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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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  • Ukraine's Upcoming Elections: A Pivotal Moment

    This hearing focused on concerns of democratic backsliding in Ukraine under President Viktor Yanukovych.  In particular, the witnesses and commissioners discussed their concerns with the October 2010 local elections, the March 2012 mayoral elections. The witnesses, including the representative from several different non-governmental organizations working on democratic development in Ukraine, spoke about the impact of corruption, controls over the media and harassment of NGOs on the electoral process.  Evheniya Tymoshenko, the daughter of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, also spoke about her mother’s case.

  • Prerequisites for Progress in Northern Ireland

    This hearing assessed the progress towards peace made in Northern Ireland and discussed ways to ensure the sustainability of the peace.  Witnesses condemned the British government for backtracking on the Good Friday Agreement, as well as the United States for not putting enough pressure on Great Britain. Witnesses identified the murder of human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, whose widow Geraldine was in attendance, as an obstacle to peace.

  • Healing the Wounds of Conflict and Disaster: Clarifying the Fate of Missing Persons in the OSCE Area

    The hearing examined efforts by governments and their partners in clarifying the fate of persons missing within a number of OSCE participating States and partner countries, especially in the western Balkans and northern Caucasus. The hearing also appraised the adequacy of assistance to governments and other entities engaged in locating missing persons, the obstacles that impede progress in some areas, as well as how rule of law mechanisms help governments fulfill their obligations to the affected families and society in clarifying the fate of missing persons. Currently, over a million persons are reported missing from wars and violations of human rights. In addition, there are thousands of reported cases a year of persons missing from trafficking, drug-related violence, and other causes. Locating and identifying persons missing as a result of conflicts, trafficking in humans and human rights violations and other causes remains a global challenge, with significant impact within the OSCE area.

  • The Escalation of Violence Against Roma In Europe

    This hearing focused on the discrimination, exclusion, and persecution faced by the Roma people in Europe.  Witnesses discussed the E.U. countries’ various national strategies for Roma integration and their effectiveness.  The witnesses also provided recommendations for the Commissioners on how to support European countries’ integration efforts on the government-to-government level.

  • Irish Chairmanship of the OSCE

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Eamon Gilmore and others discussed what had transpired in regards to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) while Ireland was at the helm of the organization. This included priorities set by Gilmore involving Internet freedom. Congressman Smith also praised Gilmore for incorporating his experiences in Ireland into his leadership of the OSCE, such as drawing on Ireland’s experience in Northern Ireland’s peace process in reference to protracted conflicts elsewhere in the OSCE region. The hearing attendees went on to discuss the status of the agenda as it related to ODIHR and human dimension meetings.

  • Kazakhstan: As Stable As Its Government Claims?

    This hearing was led by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Benjamin L. Cardin following the shooting of protesters by security forces in Kazakhstan. The implication for this was less certainty concerning the stability of Kazakhstan’s repressive government. The hearing examined was whether Kazakhstan’s poor human rights record factored into the country’s instability.

  • Combating Anti-Semitism in the OSCE Region: Taking Stock of the Situation Today

    By most accounts, and thanks to the work of many courageous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) the despicable evil of anti-Semitism has decreased in most parts of the OSCE region in recent years – but it still remains at higher levels than in 2000. This is simply unacceptable, and it was the topic discussed in this hearing. Concerns raised included political transitions in the Arab world and how they might affect Muslim-Jewish relations, including in Europe; the importance of engagement with Muslim communities in Europe; and growing nationalist and extremist movements that target religious and ethnic minorities.  Additionally the roles of the OSCE, U.S. government, and Congress in addressing continuing issues of anti-Semitism at home and abroad were discussed.

  • From Arab Spring to Coptic Winter: Sectarian Violence and the Struggle for Democratic Transition in Egypt

    On Sunday, October 9, 2011, 25 people were killed and more than 300 injured when the Egyptian military attacked a peaceful group of Coptic Christians protesting the burning of a church in Aswan. In what has been deemed the “Massacre at Maspero,” referring to the location of the demonstration, witnesses say the army fired on the demonstrators with live ammunition and plowed into the crowd with armored vehicles. The military denied the use of live ammunition and claimed that their soldiers were attacked by an armed mob. The military has arrested at least 28 people, almost all Copts, including prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, and brought them before military prosecutors. The hearing focused on violence perpetrated against the Coptic Christians in Egypt, the implications of the events for that community and the current Egyptian leadership, and prospects for the consolidation of democracy in Egypt.

  • Belarus: The Ongoing Crackdown and Forces for Change

    Nearly one year after the brutal post-December 19, 2010, election crackdown, the human rights picture in Belarus remains bleak. Brave and committed individuals who attempt to promote a democratic future for Belarus continue to be crushed by the dictatorial Lukashenka regime. Civil society continues to be under assault, with NGOs facing ever greater constraints, and freedoms of assembly and expression are severely curtailed. Yet the ongoing economic turmoil has produced growing disaffection, as manifested in Lukashenka’s plummeting popular support, and a changing domestic and international environment. The hearing will focus on the extent and impact of the crackdown on the lives of its victims and on the larger society, and what more can be done by the U.S. and our European partners to promote democratic change in Belarus.

  • Human Trafficking and Transnational Organized Crime: Assessing Trends and Combat Strategies

    Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), and other lawmakers examined how human trafficking laws need to adapt to the maturation of the illicit activity, specifically in light of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act that Smith introduced in 1998. In addition, Smith, Rubio, and others examined the link between transnational organized crime and human trafficking. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Greg Andres, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, with the Department of Justice; Piero Bonadeo, Deputy Representative with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime; and Martina Vandenburg, Esq., Pro Bono Counsel with the Freedom Network USA – focused on legislative proposals to combat organized criminal activity, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNDOC’s) efforts, and, of course, human trafficking’s implications and consequences.

  • U.S. Policy and the OSCE: Making Good on Commitments

    This hearing examined the United States' policy towards the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in particular  how to support the OSCE’s human rights work in the face of opposition to it from several countries within the OSCE. The witnesses and commissioners discussed ways in which the U.S. can strengthen the priority given to human rights and humanitarian concerns within the OSCE.  Priorities identifed were: supporting oppressed people of Belarus; turning back the trend to restrict Internet and media freedoms, supporting democracy in Kyrgyzstan and democratic activists throughout all of central Asia.   The discussion also focused on using the OSCE partnership program to promote human rights for minorities, particularly the Copts in Egypt.

  • Minority at Risk: Coptic Christians in Egypt

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), focused on the current state of affairs of Coptic Christians in Egypt and their future in light of the Arab Spring. Coptic Christians, who make up eight percent of Egypt’s population, have historically been marginalized, discriminated against, persecuted, and even physically attacked. The perpetrators have been not only Muslim extremists, but also the Egyptian government itself. However, violence against Copts has escalated since the revolution. Witnesses present at this hearing included Caroline Doss, JD, Vice President of Coptic Solidarity; Michele A. Clark, Adjunct Professor at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs; and Jean Maher, president of the French Office at the Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization.

  • THE PROMISES WE KEEP ONLINE: INTERNET FREEDOM IN THE OSCE REGION

    This hearing covered the online dimension of human rights- freedom of expression and of media. Intrusive infringement of online material, such as blogs and other social media, among OSCE members: Turkey, Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan have been the newest to use intimidation.  Witnesses who testified in front of the commission stressed the importance of the Helsinki process of safeguarding human dignity, civil society and democratic government in the digital age. The hearing focused on the efforts conducted by the U.S. government and what else may be needed to address repressive laws aimed against online communication.

  • Addressing Ethnic Tensions in Kyrgyzstan

    During four days in June, 2011, ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks clashed in the southern region of Osh, leaving some 470 dead and over 400,000 displaced.  Thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed. Although international assistance prevented a humanitarian disaster, rebuilding has barely started. Human rights abuses continue and ethnic nationalism is on the rise. An independent international investigative report made numerous recommendations to the Government of Kyrgyzstan about addressing the serious ethnic situation.  So far, the reaction by the Kyrgyz authorities has been mixed, and it is unclear which proposals Bishkek will accept. In this complicated atmosphere, Kyrgyzstan is also facing presidential elections this fall, the final step in putting in place a new governmental system following the revolution that overthrew former President Bakiyev in April 2010

  • 2050: Implications of Demographic Trends in the OSCE Region

    The hearing focused on the implications of current demographic trends in the expansive OSCE region through the prism of the security, economic and human dimensions.  Most of the OSCE’s 56 participating states are experiencing varying stages of demographic decline, marked by diminishing and rapidly aging populations. Such patterns were identifying as likely to have significant social, economic and security consequences for countries throughout the region, including the United States. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Jack A. Goldstone, Director of the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University; Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy of the American Enterprise Institute; Richard Jackson, Director and Senior Fellow of the Global Aging Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Steven W. Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute – addressed issues related to the demographic trends in the OSCE region, such as shrinking workforces in a growing number of participating States that are expected to become increasingly dependent upon foreign workers in the coming decades. A concern that these factors could contribute to mounting social tensions as demonstrated by clashes in some participating States in recent years was evident.

  • Labor Trafficking In Troubled Economic Times: Protecting American Jobs And Migrant Human Rights

    This hearing brought attention to the extremely lucrative criminal enterprise of human trafficking. Specific attention was focused on those who were most likely to be victims (i.e. people who were poor, had lost their jobs). Therefore, human trafficking, which involves forced labor, profits more in times of economic decline.

  • Central Asia and the Arab Spring: Growing Pressure for Human Rights?

    Popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, along with ferment in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan and Syria, surprised even expert analysts and shook the very foundations not just of the states concerned but of the entire region. The long authoritarian rule of leaders in the region had been accepted by many as a factor of stability. In the end, however, public anger erupted over regimes that had been in power for decades, enriching themselves and their cronies, while most citizens barely scraped by. Many of these conditions apply to the states of Central Asia, with the partial exception of Kyrgyzstan – where street protests have toppled two presidents since 2005 and last year the country established a parliamentary government. Although the situation is unique in each Central Asian country, the region’s states have human rights records that are consistently poor, and some are listed among the most repressive countries in the world.  Rulers have contrived to remain in office indefinitely, controlled and rigged elections, restricted independent media and religious freedom, harassed opposition parties – where they exist at all—and stunted the development of civil society. Torture and mistreatment in detention are common in the region.

  • Northern Ireland: Why Justice in Individual Cases Matters

    This hearing, chaired by Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), focused on possible British Government collusion or complicity in murders in Ireland during the Troubles. Witnesses at this hearing included John Finucane, John Teggart, Raymond McCord, Sr., and Ciarán McAirt, all relatives of Irish citizens murdered by British loyalists. Another witness was Jane Winter, Director of British Irish Rights Watch. Chairman Smith expressed concern about the British government’s commitment to holding those who committed the murders accountable, particularly in light of the Inquiries Act of 2005, which empowered the government to limit independent action by the judiciary and block scrutiny of state actions in inquiries held under its terms. 

  • Lithuania’s Leadership of the OSCE

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other legislators welcomed Lithuania’s as a member of NATO, the EU, and OSCE Chair-in-Office. The commissioners commended Lithuania on its remarkable work in democratically reforms in its own country. However, the attendees of the hearing expressed their concerns over Lithuania’s neighbor, Belarus, Europe’s “last dictatorship.” Legislators also reflected on the trajectories of other Newly Independent States.

  • The Western Balkans: Developments in 2010 and Hopes for the Future

    This hearing focused on the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. The witnesses commended the enormous progress that the region has made in the 15 years since the Dayton Agreement ended the Bosnian conflict and in the decade since Milosevic was ousted in Belgrade. The hearing discussed E.U. visa liberalization and U.S. democracy-building assistance programs to support further progress in the region. The Commissioners proposed that the U.S. government prioritize continuing the democratization effort in the Balkans.

  • Instability in Kyrgyzstan: The International Response

    The purpose of this hearing was for Commissioner Alcee L. Hastings and others to analyze the causes of a violent and fatal revolt against Kyrgyzstan’s president in April of 2010, as well as the subsequent internecine violence that took place in the southern part of the country two months later; and to look at and discuss the prospects for better news in Kyrgyzstan’s future. Kyrgyzstan’s turbulence was traced to its history of corrupt authoritarian rule.

  • No Way Home, No Way to Escape: The Plight of Iraqi Refugees and Our Iraqi Allies

    This hearing, chaired by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), focused on Iraqi nationals displaced by conflict. Commissioner Cardin asserted the continued need for action on this issue.  Witnesses from federal agencies and non-governmental organizations testified that many Iraqi refugees were having difficulty supporting themselves, as they were not allowed to work in their host countries.  Moreover, most felt that the current situation in Iraq remained too unstable for them to return.

  • A Decade of the Trafficking in Persons Report

    Senator Benjamin L. Cardin convened a standing-room only hearing centered on the diplomatic impact of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  The hearing focused on the ten years that the annual TIP report has been prepared by the State Department. Improvements to TIP-related efforts were suggested, such as working more closely with the Tier 2 Watch List countries in the OSCE Region, – Azerbaijan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – helping them to implement the changes necessary to meet the minimum standards and to avoid statutory downgrades which will otherwise be required in next year’s TIP report. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador at Large of the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Jolene Smith, CEO & Co-Founder of Free the Slaves; and Holly J. Burkhalter, Vice President for Government Relations of the International Justice Mission – explored ways to potentially create extra-territorial jurisdiction for trafficking cases.  They also focused on ways to deter demand for trafficking victims in all countries, including Tier 1 countries.

  • Global Threats, European Security and Parliamentary Cooperation

    From nuclear security to climate change, global terrorism to anti-corruption efforts, this hearing examined what parliamentarians can do to work together on some of the most significant challenges facing the world. Members addressed European and Central Asian security concerns, including unresolved conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere, and considered how international parliaments can cooperate to address challenges related to trafficking, tolerance, and democratic development, including elections and media freedom.

  • Holocaust Era Assets – After the Prague Conference

    Twenty years ago, the establishment of democratically elected governments in Central and East Europe gave many hope that at long last, the world would be able to deal with property restitution issues left over from the Nazi era and World War II. With democratically elected governments, the issues could be addressed in a more open and transparent way, bringing justice to people who had waited a long time in regards to property that was wrongfully taken. From June 26-30, 2009, the government of the Czech Republic hosted a Conference on Holocaust Era Assets in Prague. Representatives of 46 states participated along with numerous nongovernmental organizations, scholars, and Holocaust survivors.  (The  Department of State’s Office of Holocaust Issues played an important role in encouraging the Czechs to host this event.) The United States was represented by Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, who previously led the negotiations for the United States with the Swiss, German, Austrian, and French private sectors and their governments on Holocaust-era bank accounts, slave and forced labor, unpaid insurance policies, immovable property, and the restitution of or compensation for stolen communal and private property.

  • Mitigating Inter-Ethnic Conflict in the OSCE Region

    This hearing, presided over by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, discussed the Helsinki Process’s role in mitigating inter-ethnic conflict in the OSCE region. The hearing discussed the situation in Kyrgyzstan, ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus, the still-lingering effects of the 1944 mass deportation of Crimean minorities, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Witnesses at the hearing included Heidi Tagliavani, Ambassador and Under Secretary of State for Switzerland and head of the European Union investigation of the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict; Peter Semneby, Special Representative for the South Caucasus for the European Union; and Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen, former Special Representative for Kosovo for the United Nations.

  • The Link Between Revenue Transparency and Human Rights

    This hearing focused on the lack of transparency within governments and the energy sector posing both a threat to energy exports and the ability of governments to properly manage revenue for their citizens. The hearing examined how such policies affect government accountability. Instead of serving their citizens, politicians often take advantage of the resources of the country in pursuit of their own self-interest. In particular, the continued assaults on freedom of speech and on civil society and how that bodes for the future of EITI implementation in Azerbaijan were discussed. The Commissioners and the witnesses looked into the present actions of the U.S. and what could be done within the OSCE process to address these issues.

  • Ukraine: Moving Beyond Stalemate

    This hearing examined how the U.S. can best continue to encourage and assist Ukraine in developing democracy, rule of law, and a market economy.   The panel also discussed Ukraine’s relationships with its neighbors, the United States, and European states and organizations. The panel of witnesses explored the democratic developments and progress since the Orange revolution and U.S. policy implications of Ukraine’s interest in further integration with Europe.

  • Kazakhstan’s Leadership of the OSCE

    This hearing, presided over by Co-Chairman Alcee L. Hastings, was a largely positive affirmation concerning the strides that Kazakhstan had taken regarding human rights and democratization. The commissioners commended  Kazakhstan’s elimination of its nuclear program, which is rare for a country with an emerging economy and democracy. However, the Commissioners believed that further justification would be required for Kazakhstan's bid to host the 2010 OSCE Summit.

  • Democratic Change and Challenges in Moldova

    2009 was a year of tremendous political change in Moldova as nearly a decade of Communist rule came to an end.  Following two elections and massive street protests, Moldova’s ruling coalition, the Alliance for European Integration, still lacks the 61 votes needed in parliament to elect a new president.  As the poorest country in Europe in the midst of a global economic downturn, a prolonged impasse poses serious challenges to reform and recovery in Moldova.

  • Violence and Impunity: Life in a Russian Newsroom

    This briefing evaluated the status of press freedom in Russia. For nearly a decade, Russia's once-vibrant independent media has lost ground to an increasingly authoritarian state and currently many of Russia's most promising journalists suffer routine harassment, or worse. This muzzling of the press is a clear violation of Russia’s international commitments. The inability of the media to play its important role in Russia is a threat to democracy with negative implications for U.S.-Russia relations. Top independent Russian journalists and a former senior Russian government official on Russia’s backsliding on press freedoms in recent years testified at this briefing to present their perspectives on this issue. The murders of Igor Domnikov, Anna Politkovskaya and Anastasia Baburina were cited to underscore what has become an environment of fear and intimidation within the Russian media. The international community was called upon to continue the discussion with Russia about the ongoing investigations into these murders.

  • Advancing U.S. Interests in the OSCE Region

    The hearing examined U.S. policy toward the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the largest regional security organization in the world, ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers to be held in Athens in early December.  Greece held the chairmanship of the 56-nation OSCE focused on enhancing security, promoting economic cooperation, and advancing democracy and human rights in 2009. Kazakhstan assumes the chairmanship in January, 2010. The Commission will examine timely issues, including: security arrangements in Europe, simmering tensions in the Caucasus region, relations with Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union, developments in the Balkans, OSCE engagement on Afghanistan and developments in Central Asia.  The hearing will also assess ongoing efforts to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance and backsliding on fundamental freedoms.

  • Promoting Tolerance and Understanding in the OSCE Region: The Role of the Personal Representatives

    This hearing discussed the role of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Witnesses commended the CSCE on its role in furthering tolerance in OSCE member states, particularly its push for member states to face the issue of the rise of anti-Semitism, and its promotion of resolutions and organization of special presentations at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Meetings.

  • The Western Balkans: Policy Responses to Today's Challenges

    This hearing reviewed the Vice President Biden’s meeting in Sarajevo and the Congressional delegation to Bosnia to speak about democratization process in the Balkan states. The Commissioners mentioned the need for governing bodies and systems that include every voice, particularly the ethnic communities in each country. These issues have correlated to potential instability in Bosnia resulting from the gridlock in government there.   The democratization and integration efforts, in relation to the Balkan joining closer to the greater European community and NATO, were touched upon to see the progress made.  The witness discussed examples of initiatives that moved the Balkans towards the goal of international standard of governance, for example the Model Court Initiative in Bosnia, which has helped to institute European standards in 33 local courts, upgrade court infrastructure and improve customer service.

  • Moldova’s Recent Elections: Prospects for Change in Europe’s Poorest Country

    This briefing took place in the wake of the June 20th, 2009 parliamentary elections in Moldova. Nearly 60 percent of the Moldovan populace voted, and nearly 3,000 international and local observers were present. The international election observation mission consisted of delegations from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, and the European parliament. The international election observation mission evaluated the elections positively overall, but noticed a number of shortcomings, particularly in the process of registration of electoral lists and the overall tense climate of the electoral campaign.

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