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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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  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Bulgarian Leadership of the OSCE

    This hearing, which Representative Christopher H. Smith presided over, focused on the Bulgarian Chairmanship of the OSCE, which had begun in for January 2004 and would continue for a year. The hearing specifically reviewed the OSCE’s program for 2004 under Bulgaria’s leadership. Solomon Passy, witness at the hearing, said that implementation of OSCE commitments would top the agenda for Bulgaria’s OSCE Chairmanship. Specific issues that attendees discussed included the Chechnyan conflict, OSCE efforts to revoke the Transdniestrian conflict, work to resolve the “frozen conflicts” in the Caucasus, 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.

  • Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: A Status Update

    This briefing was the fourth hearing held by the Helsinki Commission held on restitution and compensation for property seized during the Second World War and in Communist-era Central and Eastern Europe.  The goal of the briefing was to discuss developments since the CSCE’s July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region.

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE

    This hearing examined U.S. policy in a critical region of the world and Washington's relations with the OSCE--the largest regional organization encompassing all of Europe, the former Soviet Union, the United States and Canada. Following the Cold War, the OSCE evolved into a singular instrument for advancing U.S. foreign policy goals in Eurasia, including the promotion of the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It remains the only pan-European forum for military-security negotiations. At the heart of OSCE is the explicit and implicit connection between security, democratic values and human rights. The hearing addressed specific human rights concerns, including the ongoing conflicts in Chechnya and the Caucasus, the deteriorating situation in Belarus, and the dismal human rights climate in Central Asia, as well as initiatives to fight human trafficking, combat anti-Semitism and related violence, and stem international crime and terrorism. The hearing took place as the United States prepared for the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, which took place in Warsaw, Poland beginning in early October.  

  • The Dutch Leadership of the OSCE

    The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing on the Dutch leadership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) featuring the testimony of His Excellency Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Foreign Minister of The Netherlands and Chair-in-Office of the OSCE. The hearing reviewed the work of the OSCE under the Dutch Chairmanship. Specific issues discussed were the ongoing conflict in Chechnya, the deteriorating situation in Belarus, OSCE efforts to combat anti-Semitism and human trafficking, as well as promoting respect for human rights and democratic values in the participating States.

  • Missing Persons in Southeast Europe

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell heard from people who had lost relatives in the former Yugoslavia (i.e. Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia) during the years of conflict in that region. This hearing specifically focused on Serbians who lost relatives in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia. The panelists – Olgica Bozanic, Verica Tomanovic, Cedomir Maric, and Gordana Jaksic – represented not only themselves and their own families, but also organizations consisting of hundreds of families of the missing.

  • Arming Rogue Regimes: The Role of OSCE Participating States

    The hearing will consider the efforts to curb the spread of deadly weapons and related militarily significant technology and equipment to dangerous regimes around the world. Rather than focus on the efforts by these regimes to acquire the material, we want to examine the capacity and willingness of participating States in the OSCE to be their source. The end of the Cold War left some states, especially those of the former Warsaw Pact, with huge stockpiles of military hardware, while economic downturns made their military industries and research institutes desperate for funds. The United States has encouraged these countries to maintain tight control over surplus equipment and convert the factories into industrial production. Still, several countries remain vulnerable to the lure of responding to the demand, even from rogue states and regimes, for weapons of mass destruction, delivery system, and small arms or light weapons.

  • Internally Displaced Persons In The Caucasus Region And Southeastern Anatolia

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), other legislators, and witnesses discussed Internally Displaced Persons (or IDPs) in the north Caucasus region of the Russian Federation, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. At the time of this hearing, this set of countries represented the greatest concentration of IDPs fleeing conflicts anywhere in the OSCE, which then consisted of 55 states. IDPs are not granted the same protections as refugees as stipulated under the U.N. Refugee Convention, although IDPs face similar problems, due to the fact that IDPs do not cross international borders.

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE - 2003

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission hearing focused on how the Administration has been using the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the expansive OSCE region, particularly as a tool for advancing democracy. In addition the hearing touched on the anticipated OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Review. In light of the September 11th terrorist attacks, the hearing discussed the link between state repression and violence and the role of building democracy  in U.S. national security interest. The witnesses and Commissioners discussed how the Helsinki Accords is based on mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems and how this concept can be effective tool for the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. In particular, the hearing covered situations in Central Asia and in authoritarian countries within the OSCE that are not putting forth meaningful reform.

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE - 2002

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine U.S. policy toward the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission hearing focused on how the Administration has been using the OSCE to promote U.S. interests in the OSCE region, particularly as a tool for advancing democracy. The witnesses and Commissioners discussed how the Helsinki Accords is based on mutual monitoring, not mutual evasion of difficult problems and how this concept can be an effective tool for the U.S. foreign policy apparatus. In particular, the hearing covered situations in Central Asia where corruption threatens the development of democratic institutions.

  • The Republic of Georgia: Democracy, Human Rights and Security

    This Commission hearing focused on democracy, human rights, and security in Georgia. The discussion reviewed the serious challenges that have been facing Georgia. In particular, the Commissioners and witnesses discussed the systematic rampant corruption which has impeded economic reforms. In addition, the Commission touched on concerning religious violence in Georgia. Since 1999, there have been many assaults against members of minority faiths, particularly the Jehovahs Witnesses.

  • Property Restitution in Central and Eastern Europe: the State of Affairs for American Claimants

    This hearing examined property restitution and compensation efforts of the post-Communist governments of Central and Eastern Europe.  In particular, this hearing examined their efforts in regards to the property of refugees who fled to the United States during World War II.  Co-Chairman Smith reported on his efforts to personally raise concerns with officials of many countries regarding the need for nondiscriminatory laws that would be faithfully implemented. While Central and Eastern European governments have done much regarding restitution, the Helsinki Commission continued to receive a steady stream of letters from individuals and organized groups pleading for assistance in their struggles to recover stolen property.

  • Prospects for Ethnic Harmony in Kosovo

    Hon. Christopher H. Smith, Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided this hearing on the prospects for ethnic harmony in Kosovo. The hearing discussed the situation of human rights in Kosovo, focusing on minority ethnic rights following the release of an OSCE-UNHCR report which emphasized the need for progress in upholding minority rights and refugee returns. Congressman Smith was joined by very distinguished witnesses. Alush A. Gashi, from the political party of Kosovo's President Rugova (LDK) and Foreign Affairs Secretary; Rada Trajkovic, leader of the Serb coalition within the Parliament and leader among the Serb community in Kosovo ("Povratak"); Valerie Percival, projector Director for the International Crisis Group (ICG); His Excellency Nebojsa Covic, Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, with the responsability of representing Belgrade in Kosovo and southern Serbia; and Daniel Serwer, Director of Balkans Initiative.

  • Escalating anti-Semitic Violence in Europe

    While the anti-Semitism scourge lurks in the United States, the sharp escalation of violence against Jews in the OSCE region deserves attention. The most brutal incidents in recent months have occurred in France, Belgium and Germany. Violence has also been directed toward the Jewish community in the United Kingdom, Greece and Ukraine. OSCE participating States have pledged to unequivocally condemn anti-Semitism and take effective measures to protect individuals from anti-Semitic violence. Despite that commitment, attacks against Jews continue. Two Yeshiva students from New Jersey were assaulted in Germany. A mob attacked Jewish worshipers in a Ukraine synagogue. A gang attacked Jewish high school soccer players in France. Vandals vandalized several synagogues in Russia. A Marseille synagogue burned to the ground and synagogues elsewhere in the OSCE region have suffered firebomb attacks. Coupled with a resurgence of aggressive nationalism and an increase in neo-Nazi “skin head” activity, participating States throughout the OSCE region face the urgent challenge of stemming the tide of escalating anti-Semitic violence.

  • Developments in the Chechen Conflict

    Since renewal of the Chechen war in late 1999, the conflict has been characterized by brutality and violations of human rights on both sides, especially on the part of the Russian military with its greater firepower. Hundreds of Chechens, especially males of military age, have been killed or have disappeared as a result of Russian military “sweeps.” An estimated 150,000 – 200,000 civilians have been forced to relocate to neighboring refugee camps. Moscow contends that the war in Chechnya is an integral part of the war against international terrorism, and the U.S. Government has confirmed links between some insurgents in Chechnya and “various terrorist organizations and mujahidin.” The U.S. Government has called upon Chechnya’s leadership to “immediately and unconditionally cut all contacts with international terrorist groups,” while calling for “accountability for human rights violations on all sides” and a political solution to the conflict.

  • International Cooperation In The War On Terrorism

    Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Rep. Chris Smith, and witnesses discussed the OSCE’s efforts to coordinate counter-terrorism activities among its 55 member states, along with the level that these states are fulfilling their commitments to comply in the fight against terrorist activities and organizations. More specifically, the hearing focused on the financial and diplomatic dimensions of the war on terrorism, along with the European Union’s role in its efforts to fight terrorism in the OSCE region and the world over. This hearing took place with the recent U.S.-EU counter terrorism cooperation summit in mind.

  • Romani Human Rights: Old Problems, New Possibilities

    This hearing discussed the mistreatment of the Romani, in particular the discrimination they face in Central and Eastern Europe. Witnesses commented on the exclusion of Romani from public facilities in several countries, which the governments justify as legal and legitimate public order measures. Witnesses also brought up articles in several European newspapers that explicitly described Roma children as less intelligent and more suited for “special” schools with limited academic resources. The hearing also discussed the use of a successful anti-discrimination program in Viden, Bulgaria as a model for other communities.

  • Romania’s Chairmanship of the OSCE

    This hearing discussed Romania’s chairmanship of the OSCE, which began in January 2001. The hearing reviewed the OSCE’s work in strengthening security, preventing conflict and managing crises in the OSCE region, as well as promoting respect for human rights and democratic values in the OSCE participating states under Romania’s chairmanship.

  • U.S. Policy Toward the OSCE

    This hearing examined U.S. policy toward the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Commission remains keenly interested in the OSCE as a tool for promoting human rights and democratic development and advancing U.S. interests in the expansive OSCE region. The distinguished witnesses and Commissioners discussed ways in which to take advantage of the wide membership of the OSCE to put in place quite a number of improvements on the counterterrorism agenda, including getting more countries to sign the relevant Conventions on Antiterrorism and to increase particularly police involvement in the OSCE member states to counter terrorism.

  • Moldova: Are the Russian Troops Really Leaving?

    This hearing, presided over by Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), focused on the Republic of Moldova, specifically its relationship to the Russian Federation.  Moldova has been facing a secession movement in Transdniestria, a small territory on its border with Ukraine, since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.   The Russian army reportedly helped the pro-Soviet leadership of the Transdniestria succession movement solidify its position during a bloody confrontation with Moldovan forces in the summer of 1992. Within the OSCE, the withdrawal of Russian forces from Moldova and the Transdniestria conflict have been concerns since 1993.   Witnesses testified that  in the past three-and-a-half months, the Russians have been withdrawing troops and equipment, in line with their commitment made in Istanbul. While the Transdniestria authorities oppose this, the Russians seem to be on track to fully withdraw by 2002. 

  • Civilian Police and Police Training in Post-Conflict OSCE Areas

    This hearing examined international efforts to deploy civilian police in post-conflict regions in Europe. The hearing also examined efforts to monitor and train local police for effectiveness in keeping with democratic standards and the rule of law. One of the more critical and difficult challenges in the transition to democracy in the OSCE region has been the process of transforming law enforcement structures. Progress in meeting this challenge has been mixed, and regrettably, in some countries those charged with upholding the law are themselves responsible for human rights violations

  • Troubling Trends: Human Rights in Russia

    The purpose of this hearing was to highlight the improvements in human rights in Russia since and to focus on the areas in which reform is still needed. The politicized imprisonments, restrictive legislation that muzzles Internet publications, defamation lawsuits has made independent media outlets struggle to survive and impunity in violent attacks against journalists. These attacks against the media were focused on well-known cases and extraordinary circumstances in Russia. From burdensome registration requirements and visits by the tax police to the confiscation of entire print runs and imposition of crippling fines, from criminal charges for defamation of individuals, institutions or the state, free media faces myriad threats and challenges today.

  • Ukraine at the Crossroads: Ten Years After Independence

    This hearing discussed Ukraine’s future, given its pervasive, high-level corruption, the controversial conduct of authorities in the Gongadze investigation, and ongoing human rights problems. Commissioners and witnesses mentioned how these issues discouraged foreign investment and expressed a desire on behalf of the U.S. Congress for the country to succeed as an independent, democratic, stable, and economically successful state.  Commissioners and witnesses discussed how the United States could best help Ukraine achieve this.

  • Ukraine at the Crossroads: Ten Years After Independence

    The rationale of this hearing, which Sen. Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell presided over, was increasing concern as to Ukraine’s trajectory. More specifically, pervasive, high-level corruption, the controversial conduct of authorities in the Gongadze investigation, and ongoing human rights problems had raised legitimate questions concerning the directions that Ukraine had appeared to be headed. Needless to say, the relationship between the CSCE and Ukraine has been an important one. It was against this backdrop of rampant corruption, which Campbell said discouraged foreign investment, a desire on behalf of the U.S. Congress for the country to succeed as an independent, democratic, stable, and economically successful state, and the recent anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster that the Commission examined how the U.S. could best help Ukraine in the development of democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, and a market economy.

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