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Helsinki Commission Chairman Leads Delegation to Israel and Turkey before Attending OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Session
Monday, April 15, 2013

By Helsinki Commission Staff

En route to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Winter Meeting in Vienna, Austria, a delegation organized by the Helsinki Commission visited Israel and Turkey for talks on issues of key concern to U.S. foreign policy and the OSCE. These destinations in particular were selected to explore the impact on the OSCE region resulting from the ongoing tensions in the Middle East stemming from the active conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria. The delegation was not only bipartisan but included Members from the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as two senior officials from the Department of Commerce.

The delegation, which departed February 15 and returned on February 23, was led by Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and included Representatives Robert B. Aderholt of Alabama, Alcee L. Hastings of Florida and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina as well as Assistant Secretary of Commerce Michael C. Camuñez from the Helsinki Commission. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Europe and Eurasia Matthew Murray also joined the delegation.

High Level Meetings in Israel

The delegation’s first stop was Jerusalem. Following a late arrival on Saturday, February 16, the delegation was briefed by Ambassador Daniel Shapiro and Consul General Michael Ratney in preparation for meetings on Sunday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Mossad), Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and other officials.

High on the delegation’s agenda were U.S.-Israeli relations, including economic cooperation, the peace process, renewal of Israeli-Turkish relations and regional security. President Peres welcomed the delegation in his residence and praised the work of the Helsinki Commission on human rights. Chairman Cardin and President Peres engaged in a lengthy conversation regarding the nuclear ambitions of Iran as well as human rights in that country. They also focused on investment and economic development in the region, particularly the need to provide employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for young people in the Arab world.

Members of the delegation met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his cabinet offices for a wide ranging discussion on Iran, the peace process, violence in Syria, Israel-Turkey relations and economic cooperation between our two countries. The Prime Minister also offered a candid assessment of the January 22 parliamentary elections in Israel and his efforts to form a new government.

Meeting with the delegation in the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad provided an overview of the economic and security situation in the West Bank, the status of Palestinian-Israeli relations and the peace process. The Prime Minister indicated that there is outright disillusionment with the peace process among the Palestinian people. What is badly needed, he said, is a sense of renewal and energy by both parties to return to negotiations.

The remainder of the day included meetings with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, Dan Meridor, Central Bank Governor Stanley Fischer and a briefing by Israel’s Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (Mossad). The delegation departed early the next morning for Turkey.

Fostering Security Cooperation with Turkey

Chairman Cardin's delegation stopped in Ankara, Gaziantep, and Istanbul while in Turkey. In Ankara, the delegation met with President Abdullah Gul, Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, and Omer Onhon, former Turkish ambassador to Syria. The delegation prioritized international engagement in the Syrian conflict, the status of Syrian refugees, the urgency of improving Turkish-Israeli relations, the Middle East Peace Process, bilateral economic cooperation and ongoing human rights concerns in their consultations with Turkish government officials. The delegation was briefed by U.S. Ambassador Frank Ricciardone and his staff on bilateral U.S.-Turkish priorities and the security of U.S. embassies following the tragic February 1, 2013 attack on the embassy in Ankara.

In Gaziantep, Chairman Cardin's delegation was the first group from Congress to visit the American detachment of the newly established NATO Patriot missile batteries. Members met with the troops stationed near Gaziantep and were briefed on security concerns emanating from the Syrian conflict and NATO efforts to ensure the security of Turkish communities near the Syrian border. The delegation was briefed by regional staff of the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance on their substantial efforts to meet the humanitarian needs of the Syrian people in refugee camps and ensure the necessary resources reach the internally displaced civilians within Syria.

The delegation then proceeded to visit the central Turkish camp for Syrian refugees in Kilis, which is one of more than 20 such camps along the border. After a briefing by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Members had an opportunity to see the facilities. The Turkish government has independently made a substantial investment in Syrian humanitarian assistance through their camps. They urged the delegation to encourage the international community to contribute more financial support to address the lack of resources for the growing Syrian refugee population in the region. The delegation also met the camp leadership elected from among the refugees, which reflected the diversity of those displaced by the conflict. The camp leaders urged the delegation to act expeditiously to support the Syrian opposition before the positive perception of the United States irreparably diminishes among Syrian civilians.

In Istanbul, the delegation participated in a discussion on the success of bilateral economic cooperation and overcoming barriers to increase U.S. investment in Turkey hosted by the Joint American Business Forum of Turkey and the Turkish-American Business Council. Members then convened a roundtable discussion with a diverse group of Syrian opposition activists based in Istanbul. The activists expressed an urgent interest in the future U.S. role in addressing the security and humanitarian impacts of Syrian conflict. The delegation also had an opportunity to meet with graduate students of Bahcesehir University to discuss the importance of international academic exchanges and youth professional development.

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Meets in Vienna

The congressional delegation concluded in Vienna, Austria, to represent the United States at the Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA). Like the OSCE of which it is a part, the Parliamentary Assembly has been an important venue for important initiatives relating to the Helsinki Commission’s work. Those initiatives include addressing specific human rights concerns in numerous countries and combating intolerance in society, organized crime and official corruption, and trafficking in persons. They also include promoting transparency in government and business practices. The United States has traditionally maintained a robust presence in the Assembly, assuring European friends and allies of willing U.S. engagement on issues of common concern and ensuring that the Assembly’s work reflects U.S. interests. Representative Aderholt, for example, is currently an OSCE Vice President and sits on a subcommittee dealing with rules of procedure and an ad hoc committee focusing on reform and transparency of the OSCE.

The Winter Meeting is a two-day event held at the Hofburg premises of the OSCE, allowing diplomatic personnel from this multilateral organization to report to the parliamentarians on security, economic, environmental and human rights developments across Europe and into Central Asia. The Winter Meeting also provides a forum for open debate of topical issues and to present ideas for resolutions to be considered later in the year. In the decade since it was first organized, the Winter Meeting has become second in importance only to the OSCE PA’s Annual Session, which is held in June or July in different locations to consider these resolutions and adopt a declaration. In 2013, there were more than 200 parliamentarians in attendance.

Ambassador Ian Kelly, the U.S. Representative to the OSCE, briefed the delegation soon after its arrival on the regional issues of interest to the OSCE, as well as organizational developments, from a U.S. policy perspective. Ukraine has taken the OSCE’s chairmanship for 2013, and efforts continue to achieve progress on priority issues in time for a foreign ministerial scheduled for year’s end. As it approaches its 40th anniversary in 2015, the OSCE is also seeking to develop its structural and substantive abilities in order to remain relevant to European security, but it must do so in the face of efforts by Russia and like-minded states to undermine the OSCE’s human rights focus.

OSCE PA President Riccardo Migliori of Italy opened the Winter Meeting with a call to find “solutions for the future” based on “the road map signed in our past,” namely the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The opening plenary was also addressed by Austrian National Council President Barbara Prammer, OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier of Italy, and the Special Envoy of the OSCE Chair-in-Office, Viacheslav Yatsiuk of Ukraine.

Additional discussions were held in each of the Assembly’s three General Committees: the First Committee dealing with political affairs and security; the Second Committee with economic affairs, science, technology and the environment; and the Third Committee with democracy, human rights and humanitarian questions. Committee rapporteurs and guest speakers discussed current issues and the prospects for OSCE PA work in the coming year.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce Camuñez was a featured opening speaker for the Second Committee, focusing on economic issues in particular. Calling for a “truly 21st century approach” to engagement on these issues within the OSCE, he focused in particular on work being done on energy security and sustainability. He also called for operationalizing OSCE commitments on good governance and transparency adopted at the 2012 Dublin Ministerial Council of the OSCE and asked parliamentarians to play their role by passing needed laws and encouraging government policies that reflect OSCE norms and goals.

The Winter Meeting traditionally includes a closing joint-committee session to debate issues that are particularly relevant and timely. This year, the debate focused on how OSCE countries should respond to crises in Syria, the Sahara, and North Africa. Representative Hastings, speaking as the OSCE PA’s Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, made a presentation that called on the parliamentarians to consider being in the place of the Syrian people as they flee their homes and lose loved ones, including children, while the world watches. He called on the participating States to halt the flow of arms to Syria, and insisting the Bashar al-Assad “must go,” called for him to be held accountable for his crimes before the International Criminal Court. Chairman Cardin also spoke in the debate, reporting on the discussions the delegation had in Israel and Turkey regarding Syria and praising Turkey’s efforts to accommodate massive inflows of refugees.

During the course of the Winter Meeting, the OSCE PA convenes its Standing Committee, composed only of Heads of Delegation and officers, to shape the Assembly’s work. Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Representative Christopher H. Smith, who was unable to attend the Winter Meeting, and Rep. Hastings each submitted to the committee written reports on their activities as Special Representative on Human Trafficking and as Special Representative on Mediterranean Affairs, respectively. Chairman Cardin participated in a lengthy debate on OSCE election observation, calling for the Assembly and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to coordinate in the field and to take advantage of parliamentary leadership to make observation most effective.

The delegation used its time at the Winter Meeting to engage in bilateral meetings with parliamentarians and officials regarding Helsinki Commission concerns, including the OSCE Chair-in-Office envoy Yatsiuk, OSCE Secretary General Zannier and ODIHR Director Janez Lenarcic of Slovenia. Representative Hastings also organized a working session with visiting delegates from the Mediterranean Partner countries in order to plan activity for the coming year that will strengthen the partnership between the Mediterranean Partners – Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia – and the OSCE. Representative Aderholt also met with human rights activist and opposition representative Andrei Sannikov to discuss common concerns in Belarus.

Beyond the Hofburg, the delegation also met with Ambassador Joseph MacManus, who represents the United States at United Nations organizations based in Vienna, and Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano of Japan. Nuclear proliferation was the main issue in these meetings. Chairman Cardin also was accompanied by the U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Willliam Eacho, as he paid tribute at the Austrian National Council to the Vienna-based organization CENTROPA and its American Director, Ed Serotta, for efforts to preserve Jewish memory in Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Balkans and the Baltics for future generations.

By all accounts, the Winter Meeting represented two days of healthy debate and discussion. The U.S. Delegation played an active role throughout the meeting, making presentations and responding to statements of others.

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April 30, 2014 The Honorable John Kerry Secretary of State United States Department of State 2201 C Street Northwest Washington, D.C.  20520 Dear Secretary Kerry: We write to you to express our alarm at the detention of members of a military observer mission operating under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  They are being held hostage by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk. We urge you to do everything in your power to help secure their release. In addition to the OSCE observers, several dozen people — journalists, activists, police officers, politicians — are reportedly being held captive in makeshift jails in Slovyansk. Furthermore, we continue to be deeply dismayed at the other flagrant violations of human rights by pro-Russian militants in eastern and southern Ukraine.  These include attacks and threats against minority groups, particularly Jews and Roma as well as Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in Crimea.  Supporters of a united Ukraine have been targeted as well, including a local politician and a university student whose tortured bodies were found dumped in a river near Slovyansk. The Joint Statement on Ukraine signed on April 17 by the EU, the United States, Russia and Ukraine calls on all sides to refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions and condemns and rejects all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-Semitism. We fear both the spirit and the letter of this agreement have been breached. In recent days, we have seen troubling manifestations against ethnic and religious minority communities.  The distribution of flyers in Donetsk calling for Jews to register their religion and property is a chilling reminder of an especially dark period in European history and we welcome your unequivocal remarks of condemnation. While the perpetrators of this onerous action have not been determined, one thing is clear:  Moscow, which controls the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, is using anti-Semitism as an ingredient in its anti-Ukrainian campaign, utilizing its media as a vehicle.  Perhaps more insidiously, among the various Russian special forces, operatives and agitators in Ukraine are members of neo-Nazi groups and the Black Hundreds, a reincarnation of the notorious Russian anti-Semitic organization that existed more than a century ago. Jewish communities in parts of eastern Ukraine are not the only ones with reasons to be worried.  In Slovyansk, armed separatists have invaded Romani houses, beating and robbing men, women and children. Even Ukrainian-speakers, including Ukrainian-speaking journalists, have reportedly experienced intimidation in the largely Russian-speaking Donetsk oblast. At the same time, in the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula, Crimean Tatars continue to be threatened with deportation and attacked for speaking their own language in their ancestral homeland. Moreover, the most visible long-time leader of the Crimean Tatar community and former Soviet political prisoner Mustafa Dzhemilev, has reportedly been banned from returning to Crimea.  Additionally, the separatist Crimean authorities announced that Ukrainian literature and history will no longer be offered in Crimean schools. 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Cardin was joined by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), David Vitter (R-La.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and U.S. Representatives Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), and Michael Burgess (R-Texas). “We believe the United States must show leadership by terminating all defense contracts with Russia and ask that you strongly encourage our NATO allies and OSCE participating states to take similar actions,” the members of Congress wrote. “We urge you to lead the coordination among NATO and OSCE to halt trade involving military equipment with Russia immediately. We believe this is a crucial step in reestablishing a deterrent against further Russian aggression and strengthening the impact of our targeted economic sanctions against Russia.” Text of the letter is  below.   April 14, 2014 The Honorable John Kerry Secretary of State United States Department of State 2201 C Street Northwest Washington, D.C. 20520 Dear Secretary Kerry: We write to express our support for NATO’s decision to suspend military and civilian cooperation with Russia. We also ask that you further urge both NATO member countries and participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to work cooperatively to cease all trade involving military equipment with Russia in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. This would be a forceful next step by both international organizations (of which the United States is a member) to affirm that there is no more business as usual when it comes to bilateral trade of military equipment given Russia’s hostile actions. As you are aware, two decades ago the Partnership for Peace program was implemented to foster trust between NATO member countries and the member states of the former Soviet Union, and to acknowledge a shared political commitment to creating lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area. This integration with the member states of the former Soviet Union was predicated on shared values and common obligations to uphold international law. Likewise, the Helsinki Final Act, which has been signed by 57 OSCE nations, including the United States, affirmed our collective commitment to sovereign equality, respect for human rights, and fundamental freedoms. Russia violated these shared principles by disregarding its treaty obligations under the bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation.  We should immediately halt the trade in military equipment now that Russia has reneged on its commitment to abide by international law. Russia has clearly violated the principles of the Helsinki Final Act, and its actions are antithetical to the principles that NATO member countries like the United States seek to uphold. Nonetheless, significant bilateral trade in military equipment continues. The United Kingdom announced the Military Technical Cooperation Agreement with Russia in January 2014, which would provide a framework for Russian and UK defense companies to cooperate at an unclassified level and enable British and Russian arms producers to exchange defense components and technical data. France has continued an existing contract to sell two high-tech Mistral warships to Russia, and the Hungarian Ministry of Defense recently acquired three Mil Mi-8 transport helicopters produced by Rosoboronexport. Unfortunately and inexplicably, the United States is, at the time of writing, continuing with plans to receive 22 more Mi-17 helicopters from Russia as part of our ongoing assistance to Afghanistan. We believe the United States must show leadership by terminating all defense contracts with Russia and ask that you strongly encourage our NATO allies and OSCE participating states to take similar actions. We urge you to lead the coordination among NATO and OSCE to halt trade involving military equipment with Russia immediately. We believe this is a crucial step in reestablishing a deterrent against further Russian aggression and strengthening the impact of our targeted economic sanctions against Russia. We thank you for your attention to this matter. Sincerely, BENJAMIN L. CARDIN United States Senate   RICHARD BLUMENTHAL                                                   United States Senate   JOHN CORNYN                             United States Senate   ROGER F. WICKER                                 United States Senate                              DANIEL COATS                             United States Senate   CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY                             United States Senate   DAVID VITTER United States Senate   KELLY AYOTTE United States Senate   LOUISE M. SLAUGHTER Member of Congress   JOE PITTS Member of Congress   MICHAEL C. BURGESS Member of Congress

  • Co-Chairman Smith Responds to Turkish Government Move to Block Twitter

    WASHINGTON - Responding to the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s action in blocking access to Twitter in Turkey, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, released the following statement: “I urge the Prime Minister to answer his critics directly rather than try to silence them. This would show respect for the Turkish people and for his responsibilities as an elected official. In recent years the Turkish government has shown a troubling propensity to target journalists as well as Web sites and social media, as has been amply documented by the United States government and independent human rights monitors. Blocking Twitter violates Turkey’s commitments in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to free expression and freedom of the media.” According to reports, Prime Minister Erdogan used court orders to block Twitter in Turkey on Thursday, March 21. The Prime Minister himself has a Twitter account, however, as does the President, who tweeted his hope that the ban would be short-lived. The U.S. Department of State reports comprehensively on human rights in Turkey in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Co-Chairman Smith is also the Chairman of the House panel that oversees human rights worldwide and the author of the Global Online Freedom Act, H.R. 491, human rights legislation that would promote Internet freedom around the world.

  • Switzerland's Leadership of the OSCE

    Hon. Benjamin Cardin, Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, presided over the hearing on the new Switzerland's leadership of the OSCE. He was joined by Didier Burkhalter. He was the president of the Swiss Confederation, foreign minister, and Chair in Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Mr. Burkhalter explained the priorities of the Swiss chairmanship: to contribute to fostering security and stability, to improving people's life, and to strengthening the OSCE's capacity to act. His mission was to enhance security, freedom, and responsability.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on OSCE with the Swiss President and Foreign Minister

    WASHINGTON - The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following hearing: Switzerland’s Leadership of the OSCE Tuesday, February 25, 2014 10:00 a.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Scheduled to testify: His Excellency Didier Burkhalter, President of the Swiss Confederation, Foreign Minister and Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE President of the Swiss Confederation and Foreign Minister, His Excellency Didier Burkhalter, will testify before the Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing takes place at the beginning of Switzerland’s 2014 chairmanship of the 57-country OSCE, which is based in Vienna, Austria and best known for its work in promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. President Burkhalter is expected to discuss the Chairmanship-in-Office’s priorities and provide insights regarding the ongoing work of the OSCE.  Switzerland’s chairmanship comes at an important time in the development of an organization that operates on the basis of consensus and includes countries ranging from democracies to dictatorships. The OSCE region is facing challenges ranging from backsliding on human rights in some countries to the political crisis and recent violence in Ukraine.

  • Kyiv Ministerial Held Amid Protests

    On December 5 and 6, 2013, Kyiv hosted the 20th meeting of the Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe while hundreds of thousands of protestors occupied Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kyiv’s central square. Although as 2013 OSCE Chair-in-Office, Ukraine had successfully shepherded a package of decisions to adoption in Kyiv, the meeting was dominated by demonstrations taking place throughout the country triggered on November 21 by the Ukrainian government’s suspension of preparations to sign integration agreements with the EU. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland represented the United States. She began the Ministerial by meeting with civil society activists, which she described as her “most important event” in Kyiv. In her opening statement at the Ministerial, she highlighted three “worrying trends” in OSCE participating States: the persecution of journalists, the rising intolerance of minorities, and “democratic backsliding” into restrictive laws and practices that violate civil liberties.

  • Resolving Crises in East Asia Through a New System of Collective Security: The Helsinki Process as a Model

    This hearing discussed the possibility of establishing an organization in East Asia similar to the OSCE, in order to increase cooperation and improve regional security. Witnesses cited curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which have been condemned by Japan, China and South Korea, as a primary goal for such an organization.  Witnesses also suggested that an OSCE-like mechanism could be used to mediate air security zone disagreements and regional maritime issues.

  • The OSCE 2013 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting

    By Helsinki Commission Staff Overview From September 23 to October 4, 2013, the OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM). The meeting was organized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) according to an agenda approved by consensus of all 57 participating States. The HDIM is Europe’s largest annual human rights gathering and provides a venue for participating States and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to review the implementation of the full range of core human rights and fundamental freedoms (e.g., freedoms of speech, assembly and association; prevention of torture; right to a fair trial), as well as rule of law, free elections and democracy-building issues. National minorities, Roma, tolerance and non-discrimination are also on the agenda. In accordance with OSCE procedures, the agenda included three specially selected topics, each of which was given a full day of review. In 2013, those subjects were: 1) freedom of religion or belief, 2) freedom of assembly and association, and 3) democratic elections and election observation -- sharing best practices. U.S. Delegation The U.S. Delegation was headed by Ambassador Robert Bradtke. Newly confirmed U.S. Head of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE Ambassador Daniel Baer also participated.  (During the HDIM, meetings of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna are suspended to facilitate participation by members of permanent missions to the OSCE in the Warsaw meeting.)  Other members of the U.S. Delegation included Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Thomas O. Melia, Special Envoy for Combating Anti-Semitism Ira Forman, and Co-Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom Katrina Lantos Swett.  Helsinki Commission Chief of Staff Fred L. Turner and other Commission staff participated in all aspects of the delegation’s work. Gavin Weise from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems served as a public member on the issue of democratic elections and election observation. Public Members have traditionally been included in U.S. delegations to OSCE human dimension meetings as a means of bringing special expertise to the delegation’s work and to promote greater knowledge of the OSCE process in civil society. This Year’s Meeting As the meeting opened, the high-profile case of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko remained unresolved, casting a pall on Ukraine’s OSCE Chairmanship. GOLOS, a Russian NGO that reports on the integrity of elections in Russia, remained suspended in a wave of increased repression; Russian representatives protested against GOLOS participation at the HDIM. Former political prisoner and RFE/RL correspondent Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was not allowed to leave Turkmenistan to participate in the HDIM. Kazakhstani businessman Mukhtar Ablyazov and several of his former colleagues were held in various countries on the request of the government of Kazakhstan – while his wife and daughter were illegally deported from Italy to Kazakhstan. The U.S. statements from the HDIM, raising these and many other specific cases of concern, are available on the website of the U.S. mission to the OSCE (osce.usmission.gov). During the meeting, the United States held bilateral meetings with other OSCE participating States and extensive consultations with civil society. In addition, the United States organized a side event focused on one of this year's special topics, freedom of association and assembly, with a panel of activists from the Civil Society Platform:  Yevgeniy Zhovtis, International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (Kazakhstan), Valeria Rybok from the Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine), Dmitri Makarov from the International Youth Human Rights Initiative (Russia), Aleh Hulak, Belarusian Helsinki Commission, and Rasul Jafarov from the Human Rights Club (Azerbaijan).  Speakers described many negative trends across Eurasian and Central Asian states, including onerous registration requirements for civil society organizations, restrictions on peaceful demonstrations, and prosecutions of protestors.  The panel and other attendees also emphasized the importance of a network through which regional civil society organizations could share experiences and effective activities. Other side events were organized by ODIHR, participating States, and NGOs including Freedom House, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, the Open Society Foundations, and the German Marshall Fund.  As at past HDIM meetings, some concerns were raised about the United States, including at side events focused on the abolition of the death penalty and on human rights and counterterrorism (which touched on Guantánamo, drones, and surveillance/privacy issues). Switzerland held a side event during the HDIM to preview its goals for its 2014 tandem chairmanship (with Serbia taking the lead in 2015). Switzerland indicated that its two over-arching human dimension priorities will be to enhance the involvement of civil society and to strengthen the implementation of human dimension commitments. During what promises to be an active and ambitious chairmanship, Switzerland plans to hold four regional workshops with civil society in Southeast Europe, the Southern Caucasus, Central Asia, and Western Europe. During the regular working sessions, several concerns were raised repeatedly, including violence against journalists, harassment of NGOs and restrictive NGO registration laws, and government actions against religious groups portrayed by some governments as non-traditional.  Russia received significant criticism over its Foreign Agents law. (There also were a number of apparently Russian-sponsored “NGOs” which criticized the United States, supported independence for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and hewed to anti-Baltic state themes.) Problems in Central Asia received considerable attention, including the disappearance of some prisoners in Turkmenistan and the cases of Vladimir Kozlov and Mukhtar Ablyazov in Kazakhstan.  During the HDIM, the NGO Crude Accountability and the Civic Solidarity Platform launched a project called “Prove that They are Alive.”  Designed to follow up on the 2003 invocation of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism with Turkmenistan, the initiative is intended to compel the government of Turkmenistan to inform the families of those imprisoned in connection with an alleged coup attempt in 2002 whether their loved ones are still alive. As at previous HDIMs, the allocation of time during the meeting was highly problematic.  Of the topics restricted to three-hour sessions, the subject of tolerance and non-discrimination was the most oversubscribed.  This session included discussion of the implementation of existing OSCE hate crimes commitments; combating anti-Semitism, intolerance against Muslims and other religious groups; racism and xenophobia; and anti-LGBT bigotry manifested through, in particular, “gay propaganda” laws. In such oversubscribed sessions, speaking time was strictly curtailed to accommodate the dozens desiring the floor, while other sessions ended early with time unused. Notably, Thailand, an OSCE Partner for Cooperation, actively participated in this year’s HDIM, perhaps in order to bolster its application to become a full OSCE participating State.

  • Fleeing to Live: Syrian Refugees in the OSCE Region

    This hearing will focus on the more than 1.6 million Syrian civilians who have fled the ongoing violence in their country, their impact on the countries that are hosting them, and international efforts to support these refugees as well as the more than 5 million Syrians who are displaced in their own country. The countries that have opened their borders, and in many cases their homes, to the Syrian refugees include Turkey, an OSCE participating State, Jordan an OSCE Mediterranean Partner Country, and Lebanon, a country that has been historically engaged in the OSCE process. OSCE Partner, Egypt, and Iraq have been impacted by this crisis as well. The United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that by the end of 2013 there will be one million refugees each in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.  After more than two years, a resolution to the conflict remains elusive and the suffering of the Syrian people continues unabated. The hearing will examine the U.S. and international response to this unprecedented and expanding humanitarian crisis that threatens to destabilize the entire region. 

  • Bulgaria Holds Early Parliamentary Elections; OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission

    By Helsinki Commission Staff Country-Wide Street Protests Trigger Snap Elections In early 2013, 30 Bulgarian cities were rocked by demonstrations. In some instances, violence erupted between demonstrators and police. In addition, in the months immediately preceding the elections, six people committed suicide by self-immolation in acts of public protest and desperation. The street demonstrations were triggered by sharply rising electricity rates in a country widely described as the poorest of the EU’s 27 members. Discontent was further fueled by dissatisfaction with political leaders across the board and widespread corruption. In February, following the street demonstrations, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov resigned, paving the way for May 12’s early parliamentary elections. For those elections, 8,100 candidates stood for seats in the 240-member unicameral National Assembly allocated by proportional representation from 31 multi-mandate constituencies (with a 4% threshold for both parties and coalitions to enter parliament). Altogether, 63 parties (38 outside of coalitions and 7 coalitions) were registered as well as two independent candidates. The resulting ballot was roughly a yard long. OSCE Mounts Full-Scale Election Observation Mission The OSCE mounted a full scale Election Observation Mission (EOM) – the first in Bulgaria since 1997 and the first ever in an EU country. Eoghan Murphy (MP, Ireland) was appointed by OSCE Chair-in-Office Leonid Kozhara to serve as Special Coordinator and leader of the short-term observer mission (parliamentarians and observers seconded by OSCE participating States). The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) long-term observer team was headed by Miklos Haraszti. Roberto Battelli (MP, Slovenia) headed the OSCE PA delegation. Andreas Gross (MP, Switzerland) headed the observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). On Election Day, there were 158 observers deployed from 39 countries. Of an estimated 6.9 million voters (a number that, in any case, the OSCE and Council of Europe Venice Commission suggest may be high), 3,541,745 went to the polls. Voter turnout was at about 50 percent – the lowest turnout since the fall of communism – reflecting the voters’ antipathy even more than apathy. Approximately 850,000 votes were cast for parties that failed to overcome the 4% threshold to get into parliament. Reportedly 107,799 Bulgarian citizens voted abroad, with 63,152 votes cast in Turkey. The Mysterious Case of the Extra Ballots The administration of the elections on E-Day was largely unremarkable. It was, however, preceded by two separate but related wiretapping scandals suggesting that the Ministry of Interior had bugged journalists and state officials. The day before the elections, an “extra” 350,000 ballots were discovered in a printing house in Sofia. (A week after the elections, it was reported that more than 2,000 extra stamps for electoral commissions had also surfaced.) In its preliminary findings, the Election Observation Mission drew particular attention to the alienation of voters, lack of confidence in the electoral process, concerns over ballot security (the “extra” ballots), and persistent allegations of vote buying or voter intimidation. (A final report from the Mission is forthcoming.) Roma and Other Minorities in the Electoral Context Bulgaria has a population of 7.36 million (from almost 8 million in the 2001 census and roughly 8.4 million in the 1992 census). This continuing drop reflects declining birth rates and labor migration to other parts of Europe. The ethnic Turkish minority comprises 8.8 percent of the population. Almost 5 percent of the population self-identified as Romani on the last census, but Roma are estimated to be roughly 10 percent of the population. Last year, the Bulgarian Government estimated that 23 percent of the working age population is Romani. The Bulgarian Constitution prohibits the formation of political parties on ethnic, racial or religious lines, which is contrary to OSCE and other international norms on freedom of assembly. The OSCE has criticized this restriction in previous reports on Bulgarian elections. The Electoral Code stipulates that the election campaign must be conducted in the Bulgarian language only, also contrary to standards on free speech and minority language use set out in the 1990 Copenhagen Document. These restrictions also impede get-out-the-vote efforts. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms is, de facto, an ethnic Turkish minority party, although it has largely been allowed to function with a wink and a nod from the authorities. After the elections, it was reported that Lyutvi Mestan, head of the MRF party, was fined in Sliven for campaigning in Turkish. Bulgaria's last two local and Presidential elections (which were held simultaneously in 2007 and 2011) were preceded by outbreaks of anti-Roma violence. In 2011, just a few weeks before the elections, 14 Bulgarian cities erupted into anti-Roma riots. In July 2012, the headquarters of the EuroRoma political party were firebombed, killing one man. The investigation has not produced any results. On April 8, 15 Romani civil society organizations withdrew from their advisory role with the National Council for Cooperation on Ethnic and Integration Issues, effectively deeming the government’s work in this area and the consultative process to be a sham. There were no Roma in electable positions on the lists for any of the leading parties. As a result, the National Assembly produced by the May 12 elections will be the first Bulgarian parliament since the fall of communism to have no Romani MPs.

  • Ukraine's Leadership of the OSCE

    This hearing focused on the Ukrainian leadership of the OSCE and OSCE priorities within Ukraine.  Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Leonid Kozhara spoke about Ukraine’s progress on economic reforms and anti-corruption efforts and Ukraine’s policy goals for their time in office, particularly on human trafficking.  Chairman Cardin and Minister Kozhara also discussed Yulia Tymoshenko’s imprisonment.

  • Democracy in Albania: the Pace of Progress

    Prior to 1991, Albania was ruled by one of the communist world’s most repressive regimes and was the only country in Europe refusing to participate in the Helsinki process.  In the two decades following, the country made enormous strides to become a democratic state where human rights are respected and to become an active participant in European affairs, and became a member of the NATO Alliance in 2009. Despite this progress, Albania continues to struggle in building its democratic institutions and practices, including respect for the rule of law.  As Albania prepared for parliamentary elections in June 2013, this hearing assessed the degree to which progress has begun to fall short of expectations at home and abroad, and what could be done to accelerate the pace of further reforms related to good governance.

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on OSCE with Ukraine's Foreign Minister

    The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) today announced the following hearing: Ukraine’s Leadership of the OSCE Wednesday, May 8, 2013  2:00 pm Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 562 Scheduled to testify: His Excellency Leonid Kozhara, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine and Chair-in-Office of the OSCE Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Leonid Kozhara, will testify before the U.S. Helsinki Commission in his capacity as Chairman-in-Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The hearing takes place one-third of the way through Ukraine’s 2013 chairmanship of the 57-country OSCE, an organization based in Vienna Austria, and best known for its work in promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Minister Kozhara is expected to discuss the Chairmanship’s priorities and provide insights regarding the ongoing work of the OSCE. Ukraine’s Chairmanship faces formidable tasks in leading an organization that operates on the basis of consensus and includes countries ranging from democracies to dictatorships.  The Ukrainian Chairmanship’s priorities include finding new ways to address protracted regional conflicts, energy security, and human dimension issues such as human trafficking, media freedom, tolerance, democratic elections and efforts to improve implementation of commitments regarding fundamental human rights and freedoms.       

  • The State-Sanctioned Marginalization of Christians in Western Europe

    This briefing presented a close examination of recent reports and studies showing an alarming rise in social and governmental hostility toward religion in general—and Christianity in particular—in Western Europe. Various topics of discussion underscored how the current state of affairs is in tension with Europe’s history as the intellectual birthplace of religious freedom, as well as with its commitment to democracy. Witnesses testifying at the hearing – including Professor Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University; Dr. Roger Trigg, Academic Director of the Kellogg Centre for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Oxford University; and Roger Kiska, Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom – noted with concern the growing European trend to pit human rights against religious freedom. Censorship of the cross and other religious symbols, growing restrictions on parental rights in the area of the education of their children, and limitation on free expression—including religious expression—through “hate speech” laws were also identified as obstacles for religious liberty in Western Europe.

  • Ukraine's Upcoming Elections: A Pivotal Moment

    This hearing focused on concerns of democratic backsliding in Ukraine under President Viktor Yanukovych.  In particular, the witnesses and commissioners discussed their concerns with the October 2010 local elections, the March 2012 mayoral elections. The witnesses, including the representative from several different non-governmental organizations working on democratic development in Ukraine, spoke about the impact of corruption, controls over the media and harassment of NGOs on the electoral process.  Evheniya Tymoshenko, the daughter of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, also spoke about her mother’s case.

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