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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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  • Elections, Democratization, and Human Rights in Azerbaijan

    The hearing will outline recent developments in Azerbaijani elections. Azerbaijan government officials announced Thursday that Azerbaijan’s government has accepted proposals to agree with the opposition about independent members of the Central Election Commission in advance of the November parliamentary election. The announcement was made during a hearing of the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Azerbaijan’s Ambassador Hafiz Pashayev, accompanied by several experts who arrived from Baku for the hearing, said that negotiations between the sides, with the active mediation of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), would continue about the Central Election Commission and the election law. How these electoral developments effect Azerbaijan will be outlined.

  • The Putin Path: Are Human Rights in Retreat?

    This hearing, held on the eve of President Clinton’s first summit meeting with Russia’s recently elected President, Vladimir Putin, provided a timely opportunity to assess bilateral relations between the United States and the Russian Federation, as well as domestic developments. Russia has multi-candidate presidential elections, with viable candidates, unlike the Central Asian states where presidents do not tolerate serious challengers. Nevertheless, this hearing examined how reliable are multi-candidate elections as a gauge of democratic development when the media is intimidated by government pressure and raids.

  • The Deterioration of Freedom of the Media in OSCE Countries

    The stated purpose of this hearing, presided over by Rep. Christopher Smith (NJ-04) was to draw attention to the deteriorating status of free speech and press throughout the OSCE region, raise alarm about this deterioration, and call upon OSCE participating states to recommit themselves to these freedoms. Such an impetus was drawn from how members of the press were mistreated in foreign countries. For example, 34 journalists were killed in the OSCE region in the year of 1999.

  • The Impact of Organized Crime and Corruption On Democratic and Economic Reform

    Commissioners Christopher Smith and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, along with others, discussed just how detrimental organized crime and corruption are on society. More specifically, organized crime negatively impact democracy’s expansion, the promotion of civil society, and security in the OSCE region, as well as economic development, particularly in southeast Europe and Central Asia. This is relevant to the United States because it has a strategic interest in promoting democratic reform and stability in the former U.S.S.R. and Central Asia. Countries in this region assist U.S. businesses exploring market opportunities, and the U.S. provides a good bit of bilateral assistance to these countries. The Helsinki Commission has pressed for greater OSCE involvement in efforts to combat corruption.

  • HEARING: THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN TURKMENISTAN

    This hearing reviewed the democratization process, human rights, and religious liberty in Turkmenistan. This was one in a series that the Helsinki Commission has held on Central Asia. Turkmenistan has become a worse-case scenario of post-Soviet development. Human Rights Watch Helsinki did not yield from calling Turkmenistan one of the most repressive countries in the world. As a post-Soviet bloc country, Turkmenistan remains a one-party state, but even that party is only a mere shadow of the former ruling Communist Party. All the real power resides in the country’s dictator, who savagely crushes any opposition or criticism. The witnesses gave testimony surrounding the legal obstacles in the constitution of Turkmenistan and other obstacles that the authoritarian voices in the government use to suppress opposition.

  • Protection of Human Rights Advocates in Northern Ireland

    This hearing examined allegations of the involvement of security forces in intimidation and harassment of human rights advocates in Northern Ireland. The hearing focused on the unsolved murders of two Belfast defense attorneys, Rosemary Nelson, and Patrick Finucane, killed in 1999 and 1989. Commissioner Harold Hongju Koh, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, expressed the State Department’s concern with that there was not sufficient protection of lawyers, the rule of law, and human rights in Northern Ireland.  Commissioner Smith noted that “Defense attorneys are the ‘Helsinki Commissioners’ of Northern Ireland. The OSCE can be a valuable forum in which to provide cover for these human rights advocates. The United States and United Kingdom are quick to criticize emerging democracies that fail to abide by the rule of law and due process. The best way to lead in these matters is by example.”

  • Belarus at the Crossroads

    The hearing will examine Belarus’ track record with respect to human rights and democracy. Recent elections have severely damaged the democratic development of Belarus as Alyaksandr Lukashenka remains in power, well beyond the legal term limit. The hearing will look at the processes the United States and the OSCE set in place to enable Belarus towards a more democratic regime.

  • Kosovo’s Displaced and Imprisoned (Pts. 1 – 3)

    This hearing focused on former residents of Kosovo who were forced to leave their homes because of the conflict. Slobodan Milosevic was identified as a key figure in the displacement and the commissioners and witnesses discussed the possibility of the end of his regime.

  • The Status of Religious Liberty in Russia Today

    Hon. Cristopher H. Smith, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided over this hearing on the status of religious liberty in Russia. It was one in a series of Helsinki Commission hearings to examine human rights issues in the nations of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Hon. Smith was joined by panelists to provide their insights on these issues: Robert Seiple, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom; Rabbi Lev Shemtov, Director of American Friends of Lubavitch; Pastor Igor Nikitin, Chariman of the Assosiation of Christian Churches of St. Petersburg; Father Leonid Kishkovsky, Pastor; and Anatoly Krasikov, Chairman of Russian Chapter, International Association for Religious Liberty in Moscow.      

  • Promoting and Protecting Democracy in Montenegro

    At this hearing, witnesses warned of the potential for conflict in the Balkans if democracy failed to take hold in Montenegro.  As Chairman Christopher Smith noted, Montenegro had been moving towards democratic reform since 1997 and its leaders distanced themselves from the ethnic violence in neighboring Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. However, in Serbia, Milosevic’s regime was becoming more entrenched. Witness Srdjan Darmanovic, the director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Podgorica, was concerned that without as a serious strategy for preserving peace and stability in the region provided by the West, Milosevic’s regime would start a conflict with Montenegro.

  • Chechen Crisis and its Implications for Russian Democracy

    This hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe was held to discuss the renewed military action taken against Chechnya in response to terrorist bombings. There is extensive discussion on the ramification of Russian human rights violations for the state of Russian Democracy. Additionally, there are several arguments that the war could destabilize the Caucus region.

  • Democratization and Human Rights In Uzbekistan

  • The Sex Trade: Trafficking of Women and Children in Europe and the United States

    This Commission examined an escalating human rights problem in the OSCE region: the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Trafficking in human beings is a form of modern-day slavery. When a woman or child is trafficked or sexually exploited by force, fraud, or coercion for commercial gain, she is denied the most basic human rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous international human rights agreements. Although trafficking has been a problem for many years in Asian countries, it was not until the end of communism in East-Central Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union that a sex trade in the OSCE region began to develop. The hearing looked into the U.S. and the global response to this appalling human challenge and what else could be done to address it.

  • The State of Human Rights and Democracy in Kazakhstan

    Commission Chairman Christopher Smith presided over a hearing on the status of democratization and human rights in Kazakhstan following the country's presidential election in January of 1999. The election, which saw the victory of incumbent presient Nursultan Nazarbayev, was strongly criticsed by the OSCE, which stated that it had fallen "far short" of meeting OSCE commitments. Ross Wilson, Principal Deputy to the Ambassador At-Large, noted that opposition figures were beaten, arrested, and convicted for attending political meetings. Independent media organizations were bought out, silenced, and in extreme cases firebombed by allies of President Nazarbayev. Finally, a new law barred candidates who had been conviced of administrative violations from running for president. Akezhan Kazhegeldin, former prime minister of Kazakhstan and leading opposition member in the election, noted in his testimony that he was barred from running in the election due to this law. Bolat Nurgaliev, Ambassador of Kazakhstan to the United States, acknowledged "imperfections" in the state of Kazakhstan's political system, but defended the legal and ethical credentials of the election. The hearing concluded by offering a set of recommendations calling for the abolition of laws restricting opposition members from running, improved anti-corruption legislation, and greater press freedom.      

  • Democratization and Human Rights in Kazakhstan

    This hearing reviewed the democratization process, human rights, and religious liberty in Kazakhstan. This was one in a series that the Helsinki Commission has held on Central Asia. The hearing focused on Kazakhstan for two reasons: first, the country held a presidential election, almost 2 years ahead of schedule. The OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, used unusually strong language, and criticized the conduct of the election as far short of meeting OSCE commitments. The witnesses gave testimony surrounding the legal obstacles in the constitution of Kazakhstan and other obstacles that the authoritarian voices in the government use to suppress opposition.

  • Belarus – Back in the U.S.S.R.?

    The political and economic situation in Belarus remains dire under President Lukashenka's authoritarian rule. Repression of human rights and his assault on democratic institutions are the subject of continuing concern. Lukashenka has rejected calls for an election and is attempting to neutralize democratic opposition to his rule. The hearing provided a timely opportunity to review the current situation in Belarus in advance of the May 16, 1999 presidential elections called by the democratic opposition. The hearing witnesses outlined the precariousness of democracy and human rights in Belarus and how the authorities have sought to repress opposition leaders and Belarusian civil society organizations. Witnesses spoke of the Belarusian government’s relationship with the internationally recognized 13th Supreme Soviet and President Lukashenko’s refusal to hold constitutionally mandated elections.

  • The Long Road Home – Struggling For Property Rights in Post-Communist Europe

    In this hearing, presided over by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), the focus was on property restitution. Discussed by Smith, Campbell, other legislators, and witnesses – Stuart E. Eizenstat, Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agricultural Affairs and U.S. Special Envoy for Property Claims in Central and Eastern Europe; Michael Lewan, Chairman, United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad; Bishop John Michael Botean, Romanian Catholic Diocese of Canton, Ohio; Vladislav Bevc, Ph.D., Executive Officer, American Owners of Property in Slovenia; Jan Sammer, The Czech Coordinating Office (non-governmental organization), Toronto, Canada; and, Vytautas Sliupas, Lithuanian “Class Action Complaint Group” – at issue was ill treatment and discrimination of religious communities. Smith stated, “Ill treatment afforded some religious communities suggests that religious inequality and discrimination are often at the heart of a government’s restitution policies rather than economic constraints or other legitimate issues that need to be worked through.” Likewise, Campbell stated, “Property restitution and compensation are not favors these newly free countries do for those who fled for their lives. They are essential steps forward in their own economic and political development.”

  • THE ROAD TO THE OSCE ISTANBUL SUMMIT AND HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY

    The hearing focused specifically on the human rights situation in the Republic of Turkey, an original signatory of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. These two issues, OSCE and Turkey, intersected in this hearing due to the decision taken in Oslo the previous December by the OSCE Ministerial Council to convene a summit Meeting of Heads of State or Government in Istanbul in November 1999. The Commissioners expressed concern over Ankara’s failure to implement a wide range of OSCE human dimensions commitments, the United States labored to secure a consensus in support of Turkey’s bid to host the OSCE Summit in Istanbul. The hearing touched on how the U.S. should respond to make improved human rights implementation in Turkey a priority. Though, one year after a Commission delegation visited Turkey, the Commission’s conclusion is that there has been no demonstrable improvement in Ankara’s human rights practices and that the prospects for much needed systemic reforms are bleak given the unstable political scene that seemed likely to continue.

  • WHITHER HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA?

    This hearing focused on the human rights situation in Russia. Russia is no longer an authoritarian dictatorship and civil liberties have improved. However, the decline in Russia’s recent economic fortunes has been accompanied by disturbing developments in the area of human rights and civil liberties. A religion law developed in 1977 has led to legal difficulties and complications for some religious organizations in their dealings with local authorities, most notably the declaration of Jehovah Witness as a “destructive sect.” Also recent cases of a crackdown on activist has led to Russia’s first political prisoner since the defunct Soviet Union with the arrest of the environmental whistleblower, Alexandr Nikitin.

  • The Milosevic Regime Versus Serbian Democracy and Balkan Stability

    This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Chris Smith, then Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, was held on the fiftieth anniversary of Human Rights Day, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in Paris by 56 members of the United Nations. Regarding the atrocities of Slobodan Milosevic and his regime, then, this hearing’s date was perfectly apropos. The storied crimes by the Milosevic Regime are world renowned. The hearing was held in the wake of actions by the regime taken against Serbia’s independent media. Earlier on, Milosevic refused to acknowledge the results of municipal elections in Serbia, and, of course, the violent conflicts that the regime was culpable for.  

  • Atrocities in Kosovo: Shattuck and Dole Report

    This hearing of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe is on the atrocities committed in Kosovo. The commissioners and notable guests present include: Chairman Alfonse D’Amato, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith, Commissioner Benjamin Cardin, Commissioner Steny Hoyer, Congressman Benjamin Gilman, the honorable Eliot Engel, Senator Bob Dole, and Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck. The speakers at the hearing reported on the horrible destruction caused by the attacks on villages and towns of Kosovo.

  • Romani Human Rights in Europe

    Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith presided over this hearing that discussed the rights of the Romani population in Europe. While ostensibly of Central and Eastern European descent, Romani, or Roma, individuals have existed in almost every European state. The Roma consist of a dispersed minority that, at the time of this hearing, was the fastest growing European population, numbering between 8 million and 10 million people. Unfortunately, their numbers did not protect the Roma from being the only population whose situation had actually worsened since the fall of Communism. From the first signs of anti-Romani discrimination in Romania to the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation in January of 1994, the reasons to justify holding this hearing to discuss the plight of the Romani were many. At this hearing, besides Commissioner Chris Smith, were Commission Chairman Steny Hoyer, and witnesses James Goldston of the European Roma Rights Center, Livia Plaks of the Project on Ethnic Relations, and Drs. David Crowe and Ian Hancock, professors at Elon and the University of Texas-Austin, respectively.

  • Repression and Violence in Kosovo and Hearing on Kosovo: The Humanitarian Perspective

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Alfonse D’Amato, discussed the dire circumstances in Kosovo, specifically Serbian repression of the Kosovar Albanian majority population. In this hearing, D’Amato called for the U.S. to step up and prevent another outbreak of ethnic cleansing and achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. More specifically, to facilitate a lasting peace, the Commissioner called on U.S. leadership to make Slobodan Milosevic believe that the world would not stand by while the atrocities in Kosovo and Serbia continued. In addition, any settlement reached between Milosevic and the Kosovo Albanian leadership, D’Amato, continued, must be respected and protect the human rights of all individuals in Kosovo, without preconditions. Witnesses in this hearing discussed these human rights violations and the predicament of the Kosovar Albanians.

  • Bosnia

    During this briefing, Robert Hand, policy advisor at the Commission, led a discussion regarding Bosnia and its different regions. He spoke of the situation in Bosnia in 1998 and the power of ethnically-based political parties, retained through nationalism, corruption, and control of the media. Reconstruction in Bosnia has slow and challenging due to poor economic conditions and the continued displacement of certain populations. The witnesses - Luke Zahner, Candace Lekic, Jessica White, Roland de Rosier, Kathryn Bomberger, Brian Marshall - have served in regions all over Bosnia and gave valuable input on the differences between regions and their rehabilitations processes after the Dayton Accords. They also spoke of the influence of Republica Srpska and the Bosnian Federation on said regions.  Paying attention to these differences, they state, is important in that the United States wants to support only those that successfully implement the Dayton Accords.

  • Status of Religious Liberty for Minority Faiths in Europe and the OSCE

    The purpose of this hearing, which the Hon. Christopher H. Smith chaired, was to discuss the reality of disturbing undercurrents of subtle, but growing, discrimination and harassment of minority religious believers, as opposed to discussing the widespread documentation of torture and persecution of practitioners of minority faiths. In a number of European countries, government authorities had seemed to work on restricting the freedoms of conscience and speech in much of their governments’ actions. For example, in Russia, on September 26, 1997, President Boris Yeltsin signed the law called “On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Associations,” which blatantly violated agreements of the OSCE which the former U.S.S.R. helped to initiate. Through use of witnesses, then, attendees of this hearing, namely commissioners, gained a deeper understanding of the religious liberty violations within OSCE member countries and insight into how to best influence governments to adhere more closely to internationally accepted human rights standards.

  • Religious Intolerance in Europe Today

  • The Present Situation in Albania

    This briefing, moderated by the Honorable Eliot Engel, Co-Chairman of the Albanian Issues Caucus, examined the international response to the crisis in Albania since the collapse of the pyramid schemes in the beginning of the year, which led to protests, rebellion, and political stalemate.  The need for free and fair elections was emphasized in light of a political impasse over the holding of elections in June. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Julius Varallyay, Principle Country Officer for East Central Europe for the World Bank, Stefano Stefanini from the Italian Embassy, and Avni Mustafaj, former Director of Open Society Foundation for Albania – discussed the previous efforts that had been made to encourage political reforms and steps that needed to be taken in the future. The need for a comprehensive donor assistance program to complement international assistance was specifically address, as was the political reform on which this program would depend.

  • The Future of Chechnya

    Former senatosr and commissionesr chaired this hearing, which focused on the efforts of the citizens in Chechnya to free themselves from Russian power. Russia’s “transgressions” against the Chechnyan populace entailed lack of recognition of international principles. More specifically, the 1994 OSCE Budapest Document, with which the Russians agreed, stipulates that each participating state will ensure that its armed forces are commanded in a way that is consistent with the provisions of international law. Moreover, even when force cannot be avoided, each state will ensure that its use must be commensurate with the needs.  At the time of this hearing, anywhere between 30,000 and 80,000 people had been killed because of the conflict in the territory, and tens of thousands of men, women, and children had been driven from their homes. In addition, there had been a cease-fire in Chechnya. However, the dangers had not recently ended.

  • Political Turmoil in Serbia

    In this hearing, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) discussed, with witnesses, the developments in Serbia and what opposition forces had to say about the future of the country. Witnesses present included Miodrag Perisic, co-founder and vice president of Serbia’s first political opposition party (the Democratic Party); Branislav Canak, the president of a confederation of independent trade unions that wanted to organize workers throughout Serbia (the Independents); Veran Matic, Editor-In-Chief of B92, Belgrade’s independent radio station; and Obrad Kesic, program specialist for the Professional Media Program at the International Research and Exchanges Board. More specifically, Smith and witnesses discussed popular unrest against Milosevic’s refusal to accept election results regarding the ruling Socialist Party and its allies, underscoring more general displeasure with the Serbian government’s track record regarding the economy, human rights, and a lack of confidence that Serbians’ children would have a democratic and prosperous future.  

  • Bosnian Elections III: Representatives of Bosnian Political Parties

    Robert Hand led the discussion on the upcoming Bosnian elections, which were scheduled for mid-September later that year.  He was joined by representatives of political parties from Bosnia-Herzegovina, a rather diverse group of individuals - some of them represented parties in powers and others that are not and from various ethnic constituencies. The witnesses - Ljilana Bubic of the Republican Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina; Adnan Jahic, President of the Party for Democratic Action in Tuzla; Hasib Salkic, Secretary General of the Liberal Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina; Zdenko Kubicek of the Executive Board of the Croatian Party of Rights; Mirjana Malic of the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina; and Zoran Tomic of the Croatian Democratic Union - introduced their parties’ histories, issues, and goals. They then focused more specifically on how they see the Bosnian elections unfolding and their thoughts about having them in the upcoming fall.

  • Property Restitution, Compensation and Preservation: Competing Claims in Post-Communist Europe

    This hearing, which Rep. Christopher H. Smith (NJ – 04) presided over, focused on how to rectify transgressions against individuals by former totalitarian regimes, which Smith called one of the most challenging issues confronting post-Communist societies in the OSCE region. This specifically related to the wrongful confiscation of property. Even though some Communist regimes were required by the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty to make restitution of Jewish property, these governments duly ignored such directives. In fact, Communist regimes were infamous for their complete disregard for private property, nationalizing factories, etc. Likewise, more recently, efforts to return property to former owners had been uneven and oftentimes unsuccessful, stymied by complex moral and legal obligations.

  • Russia’s Election: What Does It Mean?

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and others discussed the outcome and the implications of the Russian presidential election of 1996, which, at the time of the hearing, had just happened. The winner of the election was Boris Yeltsin, who was re-elected with a margin of thirteen percentage points over Communist Party Chairman and challenger Zyuganov. The hearing also incorporated discussion concerning the conflict in Chechnya and the circumstances under which the election transpired (i.e., fairness, media coverage).

  • Bosnia: Should the OSCE Certify Conditions Exist for Free and Fair Elections?

    The Helsinki Commission is focusing on what it considers one of the most important international events of this year, the elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Commission has held several briefings on this topic already with election experts from the United States, with members of the Provisional Election Commission from Bosnia, with representatives of political parties from that country, and most recently, with persons close to the situation in Banja Luka. Human rights organizations and others following the situation in Bosnia have warned that conditions for a free and fair election simply do not exist; and yet, the U.S. Government and some European governments have pressured the OSCE to certify nonetheless. A robust discussion on curbing rampant political gerrymandering and obstructions to free and fair elections will be underscored in the hearing.

  • The Legacy of Chernobyl

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) presided over this hearing, which marked the tenth anniversary of the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl, the worst of its kind. Ten years out, what transpired had grave implications for Ukraine and Belarus. More specifically, according to Smith, “The explosion of the reactor at Chornobyl released 200 more times more radioactivity than was released by the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.” Likewise, thyroid cancer in Belarusian children was extremely entrenched. Perhaps most worryingly, at the time of this hearing, the obliterated fourth nuclear reactor’s “sarcophagus” had developed serious cracks, which, if uncontained, could have released tons of radioactive dust into the environment.

  • Challenges to Democracy in Albania

    The hearing focuses on the challenges to democracy in Albania. Given reports to the Helsinki Commission that human rights protections in Albania were slipping, the further democratization of Albania, and, by extension, Albania’s bilateral relations with the United States, has been called into question. This hearing opens up dialogue with various experts and witnesses on the state of human rights in Albania and how that relates to the OSCE and the agreements which OSCE states sign onto.  

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