Title

Georgia’s Parliamentary Election: How free and fair has the Campaign been, and how should the U.S. Government Respond?

Thursday, September 20, 2012
12:30pm
2255 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C., DC 20024
United States
Official Transcript: 
Members: 
Name: 
Hon. Christopher Smith
Title Text: 
Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement: 
Name: 
Hon. Steve Cohen
Title Text: 
Commissioner
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Name: 
Hon. Benjamin Cardin
Title Text: 
Co-Chairman
Body: 
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Witnesses: 
Name: 
Thomas Melia
Title: 
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
Body: 
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor/Department of State
Statement: 
Name: 
Archil Gegeshidze
Title: 
Senior Fellow
Body: 
Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies
Name: 
Ariel Cohen
Title: 
Senior Research Fellow
Body: 
Russian and Eurasian Studies and International Energy Policy
Statement: 
Name: 
Mamuka Tsereteli
Title: 
Professor
Body: 
Center for Black Sea-Caspian Studies at School of International Service at American University

Georgia’s upcoming election will be a critical moment in the country’s development of democratic governance. An energized opposition coalition has posed the first serious challenge in years to the ruling party. The opposition has accused the government of harassment and skewing the playing field, while the government has denied these allegations and charged opposition with violating campaign laws. The atmosphere of the campaign and contending claims has been unusually heated, with both sides employing lobbyists to make their case in foreign capitals, especially Washington.

The focus of the hearing will be on the election’s fairness during the run-up to the vote and vote count, human rights issues connected to the election, and U.S. policy in response. The administration witness, Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Melia, has just returned from leading an interagency delegation to Georgia to assess the pre-election environment.

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Relevant countries: 
Leadership: 
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  • Symposium Focused on Future of the OSCE

    By Janice Helwig, Policy Advisor The Embassy of Finland and the Center for Transatlantic Relations at John Hopkins University held a half-day symposium on October 15 to discuss the future of the OSCE. The symposium succeeded in laying out clearly the challenges currently facing the 56-state organization. There were, however, more questions than answers when it came to ideas on how to address those challenges. Participants in the symposium included the Secretary of State of Finland, prominent figures from OSCE’s past, academics, representatives of participating States, NGOs, and the Helsinki Commission. Finland currently holds the Chairmanship of the Vienna-based OSCE. At the outset of the meeting, there was an acknowledgement that Russia’s invasion of Georgia in early August altered the program originally envisioned by the Finnish chairmanship for the OSCE. Other issues raised included open challenges to core OSCE principles, values, and commitments; internal divisions and lack of consensus over what the organization should be doing; implications of a stronger and more active EU; and whether there is waning support for the OSCE in Washington. Rather than offering prescriptions for overcoming these challenges, many speakers instead underlined the challenges by reflecting their governments’ views of the OSCE. For example, the Russian speaker focused on President Medvedev’s June call for a new European security architecture and the need to reform the OSCE, a longstanding Moscow demand. U.S. State Department Assistant Secretary and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer focused on the importance of implementing OSCE commitments on human rights, and the need for Kazakhstan to implement its Madrid reform promises in advance of its 2010 Chairmanship. The Kazakhstani speaker foreshadowed what could signal – for the U.S. at least – problematic views with serious implications for his country’s chairmanship, including questioning the validity and universal applicability of OSCE standards and commitments as well as raising doubt over the continued need for field missions. OSCE Secretariat representative Paul Fritch laid out frankly the challenges facing the OSCE today, and tried to start a discussion of how to address them. Early History of the Helsinki Process* The first panel focused on the history of the Helsinki Process, and featured U.S. Ambassador Max Kampelman (ret.), who had been active in the process in the 1980s, and Finnish Ambassador Markuu Reimaa, who recently published a book, Helsinki Catch, covering the negotiations leading up to the 1975 signing of the Helsinki Final Act. Ambassador Kampelman focused on his personal experiences and on the Madrid Meeting of the CSCE (1980-1983). He stressed that the CSCE was at that time the main framework for U.S.-Soviet dialogue and for reinforcing relations with NATO allies. Kampelman acknowledged the key role played by Commission staff throughout the Madrid Meeting. He then claimed to reveal a long-held secret that he had leveraged the Soviet desire to end the Madrid Meeting by securing permission for some 250,000 individuals - mostly Jews - to emigrate from the U.S.S.R. to Israel. Ambassador Reimaa cited the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia as a crucial event that opened the eyes of many in both the West and East. He said that the negotiations leading up to the Helsinki Final Act were successful partly because none of the countries (numbering 35 at the time) expected much to come of the process. He suggested that, within two years, the Soviets were questioning the wisdom of their involvement, but that the Helsinki Process was like “a fish trap”: once in, you could not get out. He stressed the importance of dialogue, noting that CSCE offered the only venue where meaningful talks continued during the frosty first half of the 1980’s. Strengths and Weaknesses The second panel focused on the current Finnish Chairmanship of the OSCE, and featured Finnish State Secretary Pertti Torstila and Professor Terrence Hopmann of Johns Hopkins University SAIS. Secretary Torstila said that OSCE’s relevance was proven most recently in connection with the conflict in Georgia, but serious challenges to it exist in today’s world. A consensus-based organization cannot be greater than the sum of its parts, and many OSCE States are weak in their commitment to core principles. Secretary Torstila acknowledged that the state-building begun in the aftermath of the collapse of the U.S.S.R. remains incomplete, and urged that the OSCE be used as a venue for dialogue. In addition, the OSCE must avoid getting dragged down by internal wrangling, as some other International Organizations have done. He related that the CiO believes that the OSCE needs to be more involved in settling conflicts, not just managing them after the fact. Torstila provided a disappointing update on talks on Georgia that had opened and abruptly closed earlier that day in Geneva. Professor Hopmann said that the OSCE is in deep crisis at this point, arguing that the U.S. and Russia must decide if they believe the OSCE is worthwhile or not. Hopmann went on at length about the weakness of the organization’s conflict prevention capacity and the need to look at the relationship between core principles like self-determination and territorial integrity. He was highly critical of the lack of U.S. support for the organization, quipping that Washington spent more on Iraq in one hour than on the OSCE for an entire year. Beyond dwindling resources, he cited the failure of the U.S. Secretary of State to attend an OSCE Ministerial since Colin Powell in 2003. (Helsinki will serve as the venue for the 2008 OSCE Ministerial in early December.) Hopmann appealed for the next administration to play a more active role in the OSCE. The third panel focused on the future of the OSCE. It featured Mr. Aleksandr Lukashevich from the Russian Embassy, Assistant Secretary of State and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer, Kazakhstani Ambassador at Large for OSCE Askar Tazhiev, and Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General, Paul Fritch. Mr. Lukashevich gave what appeared to be a scripted presentation of Russian views of the OSCE. He argued that the organization has failed to take the shape of an integrated security architecture that Russia had hoped it would. Instead, each OSCE country pursues its own agenda and geographic splits result. No country should predominate in the OSCE, and there should not be any “spheres of influence” in the organization. He repeated Russian assertions that the OSCE needs legal status, as well as a treaty-based Charter defining its goals adopted at the same time; he insisted that the U.S. fear that a Charter would undermine existing OSCE commitments is unfounded. Notwithstanding the restrictive proposals Moscow has circulated over the past couple of years that would undermine OSCE election observation activities and seriously weaken the role of NGOs in the organization, he rejected the notion that Russia is seeking to weaken existing OSCE institutions, including the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). He insisted that Russia has a positive agenda in the OSCE and wants to give the organization a “second wind.” Moreover, Russian President Medvedev has proposed discussion of a treaty on European security that would be legally binding and that would lay out the role and obligations of States for the medium- to long-term. The new treaty should stress that all States are equal and that there should be uniform rules and legally binding security guarantees for all, as well as uniform interpretation and implementation of the treaty. Mr. Lukashevich floated a proposal for an international forum with the participation of all OSCE countries as well as leading International Organizations. He said Russia hopes that the proposal could be reflected in the upcoming Helsinki Ministerial. Assistant Secretary of State and Helsinki Commissioner David Kramer stressed the importance of implementation of existing OSCE human rights commitments. He said that the U.S. would oppose any efforts to dilute OSCE standards or undermine the organization’s effectiveness, including its election observation activities undertaken by ODIHR and the Parliamentary Assembly. Kramer pointed out that most of the criticism of the OSCE seems to be coming from those States where fundamental freedoms are facing the most challenges. He then turned to Kazakhstan and the reform program it committed to late last year in Madrid concerning its 2010 Chairmanship. Kramer said that the U.S. is prepared to help Kazakhstan make progress on its Madrid commitments. However, currently, human rights defenders, NGOs, and independent media in Kazakhstan are threatened. Concerning Georgia, he stressed that the Russian Federation is responsible for protecting persons remaining in South Ossetia and for maintaining public order in all areas effectively under Russian control. Kramer insisted that OSCE monitors must have unimpeded access to all areas of Georgia, including South Ossetia. Kazakhstani Ambassador-at-Large for OSCE Askar Tazhiev’s statement raised serious questions about how his country might run its 2010 Chairmanship. Tazhiev stressed that there should be no blind adherence to OSCE commitments; rather, cultural differences and national particularities must be taken into account. Echoing long-standing Russian claims, he said the three dimensions of the OSCE – political/military, economic and environmental, and human - are imbalanced. There is too much emphasis on the human dimension and that should be fixed. Tazhiev reiterated Kazakhstan’s promise made in Madrid not to support efforts to weaken ODIHR or election observation, but at the same time endorsed Russian proposals concerning “strengthening” OSCE election observation. (Note: Russian initiatives would eviscerate election observation, for example by giving any country a virtual veto over every aspect of the process, including the evaluation of the conduct of the election.) He said that the effectiveness of OSCE field missions is in doubt, and many host countries – particularly those in Central Asia – feel their views are not being taken into account and are therefore questioning the further need for those missions. Finally, he noted that Kazakhstan supports Russia’s view that the OSCE needs a convention giving it legal personality as well as a Charter, adopted simultaneously. The Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General, Paul Fritch, gave a thoughtful overview of where the OSCE currently stands, and asked a series of questions (though not providing answers). In the 1990s, there was a unique and historic consensus within the organization. While some States view that period as the Golden Age, others view it as a time of humiliation. Consensus is now wearing thin in all three dimensions, and it is not in style to be a “country in transition.” The situation has changed dramatically, particularly with developments in Kosovo and Georgia. There is now open military confrontation in the OSCE region, between Georgia and Russia. There are also diverging views on energy and water resources which could lead to future conflicts. It is the first time that participating States are openly challenging the validity of OSCE commitments, and universal interpretation of them is yielding to local variations. At the same time that cohesion within the OSCE is eroding, external challenges are growing in scope and complexity. Relations with other International Organizations are changing as NATO expands and the EU becomes active in more areas. Fritch then threw out several good questions. How can the OSCE promote implementation of its values when some States openly challenge them (despite the fact that they were adopted on the basis of consensus)? Do OSCE mechanisms to deal with political military challenges need to be updated? What role can the OSCE play outside its geographical area? Will the OSCE take up Medvedev and Sarkozy’s proposal for a new security architecture and an OSCE summit in 2009? Now that the EU makes up half of the OSCE participating States, how will the two organizations divide their activities? In the discussion that followed, U.S. Ambassador Julie Finley rejected Terry Hopmann’s characterization of waning U.S. interest in the OSCE. In response to Russia, she stressed that actions speak louder than words. While recent Russian words have been lovely, corresponding actions have not. Picking up on the issue of legal personality raised by several speakers, she said that as soon as the U.S. had compromised and agreed to a limited legal convention, Russia reneged on the deal and began demanding that a treaty-based Charter be adopted at the same time. She asserted that Russia constantly moves the goalposts, and that is not constructive. The OSCE should look to the future and expand its activities, perhaps by bringing Libya, Syria, and Lebanon in as Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Spencer Oliver, Secretary General of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and former Commission Chief of Staff, drew on his extensive experience in the Helsinki Process dating back to the mid-1970s. He stressed the critical precedents set by the U.S. at the Belgrade Follow-up Meeting (1977-78) of naming names and being specific about human rights violations. Oliver credited Arthur J. Goldberg for his leadership of the U.S. delegation at Belgrade and commended the role played by Griffin Bell, appointed by President Carter to head the U.S. delegation at the opening of the Madrid Follow-up Meeting in 1980. Max Kampelman served under Bell until Ronald Reagan appointed him to lead the delegation through the end of the Madrid Meeting (1983). Oliver pointed out the irony that the OSCE, an organization promoting transparency, often operates behind closed doors. *encompassing the original Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and its successor since January 1, 1995, the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

  • Belarus’ Parliamentary Elections Fail to Meet OSCE Democratic Election Commitments

    By Orest Deychakiwsky and Winsome Packer Policy Advisors The conduct of the September 28 parliamentary elections in Belarus fell significantly short of international standards, despite some hopes that there would be improvements following the August release of political prisoners, Belarus’ reluctance to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia and statements by senior Belarusian officials raising expectations. The Commission followed the run-up to the elections closely, holding a hearing on September 16 titled “Business as Usual? Belarus on the Eve of the Elections,” and issuing a press release expressing concern about the pre-election climate and encouraging last minute steps, including transparency in the vote count and full access for OSCE observers. [Both the hearing and the press release are available on the Commission’s website.] Two members of the Commission staff traveled to Belarus as part of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s delegation of the overall OSCE Election Observation Mission, observing in Minsk and Smolevichi. In its statement, issued the day after the election, the OSCE election observation mission concluded that despite minor improvements, the conduct of the parliamentary elections in Belarus “ultimately fell short of OSCE commitments for democratic elections.” On election day, voting itself was generally well conducted, though the vote count was assessed as bad or very bad in 48 percent of OSCE observations. The experiences of Commission staff on voting day were consistent with those of other OSCE observers. For the most part, the voting itself in the precincts staff visited went smoothly. However, the vote counting process was particularly problematic, given the lack of transparency. All 110 elected members of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly (lower chamber of parliament) are pro-government. No opposition activists from out of 70 nominated by the democratic opposition were elected. The vote count in one Minsk precinct in which Commission staff observed jointly with a Swedish member of parliament was dramatically lacking in transparency. There were three candidates on the ballot in this precinct, including one opposition member. Both the OSCE and domestic observers were hindered from having a full view of the vote counting proceedings. The precinct electoral commission set tables up as barriers about three meters from the tables on which the ballots were being counted. Further obstructing the observers’ view of the ballot count were the electoral commission workers themselves, who were positioned in such a way as to make viewing difficult. Attempts by observers and a proxy of the opposition candidate to clarify which provisions of the electoral code permitted this behavior by the electoral commission went nowhere. All of the ballots – from the early voting, mobile voting, and regular voting were mixed in together. When an OSCE observer took a picture of the vote count, or, more accurately, of the election commission members blocking the vote count, the chairwoman interrupted the count to write a complaint against the observer. After about 20 minutes, the opposition candidate’s proxy notified her that according to Article 55 of the electoral code, “the count must be performed without a break until the results of the voting have been obtained.” Only at that point did the Chairwoman cease writing and resume the count. In the North-East Minsk district that other Commission staff monitored with an Irish senator, the experience was similar. The voting process at the eight polling stations that they monitored was orderly and transparent. The problems came in the counting process. Similar to the reports from other observers, Commission staff and the Irish observer were prevented from standing close enough to watch the vote counting in a manner that allowed them to see the names and other distinguishing information on the ballots, even though the importance of this facet of observation was stressed to the government by the OSCE and the Interior Minister assured observers in a briefing on September 25 that election monitors would be able to watch the counting from a close vantage point. In a far departure from this promise, the precinct officials refused to announce what boxes they were opening during the process. They would lift a box, dump its contents on a table on the other side of the room from where the observers were seated, and ten or so people would crowd around the table to separate the ballots and "count" the votes. Observers could not distinguish which ballots came from early voting versus the ballots cast on election day, or spoiled ballots. They refused to announce the results of the count or record them in the protocol as was delineated in the procedural manual provided by ODIHR. They then huddled with a calculator to tabulate numbers, write them on a piece of paper in complete silence. Afterward, the precinct chair posted all of their numbers on a bulletin board. They then gathered up the ballots and left the building without a word. It is apparent that further legal and cultural changes are required for truly democratic elections to occur in Belarus. Several problems that manifested themselves during the actual voting were that the material used to seal the ballot boxes was easily manipulable and could be removed and put back on (clay dough and a string). In a number of precincts, the early voting ballot boxes were not in plain view, as required by law. Early voting was significant in several precincts, up to 39 percent in one case. Before voting day, there appeared to be a certain willingness on the part of some in the West to give the benefit of the doubt to the authorities, in part due to the minor improvements that had taken place in the election campaign, such as slightly increased access of opposition representatives to district election commissions, and the decision to repeat the airing of the candidates’ five-minute campaign spots on state TV and radio stations. This, together with the release of political prisoners Aleksandr Kozulin, Syarhei Parsyukevich and Andrei Kim (which led to the temporary lifting of U.S. sanctions on two subsidiaries of Belarus’s giant petrochemical conglomerate Belnaftakhim), and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenka’s unenthusiastic response to Russia’s occupation of Georgia and refusal to date to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia created an atmosphere of optimism that Lukashenka would be willing to take steps towards democratic reform and engage in a dialogue with Europe and the United States. The stark lack of transparency in the vote count was also surprising to many because it flew in the face of Belarusian authorities’ pledges prior to the vote, and it was probably unnecessary. Given the overall election campaign climate, which did not allow for genuine political competition and where the opposition had extremely minimal representation on precinct election commissions, the vast majority of pro-governmental candidates would have won in any event. This is within the context of the wider extremely inhospitable environment for the democratic opposition, in which for almost 15 years the Lukashenka regime has tightly controlled the media; vilified the opposition; repressed the independent media; disappeared, detained, imprisoned, and beaten opposition members and democracy activists; harassed and suppressed non-governmental organizations and, in short, done its best to stifle independent thought. Notwithstanding the EU’s temporary lifting of some visa sanctions against senior Belarusian officials, Mr. Lukashenka may have yet again missed an opportunity to move Belarus towards democratic Europe, which would enhance Belarus’ independence, at a time when it especially needs to be strengthened, given intensifying Russian pressure on Belarus. Notwithstanding the flawed elections, both the United States and Europe have displayed a willingness to continue to engage in dialogue with Minsk and to encourage Belarus to move forward along the path of compliance with freely undertaken OSCE human rights and democracy commitments. The poor quality of the September 28 elections did not facilitate this process, as had been hoped by the West. Nevertheless, if the Belarusian authorities take steps to increase political freedom and respect for human rights, the real possibility exists for a gradual opening in U.S.-Belarusian relations – for Belarus to begin the process of reducing its self-imposed isolation and eventually taking its rightful place among the community of European nations.

  • Russia, Georgia, and the Return of Power Politics

    This hearing, which Commissioner Benjamin L. Cardin presided over, was considered one of the most important hearings that the Helsinki Commission conducted in 2008 that dealt with Russia, Georgia, and the return of power politics Russian military involvement in Georgia represented a new chapter in U.S.-Russia relations, a chapter that, unsurprisingly, continues to have negative implications and ramifications. Obviously, the CSCE has strongly condemned Russia’s use of military force in Georgia, and there has been justified concern that, as Russia has gained more aggression internationally, they have also internally moved in the wrong direction as it relates to the liberties of the peoples within Russia. So, the goal of the hearing was to look for a way in which the U.S. could constructively engage Russia, a major international player, while simultaneously clarifying that Russia’s actions regarding Georgia have been intolerable.

  • Introduction of the Republic of Georgia Enhanced Trade Assistance, Economic Recovery, and Reconstruction Act of 2008

    Madam Speaker, today I rise to introduce the Republic of Georgia Enhanced Trade Assistance, Economic Recovery, and Reconstruction Act of 2008. This bill will provide urgently needed economic and reconstruction assistance to the people of Georgia following Russia's invasion of that sovereign and independent country last month.  Madam Speaker, the war between Russia and Georgia resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of men, women, and children from the conflict zone in South Ossetia and elsewhere in Georgia. There is credible evidence that at least some villages were hit because they were populated by ethnic Georgians. As we know, people can't work when they have nowhere to live and their basic needs are not being met. Additionally, the Russians clearly targeted critical components of Georgia's economic infrastructure for destruction, resulting in the disruption of domestic and regional commerce.  The dire circumstances in the aftermath of the invasion require timely action by the United States and the international community.  As Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation, the body charged by Congress with monitoring human rights throughout Europe and beyond, I am deeply concerned over developments in and around Georgia, a country I have visited on numerous occasions, most recently in January. It pains me that there is a need for the kind of legislation I am introducing today--an urgent measure to aid one OSCE country--Georgia--which is recovering from devastating damage done to its people, economy, infrastructure, and environment by another OSCE country--Russia.  The Helsinki principles were meant to preclude such armed conflict between participating states. Among them were the commitments to refrain from the threat of or use of force to resolve conflicts; and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states. In invading Georgia, Russia has violated these OSCE commitments and I am saddened to be compelled to condemn Russia's conduct.  Madam Speaker, it is apparent that Russia deliberately sought to cripple Georgia's economy, wreaking economic hardship and perhaps seeking to foment upheaval. In the process, Russia has sought to degrade key economic and commercial zones in the region, and I'm concerned that the most serious long-term damage could be the loss of confidence in Georgia as a reliable transit point for oil and gas pipelines--currently the only transit point for oil to Europe from central Asia and the Caucasus that does not go through Russia.  This legislation, while it cannot undo all of the damage done to Georgia's economy and infrastructure, will go far in helping Georgia, a strategic U.S. partner, begin to rebuild its economy and critical infrastructure while helping to create new trade, business, and economic opportunities among key countries in the region.  I welcome the administration's announcement of a package of U.S. emergency assistance to be provided to Georgia. My legislation seeks to complement these preliminary efforts with the aim of ensuring the kind of sustained assistance the people of Georgia will need in the coming months to rebuild their lives and country.  Madam Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation and ensure its timely passage.

  • Georgians Return to Polls to Elect New Parliament as Political Polarization Persists

    By Ronald J. McNamara and Orest Deychakiwsky For the second time this year, Georgians went to the polls in national elections, casting ballots on May 21, 2008, for a new slimmed down 150–seat unicameral parliament, known as the Supreme Council, with half filled through proportional party lists and the other by single-mandate districts. Previous parliaments comprised 235 members. Timing of the parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for fall 2008, became a contentious issue late last year as violence erupted on the streets of Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, leading to early presidential elections and a plebiscite on when to hold the parliamentary contest. Incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili was reelected president in the January 5 election, narrowly escaping a second round. According to final results reported by the Central Election Commission, Saakashvili won 53.47 percent of the vote, with 70 percent of those casting ballots supporting the holding of early parliamentary elections. On March 21, the president called for the elections to be held in two months time. Mr. João Soares of Portugal, a Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly at the time, was appointed as Special Coordinator of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office to lead short-term observers of the OSCE’s International Election Observation Mission (IEOM). In all, the OSCE fielded over 550 observers from 48 countries, including a parliamentary component of over 100 drawn from the OSCE PA, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the NATO PA. International observers, including two members of the Helsinki Commission staff, participated in an extensive program of briefings in Tbilisi prior to election day, including presentations by the ODIHR Core Team and the Central Elections Commission as well as a wide range of international and domestic NGO experts. Observers also heard from representatives of most of the political parties and blocs fielding candidates: Georgian Politics, the Republic Party, the Rights Alliance, the Labor Party, the United National Movement – for Victorious Georgia, the Georgian Union of Sportsmen, the United Opposition bloc, the All Georgian National Party of Radical Democrats, the Christian-Democratic Movement, and Our Country. In all, nine political parties and three blocs were registered for the parliamentary contest, including the newly formed Christian-Democratic Movement. In all, IEOM observer teams visited nearly 1,500 of the country’s 3,641 polling stations on election day. Helsinki Commission staff observed in the Marneuli Rayon, south of Tbilisi, a predominately Azeri region bordering on neighboring Azerbaijan and Armenia. According to the 2002 national census, the Azeri minority constituted 6.5 percent of Georgia’s population. This rural agricultural region comprises the District Election Commission 22, with 84 individual polling stations for slightly over 90,000 registered voters. Interest in observing in the Marneuli region was based in part on irregularities observed during the January 2008 presidential election. Several polling stations, at that time, registered voter turnouts in excess of 100 percent, with over 88 percent of the vote going to Saakashvili, exceptionally high when compared with other districts in that part of the country. Commission staff observed an opening and the voting in nearly a dozen individual polling stations throughout the rayon, or county. Among those sites visited was the area’s largest military installation, where soldiers lined up to cast their votes as senior officers chatted outside of the station. With a few exceptions, the balloting was conducted in an orderly manner and in line with CEC procedures. An exception was a polling station close to the Armenian border in which pandemonium prevailed and a number of serious irregularities were observed by the team. Conspicuously, ballots at the station and other voting materials lacked the required serial numbers. Domestic party observers were vocally protesting procedural problems at the station as one from their ranks was repeatedly rebuffed by the precinct chairman when the observer sought to lodge a formal written complaint in the official journal. Local police were called to the scene, though they stayed at a distance as long as the Helsinki Commission team was present. The closing and tabulation observed at another station proceeded smoothly, with good cooperation among the poll workers. The following day, on May 22, Soares held a press conference in Tbilisi to issue a statement of preliminary conclusions on behalf of the IEOM: “Overall, these elections clearly offered an opportunity for the Georgian people to choose their representatives from amongst a wide array of choices. The authorities and other political stakeholders made efforts to conduct these elections in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments. The International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) identified a number of problems which made this implementation uneven and incomplete.” Addressing a protest rally on May 26, Levan Gachechiladze, the leader of the United Opposition called for annulment of the election results. “We will not let a handful of criminals run the country,” he told supporters. Fellow opposition leader Davit Gamkrelidze told the crowd, “I have no right to enter a parliament that is the product of illegality, terror, and an illicit government. I cannot become a member of a parliament that is illegitimate, unlawful, and which is a product of Soviet-style elections.” On June 5, the Central Election Commission issued a release summarizing the elections results. According to the CEC, four political parties passed the 5 percent threshold based on the proportional system: United National Movement (59.18%), or 48 seats, the United Opposition (17.73%), 15 seats, Christian-Democrat (8.66%) and the Labor Party (7.44%), 6 seats each. The results of single-mandate contests were: 71 seats for the United National Movement, 2 seats for the United Opposition, and 2 for the Republican Party. In total, the United National Movement won 119 seats, a constitutional majority. The United Opposition leadership moved quickly to request the cancellation of the mandates for seats won by the party, precluding individuals lower on their list from occupying the seats. Four of those elected, however, broke ranks with their leaders, refusing to relinquish their seats. The Labor party chose to neither cancel nor occupy their seats in parliament. Meanwhile, the Christian-Democratic party positioned itself to foster unity among the small group of non-UNM members. Results for Marneuli showed overwhelming support for the ruling UNM, with 84.49%, far exceeding the level for the country as a whole. The only other party to pass the threshold in the region was the United Opposition, with 6.79%. Similar lopsided tallies favoring the UNM were recorded in six other regions, notably the predominately Armenian Akhalkalaki and Ninotsminda, where support for the ruling party surpassed 90 percent. Traditionally, areas of Georgia with high concentrations of ethnic minorities, such as these, have turned out in large numbers, voting overwhelmingly for whatever the ruling party was at the time. The newly-elected parliament held its inaugural session on June 7. In remarks before the new parliament, President Saakashvili acknowledged the challenges facing the country’s elected leadership, “The entire world is looking at Georgia today. The Georgian people have overcome the most difficult political crisis last autumn at the expense of democratic consolidation. We have managed to overcome the political crisis with the help of democratic institutions, to solve all problems through peaceful democratic methods.” He continued, “our obligation is to make our compatriots feel that they are represented in the country’s governance; even the smallest group should feel that it has the right to be represented in the country’s governance, in making decisions about the future of our country.” Saakashvili concluded by stressing the importance of undertaking further reforms and fostering unity. In testimony before Congress several weeks after the elections, Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, remarked, “Georgian democracy continues to lack a necessary element – a credible and viable opposition – and the United National Movement and the United Opposition share the blame for this shortcoming. Without a viable opposition, an empowered, independent parliament and strong, credible judiciary, and a reform process that respects dissenting voices, democracy will not be consolidated.” While political polarization persists in the country, it was less palpable at the time of the parliamentary elections than in January, when there were widespread concerns that the violent street clashes of November could be reignited. Heightened tensions over the breakaway region of Abkhazia and the possibility of war erupting with Russia following the April 20 shoot down of an unmanned aerial vehicle by a Russian fighter over Georgian airspace seemed to trump domestic political squabbling in the lead up to the parliamentary elections. Overcoming political turmoil and polarization in the country takes on even greater importance in the face of ever-growing Russian threats and provocative actions undermining Georgia’s territorial integrity. The Georgian authorities should build upon the reforms instituted in electoral laws and procedures prior to the parliamentary elections. A lingering concern that deserves attention is the low confidence among voters regarding the electoral process and skepticism regarding the role of the international community. Similarly, allegations of campaign irregularities from recent elections, including use of administrative resources by the ruling party; campaigning by state officials; intimidation of state workers, especially teachers; pressure on businesses to make campaign “donations”; unbalanced television coverage on private stations; ruling party dominance of elections commissions; and lingering errors on voters lists should be taken seriously and dealt with by the authorities. These and other concerns are discussed in greater detail in the Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions issued by the IEOM on May 22, 2008. A final report on the May 21 parliamentary elections is expected to be released by the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights shortly.

  • Combating Sexual Exploitation of Children: Strengthening International Law Enforcement Cooperation

    The hearing examined current practices for sharing information among law enforcement authorities internationally and what concrete steps can be taken to strengthen that cooperation to more effectively investigate cases of sexual exploitation of children, including child pornography on the Internet. Despite current efforts, sexual exploitation of children is increasing globally. The use of the Internet has made it easier for pedophiles and sexual predators to have access to child pornography and potential victims. In May, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Combating Child Exploitation Act of 2008 (S.1738), which will allocate over one billion dollars over the next eight years to provide Federal, state, and local law enforcement with the resources and structure to find, arrest, and prosecute those who prey on our children.

  • Hate in the Information Age

    The briefing provided an overview of hate crimes and hate propaganda in the OSCE region, focusing on the new challenges posed by the internet and other technology. Mischa Thompson led the panelists in a discussion of the nature and frequency of hate crimes in the OSCE region, including the role of the internet and other technologies in the training, recruiting, and funding of hate groups. Panelists - Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Mark A. Potok, Christopher Wolf, Tad Stahnke – discussed how best to combat hate crimes and hate propaganda and highlighted internet governance issues in the United States and Europe and how the internet extensively contributes to hate propaganda. Issues such as free speech and content control were at the center of the discussion.

  • Clearing the Air, Feeding the Fuel Tank: Understanding the Link Between Energy and Environmental Security

    Congress has an obligation to work to ensure a healthy and safe environment for the benefit of current and future generations.  To reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and achieve a healthier environment, we need a multi-faceted approach that addresses the tangled web of issues involved.  We need to foster both energy independence and clean energy. Given rising sea levels, the increasing severity of storm surges, and higher temperatures the world over, the impact of global climate change is undeniable.  Unless we act now, we will see greater and greater threats to our way of life on this planet.

  • Crossing Boarders, Keeping Connected: Women, Migration and Development in the OSCE Region

    The hearing will focus on the impact of migration on family and society, the special concerns of migrant women of color, and the economic contributions of women migrants to their home country through remittances. According to the United Nations, women are increasingly migrating on their own as main economic providers and heads of households. While the number of women migrants is on the rise, little is known about the economic and social impact of this migration on their home country.

  • Armenia after the Election

    Since the February 19 presidential election, Armenia has experienced its most serious political crisis in over a decade. The March 1 confrontation between the authorities and supporters of the opposition resulted in at least eight fatalities and the imposition of a state of emergency, causing serious damage to Armenia’s reputation. Although Prime Minister Serzh Sarkissian has been elected President, some opposition leaders refuse to recognize the outcome and government opposition relations remain tense.  The state of emergency has been lifted but restrictions on freedom of assembly continue in effect.  The hearing will focus on the ramifications of these developments for Armenia and the United States, especially the ongoing Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia s qualifications for assistance from the Millennium Challenge Account.

  • The Future of Democracy in Serbia

    The briefing looked at the political situation in Serbia at this critical time in the country’s history as well as the long-term prospects for the country’s democratic institutions, including civic society. Concern was expressed about the direction Serbia is taking, especially since Kosovo's February 17 declaration of independence that was recognized by the United States and many other countries. The upcoming elections in May were identified as pivotal, as they would give the people of Serbia a choice between those political leaders advocating nationalism and isolation and those advocating democracy and integration. Panelists at the briefing reported on their recent visits to the region and the results of recently conducted public opinion polls indicating attitudes in Serbia regarding their political leaders and their country's future direction.  Various scenarios for the aftermath of the May elections were presented, ranging from the retention of the same government to the election of a new, democratic government.

  • NATO Enlargement and the Bucharest Summit

    This hearing was chaired by Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings and attended by commissioners Ben Cardin and Mike McIntyre. Witnesses included Dr. Michael Haltzel, senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University; Janusz Bugajski, director of the New European Democracies Project and senior fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Europe Program; and Steven Pifer, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and Senior Advisor at CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia Program Center. The hearing focused on the possible inclusion of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia in the upcoming NATO Summit in Bucharest, Romania. It also discussed extending Membership Action Plans to Ukraine and Georgia. More broadly, the hearing focused on the degree to which these states had transformed their policies and institutions in order to join NATO.

  • The New Cold War: Putin’s Russia and the Threat to the West

    This briefing featured Edward Lucas, Central and Eastern Europe correspondent and former Moscow bureau chief for The Economist. During this briefing, Lucas shared his thoughts on current political events in Russia including the upcoming Presidential elections and Moscow’s relations with the international community during President Putin’s era and beyond. Several developments in Russia were highlighted, including the increasing tensions between Russia and the West in light of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia. The perspective provided by Lucas during this hearing emphasized the both positives and negatives of these developments, and of Russia’s relationship with other countries like the United States.

  • Finnish OSCE Chairman-in-Office Outlines Priorities, Challenges for 2008

    By Ronald McNamara, International Policy Director Making an appearance on February 13th before the Helsinki Commission, early in Finland’s 2008 chairmanship of the OSCE, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva addressed a wide range of issues facing the Vienna-based organization and its 56 participating States. Kanerva, having served in parliament since 1975, the year in which the Helsinki Final Act was signed in the Finnish capital, stressed the unique contribution of parliamentarians in their role embodying “the aspirations of our peoples and to voice their concerns in all OSCE countries.” Chairman Alcee L. Hastings, President Emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, expressed appreciation for recognition of the parliamentary dimension of the Helsinki Process. Minister Kanerva noted, “The starting point of the Finnish Chairmanship is that the OSCE is a value-based organization that actively promotes our common values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We stress the full implementation of the human rights commitments by the participating States.” Chairman Hastings welcomed the emphasis on implementation especially given the mandate of the Helsinki Commission to monitor compliance with the common commitments accepted by all participating States regardless of when they joined the Helsinki Process. “We fully support and welcome Finland’s calls for greater effort by participating States to implement our common political commitments. Implementation is key, as the late President Gerald Ford underscored in his remarks in Finlandia Hall when he signed the Helsinki Accords on behalf of the United States. I am also mindful that all participating States, including this country, are obligated to translate words on paper into action and I welcome the scrutiny of others when our own policies and practices come up short,” said Hastings. Hastings and Kanerva had a lengthy exchange regarding developments in Kosovo and their implications for Balkans as well as the possibility of sustained OSCE engagement in the region. Kanerva, who had just returned from a visit to Belgrade and Priština, observed that the OSCE has played an important role in Kosovo -- in establishing and consolidating local institutions, in promoting democratization, the rule of law, as well as human and minority rights. “Because the OSCE has remained “status-neutral,” it has retained a unique ability to work with all ethnic communities in promoting stability and democratic development. It is my firm belief that the OSCE work in Kosovo is and will be beneficial to all Kosovars,” concluded the Minister. He continued, “The outcome of the status process could have a negative impact on the OSCE's engagement in Kosovo. You are well aware that the OSCE participating States remain deeply divided over the issue. This disagreement could lead to the current Mission’s termination. It would be a grave mistake for the OSCE and the entire international community if we were to leave it at that.” Chairman Hastings, who visited both Priština and the northern area around Mitrovitsa last June, remarked, “My overall concern comes again from personal experience. The OSCE mission in Kosovo complemented by the tremendous activities that the KFOR forces deployed to keep the peace there is one of, in my judgment, the most successful OSCE missions, capable of working with the various factions in that area. I always ask the question: if there was no OSCE mission or had not been there in recent years, what would be the situation on the ground there today? And how much closer would the parties be to arriving at a resolution of what is, by anybody's standards, a substantial conflict? Minister Kanerva stressed, “I am determined to ensure continued OSCE engagement in Kosovo regardless of the status process. I am aware of the fact that any participating State has the possibility to use a veto and to end the mandate of the present mission - the mission which at the moment comprises 800 people and which has an immense effect on the viability of the civil society. Should this happen, I am prepared to immediately start the negotiations on a revised mandate for the OSCE mission. I am convinced that all participating States agree on the need for continued OSCE engagement in Kosovo.” Regarding conflicts elsewhere in the OSCE region, Kanerva remarked, “The Finnish chairmanship has put the so-called frozen or protracted conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh at the top of our agenda. I will personally visit all of these regions. I have already nominated also a special envoy to survey the progress in the process. One of the first things I have already done was to visit Ukraine and Moldova, to examine possibilities to kick start the stalled negotiation on the Transdnistria conflict. The Government of Moldova and the leadership for Transdnistria indicate their willingness to reengage and I have tasked my special envoy to see what can be done to take the process forward. We have knowledge of the difficulties in front of us. But we can't give up.” Minister Kanerva announced his intention to visit the South Caucasus nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Chairman Hastings asked Kanerva to raise concerns relating to media freedom in Azerbaijan, the subject of a Commission hearing late last year, and provided a list of specific cases. Numerous other human rights concerns were also discussed from combating anti-Semitism and trafficking in humans as well as promoting democracy. In prepared remarks, Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin stressed the importance of sustained OSCE engagement in efforts to fight anti-Semitism. “In recent weeks we have convened a series of hearings to assess the ongoing work of the OSCE in this regard and have heard from experts. These sessions have confirmed the importance of maintaining a distinct focus on anti-Semitism, and resisting attempts by some to reduce the attention under some kinds of generic tolerance rubric. It has also become clear that the personal representatives need some form of meaningful support mechanism. Perhaps some arrangement could be put in place by the troika of past, present, and future OSCE chairs, to ensure continuity,” remarked Cardin. Similar concerns were echoed in a statement by Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith, “I appeal to you, in your term as Chairman-in-Office, not to allow the OSCE to give in to this fatigue and indifference! Anti-Semitism remains what it has always been, a unique evil, a distinct form of intolerance, the oldest form of religious bigotry, and a malignant disease of the heart that has often led to murder. It continues to threaten our Jewish brothers and sisters, and so the OSCE must redouble its efforts in the fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism. Smith, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking welcomed the commitment of the Finnish chairmanship to give priority attention to OSCE efforts to prevent human trafficking, with particular attention to child victims. Russia’s troubling attempts to restrict the scope and size of OSCE election observations missions was also raised. Minister Kanerva expressed disappointment that, despite a concerted effort by OSCE, an acceptable solution could not be worked out to enable the deployment of an observation mission to Russia for the March 2nd presidential elections. He outlined his views regarding observation of the entire election process. “It means candidate and voter registration, electoral campaign, media coverage, complaints and appeals. The ODIHR must continue to be in a position to determine the length and size of observation missions on professional grounds in order to produce meaningful assessments and recommendations benefiting the observed country.” Having headed monitoring missions to Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, and most recently Georgia, Chairman Hastings called for a timely invitation for OSCE to observe the upcoming November U.S. elections. Kanerva thanked Hastings for his leadership of the mission to Georgia in early January and underscored the importance of close cooperation between ODIHR and the OSCE PA. Turning to Afghanistan, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation country, the Chairman welcomed the role played by Finnish forces in the northern part of that country. Minister Kanerva reported that active discussions were underway among OSCE countries regarding the kinds of initiatives that might be undertaken to assist Afghanistan pursuant to a general decision agreed to by the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council last November. Priority attention is being given to strengthening border security and management, including along the 750 mile border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. “At the same time we are discussing whether the OSCE might eventually become active on Afghan territory,” said Kanerva. Before concluding the hearing, the Chairman-in-Office and Chairman Hastings touched on ways to enhance cooperation among the OSCE participating States and strengthen the organization. Hastings acknowledged the complex task of managing the OSCE given the diversity of countries and diverging views among some on fundamental aspects of the organization and its mission. The two agreed on the importance of engagement with Russia. One possibility raised by Chairman Hastings was the assembling of a “Council of Elder Statesmen” along the lines proposed by the Hamburg-based Centre for OSCE Research in its working paper, “Identifying the Cutting Edge: The Future Impact of the OSCE.” In an innovative move, the Finnish chairmanship has expanded the Troika – past, present, and future chairs – to include others slated to assume leadership of OSCE in future years. At the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council agreement was reached on chairmanships for Greece in 2009, Kazakhstan in 2010 and Lithuania in 2011. “I have invited my colleagues from the future chairmanships of Kazakhstan and Lithuania,” Kanerva reported, “to meet with the current Troika countries Spain, Finland and Greece to develop ideas for longer-term priorities. I am convinced there are many issues where the "Quintet" can add value and lead to more coherent OSCE action in the next few years.” Minister Kanerva concluded, “The Helsinki Commission embodies the longstanding engagement of the United States with the OSCE and the values that underpin it. The OSCE can only work with the full engagement of its participating States. The United States has always played a key role, and must continue to do so, if we are to achieve the ambitious goals we have set for our Organization.”

  • Finland’s Leadership in the OSCE

    The hearing focused on Finland’s plans and priorities as well as challenges confronting the OSCE in 2008 and beyond. Additionally, the hearing addressed election observation activities by the OSCE; prospects for OSCE continued engagement in Kosovo; ongoing initiatives to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance; and the CFE Treaty.

  • Georgia in 2008: Elections or Street Politics?

    This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Alcee Hastings, Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, and attended by Commissioners Cardin, Smith, and Brownback, focussed on Georgia and the recent violence within the country. Over the last few months, Georgia has experienced considerable turmoil, with the violent confrontation between riot police and protesters in November, the imposition of a state of emergency, the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili and the holding of a snap presidential election in early January. Although President Saakashvili narrowly won re-election in the first-round, opposition leaders refuse to recognize the outcome and have pledged to launch another round of protests beginning on February 15 unless their extensive list of demands are met. The hearing will examine the ramifications of these developments for Georgia, the United States and NATO, which Georgia is hoping to join.

  • Georgia’s Extraordinary Presidential Elections, a Competitive First

    By Ronald J. McNamara International Policy Director Georgians rang in 2008 amid a rough and tumble political campaign filled with intrigue and capped off by extraordinary presidential elections on January 5. Large street demonstrations had broken out in the capital, Tbilisi, in early November, with protesters demanding early parliamentary elections, a restructuring of the political system and the resignation of President Mikheil Saakashvili, who came to power after leading Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution. After several days of peaceful rallies, the authorities moved against the protesters, violently dispersing the crowds and moving against selected media outlets. Saakashvili imposed a state of emergency on November 7, but in the face of mounting international criticism, called the following day for early presidential elections, cutting short his tenure by nearly a year and a half. In accordance with Georgian law, he relinquished the presidency later that month in order to run for a second five-year term. Parliament endorsed the holding of pre-term presidential elections and Speaker Nino Burjanadze became Acting President. Besides the presidential contest, two non-binding questions were also put to voters: moving up parliamentary elections originally scheduled for late 2008 (a demand of opposition demonstrators in November) and the desirability of eventual NATO membership for Georgia. Of the 13 candidates who submitted signature lists to the Central Election Commission, seven candidates were ultimately registered and appeared on the ballot: Levan Gachechiladze (United Public Movement); David Gamkrelidze (New Rights Party); Giorgi Maisashvili (Party of the Future); Shalva Natelashvili (Georgian Labor Party); independent candidate Arkadi (Badri) Patarkatsishvili; incumbent Mikheil Saakashvili (United National Movement); and Irina Sarishvili (Hope Party). Helsinki Commission Chairman, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings from Florida was jointly appointed by Foreign Ministers Miguel Ángel Moratinos (Spain) and Ilkka Kanerva (Finland) to head the OSCE International Election Observation Mission (IEOM), comprising the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament. Hastings, OSCE PA President Emeritus, had previously led similar missions to Azerbaijan, Belarus and Ukraine. Congressman Lloyd Doggett from Texas served as an international observer under the OSCE PA. Congressional and Commission staff were also deployed as part of the mission, which included 495 short-term observers. The CEC accredited over 100 domestic and foreign media outlets. Several dozen domestic non-party NGOs, in addition to party observers, were also registered to observe the elections. So were 50 international NGOs, including the U.S.-based International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute. An extensive series of briefings for international observers included presentations by officials administering the elections, political analysts, representatives of non-governmental organizations, and the media, as well as the candidates. Opposition candidates generally complained about an uneven playing field. They claimed abuse of state resources by the incumbent and bias on the part of the CEC, as well as decrying the high costs for placement of televised political commercials, inaccuracies in the consolidated voter list, and acts of intimidation. Several candidates made clear that, under such circumstances, they would not accept the results of the elections. Most voiced a lack of confidence in the system, pointing to the lack of an independent judiciary. One candidate labeled Saakashvili the “Robert Mugabe” of Georgia, after the dictatorial leader of Zimbabwe, for his authoritarianism. Another equated the situation in Georgia with the volatility of Pakistan. Saakashvili, for his part, used the appearance to outline the benefits of his reform agenda, report on his extensive campaigning throughout the country and justify the use of force surrounding the November events. He also bemoaned “the Shakespearean drama” of the campaign, in referring to a reported coup plot allegedly masterminded by candidate Arkadi (Badri) Patarkatsishvili, reportedly Georgia’s wealthiest tycoon, and his close associates. Saakashvili confidently suggested that he could win in the first round, concluding, “it will be unfortunate for the country if I don’t win.” Political upheaval is nothing new in this mountainous Caucasus nation with a population of 4.6 million and an area slightly smaller than South Carolina. Since gaining independence in 1991, Saakashvili’s two predecessors, Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Eduard Shevardnadze were each forced from office, the former in a bloody coup and the latter following flawed elections that spawned the Rose Revolution. Saakashvili garnered a stunning 96.3% of the vote in the January 2004 presidential elections, with a voter turn out nearing 90%. Walking down Tbilisi’s Rustaveli Avenue and Freedom Square, brilliantly lighted for the Christmas season, one was struck by the images of Saakashvili plastered on city buses and huge posters, as well as passersby sporting scarves and matching knitted hats with his party’s signature number “5.” At the same time, there was a certain unease lingering in the air of the capital, perhaps left over from the violent November crackdown, or anxiety over threats of a coup or prospects for renewed mass demonstrations following the elections. While public opinion was fairly evenly split on the imposition of the state of emergency, most people were strongly opposed to the use of riot police and tear gas, as well as the forced closure of the popular Imedi TV channel. Adding to the uncertainty, Patarkatsishvili had reportedly decided to withdraw from the elections within days of the elections only to reverse himself two days before the actual balloting. There were also rumors of possible violence at polling stations on election day. On election day Chairman Hastings and his colleagues observed no significant infractions of the electoral code in the nearly three dozen polling stations they visited. Election precincts visited by their teams were spread out across Tbilisi, as well as in the more rural Gori and Mtskheta Election Districts. We also had an opportunity to observe mobile voting, during which election officials bring a clear plastic voting box and ballot to the home of a voter unable to physically make it to the polling station. Precinct election commissions, composed of representatives from various parties, seemed to work cooperatively, with large numbers of domestic non-partisan and party observers present from opening through the sometimes arduous counting process. Voter list errors were commonplace; some names were missing while those of the deceased sometimes appeared. Procedures allowed for the casting of provisional ballots by those whose names were not listed. In at least two of the polling stations visited, officials and observers alike were on edge amid rumors of possible disruption by outside gangs, though none materialized. The sometimes painstaking vote count often stretched into the wee hours of the morning. Speaking on behalf of the International Election Observation Mission before a crowded press conference the day after the election, Chairman Hastings praised the competitive nature of the presidential contest, a first in Georgian history. He remarked, “I perceive this election as a viable expression of the free choice of the Georgian people,” while acknowledging, “the future holds immense challenges.” The IEOM concluded that the January 5th election “was in essence consistent with most international standards for democratic elections.” The January 6th statement [Click here to view the statement] of preliminary findings and conclusions outlines a series of shortcomings, urging prompt corrective steps by the authorities. Chairman Hastings traveled from Tbilisi to Helsinki to brief Finnish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Ilkka Kanerva on the first elections of Finland’s 2008 chairmanship.  [Click here to view the press release]  The IEOM is expected to issue a final report on the Georgian elections in early February. A short distance from the hotel press conference, a crowd of opposition supporters gathered to protest the preliminary results being announced by the CEC suggesting a first-round victory for Saakashvili, narrowly avoiding a run-off. Peaceful protests took place in the days following as several candidates and their supporters remained true to their pledges not to accept the results of the January 5th vote. In a televised address to the nation, Saakashvili remarked, “No one can ignore the opinion of people who did not vote for us,” concluding, “We have to find a consensus.” Still, finding such a consensus will likely prove a daunting task in a country where confrontation has more often than not trumped compromise, sometimes ending in violence. So far, there has been no recurrence of the confrontations of November but opposition parties have largely refused to recognize Saakashvili’s victory. Saakashvili was sworn into office for a second term on January 20, 2008. Some members of the opposition have been engaged in discussions with former Acting President Burjanadze about, for example, means of ensuring pluralism of views in Georgia’s media. But all sides are now focused on the critical parliamentary elections this spring; should opposition parties do well in the balloting, relations between the executive and legislative branches could change substantially in Georgia. Of the nearly 2 million ballots cast (56.9% of the electorate), the CEC announced Saakashvili the winner with 53.47% of the vote and his closest competitor Gachechiladze, at 25.69%. None of the remaining candidates exceeded single digits, according to the official tally. The plebiscites on spring parliamentary elections and NATO membership were overwhelmingly approved, with 69.8% and 72.5% respectively.

  • The Madrid Ministerial Council

    By Janice Helwig and Winsome Packer, Staff Advisors The OSCE participating States concluded the year with a meeting of the Ministerial Council on November 29-30, 2007. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns headed the U.S. delegation. Helsinki Commission Chairman Alcee L. Hastings also participated. Overall Dynamics Tensions remained high within the OSCE in the lead up to the Madrid Ministerial, reducing expectations for any ambitious new initiatives which would need to garner the consensus of all 56 participating States. The high-level meeting in the Spanish capital capped off a year punctuated by fundamental disagreements in the security as well as human dimensions. Russia had made a concerted effort to gain control over OSCE election observation activities and reports, introducing a proposal to effectively subordinate every step of the observation process to consensus, including agreement by the country to be observed on the assessment. Along with Belarus and Turkmenistan, they similarly sought to institute burdensome bureaucratic obstacles to curtail NGO participation in OSCE activities. As in the past, the Russians insisted that there was a need for far reaching reform of the OSCE itself. Additionally, the Kremlin had threatened to “suspend” its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Other highly charged issues included Kazakhstan’s longstanding bid to chair the OSCE and the future of Kosovo and the expiring mandate for the OSCE Mission (OMIK) there. Several participating States, including the United States, were reticent about Astana’s leadership aspiration given gaps in its implementation of OSCE commitments, particularly those on democracy and human rights. Meanwhile, Serbia and Russia were threatening to close OMIK if the Kosovars were to unilaterally declare independence. Despite these potentials pitfalls, negotiations at the Ministerial overall proceeded constructively. Although consensus was not reached on some issues, decisions were ultimately taken on several priority issues following protracted debate, including the Kazakhstan chairmanship and an initiative to strengthen OSCE involvement with Afghanistan. As happened at the 2002 Porto Ministerial, the Madrid meeting had to be suspended while negotiations continued on the margins past the scheduled closing. Earlier in the day, Russia had reneged on its agreement to the decision on OSCE engagement with Afghanistan (which was important to the United States), most likely in retaliation to the U.S. blocking a Russian-sponsored draft decision on OSCE election monitoring. Because agreement on several other decisions was tied to the decision on Afghanistan, consensus on other decisions was at risk. In the end, the Afghanistan and the other decisions were agreed to in the late afternoon, almost five hours after the Ministerial had been scheduled to close. At the closing session at which the decisions were adopted, there was a flurry of interpretive statements as a result of the compromises made to reach consensus. Main issues Kazakhstan’s Chairmanship Bid – The decision on upcoming chairmanships of the OSCE was a focus of numerous bilateral meetings and negotiations. Since 2003, Kazakhstan had expressed its desire to lead the Vienna-based OSCE, possibly in 2009. Some – mainly countries belonging to the CIS – insisted that Kazakhstan deserved the leadership position simply based on its membership in the Organization and argued that Western countries were discriminating against a former Soviet State with their opposition. Others had hoped to prompt Kazakhstan to improve its rights record. In the end, an agreement was reached on future chairmanships: Greece in 2009, Kazakhstan in 2010, and Lithuania in 2011. Kazakhstan made it clear in its statement to the Ministerial that it would uphold long-held tenets of the human dimension such as the autonomy of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), as well as participation of NGOs in OSCE meetings. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe – During various CFE side meetings, the U.S. and Russia skirmished over the Russian Federation’s decision to suspend participation in the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe on December 12, 2007. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Daniel Fried, led negotiations aimed at addressing Russian concerns and convincing Moscow not to suspend its participation in the Treaty, to no avail. In particular, the Russians had called for abolishment of flank restrictions, arguing that these requirements constrain their effectiveness in addressing terrorism within their territory. The lifting of the flank agreement would allow the Russians to increase their military forces in the Caucasus region of Russia without limits. Russia had also pressed for discarding the requirement in the original CFE agreement which set collective ceilings limiting the equipment/personnel each alliance (NATO/Warsaw PACT) could have in the "Atlantic to the Urals" area and in any given signatory country. Ratification of the Adaptation Agreement would do away with the collective ceilings, recognizing that the Warsaw Pact no longer exists, and permitting Russia to move personnel and equipment more freely in Russia. However, Russia wants assurance that the 20,000 tanks ceiling for the NATO in Europe will remain in place as new members join the alliance. Russia also took issue with the linkage of the allies’ ratification of the Adapted CFE to Russia’s fulfillment of the related Istanbul Commitments to withdraw its armed forces from Georgian and Moldovan territories. Russian Federation negotiator, Anatoly Antonov rejected calls to transfer of the Gadauta military base to Georgian control without agreement from Georgian authorities to permit Russia to maintain a “peacekeeping” force there. He also objected to U.S. demands for inspections at Gadauta and called for the Baltic States to ratify the Adapted CFE. Georgia emphatically objected to any consideration to “legitimize” the presence of Russian forces on Georgian territory. It became apparent that the Russians had presumed that their decision to suspend the CFE would gain them more leverage in negotiations with NATO allies. However, the allies remained united in their opposition to reopening the treaty to negotiations. Many present took Russia’s announcement of suspension of the CFE Treaty on the final day of the Ministerial to indicate that Russia had not been serious about trying to reach an agreement in Madrid. The future of Kosovo and the OSCE Mission in Kosovo (OMIK) was another focus, although more in statements by the Ministers than in negotiations. There was an attempt to get a declaration on Kosovo that would have included support for the continuation of OMIK regardless of the outcome of the status of Kosovo, but the proposed text was blocked by Russia and Serbia. Many countries, including the U.S., urged the unconditional continuation of OMIK in their statements to the Ministerial Council. NGOs were able to attend the Ministerial as at similar meetings in the past, although the invitation to do so came at a late date and so reduced the level of participation. Preserving this aspect of the Council meeting was particularly important as Russia, Belarus, and Turkmenistan had been questioning procedures for NGO participation in other OSCE meetings and blocked a draft Ministerial decision on Human Rights Defenders. Nonetheless, some NGOs did face access problems and had trouble getting into the conference center on the first day, although the opening plenary was supposed to be open to them. Helsinki Commission Chairman Congressman Alcee Hastings and Department of State Assistant Secretary for Europe Dan Fried held meetings with some NGOs in order to show their support. Increasing OSCE involvement with partner country Afghanistan was supported by the United States There also was wide support for the decision among countries at the Madrid meeting, though Russia and France were unconvinced that the OSCE should be working outside the territory of participating States. In the end, there was consensus on OSCE activities related to border management, with the caveat that most of the activities would take place in OSCE counties bordering Afghanistan. An effort to adopt a draft convention giving legal personality to the OSCE and providing privileges and immunities for OSCE personnel was, for the moment at least, scuttled by Russia. The idea of providing a legal framework for OSCE activities has kicked around for years, especially after the establishment of OSCE institutions and missions. Over the past year, negotiations had produced an arguably viable draft convention, which a number of participating States hoped would be adopted in Madrid and opened for signature. Although Russia ostensibly supports the draft treaty, it has now conditioned acceptance of the treaty on the simultaneous adoption of an OSCE “charter.” For the United States and some other countries, this linkage was a deal-breaker since drafting a charter opens the door to re-writing the fundamental principles of the OSCE.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region Part 2

    Freedom of media is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and recognized as such under international human rights law and in numerous OSCE commitments.  Moreover, a free and independent media is not only an essential tool for holding governments accountable; the media can serve as an agent of change when it shines a light into the darkest crevices of the world (examining environmental degradation, corporate or government corruption, trafficking in children, and healthcare crises in the world's most vulnerable countries, etc.) Freedom of the media is closely connected to the broader right to freedom of speech and expression and other issues including public access to information and the conditions necessary for free and fair elections.  The hearing will attempt to illustrate the degree in which freedom of the media is obstructed in the greater OSCE region.

  • OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina Continues to Play a Constructive Role

    By Janice Helwig, Staff Advisor Helsinki Commission staff recently visited the OSCE Mission Bosnia and Herzegovina to see how its work has adjusted to the evolving situation in the country. Mission Mandate: Activities and Priorities The mandate of the Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina was established by the December 1995 OSCE Ministerial Council in Budapest in response to taskings given to the OSCE by the Dayton Peace Agreement. It focused on elections, human rights monitoring, and facilitating the monitoring of arms control and confidence- and security-building arrangements. In 1996, the Permanent Council expanded the mandate to include democracy building. Although the mandate has not formally changed since 1996, the focus and work of the OSCE Mission has adapted with the changing situation in the country, and the Mission continues to play an active and effective role in the post-conflict rehabilitation of the country. The Mission’s work on elections, security and confidence building measures, and sub-regional arms control is largely finished. The conduct of elections has been turned over to Bosnian authorities, and most of the work under Dayton Annex 1b, Articles II and IV, has been completed. While some activities have decreased, work on human rights monitoring and education has increased. As refugees have returned and as war crimes trials have begun throughout the country, the Mission has established programs to monitor potential discrimination against returnees in economic and social rights, and is monitoring war crimes trials at all levels. The Mission’s work to promote desegregated education and to foster good governance at the local level is bearing fruit. Some schools have been unified; others now hold joint activities and classes. Many municipal governments are working on a five-module good governance training program. One of the OSCE Mission’s advantages continues to be its presence throughout the country. The mission currently consists of the headquarters office in Sarajevo, three regional centers (RC), and 20 field offices (FO). The Mission’s field offices are one of its key advantages over others organizations. The relationships built with local authorities and communities are the basis for OSCE’s effectiveness and often used by other organizations and Embassies not resident throughout the country. The Mission currently focuses its work through four Departments: Democratization, Education, Human Rights, and Security Cooperation. Each Department conducts several programs, which are standardized and implemented throughout the country by staff of the field offices. Democratization Programs The work of the Democratization Department focuses on developing efficient and transparent government institutions, building parliamentary capacity, and supporting civil society. A major component is UGOVOR, a country-wide local government project launched in March 2005. As other international organizations are becoming more involved with public administration reform, the Mission is shifting to building ties among municipal governments and developing civil society. In addition, the Mission works in small municipalities where other international organizations are not. OGOVOR is a five-module training program to improve regulatory elements of municipal governance and promote greater transparency and accountability. The five modules are: access to information; ethics for elected officials; participatory strategic planning; harmonization of municipal statutes; and partnership between civil society and municipal governments. Education Programs In July 2002, at the request of the Office of the High Representative and with the concurrence of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), the OSCE Mission assumed responsibility for coordination of the work of the international community on education. The first aim was to ensure that textbooks and classes were non-political, non-divisive, and free from derogatory propaganda concerning other ethnic and religious groups. New textbooks are being distributed this year, and most lessons are now free from intolerant bias. Nevertheless, most schools in Bosnia remain divided – they are either two schools under one roof, divided by ethnicity, or one-ethnicity schools. Parents, particularly returnees, generally support segregation, and authorities argue that classes must be separated into the three languages of the country, each of which also has its own curriculum for history and geography. Such segregation fosters children’s perception that they should not mix with individuals from the other groups and does little to promote reconciliation. Moreover, politicians – particularly at the local level – sometimes use education to build nationalist credentials in the hopes of gaining votes. The Mission is working to desegregate schools as much as possible. Some schools have been integrated – such as the Mostar Gymnasium which began unified classes in the fall of 2006 – and others have begun holding joint classes on certain subjects such as computer technology. One focus is building civil society input to school reform through the creation of and support for parent and student councils, as well as teachers’ forums. The Mission recently published a manual for student councils in secondary schools. The OSCE also works with municipal, entity, and State authorities on education reform, including legislative and curriculum reform. Human Rights Programs Until recently, the Mission’s human rights work had focused on property rights and restitution, in line with the need at that time to follow cases as refugees and IDPs return to reclaim their property. As returnees have settled in, the Mission has turned to monitoring potential discrimination against returnees and other vulnerable groups by local authorities. The Mission has also been monitoring trials since the introduction of a new legal system three years ago; this work is increasing as the number of war crimes trials increases in Bosnian courts. The Mission monitors how local authorities provide basic economic and social support – such as health care, housing, and pensions - to vulnerable groups, including returnees, Roma, and disabled persons, in order to address any patterns of discrimination that emerge. Trial monitoring is aimed at ensuring fair trials, particularly war crimes trials, and at identifying shortcomings in the Bosnian judicial system and resolving them. There is a special unit which monitors 11bis trials transferred by the ICTY to Bosnian courts. The Mission also does significant work with Roma communities. For example, in one municipality alone, the OSCE has raised the number of Roma children in school from 8 to almost 90. Security Cooperation Programs Programs under the Security Cooperation Department originally focused on implementation of Dayton Peace Agreement Annex 1b, Articles II and IV. Work on Article II was completed in 2004 with the signing of the Agreement on the Termination of Article II on 28 September. Although some work continues under Article IV, military reform and troop reductions have resulted in significantly fewer inspections. UNDP has taken the lead in reducing small arms and light weapons (SALW. Currently, the work of the Department focuses on institution building and parliamentary capacity-building. The Department recently completed a pilot training course for various levels of government officials on the government’s new security policy concept. The Department also conducts training on the OSCE Code of Conduct on Political-Military Aspects of Security. The parliamentary capacity building program began in 2002 and works with defense and intelligence committees. It organizes trainings, visits to other countries, and strengthening of oversight capabilities.

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