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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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    In September 2017, Turkey walked out of the annual OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) in Warsaw to protest the registration of an NGO it claimed was a “terrorist” organization due to its alleged connections to Fethullah Gülen. Since then, Turkey has continued to protest the NGO’s participation in OSCE events, and boycotted two subsequent Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings in Vienna: one on the role of free media in the comprehensive approach to security, held from November 2 to November 3, and one on access to justice as a key element of the rule of law, held from November 16 to November 17. Under OSCE rules, the only grounds for excluding an NGO comes from the Helsinki 1992 Summit Document, which prohibits “persons or organizations which resort to the use of violence or publicly condone terrorism or the use of violence.” Turkey has demanded that the rule be renegotiated, and has implied that it might retaliate against the OSCE if the NGO continues to be allowed to attend OSCE events. NGOs are allowed to participate in the upcoming OSCE Ministerial, which will be held in Vienna on December 7 and December 8. It is unclear how Turkey will react should the same NGO register for that event.

  • Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting: The Role of Free Media in the Comprehensive Approach to Security

    By Jordan Warlick, Policy Advisor From November 2 to November 3, 2017, Helsinki Commission staff participated in the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on the Role of Free Media in the Comprehensive Approach to Security. Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings are convened a few times per year on specific subjects that are determined to deserve distinct focus by the Chairmanship-in-Office. Like the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Supplementary Human Dimension Meetings bring participating States and civil society actors together, facilitating dialogue on challenges to human rights issues in the OSCE region. The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, identified this topic – the role of free media in the comprehensive approach to security – as one of his four priorities at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in September 2017: “My second priority will be to protect media freedom in the new security context….I fully support the efforts of governments to combat terrorism and create safer societies, but let me repeat this simple fact: there are ways to achieve these goals without compromising on our hard-fought fundamental freedoms.” Unfortunately, some governments in the OSCE region consider a free press to be a threat to national security, and worse, persecute or silence journalists in the name of the security. Certain governments and nationalists justify the censorship of journalists by labelling them unpatriotic, even enemies of the state.  Since the failed coup attempt Turkey, for example, hundreds of journalists have been arrested and media outlets shuttered on the basis of national security. The mere suspicion that citizens are part of the Gulenist movement – the group that the Turkish government blames for the coup attempt – can result in many years in prison, or even life sentences.  Journalists, as well as civil society as a whole, have been particularly targeted by terrorism-related charges. However, despite that freedom of expression and national security are often pitted against each other, the two are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they are complementary. An independent, free, and pluralistic media can play a role in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, countering prejudices or misperceptions, and preventing extremism and radicalization. Still, in a world where terrorists spread radical ideas, prejudiced organizations perpetuate intolerance, and government-sponsored bots disseminate misinformation, the tension between freedom of expression and national security seems greater than ever.   The conference featured three sessions: the first, on free media as a basis for European security; the second, on the role of the media in peacebuilding and conflict prevention; and the third, on the role of media in counteracting disinformation, “hate speech” and radicalization. Panelists and participants present discussed the tension between freedom of expression and security interests, the pressures independent media faces from this tension, and best practices for governments to uphold free media and expression commitments in this context. The OSCE takes a comprehensive approach to security, subscribing to the idea that political-military security, human rights, and economic governance are mutually reinforcing ideals. It is important to encourage dialogue on best practices to ensure that participating States remain true to the ideals that the OSCE was founded upon, despite sometimes challenging circumstances.

  • Senior OSCE Monitor to Discuss Conflict in Eastern Ukraine at Upcoming Helsinki Commission Briefing

    WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following briefing: UKRAINE: REPORT FROM THE FRONT LINES Thursday, November 30, 2017 2:00PM Senate Visitors Center (SVC) Room 215 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission For more than three years, civilians in eastern Ukraine have suffered the effects of a needless conflict manufactured and managed by Russia; an estimated 10,000 people have been killed and more than 23,500 injured. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate amidst almost daily ceasefire violations and threats to critical infrastructure. Joseph Stone, an American paramedic, was killed on April 23, 2017 while monitoring the conflict as an unarmed, civilian member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine.   SMM reports remain the only source of verifiable, public information on this ongoing conflict and the grave, daily impact it has on the local civilian population.  Mission personnel face regular and sometimes violent harassment by combined Russian-separatist forces seeking to limit the SMM’s access to the areas they control.  At this U.S. Helsinki Commission briefing, Alexander Hug, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, will detail the humanitarian consequences of the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine; provide an overview of the role of OSCE monitors and the threats they face in carrying out their duties; and offer thoughts on prospects going forward.  Alexander Hug has served in several roles at the OSCE, including as a Section Head and a Senior Adviser to the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities as well as at the OSCE Mission in Kosovo. His career in conflict resolution includes work with the Swiss Headquarters Support Unit for the OSCE in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, and the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo.     

  • Religious Freedom Violations in OSCE Region 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: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM VIOLATIONS IN THE OSCE REGION: VICTIMS AND PERPETRATORS Wednesday, November 15, 2017 2:00PM Russell Senate Office Building  Room 385 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission All 57 participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have committed to recognize and respect religious freedom as a fundamental freedom. However, some OSCE countries are among the worst perpetrators of religious freedom violations in the world. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are currently designated by the U.S. State Department as “Countries of Particular Concern,” a designation required by U.S. law for governments that have “engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended that Russia also be designated as a CPC and includes Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkey in its list of “Tier 2” countries that “require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by governments.” This briefing will happen just two days after CPC designations are due on November 13 (U.S. law requires the State Department to issue new CPC designations no later than 90 days after releasing its annual International Religious Freedom report). Panelists – including a representative from a frequently targeted religious group – will discuss religious freedom victims, violators, and violations in the OSCE region. The conversation will include recommendations for what governments and the OSCE institutionally should do to prevent and respond to violations. The intersection between security, a chronic justification for violations, and religious freedom will be featured. The following panelists will offer brief remarks, followed by questions: Ambassador Michael Kozak, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State Dr. Daniel Mark, Chairman, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Dr. Kathleen Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, and Scholar, Under Caesar’s Sword (a global three-year research project investigating how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated) Philip Brumley, General Counsel, Jehovah’s Witnesses  

  • Belarus: 25 Years after Signing the Helsinki Final Act

    In July 2017, Belarus hosted the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) Annual Session.  However, two decades ago, the OSCE PA refused to even recognize the legitimacy of Belarus’ putative elected representatives.  What has changed? Download the full report to learn more.

  • OSCE Parliamentary Delegation to Rabat Examines Morocco’s Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism

    From October 19 to October 20, 2017,  Helsinki Commission staff participated in a visit to Rabat, Morocco organized by Morocco’s upper house of Parliament—the House of Counselors—and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) to discuss the so-called “Moroccan Approach” to countering violent extremism. In a series of meetings with legislative and government leaders and a special seminar hosted by the House of Councilors, the OSCE PA delegation learned about the role that Morocco’s constitutional monarchy, religious institutions, democratic reforms, and comprehensive migration strategy play in combatting the attraction and recruitment of youth by terrorist organizations. The delegation was led by OSCE PA Vice President Marietta Tidei (Italy) and featured the participation of MP Stephane Crusniere (Belgium), Vice-Chair of the OSCE PA Ad Hoc Committee on Countering Terrorism, and Senator Pascal Allizard (France), OSCE PA Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, among others. Parliamentarians and staffers from the legislatures of the participating States of the OSCE exchanged views with the President of the House of Counselors Hakim Benchamach, President of the House of Representatives Lahbib El-Malki, Minister Delegate to the Minister of Interior Nouredine Boutaib, Catholic Archbishop of Rabat Msgr. Vincent Landel, and Director of the Mohammed VI Institute for the Training of Imams Abdessalam Lazaar. These meetings and the attendant seminar underscored the centrality of Morocco’s constitutional monarchy to ordering religious belief and practice in the country. Morocco’s monarch, Muhammad VI, is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and possesses the title “Commander of the Faithful.” This title confers on him preeminent religious authority in the country and the responsibility to preside over the issuance of all religiously binding judgments, or fatwas. In his lecture during the conference, Professor Ahmed Abbadi, secretary general of the leading organization for Muslim scholars in Morocco, highlighted the Moroccan King’s religious authority as an antidote to the “cacophony of fatwas” he said afflicted much of the Islamic world beginning in the 20th century. Professor Abbadi described how the advent of cable television, the internet, and social media facilitated the proliferation of these religious judgments from religious scholars of all ideological persuasions and levels of education. Additionally, several authorities attributed Morocco’s success in countering violent extremism to the work of a network of ministries, religious organizations, and institutes that propagate the moderate interpretation of Islam championed by the King. Mr. Boutaib, Minister Delegate to the Minister of Interior, was among several officials who highlighted the focus in Moroccan religious institutions on promoting maqasid in scriptural explication, an approach that emphasizes the spiritual, moral, ethical, and social goals of religious belief and practice above literalist interpretation and formalistic piety. The delegation visited the Muhammad VI Institute for the Training of Imams where hundreds of imams and male and female religious guides—murshidin and murshidat—from across Morocco and Western and sub-Saharan Africa are brought on full-scholarship to deepen their understanding of this interpretation of the Islamic faith. Moroccan interlocutors also praised the King’s initiative to undertake significant democratic reforms during the Arab Spring as key to promoting social development and countering the attractiveness of extremist ideologies. “While other countries delayed reforms because of security concerns, Morocco persevered,” said House of Counselors President Benchamach. Among the most significant constitutional changes approved by referendum in 2011, the King is now required to name a prime minister from the largest party in parliament and the prime minister enjoys greater authority in running the government. The president of the lower house, Lahbib El-Malki told the OSCE PA delegation, “No security is possible without democracy and no cooperation is possible without security,” emphasizing the centrality of democracy to achieving these other strategic aims. As part of its effort to mitigate risk factors for radicalization, Morocco has focused on economic development domestically and in surrounding countries. These development efforts feature as part of the country’s self-described “comprehensive migration strategy” that directs development assistance to countries of origin, provides services and ensures the rights of migrants who take up residence in Morocco, and works to prevent irregular onward migration. Minister Delegate Boutaib and others touted Morocco’s “regularization” campaign in 2014 that allowed approximately 25,000 migrants to become legal residence of Morocco and to access services, education, housing, and the labor market. A second wave of this campaign began earlier this year and is ongoing. Despite overall confidence in the strength and sustainability of this multi-faceted approach to countering violent extremism, Moroccan officials expressed concern about continued challenges. In particular, several interlocutors described the danger posed by ungoverned expanses in the Sahel made worse by the ongoing conflict in Libya. They further cautioned that the territorial rout of ISIS in Syria and Iraq would likely only usher in new and more complex manifestations of the global jihadist threat. House of Representatives President El-Malki also warned of broader cultural and social trends that must be addressed in order to mitigate the attractiveness of extremist ideologies. He observed that modernity had succeeded in achieving great economic and technological advancements but left a more complicated legacy on the cultural and social level. El-Malki cited contemporary crises of identity and meaning that are playing out in many societies. Specifically, he counseled that the world cannot adopt a single culture; instead, he contended that “a plurality of cultures is a factor in stability.”  By hosting the OSCE PA delegation, the Kingdom of Morocco took an important step in advancing communication between the participating States of the OSCE and the six North African and Middle Eastern countries that comprise the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation. While there are several opportunities every year for intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary exchanges with the Mediterranean Partners, this event provided a unique opportunity to examine at length the best practices and experience of one of the Partner States. In addition, the inter-parliamentary nature of the exchange suggests a promising avenue for further engagement. While many initiatives relating to the Mediterranean Partners have been stalled by a lack of consensus among OSCE participating States, the OSCE PA is not subject to the same consensus rule, placing it in a promising position to deepen communication and cooperation across the Mediterranean in the years to come.

  • The Western Balkans: Perspectives from OSCE Field Missions

    Since the outbreak of the conflicts associated with Yugoslavia’s break-up in the early 1990s, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its field missions have been a central part of the international community’s response. Early OSCE efforts to counter the spillover effects of those conflicts were followed by ongoing assistance in post-conflict recovery and reconciliation. Today, OSCE field missions continue to exist in virtually every country of the region. They encourage the reform and cooperation essential to the long-term stability of the region through activities that broadly support democratic institutions and governance, particularly to strengthen rule of law; programs to promote integration of minority communities, especially Roma, and to counter violent extremism, and more; and regular reporting to the OSCE Secretariat and participating States. On November 1, 2017 the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) held a public briefing on OSCE field missions in the Western Balkans. Jeff Goldstein, the current Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje, began by noting positive developments in Macedonia, including increased political participation in recent elections, and efforts by some parties to reach across ethnic lines. The increase in voter turnout, he said, “speaks to the fact that the citizens of the country both cared about politics and had faith that the democratic process could actually bring positive change to their lives.” He also highlighted the OSCE’s efforts to encourage the peaceful resolution of last winter’s political crisis, and discussed the Mission’s current focus on reforms in areas including the rule of law, freedom of the media, increasing the role of parliament, and further implementation of the Ohrid Framework Agreement. Ambassador Jonathan Moore, former Head of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, described the Mission’s in engagement with issues of education, rule of law, and countering violent extremism at a local level, and its policy of maintaining “credibility with everyone, presence everywhere, access to everyone, engagement with everyone.” To illustrate the success of the Mission’s local engagement, he discussed its work with a grassroots student movement to oppose the reintroduction of ethnically segregated schools in the town of Jajce. Amb. Moore was clear that the role of the Mission is to assist such organic developments and that, “the ultimate credit goes, of course, to the students themselves, who showed incredible tolerance, maturity, and commitment to a common future.” Michael Uyehara, former Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission to Serbia, highlighted the Mission’s “Follow Us” initiative, a program that brings together young women and female parliamentarians from Belgrade and Pristina in dialogue about their common issues. The initiative also commissioned a documentary about their conversation, which has been screened several times for audiences in Serbia and Kosovo. He also remarked on the enthusiasm of the local staff, who “believe in the OSCE Mission’s work and are deeply committed to the Mission’s objective of helping Serbia to advance politically and to overcome the legacy of the past.” Ambassador Marcel Peško, the current Director of the Conflict Prevention Centre in the OSCE Secretariat, discussed the OSCE’s capacity building efforts in the Balkans. Noting the difficult geopolitical environment in which OSCE activity takes place, he stressed the need to work with host governments to assist their reform agendas, and “to strengthen the resilience of government structures and the civil society to be able to address and cope with the challenges that are there in front of them.”

  • Organization Profile: Forum 18

    The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 recognizes religious freedom as a “human right and fundamental freedom.” Participating States of the OSCE “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.” The Helsinki Commission promotes and defends the religious freedom of people in the OSCE region, particularly prioritizing the cases of individuals and communities whose religious freedom has been violated and laws and policies that conflict with the Helsinki Final Act. Forum 18 is a news organization dedicated to reporting on violations of religious freedom in several OSCE participating States, including in Central Asia and the South Caucasus; Russia; Belarus; and Turkey. Helsinki Commission Policy Advisor Nathaniel Hurd interviewed the editors of Forum 18 by email to learn more about their work and views about religious freedom in the countries they cover. According to the editors, “The mission of Forum 18 is to provide original, reliable and detailed monitoring and analyses of threats and actions against the freedom of religion and belief of all people, whatever their religion or belief (including atheism and agnosticism), in an objective, truthful and timely manner.” Violations of Religious Freedom in the Former Soviet Union Forum 18 focuses its work on the states of the former Soviet Union, which the organization considers the worst violators of freedom of religion in the region. “The worst violators of freedom of religion and belief in the territories Forum 18 monitors – governments – target anyone and any religious community they see as actually or potentially outside their control,” the editors noted. “Azerbaijan, for example, claims to be ‘an example of tolerance’ yet has repeatedly closed Sunni Muslim mosques. A 2014 police list of banned books [in Azerbaijan] includes Islamic texts by theologian Said Nursi, Jehovah's Witness texts, and the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible used by Christians and Jews. Police have long confiscated these texts and others during raids on Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, and Baptist private homes and meetings of people exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief. There are many prisoners of conscience, especially human rights defenders and journalists. On July 3, 2017 Shia Imam Sardar Babayev was jailed for three years for leading mosque prayers because he was educated abroad.” “The reality of freedom of religion and belief violations by governments in these territories and the necessity of documenting them is why we were founded,” noting that they work to protect the freedom of everyone whatever their religion or belief (including atheism and agnosticism). “Our founders and staff were and are totally convinced as a matter of Christian conviction that everyone with no exceptions – including people who would completely disagree with the Christian faith – must…be able to freely exercise the freedom of religion and belief, and related rights such as the freedoms of expression, association and assembly…Our personal experience in the territories we monitor and other states (such as the former East Germany), as well as our own convictions, make us committed to Forum 18’s work of monitoring and analyzing governments’ violations of their international human rights law obligations.” In addition to its work on Azerbaijan, Forum 18 is also focusing on Uzbekistan’s raids, fines, jailing, and torture of Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as the increasing number of prisoners of conscience being jailed in Kazakhstan for exercising freedom of religion and belief, including alleged adherents of Muslim missionary movement Tabligh Jamaat, Jehovah’s Witness Teymur Akhmedov, and Seventh-day Adventist Yklas Kabduakasov. Kazakhstan has also banned all mosques outside state control; expressions of non-Sunni Hanafi Islam; and discussion of faith by people without state permission, or not using state-approved texts, or outside state-approved locations. Kazakhstan’s persecution of atheist writer Aleksandr Kharlamov is also of concern. In Russia, Forum 18 actively monitors the government’s “anti-extremist” nationwide ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as “anti-extremist” prosecutions, fines and jailing of Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, including cases like that of Muslim Yevgeny Kim, who in in June 2017 was sentenced to three years in prison. Forum 18 is also concerned about nationwide religious literature bans, with the possessors of such texts being liable to criminal prosecution. Accuracy and Objectivity Are Key “Our overriding editorial objective is to as accurately as possible present the truth of a situation, both implicitly and explicitly,” note the editors of Forum 18. “It is vitally important that we cross-check information with local people, including religious communities and other human rights defender organizations where these exist. It is equally vital that in our published articles we carry the views of local people and human rights organizations – this enables local people to make their views on human rights violations known.” “Similarly, we always seek the comments of relevant officials, such as public prosecutors, police and secret police officials, within the country being written about,” they continued. “Every article we publish includes information on all the sources used, even if some have to be described as remaining anonymous for fear of state reprisals.” According to Forum 18, the organization’s efforts have resulted in “significant respect and usage among victims of human rights violations, human rights defenders (including journalists), diplomats, intergovernmental organizations, academics and others.” “Accuracy is in itself an effective advocacy for human rights by countering with accurate information the false information presented by repressive regimes, who often seek to conceal their human rights violations,” the editors said. The Worst of the Worst? When asked which of the countries Forum 18 monitors should be considered the “worst of the worst,” the editors noted that developing such a ranking is difficult. “Territories where serious…violations take place are places where people have a strong incentive to not discuss the state’s violations, for fear of state reprisals, making any reliable ranking of territories difficult,” they observed. “Because in all the territories Forum 18 monitors governments violate individuals’, informal groups’, and communities’ freedom of religion and belief apparently as part of a declared or undeclared policies of increasing state control of society – even in states such as Georgia in the south Caucasus – we think it is best for readers to judge for themselves which countries are the worst violators of freedom of religion or belief at any one time,” the editors added. Similarly, Forum 18 finds it difficult to rank the individual cases monitored by the organization. “In our view, each one of these cases where a government has violated an individual’s or group’s freedom of religion and belief can fairly be described as compelling. We think this view is reinforced by the individual cases being part of a much broader pattern of intentional, systemic government violations of the human rights of everyone they rule.” One case Forum 18 has followed close is that of Protestant Pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov in Tajikistan, who was jailed for three years for allegedly “singing extremist songs in church and so inciting ‘religious hatred.’” The regime has threatened family members, friends, and church members with reprisals if they reveal any details of the case, trial, or jailing. Cooperation is Key Cooperation is vital to the Forum 18 approach. “Cooperation in defense of human rights for all is both right in principle and more effective than competition,” the Forum 18 editors argue. “It is important to cooperate with others – including in our case providing accurate information – to help responses to violations of freedom of religion and belief and interlinked other fundamental freedoms to be as effective as possible. Our work with victims of freedom of religion and belief violations and other human rights defenders convinces us that this approach is the right one to follow.” Twitter: @Forum_18 Facebook: @Forum18NewsService

  • Countering Radicalization

    On October 26, 2017 the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) hosted a briefing entitled Countering Radicalization; International Best Practices and the Role of the OSCE. The panel featured the Washington presentation of a groundbreaking OSCE report by Professor Peter Neumann, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on Countering Radicalisation and Violent Extremism.  At the briefing, Neumann provided an overview of the findings and recommendations made in his report, titled “Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalisation that Leads to Terrorism: Ideas, Recommendation, and Good Practices from the OSCE Region.” Neumann offered two main recommendations: first, he proposed bolstering the OSCE’s role as a hub for best practices in counter-radicalization, and in particular the role of the Action Against Terrorism Unit in this area. Second, he called for a strengthening of the OSCE field operations, whose on-the-ground presence and continuity made them especially effective actors, in particular in the critical regions of the Balkans and Central Asia. He underlined that while the OSCE will never be the sole actor in counter-terrorism efforts, despite the different approaches of its participating States, it can make a valuable contribution as one of many tools towards addressing the problem of radicalization. Two leading practitioners and analysts of U.S. counter-radicalization efforts also offered their views on Neumann’s report.  First, Seamus Hughes, Deputy Director of Program on Extremism at George Washington University, commended the report’s methodology.  Hughes offered a number of points for consideration, including that in Europe, the great majority of attacks are committed by citizens, rather than migrants; that “securitizing” relationships with minority communities was counterproductive; and that countering violent extremism programs were broadly underfunded. Matthew Levitt, Director of the Washington Institute’s Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, called for a public-health model for treating the radicalization challenge at a community level, further suggesting that the Trump administration may well be moving away from such an approach and towards a rubric of “terrorism prevention,” which runs the risk of putting the problem entirely in the hands of the law enforcement and intelligence communities and neglecting a whole-of-government preventive approach that would address challenges before they manifest as violent acts. The briefing was moderated by Alex Tiersky of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

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