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Helsinki Commissioners Urge President to Prioritize Democracy, Human Rights in Foreign Policy
Friday, May 05, 2017

On May 3, Helsinki Chairman Senator Roger Wicker (MS), Ranking Commissioner Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Helsinki Commissioners Senator Cory Gardner (CO), Senator Marco Rubio (FL), and Senator Thom Tillis (NC) signed a letter encouraging President Trump to prioritize democracy and respect for human rights in the Administration’s foreign policy agenda.

The letter reads in part: “America has long been a leader in supporting individual rights. It was more than 240 years ago that the Founding Fathers declared  that all are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These principles have successfully formed the backbone of the American experiment in self- government. The rights the Founders recognized are not by any means solely ‘American,’ but rather are universal. Being fortunate to enjoy these freedoms ourselves, we have the moral imperative to promote democracy and human rights across the globe.”

The bipartisan letter was also signed by Senator Todd Young (IN), Senator Edward Markey (MA), Senator Bob Menendez (NJ), Senator Susan Collins (ME), Senator Dick Durbin (IL), Senator Patrick Leahy (VT), Senator Christopher Coons (DE), Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK), Senator Cory Booker (NJ), and Senator Jeff Merkley (OR). The full text of the letter can be found below.

Dear Mr. President:

As you carry out the responsibilities of the Office of the President, we in the Congress stand ready to work with you to ensure that America remains a leader in advocating for democracy and human rights. We urge your administration to make these issues a priority.

As you know, America has long been a leader in supporting individual rights.  It was more than 240 years ago that the Founding Fathers declared  that all are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  These principles have successfully formed the backbone of the American experiment in self- government. The rights the Founders recognized are not by any means solely “American,” but rather are universal. Being fortunate to enjoy these freedoms ourselves, we have the moral imperative to promote democracy and human rights across the globe. 

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee hearing earlier this year titled “Democracy and Human Rights: The Case for U.S. Leadership” human rights activists shared their stories of living under oppressive regimes. They made clear that they believe that the United States has a critical role to play in safeguarding the fundamental rights of all people.

A world that is more democratic, respects human rights, and abides by the rule of law strengthens the security, stability, and prosperity of America. History has demonstrated time-and-again that free societies are more likely to be at peace with one another. Constitutional democracies are also less likely to fail and become breeding grounds for instability, terrorism, and migration. 

Democratic nations that respect good governance and the rights of their own citizens are also more likely to be economically successful, and to be stable and reliable trade and investment partners for the United States.  Our economic partnerships with Japan, Germany, Taiwan, the Republic of Korea, and numerous other nations’ today stand as testament to the wisdom of far-sighted U.S. policy that seeks to develop good governance and strong democratic institutions as necessary enablers for strong economic partnerships as well.

As we have seen over the past decade, there is a creeping authoritarian resurgence across the globe, against which we are the bulwark for individual rights and freedoms.  America, since its founding, has led this fight, not just for the rights of Americans found in the Constitution, but for the rights of all. 

By elevating democracy and human rights to a prominent place on your foreign policy agenda you can make a measurable difference and make America safer, more prosperous, and more secure.  There is longstanding and deep bipartisan Congressional commitment to advancing freedom around the world, just as Republican and Democratic administrations for decades have supported democracy and human rights, and we look forward to working with you on this important cause. 

We ask that, as you continue to formulate your foreign and defense policies, you put the promotion of democracy and human rights front-and-center as a primary pillar of America’s approach abroad.  As we move forward with the process of holding confirmation hearings for your nominees to key foreign policy positions we will be assessing their commitment to uphold these important American values as they carry out our nation’s foreign policy.

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    BALTIMORE–U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) released the following statement in response to the Ferguson grand jury decision in the Michael Brown shooting case. “Ferguson, Missouri, will forever be marked by the needless death of Michael Brown. Let’s turn this incident into the spark that launches a change in attitudes and actions rather than a point where violence begets more violence. I join with the Brown family in calling for peaceful protests in the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision. State and local law enforcement must respect the First Amendment rights of citizens to peaceably assemble, and the rights of the press to report this story.  I call upon all Americans – even those who disagree with the grand jury decision – to respect the role of our jury system and the independence of the courts in deciding legal questions. “I encourage the Justice Department to continue its civil rights investigation into this case and its broader probe of the Ferguson Police Department. I urge Attorney General Holder to take immediate action to revise the Justice Department’s guidance so that once and for all racial profiling is prohibited at all levels of law enforcement.  For a more permanent fix, Congress should take up and pass my legislation, the End Racial Profiling Act.”

  • Annual OSCE Human Rights Meeting Dominated by Russia and Ukraine

    Representatives of governments and civil society from OSCE participating States met in Warsaw, Poland, from September 22 to October 3, 2014 for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM).  The meeting was organized by the OSCE office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) under the leadership of its newly-appointed Director Michael Link. This year’s annual OSCE human dimension implementation meeting drew 1,225 participants from 53 countries, including 700 NGOs.  There were an unprecedented 82 side events on specific countries or issues.  The session on tolerance and nondiscrimination was the most oversubscribed of the three-hour sessions with 85 people vying for the speaker’s list. Other specific topics for HDIM sessions included violence against women, rights of migrants and right of national minorities. In this issue: About the U.S. HDIM Delegation Russia Takes Propaganda Campaign to Warsaw OSCE Ambassadors Visit Auschwitz Civil Society Speaks Up

  • U.S. Helsinki Commission Welcomes New Communications Director, Policy Advisor

    WASHINGTON—The bipartisan leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, today announced the joint appointments of Stacy L. Hope as Communications Director and Nathaniel Hurd as Policy Advisor on International Freedom of Religion. Ms. Hope, a seasoned communicator specializing in international issues, joins the Helsinki Commission from Delegation of the European Union in Washington, where she counseled senior EU officials on strategic communications and public diplomacy programs.  From 2004 to 2008, she led national and international marketing and communications initiatives for the British Council, the United Kingdom’s cultural relations organization. Her prior experience includes positions with the Institute of International Education and Golin/Harris International, a global public relations and marketing communications firm. Mr. Hurd, previously with World Vision, has spent his career focusing on international humanitarian and human rights crises, including those resulting from religious persecution. Mr. Hurd has interviewed and spent time with many survivors of violence – in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan – who were forced to flee from their homes and seek refuge in other countries as refugees or were internally displaced in their own. “On behalf of the entire bipartisan, bicameral Commission, I am delighted to welcome both Stacy and Nathaniel to the Helsinki Commission team,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. “In today’s volatile international environment, promoting basic human rights and fundamental freedoms is more important than ever, and the contributions of our two newest staff members will be vital to the Commission’s continuing success.”

  • Helsinki Commission on Opening of Europe’s Largest Human Rights Meeting

    WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Representative Chris Smith (NJ-04), Co-Chairman of the Commission, released the following statement ahead of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) annual high-level meeting on human rights. From September 22-October 3, civil society and government representatives of OSCE participating States will gather in Warsaw, Poland, for the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting to discuss compliance with the full range of OSCE human dimension commitments, with special focus on migrant rights, minority issues, and combating violence against women and children. “The Human Dimension Implementation Meeting takes place while Russian aggression in Ukraine continues to threaten basic OSCE principles. I expect this will be a major focus of the meeting, as well as Russian actions at home that are cynically rolling back the ability of civil society to comment on or contribute to how that country functions," said Chairman Cardin. "I am pleased that Professor Brian Atwood will head the U.S. Delegation at this critical time. The promises OSCE states made to one another almost 25 years ago, that respect for human rights within any country is a matter of concern for all states, has guided us and must continue to do so. I also welcome the leadership of the U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Daniel Baer, who will be taking a high-level study group to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp." Co-Chairman Smith said, “The Russian government’s gross human rights violations in Ukraine must be a central topic of discussion at the Human Dimension meeting. HDIM is an indispensable tool for holding states accountable to OSCE commitments and most effective when both government and civil society representatives have equal opportunity to debate each state’s human rights record.  One issue that states and civil society must discuss this year in Warsaw, and at the OSCE “Berlin Plus 10” anti-Semitism conference in November, is the alarming rise of anti-Semitic incidents in the OSCE region.  The OSCE must also continue to combat trafficking in human beings, including through fulfilling commitments taken last year to train transportation workers to identify possible victims and to improve law enforcement information sharing internationally on potential sex tourists. Commitments are made to be kept.”

  • Portman and Cardin Urge the Administration to Provide Needed Military Assistance to Ukraine

    WASHINGTON–Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) urged the Administration to approve badly needed defensive military assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The senators expressed concern over the Ukrainian military’s challenges defending its sovereignty against insurgents armed and trained by Russia and urged the Administration to provide the military capabilities to defeat the separatists, deter Russian aggression, and restore stability to the nation. “The United States must stand with Ukraine as they fight for the right to chart their own future,” Portman stated. “While economic and political support is vital, the goals this aid is designed to achieve will be impossible if the Ukrainian military cannot restore law and order and deter future aggression. We must provide Ukrainians with the military capabilities they need to protect their country and fulfill the promise of the Maidan.” "Ukraine’s people have shown remarkable courage and perseverance in the face of tremendous internal challenges and serious and ongoing external threats," said Cardin.  "We will continue to stand by the people of Ukraine as they work to overcome these challenges and forge a free, independent and democratic future.”  Portman and Cardin traveled to Ukraine earlier this year to show support for the Ukrainian people and to serve as election monitors for their presidential elections.  Full text of the letter can be found below. President Barack Obama The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington DC, 20500 Dear President Obama, We are writing to request that your administration approve badly needed defensive military assistance to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Ukrainian military is struggling to defend its sovereignty against insurgents armed and trained by Russia and needs to possess the military capabilities to defeat the separatists, deter Russian aggression, and restore stability to the nation. The tragic disaster of the attack on Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17, with strong evidence that it   was downed by Russian-led separatist militants in Ukraine, further illustrates the danger posed to the region and the international community by the continued conflict in Eastern Ukraine.  Until stability is restored, the democratically elected government of Ukraine will be unable to continue on the path of reform and modernization that the United States has encouraged it to follow. The United States has been instrumental in delivering vital economic and political assistance. Through the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014 and administrative actions, the United States has provided Ukraine with a $1 billion loan guarantee and over $50 million in additional political and economic assistance. The United States also helped Ukraine secure a $17 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and an 11 billion Euro aid package from the European Union. We appreciate your work in helping to provide this assistance. However, the crucial political and economic reform goals this previously approved aid is designed to help meet will not be possible if the government of Ukraine is unable to defeat the separatists, deter foreign aggression, and maintain law and order over all areas of the country. The bipartisan Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014 authorized $100 million to enhance security cooperation and assistance efforts with Ukraine and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. We are concerned, however, that the level of military support the United States has provided to date is insufficient to providing the Ukrainian military with the capabilities it needs to secure its borders and deter future aggression. The Ukrainian military needs more sophisticated equipment to succeed in its mission and preserve the great strides Ukraine has made since the Maidan uprising. We believe that a variety of non-lethal systems such as advanced communications equipment, night-vision goggles, navigation equipment, and body armor as well as defensive military weapons would provide Ukrainian forces with the capabilities they need to restore order and discourage further foreign interference. We understand that both the Departments of State and Defense continue to coordinate with, assess needed capabilities of, and field requests from the Ukrainian security forces.  We would like to better understand what steps have been taken to provide assistance to the Ukrainian military and immediate plans to expand that support.  Specifically, what military capabilities has the government of Ukraine requested? Of these capabilities, what has your administration authorized to be provided to Ukraine, and what specific capabilities have been delivered to date?  Additionally, what is your overall strategy to carry out the requirements set forth in Sec. 7(c) of the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014? The people of Ukraine have chosen a more democratic, transparent, and inclusive future for their country and the United States has pledged to support them in their hour of need. Honoring this commitment means providing the assistance necessary to help Ukraine develop the full range of economic, political, and military tools it needs to fulfill this hopeful vision. We urge you to support more robust assistance to Ukraine.

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