Hearing: Has the United Nations Failed Ukraine and the World?Wednesday, September 27, 2023
Wednesday, September 27, 2023 2:00 pm to 3:30 p.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Stream live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrBXYsQA0Qk In 2022 Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the largest land war in Europe since World War II. In its wake, experts and leaders like President Zelenskyy raise serious questions whether a United Nations (UN) created for a post-World War II world over a half century ago lacks the capability and political will to meet today’s 21st Century challenges. The lack of UN collective action on Russia’s war on Ukraine--from its 2014 seizure of the Crimea to the UN General Assembly this week--is stark evidence of the urgent need to address these questions. Article 1 of the UN Charter mandates the UN to “take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace,” a purpose the UN has struggled with, not just in Ukraine, but in war-torn areas around the world. Leaders and experts argue the UN has instead enabled Russia, including through its role as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), to block actions to defend Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and undermine effective humanitarian action and peacekeeping in Ukraine and elsewhere. The hearing will examine how dynamics in the UN and its UNSC have prevented adequate humanitarian and diplomatic responses to international crises that Russia has either caused or exacerbated. It will further explore Ukrainian and global perceptions of the organization, and specific actions and reforms needed to meet one of the greatest challenges to international security and peace since the UN’s founding. Finally, it will start a critical conversation between Commission leaders, leading officials, and top experts on how fundamental issues in the UN and other institutions founded in the last century can be addressed to meet today’s emerging international challenges. The following government and UN witnesses have been invited to testify: Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations The government and UN witnesses will be followed by an expert panel, including: Thomas Grant, University of Cambridge, Senior Research Fellow Natasha Hall, Senior Fellow, Middle East Program, CSIS ### The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is an independent commission of the U.S. Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental, and military cooperation in 57 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.
Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin's Personal PrisonerWednesday, September 20, 2023
Stream here: HEARING: Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin's Personal Prisoner - YouTube Vladimir Kara-Murza, a father, husband, and a freedom fighter, has been in detention for over five hundred days and is currently being transferred to a prison in Siberia. As he is being moved, his family has lost all contact with him and are faced with worry over his quickly deteriorating health. This Helsinki Commission examined why the Department of State has failed to designate Mr. Kara-Murza as a Wrongfully or Illegally Detained Person and the importance of securing his release from Putin’s prison. Mrs. Evgenia Kara-Murza, Advocacy Director at the Free Russia Foundation and wife of Vladimir Kara-Murza presented his life leading up to his arrest, his time in prison, and plea to the United States of America to save her husband. In Mrs. Kara-Murza’s testimony, she described his courage and internal fight to continue advocating against the Putin regime despite being poisoned twice. Mrs. Kara-Murza stated a quote from Senator John McCain that “Courage is not the absence of fear but the capacity to act despite our fears” which described Vladimir Kara-Murza’s yearning to return to Russia following the invasion of Ukraine. Mrs. Kara-Murza then stated how her husband’s health continues to deteriorate and has lost contact with family while he is being transferred to a penal colony in Siberia. She ended her testimony by explaining that if the United States wants to see a different and democratic Russia that is at peace with its neighbors then her husband represents that vision and should be saved. Ms. Meghan McCain, in her testimony to this Helsinki Commission, spoke to support the freedom “of a warrior, a patriot, and … a friend” and to urge the Department of State to declare Mr. Kara-Murza a “Wrongfully Detained Person” under the Levinson Act. Ms. McCain began her speech by explaining the fall of Russia. A nation which once possessed a flourishing culture of great artists and writers has fallen into a “gray winter” from Communism to then the regime of Putin. She stated how Vladimir Kara-Murza is the spring who she described as a fearless man knowing all risk and will bring better days to Russia. Ms. McCain then finished up her testimony with a plea that the designation of Vladimir Kara-Murza as “Wrongfully Detained” is in American interest and the designation will also improve his moral condition. Another notable speaker who testified to this Helsinki Commission was Vladimir and Evgenia’s daughter Sonya Kara-Murza, who spoke on behalf of her siblings. Ms. Kara-Murza described the passion her father has for his work to achieve “his goal of a peaceful and hopeful future for Russia” as well as his lessons of bravery to his family. She stated to the Commissioners the necessity of a loving family to be together and eloquently finished with saying to the Commissioners “please bring my father back home”. Following the testimonies, the Commissioners proceeded to ask questions to both Mrs. Evgenia Kara-Murza and Ms. Meghan McCain on Vladimir Kara-Murza’s medical condition and the Department of States lack of clarity on the reason for not declaring Vladimir Kara-Murza a “Wrongfully Detained Person”. Chairman Wilson and Ranking Member Cohen introduced a bill requiring the Department of State to designate Vladimir Kara-Murza a Wrongfully Detained Person or failing that, explain to Congress why this is not possible. A takeaway quote from this hearing from Mrs. Evgenia Kara-Murza was as follows: “I do realize that behind bars Vladimir will not receive the medical attention that he needs. I do realize that he has already lost over 55 pounds over this year. I understand that his medical condition is only going to deteriorate and I understand that he’s being held by the same people who tried to kill him twice…So this is urgent and it is a matter of life and death”
Rescuing Ukrainian Children and Women from Russia's AggressionWednesday, July 26, 2023
Russia’s war has exposed the critical need for U.S. and international action to both save Ukraine’s children and to put in place measures for the future that will protect children, as well as vulnerable refugees around the world, from wartime atrocities and from other threats such as human trafficking. Ukraine’s children are suffering serious injury and trauma due to Russia’s genocidal war of aggression on Ukraine. Almost two-thirds of Ukraine’s children have been displaced, thousands have been injured and hundreds killed. The Ukrainian government has documented close to 20,000 cases of children forcibly taken to Russia or Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine for forced russification, a war crime under the Geneva Convention that could amount to genocide. In addition to the immediate dangers, the effects of war on children will have lasting negative consequences if not addressed. Many Ukrainian children have witnessed unimaginable violence, including the murders of their own parents or family members. At the same time, some Ukrainian women and children are facing increased vulnerability to human trafficking. Of the 8 million refugees that have fled Ukraine, 90% are women and children. There continue to be credible reports of traffickers trolling border areas, train stations, and refugee centers trying to lure refugees with promises of accommodation, onward transportation, or employment, sometimes even masquerading as volunteers providing assistance. Nevertheless, international responses, particularly along border areas, have not been sufficient. This hearing will provide testimony from top officials and experts on the ground to discuss the devastating impact of Russia’s war on Ukrainian children and women and what the United States and the international community can do to better protect these vulnerable women and children from the trauma of war and to prevent human trafficking. It will also detail a new bill taking action to address these challenges, Oleksandr’s Act, which is dedicated to the Ukrainian children who have suffered during this war.
United States Demonstrates Global Leadership on Ukraine at OSCE PA Annual SessionFriday, July 14, 2023
The Helsinki Commission’s four senior leaders helmed the United States’ bicameral, bipartisan delegation to the 30th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly last week in Vancouver, Canada. Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), serving as Head of Delegation, was joined by Chairman Joe Wilson (SC-02) as Deputy Head of Delegation as well as Ranking Members Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), alongside six other Members of Congress. The high-level delegation demonstrated the United States’ global leadership role in rallying support for Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression. At the outset of the Parliamentary Assembly session, the U.S. delegation held a closed-door bilateral meeting with the Ukrainian delegation to synchronize support. The U.S. delegation also voted to establish an Ad Hoc Committee on Ukraine to consolidate and coordinate the Parliamentary Assembly’s manifold activities on Ukraine. “We are comprised of Democrats, Republicans, House members, and Senate members and we are unified in our support for Ukraine,” Sen. Cardin said, introducing the U.S. delegation at the opening plenary on June 30. Speaking on behalf of the delegation, he told the gathering of more than 225 parliamentarians from 50 countries that “we recognize Ukraine is our front line in the defense of democracy and sovereignty. We stand with democracy and sovereignty. We stand with Ukraine.” From right: Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker, and Chairman Joe Wilson participate in the 30th Annual Session of the OSCE PA. (Photo Credit: OSCE PA) Other members of the U.S. delegation included: Representative Lloyd Doggett (TX-37); Representative Gwen Moore (WI-04), Member of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Migration; Representative Andy Harris (MD-01); Chair of the OSCE PA General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, Representative Richard Hudson (NC-09); Member of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism, Representative Marc Veasey (TX-33); and Representative Victoria Spartz (IN-05) Neither the Russian nor the Belarusian delegations attended the meeting. Members of the Russian delegation are subject to Canadian travel sanctions and the delegation has forfeited its voting rights in the Assembly after refusing to pay its national contribution to the PA’s annual budget for 2022-2023. Demonstrating Resolute Support for Ukraine Over the course of four days of debate, votes, and bilateral meetings, the United States’ representatives at the Annual Session drew attention to the enormity of Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine and the threat Russian President Vladimir Putin poses to global peace. The Annual Session culminated in the overwhelming adoption of a concluding document, known as the Vancouver Declaration. Contributing to the text of the declaration, the U.S. delegation sponsored three resolutions, known as supplementary items, on combatting antisemitism, on countering the notorious Wagner Group of Russian mercenaries, and on protecting and supporting Ukraine’s women and children. The United States also successfully proposed 23 amendments to other resolutions, including those from the PA’s three general committees as well as supplementary items from other delegations on Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. Across these initiatives, the United States called attention to Russian acts of genocide in Ukraine, Belarus’ complicity in Russia’s war on Ukraine, Russia’s practice of energy blackmail, Chinese harassment of dissidents in OSCE participating States, democratic backsliding in the OSCE region, Russia’s occupation of Georgian territory, and the need to reform the global security architecture to prevent further acts of Russian aggression. From right: Chairman Joe Wilson, Rep. Gwen Moore, Rep. Richard Hudson, Rep. Victoria Spartz, and Rep. Andy Harris at the opening plenary of the Annual Session in Vancouver. (Photo Credit: CSCE) Helsinki Commission Chairman Wilson took the floor in the opening plenary to condemn the “genocidal intent” behind Moscow’s assault on civilian infrastructure and women and children in Ukraine. Calling for outright victory for Ukraine, Rep. Wilson observed that “Putin does not negotiate in good faith. He perceives negotiations as an invitation for appeasement.” Rep. Victoria Spartz addresses a committee session at the Annual Session. (Photo Credit: OSCE) Participating in her first Annual Session, newly appointed Commissioner Rep. Victoria Spartz spoke in personal terms about the war in Ukraine: “As someone who was born in Ukraine and spent half of my life there…I understand what a high price the Ukrainian people are paying for their freedoms. But they’re paying this price not just for them but also for each of us.” Rep. Spartz called on OSCE participating States to consider reform of international security mechanisms to create “a framework to deter these brutal atrocities that are happening in Ukraine.” Countering Russia’s Threats and Bolstering Ukraine’s Resilience Rep. Richard Hudson chaired the OSCE PA’s General Committee on Political Affairs and Security for the third straight year and used his opening remarks to highlight Russia’s “dangerous rhetoric about using nuclear weapons, on top of its complete disregard for international security mechanisms and military transparency.” In particular, he noted “Russia’s announced withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty…[that] underscores its reckless and bad faith approach to arms control and confidence building measures.” Later in the session, Rep. Hudson easily won reelection to another one-year term as Chairman of the committee, informally known as the First Committee. Rep. Richard Hudson chairs the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security. (Photo Credit: OSCE) The First Committee unanimously adopted a resolution on “The Wagner Group’s Terroristic Nature and Actions” co-sponsored by Rep. Marc Veasey, a member of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism (CCT), and led by Austrian Member of Parliament and CCT Chairman Reinhold Lopatka. Echoing the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries Act (HARM Act) in the U.S. Congress, the resolution calls on OSCE participating States to designate the Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization to facilitate criminal prosecutions of those involved in the group and enablers provisioning it with financial and material resources. While introducing the text, Rep. Veasey explained how the Wagner Group fits the definition of a terrorist group given its record of “atrocities in furtherance of political ends” committed against noncombatants. He further noted that “the fact that Wagner turned against the regime that birthed it, does not change the fact that this is a terrorist group.” Former First Committee Chairman and OSCE PA Vice President Sen. Roger Wicker (MS) weighed in during the committee’s opening debate to decry Russia’s practice of “energy blackmail,” including targeting “Ukraine’s basic infrastructure and the energy security of the rest of the continent.” Noting his position as Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Wicker highlighted the United States’ $130 billion of security, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion and thanked other OSCE countries for contributing to the effort. “Ukraine,” he said, “is not asking us as members of the OSCE to do their fighting for them….they’re simply asking us to give them the financial means and the resources to get the job done.” U.S. delegates also contributed to the work of the General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology, and Environment, or Second Committee, by proposing amendments on Ukraine to the committee’s draft resolution. These amendments decried the environmental impact of Russia’s war and its systematic use of energy blackmail as an instrument of malign influence. Pointing toward emerging technologies that could mitigate energy dependence on Russia, Sen. Cardin also presented an amendment authored by Rep. Hudson “encouraging cooperation for the development and adoption of small modular reactors to achieve energy independence and diversification.” Advocating for Political Prisoners and Protecting Ukrainian Women and Children In the General Committee on Democracy, Human Rights, and Humanitarian Questions, known as the Third Committee, Rep. Cohen invoked his role as OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners while paying tribute to political prisoners in Belarus and Russia who face brutal punishment for speaking the truth. “These,” he said, “are the people who evoke the principles of the OSCE: they speak for transparency, they speak for freedom, they speak against autocrats.” In particular, he highlighted the ongoing detention of oppositionists Alexei Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza in Russia as well as Siarhei Tsikhanouski in Belarus and called on parliamentarians to use their platforms as elected officials to draw attention to these prisoners and work for their release. Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen addresses a committee meeting at the Annual Session. (Photo Credit: OSCE) Members of the Third Committee unanimously adopted a U.S. resolution on “Adopting Effective Mechanisms to Safeguard Ukrainian Women and Children from Abuse, Exploitation, and Human Trafficking,” led by OSCE PA Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues Rep. Chris Smith and co-sponsored by Rep. Wilson. Rep. Wilson introduced the resolution, which calls on OSCE participating States to take specific steps to press for the return of Ukrainian children forcibly taken to Russia and Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine, prevent human trafficking of Ukrainian refugees, most of whom are women and children, and provide resources for trauma treatment for children. “Russia’s brutal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine has exposed the critical need for international action to both save Ukraine’s children and to put in place measures for the future that will protect children, as well as vulnerable refugees, from wartime atrocities and other threats such as human trafficking,” Rep. Wilson told the committee. Countering the Rise of Antisemitsm In a plenary session on July 3, Sen. Cardin presented his annual report as OSCE PA Special Representative on Antisemitism, Racism, and Intolerance and introduced a corresponding U.S. resolution on “Rising Antisemitism in the OSCE Region.” Sen. Cardin sounded the alarm that “antisemitism, racism, and intolerance is clearly on the rise across the OSCE region.” To counter this disturbing trend, he called on parliamentarians and OSCE participating States to “lead the fight against hate” by speaking out, preventing the normalization of hateful behaviors, adopting a national strategy such as has recently been done in the United States, strengthening Holocaust education, and deploying OSCE resources designed to address antisemitism and hate-based incidents. Earlier in the day, Sen. Cardin hosted a well-attended side event titled “Countering the Rise in Antisemitism and Other Hate-Based Incidents: Government Action and Leadership.” The panel discussion featured participation from Susan Heller Pinto, Vice President of International Policy at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL); Matteo Mecacci, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights; and Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating Antisemitism. From right: Rabbi Andrew Baker, Sen. Cardin, Susan Heller Pinto, and Matteo Mecacci participate at a side event on countering antisemitism and other hate-based incidents in the OSCE region on July 3. (Photo Credit: CSCE) On the sidelines of the Annual Session, the U.S. delegation held additional bilateral consultations with the Canadian and German delegations as well as with all three candidates for OSCE PA President, a visiting delegation of parliamentarians from the Organization of American States (OAS), and ODIHR Director Mecacci. Additionally, Rep. Moore and Rep. Veasey, respectively, participated in meetings of the ad hoc committees on Migration and Countering Terrorism, of which they are each members.
Supporting A Democratic and Secure MoldovaWednesday, July 12, 2023
In recent years, Moldova has made notable steps to improve its democratic institutions and combat corruption. President Maia Sandu and her Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) have spearheaded wide-ranging reforms and backed a number of high-profile anti-corruption cases. Moldova has also made strides toward greater integration with the European Union (EU). In 2022, the country applied to join the EU and in June of that year was granted “Candidate” status, alongside Ukraine. The EU supplied Moldova with a list of nine recommendations for further improvements to democratic institutions and the rule of law in the country, which leaders in Chisinau have pledged to fulfill. At the same time as Moldova attempts to strengthen its democracy and bolster its ties with the West, it remains under persistent threat from Russia. Russia has attempted to stoke unrest in Moldova, interfere in its domestic politics, and leverage its supply of energy resources to the country. Russia further maintains a garrison of roughly 2,000 troops in the Russian-backed separatist region of Transnistria. Beyond the direct threat of Russian influence operations, Moldova also faces the consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The war has contributed to significant increases in prices for food and energy. Furthermore, more than 800,000 refugees have entered the country since February 2022, and roughly 100,000 remain in the country still. Against the backdrop of opportunities and challenges facing Moldova, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing featuring senior U.S. and Moldovan parliamentary leadership to explore how the United States can continue to support Moldova in its democratic reform agenda, continue its anti-corruption efforts, and achieve durable security for itself and the region. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Bischof testified about the state of U.S. support for Moldova. He emphasized that Moldova stood “on the frontline of our strategic priorities for Europe,” and praised the country’s recent efforts to implement reforms. Mr. Bischof highlighted that the Biden administration remains committed to supporting Moldova’s efforts to address the effects of the war, bolster its democratic and economic resilience, and achieve its goals of EU integration. To that effect, he noted that the administration has devoted $628 million to the country since February 2022. Mr. Bischof also detailed the risks that Russia poses to the country’s security. These come both from influence operations and from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has seen several Russian incursions into Moldovan airspace. He emphasized that the administration has increased its security assistance to Moldova nearly tenfold in recent years to assist the country in safeguarding itself against Russian aggression. The President of Moldova’s Parliament, Igor Grosu, then testified about the country’s resilience in the face of hybrid threats from Russia, its ongoing commitment to continue reforms, and its determination to achieve EU ascension. Mr. Grosu stressed that Moldova has worked tirelessly to ensure peace and stability in the country amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and under a broad spectrum of hybrid threats from Russia. Mr. Grosu thanked the United States for providing crucial support to help Moldova withstand threats from Russia and work toward fulfilling the country’s reform agenda. He also emphasized the need for continued support, including through legislation such as the “Euro-Atlantic Solidarity and Major Democratic Ally Act of 2022,” which would allow for greater U.S. Moldova defense cooperation. Mr. Grosu further stressed that, against the destabilizing backdrop of Russia’s war, continued support for Ukraine was also essential support for Moldova. Doina Gherman, the Chairwoman of the Moldovan Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee underscored this sentiment, imploring members “not to uncouple Moldova from Ukraine because a safe Ukraine is a safe Moldova, and a safe Ukraine is a safe Europe.” Amb. (ret.) William Hill, a Global Fellow at the Wilson Center gave the final testimony. He stressed that although Moldova’s reform agenda was moving the country in a positive direction, progress will take time. Amb. Hill also highlighted the numerous challenges and threats that Moldova currently faces but observed that the present moment also offers opportunities. In particular, he suggested that recent successes in negotiations surrounding Transnistria and changing dynamics of Russian influence in the region opened a window for a resolution of the conflict. Mr. Hill urged the Sandu government not to miss this opportunity. Members expressed their support for Moldova’s reforms and condemned Russia’s malign attempts to exert influence over the country. They also questioned the witnesses about the extent and impact of current U.S. support to Moldova and inquired into the most effective ways that the United States can continue to support a secure and democratic Moldova moving forward. Related Information
Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair Lead Delegation to 2023 OSCE PA Annual MeetingMonday, July 10, 2023
WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Senator Ben Cardin (MD) and Helsinki Commission Chair Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to the 30th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) in Vancouver, Canada from June 30-July 4. As Head of Delegation and Deputy Head of Delegation respectively, Senator Cardin and Representative Wilson welcomed the passage of the Vancouver Declaration on the final day of the OSCE PA Annual Session. The Declaration strongly condemned Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, calling for Russia’s complete withdrawal from all of Ukraine. It urged OSCE states to hold Russia accountable for its war crimes and genocide against the Ukrainian people and support the establishment of a special international tribunal. En route, members of the Delegation received in-region briefings to advance awareness on Arctic security challenges impacting U.S. military installations and Alaska Native organizations. “Last week, we have had the privilege to spend time with parliamentarians from a wide array of OSCE countries who remain committed to supporting Ukraine as it continues to fight Russian aggression,” Senator Cardin and Representative Wilson said. “We were pleased to join the OSCE countries at the PA in declaring our commitment to a path to peace on Ukraine’s terms by endorsing President Zelenskyy’s 10-point Peace Plan. As we return home, we look forward to building on the Declaration by ensuring that Ukraine receives the support it needs to defend itself against this ruthless invasion and secure Russian withdrawal from all areas of Ukraine.” The legislators also applauded the OSCE PA’s adoption of all three resolutions sponsored by U.S. delegation members: a resolution addressing the Wagner group’s terroristic nature and actions, sponsored by Representative Marc Veasey (TX-33); a resolution on adopting effective mechanisms to safeguard Ukrainian women and children from abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking, sponsored by Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Representative Wilson; and a resolution on rising antisemitism in the OSCE region, sponsored by Senator Cardin. “As members of a body whose charter centers around securing human rights for all individuals in member countries, we are proud that the American delegation shined a light on and built consensus around some of the most pressing challenges facing the OSCE region,” the chair and co-chair added. “We are encouraged by our counterparts’ willingness to work to prevent future violence, address the physical and psychological trauma suffered by those experiencing conflict zones and discrimination, and hold perpetrators of such abuses accountable.” Throughout the OSCE PA Annual Session, members of the U.S. delegation participated in committees and bilateral meetings on a variety of topics affecting the region. In the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, Committee Chairman Representative Richard Hudson (NC-09) deplored Russia’s assault on regional security and urged solidarity with Ukraine’s fight for freedom. At the end of the session, Rep. Hudson was reelected by acclamation to his post as Chairman for another year. On Monday, Senator Cardin, in his capacity as OSCE PA Special Representative on Antisemitism, Racism, and Intolerance, hosted an important side event on countering the rise of antisemitism and other hate-based incidents. He was joined by Susan Heller Pinto, Vice President of International Policy at the Anti-Defamation League (ADL); Matteo Mecacci, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights; and Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating Antisemitism. The U.S. delegation to the Annual Session additionally included: OSCE PA Vice President Senator Roger F. Wicker (MS); OSCE PA Special Representative on Political Prisoners Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09); Representative Lloyd Doggett (TX-37); Representative Gwen Moore (WI-04), Member of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Migration; Representative Andy Harris (MD-01); OSCE PA Chair of the General Committee on Political Affairs and Security, Representative Richard Hudson (NC-09), Member of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism; Representative Marc Veasey (TX-33); and Representative Victoria Spartz (IN-05).
Hearing: Supporting a Democratic and Secure MoldovaThursday, July 06, 2023
Wednesday, July 12, 2023 2:00 pm Cannon House Office Building, Room 210 Live stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm-R6rfQbCo In recent years, Moldova has enacted numerous reforms under current Moldovan President Maia Sandu to strengthen its democratic institutions, combat corruption and kleptocracy, and integrate with the European Union. In 2022, the European Union granted Moldova “Candidate” status in its EU bid alongside Ukraine. Moldova’s many accomplishments are made all the more remarkable given the ongoing destabilizing effects of Russia’s illegal war on Ukraine and the Putin regime’s efforts to undermine Moldova’s security, economy, and political processes. Nonetheless, Moldova’s government and people have doggedly pursued a liberal democratic path, and have opened their country to hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens who have transited or found refuge in the country in the wake of Russia’s brutal war. The hearing will feature a discussion with senior U.S. and Moldovan parliamentary leadership to explore how the United States can continue to support Moldova in its democratic reform agenda, continue its anti-corruption efforts, and achieve durable security for itself and the region. The following witnesses are scheduled to testify: Panel 1: Dan Bischof, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Panel 2: Igor Grosu, President of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova Doina Gherman, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova Ambassador (ret.) William Hill, Global Fellow at the Wilson Center Other witnesses may be added.
Helsinki Commission Leadership Celebrate Pardon of Nika GvaramiaFriday, June 23, 2023
Washington—Today, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09), applauded Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili’s decision to issue a presidential pardon for journalist Nikoloz “Nika” Gvaramia. Mr. Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and political activist, has been imprisoned since May 2022 on spurious charges. In April, the leadership of the U.S. Helsinki Commission sent a letter to President Zourabichvili asking for her help to break Georgia’s cycle of political prosecution, citing Mr. Gvaramia’s case as a violation of human rights on political grounds. Chairman Wilson and Ranking Member Cohen issued the follow statement: “We commend President Zourabichvili for extending a pardon to Nkoloz Gvaramia, who has been imprisoned for over a year on spurious charges related to his pro-democracy activism. However, this imprisonment never should have happened. We remain concerned about recent developments in Georgia, in particular the proposal of a Russian-style “foreign agents” law that, if passed, would have created an authoritarian regime in Georgia. It was only due to massive protests that the legislation was ultimately withdrawn. We recognize that the Georgian people support human rights, Euro-Atlantic integration, and democratic values and urge the government to return Georgia to this path. Although we join Mr. Gvaramia’s family and friends, Georgians, and pro-democracy advocates around the world in celebrating Mr. Gvaramia’s release, our work advocating for the freedom of political prisoners globally is far from complete. We stand with individuals around the world who are unjustly or wrongfully imprisoned and strive for a reality in which all people are free to express themselves and engage in civil discourse.”
MICHAEL GEFFROY APPOINTED HELSINKI COMMISSION GENERAL COUNSELThursday, June 15, 2023
WASHINGTON—Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, today announced the appointment of Michael Geffroy as General Counsel to the Commission. “The Helsinki Commission welcomes Mr. Geffroy. His rich national security, legal, and military background, as well as his service at senior levels in the Congress, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Treasury, and in the private sector, make him uniquely qualified to advise the Commission as General Counsel.” said Chairman Joe Wilson. “Michael is a great addition to the Commission. His deep experience across legislative and executive branch roles will help inform our work to advance American interests and cooperation abroad,” added the Commission’s Executive Director Dr. Steven Schrage. “I am honored to join the Commission and work with Chairman Wilson, Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin Cardin, and Commission team,” said Geffroy. “With multiple global challenges and very real multi-faceted threats confronting the United States and our allies, this is a vital time for the Commission.” Mr. Geffroy has previously served in the Congress as the General Counsel to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, as the Deputy Staff Director and Chief Counsel to the Committee on Homeland Security in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as the Deputy Special Counsel to the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Geffroy also served as an Assistant Director in the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Department of the Treasury, as a Counselor to the Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division at the Department of Justice, and as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia. Mr. Geffroy is a veteran and Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve (ret). His more than 25 years of commissioned service includes tours with the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Afghanistan and Iraq. His first day at the Commission was June 5, 2023
HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SALOME ZOURABICHVILIFriday, April 28, 2023
WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break the cycle of political prosecution in the country. In the letter, the legislators cite the case of Mr. Nikoloz Gvaramia, an outspoken media figure and political activist. His imprisonment, on spurious charges, is a violation of his human rights and an affront to Georgia’s democracy. Releasing political prisoners such as Mr. Gvaramia is an essential step towards EU candidacy for Georgia, and an important humanitarian gesture. President Zourabichvili has shown herself to be an outspoken and principled leader for Georgian democracy and has an opportunity to continue to cement this legacy, advance Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic dream, and perform a significant humanitarian service by using her pardon powers to address the ongoing cycle of political prosecution. Click the PDF icon above to view the letter.
Steven Schrage Appointed Helsinki Commission Executive DirectorFriday, March 24, 2023
WASHINGTON—Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, today announced the appointment of Dr. Steven P. Schrage as Helsinki Commission Executive Director. “The Helsinki Commission welcomes Dr. Steven Schrage to its already impressive team. His rich foreign policy experiences and academia background with the State Department, White House, Congress, Duke, Harvard, Cambridge University, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) as well as other institutions, make him uniquely qualified to lead the Commission as Executive Director. “I welcome Steven’s ideas and insights to further compliment the Commission’s mission, and look forward to working closely with him,” said Chairman Joe Wilson. “I am honored to join Chairman Wilson’s Helsinki Commission team and help support his long and impressive work to advance American interests and cooperation abroad,” said Schrage. “With the largest war in Europe since World War II and new global challenges facing America and our allies, there has never been a more critical time for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe’s mission.” Schrage has previously served as Co-Chair of the G8’s Crime and Terrorism Group and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, where he oversaw over $2 billion in global assistance and operations and over 2000 personnel after 9/11. Beginning days after the start of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Schrage spent much of the last year volunteering and researching border and human security challenges on the Ukraine-Poland border. He also served in the executive branch as a Senior Advisor in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and as the Foreign Policy Director and in other headquarters policy roles for major presidential campaigns. Schrage has considerable Congressional experience as a Senate Chief of Staff, International Trade Counsel for the Ways and Means Committee, and on the policy team of the Speaker of the House. His first day at the Commission was March 13, 2023
Helsinki Commission Leadership Statement on Georgian foreign agent lawMonday, March 06, 2023
WASHINGTON—In response to news that the Georgian parliament is considering Russian-style foreign agent legislation, which would have a chilling effect on Georgia’s vibrant civil society, Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-2), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following joint statement: “Since regaining independence, the Georgian people have clearly and consistently chosen to be part of the democratic, Euro-Atlantic community. However, the antidemocratic, Russian-style foreign agent law would be, if enacted, a rebuke to the Georgian people’s EU and NATO aspirations and underscore the rapid decline of Georgian democracy. It would also demonstrate the present government’s increasing embrace of Russia—the same country that occupies 20 percent of Georgian territory, kidnaps its citizens, disregards its sovereignty, and wages a genocidal war against Ukraine. “This bill as well as the ongoing democratic decline, including the jailing of political opponents, is an attack on our strategic partnership and the Georgian people’s Western choice. Since 1991, the United States has been a firm and untiring friend to the Georgian people. This will not change, regardless of the government’s position. In the spirit of that friendship, we call on the Georgian government to reject the proposed legislation and renew its commitment to democracy.”
North Macedonia's Leadership of the OSCE in a time of warTuesday, February 28, 2023
North Macedonia has taken up leadership of the world’s largest regional security organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—a year into Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine. Much of the OSCE’s focus over the past year has revolved around responses to the war, including using the organization to condemn Russian aggression and hold the government of the Russian Federation to account, to launch international investigations on Russian war crimes, and to reestablish an OSCE mission on the ground in Ukraine. The OSCE has remained at the forefront despite Russian efforts to block consensus and undermine the Organization and its work. During this hearing, North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Bujar Osmani discussed North Macedonia’s priorities in the OSCE and how it will address Russia’s war on Ukraine and other regional challenges. The hearing began with a reaffirmation of support from Chairman Joe Wilson, “We are shoulder to shoulder on a bipartisan basis when it comes to the principles of the OSCE, and enforcing them, and shining light on some of the challenges we have – the most serious of which, of course, is Vladimir Putin’s illegal and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. It matters to our friends in North Macedonia. It matters to citizens of the United States of America. It matters to every member of the OSCE.” Commissioner Mike Lawler added that he is very concerned that “if Vladimir Putin is allowed to succeed in Ukraine, he will not stop there…The Ukrainian people deserve our support. The Ukrainian government deserves our support.” Mirroring this, Minister Osmani started his address by stating; “We are living in a time of war and conflicts and unprecedented turmoil and continuous tension across the OSCE. The Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine is a blow to European and human security.” Under this backdrop, Minister Osmani identified his three priorities as being firstly Ukraine, secondly protracted conflicts, and lastly organization functionality. Minister Osmani declared Ukraine the key security priority and his overarching priority for his Chairpersonship. He called for the “Russian Federation to immediately stop this war, withdraw its troops from Ukraine, [and] recommit to the principles and values of the OSCE and to diplomacy.” Under North Macedonia’s leadership, the organization hopes to reinforce the principles and commitments of the OSCE as the foundation of European security and cooperation. Asserting that in order to foster meaningful dialogue, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine must end. Only then can they engage in credible confidence-building exercises. The war in Ukraine poses the potential to escalate latent and protracted conflicts in the region. “It affects our engagement in Eastern Europe, in the South Caucasus, Central Asia, and Western Balkans. It affects the performance of our field missions… and obstructs our ability to implement a positive agenda for the institution and to engage proactively in the search for durable solutions, critical for pan-European security, stability, and prosperity” explained Minister Osmani. Responding to Commissioner Victoria Spartz’ question on the OSCE’s action plan, Minister Osmani emphasized the need to preserve the functionality of the organization, so that a balance is made between the “change of functionality of the Organization and maintaining the ongoing activities, mainly with the field operations across the OSCE region.” Chairman Joe Wilson expressed interest in issues across the region to which Minister Osmani reported progress made between Kosovo and Serbia, emphasized focus on Armenia-Azerbaijan relations, and urged continued peacetime reconciliation, reforms, and European integration. Representative Spartz also inquired about issues in Central Asia. To which Minister Osmani highlighted the five field operations in all five participating States in Central Asia and expressed concerns over the repercussions following the Taliban takeover and climate change in the region. Minister Osmani was forthright about serious challenges the OSCE faces. The organization has no budget approved and has the possibility of a leadership vacuum at the end of the year if there is no consensus achieved. Sharing that the Permanent Council has only approved a partial extension of the mission in Moldova. Thus, the OSCE can provide a platform for communication, but it’s ultimately up to 56 participating states and their willingness to engage, compromise, and maintain dialogue to find common ground on issues. For more information, please contact Janice Helwig of the Commission staff at 202-225-1901. Related information Witness Biography
HEARING: NORTH MACEDONIA’S LEADERSHIP OF THE OSCE IN A TIME OF WARFriday, February 24, 2023
Tuesday, February 28, 2023 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. Streaming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNgAOyC9f5g North Macedonia has taken up leadership of the world’s largest regional security organization—the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)—a year into Putin’s brutal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Much of the OSCE’s focus over the past year has revolved around responses to the war, including using the organization to condemn Russian aggression and hold the government of the Russian Federation to account, to launch international investigations on Russian war crimes, and to reestablish an OSCE mission on the ground in Ukraine. The OSCE has remained at the forefront despite Russian efforts to block consensus and undermine the Organization and its work. Other challenges in the region include spillover effects of Putin’s war in Ukraine, the extension of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and backsliding in some countries on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. Anti-Semitic attacks and rhetoric continue to be on the rise, and vulnerable communities are targets of discrimination and violence. Combating human trafficking has taken on a renewed urgency as millions of vulnerable women and children have fled Ukraine. Attacks on independent media continues in some OSCE participating States, including Russia, Belarus and most recently, Kyrgyzstan. At this hearing, North Macedonia’s Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Bujar Osmani will discuss North Macedonia’s priorities in the OSCE and how it will address Russia’s war on Ukraine and other regional challenges.
U.S. Delegation to the OSCE PA presents Joint Statement on Russia’s War in UkraineFriday, February 24, 2023
WASHINGTON— Today, the U.S. Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA) endorsed the “Joint Statement of Action on the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s War Against Ukraine and the International Legal Order,” which was endorsed by the OSCE PA Bureau and published today at the conclusion of the 2023 OSCE PA Winter Meeting. Members of the U.S. Delegation include Head of Delegation and Helsinki Commission Co-Chair Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Helsinki Commission Chair Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), and Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33). Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX-37) also participated in the delegation. Following a dedicated debate marking the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Assembly issued the statement to condemn Russia’s years-long clear, gross, and uncorrected violations of its commitments under the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and subsequent OSCE commitments. Click here to read the Joint Statement
Steadfast Support for Ukraine: United States Delegation Hosts Ukrainian and Partner Country Parliamentarians on the Margins of the OSCE Parliamentary AssemblyThursday, February 23, 2023
WASHINGTON – Today, the United States Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE PA), led by Senator Ben Cardin (MD), met with Mykyta Poturaiev, Ukraine’s Head of Delegation and additional representatives of the Ukrainian Rada in Vienna, Austria, along with the Heads of Delegation of Canada, Estonia, France, Latvia, Poland, and the United Kingdom. On the eve of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the parliamentary leaders in attendance pledged their sustained and steadfast support for Ukraine to counter Russian aggression: “We will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over its 1991 borders. A year after Russia’s unprovoked full-scale invasion of Ukraine, we recommit to combining our efforts to redress this injustice and hold Russia to account for its crimes, including by seeking its suspension from the Parliamentary Assembly (PA). We further urge the PA to host annual sessions and meetings in OSCE participating States prepared to block the participation of Russia’s representatives. We will not allow Russia’s reprehensible propaganda to go unchallenged at the OSCE PA or any other international forum. The world must hold Russia accountable for its aggression and for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide it is committing against the people of Ukraine. All of us are committed to the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine and seek restitution from Russia to this end. “To the people of Ukraine: as you suffer Russia’s attacks on your cities and fight the aggressor in the battlefield, know that you are never alone in your courageous struggle for a secure and democratic future. As missiles rain down and the lights go out, and as you mourn all those you have lost, we mourn with you and share your fight for Ukrainian victory. You have our admiration and above all, our gratitude, as we remain resolutely at your side in solidarity and partnership.” Joining U.S. Head of DelegationSenator Ben Cardin were delegation members Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02), Ranking Member Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Commissioners Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-04), Rep. Richard Hudson (NC-09), Rep. Marc Veasey (TX-33), and Representatives Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) and Lloyd Doggett (TX-37). The Ukrainian delegation consisted of Mr. Mykyta Poturaiev, Head of Delegation; Mr. Artur Gerasymov, Deputy Head of Delegation, Mr. Pavlo Frolov, Ms. Irina Gerashchenko, Ms. Evgeniia Kravchuk, and Ms. Nataliia Pipa. Heads of delegations present included Dr. Hedy Fry (Canada), Mr. Sven Sester (Estonia), Mr. Didier Paris (France), Mr. Rihards Kols (Latvia), Ms. Barbara Bartuś (Poland), and Sir John Whittingdale (United Kingdom).
Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair: Statement on Bakhtiyar HajiyevMonday, February 20, 2023
WASHINGTON—Following reports of the sharp deterioration of Azerbaijani dissident Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-2) and Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following joint statement: “We are absolutely appalled at the continued unwarranted detention and mistreatment of Azerbaijani civil activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has been imprisoned on trumped up charges and is facing a precipitous decline in his health as he continues his hunger strike. His sentencing by the Azerbaijani regime is not only completely disproportionate to the allegations raised against him, but also not the first time he has been harassed, detained, and subjected to abuse as a result of his justifiable activism. “Azerbaijan has been an important U.S. partner and crucial for energy opportunities in the world, but our international relationships rely in no small part on the mutual recognition of basic principles of human rights. This is true for Mr. Hajiyev as well as numerous other political prisoners. “We join our colleagues in the Administration and in Europe in urging Azerbaijani authorities to ensure Mr. Hajiyev’s humane treatment and human rights, and return to its internal and external obligations under the Helsinki Principles."
Helsinki Commissioners Urge Austria to Deny Visas to Russian Delegation Ahead of OSCE PA Winter MeetingWednesday, February 15, 2023
WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission leadership, Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, and Rep. Steve Cohen, on February 10, sent a letter to Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg to reconsider granting visas to the Russian delegation to the Winter Meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, taking place in Vienna next week. The Winter Meeting will coincide with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, February 24th, 2022, and is set to be the first in-person gathering of the Parliamentary Assembly with Russian and Belarusian participation since the start of the war. The United States and European Union have sanctioned every member of the Russian delegation for having explicitly endorsed Vladimir Putin's war of aggression on Ukraine and his claim to have annexed vast swathes of Ukrainian territory. Read the letter in PDF form above.
Saving Ukraine's ChildrenWednesday, December 14, 2022
Ukraine’s children are suffering serious injury and trauma due to Russia’s genocidal war on Ukraine. Almost two-thirds of the country’s children have been displaced. Thousands have been injured and, although UNICEF has said more than 1,000 children have been killed, that number is likely much higher as there is no reliable way to verify how many civilians have been killed in the most decimated areas of Ukraine, like Mariupol, where, for example, Russian forces bombed a theater housing hundreds of civilians despite clear markings that children were present. And in addition to its immediate danger, the effects of war on children could have lasting consequences. Many Ukrainian children have witnessed unimaginable violence, including the murders of their own parents or family members. They have had to endure the stress of almost constant bombardment, in fear for their safety. Others have experienced hunger, cold, and weeks spent hiding in wet, frigid basements without daylight or fresh air and without sanitation or healthcare. Disruptions to education may never be fully recovered. Ukrainian children are also being forcibly taken to Russia and put up for adoption into Russian families in an apparent effort to assimilate them, a practice that genocide scholar Timothy Snyder has said could be considered genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The U.S. State Department has said Russian authorities have deliberately separated Ukrainian children from their parents during so-called “filtration” procedures and abducted others from orphanages before putting them up for adoption inside Russia and estimated that the number may be as high as 260,000. Unaccompanied minors are also vulnerable to falling prey to human trafficking.
THE ALARMING RISE IN ANTISEMITISM AND ITS THREAT TO DEMOCRACYTuesday, December 13, 2022
In response to a rise in antisemitism in the United States and abroad, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on December 13, 2022, featuring experts on preventing and combatting it. Witnesses testified about current development and how best to respond, as well as reinforced the important role of multilateral cooperation. In an increasingly global world where antisemitism can spread rapidly online, witnesses stressed that every country has a responsibility to combat anti-Semitism, as it has serious implications for democracy. Opening the hearing, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) expressed his alarm at the shocking rise of antisemitic speech and attacks in recent years in both the United States and Europe. Popular entertainers and public figures such as rapper and producer “Ye,” formerly Kanye West, have spread antisemitic tropes to their followers on social media or through public statements. Antisemitic disinformation and conspiracy theories proliferated in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that statements by public figures and online disinformation not only serve to normalize prejudice and discrimination, but they also can incite extremism and violent attacks. President Putin has even tried to justify Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine through perversely antisemitic statements claiming the invasion was an effort to “de-Nazify” the country, notwithstanding its Jewish president. He highlighted the destructive role of disinformation and the importance of educational programs, calling for a unified strategy to combat antisemitism across government and society: “We must speak out loudly and clearly against antisemitism when it occurs. As leaders, we must lead and fight against hate. We cannot allow antisemitism or any type of prejudice or intolerance to be normalized,” he said. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) raised questions about the cause of the recent increase in antisemitism. Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) condemned the rise of antisemitism around the world, highlighted the important work the U.S. Helsinki Commission and the OSCE have done to combat it, and called on countries to take more action: “... it is clear what I stated last week, that antisemitism cannot be tolerated in any situation or under any circumstances. I’m very concerned by the rise of antisemitic incidents over the past several years, both in the United States and Europe.” Rep. Ruben Gallego (AZ-03) expressed his disgust at the alarming rise of antisemitism in the United States and Europe, raising concerns about Holocaust denial and securing places of worship: “It seems that every day and every week there’s another bomb threat at a Jewish day school, another discovery of antisemitic graffiti spraypainted on a college campus, or, at its worst, a shooting at a synagogue.” Rep. Marc Veasey (TX -33) inquired about what Congress should do in response to the rapid acceleration of antisemitism and extremism online: “We know that century-old antisemitic tropes are being increasingly mainstreamed and normalized due, in part, to social media and the amplification of problematic individuals.” Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT), discussed how to improve hate-crime legislation as well as how to come to terms with the history of antisemitism in the United States: “One of the innovations that we included in hate-crimes legislation was to give judges the option in sentencing to require that the convicted defendant, the perpetrator, perform acts of community service that put him or her in direct – in direct contact with the community who was the victim of the hate crime." Senator Rosen (NV) described how she co-led a bipartisan and bicameral letter signed by 126 members of Congress calling on President Biden to develop a unified national strategy to monitor and combat antisemitism: “I’m proud to say, just last night [Dec. 12, 2022] the White House heeded our call, announcing the formation of an interagency task force to combat anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. And its first order of business is to develop a national strategy to combat anti-Semitism." She also outlined specific actions that the United States must pursue including addressing online antisemitism, allocating increased resources to provide physical security for Jewish institutions, educating students about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, improving hate crimes data collection and reporting, and advancing a whole-of-government approach to combat this issue. Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism at the U.S. State Department reiterated the importance of international coalition building and multilateral institutions in coordinating responses to antisemitism. She highlighted that antisemitism is often inextricably linked to prejudice and violence against other groups and religions: “Antisemitism is not a niche issue. It’s not just about helping or protecting Jews. As you entitled this hearing, it’s also a danger to democracy. Jews are the canary in the coal mine. If something is – if anti-Semitism is manifesting itself, other hatreds cannot be far behind." She also mentioned positive international developments, specifically in the Middle East such as Abraham Accords, and described how countries are starting to rethink their attitudes about antisemitism. Rabbi Andrew Baker, Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office on Combating Antisemitism as well as Director of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee (AJC), described the steps OSCE governments should take to better tackle this issue. He emphasized the importance of accurate data collection, securing Jewish community buildings, and expanding Holocaust education in Europe. He also described that preventing the spread of antisemitism online is perhaps the most difficult part of the problem to solve: “We are outnumbered and out-funded by the social media giants. Content monitors are no match for algorithms designed to push grievance as the basic business model.” Members brought several concerns and questions to witnesses about the source of the recent rise of antisemitism, the importance of Holocaust education, how best to allocate resources to secure religious and community spaces, the value of differentiatng among different types of hate crime, and how to halt the rapid spread of antisemitism online. For more information, please contact Janice Helwig, Senior Policy Advisor, at Janice.Helwig@mail.house.gov
By Robert A. Hand,
A bipartisan U.S. delegation traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania June 29 for the 18th Annual Session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). The delegation participated fully in the activity of the Assembly’s Standing Committee, the plenary sessions and the Assembly’s three General Committees.
Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin led the delegation, which included the following commissioners: Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, Ranking Minority Member Chris Smith, and Senator Roger Wicker, Representatives Louise McIntosh Slaughter, Mike McIntyre, G.K. Butterfield and Robert B. Aderholt. Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, Senator George Voinovich and Representatives Lloyd Doggett, Madeleine Z. Bordallo and Gwen Moore also joined the delegation.
Background of the OSCE PA
The Parliamentary Assembly was created within the framework of the OSCE as an independent, consultative body consisting of more than 300 parliamentarians from each of the 56 countries, which stretch from the United States and Canada throughout Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Annual Sessions are the chief venue for debating international issues and voting on a declaration addressing human rights, democratic development, rule of law, economic, environmental and security concerns among the participating States and the international community.
The United States delegation is allotted 17 seats in the Assembly. Robust Congressional participation has been a hallmark of the Parliamentary Assembly since its inception nearly 20 years ago, ensuring U.S. interests are raised and discussed.
18th Annual Session
This year’s Annual Session, hosted by the Parliament (Seimas) of Lithuania from June 29 to July 3, brought together more than 500 participants from 50 of the 56 OSCE participating States under the theme: “The OSCE: Addressing New Security Challenges.”
The Standing Committee -- the Assembly’s leadership body (composed of Heads of Delegations from the participating States and the elected officers) -- met prior to the Annual Session. Senator Cardin, as Head of Delegation and an OSCE PA Vice President, represented the United States.
Chaired by the OSCE PA President, Portuguese parliamentarian João Soares, the committee heard reports from the Assembly’s Treasurer, German parliamentarian Hans Reidel, and from the Assembly’s Secretary General, R. Spencer Oliver of the United States. The Assembly continues to operate well within its overall budget guidelines and to receive positive assessments from auditors on financial management. The committee unanimously approved the proposed budget for 2009-2010.
The Standing Committee also approved several changes in the OSCE PA’s Rules of Procedure, especially related to gender balance and the holding of elections for officers, as well as 24 Supplementary Items or resolutions for consideration in plenary or committee sessions. The committee brought up as an urgent matter a resolution regarding the detention of Iranian citizens employed by the British Embassy in Tehran. Senator Cardin spoke in support of the resolution.
With the Standing Committee’s business concluded, Assembly President Soares opened the Inaugural Plenary Session, stressing in his opening remarks the need for OSCE reform. The first session concluded with a discussion of gender issues led by Swedish parliamentarian Tone Tingsgaard that included comments from Rep. Gwen Moore.
A Special Plenary Session the next day was scheduled to accommodate the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who had just presided over an informal meeting of OSCE foreign ministers in Corfu, Greece, to launch a new, high-level dialogue on European security.
Senator Cardin attended the Corfu meeting as a representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Following her speech, Bakoyannis engaged in a dialogue with parliamentarians on a number of OSCE issues. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas also addressed the special session. Lithuania will chair the OSCE in 2011.
U.S. Member Involvement
The U.S. delegation actively participated in the work of the Assembly’s three General Committees – the first committee for Political Affairs and Security; the second for Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment; and the third on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions. Each committee considered its own draft resolution, prepared by an elected Rapporteur, as well as 23 of the 25 Supplementary Items. Two Supplementary Items, including one by President Soares on Strengthening the OSCE, were considered in plenary session.
Representatives Chris Smith, Mike McIntyre, and Gwen Moore each proposed resolutions that were adopted dealing with freedom of expression on the Internet, international cooperation in Afghanistan, and prevention of maternal mortality respectively.
Members of the U.S. delegation were also instrumental in garnering support for Supplementary Items introduced by others, co-sponsoring eight resolutions introduced by delegations of other countries. The U.S. delegation was responsible for 26 amendments to either the committee draft resolutions or various Supplementary Items.
Chairman Cardin proposed climate-related amendments to a resolution on energy security and suggested the OSCE initiate work with Pakistan in the resolution on Afghanistan. Co-Chairman Hastings worked on numerous human rights and tolerance issues. Other amendments were sponsored by: Sen. Durbin on improving international access to clean water; Sen. Voinovich on combating anti-Semitism; Sen. Wicker on preserving cultural heritage; Rep. Smith on preventing the abuse of children; and Rep. Butterfield on responding to climate change.
The U.S. delegation also engaged in a variety of activities associated with the Annual Session, holding bilateral meetings with the delegations of Russia and Georgia focusing on their respective internal political developments and the tension in the Caucasus since Russia invaded Georgia last August and then sought to legitimize breakaway regions.
Separate meetings were also held with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and other Lithuanian leaders, at which the delegation pressed for new laws to resolve outstanding claims of property seized during the Nazi and Communist eras. The delegation also presented President Adamkus a letter from President Barack Obama on the occasion of the 1000th anniversary of the first written reference to Lithuania. Members of the U.S. delegation attended a working lunch to discuss gender issues, hosted by Swedish parliamentarian Tingsgaard. A variety of social events, including a reception hosted by the British delegation at their embassy, afforded numerous informal opportunities to discuss issues of common concern.
As a demonstration of active U.S. engagement, a Member of the U.S. Congress has always held some elected or appointed leadership role in the OSCE PA. The Vilnius Annual Session has allowed this to continue at least through July 2012.
Chairman Cardin was reelected to a three-year term as one of nine Vice Presidents, a very welcome development given his long record of OSCE engagement going back to his years in the House of Representatives. Rep. Aderholt, who has attended every OSCE PA Annual Session since 2002 and often visits European countries to press human rights issues, was elected Vice Chair of the third General Committee, which handles democracy and human rights. President Soares was reelected for a second term and selected Rep. Smith to serve as a Special Representative on Human Trafficking and asked Co-Chairman Hastings to continue serving as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs.
An unfortunate development in the election of new officers is the absence of a representative of the Russian Federation. Because the United States government may disagree so substantively with current Kremlin policies, the U.S. government has always felt it critical to welcome Russian engagement in the OSCE PA. It was, therefore, a disappointment that the head of the Russian Federation delegation, Alexander Kozlovsky, reversed course and decided not to run for a Vice Presidency seat and more disappointing that a political bloc at the OSCE PA defeated Russian incumbent Natalia Karpovich as rapporteur of the Third Committee. Karpovich had been accommodating of U.S. human rights initiatives in her draft resolution.
Participants at the closing plenary session adopted the final Vilnius Declaration -- a lengthy document which reflects the initiatives and input of the U.S. delegation. Among other things, the declaration calls for strengthening the OSCE in order to enhance its legitimacy and political relevance; addresses conventional arms control, disarmament and other security-related issues of current concern in Europe; calls for greater cooperation in the energy sector and better protection of the environment; and stresses the continued importance of democratic development and respect for human rights, especially as they relate to tolerance in society and freedom of expression.
The most contentious part of the declaration related to the promotion of human rights and civil liberties twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which included language noting the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. While some of the language may have been provocative, strong Russian objections to the entire text appeared to be motivated by a desire to defend a Stalinist past and minimize its crimes. The Russian delegation’s effort to block passage of this resolution reflects a similar sentiment in Moscow that recently led to the creation of a widely-criticized commission "for counteracting attempts to falsify history to the detriment of Russia's interests." As a July 9 column for The Economist noted about recent Russian efforts to excuse Stalinism, the “debate in Vilnius makes it a bit harder to maintain that stance.” Some of Russia’s traditional friends and allies in the OSCE PA were noticeably absent from the debate.
While the Congressional delegation’s work focused heavily on representing the United States at the OSCE PA, the trip afforded an opportunity to advance U.S. interests elsewhere in Europe. While Co-Chairman Hastings traveled to Albania to observe that country’s first parliamentary elections since becoming a NATO member earlier this year, the rest of the delegation visited Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina is still recovering from the conflict in the 1990s and the associated horrors of the Srebrenica genocide and massive ethnic cleansing. The reverberations of the conflict continue to hinder prospects for European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
The United States was instrumental in bringing the Bosnian conflict to an end in 1995, especially with the negotiation of the Dayton Agreement, and the United States has invested considerable financial, diplomatic and military resources in the post-conflict period. The visit came one month after Vice President Joe Biden visited Sarajevo with a message of renewed U.S. engagement in the Balkans. While meetings with Bosnian political leaders revealed little willingness to work constructively toward constitutional reform needed for an effective central government, a meeting with English-speaking university students revealed a refreshing desire to overcome ethnic divisions and move the country forward.
Given its proximity to Vilnius, members of the Congressional delegation visited Minsk, the capital of Belarus, to press for greater democracy and respect for human rights in that country. Belarus has remained a repressive state over the years even as its European neighbors have transitioned from being former Soviet or Warsaw Pact states to EU and NATO members or aspirants.
Following a delegation meeting with President Alexander Lukashenka, Belarusian authorities released imprisoned American Emanuel Zeltzer, who was convicted of espionage in a closed trial and had numerous health concerns. The delegation also urged for greater progress in meeting the conditions in the Belarus Democracy Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2004 and reauthorized in 2006. A meeting with political activists provided useful information on the situation for political opposition, non-governmental organizations and independent media. Finally, the delegation pressed Belarus’ officials to allow for an increased U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. In response to expanding U.S. sanctions, Minsk kicked out 30 diplomats last year, including the U.S. ambassador, leaving a staff of five at the U.S. Embassy.
During the course of the Vilnius Annual Session, Senator Voinovich also broke away for a brief visit to Riga, Latvia. That visit was among the highest level visits from a U.S. official in three years, and was important for our relations with this NATO ally, which has deployed troops with Americans in Afghanistan without caveat and recently suffered losses which easily impact such a small country.
U.S. interests abroad are advanced through active congressional participation in the OSCE PA. The 19th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will be held early next July in Oslo, Norway.