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Commission Surveys Bush Administration's Policy Toward the OSCE
Wednesday, January 15, 2003

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.

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