town or city during the HDIM underscored the urgency of addressing the chronic human rights problems affecting Roma as well as the acute and escalating crises. Many participants also raised concern regarding continuing human rights abuses against ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in the wake of widespread violence last year and in advance of Kyrgyzstani elections in October. During the formal sessions, NGOs demonstrated on behalf of Kyrgyzstani political prisoner Azhimzhon Askarov. The United States engaged fully in all aspects of the meeting, holding bilateral meetings with other OSCE participating States and extensive consultations with NGOs. The United States also organized two side events. The first focused on on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Professor Louise Teitz from the Hague Permanent Bureau (an intergovernmental organization that administers this and other Hague Conventions), and Corrin Ferber from the Department of State, made presentations, with additional comments provided by Consul General Linda Hoover, U.S. Embassy Warsaw. The second event focused on fundamental freedoms in the digital age. DAS Thomas Melia moderated the discussion, which included comments by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic; Agata Waclik-Wejman, policy counsel for Google; and Nataliya Radzina, a Belarusian journalist who faces a lengthy prison sentence in Belarus. Conclusions The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting served as an important forum for the United States to raise issues of concern, both formally and informally, and to hold extensive consultations with governments, OSCE officials, and representatives of civil society. That said, this year's HDIM was somewhat diminished relative to past meetings. First, member states of the European Union appeared divided or preoccupied (or both). As a consequence, on a number of subjects – for example, the session that included migrant workers, refugees, and displaced persons -- there was neither a coordinated European Union statement nor statements by individual EU member states speaking in their national capacity. This voice was missed. Second, the level of participation on the part of governments as well as civil society was reduced. This may be in part due to economic factors. But it may also reflect other factors. Prior to the HDIM, for example, Belarus and Russia dragged out the adoption of an agenda until the last possible moment, making it especially hard for NGOs to plan their participation. In addition, OSCE has, in recent years, scheduled so many human dimension meetings throughout the year that it is difficult for government and non-governmental experts to cover them all. (In addition to the discussion of tolerance and non-discrimination at the HDIM, those issues have been or will be addressed at three different ad hoc meetings, as well as one of the Supplementary Human Dimension Implementation Meetings.) The Lithuanian Chairmanship also scheduled some meetings in Vienna during the HDIM, although the modalities call for all Vienna meetings to be suspended during the HDIM to facilitate participation by the representatives to the OSCE. Similarly, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly fall meeting overlapped with the final sessions of the HDIM. In fact, the modalities for the OSCE's human dimension activities were a dominant theme during the HDIM's closing session -- presaging the opening of discussions in Vienna on that issue held immediately after the HDIM at the insistence of Belarus. While many governments, including the U.S., believe the way in which the OSCE organizes its human dimension activities could be improved, the discussions themselves risk being held hostage by those countries inimical to the OSCE's human rights work.

  • International Human Rights Day 2011 (Cardin)

    Mr. CARDIN. Madam President, I rise today to mark International Human Rights Day, a day which celebrates the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948. In the immediate after math of World War II, and reacting with revulsion to the horrors of that global war and the Holocaust, the community of nations organized itself with the goal of protecting international peace and security. Although the United Nations founding Charter recognized the protection of human rights as one of the UN's most basic purposes, it was quickly recognized that it would be necessary to further elaborate these fundamental freedoms in order to ensure their protection. The resulting document--the Universal Declaration of Human Rights--has since served as the foundation upon which all other human rights work at the international level has stood. It remains to this day an enduring guide for human rights advocates around the globe. This has been an exciting and dramatic year that will be remembered for the triumphs of the Arab Spring. The fall of so many dictators who have been responsible for the deaths, torture, and other atrocities meted out against so many has opened up the exhilarating prospect of real reform and meaningful human rights improvements. But the final chapter of the Arab Spring has not yet been written, and nothing can be taken for granted. Progress in this field is not necessarily linear. As Ronald Reagan said in his inaugural address, "Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction.'' I believe it is especially critical, at this historic moment, for the United States to remain vigilant in the protection and promotion of human rights--abroad and at home. Overseas, the United States must continue to use our voice to speak on behalf of those silenced by brutal regimes. We must continue to lift up those who cannot stand on their own. And while we must inevitably pursue a multifaceted foreign-policy that advances American goals in a broad range of areas including hard security and the economy, we must never treat human rights as something expendable. I take particular note of the countries that stand shoulder to shoulder with us in that effort. I welcome Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski's call for a ``European endowment for democracy,'' similar to the National Endowment for Democracy which the United States has supported since 1983. I commend Poland for the leadership it has shown on human rights issues during its presidency of the European Union. In all of these efforts, the role of civil society remains critical. On the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations adopted a declaration on the rights of human rights defenders. They are the first line of defense and they often pay the highest price. There are, unfortunately, too many cases of human rights defenders who are imprisoned, persecuted or worse, for me to raise them all here. But I would like to mention one in particular that maybe emblematic of many others: the case of Evgenii Zhovtis, Kazakhstan's most well-known human rights activist. Zhovtis is the Director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law and even a member of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights' panel of experts on freedom of assembly. But he was involved in a tragic car accident in which a pedestrian was killed and, after a trial widely condemned for lacking due process, he was sentenced in 2009 to 4 years in prison. A year ago, at the OSCE Summit in Astana, civil society activists called for Zhovtis' release. As one NGO participant remarked: Evgenii is the human rights Everyman. If this can happen to him, it can happen to anyone. A year later, Evgenii Zhovtis remains in a Siberian penal colony, even as Kazakhstan prepares to host an OSCE election observation mission. In the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I once again urge President Nazarbayev to review his case and to release him. Thank you.

  • Conflicts in the Caucasus: Prospects for Resolutions

    Representative Michael Burgess led this briefing on the conflictual history in the Caucasus. Twenty years after the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the unresolved conflicts in the Caucasus remain one of its most problematic legacies. Despite the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) long mediation in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the results have been disappointing. After the 2008 Russia-Georgia war and Moscow’s subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the prospects for settling those conflicts seem more remote than ever. The witnesses examined where these conflicts stood at the end of 2011, what factors impeded a settlement,  whether the resumption of armed hostilities was a serious threat, whether changes in the negotiating format could yield  a better outcome, and what, if anything, could the United States do to facilitate a resolution.

  • Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region: Taking Stock of the Situation Today

    By most accounts, and thanks to the work of many courageous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the despicable evil of anti-Semitism has decreased in most parts of the OSCE region in recent years – but it still remains at higher levels than in 2000. This is simply unacceptable, and it was the topic discussed in this hearing. Concerns raised included political transitions in the Arab world and how they might affect Muslim-Jewish relations, including in Europe; the importance of engagement with Muslim communities in Europe; and growing nationalist and extremist movements that target religious and ethnic minorities.  Additionally the roles of the OSCE, U.S. government, and Congress in addressing continuing issues of anti-Semitism at home and abroad were discussed.

  • Human Rights Play on Magnitsky Murder

    Kyle Parker introduced the briefing, which followed a performance of the play “One Hour Eighteen,” based on the final moments in the life of Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. After exposing the largest tax fraud in Russian history, Magnitsky was wrongly arrested and tortured in prison. Six months later he became seriously ill and was consistently denied medical attention despite 20 formal requests. On the night of November 16, 2009, he went into critical condition, but instead of being treated in a hospital he was put in an isolation cell, chained to a bed, and beaten by eight prison guards for one hour and eighteen minutes. Sergei Magnitsky was 37 years old and left behind a wife and two children. Those responsible for this crime have yet to be punished and his story has become a global human rights cause and is emblematic of corruption, violence, and impunity in Russia. Parker was joined by Ury Urnov, director of “One Hour Eighteen,”  in discussing the play as an emblematic example of the devastating human cost of corruption and the lack of rule of law in Russia. The play juxtaposed the moving and chilling testimony and documents from Magnitsky's diary; a radio interview with his mother; two judges; a prison doctor and paramedic; an investigator; and a young ambulance paramedic.  

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