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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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  • Conclusion of the Vienna Meeting and implications for U.S. Policy

    The general tenor of East-West relations has changed considerably in recent years. Some changes give cause for hope, others reinforce longstanding doubts. The Helsinki process in general, and the Vienna Meeting in particular, have contributed to this dynamic period, and rightly so, for change is what the Helsinki process is all about, the changing relationships between governments, their citizens, as well as between states. The Vienna Concluding Document itself contains more precise provisions than any previous CSCE document. Particularly noteworthy are those texts concerning religious freedoms, the rights of national minorities, freedoms of movement, the environment, and information. The document, like those which preceded it, will be used as a standard against which to measure the behavior of the participating States. For it is a demonstration of commitment which will give the document its true meaning.

  • The Current Situation in Poland

    This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Steny Hoyer, was necessitated by strikes having erupted throughout Poland in the largest wave of worker unrest since 1981. These strikes happened shortly after Hoyer visited the country in April of 1988. In September of that year, after another series of strikes, the Polish leadership and opposition both agreed to hold round table discussions on the long-standing problems facing Poland. At the time of the hearing, Poland had been presented with a new and viable opportunity to reconciliation between the leadership and the opposition. The hearing examined the obstacles that barred the path to normalization in Poland, the conditions that needed to be established to ensure the success of necessary reforms, and the oppositions the Polish government and the opposition faced as Poland entered the phase of development in question.  

  • Status of Conventional Stability Talks in Europe

    This hearing, which Commissioner Steny H. Hoyer presided over, was part and parcel of an anticipated series of Conventional Stability Talks within the framework of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The hearing also was a joint hearing of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Helsinki Commission. At the hearing, Commissioner Hoyer expressed the sentiment of a heightened political awareness of the conventional force issue, particularly in the wake of the recently ratified INF Treaty, tempered with the desire to not have these sorts of issues (i.e. the CSCE’s expansion to encompass conventional force negotiations and the developing overlap of the conventional stability and CSBM talks) overshadow human rights. Balancing of the different East-West relations is an explicit objective, the Commissioner said. Not only did attendees at this hearing discuss Conventional Stability, but they also discussed the status of the agenda in Vienna and the developing relationship among all these talks within the CSCE process.  

  • Soviet Trade and Economic Reforms: Implications for U.S. Policy

    The motive for holding this hearing, which Rep. Steny H. Hoyer and Sen. Dennis DeConcini chaired, was due to the increased attention that the commercial aspect of East-West relations had gotten. Of course, balance among the different aspects of East-West relations has been a stated political objective of all signatories of the Helsinki Final Act. More specifically, attendees at the hearing discussed tying human rights on the part of the U.S.S.R. to East-West trade relations. From its inception, the Helsinki Final Act has explicitly set forward progress in the area of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as increased cooperation in areas of trade, exchanges, and military security. The sense of the hearing was that the U.S.’s security needs, human rights concerns, and economic can be balanced.

  • Allocation of Resources in the Soviet Union and China

    Hon. William Proxmire, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security Economics, presided the hearing on the allocation of resources in the Soviet Union and China. The first section of the hearing was devoted to the Soviet Union, because of the many changes and substantive developments in this region. Since coming to power in March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev had put forward the most ambitious program for economic, political, and social change since Nikita Khrushchev, often linking the URSS's ability to mantain its status as a military "superpower" to the success of his efforts. This hearing provided an initial evaluation of Gorbachev's program. It began by describing Gorbachev's policies and assessing their impact on the economy's performance in 1986. The witnesses, then, analyzed the future direction of his economic modernization program in light of the 1987 Plan and the demands for continued military force development. Finally, they evaluated the Soviet external relations, including the trade initiatives and the effect of changes in Soviet-China relations. Senator Proxmire was joined by Douglas MacEachin, Director of Soviet Analysis for Central Intelligence Agency and Rear Admiral Robert Schmitt, Deputy Director of Defense Intelligence Agency.  

  • National Minorities in Eastern Europe, Part I: The Turkish Minority in Bulgaria

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioners Steny Hoyer and Dennis DeConcini, focused on the Bulgarian government’s attempts to forcibly assimilate the sizable Turkish minority in their country. The assimilation campaign began in 1984, and was the most egregious example of the Bulgarian government’s denial of rights to its citizens.  This hearing was the first in a series of hearings in 1987 on national minorities in Eastern Europe.  Witnesses included Ambassador Richard Schifter, Halil Ibisoglu, and Thomas Caufield Goltz.

  • Stockholm Meeting of the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe (CDE)

    In this hearing, which Rep. Steny H. Hoyer presided over, took place on the heels of the Stockholm Meeting of the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures and Disarmament in Europe (CDE). Concerning the conference, Chairman D’Amato stated, “This package of confidence- and security-building measures is designed to bring about greater openness with respect to European security and reduce the risk of war.” One of the main aspects of this “package” was the first inclusion of provisions for onsite inspection in an East-West agreement. The conference had large implications for the Helsinki process. For instance, one named concern was that security could overshadow human rights. The witness (Ambassador Barry) did say, though, that the conference could, if properly implemented, reduce the risk of war in Europe, contribute to greater security and openness, and lead to improved East-West relations. 

  • Vienna Follow-Up Meeting of the CSCE

    This hearing focused on the Vienna Meeting and narratives in previous meetings in Belgrade and Madrid. These meetings centered on the U.S.S.R.’s persistent publicity about the true nature of the Soviet system, in particular regarding the role it played in the reversal of the Soviet image in Western Europe in the early 1980's. Due to Soviet improper compliance with OSCE rules and statues, such as detaining Helsinki monitors, the Vienna Meeting focused on strengthening the relevance and effectiveness of the Helsinki process to improve efficacy on progress.

  • Religious Persecution in the Soviet Union – Part II

    This hearing consisted of a meeting of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations and the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East. The chair of the former Subcommittee presided over the hearing, which was a continuation of an earlier investigation into religious persecution in the former U.S.S.R. Through the earlier counterpart of this hearing, attendees found that pervasive and brutal repression continued against the Jewish population, particularly those interested in emigrating. In Part II of this set of hearings, though, what attendees examined was how the former U.S.S.R. treated Christians, Muslims, and others who wanted to exercise their fundamental right of religious expression. While the Soviet Union made some progress towards advancing human rights in this regard, such as allowing some of their citizens to join relatives in the United States, the Soviet Union continued to have in place an extensive system to control religious activity.

  • Soviet Violations of the Helsinki Accords in Afghanistan

    The Helsinki Commission held its second hearing on Soviet aggression in Afghanistan six years after Soviet invasion in 1979. The witnesses shed light on the deliberate destruction of the people, culture, and way of life in Afghanistan for the Commissioners present, and considered ways to move forward.

  • Religious Persecution in the Soviet Union – Part I: Soviet Jewry

    This hearing, which Hon. Gus Yatron, chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations, presided over, discussed the plight of the Jewish population in what was then the Soviet Union. Specifically, the hearing discussed this mistreatment as it related to United States foreign policy, specifically the Jackson-Vanik amendment, and new human rights initiatives to address the mistreatment in question.  

  • THE OTTAWA HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERTS MEETING AND THE FUTURE OF THE HELSINKI PROCESS

    The commissioners gave testimony on the importance of the 35-nation conference which addressed "respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief," The discussion centered on inconsistencies between the rhetoric of the United States on the subject of human rights and its actions.  The focus of human rights covered the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and also Afghanistan. In response to human rights violations- recognizing the framework provided by the Helsinki accords- the witnesses discussed constructive measures to concentrate on human rights violations that could be corrected with relative ease and without effecting systemic change within the Soviet Union or the other states in the Soviet sphere.

  • Chairmanship of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

    This hearing was convened to discuss H.R. 4504, a bill introduced by the committee chairman, the Honorable Dante Fascell, of Florida.  This legislation provided for several changes in the administration of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. First, it stipulated that the Chairman of the Commission could not also be the chairman of another sitting committee. Second, it provided for rotation between the House and the Senate for chairman of the Commission to ensure that it meets the needs of both houses of Congress. Third, it established the position of co-chairman, which had previously been an informal arrangement. Representatives of several organizations, including the National Conference of Soveit Jewry, the Helsinki Watch, and the Joint Baltic American National Committee, spoke in favor of the legislation. The bill was ultimately passed in a vote by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs' Subcommittee on International Operations.

  • Forced Labor in the Soviet Union

    The subject of our hearing is forced labor in the Soviet Union. We have long been interested in the subject at the Commission, as many others have. The Commission issued staff reports on the subject as early as August 1980. There is no exact statistics exist in the West on the central question of the total number of Soviets engaged in various types of forced labor. The generally accepted minimum number is 3 or 4 million people-including about 10 000 political prisoners-performing forced labor in places of imprisonment and on penal labor brigades. The robust discussion provided by experts will make clear the vast extent of Soviet reliance on forced labor.

  • Abuse of Psychiatry in the Soviet Union

    This joint hearing with the Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations was held in response to a request from the American Psychiatric Association to generate an opportunity for discussion about the abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union. This human rights violation was a common weapon of punishment utilized by the Soviet Union against its citizens. The hearing was held in the context of the Soviet Union withdrawing from the international association that represents psychiatry because it knew it would not be able to abide by the expected standards. Experts in the field of psychiatry presented testimony as this hearing on examined this issue as of the Soviet government in suppressing individuals who voice opposing opinions. The uniqueness of the abuse of psychiatry in the Soviet Union as a widespread and systemic issue was addressed.

  • Update on Raoul Wallenberg

    This hearing focused on the disappearance of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, distinguished diplomat who risked his life to help grant protection to Jewish refugees in Hungary during Nazis occupation. Wallenberg’s whereabouts became unknown when the Soviets liberated Hungary. Despite Soviet declarations that Mr. Wallenberg died in 1947, many witnesses have contested this claim and have reported that he is in fact in Soviet prison. The Commissioners and the witnesses discussed the U.S. response and what further actions may be needed.

  • Soviet Jewry: H. Con. Res. 63

    This joint hearing by the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations, and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe examined the plight of Jews in the Soviet Union. Moscow's heightened campaign of hatred against its own citizens, in flagrant disregard of international law, was identified as a factor in whether the United States should enter into any further agreements with the Soviet Union, especially ones which involve United States security. Witnesses testifying at this hearing expressed their concerns about the continued persecution and harassment of the Jewish community in the Soviet Union. The repressive policies instituted by the Soviet regime to destroy Jewish culture, despite its commitment to the human rights terms agreed upon during the Helsinki Final Act, were outlined.

  • The Assassination Attempt on Pope John Paul II

    The subject of this hearing, which Commissioner Millicent Fenwick chaired, was whether or not there was the possibility of complicity, on the part of the Soviet and Bulgarian secret police, to Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca’s assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. As per Principle VI of the Helsinki Final Act, signatory nations are to refrain from direct or indirect assistance to terrorist activities. Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were privy to this at the time of the hearing. The hearing utilized witnesses to shed light as to whether or not Bulgaria and the Soviet Union were honoring this commitment in Principle VI, which was not a guarantee, especially because of Mehmet Ali Agca’s potential involvement in a Turkish arms ring that Bulgarians supported. The hearing was part and parcel of an “essential” effort to carefully and impartially examine all evidence of possible Soviet and Bulgarian involvement with Agca. 

  • Soviet Involvement in the Polish Economy

    Commissioner Dante B. Fascell chaired this hearing, the purpose of which was to review the record of Soviet involvement in the planning, direction, and operation of the Polish economy. Before the time of this hearing, Soviet involvement in the Polish economy had been the source of much speculation. More specifically, Poland’s economy was functioning poorly, but it was debated whether the fault of this lay more with Poland itself or more with the U.S.S.R. What was hoped to be achieved in the hearing, then, was to shed light on the issue of how Soviet involvement affected the Polish economy, specifically based on the personal experience of one of Poland’s leading economists and a former government official, Ambassador Zdzislaw Rurarz.

  • Phase IV of the Madrid CSCE Review Meeting

    Dante B. Fascell chaired this hearing, which was held to report on the previous phase of the Madrid meeting of the CSCE, as well as to assess the prospects for the next phase of that meeting. Phase IV of the Madrid Meeting culminated in acrimony and disagreement, stemming from Poland’s imposition of martial law and associated regression in the country. The U.S. and its NATO allies used the Madrid meeting to draw attention to this violation of the Helsinki Final Act and other Soviet infractions. Also in attendance were Commissioners Robert Dole, Jonathan B. Bingham, and Millicent Fenwick, and witnesses Lawrence Eagleburger, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs; Ambassador Max M. Kampelman, Chairman of the U.S. Delegation to the CSCE Review Meeting in Madrid; and Stephen Palmer, with the State Department.

  • THE CRISIS IN POLAND AND ITS EFFECTS ON THE HELSINKI PROCESS

    This hearing focused on the events in Poland, resulting from martial law, as direct violations of the human rights and other provisions of the Final Act and to determine what can be done to preserve human rights gains in that beleaguered country. It is clear now that the aim of this harsh crackdown was the suppression of the Polish workers' movement, Solidarity, as well as the rollback of the unprecedented political reforms and social renewal which that movement had stimulated during the past 16 months. Also discussed was the strategic importance of Poland to the U.S.S.R. and how these developments may show signs of vulnerabilities among the Soviet states.

  • Soviet Violation of Helsinki Final Act: Invasion of Afghanistan

    Attendees at this hearing, over which Commissioner Dante B. Fascell presided, discussed the December 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union, an invasion that ran counter to international law due to Afghanistan’s status as sovereign and independent. The set of agreements that the Soviet Union signed on to in 1975 with 34 other countries (i.e. the Helsinki Final Act) incorporated rights inherent in a country’s sovereignty, refraining from the threat or use of force, the rights of peoples to self-determination, and acceptance of international conduct principles. In short, the Soviet Union’s invasion and attempted occupation of Afghanistan had struck at the very heart of these principles, and its invasion had severely damaged the international climate and greatly damaged East-West relations.

  • Fifth Anniversary of the Formation of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group

    On November 9, 1976, 10 brave men and women in Kiev organized a citizens' group to examine how the Soviet Government was living up to its Helsinki human rights pledges. Tragically, however, far from greeting this new civic endeavor, the Kremlin, in a savage campaign of official reprisal, singled out the Ukrainian Helsinki Group for especially harsh treatment. By 1981, 30 group activists were in Soviet camps, prisons, and places of exile. The four witnesses at the Helsinki Commission hearing provided expert testimony on Ukraine and the Helsinki process, and their fates gave an insight into the radically different ways in which our Government and that of the Soviet Union reacted to citizen interest in the Helsinki process.

  • Review of Implementation of Basket II of the Helsinki Final Act

    This hearing, which Commissioner Jonathan B. Bingham chaired, was a joint meeting of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. These organizations held this hearing after the establishment of a new strategy by the U.S. in its relations with the Soviet Union. More specifically, the month before this hearing, the CSCE adopted a resolution condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the arrest and exile of Andrei Sakharov as blatant violations of the Helsinki Final Act. Commissioner Millicent Fenwick, who was also one of the sponsors of legislation creating the CSCE, proposed this resolution. Likewise, the resolution called on the signatory states of the Final Act to join in such protest and undertake such sanctions against the former U.S.S.R. as may be available to them. The hearing itself, then, focused on the current status and prospects of U.S. commercial and economic relationships with the U.S.S.R. and Eastern European countries, implementation of Basket II, efforts to promote better implementation, and the impact the Soviet violation of the Helsinki accords in Afghanistan would have on the Madrid Review Session and the CSCE process as a whole.

  • The Helsinki Forum and East-West Scientific Exchange

    The Committee on Science and Technology as well as the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe sponsored the hearing to examine free and open scientific exchange among the OSCE member states. Amidst the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Andrei Tverdokhlebov, physicist and human rights activist, gave testimony about the restrictive state of freedom of association in the U.S.S.R., its effects on the scientific community, and attempts by the Soviet Government to silence Andrei Sakharov. The witnesses and the Commissioners discussed possible non-essential travel bans on future scientific exchanges and other joint international scientific efforts.

  • Implementation of The Helsinki Accords Vol. XI – Religious Persecution In U.S.S.R. & HR Violations in Ukraine

    The first part of this hearing, led by Commissioner Dante B. Fascell, focused largely on the imprisonment of Russian Pastor Georgi  Vins, who had spent eight of the last thirteen years in prison simply due to his occupation. Repression of this Baptist minister exemplified such repression of other Baptist clergymen by the U.S.S.R., whose denomination in the country dated back to the early 1900s. However, in 1965, the Soviet Baptist movement split into the recognized and legitimated all-union Council of Evangelical Christians, and the dissident reform Baptists, making the latter the first Soviet dissident human rights group. The second portion of the hearing discussed Ukrainian political retribution and dissidents, exemplified by the cases of witnesses who had all been political prisoners in the Eastern European country.

  • Implementation of The Helsinki Accords Vol. X – Aleksandr Ginzburg On The Human Rights Situation In The U.S.S.R.

    CSCE Chairman Dante Fascell presided over this hearing on the human rights situation in the USSR. Aleksandr Ginzburg,a Russian human rights activist who had finally been released from the Gulag Archipelago and subsequently returned to his family, testified.  The hearing also focused on the repression and imprisonment of members of the Moscow Helsinki Monitoring Group, a Russian human rights advocacy organization whose work focused on pressure in support of the Helsinki Final Act. The hearing gave Ginzburg a platform to candidly discuss the as human rights abuses taking place in the USSR.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol. IX – U.S. Visa Policies

    This briefing discussed how the Helsinki Accord’s provisions on the free flow of people apply to the United States.  The briefing followed President Carter’s commitment to embody the principles outlined in the Helsinki Final Act.  Representatives from  U.S. government agencies, such as the Department of State and the Department of Justice, and interested civil society organizations testified about their experiences with the current visa regime. The witnesses were asked to make recommendations about the advisability of changing U.S. law to align with the freedom of movement provisions in the Helsinki Accords.

  • Implementation Of The Helsinki Accords Vol. VIII – U.S. Compliance: Human Rights

    Commissioner Claiborne Pell and others in attendance, in this series of hearings, looked at their own country’s record on the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. This hearing signified the first time that a state belonging to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), or the “Conference,” had looked at its own record in such a manner, taking into account criticism by other signatories and private domestic monitoring groups, no less. This series of hearings’ purpose was to ascertain progress accomplished, learn what more needs to be achieved, and proclaim a reaffirmation of the U.S. commitment to the Helsinki Final Act’s full implementation.

  • Implementation Of The Helsinki Accords Vol. VI – Soviet Law And Helsinki Monitors

    This briefing discussed the repression against human rights activists in the Soviet Union.  Chairman Fascell and Commissioner Leahy oversaw the testimony of several American lawyers representing imprisoned members of the Moscow-Helsinki Group detailing the abuses committed against their clients.  Numerous documents from Soviet citizens were also submitted to the record documenting the Soviet authorities’ violations of the Helsinki Accords’ human rights provisions.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol. V – The Right to Citizenship in the Soviet Union

    Commissioners Fascell and Pell, along with other commissioners and witnesses, discussed the plight of the witnesses themselves (musicians Mstislav Rostropovich and Galina Vishnevskaya). More specifically, these musicians, an acclaimed cellist and an opera singer, respectively, both arbitrarily had their citizenships revoked by Soviet authorities, without a fair trial (i.e. a right to an appeal, a hearing, and a right to a defense). These individuals’ predicament underscored similar situations of other Soviet citizens whom the government had revoked the citizenships of, a practice that the U.S. Supreme Court has classified as “cruel and unusual punishment.”  

  • IMPLEMENTATION OF THE HELSINKI ACCORDS VOL. IV - REPORTS ON SOVIET REPRESSION AND THE BELGRADE CONFERENCE

    In light of first anniversary of the creation of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, this hearing focused on the work and the plight of courageous individuals who utilized the Helsinki accords as instruments for advancing international respect for human rights. In particular, the hearing delved into the case of Anatoly Shcharansky, one of the most courageous spokesmen of human rights in the U.S.S.R., faces treason charges as groundless as they are ominous. The Soviet decision to hold a show trial for Shcharansky with phony evidence and counterfeit witnesses combined with the earlier arrest of members of Helsinki monitoring groups in Russia, Ukraine, and most recently, in Georgia, were in violation of the Helsinki accords.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol. III – Information Flow, And Cultural And Educational Exchanges

    In this hearing, Commissioner Dante Fascell and others discussed the impact that the Helsinki Accords had on easing and expanding the flow of ideas and information across ideological and international frontiers. The rationale for this hearing, which consisted of three mornings of testimony, was that, while the Commission has had a long and storied history of hearing and discussing the movement of people, one goal of the Helsinki Accords is to diminish the obstacles that keep the views of others out, which are also the borders that restrict freedom of movement for people.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol I - Human Rights and Contacts

    This hearing focused on the implementation of the Helsinki Accords and explored proposals for advancing compliance.  The Commissioners and witnesses discussed how the accords could better East-West relations. They discussed how the framework of the Helsinki accords helps provide protection against armed intervention in internal affairs, or the threat of such intervention.  The Commissioners heard testimonies from those working on human rights in Warsaw Pact countries and from many American citizens seeking reunification with relatives in Warsaw Pact countries.

  • Implementation of the Helsinki Accords Vol.I - Human Rights & Contacts

    Hon. Dante Fascell, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided over this hearing on the implementation of the Helsinki Accords. This hearing focused on the Commisison's consideration of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords dealing with respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and with freer movement of people and information. The purpose was to define what the Commission knew of implementation of the accords and of their violations, to explore proposals for advancing compliance, and to seek advice on the role the accords played bettering East-West relations. Hon. Fascell was joined by Leonard Garment, former U.S. Representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and Vladimir Bukovsky, former Soviet political prisoner.

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