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Helsinki Commission Leadership Engages Heads of Nine CIS Countries
Wednesday, July 28, 2004

By Elizabeth B. Pryor
CSCE Senior Advisor

On July 21, 2004, the bipartisan leadership of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) responded to a Declaration signed by nine members of the group known as the Commonwealth of Independent States. The text was presented to the OSCE Permanent Council earlier this month by Russia ’s Ambassador to the OSCE, Alexey N. Borodavkin. The presidents of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan signed the declaration. CIS members Azerbaijan and Georgia declined to sign. Turkmenistan did not participate. While acknowledging that the OSCE occupies “a key place in the European security architecture,” the Declaration maintains that the organization has been unable to adapt to the changing political and security environment.

The Helsinki Commission leadership – Chairman Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), House Ranking Member Representative Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Senate Ranking Member Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) – responded to each of the nine presidents who signed the Declaration.

The Commissioners noted that three of those signing the Declaration, President Nazarbaev of Kazakhstan, President Akaev of Kyrgyzstan, and President Karimov of Uzbekistan actually signed the original Helsinki Final Act document when their countries were accepted as OSCE participating States in 1992. In the letter to President Nazarbaev, the Commission leaders stressed that they “were particularly troubled to see Kazakhstan included on the signatories to the declaration, since you have expressed an interest in undertaking the chairmanship of the organization [OSCE] in 2009.”

In their replies, Commissioners agreed about the importance of the Vienna-based OSCE and that its ability to adapt was essential to its continued relevance. They pointed out, however, that many of the assertions of the Declaration were already being addressed by the participating States.

The CIS signatories had criticized the OSCE for “failing to implement in an appropriate manner” the fundamental documents of the organization, stating that the OSCE is not observing an allegedly agreed Helsinki principle of non-interference in internal affairs. Refuting the assertion that the OSCE was failing to implement its principles, the Commission leaders pointed out that the participating States, not the organization, are responsible for such implementation: “We should look to capitals when failures in implementation arise, not Vienna .” On the matter of “internal affairs,” the leadership reminded the presidents that this issue was definitively decided in the politically-binding concluding document to the 1991 Moscow Human Dimension meeting, which states: “They [the participating States] categorically and irrevocably declare that the commitments undertaken in the field of the human dimension ... are matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned.”

Turning to the assertion that there is a serious imbalance between the three security dimensions of the OSCE – political-military, economic and environmental, and the human dimension – the Commissioners noted that since the issue of “imbalance” in OSCE priorities was raised several years ago, there has been significant movement in anti-terrorism and tangible military security issues. For example, path-breaking agreements on export controls for MANPADs, on assistance for reduction of excess ammunition, and on uniform standards for travel documents have been achieved in the last few months. The economic dimension is also being revitalized. For example, the OSCE has the most concrete and robust action plan to fight human trafficking of any international organization. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has called for a ministerial-level meeting to discuss ways of halting terrorist financing and has spoken out for increased membership in the World Trade Organization. Though welcoming the development of all of the OSCE dimensions, the Commissioners took issue with the idea that this should come at the expense of the promotion of human rights.

The CIS signatories expressed concern that human dimension activities are concentrated in the states of the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia , and that unfair standards regarding elections are directed at these nations. They went on to accuse OSCE missions of focusing on human rights and democratic development at the expense of the “full range of work covered by the Organization.”

In response to the assertion that undue concentration was focused on human rights in the countries of the CIS and former Yugoslavia , the Commission leaders noted that on 85 occasions since January 2003 the Helsinki Commission had addressed, often publicly, human rights concerns in NATO countries. Public criticism of actions by the United States , as in the recent criminal treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, has also been made in OSCE meetings and has been taken seriously. The United States has made clear that free and fair elections are crucial to the ongoing process of democratic development and welcomes election monitors to its own national elections in November 2004.

The letters also addressed the continued need to locate missions or other OSCE representatives in the former Soviet and Yugoslav countries. In the case of every signatory to the CIS Declaration, there are persistent human rights violations and backward trends on democratic development. Specific concerns were cited for each country, including fraudulent conduct of elections, hindrance of free media, curtailment of religious freedom and freedom of assembly, corruption among public officials and, in several of the countries, detention of political opposition leaders. These abuses have been documented in the Commission report Democracy and Human Rights Trends in Eurasia and East Europe. It is with the goal of reversing these trends that all OSCE states have agreed to the establishment and retention of these missions. The poor implementation record on OSCE commitments argues for the continued necessity of these field offices, the Commissioners concluded.

Finally, the leaders of the Commission expressed the hope that the discussion of OSCE’s development would move beyond the Declaration’s inaccurate reinterpretations of key OSCE documents and center on concrete suggestions. They welcomed any positive proposals that the presidents might offer. In this, as in all their work, the Helsinki Commission expressed confidence that by working together, the States of the OSCE region could reach their goal of true security and cooperation in Europe.

The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

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  • Report: Ukraine's Referendum on Independence and Presidential Election

    In an historic referendum/presidential election on December 1, 1991, residents of Ukraine overwhelmingly voted for independence and chose Leonid Kravchuk, the chairman of the republic’s Supreme Soviet, as president. Hundreds of foreign observers and correspondents watched as 84 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. Over 90 percent of participants, including many non-Ukrainians, cast ballots for independence. Former Communist Party apparatchik Kravchuk handily won the presidency on the first round, garnering about 60 percent of the votes. Ukraine’s emergence as an independent state ended any prospects of salvaging a federated or even confederated USSR. The results of the voting provided the direct impetus for the December 8 agreement among the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus to create the Commonwealth of Independent States as the successor entity to the Soviet Union, which they formally declared dead. Given the importance of Ukraine’s referendum and presidential election, as well as the republic’s size and regional differences, the Helsinki Commission sent three staffers to observe the voting. Ukraine’s parliament had previously conveyed formal invitations to the Commission, which selected three distinct cities as representative sites to monitor the voting, gauge the popular mood and gain different perspectives on the political implications: Kiev, the capital, in central Ukraine; Lviv, the regional capital of Western Ukraine, reputedly the most highly nationalist area of the republic; and Donetsk, in Eastern Ukraine, where the population is heavily Russian or Russified. Unfortunately, logistical and transportation breakdowns in the decaying Soviet Union foiled plans to reach Donetsk, and Commission staff instead traveled to the city of Kaniv (a small city on the Dnipro river). The following report is based on staff observations over several days, and is supplemented by many conversations with voters and officials, as well as Ukrainian and central Soviet newspaper and television coverage.

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  • Report: the Armenian Referendum on Independence

    On September 21, 1991, Armenia held the first referendum in its 4.000-year history. The reason was as momentous as the occasion was unique: a "yes" or "no" vote on independence from the USSR. Along with scores of observes from Soviet republics and foreign countries, Helsinki Commission staff monitored the balloting, in which, according to official Armenian sources, 95 percent of eligible voters participated and 99 percent of them voted "yes". Armenia is the only Soviet republic that is seeking its independence in conformity with the Soviet law on secession, which currently involves a series of referendum over five years and protracted negotiations with central authorities. The overwhelming result on September 21 provided what Armenia's leadership sees as the legal basis for a declaration of independence, which the parliament issued unanimously on September 23. Armenia has now taken its initial step toward independence, even if the process of obtaining full independence may still take several years. At this writing, the Armenian government is waiting to enter into serious, good faith negotiations with the Central Government in Moscow regarding financial claims by both sides.

  • Trip Report on South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, and Nigeria, August 4-19

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