The Helsinki Process and the OSCE
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has its origins in the early 1950s, when the Soviet Union first proposed the creation of an all-European security conference. In the mid-1960s the Warsaw Pact renewed calls for such a conference. In May 1969, the Government of Finland sent a memorandum to all European countries, the United States and Canada, offering Helsinki as a conference venue. Beginning in November 1972, representatives from the original 35 nations met for nearly three years to work out the arrangements and the framework for the conference, concluding their work in July 1975. On August 1, 1975, the leaders of the original 35 participating States gathered in Helsinki and signed the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Also known as the Helsinki Accords, the Final Act is not a treaty, but rather a politically binding agreement consisting of three main sections informally known as "baskets," adopted on the basis of consensus. This comprehensive Act contains a broad range of measures designed to enhance security and cooperation in the region extending from Vancouver to Vladivostok. Basket I - the Security Dimension - contains a Declaration of Principles Guiding Relations between participating States, including the all-important Principle VII on human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also includes a section on confidence-building measures and other aspects of security and disarmament aimed at increasing military transparency. Basket II - the Economic Dimension - covers economic, scientific, technological and environmental cooperation, as well as migrant labor, vocational training and the promotion of tourism. Basket III is devoted to cooperation in humanitarian and other fields: freer movement of people; human contacts, including family reunification and visits; freedom of information, including working conditions for journalists; and cultural and educational exchanges. Principle VII and Basket III together have come to be known as the "Human Dimension." Since 1975, the number of countries signing the Helsinki Accords has expanded to 57, reflecting changes such as the breakup of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Institutionalization of the Conference in the early 1990s led to its transformation to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, effective January 1995. Today, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is engaged in standard setting in fields including military security, economic and environmental cooperation, and human rights and humanitarian concerns. In addition, the OSCE undertakes a variety of preventive diplomacy initiatives designed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict within and among the participating States. The OSCE has its main office in Vienna, Austria, where weekly meetings of the Permanent Council are held. In addition, specialized seminars and meetings are convened in various locations and periodic consultations are held among Senior Officials, Ministers and Heads of State or Government.
Podcast: Damocles' Sword
The upcoming Tokyo Olympics, slated to take place late July after a one-year postponement, will be the first international athletic event since the passage of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act (RADA) in December 2020, which established criminal penalties on individuals involved in doping fraud conspiracies affecting major international competition. The law, named after Russian doping whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, empowers the U.S. Department of Justice for the first time to investigate and prosecute these rogue agents who engage in doping fraud, provide restitution to victims, and protect whistleblowers from retaliation. In his first public interview since RADA became law, Dr. Rodchenkov speaks about the impact of the legislation that bears his name, as well as the blatant corruption that exists in the world of international sport, the vital role of whistleblowers, and more. He is joined by Helsinki Commission policy advisor Paul Massaro, who sheds light on the game-changing new tools created by the legislation and its importance to the U.S. fight against corruption worldwide. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 15 | Damocles’ Sword: The Impact of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act
Podcast: Russian Intention, Russian Aggression
From September 10 – 16, ZAPAD 2021—a major Russian military exercise that includes thousands of troops—will take place in and around Belarus. The exercise follows months of reports that the Russian military has been involved in actions that potentially could spark a major and violent confrontation between Russia and other countries, including a March deployment by Moscow of some 100,000 new troops in and around Ukraine and a June incident in the Black Sea in which Russian forces seemingly faced off against the British destroyer HMS Defender. In this episode, Lt. General Ben Hodges (Ret.) analyzes whether these developments represent a major escalation and imminent conflict with Russia; whether they are part of a deliberate, coordinated strategy by the Kremlin; and what, if any, guardrails could prevent Russian aggression against its neighbors or a direct conflict with NATO. "Helsinki on the Hill" is series of conversations hosted by the U.S. Helsinki Commission on human rights and comprehensive security in Europe and beyond. The Helsinki Commission, formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, promotes human rights, military security, and economic cooperation in 57 countries in Europe, Eurasia, and North America. Transcript | Episode 18 | Russian Intention, Russian Aggression
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.
OSCE Election Observation
In 1990, OSCE participating States pledged to hold free and fair elections and to invite foreign observers to observe its elections. Elections observation has since been recognized as 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. In 2020 alone, the OSCE has been invited to observe elections in nearly 20 OSCE participating States (Azerbaijan, Croatia, Georgia, Iceland, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Moldova, Monogolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and the United States).* History of OSCE Election Observation All OSCE participating States have committed to holding democratic elections that meet the same basic standards: universal access, equality, fairness, freedom, transparency, accountability, and privacy in voter submission. 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.
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.
By Orest Deychakiwsky & Janice Helwig
CSCE Staff Advisors
The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing October 10, 2002 to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing reviewed the United States’ goals and longstanding human rights concerns in the OSCE region and how the Vienna-based organization can serve as a forum to advance those goals and address human rights violations.
In his opening statement, Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) affirmed the importance of the relationship between the Helsinki Commission and the Department of State. He also declared the Commission’s ongoing interest in how the Administration uses the OSCE to effectively promote U.S. interests in the OSCE region.
Chairman Campbell stressed that to be effective in our policy goals, “the various components of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus – the State Department, U.S. embassies in the field and the U.S. Mission to the OSCE – must be mutually reinforcing.” Chairman Campbell addressed corruption and organized crime as major impediments to democratization efforts in the OSCE region and cited specific recent developments in Georgia, Belarus and Ukraine as warranting monitoring by the United States.
Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) began his opening statement by arguing that “without a doubt the events of this past year have only underscored the importance of protecting human rights, and developing democratic institutions and the rule of law.” He spoke out against those leaders, particularly in Central Asia, that use the fight against terrorism to crack down on political opposition, religious groups, and others accused of being extremist. Rather, allowing citizens to express their religious, political or ethnic views helps prevent the rise of dissent and disillusionment that terrorists can use to garner support.
“The United States must demonstrate in word and deed that this country has not abandoned human rights for the sake of the fight against global terrorism,” Smith concluded. “We need to reassure the world that it is just the opposite: human rights are more important than ever.” Smith drew particular attention to the issue of human trafficking as an increasing problem in “virtually all OSCE states.”
Commissioner Ranking Member Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), in his opening statement, argued that the OSCE has been an effective body for working on human rights issues. He cited the Central Asian countries as some of the most egregious human rights violators in the OSCE region and noted that raising human rights issues in these countries may be more difficult now as they are needed allies in the global struggle against terrorism. Hoyer pointed out that the U.S. must also uphold its own domestic commitments under the OSCE commitments and concluded by saying that in the future he hopes the OSCE will continue to hold participating States accountable for failures to meet their commitments under the Helsinki Final Act.
Commissioner Senator George V. Voinovich (R-OH), in his opening remarks, spoke of the alarming rise of anti-Semitism in the OSCE region and raised possible steps to combat this trend. He commended the role of OSCE monitoring missions in promoting fair elections in Kosovo and Macedonia, while also calling for continued vigilance in addressing the problems of “organized crime, corruption and trafficking in human beings, arms and drugs.”
A. Elizabeth Jones, Assistant Secretary of State of European and Eurasian Affairs, enumerated the ways in which the U.S. is using the OSCE as an instrument in the global struggle against terrorism. In her testimony, Jones said, “To ensure continuing OSCE attention to combating terrorism, we have proposed establishing an annual security review conference to assess progress and to review OSCE activities in the security dimension.” She noted that the OSCE’s monitoring missions play a valuable role in bringing security and stability to the OSCE region.
Changing focus, Jones maintained that the core of U.S. policy toward the OSCE would continue to be in the field of human rights. She highlighted the important role of the various OSCE monitoring missions in publicizing human rights abuses and bringing the issues to the attention of the international community. Jones continued, “unless respect for fundamental rights and freedoms strengthens in Central Asian states, we can look forward to a bleak future.”
Assistant Secretary Jones singled out Belarus as a particular area of concern due to its recent “policy of gutting the OSCE mission there by refusing to renew visas” while also noting that “the Lukashenka regime has continued to perpetrate massive human rights abuses.” Jones also outlined the State Department’s efforts to determine the details of President Kuchma’s authorization of the sale of advanced radar equipment to Iraq and outlined possible actions against the Ukrainian president.
Lorne W. Craner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and the Helsinki Commission’s Executive Branch Commissioner testified that the State Department had allocated “a substantial portion of the Human Rights and Democracy Fund...for hard-hitting democracy and human rights programs in numerous OSCE countries.”
Craner noted that the countries of the former Soviet Union have posed the greatest challenges to the OSCE. He specifically cited Russia and its continued justification of aggression in Chechnya as part of the war on terrorism. Craner concluded by noting the progress in some of the Central Asian countries in meeting international norms on human rights, fundamental freedoms and elections. However, he also delineated several instances of corruption, repression and intimidation throughout the various Central Asian states, instances that have hindered the full realization of these norms.
The second panel of witnesses began with a statement by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, CIS Program Director, International League for Human Rights, who discussed her views on OSCE shortcomings and what can be done to address them. She argued that without binding treaties, without troops, without clout and capital, there are still two very great levers that the OSCE has.”
Fitzpatrick specifically cited the OSCE’s validation of human rights victims’ concerns through “publicity of human rights reporting” and “withholding legitimacy and approval through its response to elections.” She continued with several proposals for using these levers coupled with “nuts and bolts human rights monitoring.” Among her specific recommendations were: requiring the OSCE to publicize its reports; suggesting that the OSCE’s missions advocate more forcefully on human rights at the ground level; beginning a very concerted campaign against torture; and decreasing funding for election training and observation.
Elizabeth Anderson, Executive Director (DC) of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch suggested two ways to strengthen the OSCE. First, she advocated the bolstering of human dimension activities by increasing the public reporting of the OSCE missions and improving the “implementation of recommendations” made to the OSCE by their missions and monitoring teams. Second, Anderson said the “integration of the human dimension with the other aspects of the organization’s work also needs to be strengthened.” She also noted the importance of coordination between the OSCE and other multilateral bodies, particularly international financial institutions.
The final witness, Robert Templar, Asia Program Director of the International Crisis Group, noted with regard to Central Asia, the OSCE has struggled to do meaningful human rights work in countries which have “little interest in opening up their political and economic systems.” He also cited low staffing, low budgeting and lack of long-term strategy as hindering the OSCE’s work in the region. He suggested that the OSCE increase activities in the economic and security dimension, such as police and border service training, to show Central Asian states that the OSCE is not simply a human rights and democracy promoting organization that has little interest in their respective countries’ security or economic success.
Templar advocated the creation of OSCE projects to tackle cross-dimensional issues and to work in conjunction with present undertakings in human rights and democracy. Finally, he advocated more comprehensive training for OSCE mission staff, not just in Central Asia, but rather in all OSCE missions.
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 David P. Vandenberg contributed to this article.