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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 USSR In Crisis: State of the Union

    This hearing centered the economic and political crisis in the Soviet Union. The Commissioners praised the diligent work of Gorbachev by positively changing the human rights dimension in Eastern Europe. From multi-party participation to higher freedoms of speech and assembly, the Soviet Union has pivoted to international standard of human rights. Despite the reforms made towards the advancement of human rights the economic situation has never been so pronounced in recent memory. The economic challenges facing the people of the Soviet Union is affecting the political atmosphere in very concerning way- increased powers to the KGB and arms deals that violate past international treaties. The hearing reviewed whether the economic crisis is causing the Soviet state to use military methods to save the Soviet power.

  • Soviet Crackdown in the Baltic States

    This hearing, which Steny H. Hoyer presided over, came at a time during which the United States’ time was occupied elsewhere in the world (i.e. the Middle East). Therefore, the running time of this hearing was expected to be an hour, with a more in-depth hearing to follow later on. In any case, attendees discussed, from the view of the U.S., anyway, that the Baltic States (i.e. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) had all been illegally absorbed into what was then the Soviet Union. Likewise, the Baltic States had raised the issue that enforcement of conscription laws of the Soviet Union in these countries is in and of itself legal within the framework of the Geneva Convention. The consensus of the hearing was that the attempt by Moscow to crush democracy in the Baltic States must be met by the U.S. with the same resolve that the U.S. took in meeting similar attempts in other parts of the world, including collaboration with other countries.

  • Copenhagen Meeting on the Human Dimension

    This Hearing was convened by Chairman Dennis DeConcini and Co-Chairman Steny H. Hoyer to address the Human Dimension of the of the Helsinki Final Act. In attendance were Ambassador Max Kampelmann, Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Copenhagen CSCE Conference on the Human Dimension, Prof. Thomas Buergenthal, public member of the U.S. Delegation, and Prof. Hurst Hannum, public member of the U.S. Delegation. Those in attendence discussed the state of human rights in the OSCE region and various humanitarian causes that should be emphasized in the coming sessions.

  • Soviet Involvement in Afghanistan

    The purpose of this hearing, which Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Rep. Steny Hoyer presided over, was to examine what was happening in Afghanistan at the time, specifically in relation to the U.S.S.R. At the time of this hearing, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had ceased, and Moscow had expended financial, military, and human resources that had cost the country dearly, towards a war that had grown to be overwhelmingly with the Soviet populace, no less. Likewise, the Soviet conflict with Afghanistan had serious repercussions for the Soviet economy, which was why it was surprising that, even after the war, the U.S.S.R. had continued to spend significant capital to prop up the government in Kabul. Another issue was where U.S. aid was going and whether or not it was being properly spent.

  • Germany Unification and the CSCE Process

    German unification is a critical issue to the future of Europe. The process of German unification will entail finding solutions to many of the problems the Eastern community will face as they work to integrate into the common European home. The unification process makes it necessary to devise a framework for the input of other nations. This hearing hopes to provide policies directed towards the easing the process of unification.

  • Status Report on Soviet Jewry

    This hearing, which Representative Steny H. Hoyer presided over, was a portion of multiple hearings held on March 7, 1990, when attendees looked at the dramatic consequences of the Soviet government’s decision to relax its emigration policies, in addition to the impact of Glasnost on Jewish life in what was then the U.S.S.R. This new decision, the emigration policy of which was expected to soon be codified by the Supreme Soviet soon after the hearing took place, had negative and positive implications. While a record number of Jewish individuals were allowed to leave the U.S.S.R., Soviet citizens still needed explicit permission to leave the country. In spite of these reforms, though, there were still at least 100 refusenik cases, not to mention fear of an active anti-Semitic movement in the country.

  • THE NEW AND IMPROVED SUPREME SOVIET AND THE INSTITUTIONALIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS REFORM

    The hearing looked into the role of the Supreme Soviet in promulgating and institutionalizing human rights in the Soviet Union. Our Soviet guest today was Mr. Fyodor Burlatskiy who gave testimony alongside Louise Shelley, consultant to the Helsinki Watch on issues of Soviet law. This briefing was a follow-up to talks in Moscow in November of 1988.

  • The Baltic Question

    This Helsinki Commission hearing was brought to order due to the independence movements in the Baltic States. The independence movements in these states expressed the desire for self-rule on the part of peoples who, after forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union, had been brutally colonized for 50 years, reduced to the status of minorities and second-class citizens in their historic homelands, robbed of their language, their culture and their history, and victimized by police brutality and environmental assault. They sought independence from Moscow not because they hate Russians, but because they saw it as a prerequisite for physical and cultural survival.

  • Sofia CSCE Meeting on the Protection of the Environment

    The purpose of this hearing, which Sen. Dennis DeConcini and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer chaired, was to examine the first meeting in CSCE history devoted exclusively to the environment. The hearing predated the Sofia Meeting itself, whose purpose was to address environmental problems that recognize no borders and threaten every individual’s right to a peaceful and secure life. Unfortunately, the Sofia Meeting had been marred by the Bulgarian government’s lack of tolerance in its treatment of its Turkish and Muslim minorities, specifically the Bulgarian government’s campaign to assimilate Turkish minorities, which constituted a serious violation of human rights. Needless to say, then, intersectionality existed and continues to exist among environmental issues and the Helsinki process’s other top priorities.

  • Paris Human Dimension Meeting: Human Rights in the Helsinki Process

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Steny Hoyer, took place after the first meeting of three 4-week meetings of the Conference of the Human Dimension. These meetings were a function of the Conference on the Security and Cooperation in Europe the first of which took place on June 23, with the 35 member states of the OSCE in attendance. On the U.S.’s part, the goal was to seek greater implementation of the human rights and human contacts provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The atendees discussed the Vienna Concluding Document of January 1989, continued Soviet and East European violations of the rights of national minorities and religious believers and restrictions on the rights of free assembly, association, expression, and noncompliance with human contacts provisions, and fostering greater respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  • A Changing Soviet Society

    This hearing addressed Soviet nationalism and the Baltic States’ argument for self-determination. The April attack by armed troops on peaceful demonstrations in Georgia was provided as an example of how dangerous official Soviet reaction to popular protests can be. The need for the Kremlin to learn tolerant methods of dealing with dissent was emphasized. Witnesses testifying at this hearing addressed the changes occurring in the U.S.S.R and called for a set of criteria by which Soviet progress or lack thereof could be assessed. The impact of these changes on the human rights arena, including the right to due process, was also a topic of discussion.

  • THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE AND IMPART INFORMATION - PRELUDE TO THE LONDON INFORMATION FORUM

    This Commission hearing focused on the implementation of the provisions of the Helsinki Accords in the member countries of Eastern Europe. The hearing reviewed the compliance records of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, with the provisions regarding the free flow of information. The East has had a mixed record in regards to its compliance of the information provisions of the Helsinki Accords. Expert witnesses gave testimony to bring better understanding of the bewildering, and sometimes contradictory signals the East is sending on its information policies.

  • 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.

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