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The Future of an Efficient Eurasian Transit System Stopped Dead in Its Tracks? A Report on the 18th Economic and Environmental Forum and the Future of Central Asian Road and Rail Transport
Monday, August 02, 2010

By Josh Shapiro, Staff Associate

The 18th Economic and Environmental Forum (EEF) was held this year on May 24-26, 2010, in Prague, Czech Republic with the theme of promoting good governance at border crossings, improving the security of land transportation, and facilitating international transport by road and rail in the OSCE region. The Forum brought together 42 of the 56 OSCE participating States, four Partners for Cooperation, multiple international organizations including the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the International Road Transport Union (IRU), and several business, academic, and non-governmental organizations.

The EEF is annually the central event of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s economic and environmental activities. The Forum gives political impetus to dialogue in this area and provides recommendations for future follow-up activities. The EEF takes place in two parts, of which this meeting in Prague is the second; the first part was held on February 1-2, 2010 in Vienna, Austria. Two preparatory conferences for the Forum have also been held, the first in Astana, Kazakhstan on October 12-13, 2009 and the second in Minsk, Belarus on March 15-16, 2010.

The 18th Economic and Environmental Forum in Review

Transport is a crucial factor, not only between Asia and Europe, but around the world. The need for simplified systems, which can cut down transit times and costs for products, will enable countries to thrive from the revenue and job creation that it possesses to affected countries. Along with these positive factors comes the downside of such a new system. More corruption, environmental pollution, and the need for more security measures will all become new factors.

The road to implementation of a fully integrated Eurasian transit system will be long and tough. A slew of major bumps along the way will surely slow the progress of long-term execution, which includes, but is not limited to, revising visa and customs procedures, rule of law issues between neighboring countries, smuggling of weapons and drugs, human trafficking concerns, and private and public sector corruption.

Concerns about the increase of prices of goods due to delays from the aforementioned issues and improving customs systems have arisen, given that many neighboring countries have complex differences between them. Enhancement of cooperation between these participating States will be a critical test to the vitality of this proposed transit network and whether it will survive the many problems it faces.

Prospects for the further development of efficient and secure transit transportation between Asia and Europe

Improving Eurasian transport links can promote mutual economic growth and help overcome the current global economic recession. Further development will help facilitate positive partnerships between participating States, and will help stabilize the region. Additionally, landlocked countries will benefit greatly from the new trade routes built with their neighboring transit countries.

The current state of transport links is in dire need of improvement. According to Russian Railways, building a 1520 millimeter gauge railway in Slovakia from Bratislava to Vienna, as well as associated logistics infrastructure, may be a breakthrough in developing the transport link from Europe through Central Asia to China. This proposed railway will attract freight traffic from numerous countries including Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia.

By building a new system, it will take approximately one-third of the transit time currently in place, helping move current maritime transport practices to more efficient and cost-effective road and rail transport. Rises in global economy are determined by transport, energy, climate, and water security. Building a new ground system will not, however, provide for a perfect method of transport, as an infrastructure without security is useless.

Review of the implementation of OSCE commitments in the economic and environmental dimension

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) prepared a Review Report focused on the facilitation of international transport and the security of inland transport. In the report, there is discussion of the many challenges that an integrated Eurasian transport system faces. For example, road traffic safety, border crossing challenges, capacity and quality of road and rail infrastructure are just a few of the obstacles. There must be a shift from a national transit perspective to a regional perspective. Once integrated, there must be a shift from a regional to an inter-continental approach.

Additional challenges include a development gap between countries, as some do not have the resources to build such an infrastructure. Investment in transport is a question of priority within a country, as some give precedence to other issues, regardless of what a neighboring participating State might do. CO2 abatement, traffic safety, and trade and transport facilitation need to be compared to security concerns. The lack of a current unified rail law is a major issue, and land transport security is currently well underestimated.

According to the UNECE, road safety should be given priority when looking at security issues. In fact, more people have been killed since World War II on the roads than in the War itself. Currently, road and rail networks are not integrated fully, especially in Central Asia, and the need for an adequate and coherent system will be challenging. According to Ms. Eva Monár of UNECE, inland water transport is currently operable; however, efficient integration into the modern day system is lacking because not all countries border a body of water.

The environmental impact of an expansion is of major concern, as air pollution causes health hazards and harms our atmosphere. The need for more efficient ‘green’ vehicles is recommended in some UNECE countries, as well as proposed paths around urban areas, reducing noise nuisance and smog.

Promoting Good Governance in International Transportation and at Border Crossings

Many barriers are faced in international transportation, including issues at border crossings. Approximately 40% of transit time is lost at border crossings as a result of bad governance and the lack of a simplified visa and customs process. Based off of numerous presentations, the need for cooperation between countries is a must and a proactive approach must be made. Procedures need to be modified so that freight traffic can move in a secure and regulated manner, and contractual frameworks need to be in place for joint liability between carriers and its customers. According to the International Rail Transport Committee (CIT), the OSCE could also play a role in locating and identifying efficient trade routes and motivate participating States to conduct pilot projects to check for potential issues.

An example was given at the Forum of a demonstration train that the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) ran from Islamabad, Pakistan to Istanbul, Turkey in the fall of 2009. The run proved to potential private investors to take another look at its promise for faster and efficient trade, and this example particularly demonstrated the importance of political will from the States that took part.

Regarding customs issues, The Arusha Declaration, adopted by the World Customs Organization in 1993 and revised in 2003, outlines a way forward to enhance integrity in the Customs environment. The revised Kyoto Convention is also key to implement, which harmonizes the customs clearing process. The major concern is the lack of integrity within the customs community and the strong need for governments to be fully committed to reduce corruption. For example, according to a representative of Azerbaijan, modernization of its procedures is already taking place and the amount of waiting time during its customs process has decreased ten-fold. Simplifying the documentation system and implementing a single window structure is the key, as well as training border patrol agents correctly on following up-to-date procedures.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development suggests that the implementation of existing conventions should be given priority and that public-to-public and public-to-private sector relations are both very important. The Rotterdam Rules were brought up, which were the result multilateral negotiations that took place within the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law for seven years starting in 2002. The Convention, signed by 21 countries including the United States, describes who is responsible and liable for what, and brings clarity under a single contract of carriage.

Ireland, which will chair the OSCE in 2012, noted that the EU’s single window market took more than 40 years to implement and the longer term benefit of such a system far outweighs the potential loss of sifting through free trade agreements.

Transport facilitation and Security in Central Asia and with Afghanistan

Afghanistan currently faces numerous challenges when trading with its neighboring countries and the world. According to Mr. Ziauddin Zia, Adviser to the Minister of Commerce and Industry of Afghanistan, the obstacles include implementing second-generation policy reforms, the exorbitant cost of doing business, a weak-knowledge economy, and poor infrastructure. Tremendous progress has been made in Afghanistan, though, which has recently been torn with violence and corruption.

There was a mention by Mr. Zia of the ‘World Bank’s Doing Business’ report, which lists economies on their ease of doing business, of which Afghanistan is ranked last out of 183 countries for the ease of trading across its borders. Poor road conditions hinder efficient trade, and the lack of access to Central Asia by rail limits the possibility of trade with neighboring States. In the long term, if reform in Afghanistan can be achieved in such challenging conditions, other countries can certainly do it as well.

Mr. Thomas M. Sanderson, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), stressed the economic significance and geopolitical importance of Afghanistan due to its strategic location as the land bridge between the subcontinent, Central Asian states, and the Persian Gulf. Legal frameworks and capacity building through the OSCE could place an added value to the region as well.

The Impact of Transportation on Environment and Security

Many risks are associated with transcontinental transport, including shipping hazardous waste and dangerous goods. There was a focus on many instances where these materials are shipped through non-EU countries, which do not have to adhere to guidelines already in place. The need to adopt legislation for a single method system to then work with prior European legislation was a discussion topic, as well as the need for construction of secure railcars and subsequently a study of accident prevention.

International training of monitoring personnel and trainers were brought to light, and the idea of translating more training manuals was suggested. Unfortunately, security is a major factor that is holding up talks to build an intercontinental rail transport system. Air transport is now secure but rail is certainly not. There are countless access points to terrorize a rail system, as opposed to scanning cargo and passengers in a secure arena such as an airport. Initial costs may increase to prevent terrorism and provide a more secure system, but the long-term economic benefits will make the venture worthwhile.

Specific Transport Security Aspects and the Role of the OSCE

The importance of land versus maritime transportation is quite evident, as virtually all freight is carried on roads at some point throughout the shipping-to-receiving process. The security aspect of land transportation is much more complex than that of sea, as there is much more potential of terrorist acts being carried through over such a vast area. Some argue, though, that there is an unwillingness of governments to compromise sovereignty in favor of international frameworks and measures.

Enhancing inland transport security is key, though currently it appears to be under-protected, especially in the international law perspective. ‘Good practice’ sharing is an effective and inexpensive way to enhance transport security. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe has organized an ‘Inland Transport Security Discussion Forum’ to provide dialogue on inland transport security issues.

The threat of weapons of mass destruction remains but the need to focus on those areas in which cargo is relatively harder to protect is crucial. Closed methods of transport, including aviation (100% passenger and luggage screening) and maritime transport (almost 100% container scanning), might currently be used for global transit, though more of a look into inland transit needs to take effect. Inland transit remains open and accessible to security threats, and design safety standards on railcars and cargo vehicles need to improve.

Current financial uncertainty will place greater scrutiny on the decision-making process, especially in the aspect of security. A look at history and past events, such as the Madrid, London, and Russian train bombings, will need to be integrated into the managerial process; however, there is no existing model that fully meets the need of a counter-terrorism security appraisal.

Follow-up to the 18th Economic and Environmental Forum

The Eighteenth Economic and Environmental Forum is a clear example that the OSCE is taking efforts to provide dialogue to facilitate and secure road and rail transportation, and an effective Eurasian transport system will be a long-term undertaking. Cooperation from neighboring countries and the perseverance of its people to one day be a part of a larger system than just their own will lead to lower overall priced goods and more security for its citizens.

The U.S. welcomes further discussion by Kazakhstan, the current Chair-in-Office of the OSCE, of trade and transport ideas at the upcoming OSCE summit, as Kazakhstan is a land-locked country and could reap significant benefits from freer regional trade. Subsequent peace and stability would have a profound effect in the region, especially in Afghanistan where trade is hindered by corruption and the lack of efficient infrastructure. Although many agreements between participating States exist, overcoming the political and economic hurdles to effective implementation will remain the key impediment to success.

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    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, in conjunction with the Senate Arctic Caucus, Senate Oceans Caucus, and Congressional Arctic Working Group, today announced the following briefing: A NEW OCEAN IN THE NORTH: PERILS AND POSSIBILITIES Thursday, October 5, 2017 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM Dirksen Senate Office Building Room G11 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Increasingly navigable waters and technological advances have opened the Arctic to further exploration, and an abundance of natural resources is driving investment in the region. Given the Arctic’s economic potential and environmental implications, the “High North” is likely to become a new theater of international engagement. As one of eight Arctic nations, the United States holds a vested interest in encouraging economic development in the region. However, U.S. Arctic infrastructure is underdeveloped and is dwarfed by Russia’s investment in the region. Moreover, like other Arctic nations, the United States must contend with the challenge posed by melting ice caps and rising sea levels. The briefing will examine the importance of the development of Arctic infrastructure as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) least-developed region becomes more accessible. It will also analyze the challenges faced by the international community to promote greater cooperation in unlocking the region’s potential. The following panelists are scheduled to speak: Julie Gourley, Senior Arctic Official, U.S. Department of State Iina Peltonen, Embassy of Finland in the United States Rear Admiral Michael F. McAllister, Commander, 17th Coast Guard District, U.S. Coast Guard Melanie Bahnke, President and CEO, Kawerak, Inc. Mark Smith, CEO, Vitus Energy

  • Building Cyber Confidence between Adversaries

    State-based cyber threats are an increasingly dominant part of the global security landscape.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has, in recent years, sought to play a leading role in the international system by developing confidence building measures between states to reduce the risks of cyber conflict. The cyber diplomacy at the OSCE features discussions and (voluntary) agreements among 57 participating States – including the United States and, crucially, Russia. Advocates of this approach suggest that, in the longer term, it could lead to the development of norms of state behavior in cyberspace – and thus contribute to greater stability and security in the international system. On September 28, 2017, the U.S. Helsinki Commission held a briefing on cyber diplomacy moderated by Global Security and Political-Military Affairs Advisor Alex Tiersky. The panelists—Tim Maurer, co-director of the Cyber Policy Initiative and a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Jaisha Wray, Acting Deputy Director of the Office of Emerging Security Challenges in the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance at the U.S. Department of State; and Alex Crowther, Senior Research Fellow and Director of Research at the National Defense University’s Center for Technology and National Security Policy—discussed how OSCE confidence-building measures (CBMs) might work to decrease the risk of cyber conflict. These CBMs are voluntary in nature and allow states to read one-another’s postures in cyberspace. Mr. Maurer provided the audience an overview of the state-based threats these measures seek to diminish and listed several historical examples, such as the 2007 Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack on Estonia, the offensive cyber activity of the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, and the Stuxnet operation. He noted that, in the last decade, there has been a significant uptick in these threats, as there are 30 states that either have or are developing offensive cyber capabilities. Additionally, he applauded the groundwork the United Nations has laid towards addressing this pressing concern. Ms. Wray communicated the U.S. priority of establishing norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace. In her view, cyber activity has a unique potential to destabilize, because of its few outside observables and distributed vulnerability. She noted that participating States of the OSCE are currently in the process of implementing the CBMs agreed upon last year. Dr. Crowther offered a national security perspective on the topic, emphasizing the importance Russian participation in confidence-building. He attributed much of the progress on this issue to the 2015 decision of the Group of Governmental Experts that existing international law applies to cyberspace. In closing, he warned of the danger that cyber-enabled operations in a world saturated with smart devices.

  • OSCE Debates Environmental Policy and Economic Development in Prague

    By Paul Massaro, Policy Advisor From September 6 to September 8, 2017, the OSCE convened the 25th Concluding Meeting of the Economic and Environmental Forum. This annual conference brings together participating States for a wide-ranging discussion on policy as relates to the Second Dimension of the OSCE, or economic and environmental issues. The theme of the 2017 conference was “Greening the Economy and Building Partnerships for Security in the OSCE Region,” a topic selected by Austria, the current OSCE Chair-in-Office. At a time when natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria are devastating U.S. communities, such a discussion could not be more relevant. Add to that the joblessness and low growth rates that continue to plague many parts of the region and you have a broad debate on the issues that most impact the everyday life of citizens of the OSCE region. The Forum took the form of a series of thematic panels featuring experts drawn from the UN, the NGO community, and academia, as well as from the relevant ministries of OSCE participating States. Forum participants were particularly concerned with the effect that climate change is having on the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters, as illustrated by the extreme weather in the Caribbean and the United States. Much of the conference was devoted to discussing energy efficiency measures and renewable energy as a means to counteract the effects of burning fossil fuels on the environment. Experts agreed that energy efficiency and renewable energy are not separable concepts: the latter must be pursued to achieve the former. Participants were also deeply concerned about youth unemployment, especially in relation to violent extremism. Many participating States struggle with unemployment or underemployment, which exacerbates the factors that lead youth to radicalize. Experts discussed countering violent extremism through more flexible labor market policies as well as addressing the exploitation of unemployment or underemployment by extremist recruiters. Connectivity—transport, trade facilitation, and economic cooperation—was also discussed extensively. (Connectivity is distinct from economic integration, which envisions a deeper level of policy harmonization.) Experts and representatives from participating States generally agreed that two regions in particular could profit mightily from expanded connectivity: Southeastern Europe, or the Balkans region, where important steps toward greater connectivity are being made, and Central Asia, which remains among the regions with the lowest interregional trade in the world. The economic and environmental situation in the Eastern Donbas was also an important part of the discussion. Experts expressed severe concern that the shelling in the industrial region could lead to ecological disaster should, for example, the chemical plants that dot the area be hit and their chemicals seep into drinking water. Participants also discussed how to reestablish connectivity in this region, which once was a cohesive economic sphere. However, representatives from participating States argued that any discussion of regional connectivity would be for naught until Russia ceases its backing of militants in the region and enables a ceasefire to take effect. Generally speaking, the mood of the conference was one of consensus. Despite disagreements on certain issues, participating States tend to be of one mind when it comes to the need to prevent and prepare for natural disasters, increase energy efficiency, and encourage job and business creation, all topics that made up the majority of the discussions at the 25th Concluding Meeting of the Economic and Environmental Forum. Although minor disagreements cropped up in all of these topics, they were ephemeral and did not lead to prolonged debate. This general consensus may be a result of the fact that the arguably most controversial aspect of the OSCE’s Second Dimension, anti-corruption, was absent from all discussions. This is because this topic was addressed at the 2nd Preparatory Meeting of the 25th OSCE Economic & Environmental Forum in Astana and likely also because it was not a critical aspect of the theme of the Chair-in-Office. Nonetheless, at least a single panel on the topic would have been a welcome addition given its central importance to good governance. All in all, the Forum was a smooth and useful exercise that provided participating States with many worthwhile insights. Paul Massaro attended the conference as a representative of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

  • Helsinki Commission, House Freedom of the Press Caucus to Hold Briefing on Attacks on Journalists in Russia, Post-Soviet States

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the House Freedom of the Press Caucus today announced the following joint briefing: “SYSTEMATIC ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS IN RUSSIA AND OTHER POST-SOVIET STATES” Wednesday, October 4, 2017 3:00 PM Senate Visitors Center SVC-208 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission A free press is an essential pillar of democracy, keeping governments accountable and citizens informed. Autocratic regimes seek to intimidate and silence the press by systematically targeting journalists. A muzzled independent media is powerless to prevent the domination of the state-driven news narrative and public misinformation. Today, journalists in Russia and post-Soviet states risk intimidation, harassment, arrest, and even murder for their work. Those who criticize the government or investigate sensitive issues like corruption do so at their own peril. More often than not, cases remain unresolved and victims and families do not see justice. This briefing will address key questions regarding journalists in Russia and other post-Soviet states: their important role and impact; concerns over their rights, safety, and protection; and future support and promotion of media freedom in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region. Opening remarks will be provided by the Co-Chairs of the House Freedom of the Press Caucus: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) The following panelists are scheduled to speak: Thomas Kent, President and CEO, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Amanda Bennett, Director, Voice of America Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists Karina Orlova, Washington DC Correspondent, Echo of Moscow

  • Kyrgyzstan: Prospects for Democratic Change and the Upcoming Presidential Election

    Two weeks before the upcoming presidential elections in Kyrgyzstan—potentially the first peaceful transfer of power under regular circumstances in the region—campaigning is in full swing. On October 15, Kyrgyz citizens will participate in democratic elections, though serious concerns remain.   This briefing was moderated by Helsinki Commission Policy Advisor Everett Price. In his remarks, he positively noted the current president’s decision to respect his constitutionally-determined term limit and hold regularly-scheduled elections for his successor. He cautioned, however, that the country’s weak political institutions and the ruling party’s abuse of administrative resources could undermine the fairness of the vote. He also observed that the disqualification of certain opposition candidates and restrictions on journalists have adversely affected the election climate. Dr. Erica Marat from the National Defense University discussed the political situation on the ground in Kyrgyzstan and reviewed the political background of the two main candidates, Atambayev loyalist Sooronbay Jeenbekov and Kyrgyz billionaire, Ömürbek Babanov. Anthony Bowyer, Senior Program Manager for Europe and Eurasia at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), reviewed ongoing electoral monitoring efforts in Kyrgyzstan, underscoring the importance of these elections for the region and U.S. interests therein. Finally, Freedom House representative Marc Behrendt offered his insight on Kyrgyzstan’s enduring interethnic tensions and poor human rights record, offering a sobering reminder of the work that remains to be done in order for the Kyrgyz Republic to become a full-fledged democracy. During the briefing, questions pertaining to Russian influence over the country and its politics, as well as other regional, geo-political considerations were also highlighted as part of a general discussion of Kyrgyzstan’s democratic development and the trajectory of Central Asian politics.

  • The Parliamentary Dimension of the Human Dimension

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) organizes the annual Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), and is known for its standard-setting work in election observation as well as programs that help countries improve their implementation of OSCE commitments in the Human Dimension. Other OSCE institutions—including the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly—also have a role to play in the Human Dimension and may participate in the HDIM debates.  Download the full report to learn more.

  • Helsinki Commission to Hold Briefing on Cyber Diplomacy

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: “BUILDING CYBER CONFIDENCE BETWEEN ADVERSARIES: CAN THE OSCE HELP ESTABLISH RULES OF THE ROAD?” Thursday, September 28, 2017 2:00 PM Russell Senate Office Building Room 385 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission State-based cyber threats are an increasingly dominant part of the global security landscape.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has, in recent years, sought to play a leading role in the international system by developing confidence building measures between states to reduce the risks of cyber conflict. The cyber diplomacy at the OSCE features discussions and (voluntary) agreements among 57 participating States – including the United States and, crucially, Russia. Advocates of this approach suggest that, in the longer term, it could lead to the development of norms of state behavior in cyberspace – and thus contribute to greater stability and security in the international system. Speakers will describe the state-based cyber threats that the OSCE discussions seek to address; evaluate the development of these confidence building measures; and assess the present value and future potential of these diplomatic discussions. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Tim Maurer, Co-Director and Fellow, Cyber Policy Initiative, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Alex Crowther, Senior Research Fellow, Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University Jaisha Wray, Acting Deputy Director, Emerging Security Challenges Office, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance, U.S. Department of State

  • Democratic Change in Kyrgyzstan Topic of Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: KYRGYZSTAN: PROSPECTS FOR DEMOCRATIC CHANGE AND THE UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION Tuesday, September 26, 2017 10:30 AM Senate Visitors Center (SVC) Room 202 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission The Kyrgyz people will go to the polls in October in a pivotal election that will determine the country’s next president and the next chapter in its fragile democracy. In contrast to some other leaders in the region who have manipulated term limits to remain in power, current President of Kyrgyzstan Almazbek Atambayev is abiding by his constitutional term limit. However, the vote takes place amid mounting concerns of democratic backsliding, particularly regarding the government’s treatment of political opposition, civil society, and human rights defenders. Additionally, the election marks only the second peaceful transition of power through elections following two revolutions – in 2005 and in 2010. This turbulent history serves as a reminder of the importance of building the popular legitimacy of Kyrgyzstan’s political institutions. The briefing will examine the political dynamics surrounding the vote, the conduct of the election campaign thus far, and broader human rights issues in Kyrgyzstan. The following experts are scheduled to participate: Marc Behrendt, Director for Europe and Eurasia Programs, Freedom House Anthony Bowyer, Caucasus and Central Asia Senior Program Manager, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) Dr. Erica Marat, Associate Professor, College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University

  • Preventing Modern Slavery through Education of Children

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. As traffickers seek to lure adolescents into exploitation, holistic anti-trafficking education of teachers and children directly in schools is emerging as a critical tool to fight modern day slavery across the OSCE region.  Education has long been used in the prevention of human trafficking, the first of “3 Ps”—prevention, prosecution, and protection—around which most of the OSCE participating States have structured their laws to combat trafficking in human beings.  For instance, embassies and consulates include trafficking warnings and trafficking hotlines in information to individuals seeking visas, especially those individuals coming to be domestic servants. Tourists are educated in airports about the legal penalties of sexually exploiting vulnerable children.  Flight attendants and hotel operators are trained in how to recognize and safely report potential trafficking victims. Members of the law enforcement community are educated in the procedures for identifying trafficking victims among migrant and refugee flows through programs like the OSCE Extra Budgetary Project, which successfully concluded its third training last week in Vicenza, Italy.  International organizations have targeted aid for trafficking awareness education in countries where severe lack of economic opportunity makes teens extremely vulnerable to sham offers of jobs abroad. However, traffickers are increasingly preying upon children’s social vulnerability, not just economic need.  Social vulnerability—such as feelings of alienation, unresolved emotional or physical abuse, learning disabilities, or unfamiliarity with a new culture and language—means that children of every socio-economic background across participating States are at risk of being taken advantage of by traffickers.  Children’s often unlimited and unmonitored access to the internet can also endanger them.  Traffickers scout social media with fake profiles, looking for children they can extort into trafficking.  A child sends a half-naked photo to their “new friend” on social media, who then threatens to send the photos to the child’s parents and friends—unless the child does as they say.  No child is immune, but some are now smarter than their would-be traffickers. Non-governmental organizations in the United States and United Kingdom have been taking prevention to new heights through programs to train children in schools how to avoid being ensnared by human traffickers.  The Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives PROTECT project, and Just Enough UK, to name a few, have pioneered curricula that helps children—and their teachers—navigate the new faces and ploys of modern day slavery. Including age-appropriate, anti-trafficking education of teachers and school children in the standard curriculum for all children means that the suffering and harm caused by human trafficking can be halted early—or avoided altogether.  At a recent hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, Robert Benz, observed, “The cost benefits to taxpayers, for preventing or mitigating human trafficking at an early stage, are enormous. The human benefit for preventing someone from being victimized is incalculable.” Such educational initiatives may soon benefit from new federal government grants in the United States.  Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher Smith, Special Representative for Human Trafficking Issues to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and author of the U.S. laws that establish and fund the “3Ps”, included in the new Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2200) authority for the training of teachers and students to recognize and avoid human trafficking.  H.R. 2200 passed the House of Representatives in July and awaits consideration in the U.S. Senate.

  • Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Meets with New ODIHR Director Gísladóttir

    On September 13, Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Ambassador David T. Killion met with the new Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Ingibjörg Gísladóttir, during the 2017 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw, Poland. Ambassador Killion stressed the Commission’s commitment to the autonomy and work of ODIHR, and highlighted several Commission priorities including fighting anti-Semitism and racism; combating trafficking in persons; promoting religious freedom; and strengthening democratic institutions. He also noted the Commission’s support for the work of the ODIHR Contact Point on Roma and Sinti Issues. Ambassador Killion urged Director Gísladóttir to continue ODIHR’s positive collaboration with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, noting strong Commission support for OSCE election observation. Turning to the HDIM, he emphasized the importance of the continued open participation of civil society in the event, which is a singular feature of the annual meeting. He said the Commission will continue to fulfill its mandate to monitor the participating States’ compliance with their OSCE commitments, with particular regard to those relating to human rights.  

  • Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan: The Case of Teymur Akhmedov

    By Nathaniel Hurd, Policy Advisor The case of Teymur Akhmedov, a 61-year-old Jehovah’s Witness in Kazakhstan, illustrates the life-threatening consequences that can result from attacks on religious freedom. Restrictions on Religious Freedom in Kazakhstan Becoming an OSCE participating State includes the voluntary accession to all OSCE commitments, including those related to freedom of religion. From the founding Helsinki Final Act of 1975, the language is clear: “The participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion… the participating States will recognize and respect the freedom of the individual to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, religion or belief acting in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience.” Yet of the 10 countries currently designated by the U.S. State Department as “Countries of Particular Concern” with regard to religious freedom, three of them – Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan – are in the OSCE region. Since the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 requirements came into effect, the U.S. Secretary of State has annually reviewed and reported annually on the status of religious freedom in foreign countries. When there is evidence the government of that country has “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom in that country,” the Secretary is supposed to designate the country as a CPC. Although Kazakhstan has not been designated as a CPC and its constitution includes provisions providing for religious freedom, in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2016, the State Department reported “the government continued to arrest, detain, and imprison members of religious groups, criminalize speech ‘inciting religious discord,’ question congregation members about their choice of faith, punish individuals for ‘illegal missionary activity,’ and label ‘nontraditional’ religious groups as ‘destructive sects’ in the media.” This has led the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to classify Kazakhstan as one of three OSCE participating States – along with Azerbaijan and Turkey – on its “Tier 2” list, which identifies countries where religious freedom violations do not meet the criteria for the State Department’s CPC designation, but that still need ongoing scrutiny. Kazakhstan has been on the Tier 2 list every year since 2013. USCIRF notes in its 2017 annual report, “The country’s restrictive 2011 religion law bans unregistered religious activity and is enforced through police raids, detentions, fines, and the closing of religious institutions. Increasingly, terrorism and religious extremism laws with multiyear prison sentences are deployed against religious nonconformity and political opposition, blurring the line between violent extremism and peaceful dissent.” The Case of Teymur Akhmedov A retired bus driver, Jehovah’s Witness Teymur Akhmedov is a married father of three. In 2016, he was approached by several men who identified themselves as students who were interested in the teachings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They invited Akhmedov to an apartment to discuss his faith and later visited his home. Acting on behalf of the National Security Committee (a Kazakh intelligence agency), the men secretly recorded their discussions. In January 2017, Akhmedov was arrested and charged with violating Kazakhstan’s Criminal Code (Article 174) regarding “inciting religious hatred.” The presiding judge concurred with the charges and also accused Akhmedov of “inciting religious discord” and promoting the “propaganda of exclusivity, superiority of citizens on grounds of their religion.” He sentenced Akhmedov to five years in a labor camp and banned him from “ideological religious activity.” His appeal was denied in June 2017. Since his pre-trial detention began in January, authorities have denied Akhmedov access to cancer treatments at a hospital. He also says he has been tortured in detention. His family and his fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses are concerned that his health will rapidly deteriorate. Jehovah’s Witnesses have asked for him to be immediately released and for the Kazakh government to stop using the Criminal Code and legislation to violate religious freedom in the name of combating extremism. Jehovah's Witnesses in Kazakhstan There are 18,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kazakhstan, more than in any other central Asian country. Over the years, the Kazakh government has fined more than 60 Jehovah’s Witnesses for engaging in missionary activities without registration. In May 2017, a government inspection of Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in Almaty alleged non-compliance with Kazakh law regarding requirements for the number of security cameras at public venues, although the government had approved – and Jehovah’s Witnesses had implemented – a camera plan for the headquarters earlier that year. In June, a judge suspended all activities at the headquarters and imposed fines. At an appeals hearing on August 3, the judge amended the sentence, ordering Jehovah’s Witnesses to refrain from holding religious meetings in the headquarters, but permitting all other activities at the headquarters to continue. This has forced 14 congregations to meet elsewhere.  

  • Democratic Elections in the OSCE Region

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. In the 1990 Copenhagen Document, the OSCE participating States adopted, by consensus, watershed commitments on free and fair elections. They stated that the participating States: “. . . solemnly declare that among those elements of justice which are essential to the full expression of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all human beings are the following: [ . . . ] — free elections that will be held at reasonable intervals by secret ballot or by equivalent free voting procedure, under conditions which ensure in practice the free expression of the opinion of the electors in the choice of their representatives; [ . . . ] — a clear separation between the State and political parties; in particular, political parties will not be merged with the State;”  Accordingly, the participating States rejected the concept of a one-party state or “modified” democracy (e.g., communist- or socialist-democracy).  In a summit held later that year, the OSCE Heads of State or Government declared, “We undertake to build, consolidate and strengthen democracy as the only system of government of our nations.” In spite of the OSCE commitment to hold free and fair elections, some OSCE participating States have demonstrated even more resistance—if not complete unwillingness—to hold free and fair elections. In a few, a transfer of power is more likely to be the result of death than an election.  In some cases, a generation has come of age under a single ruler or ruling family. Download the full report to learn more. Download highlights of conclusions and recommendations drawn from OSCE election reports (October 2016 to September 2017).

  • Criminal Defamation and "Insult" Laws in the OSCE Region

    From September 11 to September 22, 2017, the OSCE participating States meet in Warsaw, Poland, for the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights event. Over the course of two weeks, the 57 participating States will discuss compliance with consensus-based commitments on full range of fundamental freedoms, democracy, tolerance and nondiscrimination, and humanitarian concerns. Numerous international documents, including those adopted by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), establish freedom of expression as a fundamental right. However, the right to free speech is not absolute. Consistent with international law, certain kinds of speech, such as obscenity, may be prohibited or regulated. When governments do restrict speech, those restrictions must be consistent with their international obligations and commitments; for example, the restrictions must be necessary in a democratic country and proscribed by law. Criminal defamation and "insult" laws are often defended as necessary to prevent alleged abuses of freedom of expression, but they are not consistent with OSCE norms and their use constitutes an infringement on the fundamental right to free speech. Despite this, criminal defamation and insult laws continue to be abused for political purposes in several OSCE participating States. Download the full report to learn more.

  • Bride Kidnapping in the Kyrgyz Republic

    Each year in Kyrgyzstan, an estimated 12,000 1 young women are kidnapped and forced to marry their abductors. As many of one out of five are raped in the process. An illegal practice justified by perpetrators as “traditional,” particularly in rural areas of Kyrgyzstan, bride kidnapping not only violates the human rights of women, but can also result in higher rates of depression and suicide among women, higher rates of domestic violence and divorce, and, according to a recent study from Duke University, perhaps even lower birthweights for babies. What Is Bride Kidnapping? Although bride kidnapping can be a form of staged elopement, in the majority of cases it is forced abduction, and generally targets young women, including those under 18. The kidnapping is usually planned in advance, often with the assistance of the man’s family. The most common scenario is that a woman is abducted off the street as she goes about her daily routine by a group of young men, stuffed into a vehicle, and taken to the “groom’s” home, where she is held against her will, subjected to psychological pressure, and sometimes even raped to force her to submit to the marriage. In some cases, the woman may not even have met the man before the abduction. In Kyrgyz society – and particularly in rural areas – an unmarried woman’s reputation can be irrevocably damaged if she spends even a single night outside her family home.  As a result, victims often feel that the honor of their families is at stake, so they have no recourse other than to consent to the marriage. Even their families may pressure them to acquiesce. For the same reasons, incidents are underreported to the authorities, particularly if the woman stays with her abductor. Why Does Bride Kidnapping Occur? Bride kidnapping is socially accepted as a Kyrgyz tradition, although non-consensual bride kidnapping does not appear to have been common before the early 20th century and the practice has been illegal in Kyrgyzstan since1994.   Since Kyrgyzstan’s independence in 1991, Kyrgyz have often asserted their ethnicity and traditions as a way to distance themselves from their Soviet past and affirm the country’s independent identity. Bride kidnapping may be just one way to express that ethnic nationalism. In its consensual form, bride kidnapping may be a way for couples to avoid parental permission or expensive dowry payments. When non-consensual, it may be that the perpetrator feared rejection or had trouble finding a willing bride, or that the groom’s family wants to avoid a costly large wedding.   Lasting Negative Impact Bride kidnapping not only violates Kyrgyz law and women’s human rights, but it also causes lasting damage to both victims and families.  An NGO-run hotline for domestic violence victims estimates that some 15 percent of their calls are related to bride kidnapping; the same NGO estimates that 60 percent of marriages based on bride kidnapping end in divorce2. There have also been several cases of women committing suicide shortly after being abducted and forced to marry. Kidnapped brides may not have finished school. After their marriages, many are denied access to educational or economic opportunities, resulting not only in the loss of their personal dreams but also in a negative impact on the national economy at large. According to various studies by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations, and the World Bank, when women work, economies develop faster, and women are likely to spend household income in ways that benefit their children. Oftentimes, the forced marriage is a religious ceremony performed by a local imam, and not registered with state authorities. This lack of registration can create significant problems later on, because women in unregistered marriages are not entitled to property settlements, alimony, or child support in the case of divorce or abandonment. Ending Bride Kidnapping As a participating State of the OSCE, Kyrgyzstan is party to several OSCE commitments related to gender equality, and the Kyrgyz government is making efforts to end bride kidnapping. In 2013, the penalty for bride kidnapping was increased from three to seven years in prison, and in 2016 a new law was enacted against underage marriages and forced marriages that also hold accountable those who perform such marriages and relatives who participate in organizing them. The government is supporting awareness raising campaigns, and the NGO “Women Support Centre” has been working with the government to monitor the impact of the new legislation. These measures should be stepped up, along with community leaders speaking out, more legal accountability for perpetrators, and increased assistance and recourse for victims. 1 Current statistics are difficult due to the illegality of the practice and underreporting by victims. This estimate is based on figures from the United Nations and several non-governmental organizations working in Kyrgyzstan. 2 According to the Sezim Crisis Center in Kyrgyzstan.    

  • The 2017 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting: An Overview

    Each year,1 the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) organizes the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw, Poland. As Europe’s largest annual human rights conference, the HDIM brings together hundreds of government and nongovernmental representatives, international experts, and human rights activists for two weeks to review OSCE human rights commitments and progress.  The 2017 HDIM will be held from September 11 to September 22. Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2017 The HDIM allows participating States to assess one another’s implementation of OSCE human dimension commitments, identify challenges, and make recommendations for improvement. The HDIM agenda covers all human dimension commitments, including freedoms of expression and the media, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief; democratic elections; the rule of law; tolerance and non-discrimination; combating trafficking in persons; women’s rights; and national minorities, including Roma.  Each year, three special topics are selected for a full-day review.  2017 special topics will be 1) ensuring “equal enjoyment of rates and participation in political and public life,” 2) “tolerance and nondiscrimination,” and 3) “economic, social and cultural rights as an answer to rising inequalities.”  This year’s meeting will take place at the Warsaw National Stadium (PGE Narodowy), the site of the NATO summit earlier this year. The meeting will be webcast live. Background on the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting When the Helsinki Final Act was signed in Finland in 1975, it enshrined among its ten Principles Guiding Relations between Participating States (the Decalogue) a commitment to "respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion" (Principle VII). In addition, the Final Act included a section on cooperation regarding humanitarian concerns, including transnational human contacts, information, culture and education. The phrase “human dimension” was coined to describe the OSCE norms and activities related to fundamental freedoms, democracy (such as free elections, the rule of law, and independence of the judiciary), humanitarian concerns (such as trafficking in human beings and refugees), and concerns relating to tolerance and nondiscrimination (e.g., countering anti-Semitism and racism). One of the innovations of the Helsinki Final Act was agreement to review the implementation of agreed commitments while considering the negotiation of new ones. Between 1975 and 1992, implementation review took place in the context of periodic “Follow-up Meetings” as well as smaller specialized meetings focused on specific subjects. The OSCE participating States established permanent institutions in the early 1990s. In 1992, they agreed to hold periodic Human Dimension Implementation Meetings” to foster compliance with agreed-upon principles on democracy and human rights. Additional changes to the modalities for the HDIM were agreed in 1998, 2001, and 2002, which included shortening the meeting from three weeks to two weeks, and adding three “Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings” annually on subjects selected by the Chairmanship-in-Office on particularly timely or time-sensitive issues. One of the most notable features of the HDIM is the strong participation of non-governmental organizations. The United States has been a strong advocate for the involvement of NGOs in the HDIM, recognizing the vital role that civil society plays in human rights and democracy-building initiatives. OSCE modalities allow NGO representatives to raise issues of concern directly with government representatives, both by speaking during the formal working sessions of the HDIM and by organizing side events that examine specific issues in greater detail. 1 In exceptional years when the OSCE participating States hold a summit of heads of state or government, the annual review of human dimension commitments is included as part of the Review Conference which precedes the summit, and also includes a review of the political-military and economic/environmental dimensions.

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