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Hearings

The Helsinki Commission convenes public hearings on OSCE-related issues, which regularly include testimony from senior members of the U.S. Administration; foreign ministers of OSCE participating States; and high-level representatives from international organizations such as the United Nations.

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  • Combating Trafficking for Forced Labor Purposes in the OSCE Region

    The purpose of the hearing is to examine the scope and efficacy of OSCE and U.S. efforts to combat human trafficking for forced labor purposes; assess the effectiveness of legal anti-trafficking instruments in combating forced labor in selected member states, and the adequacy of resources dedicated to identifying victims of trafficking for forced labor, as compared with those directed at sexual trafficking.  Witnesses may also be asked to suggest additional measures that OSCE states or the U.S. Government might employ to better address trafficking and the underlying factors that make people vulnerable to becoming TIP victims.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region Part 1

    The hearing focused on trends regarding freedom of the media in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) participating States, including developments in Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. In particular, the hearing highlighted the fact that journalists continue to face significant challenges in their work in numerous OSCE countries, such as acts of intimidation, abduction, beatings, threats or even murder.

  • Freedom of the Media in the OSCE Region

    Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided over this hearing on the freedom of the media in the OSCE region. In 1997, when the OSCE Permanent Council created the Representative on Freedom of the Media, it declared: "Freedom of expression is a fundamental and internationally recognized human right and a basic component of a democratic society, and that free, independent, and pluralistic media are essential to a free and open society and accountable system of government." In practical terms, a free media in a democratic society keeps citizens abreast of the decisions of their government and gives the citizenry the opportunity to make informed choices about the men and women who seek their permission to govern them. The witnesses of the hearing spoke about the challenges of media freedom in the OSCE region, and particularly, in developments in Russia and Central Asia. They presented a survey of progress of  this issue in the OSCE participating States, with a view toward negative trends or especially egregious cases or situation.  The Chairman was joined by Fatima Tlisova, a Russina indipendent Journalista; Nina Ognianova, coordinator for the Europe and Central Asia program in the Committee to protect Journalista; and Paula Schriefer, Director of Advocacy for Freedom House.

  • Energy and Democracy: Oil and Water?

    As the States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) pursue energy security, the Commission will address why it is that so many of the resource-rich countries in the world are not democratic and whether development of both democracy and energy resources is an incompatible goal. Countries that are mired in corruption are not reliable sources of energy. According to Transparency International, six of the top ten oil-exporting countries to the United States are among the most corrupt countries in the world. A lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector poses both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. These governments are not accountable to their citizens and have taken advantage of the resources of the nation in pursuit of the self-interest of a few corrupt leaders. The result has been increasing political instability.

  • Pipeline Politics: Achieving Energy Security in the OSCE Region

    This hearing focused on the security of supply and transit of oil and gas and its role in conflict prevention.  Those testifying identified important factors for ensuring the reliable and predictable supply and transit of oil and natural gas. This hearing also discussed the United States’ role in its own energy security, and in Eurasian energy security.

  • Guantanamo: Implications for U.S. Human Rights Leadership

    The hearing is entitled “Guantanamo: Implications for U.S. Human Rights Leadership” will focus on the international perspective of Guantanamo, particularly in the 56 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and implications for U.S. leadership on human rights issues.  The detention facility at the U.S. Naval Bases at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was opened in January 2002 and, it currently holds around 385 detainees. The facility has come under fire from human rights organizations and others for the alleged mistreatment of detainees and the legal framework according to which they have been held.

  • Protecting Children: The Battle Against Child Pornography and Other Forms of Sexual Exploitation

    This hearing discussed the proliferation of child pornography and other crimes against children through trafficking, prostitution, and sex tourism. Annually, thousands of American children, at least half of which are boys, have been the victims of pornography and many subjected to violence in the process. Often, those guilty of such crimes have been parents, relatives, or acquaintances of these victims. Victims of pornography have been disproportionately affected by depression and suicide and such victims have committed these crimes themselves, perpetuating this cycle.  Global criminal networks that profit from this activity have developed.   In the 1990s, the Commission began efforts to fight child pornography, and in the second half of the 1990s the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed. This strengthened the case more comprehensive actions against child pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation.

  • The Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Is It Undermining U.S. Interests in Central Asia?

    This Commission examined activities of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization since its inception in 2001 and its effects on the U.S. mission in Central Asia. The United States is vitally interested in the transition of the Central Asian states to democracy and to market economies. The region is also a critical partner in the war on terrorism. However, many of the Central Asian countries still lack inclusive governing bodies. Countries such as Uzbekistan may use the SCO as cover against international criticism about their authoritarian systems.  The witnesses and Commissioners discussed the future for relations with Central Asia with the possibility of a stronger influence from the SCO.

  • Care for the Disabled in Romania

    In the early 1990s, images of Romanian children tied to cribs -- neglected, underfed, and often languishing in their own filth -- shocked the world and prompted calls for radical reform of Romania's orphanages. Earlier this year, Mental Disabilities Rights International released a report asserting that Romania still warehouses mentally ill and retarded children in adult mental institutions. In some instances, the report asserts, abandoned children are housed in facilities so deficient that they may actually cause permanent disability. In order to examine this issue more fully, the Helsinki Commission will hold a hearing on "Care for the Disabled in Romania."

  • Human Rights and U.S.-Russian Relations: Implications for the Future

    The hearing will examine ways the U.S. Government can live up to its commitment to promote human rights and democratic governance in Russia while preserving a relationship with Moscow that advances U.S. interests and is conducive to resolving issues of importance to both nations and the international community.  Russia’s economic resurgence and re-emergence as an important political player in the international community has increased focus on its domestic governance and its place among the industrial democracies of the world.  Actions by Russian law enforcement authorities to intimidate political opposition and NGOs during the recent G-8 summit heightened concerns about Russia’s place among the major industrialized democracies of the world.

  • Belgium’s Chairmanship of the OSCE

    The Belgian Government assumed Chairmanship of the OSCE in January 2006.  The first half of 2006 saw a number of developments within, and adjacent to, the OSCE region that formed the focus of the hearing.  Among the issues addressed were developments in Central Asia and neighboring Afghanistan, the emergence of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the political situation in the Caucasus, and human rights trends in the Russian Federation.  Commissioners also focused on OSCE democracy-promotion work, with a special emphasis on election monitoring, programs to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, and initiatives aimed at promoting greater international cooperation to curtail human trafficking and child pornography.

  • Human Rights, Democracy, and Integration in South Central Europe

    The hearing, led by the Hon. Christopher H. Smith,  the Hon. Sam Brownback , and the Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, focused primarily on the legal restrictions on religious activities and other attacks on religious freedom, lagging efforts to combat trafficking in persons, discrimination and violence against Roma, and the prevalence of official corruption and organized crime. The efforts to encourage Bosnia-Herzegovina to move beyond the limitations imposed by the Dayton Peace Agreement will be discussed. Further, the plight of the displaced and minority communities of Kosovo, and the need for Serbia to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal will also be covered.   

  • Advancing the Human Dimension in the OSCE: The Role of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights

    This hearing, led by the Helsinki Chairman the Hon. the Hon. Sam Brownback, Co-Chairman the Hon. Christopher H. Smith Office, and ranking member the Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, examined the role that Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has played over the last fifteen years. ODIHR’s role in advancing human rights and the development of democracy in the OSCE participating States was noted and agreed to be particularly important. ODIHR is engaged throughout Western Europe and the former Soviet Union in the fields of democratic development, human rights, tolerance and non-discrimination, and promotion of the rule of law and has set the international standard for election observation. Within the hearing, the challenges that ODIHR faces were examined, specifically those instigated by the Russian Federation, Belarus and a small minority of the OSCE participating states seeking to undermine the organization under the guise of reform.  ODIHR has earned an international reputation for its leadership, professionalism, and excellence in the area of election observation.  That being said, ODIHR’s mission is much broader, encompassing a wide range of human rights activities aimed at closing the gap between commitments on paper and the reality on the ground in signatory countries.    

  • The Legacy of Chornobyl: Health and Safety 20 Years Later

    This hearing, chaired by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith marked the 20th anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chornobyl, Ukraine. This is not only significant because of the long-term effects that the catastrophe had in the area, but also because of the circumstances under which it took place. More specifically, as Smith did not fail to point out at the hearing’s start, the explosion took place under the veil of secrecy brought to the world by the Soviet Union. The nuclear reactor at the Chornobyl site was part and parcel of U.S.S.R. property, so the Soviet Union was able to conceal what transpired from the outside world. This hearing emphasized much needed work to be done for the residents of Chornobyl, including aid by the United States.  

  • Freedom Denied: Belarus on the Eve of the Election

    Presidential elections in Belarus are scheduled to be held March 19, against the backdrop of stepped up repression by the regime of Alexander Lukashenka. The Belarusian strongman's power grab, begun a decade ago, has included liquidation of the democratically elected parliament, a string of fundamentally flawed elections and manipulation of the country's constitution to maintain power. A climate of fear following the disappearance of leading opposition figures in 1999 has continued with the harassment and arrests of opposition activists and the forced closure of independent newspapers. Rights violations in Belarus have intensified in the aftermath of the Orange Revolution in neighboring Ukraine, as the regime seeks to squelch dissent. The repressive environment has made it difficult for opposition candidates to engage in normal campaign activities. Meanwhile, administration of the elections at all levels remains firmly in the hands of Lukashenka loyalists.

  • THE UNITED STATES AND THE OSCE: A PARTNERSHIP FOR ADVANCING FREEDOM

    This hearing focused on the relationship and the partnership the United States has with the OSCE and whether, through this partnership, the U.S.  foreign policy goals of advancing freedom are being achieved. Among the assessment of the relationship was whether the U.S. was utilizing the capabilities of the OSCE process to the fullest of its abilities. The Commissioners also reviewed whether a similar OSCE framework would be plausible for the African continent to focus on humanitarian development. The witness gave testimony of examples of the OSCE framework shaping the dialogue of free electoral processes, freedom of expression and religion, and protections of minority groups. The hearing touched on potential change of focus  to alleviate issues of terrorism in the OSCE mission.

  • In the Best Interest of the Children? Romania’s Ban on Inter-Country Adoption

    Commissioners Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Chris Smith (NJ-04) expressed their displeasure with  Romania’s ban on adoption.  Romania’s international adoption ban had prevented over 200 Americans from taking adopting children from the Eastern European country, regardless of the prospective adoptive parents' qualifications. The law that enabled this ban came after the Romanians consented to ban inter-country adoptions in exchange for acquiring membership in the European Union.  

  • The Uzbekistan Crisis: Assessing the Impact and Next Steps

    This hearing focused on the protests in the Andijon that were met by a violent government response and the lack of meaningful democratization reform in Uzbekistan. The Commissioners touched on the lack of separation of powers in the government and the authoritarian governing institutions that cannot produce a reliable investigation into the violent government response to the protest. Human rights activists and journalists from Uzbekistan gave testimony on their experience of the oppressive leadership of the government and first-hand account of the horrific and bloody response by the government police to remove peaceful protestors. The hearing discussed what actions the United States can take, within the OSCE framework, to push for meaningful reform.

  • The Iran Crisis: A Transatlantic Response

    Commissioners Brownback, Smith, and Cardin held this hearing that focused on the deteriorating human rights situation in Iran, and how the U.S. and Europe together could help address this predicament. More specifically, under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran did everything in its power to crush dissent, resorting in every form of persecution, including execution. The relevance to the OSCE regarding the situation in Iran lies in the fact that Iran borders multiple OSCE participating states. Likewise, events in Iran, which is a rather large country, have a direct bearing on the broader Middle East and beyond. 

  • Exploiting Americans on American Soil: Domestic Trafficking Exposed

    This hearing includes statements by both Hon. Christopher Smith and Hon. Ben Cardin. The speakers for this hearing addressed a wide range of issues regarding Human trafficking. This hearing also focused specifically on the aspects of domestic trafficking, which is regarded by some to be a far more pervasive form of human trafficking.

  • The Future of Human Rights in Kosovo

    This hearing, held by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Chris Smith , stressed, among other things, that there was still a lot of work to be achieved regarding human rights in Kosovo, such as security and property issues. In particular, Brownback and Smith focused on the international community, including countries in the OSCE region. This hearing was held with increased diplomatic activity that may have led to consideration of Kosovo’s status in 2005 in mind. Witnesses to this hearing included Soren Jessen-Petersen, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General and Head of the UN Mission in Kosovo, and Charles L. English, Director of the Office of South Central European Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  

  • Unregistered Religious Groups in Russia

    This hearing focused the disfranchisement of religious minorities Russia.  In several cases, authorities unfairly targeted religious groups with excessive force and threatened their right to worship. The hearing examined these cases and what the OSCE and U.S. have done in response. The witness John V. Hanford, III, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, gave testimony about specific measures the State Department has in place in Moscow for addressing this issue and what the administration of President Bush has done to respond directly to these violations.

  • Kyrgyzstan’s Revolution: Causes and Consequences

    Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and others discussed the recent Kyrgyz revolution and  the fall of the regime of President Askar Akaev.  Protest movements in Georgia and Ukraine led up Akaev’s fall. This hearing discussed the possible implications of such civil unrest were and  the prospects for consolidating Kyrgyz democracy and other places to which revolutions may spread.

  • The Schneerson Collection and Historical Justice

    This hearing examined Russia’s failure to return the Schneerson Agudas Chabad collection of books to the Chabad community for 90 years, for study and use in preservation for the community. Consensus among the members of Congress and witnesses of the hearing was that the time has come for Russia to return these books to their rightful owners. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has worked tirelessly toward this goal. 

  • The Russian-Syrian Connection: Thwarting Democracy in the Middle East and the Greater OSCE Region

    This hearing explored the destabilizing role that Syria and its support to terrorist organizations play in the security of surrounding countries, such as Iraq and Israel. The hearing examined the special relationship between Russia and Syria and this relationship’s destabilizing effects on the region. The Commissioners and witnesses reviewed Russian arms sales to Syria and the Syrian support for Hezbollah, both of which are affecting the security of Israel and Lebanon.

  • Slovenia’s Leadership of the OSCE

    This hearing examined the challenges facing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 2005. New and emerging threats from external actors, including terrorist organizations and rogue regimes, have led the organization to take a greater look at its periphery and seek multilateral responses to issues ranging from terrorist financing to arms proliferation. Issues related to OSCE work were on the agenda of the recent Bush-Putin summit in Bratislava and could impact the organization’s future activity. The testimony of His Excellency Dimitrij Rupel, Foreign Minister of Slovenia and this year’s OSCE Chairman, presented an overview of the wide array of initiatives undertaken by the OSCE regarding issues like human trafficking, organized criminal activity and official corruption, anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance, human rights violations in countries of Central Asia, and areas of tension or conflict in the Caucasus, the Balkans and elsewhere in the expansive OSCE region. Strategies for continuing to pursue these issues were discussed.

  • Advancing U.S. Interests through the OSCE

    The OSCE has been a pioneer in defining an integrated approach to security, one in which human rights and economic well-being are as key to a nation’s stability as are traditional military forces.  It remains not only the largest trans-Atlantic organization, but the one with the broadest definition of security.  The OSCE has also created the most innovative habits of dialogue and collective action of any multilateral organization in the world.  The focus of the hearing will be how the OSCE can be used most effectively to highlight and advance the interests of the United States.  Among the subjects to be covered will be objectives for the December (2004) meeting of Foreign Ministers in Sofia; recent high-impact security initiatives; expectations for the upcoming Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw; and refining and strengthening the OSCE.

  • Advancing Democracy in Albania

    Albania is expected to hold new parliamentary elections, and further reform is viewed as key to their success.  The country has faced tremendous challenges in its democratic development since emerging from harsh communist rule and self-imposed isolation in the early 1990s. Despite highly polarized politics and splits within the Socialist camp in particular, there has been renewed progress.  Albania, nevertheless, continues to face the difficult task, common to the region, of tackling organized crime and official corruption. The Albanian Government is making efforts, for example, to combat trafficking in persons, though it remains a source and a transit country for women and children who are sexually exploited or used as forced labor elsewhere in Europe.  Meanwhile, Albania has maintained strong bilateral ties with the United States and cooperated with the international response to past regional conflicts. The country is a strong supporter of the war on terrorism and works within the framework of the Adriatic Charter, a U.S. initiative that includes Macedonia and Croatia, in laying the groundwork for further European and Euro-Atlantic integration.

  • Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in Decline

    This hearing focused on the human rights and democratization process in Uzbekistan. Despite Uzbekistan’s signing of major agreements promising multi-party elections and other democratic reforms, Uzbekistan has not implemented policy that would move it in this direction.  The hearing looked into what measures the U.S. could take within the OSCE to speed the democratization process in Uzbekistan.

  • Uzbekistan: Stifled Democracy, Human Rights in Decline

    The hearing will examine democratization and human rights in Uzbekistan in light of the impending decision by the Department of State whether to certify Uzbekistan to continue receiving U.S. assistance. Uzbekistan, an OSCE participating State since 1992, has been closely cooperating with the United States in the campaign against international terrorism.  There is a U.S. military base in Uzbekistan and Washington has stepped up assistance significantly since 2001.  The agreement on Strategic Partnership and Cooperation was signed by President Bush and President Karimov in March 2002. However, Uzbekistan’s human rights record has remained poor, impeding the further development of U.S.-Uzbek relations.  Late last year, the State Department decertified Uzbekistan for aid under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program because it had not made progress toward ending police torture and other abuses.

  • Government Actions to combat anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region

    The Berlin Declaration, issued at the conference, highlights commitments made by the 55 OSCE States and declares that “international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism.”  The action-oriented declaration also highlighted the commitment to monitor anti-Semitic crimes and hate crimes, including through collection and maintenance of statistics about such incidents. Helsinki Commission Members have spearheaded efforts to draw attention to anti-Semitism and related violence.  These efforts helped create the momentum that moved the OSCE to convene this historic and high-level conference on anti-Semitism, attended by Secretary of State Colin Powell.

  • The Middle East: Would the Helsinki Process Apply?

    This hearing, presided over by Commissioner Chris Smith, discussed the prospect of having an OSCE-like organization that would apply to the Middle East. While Rep. Smith acknowledges the argument that a mechanism like the OSCE for the Middle East would not be appropriate, due to the fact that it is a different region, and, of course, such a thing would be agreed upon at a different time, there is an argument to be made that the substantial gulf between the Soviet Union and the U.S. and the gulf that exists among many Middle Eastern countries is are analogous. In fact, a provision of the bilateral treaty between Israel and Jordan envisioned the possibility of creation of a Helsinki-like framework for the Middle East. Issues, however, are likely to arise, such as: To what extent are leaders from the Middle East willing to take ownership of such a process? Is Islam compatible with democratic governance? Would such a process be comprehensive? Which countries would or should be involved?

  • Human Rights in Putin's Russia

    Since President Putin assumed office in 2000, human rights activists have charged that civil liberties and democratic development in Russia have been sacrificed to a "managed democracy" under the influence of both active and former officials of the security services.  Putin’s tenure in office has been characterized by the demise of independent national broadcast media, election manipulations and a "spy mania" that has led to espionage charges against several Russian scientists and environment activists.  Nevertheless, Putin has rejected parliamentary initiatives that would have further restricted freedom of the press and assembly.

  • Northern Ireland Update: Implementation of the Cory Reports

    This hearing, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), was a continuation of an earlier hearing in March 2004 that focused on developing accountability and public confidence in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.  This hearing reviewed a report by former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory concerning the question of British state collusion in six murders in the Republic of Ireland and in Ulster. Justice Cory discussed the critical links between public confidence in the rule of law, government accountability, and the prospects for a peaceful future. Geraldine Finucane, the widow of murdered human rights attorney Patrick Finucane, was also a witness at this hearing.

  • Helsinki Commission Hearing Reviews Bulgaria’s Leadership of the OSCE

    His Excellency Solomon Passy, Foreign Minister of Bulgaria and Chair-in-Office of the OSCE testified in front of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, chaired by the Honorable Christopher Smith (NJ-04).  Passy’s testimony regarded the OSCE’s program for 2004 under Bulgaria’s leadership. Passy stated that implementations of OSCE commitments would top the agenda for Bulgaria’s Chairmanship of the OSCE. The hearing covered the conflict in Chechnya; OSCE efforts to resolve the Transdniestrian conflict and “frozen conflicts” in the Caucasus; OSCE efforts to combat anti-Semitism and human trafficking; the situation in Central Asia; and promoting respect for human rights and democratic values throughout the OSCE region.  Passy also spoke about Bulgaria’s experience with its own transition to democracy and its ongoing human rights efforts.

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