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Briefings

The Helsinki Commission organizes both public and staff briefings with expert witnesses on OSCE-related issues ranging from human rights and fundamental freedoms to terrorism and corruption.

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  • Human Rights in Turkey

    Sam Wise, director for international policy at the Commission, led a discussion on the human rights situation in Turkey in 1995, specifically regarding Turkey’s Kurdish minority and the human rights implications of terrorism.  Wise highlighted the human costs of both terrorism itself and efforts to combat it, which has mainly affected civilians. Panelists Akin Birdal and Yavuz Onen spoke of the assassinations and disappearances of prominent human rights activists, journalists and others that unfortunately became routine by 1995. Those who publicize human rights violations in Turkey faced official harassment or jail for their efforts.

  • U.S. Assistance to Central and Eastern Europe and the NIS: An Assessment

    This briefing discussed the successes achieved and the difficulties encountered on the road to democratic reform and stabilization are reflected throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and evaluated the impact of these factors in the scope and tenor of U.S. assistance programs. Such programs involve assistance to countries throughout the region in democratic institution building, market reform and restructuring, health care improvement, energy efficiency, environmental policy, and housing sector reform. Witnesses testifying at this briefing addressed the relevance of the crisis in Chechnya, continued conflict in the Balkans, and tensions in various parts of East-Central Europe to United States Interests in the region. They focused on the goals of U.S. assistance to the NIS and East-Central Europe and the effectiveness of current programs in furthering those goals.

  • Status of Media Freedom in Democracies

    This briefing detailed the progress of media freedom in newly democratic states, especially within Eastern Europe. The role of the media in the democratization process and methods for promoting freedom of the media were examined as well. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including David Webster, Chairman of the  Trans-Atlantic Dialogue on European Broadcasting and Sandra Pralong, President of Democracy Works – detailed several major values that a free media promotes in the democratic process, including peaceful social change, education of the democratic electorate, dissenting opinions about the government and society in general, and transparency of political corruption.

  • Nagorno-Karabakh

    In this briefing, which CSCE Staff Director Samuel G. Wise chaired, the focus was on the conflict that had then recently transpired between the countries of Armenia and Azerbaijan. More specifically, the two countries had had a territorial dispute regarding the area of Nagorno-Karabakh. This dispute had manifested itself into all-out violence that had claimed around 15 million lives at the time of the briefing, as well as creating well over a million refugees. The briefing was the fifth in a series of briefings and hearings that the Helsinki Commission had held since 1988 regarding Nagorno-Karabakh. Fortunately, also at the time of this briefing, there had been very few armed clashes for a couple of months, and the warring factions had observed an informal cease fire. Actually, just three days prior to the briefing, the Defense Ministers of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Nagorno-Karabakh jointly noted the success of the cease fire and looked forward to a more comprehensive resolution of the conflict. With this decrease in violence, attention had shifted to the international diplomatic plane. The CSCE and the Russians had put forward at least somewhat similar cease fire plans, albeit with competition for adherence. The ultimate end of both approaches was a broader agreement about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh and making peace in the region. The purpose of the briefing, then, was to discuss the possible framework of a political settlement.

  • Banned Turkish Parliamentarians Discuss State of Democracy in Turkey

    The briefing addressed the limitations of free speech in Turkey, which fell victim to the government’s war against the Kurdish minority. The Commission brought to attention the arrests and detention of Democracy Party parliamentarians and others who spoke out in support of rights for Turkey’s Kurdish citizens, which brought the Turkish government’s commitment to free speech and other basic human rights into question. On June 16th, the Democratic Part was banned by the Turkish Constitutional Court. Remzi Kartal, a member of Turkish Parliament, was among those who were forced to flee the country as a result. He was joined by Ali Yigit, a member of the Turkish Parliament who was also stripped of his status. At the briefing, Kartal and Yigit jointly addressed the political and economic problems in Turkey, centered on the 20 million Turkish Kurds who do not have a voice in Turkey’s government.

  • Crime and Corruption in Russia

    The rationale of this briefing, which Commission Staff Director Sam Wise presided over, was that of a marked increase of crime in Russia. At the time of this briefing, crime had become the dominant subject in Russian politics. Unsurprisingly, the extent of crime in Russia had significant implications for its society, specifically for hte viability of the state. In fact, President Yeltsin had called crime the Russian state’s gravest threat. A question that Wise brought up in the briefing was the possibility of criminals taking over the Russian Federation’s government. Another possibility that Wise mentioned was election of authoritarian, repressive leaders who would make Russia safe. Witnesses in the briefing included Dr. Louise Shelly of American University’s Department of Justice, Law and Society, and Stephen Handelman, Associate Fellow at the Harriman Center of Columbia University.

  • Doing Business in Russia and the NIS: Opportunities and Obstacles

    Jane Fisher, Deputy Staff Director of the Helsinki Commission, presided this briefing focused on trade and doing business in the Newly Indipendent States of the former Soviet Union. It was the third in a series of briefings by the Commission on NIS. The Helsinki Accords cover human rights, security, and economic cooperation, and when the countries of the former Soviet Union were making the transition to democracy, the Commission put a greater emphasis on trade and economic cooperation. Russia and the Newly Independent States had a great potential market. They had enormous natural resources, large consumer markets, and a huge potential for trade and investments. Ms. Fisher was joined by a distinguished panel of experts who have been directly involved in business development in the formet Soviet Union: Dr. Richard Rahn, President and Chief executive officer of Novecon; Edward Chow, Director of International Affairs for Chevron Overseas Petroleum; and Joseph Barker, Vice Presidentof Ryland Trading. They described their experiences and shared their views on the opportunities and hazards of doing business in Russia and the NIS.  

  • Focus On Serious Challenges Facing the Ukraine

    David Evans, senior advisor at the Commission, addressed the economic, political, and regional challenges Ukraine faces and emphasized Ukraine’s geo-strategic importance, especially as a bulwark against any potential Russian imperialism.  Evans was joined by Dr. Irini Isakova and Adrian Karatnycky, who highlighted Ukraine’s lack of economic reform and its continuing economic decline since claiming independence in 1991. The panelists focused on Ukraine’s regional issues and domestic and foreign regarding internal divisions, including serious challenges for Ukrainian-Russian relations regarding Crimea.

  • Russia and NATO: Moscow’s Foreign Policy and the Partnership for Peace

    This briefing examined what role Russia would play in the Partnership for Peace and NATO. It also looks at human rights concerns as well as military, security, and economic relations bewteen Russia and the West. Several complexities of this situation in the context of the post-communist period were addressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Lawrence DiRita, Deputy Director of Foreign and Defense Policy for the Heritage Foundation and Dr. Phillip Petersen, Principle Researcher for the Potomac Foundation – evaluated the Partnership for Peace Framework, which worked towards establishing partnerships with a number of European country, including those of the former Soviet Union. The role of Russian policy in this partnership was an especially debated topic.

  • CSCE to Examine Repression against Evangelicals in Former Soviet Union

    Chris Smith, ranking Republican on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, addressed both the opportunities for democratic, economic, and social reforms in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and the difficulties of achieving these reforms presented by renewed tensions based on nationality and religion. The rise of extreme nationalism was cited as a key factor in the rise of religious intolerance in this region. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Boris Pechatkin and Edward Zawistowski of the Russian-American Institute for Adaption, and Lauren Homer, Director of Law and Liberty Trust – addressed the difficulties that have been encountered in ending religious prosecution following the fall of the Soviet Union. The impact of a breakdown of law and order in the countries of Eastern Europe was evaluated as a mechanism for religious injustice.

  • Situation of Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey

    The briefing, introduced by Mary Sue Hafner, was another chapter in the Commission’s ongoing examination of minority issues within the CSCE and focused on the issue of the Kurdish minority, who constitute the fourth largest nationality in the Middle East, of approximately 20 to 25 million, primarily concentrated in the states of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and, to a lesser extent, in Syria. What is common to the Kurdish minority in all of the countries in which they live is the lack of institutional protection of human rights and individual freedoms. The witnesses - Dr. Mark Epstein, Ahmet Turk from the People’s Labor Party, and Barham Salih, the Iraqi Kurdish Representative - spoke of the need for recognition of human rights and self-determination for Kurdish people in the region. They provided the audience with a historical context and political framework in which the situation existed in 1993 and discussed the possibility for progress in recognizing Kurdish rights.

  • Migrant Farmworkers in the United States

    Sam Wise, staff director at the Commission, was joined by Maria Echaveste, Mike Hancock, and Linda Diane Mull in discussing the issue of migrant workers in the United States. They compared the treatment of migrant workers in Europe to the laws in the United States and mentioned that the United States focused greatly on illegal workers, as opposed to Europe. The briefing drew from the recent seminar in Warsaw on migrant workers and included members of the United States Delegation to the meeting, such as Maria Echavestee, who spoke of their observations.

  • Human Rights in Turkey Part 2

    In this briefing, Mary Sue Hafner, Deputy Staff Director to the Commission, addresses the state of human rights in Turkey and its failure to build effective, enduring democratic institutions.  Hafner highlights the most pressing issues as being torture, the rights of minorities, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. This continuation of the transcript includes Maryam Elahi’s and Namik Tan’s statements on the human rights conditions in Turkey in 1993. Elahi summarizes Amnesty International’s concerns regarding Turkey’s increase in torture, its extrajudicial killings and “disappearances,” and the general targeting of minorities and opposition members. Tan emphasizes the dissolution of the Soviet Union as catalyzing the instability in the region surrounding Turkey and insisted on the importance of Turkey’s security to the West.

  • Human Rights in Turkey

    In this briefing, Mary Sue Hafner, Deputy Staff Director to the Commission, addressed the state of human rights in Turkey and its failure to build effective, enduring democratic institutions.  Hafner highlighted the most pressing issues as being torture, the rights of minorities, freedom of expression, and freedom of association. Panelists focused on Turkey’s NATO membership, the assumption that Tukey would share values and ideologies with other NATO members, and the policy challenge their membership creates for the United States when battling Turkey’s human rights abuses. They also emphasized Turkey’s history of torturing their Kurdish population and questioned its ability to accommodate legitimate Kurdish cultural aspirations while maintaining its integrity as a state and a functioning democracy.

  • Presidential Election in Azerbaijan

    This briefing discussed the Azerbaijani election that occured two weeks before. The election itself brought to power a popular front government which asked foreign governments not to recognize Azerbaijan upon its independence from the former U.S.S.R., as relayed by witness Thomas Goltz. The rationale for this seemingly counterintuitive request was that, while Azerbaijan had become sovereign again, the “powers that be” were still Communist. There were maneuvers by the popular front and its chairman, Abulfez Elchibey, to postpone the election, until it became apparent in mid-May of 1992 that the popular front would win. A skirmish at the Azeri Parliament transpired, and while the popular front emerged victorious in elections, Goltz was pessimistic about the country’s trajectory. Also in attendance was Shireen Hunter with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

  • Business Roundtable: The Helsinki Process

    In this briefing, Samuel Wise, staff director at the Commission, introduces the Helsinki Process and the countries it involves, focusing on the section of economic cooperation in The Helsinki Final Act. The briefing assesses the usefulness of the Helsinki Final Act and of the Commission in American business with Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Wise was joined by Jane Fisher, deputy staff director at the Commission, who called upon the participation of the audience in assessing the compliance of the countries of Eastern and Central Europe and the Republics of the Soviet Union. The conversation includes Commissioners and members of the audience with diverse experience.   

  • Chernobyl: Five Years Later

    Held as a fifth anniversary commemoration of the disaster at Chernobyl, the briefing featured a short film that was produced by an Australian film company on Chernobyl’s progress in the five years after the crisis. Afterward, Samuel Wise, staff director at the Commission, led the discussion on the damage Chernobyl continued to have on surrounding regions in 1991. Witnesses Dr. David Marples and Dr. Natalia Preobrazhensk addressed the environmental concerns and political authority over Chernobyl, along with how Ukraine’s judicial system had dealt with the situation. They also acknowledged the situation of Soviet nuclear power at the time.

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