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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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  • 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.

  • The Future of the OSCE Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation

    This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Alcee Hastings, was held to enhance the relationship between the OSCE participating states and the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. Through this partnership with the OSCE participating states, the Mediterranean states of Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia have been and are able to develop their capacity for leadership in the region while simultaneously exchanging expertise with the OSCE participating states. Along with Congressman Hastings, Commissioners Cardin, McIntyre, Issa, and Aderholt were present as well, along with a representative from Wisconsin. Witnesses included William Hudson, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs; Sotiris Roussos, Personal Representative on Mediterranean Partner Affairs, OSCE; and Joᾶo Soares, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

  • The Iran Crisis and the OSCE Neighbors

    The Hon. Mike McIntyre presided over this hearing, with the then recent re-election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in mind. With witnesses – Former Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer, senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States; Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House; and Stephen Blank, research professor of National Security Affairs at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College – McIntyre discussed the enormous implications of the hardline president’s landslide re-election. Iran’s neighbors who belong to the OSCE, such as Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Krygyzstan, were keenly aware of Ahmadinejad’s glide to victory, with reactions ranging from curiosity to anxiety concerning how the Iranian public would react. The Iranian citizenry met Ahmadinejad with nonviolent, yet persecuted, protests in the streets, similar to other demonstrations of civil disobedience in Iran’s neighboring countries. So, the question then becomes what the effects of Ahmadinejad’s re-election are on post-Soviet states.

  • The Medvedev Thaw: Is It Real? Will It Last?

    This hearing discussed U.S. foreign policy towards Russia, focusing on how to improve relations while taking Russia’s compliance with human rights seriously.   The witnesses and Commissioners discussed the implications of Dmitri Medvedev becoming president and Vladimir Putin retaining power as Prime Minister.

  • Approaching the OSCE Chairmanship: Kazakhstan 2010

    The hearing will be the third in the a series of hearings on Kazakhstan as it nears 2010, when it will take over Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Astana’s bid to lead the organization was controversial because of Kazakhstan's record on human rights and democratization. At the OSCE Summit in Madrid in November 2007, Foreign Minister Tazhin pledged to implement a number of key reforms. The purpose of the hearing is to see how much progress has been made since then and to discuss how Washington can help Kazakhstan come into compliance with its commitments and plan for its Chairmanship.

  • The Western Balkans: Challenges for U.S. and European Engagement

    This hearing discussed the recent progress of the seven countries of the Western Balkans with regards to internal stability, democratic development, minority rights, anti-corruption efforts, and the rule of law. The witnesses evaluated each country’s progress and that of the region as a whole. In addition, the hearing also focused on the on the election process in each country and whether they had met the OSCE standards for elections.

  • Turkmenistan: Prospect for Change?

    The purpose of this hearing was to examine Turkmenistan’s parliamentary elections- the first such election since the regime changed. The hearing focused on whether the election might mark a turning point at all for Turkmenistan as well as whether Turkmenistan has made progress on Democratic reforms. Positive signs were reviewed, particularly on education, but also areas of concern, such as reports of Turkmen officials pressuring young men not to apply for study programs in the United States. The distinguished witnesses and Commissioners reviewed the reform process and the significant advancements since the death of longtime President, Berdimuhamedov. In regards to areas of further reform and advancement, the hearing addressed measures in which the U.S. and the OSCE should respond to better the human rights condition in Turkmenistan.

  • The Role of OSCE Institutions in Advancing Human Rights and Democracy

    This hearing discussed the role of OSCE institutions in advancing human rights and democracy, highlighting the role of the United States. The United States was mentioned as a leading force of democracy promotion and protection of human rights. However, the witnesses mentioned certain issues like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rendition flights, and detention centers that suggest double-standards. The discussion centered on the importance of inclusive voice in government and the need to find a way to build pluralism into single-party developing democracies by establishing political parties that can be competitive, that can be critical of governments and that can bring new ideas and fresh faces into their government.

  • Business as Usual: Belarus on the Eve of the Elections

    The hearing examined the state of democracy and human rights in Belarus and how the Belarusian authorities are complying with their election commitments to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in advance of the September 28, 2008 parliamentary elections. In August 2008, authorities released Belarus’ most prominent political prisoner, Alexander Kozulin, and two others, fulfilling a key demand of the United States and European Union. This, together with Belarusian leader Lukashenka’s unenthusiastic response to Russia’s aggression in Georgia also has raised a glimmer of possibility for an improvement in Belarus’ ties with the United States and European Union. Nevertheless, to date, there had been no appreciable progress in human rights and democracy in the run up to the elections.

  • Russia, Georgia, and the Return of Power Politics

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

  • Human Rights and Democratization in Azerbaijan

    Azerbaijan has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and plays a pivotal role in diversifying sources of energy. A moderate Muslim country, Azerbaijan enjoys good relations with the United States. On human rights, however, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe have numerous concerns, including freedom of the media, political prisoners and the conduct of elections. With the presidential contest in October 2008, Azerbaijan would have an opportunity to hold an election that meets OSCE commitments, as well as implement other reforms. The hearing examined the state of human rights and democratization in Azerbaijan and discussed how U.S. – Azerbaijan cooperation could help promote advances.

  • Promises to Keep: Kazakhstan’s 2010 OSCE Chairmanship

    This hearing, presided over by Alcee Hastings, discussed Kazakhstan’s bid to chair the OSCE.   Kazakhstan, which started the bidding process in 2003, hoped to be the first Central Asian country to lead the OSCE.  The Commissioners and witnesses discussed the suitability of Kazakhstan to lead the OSCE, given its track record on democracy and human rights.

  • Racism in the 21st Century: Understanding Global Challenges and Implementing Solutions

    This hearing was one in a series focused on efforts to combat intolerance in the OSCE region.  In spite of initiatives to address racism around the world, there have been worrying developments that warrant an increased focus on this issue.  The witnesses discussed the shift from a focus on racism and xenophobia to one on migration and integration.  Several witnesses expressed concern that this ignored the diversity of many European countries.  

  • Guantanamo Detainees after Boumediene: Now What?

    The hearing reviewed the detainee-related policy issues – particularly for Guantanamo detainees -- that remain in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Boumediene. Witnesses also had the opportunity to discuss a related question: what does Europe do with its terror suspects, and are there any lessons for the United States from the European experience? The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in Boumediene v. Bush that foreign terrorism suspects held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility have the right under the Constitution to challenge their detention in a U.S. civilian court.

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

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

  • The Challenges To Minority Communities in Kosovo

    This hearing, chaired by the Hon. Alcee Hastings and Hon. Benjamin Cardin, saw Ambassador Knut Vollebaek of Norway, High Commissioner for National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) testify before the Commission. The hearing focused on the protection and promotion of the rights of Serb, Romani and other minority communities in Kosovo, in light of the February 17 declared independence which Serbia does not recognize. In particular, the hearing examined Ambassador Vollebaek’s work regarding Kosovo and his recommendations for action by the Kosovar authorities as well as by Serbia, other OSCE States and the OSCE itself.

  • Los Angeles: The Regional Impacts and Opportunities of Migration

    Alcee Hastings and Hilda Solis, together with witnesses – Reverend Richard Estrada, Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, Ms. Lucy Ito, Mr. Kerry Doi, Ms. Angelica Salas, and Ms. Eun Sook Lee – discussed the challenges, best practices in existence, and positive aspects of migration. The witnesses, immigrants themselves, shared their personal stories of immigration and what it meant to live as minorities.

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