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Commission Hearing Looked Ahead to Maastricht Ministerial
U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE
Wednesday, December 03, 2003

By Michael Ochs
CSCE Staff Advisor

The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing on September 9, 2003 reviewing United States policy toward the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing considered the many security, economic, and humanitarian challenges facing the United States, and how the 55-member nation organization can be best utilized to address these challenges.

Testifying for the State Department were A. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and Helsinki Commission Member.

In his opening statement, Helsinki Commission Chairman, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) emphasized the important role the OSCE plays in promoting American security abroad. "The explicit and implicit connection between security and human rights, the fulcrum of the Helsinki process," he said, "has been at the center of U.S. thinking and policy since the day almost exactly two years ago when religious fanatics flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon."

At the same time, he bemoaned the lack of democratic progress throughout much of the former USSR. Particularly in Central Asia, he said, "It becomes more and more difficult to harbor expectations that the future will be better or much different than the past or even the present."

Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) expressed his appreciation to the State Department and executive branch for their willingness to work with the Commission over the years. Mr. Cardin particularly lauded the work of Ambassador Stephan M. Minikes, head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE, whose efforts, he said, helped to form a unified agenda with Congress in the OSCE. He also expressed his appreciation to the State Department, later echoed by Chairman Smith, for arranging a visit by the Commission to Guantanamo Bay that allowed Commissioners to respond to concerns raised by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly regarding humanitarian standards for detainees.

In her remarks, Assistant Secretary Jones noted two particular OSCE successes during the past year that were the result of U.S. efforts: the Vienna Anti-Semitism Conference and the new, annual Security Review Conference. She also identified the adoption of the Anti-Trafficking Action Plan as a positive development.

Secretary Jones listed several priorities for the OSCE Maastricht Ministerial, including progress on Russia's Istanbul commitments; mandating the 2004 Berlin Anti-Semitism Conference; and, addressing the pressing problems, discussed at the Security Review Conference, of travel document security and Man Portable Air Defense systems (MANPADs).

Secretary Jones identified several broad areas where the OSCE particularly serves U.S. interests: human rights and democracy promotion; conflict prevention and conflict resolution; and trans-national issues, such as human trafficking, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia, the rights of the Roma, refugees, and internally displaced persons. The United States, she said, also hoped to enhance the OSCE's police training capabilities "not only to step up anti-crime capabilities, but to deal with the human rights concerns that are related to the way police deal with civil society."

Assistant Secretary Craner began on a positive note, identifying encouraging signs throughout the region. "In a majority of the OSCE countries," he said, "we see growing and increasingly vibrant civil society groups advocating for peaceful change. The rule of law is being bolstered as countries move the administration of prisons under the auspices of the ministry of justice, and guards receive training to respect international standards."

He added, however, that there are also areas of both stagnation and backsliding in the OSCE region, all the more troubling given the numerous regional successes. "It is most disheartening," he said, "for the people of those countries who see other nations which have emerged from the Soviet empire now joining NATO and the EU and enjoying the fruits of democracy. Meanwhile, some governments remain authoritarian or unwilling to move beyond the old struggles and practices."

Secretary Craner noted troubling signs for democratization efforts throughout the former Soviet Union. Central Asian states, he said, had made little progress. Upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine would seriously affect U.S. attitudes toward that country's suitability for integration into Euro-Atlantic and European institutions. The Russian parliamentary elections in December are showing some troubling signs, while holding legitimate presidential elections in Chechnya would be extremely difficult, given the security situation there. He said, however, that such elections could potentially contribute to the end of that conflict.

Chairman Smith noted his pleasure that the sanctions list, established by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 which he sponsored, which groups countries into three tiers based on their action on the issue of human trafficking would be released the week of the hearing. He also welcomed the U.S. military's initiatives against trafficking in South Korea and hoped for similar progress in the Balkans. Secretary Craner agreed that countries were taking the sanctions law seriously, and both witnesses stated that the U.S. and British militaries were taking strong action on trafficking issues. Smith and Jones emphasized that the pressure was not off countries that made it out of the bottom tier.

On the former Yugoslavia, Assistant Secretary Jones described gradual progress at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and improved cooperation from the government in Belgrade. "The list [of war criminals] is being reduced," she said, "but it is not done yet." Commissioner Cardin, however, noted that the patience of the international community was coming to an end. Both agreed that the political leadership in Serbia seems to want to do the right thing, but needs help from the United States to reinforce their efforts.

On issues of property restitution, Secretary Jones assured the Commissioners that when she travels to pertinent countries, the issue is always on the agenda and explained that the United States has had considerable success convincing governments to take action on a bilateral basis. She also agreed with Representative Cardin that poverty and corruption make democratic development more difficult. She said that the United States would try to attack the issue through the OSCE by working hard on corruption.

Commissioner Cardin brought attention to the United States' efforts in the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly to create a mechanism extending Helsinki principles to the OSCE's Mediterranean Partners. Assistant Secretaries Jones and Craner said that the administration supported the goal but was uncertain whether the best way to accomplish it was directly through the OSCE or through a new, OSCE-like institution.

Chairman Smith then focused on the importance of "naming names" in the OSCE. He said that "one of the most vital aspects of the Helsinki process was specifically naming names" and "holding people to account," but he noted a curious reluctance to do so in the last ten years. Assistant Secretary Craner stated that the United States had indeed "named names" with regard to the situation in Belarus. The United States sponsored a resolution at the UN Commission on Human Rights putting Belarus in a category with countries like Turkmenistan and North Korea. Assistant Secretary Jones admitted that it was difficult to influence President Lukashenka of Belarus but said there were still elements of civil society in Belarus, activists in the Belarusian body politic, and free media that needed outside moral support.

Finally, Chairman Smith raised the issues of Chechnya and missing persons in the Balkans. Assistant Secretary Jones said that Chechnya was on the agenda for the Camp David summit between Bush and Putin in late September . She also indicated that the OSCE was negotiating with Russia to define a role for the organization in that conflict, ideally getting a mission back on the ground.

On the Balkans, Secretary Craner said that the United States was actively pressing governments bilaterally and through the OSCE to account for the fate of missing persons. He also highlighted the United States' support for the International Commission for Missing Persons, which is engaged in the painstakingly slow process of DNA identification. Lastly, Secretary Jones assured the Commissioners that the United States was not merely paying lip service to the concerns of minorities in Kosovo. She said, "It is a tough issue, but it nevertheless is a critical one in our policy of standards before status."

The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.


United States Helsinki Commission Intern Kevin Angle contributed to this article.

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Because violations of these commitments can endanger stability in the OSCE region, as well as within an individual country, OSCE nations also agreed to open their elections to observers from other participating countries. To encourage compliance and confidence in the results of the observation missions, countries agreed to observe elections together under the OSCE umbrella. Since the 1990s, OSCE election observers have been present at more than 300 elections throughout the OSCE region. While some OSCE countries benefit from foreign observation more than others – especially those that formerly had one-party communist systems and little experience with democracy – the OSCE also observes elections in more established and stable democracies, such as the United States, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Even these countries can benefit from consideration of the objective conclusions of those with an outside, comparative perspective.  Perhaps more important, observation across the OSCE region removes any sense of stigmatization associated with the repeated hosting of election observation missions as well as any argument against hosting by those political leaders in some countries who continue to resist holding even reasonably free and fair elections. As one of the original 35 members of the OSCE, the United States has participated actively in OSCE election observation missions, both by providing observers for foreign elections as well as by inviting the OSCE to observe every general and midterm election since 2002. Election Observation Methodology ODIHR's election monitoring methodology takes account of the situation before, during, and after an election. All aspects of the electoral process are considered, to include a review of the legal framework; the performance of elections officials; the conduct of campaigns; the media environment and equitable media access; the complaints and appeals process; voting, counting, and tabulation; and the announcement of results.  Recently, ODIHR has further expanded its methodology to explore the participation of women and national minorities. Election Observers OSCE election observation missions often are undertaken jointly by the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA). A typical election observation mission comprises around 12 core team members, as well as several dozen long-term observers and several hundred short-term observers. The missions, which combine strong technical expertise and sound political judgement, include ODIHR officials, professional analysts, parliamentarians, and others on loan from OSCE member countries. To ensure that no single country’s point of view is overrepresented, the OSCE limits the number of observers from any one country. No matter where they are from, observers commit to an election observation code of conduct, which limits their role to observing and reporting. Observers have no authority to instruct, assist, or interfere in the voting, counting, tabulation, or other aspects of the electoral process. Election Observation, Reporting, and Recommendations Ahead of the elections, observers receive briefings from the host government, political parties, civil society, and media representatives. Long-term observers also follow pre-election activities including candidate and voter registration, political campaigns, and media coverage. On Election Day, two-person teams of short-term observers fan out across the country to observe the conduct of the election, including opening of polling stations; checking whether ballot boxes are empty and properly sealed; the counting of ballots; the handling of spoiled or unused ballots; and the transmission of polling station results. Observers monitor how voters are processed, the accuracy of voter registries, and whether voters are able to vote in secret and in an environment that is free from intimidation. After the elections, long-term observers note how electoral complaints and appeals are handled. The OSCE election observation mission publishes preliminary findings immediately after the elections, with a final comprehensive report issued a few weeks later. The final report includes in-depth analysis of the election’s political context and legislative framework; election administration; voter and candidate registration; the election campaign; the media; participation of women and national minorities; and the voting, counting, and tabulation processes. Impact The OSCE methodology represents the global standard for quality election observation. By analyzing election-related laws and systems, as well as the effectiveness of their implementation, election observation missions help document whether elections in OSCE countries are free and fair for voters and candidates alike.  Its expertise has been shared with other regional organizations, and the OSCE has contributed to observation efforts outside the OSCE region. The Helsinki Commission Contribution The U.S. Helsinki Commission was the first to propose concrete commitments regarding free and fair elections more than a year before they were adopted by the OSCE in June 1990. By that time, 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. As the OSCE developed its institutional capacities in the mid-1990s, the Commission joined the efforts of an increasing number of observer teams from across the OSCE region, which evolved into the well-planned, professional election observation missions of today.  Commissioners and staff have observed well over 100 elections since 1990. More broadly speaking, the United States support OSCE observation efforts, to include deployment of civilian, parliamentary, and diplomatic observers abroad, but also supporting OSCE’s observation of domestic elections, with a focus on countries where resistance to democratic change remains the strongest. Learn More Elections: OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Election Observation: OSCE Parliamentary Assembly * Following Needs Assessment Missions designed to assess the situation and determine the scale of a potential observation activity in a particular country, election observation was deemed unnecessary in some cases.

  • Justice at Home

    Promoting human rights, good governance, and anti-corruption abroad can only be possible if the United States lives up to its values 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 foster racial and religious equity, counter hate and discrimination, defend fundamental freedoms, and hold those in positions of authority accountable for their actions. The Helsinki Commission works to ensure that U.S. practices align with the country’s international commitments and that the United States remains responsive to legitimate concerns raised in the OSCE context, including about the death penalty, use of force by law enforcement, racial and religious profiling, and other criminal justice practices; the conduct of elections; and the status and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

  • Justice Overseas

    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 must be at the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda. 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. The Helsinki Commission strives to ensure that the protection of human rights and defense of democratic values are central to U.S. foreign policy; that they are applied consistently in U.S. relations with other countries; that violations of Helsinki provisions are given full consideration in U.S. policymaking; and that the United States holds those who repress their citizens accountable for their actions. This includes battling corruption;  protecting the fundamental freedoms of all people, especially those who historically have been persecuted and marginalized; promoting the sustainable management of resources; and balancing national security interests with respect for human rights to achieve long-term positive outcomes rather than short-term gains.

  • Our Impact by Country

  • 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. 

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