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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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  • 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 (Part 2)

    At the 1992 Helsinki Summit, previously limited references to migrant workers were expanded, and the heads of state or government mandated the newly established Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to convene a seminar on migrant workers. In the context of this expanded OSCE focus, the Helsinki Commission organized five days of public briefings examining: farm labor economics, demographics and living conditions, health and safety concerns, farmworker children's issues, and possible strategies for addressing problems facing farmworkers, their families and their employers. Those briefings were held on July 20, 1992; October 9, 1992; February 19, 1993; March 1, 1993; and April 8, 1993. The Commission subsequently published the briefing transcripts along with materials for the records submitted by the panelists. In addition, the Commission held a briefing on April 21, 1993, to hear from participants in that first OSCE seminar on migrant workers. The first four briefings were published on the Commission website in May 1993.​ Since the 1960s, the federal government has established numerous service programs to help meet the needs of migrant farmworkers. From the early days, migrants have been considered a uniquely federal responsibility, primarily because of their interstate movement, which makes it hard for the workers and their families to qualify for local assistance and disrupts other services like schooling for the children. As these programs have evolved, many have come to serve nonmigrant seasonal farmworkers as well.  The programs to meet health, education, housing, job training, and other needs of migrant and seasonal farmworkers (MSFWs) have developed seperately. There are approximately 10 MSFW-specific service programs, and farmworkers also draw upon the assistance of numerous other general programs such as food stamps or Medicaid. The four largest federal programs are Migrant Education, administered by the Department of Education; Migrant Health and Migrant Head Start, both administered by the Department of Health and Human Services; and the Department of Labor's special job training programs for MSFWs under section 402 of the Job Training Partnership Act. Click to read Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4, and Part 5.

  • Migrant Farmworkers in the United States (Part 1)

    At the 1992 Helsinki Summit, previously limited references to migrant workers were expanded, and the heads of state or government mandated the newly established Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to convene a seminar on migrant workers.  In the context of this expanded OSCE focus, the Helsinki Commission organized five days of public briefings examining: farm labor economics, demographics and living conditions, health and safety concerns, farmworker children's issues, and possible strategies for addressing problems facing farmworkers, their families and their employers. Those briefings were held on July 20, 1992; October 9, 1992; February 19, 1993; March 1, 1993; and April 8, 1993. The Commission subsequently published the briefing transcripts along with materials for the records submitted by the panelists. In addition, the Commission held a briefing on April 21, 1993, to hear from participants in that first OSCE seminar on migrant workers. The first four briefings were published on the Commission website in May 1993. Click to read Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

  • Migrant Farmworkers in the United States (Part 5)

    At the 1992 Helsinki Summit, previously limited references to migrant workers were expanded, and the heads of state or government mandated the newly established Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to convene a seminar on migrant workers.  In the context of this expanded OSCE focus, the Helsinki Commission organized five days of public briefings examining: farm labor economics, demographics and living conditions, health and safety concerns, farmworker children's issues, and possible strategies for addressing problems facing farmworkers, their families and their employers. Those briefings were held on July 20, 1992; October 9, 1992; February 19, 1993; March 1, 1993; and April 8, 1993. The Commission subsequently published the briefing transcripts along with materials for the records submitted by the panelists. In addition, the Commission held a briefing on April 21, 1993, to hear from participants in that first OSCE seminar on migrant workers. The first four briefings were published on the Commission website in May 1993. 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. Click to read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

  • 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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