Title

Democracy in Albania: the Pace of Progress

Monday, May 06, 2013
Capitol Visitor Center, Senate Room 210-212
Washington, DC 20515
United States
Official Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Ben Cardin
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Robert Aderholt
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Eliot Engel
Title Text: 
Ranking Member
Body: 
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Name: 
Hon. Michael Turner
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
U.S. Delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Philip T. Reeker
Title: 
Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Body: 
U.S. Department of State
Name: 
Elez Biberaj
Title: 
Director, Eurasia Division
Body: 
Voice of America
Name: 
Besa Shahini
Title: 
Senior Analyst
Body: 
European Stability Initiative
Name: 
H.E. Mr. Gilbert Galanxhi
Title: 
Ambassador of Albania to the U.S.A.

Prior to 1991, Albania was ruled by one of the communist world’s most repressive regimes and was the only country in Europe refusing to participate in the Helsinki process.  In the two decades following, the country made enormous strides to become a democratic state where human rights are respected and to become an active participant in European affairs, and became a member of the NATO Alliance in 2009.

Despite this progress, Albania continues to struggle in building its democratic institutions and practices, including respect for the rule of law.  As Albania prepared for parliamentary elections in June 2013, this hearing assessed the degree to which progress has begun to fall short of expectations at home and abroad, and what could be done to accelerate the pace of further reforms related to good governance.

Relevant countries: 
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  • The OSCE at a Crossroads

    Dr. Terry Hopmann is one of few American academics who has followed the Helsinki Process as it developed over four decades from a multilateral conference of 35 countries dealing with Cold War divisions – the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe – to a regional organization of 57 countries confronting a broad range of challenges across its security, economic and human dimensions – today’s Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As well-acquainted with the intricacies of its institutional development as the diplomats who negotiated them, Hopmann also considers the Helsinki Process and its importance in the context of the broader development of European affairs and the U.S.-Russian relationship.  In his current capacity as Professor of International Relations and Conflict Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), based in Washington, DC, Hopmann not only introduces the OSCE to graduate students preparing for a career in international relations but also invites them to contribute to the intensive study of OSCE-related hot spots, including through field visits to areas such as Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh.  Focusing especially on security issues, Dr. Hopmann frequently interacts with the Helsinki Commission, both at OSCE-organized meetings in Europe and at Commission-organized briefings and hearings in Washington. In light of the numerous challenges the OSCE currently faces, including Russia’s markedly aggressive behavior and fears of an eroding U.S. commitment to European security and cooperation, Helsinki Commission staff recently sought Hopmann out to discuss the utility of the Helsinki Process in the past, and the interplay of U.S., Russian and European interests through the OSCE today and into the future. The OSCE’s Value Hopmann asserts in no uncertain terms that “OSCE membership is very beneficial for the United States.”  The organization has made major contributions to defusing conflicts and increasing military transparency, Hopmann believes; he also underlines the need to keep in mind the organization’s role in the defense of human rights. “The OSCE’s defense of national sovereignty, minority rights, and other important socio-political freedoms, together help prevent or at least de-escalate conflict, and make escalation harder. We see this precise action with regards to Ukraine right now. There’s a lot of value in that,” he notes. “The OSCE remains important for the U.S. in promoting its interests abroad, and at relatively low cost,” Hopmann adds.  “Still, the OSCE needs more support. The United States has struggled to engage with multilateral organizations and this represents a major issue. Without permanent and knowledgeable diplomatic representation and without the guarantee of adequate funding and resources, the OSCE’s capacity to act is severely hindered, and we play a role in that. Furthermore, the fact that we do not have a permanent representative there at the moment devalues the OSCE in ways that are dangerous.” Hopmann calls for the United States to continue to “support the OSCE institutions and missions, help its fellow member states in their work at the OSCE, and not forget its commitment to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, nor lose sight of their significance.” In the past, the Helsinki Process made important contributions to stability and peace in Europe, Hopmann believes. The confidence-building measures developed through the Helsinki Process of the mid-1970s, in particular, “initiated the practice of international observation and greater transparency. As a result, states could now better distinguish military maneuvers and exercises from preparations for a surprise attack. In many ways this was the most important breakthrough during the Cold War, greatly reducing the risk for surprise attack from the Soviet Union. This anxiety was a root cause of the Cold War and animated the conduct of both Western and Eastern powers. Of course, there were the ideological arguments that influenced the political landscape, but in Europe, the fear of Soviet aggression was immense.” At the time these confidence-building measures were negotiated, the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was still a vivid, recent memory. Hopmann also acknowledges the value of the other, non-military baskets of issues discussed in the Helsinki context. “The human rights basket was also important, though not as immediate,” he observes. “For the negotiators, this basket was less about human rights, but more about the promotion of human interaction. It was, effectively, an agreement to begin encouraging cultural and educational exchange.  In the shorter term, the first basket [on political-military issues] was critical, but in the longer term, the third basket [on human rights] became more important - particularly after the 1986 Stockholm agreement updated the CSBMs that were at the heart of Helsinki’s Basket 1. Then, following the Vienna Review Conference that concluded in early 1989, suddenly people were guaranteed the right to enter and leave their own country. Here, we see the first breach in the Iron Curtain when Hungary allowed people to cross freely into Austria – it didn’t all fall at once in 1989, rather it was a gradual process that started with a CSCE set of expanded principles. “ Hopmann considers the institutional development of the European security architecture in the post-Cold War period to have in many ways played out to the OSCE’s disadvantage.  Although initially successful in the 1990s with the deployment of field missions, successive U.S. administrations have missed an opportunity by viewing the OSCE as an organization principally relating to human rights concerns, rather than political-military security. “We missed the idea that NATO and the OSCE are not mutually exclusive,” he says “While we’ve contributed a lot to the OSCE, NATO remains the priority for policy makers in Washington. We have yet to realize how closely and effectively they can and should be working together. I believe this is our biggest foreign policy mistake since the end of the Cold War. It is the most effective way to bring Russia to the negotiating table and it is far easier to work with them in Vienna than the UN. The OSCE remains a security institution, like NATO, and as long as we value using all diplomatic measures to resolve conflict before using military force, we’re making a mistake by underutilizing the OSCE.” A growing European Union has not necessarily helped, Hopmann believes.  “The development of the E.U. has somewhat complicated the operation of the OSCE. Through the creation of its own common foreign and security policy and other initiatives, Brussels has duplicated OSCE institutions, but without the participation of the United States and Russia. Thus, the E.U. alone simply isn’t as effective,” he observes. “There is a lot of overlap between the two bodies and this begets structural and bureaucratic blockages that prevent action, especially when E.U. and OSCE representatives diverge or try to do the same thing independently. So, like OSCE-NATO relations, the E.U.’s relationship with the OSCE is occasionally marked by competition that hurts both parties’ effectiveness.” The View from Kremlin Walls Many of the earlier successes of the Helsinki Process were enabled by a very different leadership in Moscow than that we see today, Hopmann suggests. Under the late-Soviet leadership and Russian President Yeltsin, “there was a real interest to engage more with the West. They were, generally speaking, in support of Helsinki and didn’t view it as a threat to Russian interests,” he says. “That strongly contrasts with Putin. Putin has a totally different worldview and perceives the OSCE’s interests as inimical to Russian national priorities. We now find a much stronger, more belligerent Russia that no longer trusts the OSCE to help protect its interests, as it once did.”  This dynamic creates a real danger that Russia could turn away from the OSCE completely.  “The Kremlin could decide to leave as a result of domestic pressure or as a result of frustration with the West and its criticism. The Russians feel that they are attacked on all sides in the OSCE and obviously derive no joy from it,” Hopmann notes.    He therefore warns against outright rejection of all Russian concerns in the OSCE area, for instance as regards ensuring the protection of Russian-speaking populations in neighboring states.  “It is paramount that, in the spirit of Helsinki, we ensure Russian minorities are treated equally and fairly, to avoid perceived provocations by the West that might serve as a pretext for Russia to intervene. He suggests the closure of earlier OSCE missions in the Baltic states might have been perceived by Moscow, rightly or wrongly, as evidence that the OSCE was no longer responding to Russian concerns. Russia’s military occupation and subsequent illegal annexation of Crimea might have been averted, Hopmann asserts, had its view of the OSCE not evolved so dramatically from the first post-Cold War decade to the second.  While objecting to Kosovo’s bid for statehood based on core OSCE commitments regarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states, even a decade ago Moscow was willing to engage diplomatically to resolve the issue. In the case of Crimea in 2014, it was not. “They prioritized military force over diplomacy – the precise kind of behavior the OSCE was designed to discourage,” Hopmann states.  He predicts that “while this decision may have been tactically effective, it will hurt Russia in the long run. The OSCE is designed to deal with these situations and it has the institutional framework to do so effectively – Russia failed to take advantage of the OSCE and we’re all now paying the price.” Still, Moscow recognizes that the OSCE is still valuable to Russian interests, according to Hopmann: “Russia wields a lot of influence in the OSCE because of their effective veto power under the consensus rule – indeed, the Kremlin recognizes the sway it carries in it and recognizes the OSCE as the place where it can effectively and discreetly negotiate with both the U.S. and the E.U. Ultimately, the OSCE is designed precisely to facilitate this kind of diplomatic interaction, and it meshes more closely with Putin’s view of how diplomacy should be conducted than the U.N. I believe it is for this reason that the Russians have been willing to work with the OSCE on some issues, including the conflict in Ukraine.” Effectively engaging Russia at the OSCE will remain a challenge, Hopmann adds, suggesting that a multilateral format may be useful.  “The most important question we face is how to continue the discussion and being firm with Russia when it blatantly violates OSCE norms as it did in Ukraine, without going overboard with our criticisms,” he says. “There are some countries, like Austria, Finland and Switzerland that are simply better at dealing with Russia, due to their past or current neutrality. Russia prefers to deal through them and likely finds it easier to appear to cooperate with them than working directly with the U.S.” On the OSCE’s Role in Conflicts The OSCE is demonstrating clear added-value in conflict areas today, according to Hopmann, including in and around Ukraine, and as regards the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.  Hopmann praised the OSCE as having “played a key role in ensuring the [Ukraine] conflict does not escalate and cause more destruction. Indeed, within the limits of its mandate and available resource, the OSCE has done admirable work; however, this scope is limited and much remains to be done. Thus, the best thing the U.S. can do is to continue to support the OSCE’s mission and the Minsk process. It’s not ideal, but there’s no better option.”  Frustration over the OSCE’s inability to overcome the absence of political will to prevent or stop the conflict altogether should not overshadow its success in ascertaining the facts on the ground and galvanizing a defense of key principles guiding international behavior, he believes.  Regarding Nagorno-Karabakh, Hopmann suggests that the OSCE has moderated what could otherwise be a much more intense conflict.  “The presence of the OSCE has helped already,” he says. “Its presence helped diffuse the four day war last year and prevented it from becoming a more violent conflict. Still, there is significant risk that the conflict will escalate and this highlights the importance of OSCE and the role it may play in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh question.” Hopmann believes that an alignment of U.S.-Russian interests in Nagorno-Karabakh, even if partial, may be helpful here.  “The OSCE absolutely has the mandate and ability to negotiate such a deal and to organize peace-keeping initiatives to ensure the conflict does not start up again. That being said, this process will be long, complicated, and expensive,” he predicts. The Future Hopmann concedes that the OSCE will remain beset for the foreseeable future with challenges largely emanating from the consensus-based decision-making process, over which any one country (including Russia) effectively has a veto.  However, he remains convinced that “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue dialogue. In fact, we must continue dialogue. Many people remain committed to the OSCE and its values, including some Russian diplomats – though they’re keeping a low profile at the moment. This bodes well not only for change in the OSCE, but also for Russia. Change is not impossible, and keeping the dialogue channels open is of incredible importance. Without them, when the chance to encourage positive change does appear, we will not be able to capitalize on it. We worked together immediately after the Cold War to diffuse East-West tensions and ensure a peaceful Europe. There is no reason we cannot do that again.” Professor Hopmann was interviewed by Bob Hand and Alex Tiersky, Helsinki Commission Staff.

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    For months, watchers of European security have focused unprecedented attention on one, singular scheduled event:  ZAPAD 2017, a Joint Strategic Military Exercise conducted by Russia and Belarus from September 14 to September 20, 2017. The author, the political-military affairs advisor for the U.S. Helsinki Commission staff, attended the final phase of the exercise as a Distinguished Visitor at the invitation of the Government of Belarus.    ZAPAD 2017, the most anticipated—and, in some quarters, feared—military exercise in recent memory concluded on September 20. The extensive maneuvers by Belarusian and Russian forces took place at a number of training ranges in Belarus and on nearby Russian territory and featured a broad range of military capabilities. The planned exercise was in some ways routine; it followed a well-known Russian schedule of readiness-enhancing exercises that rotates among Russia’s military districts on a quadrennial basis (“ZAPAD,” or “West,” takes place in the Western Military District). However, unlike previous exercises, ZAPAD 2017 took place in a strategic context now defined by Russian aggression in Ukraine and Georgia—incursions that were, according to western analysts, facilitated by Russian exercise activity.  The Russian leadership's track record of aggression, dismissiveness towards transparency, and geopolitical unpredictability understandably put its neighbors to the west on edge.  These countries have seen prior Russian exercises serve as cover for force build-ups that enabled, for instance, the illegal attempted annexation of Crimea. Leading officials ranging from Baltic defense ministers, to the Ukrainian President, to the Secretary General of NATO raised concerns about what ZAPAD 2017 might mean for the security of Belarus' neighbors, both before the exercise and during its execution. Download the full report to learn more.

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  • Building Cyber Confidence between Adversaries

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  • OSCE Debates Environmental Policy and Economic Development in Prague

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    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. The Russian Federation has adopted, by consensus, OSCE commitments relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, free and fair elections, the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary. However, in many areas the Russian government is failing to live up to its commitments. Download the full report to learn more.

  • Preventing Modern Slavery through Education of Children

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. As traffickers seek to lure adolescents into exploitation, holistic anti-trafficking education of teachers and children directly in schools is emerging as a critical tool to fight modern day slavery across the OSCE region.  Education has long been used in the prevention of human trafficking, the first of “3 Ps”—prevention, prosecution, and protection—around which most of the OSCE participating States have structured their laws to combat trafficking in human beings.  For instance, embassies and consulates include trafficking warnings and trafficking hotlines in information to individuals seeking visas, especially those individuals coming to be domestic servants. Tourists are educated in airports about the legal penalties of sexually exploiting vulnerable children.  Flight attendants and hotel operators are trained in how to recognize and safely report potential trafficking victims. Members of the law enforcement community are educated in the procedures for identifying trafficking victims among migrant and refugee flows through programs like the OSCE Extra Budgetary Project, which successfully concluded its third training last week in Vicenza, Italy.  International organizations have targeted aid for trafficking awareness education in countries where severe lack of economic opportunity makes teens extremely vulnerable to sham offers of jobs abroad. However, traffickers are increasingly preying upon children’s social vulnerability, not just economic need.  Social vulnerability—such as feelings of alienation, unresolved emotional or physical abuse, learning disabilities, or unfamiliarity with a new culture and language—means that children of every socio-economic background across participating States are at risk of being taken advantage of by traffickers.  Children’s often unlimited and unmonitored access to the internet can also endanger them.  Traffickers scout social media with fake profiles, looking for children they can extort into trafficking.  A child sends a half-naked photo to their “new friend” on social media, who then threatens to send the photos to the child’s parents and friends—unless the child does as they say.  No child is immune, but some are now smarter than their would-be traffickers. Non-governmental organizations in the United States and United Kingdom have been taking prevention to new heights through programs to train children in schools how to avoid being ensnared by human traffickers.  The Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives PROTECT project, and Just Enough UK, to name a few, have pioneered curricula that helps children—and their teachers—navigate the new faces and ploys of modern day slavery. Including age-appropriate, anti-trafficking education of teachers and school children in the standard curriculum for all children means that the suffering and harm caused by human trafficking can be halted early—or avoided altogether.  At a recent hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, Robert Benz, observed, “The cost benefits to taxpayers, for preventing or mitigating human trafficking at an early stage, are enormous. The human benefit for preventing someone from being victimized is incalculable.” Such educational initiatives may soon benefit from new federal government grants in the United States.  Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith, Special Representative for Human Trafficking Issues to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and author of the U.S. laws that establish and fund the “3Ps”, included in the new Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2200) authority for the training of teachers and students to recognize and avoid human trafficking.  H.R. 2200 passed the House of Representatives in July and awaits consideration in the U.S. Senate.

  • Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Meets with New ODIHR Director Gísladóttir

    On September 13, Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Ambassador David T. Killion met with the new Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Ingibjörg Gísladóttir, during the 2017 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw, Poland. Ambassador Killion stressed the Commission’s commitment to the autonomy and work of ODIHR, and highlighted several Commission priorities including fighting anti-Semitism and racism; combating trafficking in persons; promoting religious freedom; and strengthening democratic institutions. He also noted the Commission’s support for the work of the ODIHR Contact Point on Roma and Sinti Issues. Ambassador Killion urged Director Gísladóttir to continue ODIHR’s positive collaboration with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, noting strong Commission support for OSCE election observation. Turning to the HDIM, he emphasized the importance of the continued open participation of civil society in the event, which is a singular feature of the annual meeting. He said the Commission will continue to fulfill its mandate to monitor the participating States’ compliance with their OSCE commitments, with particular regard to those relating to human rights.  

  • The Scourge of Russian Disinformation

    Russian disinformation is a grave transnational threat, facilitating unacceptable aggression by Russia both at home and across the 57-nation OSCE region. Russian disinformation helps support rampant violations of OSCE norms by the Putin regime, ranging from internal human rights abuses to military intervention in neighboring states to interference in elections in several countries. On Thursday, September 14, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a hearing on Russian disinformation in the OSCE region. Sen. Cory Gardner (CO) presided over the hearing on behalf of Commission Chairman Sen. Robert Wicker (MS). Witnesses included Mr. John F. Lansing, CEO and Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors; Ms. Molly McKew, CEO of Fianna Strategies; and Ms. Melissa Hooper, Director of Human Rights and Civil Society Programs at Human Rights First. In his opening statement, Sen. Gardner described the serious threat that Russian disinformation poses to the liberal international order, and underscored “how it undermines the security and human rights of people in the OSCE region.” Russia’s goal, he said, is “to sow fear, discord, and paralysis that undermines democratic institutions and weakens critical Western alliances such as NATO and the EU.” Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) highlighted the impact of Russian disinformation campaigns in Ukraine in conjunction with the recent invasions of Crimea and the Donbas. He also noted the extent of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election in the United States, and observed that such disinformation campaigns take advantage of our democratic institutions to advance Russia’s strategic agenda. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) characterized Russia’s disinformation efforts as a part of a strategy of “hybrid war,” and emphasized the need for the United States and its allies to develop counter-disinformation strategies as part of a “hybrid defense.” Mr. Lansing, the first witness to testify, outlined the structure and scope of the BBG’s broadcasting operations, and the role it plays in countering disinformation abroad. “The Russian strategy seeks to destroy the very idea of an objective, verifiable set of facts,” he said. “The BBG is adapting to meet this challenge head on by offering audiences an alternative to Russian disinformation in the form of objective, independent, and professional news and information.” He also described the BBG’s recent expansion of programming in the Post-Soviet space, and its flagship Russian-language program "Current Time," launched in February 2017. In her testimony, Ms. McKew described Russia’s disinformation campaign as “the core component of a war being waged by the Russian state against the West, and against the United States in particular.” She noted, “These manipulations don’t create tendencies or traits in our societies.  They elevate, exploit, and distort divides and grievances that already are present.” She also emphasized the need for a coordinated response from the United States Government and its allies, and proposed an increased role for the U.S. military in countering disinformation. Ms. Hooper reminded the Commission that, while Russian disinformation has taken center stage in recent U.S. policy debates, it is only one of many methods employed by the Russian government to advance its agenda. “It’s part of a coordinated effort to disrupt and attack liberal norms wherever the opportunity arises using economic influence, electoral disruption, [and] the weakening of multilateral institutions,” she said. She also discussed the upcoming German parliamentary elections, and the potential for disinformation to influence its outcome. She commended the German government’s efforts to warn the public about disinformation, but criticized recent legislation that would increase censorship on social media. In response to a question from Sen. Gardner, Ms. Hooper noted that countering disinformation requires more than fact-checking false claims, and emphasized the need for a strategy of proactive narrative communication. Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04) concurred with Ms. McKew’s statement that, in order to combat the threat of Russian disinformation, it is necessary for the Administration and Congress to come to a consensus on the existence of Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) inquired about the potential for Russian influence in upcoming elections by means of anonymous campaign spending, and about the role that the international banking system plays in sustaining corruption in Russia and neighboring states. Rep. Smith and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH) sought the witnesses’ opinions on the recent news that Russian state-owned networks RT and Sputnik are being investigated for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Ms. McKew spoke in favor of stricter enforcement of FARA, while Mr. Lansing responded that he has concerns about retaliatory restrictions on U.S.-funded media in Russia. “I believe that this disinformation is one of the biggest threats that our democracy faces today,” said Sen. Shaheen. “This is a threat to the foundations of American democracy. It has nothing to do with Republicans and Democrats.”

  • Democratic Elections in the OSCE Region

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. In the 1990 Copenhagen Document, the OSCE participating States adopted, by consensus, watershed commitments on free and fair elections. They stated that the participating States: “. . . solemnly declare that among those elements of justice which are essential to the full expression of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings are the following: [ . . . ] — free elections that will be held at reasonable intervals by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedure, under conditions which ensure in practice the free expression of the opinion of the electors in the choice of their representatives; [ . . . ] — a clear separation between the State and political parties; in particular, political parties will not be merged with the State;”  Accordingly, the participating States rejected the concept of a one-party state or “modified” democracy (e.g., communist- or socialist-democracy).  In a summit held later that year, the OSCE Heads of State or Government declared, “We undertake to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.” In spite of the OSCE commitment to hold free and fair elections, some OSCE participating States have demonstrated even more resistance—if not complete unwillingness—to hold free and fair elections. In a few, a transfer of power is more likely to be the result of death than an election.  In some cases, a generation has come of age under a single ruler or ruling family. Download the full report to learn more. Download highlights of conclusions and recommendations drawn from OSCE election reports (October 2016 to September 2017).

  • Criminal Defamation and "Insult" Laws in the OSCE Region

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. Numerous international documents, including those adopted by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), establish freedom of expression as a fundamental right. However, the right to free speech is not absolute. Consistent with international law, certain kinds of speech, such as obscenity, may be prohibited or regulated. When governments do restrict speech, those restrictions must be consistent with their international obligations and commitments; for example, the restrictions must be necessary in a democratic country and proscribed by law. Criminal defamation and "insult" laws are often defended as necessary to prevent alleged abuses of freedom of expression, but they are not consistent with OSCE norms and their use constitutes an infringement on the fundamental right to free speech. Despite this, criminal defamation and insult laws continue to be abused for political purposes in several OSCE participating States. Download the full report to learn more.

  • The 2017 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting: An Overview

    Each year,1 the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) organizes the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw, Poland. As Europe’s largest annual human rights conference, the HDIM brings together hundreds of government and nongovernmental representatives, international experts, and human rights activists for two weeks to review OSCE human rights commitments and progress.  The 2017 HDIM will be held from September 11 to September 22. Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2017 The HDIM allows participating States to assess one another’s implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, identify challenges, and make recommendations for improvement. The HDIM agenda covers all human dimension commitments, including freedoms of expression and the media, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief; democratic elections; the rule of law; tolerance and non-discrimination; combating trafficking in persons; women’s rights; and national minorities, including Roma.  Each year, three special topics are selected for a full-day review.  2017 special topics will be 1) ensuring “equal enjoyment of rates and participation in political and public life,” 2) “tolerance and nondiscrimination,” and 3) “economic, social and cultural rights as an answer to rising inequalities.”  This year’s meeting will take place at the Warsaw National Stadium (PGE Narodowy), the site of the NATO summit earlier this year. The meeting will be webcast live. Background on the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting When the Helsinki Final Act was signed in Finland in 1975, it enshrined among its ten Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States (the Decalogue) a commitment to "respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion" (Principle VII). In addition, the Final Act included a section on cooperation regarding humanitarian concerns, including transnational human contacts, information, culture and education. The phrase “human dimension” was coined to describe the OSCE norms and activities related to fundamental freedoms, democracy (such as free elections, the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary), humanitarian concerns (such as trafficking in human beings and refugees), and concerns relating to tolerance and nondiscrimination (e.g., countering anti-Semitism and racism). One of the innovations of the Helsinki Final Act was agreement to review the implementation of agreed commitments while considering the negotiation of new ones. Between 1975 and 1992, implementation review took place in the context of periodic “Follow-up Meetings” as well as smaller specialized meetings focused on specific subjects. The OSCE participating States established permanent institutions in the early 1990s. In 1992, they agreed to hold periodic Human Dimension Implementation Meetings” to foster compliance with agreed-upon principles on democracy and human rights. Additional changes to the modalities for the HDIM were agreed in 1998, 2001, and 2002, which included shortening the meeting from three weeks to two weeks, and adding three “Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings” annually on subjects selected by the Chairmanship-in-Office on particularly timely or time-sensitive issues. One of the most notable features of the HDIM is the strong participation of non-governmental organizations. The United States has been a strong advocate for the involvement of NGOs in the HDIM, recognizing the vital role that civil society plays in human rights and democracy-building initiatives. OSCE modalities allow NGO representatives to raise issues of concern directly with government representatives, both by speaking during the formal working sessions of the HDIM and by organizing side events that examine specific issues in greater detail. 1 In exceptional years when the OSCE participating States hold a summit of heads of state or government, the annual review of human dimension commitments is included as part of the Review Conference which precedes the summit, and also includes a review of the political-military and economic/environmental dimensions.

  • Taming the OSCE’s Least-Developed Region: the Arctic

    By Paul Massaro, Policy Advisor, U.S. Helsinki Commission, Dave Zwirblis, Coast Guard Fellow, Office of Chairman Roger F. Wicker, Neal McMillian, NOAA Fellow, Office of Chairman Roger F. Wicker, and Alanna Schenk, Intern, U.S. Helsinki Commission The Arctic region—with its rapidly growing ecological, political, and economic importance—is almost as large as Africa, yet it is often overlooked in critical policy debates. As an Arctic nation and one of two nuclear powers within the region, the United States is central to Arctic development and maintaining the stability of the region. Despite including all eight Arctic nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has been largely dormant when it comes to Arctic issues. However, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) includes a Special Representative for Arctic Issues, Ola Elvestuen of Norway, and has passed resolutions on the Arctic at its Annual Sessions, including as part of the 2010 Oslo Declaration and the 2013 Istanbul Declaration. Given the growing importance of the Arctic, the OSCE has many opportunities to increase its engagement in the Second Dimension—its portfolio of economic and environmental issues—in ways that would supplement the work of the Arctic Council, the primary intergovernmental actor in the region. Economic Opportunities In the near future, there likely will be a significant rise in human activity along the Northern Route. As sea ice melts, new shipping lanes are opening up offering unprecedented access to trade routes, natural resources, and even tourism opportunities. For example, the CRYSTAL SERENITY, a 1,000 passenger luxury cruise liner, is conducting a first of its kind month-long Arctic cruise through the Northwest Passage in summer 2017.  Increased maritime traffic and engagement stemming from these economic opportunities present numerous new challenges for the Arctic nations.  The Arctic region remains underdeveloped and lacking in critical infrastructure. The absence of continuous and robust U.S. and international community assets means response to any type of transportation or environmental disaster in these remote areas would be extremely slow and difficult to execute. Additionally, only 4.7 percent of the U.S. Arctic and 9 percent of the total Arctic waterways are charted to modern navigation standards.  Any increase in economic development and shipping in the Arctic will require cooperation from all stakeholder nations to build up the emergency infrastructure and provide the icebreaker vessels necessary to conduct pollution response and cleanup, search and rescue, and maritime security operations. Currently, the U.S. Coast Guard only has two polar icebreakers in operation.  These vessels break channels through the ice to maintain shipping lanes, perform search and rescue and law enforcement operations, and act as platforms for scientific research.  The Coast Guard’s oldest icebreaker and only one capable of heavy icebreaking, the POLAR STAR, was commissioned in 1976 and is operating well past its intended service life. If this vessel were to break down, it would be a single point of failure in the United States’ ability to protect its sovereign interests throughout the Arctic.  According to a 2011 Coast Guard assessment, the agency will need a minimum of six icebreakers to fulfill its statutory missions in the polar regions.  In an effort to recapitalize its aging icebreaker fleet, the Coast Guard plans to award a contract to a U.S. shipbuilder in 2019 with anticipated delivery of the first vessel by December 2022. Other Arctic nations, including Canada, Sweden, Finland and Demark have limited icebreaking capability as well. Russia currently owns and operates a fleet of more than 40 icebreakers. Ensuring that the increasing economic activity in the Arctic region is sustainable can only be achieved if the Arctic nations become fully engaged as soon as possible. It is imperative that this infrastructure is developed responsibly and sustainably with regard for the Arctic land and people—whether it is through low-effect shipping, sustainable shipping lanes, or science-based marine management.  Throughout this economic development, engaging and involving the native Arctic peoples will be vital to integrate Arctic communities into the global economy during this time of rapid change. Environmental Challenges The way that the Arctic nations respond to the changing climate and its respective perils and possibilities will shape the world’s response to climate change and the future of international cooperation.  Science and technology in the Arctic present opportunities for this collaboration. The Arctic is an emerging hotbed for scientific research.  Much is still to be learned regarding ice sheets, under-ice conditions, glacial dynamics, polar ecosystems, and biodiversity.  In the face of rapid ecological changes, it is vital for the international science community to come together to gather baseline information and develop the infrastructure to monitor the ecological changes. Based on temperature changes and shifts in food regimes, species are moving around the Arctic, shifting from territorial waters into the newly accessible Arctic high seas.  While commercial fleets have yet to coalesce in the high-seas Arctic, the international community has the unique opportunity to develop governance frameworks and complete baseline studies in anticipation of the new fishery.  In 2015, five Arctic nations—the United States, Canada, Russia, Denmark, and Norway—agreed to halt high seas fishing in the Arctic until research gaps on the condition of the emerging fisheries were better understood.  Oil spill prevention and response as well as search and rescue are areas where infrastructure is minimal in the Arctic. Emergency response efforts are hindered by an absence of basic logistical support and infrastructure. Furthermore, while private companies have invested in infrastructure related to oil and gas exploration and extraction, this is not sufficient to fulfill infrastructure needs and additional investment will be required.

  • Reaching Consensus on Senior OSCE Appointments

    On July 18, 2017, the 57 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) formally approved by consensus new leaders for four OSCE institutions: Thomas Greminger (Switzerland): OSCE Secretary General. Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir (Iceland): Director of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Harlem Désir (France): Representative on Freedom of the Media. Lamberto Zannier (Italy): High Commissioner on National Minorities. Following weeks of debate, the agreement was reached on the margins of an informal Ministerial Council meeting in Mauerbach, near Vienna, held under the auspices of the 2017 Austrian chairmanship.  Download the full report to learn more.

  • Engaging Belarus on Human Rights & Democracy

    The U.S. Helsinki Commission held a briefing titled, “Engaging Belarus on Human Rights and Democracy” on July 21, 2017, which built on renewed interest in Belarus after members of the Commission traveled to Minsk earlier in the month for the annual OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting. The panelists for the briefing included Stephen Nix, Regional Program Director for Eurasia at the International Republican Institute in Washington, DC; Katie Fox, Deputy Director of the Eurasia Department at the National Democratic Institute in Washington, DC; and Sanaka Samarasinha, the United Nations Chief in Belarus. Brief remarks were also delivered by Belarusian Charge d’Affaires Pavel Shidlovsky. Stephen Nix began the briefing by highlighting the importance of Belarus in U.S. foreign relations, including the relationship between Belarus and Russia, especially in light of the increased Western presence in the Baltics and the surrounding area. Mr. Nix “applaud[ed] Belarus’s expressed intent at engagement” and offered some examples demonstrating optimism for the democratic process in Belarus, such as the appointment of opposition party members to parliament with limited power. Katie Fox echoed this optimism when addressing “democratic openings,” such as the concessions the Belarusian government made in response to protests, increasingly democratic electoral processes, and “the growth and development of the democratic parties.” Sanaka Samarasinha discussed engagement in relations to the human rights issues Belarus presents today and the areas of particular concern to the UN. The UN in Belarus has focused primarily on “development activities,” but also issues such as human trafficking and the rising number of HIV/AIDs cases. Samarasinha also highlighted the need for a “safe space” for discussions of human rights issues and transparency to allow Belarusians and Belarusian civil society to be able to have a conversation. Charge d’Affaires Pavel Shidlovsky highlighted ways that Belarus is working with its NATO neighbors through defense cooperation, including relinquishing nuclear weapons and inviting representatives of NATO to observe the Belarusian-Russian strategic joint exercise scheduled for September 2017. Shidlovsky also stated, “Belarus has always regarded normalization of relations with the United States as a priority of its foreign policy. Yes, we have had our ups and downs, but never has the leadership of Belarus underestimated the importance of full-fledged engagement with the U.S.” In the final Q&A session the panelists were cautiously optimistic about the prospects for the improvement of human rights practices in Belarus and improvements in the electoral code that could someday lead to elections that could be certified as free and fair by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).  However, they also stressed that it is critical to continue to fight for changes that are sustainable, beginning with the removal of restrictions on peaceful assembly and freedom of speech.

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