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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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  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • Recent Developments in and Around Kosovo

    This hearing discussed the escalating tensions in the Balkans and potential actions by NATO, the OSCE and the U.S. to address the situation.   Witnesses expressed their concern that the latest outbreak of violence threatened to undermine efforts by the international community to bring a degree of order to the region.  This hearing also discussed the OSCE’s work in Kosovo.

  • Human Rights in Russia

    Chief of Staff Dorothy Douglas Taft addressed human rights in Russia and commented upon the expansion of the 2000 report - written by the Moscow Helsinki Group  and the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews (UCSJ) - by twice as many regions in the 1999 report, which covered only 30 of Russia’s 89 regions. The report provides objective and complete information on the situation with human rights in Russia and greatly helps the OSCE monitor the regions. Lumilla Alexeyeva and Micah Naftalin represented these two organizations and discussed the issues raised by the report. They were joined by Victor Lozinsky, who shed light on his experience as a human rights advocate in the regions of Russia. They addressed the glaring discrepancies between Russian constitutional guarantees and international obligations and the daily realities of life, as well as the election of President Vladimir Putin and whether he has only made human rights efforts worse in the Russian Federation.

  • Protecting Human Rights and Securing Peace in Northern Ireland: The Vital Role of Police Reform

    This hearing examined ongoing human rights efforts in Northern Ireland, in particular underscoring the importance of police reform for a just and lasting peace in Ulster.  Chairman Smith stressed the significance of the British government’s pending decision on the Patten Report, noting that its enactment would be a definitive move towards police reform. One witnesses, Gerald W. Lynch, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said, “The Patten report provides a framework on which a police service built on a foundation of human rights can be achieved.” The Commissioners also commended the Good Friday Agreement.

  • Milosevic’s Crackdown in Serbia and Threat to Montenegro

    At this hearing, with Commissioners Chris Smith (NJ-04) and Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) in attendance, witnesses testified on the atrocities committed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Foremost on people’s minds was the conviction and sentence of years in prison of a Serbian journalist for committing “espionage” after he wrote about Serbian atrocities in Kosovo. More broadly, the hearing examined Milosevic’s efforts to perpetuate his power by forcing changes to the Yugoslav constitution and cracking down on forces in Serbia.  Also in attendance were Branislav Carak of the Serbian Independent Trade Union; Stojan Cerovic, fellow at the U.S. Institute of peace; Dr. David Dasic, head of the Trade Mission of the Republic of Montenegro; and Bogdan Ivanisevic, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

  • Bosnia’s Future under the Dayton Agreement

    There has been insufficient progress in implementing the Dayton Agreement, according to members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission)  regarding Bosnia’s future under the agreement which, in late 1995, ended almost four years of conflict in that country, marked by aggression and ethnic cleansing. The hearing witnesses called for the arrest and prosecution of those indicted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, including Bosnian Serb extremist leader Radovan Karadzic, his military sidekick Ratko Mladic and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, the mastermind of the conflict.

  • Human Rights of the Romani Minority

    Much of today’s hearing will focus on Central and Southern Europe, post-communist countries where Roma are the most numerous, but there are Roma in almost every OSCE country, and Roma face prejudice in every country in which they live. Roma in many democracies continue to fight the straight-jacket that is racial stereotyping. In fact, in the United States, there are over one million Roma, and it was only in 1997, for example, that the legislators unanimously voted to repeal an anti-Roma statute in the state of New Jersey, which was originally adopted way back in 1917. The hearing will shape how to better understand the plight of the Roma people and potential policies that may curb the frequent human rights abuses they face.

  • 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.”

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