Title

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First Person: The Role of the Peace Corps in Promoting Democracy
Tuesday, July 30, 2019

By Gabriel Cortez,
Charles B. Rangel Fellow & Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Ukraine 2016-2019

Getting a high five has never felt as satisfying as it did in rural Ukraine. Even after three years serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer I cannot help but smile every time I remember one of my students extending their hand out for a “dye pyat.” I grew up in a large Mexican-American family in small-town California. Removed from the centers of international politics, the only diplomacy I knew was my brothers and sisters deciding who could use the family TV and when. Even as a kid I knew I wanted to be a part of something greater, to explore not only the United States but the other countries around the world, the ones they talked about in the news. The Peace Corps gave me and thousands of others that opportunity.

For 58 years, the Peace Corps has sent Americans young and old to live and work in communities worldwide. Over 235,000 volunteers have served in 141 countries, ranging from Mongolia and Albania to Morocco and China. Volunteers commit to 27 months of service in the country they serve, working in several sectors including education, health, agriculture, community development, and youth development. As of July 2019, there are around 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers serving in 62 countries. Montenegro, an OSCE participating State, is the newest addition to the Peace Corps family, with volunteers slated to launch the program in 2020.

The promotion of democracy is one of the central tenets of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Helsinki Final Accords. To that end, the Helsinki Commission has monitored aspects of the transition to democracy throughout Europe, including challenges to the rule of law, free and fair elections, and the impact of corruption. Peace Corps volunteers work concurrently in this field to demonstrate the strength democracy brings and help promote civic engagement in their sites.


Schoolchildren from my site participating in an English Language Summer Camp in Krasyliv, Ukraine.

When President John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps in 1961, the program was designed for large groups of Americans to live abroad and promote the American way of life, including the best aspects of democracy. That mission continues today in the OSCE region, with volunteers serving in Ukraine and eight other OSCE countries, including Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Mongolia.

My Peace Corps service began in September 2016 but was inspired years prior. In 2014, when the Maidan Revolution occurred, I watched it on TV with amazement, drawn by the images of Ukrainians from all walks of life marching on their capital to advocate for a better future. Already eager to work with the Peace Corps, I knew from that moment that Ukraine was the country I wanted to serve in as a volunteer.

Peace Corps Ukraine, which began in 1992, is the largest Peace Corps program operating anywhere in the world. Nearly 300 volunteers have served in the education, youth development, and community development sectors, as well as the President’s Emergency Plan for Emergency AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) programs. When volunteers arrive, they dedicate the first three months to training, learning the Ukrainian and/or Russian languages, discovering local culture, and exploring Ukraine’s history. After training, volunteers move to their permanent sites where they live and work for two years, tasked with the three goals of the Peace Corps.

The first goal of Peace Corps is “to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.” For Ukraine, this translates to projects focusing on English education, combatting corruption, and working with youth to develop healthy lifestyles. Since gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine has made progress in reorienting itself to the West; a strong partnership with the U.S. has been crucial in this journey. Peace Corps volunteers contribute to this mission every day. Whether it is through teaching English at schools, organizing a summer camp on gender rights, or helping a local NGO secure a grant to fund health projects, Peace Corps volunteers have a tremendous impact on the communities they live in. Volunteers ultimately help promote entrepreneurship and civic engagement, critical facets of the Helsinki Accords.

The second goal, and perhaps the most important in Peace Corps Ukraine, is “to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.” As a former Soviet country, Ukrainians were disconnected from the world for over 70 years, learning about the United States through the limited movies, newspapers, and clothes smuggled past the Iron Curtain. Today, Peace Corps volunteers act as a bridge between both countries, promoting a positive image of the U.S. and bringing back a better understanding of Ukrainian culture. In communities like the one I served in, a small town with no other Americans, a volunteer’s presence is truly felt. I led discussions on race and gender, hosted events highlighting different American groups, introduced my students to American holidays, and much more. Acting as a cultural ambassador is an honor for any Peace Corps volunteer, and a role the program is founded upon.

The third and final goal of the Peace Corps is “to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.” Volunteers return from service eager to share their experiences with their friends and families. This may include organizing a speech at a local school, attending a Ukrainian-American event, or even joining an organization that focuses on Ukrainian issues. This allows returned Peace Corps volunteers the chance to talk to Americans about their experience in the country: their successes, challenges, memories, and more. In turn, Americans learn about Ukraine and other countries they have never had experience with or knowledge of.


Teacher training at the Window on America in Kharkiv, Ukraine

The Peace Corps is a unique agency that continues to change lives all over the world and receive bipartisan support in Congress. On the 49th anniversary of the Peace Corps, Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission Senator Roger Wicker (MS) noted, “The Peace Corps invests time and talent in other countries, but it pays dividends back here in the United States as well.”

Helsinki Commissioner Ranking Member Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) reaffirmed his support of the Peace Corps on its 55th anniversary, stating, “Peace Corps volunteers represent the best qualities of American foreign policy. They come from all walks of life and from across the country [and] are saving lives. I could not be more proud of these Americans.” The introduction of the bipartisan H.R.3456 - Peace Corps Reauthorization Act of 2019 demonstrates Congress’ commitment to the Peace Corps. Helsinki Commissioners Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Gwen Moore (WI-4) are co-sponsors of the bill, which would increase support for current and returned Peace Corps volunteers.

Peace Corps volunteers work every day to develop the foundational tenets outlined by the Helsinki Accords. From promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, to developing education programs, to confronting corruption, Peace Corps volunteers exhibit the strength of the partnerships between OSCE participating States and work to improve the lives of others.

True progress is rooted in the sustainable and long-term projects of Peace Corps volunteers and their communities. In Ukraine, I saw firsthand the impact the Peace Corps can have in developing communities: a summer leadership camp for middle school students, a newly built community center with music and dance classes in a small village, and an accounting transparency workshop that reduced corruption in several city management offices. Substantive changes are happening every day in villages, towns, and cities across the country and throughout Peace Corps-partnered OSCE countries. Peace Corps volunteers exemplify the foundations of the Helsinki Accords, promote democracy abroad, and help bolster OSCE participating States and other nations like Ukraine build a bright, hopeful, and prosperous future, one high-five at a time.

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  • Commissioner Camuñez's Remarks on Good Governance

    Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting Session 3: Good Governance Before I begin, I’d like to thank the panelists today for their excellent and informative presentations. The United States has viewed with keen interest the evolving discussions in recent years on what the OSCE’s priorities should be in the Economic and Environmental Dimension.  As our friend and colleague Mr. Svilanovic pointed out during last year’s Vienna Review Conference, we appear to have come to an appreciation that good governance is the key linking theme across the entire second dimension.  The Maastricht Strategy is very clear on this point: “Good public and corporate governance and strong institutions are essential foundations for a sound economy, which can attract investments, and thereby enable States to reduce poverty and inequality, to increase social integration and opportunities for all, and to protect the environment.  Good governance at all levels contributes to prosperity, stability and security.”  As we consider the implementation of our second dimension commitments, however, we should keep in mind why it is important to implement those commitments. The global economic downturn continues to put extreme pressure on people and governments across the OSCE region.  To be sure, some countries have weathered the storm better than others.  Still, no country can be forever immune to market forces, and even within those that have done well, there are always citizens left behind.  This is certainly the case in the United States, and for this reason President Obama is focused intently on how best to put those Americans without a job back to work.  We all know that trade and investment are critical drivers of economic growth.  Indeed, recognizing this important reality, the Obama Administration has launched the National Export Initiative, which seeks to deepen our strategic trade relationships around the world, recognizing that 85 percent of world GDP growth will occur outside the United States in the coming few years.  As we encourage more American businesses – large and small – to embrace international trade, seek opportunities in new markets, and make strategic investments that will lead to increased global trade flows, we are keenly aware of the challenges and costs posed by official corruption, weak institutions, and lack of respect for property rights, including intellectual property. Weak governance and lack of transparency constitute non-tariff barriers to trade, which we have committed ourselves to eliminating.  Furthermore, the same issues that deter trade and investment also work against comprehensive security: a lack of transparency in governance leads to diminished confidence that problems and disputes will be addressed in a fair and impartial manner.  Without trust and confidence in public institutions, there is little incentive for investors and companies to pursue trade deals or direct investment in those economies.  The effect is stagnating economic performance, which, as we have seen in the past several months and years, can lead to political upheaval.    The United States Government is deeply committed to fostering good governance and transparency in its political and economic institutions.  President Obama has made the global fight against corruption a top priority.  As he has noted, “In too many places, the culture of the bribe is a brake on development and prosperity.  It discourages entrepreneurship, destroys public trust, and undermines the rule of law while stifling economic growth.”    The real world costs of corruption and weak institutions should not be underestimated.  The World Bank estimates that more than one trillion dollars in bribes are paid each year out of a global economy of approximately 30 trillion dollars.  That's an incredible three percent of the world’s economy.   In 2009, companies lost nearly $25 billion to companies willing to pay bribes in deals for which the outcome is known.  And bribery is especially costly for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs): a separate study has shown that up to 25 percent of SME operating capital in companies operating internationally is diverted to corruption.  That is a staggering figure that illustrates how corruption diverts scarce resources to thoroughly unproductive ends. Corruption is a global problem that knows no borders.  And that’s why corruption demands a truly global response – one that knows no limits on collaboration.  The Obama Administration is doing its part to implement its obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention by enforcing the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) strictly and fairly.  We are determined to ensure that U.S. businesses do not contribute to corruption in foreign markets.  At the same time, we are determined to do what we can to assist them in the fight against foreign corruption, and against the high risk and significant costs of corruption in such markets.   Regrettably, at this stage, the lack of enforcement of domestic bribery laws, and of foreign bribery laws by many nations that are Parties to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is extremely troubling and raises concerns about a lack of political will.  Governments can and should prosecute both those who give bribes and those who receive them, both at home and abroad.  And the OSCE should continue to encourage participating States to adopt and enforce rigorous anti-bribery regimes. Of course, the fight against corruption is not simply a law enforcement matter; rather it can also be a significant – if not the most significant – non-tariff barrier all companies face.  Accordingly, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Administration (or ITA) are committed to working with our trading partners to level the playing field and to promote transparent and corruption-free markets globally.  Our work to promote clean and ethical business environments occurs at both the multilateral and bilateral level.  At the multilateral level, the ITA is pressing its counterparts to lead by example and to implement comprehensive anti-corruption measures.   In addition to our work through the OECD, the United States has been working diligently to persuade the G20 countries to adopt a comprehensive anti-corruption action plan, which includes a commitment focused on adoption and robust enforcement of anti-bribery laws, implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption, greater engagement with the private sector, and support for transparency mechanisms, to name a few.  Many of these commitments require our G20 partners to enact and implement new laws and preventive measures.   The United States, at ITA’s initiative, in particular, took the lead on proposals relating to the private sector and also on whistleblower protection, within the G20.  In the United States, whistleblowers play a crucial role in helping to enforce anti-corruption law.  This principle is also embodied in international conventions.  Articles 12 and 13 of the UN Convention require States Parties to prevent corruption in the private sector and promote the fight against corruption with the business community and civil society.  Unless governments can protect whistleblowers, it is unlikely that they can identify or address systemic causes of corruption.  The United States believes robust whistleblower protection should be an essential part of any good governance initiative in the OSCE, and I was encouraged to hear Ambassador O’Leary indicate that this will be an area of focus under the Irish Chairmanship.   The U.S. Department of Commerce has also been committed to fostering strong private sector integrity as an integral part of promoting good governance in markets worldwide.  Companies are global corporate citizens, and as such, can work collectively and with governments to foster trust, and promote transparency.  I hope that some our work may provide a useful model for the OSCE to consider as it looks to embrace good governance and anti-corruption as a priority for the second dimension, a goal we fully support, and which I am personally committed to supporting. For example, the ITA has championed business ethics and corporate governance reform since the early 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Our Business Ethics Manual has been translated into Chinese, Spanish and Russian and is still one of the most widely used resources on this important topic.  We have partnered with business associations and chambers of commerce to develop collective action and business ethics program in many markets.   Our work on business ethics has grown.  This past year, the ITA has focused on trying to heighten awareness of good governance, transparency and business ethics in sectors of vital importance to many economies – by taking a “sectoral” approach to combating corruption and promoting good business practice, the challenge of dealing with corruption becomes less daunting.  The ethical issues specific to different industries vary greatly – and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the problem.  Within the G20, for example, the United States, at the initiative of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has taken the lead in calling for the G20 to endorse additional sectoral approaches to fighting corruption, beyond the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  We have asked G20 governments, for example, to consider supporting the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (COST) – a new multistakeholder initiative, developed by the World Bank.  COST uses similar approaches to EITI to promote greater transparency in public infrastructure projects and government procurement.  I hope that the OSCE might similarly consider COST and other multistakeholder approaches to promoting transparency under the Irish chairmanship.     Within APEC, the ITA has focused on developing new ethical principles for key sectors within the APEC region.  I am pleased to report that under the APEC SME working group, we have coordinated a project with APEC countries and businesses to develop principles of business ethics in the construction, medical devices and biopharmaceutical sectors.  These voluntary principles are meant to be used by businesses and trade associations – large and small – to guide their ethical interactions with public officials and institutions.   I hope that within the OSCE framework and the EEDIM, we might also consider focusing on business ethics in specific sectors of interest to all of our economies.  I want to close by suggesting some activities to take the theme of good governance and transparency forward.  In addition to encouraging the OSCE to formally endorse the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative—a move that would send an important signal about this body’s commitment to the principles of good governance and transparency—the U.S. encourages us to explore whether there are additional sectoral initiatives that merit support from the OSCE, including the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative.  The United States Government also strongly supports the Irish Chair’s goal to develop a Statement or Declaration of Transparency Principles to help guide our governments in their future activities. I want to encourage us to consider new models of bilateral cooperation to promote good governance such as the model Mr. Murray just discussed, leading to a public-private initiative in the Russian power generation sector.   We at the U.S. Department of Commerce are working closely with the Center for Black Sea/Caspian Studies at American University to potentially convene a conference in May of next year that would seek to address the challenge of developing mechanisms to ensure good governance and transparency, while also balancing the goals of protecting national security and accelerating economic development faced by the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, as they seek to assert their role as a gateway between Europe and Asia.  In addition, the conference will also focus on specific market access challenges to regional integration and economic development in the Caucasus and Central Asia such as transparency in Government procurement and privatization, and trade facilitation challenges, including customs and lack of regional harmonization.  It is our hope that the OSCE will join us for this event – focused on critical areas such as transport and infrastructure – to work on tangible ideas for projects and collaborations in the OSCE region. We look forward with great interest to the 20th Economic and Environmental Forum, where we will delve deeper into all the facets of good governance.  We also thank the Lithuanian Chairman-in-Office for ensuring that their draft Ministerial Council decision on Energy Security incorporates transparency in the energy sector – in our view, considering the vital role that energy plays in modern economic life, there can be no confidence, and thus no security, without energy transparency.  In the year ahead, we envision an even broader focus on transparency principles across the entire spectrum of economic and environmental activities, and will work with all of our colleagues in the OSCE to make that vision a reality. Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

  • Commissioner Camuñez's Opening Statement at the Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting

    Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting Opening Remarks On behalf of the United States, I would like to thank the Lithuanian Chairman-in-Office, Secretary General Zannier, Coordinator for Economic and Environmental Activities Svilanović, and of course our Austrian hosts for convening this inaugural Economic and Environmental Dimension Implementation Meeting and for providing a warm welcome to Vienna. It is an honor to be here today as head of the U.S. delegation to the OSCE, representing the U.S. Government in my capacity as an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access and Compliance (MAC) within the International Trade Administration, and as a Commissioner to the U.S. Helsinki Commission. As a Commerce Department Assistant Secretary for Market Access and Compliance, I am responsible for helping lead the effort to open new markets for U.S. companies, identifying and eliminating market access challenges such as non-tariff barriers to trade, and helping to monitor and enforce U.S. trade agreements and commitments. The work of the Environmental and Economic Dimension, especially that which focuses on transparency of markets and good governance, is closely aligned with the work we undertake in the International Trade Administration. I am here today to deliver the message that the U.S. Government is highly committed to making the second dimension even more effective and dynamic, and that we will do our part in ensuring that our economic and environmental commitments receive the same level of attention and scrutiny that those in the political-military and human dimensions currently enjoy. I will try to keep my remarks brief, but I think it is critical that we take a close look at the economic and environmental commitments as they were spelled out in the 2003 Maastricht Strategy. We still see Maastricht as the key blueprint for moving forward on all the  commitments that have come before, and in particular, note a number of areas where we could pursue significant, substantive action over the next few years to achieve measurable progress. Our commitments on economic cooperation have at their core the idea of connectedness to regional and global markets, to trade and investment networks, and to energy and transportation infrastructure, as a way to address emerging economic challenges and threats. In light of the global economic downturn, it is vital that we recommit ourselves to increasing cooperation through a variety of measures, including improving corporate governance and public management, eliminating unnecessary and discriminatory barriers to trade, continuing  to harmonize our regulations and standards where appropriate, taking further steps to combat financial crimes like bribery and money laundering, and increasing confidence through the incorporation of transparency principles in all of our public and private ventures. At the same time, in view of our progress made this year worldwide on  empowering women in the economy, first at the Invest for the Future Conference in Istanbul in January and most recently at the APEC Summit in San Francisco, we believe it is important to recognize the critical connection between women and strong economies, and to remove all barriers that prevent women from full and equal participation in the economy. I would like to focus my comments this morning on the subject of good governance, however. We have committed ourselves time and again to “good governance,” and while progress has been made, much work remains to be done. As stated in the 2003 Maastricht Strategy, achieving good governance will require a comprehensive, long-term strategic approach. In the view of the U.S. Government, good governance is the core theme within the economic and environmental dimension, and we are pleased that next year’s Forum will address the topic in a broad and detailed way. When we speak of good governance, we speak about governments having both the propensity and the competence to manage complex political and economic systems in a fair, fully inclusive, and transparent way. Anti-corruption is part of it, but not the whole picture. It’s about having transparent, clear and predictable legislative and regulatory frameworks that foster efficient and low-cost business formation and development, and most importantly allow and even encourage robust participation in the political and economic spheres by civil society. Let me say a few words about my agency’s past and current work in this area, reserving greater details and the highlights of a new proposal for Session III tomorrow. From 1998-2008, the U.S. Department of Commerce launched a Good Governance Program, focused on partnering with the public and private sectors in the countries of the former Soviet Union and Central-Eastern Europe. This work, focused on promoting sound corporate governance and business ethics, culminated in the publication of a Business Ethics Manual, a Commercial Dispute Resolution Handbook, and a Corporate Governance Manual translated into several languages and disseminated widely throughout the OSCE region. Today, we continue to work on numerous initiatives around the world, within multilateral fora such as APEC and the G20, which involve OSCE members, promoting consensus based principles focused on anticorruption. We have taken our business ethics work and branched out into new regions including Asia and Latin America. Despite a clear understanding of its importance, the lack of good governance and systemic corruption remain some of the single most important market access challenges for companies engaged in trade around the world. This is especially true for small and medium sized enterprises, which are the engine of economic growth and innovation throughout the world. The United States believes that addressing these issues can only lead to greater investment, economic prosperity and security. Over the next three days, we will discuss OSCE support for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). I am pleased to report that the U.S. Department of Commerce played an important role in supporting the creation of the EITI in its initial phase. The OSCE now has a chance to follow in the steps of the G8 and G20, by endorsing the EITI, and I applaud the governments that have preceded the United States as implementers. The EITI is a great example of how shared commitments towards good governance and transparency in a vital sector to many countries can work and build sustained momentum and engagement between the private sector, governments and civil society. Tomorrow I will share more concrete information about the work that the U.S. Government and my Department have undertaken to promote good governance and to combat corruption. I am pleased to have an expert on business ethics and anti-corruption in the energy sector, as part of the U.S. delegation. Mr. Matthew Murray runs the Center for Business Ethics and Corporate Governance in St. Petersburg, Russia, and he’ll speak to you later about a good governance initiative involving public and private stakeholders in the power generation sector in Russia, which may serve as a model for similar programs in other OSCE countries. I am also pleased to have Kate Watters of Crude Accountability joining the U.S. delegation, who will provide some examples of how transparency is a critical component of enhancing security in the environmental sphere. A month ago, the Economic and Environmental Forum discussed the concept of sustainability and where efforts to promote sustainable practices stand in our region. Those discussions remind us that our commitments on sustainable development encompass a broad spectrum of activities related to efficiency, sound resource management, and the full involvement of all stakeholders in decision-making. Just to cite an example from the Prague Forum, we recognize that in order to further develop economies and markets in such varied areas as the Black Sea region and Central Asia we will need to address several problems: improving the efficiency of border crossings and building construction, tilting the energy mix towards cleaner fuels, harmonizing standards and practices across the region, and, just as critically, ensuring broad involvement of civil society in the decision-making on project proposal, design, and implementation. One thing that sets the OSCE apart from many other organizations addressing the environment is recognition of the clear connection between the environment and security. We recognize that many environmental disasters cannot be predicted or prevented. At the same time, greater transparency – through information sharing and civil society engagement – about possible security risks stemming from the environment will make it possible to prevent or mitigate more disasters, both natural and man-made. We also must recognize that failure to protect the environment is itself a security risk, putting increased pressure on populations facing dwindling resources of clean air and water, arable farmland, and adequate energy. Colleagues, The next three days provide a critical juncture and platform for finding consensus on measures that will improve our implementation of the OSCE commitments in the economic and environmental dimension. The Vilnius Ministerial is only a month and a half away; now is the time to summon the political will to find a way forward. We look forward to building consensus on decisions on energy security, to include good governance and transparency, and we welcome constructive dialogue on additional measures proposed on confidence-building initiatives and sustainable transport. We view these elements, along with sustainable development and protecting the environment, as the cornerstones of the Maastricht Strategy, and will be speaking about these over the next several days. Just a month ago, we found some convergence of opinion on discrete aspects of the second dimension. Let us expand that convergence to the entire dimension as we review our economic and environmental commitments over the next few days, with a view toward substantive deliverables for Vilnius. Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

  • Ukraine’s Democratic Reversals

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to express my deep concern about the deterioration of democracy in Ukraine over the past 16 months, and the current Ukrainian leadership's use of politically motivated selective prosecution to harass high-ranking officials from the previous government. The country's once-promising democratic future is in jeopardy. While we face many serious challenges in every region of the world today, nonetheless it is imperative that Washington focus attention on what is happening in Ukraine--especially given that country's vital role in the region. As a long-time member and current Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I have followed and spoken out on developments in Ukraine since the early 1980's, when the rights of the Ukrainian people were completely denied and any brave soul who advocated for freedom was brutally persecuted. Mr. Speaker, for nearly two decades, independent Ukraine has been moving away from its communist past while establishing itself as an important partner to the United States. Both the executive branch and Congress, on a bipartisan basis, have provided strong political support and concrete assistance for Ukraine's independence and facilitated Ukraine's post-Communist transition. In the wake of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Ukraine even became a beacon of hope for other post-Soviet countries, earning the designation of "Free" from Freedom House--the only country among the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics to earn such a ranking. And while many of the promises of that revolution have sadly gone unfulfilled, one of its successes had been Ukraine's rise from "Partly Free" to "Free", reflecting genuine improvements in human rights and democratic practices. Under President Viktor Yanukovych, elected in February 2010, this promising legacy may vanish. Today we see backsliding on many fronts, which threatens to return Ukraine to authoritarianism and jeopardizes its independence from Russia. Among the most worrisome of these trends are: consolidation of power in the presidency which has weakened checks and balances; backpedaling with respect to freedom of expression and assembly; various forms of pressure on the media and civil society groups; attempts to curtail academic freedom and that of institutions and activists who peacefully promote the Ukrainian national identity; and seriously flawed local elections. Meanwhile, endemic corruption--arguably the greatest and most persistent threat to Ukrainian democracy and sovereignty--as well as the weak rule of law and the lack of an independent judiciary, which were not seriously addressed by the Orange governments, have only become more pronounced under the current regime. Moreover, in recent months, we have seen intensified pressure on opposition leaders, even selective prosecutions of high-ranking members of the previous government. The vast majority of observers both within and outside Ukraine see these cases, which have targeted former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko among others, as politically motivated acts of revenge which aim to remove possible contenders from the political scene, especially in the run-up to next year's parliamentary elections. Mr. Speaker, the Helsinki Commission has closely monitored these troubling trends as have the U.S., other Western governments, and the European Parliament and Council of Europe. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian authorities have largely downplayed concerns voiced by the European Union, which they aspire to join someday, and by the United States, with which Kyiv professes to seek better relations. The U.S. also desires enhanced bilateral ties. Yet, moving in the wrong direction on human rights, democracy and the rule of law decidedly works against strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian relations. More importantly, the erosion of hard-won democratic freedoms weakens Ukraine's independence and harms the people of Ukraine, who have endured a painful history as a captive nation over the course of the last century. Indeed, as Ukraine this week marks the 70th anniversary of the brutal Nazi invasion, we mourn the loss of life and untold human suffering of that horrific war. Against this backdrop of devastation wreaked by totalitarian regimes in the 20th century, Ukrainians deserve to have the promise of democracy made possible by their independence fully realized. A few days ago, President Yanukovych said that he would take into account the criticisms in Freedom House's recent "Sounding the Alarm: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine" report. His promise is encouraging, but words alone are not enough. All friends of Ukraine should measure his words by actual and meaningful changes that improve the state of democracy and human rights for the Ukrainian people.

  • 2050: Implications of Demographic Trends in the OSCE Region

    The hearing focused on the implications of current demographic trends in the expansive OSCE region through the prism of the security, economic and human dimensions.  Most of the OSCE’s 56 participating states are experiencing varying stages of demographic decline, marked by diminishing and rapidly aging populations. Such patterns were identifying as likely to have significant social, economic and security consequences for countries throughout the region, including the United States. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Jack A. Goldstone, Director of the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University; Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy of the American Enterprise Institute; Richard Jackson, Director and Senior Fellow of the Global Aging Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Steven W. Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute – addressed issues related to the demographic trends in the OSCE region, such as shrinking workforces in a growing number of participating States that are expected to become increasingly dependent upon foreign workers in the coming decades. A concern that these factors could contribute to mounting social tensions as demonstrated by clashes in some participating States in recent years was evident.

  • Lithuania’s Leadership of the OSCE

    Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) and other legislators welcomed Lithuania’s as a member of NATO, the EU, and OSCE Chair-in-Office. The commissioners commended Lithuania on its remarkable work in democratically reforms in its own country. However, the attendees of the hearing expressed their concerns over Lithuania’s neighbor, Belarus, Europe’s “last dictatorship.” Legislators also reflected on the trajectories of other Newly Independent States.

  • Copenhagen Anniversary Conference

    By Orest Deychakiwsky, Policy Advisor Representatives from a majority of the 56 OSCE participating States and several dozen non-governmental organizations (NGOs) gathered in Copenhagen on June 10-11 to mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the 1990 Copenhagen Document and to assess implementation of key provisions of that landmark document. The anniversary conference, titled “20 years of the OSCE Copenhagen Document: Status and Future Perspectives,” was co-organized by the Kazakhstani OSCE Chairmanship and Denmark, and held at the Eigtveds Pakhus, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Michael Haltzel led the U.S. delegation, which was joined by U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Ian Kelly and representatives from the OSCE Mission in Vienna, the State Department and the Helsinki Commission. Five substantive working sessions, reflecting some of the major themes of the groundbreaking Copenhagen Document, were held: Democratic processes – elections and human rights; Rule of Law; National Minorities; Freedom of Movement; and Measures to improve implementation of the human dimension commitments. Many speakers highlighted the historic importance of the Copenhagen Document, which offered a blueprint for pluralistic democratic development, rooted in the rule of law and protection of human rights, throughout the OSCE region – a revolutionary document at the time and one that remains highly relevant two decades later. The June 1990 Copenhagen Meeting came at a unique time in history when dramatic changes were taking place; the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent collapse of one-party regimes in Eastern Europe had taken place only months earlier. And the following year – 1991 -- witnessed the emergence of 15 independent states with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Truly, those were dynamic days during which sweeping new commitments -- which would have been impossible to garner consensus for years or even months prior -- received universal support. Indeed, it is questionable as to whether consensus to the Copenhagen agreement would be found today, given the democratic and human rights backsliding that has occurred in a number of participating States. The Copenhagen Document underlines the centrality of political pluralism, civil society and human rights as fundamental elements of functioning democracies. As Ambassador Max Kampelman, the head of the U.S. delegation to the 1990 conference summed it up, “In effect, the Copenhagen document represents the first formal proclamation, by the States themselves, of a Europe both whole and free.” It identified the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms as one of the basic purposes of government and acknowledged that democracy is an inherent element of the rule of law. Among the achievements of the Copenhagen Document were the far-reaching commitments on democratic elections which laid the groundwork for the OSCE’s future activities with respect to election observation. Copenhagen also represented a significant step forward with respect to the protection of minorities, and for the first time there was a direct reference to Roma and to anti-Semitism. While participants at the anniversary meeting underscored the significant progress over the last 20 years, many also called for fuller compliance with the Copenhagen commitments, noting, for instance, backsliding in holding democratic elections in some participating States; suppression of civil society, including independent media, NGOs and human rights defenders; the deficit of impartial and independent justice; and the lack of separation of powers – especially the concentration of power in the executive. The last session of the conference discussed measures to improve implementation of human dimension commitments, including the prevention of human rights violations through the use of reporting before the violations occur; enhancement of standards and commitments; strengthened monitoring mechanisms, including a U.S. proposal to dispatch special representatives to investigate reports of egregious human rights violations and make corrective recommendations before the violations become entrenched; and improved cooperation with, and involvement of, civil society actors in advancing democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ultimately, however, compliance with existing standards enshrined in the Copenhagen Document, the Helsinki Final Act and all other OSCE commitments remains the primary responsibility of the participating State.

  • A Decade of the Trafficking in Persons Report

    Senator Benjamin L. Cardin convened a standing-room only hearing centered on the diplomatic impact of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  The hearing focused on the ten years that the annual TIP report has been prepared by the State Department. Improvements to TIP-related efforts were suggested, such as working more closely with the Tier 2 Watch List countries in the OSCE Region, – Azerbaijan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – helping them to implement the changes necessary to meet the minimum standards and to avoid statutory downgrades which will otherwise be required in next year’s TIP report. Witnesses testifying at this hearing – including Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador at Large of the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, Special Representative and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe; Jolene Smith, CEO & Co-Founder of Free the Slaves; and Holly J. Burkhalter, Vice President for Government Relations of the International Justice Mission – explored ways to potentially create extra-territorial jurisdiction for trafficking cases.  They also focused on ways to deter demand for trafficking victims in all countries, including Tier 1 countries.

  • Global Threats, European Security and Parliamentary Cooperation

    From nuclear security to climate change, global terrorism to anti-corruption efforts, this hearing examined what parliamentarians can do to work together on some of the most significant challenges facing the world. Members addressed European and Central Asian security concerns, including unresolved conflicts in the Balkans and elsewhere, and considered how international parliaments can cooperate to address challenges related to trafficking, tolerance, and democratic development, including elections and media freedom.

  • Mitigating Inter-Ethnic Conflict in the OSCE Region

    This hearing, presided over by Sen. Benjamin Cardin, discussed the Helsinki Process’s role in mitigating inter-ethnic conflict in the OSCE region. The hearing discussed the situation in Kyrgyzstan, ethnic conflicts in the Caucasus, the still-lingering effects of the 1944 mass deportation of Crimean minorities, and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Witnesses at the hearing included Heidi Tagliavani, Ambassador and Under Secretary of State for Switzerland and head of the European Union investigation of the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict; Peter Semneby, Special Representative for the South Caucasus for the European Union; and Mr. Soren Jessen-Petersen, former Special Representative for Kosovo for the United Nations.

  • Natural Resource Charter

    Mr. President, I am pleased to report to you and my colleagues on the excellent work that is being done to help developing countries capitalize on their natural resource wealth. This unique initiative is called the Natural Resource Charter, and it is designed to give countries the tools and knowledge they need to develop their natural resources for the good of their citizens in a transparent and accountable manner. As a collective work coordinated by established academics and development experts, the charter provides a set of policy principles for governments on the successful translation of natural resource wealth into fair and sustainable development. At the U.S. Helsinki Commission we monitor 56 countries, including the United States, with the mandate to ensure compliance to commitments made under the Helsinki Final Act with focus on three dimensions: security, economics and the environment, and human rights. The management of extractive industries has broad implications covering all three dimensions of the Helsinki process. We know that oil, gas, and mining are potential sources of conflict and their supply has a direct impact on our national security. The often negative economic consequences for resource rich countries are well documented and we see constant reminders of the environmental impact of extraction both at home and abroad. Finally, the resultant degradation of human rights in countries that are corrupted by resource wealth is a real concern that we must address. When the charter was launched last year, I was struck by how far we have come in terms of bringing the difficult conversation on extractive industries into the lexicon of world leaders. Only a few short years ago, the word "transparency'' was not used in the same sentence with oil, gas or mining revenue. After the launch of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in 2002, we have seen a major shift in attitude. This was followed by G8 and G20 statements in support of greater revenue transparency as a means of achieving greater economic growth in developing countries. But it is clear that given the challenge ahead, more than statements are needed. The Natural Resource Charter is a concrete and practical next step in the right direction. Economists have found that many of the resource-rich countries of the world today have fared notably worse than their neighbors economically and politically, despite the positive opportunities granted by resource wealth. The misuse of extractive industry revenues has often mitigated the benefits of such mineral wealth for citizens of developing nations; in many cases the resources acting instead as a source of severe economic and social instability. In addressing the factors and providing solutions for such difficulties, the Natural Resource Charter aims to be a global public resource for informed, transparent decision-making regarding extractive industry management. The charter's overarching philosophy is that development of natural resources should be designed to secure maximum benefit for the citizens of the host country. To this end, its dialogue includes a special focus on the role of informed public oversight through transparency measures such as EITI in establishing the legitimacy of resource decisions and attracting foreign investment. On fiscal issues, the charter presents guidelines for the systematic reinvestment of resource revenues in national infrastructure and human capital with the goal of diminishing effects of resource price volatility and ensuring long-term economic growth. This week the commission will hold a public briefing on the Natural Resource Charter and I am pleased to say that there was a candid conversation between the audience and the panel that revealed much about how the charter could be used to promote human rights and good governance. The briefing also addressed ways that U.S. support of democratic and economically sensible extractive industry standards could have a powerful effect in securing the welfare and freedoms of citizens in resource-rich countries. In particular, it was noted that the Energy Security Through Transparency Act, S. 1700, a bipartisan bill I introduced with my colleague Senator Lugar and 10 other colleagues is consistent with the principles set out in the Natural Resource Charter. I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure our continued progress on these issues.

  • Cardin: Take Action Against Child Slavery

    More than a century after ratification of the 13th Amendment, thousands of slaves are still transported to America each year. The International Labor Organization estimates that over 12 million people worldwide are held in bondage at any point in time, nearly 2 million of whom are child sex slaves. Modern day human traffickers have developed creative and ruthless methods to extend the practice of slavery into the 21st century, making their crimes more difficult to detect and counter. The United States, starting with leadership from the U.S. Helsinki Commission, has always been at the forefront of combating these crimes, but more work remains, not only at home, but abroad where developing nations often lack the resources and mechanisms to confront traffickers. That is why Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and I recently introduced the Child Protection Compact Act. This legislation is critical to protecting children, the most vulnerable prey of human traffickers. This bill will help coordinate an international response against trafficking in persons by empowering the State Department to partner with foreign governments, so a lack of resources in one country does not mean a lack of action to protect children from these crimes. Under this legislation, if a government demonstrates a commitment to eliminate trafficking, they will qualify for a 3-year agreement with the Secretary of State. The agreements, or compacts, will identify effective measures to address institutional weaknesses and increase local governments' capacity. Under the agreement, the United States would provide up to $15 million to support government initiatives such as improved law enforcement, victim-friendly courts, and shelters for rescued children. The Senate bill is similar to legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by my colleague on the Helsinki Commission, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), whose bill has attracted 95 bipartisan cosponsors. By supporting bills like ours, lawmakers stand up to remind the world that slavery in all forms is unacceptable. The Child Protection Compact Act is the next stage of the American effort in leading the world in fighting this atrocity.  

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission: Ukraine Needs to Accelerate Reforms

    Ukraine's new President Viktor Yanukovych 'will need to accelerate economic and political reforms, tackle systemic corruption and overcome the rule of law deficit, including building up an underdeveloped judiciary to strengthen its independence', U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin said in the first Congressional hearing on Ukraine in Washington on Tuesday, information of the Voice of America. "Such reforms will reduce Ukraine's vulnerability to outside pressures and bring it closer to its stated goals of European integration," Senator Cardin emphasized. "Ukraine has developed an open and pluralistic political system and media freedoms have expanded," said U.S. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings, who served as deputy head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly election observation mission in Ukraine in February and has observed two other national elections there. "Although Ukraine has had good elections now for the last five years, I can tell you that you need more than good elections to make a functioning democracy," he added. In turn, Anders Aslund, Senior Fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics, underlined that two thirds of young Ukrainians have higher education, but they have no opportunity to apply their knowledge in particular areas. Aslund said that this is a reason why Ukraine is ranked 110th worldwide on GDP per capita.

  • Ukraine: Moving Beyond Stalemate

    This hearing examined how the U.S. can best continue to encourage and assist Ukraine in developing democracy, rule of law, and a market economy.   The panel also discussed Ukraine’s relationships with its neighbors, the United States, and European states and organizations. The panel of witnesses explored the democratic developments and progress since the Orange revolution and U.S. policy implications of Ukraine’s interest in further integration with Europe.

  • State Department Human Rights Reports

    Mr. President, this month's release of the State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices shows the value of consistently monitoring human rights around the globe. As Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission charged with monitoring international human rights commitments in 56 countries from the U.S. and Canada to Europe and Central Asia, this annual report is a key tool that we, and others, use to track progress being made on universal freedoms. This year's reports have increased significance as 2010 is the 35th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act and the 20th anniversary of historic international human rights agreements, the Copenhagen Document, and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe. In a year commemorating such landmark human rights documents, this month's State Department reports remind us that many of the commitments countries made in the past still have not been met with meaningful action today. In Belarus, where I visited last summer, the political space for opposition remains tightly controlled, independent media face continual harassment, and elections are a farce. The overall situation in Russia remains disturbing as well. There 2009 was a year again filled with mourning the very people who stood for freedom, be they journalists, human rights advocates or lawyers simply trying to present a case against corruption. The country's harassment of Jehovah's Witnesses and forceful break up of public demonstrations remain particularly concerning. I urge Kazakhstan, as the current chair of the OSCE, to lead by example through concrete actions, starting with the release of activist Yevgeny Zhovtis, whom staff from the Helsinki Commission visited this week in prison. Zhovtis at least deserves the same freedoms afforded other prisoners in his facility, including the right to work outside the facility during the day. In Kosovo, in addition to problems with human trafficking, official corruption and a lack of judicial due process, the State Department notes the lack of progress regarding displaced persons of all ethnicities, politically and ethnically motivated violence, and societal antipathy against Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church. The lack of progress regarding the country's international recognition, while unfortunate, does not absolve Kosovo authorities from their responsibility to ensure greater respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner, who serves as the State Department Commissioner on the U.S. Helsinki Commission, did a superb job of unveiling the report today with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I was heartened to hear him specifically flag examples of 2009 human rights violations within the OSCE region that drew the attention of the Commission last year. The banning of construction of Muslim minarets in Switzerland, the pervasiveness of discrimination against Roma--Europe's largest ethnic minority, and the continued rise of anti-Semitism in Europe sadly still remain concerns this year.  While these country reports help to hold all governments--including our own--to account; and while much of their text shows the reality of a world troubled by violent conflicts and the mistreatment of our most vulnerable people; the State Department reports also show the positive that surrounds us. In this vein, Assistant Secretary Posner was right to mention the fairness of Ukraine's recent elections, for which my colleague Cochairman Hastings led the election observation mission. And the reports are eager to cite progress where appropriate.  But these reports affirm something else, and that is the strength of the legislative-executive branch cooperation when it comes to upholding universal standards. The Helsinki Commission is unique among all federal agencies for being comprised of Senate, House and executive branch commissioners, and Assistant Secretary Posner's activity with the Commission and the State Department's annual human rights reports mandated by Congress are but two examples of our two branches working together to keep a spotlight on human rights abuses.

  • More Power to More People: Lessons from West Africa on Resource Transparency

    By Shelly Han, Policy Advisor In its ongoing effort to fight corruption and increase energy security, the U.S. Helsinki Commission has worked in recent years to help countries fight the resource curse. That is the phenomenon in which countries that are rich in oil, gas or minerals—resources that should be a boon to their economy—suffer lower economic growth and higher poverty than countries without extractive resources. As the Commission’s energy policy advisor, I traveled in September 2009 with other Congressional staff to Ghana and Liberia to see how these two countries are managing their resources. This was an oportunity to compare the experience of these countries with that of resource-rich countries like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, who participate in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Specifically, our goal was to study implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in Ghana and Liberia, and gauge the impact of corruption in the extractive industries on the political, social and economic climate. EITI is a groundbreaking program because it pierces the veil of secrecy that has fostered tremendous corruption in the extractive industries around the world. At its heart, EITI is a good governance initiative that brings together the companies, the government and civil society to ensure revenue is generated for the benefit of the people, not just hidden in Swiss bank accounts. The meetings in Africa were also part of the Commission’s work promoting the Energy Security Through Transparency Act (S. 1700), a bill designed to increase transparency in the oil and gas industry. The bill, introduced by Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin and Senator Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), expresses support for U.S. implementation of EITI. In Ghana and Liberia, staff met with government officials, non-governmental organizations, civil society leaders, the business community, U.S. Embassy staff and other groups, trying to get as broad a perspective as possible on issues related to energy transparency. Ghana Ghana is a country of 23 million citizens on the west coast of Africa. Considered one of the bright spots in terms of political and economic development in the region, President Obama came here in his first presidential trip to Africa. Known as the Gold Coast in colonial times, gold mining remains one of Ghana’s primary exports. With significant foreign investment from mining, one might think that Ghana had hit pay dirt for its economy, unfortunately, this hasn’t been the case. Almost 80 percent of Ghanaians live on less than $2 a day. Gold mining in Ghana is estimated to contribute about 40 percent of total foreign exchange earnings and 6 percent of GDP. In 2007, the discovery of oil in the offshore Jubilee field launched wild expectations—and fears—for Ghana’s future. The oil and gas could bring in about $1 billion a year for Ghana, which is about 25 percent of the government’s budget. But there are fears that the windfall will increase corruption and do little to help Ghana’s citizen’s rise out of poverty. But there is hope. In 2003 Ghana committed to implementing EITI for its mining sector and Ghana remains a candidate country today. Ghana has an EITI Secretariat and a Multi Stakeholder Steering Group in place. The country has appointed an independent EITI Aggregator/Auditor who has produced three audit reports and Ghana will shortly go through an independent audit process in order to be validated as an EITI country. Most importantly, Ghana has pledged to implement EITI in the oil and gas sectors. During the trip, we met with a number of government officials, including the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Finance. I was impressed with their commitment to establishing an EITI process for the oil and gas revenues. While the process is not complete, and is certainly not perfect, we are optimistic that Ghana will build on the EITI progress they have already made in the mining sector and achieve similar results for the oil and gas sectors. The international community is providing significant assistance. In meetings with U.S. officials, we learned that U.S. aid agencies will begin work in Ghana aimed at strengthening parliamentary oversight, improving regulatory, legal and fiscal management, and helping Ghana develop a workforce to meet the needs of the oil and gas sector. Liberia Our experience in Liberia was more sobering. Five years after a devastating civil war, Liberia struggles to move on. Fourteen-thousand United Nations troops remain in the country as peacekeepers. Eighty percent of the country’s 3.5 million citizens are unemployed. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard-trained economist and Africa’s first female president, has worked to stimulate investment and create job opportunities. But this is an uphill battle given the years of education and infrastructure lost during the civil war. Extractive industries such as iron ore, gold, rubber and diamonds do provide some revenue, but the highest hopes for export revenue are placed on Liberia’s extensive forests. Sustainable timber harvesting could provide up to 60 percent of Liberia’s revenue and the international community and Liberia have spent several years and millions of dollars to make the forestry sector sustainable. Liberia joined EITI in 2006, just a couple of years after the end of the civil war that decimated the economy and put Liberia at almost the bottom of the UN Human Development Index. It is the first country to include forestry under the rubric of EITI. On July 10, 2009, the President of Liberia signed into law the Act Establishing the Liberia EITI, making Liberia only the second country in the world (following Nigeria) to pass dedicated EITI legislation. Many implementing countries have issued presidential or ministerial decrees or have amended existing legislation to establish a legal framework for the initiative. The legislation goes beyond the core EITI requirements because it covers the forestry and rubber sectors, as well as oil, gas and mining. But contract disputes and the economic downturn have hindered the resumption of large-scale logging in Liberia. We met with logging companies, government officials and civil society to hear the problems and were discouraged by the lack of progress. It is clear that while tremendous strides have been made in transparent reporting of revenues, there is precious little revenue to report. We spoke with some groups who were hopeful that with a strong focus on improving governance, it is possible that Liberia could develop forestry projects eligible for international carbon offsets. These offsets could generate revenue for Liberia and help meet global climate change goals at the same time. Conclusion In contrast with other EITI countries such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, we were struck by the comparatively good relations the Ghana and Liberia government ministries enjoy with civil society, and the clear desire they have shown to work together. Citizen participation was very strong in both African countries, perhaps due to the extensive public awareness campaigns that have educated citizens on their right to follow the money trail from extractive revenues. EITI is far from the magic bullet to solve corruption problems in West Africa or elsewhere. But Ghana and Liberia show that incremental progress is possible, and that transparency in the extractive industries can build a foundation for good governance in other sectors as well.

  • Ukraine Presidential Hopefuls Fear Election Fraud

    In the final hours of the Ukraine's bitterly fought presidential campaign, candidates accused one another of planning to commit campaign fraud and experts warned of the possibility of post-election unrest. But among many Ukrainian voters, the no-holds barred campaign may have inspired as much apathy as outrage and some observers were predicting a relatively smooth first-round vote Sunday. Prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who helped lead the 2004 Orange Revolution, has accused front-runner Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions of planning a campaign of voter fraud through falsified absentee ballots and other methods. ''Yanukovych and the Party of Regions are preparing a large-scale falsification in Ukraine,'' Tymoshenko said, speaking to the media Thursday. ''For this purpose, they have formed on a corrupt basis a puppet majority in the Central Election Commission.'' Most polls show Tymoshenko running second behind Yanukovych in the race. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote Sunday, as expected, there will be a runoff between the two top vote getters sometime in February. Sergei Markov, a member of the Russian parliament and an election observer, said Tymoshenko's fraud charges are part of an effort to prepare her supporters to challenge a Yanukovych victory. ''Claims that the opposition is trying to rig the vote show that the other side is ideologically preparing to reject the election in case they lose,'' said Markov, whose views on many issues are thought to reflect the thinking of the Kremlin. He spoke at the expert panel Friday. Yanukovych meanwhile has warned that his supporters will not allow any candidate to steal the current presidential contest, as he claims happened in 2004. The pro-Russian candidate's initial victory in that race was thrown out by the Supreme Court following the Orange street protests and accusations of widespread fraud by authorities on Yanukovych's behalf. ''No such scenario will be allowed,'' Yanukovych told reporters during a campaign trip to eastern Ukraine Thursday, referring to the street rallies that helped reverse his victory. ''If anybody is hoping for that, we will disappoint them.'' Yanukovych noted that in 2004 he called off plans for mass demonstrations by his supporters in the capital to avoid clashes with Orange protesters. He suggested that this time, his partisans would not back down against those who challenge a Yanukovych victory. Vladimir Fesenko, the head of Ukraine's Penta Center for Applied Political Research, predicted that neither Tymoshenko nor Yanukovych would accept defeat in the runoff, which is expected to pit the two old adversaries against one another. Instead, he said, they would challenge any defeat with peaceful protests. But he warned that if Tymoshenko's and Yanukovych's demonstrators face off, it could escalate into violence. ''Neither wants a real war,'' Fesenko said. ''But unfortunately there are risks. Often it is difficult to control people once they're on the streets. There could be adventurists from either camp that could provoke a clash.'' Authorities say they are planning to deploy thousands of police Sunday to ensure an orderly first round ballot. Foes of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko released a tape this week of a purported conversation between her and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, in which he supposedly says he is sending 2,000 ''battle-ready'' observers to monitor the race. ''No worries, we are sending the best prepared and most battle-ready people to you,'' the voice alleged to be Saakashvili's says on the tape, which was played Friday at a panel of analysts and sociologists. Some here interpreted Saakashvili's purported comment as a pledge to support Tymoshenko in post-election street protests. Spokespeople for both Tymoshenko and Saakashvili declined to comment, and the authenticity of the tape could not be determined. Evgeny Kopatko, chief sociologist at Ukraine's R&B Group, a consultancy, said Friday that if tensions rise after the election, that ''could split the country in two, and this is a very serious risk, economically and politically. The country would be virtually uncontrollable.'' Parliament speaker Vladimir Litvin on Friday appealed to supporters of Ukraine's rival political leaders, urging not to take to the streets as they did in 2004. ''Today I'm calling on all of the politicians not to deal in actions on the Maidan,'' Litvin said, referring to Kiev's central square where tens of thousands rallied every day for weeks in late 2004. President Viktor Yushchenko, the eventual winner in 2004, is standing for re-election, but his popularity has plunged and his chances look slim. He warned that the elections could usher in an authoritarian government. ''Should there be an authoritarian regime of either Yanukovych or Tymoshenko, with the criminal elements that will come along, it will take away the freedom of expression,'' he said. Five years after the Orange Revolution brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of the capital, public cynicism appeared widespread. Voters have offered to sell their votes on Web sites for the equivalent of between about $10 and $100. Despite the dire warnings, Alcee Hastings, a U.S. congressman who is deputy head of the international observer mission, told reporters Friday that so far no one has come up with evidence of intended voting irregularities. ''While the candidates accuse each other of fraud, neither of them has presented you in the media with a smoking gun,'' he said. ''I don't think there's going to be widespread fraud.'' Hastings noted that the election will come under intense scrutiny. He said there are more international observers in Ukraine for the presidential contest than for any previous election in the former Soviet Union. But Hastings did not rule out isolated efforts to falsify votes. ''Remember, I'm from Florida, the land of the hanging chads and the butterfly ballots,'' he said, referring to the disputed 2000 U.S. presidential contest and the controversial Florida vote count.

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