Title

Title

Finnish OSCE Chairman-in-Office Outlines Priorities, Challenges for 2008
Wednesday, February 27, 2008

By Ronald McNamara, International Policy Director

Making an appearance on February 13th before the Helsinki Commission, early in Finland’s 2008 chairmanship of the OSCE, Minister for Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva addressed a wide range of issues facing the Vienna-based organization and its 56 participating States. Kanerva, having served in parliament since 1975, the year in which the Helsinki Final Act was signed in the Finnish capital, stressed the unique contribution of parliamentarians in their role embodying “the aspirations of our peoples and to voice their concerns in all OSCE countries.” Chairman Alcee L. Hastings, President Emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, expressed appreciation for recognition of the parliamentary dimension of the Helsinki Process.

Minister Kanerva noted, “The starting point of the Finnish Chairmanship is that the OSCE is a value-based organization that actively promotes our common values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We stress the full implementation of the human rights commitments by the participating States.” Chairman Hastings welcomed the emphasis on implementation especially given the mandate of the Helsinki Commission to monitor compliance with the common commitments accepted by all participating States regardless of when they joined the Helsinki Process. “We fully support and welcome Finland’s calls for greater effort by participating States to implement our common political commitments. Implementation is key, as the late President Gerald Ford underscored in his remarks in Finlandia Hall when he signed the Helsinki Accords on behalf of the United States. I am also mindful that all participating States, including this country, are obligated to translate words on paper into action and I welcome the scrutiny of others when our own policies and practices come up short,” said Hastings.

Hastings and Kanerva had a lengthy exchange regarding developments in Kosovo and their implications for Balkans as well as the possibility of sustained OSCE engagement in the region. Kanerva, who had just returned from a visit to Belgrade and Priština, observed that the OSCE has played an important role in Kosovo -- in establishing and consolidating local institutions, in promoting democratization, the rule of law, as well as human and minority rights. “Because the OSCE has remained “status-neutral,” it has retained a unique ability to work with all ethnic communities in promoting stability and democratic development. It is my firm belief that the OSCE work in Kosovo is and will be beneficial to all Kosovars,” concluded the Minister. He continued, “The outcome of the status process could have a negative impact on the OSCE's engagement in Kosovo. You are well aware that the OSCE participating States remain deeply divided over the issue. This disagreement could lead to the current Mission’s termination. It would be a grave mistake for the OSCE and the entire international community if we were to leave it at that.”

Chairman Hastings, who visited both Priština and the northern area around Mitrovitsa last June, remarked, “My overall concern comes again from personal experience. The OSCE mission in Kosovo complemented by the tremendous activities that the KFOR forces deployed to keep the peace there is one of, in my judgment, the most successful OSCE missions, capable of working with the various factions in that area. I always ask the question: if there was no OSCE mission or had not been there in recent years, what would be the situation on the ground there today? And how much closer would the parties be to arriving at a resolution of what is, by anybody's standards, a substantial conflict? Minister Kanerva stressed, “I am determined to ensure continued OSCE engagement in Kosovo regardless of the status process. I am aware of the fact that any participating State has the possibility to use a veto and to end the mandate of the present mission - the mission which at the moment comprises 800 people and which has an immense effect on the viability of the civil society. Should this happen, I am prepared to immediately start the negotiations on a revised mandate for the OSCE mission. I am convinced that all participating States agree on the need for continued OSCE engagement in Kosovo.”

Regarding conflicts elsewhere in the OSCE region, Kanerva remarked, “The Finnish chairmanship has put the so-called frozen or protracted conflicts in Moldova, Georgia, and Nagorno-Karabakh at the top of our agenda. I will personally visit all of these regions. I have already nominated also a special envoy to survey the progress in the process. One of the first things I have already done was to visit Ukraine and Moldova, to examine possibilities to kick start the stalled negotiation on the Transdnistria conflict. The Government of Moldova and the leadership for Transdnistria indicate their willingness to reengage and I have tasked my special envoy to see what can be done to take the process forward. We have knowledge of the difficulties in front of us. But we can't give up.”

Minister Kanerva announced his intention to visit the South Caucasus nations of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Chairman Hastings asked Kanerva to raise concerns relating to media freedom in Azerbaijan, the subject of a Commission hearing late last year, and provided a list of specific cases.

Numerous other human rights concerns were also discussed from combating anti-Semitism and trafficking in humans as well as promoting democracy. In prepared remarks, Co-Chairman Benjamin L. Cardin stressed the importance of sustained OSCE engagement in efforts to fight anti-Semitism. “In recent weeks we have convened a series of hearings to assess the ongoing work of the OSCE in this regard and have heard from experts. These sessions have confirmed the importance of maintaining a distinct focus on anti-Semitism, and resisting attempts by some to reduce the attention under some kinds of generic tolerance rubric. It has also become clear that the personal representatives need some form of meaningful support mechanism. Perhaps some arrangement could be put in place by the troika of past, present, and future OSCE chairs, to ensure continuity,” remarked Cardin.

Similar concerns were echoed in a statement by Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith, “I appeal to you, in your term as Chairman-in-Office, not to allow the OSCE to give in to this fatigue and indifference! Anti-Semitism remains what it has always been, a unique evil, a distinct form of intolerance, the oldest form of religious bigotry, and a malignant disease of the heart that has often led to murder. It continues to threaten our Jewish brothers and sisters, and so the OSCE must redouble its efforts in the fight against the scourge of anti-Semitism. Smith, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking welcomed the commitment of the Finnish chairmanship to give priority attention to OSCE efforts to prevent human trafficking, with particular attention to child victims.

Russia’s troubling attempts to restrict the scope and size of OSCE election observations missions was also raised. Minister Kanerva expressed disappointment that, despite a concerted effort by OSCE, an acceptable solution could not be worked out to enable the deployment of an observation mission to Russia for the March 2nd presidential elections. He outlined his views regarding observation of the entire election process. “It means candidate and voter registration, electoral campaign, media coverage, complaints and appeals. The ODIHR must continue to be in a position to determine the length and size of observation missions on professional grounds in order to produce meaningful assessments and recommendations benefiting the observed country.” Having headed monitoring missions to Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, and most recently Georgia, Chairman Hastings called for a timely invitation for OSCE to observe the upcoming November U.S. elections. Kanerva thanked Hastings for his leadership of the mission to Georgia in early January and underscored the importance of close cooperation between ODIHR and the OSCE PA.

Turning to Afghanistan, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation country, the Chairman welcomed the role played by Finnish forces in the northern part of that country. Minister Kanerva reported that active discussions were underway among OSCE countries regarding the kinds of initiatives that might be undertaken to assist Afghanistan pursuant to a general decision agreed to by the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council last November. Priority attention is being given to strengthening border security and management, including along the 750 mile border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan. “At the same time we are discussing whether the OSCE might eventually become active on Afghan territory,” said Kanerva.

Before concluding the hearing, the Chairman-in-Office and Chairman Hastings touched on ways to enhance cooperation among the OSCE participating States and strengthen the organization. Hastings acknowledged the complex task of managing the OSCE given the diversity of countries and diverging views among some on fundamental aspects of the organization and its mission. The two agreed on the importance of engagement with Russia. One possibility raised by Chairman Hastings was the assembling of a “Council of Elder Statesmen” along the lines proposed by the Hamburg-based Centre for OSCE Research in its working paper, “Identifying the Cutting Edge: The Future Impact of the OSCE.” In an innovative move, the Finnish chairmanship has expanded the Troika – past, present, and future chairs – to include others slated to assume leadership of OSCE in future years. At the Madrid OSCE Ministerial Council agreement was reached on chairmanships for Greece in 2009, Kazakhstan in 2010 and Lithuania in 2011. “I have invited my colleagues from the future chairmanships of Kazakhstan and Lithuania,” Kanerva reported, “to meet with the current Troika countries Spain, Finland and Greece to develop ideas for longer-term priorities. I am convinced there are many issues where the "Quintet" can add value and lead to more coherent OSCE action in the next few years.”

Minister Kanerva concluded, “The Helsinki Commission embodies the longstanding engagement of the United States with the OSCE and the values that underpin it. The OSCE can only work with the full engagement of its participating States. The United States has always played a key role, and must continue to do so, if we are to achieve the ambitious goals we have set for our Organization.”

  • Related content
  • Related content
Filter Topics Open Close
  • Report on Macedonia's Parliamentary Elections of October and November 1998

    When, on October 18, the citizens of Macedonia voted for a new parliament, they not only had choices between extremes but also among several moderate candidates. The more open environment reflected growing political maturity in a country beset by instability—both internal and external—since becoming an independent state in 1991. Approximately 1,200 people representing political parties, electoral coalitions and independent candidates competed for the 120 seats in the Macedonian Assembly. Eighty-five of those seats were contested on a majority basis in districts, while the remaining 35 seats were determined by proportional voting for party, coalition and independent lists across the country. The mixed system represents an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties to abandon a solely majority-based system viewed as favoring those in power. The newly established electoral districts were more consistent demographically, although ethnic Albanians continued to allege that they were still left somewhat under-represented. The ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), the successor to the former League of Communists, ran essentially on its own in the elections. The main challenge to the SDSM came from an unlikely coalition of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), named after the 19th century extremist Macedonian liberation group, and the newly formed and politically liberal Democratic Alliance (DA). A secondary challenger was the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the product of a recent merger of two moderate political parties. The election picture was complicated by the continued existence of a practically separate polity in Macedonia, the Albanian community which constitutes at least 23 percent of the country's population and has its own political parties. For these elections, however, moderates in the Macedonian Government formed a coalition with more nationalistic Albanian parties. The campaign environment was open and competitive, with fewer government controls on access to information than before. In addition, election administration was more transparent, with opposition parties able to participate more fully. Given the close results of the first round, campaigning in districts with second-round voting was notably more negative and tense. In addition, there were some problems with the timely release of results, raising suspicions about the ruling parties willingness to fully respect the outcome. Problems like family- or group-voting were evident, but there were few signs of intentional manipulation during the voting. In the second round, however, there were some reports of party representatives checking voter registration cards outside polling stations, as well as more ominous proxy voting practices. The VMRO-DPMNE/DA coalition emerged victorious, and the ruling SDSM conceded defeat. President Kiro Gligorov, whose office will be contested in 1999, selected VMRO-DPMNE head Ljupco Georgievski to form a new government. Georgievski has continued the SDSM's practice of inviting Albanian parties to join the government, despite not needing these parties to form a government. Neither a calm change of government nor an effort to be inclusive are characteristic of politics in former Yugoslav republics, and these signs of political stability will hopefully enable Macedonia to steer clear of ethnic conflict on its own territory at a time when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is deploying an extraction force to assist unarmed civilian monitors in conflict-ridden Kosovo to the north.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • 1999: A Critical Year for Belarus

    Mr. Speaker, last month, a Congress of Democratic Forces was held in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The Congress demonstrated the resolve of the growing democratic opposition to authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the determination by the opposition to have free, democratic elections consistent with the legitimate 1994 constitution.   Earlier last month, on January 10, members of the legitimate Belarusian parliament, disbanded by Lukashenka after the illegal 1996 constitutional referendum which extended his term of office by two years to 2001, set a date for the next presidential elections for May 16. According to the 1994 constitution, Lukashenka's term expires in July. Not surprisingly, Lukashenka rejects calls for a presidential election. Local elections are currently being planned for April, although many of the opposition plan not to participate, arguing that elections should be held only under free, fair and transparent conditions, which do not exist at the present time. Indeed, the law on local elections leaves much to be desired and does not provide for a genuinely free and fair electoral process.   The local elections and opposition efforts to hold presidential elections must be viewed against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation. One of the resolutions adopted by the Congress of Democratic Forces accuses Lukashenka of driving the country to “social tensions, international isolation and poverty.” As an example of the heightening tensions, just last weekend, Andrei Sannikov, the former deputy minister of Belarus and a leader of the Charter '97 human rights group, was brutally assaulted by members of a Russian-based ultranationalist organization. Additionally, Lukashenka's moves to unite with Russia pose a threat to Belarus' very sovereignty. Thus, Mr. Speaker, this year promises to be a critical year for Belarus.   Recently, a staff delegation of the (Helsinki) Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which I chair, traveled to Belarus, raising human rights concerns with high-ranking officials, and meeting with leading members of the opposition, independent media and nongovernmental organizations. The staff report concludes that the Belarusian Government continues to violate its commitments under the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and that at the root of these violations lies the excessive power usurped by President Lukashenka since his election in 1994, especially following the illegitimate 1996 referendum. Although one can point to some limited areas of improvement, such as allowing some opposition demonstrations to occur relatively unhindered, overall OSCE compliance has not improved since the deployment of the OSCE's Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) almost one year ago. Freedoms of expression, association and assembly remain curtailed. The government hampers freedom of the media by tightly controlling the use of national TV and radio. Administrative and economic measures are used to cripple the independent media and NGOs. The political opposition has been targeted for repression, including imprisonment, detention, fines and harassment. The independence of the judiciary has been further eroded, and the President alone controls judicial appointments. Legislative power is decidedly concentrated in the executive branch of government.   The Commission staff report makes a number of recommendations, which I would like to share with my colleagues. The United States and OSCE community should continue to call upon the Belarusian Government to live up to its OSCE commitments and, in an effort to reduce the climate of fear which has developed in Belarus, should specifically encourage the Belarusian Government, inter alia, to: (1) Immediately release Alyaksandr Shydlauski (sentenced in 1997 to 18 months imprisonment for allegedly spray painting anti-Lukashenka graffiti) and review the cases of those detained and imprisoned on politically motivated charges, particularly Andrei Klymov and Vladimir Koudinov; (2) cease and desist the harassment of opposition activists, NGOs and the independent media and permit them to function; (3) allow the opposition access to the electronic media and restore the constitutional right of the Belarusian people to free and impartial information; (4) create the conditions for free and fair elections in 1999, including a provision in the election regulations allowing party representation on the central and local election committees; and (5) strengthen the rule of law, beginning with the allowance for an independent judiciary and bar.   With Lukashenka's term in office under the legitimate 1994 Constitution expiring in July 1999, the international community should make clear that the legitimacy of Lukashenka's presidency will be undermined unless free and fair elections are held by July 21. The United States and the international community, specifically the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, should continue to recognize only the legitimate parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, abolished by Lukashenka in 1996, and not the post-referendum, Lukashenka-installed, National Assembly. At the time, the United States, and our European allies and partners, denounced the 1996 referendum as illegitimate and extra-constitutional. The West needs to stand firm on this point, as the 13th Supreme Soviet and the 1994 Constitution are the only legal authorities. The democratically oriented opposition and NGOs deserve continued and enhanced moral and material assistance from the West. The United States must make support for those committed to genuine democracy a high priority in our civic development and NGO assistance.   I applaud and want to encourage such entities as USIS, the Eurasia Foundation, National Endowment for Democracy, International Republican Institute, ABA/CEELI and others in their efforts to encourage the development of a democratic political system, free market economy and the rule of law in Belarus. The United States and the international community should strongly encourage President Lukashenka and the 13th Supreme Soviet to begin a dialogue which could lead to a resolution of the current constitutional crisis and the holding of democratic elections. The OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) could be a vehicle for facilitating such dialogue. The Belarusian Government should be encouraged in the strongest possible terms to cooperate with the OSCE AMG. There is a growing perception both within and outside Belarus that the Belarusian Government is disingenuous in its interaction with the AMG. The AMG has been working to promote these important objectives: an active dialogue between the government, the opposition and NGOs; free and fair elections, including a new election law that would provide for political party representation on electoral committees and domestic observers; unhindered opposition access to the state electronic media; a better functioning, independent court system and sound training of judges; and the examination and resolution of cases of politically motivated repression.   Mr. Speaker, there is a growing divide between the government and opposition in Belarus, thanks to President Lukashenka's authoritarian practices, a divide that could produce unanticipated consequences. An already tense political situation is becoming increasingly more so. Furthermore, Lukashenka's efforts at political and economic integration with Russia could have serious potential consequences for neighboring states, especially Ukraine. Therefore, it is vital for the United States and the OSCE to continue to speak out in defense of human rights in Belarus, to promote free and democratic elections this year, and to encourage meaningful dialogue between the government and opposition.

  • Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia: Electoral and Political Outlook for 1999

    Robert Hand, policy advisor at the Commission, led a discussion regarding Bosnia and its different regions. He spoke of the situation in Bosnia in 1998 and the power of ethnically-based political parties, retained through nationalism, corruption, and control of the media. Reconstruction in Bosnia is poor due to poor economic conditions and the continued displacement of certain populations.  The witnesses - Luke Zahner, Candace Lekic, Jessica White, Roland de Rosier, Kathryn Bomberger, Brian Marshall – have served in regions all over Bosnia and gave valuable input on the differences between regions and their rehabilitations processes after the Dayton Accords. They also spoke of the influence of Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Federation on said regions.  Paying attention to these differences, the state, is important in that the United States wants to support only those that successfully implement the Dayton Accords. 

  • Legal Status of Religious Groups in the US (1999)

    The United States does not require religious groups to register with the government in order to organize, meet, collect funds, or claim federal tax-exempt status. Such a registration requirement would violate a core freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution. This overview identifies the underpinnings of this freedom, including a discussion of the United States Constitution's religion and speech clauses. Following this discussion, the issues of association, legal status and tax exemption are addressed. Foundational to civil liberties inthe United States is the principle that government was created by and exists at the will of the people. Governmental power is a limited power conferred to the government by the people. In the United States, the fundamental rights of the individual are paramount and they may only be abrogated by the government under very limited and defined circumstances. Freedom of religion is a fundamental,  natural, and absolute right, deeply rooted in the American constitutional system. Available to all, citizen and non-citizen, the free exercise of religion includes the tight to believe and profess whatever religious belief one desires. Government officials may not compel any person to affirm a religious belief or punish the expression of religious doctrine deemed by officials to be false. The individual's freedom of conscience embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all. This fundamental right was established by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the first of the original Bill of Rights. Specifically, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States forbids the government to make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. While originally an inhibition to action by the United States Congress only, the First Amendment has been made applicable to the individual state governments, as well, through the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.The First Amendment guarantees that the government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion, or otherwise act in a way which establishes a state religion. This constitutional constraint on the government's ability to enact legislation regarding religion has two primary aspects. First, the government is prevented fromenacting a law that requires citizens to accept a particular religious belief. Second, this constitutional provision safeguards the free exercise of each person.'s chosen for of religion. These two interrelated concepts are known, respectively, as the "establishment" and "free exercise" clauses. A Russian translation of the text is available here.

  • WHITHER HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA?

    This hearing focused on the human rights situation in Russia. Russia is no longer an authoritarian dictatorship and civil liberties have improved. However, the decline in Russia’s recent economic fortunes has been accompanied by disturbing developments in the area of human rights and civil liberties. A religion law developed in 1977 has led to legal difficulties and complications for some religious organizations in their dealings with local authorities, most notably the declaration of Jehovah Witness as a “destructive sect.” Also recent cases of a crackdown on activist has led to Russia’s first political prisoner since the defunct Soviet Union with the arrest of the environmental whistleblower, Alexandr Nikitin.

  • The Milosevic Regime Versus Serbian Democracy and Balkan Stability

    This hearing, presided over by the Hon. Chris Smith, then Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, was held on the fiftieth anniversary of Human Rights Day, when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in Paris by 56 members of the United Nations. Regarding the atrocities of Slobodan Milosevic and his regime, then, this hearing’s date was perfectly apropos. The storied crimes by the Milosevic Regime are world renowned. The hearing was held in the wake of actions by the regime taken against Serbia’s independent media. Earlier on, Milosevic refused to acknowledge the results of municipal elections in Serbia, and, of course, the violent conflicts that the regime was culpable for.  

  • The Ombudsman in the OSCE: An American Perspective

    This briefing assessed the role of ombudsmen institutions in the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from an American perspective. The ombudsman institution was described as a flexible institution; adaptable to national and local government structures in a wide variety of countries, and a brief evaluation of the evolution of this institution was presented. Dean M. Gottehrer, a consultant on ombudsmen in human rights institutions for the United Nations Development Program, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, and the United States Information Agency, presented a personal analysis of the role of ombudsmen institutions in protecting human rights in OSCE participating states.

  • Report on Azerbaijan's Presidential Election

    On October 11, 1998, Azerbaijan held presidential elections. The contest pitted incumbent President Heydar Aliev, the former Communist Party leader who returned to power in 1993, against moderate opposition leader Etibar Mamedov, political maverick Nizami Suleimanov, and three other candidates with little recognition or following. While no one seriously expected Aliev to lose, the opposition candidates were hoping for a second round. Five leading opposition politicians—Abulfaz Elchibey, Isa Gambar, Rasul Guliev, Ilyas Ismailov and Lala Shovket—boycotted the vote, unwilling to legitimize by their participation an election they believed would be unfair. Negotiations that took place in August between the government and the boycotting opposition over the most controversial aspect of the election—the composition of the Central Election Commission—proved unsuccessful, with the authorities rejecting the opposition’s demand for equal representation on the CEC. The five leaders, joined by numerous other parties and groups in the Movement for Electoral Reform and Democratic Elections, urged voters not to go to the polls. The authorities minimized the boycott’s significance, arguing that the opposition leaders knew they had no chance in a fair election and therefore preferred to claim fraud and not participate. Beginning August 15, the boycotting parties organized a series of rallies and demonstrations to pressure the government and call for fair elections. These were the first mass street actions in Azerbaijan in years. The authorities refused to let the opposition hold a demonstration in Freedom Square, in the center of Baku, offering alternative venues instead. On September 12, protesters clashed with police, resulting in arrests and injuries. Afterwards, authorities and opposition tried to reach agreement on the demonstrators’ route, and most pre-election rallies, some of which drew big crowds, were largely peaceful. The increasingly tense relations between the government and boycotting opposition parties were one factor in the OSCE/ODIHR’s appraisal of the election.  In ODIHR’s view, these failings outweighed the positive aspects of the election, such as the election law, which all sides acknowledged as acceptable, the freedom for candidates to speak openly on television, the abolition of censorship and provisions for domestic observers. The OSCE/ODIHR assessment was that the election fell short of meeting international norms. With the OSCE assessment placing in question the official results, the CEC’s failure to publish election protocols until long after the stipulated time period heightens doubts about President Aliev’s standing. The election was largely a referendum on his five-year presidency. Since his return to power in 1993, he has not solved the major problems besetting the country. The NagornoKarabakh conflict remains unsettled; Azerbaijani territory is still under Armenian occupation and no refugees have returned to their homes. Living standards for the great majority of the population have declined precipitously, though it is widely known that a tiny stratum of corrupt officials and businessmen have become rich. Moreover, the predominance of people from Nakhichevan - Aliev’s home region - in positions of power exacerbates general discontent.

  • The Status of Human Rights in Russia

    This briefing addressed the recent changes in the Russian government and what they might portend for human Rights in Russia. Specifically, economic troubles that led to the emergence of extremist politics and subsequent human rights abuses were the main topic of discussion. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch; Mark Levin, Executive Director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry; and Lauren Homer, President of Law and Liberty Trust – evaluated the status of human rights abuse in Russia resulting from a mix of repression, corruption, inertia, and neglect. Freedom of speech, freedom of information, and freedom of religion were especially emphasized as aspects of human rights that Russia needs to improve in the future

  • Report on Parliamentary and Municipal Elections in Montenegro

    On May 31, 1998, Montenegro held elections for the 78 seats in the republic’s parliament as well as for seats in the local councils of its 21 municipalities. These elections took place in a political environment marked by tension between Montenegro and Serbia, the only two of the six former Yugoslav republics which have established a new federal relationship. At issue was whether the Serbia-dominated federation created in 1992 and controlled by the authoritarian Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic would permit Montenegro to develop economically and politically on its own and, if not, whether Montenegro would make its own move toward outright independence. Milosevic seems unwilling to concede Montenegro’s de jure autonomy within the federation and would likely resort to some use of force to maintain control over what is, in fact, Serbia’s only access to the sea. Moreover, Montenegro’s relationship with Serbia is a divisive issue internally, pitting those ethnic Montenegrins with pro-Serb inclinations, especially in the north, against those who stress the republic’s distinctness from Serbia and are supported in their position by the sizable Bosniac (Muslim) and Albanian communities. Those favoring a close relationship with Serbia rallied around former Montenegrin President and current Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, while those advocating a more independent course strongly supported the current President, Milo Djukanovic. Both came to power under the auspices of the former Communist party, now called the Democratic Party of Socialists, but Djukanovic was able to wrestle control of the party and oust his one-time mentor Bulatovic in presidential elections in 1997. Differences have been so strong in Montenegro in support of one or the other since that time that many predicted the parliamentary elections would be accompanied by civil violence. The elections were carried out in a relatively free and fair manner. The campaign period was marked by openness to differing points of view and a growing independent media. The results of the elections were clearer than anticipated, with the election coalition surrounding Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists winning 42 of the 78 seats compared to Bulatovic’s Socialist People’s Party, which won 29 seats.

  • Report on Elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina

    On September 12 and 13, 1998, elections were held in Bosnia-Herzegovina for offices ranging from the collective state presidency to several local counsils. These elections were the latest in what have been an angoign series of elections since the Dayton Agreement ended the Bosnian conflict in December 1995. Like those in 1996 and 1997, these elections were also administered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) through a Provisional Election Council (PEC). Continuous elections, if held in as free and fair a manner as possible, have been viewed by the international community as a means to bring stability and recovery to a country divided by extreme nationalist political leaders, particularly among the Serb population, many of whom remain in positions of power or influence. There were few of disruptions during the two days of voting. Unfortunately, in what were otherwise well administered elections, there were major, albeit unintentional, flaws in the OSCE-prepared voter registration lists, preventing or making it difficult for many citizens to vote and encouraging local suspicions of international manipulation. Nevertheless, international observers deployed by the OSCE concluded that the will of the people was generally reflected in the results. These results did not bring any major change in Bosnia's political leadership, which remains largely in the handes of political parties representing the three major ethnic groups - the Bosniacs, Serbs, and Croats. They did, however, continue the trend of previous elections in bringing greater diversity to Bosnian politics. Among the Bosniac population in the Bosnian Federation, the opposition which promoted a multi-ethnic Bosnian society did make some gains, while among Bosnian Croats there was an advance in the simple fact that some serious alternatives existed. In Republika Srpska, however, nationalist sentiment showed a resiliency which the international community found disappointing given the major effort over the past year to promote political moderation. This was especially reflected in the defeat of the incumbent President of Republika Srpska, Biljana Plavsic. Overall, the 1998 elections may represent one small but definite step toward eventual political reunification of Bosnia's two entities and social reintegration after the devastating conflict. On the other hand, such incremental change may be insufficient to counter the solidification of the country's division. It is uncertain whether time is working for, or against, Bosnia's future as state. The elections have made certain, however, that structural change in the electoral and even the political process - promoting a social consensus across ethnic lines - is now needed. Within the next year, the international community must work to see if the Bosnian people themselves are prepared for such a step.   

  • Deteriorating Religious Liberty in Europe

    Senior Advisor to the Commission, E. Wayne Merry, chaired this briefing which was part of a series by the Commission on the subject of religious liberties within the OSCE region. This series was prompted by a perceived developing problem of restrictions on religious liberties in several participating states to the OSCE. At the time, the Commission was devoting most of its attention to the countries that that traditionally had a much more tolerant view toward religious minorities, such as those in Western and Central Europe. Participants in this briefing included Francesca Binda, Karen Gainer, and Paul Rowland, all with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI) personnel Eric Jowett and Kent Patton.

  • Deterioration of Religious Liberty in Europe

    This briefing addressed the persisting question of problems of religious liberty and the patterns of discrimination against religious minorities and other belief groups that had developed in a number of countries in the OSCE region in the aftermath of the Cold War. Efforts of improving religious liberty in former communist countries were discussed, as well as the need for spending time and attention on countries farther west, like France, Belgium, and Austria, in which concern for religious minorities was also expressed. Witnesses testifying at the briefing – including Willy Fautre, Director of Human Rights without Frontiers and James McCabe, Assistant General Counsel of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society – examined the multi-tiered system that European countries employ regarding religion, and the different statuses and treatment of citizens based on where their religion falls within this system. The issues faced by minority religious associations, like being targeted by fiscal services, were also topics of discussion.

  • Romani Human Rights in Europe

    Commission Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith presided over this hearing that discussed the rights of the Romani population in Europe. While ostensibly of Central and Eastern European descent, Romani, or Roma, individuals have existed in almost every European state. The Roma consist of a dispersed minority that, at the time of this hearing, was the fastest growing European population, numbering between 8 million and 10 million people. Unfortunately, their numbers did not protect the Roma from being the only population whose situation had actually worsened since the fall of Communism. From the first signs of anti-Romani discrimination in Romania to the dissolution of the Czechoslovak Federation in January of 1994, the reasons to justify holding this hearing to discuss the plight of the Romani were many. At this hearing, besides Commissioner Chris Smith, were Commission Chairman Steny Hoyer, and witnesses James Goldston of the European Roma Rights Center, Livia Plaks of the Project on Ethnic Relations, and Drs. David Crowe and Ian Hancock, professors at Elon and the University of Texas-Austin, respectively.

  • Report on Moldova's Parliamentary Elections

    On March 22, 1998, Moldova held its second multi-party elections to the 101-member parliament since achieving independence in August 1991. The Communist Party, which had been under legal prohibition until 1994, won just over 30 percent of the vote, translating into 40 seats out of 101. The results were a rejection by the voters of the previously powerful Agrarian Democrats, who did not cross the 4 percent threshold required for entry as a party into the new parliament. The election law required that a party/bloc or individual candidate garner 4% of the votes cast before being eligible for a seat in Parliament. Other big losers were the protocommunist Socialist-Unity bloc, which had taken second place in the 1994 parliamentary elections. There were no significant irregularities or major election law violations observed by Commission staff or reported by other Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly (OSCEPA) observers. A major exception to the OSCEPA judgment was the situation in Transdniestria “where neither candidates nor voters had even close to adequate conditions for exercising their civil rights.” The new Moldovan parliament opened its session on April 21, 1998.  Deputies are elected for a four year term.  

  • Report on Armenia's Presidential Election

    On March 30, 1998, Armenians went to the polls to choose a president in a runoff between Robert Kocharian—Armenia’s Prime Minister, Acting President and former President of Nagorno-Karabakh—and Karen Demirchian, former Communist Party leader of Armenia. The election followed first round voting on March 16, in which none of the 12 candidates managed to win the necessary 50 percent of the ballot. According to Armenia’s Central Election Commission, in the second round, Kocharian won 59.48 percent to Demirchian’s 40.52 percent, to become Armenia’s second president. Reported turnout was 68.14 percent. After two flawed elections in 1995 and 1996, the March 1998 vote offered Armenia, under different leadership,  an opportunity to redeem its image as a democratizing state. Most observers concurred that the campaign was better than in earlier elections: no candidate was excluded from the race, there were no serious impediments to campaigning, and the candidates received their allotted air time. But the preliminary statement of the OSCE/ ODIHR observation mission, issued after the first round, emphasized violations and warned that the recurrence of such problems during the second round might place the election’s legitimacy in doubt. The Council of Europe and the CIS Parliamentary Assembly, however, gave the March 16 voting good grades and openly disputed the assessment of the OSCE/ODIHR. Armenian-American groups accused the OSCE/ODIHR of anti-Armenian bias, reflecting a purported tendency to pressure Armenia into accepting the OSCE’s allegedly pro-Azerbaijani proposals on Nagorno-Karabakh. Helsinki Commission monitoring of both rounds yielded a mixed picture. The most serious problem observed during first-round voting was disorganization in small polling stations swamped by large numbers of voters, and the vote count went well in a precinct where numerous violations took place in 1996. But the vote count observed during the second round featured blatant fraud: the ballot box was tampered with during the vote; extra ballots were present in the box in large and obvious packets; the vote count made no effort to distinguish valid from improper votes; the precinct committee was in direct contact with Kocharian headquarters throughout the count; and the precinct protocols were falsified to make the numbers add up—in the direct view of the foreign observers. All the falsified votes were for Kocharian, who was openly supported by most members of the precinct committee. At least one fifth —and maybe as many as half— of the votes counted in this precinct were false. Subsequently, at the district election level, the box containing the ballots’ detachable “coupons” (a mechanism designed to prevent fraud) arrived over an hour late with the lid ripped open.  Based on these observations, and the accounts of many ODIHR observers at their debriefing, there is reason to harbor grave doubts about the reliability of the officially-reported results.  

  • Pluralism and Tolerance in Croatia

    This briefing moderated by Commission Policy Advisor Robert Hand focused on the many developments in Croatia at the time, including the issue of human rights- an area that Croatia needed to improve upon.  Likewise, in order to be fully embraced by the European community, as Hand said, the country needed to democratize. At that point in time, the country of Croatia stood at a crossroads. In January 1998, Croatia resumed control over eastern Slavonia, its last enclave occupied by Serb militants since the fall of 1991. Before resumption of Croatian control, the area was under U.N. administration the two years before. As sovereignty was reached on the entire state territory, priorities began to shift and the Croatian government came under strong internal and external pressure to allow acceleration of democratic development.

  • Repression and Violence in Kosovo and Hearing on Kosovo: The Humanitarian Perspective

    This hearing, chaired by Commissioner Alfonse D’Amato, discussed the dire circumstances in Kosovo, specifically Serbian repression of the Kosovar Albanian majority population. In this hearing, D’Amato called for the U.S. to step up and prevent another outbreak of ethnic cleansing and achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. More specifically, to facilitate a lasting peace, the Commissioner called on U.S. leadership to make Slobodan Milosevic believe that the world would not stand by while the atrocities in Kosovo and Serbia continued. In addition, any settlement reached between Milosevic and the Kosovo Albanian leadership, D’Amato, continued, must be respected and protect the human rights of all individuals in Kosovo, without preconditions. Witnesses in this hearing discussed these human rights violations and the predicament of the Kosovar Albanians.

  • Report on Ukraine's Parliamentary Election

    Ukraine’s March 1998 parliamentary elections resulted in a parliament similar in composition to the previous parliament, albeit with a somewhat more Communist tilt. The left constituted about 40 percent of parliament’s membership, with the remainder a mix of centrists, independents and national democrats. The new parliament included many new faces - only 141 deputies from the old parliament were in the new one. The parliamentary elections were held under a new election law which replaced the majoritarian system, introducing a mixed electoral system where half of the 450 deputies are elected from single-mandate districts and half from national party lists. While there were violations, transgressions and irregularities during the campaign and voting, Ukrainian voters generally were able to express their political will freely, and the results of the elections do appear to reflect the will of the electorate. The elections were conducted under a generally adequate legal and administrative framework, but the late passage of laws and regulations relating to the election–as well as late decisions regarding the Crimean Tatars—led to confusion and uncertainty about the electoral process. The campaign was generally peaceful in most of the country. However, it was marred by some tension, including incidents of violence, especially in Odesa and Crimea. The failure to allow non-citizen Crimean Tatar returnees the opportunity to vote, in contrast to arrangements that allowed them to vote in the 1994 elections, also tainted the elections. The state apparatus did not always display neutrality, and there were instances of harassment and pressure on opposition media.

Pages