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International Roma Day Bracketed by Rising Extremism and Violence
Thursday, April 16, 2009

By Erika B. Schlager,
Counsel for International Law

On April 8, Romani communities throughout the OSCE region celebrated International Roma Day. Numerous recent events, however, underscored the profound prejudice Roma continue to face.

Background

On April 8, 1971, Roma from across Europe met in London for the first congress of the International Romani Union (IRU). At the 4thcongress of the IRU, convened in Warsaw in 1990, participants designated April 8 as “International Roma Day” and, in subsequent years, International Roma Day has been an occasion not only to celebrate Romani language, history and culture, but also to draw attention to the often deplorable conditions in which Roma live. In 2000, the day was marked by an appeal by Pope John Paul II for “full respect for the human dignity of these brothers and sisters.” His remarks – coming after the beatification of Spanish Romani martyr Ceferino Gimenez Malla – reflected a growing awareness of the plight of Roma and simultaneously contributed to better understanding of Romani experiences.

This Year’s International Roma Day

International Roma Day was marked by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a video address posted on the Department of State website and broadcast at events at several U.S. Embassies in Europe. (Her remarks were also translated into Romani and circulated on the internet by Romani NGOs.)

Many United States embassies in Europe hosted or participated in a diverse array of related events. In Vienna, the United States Mission to the OSCE used the occasion to raise Romani human rights issues at the weekly meeting of the Permanent Council (see statement below). In particular, the Mission urged the Italian and Hungarian delegations to provide information on efforts to prosecute violent attacks against Roma in those countries.

In addition, many human rights organizations drew attention to continuing violations of the human rights of Roma and many Romani nongovernmental organizations hosted cultural or other activities. For example, the San Francisco-based NGO Voice of Roma organized a series of activities including music, traditional crafts, dance, film and discussion.

At the international level, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Rights, the Council of Europe, and other human rights bodies also observed International Roma Day.

Rising Extremism

In recent months, however, there has been an alarming rise in manifestations of profound prejudice directed against Roma.

Hungary

Notoriously, there have been dozens of violent attacks against Roma in Hungary over the course of the past year, including six murders. The most shocking attack occurred in February, when 27-year-old Robert Csorba and his five-year-old son, Robert, were murdered. Their home was set on fire and then, apparently, father and child were riddled with bullets to prevent them from escaping the blaze. Several other attacks against Roma have also involved Molotov cocktails used to set houses on fire. Other children have been injured in various attacks.

Thus far, there has not been a single successful prosecution for any of these attacks. Moreover, the Hungarian government has asserted that only a court can determine if an attack is ethnically motivated and therefore it is inappropriate to characterize this wave of violence as racist or ethnically motivated. (Incongruously, Hungarian government officials continue to raise concern about ethnically motivated acts against Hungarian minorities in neighboring states. In early April, for example, Hungarian officials called on Serbian authorities to address crimes that Budapest characterized as anti-Hungarian.)

On April 7, the home of a local Romani official, Lidia Horvath, was set on fire. She subsequently asserted that the attack was directed at her as retaliation for her efforts to shed light on the murder of the Csorba family, which investigators initially dismissed as death by accidental fire.

Separately, controversy erupted in April regarding an interview with Mate Szabo, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Civil Rights, who referred to “Tsigan [loosely translatable as “Gypsy”] crime.” His remarks come at a time when not only extremist organizations but often mainstream public figures and media outlets are fixated on the notion of alleged “Gypsy criminality.” Almost 60% of the respondents in a recent Hungarian opinion poll said they believed that “crime is in the blood of Roma.” Five leading human rights groups in Hungary denounced the ombudsman’s comments and Szabo subsequently retracted his remarks. (Specifically, they objected to the association – by the civil rights commissioner, no less – of a particular ethnic group with crime.) In contrast, National Police Chief Jozsef Bencze participated in an event celebrating International Roma Day at which he stated, “There is no collective guilt because crime cannot be associated with color.”

The Czech Republic

In November 2008, hundreds of extremists rioted in the Czech town of Litvinov, requiring a thousand Czech police officers marshaled from around the country to hold them at bay. Some human rights activists believe that, with the Litvinov experience in mind, extremists hoped to exploit the focus of security agencies on Prague during the April 5 summit meeting there, attended by President Obama.

Accordingly, on April 4, an estimated 700 radicals descended on the town of Prerov, reportedly with the intent of intimidating and attacking Romani residents. As it happened, Czech authorities in Prerov were able to deploy enough law enforcement personnel, including riot police, to largely contain the extremists.

“Extremism” in the Czech Republic may be spurred by the extent to which intolerance manifests itself in what passes for mainstream political discourse. Among some public officials, overtly anti-Roma statements continue to be uttered without any discernible political consequences. For example, in 2005 President Vaclav Klaus denied that the Lety concentration camp was actually a concentration camp. Instead, using a common Nazi description of Roma, Klaus asserted that Lety was a place for “people who refused to work”. (Lety was established during the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic as a concentration camp for Roma. Hundreds died at the camp and many more were deported to Auschwitz.) While still serving as a local mayor, Czech Senator Liana Janackova was recorded describing herself as a racist and saying she would like to get rid of local Roma with dynamite. Some local officials continue to describe Roma as “unadaptable” – another Nazi-era concept – and some Czech media outlets quote these officials, albeit, without an apparent understanding of the historical use of this term.

Slovakia

On April 7, the Slovak daily Sme broke the story of six Romani boys who had been detained on March 21 by police in Kosice, forced to strip naked and commit violent acts against each other – all captured on film by the arresting officials. The video, quickly posted on You Tube, records the laughter and jeers of the police as they abuse the children. Several news stories have compared the incident to the notorious Abu Ghraib photos, and some have recalled the 2001 incident in which a Slovak Romani man, Karol Sendrei, died after being chained to a radiator in a police station and beaten over the course of a night.

The abuse has been widely condemned in Slovakia and led to the immediate suspension of nine police officers. Additional investigation into the incident is continuing.

In a less widely reported incident on April 4, 10 Romani men traveling to a construction site were attacked on a bus in Bratislava. Three of them had to be hospitalized.

Off the Front Pages and Under the Bridges

While these incidents have all garnered headlines, a broad range of chronic problems continue to gnaw away at the fabric of Romani life, including endemic discrimination in education, employment, and social services. Discrimination in housing has a multiplier effect on the lives of Roma, and large-scale forced evictions of Roma are a regular occurrence in many parts of the OSCE region. As a consequence, some Romani families that have been settled for generations find themselves forced into a kind of 21st century involuntary “nomadism.” At the same time, deeply entrenched stereotypes about exotic Roma lifestyles have made it easier for majority societies to ignore the long-term implications of social policies that further marginalize Romani children.

On March 13, Amnesty International expressed concern about imminent plans by authorities in Milan to evict a community of some 150 Roma living under an overpass. Amnesty noted that there appeared to be no provision of adequate alternative housing and, accordingly, the Roma were at risk of falling into a cycle of such evictions. Similarly, on International Roma Day, Human Rights Watch drew attention to the plight of 47 Roma families forcibly evicted in Belgrade on April 3, 2009. They were removed from housing that was deemed by authorities to be “substandard” – but the families were left without an adequate alternative. In Kosovo, several NGOs, as well as the Ombudsman Institution, noted that Roma continue to live in lead-contaminated areas of northern Mitrovica, and called for their immediate and sustainable relocation. In Romania, NGOs continue to monitor displacements of Roma in Miercurea Ciuc, Piatra Neamt, and elsewhere – displacements that are hard to reconcile with a stated government policy of integrating Roma and improving access to education for Romani children.

Aberrations or Trends?

As reflected in the joint statement issued on International Roma Day by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, many observers are concerned that Roma will be the scapegoats of the current economic crisis.

Yet the ongoing wave of violence against Roma escalated in Hungary and Italy for many months before the onset of the current economic crisis, and is therefore most likely rooted in longstanding prejudices against Roma. Accordingly, it is necessary for governments to re-double their efforts to combat prejudice against Roma. Given that much of contemporary bigotry against Roma still exploits the racist ideology grounded in 20th century eugenics most notoriously embraced by the Nazis, raising awareness of the content of that ideology, as it applied to Roma, is critical.

Some governments have, in fact, improved efforts to commemorate Romani Holocaust losses – including Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. More of this effort needs to be brought into the classroom and, of course, reflected in the discourse of public leaders.

Statement on International Roma Day
U.S. Committed to Protecting and Promoting the Human Rights of Roma
United States Mission to the OSCE
Statement on International Roma Day
As prepared for delivery by Chargé d' Affaires Kyle Scott to the Permanent Council, Vienna
April 2, 2009

Madam Chairwoman,

On April 8, we will celebrate International Roma Day, an opportunity to call attention to the history, experiences, and human rights of Europe’s largest ethnic minority. The United States is committed to protecting and promoting the human rights of Roma. Despite important progress that has been made in the last decade, too many Roma still live on the margins of society. Roma continue to experience racial profiling, violence, discrimination, and other human rights abuses. Too often, they lack identity documents or citizenship papers, which exclude them from voting, social services, education, and employment opportunities.

During the last year, the participating States and the OSCE have given much-needed attention to the situation of Roma, including through the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting last July, the visits by the High Commissioner on National Minorities and the ODIHR to Italy, and in our Ministerial Decision 6/08 adopted in Helsinki. We look forward to the discussion of early education for Romani children during the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw later this year.

The United States also welcomes efforts by governments and nongovernmental organizations to ensure that the genocide of European Roma is never forgotten. We encourage all participating States to consider ways to better incorporate the genocide of European Roma into educational curricula, including the publication this month of a book in Romania on the deportation of Roma to Transnistria. We note that a monument to Romani victims of the “Porajmos,” the term some Roma use to describe Nazi attempts to exterminate Romani people of Europe during the Holocaust, will be unveiled in Berlin later this year, and also welcome plans to establish an educational and documentation center on the site of a former Romani concentration camp in South Moravia.

Unfortunately, as Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg observed at the 2007 HDIM, even after the genocide of Roma, “there was no genuine change of attitude among the majority population towards the Roma.” Today, in some of OSCE participating States, local officials continue to describe Roma as “unadaptable,” routinely using a Nazi-era term.

Governments have a special responsibility to ensure that minority communities have the tools of opportunity that they need to succeed as productive and responsible members of society. The United States is deeply concerned about the escalation of anti-Roma hate crimes in some OSCE participating States. In this regard, we would welcome information from the Italian delegation regarding efforts to prosecute individuals for participating in mob attacks on Romani camps in 2007 and 2008, when Italian police provided protection to camp residents. We also support efforts by the Hungarian government to prosecute those responsible for recent violent attacks against Roma, including the February murder of Robert Csorba and his five-year-old son.

In closing, the United States urges OSCE participating States to honor their commitment—first made a decade ago at the 1999 Istanbul Summit—to ensure that national laws and policies fully respect the rights of Roma. Furthermore, governments must commit to effectively enforcing these laws.

Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

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While the stated purpose of this law is to improve more accurate statements about the Holocaust,  this is the wrong way to achieve that goal,” he said.

  • Austrian Chairmanship Achieves Consensus for Human Trafficking Prevention

    On December 8, 2017, the OSCE Ministerial Council approved two new cross-dimensional decisions to combat human trafficking.  One decision was led by the United States, Italy, and Belarus and focused on preventing child trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation of children, particularly on the internet and in sex tourism. The Ministerial Council also passed a second decision, introduced by the 2017 Austrian Chairmanship of the OSCE, titled, “Strengthening Efforts to Prevent Trafficking in Human Beings.”   The decision addresses all forms of human trafficking and reflects key initiatives of the OSCE in recent years, especially those that encourage corporate responsibility for prevention of trafficking in supply chains. Examining Subcontractors Beginning with the responsibility of governments to ensure that goods and services for the government are purchased from trafficking-free sources, the decision commends “participating States that require contractors supplying goods and services to the government to take effective and appropriate steps to address the risks of human trafficking in their supply chains.”   Notably, the decision goes beyond the primary contracting entity and encourages governments to examine any intended subcontractors and employees., It reflects the reality that while a prime contractor may be trafficking-free, in an effort to cut costs and increase profit margins, work may be subcontracted out to less scrupulous vendors who may not be as aware of, or as concerned with, government requirements.    Addressing Vulnerability Factors The decision also addresses the precursors to human trafficking, commending participating States that prohibit contractors, subcontractors, and employees from “participating in activities known to lead to human trafficking.”  Many contract and subcontract provisions that may seem neutral on first glance in reality lead in whole or in part to situations of vulnerability to human trafficking.  For instance, in 2015, the United States banned the following practices in U.S. government contracts as relates to actions by the contractors, subcontractors, or employees as the actions were closely linked to human trafficking: Purchasing commercial sex. Destroying, concealing, removing, confiscating, or otherwise denying an employee access to that employee’s identity or immigration documents without the employee’s consent. Failing to abide by any contractual provision to pay return transportation costs upon the end of employment for the purpose of pressuring an employee into continued employment. Soliciting a person for the purpose of employment, or offering employment, by means of materially false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises regarding that employment. Charging recruited employees unreasonable placement or recruitment fees, or any such fee that violates the laws of the country from which an employee is recruited.  Providing or arrange housing that fails to meet host country housing and safety standards.    Using Government Contracts as Incentives Using government contracts as an incentive for businesses to undergo the auditing and policy overhauls required for clean supply chains, the decision ultimately calls on participating States to “take into account whether businesses are taking appropriate and effective steps to address the risks of human trafficking, including with regards to their subcontractors and employees, when considering the awarding of government contracts for goods and services.”    Historically, many governments have sought the least expensive contract for the most goods or services on the principle of using taxpayer funds efficiently—creating a perverse incentive for companies to turn a blind eye to human trafficking and its precursors.  The decision championed by the 2017 Austrian Chairmanship encourages participating States to reverse the incentive and reward with government contracts only to those companies that have done their due diligence to ensure trafficking-free supply chains.  This requirement reaches past the comparatively small number of businesses that receive government contracts and encourages all businesses competing for government contracts to clean their supply chains first. Strong implementation by OSCE participating States could set new industry standards where human trafficking and its precursors become significantly less profitable.    

  • Non-Governmental Participation in the OSCE

    Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are welcomed at many, though not all, meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). OSCE rules for NGO participation are much simpler and more inclusive than at the United Nations (UN) or other international organizations, particularly as concerns human dimension events. One of the advantages of the OSCE is that it is the only international organization in which NGOs are allowed to participate in human dimension meetings on an equal basis with participating States. NGOs—no matter how small—can raise their concerns directly with governments.  (Governments have a right of reply.)  In addition, NGOs can hold side events during human dimension meetings in which they can focus on specific subjects or countries in greater depth than in the regular sessions of the event.  Download the full report to learn more. Contributor: Janice Helwig, Representative of the Helsinki Commission to the U.S. Mission to the OSCE

  • OSCE Adopts Child Trafficking Ministerial Decision Modeled on Initiative of Co-Chairman Smith

    WASHINGTON—On December 8, the OSCE concluded its annual meeting of the Foreign Ministers of 57 OSCE participating States by adopting a ministerial decision on combatting child trafficking—modeled on OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA) resolutions adopted in 2016 and 2017, authored by Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04).  Rep. Smith is the Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues in the OSCE PA. Entitled “Strengthening Efforts to Combat All Forms of Child Trafficking, Including for Sexual Exploitation, as well as Other Forms of Sexual Exploitation of Children,” the decision provides practical steps for participating States to protect children from traveling sex offenders, and from misuse of the internet for child trafficking and other sexual exploitation.  “Traveling sex offenders rely on secrecy and anonymity to commit crimes against children; the new decision will deter the sexual exploitation of children at home and abroad, and aid in the prosecution of child sex traffickers,” said Smith. The decision calls on each of the OSCE participating States to keep a register of individuals who have committed sex offenses against a child, and to share that information with the law enforcement in destination countries—which would give the United States warning of foreign sex offenders entering U.S. borders.  The decision also calls on OSCE participating States to enact extra-territorial jurisdiction in order to “prosecute their citizens for serious sexual crimes against children, even if these crimes are committed in another country.”   “Some believe the laws of a destination country allow sexual exploitation of a child, or rely on the fact that the judicial system in the destination country is weak,” Smith continued.  “The Ministerial decision underscores the universal human rights of the child to be protected from sexual exploitation and calls for participating States to put all abusers on notice—they will be prosecuted when they return home.”  In addition, the Ministerial decision echoes the Parliamentary Assembly resolutions by calling for accountability of those who misuse the Internet to knowingly or recklessly facilitate access to children for sexual exploitation or child trafficking—such as by advertising children on websites—highlighting that such individuals should be prosecuted as traffickers. “With this binding decision, the foreign ministries of the 57 OSCE participating States stand united with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly to protect children from trafficking and other sexual exploitation across the OSCE region,” said Smith. Smith first raised the issue of human trafficking at the 1999 OSCE PA Annual Session in St. Petersburg, the first time it appeared on the OSCE agenda. Since then, he has introduced or cosponsored a supplementary item and/or amendments on trafficking at each annual session of the OSCE PA, including on issues such as sex tourism prevention, training of the transportation sector in victim identification and reporting, corporate responsibility for trafficking in supply chains, and special protections for vulnerable populations. In addition to authoring the 2016 International Megan’s Law to Prevent Child Exploitation and Other Sexual Crimes through Advanced Notification of Traveling Sex Offenders, he authored the landmark U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its 2003 and 2005 reauthorizations. Chairman Smith co-chairs the United States Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus.

  • 2017 OSCE Ministerial

    Foreign Ministers of the 57 OSCE participating States met in Vienna on December 7 and December 8, 2017 for the 24th OSCE Ministerial Council meeting. The United States was represented by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who in his statement described the OSCE as “an indispensable pillar of our common security architecture that bolsters peace and stability in Europe and Eurasia.” Secretary Tillerson focused much of his statement on the conflict in Ukraine, reiterating the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders; calling for full implementation of the Minsk agreements; and confirming that Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine. In addition, he raised the importance of addressing radicalization and terrorism; the security consequences of irregular flows of migrants; and long-running conflicts in Georgia, Moldova, and Nagorno-Karabakh. The Ministerial Council adopted decisions on reducing the risk of conflict from the use of information and communication technologies; strengthening efforts to prevent trafficking in human beings; strengthening efforts to combat all forms of child trafficking and sexual exploitation of children; promoting economic participation; as well as a statement on the negotiations on the Transdniestrian settlement process in the “5+2” Format. Unfortunately, as has been the case for the past several years, the Ministerial Council was not able to reach consensus to adopt decisions in the human dimension, mainly due to Russian reluctance. Instead, 44 countries made a joint statement on human rights and fundamental freedoms, expressing concern about human rights and stressing the importance of civil society. Several  side events and other meetings took place on the margins of the Ministerial. Secretary Tillerson held several bilateral meetings, including one with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly held a meeting of its Bureau, and the NGO-network Civic Solidarity Platform held its annual OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference. Helsinki Commission staff served as members of the U.S. Delegation to the Ministerial.

  • Ukraine: Report from the Front Lines

    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, detailed the humanitarian consequences of the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine; provided an overview of the role of OSCE monitors and the threats they face in carrying out their duties; and offered 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.    

  • Turkish Pressure on NGO Participation in the OSCE

    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.     

  • The Situation of Roma

    The Helsinki Commission hosted a conversation with Swedish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Soraya Post, one of only two Roma in the EU’s 751-member legislative body, and Dr. Ethel Brooks of Rutgers University, a U.S. Romani scholar and Member of the Board of the European Roma Rights Center and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Council.  The briefing focused on Roma, the largest ethnic minority in the European Union, with an estimated population of 12 to 15 million. However, Roma are severely underrepresented in parliaments and other leadership roles across Europe, and face some of the highest level of discrimination on the continent.  MEP Post was introduced by Dr. Brooks. Together, MEP Post and Dr. Brooks outlined the incredible challenges Roma face in the form of social exclusion, political under-representation, and economic inequality.  Dr. Brooks stated that the experience of Roma included “racism, forced evictions, racially motivated attacks, police abuse, segregation, inhuman and degrading treatment, housing discrimination, expulsions and marginalization, educational segregation and the denial of access to schools, of unfair detention, hate speech, and hate crimes among other forms of violence [and the need to combat] structural forms of anti-Romani racism at all levels.”  MEP Post spoke specifically to the challenges she faces in the European Parliament as she works to ensure Romani interests and rights are defended, and highlighted the need for more concerted efforts to undermine anti-Roma discrimination at the national level.  MEP Post has spearheaded efforts in the European Union to address the situation of Roma, including drafting a recent report on improving the situation of Roma being discussed in the European Parliament.  Two weeks ago MEP Post introduced a resolution in the European Parliament on fundamental rights aspects of Roma integration in the EU, which was adopted by an overwhelming majority in the European Parliament.  The report and resolution are historic in that they call for efforts to addresses the structural, far-reaching aspects, practices, and manifestations of anti-Roma discrimination. Recommendations from the legislative efforts include setting up truth and reconciliation commissions at both the national and EU levels in member states and in the EU, documenting findings in an official white paper, and making the history of Roma part of the curricula in schools.  Other recommendations include ensuring that EU employment and education programs  reach Roma; clearly condemning and sanctioning anti-Roma hate speech in EU Member States and national parliaments; compensating Roma women subjected to forced sterilization; investigating and preventing unlawful removals of Roma children from their parents; and implementing measures to ensure equal treatment of Roma in the fields of education, employment, health and housing, as well as an improved EU framework for national Roma integration strategies after 2020.   The impetus for including a truth commission in the EU legislation came from a Swedish effort MEP Soraya Post led that resulted in a Swedish apology to Roma and a government white paper detailing anti-Roma abuses throughout Swedish history, ranging from laws banning Roma to enter the country from 1914-1954 to forced sterilization. The briefing ended with statements from the panelists on the importance of supporting efforts that unite societies, and noted recent OSCE efforts to increase Roma political participation as part of the solution. The Helsinki Commission has had a long track record of engagement on issues relating to the human rights of Roma including addressing mob violence against Roma; ending sterilization without informed consent of Romani women; addressing the denial of citizenship and the loss of identity documents for Roma, particularly in the context of the breakup of Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia; encouraging remembrance of and teaching about the genocide of Roma; and countering prejudice and discrimination against Roma in the context of our larger efforts to address racism and anti-Semitism. 

  • 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. Contributors: Erika Schlager, Counsel for International Law, Scott Rauland, Senior State Department Advisor, and Michael Newton, Intern

  • 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.

  • Situation of Roma in Europe to Be Reviewed 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: “THE SITUATION OF ROMA: MEP SORAYA POST DISCUSSES EUROPE’S LARGEST ETHNIC MINORITY” Tuesday, November 7, 2017 10:00 am to 11:00 am Senate Visitors Center Room 215 Live Webcast: www.facebook.com/HelsinkiCommission Roma are the largest ethnic minority in the European Union, with an estimated population of 12 to 15 million. The Helsinki Commission will host a conversation with Swedish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Soraya Post, one of only two Roma in the EU’s 751-member legislative body. MEP Post will be introduced by Dr. Ethel Brooks, Chair of the Board of Directors of the European Roma Rights Center. MEP Post has spearheaded efforts in the European Union to address the situation of Roma.  She has drafted a report on improving the situation of Roma that will be discussed in the European Parliament in late 2017. The OSCE was the first international organization to explicitly recognize the human rights situation of Roma. 

  • 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.”

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